Monday, April 30, 2012


Spring cleaning:
an exercise in wiping away
the dust and tears,
the petty futilities
of talk that says nothing
and acts that do nothing;
so many things
you pay someone to do
you end up doing yourself--
so why pay?

Borrowing time,
always borrowing,
to think, to dream, to write, to sing,
to watch the children grow
(they won't be small for long);
I don't want to miss
my second childhood,
to feel again the growing pains
and all the other hurts
of being in a new world.

Borrowing youth--
time away from
dishes and dusting,
cooking and cleaning,
sweeping and sifting,
folding and scolding;
the sun and breeze
feel different now
than the first time
I sneezed my way through.

All borrowed,
all of this life,
this incomparable,
incomprehensible life,
this experiential being,
hopefully not interest-free;
we can only hope
to reduce our debt
by loving each day,
at peril of dust and tears.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rapid Transit

It was all he said it would be,
just ten years too late
and a hundred miles short;
he was never able to visit that way.

It was a lot of talk,
from one body to another,
a ploy to earn public trust
and then take the taxes.

All for the public good, they said,
but some pockets were lined
with that hundred miles of track
my grandpa never got to ride.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Jack. He studied law, but preferred to live what he taught himself:  electronics and jazz piano. He, as many of his and surrounding generations, had bought the product branded as "progress"; he had high hopes for a future filled with the closeness that the much imagined electronic-age could offer. He did not live to see the computer-age go mainstream; when he died, the dial phone and manual typewriter were the main forms for communication, in addition to the radio waves he surfed during his career and television. He did not live to benefit from the aging electronic-rail system that by now has carried millions of others under the San Francisco Bay, to and from communities all around the Bay Area. The idea had been born in the late 1940s, but the dream was not realized until the early 1970s, due to political stalls and money "shortages". Now, so many people take the system for granted; even though the system continues to expand it is no longer the marvel that it was when it first opened. When, in 1973, I traveled under the bay for the first time, I thought of Jack, and wished he was with me. I know he would have held my hand with the same ageless excitement I felt. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

To Free The Soul

Open wide the gates,
filling the vast interior
with whatever inspirations
are eager to be
and be beyond.

Embrace equally the visible
as well as the invisible,
so the song of You
that loves to fly
will be multidimensional.

Digest every lesson
in your composition,
reaching for what is good
of all available beauty;
this makes harmony inevitable.

They say "leave no trace",
but I say "carry your song,
deliver it often and long";
transition once complete,
dawn will glow of your smiling face.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mobility Under The Influence of Distraction

Perhaps this is less true about walking, than it is about traversing on wheels (of some sort or other), but why doesn't it occur to anyone that there is a certain amount of focus required?

I see people doing as many things as they possibly can while they walk, pedal, scoot or, worst of all, drive.

Is it necessary to be distracted while mobile? Is it productive?

It is certainly not mindful. And the lack of awareness actually tends toward thoughtlessness and self-centeredness.

Now, this is not to be confused with or mistaken for someone who goes for a walk and gets lost in thought that might or might not seem aimless.

In one case, the mind is engaged; in the other the mind is not engaged. Can you discern which is the engaged mind and which is not? And what does that actually mean?

I claim that the cellphone texters and gabbers are engaged, but distracted. When these individuals are so focused on their handheld devices that they cannot see traffic lights, stop signs, other pedestrians, flowers, trees, telephone poles, mailboxes or cars barreling into their path with legal right of way, I think that they are lacking in mindfulness, are thoughtless and self-centered.

This is different than the person who walks, unencumbered by electronic accessories, lost in thought. This person is also engaged, though perhaps not focused. This person is thoughtful, this person is aware of the surroundings. It is very possible this person is solving a problem, meditating or otherwise creating.

Which pedestrian is more likely to be injured by an oncoming motor vehicle?

Is any of the text or gab worth your life? Is it producing that great work of art that will be spoken of a hundred years from now? Is it raising the Gross National Product? In short, does it accomplish anything of significance?

blah, blah, blah

        babble, babble, babble

bah, bah, black sheep,

        have you any wool?

[Don't answer.]

        3 bags full...........


So, here is my PSA for today: Put the gizmo away, look around and mind yourself!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Groupon, Coupon, or Poupon: Super-Sizing, Discounts and Our Twisted Notions of Value

I live in a small town that has a Parent’s Network List Serv. Being on a list serv like this is a wonderful way to find out things by email. For example, I found out that there has been a sharp increase in stolen vehicles in recent weeks, and what neighborhoods have been hit. Dogs manage to escape from their yards at unusual rates; the nice thing is, if you are on the network and you have seen the announcement, then later spot the dog (while out and about) you can do a rescue and be a material part of the happy ending.

Today, one of the members of the network posted about Groupon “deals.” She had seen one for the local theater, and thought about using it, until she looked at the limitations (can’t use on weekends and can’t use in first three days of a new screening, as well as some others). What it boiled down to was there was not that much in the way of savings and these savings could not be had at a times that would work for her and her family, and so it was hardly with the effort to use.

The internet has to earn its keep to an extent more than social networking and electronic gaming, and the primary way is through advertisements and offers, such as Groupon. Most of the time, these offers are for things, events or services I would never actually be interested in, and that has made me wonder how many people actually avail themselves of such offers. If offers are of a type that no one would use, there is really no sacrifice actually being put forward by the business making the offer—so the Groupon is not really a discount coupon, just a cheap way of making yet another advertisement for the business. Either that, or the offers of discounts are not really discounts, at all, as the critical thinker discovered when she thought about the theater Groupon.

Whether or not what I have just said is true, I think the more important issue is the systematic psychological training of the public toward a certain slants on “value”; namely (1) no one should pay full value for something or (2) it is better to get more for the money you do pay because more is better. So, this is why the pizza joint offers free breadsticks with your pizza order; you get more dough for your dough… Of course, for everything that is really important, we are forced to pay what we are told is full value; when was the last time you saw discounted offers on medical, dental, veterinary, banking, investment or accounting services? Conversely, since when did medical, dental, veterinary, banking, investing or accounting services get super-sized?

The societal trend toward “devaluing” almost everything has ultimately made it difficult (or even impossible) for the average person to receive decent wages or have health coverage or be accorded basic dignity and respect. This devaluation has extended so deeply into, for example, the realm of education that the entire system is being destroyed. The need to make a profit comes before the need to care about or for people. Conversely, the trend of demanding more for less has promoted all that is unhealthy and unsustainable; all you get is junk (junk food, cheap plastic toys, watered down drinks, flimsy products and incentive gifts that go to landfill); this is also a devaluation.

It is not such a huge leap to say that people have come to respect stuff more than people. I found a colleague recently expressing shame that he didn’t have an iPhone. I was appalled that a person would use stuff as a yardstick of self-worth. I can only hope that this highly intelligent and talented man was joking when he made the comment…

It should be no surprise to anyone that a public that says “I want more for less” is also a public that says “no fees; no taxes.” The meta-message is “we do not value ______ [fill in the blank] enough to contribute as a community to keep ______ available so that everyone can enjoy or otherwise benefit from it.”

Disturbingly, you could fit the word  “people” in those blanks, and if you do, it gives one additional food for serious thought about business trends and value. Particularly since the biggest businesses have been at least partially subsidized (both visibly and not so visibly) by our tax dollars for generations, and most people who say “no fees; no taxes” have likewise, each and every one, benefited from at least one, if not dozens of, publicly funded programs.

I like to find deals when it makes sense to do so, but I also love our public libraries, our parks, our vibrant arts programs and museums... I don't mind paying a few cents more for the French mustard I like, and I don't mind paying taxes.

More importantly, I value people, and I wish everyone did.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Involuntary Controls

Golden strands of light glide
off the salty soup of the sea;
while birds revel in flight,
calling out hellos to me,
wildflowers reach out to touch.

I look out from my thoughts,
these distractions welcome.

As I walk bayside along,
I am reminded of the sun,
of wild grasses and birds,
of sand and sea, of joys
that cannot be measured
by worth or priority, but
just because they are;
here I am among them
with no appropriate response.

This is all free, in a way
that I am not, nor can ever be;
choose my way as I will,
this parallel dimension
will tolerate my presence,
but not be fed by my music.

I now see our world,
of unmeshed constructs
and unleashed powers,
as an untamed world apart.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

(Reflections for Earth Day)

Monday, April 16, 2012


All in a single journey,
from nothingness to thought,
from thought to word,
from word to conception,
from conception to increase,
from memory to consciousness,
from consciousness to desire,
and from desire, the world became.

Once desire thought,
the word was heard,
and from the vast unseen,
the moist green spiral,
uncurling, unfurling,
greets the light,
dancing with the wind:
child of the wild.

Dance, dear child,
dance and, dancing,
rise up to the skies,
for you are our gift,
our beloved,
our link
on the chain
of onward.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen
This piece has been set to music by Michael Kaulkin in his composition entitled “Waiting…”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Night Owl

Framed in moonlight,
she scans the fields of night.

Visibility perturbs her not;
self-promotion is neither desired
nor required.

but little understood,
she is outstanding in her field.

Swift and silent
once chosen,
she takes possession
like none else can.

Acquaintance is short,
termination quick
and merciful.

Once you become hers,
you are now an
integral part of her. 

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Test Tea for Dry Flu

A flu that does not include nausea or other stomach upset, but does have some heat and lots of muscle ache may benefit from the following tea:

2 parts YARROW
2 parts BONESET
1 part CATNIP
1 part SAGE

Barks must be boiled for 5 to 7 minutes in a small pan, with one cup of water.

Create a standard infusion of the leaves and flowers by placing them in a  pouring boiling water over them in a reusable teabag or a tea ball, and pouring boiled water over them. Let the infusion sit for 10 minutes before drinking.

WHITE WILLOW is for fever, joint pain and headache. If this does not seem to help enough, SKULLCAP and even ROSEMARY may also be added.

CATNIP and SAGE help reduce temperature (and perspiration).


Here's hoping you don't get the flu! (But, in such a case, here is something you can do!)

You know I am not a doctor, so any information I have to offer is not a prescription, but a soothing recipe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

At the Helm

At the sound of a distant bell,
I emerged—shaken like a heavy drop
from some grey storm cloud—
to find myself plopped aboard a barge,
well appointed with cushions, cats
and flagons of tea.

Of any flu suffered,
this surely the most benign,
ranging from cloud-like
to ocean-going,
aching limbs creaking
with each rolling pitch.

When, from this voyage,
I emerge, perhaps
it will be to discover
my cloud was the one
that burst upon our damply
blooming flower-beds.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Saturday, April 7, 2012


The angel also said unto them,
you are witnesses
to a truth beyond anything
you have been taught to understand;
this has been shown to you
because no man will believe.

Someone must know the truth.

What to do with this knowledge,
I cannot guide you;
from the wrath of those who lack faith,
I cannot hide you.
Know that this is a blessing,
though it may seem a curse.

Someone must know the truth.

Your myrrh is not needed here
—only your faithful witness;
go in peace, to love and serve;
your Friend you will see again soon.

With a blinding flash of light,
the glowing angel was gone
—and they were alone in the tomb
with the cold, hard truth.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This Business of Poetry, Part 10: Concluding Remarks and Welcome to National Poetry Month!

Ten installments of a free on-line poetry course is probably enough. Now that we have entered the month of April, it is National Poetry Month, and time to get back to the writing practice!

I would like to make some concluding remarks, as I bid you adieu, to continue on your journey with words.

This is my first observation: no one can really teach you how to write poetry. Yes, there are many forms and there are lots of mechanics to the many forms, but these can be learned by reading poetry and by studying poetry manuals. (Whenever you see photographs of poets and writers, these images are almost always captured in a room filled with books and papers—they must be reading a lot!) Most poets have an internal music and rhythm that either conforms or defies predefined styles; either way, no one can tell you what you are doing is wrong. Refining and reorganization can be suggested, and I highly recommend you do this with all your work.

Next, the enjoyment of poetry is so extremely subjective that you should never consider you are writing for others—the most authentic work is that which you write for yourself, rather than to try appealing to a public that may never materialize. My personal notion is that poetry evolves from an individual’s deep interaction with the world of experience.

Throughout history, poetry was a pursuit rather than a profession. Poets sent their poems to friends in letters or self-published small collections that would be given as gifts. A few people were able to establish a readership, but the work of most was not available to “the public” until long after the author’s death.

Today, many people have the idea that if they write poetry, they will be able to make a bunch of money or garner attention for themselves. This seldom happens, but if it does, the point of poetry is completely lost, because it is no longer a poet’s conversation with the experiential self.

MFA writing programs have created academic enclaves that tend to be ever so slightly elite or cultish. When you consider that the greatest poets of most ages never took a degree in the art of creative writing, it all looks a little silly and seems to have evolved for the sole purpose of keeping “professional” poets gainfully employed. The writing that results from the academic approach can seem, though it is not always the case,… well, academic, if not sterile or contrived—in order to appeal either to a general public (that may wonder, not knowing any better, if it need appreciate such work, particularly if it does not resonate with a truth that the average reader can sense) or to writers within the enclave.

The other end of the spectrum from the MFA program is the Poetry Slam; this is a live entertainment contest, held at a performance venue. Winners are chosen based on the judges' tastes, audience reactions, and the poets' "performances". These can be raucous affairs, far removed from the demeanor of a more traditional poetry reading. My father attended one recently; he was absolutely appalled. One woman read a poem my father thought was well crafted and beautiful, but she was shouted off the stage. The victor in this slam presented work that had popular appeal, but the work was rough and somewhat crude.

Perhaps there is a lesson in all this. I would say that poetry does not belong in any kind of ghetto. This is not to say that a writer might not become part of a movement, but the movement should never define the work or diminish the individual poet’s accomplishment.

If all you ever do is create a journal of your work, you have achieved something great. You are, after all, writing primarily to please yourself.

Should you decide to enter contests, you might get your work placed in publications, perhaps even win a small honorarium from time to time. Don’t make this, however, the object of your writing. Don’t be afraid to self-publish; this is the time-honored way for poets to expand their readership beyond family and friends. Here again, this should never be the object of your writing, and do not expect to really make any money.

Your poetry should be valuable to you because it is a testimony to your engagement with and observations of the world. (Off the top of your head, can you think of a person whose old personal journals have become published and recognized to be of value in modern times? I can: Leonardo da Vinci; a poet, a painter, a sculptor, an inventor and theorista renaissance man for all times!) Think of your writing as a gift that you give to yourself before all others, although you will share it more and more, as time goes on. Beyond this, who knows what can happen?

Your work amounts to the care you have lavished in conversation with yourself on your life’s journey. For that reason alone, it is priceless.

For now, best of everything to you, and WRITE ON!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This Business of Poetry, Part 9: Poet Perspectives on Poetry and Poets

So, we have been plying, even playing in, the desert places, living, observing, breathing, hoping to be inspired, developing our practice of making a daily note and jotting down ideas. This all seems well and good, but is this worth our effort?

Let us hear from poets about writing and the role of the poet.

Kenneth Rexroth, on making money as a poet:

None of us makes a living by poetry, although we think it one of the most important activities man has ever had or could ever hope to have, as long as society remains as it is.

T.S. Eliot, about the mind of a poet:

The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.

Dana Gioia on the compromise of poetry as art for poetry as job security:

Only a philistine would romanticize the blissfully banished artistic poverty of yesteryear. But a clear-eyed observer must also recognize that by opening the poet's trade to all applicants and by employing writers to do something other than write, institutions have changed the social and economic identity of the poet from artist to educator. In social terms the identification of poet with teacher is now complete. The first question one poet now asks another upon being introduced is "Where do you teach?" The problem is not that poets teach. The campus is not a bad place for a poet to work. It's just a bad place for all poets to work. Society suffers by losing the imagination and vitality that poets brought to public culture. Poetry suffers when literary standards are forced to conform with institutional ones.

Mary Oliver on what it means to be a poet:

Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, commenting that poetry is a language of philosophy:

No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language.

Jack Gilbert, on the dilemma of modern poets.

A lot of poets don’t have any poems to write. After their first book, what are they going to do? They can’t keep saying their hearts are broken. They start to write poems about childhood. Then what do they do? Some of it is just academic poetry—they learn how to write the poem perfectly. But I don’t think anybody should be criticized because their taste is different from mine. Such poems are extraordinarily deft. There’s a lot of art in them. But I don’t understand where the meat is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this kind of poetry. It won’t change my life, so why should I read it? Why should I write it?

By the time some writers—particularly poets—are twenty-seven or twenty-eight they’ve often used up the germinal quality that is their writing, the thing that is their heart. Not for the great poets, but for many poets this is true. The inspiration starts to wane. Many have learned enough to cover that with devices or technique or they just go back and write the same stories about their childhood over and over. It’s why so much poetry feels artificial.

This is just a small sampling of comments on This Business of Writing Poetry. There is much more to be said, much more to be read, more to explore and experience, as a reader and writer of poetry.

I would just add that you should be true and authentic to yourself in all your writing—this is what will ultimately make your work meaningful to you and to your readers.


Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, 1919.
Fay, Sarah. “The Art of Poetry No. 91”, The Paris Review interviews, 2005.
Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, “Can Poetry Matter?” Graywolf, 1992.
Oliver, Mary. Georgia Review, Winter 1981, p. 733.
Rexroth, Kenneth. “The Function of Poetry and the 
Place of the Poet in Society”, 1936.


I have been reading a wonderful collection of lectures made by e.e. cummings at Harvard. I have only read a small sampling of cummings’ poetry, but I ran across this small Atheneum publication of what cummings called “six nonlectures” (reprinted by permission from Harvard University Press), delivered as the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard in 1953.

The lectures talk about cummings’ life and development as an artist. He makes very interesting observations about the role of the poet and trends that he was seeing in the society of his times.

I have been enjoying this small pocket book, but today I am writing about the little surprise I found folded within the later pages of the book. On mint green writing paper, someone had written a poem, using a fountain pen with blue ink. There is no title at the top and neither has the poem’s author identified her or himself.

Here is the poem, in its entirety:

The weather has thrown off its shawl
of wind, of cold, and of rain,
and it’s clothed in garments
of clear and radiant sun.

There isn’t a beast or bird
which in its way doesn’t sing or shout
the weather has thrown off its shawl
of wind, of cold and of rain.

River, fountain and stream
carry prettily
pieces of gold coin,
each one dresses itself anew;
The weather has thrown off its shawl
of wind, of cold and of rain.

What a delight, to have found this little book, in the early days of Spring, only to discover a little poem tucked within its folds!

I cannot help but make the observation that technology does not account for such delights as these.

If you are the author of this poem, let me know who you are—I would love to have a conversation with you about Spring and poetry, fountain pens and books!