I am participating in a writer's workshop at my church in a few weeks. Last week I had to draft my submission, and it was not very easy. We had the option of non-fiction (which I don't really do) and fiction (which, with a 2000 word limit, is a bit difficult) as well as poetry. I chose poetry because it is easy in terms of word count and writing time, but I almost pulled a submission out from my archives (that's what I did last time), simply because I couldn't write anything. I haven't written much poetry in a while, and when I look back at what I used to write, I get discouraged. Not that the poetry isn't good to write, but there's a difference between poetry as an act of self-expression, discovery, or even meditation and the poetry that ought to be read by other people.

So I sat down with a little notebook and a Bible and a prayer book and another Bible, one with illustrations by Chagall (maybe you've seen it before), and a book of fairy tales by George MacDonald and the New and Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz, 1931-2001. I brought the latter because he always reminds me of the purpose of writing in the first place. I opened up to my favorite of his poems (if I have a favorite), and I read it, and I read it again, and then I wrote a response to it, which was really just a much poorer version of what he wrote, and I turned that in as my poetry submission.

This morning I am sitting with the same pile of books, and I have read the selections of the Bible that my prayer book lists for the morning of the Tuesday after the second Sunday after Epiphany, and I have written my thoughts about things in that little notebook. Then I open the Milosz book again and turn to a poem I have never read before, which is called "Report." It's on 589, and I will not transcribe it entirely because I very much respect his copyright.

But it is a poet presenting his report to the Most High who "willed to create me a poet," on being a poet and what that has meant or led to or whatever. It's very good, of course. Milosz didn't win the Nobel for nothing. He begins with gratitude and then moves to an observation of how very selfish he is, "self-deluded," as he calls it. Then this line: "How does it happen then that such low beginnings lead to the splendor of the word?" And still more, because the word is beautiful but it is not everything: "And our tender thought about all who lived, strived, and never succeeded in naming. / For to exist on the earth is beyond any power to name." Reading this, I am reminded to think tenderly of the world. More than reminded, I am drawn to tenderness. But somehow, he ends with tenderness toward the self, despite self-delusion, and maybe even because of it, for all I know. I am only reading this poem for the first time, after all, and I am slow to learn, or slow to remember all I have learned: "How then could I not be grateful, if early I was called and the incomprehensible contradiction has not diminished my wonder?" I am afraid my wonder has been diminished, just for a moment, and I am reminded that for me at least, writing anything at all has never been about polishing something for a reader, nor has it been merely self-expression. It's been an act of wonder. From the first.

I may share the poem I wrote last week, but not until I've workshopped it. And only if you remind me, because I'm very likely to forget. In the meantime, whether or not you were called to name things, I hope you, too, will be drawn to wonder for the world today.


  1. I'll bite. I want to read the poem. I love your words..."think tenderly about the world".... It's very hard to do sometimes, but I love your spirit and your writing. I'm glad I happened upon your blog

  2. Thank you. I have not yet edited it following the workshop comments, but I will do so very soon (since you've reminded me) and post it here. I think it might be hard to understand without reading Milosz's other poem first ("An Appeal") so maybe I'll post a few clips from that as well.

    But first, a nap. :)


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