The Quick and dirty:
-I’m part of a VoiceCatcher reading at MilePost 5 at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 16. I'll be reading an essay about my travels to Thessaloniki, Greece. VoiceCatcher is an amazing publication to be involved with and I'm excited to hear the other readers.
-Starting Tuesday, June 16 for six weeks, I'll be offering an Open Writing Studio Class at the Multnomah Arts Center with writing to prompts. It's $15 to drop into one class or $70 for 6 weeks.
-Next reading of Russian poetry translations is October 3rd at 6:30 pm at TaborSpace cafe. (the first one went great with 44 in attendance! Thanks to all who showed up.
Friends, peers, and teachers,
Peggy Shumaker, a brilliant writer, mentor, and friend, once shared a poem by Jane Hirschfeld with me that became my rallying cry for many years. Here it is:
Ask Much, The Voice Suggested
Ask much, the voice suggested, and I startled.
Feeling my body like the trembling body of a horse
tied to its tree while the strange noise
passes over its ears.
I who in extremity had always wanted less,
even of eating, of sleeping.
Agile, the voice did not speak again, but waited.
“Want more” -
a cure for longing I had not thought of.
But that is how it is with wells.
Whatever is taken refills to the steady level.
The voice agreed, though softly, to quiet the feet of the horse:
A cup taken out, a cup reappears; a bucketful taken, a bucket.
One reason I love this poem so much is that it is mysterious. Why is her body like a trembling horse? Where is this poem taking place? Who is the horse? Who uses wells nowadays?
Honestly, I wouldn't say that I "get" most of my favorite poems. But I always took this poem to mean something about openness to multiplicities of good.
I am gardening for the first time in my life this year (yes, yes, I'm utterly Portland now after 8 years here) and plants have helped me understand this poem differently.
When the seeds I planted emerged as actual plants, it was thrilling and I'm sure I danced to celebrate. Then I replanted them all in the 4 X 8 garden bed; to me, they all seemed like fine candidates to thrive. When my friend Katie came over, the conversation went like this:
"Uh Judith-you know that's a lot of lettuce plants there."
"Well yeah. The guinea pigs really like lettuce."
"What I mean is the lettuce plants get big and need room with time. How close did the seed packet say to put them?"
"I don't know." [lying] "six inches?"[lying less] "One foot?" [telling the truth] "Eighteen?"
"Well, I think they're actually only like three inches apart now. Or less..."
"Won't they just cannabalize each other if they need to? Like plants do to each other in the rainforest?"
"Not really. This just means none of them get big."
Katie set me straight. She helped me let go of the smaller starts in order to make room for a bigger future harvest, even though it was painful in the moment.
What does this have to do with Jane Hirschfield? Asking for much is about asking deeply of a few things, not about asking here, there, and everywhere. Asking deeply of a few things is damn difficult, I'll tell you that - whether it's an essay, a lettuce start, or another person. But this trust is how the harvest gets really big; and when we understand that lesser stories have been composted in service to this one, the stories we write begin to matter more.
Best wishes for a healthy, joyous summer, and an intentional garden of your own,