The poet is a mapmaker
to the unspoken urges that we feel.
As a human heart travels
through life and beyond,
the poet’s voice is a beacon.
Beatriz Badikian is a Chicago poet, teacher of writing and literature, multilingual speaker, and world traveler.
With an introduction by Sandra Cisneros
Gladsome Books, Chicago, 1999.
Already Home :: A Topography of Spirit and Place
Barbara Gates searches her backyard for personal meaning, exploring what’s hidden behind the obvious.
A neighbor on her Berkeley, California street has started sleeping in Gates’ car to avoid household turmoil. Gates tolerates the backseat sleepovers, though other middle-class neighbors object that she’s encouraging bad elements . Reminds me of the hilarious (and bittersweet) Alan Bennett novella The Lady in the Van.
The woman seeking refuge in the backseat of a car and other events propel Barbara Gates to investigate the street where she lives and the extended neighborhood.
What starts out as a tentative exploration of self and the meaning of home broadens as the author gains confidence in the mission. She notices drug dealing on the street, the poverty of certain neighbors contrasted with the prosperity of others. She explores abandoned industrial facilities a few blocks from her door.
The narrative includes high and low crises in her life (a rat in the kitchen, raising a daughter, cancer) and chronicles her aperture to the broader world. She learns about herself by exploring the neighborhood; and that’s when the story becomes more engaging.
It threatens at first to be another slightly irritating Oh-poor-me-and-my-inner-life narrative (the Eat, Pray, Love genre) from a privileged person. What a change when they jump off the meditation cushion and notice the world, or even where their feet fall. In contrast with her neighbors, the author can read, has a stable home life, an income and time to meditate. What’s her problem, a reader wonders, at the mention of a rat in the kitchen? The rat turns out to be a linking device jolting the ecology of the neighborhood, like street crime and encroaching development. The book turns interesting once the inner-gazing and self-glazing ends and Gates notices the windows, street, people and neighborhood.
The author is cofounder and coeditor of the Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind. She is brave enough to show the process of how she opens to the world. She explains and exhumes the history of her house and surroundings, then realizes the lesson is simply to let go of the past and embrace her present life there.
Book information: Shambala, Boston & London, 2003, 229 pages, $21.95 hardcover, ISBN: 1570624909
This review appeared in a slightly different format in The Bloomsbury Review.
This is the kind of evolving focus that I enjoy hearing about. Moving onward and through one’s life, noticing the points and hidden messages along the way.
Speech distills the elements of living the self-defined life . Lived thus far ~~ who knows what comes next!.
Ray Bradbury lived a long and creative life. He died last week which sent me to my copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, Essays on Creativity, his 1990 book on the writing process. Bradbury celebrates life and the mystery of imagination in these essays, as he did in public — at readings, lectures and impromptu autographing events.
His essays remind writers to relax and follow the fantastic notions that stalk our logic and reason. In the urgent elaborations and emotional intensity that awaken our minds, we do our best writing. Or maybe it’s sheer surprise at creativity from the unknown dimension that captures our energy. Sometimes it is pure luck and having enough time to get the words down before a writer’s attention wanes. Bradbury’s Zen message to writers: Just write and the rest will unfold. Thank you, Ray Bradbury, for opening your prescient imagination to us.
I opened the collection randomly, trusting serendipity and found this passage in the essay about Dandelion Wine:
Here is my celebration, then of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror written by a boy who once hung upside down in trees, dressed in his bat costume with candy fangs in his mouth, who finally fell out of the trees when he was twelve and went and found a toy-dial typewriter and wrote his first “novel.” (page 86)
This similar version of this review appeared in the grass-roots book newspaper The Bloomsbury Review. Subscribe!
Wherever I Wander
Impassio Press, Seattle, Wa.
2004, 302 pages
When I picked up Judith Azrael’s collection of essays, I wondered if this would be another memoir by another lyrical questing Buddhist watching the self in stillness and motion. After all, that “I” in the title portends self-involvement.
Instead, this reader entered a world of meticulous attention to the other. Azreal constructs clear portraits of the other consciousnesses — people, animals, environments — that she encounters. The author spends her words carefully, crafting details that compose places; her writing is grounded in sensual information. Though she reveals herself ever so gradually, the real focus of the book is on the other, whether that other is an abandoned baby seal, a group of prisoners, a house or the sea.
Review by L. Peat O’Neil
Resources for Book Groups and Readers:
Quotes and Fragments from the book.