Getting Back In

As difficult as it is now to imagine, as I child I was beyond timid. While in my imagination I could make things that were beautiful to my child-eyes, swim all day without tiring, ride a pony into the sunset, speak my mind without shaking, in actuality I was frequently frustrated by art that didn’t match the intricate mandalas I could see in my head before I knew what a mandala was, a pony so stubborn she wouldn’t take a step without cajoling, a body so terrified of deep water that I’d rather tremble at the edge of the pool than jump in (and the ocean?–for toes only), a voice that shook and hands that sweated so badly I’d have to wipe them multiple times during any test. Now, I’m deeply grateful and certainly not complaining about what was, all told, an idyllic beginning on this planet. But the felt gap between the desire to get “out there” artistically, physically, intellectually and my perception of my ability to embody this free, artistic person I longed to be was, at times and for decades, crippling. It’s been, shall we say, a theme for me.

I blame only myself for this. It’s like knowing you’re so far from your longing that you see only a corner of it through a telescope whose eyepiece has been blacked out. You think the lens is very, very small until you realize that if you clean the eyepiece, you can see; the irony is that you were just so darn close to the eyepiece that you couldn’t see it, really, at all, much less fix it–and where you can see, one day you can go. But until the voice telling me to go for it was my own, until I could feel in my body that failure is more a possibility I can learn from than a death trap–only then could I get out of my little self in little ways and keep pushing outward from a center that knows that the extent of what is possible only grows.

Now, in a season of change when rock-solid friends are dying young and my list of must-dos seems to lengthen with every breath, I realize I’m again at the edge of the water, frustrated that my Crayola art looks little like the Sistine Chapel, that Taffy the dark, dappled Welsh pony with the gorgeous flaxen mane is snorting, stock-still. She used to keep that up for so long (it seemed like fifteen minutes but was probably more like three) that I would give up, dismount, and walk her back to the shed. My friends that said you have to get back on after any buck or disappointment didn’t understand that my ride just wouldn’t move. Welshb_shangri-la

(Wikipedia, “Welsh Pony and Cob”)

So here I am again, not that different, I suppose, from anyone else, wondering what’s next and how to reach it. The difference for me from my younger self is the richness I’ve found inside myself. (You can be brought up in the church and still take a rather long time to reach this point, I’ve learned.) The Source of all goodness is source for everyone (I’m not talking about creeds here)–I feel this in my core. It is that love I seek to embody, that that gets me out of bed. Breathing it in, filling with it feeds, resurrects. The mindfulness we now agree is transformative (in homes, in schools, in artists) is a moment-to-moment invitation. I find myself wondering, instead of whether I will evolve as an artist, how, which of several projects to prioritize artistically.

What does it mean to be in the present and still be a thinking person? (I won’t even touch Alfred North Whitehead’s paradox–or more recently, Deepak Chopra’s–that none of us is the same person in any sense that we were at some undefinable point in the past; most of our bodies’ thirty-seven trillion cells would be unfamiliar to the children we were, and yet we feel some I-ness that grows far more slowly.) Then the present, I suppose, is not limited by space and time and current perceived actuality; reality is comprised of a richer, sourced, psychological and spiritual landscape enriched by the thoughts of all those I can access in the Information Age, in my memory, in the stream-of-consciousness within my head, in the wild imaginings of the heart. The earth is present and so is the beyond when heart and mind synchronize, when we breathe/imagine/write from a single light-filled breath that widens and widens, selects, illumines, includes until limitations fall away and worlds like sci fi, telephathy, poetry, the unwritten history of a people, the unscored music of the spheres take on a body, a shape, a color, a stream in the senses that renders them as real as if they were being seen, published, written, sung, recited, read, experienced in the present moment. This is a space no longer limited by dogma, acculturation, doubt, or fear. We are liberated in the act of creating.

Yet there is always more work to do, a process with one’s own mind, with the heart, with the mind several more times, with one’s peers, with the experts before it ever reaches the public, or some sliver of the public (my writer-friends are fond of saying we must each find our “tribe”) in form of publication or performance. But the enrichment of the artist’s soul is an essential precedent to any contribution to one’s own life, teaching, family, dreams, self-actualization, philosophy, spirituality, technology, medicine, politics, artistic creation, self-healing, healing of others, and innovation in the world.

At this point, dear reader, please take a moment to read Denise Levertov’s poem “The Secret.”

Now a rare airplane buzzes over our house; locust leaves waft slightly, brooding, waiting for rain; the cat sits tucked and patient for my lap to be free of books and computers. Taffy’s stopped snorting; her right foreleg is actually lifting from the hard ground.

May your water be safe, your pony trudge forward, your art pour onto the canvas or the page in vivid color.

Trailer for More Water Than Words

Keening from Kathleen McCoy on Vimeo. Chapbook More Water Than Words by Kathleen McCoy, Finishing Line Press, 2017. Thanks to Marilyn McCabe for the tutorial on using iMovie.

 

 

Blue Holidays

Cookies, candles, cards, and cash . . . with all our running amuck
at the holidays, it’s easy to forget those who have grieved in the past year, or who grieve most at the holidays. more-waterThis year, before you pack up or sit back for your joyful holiday, please remember friends who quietly hunker down in blue corners behind the silver and gold. What can help them? A shoulder, a note, a cup o’ joe or tea . . . and poetry.

More Water Than Words is a chapbook in which “death is considered . . . in the mythical realm of change and possibility” (Marilyn McCabe). Preorders have been extended to Monday, December 26th for this plunge into imagination where an island disappears and reemerges, sheep change color, green trees burst into flame, and “even smudges on glass take on the visage of a lost loved one.” I’m grateful to Finishing Line Press for accepting these poems and publishing them, with one condition: I have to meet a minimum number of preorders, and I’m short. If you can help someone you know in 2017, you’ll also be helping poems enter the world at their appointed time.

Happy holidays to you. May your days be more vibrant, musical, and peaceful than blue, and may you find a poem or two that speak to you.

At Last

It has happened at last. I’m not talking about the latest terror attack or presidential candidate gaffe or our vacation. I’m talking about my baby.

Not the one that graduated this spring. The one I’ve been trying to hatch for more years than I care to admit.

It was a long labor, and longer waiting for one of about ninety slowly-sent submissions to become an acceptance. But eventually, it did. Now, in the past twenty-four hours, I’ve had to catch up on work, write for my church, let family and friends hear my news, plan a couple of local book launches, and marvel at the two boxes full of books that are lounging in the middle of the dining room table like they own the place. (I won’t share the state of my house right now, but those boxes are the least of it.) But it feels like that sweaty, slightly breathless bliss of standing on the little mountain you’ve just topped and surveying a panorama of tree-lined mountains in mist.

Green&BurningCover
Word Tech, 2016 Encaustic art by Kathy Ligouri; book design by Susan Pearce

I’m just grateful it’s arrived at last–thanks in no small measure to the many poet-friends who mentored it out of me–that I’m happy to scoop it up in its buntings until I remember it’s really just words on paper. It won’t close the equity gap; it won’t provide clean water; it won’t end war.

But it’ll offer forty-eight poems to the world–whatever that’s worth.

When you write because you can’t imagine not writing, the boxes on the table are a surprise inheritance. Almost.

Arm-y: On Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus

Good and entertaining review of Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.

O Write: Marilynonaroll's Blog

Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus was a finalist for the National Book Award, and I’m glad about that. I — in an ironic twist, as I love to eat octopus — was consumed by it. It struck me as a beautifully balanced braid of science, human interest, and philosophical inquiry. She informs us about this fascinating cephalopod and what research is discovering about them; gives us intimacy with both her own experience with researching the book and with the people she encountered who know about, work with, and love octopuses (yes, that’s the preferred form of it — octopus is a Greek-derived word, but the -i is Latinate ending)(or something like that), as well as the octopuses themselves, who stole the show; and uses the experience as a way to think about consciousness. This is what I love about this kind of nonfiction, that braiding technique. The philosophical…

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The Resurrection of Yde Girl

Yde Girl reconstruction, photo courtesy of mummytombs.com
Yde Girl reconstruction, photo courtesy of mummytombs.com

She was a teenage girl who may have limped, who loved, who worked, who worried two thousand years ago in Bourtangemoor, the Netherlands–who was sacrificed and planted in a bog only to be discovered when she popped up like a Halloween prank on the peatcutters who unwittingly uncovered her remains. My poem “The Resurrection of Yde Girl” has been recorded by WILDsound. It’s one of a series of mummy poems I am working on, some of which are forthcoming in Green and Burning (WordTech, 2016).

Breaking Open

Rarely comes a chance to break open the hard nut that encases the creative writer who’s necessarily enmeshed in a workaday schedule. This past month I’ve been broken open to new ways of processing experience and producing new work. While I will always prize the rumination/marination requisite for meaningful revision, I’ve learned to press pen to paper more quickly than I’ve ever done before thanks to the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project. An innovative venture, it features new work by pre-selected poets for thirty days. My work will come down tomorrow, so please check it out today. You can donate (tax-deductibly) to an award-winning independent literary press and select “Kathleen McCoy” in the “30/30 Poet” dropbox, or, if you see this after July 31st, name “Kathleen McCoy” anytime in the “Honor” box to credit my fundraising goal.

I’ve learned I can write everyday, even when the inevitable “stuff” of life comes up: surgery, two deaths, a reunion, six plane flights, gardening, grant-writing–oh, yeah, and an academic job. That none of this got in the way of the poems is a tribute to the support of my family, writer friends, Tupelo Press staff Kirsten Miles, Marie Gauthier, and Jeffrey Levine, and the other 30/30 poets for July:  Alexandra Beers, C.W. Emerson, Sara Femenella, Tobey Kaplan, Juan Morales, Carrie Nassif, and Kenneth Wagner.

Almost There for the 30/30 Project!

Dear friends and poetry lovers, the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project for July is wrapping up this coming week. I’m doing well but have not yet reached my goal. Please check out the poems–there are wonderful pieces by (in alphabetical order) Alexandria Beers, C.W. Emerson, Sara Femenella,Tobey Kaplan, yours truly, Juan Morales, Carrie Nassif, and Kenneth Wagner. Anything you can spare, please go to http://tupelopress.wordpress.com/3030-project/, click “Donate”; fill in your personal information, and in the “30/30 Poet” box, select “Kathleen McCoy” to credit my fundraising goal. . . . While you’re at it, be sure to scroll down on the main part of the web site to view the whole month’s poems by all of us. Thank you!

Halfway There

The 30/30 Project, 30 poems in 30 days, is halfway over already. I’ve been thrilled, stunned, encouraged, puzzled, stymied, and ultimately inspired so far this month. This project propels poets into perpetual motion: when we’re not jotting notes or phrases or dream images, we’re dashing about our daily lives to hurry back to the page, the screen, the task. I can give you many reasons to give to this indie press fundraiser (see below), the best of which is that it’s a win-win-win: it helps Tupelo Press sustain its award-winning publication of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; it helps poets by giving us a readership and (temporary) publication; it helps donors by offering tax deductions for your charitable contributions (the exception is if you subscribe to the year’s worth of poetry books). If you haven’t given and would like to, please go to http://tupelopress.wordpress.com/3030-project/ and click on “Donate” and “Honor”; in the latter spot, name “Kathleen McCoy” to help me get to my goal of $400. I’m less than halfway there, and time is running out.

While you’re there, check out the poems. Our voices are distinct; our subjects vary; our styles stand out. You’ll read about memory, love, pain, mourning, joy, anger, war, teaching, indecision, nature, urban life, parenting, dogs, research, travel, mummies, zombies, exercises in imagery and language usage, and many more subjects.

Then take the 30/30 as inspiration for yourself. Commit to creating whatever it is you create–poems, stories, souffles, parties, research, songs, gardens, experiences. Commit for a day, a week, a month. The rewards you’ll reap are rich as the berries the birds haven’t yet plucked.

Peace, Poetry, Palindromes

100TPC2015My latest effort for the 30/30 Project, “Raw/War,” is featured on the site today–a taste of poetry, peace, and palindromes. . . . I hope you’ll enjoy that and the work of my impressive peers on the site.

I’m also gearing up for September 26th, when we’ll ask the world to think about war, peace, our green planet, and role the arts can play to make our time here more meaningful, peaceful, poetic. See 100 Thousand Poets for Change on Facebook.

Here’s to peace, poetry, and palindromes.