Lost Sherpa of Happiness Ken Craft

5 posts

Choosing Poems for a Poetry Reading

lost sherpa

When you first begin the task of choosing poems for a poetry reading, it’s like walking into a grocery store’s cereal aisle where the choices are so vast they overwhelm the shopper.

In the case of poetry, do you choose funny poems or contemplative poems, fancy poems or simple poems, poems with sound devices or ones with narrative merits? Maybe a little of everything, you might advise, but a lot rides on the locale and the audience.

For me, tonight, the venue is a public library — a place that I hope will host many events like this in the future. Anyway, here’s the line-up card for tonight’s reading along with a little bit of the reasoning behind it:

  1. “Provide, Provide” (from The Indifferent World)   Like Frost, whose title I borrowed, I write a lot about nature. This is a nice, solid, short poem to reflect that.
  2. “Simplicity”  (from The Indifferent World)  From Frost, I will move to another icon who has influenced by work, Henry David Thoreau. This poem pays homage to an important concept in his book Walden.
  3. “Return of the Native”  (from The Indifferent World)   A little twist for #3, this work is straight out of the imagination — one that couples ghosts with a whaler captain’s house along the New England shoreline. You know they’re in there!
  4.  “Mrs. Galway Goes to Night School”  (from The Indifferent World)   By poem #4, the crowd will be ready for a little narrative poem about a school bus driver going to night school for Irish Literature. James Joyce, this one’s for you! And Mom, you, too!
  5. “Barnstorming the Universe” (from The Indifferent World)   Back to the imagination, this one’s a fanciful work based on a Maine barn that looks like it experienced a crash landing from outer space. It’s a real barn, one I run by each summer morning. A postcard poem, then, with hyperbole for a return address.
  6. “An Old Man Walking Dawn’s Borders (from Lost Sherpa of Happiness)  This is my “dark horse” choice — the kind of poem you wouldn’t initially think of reading, but then, the more you look at it, the more you say, “Why not? I feel kind of sorry for this old man. Let’s share his story by giving him a mic!”
  7. “Into the Urban” (from Lost Sherpa of Happiness)   Ready for a memory poem? Memories are one of the most valuable resources a poet has at his disposal. This one takes readers to the city of Hartford, CT, when I was a kid visiting my great-grandparents’ apartment.
  8. “When Babcia Caught Her Breath” (from Lost Sherpa of Happiness)   From the city to a Maine lake, and my how time flies, as this one concerns my grandmother visiting the wilds of Maine for the first time. The whole poem was built on the last line, which were words she actually said — ones that I will never forget.
  9. “Lost Sherpa of Happiness” (from Lost Sherpa of Happiness)   The title poem tips its simple hat to Buddhism, which, along with Taoism, has influenced a lot of my work. If listeners like it, they’ll know there is plenty more where this came from.
  10. BONUS POEM (from Lost Sherpa of Happiness)  I have a few ready if time allows, but I’m sharing the mic with two other poets, so time will be a taskmaster laying down some discipline — always a good thing.

 

Hey. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

When Poets Make Cameos in Your Poems

horses

It stands to reason, if you read poetry as much as poets do, that sooner or later famous poets will enter your poems. The cameos are not restricted to poets, however. Prose writers rise to the occasion as well. It’s a reimagining of their imagined worlds in your own imagination, if you will.

In my first book, appearances were made by Tolstoy, Turgenev, Pliny, and James Joyce. In the latest, it’s Hemingway and James Wright. The poem below, “Reading James Wright,” appeared in the fall 2017 issue of The MacGuffin, a fine journal of poetry and prose put out by Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan. Subsequently the poem appeared in my latest collection, Lost Sherpa of Happiness.

 

Reading James Wright
by Ken Craft

I have been wandering with Wright
These two hours, under trees
Shadowy with women and dance. Soon it is dusk.
Somewhere horses
Move. The flint of hooves. The stone masking soft
Kindnesses.
He doesn’t know I am here, mistakes
Me for loneliness on a sturdy branch.
I leave him to his
Beautiful dark,
The dampness of give beneath my feet.

 

I felt a little sad writing it. For me “his beautiful dark” was the death Wright addressed so often in his poetry. And the “dampness of give beneath my feet” was meant as a metaphor for my own mortality–all of our mortalities–which will someday reunite us beneath the earth.

I can’t stress the importance of writers reading widely enough. When you read a collection by a poet you admire, you come under the writer’s spell. Sometimes the spell leads you to write yourself–about the conjurer. It’s one of the nine muses, I’m more than sure. The name is Greek to me, but you understand.

 

 

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Haiku-Like

moth

With poetry, inspiration often comes from small, unexpected sources. And ironically, it often comes when you are actively engaged in doing nothing, which speaks to the wisdom of leaving the race to the rats, the type personalities to the A’s, and the technology to the phone addicts.

Exhibit A: Last summer, while lying on a dock floating on a Maine lake, I simply stared over the edge, down into the water. That was my occupation for an hour or maybe more, who knows? Deadlines were dead, after all, as was the urge to check any messages or address any “Honey-do” lists. My partner in crime? The sun–lovely and warm on my back.

Soon I saw floating some six feet away a moth stuck to the still surface. It fluttered its wings, but wings on water are ineffectual. Instead, the moth became the epicenter of a small drama, sending an almost imperceptible ring of ripples to broadcast its final story. Only who would hear this story, I wondered?

This moment of “doing nothing” became the mortar and brick of something. Something called a poem, haiku-like in its brevity as nature poems often are. It appears in part two (“Second Search”) of my current book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness.

In our ways, we are all moths excited by the light of life. Some days we are down–stuck to a lake surface–but escape. And one day, we will not. But that is as it should be, because life’s great affinity is the circle, which figures prominently (in its quiet way) here:

Another Calling by Ken Craft

A moth, heavy
with water-
wounded
wings, fluttering
on the lake
as if the surface
were hot.

It sends
circular sonar,
saintly halos
of life
to the distant
bass of its
deliverance.

© Ken Craft, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, 2018 Kelsay Books

The Predator & the Poem

sharp-shinned hawk

Up until two summers ago, when I heard this ungodly racket from the pine tops around our Maine cabin, I’d never heard the eerie cry of a sharp-shinned hawk. Little guy with a big appetite, turns out. We kept finding feathers of little songbirds on the ground, evidence of a swift and final judgment for some innocent celebrating late spring and early summer. Some innocent who became a meal for nesting hawks.

Since then we’ve become more used to our new neighbors, but I knew, that first summer, that the sharp-shinned–one of the smallest of all North American hawks–would fly its way into a poem.

Ultimately, it was published in the Winter 2017 issue of Plainsongs, a poetry journal put out by Hastings College in Nebraska. From there, its final perch would be the first poem of the Second Search in the recently-released Lost Sherpa of Happiness. Enjoy!

 

Sharp-Shinned Hawk & the Song Sparrow
by Ken Craft

All spring, the punctured sky collapses blue
beneath the shrill knives of their call.
All day, shriek and talon, eye and hunger
from the heat of a red-black gullet.

They circle overhead, dive under liquid
evergreen, glide through currents of hardwood,
trunk and limb. Nestling, fledgling,
songbird—on ground or mid-flight—
leaving only an orphan feather for changeling.

And here I hear the song sparrow sing.
Here in the narrow interstice between stealth and wait.
Her three notes. Her cheerful trill. Her hesitation
at the wood’s held breath.
Then, song again.
To sun or cloud, maybe. Wind or mate.

She sings to the stillness of quiet’s dull edge.
She sings to not knowing that every joy
in life is answered, eventually.

 

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Unlike major publishing houses, small, independent publishers have no marketing budget to speak of, so they depend upon word-of-mouth enthusiasm among their readers. I hope you can help keep the word-of-mouth buzz rolling for Lost Sherpa of Happiness by visiting Amazon for a copy.

An Interview with the Lost Sherpa of Happiness

sherpa

It’s not every day you track down a lost sherpa (if briefly). Not every day he agrees to pause for a brief interview, either. But yesterday, in single-digit weather, with wind gusts making it feel like sub-zero weather, LS did just that. As I learned a thing or two about poetry (or “life,” as he’d prefer you call it), I figured I’d share the back-and-forth:

KC: Why are you called the “Lost Sherpa of Happiness”? I mean, are you really lost?

LS: Not me. We.

KC: All lost?

LS: Look at the stars tonight, which are only the beginning, and consider your place here. What you know. What you don’t know. Does it seem disconcerting to be considered lost?

KC: Some readers of the book look at the cover and think the collection will be about Nepal or summiting Mount Everest or Buddhism, perhaps. Why does the book carry that title and that artwork?

LS: You have to stop thinking of the challenge we call “Everest” and the guidance we call “sherpa” as a place and a person. Then you will see that all the poems in this book are about “Everests” of a kind — challenges, obstacles, frustrations. The figurative mountains you’d see around you, if you looked, Nepal or not.

KC: But you yourself are only in one poem. The title poem that wraps the book up.

LS: I am both reader and writer as well. Therefore, I am in every poem. Reading and writing are all ways of walking, searching, observing. Sometimes choosing to question and more times choosing not to.

KC: What about section two of the book’s three parts–all animal poems. Is there a reason for this?

LS: It is a human propensity to box and label things, to demand order from our disorderly world. Yes, it’s true that the “Second Search” poems tell the stories of various birds and mammals and reptiles, but those stories are our stories. We are animals. We are that song sparrow singing, despite the hawk far above in the pine tree. We are that young raccoon trapped in a dumpster after enjoying someone’s thrown-away food. We are that dog just being a dog in a room with humans who demand silence from a dog not being a dog. As your American writer, Mark Twain, once said, humans are often less logical animals than the ones they feel superior to.

KC: What about the first search, the part where many poem’s recall your youth?

LS: Or your youth. Or any reader’s. As youths, we are often wiser than the elders. The nonconformism. The imagination. The openness and the wonder. Poems see this because, as has been said by the Buddha himself, we are all poets when we are children. Not writers of poetry. Observers of a world that is poetry. We look at things like we never could as adults who have been shaped by society, pressed by authority, molded by the tyranny of others’ opinions and demands and expectations.

KC: So I guess that means the last section is really not so much about twilight years…

LS: True. Life as wheel. The way the elderly finally free themselves of caring, becoming more open like the children they once were, preparing themselves for their next life, for freedom from samsara.

KC: Does this mean you are not lost, then?

LS: It means I am happy, and that “lost” is more word than state of being. There is great joy and discovery in being “lost.” That is the country these poems travel — “country” as in land, not nation with arbitrary borders (which, by their nature, can’t help but be arbitrary).

KC: Do you have a favorite among the poems in the book?

LS: Picking favorites would be like claiming individualism does not exist. It does exist. There are many faces to happiness, to sadness and to regret. All the human emotions we see on our journeys and searches.

KC: So, I gather, you have no intention of being found or finding what you’re looking for.

LS: In the words of the prophet, Bono (an Irish Buddha of sorts!), “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” We all carry those words in our hearts. It’s how we interpret them. I embrace the negative contraction positively because it is the spirit of the present. Finding, searching, being lost. It is being. How else will we ever enjoy this “tenuous moment of wilderness,” as the last poem of the book terms it, called life?

KC: Thank you, and I won’t keep you any longer. Good luck with your fourth search. And thank you for sharing your pursuit of happiness in this book.

LS: (laughter) Thomas Jefferson. The pursuit of happiness. It is the pursuit itself, not the happiness you imagine ahead and out of reach. Take that with you on your own searches. See what you find….

 

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Unlike major publishing houses, small, independent publishers have no marketing budget to speak of, so they depend upon word-of-mouth enthusiasm among their readers. Help keep the word-of-mouth buzz rolling for Lost Sherpa of Happiness by visiting Amazon for a copy.