When asked to share a poem she feels best represents her style and spirit, Jane chose “What Won’t Wait,” a poem she wrote in response to a prompt presented by Robert Lee Brewer during The Writer’s Digest November 2011 Chapbook Challenge. Jane says it embodies and reflects upon the idea of how life won’t wait, and how movement and ‘continuing on’ smooths both the exterior and interior.
What Won’t Wait
the close of lunch, the
river rushing over rock
ready to move out our
door and down the stairs
your invisible schedule
in your head
proper time for breakfast, working
puzzles, or my coming now to bed
with your sensible timelines, such
a mismatch with my own
smiling back and forth, still
holding hands in spite
won’t wait, like that river
rolling smooth the stone
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Jane. I am glad you chose this particular poem to open with. So much is contained in your few well-chosen words. This particular piece also nicely adds another chapter to the poetry still to come in this interview.
This week, our Poetic Bloomings prompt happens to include the chance to quote ourselves. Here is a quote from you that I find intriguing: “When I write, I find elbowroom for soul.” Please tell us where this thought comes from, and what it means to you.
JANE: In 1990, when I finished training to facilitate writing groups using the *Proprioceptive Writing Method, I wanted a phrase to express what I felt writing did in me. Thumbing through a magazine in the doctor’s office one day, I spied an ad for a classy automobile that boasted “elbow room.” Identification of my felt-sense when writing was articulated in that moment, and my phrase spun.
MARIE ELENA: Your nature photos are beautiful, but they go beyond beauty. When you pair them with your little word gems, they become a story, or a mystery. Marrying these talents works very well for you. How did this come about?
JANE: My happiest memories are of playing outdoors in the deep woods of Western Carolina along a ragged edge of lake water lapping at the shore, nothing but our rustic cabin for miles on three other sides. When I close my eyes now (60 years later), I can hear the hum of bees, the rustle of bird-walk, and a thin drone of a motorboat on waters often hidden from my sight by dense foliage. I can feel my feet walking softly, thinking of others who walked the land before me — listening and listening as if I might hear them too.
I often opened photographs posted on the internet. One morning at 3:00 a.m., I heard that whisper. Later in the day, a friend here where I live (a retirement community) showed me his photographs of bees and flowers. My eyes could not get enough. After he offered to help me, I purchased my first digital camera, and began.
I started writing poetry in 2007 after hearing that voice one morning, learning first from David Navarro via his poetry site on MySpace. Later I found Robert Lee Brewer on facebook and continued with him. Wanting a reason to visit facebook each day (and not wanting to post notes of my personal doings), I began posting pictures, eventually adding short, sometimes Haiku-like verse. No whispers were involved – only experimentation.
Because of my previous training in Proprioceptive Writing, I had fine-tuned my listening ear. When I view a picture, I simply listen to what I hear in my head, and write. Occasionally I edit before posting. I do all of this because it delights me. When it brings pleasure to someone else, that deepens my joy.
MARIE ELENA: Your postings definitely enhance my facebook experience, and are a source of pleasure. It seems you have an endless supply. How much time do you devote to writing and photography? If you had to choose between one and the other, which would you choose?
JANE: I walk about 45 minutes in the morning, and again in the afternoon. I carry two cameras – the one I bought, and the better one my friend gave me when he traded up. I have no concept of the time I spend deleting, cropping, filing, sorting, and saving photographs. But I do this as I watch TV with my husband.
If I had to choose between writing and photography, I would choose writing, because I engage myself without the use of any technology. Me, a stick, and patch of earth would suffice, enabling me to record my thoughts for the moment; holding my ideas still long enough to reflect, hear, and see the world through my own lens.
MARIE ELENA: You have been known to do an open mic or two. Do you get nervous? Or perhaps you got used to performing in front of people back in your twirler days at Florida State University! (I just couldn’t resist throwing that in. Very impressive! 😉 )
JANE: I’m more nervous having to carry on a conversation at a dinner table than I am reading my poetry. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel a bit anxious – I’m a very new poet. But the anxiety is the kind that reminds me how much I care about what I am about to speak into the room. Still, I believe that we all have stories. Voicing them into life’s spaces is an offering both to ourselves, and to those choosing to listen. A bit like the story of bread and fishes, how each meager offering may be multiplied to become nourishment for everyone.
MARIE ELENA: That’s a great way of looking at it, Jane. I also like your phrase, “Voicing them into life’s spaces.” That brings image to voice. How do you choose which poems to share vocally?
I choose poems based on time allotted and how they fit together, creating an arch of story if possible. I’ve read for as little as 5, and as long as 45 minutes. When I do longer readings, I plot the entire program as a conversation of sorts, considering always the audience above all else.
MARIE ELENA: Your blog (JPENSTROKE’S Blog) is simply and beautifully designed, and filled with the various aspects of your interests. What drove you to begin blogging, and what satisfaction does it bring you?
JANE: Thank you. I smile every time I open my own blog page. Something in the image and pages appeals to my love of surprise, mystery, and order. My blog evolved as a continuation of a desire, even after retirement, to keep up with the technology and activity of the times. After writing poetry for a year on MySpace, and reading other blogs from time to time, I grew certain I did not want to write about my day, or swimming, or even writing. As with most of my life’s new pursuits, the idea of posting my own poetry and photography came to me in my room in the dark.
When my second child was an infant, she awoke at 3:15 a.m., cooing and talking in her crib. I listened from my bed to the joy flowing down the hall. Long after I became “Oma” to her children, I still awoke every day at that time. Occasionally some new idea delivered itself to me before returning to sleep ‘till daylight. A whisper would repeat and repeat in my ear: I think I’ll explore social media. I think I’ll teach myself to write poetry. I think I’ll start a blog of my own. I think I’ll buy a digital camera, and take pictures when I walk.
As for my blog, with the help of a digital friend in Arizona whose blog fascinated me, I found WordPress. I learned how to design pages and tabs, and to organize and post. I let the computer teach me. More, I realized I could use the blog to store and organize the latest versions of my poems, the ones published, the ones submitted and waiting, the quotes I enjoyed, the open mic readings, what I read, and on and on. So my blog now serves me and my readers.
MARIE ELENA: Does your blog title have anything to do with the poetic Penland name?
JANE: After I retired from years of operating a not-for-profit company, helping my husband, raising our girls, and serving the community, I formed my own company to offer writing groups. I named it Penstrokes. The name incorporated two formative influences in my life: First, my childhood experiences with the strong, generous, paternal Penland family. Second, my adult experiences as one whose spouse survived the new open-heart, heart-value surgery in his early 30’s, but then endured a stroke which left him with some paralysis and major expressive and receptive aphasia. In addition, my Penland grandparents lived without eyesight, while raising seven children (all college graduates). My own engaging family now lived in a space of diminished understanding and limited language.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, Jane … we never know what the people in our lives are dealing with. I will never look at your blog title in the same way again. You seem an impressively strong woman, Jane. Where do you draw your strength?
JANE: Sometimes the critiques of childhood are only a glimpse of future strengths. For me, that was that I was too slow, too thoughtful, certainly stubborn, too old, too sullen, too much a loner, and far too serious. In the face of mystery, I draw from what I came into this world already possessing, and what a loving family offered each day.
MARIE ELENA: My goodness … such an excellent and hopefully contagious attitude.
Normally I choose just one poem to share in these interviews. However, I feel like the exquisite poems below tell a love story that begs sharing, and so share I shall.
In the Shadow of Stroke…In the Aftermath of Aphasia
More than a list of nouns
Language transfers meaning
From one heart to another,
At our four-party dinner table
Our friend said, “We ate
At the best Thai restaurant
“I know the spot! Next door
Is a barbecue shack
I can’t name…
Sometimes our daughter
Rhonda meets us there.”
Then he uttered
His single words,
When he tries to speak
I no longer want to guess.
Thirty-four years since that stroke,
Yet again, I am trying to
Fit together the puzzle
Of his thought.
Aha, I’ve got it! Sticky Fingers,
The barbecue place inCharleston
Where we ate three years ago
With our other daughter Holly,
Her husband Jim.
I say, “Sticky Fingers”.
He pushes his notepad toward me.
I write “Sticky Fingers,”
In his aphasia group
On Monday, he may say:
Then press his fingers together,
Hold as if they will not come apart,
Hoping they will say Sticky Fingers…
For one small second
He would tell our friends tonight
About another time and place
When he and I shared a table
Candlelight and music witnessing
Our soft voices and bright eyes
Focused solely on each other.
Tonight he pockets pad and pen
Then scans the room,
Flashing his cheery smile
To all who look his way.
I feel alone.
He lifts his glass,
Sips tonight’s sweet tea.
I paint a smile across my face
Straining to remember
To be grateful
For our efforts.
Published in Stroke Connect Magainxe of The American Heart Association March/April 2008
What I Learned after His Stroke
Aphasia: Often without speech due to the partial or total
loss of the ability to use or comprehend spoken or
So much I may never know
but this I’ve learned:
He is happier in our smaller world,
happier with being left alone
to do what he can do.
He did not lose his love of puzzles,
or his spatial skills
when aphasia stole his words,
stroke broke his fluid motion.
He did not lose his smile
or his way of following,
listening close enough
to assure his memory.
I didn’t lose his staying power
though I often let-go my own,
find patience wearing thin,
filing sharp my too-loud words.
What I know is that we do not miss as much
what we imagine gone, as we delight
in what we manage to convey
within the sounds of silence.
love blooms. Not I.
Love is no staged display
but two lives grafted, scars hidden
Ode to Celebration in Retirement Home
Our new year’s eve
ended at nine ~ unamused
by cheers, or lifting up
another glass of sparking juice~
so the others thought, while
we caught and held
the gleam of eye to eye
MARIE ELENA: The above poetry is beautiful and telling. It reveals the long-term test of resolve that you and your husband have experienced, and the love that thrives in the face of adversity.
JANE: Even the resolve has evolved over the years. I had begun to write short fragments, thinking of memoir as my vehicle for the story. But I soon felt that something sparse, and more condensed – like poetic form – might be more apropos for telling of life lived with few words, lost meanings, and more mystery than was helpful, even in the face of love.
Poetry and writing remind me to smile as I reveal how intertwined uniqueness and sameness are, and how courage lives only in the face of moving through fear. We all live lives that require more of us than we imagine we have to give. Still, we keep on…
MARIE ELENA: “We all live lives that require more of us than we imagine we have to give.” This sentiment speaks to me richly.
The aphasia left behind from the stroke seems frightening and frustrating for both of you. As one who works and plays with words, do you feel you are better equipped to understand Ron and help him communicate?
JANE: No. I have always depended heavily on what I hear to learn, decide, or act. So listening is my high-level skill. I learned early, because of our blind grandparents, to speak so they would know where we were and what we were doing, and to listen so I knew when anyone was moving about.
When I watch other couples interact, and realize how difficult understanding is, even with words and revision of words to clarify meaning. I am even more astonished that my husband and I ever understand even the simple things we try to communicate. I haven’t found anyone who believes that he doesn’t talk more than he hears. It is simply unimaginable.
We do best by having routines and following them. It took me years to let go my love of spontaneity and constant change. Maybe I had to actually get to this quieter time of life – for I needed that energy and excitement for my work, and for working with him. Who knows how any of us do what it is we must? Refection on all these years makes me smile in wonder and gratitude for each thing, person, and idea that came to support our efforts.
MARIE ELENA: Jane, please accept our sincere appreciation for opening your heart and life to our poetic community. You have managed to increase our already strong admiration for you.
Now, if we could know only one thing about you, what would you want us to know?
JANE: That I am entirely too opportunistic, too determined, and too self-absorbed to write much without using the I of we. That I could use much more humor in my incessant thought patterns, and that I love more people and things than can be contained in my computer, or than I ever let on.
A list of Jane’s published poetry may be found at http://jpenstroke.wordpress.com/published-poems/. Some is still available for purchase.
*Proprioceptive Writing is a method by which one learns to use writing to awaken the auditory imagination by capturing moment-to-moment thoughts and entering them in a nonjudgemental way. As one writes, one learns to overhear thought as if it is spoken. If inteested in learning more, see http://www.pwriting.org/ .