Tag Archives: Huntington Library

Poetry, Loss, and Grieving: A Guest Blogger Perspective

by Guest Blogger Carla  McGill

A few years ago, I saw Billy Collins (Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 – 2003) read his poems at a local university. I have read his poetry for many years, usually bringing out one or two from his many collections to read to dinner guests during an after-dinner drink. My second time seeing him read live, I knew enough to expect a few comedic moments, something I enjoy about his public presentations. This time, though, he spoke about death and loss, the major focus of much poetry. To emphasize his point he remarked that the classic anthology used in most universities, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, which typically contains between 1500 – 1700 poems in the regular editions, could be called The Norton Pamphlet of Poetry if we removed all of the poems that were about death and loss.

Quite a difference between The Norton Anthology of Poetry and a pamphlet

Quite a difference between The Norton Anthology of Poetry and a pamphlet

His words resonated with me, since I had written an elegy for my father, who died in 2009, and four years later, an elegy for my aunt who died on Thanksgiving Day of 2013, as well as other poems that elucidate the experience of profound loss. My first impulse, when trying to memorialize them both was to write poems that in some way illuminated and crystallized my memories of them. There are thousands of poems about nature, love, and joy, but why are so many more of them about loss? What is it about poetry that makes it an excellent configuration for deeply painful experiences?

Poetry does seem to offer us ways to envision our experiences from various and unusual perspectives. Poetry can allow us to express profound thoughts, philosophical musings, and significant moments in time. Other expressions can do something similar, such as photography, painting, and sculpture, but poetry involves language, and language is tied to our humanity in a specific way. We have things we want to express with words. Emotions, ideas, perspectives. The public persona is unseated by the poetic voice as it utters deeper feelings, sharper and more distinct images, more acute insights. It has been said by many that poetry reflects the unconscious and the world of dreams. When I write a poem, I do encounter new dispositions, surprising mental vistas, and sometimes emotional resolutions to inner dilemmas. When I read an engaging poem, I find myself enriched, as if I have been with an encouraging friend or a spiritual mentor. The pain of grieving seems particularly difficult to articulate, and yet its poetic expression can yield a kind of peace, a sense of having located a central inner place, a core level of being and feeling.

The anguish of loss is inevitable. Our loved ones die, our happy moments fade, and we age. As Mark Twain said, “When you’re born, you’re finished.” Perhaps poetry best expresses our feelings of loss because it provides a certain amount of delight even if the topic is unpleasant or disturbing. The sound devices that poets use, the rhyme or meter, and the imagery all provide sensual and psychological gratification. More importantly, the great body of poetry about death and loss tells us that we are all on the journey together.

Roland Barthes said much the same about photography in his book Camera Lucida. He mentions that all photographs retain a certain feeling of melancholy because the subjects of the photograph have been in a specific place at a specific time, and yet they are no longer in that place and time. Therefore, loss is at the heart of photography, and in some ways, it is also at the heart of poetry, which tries to express moments, singularities, epiphanies.

Poetry presents delightful and rewarding experiences, even while it expresses the worst that we can endure as human beings. What a gift it is.

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I  earned my BA in English from California State University, San Bernardino, and my MA and PhD from the University of California, Riverside. My writing has been published in A Clean Well-Lighted Place, Westerners Journal, and Inland Empire Magazine. As a member of the Live Poets’ Society from 1991–2012 at The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, my poems have appeared in three of my group’s chapbooks: Garden Lyrics, Huntington Lyrics, and California Lyrics.

Though I have occasionally done freelance work for a local magazine, I mainly write poetry and short stories, and I am working on my first novel.

 CarlaMcGill

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Filed under Books, Essay, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Writing

My Tree Fetish

I’ve written before about how much I love trees.  Here are a list of some of my tree posts, in case you want verification ;):

I’m not sure why trees are so important to me, both as a person and as a writer.   I know I’m not the only one because when I brought up this subject in the past on this blog, I found that there are many other bloggers who feel as I do about trees.

For some reason I feel they are akin (a kin) to us, just as I feel about animals.  There is a spirit in each tree.

Many years ago a friend gave me a beautiful book by Rabindranath Tagore called Fireflies.  This is a quote from the book:

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.”

One tree I can’t get enough of is the Jacaranda, which is found in many countries around the world.

These trees are also all over Los Angeles.  I was just there, and the trees were gloriously deep lavender at this time of year.

Although Pretoria, South Africa, is known as The Jacaranda City, Los Angeles bloomed intensely purple this visit.

These are the trees bordering the parking lot at The Huntington Library.

Underneath the trees, a purple carpet of blossoms coated the pavement and the cars.

Each blossom is itself a little beauty.

A blossom on my car

A blossom on my car

These photos don’t do justice to the way my blood vessels open wider when I look at a row of Jacarandas. Who needs a quarter aspirin a day if they have Jacaranda trees out their window?

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Photographs

We Stayed All Day

As I explained on Monday, 0n Memorial Day, I went with my family to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  We spent the day there because there was so much to see.

This museum owns 207 acres.  Of those, 120 are landscaped and divided into their various botanical gardens.

In Monday’s post I showcased the cacti and succulents and some non-desert flowers.  Today I want to share more of the gardens with you.

Their Japanese garden is gorgeous and complete with a traditional Japanese house, Zen garden, and a collection of bonsai trees.

These bonsai trees are larger than the sort you usually see at a store.  These were a couple of feet tall.

After the Japanese gardens, we visited the greenhouse and saw the carnivorous plants.

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After the greenhouse, we visited the herb garden with its calming colors and fragrances.

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At the end we took pictures on the statue-bordered lawn.  Maybe you recognize it from the movie The Wedding Planner You remember what happens to one of the statues, right?

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After we left we found a Persian restaurant for dinner. Next time we go to the Huntington, I want to take tea in their tea room.  I hope the library will be open by then because, after all, it is a library ;).

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel

Why Didn’t We Go a Long Time Ago?

Over the weekend, hubby and I visited our twenty-something kids in California.  On Memorial Day, we went to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  Although we lived for twenty years in southern Cali, this was the first time we had gone.  I wanted to see the library, which I have heard so much about.  A few of my friends worked on their dissertations there.  So many times people have urged me to visit, and I kept putting it off. Don’t procrastinate as I did.  Seize the first opportunity to visit the Huntington! A lovely time was had by all :).

The Blue Boy

The Blue Boy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, they are working on the library this summer, and visitors were not allowed access (that will change in September).  However, they did have the Huntington collection of volumes of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species on display.  It’s hard to believe there are any others left in the world!  One row of the books wrapped around the walls of a large gallery. When we entered one of the art galleries, I spotted Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy ahead, on the far wall, and ran up to hubby, the kids, and their friends excitedly pointing out the painting.  I hadn’t realized it was at the Huntington.  We also saw Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence. Most of our day was spent in the remarkable gardens.

Sorry about the light puddles–no time for fancy stuff when strolling with the family

We saw a few peacocks at one point.  But the only other animal we saw in any quantity was the occasional small lizard.

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I hope you enjoyed the slideshow of cacti and succulents. They also had flowers which reminded me of “back east”–Michigan, Cape Cod, all my other memories from years ago.

There’s still much to share, but I’m out of time for today.  Check back later this week for more of our fun time at the Huntington.  And, yup, it definitely took me away from my writing, but it also fed my soul–and that sure helps with the writing!  Here is the link to the next post.

Every secret of a writer’s soul,

every experience of his life,

every quality of his mind

is written large in his works.

Virginia Woolf

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel