Monday, June 08, 2009

Womb, Harlequin and License Plates: The Gift 1


Dogs can bark, he said. Demanded civil behavior! she laughed back. My spouse and littlest child were playing the acronym license plate game.

DCB, found on the back of a volkswagen. Remolded into delightful phrases. Brought home in a little story-box. A gift to the family.

Switch gears. Families and strangers grieving Flight 447. A briefcase with an airline ticket, orange life vest, elusive black boxes, debris floating on the turbulent sea. What to take from this, what to give in the face of so much loss? I reach into my sorrow and empathy, gather slight visions of what has so far been recovered, and consider...

Black Box

What indestructible secrets does
the black box hold. Besides electrical
failure, did it record his intention
to return her key for good on Monday,

does it hold her regret for being too
easy that night they cut the deal
on the purchase of rubber for ten
factories in the South. Will it tell

how the child lay dreaming of
chocolate gateaux with cherries
and how his mother had just
dabbed whipped cream on his

freckled nose to make him laugh.
Or can it say how— while the
boy was still unwrapping presents,
'midst screams he thought were party

sounds—the woman took him in her
arms one last time, as if for the first
time, and pressed his face against
milk-white silk and breaking breast.

This week at High Calling Blogs we're discussing chapter one of Hyde's The Gift. Like Sam, who wrote the HCB post for us, I find myself riddled with questions. What is a gift? On what does it rely? Assignation or acceptance?

In other words, if I say my poem is a gift to the grieving, is it? What if the sentiments are too hard to accept? What if the recipients don't particularly like poetry? Or if the license-plate story comes home, not meant as a gift per se, but I accept it as such, is it a gift?

Are some gifts greater than others? What if I were a better poet, or a worse one? Does that alter the reality or power of my gift? Hyde notes, for instance, that the formulaic Harlequin Romance series is not a work of art (the parameters have been set by poll results and this is the bottom line: 192 pages in length, gold curlicue design, heroine between ages of 19 and 27, single man but preferably recently widowed, and so on); and because the series is not, in his opinion, a work of art, it lacks the power of true gift.

True gift, says Hyde, makes us 'grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he labored in the service of his gifts.' Such work 'when it comes, speaks commandingly to the soul and irresistibly moves us.' Furthermore, a gift should shift us from emptiness to plenty as it 'seeks the barren, the arid, the stuck, the poor. The Lord says, All that opens the womb is mine...'

Is this, at last, a definition of gift? If I open some womb in myself to give, maybe it is a gift whether or not it's accepted. If I accept a gift not intended as a gift and let it birth something in me, this too might be gift to my soul.

'Opening in Alhambra Wall' photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Laura's Some Food We Could Not Eat
Sam's The Gift: Art, Work and a Ribbon


Our next prompt (please post by June 18) is to begin, middle, or end a poem with "I spied God in (choose a specific object... a chrysalis, your mailbox, the dishwasher, an old teapot; what did God look like, what was God doing, did it surprise you?)

High Calling Blogs' Poetry as Spiritual Practice: 2
Marika's Repair
Yvette's Doors
Milton's Seasons and Nicodemus
Monica's Learning
Sarah’s Strands
Ann’s Soul ADD and Burning Bush
Laura’s Conversation
Simple Country Girl's Book RAP
Marcus's Liturgy of Seasons
Deb's Wrenched
TUC's Fell Down Today
Sarah's Way With Words
Laure's Silences
Liz's Sirens
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Blogger Laura said...

This chapter, difficult to put in words...

but here are yours
bringing tears.

this is what it means to give a gift.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Marcus Goodyear said...

RE The Gift.

For me, the more a gift honors the receiver, the more valuable it is.

I don't give Monster Truck Jam tickets as a gift to my mom because they wouldn't honor her. (Whereas my son would be highly honored.)

There is also value in the personalizing the gift. My mom may value nice food more than monster trucks, but a $50 gift certificate to her favorite restaurant will be less personal than making her dinner or taking her out on a date.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Marcus Goodyear said...

RE The Poem.

Black Box is a gift to people who read about tragedies like Flight 447 and don't know how to respond. You give us words and images that help.

1:16 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

Firstly, your poem was beautiful and made me cry.

Secondly, I dispute that a Harlequin Romance novel can not be a work of art. It may have a set of requirements for writing, but doesn't also a villanelle, a sonnet? And what about all those writing prompts for poets and short story writers that saturate the internet? Can true poetry derive from an impersonal prompt? I believe so, if the writer is able to take the set requirements and turn them into something real. I don't read Harlequin so I don't know if any of their writers have done so. But I can imagine the possibility. I also know those books are a true gift to many women, deeply touching something in their hearts - or else they would not sell! Hyde may not like that, but then the books are not for him.

Your poem shut down things in me, rather than opening them. It gave me sorrow and grief I did not want to feel. Which of course proves its potency! Your license plate game was more like a gift for me - it is something I can take and use with my own family, and I thank you for it. We never know when anything we put out will be like a gift for others. Keeping that thought in mind may help us be better writers, better people.

Thank you for another thought inspiring post. :-)

5:00 PM  
Blogger Bought as is said...

Sorry I'm not reading this book. However, L.L., on your last paragraph here. "if I accept a gift not intended as a gift & let it birth something in me..."

I have another wrinkle to this question. What if what is "given" is hurtful? what if something that no sane person would construe as a gift... ends up being one anyway?

somethings that I have been deeply hurt by... "grew" into a gift in my relationship with God.
Does that make sense?
[delete this if it doesn't]

10:48 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

Beautiful gift. (your post)
I am it a gift if it is not accepted. I think so. If the gift has left us and been passed along in any way, it is still a gift.
Yes, like Laura, difficult to put into words.

11:22 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Laura... I wonder if a gift is partly that... putting form to the formless? And that which moves us, as Hyde suggests... but what if it moves us in uncomfortable ways?

Marcus 1 & 2... yes, I always like a personal gift. Makes me wonder what the value is of the gifts in the book... those ritual things that seem to have little connection to any particular need or desire. Thanks, re: the poem. It was hard for me to write, but the whole thing has been on my mind for days.

Sarah... thank you. I'm curious as to what the poem shut in you (that's an interesting way to put it) And as for your thoughts on Harlequin, this reminded me of Betty Spackman's book A Profound Weakness: Christians and Kitsch. Sometimes the value is not in the art so much as what we bring to the art before we take back from it.

Bought... you read my mind. I had begun considering the gift my childhood was to me. Strange to call it a gift; in so many ways it was not a gift... but it has been redeemed into such. I totally understand what you're saying.

Liz... interesting to contemplate! And it sure has implications for how we live, depending on what we decide.

8:39 AM  
Blogger TUC said...

You make me cry too.

11:46 AM  
Blogger sojourner said...

i am having creative overload because i like everything in this post - poems, wombs, words, comments, all presented a gift to my senses, emotions, mind, and spirit - thank you very much!

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Diane L. Harris said...

The title of this post confounded me so I had to read the post and there I found a gift.

I think if a thing is valuable to either the giver or receiver it is a gift. Jesus was our greatest gift from God; whether we accept Him or not does not decrease the value of this gift.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Jennifer @ said...

I don't know what to say.

That poem has my heart in my throat.

12:52 AM  
Anonymous Sam Van Eman said...

LL, thanks for the poem.

Marcus, I can't read "Monster Truck Jam" without hearing you voice grumble and echo like the TV announcer.

Sarah, great comments, especially about harlequin novels which I normally consider neither art nor gifts.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I do appreciate that poem "Black Box."

Gifts should be a part of us as humans, that we want both to give and to receive. So a natural expression of ourselves, but with the receiver in mind. And creativity is a gift as well, from God to us, than from us to others- and back.

Good thoughts, L.L. Way to stretch us!

5:51 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Life delayed my poetry attempt, but it also changed my poem. What fun to create gifts from even disaster!

9:02 AM  
Anonymous bradley j moore said...

LL - I have just ordered the book, so will start reading it next week - your thoughts here are making me anticipate this read very much.
There are a few other product lines/brand names that I would lump in with Harlequin as "not art" (Precious Moments characters, for instance)but I am sure listing them will offend someone. And offending someone would Not be a gift.

8:49 PM  
Anonymous Monica said...

Guess what?! For the prompt, I jumped in (quite a leap) and tried a sonnet!
Giddy with poetry,

1:51 AM  

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