Poetry Challenge, Part II…Environment.

Irish Coast, janekohut-bartels, watercolor....

We read from a number of poets how they approach their writing of poetry, though I also heard privately some interesting ideas.

There is no exclusive method for writing poetry, at least that is clear. People proceed from different ‘places’, mental processes, and it is all to the good for the development of poetry.

Something that Shashi said sparked off some additional thoughts:  Shashi wrote something “about people leaving everything to write.”

That raised some issues with other writers, as I see by my email.

How much do we draw from our immediate environment in our writing?  Do we need isolation from the masses  to concentrate our thoughts and work?  How much support and encouragement do we get or  do we seek from our communities?  And then again, should we seek it from these people around us?  Are they the ‘stuff’ of poetry or are they the stuff and material of chaos, distraction, pettiness?

I think these are legitimate questions, queries.  I know that I live in a community that is broken, or perhaps ” filled with” so many issues: there seems to be two communities here in this part of Atlanta:  there is the daily hum of many issues  one would find in an urban community: racial issues, prostitution, drugs, unemployment, crime,  politics, opportunism of politicians, and the general living issues…going to work, family, and this big so-called ‘community’ that is really so divided by race, class, age and many other things, including drugs that are ‘acceptable’ to some because they don’t street deal.  It’s ok, because it’s done amongst friends.  (Drugs are a major issue in Atlanta, and now we understand that the Mexican drug cartels are very comfortable using Atlanta as a depot for further distribution.)

There is also an interesting issue of gentrification.  Over the past 10 years or so, this community has seen an influx of middle class whites and some blacks move in and try to establish themselves here.  Funny though, they seem afraid of their black neighbors.  Not all of them, but many, including some who call themselves ministers or are self-proclaimed leaders, community mouthpieces.

Perhaps it is easier for those of us (and not many) who have been here for 30-40 years.  We settle into the environment and either make our peace or we leave.  Many have, or with the current economic situation, are forced from their houses.  Foreclosures are no stranger to this land.

But back to the issue of poetical environment, for lack of a better term.  There is a lot of chaos out there.  There is an attitude that writers and poets are not doing what is oh- so- necessary right now, like running back and forth  to meetings,  joining community causes, etc.  Perhaps there is resentment for those of us who march to a different drummer, who are deeply involved with a personal creative life that demands a big portion of our day, attention and energies.

Artists, poets, writers have always been marginalized by society. Especially by those who don’t understand or have an artistic bone in their bodies.  We are expected to put aside our intense, creative abilities and become like them: living pale half-lives but demanding that we acknowledge their ‘rightness’ to lead or ‘influence’ a community.

I spent years here trying to make changes I thought or was told were necessary for ‘bettering’ the community.  That was a crock of shit.  I only delayed my own development as a writer and as a creative woman.  We swallow or believe so much inferior stuff because it is delivered by people who are sooner or later  revealed to be mundane, humdrum opportunists…with definite agendas.

And it goes deeper.  Especially amongst the young white liberals that insist the rest of us who have been here many decades learn the lessons they are going to sooner or later fall upon.  They want us to shut up as they reinvent the fucking wheel.

So it goes back to environment.  I live in an area of Atlanta that is heavily treed.  I look outside,  I go outside, I wave to my neighbors of many, many years, but I take solace and inspiration in what I see of Nature around me.  I look up at what I call ‘the saddle’, off in the distance, the juncture of trees that dip down and in a certain light look like mountains, and in another  are infused with gold from the falling sun.

Perhaps because I am what is called a ‘nature poet’ I have every reason to pull for my poetry from my environment.  But that environment must be above and beyond the chaos of humanity and those who would tell me what I must think and do. My life, and the life of other artistic, creative people here must be above the mundane that passes for ‘community’ and  leadership in this area.

I don’t buy their shit for one moment.  Our poetry, if we are poets, depends upon our independence and our intense, creative lives.

That is the internal environment we need to succor.

Lady Nyo


A pale moon rises,

Unheralded, surprising us

With its presence so early at dusk.

The summer heat makes it waver

Like a ghost under water.

The cicadas hold their breath-

Their leg-fiddles muted,

And the earth turns quiet

If only for a moment.

Brushing the lush green tree tops

It floats upward into a still-lavender sky,

Gaining presence, strength, gleam

As it balances in the darkening light,

A well-trod path– fascinating eternity.

A world-weary face appears

And casts a bemused gaze downward

Before sailing through the night

Into the harbor of Dawn.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

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13 Responses to “Poetry Challenge, Part II…Environment.”

  1. katiewritesagain Says:

    Charles Dickens wrote amid the noisy environment of his home-children, dogs, servants, etc. He wrote a lot of books. He had a desk set up right in the middle of his house and everyone passed back and forth as he scribbled away.
    Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, his typewriter (remember those??) on a shelf. I saw a picture of that and wondered how on earth he could create such passionate characters standing up for hours at a time.
    I believe that like so much about human beings, we are as unique in our creative personas as in everything else. We enjoy different foods, colors, textures, activities…and when we plunge into the creative activities that define us we are individual in that, too. That’s part of defining our voice, learning who we are as writers, as artists.

    I want to go away for a week to write-in a group. A week long workshop. I do incredible work when I’m around other people doing creative work. I bloom and stretch. The feedback-positive or negative-feeds me. I want to hear how another writer handles the same problem, I want to hear and see things from other perspectives. That’s why I go to weekend workshops twice a year, and it isn’t enough!

    Dialogues like this are wonderful. They make us think beyond what we need, how we work. I think anytime I see, hear, accept another viewpoint, I grow stronger.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Exactly, Katie…we are FED by a creative environment. We can stand chaos, when we stand in the midst of artistic chaos…a LOT different than the mundane, overbearing, pointless, colorless and demeaning chaos of some environments. And this environment is not the physical environment (though I suspect the gulag is one…) but the ‘movers and shakers’….

    We have to honor and treasure our difference and uniqueness. We have special purposes with our work and lives, and we have to honor that. That usually means we put up boundaries to those who would destroy this productivity.

    As to accepting another viewpoint, that is conditional. I write here about that viewpoint, that bullyism that guilt trips some of us into something pliable for usage by the ordinary. By the mediocre that passes as ‘community’, or the loud and voracious mouthpieces of leadership.

    You live in a very different (countrified) environment. I think you don’t have these same issues at work. But none the less, how we grow is very important. I refuse to dumb down my creativity to be palpable to those who are not even interested.

    Hell, Katie, you know yourself that poetry is the bastard child of writers. And getting people to read is another issue.

    Defining our voices and using them. That is the struggle and end goal…Or one of them. We are cultural leaders and we need to remember this.



  3. Steve Bavec Says:

    Good discussion…gives me pause to consider what environment triggers creative synergy. As a friend and neighbor I am exposed to the same human chaotic milieu that exist here in our so=called neighborhood. More of an existent of physical structure with detached residents for varying reasons, some you touched on Jane. I tend to be able to shut that out albeit temporarily when the creative mode is in play. By the way I have a new wallpaper for my pc…I think it is called “Season Change.” Where is that on hiding?


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Steve!

    Well, yes, you certainly understand the various dynamics in Capitol View and other surrounding neighborhoods.

    There is little cohesion here, in terms of what is called community. It seems to exist on two levels…one black and one white. There are age/class/racial differences and then again, there doesn’t seem any real connection between the two parts. Is this the way it is because these things can’t be broken down for a different environment? There is a history of fear and suspicion on BOTH sides of the fence. The behavior of Black males in an urban environment has everything to do with the deterioration of ‘their’ society and the economic issues in general of society as a whole. It’s not la-la land….it’s a struggle.

    The ‘detached’ residents you speak of is interesting. A combination of many factors but class and youth is certainly a factor. And they are generally too young to have a settled history of residence to draw upon. They talk about ‘their black neighbors’ but they mostly have only a passing knowledge of them.

    As with most communities, it takes years to develop those relationships….and it takes time and attention. We are fortunate in that we have been here, in this house, close to 40 years, and our neighbors have been around us almost as long. The stability of our collective lives gives a different dynamic from most of our community. It just takes time.

    As for the creative issues I have written about, well, this neighborhood is lousy with talent. Why that focus isn’t concentrated, I don’t have a clue. I believe that cultural pursuits in an area, when concentrated, by exposure to each others abilities could really make a force here that would stand as some glue to the seams. It could give a whole different, and healthier dynamic to the scene. Perhaps Studio B could be the center of something? Lisa Yeager would be a great organizer for it, because she’s here and that building complex is smack in the ‘hood, and could be so utilized by a group of multi-media artists.

    When I moved to Capitol View so many years ago, there was “Johnny Guitar” a blues musician who wasn’t shy about whipping out his guitar on the street and giving us a song, and Mrs. Louise Brown right across the street from me who was a great folk artist. In fact, she was one who really pushed me to paint. As I told you yesterday by phone, there are a quite a number of neighbors who have paintings in their houses from me….some that surprise me because I had completely forgotten about them. But this is a product of many years living in this area.

    We rail against black crime, but I think one of the sores of this neighborhood is the selfish, isolationist behavior of the young whites.

    As to culture, for this time, we will continue to produce in our own isolation, ignoring the more collective energies that are possible here.

    “Seasons Change”? My poem and painting, if this is what you are referring to…..is on the blog a couple of days back.

    Thanks for reading and your comment, Steve, you know the stuff here.



  5. ladynimue Says:

    This was a brilliant post !! am glad i took time reading this and also the comments .. you made me think of times i have pushed away sleep just to perfect a poem i was scribbling, or the time i missed my bus ’cause i would be fretting over a word in my head !

    but i still agree that feedback from like minded people does inspire. I used to know a guy long back with whom i had long discussions – any topic or idea. and most of them used to inspire me to think beyond my boundaries.

    I took up writing only recently but the thought process is the same ! You think, you write, you improvise !! And for me the best lines are those that inspire others to think and write further.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Lady Nimue!

    I’m so glad you stopped by and read and wrote a comment.

    I was pretty angry when I wrote this entry this weekend, but decided…what the hell…it needed to be said. We think these things, but we are shy of saying them aloud. No more.

    I think also, it is very important what we surround ourselves …the people, the influences, etc. We draw from EVERYTHING around us, but we also have to develop discernment. Some people are energy vampires, who give nothing in return. Suck, suck, suck.


    It’s not easy, and we have to shepherd our time and energies because we are producing work. I think of a novel or a book written as gestation, and we have to walk and hold ourselves very carefully during this time. The Japanese (during the 16th century, I don’t know about now…) pregnant women wore belly bands from the 5th month to birth. It protected the baby from outside environmental things and probably was pretty comfortable for the mother. I think I need to develop a mental belly band….to protect my work from a lot of disruptive and TRIFFLING and unnecessary influences and interruptions.

    And in the end? Or along the path towards the end? You hope what you write inspires others to think and produce.

    But first, you have to clean out your life from those influences who are sucking aliens. (Except for baby kittens)….

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Lady Nimue. Deeply appreciate it!

    Lady Nyo


  7. ladynimue Says:

    you know i think i can relate to your anger. I am a single girl who work night shift and so you can see, i have limited real interactions with my family and friends. Most of my time is spent online, reading and networking if am not writing !

    and at times i think, this is perfect. I can gather ideas from anything and anyone and can spend all my time on working on that very idea till am satisfied. but there are times when people around me, my family or friends make it appear as something different from usual. Its not that they do not appreciate my writing but they act aloof at a level of liking it just for me and not for sake of real art behind it.

    Which makes me wish i find a partner some day who would understand my needs and passion for writing and who would let me do that too.

    Till then, i am safe among my words !


  8. ladynyo Says:


    I do understand this, but I think what happens here is it’s a ‘growing’ issue. When we are young we look outside for the approval and support of others…and frankly, that can be a trap…and is also frustrating.

    When we grow older, we tend to look inside…or should…and that comes from the strength of our work, success, and a persistence in that work. (I’m talking about writing here, but there are so many other things this applies to).

    I’m very fortunate: 25 years ago I met a man who absolutely supported me in the painting, writing, etc. He took great pleasure and pride in what I was doing. Unfortunately, that was never the issue with my family.

    I live in a community where the people are really ..well….young or not artists…Mooks, really. People who just fill their lives with their work, being lawyers, accountants, etc. and what I have realized is this: IF you want the support for your discoveries and artistic creations, you need to look to other artists. Not the general public, who usually doesn’t understand or are interested in this creativity (and Poetry is a hard slog for us Poets! )

    But what is funny is this: there are people here, these ‘community organizers’ who want you to do things ‘for the community’ but that’s just because it fills up a lead sheet of ‘possibilities’ they are throwing around said community. It’s not that they care at all about the creative endeavor, but you are perhaps ‘useful’ to them…and their present agendas.

    However, quite a number of long term neighbors have paintings on their walls from me…and these paintings they are very proud of. But these people have been neighbors for 30 plus years.

    I think, as artists….we only need a few physical friends….and perhaps those come and go during the years. I have 4 firm artist friends, and though I have met some of them, most of them are on line. One in Australia, another in Arizona. Makes it tough to have coffee with them. LOL!

    Online friends can be great! Also, online ‘friends’ can be a unholy terror. It’s being able to discern the good from the really wacked out.

    But perhaps that’s the same in life?

    I hope someday you find a partner who can embrace and support you in the ways that are so fulfilling!

    Lady Nyo


  9. Lindsay Oberst Says:

    Beautiful work and writing. Can I contact you by e-mail?


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Lindsay,


    My email in on the right on the blog roll. Checked out your blog…would love to talk.

    Lady Nyo


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  12. ladynyo Says:

    It’s not an easy issue, striking a balance between outside environment and the internal stuff we create as ‘influence’.

    It’s really a process of deleting: I find some people are just drags…millstones …people who just want to bitch and whine about things. I think the point of this for writers, poets, artists, is not to allow these kind of people to take up too much of your time and creative energy. Know your audience, and if your so-called friends don’t read your blog or stuff, or try to make some sort of intellectual/artistic contact in this area….

    drop them. They are wasting your precious time and energy. Or really be disciplined and honor yourself in how much you give to them.

    Lady Nyo


  13. Mario Richrdson Says:

    Love your site man keep up the good work


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