Artwork by Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Guest Blogger - Australian Poet Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

Guest Blogger Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke:
“The Underground Stream, Thomas Merton, and Spiritual Prayer as Poetry.”

The Underground Stream was initially conceived as a response to poetry I wrote during Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton sessions at the House of Prayer and Spirituality in Townsville, Australia.

I have several books by Thomas Merton amongst my bookshelf, but it was only when I began attending the sessions at the House of Prayer (as it is known) (Below) that he registered with me, both as a religious thinker, and as a poet.

It has been said that Thomas Merton is one of the most important religious thinkers of the twentieth century.  I’m not qualified to make that call.  All I can say is that these past years studying his writings has illumined my faith journey.

My stay at the House of Prayer in September 2016 was central to the book’s completion.  Years ago, in Canberra, I completed my collection Ultramundane Shadows by laying the about one hundred sheets of poems in a large space at the
back of St Philip’s Anglican Church.  I then moved the sheets around until I was happy that the order of the poems was a subtext.

I did a similar thing at the main meeting room at the House of Prayer. (Above Right)  Over three days of creative silence, living in the House, The Underground Stream coalesced similarly.

Yes, these days I’m happy to be called a Christian.  Following several decades of fairly regular church attendance in Canberra – at the North Canberra Baptist Church and then in the 2000s St Philip’s Anglican Church in O’Connor – my move to Townsville in 2009 has seen me attending the Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton sessions.  I have been attending since about 2012, and month in month out it is a cornerstone of my faith observance.

It’s worth saying that I remain close friends with the pastor of the North Canberra Baptist Church, from those late millennium times, Ian Minto.(Below Left)  His family remain much loved.  Similarly, a former rector of St Philip’s, Rebecca Newland, (Below Right) is a cherished friend still.

The Underground Stream is dedicated to Connie Cairns (Right).  For years, she ran the Thomas Merton sessions, giving me a lift there each time.  I was privileged to repay her kindnesses to me, with the dedication.  Connie is one of the planet’s loving souls.  We still catch up every now and again for a cuppa.

My ordering the poems saw me wishing to bookend the book.  “The Joy” was written in the mid-1980s, and “At Eagles Nest” is also of that time.  They are the two oldest poems in the book.  Most of the poems were penned in the past couple of years. (Left:  The Underground Stream in the mail out process.)

The Joy

Why stop?  Why more silence?
An ocean brushes past:
we are, don’t look, we are
songs, flaking beyond continuance.

At Eagles Nest

On this windswept headland
I am close to the clouds.
I fill my lungs with the tart air,
smell the sea
and contemplate the future of the world.

For me, the most emotionally fraught poem in The Underground Stream is “Paralytic Mountain”.  It was penned in the mid-1980s, and in some ways it documents a friendship that quickly went wrong.  Elaine Hill and I parted acrimoniously.  As a part of processing that time, “Paralytic Mountain” helped me to deal with anguish.  I did not feel I could make it public until now. (Right:  Thomas Merton)


On the first day two vomited.
On the third day they asked why.

On the sixth day nobody knew.

A week had gone.
The fire still threw waves.
I dreamt of a mountain.
A paralytic mountain.
Rising from the open first of sleep.

Excerpt, “Paralytic Mountain”

I spell GOD in capitals, these days.  Last year, I read The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims ~ Brother Lawrence, this book has GOD in caps, and it sits well with me as a contemplative text to learn from.  In the Holy Bible, GOD is often addressed as LORD.  Somehow, this deepens the mystery for me.

Yes, there are poems dedicated to various people.  No elegies, one of my credos as a poet is to try to honour some of my friends’ birthdays.  I sent Angela Merkel (Left) a gift copy, as a poem for her birthday, “Poem for Angela’s Birthday, 2016” is included [page 15].  Bless her, I received a reply.

I wish to finish with words from my long-time friend Thom The World Poet (Right) [he Googles]:  Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke may be known to you largely through his poetics-several tomes of original works and more Anthologies he has curated.  His luminaries include Keats and those Romantics-but his spirit belongs to Thomas Merton.  What is special about Michael is his spirit-based wordworks.  His faith and trust animates his immense creative spark. Not since Gerard Manley Hopkins has such a brave and necessary alignment taken place
His continuing creativity is to be supported, encouraged and applauded.

With much respect

Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke email

The House of Prayer and Spirituality Webpage

Thomas Merton Center

The Practice of the Presence of God and the Spiritual Maxims

Thom The World Poet Web Page

The Underground Stream order via Lulu

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Photographic Poem in Remembrance of the 168 people killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing . . .

Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum
April 11, 2015
Poem and Images attributed to and copyright owned by Christal Rice Cooper

I sat on one of the benches
analyzing the raped remains of the Alfred P. Murrah,
the new Bricktown shimmering
like rusty red diamonds
in the sun.

How dare the sun shine today?

when those 168 chairs
had yet to glow
beneath today’s dawn?

I was waiting for them to prophesy to me
by the baptismal waters
that I imagined Jesus walked upon
only His water is deeper.

The birds were there
drinking the living water,
partaking in their own rituals.

All I could hear was
“That man – how dare he!”
or “He did have accomplices.”
And “He was so evil!”

I closed my eyes
trying to block out everything
except the silence the dead speak

but only heard the birds singing
not the expected profound sadness,
but the song of joy for the living !

How dare they be so cheerful?

I opened my eyes in disgust,
looked at other patrons for their reaction
who didn’t seem to notice
the birds dancing across the sky
from one pinecone tree to another,

How dare they not remember the dead?

But I held on to my dignity
saw two pinecones
like fallen fruit on the grass,
gently cradled them in my hands
and placed them in my bag
for my two boys.

How dare the world go on?

The birds walked amongst the chairs,
intermittently stopping to stare.

One bird stopped, turned to face me.
He saw me!
and spoke my language:

“Why must you focus on the dead
when the dead are no longer here?

Why must you focus on anger
when justice has been served?”

I know how to mourn
I know how to let go
I know how to memorialize

and I will never
settle for despair again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

#15 Backstory of the Poem "Ode To Disappointment" by Marilyn Kallet . . .

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

***This is the fifteenth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem. 

Backstory of the Poem
“Ode to Disappointment”
by Marilyn Kallet

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?  Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.   I was privileged to be on a professional writing retreat in Auvillar, France, October, 2015. My goal was to write new poems. The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts owns property in Auvillar; in Southwest France, on the pilgrimage route of St. Jacques of Compostelle. (Top Left:  Marilyn Kallet in France.  Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.   Top Right:  Marilyn Kallet in the Auvillar, France Studio.  Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)

They built a modern studio for writers and painters. Two doors down, in a rehabbed 17th century house, they lodge writers and artists. My first visit there as VCCA Fellow was decisive. My studio overlooked the shape-shifting Garonne River, (Left:  Photo attributed and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet) and I fell in love. That was 2017.  

I proposed a workshop to VCCA: "O Taste & See: Writing the Senses in Deep France." This year marks my tenth year of leading the workshop. Warning: the place, people, food and wine are addictive. (Right:  O Taste & See Farewell Dinner.  Photo attribution and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)

Over the years, the University of Tennessee has often helped to foot the bill for my writing residencies. The Professional Development grant program has provided travel and research grants; the English Department's Hodges Fund has been even more generous. In short, I've been spoiled! (Left:  Marilyn Kallet's University of Tennessee photo.) 

I was sitting in "my" studio in Auvillar, on October 30, 2015, ready to click on the email from the Graduate Office that hosts the PD grants. The Garonne was green and gold and snaky. The plane trees and poplars along the riverside were turning bright gold. (Right:  Auvillar, France photo attributed and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)

I opened the email, and it began, "The committee has decided not to fund your professional development grant." Then there was a line about giving newer applicants a chance. I went into shock for about three minutes, then started to write my poem! The committee's line of rejection is obviously the opening line of my poem. After that, I made up the rest of the letter's wording. (Left:  Auvillar Gold attributed and copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)

Neruda is one of my literary companions. I have read his odes over and over. Often I travel with a volume of his work. He wrote odes––praise poems––to everything: his socks, his critics, his solitude. The art of writing praise poems to disappointments came from him. It's a good skill for a writer to have! (Right:  Pablo Neruda recording his poetry in 1966.  Public Domain.)
The poem was published by Plume, in their Anthology 4, 2016. And this month it will appear in my new book, How Our Bodies Learned, Black Widow Press. Sweet revenge!

The ability to transform life's blows––big and small––into song, into story, and art––that's a poet's alchemy!

What month and year did you start writing this poem? 
October, 2015. The turning leaves were uplifting. As Shakespeare wrote, "That time of year that mayst in me behold..." Perfect set-up for a disappointment, no?  What the light tone of the poem doesn't tell the reader is that the poet will going to Paris in November. That the second night of her stay in Paris, November 13, there will be a terror attack. That all the days and nights in Auvillar prior to Paris will indeed be paradise, compared to what will hit the fan in November. My poems in Auvillar, and the ones from the time of the Paris attacks, are in the new book. We poets compose lyrics, yes. But sometimes we are called upon to bear witness. Then our writing is closer to journalism than to songwriting. We must be ready for those times, too. (Above Right:  Marilyn Kallet in Vienna's Jewish Quarter.  Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.) 


How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)   Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us?   
I composed this poem in two drafts. The body of the poem came out whole. There was an extra phrase in the original. After the line, "We suspect it touches itself," I originally included "Private parts." Not necessary, as that is implicit in the self-touching. And the line about Keats, "He mined his own sources," originally read, "He had his own sources." Revision often involves tightening and revving up the verbs.(Top Right:  Marilyn Kallet in October of 2015.  Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.  Left:  John Keats painting attributed to William Hilton.)
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?   Poetry can be a consolation, an antidote––whether it sings about a personal disappointment––or a national political disaster. Poetry bears witness and transforms. The blues have always embodied both sorrow and laughter. (Right Marilyn Kallet holding her latest poetry collection How Our Bodies Learned. Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?   "Other applicants may be newer," suggests that they may also be younger.  Ouch!

Your biography?   I was born in Montgomery, Alabama. My mother was from Alabama. She met my Brooklyn-born father when he was stationed at Maxwell Field, during WWII. I was three years'old when they moved to New York. My mother never forgave my father for the move. She was always cold in New York. The minute my father died, she moved back to Montgomery.

They made the mistake of sending me to Tufts University in Boston, during the 1960's. I came home radicalized and critical of their politics. I went to Rutgers for my MA and PhD in Comparative Literature. Back in those days, Comp. Lit at Rutgers was a patriarchal haven. Our program director had a poster of himself fighting the bulls at Pamplona. He said he had only ever enjoyed fighting bulls and being captain of a submarine. Once, he asked me for a drink to the Harvard Club. He opened the conversation by saying, "Robert will always be a better poet than Elizabeth."  (Top Right:  Marilyn Kallet in the 1960s.  Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.   Bottom Right:  Book about Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop's correspondence with one another.)  

With Judith Ortiz Cofer, I edited a book of essays about the obstacles that women writers faced: Sleeping With One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, U of Georgia Press, 1996. My essay was about surviving Rutgers!

I have been teaching at the University of Tennessee since 1981. When I arrived here, I met my husband, Lou Gross, a nice Jewish boy from Philadelphia. He directs NimBios, the National Institute for Math and Biological Sciences. Our daughter, Heather, lives in Atlanta with her husband, Mark Hanselman. She's the best copy editor I know and Mark is an engineer. They rescue animals.  (Right: Marilyn Kallet, daughter Heather, and husband Lou Gross.  Copyright granted by Marilyn Kallet.) 

Ode to Disappointment

“Dear Marilyn,
The committee has decided
not to fund your Professional Development
proposal.  We think you are already developed.
Other applications have risen to the top,
like chicken fat on cooling soup.
Other applicants may be newer,
less developed, but more promising,
more professional. Poetry
is not professional. Poetry sits alone in a dark
room and who knows what it does?
We suspect it touches itself.
You don’t need a grant to write poetry.
All you need is a pen and a bottle.
Cheap swill. Think Bukowski,
We never offered him a dime.
Or Keats. We did not fund him. He mined his own
sources. You can find your own cash. Your husband,
for example, got the best raise ever this year,
because he scares us. We don’t mean he’s violent,
just that he never shuts up and his criticisms
are professionally developed. So go home and
sleep with your rich dick, we mean your spouse.
See how that works out. We have faith in your
ability to surmount us.”

Elizabeth Bishop

Black Widow Press Facebook Page

Black Widow Press Web Page

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Marilyn Kallet’s Facebook Page

Marilyn Kallet’s Web Page

John Keats Web Page

Robert Lowell Facebook

Pablo Neruda’s Facebook Page

Plume Anthology Web Page

Rutgers Web Page

William Shakespeare Web Page

Sleeping With One Eye Open:  Women Writers and the Art of Survival

Tufts University

The University of Georgia Press

The University of Tennessee

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018 
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018 
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018