Thursday, December 7, 2017

Spiritual Journey FRIDAY?

I remember my grandmother saying she was forever a day late and a dollar short. I'm feeling her words in my bones these days. Yesterday was Spiritual Journey Thursday and I was supposed to post reflections on my one little word for the year. I skipped Poetry Friday -- again -- but I'm determined to find a few reflections on connections!

Connection was my word for this year. You can look back on my original post here. I didn't realize until I went back and read this post that I was thinking about pain science way back at the beginning of the year and connecting mind to body. I did end up taking a pain science course for six weeks in October/November. It was wonderful to learn so much. And I'm teaching a workshop on Saturday on avoiding back pain from holiday stress where I will be helping folks understand why they experience chronic pain. So an interesting connection from January to December.

Connecting with nine grandchildren, all but one, far away is always a challenge. I generally read two books to each of them onto a CD for their birthdays. Though I've been late on a few of the last ones, I have managed to connect with them a bit more this year. Finally having one close by, very close by, next door to be exact, has been a most wonderful connection. Tomorrow I get to have him with me all day long. Poor little guy had shots today and is feeling a little under the weather.

My writing has taken a bit of a back seat while I sort out my yoga studio, but I'm learning to connect with my yoga audience with a weekly newsletter where I share breathing and stretching tidbits and simple info on poses, as well as a bit of spiritual encouragement. It's been fun.

Yes, it's been a year of connections, old ones and new ones.

I haven't a clue what my word for next year might be. Hopefully I'll find that connection before the year is out. Read more reflections at Irene's blog Live Your Poem.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Poetry Friday!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

It's been two months since my last post. I've missed all my Poetry Friday friends, but I've accomplished  a whirlwind of stuff. I moved my yoga studio to a new location with more room and more exposure.

I started a 200-hr yoga teacher training program. The training runs for ten weekends between September to May. We just finished weekend three and I am remembering just how much I love teaching.

I took a six-week online pain neuroscience class through my son's physical therapy clinic and absolutely loved absorbing as much information as I could squeeze into my brain. I'm looking forward to translating some of that info into yoga workshops, especially for people struggling with chronic pain.

Unfortunately, writing has been on the back burner. It will come back, I know it will, but for now, it's still okay to do what's in front of me. Although I have managed a poem or two a month. Here's my poem from this month's Today's Little Ditty Challenge. I think I need to reassure myself that I really did write something this month!

A Gnarled Oak 

extends tumorous limbs across the road,
the mass of leaves a marvel of deep shade 
despite disease—like our Walmart greeter
ticking off receipt items with a grin.
He’s forgotten the lumps under his skin, 
ignores the way eyes skitter from him 
to the latest sale or the cashier making change
or the house shoe-clad girl in the next aisle. 
The discomfort not his. He smiles and greets,
his roots sunk deep in some whispered truth
only his ears are tuned to hear
and bestows his grace-filled shadow
without reproof.

© 2017 Doraine Bennett

I want to recommend a beautifully written and illustrated book for those of you who love celebrating advent with your family.
Image result for all creation waits by Gayle Boss
Paraclete Press, 2016
In her introduction, Gayle Boss says, "The practice of Advent has always been about helping us to grasp the mystery of a new beginning out of what looks like death. Other-than-human creatures--sprung like us from the Source of Life--manifest this mystery without question or doubt...They can be to us 'a book about God...a word of God,' the God who comes, even in the darkest season, to bring us a new beginning."

So begins twenty-four short, lyrical descriptions of animals and their adaptations in winter,  enhanced by original woodcuts created by David G. Klein
Here is a sampling of the animals and a few excerpts to whet your appetite for this lovely book. 
Painted Turtle One day in the fall, as water and air cooled, at some precise temperature an ancient bell sounded in the turtle brain. A signal: Take a deep breath. Each creature slipped off her log and swam for the warmer much bottom. Stroking her way through the woven walls of plant stems, she found her bottom place. She closed her eyes and dug into the mud. She buried herself. 
Black Bear Crouched in the snow-muffled quiet I imagine hearing her slow breathing. I imagine smelling slow-burning bear--the fat she made from all those nuts, berries, bugs, and plants melting and fueling her sleep. She is shrinking--except in the den deep inside her body. There she is multiplying, balls of cells swelling into new forms of her.
Wood Frog There will come a warm day in spring when the ice goes out--of the ponds, of his blood--and doesn't return. The with dozens of other wood frogs he'll hop to the pond and send up a thrilling chorus: Death, we've robbed you of your ruin, we've takin you in. 
Eastern Fox Squirrel He would dig a decoy hole--or two, or more--before depositing a nut. Or after. He came back later and reburied nuts in new places...What he depends on to survive the barren season is the power of memory. I imagine him curled in his nest, a wind-tight ark of leaves and twigs high in the three, each night consulting the map of his memory. 
You may read more here.
Watch the book trailer here. You may have to scroll down a bit to find it.

LightUponLight cover_72dpi
And if you're looking for something on the more adult level, this is one of my favorites from Sarah Arthur. You can read an excerpt at this post from a few years ago.

Carol hosts the Poetry Friday roundup this week at  Carol's Corner.

Maybe I won't wait two months before I post again! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Nourish

Photo by John Salzarulo
Welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday and a special group of friends blogging each month about our spiritual journeys. Today we are sharing over at Ramona's Pleasures from the Page about her 2017 One Little Word, "Nourish."

As I typically do when thinking about a specific word, I went to my dictionary and found this:
1.   provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.
2.   keep (a feeling or belief) in one's mind, typically for a long time.
I've connected with these thoughts on several levels recently. First, I've been considering a new, somewhat mind-boggling (at least for someone who had low fat eating drilled into me for so many years) new perspective on nourishing my body. I've been listening to the Keto for Women Show podcasts by Shawn Mynar on my phone for the last month. (Just open your podcast app and type in Keto for Women). They're well-worth considering. I love her tagline: Empowering women to take charge of their health and happiness. So much wonderful information on the many issues we face in light of what the world wants to nourish us with--images of skinny models, advertisements for medicines with so many side-effects it's ridiculous, and a constant push to over-exercise and under eat in order to be accepted. I like this idea of thinking about what goes into my body as nourishing it, but even more as healing it. 

A few weeks ago, I participated in a yoga training that required my body function well for six days from 6am to 9pm with very little down time and lots of interaction with others. I needed my quiet. I needed more rest. My body managed to keep up reasonably well, but I came away with a deeper knowing that I must maintain balance. So I continue to learn. Continue to move forward. 

So, I come to definition #2: To keep (a feeling or belief) in one's mind, typically for a long time. 
We can nourish all kinds of feelings, good ones and not so good. It's a good question to ponder. What feelings/belief am I nurturing? 

I've been reading a book called Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina by Thelma Hall. This quote stood out to me today. The author is quoting Thomas Merton's reply to a Sufi friend who had asked him how he prayed.
Now you ask about my method of meditation. Strictly speaking I have a very simple way of prayer. It is centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to his will and his love. That is to say that it is centered on faith by which alone we can know the presence of God. One might say this gives my (prayer) the character described by the prophet as "being before God as if you saw him." Yet it does not mean imagining anything or conceiving a precise image of God, for to my mind this would be a kind of idolatry. n the contrary, it is a matter of adoring him as all...There is in my heart this great thirst to recognize totally the nothingness of all that is not God. My prayer is a kind of praise rising up out of the center of Nothingness and Silence...It is not "thinking about" anything, but a direct seeking of the face of the invisible, which cannot be found unless we become lost in him who is invisible.
What a beautiful way to nourish the spirit and the soul and the body.
Eat something wonderful to nourish your body.
                         Read great words to nourish your mind.
                                           Center your attention on the presence of God to nourish your spirit.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Pondering: Contemplation

Photo by Jon Sullivan

from Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina
by Thelma Hall

Contemplation is a strange new land, where everything natural to us seems to be turned upside down--where we learn a new language (silence), a new way of being (not to do but simply to be), where our thoughts and concepts, our imagination, senses and feelings are abandoned for faith in what is unseen and unfelt, where God's seeming absence (to our senses) is his presence, and his silence (to our ordinary perception) is his speech. It is entering the unknown, letting go of everything familiar we would cling to for security, and discovering that in being "wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too" (Revelations 3:17) (which grace reveals to us and which we fear to acknowledge--much less accept--in ourselves) lies the potential for all our hope and joy, because to know our true selves is to know we are loved by God beyond all measure.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pondering: Good Intentions

Photo by Tom Woodward

from Disciplinary Treatises: (4) The Communion of the Body by Scott Cairns included in At the Still Point by Sarah Arthur

...Like us all, the saved
need saving mostly from themselves, and so
they make progress, if at all, by dying

to what they can, acquiescing to this
new pressure, new wind, new breath that would fill
them with something better than their own

good intentions...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Spiritual Journey Thursday: New Beginnings

Once a month I blog with a group of friends about our spiritual journey. Today's topic is New Beginnings, hosted by Julianne at To Read To Write To Be.

I've been inundated by grandchildren this week! Spending time with each one, watching old movies with the older two, keeping them busy with lots of activities, and watching them grow and engage with the world in new ways. They are such fun. There is always something new to enjoy. You never know what they are going to convince you to do--like walking over the dinosaur bones. And I jumped off the high dive for the first time in my life. Grands!

August brings a new beginning for me with my yoga business. I will be moving to a new location and stepping into a new business model. So many things to think about. So many things to do. I'll share more as I move forward, but I do appreciate you keeping me in your thoughts and prayers as I make this transition. It feels right and exciting.

In my spiritual journey, I am always asking, "Lord, what are you saying to me?" I'm always trying to learn to listen better, be more aware of God's presence with me, find that still, small voice speaking more clearly. In the busy-ness of the day, I often realize I've forgotten to pay attention. I love that he doesn't mind me starting over again and again.

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who understood the dilemma, but he also understood his God. Here's what he said: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

May you know new beginnings each morning and the great faithfulness of the Lord.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Poetry Friday: Gone with the Grands

Happy Poetry Friday! Linda hosts the Roundup at A Word Edgewise.

from "Little Gidding," The Four Quartets
by T. S. Eliot

W shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heart, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pondering: Prayer

Photo by Guillaume Paumier, CC_BY.

from Divina Commedia (I) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

     Far off the noises of the world retreat;
     The loud vociferations of the street
     Become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter here from day to day,
     And leave my burden at this minister gate,
     Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
     To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
     While the eternal ages was and wait.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pondering: My Mother's Life

My mother died on Sunday. If you know anything about my journey with her, you know it has  been rocky for most of my life. She lived from a deeply wounded place. I know she loved Jesus, but she never knew how to take his grace into her heart and allow it to bring healing or change.  I know she loved me, and I loved her, too.

After a long period of estrangement, she had a stroke, and she needed me. Somehow we found common ground over books. I read aloud to her every week for close to ten years. We read every Mrs. Polifax novel ever written, along with many more. In the last year, she was unable to keep her attention on a book for more than a minute or two, so we had short visits filled with Facebook pictures of her great-grandchildren or just sitting. There is sadness, sometimes for what could have been and wasn't, but there is also peace in knowing she understands now all that she could not understand here.

I wrote this several years ago as I was making my way toward peace with her.

Mother's Lessons

She taught me gin rummy and badminton,
to make Chef Boyardee Pizza
with a crust ten-cent thin.
She taught me to make my bed
before I was out of it, to clean my room,
to fry chicken in a pan of Crisco,
to practice piano, to listen.
She taught me that homework came before play,
that a "B" was never your best,
that a hairbrush was not meant to collect hair.
She taught me justice, but without
mercy that makes it redemptive.
She taught me to be truthful, but
she meant her version, and it was seldom
spoken in love. She taught me
that getting your own way hurts
the ones close to you. She taught me
silence is not golden when it shuts people out.
She taught me that touch is tender, not tenuous.
She taught me family comes first.
She taught me to give, but gifts
with strings make one feel bought.
She taught me that kindness is
more important than the appearance of kindness.
She taught me when bitterness takes root,
you can lose your best friend.
She taught me God’s love--
without it I might not have survived hers.
She taught me to be a mother.
Sometimes knowing
what not to do is the best lesson.
Today I sat beside her bed and read.
I held her withered hand in mine
and kissed her wrinkled brow, because
I know what it means to need those things.
She taught me that.

© Doraine Bennett 2012

There is a strange feeling of having no more connection to my past, other than memories. A sense that the continuum from past to future has altered and there is only what lies ahead--my children, my grandchildren. A dear friend said, "It is the passing of a generation and this is worth noting and mourning." Indeed.

My nephew sang this song at the service.

And one verse shared by the pastor:

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)

I am profoundly grateful that death is not the end. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Out of My Comfort Zone

Yep. Out of my comfort zone. That's where I've been most of the day. Maybe one day I'll tell you about it, but in the meantime, just know, there is joy in the journey, even when it feels terribly unstable underneath your feet!

Pat hosts the roundup of posts over at Writer on a Horse.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pondering: Appearances

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

from At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

"Ah, but there's another thing, Diamond: what if I should look ugly without being bad--look ugly myself because I am making ugly things beautiful? What then?"

"If you see me with my face all black, don't be frightened. If you see me flapping wings like a bat's, as big as the whole sky, don't be frightened. If you hear me raging ten times worse than Mrs. Bill, the blacksmith's wife--even if you see me looking in at people's windows like Mrs. Eve Dropper, the gardener's wife--you must believe that I am doing my work. Nay, Diamond if I change into a serpent or a tiger, you must not let go your hold of me, for my hand will never change in yours if you keep a good hold. If you keep a hold, you will know who I am all the time, even when you look at me and can't see me the least like the North Wind. I may look something very awful. Do you understand?"

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Poetry Friday: Yoga Poems (Thanks, Linda)

The spare moments of late have indeed been spare. And when they come, I tend to indulge myself with doing mostly nothing within them. Yesterday was almost a full day all to myself. No doctor's appointments or errands to run for my in-laws who have not been well the last month. So I made coffee and settled in with my journal, went for a walk, did an online yoga class, listened to an audio book, and played with my grandson at the creek. Toward the end of the day, I walked barefoot to the mailbox and found a brown envelope addressed to me. Inside was a book of poetry and a note from Linda Baie, who knows the demands of caregiving. 

I have not seen it before, Linda. It was a perfect end to a lovely day. Thank you for your sweet thoughtfulness. 

I had been thinking earlier that I would like to get back to posting on my blog (though I may still be spotty), but didn't feel particularly inspired. As I paged through the book, I found many poems that spoke to me, but thought I would share just this one. 

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
One-Legged King Pigeon

by Leza Lowitz

William Carlos Williams
wrote poems
on a notebook small enough to fit
in his breast pocket
on his medical rounds.

Yasunari Kawabata 
wrote stories
small enough to fit
in the palm of the hand.

The body writes stories small enough to fit
in the tiniest cell.
Every centimeter
has a different beginning
and end.
Day by day
the gap between beginning and end 
thigh and floor
heel and head
closes up,
the narrative writ large
on each small movement.

Start small and the world expands
as Goethe said, but start anyway.
In beginnings 
there is the magic
of yes.

As much as I like this poem, I don't teach this pose in my classes for a number of reasons. I agree with Jenni Rawlings of Jenni Rawlings Yoga and Movement, who recommends modifications for working to strengthen the hips in the pose rather than overstretch those ligaments, over arch the low back or stress the knee joint! 

Check out some alternatives here

Heidi hosts the roundup today at My Juicy Little Universe.

Pondering: Catching Quiet

Photo by Ander Burdain at

from "Passing Ordinary Time"
by Enuma Okoro

It is a hard art to learn,
catching quiet
by palms raised
cupped in
air shifting location
here and there like
trying to guess the pattern of falling leaves,
and hoping to feel the soft descent of moments
when silence slips
between sounds.

Friday, June 2, 2017

My Sentiments Exactly

from Prayers from the Ark by Rumer Godden

The roundup today is at Buffy's Blog

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Finding Joy

This week the bloggers of Spiritual Journey Thursday are posting on the theme "Finding Joy," suggested by Margaret Simon over at Reflections on the Teche. Head over to Margaret's blog if you'd like to read more on Finding Joy.

When I first read the topic for the month, I thought about what it means to find something. Was it lost? Was there a lengthy search? Was it simply a random stumbling upon an unexpected treasure to be pocketed with satisfaction?

But is that the way joy comes?

I think joy is something deeper than happiness. Joy can be present when happiness is tenuous or even absent. It is the understructure, the miraculous, the unexpected sense of knowing, not just who I am, but whose I am. The essential knowing that I am loved, that it's a good thing I am alive, that I have a place in the world. It's a solid knowing at the base of my soul that I can return to when the constant barrage of comparison, disapproval, or judgment lead me, like Pilgrim, toward the "slough of despond." It's a knowing that I am enjoyed by the one who created me. It's a safe place.

from Ode to Joy
by Annonymous

Joy everlasting fostereth 
The soul of all creation, 
It is her secret ferment fires 
The cup of life with flame.
'Tis at her beck the grass hath turned 
Each blade toward the light 
and solar systems have evolved 
From chaos and dark night, 
Filling the realms of boundless space 
Beyond the sage's sight.

Friday, May 26, 2017


Margaret hosts the round up today at Reflections on the Teche. Wishing you a morning filled with espresso, soothing music, and steaming green grass. 

by Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day, 
the swale of the afternoon, 
the sudden dip into evening, 

then night with his notorious perfumes, 
his many-pointed stars? 

This is the best— 
throwing off the light covers, 
feet on the cold floor, 
and buzzing around the house on espresso— 

maybe a splash of water on the face, 
a palmful of vitamins— 
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso, 

dictionary and atlas open on the rug, 
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head, 
a cello on the radio, 

and, if necessary, the windows— 
trees fifty, a hundred years old 
out there, 
heavy clouds on the way 
and the lawn steaming like a horse 
in the early morning. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pondering: Feelings

The 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross reminds us that, as wonderful and consoling as feelings of God's presence might be, they are not God. All consolations and spiritual gifts, he reminds us, are finite and as such are infinitely less than God, who is infinite. We are not to reject any consolations that may come along. But neither are we to cling to whatever consolations or other spiritual gifts we may experience. For God made our hearts in such a way that only God will do.

From Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God by James Finley

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pondering: Rooms

“There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emtional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”
       ― Rumer Godden

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pondering: Goblins and Princesses

“It was foolish indeed - thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”
       ― George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

“I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” 
       ― George MacDonald

“ is so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing whatever to do with all that. The right old age means strength and beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes and strong painless limbs.”
      ― George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

Friday, May 5, 2017

Passing Through Albuquerque

Photograph by Kenneth Park (NARA)

I'm traveling today and will be enjoying some rest time and some work time over the next two weeks. While my journeys will keep me in the Deep South, I enjoyed this poem from the Southwest. Wherever your feet take you this week, I hope you find joy. 

Jama has the round up today at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Passing Through Albuquerque
by John Balaban

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch 
gurgling past backyards near the highway, 
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods. 

 A Spanish girl in a white party dress 
strolls the levee by the muddy water 
where her small sister plunks in stones. 

 Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car 
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot. 
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer. 

 Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm, 
rocking the immense trees and whipping up 
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool. 

 In the moment when the locusts pause 

Read the rest here

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pondering: Reach

Today is the first Thursday of the month and time for my Spiritual Journey Thursday post. Today we are focusing on Donna's One Little Word for the year, REACH. You can enjoy other perspectives on reaching by stopping in at Donna's website, Mainely Write.

I posted a piece of a poem a few weeks ago that has spoken so deeply to me. As I think of this idea of reaching, I keep coming back to it again and again. You can read the first stanza here and the full poem here.

This ache for eternal beauty draws us forward, keeps us reaching beyond what we can see, beckons us from our present circumstances to a deeper understanding of our source of beauty, of life, of eternity. 

It reminds me of something Paul said in his letter the the church a Phillipi. 

"I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward..."

from Soul’s Eternal Rapture
by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395)
translated by Scott Cairns in Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics
And thus, at every point
         she learns that each
                new splendor is to be
eclipsed by what is to come--
         the ever-exceeding
                Beautiful that draws, and calls
and leads the beloved
          to a beauty of her own.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Meet Abigail Carroll

Before I start today's post, I'm looking for Jen Hdez who won a copy of Here We Go from Janet and Sylvia. Jen, please contact me so I can get the book to you. JoAnn Early Macken hosts the roundup today at Teaching Authors. And now on to my friend Abby!

Photo by Women's Water Alliance

Dear Francis,

The shower head is broken.

I've been bucketing water from the faucet,
            ladling it over my shoulders
and hair,

letting it run down my back.

This is how so many 
            have done it before
and somewhere in the world even now--

a slow, monk-like cupping
             and pouring. 

There is something about the breaking

and re-breaking of water
            over the arc of the body--

with each down flow,

            a baptism.


© Abigail Carroll, 2017, Eerdmans.

I am very pleased to introduce you today to Abigail Carroll. I have to admit that Abby is a virtual friend I discovered about this time last year when I shared one of her poems called "Spring Forward."

Abby's new book,  A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim, is a collection of forty personal letters to Francis. The book is described as "part devotion, part historical biography, part contemporary engagement, and part inspiration—reveal her curiosity and wonder about Francis. She also uses Francis as a sounding board for larger questions about the world—and, through her own experience, explores how brokenness makes experiencing redemption possible."

Abby's poetry has appeared in Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide (Paraclete Press, 2016) as well as in a variety of magazines and journals, including The Anglican Theological Review, The Christian Century, Crab Orchard Review, Midwest Quarterly, River Oak Review, Sojourners, Spiritus, and Terrain.

Her prose has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Boston Globe, and her first book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, was a finalist for the Zocalo Public Square Book Prize. 

Abby lives in the Burlington area of Vermont, where she serves as pastor of arts and spiritual formation at Church at the Well. She enjoys discovering new swimming holes and photographing nature.

You can find Abby on Twitter @ACarrollPoet or explore her website here.

Dori: You first became interested in St. Francis as a girl of ten during a trip with your family to Assisi. Was poetry a part of your life at this age? Was there a specific poetic voice that appealed to you?

Abby: I wrote my first poem at a young age—probably around the age of 6 or 7—and I remember my grandfather submitting it to the local newspaper, which published it probably for its cuteness factor rather than any literary value. I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millet at age 9 and thought her poem “Afternoon on a Hill” was exquisite: I wanted to step into it and “be the gladdest thing under the sun,” to “touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” My sixth-grade English teacher required us to memorize a poem each month—a fairly old-fashioned assignment these days, but one for which I am immensely grateful—and several of those poems have remained with me over the years like longtime companions. 

The voice of the poems in A Gathering of Larks reflects the influence of Canadian poet Susan McCaslin, whose chapbook of letters to William Blake planted the idea to write a series of letters to someone in history. As I was thinking about who, I remembered my deep sense of intrigue as a ten-year-old in Assisi, walking the streets Francesco Bernardone walked, visiting his tomb, and seeing the sites associated with his life. Writing these letters was like revisiting Assisi—a return to my childhood sense of wonder.

Dori: You describe Francis as a troubadour, a poet, and a hopeless romantic. Do you have a favorite from Francis’ songs?

Abby: “The Canticle of the Sun” stands out. Francis’s sense of affinity with the earth was not just remarkable, but truly radical and unique for his time. He not only held deep respect for creation, but saw himself as part of its song—a larger song of praise articulated continuously by the elements and creatures. A troubadour was a traveling composer of songs, mostly songs of courtly love. “Canticle of the Sun” is a praise song to the Creator, but also a love song to creation.

Dori: Tell us about your perspective of letters as a literary form. Are you a letter writer in everyday life?

Abby: As a literary form, I believe letters travel the intersection of poetry and narrative. A correspondence (even just one side of a correspondence) tells a story, but it does so with many holes. The story emerges not just from the content of the letters, but from the spaces between the content. A letter is an intimate form of communication: a first-person address usually to a single reader and not meant for a wider audience. So when letters become literature (or literature takes the form of letters), the letter invites the reader into a person or character’s spiritual landscape quite compellingly.

Sadly, I am not much of a letter writer. I think I would have been a dedicated letter writer had I lived in an earlier era, but electronic communication has managed to undermine my inclinations to pen correspondence by hand. Writing these letters to Saint Francis gave me a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in a letter-writing era. Letters are a particularly satisfying genre to write in. They are like a conversation in slow motion with a bit of contemplation added to the mix.

Dori: I am intrigued by your salutations and closings. These seem to function much as titles and themes for the poems. Did you think of them this way as you were writing or was it something you came back to in revisions?

Abby: I embarked on each letter by writing a salutation as a way to remind myself that I was writing letters first and poetry second. Francis’s personality had many facets, so addressing him in different ways (Dear Francesco, Dear Lover of Lady Poverty, Dear Advocate for Wonder) helped me to hone in on the theme or aspect of his life I wanted to engage in a given letter. Writing the salutations and valedictions was one of the most fun and gratifying aspects of the penning these letters. Salutations helped me set the tone and direction of a letter right from the start, and valedictions offered an opportunity to confirm that tone or, by contrast, introduce an unexpected twist at the end, lightening up a serious poem or adding gravity to a whimsical poem. The valedictions also became a way of exploring my own identity in light of my relationship with Francis. 

Dear Lover of Light,

There lived a priest
so in love with light
it drove him mad.
Paint was his thing.
When he could no longer
preach, he hopped a train
south, took up a brush,
turned zinc and lead
and chrome
into gaudy, wild-
petaled ambassadors 
of the dawn. He slapped
stars as big a brooches
on the sky, danced
crows across bowing fields
of wheat, exalted a bowl
of onions, a bridge, a pipe,
a chair, a bed. Postmen
and prostitutes
were his friends--
so too were irises,
almond trees,
clouds. Francis,
if you think of painting 
as a kind of song, he too
canticled the sun.

A Vincent enthusiast

© Abigail Carroll, 2017, Eerdmans.

Dori: You said, “A poet is always asking her poem what it can do without.” This is a lovely way of describing the process of writing poetry. Does the culling happen instinctively for you or in revision or both. Can you tell us more?

Abby: Revision starts off quite organically for me. As I write a line, I work and rework it until it feels strong enough to become the springboard for the rest of the poem. And then I find myself working and reworking the second line until it feels strong enough to support the following line. I’ve noticed that lines give birth to lines, so a line is often only as strong as the one it issues from. 
I revise as I write, but I also revise again after stepping away from for a time. The more distance I’ve gained, the more freedom I feel to play with the poem’s arrangement. I’ll often ask myself whether the poem should start with a different line, perhaps the second line or the last line. In terms of culling, I find that the rougher my draft, the more extraneous words it contains. To a point, the more words I remove, the stronger the poem becomes. 

Dori: One writer I know says that dialog calls us into being. Did you have a sense of discovering things about yourself as you conversed with Francis?

Abby: Absolutely! Writing these letters brought Francis into being for me in a way I could not have predicted. I related to him, not just learned about him. And when I finished the letters, I felt a certain sadness, as though a dear friend had moved away. Penning the letters started out as a literary project but became a spiritual exercise. And, as in any spiritual exercise, I ended up learning a great deal about myself. 

Francis became a mirror in which I saw my life and experiences in new ways. His irrepressible delight in nature invited me to cultivate my own delight in the tiny natural treasures of my backyard, where I spent most of the summer I wrote book, with my broken foot up in a cast. His audacity to follow his convictions in unconventional ways, giving up his wealth and status to care for lepers and rebuild dilapidated churches, planted a seed of desire in me to devote myself to the callings and convictions of my heart rather than to the agenda that the world has for me. One of those callings was to the write the letters that form this book.

Dori: Do you have a favorite letter from the book for us to close the interview?

Abby: One of my favorite letters is the second, a reflection on planting my garden. I always plant seeds too close, unable to imagine that each will actually become the full-sized plant pictured on the package. Planting, here, becomes a metaphor for faith, but the poem is also about the mysterious purposes of a life, which I liken to a seed that must die before it can bear fruit, and which will never actually see the full picture of the life it produces. In a similar way, Francis never saw the full picture of his influence, which continues to bear fruit across the globe today. Likewise, we are only afforded a small glimpse of the fruit born from the love, faithfulness, and good works in our lives.  

Dear Brother Francis,

Time to plant, time to press my nails
in dirt, 
             resurrect the earth with chives,

Swiss chard, basil, beans. The shed

is dark, winter still stuck in its shingles
and boards,
            trowels, gloves, watering cans,

pots. Francis, I am learning to have faith

in seeds. Every year, I drop the grains
too close,
            thinking only a few will stem

and leaf. I do not trust the package notes,

I do not space punctilious rows or calculate
their depths. 
            It seems to me no life can rise

from dust--and yet it does: year after year

this plot turns a weedy, flowering jungle
of green. 
            What if the whole of a life (yours,

say, or mine) is simply this--a tiny germ

of wheat sleeping in a bed of soil?
The crop
            this shell will one day yield it will

never actually see. All it can do is dream.

A Green Thumb

© Abigail Carroll, 2017, Eerdmans.

Dori:  And here is one of my favorites from Francis.