In Stopping: A Poem

In Stopping

by Joel E. Jacobson

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.” Leviticus 15:25

“She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.” Luke 8:44

“While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’ Luke 8:49

In stopping to ask,
“Who touched me?”
a woman is healed,
a girl dies–
and both had faith.
I would easily
rush to the street
and beg for Jesus
to heal my dying child;
I would slice
through the crowd
just to brush up
against his cloak
and be okay
getting struck
by lightning
because either way
the bleeding stops.
But my prayers
would have ceased
years and years ago,
died with the hearts of men
who made sure to mention
all that was unclean,
all that was me.

In the face of laughter
Jesus heals the dead
and bleeding, though
I’ve only seen them
die. Determined
to win out
and be healed–
I’ve seen the faithful
bleed–embalmed
and buried with the rest.

Me of little faith,
stuck in the middle
of the story,
the middle of the crowd
pressing in
on a busy Jesus.

___

“In Stopping” is part 9 of the Storytellers project.

Beetle Trees and Creativity

Scientists are predicting that by 2012, most lodgepole pines in the Colorado Rocky Mountains will killed by beetles. I saw this sad reality in Grand Lake this past week, as my family took a quick vacation. We rented a paddle boat and chugged out into the lake. A truly gorgeous morning to be out in the mountains. And on every side of the lake, I saw more beetle-dead tress than living trees. And it made me sad. I hunted up here once with my dad when I was in high school. I camped up here one summer as a kid. My wife and I honeymooned here. And it’s all dying. You can see in the picture that the hill in the distance is covered with dead or dying trees. Forest experts say that the only way to truly kill the beetles is to burn them. I doubt that the forest service will ignite entire regions of forest land in the Rocky Mountains. Sadly, scenic drives may result in a gray and brown rocky landscape, much like McCarthy’s The Road.

As I sat in my paddle boat in the middle of Grand Lake, my family bobbing happily along, I thought momentarily about cultivation. In Genesis, God commands man to take care of the land. Even now, the land still needs our help to be healthy. Nature is equally destructive towards itself as we are, something Emerson failed to acknowledge in his Transcendentalism utopia. Our earth has the ability to restore itself, and we see it as destruction. But forest are healthier when we remove the dead wood. Various animal herds are healthier when they aren’t over-populated. There’s something to be said for intentionally nurturing, cultivating, and caring for our home. The beetle tree problem is just another example of how our world needs us as much as we need it.

And the same goes for creativity. Our natural inclination is to move towards contentment, be okay with where we are. There’s a time for that, but if we, as artists or as people, ever buy into the lie that we have arrived, that we are the ultimate in our field, the moment the beetle begins to eat away at our creative spirit. The same applies if our audience becomes more important than our actual writing, or if success and the American Dream supersedes our art. I don’t say this to suggest that we should ignore our audience. Readers are part of the process, and alienating them doesn’t really help anything. Keeping an audience in mind is different than making the audience more important than the art.

What are some things that you do to stay fresh? To nurture your creativity? To refocus on the art instead status?

Mosaic: A Poem

Mosaic

by Joel E. Jacobson

I am a wine glass,
melted down
gently blown
and etched
into a limited
edition of one.
Fill me
with the most
expensive wine
and throw me
against the wall.
Break me into
expensive dust
because I can’t
see God anyways.

I am a wall,
framed in
insulated
dry-walled
textured
to look new,
pleasing
to the eye
complementary
to the art
hanging from
drilled holes
and plastic
anchors.
Plant
a sledge
hammer
in the middle
of my chest.
Rip down
my facade
bare my bones.
The builder
must have been
mistaken
in putting me here.

When God is dead
to me, your cupped hands
bear me, a mosaic
of dust and shards
and nails soaked
in red wine, they
hold me
until I can stand,
until your hands
are full of holes.

___

“Mosaic” is part 8 of the Story tellers project.

What Comes of It: A Poem

What Comes of It–

by Joel E. Jacobson

“I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat, and snicker
And in short, I was afraid.”

from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

1.

Because 90 percent of me is drowning.
Because the remaining  ten percent bobs and gasps.
Because all of me worries–
like coarse sandpaper on a wood block
like zebra mussels anchored on a wood dock
like sour salt on a raw tongue–
when all I have to do is float in the current
like a lobster in warming water
or simply stand up and get out.
I am still what I–.

2.

Over a hundred years, an oak tree
develops roots like a subway system
intertwined beneath city foundations.
Watered with change and pre-paid passes
civilization sprouts, scrapes intto the sky,
etches away the blue hues
and peels up fields like a worker
preparing an orange for lunch.

No oak can withstand the steel
stampede, the urban sprawl,
so it gets chopped from the top
down—an umbrella stripped to spire.
Chain the base. With the fire-power
of a big rig, rip it out. Don’t worry
about the treehouses or tire swings—
children need to grow up anyways.

Cut it down.
Is it, then,
still a tree?

3.

Model Airplanes: caged in plastic molds
even a young child can hold
and crack apart, just to paste the halves
back together, differently.  The gobbed glue
and wrinkled decals beg for empathy
or pride and the entire thing is either a good
first try or a failure.  Whether it falls apart
or not (it happens over time: the paint chips,
the missiles fall off and sometimes a wing),
what comes of it—a dream or a man?

4.

These pieces fit like painted
manikins and man-he-cants
filling wombs and elastic tombs
and entire tubes of sand-seconds
in between the bulbs of earth’s
hourglass. Maybe I can still muster fistfuls
of splintered hope, thread each one
into each sun, waiting for every
worry to become shallow and undone.

___

This is the seventh installment of the Storyteller project. Here are the other five: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Those familiar with my work will notice that this is not a new poem, but a major revision of an old one that needed (need?) work. Comments are always welcome!

Social Networking and the Artist: Part 1

I’m one of the 5 million who have had the privilege to test Google’s new social network, Google+. I’ve been sharing about g+ quite a bit on Facebook, to the point where one friend asked if I worked for Google. Social networking is an interesting phenomenon, especially for the generation of digital natives (I really don’t like that term by the way, as it isn’t accurate. Kids are supposed to natively adapt to technology. I don’t by it…kids play with technology, but don’t automatically see how it can be used for work.) Social networking is especially important for writers. Writing is an isolating career–most of us write alone so that we can concentrate. I know that I write better when it’s quiet, when there are no interruptions, when I sink into my creative process and frolic with my imagination. With this isolation in mind, it’s important for writers to come up for air, to know and talk with other writers; social networking is a great way to do this. Today I’m going to highlight the usefulness (and annoyances) of Facebook  and Twitter. Part 2 will explore Google+.

The story of Facebook is well documented, so I won’t go into it here. What we have now in the network is connections with over 750 million people of all walks off life. We can connect with friends from high school and college, we can our favorite bands, magazines, businesses, the list goes on and on. If that wasn’t enough, you can play any kind of game to waste as much time as you want. As writers, we can easily network and connect with other writers and resources. The challenge behind Facebook is oversharing. If you are  with family, coworkers, writers, and old school buddies, when you post something about your kids pooping on the toilet for the first time, it could ruin your professional image. If your high school friends talk about all the times you got high together, it could damage some family relationships (regardless of whether or not it’s true). If you have an artist page independent of your profile (which I’m working on), you then have two comment streams to monitor, two places to post updates, etc. On top of it all, the interface is cluttered, busy, and distracting. I haven’t harnessed to full potential of Facebook as a writer, probably because I spend too much time playing Bejeweled Blitz.

Weary of all the extras, I opened a Twitter account and linked it to my blog. Within weeks, I had networked with 5 or 6 poets, 3 journals, and random other people who are interested in my writing. I use Twitter to  short poems, links to my blog articles, and links to other great writing resources. There are so many articles that never would have crossed my radar if I did not  other writers and publications on Twitter. I prefer Twitter over Facebook because there’s less clutter, no room to spare, and nobody is asking me for secret potions to make mutant lambs (yes, you know who you Farmville people are. And for the record, I have never played). It’s easy to keep Twitter strictly business, though I can’t help myself posting about sports from time to time. Congratulations to the National League for winning its second straight all-star game. Woot!

It’s easy to be on information overload, so it’s important to create lists to make it all manageable. My students have often told me that they think Twitter is stupid and boring (another reason why they are not digital natives), but it’s such a great tool for quick links and bits of information. More teachers should find a way to utilize Twitter in the classroom.

I’ve had a better time networking on Twitter than Facebook, and my Facebook profile will soon be converted to a writing page, making that strictly business as well. Which brings me to Google+, the newest hottest social network around. My next post will cover how Google+ can simultaneously serve personal and professional needs without crossing the boundary of over-share.

What about you? How has social networking impacted your writing? Your writing network? Are either problematic for your work flow?

Becoming Art: A Poem

Becoming Art
for T.W.

by Joel E. Jacobson

The picture won’t paint itself.
The idea won’t self-reveal
without forcing itself
through the prism of the artist.

Thick, grieving strokes black out
the self (a penciled-in outline)
and the subsequent colors,
however sad or beautiful
are no longer sensible or appealing.

What it takes to sit there
and let each brush be felt
each piece be placed
until the picture holds depth.

Things used to inspire eventually expire,
end up in the back corner of a tired thrift store
on sale for 25 cents. It becomes difficult to tell
which is heavier,

the dust or the paint.

___

This is the sixth installment of the Storyteller project. Here are the other five: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Becoming an Authority (on overcoming doubt)

I just read this essay by Jeff Goins. His main advice is fake it until you make it, but don’t be a fraud. This is also the anthem of new teachers (or experienced teachers teaching a new prep), so I’m very familiar with it. After blogging about poetry, writing, faith, and teaching for almost 4 years, I’ve gained great confidence in sharing my views, showing what I’m learning about writing, and even sharing my poetry online. I’m less worried now about getting published by the big-name magazines, and more intent on getting the best possible work into the hands of my readers. (Side note: It’s not that I’m giving up on the publishing route, but I am trying to maximize my audience. That’s only possible if I maximize my avenues of getting my writing out there.)

Despite this confidence, I’m faced with my own FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt–to use a techy term) as I sit and write book reviews for a journal. There’s something about presenting information through your own channel in comparison to presenting it through another channel you don’t have control over. Now that my writing will be reaching an entirely new audience, I begin to doubt whether or not my voice is reputable and meaningful. I know it’s all hogwash, and I’ll get over it. But there’s always something to hurdle in this game of writing. My next race starts in 3…2…1…

Oil for the Lamp: A Poem

Oil for the Lamp

by Joel E. Jacobson

The parable of the 10 virgins couldn’t happen today because cell phones run on batteries. We’ve heard the stories of those who forgot their phone charger but still stayed up late texting and facebooking, checking defining their status, and others’. I too will shop ‘til my phone drops and then drop myself into a dead sleep, salvation. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is awake to hear it, it must not make a noise.  Because they are not here in front of me, there are no tornadoes or tsunamis or economic crises; there is no knock on the door, no parents demanding I wake up, nobody sweeping me off my feet or out of my bed, and there surely isn’t a buzz telling me I must read this important text because the batteries are dead. Plus, I’m not a virgin.

___

I don’t write prose poems very often, as it seems I have a hard time making them work. But it seems that this poem was demanding to be prose. What works? What doesn’t? Feel free to discuss!

“Oil for the Lamp” is part 5 of the Storytellers project. Here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Water the Mud: A Poem

Water the Mud

by Joel E. Jacobson

I once wanted to grow
an apple, so I buried one whole–
stem, hypantheum, ovule, and all.
A squirrel dug it up, chattered
over it until a snake bit and killed
it. A crow carried the snake away
and the apple rotted in the afternoon sun.

I once wanted to write a sestina,
so I picked my six words,
wrangled them with barbed wire
to the pattern they belonged to–
trust me, I knew where the words went
and the idea was definitive
like the the end of the rainbow–
and waited for the poem to sprout.

I told a friend about Jesus once,
I could see so clearly how he
could be saved from so much calamity
and his story became words to me
his life like an apple.

Ideas–language–hearts
need water to grow
beyond the mud.

If mud is all we see,
they become laundry–
full of holes–
drowning on the washboard.

___

This poem is my response to the challenge from Books & Culture to write a poem about cultivation. As always, I invite you to respond and discuss.