Tag Archives: poets

Coffee With Alphabet Stew!

Welcome to another Weekend Coffee Share.

At last, I feel capable of giving you my full attention, instead of having a head full of alphabet letters corresponding to dead Poets. May 1st… the April A-Z Blogging Challenge is over for another year, although for me “over” is rather semantic. These letters have now been re-classified DRAFT and I will be adding a few more poets, editing and then it’s P for PUBLISH.

By printing these plans in black and white, it’s my way of converting dreams into action and moving things forward. I have been working on the Book Project in various guises for 9 years so I am very excited and relieved to get this far. Don’t know how many words I’ve polished off so far but I finally have a solid manuscript. Phew!

As the challenge drew to a close and the family and dogs were feeling well and truly abandoned, I’ve stepped out of my cave and touched base with the real world.

This week, the kids returned to school. This means I have more time to write uninterrupted during the day although I’m back in Mum’s Taxi so not completely liberated.

Jungle Book

Friday night, we went to see Jungle Book at the movies with the kids’ Scout troop. You might not be aware but the Cub Scouting Movement has very close ties with Jungle Book.  Baden-Powell, who the Scouts Founder, was friends with Rudyard Kipling and asked him for the use of Jungle Book’s history and universe as a motivational frame in cub scouting. In 1917, junior members became known as Wolf Cubs.

Anyway, we all enjoyed the movie. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the 3D version but the scenery was breathtaking. I doubt I’ve ever watched the full movie before so that’s a good sign, if you’re thinking of going. We’re not entirely sure how authentic it was and there were elements reminiscent of other movies. Geoff and I are both feeling we need to re-read the book.

If you’re a Kipling fan, you might enjoy his poem: If

We’ve also had a few family games of Boggle over the weekend. Our son is particularly keen and resilient. When you’re playing with four people, it’s hard to get much of a score and the kids have been lucky to get more than a couple of points. Geoff always doubles my score. Even though our defeat is swift and comprehensive, our fighting spirit has not been quashed.

dog beach zoom

Dog Beach. Photo Rowena Newton

This week, I need to get back into my beach walks with the dogs. No more excuses.

Thank you for joining me. I hope you’ve had a great week and I’m looking forward to finally catching up with you again.

The Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Part Time Monster.  Please click here for the “linky”.

Best wishes,

xx Rowena

PS: I’m now watching a show called Bondi Rescue set with the lifesavers on Bondi Beach. They have a bagpipe player on who is doing a fundraising tour. They just showed the lifeguards trying to play her bagpipes and the sea gulls leaving the beach in droves. The sound was woeful! Also, had the first episode of Masterchef tonight and I blame that for scoffing 2 Tim Tams in quick succession!

 

Dedication: To A Poet Dying Young #atozchallenge.

For the past six weeks, I have been writing Letters to Dead Poets for the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge. This wasn’t a selection of the world’s greatest, most influential poets. Rather, these were the poets who have touched me personally.

Due to the alphabetical nature of the challenge, it meant leaving some poets out and actively seeking out fresh sources of inspiration to fill those usual tricky letters along the road.

However, as I researched my list of poets more thoroughly, it became alarmingly clear that too many of these poets had taken their lives or had succumbed to some tragic accident. Indeed, that too many poets died young.

Throughout the challenge I was haunted by a poem we had studied at school: AE Housman’s: To An Athlete Dying Young. I have posted it here for your consideration and ask that you substitute “athlete” with “poet”.

To An Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers

After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,

The fleet foot on the sill of shade,

And hold to the low lintel up

The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girl’s.

A.E. Housman, 1859 – 1936

As a community, we need to look out for one another and reach out with love to the broken bird. Shelter, nurture the vulnerable, helping them to regain their own strength to return to the sky. While we can not offer professional mental health support or advice, I have to believe that love, acceptance and being part of community has to be some kind of help. Well, it’s doing a lot for me!

As poet John Donne wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Prior to undergoing this challenge, I’d never considered “Poet” a dangerous occupation. However, I am starting to wonder whether Stunt Pilots might have been survival rates.

It certainly reminds me of the need for balance. For taking the time to smell and inhale the roses and not just write about them. That as much as life needs to be lived, we also need to put down our pens, laptops and tools of trade and walk in the great outdoors.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Z- Xu Zhimo, On Leaving Cambridge:#AtoZchallenge

Taking Leave of Cambridge Again

Softly I am leaving,
Just as softly as I came;
I softly wave goodbye
To the clouds in the western sky.

The golden willows by the riverside
Are young brides in the setting sun;
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
Keep undulating in my heart.

The green tape grass rooted in the soft mud
Sways leisurely in the water;
I am willing to be such a waterweed
In the gentle flow of the River Cam.

That pool in the shade of elm trees
Holds not clear spring water, but a rainbow
Crumpled in the midst of duckweeds,
Where rainbow-like dreams settle.

To seek a dream? Go punting with a long pole,
Upstream to where green grass is greener,
With the punt laden with starlight,
And sing out loud in its radiance.

Yet now I cannot sing out loud,
Peace is my farewell music;
Even crickets are now silent for me,
For Cambridge this evening is silent.

Quietly I am leaving,
Just as quietly as I came;
Gently waving my sleeve,
I am not taking away a single cloud.

Xu Zhimo

(6 November 1928) See Note.

Xu_Zhimo

 

Dear Mr Xu,

For the last month, I have been writing Letters To Dead Poets.  At last, I have finally reached “Z” and in a sense, my journey is over. You are: “The End”.

This means that I am also doing my own leaving. At least, that was the plan. However, this has become the first step of a much longer journey, which has unceremoniously been labelled: DRAFT.

Of course, “DRAFT” in no way reflects this gruelling, personal odyssey. Indeed, rather than “DRAFT”, it should be stamped “VICTORY” instead. After all, I’ve been working on numerous incarnations of The Book Project for 9 years and now I’m finally on my way.

Moreover, “DRAFT” fails to reflect how much I’ve grown and changed in the last month. Indeed, I’ve left a flat, hollow version of myself back at the start and at least now, I’m more aware of my ignorance. I don’t know whether my writing has improved from all of this reading and research but I have. You could say that I am the New Improved Version or in modern lingo I’ve been relaunched as Rowena 2.0.

This journey has been superfood for my soul!

However, as much as I would like to believe you could write a life-changing book in 30 days, I know it’s been rushed. Unfortunately, this is but the tip of the proverbial ice berg of what lies ahead and much of this work will also be going on underground, which is neither glamorous or exciting.

Anyway, this letter is not about me. It’s about you.

I’m here to ask about how you become a poet. Do you feel there was something inside you, some kind of “poet seed”, just waiting for the right time and that mix of sun and rain to germinate and grow? Or, were you made? If we took a humble lump of clay and processed it through a poet-making factory, could we pump out: “The Poet” where you turn the handle and poetry flows out, like an electric mincer?

Given that so many poets seem to go through the proverbial mincer themselves, I also have to wonder whether we should be watering poet seeds or manufacturing “The Poet” anyway.

I don’t know whether it was just bad luck that you died in a plane crash when you were 30 and Shelley drowned in a yacht at much the same age and Sylvia Plath also took her own life at 30.

Being a poet, really does seem to turn you into an endangered species. Wouldn’t we be better off in a much safer line of work such as becoming a stunt person? I think even they outlive us poets.

Cambridge_-_Punting_in_Cambridge_-_1690.jpg

Anyway, for those of us too far down the poet path to turn back, it’s 1928 and we’re returning with you on a brief tour to Kings College, Cambridge. You were there as a literary researcher 1922-1923. Hungrily devouring a rich poet soup blended with Shelley, Keats, Hardy, Tagore and the French romantics and symbolists, must have nourished you like a super food. You translated poems into Chinese. In 1922, you returned to China and became a leader in the Modern Poetry Movement. In 1923, you founded the Crescent Moon Society, named after an anthology of poetry by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and in 1924, you worked as a translator on Tagore’s controversial tour of China. In 1928, you briefly returned to Cambridge on a tour. That’s when you wrote: On Leaving Cambridge, which is now learned by children throughout China.

Reflecting back to Virginia Woolf’s investigations into what it takes to be a woman writer, did you have a room of your own and independent means? Is that what allowed you to flourish? Or, was it something else?

Anyway, what Woolf forgot to mention, was that you also need to survive. Being a poet almost seems synonymous with tragedy. Even when such tragedy seems accidental, random, pure chance, that there’s no chance about it. Of all the millions of people living on this planet, once again the lightning bolt has stuck the poet…not someone else!

I thought you might appreciate this verse from Yeats and you can just substitute “lad” with “poet”…

“A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.”
― W.B. Yeats

Anyway, I should be safe. I’m working undercover driving Mum’s Taxi and posing as a suburban “housewife” (not my words, I can assure you!! Actually, our poor house has been orphaned…especially through the last 6 weeks!)

I am truly sorry that you life was cut so tragically short and you journey came to such a sudden, horrific end. It doesn’t seem fair that you didn’t get to finish your story.

Well, speaking of journeys drawing to a close, my trains due to depart, heading back to the shed. Indeed, the train whistle’s blowing right now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Note

This translation is taken from Peter Pagnamenta (ed.) “The University of Cambridge: an 800th Anniversary Portrait”, (London: Third Millenium Publishing, 2008), page 29.

The featured image shows a memorial stone at Cambridge featuring the first and last lines of Xu’s poem.

 

U-John Updike On Dogs #atozchallenge

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter and I apologise for my delayed response.

As you might appreciate, there was quite a backlog of books for me to review and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a book again. Not that I wasn’t thrilled to receive your letter.

Knowing how I shun attention on the golf course, I appreciate your reservations about writing to a book critic. I commend you on your courage. However, there’s no red pen here!

In your letter, you asked me why dogs don’t live anywhere near as long as humans. After much research, I have turned to Scottish poet, author and amateur dog breeder, Sir Walter Scott,

“I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time?”

Sir Walter Scott

320px-Sir_Walter_Scott_statue_at_Scott_Monument.jpg

The Sir Walter Scott statue designed by John Steell, located inside the Scott Monument

By the way, Sir Walter Scott’s most famous and favourite dog was a deerhound, Maida (1816-1824 Named after the Battle of Maida, which took place in 1806, he was a gift from Alexander Macdonell of Glengarry, a friend of Scott, and whose brother led the 78th Highlanders in the battle, a victory for the British against the French in the Napoleonic Wars.

Scott wrote to his son Charles that “Old Maida died suddenly in his straw last week, after a good supper, which, considering his weak state, was rather a deliverance; he is buried below his monument, on which the following epitaph is engraved in Latin [Maidae marmorea dormis sub imagine Maida / Ante fores domini sit tibi terra levis],[3]thus Englished by an eminent hand : –

‘Beneath the sculptured form which late you bore,

Sleep soundly Maida at your master’s door.'”

The monument mentioned is a statue of the dog at the hall door of Scott’s home, Abbotsford House.

Thought you’d appreciate a bit of dog trivia, especially as you are building up quite a dossier about poet’s dogs.

By the way, you might let your father know I’m free for a round of golf. Rather rusty but death is perhaps the ultimate assault on your handicap.

 

unknown artist; Wordsworth's Dog, Pepper

unknown artist; Wordsworth’s Dog, Pepper; The Wordsworth Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/wordsworths-dog-pepper-143085

Thought you’d appreciate a bit of dog trivia.

By the way, you might let your father know I’m free for golf. Rather rusty but death is perhaps the ultimate handicap.

Kind regards,

John Updike.

Source

Wikipaedia

S- Shakespeare On Love 400 Years On.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for thy letter. Deepest apologies for the fingerprints. All this birthday cake is a delectable feast and I’m shoveling in another mouthful as I write. By the way, these pens are an ingenious invention and so much easier to use than quills. In between mouthfuls of cake, I caught the Express to London and almost reached the heavens on the London Eye.

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Now, if you had asked me how to stage a play and entertain a crowd, that I can do. However, I am not so sure about love and its very essence, except to say that: “the course of true love never did run smooth.” and that I have loved:

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Yet, obviously there are poets better versed in love than I.

Brownings

So, I thought I would introduce to Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Despite vehement opposition from her father, they fell in love and  On September 12, 1846, while her family was away, they eloped and were married at St. Marylebone Parish Church. She returned home for a week, keeping the marriage a secret, then fled with Browning to Italy. She never saw her father again. Her best-known work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, chronicles their courtship and marriage.

Yet, despite their great love, they retained their personal writing styles.Mrs Browning once said: “I never wrote to please any of you, not even to please my own husband”. Moreover, noting her husband’s masculine style, she wrote: “you are masculine’ to the height — and I, as a woman, have studied some of your gestures of language & intonation wistfully, as a thing beyond me far! and admirable for being beyond.”

Anyway, I have scribed examples of their work and trust you will explore them further.

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

Violin rose

A Red, Red Rose

 O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

   While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

   And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

   Though it were ten thousand mile.

 Robert Burns

 

Well, Rowena, I’m off to the theatre tonight. I’m hoping a hat will suffice for a head.

Yours,

William Shakespeare.

References:

Kathleen Blake: The Relationship of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ebb/ebbio1.html

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/elizabeth-barrett-and-robert-browning-elope

The featured image is Rodin’s Romeo & Juliet 1905.

 

 

P- Dorothy Parker Writes to the Pollicle Dogs #atozchallenge.

Dear Pollicle Dogs,

Please thank your mother for  her letter. She is very generous with her words but should consider that just as: “Brevity is the soul of lingerie”, writers also need to be brief.

We have reconvened the  Algonquin Round Table and there’s been much discussion over your protests to  TS Eliot. Indeed, Misty and I thoroughly concur that Dogs the Musical is an absolute must.

Of course, Misty must have a leading role and I insist that the pair of you retreat to the Salon. Lady, in particular, has a certain scruffy “je ne sais quoi”, which needs IMMEDIATE attention!

Bilbo, if you are serious about performing, baths, brushing and hairdryers are de rigeur. No further complaints, or you will be “replaced”!

Moreover, there are two further rules you’ll have to abide: “No balls on stage” and “No rolling in dead animals”.

Lady, I am appalled! Indeed, you are quite the “ruff ruff”, NOT a Lady!!

While that such conduct might be appealing in canine society, it’s not how you win friends and influence PEOPLE!

 

 

Meanwhile, here is a poem I wrote to my beloved Misty:

Verse For A Certain Dog

Such glorious faith as fills your limpid eyes,
Dear little friend of mine, I never knew.
All-innocent are you, and yet all-wise.
(For Heaven’s sake, stop worrying that shoe!)
You look about, and all you see is fair;
This mighty globe was made for you alone.
Of all the thunderous ages, you’re the heir.
(Get off the pillow with that dirty bone!)

A skeptic world you face with steady gaze;
High in young pride you hold your noble head,
Gayly you meet the rush of roaring days.
(Must you eat puppy biscuit on the bed?)
Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong,
Yours the white rapture of a winged soul,
Yours is a spirit like a Mayday song.
(God help you, if you break the goldfish bowl!)

“Whatever is, is good” – your gracious creed.
You wear your joy of living like a crown.
Love lights your simplest act, your every deed.
(Drop it, I tell you- put that kitten down!)
You are God’s kindliest gift of all – a friend.
Your shining loyalty unflecked by doubt,
You ask but leave to follow to the end.
(Couldn’t you wait until I took you out?)

Dorothy Parker

Wait by the phone! I’ll be in touch my lovelies!

Best wishes,

Dorothy

Pollicle dogs was coined by TS Eliot after his niece couldn’t say “poor little dogs”.

 

Weekend Coffee Share – April 17, 2016.

Welcome to another Weekend Coffee Share,

If you were thinking about popping round for coffee today, I’d probably tell you not to bother. That you’d probably have to make your own and truth be told, I’ve very surprised the family hasn’t been surviving on Vegemite toast for the last week as I’ve been totally swallowed up by the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme is: Writing Letters to Dead Poets, which has evolved into quite a grueling yet fascinating journey alongthe road less travelled. You definitely need a mechanically sound 4WD to make your way through.

If you are interested in checking our the letters, I’ve posted a list of letters so far on my weekly review: Alphabet Soup

I also wrote a post about some of the twists and turns I’ve negotiated so far as I’ve faced what many would consider rhetorical questions head on for better or worse:Diving Deep into Deep Poet Creek.

On a more light-hearted note, the kids are currently on school holidays and still have another week to go. So far,, I’ve learned that trying to make cupcakes when your head’s focused elsewhere is not a good thing.  While translating grams into cups, I accidentally told my daughter to add double the amount. She later laughed that you couldn’t have too much sugar but thinking about the chemistry involved, I wasn’t quite so sure. They emerged looking like ponds with sunken centres which she filled up with icing sugar mixed with food colouring which was quite runny and moved. I didn’t photograph the neon ponds. No doubt, fearing I’d burst into hysterics and offend the cook, which is NEVER advisable!

My daughter and I also went for a walk with the dogs along the beach. There was quite a terrible smell and I knew that no matter what or where it was, Lady would find it and not just roll in it but actually grind the stench deep into the fur follicles to 100% guarantee it never came out. In this instance, the stench was a baby Bronze Whaler Shark. Just as well it was dead!

My son has spent most of the holidays playing Minecraft in chat rooms although he and Geoff built a shelf for his room and are in the throws of painting it. Mr has done most of the work and it’s look great.

Now, it’s Tim Tams and TV while psyching myself up to jump back on the A-Z wagon tomorrow with a controversial O.

How was your week? Have you been participating in the A-Z Challenge and how are you going with it? I’d love to hear from you!

Wish all a wonderful week ahead!

xx Rowena

 

Diving Deep into Dead Poet Creek #atozchallenge.

My brain’s been absolutely scrambled what with swimming through Dead Poet Creek…a thick molasses of words, thoughts and characters. Even when I turned to Roald Dahl for some light entertainment through his Revolting Rhymes, the dark side caught up, dragging me down by the toe.

I never really set out on this journey searching for meaning or anything profound. The muse just popped the idea in my head like a postcard and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was right and revisiting these dead poets is exhilarating yet also deeply challenging. While I thought I knew about poetry and poets, I’ve actually found out I was ignorant. That you can’t just read a couple of poems, relate and feel you know someone. People are much more complex.

The letter I received yesterday from Rudyard Kipling, has thrown me a bit. Not only does it emphasise that I haven’t found an equivalent “girl” poem for my daughter but it’s thrown me into a quandary about his son.  After all, he sent me his poem If, which follows on from Hemingway’s poem: Advice To A Son.

How do you choose suitable role models for your kids? Just because the words sound good, is that enough? Or, do they need to walk the talk instead? Live what they say?

I believe so but we’re all human. None of us have got it right! Then again, some crimes are considered “unforgivable”.

This means I’m still no closer to working out what it means to be a man. Or, what it means to be a woman either.

Perhaps, I should’ve just stuck with 10 finger arithmetic and then I’d know all the answers. However, that wouldn’t be any fun!

As I’ve mentioned before, writing these Letters to Dead Poets hasn’t only been about asking the poets the questions I’d like to have answered. As much as I’ve felt totally transformed fully immersing myself in their words, ideas and splendor, the poets are also challenging me through their lives.

Why did Hemingway take his life? How did Jim Morrison end up dead in a bathtub in Paris at 27? Why did Keats die at 25 when so many lesser men live long but comparatively useless lives? How could Roald Dahl write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, his greatest work when he was experiencing such intense, unbearable personal anguish and grief?  Does suffering really make the poet, the writer? Without it, would we simply just be: “normal”?

With all these questions, running round and round inside my head and words blowing around like Autumn leaves, I am left wondering, wandering while trying to bake cupcakes with my daughter. The kids are home on school holidays!!

As I said, yesterday I received a not-unexpected letter from Rudyard Kipling. I was pleased to hear from him because under the constraints of this blogging challenge, I’m trying to stick to  writing to one poet per letter. Choosing between Keats and Kipling wasn’t easy but for me, there was never any doubt.

Anyway, Kipling sent me a few poems for my kids, especially my son. He’s now 12 years old, recently started high school and is steadily becoming a man. As much as he’s always been growing steadily upwards and learning new things, puberty is something of a metamorphosis where the child goes into a cocoon and emerges an adult. In so many ways, it’s like being forged inside a furnace. As the parent, I suspect that I’ll also end up in the flames and will no doubt emerge frazzled and somehow transformed.

One of the poems Kipling sent me was about his son Jack, who died in World War I. While there is incredible honour and sacrifice in dying for your country, I was intrigued to read that John Kipling had actually been declared medically unfit to serve and his father had pulled strings to get him in. Like his father, Jack was severely short-sighted. Kipling, I discovered, was 200% behind the war effort and fighting for King and country and was writing propaganda. This not does sit well with me and I find it all so difficult to understand. Wasn’t he sending his son to war just like sending  a lamb to the slaughter house? Or, was his son that willing to die? He didn’t value his life and was more than willing to be that sacrifice? Or, was that what it meant to be a man? Noble sacrifice?

How much should we as individuals be prepared to sacrifice for our country?

Should we be taking our freedom for granted? Or, should we be prepared to fight to the death in its defense? Do we adequately appreciate what it means to spread our wings and soar through the sky without being shot down or locked up in a cage? Somehow, I was lucky enough to be born in Australia. Although I can struggle with our geographic isolation, being out of the thick of things has also had its strengths…especially in the past.

I’ve never really had to defend a thing aside from the TV. My brother and I fought some pretty fierce battles over who controlled the box but that was about it.

So, I obviously have no idea what it means to lose your freedom, be silenced or what it’s like to live through a war. It’s so easy for me to take that freedom for granted. Forget that’s not a universal thing and that the free need to help liberate the enslaved.

So, I’m in no position to question Kipling about his actions and choices. I’ve never walked in his shoes. Instead, I think I’ll send him a poem I wrote to my son at the end of his first year at school.

Today, I am writing a letter to John Lennon. I am seriously struggling with this. What do you say to one of the greatest, most inspirational men who ever lived about the moment of his death when a crazed gunman shot him in the heart and robbed him of his life? Even though Lennon was a man of peace, wouldn’t he be angry about what happened? Or, has he found the power to forgive? You hear of people forgiving the unforgivable and that forgiveness is enlightened self-interest. That anger and revenge are  poisons consuming you body and soul from the inside out. Yet, I know I’d be mad. It’s one thing for someone to steal your car or break into your house but to take away your life and take you away from everyone you love? How do you live, or even die, with that? What stops you from haunting that bastard forever. Making their excuse for a life a living hell?

However, even in death, revenge could consume you. Rob your peace.

I have also wondered what, if anything, John Lennon would say to Hemingway?

Isn’t it a bit freaky that Hemingway shoots himself and Lennon gets shot? The man who shot Lennon is still behind bars and yet Hemingway escaped justice.

It’s a strange world once you lift up the hood. Indeed, perhaps, I should have left things alone.

I’m starting to think that too many questions can be bad for your health.

Do you have any answers or reflections on this mess? It seems to me, that asking more and more questions, only digs a deeper hole!

Best wishes,

Rowena

14th April, 2016.

Letters To Dead Poets-AA Milne #atozchallenge

Hi Christopher Robin’s Dad,

This is J & A’s Mum.

Not sure whether you remember me. My Mum used to read Winnie the Pooh to me when I was very small and now that I’ve grown up, I’ve been reading your books and poems to my children. My favourite poems are: Vespers and Now I am Six.

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

Now We Are Six, By A. A. Milne

 

By the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, my son looks quite a lot like your Christopher Robin. Indeed, he could’ve stepped straight out of the pages of your books.

Well, at least, that was: Once Upon A Time…

Christopher Robin Milne

Christopher Robin Milne & Winnie the Pooh.

You see, he’s no longer six and we now have to double that score. That’s right! He recently turned twelve and has just started high school, which as I’m sure you’d appreciate, was quite a shock! It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was very young…just like your Christopher! I have no issues about him growing up. Indeed, I’m rather relieved that he’s not out there chasing Heffalumps and Whoozles and looking for the East Pole. That’s enough to give even the most courageous parent a series of heart attacks!

Jonathon wharf alone

Our son looking rather Christopher Robinish.

Speaking of growing up, I was wondering why Christopher Robin never grew up? Why did you stop writing about him and telling him stories about all his toys? Why didn’t the story telling grow up with him?

It’s not that I mean to be rude but is the reader just meant to passively sit back and not share their opinions or respond to an author’s work in any way? Or, are we allowed to think? Have opinions and instead of just being written to, can we readers actually write back? Express our views?

Well, at least, I think so but perhaps I’ll disagree when I also become “an author”.

Well, being what Owl would call “impudent” and others might consider “thoughtful”, I decided to send you a poem I wrote about my son being 12. You could say that to get to this poem, we’ve doubled Now We Are Six…applying some simple calculation.

Poem: Somewhere In Between.

but somewhere in between…

my feet now touch the ground

though my thoughts are

somewhere in the clouds.

I look out my bedroom window

at the road which lies ahead

wondering how to get from A to B.

Do I really have to walk?

Why can’t I take a jumbo jet?

I don’t have all the answers.

Indeed, I don’t even know

which questions I should ask.

Yet, everywhere I seem to look,

all I find is rules.

Rules on rules on rules!

Be here!

Go there!

This is how to do your hair!

Living by this ringing bell,

has to be a form of hell!

Neither tall,

Nor small

but somewhere in between…

why can’t I just enjoy the view

before I grow too big?

.

I must say that the other thing that I’ve noticed now that my son is 12 and my daughter’s 10, is that I am also being forced to grow up. Just like Christopher Robin has in a sense been immortalised as a little boy, you have also been frozen in that same time warp. You will always be that father of a young boy, bringing the adventures of his toys to life through Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Rabbit.

Most of us do not have that luxury.

It’s been wonderful experiencing my second childhood…building sandcastles, reading picture books and driving along with the likes of Eeyore in my car.That is, being able to do all these fun things without being considered “insane” or “different different”.

So, if you don’t mind me being so full of questions, I only have a couple more.

As my kids grow up, do I really have to grow up with them? Why can’t I just veer off on my own trajectory and keep on being a kid? Do my own thing?  Just asking!  After all, don’t you still feel like finger painting and making mud pies every now and then?

I thought you might have a plan. Or, perhaps I should be asking Pooh? Despite being a so-called “bear of little brain”, he really is quite a good problem solver.

Thank you very much, Mr Milne! You’re an excellent listener!

Warm regards,

Rowena

Born 18th January, 1882, Alan Alexander Milne died on 31st January, 1956 aged 74. While his ashes were scattered, there is a memorial plaque at Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, the setting for Winnie the Pooh which quotes:

“By and by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleon’s Leap.”

Which is your favourite poem by AA Milne? Or, perhaps you relate to one of the characters from Winnie The Pooh?

Personally, I feel like I am a combination of most of his characters…quite a “soup” you could say.

xx Rowena

 

A Philosophical Sunday Afternoon.

Writing letters to dead poets has led to a philosophical Sunday afternoon…even after eating loads of chocolate!

You see, this week, I’ve been preparing for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme is: Letters to Dead Poets. Like so many participants, April has crept up behind me and grabbed me by the throat, while I was otherwise occupied. So, this week I’ve been head down, bum up and hard at it.

I can’t even begin to describe the journeys I’ve been on. It’s been absolutely extraordinary. You could just imagine what it’s been like immersing myself in the works and bios of over 26 poets who have inspired me throughout my life. It’s been incredibly uplifting and equally intense. There have also been some macabre discoveries as well!

keats letter

When I drew up my list, I simply chose a poet who had touched me, which corresponded to each letter of the alphabet. Of course, some letters had multiple options and there were other letters where I was absolutely stumped and relying on Google. This was good too because I discovered some incredible poets from Japan and China which helped me out with letters I, Q and Z.

While I’m not going to spill the beans on my selection,what has shocked me is the number of poets who took their own lives. There were also others who just seemed to combust or died as a result of misadventure. There was one who was shot and another who shot himself. How do you make sense of that and what would they say to each other? Nothing because they’re both dead and the past is the past?!!

Yet, there are also others who endured incredible hardship and survived.

Why is this so? I don’t know.

 

DSC_9867b

Sea Gulls Flying Towards the Sun….Rowena Newton.

So, when it’s come to writing letters to many of these dead poets, its been incredibly intense. That probably doesn’t surprise you but it did surprise me. I’ve sort of found these poems one by one and hadn’t really discerned any patterns before. In many cases, I had no idea how the poet had died. So, what started out looking like a fairly random selection of poets, has been transformed into themes and variations…alarming ones in many ways.

What has also emerged is that there are people who go through incredible suffering and somehow survive and yet others take their own life. I’m not going to call that giving up because it’s not an easy decision but it’s incredibly hard on family and friends who are inevitably left behind, wishing they’d done more. Tried something else. Somehow managed to save this person they love and cherish. When someone loses a parent or a child, it’s their own flesh and blood… more precious than life itself and their anguish has no end.

couple walking

Walking Together Through the Fog- Rowena Newton.

So, you could say it’s been an intense week but a rewarding one because a these letters are now becoming a book. I’ll be putting more abridged versions up for the challenge as these posts need to be a quick read. After all, the challenge is quite the blog fest trying to make your way around as many blogs as possible hoping some of these relationships will be more ongoing.

Thinking of the challenge like that, makes me think I could have chosen a more light-hearted topic. However, meaning is very important to me. My writing has to have meaning, even if that’s humour but there has to be a purpose. There’s so much rubbish out there and I don’t want to become part of that just to boost my stats. For me, it’s much more important to touch hearts, particularly the hearts of the hurt and hopefully give them a touch of hope. As Emily Dickinson once said:

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.”

This approach is reassuring for all of us who want to help others but feel overwhelmed. One person can not save the world by themselves but if we could each “stop one heart from breaking”, that would truly turn things around, wouldn’t it!

Anyway, after all of this, I knew I need to step out but I wasn’t quite sure how. When you’re mulling over details which are speeding round and round your head in a cyclonic yet inspirational vortex, it’s hard to step out. Incredibly hard, at times.

Then, this morning, my incredibly happy Black Dog, Lady, greeted me with such enthusiastic gusto, that I felt good. My spirits lifted. Lady is such a happy little dog who  wags her tail with such vigor, that she whacks it on the floor. Then, as she hears you walk closer, the whacking speeds up. Well, when she saw me this morning, it was like I’d risen from the dead. She was THAT happy. The tail was wagging and her entire body was quivering and she was jumping all over me.

DSC_0361

Those big brown eyes say: “I love you!”

I think she was hoping for a walk.

As soon as I saw her, though, I thought: these poets didn’t have a dog. I don’t know whether that’s true but my dogs certainly cheer me up and do their best to keep me on an even keel.

Also goes to know that just because Lady is a “Black Dog”, that she doesn’t have to be depressed. Rather, she’s as happy as…a dog!

While I found serious depression revisiting my favourite poets, I also found much encouragement, resiliance and amazing determination to overcome the odds.

Issa-snail

The Haiku writer Issa survived incredible adversity and yet still still appreciated and honoured the incredible beauty found in nature and pushed on. I shared this Haiku with the family last night:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

You can read more about it at: Snailing Up the Mountain

Out of interest, thought I might ask you all to share your survival strategies for getting through a tough week?

I have quite a complex web of survival strategies. There’s my family which gives me so much motivation to overcome anything which crosses my path and my friends, some who are like family. There’s my faith and that knowledge that God is with me all the time no matter what. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that I don’t ask him questions and wonder why things pan out the way they do and that’s why community is important. That you need to be part of something bigger than you. I have my puppy dogs who give me so much unconditional love and that huge crazy tail wag every single morning and if I’m having a sleepless night, they are also happy to join me. I could almost hug them to death and they’d never tell me to leave them alone. That said, they can drive me a little crazy pestering me to throw the tennis ball and every time I’m going out is somehow perceived as a “walk”. Yet, this also reflects their undying optimism, faith and hope. They never let a setback stop them from believing that the next time the door opens, they’ll be off.

Exercise, socialise…these are really important.

As an over-arching principle, I strive for balance. If I am going through a hard time and immersed in the dark, it’s really important to take myself the other way and find the light. I do that by viewing the world through my camera lens and particularly love photographing the clouds at sunset. They are so beautiful and just watching nature, calms and restores my soul. Nature is such an incredible tonic.

I also believe you need to have a sense of humour and being able to laugh at yourself and your adversity can be strangely very therapeutic.Don’t know why but it’s worked for me.

That adversity doesn’t hunt you down.You’re not the only one going through hard times. Although it might look like others have the perfect life, you usually don’t know them well enough to know their truth.

chair Umina Beach

Rather, life ebbs and flows. There are ups and downs and we just need to learn to swim, improve our stroke and build up those muscles to survive. Alternatively, we build a boat and learn to sail. The how doesn’t really matter but do nothing and there’s only one result. You sink.Drown.

When you live a very rich and varied life, you’re much better prepared when adversity knocks. With your eggs spread throughout multiple baskets, you’ve spread your risk and you’re not sunk in the first strike. You have something left  in reserve.

This is why I was off at the beach with the family and the dogs yesterday afternoon and off to Church this morning. I also specifically spoke with my Pastor about my Dead Poet Project as well as some friends. I am dealing with some very tough philosophical questions and I know this isn’t something I should be doing alone. I need to go into that space of solitude to write but I also have to come out and get back into life, the universe and everything. Hug and be hugged by both humans and dogs!

These are important issues for our creative community. Too many creatives have been swallowed up by all-consuming darkness or the brilliance of the flames. Somehow, we need to reach out to each other and truly hold on. Hold on when we’re sinking and hold on as our neighbour goes down. Likewise, we can also go up and I’m all for flying a kite..just as long as I can get down once again!

Father & Son

A Helping Hand- Rowena Newton

When I was back at university, a friend of mine shared the analogy of the rock and the kite. The rock and the kite are friends…buddies. Yet, they are also opposites. The kite with it’s tendency to fly away and get carried away by the wind,  is tied to the rock and grounded. Meanwhile, the rock has a tendency to get too heavy and sink into the ground. Get depressed. However, the kite lifts it up out of the ground and cheers it up. I have always seen this as an explanations for why opposites attract in relationships. We help balance each other out.

It’s funny how I’ve known this analogy for over 25 years yet writing this now has given me a whole new perspective. I’ve always thought of the rock and the kite as separate people but but they are also opposing forces in ourselves…the light and the dark, which wrestle each other within to determine our mood, outlook, the status quo. There’s a  constant, grueling tug of war within, as the rock and kite fight it out while we manage the battle. While all light and no darkness or heaviness might seem like the goal, we need depth, reflection and even sadness or we will, in effect, float away. All froth and bubble without any substance!

I’d be really interested to hear your feedback about all of this. I am not a mental health professional but I am a survivor. There are no medals or public acknowledgment for most survivors but we have more than learned life’s lessons along the bumpy road.

Take care and if the dark side is eating you up, please reach out. Keep reaching out. I promise we care!

Love & best wishes,

Rowena