Interview with Rebecca Foust, Poet Laureate, Marin County California

We who love poetry and live North of San Francisco are fortunate to have among us an enthusiastic poet and spokesperson raising the flag of words we need to hear. I met Rebecca Foust at the 17th annual West Chester Poetry Conference in June of 2011. We were both happy to be immersing in “Exploring Form and Narrative” with some of the great living formalist poets. This year she was there on faculty leading a workshop on the sonnet and reading her poems!

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Questions for Rebecca Foust

TK    You have just begun your work as Poet Laureate of Marin County. How do you see your Poet Laureate role? What is your awareness of your various audiences? What is at the top of your list? Do you have any specific goals?

RF    I see my role as promoting poetry to people living in Marin County in general; my specific goal is to do something to connect Marin’s large and vibrant immigrant community with the rest of the county, and to use poetry to do that. My “theme” is “Poetry as Sanctuary,” and of course I intend the allusion to Sanctuary in its usage in immigrant issues. I am proud of CA for its efforts to be a sanctuary state and for so many of its cities declaring sanctuary status, and I wish more cities and even the county of Marin would adopt this status. Poetry can be a sanctuary, too, in the larger sense: sanctuary from the political turmoil roiling our country, sanctuary from emotional and psychological pain, sanctuary from the pressures and anxieties of contemporary life.

I plan to organize community readings in Marin’s libraries that encourage participants to bring and read a poem (their own or by another poet) on the theme of sanctuary and other themes that will be announced as time goes on. The first of these will be held on Peace Day on September 21 at the Corte Madera Library.

TK    What would you like people in Marin to know about you?

RF    That poetry is not some erudite or high intellectual pursuit walled-off from the general populace. I am first generation college and my parents did not attend college; still, poetry was an important part of my childhood. My mother memorized poems (mostly ballads) and said and sang them when she did her household chores. We had two anthologies on the shelf: Magic Casements, and the Viking Anthology of English Poets. Not much, but enough to ignite a spark that would sustain me through dark times all my life. I hope to remind people that poetry can be a wonderful, positive force in their personal lives and in the political life of this country.

TK   When did you know that being a poet was something that you wanted to spend your time doing?

RF    I’ve always loved reading and saying poems, but those anthologies did not include many women poets, so I did not envision myself a writer of poetry until very late in life. It was partly a confidence thing, or perhaps a not-feeling-entitled thing, but it was not until I ran across a book in a bookstore with a photo of an author who—looked like me—that it occurred to me that my journal scribblings might be something others might want to read. That was in 2007, the year I turned 50, and that is when I began to take my writing seriously.

TK    What advice do you give to would-be writers who feel like they’re too young or inexperienced, they don’t have anything to really say yet?

RF    Flannery O’Connor said anyone who has lived to the age of, I think it was 20, has amassed enough life experience to write. Also, I think that wide and deep reading is a kind of experience, and that people who never travel but read a lot can get legitimate life experience that way. I’d advise these poets to write about what matters to them—right now—and not worry about whether it matters or whether they have much to say, and to read real books instead of watching TV. And also, of course, to live life to the lees in every way they can.

TK    What is it about writing poetry that gives you the most joy?

RF    The act of creating it—that moment when the right word occurs to you and the line falls into place. The most joy happens in those rare occasions when a poem comes to me whole, or almost whole, and all I need do is write it down. But I also feel much joy in revision, when the work yields results and the poem gets better. Finally, for me, reading is just joyous. I was a shy kid and had trouble for years even raising my hand in class—went through three years of law school without volunteering a single comment! Poetry has removed that gag, so much so, that I look forward to and love doing readings now.

TK    Name a favorite poem and why you like it. (something I can make a short extract from)

RF    AE Stallings read a poem at West Chester about the Syrian Refugee crisis called “Empathy” and it has rocketed to the top of my list, along with “Let Them Not Say” and “On the Fifth Day,” two new political poems by our own Jane Hirshfield. Yeats’ “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” is one I’ve loved since I was a kid; it’s the only poem I effortlessly memorized, and I wrote about it here: Poetry Daily, 4/21/15, “Poet’s Pick” essay on “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” by William Butler Yeats,            http://poems.com/Poets’%20Picks%202015/0421_Foust.html

TK    What books do you have in your reading pile?

RF    Since I am just back from the wonderful West Chester Poetry Conference, I have a huge stack of books by poets I met there and heard read, including Molly Peacock, Julie Kane, Melissa Balmain, Frank Osen, Meredith Bergmann, John Whitworth, Leon Stokesberry, Sam Gwynn, Mark Jarmon, and others. Ernest Hilbert’s Caligulan just won the Poet’s Prize, and I am really looking forward to digging into that. I’m always reading books for a weekly column I write for an online magazine called Women’s Voices for Change. These Poetry Sunday feature poems by women over the age of 40, and you can find the columns at https://womensvoicesforchange.org/category/arts-culture/poetry

TK    If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have three books which would they be?

RF    That’s a tough one. Shakespeare’s collected would be one. Maybe the bible, not because I am religious but because it is so rich with metaphor and allegory. For the third—any one of Jane Hirshfield’s books, I guess the one with the most pages. I love her luminous essays as much as I love her amazing poems. Other books that have been important to me include Larry Levis’ Winter Stars, Louise Gluck’s House on the Marshland and Averno, and Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus.

TK    Describe your editing technique: do you read your poems aloud, or do you have a sense for the sound/rhythm internally? Do you have a reader or two you send your poems to?

RF    Absolutely everyone should read their poems aloud during the revision process, and I do it all the time. I also participate in two online and one in-person reading groups who submit one poem from each poet per month. But in the end, no matter what the feedback from these groups, the decision about whether to make a revision is mine and happens usually because my ear tells me to do it. I’m a big fan of “aging” poems, that is, letting them alone for a few months or even years, then coming back to them.

TK    What poetry book should the president read?

RF    What a great question! I fear he does not read books at all, but for purposes of the question I guess we can suppose he will read a book and perhaps get something out of it. I imagine he’d resonate with Frost, a white male poet, and so am tempted to suggest Frost’s book Steeple Brush, just for its inclusion of the amazing poem, “Directive” which has a lot to say about the environmental issues facing us today. Nikky Finney’s Head Off and Split is another book he could profit from reading, or Marilyn Nelson’s remarkable crown of sonnets, A Crown for Emmett Till. That book was conceived as a book for young people, and the poems are accessible enough even for a nonreader like President You-Know-Who, but the poems have depth and resonance that make them work for mature readers, and they tell a chapter of history largely left out by our schools. Another is Black Crow Dress, a moving slave narrative written by Roxanne Beth Johnson. To be honest, I’d be happy to hear of him reading any book, let alone one of poetry.

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I close with her comments and a powerful poem I heard Rebecca read at the Marin County Civic Center and again at Falkirk Cultural Center for the Poet Laureate celebration in May.

I wrote this poem Requiem Mass for the Yuma Fourteen in a workshop on the villanelle taught by Molly Peacock at West Chester Poetry Conference. I’d just read Luis Alberto Urrea’s remarkable book, Devil’s Highway, and it resonated with me, so much so that I had trouble sleeping for weeks. How bad must it be, I thought, for people to be willing to risk their lives and especially the lives of their children, to make that terrible and perilous passage to the US? Very bad indeed, worse than anything I’d before conceived. We hear every day about people killed, raped, and traumatized on that journey, and I hoped in the poem to undo some of the habituation that sets in when bad news becomes a regular occurrence in our lives. I want readers to imagine the circumstances that might lead a parent to make that decision, and to imagine what the journey must be like—was hoping to humanize and particularize the story that has become all too familiar in daily news reports. The form offered a way to contain my very strong feelings about the subject.

Requiem Mass for the Yuma Fourteen

Your lungs, now, are leaking moisture to the vampire air. 

Your tears leak into the sky.—      The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Beyond the border they could smell the rain.                                                                                It smelled like freedom. Freedom and home.                                                                            The desert composes its requiem.

The oldest was nearly sixty, his son thirteen.                                                                            One wore new jeans, one carried a comb.                                                                               Beyond the border they could smell the rain.

They got lost; then, they lost their water. The sun                                                                         a furnace blast. Dust. Thirst. Delirium,                                                                                        the desert composing its requiem.

Vampire air. Heat that bakes flesh off bone.                                                                               Hands fretworked with spines, mouths crammed                                                                  with bits of quartz, they smelled the rain.

The boy dreamt saguaro was bread and the stones                                                               were stars. He heard tall, cool-winged seraphim,                                                            rehearsing a Requiem Aeternam.

He made a neat stack of his clothes, and at dawn                                                                       he lay down. He burst like a ripe sunset, a plum.                                                                 Beyond the border, you can smell the rain.                                                                               The desert composes its requiem.

 

                                                                         First published in Zyzzyva, Fall 2013.

 

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Rebecca grew up Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, a small town surrounded by farmlands and forests, quarries and strip mines. After earning a BA in English, she moved to northern California in 1979 to attend Stanford Law School. A decade of private practice gave way to a decade of advocacy for kids with autism. The year she turned 50, a class offered by a local bookstore inspired her to pick up the writing she had put aside for thirty years. Rebecca went back to school, earning an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson in January 2010.

All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song won the Many Mountains Moving Book Prize and was released in 2010, the same year that God, Seed: Poetry & Art About the Natural World, won the Foreword Review Book of the Year Award for Poetry. Mom’s Canoe and Dark Card, recipients of the Robert Phillips Chapbook Poetry Prize in consecutive years, were released by Texas Review Press in 2008 and 2009. She was the 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place and recipient of a MacDowell Colony residence award.

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Fátima, Visions of Mary and the Pope

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Fatima and Mary, Mother of Jesus!   Pope Francis is to travel to the Portuguese town of “Fátima” this weekend to canonize two of the three children who had visions of the Madonna there in 1917, foretelling events to come. May 13, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the vision or apparition of the Holy Mother.  1

There is no clear description of the source of the name of the town of Fatima, which leaves out the juicy details that combine the two most sacred and revered women of the Christian and Muslim world, Mary and Fatima.

The Idrisids were a Morroccan Muslim dynasty 8 – 12 century who trace their lineage back to Ali and Fatima. An Arab-Berber military group led by Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed to Gibraltar in 711 and defeated the waning Visgoth rulers. Spain and most of Portugal—known as Al Garb al- Andalus (west of Andalus) was under Muslim rule from 711 until 1249. During that time the town of Fátima received its name.

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Within 200-300 years of the initial invasion, much of Spain’s population was Muslim, numbering over 5 million people, many of them people originally from Spain whose ancestors had converted, not immigrants. The Christians and Jews lived along side the Muslims in cities like Cordoba, Granada and Seville.  It was a golden age in Spain.

That a place would be named after Muhammad’s daughter Fatima was natural at that time. One story marks a legend of a Muslim/Christian marriage that resulted in the name. In the map of Portugal, the district of Ourém, north of Lisbon, contains the town of Fátima, population 7,756.  The field known as Cova da Iria is the place where the visions occurred. Millions of people visit this place for blessings.

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As I mention in the preface of my book: Fatima’s Touch, Poems and Stories of the Prophet’s Daughter, “…most Americans know her (Fatima al Zahra’s) name only because of a Christian shrine in a small town in Portugal named for Muhammad’s daughter.”

The two women most revered over centuries and in present time are Mary, Mother of Jesus and Fatima, Daughter of Muhammad. The number of daily prayers offered to these two women of history and legend are beyond counting. The Protestant Christians and Sunni Muslims are not as devotional toward Mary and Fatima as Catholics and Shia Muslims, yet Mary or Fatima are regarded by all with great respect and admiration. The Qur’an mentions Mary, Mother of Jesus 34 times! She is considered one of the most pure and honorable women ever born.

Given that magnetic energy, it is not surprising that the veil between the manifest and unseen was parted and messages and predictions passed on from Madonna to children with their open hearts and minds. One of these “children” was Sister Lucia Marto, who died in 2005 at age 97. The other two children died soon after the visions. According to Sister Lucia’s niece, her aunt’s advice was to “…pray the rosary every day… always start it, and if you don’t finish, Our Lady (Mary) will finish it.” 2 [There is a story that when Fatima’s beloved Uncle Hamsa died, she made a chain of beads (tasbih) from the soil of his grave mixed with her tears and used that for prayers.

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The children had more than one vision:  <>  According to the children, Mary appeared to them six times that year. In one appearance, Mary said a miracle would occur on Oct. 13, 1917. Initially the children were scolded and even threatened with death for spreading what were considered baseless stories. But pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Fatima on that date and awaited Mary’s appearance. In what came to be called the “Miracle of the Sun,” many reported seeing visions in the sky while others reported miracles of healing. A newspaper of the day reported, “Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled, the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos, and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced.” 3

Bringing the name of Fatima into the heart of a celebrated vision—with the leader of the Catholic community is a great opportunity to widen the view of these great mothers, historical women, Mary and Fatima. May divisions between religion be replaced with mutual appreciation!

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1  http://lacrossetribune.com/lifestyles/visions-miracles-and-the-supernatural-what-the-pope-s-trip/article_94441bac-238e-5cf9-bd98-612c6e58a428.html

2  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what-was-sr-lucias-advice-after-fatima-visions-pray-everyday-17504/

3  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/05/11/pope-francis-portugal-our-lady-fatima/101553384/

Remembering Huston Smith 1919 – 2016

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Mystics, great academics, Tibetans, people young and old from many traditions — Huston is honored! April 1st many gathered to celebrate the life of Huston Smith at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. He had lived for 97 years, is remembered with a wide smile, stamping on small-minded thinking.

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In 1976 Shabda and I had a chance to travel to Varanasi India. It was a day of finding thanka brocade and the cremation ghats by the Ganges. It was our chance meeting with Huston Smith, then age 57. The world professor with a group of Berkeley students invited us to an Indian music concert that day. We followed him there. His energy was invigorating.

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In the nineties I joined a young group called The Rhythm Society (We are One in the Dance!) that Bob Jesse and my son Ammon founded with visionary electronic tec-lovers. There was an added spiritual perspective. Music, all night dance celebrations and experiences of the sacred took place in the church of St John the Evangelist, the Episcopal church on Julian in the Mission.

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Each ANDC (all-night-dance-celebration) several hundred celebrants would join hands and make a positive intention, then the DJs began to play. Most, if not all members were wary of gurus or teachers. But the man they turned out for on special occasions, hosted, read books by, talked about was Huston Smith. When Huston came they sat quietly and listened. When it was question time, Huston would slowly respond, That is a fantastic question! That is wonderful thinking. And he’d beam at the questioner. They read his books and talked about him.

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Huston and Shabda 2005

Twenty-nine years after India, we came to his house for tea, arranged by Bob Jesse. The conversation went like this. He spoke slowly with enthusiasm: Tell me everything about you. Start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out. Shabda mentioned we had been married for almost 30 years. He said: Well, I don’t know about marriage, but my partner (Kendra) and I have been honing each other’s edges for 60 years and we STILL have rough edges!

When the subject of Sam Lewis came up he said: I think he was the happiest man I ever met. I used to play the Sufi Choir Album in my Berkeley classes. I loved the Sufi Choir. Then he started to sing an old Sufi Choir song: “Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram…”

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Sufi music at the memorial

It was that love of Sufi music that brought Bob Jesse to invite Shabda to share music for the memorial at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Saturday April 1. The weather made us giddy with its shine and light breeze. Like a Huston Smith smile—warm sun lit up the day.      <>     Here is a sample of a couple of his books, quotes and shared stories:

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Huston’s book, The Religions of Man (1958) was a standard in college level religion classes for half a century. 1n 1991 it was given the title The World’s Religions. The two versions sold more than 3 million copies!

Huston invited Aldous Huxley to give seven lectures at MIT in 1960 and was at the birth of the psychedelic movement. Huston wrote Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Enthogenic Plants and Chemicals. (entheogen: substance that induces a spiritual experience and is aimed at spiritual development, what Huston calls “God-enabling.”)

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“The book’s most interesting essay, “Psychedelic Theophanies and the Religious Life” was written in the late sixties and contains an insightful critique of the psychedelic movement which, well over thirty years later, is still entirely relevant. Huston asserts that psychedelic religious experiences often don’t have any lasting effects because people are more interested in having a religious experience (i.e. getting high) than living a religious life.” <http://www.spikemagazine.com/0900perception.php&gt;

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Huston and Kendra

Huston helped introduce the Dalai Lama to the U.S., and he supported the Tibetan cause. As his wife, Kendra, said in her words at Grace Catherdal, (Tibetans looked after Huston in his last year,) “they arrived in the house after he died, chanting—with hugs and food and incense. More than 14 hours later, they were still there.”

He had the gift of making everyone around him feel special. * Patricia E. de Jong

He said his favorite way to pray was with a pencil in his hand. * Dr. Philip Novak

And this from his daughter, Kimberly Smith: <> He was a sustaining current of fatherly love. <> When we kids became teenagers, he sang Beatles songs in harmony with us. <> I never once saw him veg on the couch. <> January second, three days after he died, a rosebush outside my window burst into bloom…

The memorial ended with singing (led by Rashida Chase) the song: O Happy Day, from decades ago by Edwin Hawkins.

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With Huston’s long-time friend Gray Henry at the memorial

 

 

Review: Louder Than Hearts – Poems by Zeina Hashim Beck

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The book begins with a beautiful ghazal. Zeina’s poetry holds a tender power that cuts through to my heart. I have read and written for more than two decades within the Arab culture’s ancient stories of strong women. Between those words and Zeina’s pages I see the falling of light rain through sunlight and feel at home here.  With her steady voice, poetry shines, mourns, celebrates, whispers, weeps and calls out her experience of living in the Arab world.

From  RELENTLESS

“Stop writing about war,” he said. “Stop

writing about borders and blood.

…Stop writing about bread

and barefoot children with their dark

skin, their hair blond from too much sun.

Stop telling the story about how your friend

bought hats for them and gave them out

from her car window, saying  put this on

put this on…”

So I drew him a tree without roots,

a street with enormous wings, and said, “Here

is a tree that cannot be uprooted,

a street that will take flight

before it explodes.”….

Naomi Shihab Nye writes about this book: “I don’t know how Zeina Hashem Beck is able to do this. Her poems feel like whole worlds—potent conversations with the self, the soul, the many landscapes of being…a brilliant, absolutely essential voice.”

from  ADHAN

There is something about the adhan at dawn, how it lifts

your head from the pillow; how it pulls

you from sleep like a bucket from a dark

well, heavy with the same wish to fall;

How when the sky is still full of shadows, it calls

that prayer is better than sleep

(and there’s something Shakespearean

about it, and something modern);

how the voices rise now

from the different speakers in different mosques…

Allahu Akbar,  Allahu Akbar, an unsynchronized

Greek chorus that glazes the city, reaches

the gutters, babies in their cots, the thieves….

       
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I appreciate history as glimpsed in poems: Zeina connects the world of Shakespeare, the Greek chorus, of Ithaca and Edith Piaf with the Islamic world. Her telling brings the reader to the shattering of life in Tripoli, Lebanon in the 1980’s when she was a child, Gaza in 2014, and Syria today. Here’s 11th century Córdoba, the love story of Layla and Majnun, and echos of the late-great singer Umm Kulthum.

I’ll close with a list of Zeina’s greatest literary influences from an interview. I share many of these. https://tetheredbyletters.com/author-qa-zeina-hashem-beck/

Charles Baudelaire, T.S. Eliot, Wislawa Szymborska, Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, Carolyn Forché, Carol Ann Duffy, Martín Espada, Naomi Shihab Nye, Marilyn Hacker, Ellen Bass, Elizabeth Bishop, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, Mahmoud Darwish, Langston Hughes, Adonis, Badr Shaker Al-Sayyab, Majnoon Layla, and Philip Levine.

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Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first book, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second book, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017.  Zeina’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize. Her poems have appeared widely in literary magazines, among which are Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto. Zeina’s readings often have a strong performative quality. She is founder of PUNCH, a Dubai-based poetry and open mic collective. She has been featured at literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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Solomon’s Tribute 7/11/77 – 1/31/12

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This is the evening that I find difficult every year. Because it is  now early afternoon in Bangkok the same time that marked the last moments of your life, Solomon — January 31, 2012. Yet, after I write this and put in the pictures, everything starts to shine with your light. When I’m finished, I can sleep well.  This is a celebration and Remembrance.

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Love Sonnet XCIV ~ by Pablo Neruda 
If I die, survive me with such force
That you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
From south to south lift your indelible eyes,
From sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don’t want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don’t want my heritage of joy to die….

And these words came to me soon after you left us, Solomon.

Take me with you, Mom, into your life, and what you do. Let me bring the balance and glide of boarding into the continual challenge of your everyday life. And please keep loving Nicole…..  

My gift to YOU from all of us who knew you is to live the message.

I recently re-read an email you wrote May 20, 2004 after finding the grave of your great-great grandfather Salomon Salomon in Germany.

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“…I decided to be adventurous and jump on a train to the town of Langenfeld without any prior inquiry… When I got off the train I started walking. It turned out to be down a long footpath. And just when I thought I was lost, I happened upon it, a very small cemetery, not more than 30 gravestones. I went to the door and it was locked, so I waited until the coast was clear and jumped the fence. I had come this far, so I couldn’t be stopped now… Once inside it was sort of secluded. I walked in and immediately found the gravestone. (It looks very different than the others). I sat for 15-20 minutes and meditated on the spot. Afterwards I felt more in touch with my German heritage and family history. I return to Dusseldorf tomorrow to play a few more gigs this weekend then its back to SF on Wednesday… Hope you are well, Much Love…”

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I found this photo of you, Solomon and your niece, Oona. She is going on 8 now and is skiing at Tahoe with  Ammon, Laura and her sister, Maeve, as I write this. I’m sure at some point she’ll be taking up snowboarding with the intoxicating “balance and glide.” Maeve is going on 5. You never knew her. Here they are eating ice cream.

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Also the delightful Samantha. We love her and see her and Nicole quite often. Ryan and Nicole are living full and exciting lives. Here she is with “Baba.” She just learned to say his name! This was the bell at the end of the meditation celebrating your life the other night.

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I wish you were here to see Golden State Warriors Basketball. Four of them made the all-stars! Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Your dad and I have been watching this glorious team win almost all the games. I picture you DJ’ing as you did and even getting us into a game or two, now that the tickets cost much more than they did when you were there like this picture from your booth.IMG_0887.JPG

Tomorrow Girija and I will visit the bench ~Bench5.jpg This is the bench the Brilliants and Kahns dedicated to you and Jon Brilliant, out where the water-birds and cattails are. Dad is in Germany, landing in Frankfurt, then Berlin in a few hours. He sends his love. We miss you and celebrate your extraordinary life, now and always. With love from Mom

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An Evening of Poems and Stories

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On Friday December 9 at 7:30 I will launch my new book, Fatima’s Touch: Poems and Stories of the Prophet’s Daughter, Ruhaniat Press, 2016 at the beautiful Edgehill Mansion on the Dominican Campus in San Rafael. Because her story is almost completely unknown, and FATIMA is a famous, beloved woman in many countries in the world, I want to tell her stories, and share them with those of another famous forgotten woman, Charmain London, a Sonoma County legend, wife of writer Jack London. Iris Jamahl Dunkle, the current Poet Laureate of Sonoma County has just finished a biography on Charmain London and will share the evening with me. Please join us!

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Antiphon Poetry Magazine just wrote me: “We are delighted to accept [my new double sonnet]’Nurse’s Day,’ for Issue Nineteen, which will be published in the autumn.”

Wise daughter of the daughter of the Prophet…
…Oh Zaynab, legendary nurse— please hand
me lidocaine, a hypodermic and
some tweezers, sterile bandages. Dust is thick.
Assad’s war is beyond sane narrative… 

                        From Nurse’s Day

They wrote: “We’re thrilled that the British Library wishes to include Antiphon in a new open access archive of poetry websites/mags in the UK.”

From an introduction to a poem in my new book, honoring Sayyida Zaynab, “Over Damascus:”

“Over a decade ago, I visited The Shrine of Sayyida Zaynab (granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad) in the suburbs of Damascus. It seemed like the well-in-the-desert for women, a place we could all feel empowered.

Recently, it was under attack twice, caught in the crosshairs of the Syrian conflict. The regime that the terrorists are trying to overthrow is “Alawi.” The name comes from “Ali,” although they are an independent Muslim group. This is a very important shrine in Damascus. Opponents of the Syrian Regime would like to demolish it.

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Zaynab is the patron saint of the nurses of Syria, because she was at Karbala when her brother, Husayn and many others were killed. She stood up to the tyrant Yazid, as mentioned in this poem, written before the recent attacks.”

 

Ruhaniat Press presents: Fatima’s Touch

After six years of writing, editing, re-writing, more editing—the book is here. I can hold it in my hand.

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FATIMA’S TOUCH: Poems and Stories of the Prophet’s Daughter, Ruhaniat Press, SF, 2016 by Tamam Kahn
Deluxe hardcover limited edition of FATIMA’S TOUCH  is just reduced to $30
PAPERBACK  $20.   Both $6. shipping. (Europe and other countries allow $12 for shipping.)
Please pay by paypal  (and write your address)  <tamam@completeword.com>       Also on Amazon  $19.95

The hardcover will not be available on Amazon, even though it is posted.

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A box arrived a few days ago containing the advance copy paperbacks to promote Fatima’s Touch. Shabda was leaving for Istanbul the next day, so he took a dozen to give out at the Universal Sufi Conference. He just sent me these three pictures of  friends from Turkey, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, each holding Fatima’s Touch.

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Esin Chelebi, Konya

Esin Chelebi is the 22nd generation granddaughter of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. She works to promote his teachings.

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Fakhira Najib, Pakistan

Fakira Najib started “Broad Class” an organization bringing education, clothing, books and food to thousands of poor marginalized students and parents in Pakistan.

Fakira (Pakistan)

Ni’mah Nawwab, Saudi Arabia

A few years ago, I bought Ni’mah’s elegant poetry book: Canvas of the Soul: Mystic Poems from the Heartland of Arabia. She is “a voice for Arab women and youth,” and a beautiful bridge between East and West.

What a wonderful moment. Today, on the other side of the globe, these three women, are holding the book! May Fatima’s story be shared in America the way it is known in the Middle East, North Africa, and South East Asia. May she be appreciated and valued for her wisdom.

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I will be reading in Cambridge, Mass. at Cambridge Friends Meeting House, at 7:30 pm September 7th,  as part of an evening with the Dances of Universal Peace. Info: 617-876-5272. I will be reading from Fatima’s Touch in Seattle the first week in December.

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Repetition, Mountains and Shibori

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My granddaughter, Oona keeps drawing mountains. In the spirit of repetition, I say yes. yes! YES! and want to write poems and introduce her to Shibori.

Shibori: is the Japanese word for  ways of embellishing textiles by shaping cloth and securing it before dyeing, using a variety of techniques in different shapes to make different patterns. I was watching a small video and thinking how I would show it to Oona,  to inspire an art project we could do. Patterns.    http://skl.sh/video-shibori

video: at source click bottom (free entry) then go to line 11 “3 simple Shibori Styles”

“The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free… The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit!”  Igor Stravinsky.

Meter, in the most basic physical way, releases illogical energy and brings it in coaction with the rational part of the mind, creating a synergy that might seem badly needed today—a balance between the unconscious power that perhaps composes what we sense as sanity.”  and “Repetition pulls the reader down… into the preliterate, the childlike… appeals to the right-brained qualities of space, being, and unindividuated consciousness…”   Annie Finch

Let It Be Forgotten   ~   poem by Sara Teasdale

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Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,

Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,

Let it be forgotten for ever and ever…

As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall

In a long forgotten snow.

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Oona has been drawing mountains for awhile. As I write this she is up in the Sierras. The repetition brings her  closer to what she is drawn to. Mountains, mountains, mountains……………………………………..

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The Patterns in art and words made visible.

A repetition poem from Marilyn Hacker works both ends of the line with a repeated word at the beginning (anaphora) and rhymes for the final word. It gives a kind of hypnotic progression which goes on for six more stanzas than are shown here:

Casting Out Rhymes
Yes, dictionaries opening again
Yes, scorched across her forehead like a stain
Yes, less to say than cognate words contain
Yes, caffeine and butalbital for pain
Yes, ruptured synapses hobble the brain.

No, watched grey water circle down the drain
No, looking out the window of the train
No, not the melody, just the refrain
No, not temerity, no, not distain
No, stroked across the scar against the grain….

                                                                                                                              th-2
from William Blake ~The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright…
…What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp…

Closing with a humorous moment, having found the mountain with the Starbucks on the top. Oona’s dad, Ammon, VP of Product Design at the new company Takt, on brief vacation in the Sierras, is due for a coffee stop near the top. Yes!

The next post will announce the arrival of my new book: Fatima’s Touch, Poems and Stories of the Prophet’s Daughter, Ruhaniat Press, September, 2016.

Remembering Solomon 2016

SOLOMON KAHN & JON BRILLIANT ~ BRINGERS OF JOY!

SOLOMON KAHN & JON BRILLIANT ~ BRINGERS OF JOY!

So many of us love and think about you every day.  Happy 39th birthday Solomon! You brought so much fun and wisdom and joy into the world and our lives. It is astounding how much you lived in 34 years. You are missed, but live on in each of us.

Solomon and his dad, Shabda

Solomon and his dad, Shabda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday we celebrated your life with a windy visit to the new bench that sits next to a tiny bird lake in Marin. It has a view of Mount Tam and the East Bay in the far distance. Sun sets in the hills and is reflected here in front of the bench. The water is mostly used by cormorants and pelicans now, with a tribe of Canadian Geese claiming the North-East side. The swans are in the next lake.

Celebrating at the bench July 10, 2016

Celebrating at the bench
July 10, 2016

The idea of the bench with a plaque came during my luncheon visits with my close friend Girija Brilliant. Girija’s son, Jon died a year before Solomon ~ and magical connections have occurred bringing the two (who never knew each other) together.

Jon Brilliant and Solomon Kahn.

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Our favorite was this photo of two inscriptions on a beam at the large temple in Burningman several years ago. A friend of Jon’s took the picture and by chance there was an inscription to Solomon by an unrelated person inches above Jon’s name. Understand— there are over 1,000 messages written in this place every year, then offered to the fire. So we decided to create a bench in honor of our two sons. Las Gallinas Water District land provided the place, and last week the plaque was finished. Here’s to Jon and Solomon!

The Brilliant Family: Larry, Jon, Iris, Girija, and Joe

The Brilliant Family: Larry, Jon, Iris, Girija, and Joe

On this day of CELEBRATION of SOLOMON’S LIFE I am grateful for the friendships of those who joined us, and those like Nicole, Ryan and Samantha Rose, Ean Golden, The Lewis, Cherners, Lama Palden and many of Solomon’s close friends who we not there, but may visit the bench another time. Turn left after the railroad tracks at the end of Smith Ranch Road. Park in the small lot at the end, cross the bridge and walk until you see the BENCH at the second fork in the road!

 

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Bench A2

In honor of Solomon’s birthday, please read this stunningly beautiful tribute from his dear friend Leila:

There are no words to describe how much I miss Solomon in my life. For days Leilahnow, leading up to his birthday I have been thinking of him, remembering his smile and steady spirit, his ability to make us all feel at home with ourselves because he appeared to feel at home with himself. I remember the time we shared and I am forever honored, humbled and grateful to have had his friendship. And though his spirit still informs my life, and so in some ways he is still present for me, it doesn’t solve the problem of me missing his voice at the other end of the phone, or yearning to see his smile one more time, or feeling a sense of comfort to have a friend nearby who when in his company things just always felt okay.

 Thinking of you all today, on this special day. How blessed we are to be alive. To know each other. And to dance this dance of life, where past informs present and present is all that is true. My work is to get out of my head and into a more heart centered and trusting way of living, where all things do not need reason or explanation… its all play in the field of love.

I love you. Am grateful for each of you.

 In memory of Solomon. May his soul be free and may his light shine bright! And may we dance this dance saying YES to all things that return us to love.  L.

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WE LOVE YOU SOLOMON!!

Lesley Hazleton’s New Book

 

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Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, Riverhead Books, N.Y., 2016, by Lesley Hazleton

When Lesley started working on this book I wasn’t sure what I thought or felt about the word AGNOSTIC. Now it is published and selling briskly. I read this book with great pleasure—the questions it raises and the wild ride in ideas and words. I’ve marked and turned down the corner on countless pages. I’m happy to share my interest and enjoyment.

Lesley and I had met years ago over our various writings on Muhammad and what needed to be said about him and the women around him. She read the Qur’an cover to cover in several English translations! Who can say they’ve done that? She gave TED talks. I am in awe of her accomplishments. Pilot. Journalist. Funny friend. My all time favorite book she wrote is Mary, A Flesh and Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother. Lesley Hazleton is my SHE-ro, that’s hero with a she, the most skillful driver of the vehicle of the written phrase. Her sentences move you right along.

I wondered how agnostic thoughts might fit into my world of Sufis, my research on Muhammad and Fatima. There is a very wide scope to this book.

Begin with the title. …A Spirited not Spiritual Manifesto. Yes! I like that. I live in a world where sentimentality lurks very close by, since Sufism is about LOVE. Like GOD it is almost impossible to discuss. Lesley writes:

God is such a little word for such a huge concept. A mere three letters in English, it’s so short, so concise, so …familiar. Far more user friendly than the amorphous idea of the divine or the transcendent or the infinite, its really kind of a nickname, a shorthand claim to intimacy…. 1

See what I mean? As with LOVE, everyone assumes the meaning is shared. Like LOVE, GOD gets held hostage by personal beliefs and experiences. Then the AHA! we share is lost. Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto brings up and stirs around what we assume we know, yet don’t question.

The agnostic stance defies artificial straight lines such as that drawn between belief and unbelief, and shakes off the insistence that it come down on one side or the other. It is free-spirited, thoughtful, and independent-minded—not at all the wishy-washy I-don’t–know-ness that atheists accuse it of being. 2

I want to explore unanswerable questions with an open mind instead of approaching them with dismissive derision or with solemn piety… to get beyond old, worn-out categories and establish an agnostic stance of intellectual and emotional integrity, fully engaged with this strange yet absorbing business of existence in the world. 3

The following lines make me want to be Banksy, Graffiti Master of UK, painting phrases and paradoxes on buildings at night— everywhere.

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The meaning of life is that it stops. 4

…to be lost is to be fully present. 5

(The agnostic )…takes a spirited delight in not knowing. 6

Names pin things down…create the illusion of understanding. Which is why naming God might be the trickiest business of all. 7

As with your keys or your wallet, you “find” God or “lose” your faith. 8

This is the agnostic’s faith: not in answers, but in possibilities. 9

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She speaks a truth that is rarely spoken:

By refusing to accept death—by seeing it as failure—both physicians and their patients (assume)…death is the enemy… “you can do this, you can beat it,” as though we declare war on death, As though, absurdly, we could kill it… 10

Perfectibility seems so hollow to me. The definiteness, the absolutism, the dead-endness of it— all these leave no room for life. The perfect tomato in the store turns out to be tasteless, genetically engineered for shelf appeal, not for the palette…. Complete agreement with whatever I might say leaves me gasping for intellectual air, longing for something more than a mirror of my own thoughts. 11

I can’t follow her into the mathematics of the universe, big numbers and infinity, so these pages with words like ouroboros and googolplex have me scanning and page-turning.

The book ends with a discussion of “soul.” She does that thing like the child’s game of repeating a word until it’s like Dr. Seuss, or like cracking an egg—

…soulful, a good soul, soul music, soul food, soul mates Soul… we seem to end up in a haze of well-meaning sentiment…

 Then she brings in a deeper layer:

…soul not as a thing, but as a dimension of being that defies the narrow lens of dogma…12

Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi who came to the West in 1910 calls the soul “…consciousness, which is all-pervading. That same consciousness is caught in a limitation … All the holy beings of the world have become so by freeing the soul, its freedom being the only object there is in life.”13

I like this, since I am in the lineage that reaches back through Inayat Khan for over 1000 years of direct guidance and experiential understanding. It is not a religion. I like to call Sufism, “the fragrance over the flower of religion,” I am open to what these Sufis have shared, but also look for and cherish a healthy “spirited” view including humor and paradox that insists on real experience, not just accepting what I’ve been told. Out of the deep sincerity of that attitude, devotion to the path I walk can be born in my heart.

This book …to quote Lesley’s final page about the soul, “makes my heart swell… makes me glad to be alive.” 14

Reference Notes

1     Lesley Hazleton, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto p. 25.
2     p. 4, 5.
3     p. 6
4     p. 135
5     p. 117
6     p. 6.
7     p. 51.
8     p. 47
9     p. 79
10   p. 145,146
11   p. 190
12   p. 193.
13   Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Sufi Message of HIK “Spiritual Liberty.” vol. 5, Chapter 1.
14   Lesley Hazleton, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto p. 204