Friday, July 29, 2016

Frank O'Hara in action at NYC's Museum of Modern Art

I was 12 years old and my mother, stepfather and I had chosen that summer to leave Chicago, at least for a short while, for our big family trip to New York City to see the World’s Fair and all the major sights Manhattan Island had to offer.  None of us had ever been there before, and none of our summer vacations had had its destination as a big city.  

Near the end of our trip, my parents and I were exhausted after a morning of walking for miles and sightseeing in New York City. I was awestruck by New York.  There was more of everything in New York than in Chicago, and the abundance seemed more thought out, more polished, more avant-garde, more talented, more new, and more old.

After much of a day of sight-seeing in Manhattan, we wandered into the Museum of Modern Art like cow-town bumpkins, amazed, tired, and upon entry coming to a revelation that we couldn’t take one more step.  But we had already paid our admission and weren’t about to turn around and go back to our hotel.

What I had expected to see was art. Who I didn't expect to see was Frank O'Hara, the poet, himself. He was one of the art curators at the time at the museum. That was what his obituary said a year later. Yes, that he was a museum curator, the New York Times stated, "but also a poet."

But wait, I was only 12 years old at the time. I didn't know anything about poets or poetry back then. And certainly didn't know who Frank O'Hara was. 

It went like this. My parents and I decided to take a breather and sit in the atrium which led to the sculpture garden.  The sculpture garden had just been redesigned the year before, the brochure read. A long bench was where we parked ourselves faced the window looking out to the sculpture garden. When we turned the other way inward toward the building, we faced a large hallway with a group of workers and museum people talking and maneuvering crated paintings into another room.  

Too exhausted to converse and undistracted by anything else to do, we sat and just absorbed what unfolded before us as if watching a movie. Like someone on a fast, having visions, I watched and remembered with a great intensity. A slim man with a receding hairline was energized over all the commotion of mounting what seemed to be a new exhibit. He paced briskly into other rooms and back out again, stage left and stage right, making lively comments to his fellow workers great and small about the paintings, pointing to one crate and another, turning to someone else to make a remark, then laughing so loudly his melodic voice almost echoed in the halls.  

He didn’t lift a finger, and though directive, was not dictatorial, and seemed to treat the whole episode as if at a party, or a friendly spider excitedly weaving a web around and around where only he could move freely up and down the strands to wherever he wished. It seemed like this man never rested, and did not need to rest. You could almost tell he was always like this. This was him, he loved what was going on, and although he seemed to want to attract a lot of attention to himself, it's as if he did so to invite you in to love what was going on, too, if you wanted. Were the crated items possibly for the forthcoming Robert Motherwell retrospective?

I knew about sex, but knew nothing about homosexuals. I really was naive about it.  I didn’t, at that point, know such a thing existed.  As we continued to watch, my mother grew irritated.

"That guy is too much," she moaned. She seemed disgusted. I couldn’t understand what he had done to offend her.  He wasn’t talking nasty, or wasn’t slobbering around like a drunk, which were two other public behaviors which offended my mother.  She is a person who can’t stand when a person puts on airs. It seemed as if the man’s vocal, though light bravura got to her.
"I wish he’d just go away," she said. "Get lost," she said softly, "or we’ll get lost." To me, he was just being enthusiastic. In fact, his energy seemed to energize the fatigue I was feeling, and his enthusiasm over the paintings somewhat primed me to discover for myself when we’d go upstairs to see the galleries what he found so compelling between four stretcher strips. 

Years later, as I began to make my own way through the world as a poet, I read Frank O'Hara's poetry and as well as his biography City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara, learning then of his work as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Wasn't he the energetic man I had witnessed during my visit to New York City as a seventh grader? Although I knew nothing of his poetry, or anything about poetry at that age, wasn't I inspired by him, at least back then, by his enthusiasm, so precious especially in light of it being his last year of life, not knowing that an accidental death lay before him that next summer. 

Why were my parents and I led to the museum that day? Only to spend an hour of our time sitting on a bench? I think it was a personal blessing for me to see a great poet, Frank O'Hara, in action, not reciting poetry, but celebrating life itself.

I mention Frank O'Hara in my new nonfiction reference/memoir/how-to/creativity guide Frugal Poets' Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren't a Poet, and how City Lights Pocket Poet Series published O'Hara's Lunch Poems.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Frugal Poets' Guide to Life: The Book!

Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to live a poetic life, even if you aren’t a poet, my new eBook and print paperback, has just launched this summer.

Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life is part my personal journey, part life-coaching for poets (or those who’d like to live like one), part creativity guide, and part reference, with a special section on the modern history of the Chicago poetry scene, including the birth of the poetry slam. In many ways, this book is an anti-MFA guide to being a poet – or any other type of creative person. As poet Robert Frost said, “ To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.”
Some of my more personal sections of the book trace dating a well-known underground comics artist – dinner at a Denny’s restaurant with an Academy Award Best Actor -- seeing a UFO in central Wisconsin – a night when poet and men’s movement icon Robert Bly was “tarred & feathered” at a poetry reading -- play rehearsals at David Mamet’s Chicago theater featuring then-unknown actor William H. Macy – how I met my poet husband, Carlos -- reflections on my family relative, artist and member of the Algonquin Round Table, Neysa McMein -- visits and stays at a variety of writers’ colonies around the country -- and celebrating how friend Sandra Cisneros launched an international literary career starting with a little eight-poem chapbook at a humble bookstore in a Chicago Puerto Rican neighborhood.

Available in paperback and as an eBook: Softcover ISBN 978-1-48357-142-3 ($12.98); eBook ISBN 978-1-48357-143-0 ($2.99). See the table of contents and read the book's first several pages on Amazon or obtain either version on my online bookshop.

“Frugal poet, thank you for documenting the Chicago poetry scene as I remember it. Thank you for the abundance of writers’ quotes, spot-on about the real writer’s life. Thanks for a great reference tool for those starting out on their own writer’s path. Finally, frugal poet, thank you for sharing your own personal story with generosity and, above all, honesty.” 
~ Sandra Cisneros, author of House on Mango Street, Caramelo and A House of My Own, and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship.

About the author: Cynthia Gallaher is a Chicago-based published poet with three full collections of poetry, Night Ribbons (Polar Bear Press), Swimmer’s Prayer (Missing Spoke Press) and Earth Elegance (March Abrazo Press), and two chapbooks, Private, On Purpose (Mulberry Press) and Omnivore Odes (Finishing Line Press). The Chicago Public Library lists her among its “Top 10 Requested Chicago Poets” and Today’s Chicago Woman magazine named her one of “100 Women Making a Difference.” Most recently, she became a certified yoga instructor, and is completing a new manuscript of food and medicinal herb poems, Botanical Bandwidth.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Yoga, the outwardly active, inner-directed frugal choice

For the frugal poet or any person in pursuit of a simple, yet elegant, intelligent and active lifestyle, yoga is one of the frugal choices. Yoga can be performed virtually anywhere, at most anytime, indoors or out, with little to no equipment. It’s also easier on your joints and other body parts than running, for example. Yoga is therapeutic not only to the body, but also, ultimately, to the mind and emotions.

I consider yoga the “superfood” of physical practices. My definition of a “superfood” in the edible world is a food that offers the most nutrition for the least amount of calories.  I consider yoga a “superfood” or “super-practice” because even small amounts can bear much reward for so many of our human aspects. Yoga can for many become a lifelong learning experience.

It certainly has for me. As a poet with a background in dance, yoga attracted me about 15 years ago. It attracted me not only for its nature of being physically outer-directed and ballet-like in its attention to alignment and form, but also because yoga is inner-directed with its focus on breathing and meditation. And being a poet who’s already inner-directed, I felt practicing yoga bears a “sympatico” similarity to the process of writing poetry, as each assists in the unfolding of inner authenticity and self-knowing, if you let them.

As time went on and the more hours I spent at my desk writing, the more I felt the need to balance my life with yoga, walking and hiking, and occasional drop-ins to Zumba and weight-training classes. Today, “sitting is the new smoking.” Our contemporary lives spent sitting behind a computer or at our tablet/cellphone is now considered even more dangerous to our health than smoking. I didn’t want to envision a future life ensnared by doctors’ bills, pharmaceutical medications or my time shortened by being sedentary. As the years progressed and I found myself in career transition, I actually took the plunge and spent 10 months training to be a yoga instructor.

Since my graduation and certification last year, I now about spend a third of my time writing in my home office, a third of my time teaching yoga at various Chicago-area studios, and a third of my time (not counting sleeping, which is important to me!) living my life involved in other activities and among family and friends. I know I am quite fortunate and even blessed to be at a time in my life to able to experience this great balance. And yoga itself offers even more inner balance, as does my spiritual faith. I look forward to uncovering more secrets about yoga as my practice deepens. I yearn to connect more dots between human anatomy and how yoga can enhance every part of the body. The more I learn, the more I understand how much I don’t yet know and have yet to explore.

Teaching yoga and getting paid for it is a great way for me to keep in shape, contribute to my cash flow and avoid the cost of a pricey yoga studio membership at the same time. Also, I am invited to use some of the larger facilities’ weight rooms at no extra charge, and can take additional classes either for free or based on my hours of participation as a teacher or substitute teacher.

There is a quote on the wall of one of the local yoga studios: “When one teaches, two learn.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein. It’s so true. When I teach yoga, my students each teach me something, whether it’s about another way of getting into a pose, a question about yoga I may have never questioned before, a new way of using a yoga prop, or simply teaching me more patience and compassion.

We all don’t want to become yoga instructors, or need to. So how can anyone simply interested in yoga or looking for a new place to practice do so frugally? Most yoga studios offer a drop-in rate to try out their facility for one class so you don’t have to be caught up in a membership you may not want. Groupons are often available for one-month or two-month memberships on a seasonal basis, as they are at McFetridge Sports Center, where I regularly teach. Many studios promote other deals such as bring-a-friend-for-free, one free week, three-class packages and the like. And if you don’t own a mat or any props, most studios provide them.

As much as I appreciate yoga, I don’t believe it should stand alone as your solitary physical practice. A good walk (which can also be mindful as well as inspirational for your writing!) and some regular, and not necessarily strenuous, weight training can round out what your body needs to maintain strength, flexibility and endurance. 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

After Vincent Van Gogh's "Bedroom in Arles" 1889


within temporary refuge,
your trapezoid palette
inside Maison Jaune in Arles.

pale violet walls,
bed, fresh yellow butter,
scarlet coverlet against
citron sheets,
puzzle-piece floor
of celadon clay,
orange toilet table, blue basin,
a mirror awaiting a face.

there is no white
in the picture,
so the frame will be white,
you said,
as your thoughts
edged charcoal borders.

two chairs beg company,
one holding firm against outside bluster,
the other pulled close as your mother’s
to your childhood bedside,
does night whisper dreams

you reenact on canvas by day?


Monday, January 11, 2016

McFetridge Yoga Studio is one of Chicago’s new hidden gems & the frugal choice for yoga lovers

I started writing this blog post to talk about the four yoga classes I now teach on Tuesdays at McFetridge Yoga & Fitness Studio, which are Hatha, Slow Flow and morning and afternoon Gentle Yoga. But I couldn’t do the subject justice without also urging the local yoga enthusiast (or anyone who has yet to attend a yoga class) to explore overall what this newly renovated gem-of-a-studio can really mean to him or her.

McFetridge Yoga Studio is located within the McFetridge Sports Center, 3843 N California Avenue, Chicago. The center is part of California Park, between Irving Park and Addison Avenues.  

When I met someone recently and mentioned the venue to him, he said, “McFetridge? What’s a McFetridge? That’s a mouthful!” Well, it’s far more than that. McFetridge Sports Center, widely known for more than 40 years on Chicago’s north side for its figure skating and hockey ice rink, and indoor tennis courts, has more recently added its significant and serene yoga studio to its offerings for the community.

Taking yoga classes at McFetridge is the frugal choice as each is only $10 for a drop-in, one-hour class. One-month or two-month unlimited memberships are smartly priced, too (see offer below). And if you’re a senior aged 65 or older, it’s half price.

McFetridge is also a frugal choice for the frugal poet or any person who practices the frugality of a simple but elegant, intelligent lifestyle, because of the many perks the venue includes in your yoga experience: for example, you get more individualized attention at McFetridge than at many other venues, in an accepting, non-judgmental, non-competitive atmosphere.

It’s a beautiful, sparkling clean and spacious studio with gentle vaporizers, soft music, an occasional whiff of incense, relaxing lighting and a welcoming spirit. Mats, bolsters,
blocks, blankets and straps are all available for your use at no extra charge.

Even more frugal are the membership deals going on now, January 2016, via Groupon. One month’s unlimited yoga studio membership (regularly $60) is now only $29 with the Groupon. And a two-month unlimited yoga studio membership (regularly $100) is only $49 with the Groupon. That’s for as many yoga classes as you care to take. Not only for the ones I teach, but also for Forrest Yoga, Restorative, Yoga Sculpt (similar to CorePower, using hand weights), Vinyasa Flow and other classes available with a bevy of instructors.

Let’s face it, yoga in general is a frugal choice. It cannot only be performed virtually anywhere, at most anytime, indoors or out, with little to no equipment, but it is also easier on your joints and other body parts than running and therapeutic not only to the body, but also, ultimately, to the mind and emotions. That is, if you’re aware of what you’re doing. Yoga is and can become for many a lifelong learning experience.

Moving beyond the frugality of yoga lovers smartly getting more for their dollar and being kinder and wiser to themselves, I look at the McFetridge Yoga Studio in particular as one of Chicago’s hidden gems. It’s an attractive, down-to-earth venue, yet perched high in its own lofty aerie, a neighborhood getaway still being discovered. My students consider the space as a haven or “safe place” to practice and be oneself.

Many people who haven’t been to the McFetridge Sports Center lately are not only surprised and pleased that it now includes a yoga studio, but also by finding that it’s one that’s fully staffed with specialized, caring instructors, offering a wider range of yoga classes than many other studios do.

All of the classes I personally teach are conducted at room temperature (around 74 to 76 degrees), but a number of other classes at the McFetridge Yoga Studio are heated in a fashion similar to the Bikram Yoga tradition (between 80-90 degrees). There is definitely something for everyone.

I invite you to drop-in to try any of my yoga classes. Stop at the McFetridge front desk first to purchase your $10 drop-in slip and someone will direct you to the yoga studio:

Gentle Yoga on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. is the right choice for anyone who wants a slower-paced class. Poses are practiced seated, standing and lying down, modified with support as needed. Great for seniors, beginners or those recovering from injuries. As well, it’s the perfect compliment to warm-up before or cool-down after skating, hockey or tennis. Breath and relaxation are also emphasized. Take part in our room temperature gentle yoga class regardless of experience, age or body type.

Hatha Yoga on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. comprises a sequence of traditional asanas (poses). This room temperature Level 1 class focuses on breathing, alignment, extension, grounding, strengthening and stretching. Great for beginners to mid-level participants.

Slow Flow on Tuesdays at 7:15 p.m. is a room-temperature yoga class comprising slowly paced sun salutations and flow pose sequences, giving you the opportunity to use your breath and subtle movements to calm your mind, find your center and stretch your body.

I am a certified RYT-200 yoga instructor, registered with the Yoga Alliance, and received my teacher training at Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Day Poem

New Year's Day
It's the clean slate,
the board washed of yesterday,
a new document page,
a big open space under "Comments."

The sun rises over and outshines
the fireworks display of last night,
the glitter and silver
of your party wear. 

Today lends a new brightness
to snow and sand, benches and backyards
and to all your fresh plans,
even if it's a cloudy day.

This year makes a resolution
to be like no other year for the next 12 months.
You dive bravely
into its whirlwind of weeks.

And later fondly remember and passionately forget
red-letter and grey-letter days
in a black-and-white sort of way,
but never cease to be part of this year

For the rest of your life.

~ Cynthia Gallaher



Friday, September 25, 2015

Your Stay at a Writer’s Colony Is a Fabulous and Frugal Choice

I’m a poet and a playwright, and as many writers like me, I find myself ever needing more dedicated time to write.  Even though I am now fortunate enough to work my day job from home, scheduling my own hours to complete assignments and attend conference calls, you’ll find me in-between those hours keeping keen watch on my computer and phone for incoming messages and requests.

By midday I may be off to teach yoga for a few hours at a time, and just when I return home to send off more tweets and Facebook posts on behalf of my employer, and maybe even then try to squeeze in writing a poem, another scene or a blog post such as this, I'll look at the clock and suddenly see it’s time to make dinner for my husband who’s spent another wall-to-wall weekday pounding that challenging turf called teaching English at a Chicago public high school.

Yes, like many writers who juggle life and work schedules, I yearn for more time to write. My writer husband definitely does as well.  Beyond that, simply as people and as a couple, we need a scheduled vacation every once in a while. Here’s the question: Why not combine both vacation and dedicated time to write, and apply for a stay at a writer’s colony? My answer to that question is, yes, I have done so a number of times, and stays at colonies have been among the most interesting, satisfying and creatively prolific vacations yet. 

I have gone solo, as well as with my husband, one time even bringing our small son along to a private writer’s casita in the New Mexican mountains for two weeks, where we mixed writing with side excursions to Albuquerque, Taos and Santa Fe. I have spent two weeks at a working organic fruit and vegetable farm, pitching in with farm chores in the mornings and writing in the afternoons and evenings in an off-grid cabin. I have served as a writer-in-residence in a circa 1835 townhouse in the rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin, and stirred up recipes that inspired food poems in the culinary suite of a writer’s colony in Arkansas.

Most recently, my husband and I were both accepted for a two-week residency at Rivendell Writers’ Colony in Sewanee, Tennessee, (pronounced swan’-knee) situated about four miles from the heart of town, in a grand old stone manor overlooking spectacular Lost Cove, an area where writer Walker Percy spent many a summer sojourn.  I chose to apply to Rivendell as it’s a day’s drive from our home in Chicago, while at the same time knowing the breathtaking Cumberland Plateau terrain would offer a total change from our urban life in the Midwest flatlands.

I chose Rivendell because while it’s part of an estate with a long history, it has been transformed into a writers’ colony only over the past few years. Not too many people know yet about this gem. The time to apply was now!

I also chose Rivendell because of its emphasis on food writers.  The Southern Foodways Alliance holds periodic workshops at Rivendell, and one of its directors serves as an advising editor to Rivendell. The colony director Carmen and her husband Michael nurture a lush garden of raised beds near the manor house, where residents can sometimes pick lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and other seasonal offerings to add to their meals.  

That brings me to mention Rivendell’s two kitchens, one country style and the other commercial grade, where residents can prepare and cook their own meals.

And lastly, I chose Rivendell because it is a short drive from the University of the South, home to Sewanee School of Letters, Sewanee Review and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. Sewanee Review is one of the oldest literary magazines in the U.S., started in 1892. And the Sewanee Writers’ Conference has been an annual event for more than 20 years, gathering poets, playwrights and fiction writers from across the country. What a literary atmosphere in such a magnificent corner of Tennessee.

So what’s so frugal about a stay at Rivendell, which requires a fee for your residency, and where you need to supply your own food and cook your own meals? Firstly, the subsidized cost of a two-week stay is far less, perhaps one third or even a quarter of what you’d pay for a comparable hotel stay, if you are accepted as a writing resident. And, just as an aside, how many spots where you've stayed offers an open-air deck where you can practice yoga on a cool morning?

I don’t know about you, but the more I learn about food, the harder it seems to find restaurants where I’d care to dine.  When establishments serve Grade A eggs or meats, it does not mean that the animals weren’t factory farmed or fed GMO grains.  I eat more organic food than ever, and sometimes the only way to make sure I’m getting the caliber of meals using the wholesome foods I prefer is to cook them myself. 

As a food poet, of course, cooking (and even drinking) are surely part of my research! Even making different popcorn recipes that I shared with other residents in the evenings helped inspire a new poem. What could be more frugal and fantastic than passing around a bowl of buttery popcorn, chatting on the outdoor patio overlooking the cove, and checking out Rivendell’s vivid sky full of stars.

Of course, frugality-wise, it didn’t hurt that I also applied for and received an Illinois Arts Council Professional Development Grant to help fund my stay, food purchases and road trip expenses. 

Check your local arts council and see what type of help they can extend for writing retreat stays to help you complete your latest writing project. At Rivendell, I did just that, writing a number of new poem drafts (sometimes two a day) to add to my current manuscript, “Botanical Bandwidth: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices.”

In addition, it just so happened that the first week of our summer residency at Rivendell also coincided with the last week of the Sewanee Writers Conference taking place in town.  Besides the paid workshops and meetings the conference participants attended (of which we weren’t part of and costs upwards of $3,000), there was a sizable schedule of daily lectures and readings open to the public, free of charge. 

Not only did we enjoy two lectures on fiction writing and one on playwriting, we personally met some of our favorite writers who were on hand, including poet A.E. Stallings and fiction writer Tim O’Brien. What frugal serendipity!

Noteworthy to any working vacation, the town of Sewanee is surrounded by a spectacular network of hiking trails, with views that are priceless. What writing experience isn’t enhanced by an inspirational hike through the woods?

Find out more about Rivendell.