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poems

Books, Guest Posts, poetry

3 Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye.

August 25, 2014

By Naomi Shihab Nye 

Dear Jen, these 3 little poems all remind me of you in different ways because
you really make the most of your days!!!!  Love, your fan club prez. Naomi (arm-wrestling with 1,000 others who say they are also the Prez. Imposters, all!) xo Naomi Shihab Nye

From A MAZE ME (Poems for girls)

Freshly out in paperback 2014, first published 2005 (Greenwillow Books)

note from Jen: Naomi is one of my favorite people on the planet as well as one of the greatest living poets of our time!

Jen Pastiloff and Naomi Shihab Nye 2014

Jen Pastiloff and Naomi Shihab Nye 2014

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Guest Posts, poetry

Maya, Malcolm X and Me.

June 12, 2014

Maya, Malcolm X and Me. by Leza Lowitz

On Wednesday, May 28th, Maya Angelou died at the age of 86. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, she’d taken the hurt, pain, and fear of her early life and transformed herself into Maya, this larger-than-life (yet exceedingly human) presence who was so many things to so many people–writer, essayist, playwright, singer, dancer, actress, composer, professor and director. Inspiration.

To me, she was an early saviour. Maya Angelou touched my life the way she touched thousands of others. In 1970, I was a fourth grader at Malcolm X Elementary in Berkeley, California when she came to visit our school. She’d published her autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and every kid at my school had read it.

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It’s a coming-of-age story that follows Marguerite from 3 to 13, tackling issues like racism, trauma, and abandonment in unflinchingly honest and beautiful language.

Her gift didn’t come easily. At the age of eight, Maya was raped. After telling her family, her attacker was beaten to death. Maya stopped speaking for years, turning instead to reading and writing poetry. A teacher introduced her to Shakespeare, whose “The Rape of Lucrece” helped her have the courage to speak again. She studied dance and drama, but dropped out of high school at 14. At 17, around the time she had a son, and went back to complete her degree. A young, single mother, she worked as a stripper to support her family. Over time, she began to sing and dance again, touring in a production of Porgy and Bess and meeting people like Billie Holliday. She renamed herself Maya Angelou. Eventually, she became a poet. Her bestselling memoirs of growing up black and female made her a beloved American storyteller, with her “seemingly boundless optimism in the face of hardship (Bloomberg).”

But back then, in 1970, before she’d read her poetry at Clinton’s inaguration and became a national treasure, she spoke of how the power of her words had frightened her as a child–she’d believed they had the power to take life. Well, they did. Her rapist was killed, presumably by angry family members. She was a truth-teller. And when you’ve been through the fire, your words, your truth, have a power that is unsilenceable.

And what power that woman’s words had to this little awestruck white girl sitting on the floor at Malcolm X School auditorium in Berkeley, 1970.

Unknown

My life could not have been more different than hers. At eight years old, I was scrawny, Jewish, with self-cut bangs and a wandering eye that required an eye patch (No, I did not believe the Moshe Dayan look was cool). But mainly, I was a girl who often got the shit beaten out of me. This I later came to understand was considered “payback” for all the horrors whites had inflicted on blacks for centuries. I know it made me stronger. I know it made me empathise with the suffering of others. But back then, I only knew that it sucked being me.
Until Maya.

She had every reason to be bitter and hardened. But she wasn’t. When she was asked why she never became embittered, she said that she had “always felt loved.” When she came to us at Malcolm X, I knew there had to be a way to live together. She modelled how to turn the straw of your life into gold. She showed us to lift others up with you when you flew.

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Outside our little world, the Vietnam War was raging, and the streets of Berkeley were on fire with protests. Our parents, ever idealistic, wanted us to grow up together in unity–white, black, asian, native. And we did, eventually, though not at first in the ways in which they had hoped. We fought each other. We resisted this voluntary “integration.” With much violence around us, it was easy to be pulled down. But our principal wanted us to rise up, so he invited people to look up to. And they came–people like James Baldwin and Maya, with the colors of the earth–reds, browns, sunsets–radiating from her geometric patterned dress. Tall and regal, her thick booming voice sailed out over her broad-brimmed hat and over the auditorium like a magic scarf, entrancing us with its power.

I don’t even remember what she said. I just remember the way her voice hit the walls of my heart and cracked them right open. I fell in love with Maya Angelou. I fell in love with poetry. And I felt the true ferocious undeniable power of words.

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Because when Maya came to my elementary school and spoke to me, she was doing just that–Speaking Directly To Me. Speaking to that small voice in myself that others would try to silence, that voice which later in life I would also deny myself. That voice in Maya which she had nurtured and watered until it became so powerful and life-affirming that it could only be let out to sing. In my own small way, I wanted to do the same. But back then, my own words were increasingly angry, rebellious, and difficult to subdue. While my parents marriage fell apart, I bore the brunt of that combustion. My mouth was washed out with soap, I was beaten with a belt and grounded for weeks on end. To be sure, these were minor injustices compared to what many women in our world endure, but they burned nonetheless. And yet, on some level, they made me realise that my words must have some kind of power. If not, why would they be attempted to be forced back into silence?

In the end, the words would not be stopped. In my room, enveloped in the silence, I wrote and wrote and wrote in my journal. Not for anyone to see, but for me. To uncage the words. To free my own heart. Because in my own small way, I knew it could be done. Maya had shown us that. I will always remember that tall, majestic woman who graced us with her presence, who entranced with her words. I will always be grateful to that angel for coming down to earth and sharing her wisdom, power and grace.

I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. It that auditorium, listening to her words, we were one.

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Leza Lowitz is a yoga teacher and writer based in Tokyo. She is the author of the #1 amazon best-seller Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By and 17 other books, including Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, a young adult novel about an eco-warrior freedom fighter on a quest to save her tribal lands, which received the APALA Award in Young Adult Literature. Lowitz has contributed to The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Shambhala Sun, Harper’s, Yoga Journal, and Best Buddhist Writing.

When she is not writing, she runs Sun and Moon Yoga in Tokyo, which she founded in 2003. Here Comes the Sun, her memoir of yoga, adoption and mid-life motherhood, is forthcoming in 2015 from Stone Bridge Press. Visit her at www.lezalowitz.com

Yoga Poems

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next workshop is in London July 6th.

5 Most Beautiful Things, Jen's Musings, poetry

I Love You… But I’m Shy.

March 11, 2014

For Naomi Shihab Nye, who makes me want to be a better person.

The 5 Most Beautiful Things Project. I sometimes forget to write them down here in the blog but I almost always am on the hunt for them. Here’s the latest:

Poetry. Even the found poems, especially the found ones. As if they were left specifically for us. (Maybe they were?) Like the journal I found in my drawer tonight that someone had left at the restaurant I worked at for years. I’ve kept it all this time. I found it left under a table one night while I was cleaning up after my shift.

Some day I will live in the southe of France, wear espadrilles and a long silk scarf flowing behind me as I ride my bicycle to the beach

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So much time has passed since I found this old journal that I question now if I indeed wrote the words, but the handwriting isn’t mine and there’s these little drawings, which are most definitely not mine (at best I can draw stick figures.) But this gift, this poem(s) as it were, because it is a poem- who can question the image of a long silk scarf flowing behind a girl (who, according to the drawing wears a mask) and how that image will live somewhere inside me so that if I ever visit the south of France, which I have every intention of doing, I will conjure this mask wearing bicycle riding scarf trailing bicycle girl.

The next page:

I love you… but I’m shy.

More bicycles.

One of the riders is only a head. No body. This gift of poetry, which is everywhere if you look.

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Saturday night I went to a reading of Naomi Shihab Nye’s. (She’s actually the number one beautiful thing on this list.) Naomi has become a friend and what I most love about her, and there are many things to love, is her ability to be present and how she looks at the world with a poet’s eye, or rather, with a childlike sense of wonder. She talked about going to the library as a child and how you’d just let yourself wander until you found a book. You’d explore, as you weren’t going there for anything in particular. As adults, she said, we’re so directive. We make a beeline for exactly when what we want. There is a mission and a purpose and very little letting yourself get lost amidst a sea of books. She has that sense of wander and wonder.

Naomi and I

Naomi and I

My first love was poetry. I started writing stories as a child but when I got serious about it at NYU, it was for the love of poetry. C.K. Williams was the first poet I heard read.

I loved C.K. for how his poetry ran on and on. How it felt like he was talking to only me (isn’t that what all good writing does?) singling me out in a room full of shoelace-faced students—whispering into my freezing ears. Out of all the ears he could whisper to on a packed C train and he chose mine! This is what poetry can look like, he said. This is what words can do. And he conversed with me through his poems and taught me what was possible. If it weren’t for him (and a few other poets who crawled into my slowly-going-deaf-ears, right at that particular moment in time, I might still be riding the C train without the knowledge that words could change the world.) They could pummel and destroy and create and fascinate. I didn’t quite realize the capacity they had until those poets (Donna Masini, C.K. Williams, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds, Stanley Kunitz) quietly, without so much as a word of warning, showed up during my 19th year on the planet. They marched in and planted their word-flags and even when they left, their flags remained waving for me so that no matter where I went, I had a place that felt like home.

Naomi Shihab Nye makes me want to scour the world for poems.

I went digging and found the journal in my drawer which is undoubtedly filled with other poem worthy artifacts. I remember when I found the journal at work that Saturday night in 2001, or whenever it was, how I thought I’d hit the jackpot. I peaked in the book and realized it was nothing confessional (I murdered someone or I’m having an affair.) It probably sucked to lose it but I doubt it was earth shattering (Geez, I hope it wasn’t)- most of it was blank, save a few drawings and dreams and clothing sketches.

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I stuck it in the safe at the restaurant. No one claimed it for a whole year so I finally went back and got my loot. Then I stuck it in a drawer for a good ten years. Until today. So that’s one (or more) of my beautiful things. The way art finds us. The way poetry is everywhere. Just like beauty. And bicycles with body-less riders and lists of places to go, well, can’t the mind just go wild on that shit nodding madly yes yes yes.

Opening my own notebook and seeing this list.

2014:

Italy

London. Meet Jimmy again.

Go To Hong Kong.

(I remember now that these were my husband’s wishes and I’d just written them down for him.) We were in San Francisco. We’d just had some pizza. It was December and we were in San Francisco at some over-priced restaurant targeted for tourists. I had a glass of chardonnay and the wine gave me that rush of what was possible so I said to him, What should we do, you know? This year, with my pen poised and my little notebook out. Where do you want to go? So I am looking at this next to this old notebook I found at The Newsroom on my waitressing shift and I’m thinking how the same we are. So many of us. How we dream and dream and want and want and how we write things down in little notebooks and maybe we leave them behind or maybe we take them. Maybe we never go to any of the places we dream of going, but maybe we do. There’s so many of us with so many wishes and places and notebooks that surely there is a varied lot- some who make it to the other side of their dreams, some who make it as far as the ink on the paper and some who never have the courage to write it down. I’m thinking there’s all sorts.

Anyway, funny that I have these two books open and both are lists of places to go.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

I wonder if the girl who lost the notebook at The Newsroom ever went to the places she doodled. Her name is in the front cover. Back then we didn’t have Facebook to look her up but now I suppose I could. But I won’t. It would be awkward. If she reads me (wouldn’t that be a funny thing?) maybe she’ll recognize her drawings and her words. And maybe she will shoot me an email saying, “Yes, I made it. I am here in the south of France on my bicycle with a long scarf flowing behind me.”

The joy of quiet. Something Naomi said last Saturday. She loved my essay I wrote about my hearing loss on The Nervous Breakdown, and it struck me hearing her talk of the joy of quiet, that she, along with myself, must think of bursts of silence as holy things. The moderator, Lisa Napoli, asked Naomi how she finds quiet in the madness of the world. Oh, it’s to be found, she said in so many words. And I thought how the quiet is in itself a found art.

I am so unwilling to let myself get quiet most days and combined with the constant ringing in my ears, it seems as if my head is a carnival of sound. Nonstop chatter. I decided I must excavate quiet, I must unearth it and actively look for it as I do with the 5 Most Beautiful Things Project. Beauty Hunter. Hunter of Quiet. I’ve begun making it a project, seeking quiet wherever I can, because surely we all deserve the joy of quiet.

I have been walking to the beach. I have been meditating. I have been listening. It’s nice.

**

Today, a couple kids were yelping loudly so I said, “What’s the excitement?”

“He’s my cousin!” one shrieks, pointing to another, obviously very proud of this relation.

“She is too!” Pointing to another, younger girl, thrilled to be able to point this out to me. That such excitement about family exists. We are related!

Can you imagine being somewhere and jumping up and down to tell someone This is my mom! This is my brother! This is my Uncle! She’s my sister! It was sweet. And I wondered how long they’d stay close. I am not particularly close to any of my cousins. And just then, one of the kids face planted and havoc ensued.

** 

I sort of lost track since I’m rambling, but I think I am at number 5.

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#5 then, my friend Angela Patel who is a gifted writer and who sent me this book the other day when I was feeling like shit. I had been struggling with depression and anxiety and she sent this wee book in the mail, so small I thought the package was empty. It’s called The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Fighting The Big Motherfuckin’ Sad by Adam Gnade. The timing was impeccable. And this little book, surely there are parts where I feel as if I wrote it (again how similar we are! So many of us walking around trying to fight the big motherfuckin’ sad in our lives.) I mean, have you read my friend Maggie May Ethridge’s piece on my site called Sad Fish? It’s one of my favorites and I have taken to reading it aloud to people like some preacher on a street corner. Hey you! You! Over there! In the red jacket! Listen up.

I think that maybe finding the beauty and the quiet is the poetry. And the things we notice when we are the denizens of such particular states of grace will allow us to harness our joy in such way that every so often we’ll feel as if we are on a bicycle somewhere in the south of France, some scarf trailing behind us and nothing existing but that which is waiting to be found by us and has perhaps been waiting forever.

******

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London. 

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