Posts by carolynmartinpoet

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey through California to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and dry summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her fourth poetry collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, is scheduled for a February 2019 release by Unsolicited Press. She is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly, journal of global transformation.

Breaking with Charity

It happens this way …

UnknownBy some strange You-Tube happenstance, I came across the conversation Tara Westhover, the author of Educated, had with Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 26, 2019.

I had written a blog (“Stunned into Understanding”) about Tara’s moving, yet disturbing book last October so I was eager to see her and hear her voice.

In case you haven’t read Educated yet – and seriously think about doing so – here’s the blurb The Aspen Institute used to introduce the conversation:

Raised by uncompromising survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover survived extreme adversity, from never being allowed to go to school, to suffering serious physical injuries (and a dad that prohibited doctors or hospitals), to being at the mercy of a volatile and often abusive older brother. How did she not only make it through this childhood, but ultimately achieve success at the highest levels? How does she look back on her childhood and her family? What has she learned from her incredible and improbable journey?

Tara is a lovely, self-effacing, authentic, and oh-so-intelligent young woman. She earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge without ever getting a GED. When she entered Brigham Young University at age seventeen, she had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement. From reading a book on her father’s shelf, she thought that slavery was bad because it was so hard on slave owners. Hence, her need to become “educated”!

Among the many things that struck me about Tara was her empathetic understanding of some of the current divisions our country is experiencing. Since she now lives in New York City but returns from time to time to her home in Idaho, she is amazed how the urban/rural divide is based on distorted misunderstandings each group has about the other.

She used a phrase I had never heard before: the breaking with charity. (I jumped for a pen to write it down so I could research it more.) As Tara mentioned, the phrase goes back to the Salem witch trials.

According to one Google entry,

It refers to the moment when two members of the same group break apart and become different tribes. In Salem, the break occurred when some among a group of young women accused others of being witches. When you break charity, bonds of trust and truth are shattered and everything good thing you have done is affected.

What is broken may be mended but it will never regain its original strength. In truth, it cannot be unbroken. Think about political commentary and the words we throw at each other today.

How many ways have we “broken with charity” these past few years over politics, religion, family, schools, whatever? Rather than throwing words at each other, we’ve forgotten to sharpen our listening skills so we can at least understand the reality others live in and the beliefs they hold on to. It may not be our reality – and we certainly don’t have to embrace those beliefs – but we may become more charitable empathizers in the process.

This is what I’m going to be thinking about this week.

PS: If you listen to the Westhover/Goldberg conversation, don’t miss Tara’s singing at the end. It’s glorious!

To All Dog Lovers Out There

It happens this way …

A friend just emailed me to say she put down her dog this morning. It was a compassionate thing to do since her sweet pet was suffering so much. My friend’s heart is cracking open with grief again – she’s experienced this before –- but she will assure anyone who listens that the love she has shared with her dear dog is worth the pain.

Everyday I receive FB posts from my dog-loving friends across the country. They include messages about the benefits – physical and spiritual – of owning a dog – or, better yet, being owned by one. They make me laugh about the silly things dogs do and joy in the tenderness dogs show in nurturing abandoned kittens or guarding a sleeping child. I can understand the love.DSC07973

We don’t have a pet – unless you want to count the feral cats, steller’s jays, juncos, robins, and other various creatures who play in our backyard. The traveling we do makes owning a good excuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a dog in a kennel or even having someone other than us watch over it when we flew away.

Perhaps another reason is equally true: the experiences my brothers and I had  with pets growing up in NJ. I dug out this poem that appeared in Fall 2016 in an anthology called Our Last Walk: Using Poetry for Grieving and Remembering Our Pets.

I think the last six lines nail the truest truth about my lack of pet-ownership. A million cheers to all of you share love with, and learn love from, your pets. Someday …

 Love’s Labor’s Lost

or Why I don’t own pets

Three chameleons

disappeared

into our bamboo shades.

The horny lizard’s

soft-curled back

amazed

then,

like goldfish

in their hazy bowl,

flipped

its down-side up.

Unamused,

dad booted out

the lab who

slurped

his cabbage soup.

The speckled mutt

arrived

one day,

ran

away the next.

Need more

reasoning?

A droop-face cop

charged

our summer yard

and shot

two frothing pups.

My heart

can’t bear

another crack.

I fall in love

too hard,

too fast.

 

SMITTEN: How do we identify ourselves?

It happens this way …

There’s a new anthology coming out in a few weeks called SMITTEN: This Is What Love Looks Like from Indie Blu(e) Publishing. It features 120 women, ages 16-87, and their poems about loving women. Five poems of mine will appear in it.

During the past few weeks, I’ve met a number of editors and contributors via social media, answered interviewers’ questions, and read the interviews of women from around the world. What a powerful community this anthology is creating!

One question consistently stopped in my tracks: “How does your identity affect your work?” In the context of this lesbian collection (There: I’ve used the L-word! It’s only taken me seven decades to do that!), the question implies how does identifying as the L-word (ok, I’m not perfect yet) affect my writing?

Huh? Being a very late bloomer – I didn’t start to write poetry until I was 27 and didn’t come to grips with my sexuality until my early 40s – I never thought about that.

Being a woman beyond a certain age, I had identified myself as a teacher, business trainer, and writer; a carbon-based humanoid who happens to be a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I have written a number of poems about my personal relationships which have appeared in a variety of journals, but I’ve not been in an overtly lesbian anthology before.

I realized this was somewhat of a coming out into a world larger than my corner of Oregon. I knew former students of mine would read my interview on Facebook, Sister of Mercy friends would do likewise. I haven’t hidden my relationship with my partner of almost 27 years, but neither have I broadcasted it in such a far-flung way.

All this is to say, the question of identity is complex. How do we define ourselves? In terms of our work roles and/or our familial relationship? In terms of our race, ethnicity, education, sexuality, social standing, friendships, religious or political affiliations? All factor in and maybe identity is a mosaic: each a piece of the whole that is us. I’m still pondering who I am. Any thoughts about how you define yourself?

PS: Here’s one of the poems that will appear in SMITTEN.

I love you more than Mariska HargitayPoem

And so the day begins with you

explicating last night’s dream

about the way she stroked your cheek 

with her arresting smile and lured

you toward a dark-eyed kiss before

you fought her off explaining

it would be criminal beyond

the ordered bounds of law 

because the fact is I’m downstairs  

in muddy garden clothes and sleepy hair

waiting for your lips so I can ditch

my coffee cup and stubborn poem

to wage my outdoor chores

and you’re telling me you’re telling her 

you never swore a vow or wear

a wedding ring but when stray nights

tempt you toward a luscious offering 

you walk away you’re telling me 

you are faithful even in your dreams.

 

 

In Memory of 9/11

9:11

It happens this way …

Here, a Holding On 

for New York City

October 1, 2001

 

Twenty days of barricades

and twos and threes pause

on Chambers Street –

business suits, backpacks, hoodies,

uniforms in every shape.

No one pontificates

over vacant desks and pews,

tear-wet beds, fire stations gone,

bone fragments searching for home.

 

Here, they’re awed.

Tower shadows fled.

The first time in thirty years

Village streets and living rooms,

store fronts with their sidewalk signs,

responders struggling with ash

bathe in sun. They bathe in the sun.

 

Here, light takes hold

and I, a stranger from 3,000 miles west,

grab a subway strap,

head to an uptown hotel

to write this down.

 

August 7, 2017

Here, breaking news:

DNA defines one more loss.

(Male. Unnamed. Per family request.)

Who’s left?

Eleven hundred twelve gathered

in dusty dark, sharing thoughts

they thought as shadows dissolved.

Comparing notes on deals signed,

dinners served, dreams deferred

for the practicalities of work,

little words unsaid.

 

Here, holding on –

each to each –

until they’re freed from this room

where they’ve agreed

on the coarsest truth:

closure is a myth.

 

The Theology of Not-Yet

It happens this way …

index.aspxI just finished reading Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner, the author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Each chapter was a revelation about God’s nature, Nature’s nature, and human nature that stopped me in my tracks. Admittedly, I will have to go back and read the book again in order to internalize the wisdom and Biblical insights of this compassionate rabbi who writes to the heart as well as to the mind.

But for now, I wanted to share the book’s closing words. They  brought me to tears. Given the political and theological insanity that has been ripping apart our nation, I needed to hear these words:

               This world is not the world God intended it to be. Some human beings have made it  worse and continue to do so, while others have made and are making it better. I am sustained by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., quoting Theodore Parker, an abolitionist who died in 1860: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” And it bends toward honesty and toward forgiveness and toward generosity.

Kushner aptly calls this perspective the “theology of not-yet.”

One of the lessons I learned when we visited Philadelphia in July was that the vision of the Founding Fathers – so revolutionary, so world-shaking for its time – was still evolving in the not-yet history of America.

The huge sign on the side of the American Jewish History Museum was a poignant reminder of that fact. Writing to the Jewish community in Newport, RI, in 1790, George Washington said, “Happily the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

DSC08485

Today, all I can summon up is “not-yet, not-yet” while cultivating the hope that we will all bend toward honesty, forgiveness, and generosity so it “will be” in a future we are creating together.

 

 

 

Beware of staring ducks

It happens this way …

QU10COVERHALF-1-800x1200Yesterday I received my paperback copy of the summer issue of QU, a literary magazine published by Queens University of Charlotte, NC. I knew they had accepted a poem of mine, but wasn’t aware it had already been posted in a digital version on May 19.

Anyway, what I want to share today is how persistent inspiration can be when it won’t let go of you. The poem is called “Anatidaephobia.” Huh? That mouthful means having an irrational fear of being stared at by a duck. Double huh?!

This word was coined by Gary Larson in this Far Side cartoon.

Far Side

The set-up is hilarious and so is the made-up word

However, I didn’t see Larson’s cartoon initially. Rather, while I was watching a You-Tube interview with the incredible Judy Dench, she used the word off-handedly. At first I couldn’t understand what she was saying, so I played the video back several times and guessed at its spelling. By now I was hooked and was compelled to find out more about it.

People often ask writers and artists where they get ideas for their work. In this case it was happenstance – coming across the Dench video – combined with sleuthing to find Larsen’s cartoon, and then weeks of hard work shaping the poem into images that played with the original definition and then expanded it to be more universal.

The fact is from childhood on, I hated being stared at. I could feel myself blush whenever I walked into a room – whether it was a classroom as a student, a party with people I didn’t know, or a department store when I was approached by a salesperson. Being invisible was so much more comfortable!

Even as a management trainer, I always made sure my audiences had handouts. Not only did these keep me on track with the ideas I wanted to share, but they also got folks to look down rather than at me.  I would actually become disconcerted when someone, who was probably more auditory than visual, kept staring at me. So, believe me, I know firsthand what this phobia is all about. I just substitute people for ducks.

Who knew a made-up word for a made-up phobia would lead to a real life truth? Inspiration did!

To the last days of August …

It happens this way …

Glads

Notes from an August Gardener

 In the depths of winter, I finally learned that

within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

 Sunday morning

and not one bird makes a sound.

They’re watching me

cut each gladiola down,

keeping silent in respect

for my grief over orange,

purple, white, and mottled pink.

Until next year, I relegate

each stalk to recycling.

 

I’m enamored with intensities

that startle and invigorate

before they slip away:

day lilies, four o’clocks,

Rose-of-Sharon trees,

lovers on rebound,

lightning strikes of poetry.

 

Still, around the yard –

patient and long-lived –

hostas, daisies, and geraniums

ride the summer out.

They’ll hang on until

first frost – if affection’s paid.

 

Just as the lid drops on

what has been, empathetic birds

turn their muteness off.

They remind me

when summer is invincible,

there’s no mystery in falling,

falling in love again.