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The Poet & the Bloodstone

Detail of Bloodstone Pillars, Catedral de Ávila, Spain
I am happy that this poem will be  published in the forthcoming Deep Travel anthology.  A bit of backstory:
Saint Teresa of Ávila and Charles-Axel Guillaumot never met. She was a Spanish nun who lived from 1515-1582; he was a French architect who lived from 1730-1807. Each of them built and left a largely invisible legacy. Hers was a vision of the interior castle of the spirit within us. His was to save Paris from collapsing back into the quarries beneath it by building a support city belowground. Today, you can read what Teresa built with her words, and you can visit a fraction of Paris’ abandoned quarries open to the public. In the poetry collection, Hope of Stones, you are invited to enter a cross-century conversation among The Nun, The Architect, & The Poet. This poem is from that collection, which was a finalist for the Tupelo Press 2019 Dorset Prize.

     The Poet & The Bloodstone 
     Ávila, Spain

Today is research day. First, The Nun’s museum. 
It brims with depictions of heaven speaking 
to the saint. In paintings, doves & rays of light 
descend & suspend above her upturned face. 
Speech ribbons unfurl toward her from angels. 
The saint was known to levitate, so I half expect
the painted words to lift from their composition 
& twirl about. They stay put. 
                                                   Next, the Catedral 
de Ávila. Here, I see the grandeur The Nun left 
behind. This church was built with bloodstone—
granite shot through with iron. It looks like 
history has bled across the walls. The stone came
from a nearby quarry, & I think of The Architect. 
What we pull from the earth & what we do with it. 
I sit a long while on a hard pew, but my most 
profound thought is how best to get to the train 
station tomorrow. 
                                 Time to search for gazpacho 
Rioja—things that don’t last for centuries. I keep 
forgetting that in this country, I’m an outsider 
trying to dine before nine. 
                                               The Nun built her 
simple convent on land that then lay outside 
of town. Paris thought The Architect an outsider 
for not being born in France. I am always looking
for what lies outside—even dining hours. 
                                                                         I find
an open café & order wine the color of bloodstone.


Poetry in Five Minutes or Less

For this year’s National Poetry Month, I shared lickety-split bits of micropoetry each day on Instagram. My rules: use photos I took each day and write the poetry in five minutes or less. (This was a fun break from my norm of a bazillion revisions!) Here are six of my favs….

1.
Orange marries mint
where the berries lie
on tile blue as night sky
before dreaming begins.



4.
If perfection exists,
might she don the disguise
of wild flowers in a little 
glass on a rainy day?




8.
We know every exit
is an entrance elsewhere,
but we don’t know the where—
else how would mystery visit?



10.
We dwell all the way
to the horizon of our lives. 
May the view from the sill
of our hearts be vast.




25.
Everywhere, beauty
shines her light—
unfurling petals,
greening leaves.
Even the shadows smile 
at her bright excess.



28.
The constant fight with self—
who thinks she’s beyond 
rest—is gladly lost 
each time my soul
insists on a Sabbath, 
& my body’s eyes
watch leaves grow
on page or tree,
& my spirit eyes
see all as new enough again 
to return to—with 
better work & world.

The Word-Painting Project

Many moons ago, in a land far, far away, my life completely changed. I had been working for two years in Germany, living an art-filled but spirit-empty life. On a whim, I took the train to Switzerland to a theological commune my parents had told me about. 

You could say I had my mountain-top experience on a literal mountain top. There in the Alps, my life did a complete reset, and I started on what would become my journey of art + word + spirit.

At the time, I didn’t know how much I needed to be encouraged that there was something beyond my current circumstances—something more. (In fact, I wrote & illustrated a children’s book inspired by that journey.) 

In late May and early June, I’ll be back in Switzerland to teach poetry. Afterward, I’m returning to that alpine village and taking a 10-day creativity retreat—my own personal pilgrimage. But this time around, I’d like to invite you to share the journey. Specifically, I’d like to share a little project of encouragement….

The Word-Painting Project

Do you ever wish a bit of encouragement would just arrive on your doorstep? Consider this an invitation to receive some!

During 10 days in June, I’ll create 10 little word-paintings. Though I don’t yet know exactly what they’ll be, I know that they’ll be inspired by taking heart. (You can see a similar idea by checking out the watercolor/micropoetry pieces I created while at a writing residency last fall.) And I’ll share the word-paintings each day on Instagram, Wi-Fi permitting!

Once I’m back home, I’ll make archival, matte, 5″ x 5″ postcard prints of the originals. 

Sign up for the project, and I’ll sign, hand-address, & mail the postcards to you—one per week, for 10 weeks. You’ll get a tangible word of encouragement in your mailbox—your actual snail-mail-box!

Cost: $25 to addresses within the US ($30 outside the US)

You can also order the project as a gift for someone else—just send me their mailing address. 

And as a fun finale: the project will conclude with a poetry reading & art reception to display the originals in San Francisco on August 17 (more details on that event to come). 

Sign up online: 

~ Visit the payment page at annaelkins.com.
~ In the “amount” field, enter the total for your desired batch of word-painting projects.
~ In the “description” field, write your mailing address and/or the recipient’s address.

Or sign up with snail mail:

~ Send a check—along with your mailing address/es—to: 

   Anna Elkins | PO Box 509 | Jacksonville, OR 97530

Questions? Email me: [email protected]

It’s encouraging to know that something good is on its way to us. Here’s to anticipating summer goodness! 


Entering the “roaming stillness”

The book stacks were winning. Not the ones in the library—the ones by my bed: neat-but-towering stacks waiting to find room on shelves filled with the kindred books I love returning to.
By the end of 2018, I had three stacks. Something had to be done: more reading! So For 2019, I’ve committed to reading more books—the tangible ones with spines and flyleaves and the scent of possibility in their binding. More reading: even when life and to-do lists brim.
A dozen books into this year, and I’m back to my bookworm self. Happy reunion! I thought I’d share some favorite lines from my favorite five reads so far. Happy reading!
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, Terry Tempest Williams: “Silence introduced in a society that worships noise is like the Moon exposing the night. Behind darkness is our fear. Within silence our voice dwells. What is required from us…is that we be still. We focus. We listen. We see and we hear. The unexpected emerges.”
The Long Home, Christian Wiman, from his poem “Elsewhere”:
            He longs
to find some calm within
what he’s become, inside
the sound, a roaming
stillness.
Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, Dr. Caroline Leaf: “[W]hen our brain enters the rest circuit, we don’t actually rest; we move into a highly intelligent, self-reflective, directed state. And the more often we go there, the more we get in touch with the deep, spiritual part of who we are.”
H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald: “When you are learning how to do something, you do not have to worry about whether or not you are good at it. But when you have done something, have learned how to do it, you are not safe any more. Being an expert opens you up to judgment.” 

We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress, Craig Morgan Teicher: “Wisdom is born where observation and imagination meet, where the real and ideal touch….”

#FutureSelfLove

This January, three things inspired/conspired to create this post…
1) Earlier this month, I was traveling for work. My flights had the tightest layovers of any airline itinerary I’ve ever booked, and I barely made either connection. And though my checked bag was delayed for several days on arrival, I found myself laughing at what annoyed me most: no time for airport laps. That’s what I call my travel exercise when I’m (usually) waiting in an airport for hours. I often walk until my phone’s health app tells me I’ve reached five miles. On this trip, I got my cardio in by quite literally running to catch my planes—not the most pleasant or peaceful exercise!
2) This month also marks the 10-year anniversary of a promise I made to myself. In January of 2009, I had been teaching for a year and a half on an island in Micronesia. In that near-equatorial climate, it was sweet relief to swing by the beach after school and join fellow teachers for a swim. On the hottest days, we’d buy a pass to one of the swanky hotel gyms and exercise in the air-conditioning.
By that January, I was in the best shape of my life. I liked feeling strong and lithe. And so I committed to some kind of exercise every day. For the rest of my life, for as long as my body can move. Minimum: 20 minutes of stretches. Average: 45 minute hike. And…I’m not really into maximum exertion, so there’s pretty much never more than a two-hour hike or a long day of walking in a foreign city. I know my limits!
For the last ten years, I’ve kept this commitment—even on days of extreme weather, international travel, or minor surgery. I’d made the commitment, so I found a way. Some days, it’s just those 20 minutes of stretches.  Most days it’s the 45-minute hike in my town’s Woodlands. One day in Paris, it was walking over a dozen miles across almost as many arrondissements. 
The beautiful thing about doing something over time is the momentum. Once I reached the year mark, it was easy to keep going. I liked that I’d built a history of trust with myself. It inspired me to find a way to keep my commitment, every single day. 
3) Also this month, I saw many #TenYearChallenge posts on social media. It can be fun to look back. It can also be fun to look forward—by doing things our future selves will be grateful for. What would we like to “see” in photos taken ten years from now? And I don’t just mean physically.
I write this as much to encourage myself as anyone because beyond asking myself what can I do that my future self will be grateful for, I’m also asking what I can do that goes beyond myself. What little thing(s) everyday over ten years could we do that might translate into healthier world? What daily practices of spirit, mind, and body could we begin now that will build over the next decade? What might we see in our lives in 2029 as a result?
Blessings of health & #FutureWorldLove to us all,

Anna

Happy All-Hearted Holidays

“All-Hearted,” painted at the annual women’s conference, Face to Face,
Living Waters, November 2018

May the art of the heart shape us.

May we love with our skinny & big hearts,
our new hearts & old hearts,
our right-side up & upside-down hearts.
May we bless the hearts that beat
to different rhythms,
the lost hearts & the found,
& all those in between.
May we be all-hearted.

Strange Thanks

On the last night of this holiday weekend, here’s a little poem—aka an excuse to share a cat painting! Cheers to gratitude—in all its expected and unexpected forms.

Strange Thanks
The cat stretches
awake after dreaming
of a bigger belly
to fill with birds.
I pet his fur ‘till
purring. Hope 
he’ll remember
how well he’s fed.
Blue jays fly past,
oddly silent,
in a blur of canny
gratitude. 

PS: You can find prints of this and other cats here

We Harvest Hope

October has been a month of poetry for me. I came home from a writing residency at Vermont Studio Center with a pretty-much-done manuscript and a very big smile! While there, I also committed to creating and sharing a bit of micropoetry + watercolor each day as a way to celebrate process in all its unpredictbleand often glitchyglory. 


As I went, I jotted down each day’s line in the back of my journal. A week in, I realized that the single lines were forming a larger poem. So I decided to share the full month here, interspersed with my favorite of the original poem-paintings. Happy harvest!

We Harvest Hope
In the beginning,
the rain came out to play,
& we turned to dreaming leaves—
falling up and lifting down.

We break bread, rules, even, through.
We go where the water falls
& the dark sky rises.
becomes we & other becomes another.
River gets swim
& borders get blurred into union.

Hither & yon,
we grow our spirits,
& send big hope up.
Cross our hearts,
make prints of possibility,
leave traces of grace.
Where we are marks the spot of promise.

We press on in,
we make cider of time.
What comes goes—
onces come undone.

Tomorrow is a maze of maybes 
filled with friends.

Brimming with what-ifs,
we harvest hope.


Of Palapas, Caves & Medinas

Sunset in Moulay Idriss, Morocco from the terrace of Scorpion House
If you use a hardcopy calendar, you’ve probably already begun to write down events for 2019. If you’re digital, some of those pixel squares are likely filling. As you plan your coming year, consider penciling in (or typing in!) a Deep Travel adventure or two. Imagine an afternoon beneath a seaside palapa in Mexico, watching a flamenco puro performance in a Spanish cave, or watching the sun set over the Fez Medina and the mountain village of Moulay Idriss in Morocco. DeepTravel not only gets you to these places, we also introduce you to the artists, writers, and change-makers who live there. As one of our alumni said of her time in Morocco, “I fell a bit in love with everyone I met.” We invite you to do the same.
Deep Travel Mexico: The Art of Tranquilo
January 3-7: Yelapa, Mexico
Come enjoy a writing retreat in the rugged-and-wonderful, car-free village of Yelapa on Mexico’s Bay of Banderas.  Beloved travel writer Tim Cahill will be our instructor, inspiring us in this unpolished paradiso fueled by sun, cerveza, and seafood. After waking in your open-air casita, amble down the beach for a session of guided writing with Tim, and then enjoy the day sketching, swimming, hiking, boating—or all of the above! This trip will balance rest and adventure. Want to sip margaritas in a hammock? Want to salsa dance in the moonlight? Want to enjoy Huichol art? How about fishing? Whatever your interests, you will find plenty of inspiration for your journal. Register here 
Deep Travel Andalusia: In Search of Duende
March 22-28: Granada, Spain
What is duende and where do we find it? The great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca defined it as the dark beauty found in Andalusian art: the bullfight, the fierce flamenco dancing, and the strains of a guitar. You might recognize it closer to home in the haunting chords of your favorite Leonard Cohen song. Wherever we find it, duende can transform struggle into art and sorrow into revelation. This spring, Deep Travel will journey to Lorca’s hometown of Granada, Spain to explore duende at its source. We will visit the gitano caves, hold readings by candlelight, marvel at the Alhambra, and enjoy a sunset paella party with local flamenco dancers in the Sacromonte. Along the way, author and musician Nick Jaina will spark your writing with the cante jondo—the deep song at the heart of duende. Register here
Deep Travel Morocco: The Art of Adventure
March 31-April 8: Fez & Moulay Idriss, Morocco
Can writing about the world make it a better place? It can, insists Lavinia Spalding, author of Writing Away and series editor of The Best Women’s Travel Writing. For this immersive workshop, Lavinia helps us to explore how writing the stories of people and places can seed change—both in others and in ourselves. Our eight-day journey takes us inside the mesmerizing Fez Medina with its 9,000 byways and into Morocco’s holiest city, Moulay Idriss, in the Middle Atlas mountains. We’ll gather with Sufis, listen to the tales of traditional storytellers, connect with inspired artists, and dine with local friends who will invite us deeply into their culture. In daily sessions, we’ll articulate the places behind the headlines and the individuals behind the stereotypes. This trip is for anyone who wants to see inside the heart and soul of Morocco. Join us! Register here

Bonus: if you come on both the Spain and Morocco trips, we cover the days in between: accommodation and transit from Granada, Spain, a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar, a night in Tangier, the train to Fez, and the night in Fez before the workshop begins. Contact us with any questions. 

A Penny for Our Thoughts of Thanks

I found a shiny penny on the ground last week—a penny so bright it looked fake. As I picked it up, I noticed it’s a new one: 2018.
Yes, I pick up pennies. They remind me to not take little things for granted—to instead be grateful for them. As I pocketed the penny, I thought of the phrase, “both sides of the same coin” and wondered if a coin might work as a metaphor for gratitude.
At first I didn’t like the coin comparison—it implies commodification. But then again, maybe gratitude is a kind of currency.
As I’ve shared most everywhere, on the first of August, I was accepted for a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Delight! Heel-clicking glee! Small problem: even though VSC awarded me a partial grant, the balance due was still big. Since my residency was awarded at the start of their season, I only had two weeks to pay in full, and that wasn’t enough time to apply for more grants. So I swallowed my pride and asked for help. Art orders, book orders, and donations poured in. (PS: Thanks for your patience on commissioned paintings!)
My Gratitude-O-Meter entered the stratosphere. It was a whirlwind of what Anne Lamott calls the three main prayers: Help! Thanks! Wow!  (The exclamation marks are my addition!)
What I didn’t mention when I shared my news was that I had been accepted to VSC almost ten years before. But that heel-clicking glee tripped on the curb of lack. Or perceived lack. I told myself a residency was too expensive. I invested more heavily in limitation than in gratitude, and I got what I “bought.”
Aside #1: I’ve turned down many opportunities I couldn’t afford. But for those, I didn’t feel a powerful “yes!” followed by a self-imposed, hope-killing “no.”  I’ve learned that though I can’t do everything, I canlisten for the things I am meant to do. Aside #2: I practice gratitude daily, for mostly mundane things. Some days, my gratitude journal is filled with uninspired entries like, “I’m grateful for a roof over my head.” But then, in wildfire season when friends have lost homes, I write that like I mean it, because I do. I believe that consistent gratefulness in the littles leads to exponential gratefulness in the bigs.
In other words: investing in gratitude yields many happy returns—for ourselves and for others.
One of my many freelance jobs is working with my dear friend, Christina Ammon, for her company, Deep Travel Workshops. We take people on writing adventures around the world. This year, Deep Travel was able to do a pretty marvelous thing: at Book Passage’s annual Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, it offered a free international trip as the award for the conference’s essay contest winner. More glee! More bubbly! We were as happy as the recipient.
Within days of receiving big good, I was able to help give big good. Even though one event didn’t cause the other, they were linked by hefty prayers of Thanks!
Some days, we get the chance to up our own gratitude, and some days we get to give that chance—and not necessarily in that order. Gratitude works whichever way the coin is facing when we reach for it.
To get punny, I could say that this year has minted a new coin of gratitude in my life. But I won’t (winky face here).
Speaking of winking, perhaps the coin of gratitude is doing that right now, as if it knows its multifaceted power and is waiting for us to discover it in new ways. Perhaps the rest of 2018 is gleaming with shiny new ways to give thanks—if we’re willing to look for them. If gratitude is currency, then we have bottomless treasuries.
Thank you and you’re welcome,

Anna