Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bright Star is a Mother's Dream

Moms, if you'd like to share a wonderful, passionate, CHASTE love story with your daughters or sons, go find "Bright Star," Jane Campion's gorgeous new film about Romantic poet John Keats and the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. Unfortunately, it's only playing in select theatres, so you may have to hunt for it (go to and enter your zip code to find the theatre closest to you), but it's worth whatever distance you have to drive. If you're an action movie buff, I should warn you that you may have trouble staying awake; the pace of the film makes a tortoise look manic. But if you love period pieces, lush European-style cinematography, character studies, romance, family drama, or poetry, this is two hours of bliss.

There are so many positive aspects to "Bright Star," it's hard to know where to start. The fact that John and Fanny's relationship is based completely on affection and admiration, with virtually no physical contact--an all but foreign concept in this day and age--is certainly key, but I'll come back to that. Equally as satisfying is Campion's portrayal of Fanny and her mother as strong, capable women--a welcome change from the simpering females typically associated with the early nineteenth century. Fanny's father was long dead by the time John Keats became her neighbor, so one assumes the portrayal of the Brawne women is accurate since, without father, older brother, or other male relative at hand, they were forced to be self-sufficient of necessity. Perhaps because of that need to pull together, the Brawne family had a genuine affection for one another; that affection is evident throughout the film. Though Fanny admits in one scene that her little sister can be annoying, the closeness of the family members is obvious, and they continually, and willingly, look out for one another.

Actor Ben Whishaw didn't make my heart beat faster, but I suspect teen girls will find it easy to fall in love with Campion's scruffy version of John Keats. And they will certainly identify with young Fanny's passion for clothes (forget the mall: when Fanny wants the latest fashion, she just whips out her trusty needle and thread), annoyance with Keats' boorish buddy, and frustration with strict societal rules (Keats is deemed an inappropriate match because he has no reliable income). I especially enjoyed the portrayal of this young woman's relationship with her mother, who appeared to trust Fanny's judgment to do the right thing, but stood ready to offer comfort and advice as needed.

It is the pure--literally--passion of this love affair, though, that makes this film so important for teen viewing. Hollywood has taught this generation that love and sex are one and the same, that it's inconceivable to date a boy without bedding him, that hooking up is just the thing you do. Watching the ardor grow between this young couple creates a tangible ache. When they place their palms on opposite sides of a wall each night, we feel their connection; when they steal shy kisses on a walk through the countryside, we feel their giddy joy; when they make a conscious decision not to consummate their love before what they both know, but deny, is their last night together, we ache with their grief and longing. The inevitable tragic ending will leave only the hardest of hearts dry-eyed; again, I found Fanny's reaching out for her mother's comfort particularly touching.

Unlike Shakespeare's Juliet, Fanny Brawne had sense enough to know that much as she loved John Keats, her life would go on. The film leads us to believe she spent the rest of her life in mourning but, in truth, Fanny eventually married and had three children. I think the film would be more valuable to impressionable young minds had that fact been included because at forty, you know you'll survive the loss of love, but at fifteen, you don't; moving on with her life in no way diminished Fanny's love for Keats or his effect on her life, but it was the necessary, healthy thing to do.

Meanwhile, we are all better for Keats having been in this world. His body of poetry was not large, but his impact on the world of literature is undeniable, and if you are not familiar with his work or the bittersweet, brief tale of his life, you should see "Bright Star."

Video trailer:

John Keats' poetry:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is It Poetry or Is It Prose? Does It Matter?

I've been a fan of prose poet Louis Jenkins for years. His work makes me grin--always a good characteristic in a poem. It's witty, to the point, and often does a little pointed skewering in deft, understated satire--good stuff. Thanks to the wonderful Jeanette Guinn, a longtime friend from the South Carolina Arts Commission, I found out about a grant from the Southern Arts Federation and partnered with my home county's library system to bring Louis to our fair city for a series of readings and workshops. I'm excited: high school students, adult literacy students, area writers, and the general public will all benefit from his visit to Greenville next month.

I'll confess right up front that I'm not a big fan of prose poetry. I like my poems to look like poems--nice, short lines stacked up on the page...a vertical rectangle the size of an index card is about right. Give that rectangle a 90 degree twist and, to me, it becomes a paragraph--not a poem--so I'm eager to sit at this master's feet to see if I can figure out exactly what about his horizontal rectangles constitutes poetry. What makes his paragraph poetry and someone else's flash fiction?

Louis says he could care less about form; he's written "line poetry," as he calls it, too, but feels more comfortable and less restricted in paragraph mode. Most of us poets seem to have a place that feels most natural: my friend Kay Day enjoys writing sonnets; Gregory Orr says what he has to say in short, sparse spurts; Keith Flynn burst into songs in the middle of his poems; ee cummings eschewed capital letters, and Emily Dickinson completely abused them. Yet each of these gifted writers creates appealing, powerful poetry.

I tend to think Louis is right; does form really matter? Isn't it the words themselves that make the difference? As with so many other areas of life, "rules" often get in the way of the experience. I almost drove myself--and more than a few others--crazy in my first crack at motherhood. I read every how-to book available in my determination to do it "right" and to internalize all the experts' "shoulds" and "musts" and "essentials." By the time I got to Child #3, I'd tossed out most of that advice in exchange for routines borne of convenience and practicality. (Undoubtedly, this is why the youngest child in most families is more laid back than older siblings; we moms eventually figure out that doing what comes naturally makes life much happier!)

Poetry might benefit from that trade-off. Less focus on form and more on fodder would perhaps make this genre not so offputting to those unfamiliar (or unimpressed) with the rigid rhyme scheme of a terza rima or the syllabic specifications of haiku. I'm certainly not suggesting we start throwing words on a page all namby-pamby, but a little more oomph and a little less oeuvre might bring poetry a few more fans.

You'll get plenty of both if you come hear Louis do what he does best on Friday, November 6th, at 7 PM in the Hughes Main Library in downtown Greenville, SC. I promise you will be entertained. And if you'd like to learn more about weaving words into a prose poem, sign up for his workshop for the nominal fee of $25 (thanks to the aforementioned grant!). It's Saturday, November 7th, from 10 AM till noon at the same place. Just contact Sandy Merrill at 864-527-9293 or e-mail her at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Poetry, Take Two

In a survey sponsored by the Poetry Foundation a few years back, researchers discovered the following:
  • 94% of Americans have read poetry at some point in their life, but only 15% read it consistently throughout their life.
  • Almost 85% say poetry is hard to understand.
  • Almost 81% say poetry is boring.
  • Yet more than 70% say poetry helps you appreciate the world around you.

I'm going to connect the dots here and suggest that, based on these statistics, if people understand a poem, chances are they'll enjoy it. That's the premise upon which I based the launch of Your Daily Poem, a website that went live June 1st with the sole purpose of presenting uplifting, easy to understand poetry to people who were not predisposed to like it. And to paraphrase and repurpose Sally Field's worn but fitting cliche, "They like it! They really like it!"

I am tickled pink...or fuschia, if we want to be more report that, four months after its birth, the number of subscribers to Your Daily Poem has septupled (is that a word?), poets published and un are submitting wonderful work on an almost daily basis, and people are passing around featured poems like juicy gossip. It's enough to make a poetry lover giddy.

Why bother, you may ask, or who cares? It comes down to this: life's hard most days--especially these days. Whether you're a young mother struggling to make ends meet, a working stiff trying to hang onto your job, a retiree worried about health and Social Security, or a corporate tycoon just having a bad day, we all need something to lift our spirits, make us laugh, stretch our imagination, take us away, or resurrect a fond memory. Poetry can do all that. But for too many of us, poetry got a bad name because someone made us study something awful in a classroom, or we opened a Revered Poetry Journal and were befuddled, repulsed, or bored by what we found inside, or we went to a reading and were embarrassed, offended, or bored by what we heard.

So this is my plea: give poetry a second chance. If you think you hate it, go to Your Daily Poem and click around in the archives. Read Ellen Bass's account of a mid-life couple smooching at an airport. Read the condemnation of little girl's beauty pageants on July 21st ("the stench of pink:" what a great line!). Read about an Elvis sighting in the peanut butter aisle at Shoprite, or the bliss of a perfectly ripe avocado, or the smell of oregano in a grandmother's kitchen, or the feel of your beloved's curls against your pillow.

Believe me, poetry is alive and well at YDP and it's not boring. It's heartrending, and hilarious, and touching, and titillating and--big bonus!--not even remotely connected to health insurance! Come discover poets from around the world whose work will definitely help you appreciate the world around you--one wonderful word at a time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Our Region's Best: Do You Agree?

What say we start off this shortened work week with something even more controversial than Obama's school speech? According to Oxford American magazine, these are the top ten Southern novels of all times:
1. Absalom, Absalom, by William Faulkner
2. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
3. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
6. The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
7. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
8. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
9. Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor
10. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

Now, I'm as big a fan of Faulkner as anyone, but I don't think he deserves to get three of those coveted ten spaces--plus I'm not so sure I might not rank The Reivers ahead of the three on this list.

And there are several on here that are definitely not among my top ten. You cannot have a list of top Southern novels without A Confederacy of Dunces, The Yearling, Gone with the Wind, The Member of the Wedding, Fair and Tender Ladies, Walking Across Egypt, and something by Eudora Welty (though I can't decide which of hers I'd choose). Sorry, Oxford American; your list is a far cry from mine. Let's hear from some of the rest of you! What titles spring to mind when you think of quintessential Southern classics?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Season of Surviving

I know there are still hot days ahead, but yesterday morning, it was bliss to feel the first hint of fall in the air. I am ready for summer to end: it's been a season of sadness as I've watched many friends and family members suffer through serious illness, depression, divorce, death and, of course, economy-related hardships. Bad things happen to good people all the time, but it seems there's been an unfortunate abundance of that in recent months.

I've been accused more than once in my life of being a "Pollyanna," but is it really such a bad thing to find whatever shred of good exists in a situation? I don't call that naive or unrealistic; I call that surviving! Anyone who's lived more than a couple of decades figures out pretty quickly that life is unfair, that being a good person is no protection from bad luck and that, all too often, just when you think things can get no worse, they do. We often hang on to our sanity by a thread, and even the most devout among us can have moments of wavering faith in tough times.

So where do you go for help when life overwhelms? My salvation inevitably comes from words or music. A familiar hymn, a soothing piece by Vivaldi, a beautiful poem, escape into a novel . . . any of those can lift me out of despair and into--at least, momentary--peace. Case in point: yesterday was long and frustrating. My computer was in slow motion, there were a thousand loose ends still untied at the end of the day, my husband and I were at odds, assorted deadlines were looming, and I was malcontent and frazzled. While waiting for that infuriating computer to do what I needed, I picked up a book that arrived unexpectedly in yesterday's mail, a beautiful little chapbook called Carilee's House that contains fourteen poems by NC poet Lynne Santy Tanner. Within moments of reading the first poem, I felt my heart lift. It took another hour for the computer to finish what should have taken minutes, but I just kept reading between key clicks, and by the time I was finally able to shut down my electronic beast and head home, I was smiling. Not simply calmed down, but actually smiling!

Can poetry cure cancer? No. Can sonatas solve the problems of the world? No. Can viewing a breathtaking apricot sunset put money in your bank account? No. But all these remind us that, even in the midst of anguish, there is peace...that even in a cruel, ugly world, there is always something beautiful out there. And sometimes, that's all we need to know to be able to breathe again.

I can't make my childhood friend's cancer go away. I can't make my friend's son walk. I can't heal my girlfriend's marriage. I can't even take them a casserole; I'm too many states away. But I can pray that some song they hear on the radio, some passage they happen across in a magazine, some word offered up by a stranger will be the saving grace that helps them hang on for another day. And, oh, I am praying that fervently.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hit Me with Your Best Poem

Because I truly believe that people who think they hate poetry have just never crossed paths with the right poem, I took on the [possibly idiotic, ridiculously time-consuming, but] truly enjoyable task, two and a half months ago, of sharing a poem a day with the world at large. exists only to illustrate the vast diversity of the poetry genre. If you like poetry, check out the site to read both classic and contemporary work. If you don't like poetry, sign up for a month and see if you don't come across something that you like at least a little.

Getting in touch with poets to get permission to use their work is challenging. (Note to poets: you need a website!) Tracking down who owns the copyright to poems published 5-50 years ago is a nightmare. But connecting with poets, and talking with them about their work, is pure joy. And the biggest names have been some of the nicest to work with (isn't that so often the case?). Perhaps because the poets I feature write wonderful poetry--"reality" poetry that makes me laugh, makes me cry, touches my heart, fires up my brain--they are wonderful people to start with. I try to convince them to share a bit of themselves in their bio instead of giving me a laundry list of awards. Not that Pushcarts and NEA fellowships are anything to ignore, but I think it's much more interesting to know something about the poet than about his/her pedigree.

So, if you're a poet, I'd love to consider your work. Send your submission in the body of an e-mail to, along with copyright information, publication details if applicable, and an author bio of a hundred words or so.

And if you're a poetry lover--or, even better, a poetry hater--give a try, then let me know what you think.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hey! I'm on MSNBC!

Some weeks back, I got word that a reporter was looking for input from people who grew up in the 40s and 50s and lived to tell about it. You know, back in those BAD old days, before any of us knew the dangers of suntans, red meat, bicycles, cigarettes, hairspray, hard candy, and such. By all rights, we Boomers should be dead, according to today's health and safety standards. But I feel pretty good myself; how about you? I frankly think my childhood was a lot more fun than what kids today experience, so I wrote the reporter and shared some of my thoughts on that. Lo and behold, he used my comments! Who'da thought it? As it turns out, he didn't do much reporting (doesn't even use a byline; what writer lets that opportunity fall by the wayside?!); he just printed some of the responses he got. But, hey, I'll take my fifteen seconds of fame from whencever they come.

Mostly, I thought it would be fun to use this as a prompt for YOUR memories of "dangerous" living during your childhood days. I've heard my big sister talk about foot x-rays (that was before my time) and I loved my mother's tales of driving the family car to school when she was nine. (Nine?!) One of my own favorite activities--which is totally banned these days--was walking barefoot around town in the summer; it felt sooooo good to go from that hot sidewalk on Main Street onto the cool linoleum of Ben Franklin's Five and Dime or the smooth hardwood floors of my Daddy's Western Auto.

I'm as cautious as the next person, but I think sometimes we get carried away with all these rules and regulations, and I have to say, I think the motivation for all the hoopla is more often about profit than public safety. Several years back I read Myrna Blyth's fascinating book, Spin Sisters, which shares in great detail how the media--women's magazines, in particular--thrive on alarmist stories targeted at "power moms"--those of us who are 25-54 with at least one child at home. Blyth should know; she was editor of Ladies' Home Journal for years, and helped give birth to one of my favorite magazines, More. She readily confesses that she was as guilty as the rest in making us moms second guess our belief that our homes and families are safe. Blyth's need to come clean (or, perhaps, just her need to sell a book, but that's okay) resulted in a mesmerizing examination of how media preys on our insecurities and need for approval. If you haven't read Spin Sisters, go find a copy. It's well worth buying, and certainly deserving of a trip to the library.

In the meantime, I invite you to confess all the horrors your mother may have unwittingly exposed you to in your youth, and the appalling risks you may have taken. Roller skating with no kneepads? For shame! B-B guns? The very idea! Truly, it's a wonder any of us survived to have children of our own.

Here's the MSNBC article. Hope it brings back some happy memories; scroll down seven paragraphs and one ad: .

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From the Valley of the Jolly (HoHoHo) Jayne Giant!

Okay, that's corny; sorry. And if you're under 40, that title is just weird, not funny. Get over it; I'm celebrating: this week I ate my very first green bean harvest, planted from seeds by my own little nubby-fingernailed hands, watered and nurtured into a vigorous green vine, and it was sublime!

I was slow to grasp the joy of gardening. I blame this on my mother, who appointed me the Chief Picker-Upper of Rotting Grapefruit when I was a child. Since we lived in central Florida--which is where Satan lives when he leaves the underworld, seeing that central Florida is about the same temperature as the inferno he's used to--and since we had three massive grapefruit trees in our backyard, there was no shortage of rotting grapefruit. And, for all the aforementioned reasons, they were always crawling with the sort of vermin for which Florida is famous. No, not THAT kind of vermin. I'm talking the multi-legged, antennaed and winged kind of vermin. It's a wonder I even EAT grapefruit today, but I digress.

So despite the fact that I come from a long line of French vineyard owners, Alabama sharecroppers, and Florida farmers, I did not embrace my horticultural heritage until recently. I think it happened when bell peppers went to a dollar a piece. That is as obscene as fat white thighs in hot pants, and I decided right then and there that it was time to channel my inner Old McDonald and find a hoe that fit my hand. Let me be clear: there is no chance that my efforts in the garden are ever going to make any significant contribution toward ending world hunger; for every plant that survives my tender loving care, two succumb. Possibly three. (My sons would say ten, but they certainly never wander out to help, so what do they know?) In any case, it could be this dubious success record that makes me so giddy when I finally bring a plant to fruition. All I know is, it is BEYOND COOL to eat something that looks absolutely beautiful, is right-off-the-vine fresh, tastes amazing, and started out as nothing but a little tiny white (or black, or brown) speck.

I head toward my garden, kitchen shears in hand, wicker basket swinging on my arm, feeling like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm--noble, virtuous, at one with the universe. Probing gently through the phalanx of green, my fingers search for pay dirt: slender bean pods, shiny eggplants, plump tomatoes, tender squash. It's enough to make one turn vegetarian and, indeed, at the peak of summer's abundance, I can happily make a meal solely from garden treats.

The problem is that good gardening requires constant, vigilant, repeated attention--a trait for which I am most assuredly not known. I tend to get excited at the beginning and the end of projects, sort of losing interest in the middle. Thus my garden is rarely the orderly thing of beauty I wish it to be. I envision neatly coiffed vines and uniformly round shrubs sprouting from symmetrical rows of raised beds...whimsical art and beckoning benches scattered along well-groomed paths...a trellis awash in morning glories offering cool shade in a quiet corner. Ah, well. For that, I fear hired help may be necessary, and I don't see a Garden Boy in my budget anytime soon. So I shall have to be content with the occasional exciting harvest, plants that survive only through the grace of God and Mother Nature, rose-colored glasses that don't see weeds where watermelons should be, and the very precious gift of positive thinking. Surely the faucets of my gene pool will gush forth sooner or later; in the meantime, the memory of my green beans is delicious.

Monday, June 8, 2009

She Thinks I'm Fabulous!

Some time back, I received a note from Fabulous Poet Brenda Kay Ledford that she was awarding me a "Fabulous Blog Award." I was highly honored, but it's taken me till now to get the announcement on here. (Let's just say I'm much more gifted with words than I am with technology.) Now, in keeping with the rules of the award, I shall first confess my Five Fabulous Addictions--poetry, the Blue Ridge Mountains, old movies, good books, and the fabulous board game, Carcassonne--and then announce my nominees for the Fabulous Blog Award. Check them out!

1. Steven Givler Online - Steven is a poet, artist (his watercolor shown here), and Air Force major (how's that for a triple threat?!). His blogs are a blend of travelogue, art gallery, and inspiration. Steven's love for his family and his country give his comments a special poignancy; his wit and penchant for odd adventures add a little kick.

2. Getting Boys to Read - A website that functions as a blog, Getting Boys to Read is a wonderful resource chockful of tips and titles targeted specifically at reluctant readers--all too often who happen to be boys. The bloggers include writers, teachers, librarians, and parents who have first hand, hands on experience with this problem. Great suggestions and a noble cause!

3. The US Report - Written by veteran journalist Kay Day, this reactive commentary is razor sharp. Even if you disagree with her politics, you have to admire her writing, which is crisp as a just-plucked field pea. Bonus: great photographs (the baby bird is her handiwork) and the occasional amusing anecdote about Florida critters.

4. A Good Blog is Hard to Find - I'm not sure where else you could find such a broad cross-section of author commentary. Some forty Southern writers share insights, inspiration, and occasional intrigue in this site started a few years back by novelist Karin Gillespie. Definitely worth a bookmark!

5. Pub Rants - Literary agent Kristin Nelson provides an insider's assessment of what's happening in the publishing world. Helpful hints, occasional critiques, valuable opinion, hard statistics, and a little humor...all without attitude.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wanna Change Someone's Life?

I love the way serendipity works--and it works especially well on the Internet. You're searching for one thing, which leads you to another thing, and then another, and suddenly you stumble across something totally unrelated that turns out to be wonderful.

Here's something wonderful that has the power--literally--to change a person's life. I will spare you the details (although I will put links at the end of this post so you can read said details if you like) and give you the summary: a library in the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall System is trying to acquire books so that 300 incarcerated young men, aged 12-18, who have signed up for voluntary writing classes, will have something to read. A Wish List of approved paperbacks has been set up through an independent bookstore. There are 2700 adolescent boys locked up in the L.A. County juvenile system, so the hope is that many more than this initial 300 will take advantage of the library.

I'd like to suggest you give up a latte or two this week and participate in this "Book Fair for Boys." Even with shipping, most titles will cost you less than $10 or $15, and that small investment will be used over and over and over again to introduce young men to the power of words, to the awareness that somebody cares, to the idea that there just might be a better path for them to pursue, to the realization that the power to change their life lies literally within their hands.

Think about the impact books have made on your life, then think about the impact you can have on a teenage boy who still has time to make a choice about what he does with his life. Then:

  1. Go to, click on Wish List at the top right corner of the page, and enter in the space provided. Click on "Guys Lit Wire" and it will take you to the approved Wish List.
  2. Select the book you'd like to send and follow the prompts to put it in your shopping cart and check out. You'll recognize many of the titles; it's a good mix of classic and contemporary books in multiples genres. Some of the boys read at age level and beyond; others are still at picture book level. The Wish List was compiled with an eye toward building the foundation of a library that can offer boys something of interest at every reading level.
  3. Enter this for the shipping address:
Eve Porinchak
5850 Brookline Lane
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

You can add a gift card at no extra charge.

I sent Sheep, a book by Valerie Hobbs for middle grade readers, about a border collie looking for love and purpose to help him find his way. I hope its pages get worn completely out.

Read more about this project:
Guys Lit Wire - The group that initially decided to help the library acquire books. GLW is a blog maintained by a group of librarians, teachers, and writers that suggests great books for guys.
Inside Out Writers - The group sponsoring the writing classes for the L.A. County juvenile system. IOW is a nonprofit organization that utilizes volunteer teachers and writers to help juvenile offenders express themselves through writing and reading their work in a nonjudgemental environment.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Interview on Write On! Online

Thanks to Debra Eckerling and her Write On! Online support group for probing into what makes me tick...or, rather, this special Mother's Day interview.

I am NOT writing this weekend; I'm bookfesting at the Blue Ridge Book & Author Showcase tomorrow, then spending Sunday frolicking with my big, brawny boys. Had hoped to go for a hike in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, but my right knee feels like someone wrenched it in opposite directions, so I'm thinking that's probably not a good plan. Instead, I'm settling for stuffed French toast at IHOP after church, then a lively afternoon at Hollywild. (Please, God, can we have just three hours of sunshine?) I know there are people who think keeping animals in captivity is immoral, but if I were a beast, I think I'd take three squares a day, a roof over my head, free medical care, and ongoing adulation over struggling to stay alive in some steamy jungle any day of the week!

Speaking of beasts in captivity, have you seen that news show on TV of elephants who paint? Here's a YouTube video, and here's a post with some additional information. I swear the elephants seem to be enjoying themselves--and given that their previous job was dragging logs around a Thai forest, I imagine they are! Elephants are like gorillas to me, in that they have eyes that seem to reflect great emotional depth and intellect; I have no problem imagining them being very much aware and appreciative of the aesthetics of their surroundings.

To mamas everywhere--be you elephant, gorilla, human, or otherwise, have a wonderful weekend. A loving mother is the greatest advantage a child can ever have, so if your mama is still around, tell her how much you appreciate her...and carpe matriarch!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

If You Were 18 again...

...what would YOU want for graduation? Inquiring minds want to know! Seems like there's a bumper crop of high school graduates this year; all us middle-aged mamas are wondering what to give to honor the occasion. Yes, we know cash is always nice, but that's sooooo not creative. And, yes, we know the latest/greatest techno toy would be welcome, but that's soooo not affordable! Most of us who graduated in the 60s and 70s received baby doll pajamas (remember those? my big sister got 22 pairs!); I'm thinking that may not be on the Top Ten list for today's grads.

So tell me: what's the coolest graduation gift you got? Speak up! Only a few more shopping days!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Farewell, April

So sad to see Poetry Month come to an end. But this year, the adventure will continue! Fans of my annual event, Wordwoman's Scintillating Springtime Parade of Poetry, have convinced me to continue my work as a poetry missionary through a new venture called "Your Daily Poem." Still working out the kinks, but stay tuned for details. Good times--and good words--ahead!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fun Stuff to Share

Dogwood, azaleas, half a month of Poetry Month still to go, my garden underway; can life get any better? Well, having my oven AND microwave not die on the same day would be an improvement, but why whine about the petty stuff?

Let's focus on the positive: here are links I've come across recently that I simply must share. The first is a video of a "grammar rap" by two sisters who have had it up to HERE with erroneous use of the English language. Teachers, you'll never find a funnier way to fuss about bad grammar.

And this is a provocative essay from a choreographer with a clever idea for Wall Street to consider--exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that makes artists so invaluable to society.

So what's your idea for making the world a better place this week?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Smitten by Spring

If God was going for perfection today, He achieved it. Perfect temperature, perfect sky, perfectly beautiful everywhere I looked! I spent my lunch hour outside in the sun, sitting beside the Peace Center waterfall and a flowering cherry tree, its pinky-white petals trickling all around me in a delightful spring "snow." I had a club sandwich from my friend's restaurant, the Hot Dog King (open for business again and looking great, with new 11-7/Mon.-Sat. hours, and new menu items underway; Greenvillians, gotta support the HDK!), Pamela Duncan's wonderful book Moon Women (Pamela is now up there with Lorna Landvik as my favorite author of women's fiction), and a half hour all to myself to sit there like a happy lizard lazing in the luxuriousness of it all. To top it all off, my Poetry Parade spectators loved today's poem from John Stanizzi. (I knew you would.) And I'm three for three in my efforts to meet Robert Brewer's write-a-poem-a-day challenge for National Poetry Month. Yay, me! Yay, poetry! Yay, spring! (Yay for all these blessings that helped me get past the fact that both my oven AND my microwave bit the dust last night. We don't realize how spoiled we are till our modern conveniences cease to function; life with no microwave is HARD!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Today, a UPS Man. Tomorrow, a Spider

I am nothing if not diverse in the array of poems I showcase in my Poetry Parade. Today's selection was from Maine poet Alice Persons--an ode to her U.P.S. delivery guy that was particularly enjoyable for those of us who saw "Legally Blonde: The Musical" at the Peace Center last week! Tomorrow's poem is Walt Whitman's "The Noiseless, Patient Spider," and truly, does that not describe spiders to a tee? They're the most silent little critters there are--especially the long-legged, big daddy types. Good poetry does that: it ratchets down your focus to those miniscule, magnified details, then sums it all up in a handful of perfect words.

Coming up in the parade is a heartbreaker from Ellen Bass about marrying off your daughter, John Stanizzi's beautiful love poem "Cardinals," and a poem from a student at Harvard that put the U.S. Navy on notice. Don't miss the fun! Sign up at

Oh, the Excitement! It's Poetry Month!

I do believe the anticipation of National Poetry Month is almost as thrilling as Christmas Eve--for me, at least. If you're not a lover of poetry, you might fail to appreciate the thought of thirty days of intense exposure to an art form that's been around since Hector was a pup, to borrow an old Southern expression. I read poetry all the time anyway. I write it for a living. (Well, sort of. The number of poets since the beginning of time who've made a living at it can likely be counted on one hand.) But in April, I read LOTS of poetry. I go in search of new poets. I look up old favorites I've ignored. I go off on poetry treasure hunts, tracking down sources of snippets that sound enticing. I even write more poetry; this year, I'm hoping to rise to the challenge of Robert Brewer's poem-a-day taunt. (Care to join me?)

I poet a lot more than I blog, because if I manage to find time to write, it seems logical to me to spend it on that which brings me the most pleasure (not to mention, occasional income). But this month, I can blog about poetry--with no remorse and to my heart's content--so you'll find more from me in this space for the next thirty days. Drop in often. Share your thoughts. Leave a favorite poem. Sing the praises of your favorite poet. And if you don't have a favorite poet, this is the month to find one--and I'll be happy to help. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Words, Take Me Away!

Forget bath salts. When I want to be whisked away from reality (as I do this afternoon!), nothing offers a speedier getaway than books--specifically, novels. I enjoy reading nonfiction, too, but when things like dwindling assets, piles of paperwork, an overloaded to-do list (isn't it always?!), and sundry undone-and-impending tasks are pecking at my brain like angry bluejays, it's to fiction that I fly.

At the moment I'm reading Pamela Duncan's Plant Life, and while Laurel Granger's life makes my mine look positively serene (even in my current duress!), the Carolina surroundings soothe me and and the family banter makes me smile. But I'm no Southern snob: Lorna Landvik's Minnesota settings lift my spirits, too. In fact, I hate to see Landvik's novels end; even though her plots are typically contemporary and realistic, they transport me far away from my own reality and into a "happy place" in my brain that is truly divine.

Words have done that for me since I first discovered the joy of the alphabet at age four. There is simply no level of fatigue, despair, or frustration that can't be held at bay by a good tale. Most recently, I've fallen under the spell of old "Gunsmoke" radio shows. Good/evil, black/white, love your horse/punish the gunslinger...what a blissfully simple code of ethics! Makes me wonder in these turbulent times (and would we feel quite so turbulent if we stopped reading and listening to the media?) if we wouldn't all benefit from a daily dose of Fannie Flagg or Carl Hiaasen (now THERE's diversity for you!). I'm thinking we'd sleep better at night if a novelist had the last word instead of a newscaster.

Just a thought.

All I know is I can't WAIT to get home and see what happens next at the plant in Russell...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Go, Joanie! Go, Joanie!

In my newsletter last month (if you're not subscribed, click here; I'd love to have you!), I challenged my readers to "STREAMLINE in 2009!" The world's most angelic author, Joan Wester Anderson, wins the prize for being first to report her STREAMLINE success, and her response was so entertaining, I just have to share it with you:

"Jayne, congratulations on your goal to streamline! I have already started. I took a look at my “storage room” and wondered---if I died, who would ever come in here and try to sort this out? Would that be fair? Me romping through the hills of heaven, carefree and joyful, while someone here tries to find my password for myspace…

So I started with the most important thing: finding all my book contracts and making a folder for each one. Next came p.r. stuff written about me. Oh, it hurts the ego to toss all that, but is anyone really going to ask for a clip about a book that is out of print?

I modestly proclaim that after a week-and-a-half of FULLTIME work, I have only the top of my desk left to organize. Jayne, I feel as if I personally have lost at least 20 pounds, which translates into a ton or so of tossed papers! I have completely eliminated one, huge, two-drawer file cabinet, and I think I know where most important things are now (or at least what section of the room they may be hiding in.) "

She signed off with a wish that "I hope this is the year you discover what color your office rug is."

Me, too, Joan; me, too! Congratulations on your "weight loss" and thanks for inspiring the rest of us to get ON with our streamlining tasks!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Would Tony Take a Toke?

Here we go again. In the middle of the new administration's efforts to bring us all together, we are once more ripped asunder--sheep and goats, yay and nay, tomato/tomahto, and so forth. I refer to the Kellogg/Michael Phelps debacle, in which swimmer Michael Phelps--he of the Olympic hero status prior to being caught on camera smoking pot--has been fired as a poster boy for Kellogg's cereals. Some say Phelps deserved to be fired; some say Kellogg overreacted.

As a parent, I respect the Kellogg Company for taking action to protect their brand and reputation. I think they did EXACTLY the right thing. I don't care how many medals someone wins; if they commit illegal acts and show poor judgement, I do not want them held up as a role model for my child. (I'm not thrilled that someone who openly admits using cocaine made it into the White House, either, but that's a whole other issue.)

And while I'm offending people, let's drag Martin Luther King into the fray as well--and JFK, and others whom we all know but I don't want to waste the space to list. Why is it we sing the praises of people who consistently--and, often, publicly--practice bad behavior and bad judgement? Yes, they did good things, but they did them while cheating on their wives, or breaking laws, or violating a code of ethics! Hello?!?!?!? Anyone know the term 'moral integrity?' Do we have no outstanding Civil Rights leaders, no prominent politicians, no public servants who have achieved great things for their country while keeping their pants up and their hand out of the till? Why aren't they our heroes?

Back to the issue at hand, SURELY there are Olympic heroes out there who are just as noble, just as handsome, and just as charming, who are not off doing drugs when they're out of the limelight. Let's put THEM on the cover of the cereal boxes! They're playing by the rules! They deserve our admiration and esteem!

Perhaps I'm naive. There is, after all, that truism that power corrupts and celebrity ruins. Perhaps there are no pure heroes. (Mighty Mouse, where are you?) But this seems to me like when people shake their heads and talk about how horrible teenagers are. I know lots of wonderful teenagers, and only a few horrible ones. But the wonderful ones get overlooked because they're home doing their homework, or at church playing basketball, or at Scout meetings working on projects, instead of out in the street making news.

I'm mixing a lot of issues here, but the point is the same: we (and who is 'we?" the media? you? certainly not me!) keep lowering our standards about what's acceptable. But, to borrow one of my all-time favorite quotes about housekeeping standards, how low can we go? I'm constantly shocked by what I hear on TV and radio, stunned by behavior that people in the public eye display and get away with. I see the expectations for every new generation slipping down one rung after another on the proprietary ladder of life, and it infuriates me that those of us who find this disturbing are viewed as ultraconservative or uncool.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone about O.J. Simpson, who had all he needed to be one of America's great heroes. Instead, his life turned into one bad decision after another. One hopes that Michael Phelps' lapse in judgement is a singular incident, but whether it is or not, he has lost the right to call himself a hero. And with the fall from grace goes the privilege of standing arm in arm with Tony the Tiger--this time, at least.
Come on, middle America: if we can't raise the bar, let's at least grab hold and keep it in place.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Continuing the Debate...

Many have commented, both here and via e-mail, on my blog about inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander. Several expressed an interest in reading the poem she created for Obama's big day; thanks to, now you can. Here is "Praise Song for the Day."

To me, Alexander's poem has a sort of Sandburg-ish air--a simple, everyman (everywoman?) accounting of our diversity that slowly leads us, line by line, toward unification--much like the new president's professed goal for our country. And in keeping with this administration's sunny attitude (Obama's "pick yourself up, dust yourself off..." speech cracks me up every time I hear it replayed; am I the only person who wants to jump in with "...and start all over agaaaaaaain!" a la the Jerome Kern golden oldie?), Alexander's happy ending sits well. Critics don't like happy endings, and they don't like simplicity, which is, I'm sure, part of the reason this inaugural poet rankled. Too bad; in my opinion, her words fit the moment. Sometimes, passion matters more than posterity.

My favorite line in the poem is "we encounter each other in words...spiny or smooth." When I talk to young writers, I stress the importance--and joy!--in poetry of finding the exact, absolute, best choice among a word's sundry synonyms. Of all the possibilities Alexander could have used to reference the ugly invectives* and taunts we humans hurl at one another, "spiny" is an intriguing choice--not an adjective typically applied to verbal assaults, but quite apropos, don't you think?

One hopes Ms. Alexander's hide is thick enough to ward off the many spiny words that have come her way these recent weeks, and that she has gotten wind of the smooth ones sent forth from those who found her contribution quite cogent.
*Invective? Invectives? What's your opinion?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Poetry

I don't do politics, but Obama won points with me a few weeks back when he announced that his friend, Elizabeth Alexander, would be reading a poem at his inauguration. I was unfamiliar with Alexander, so I did some research and tracked down a bit of her work. A Yale professor, Alexander is hardly a household name, but one of her five books of poetry was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and she has earned both NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. More significantly, she is a personal friend of our new commander-in-chief. My reaction to news of her commission was, "How neat for Obama to have a poet friend who can share in his celebration," along with my general delight that he chose to make poetry a part of this always (and, especially, this one) auspicious occasion.

Pickier powers than I, however, were not impressed. Staff writer George Packer voiced his disdain for Obama's choice in a recent online issue of the New Yorker. His dismissal of Alexander's work as "general," "self-consciously academic," and unlikely to "read well before an audience of millions" invoked the ire of Minneapolis poet and writer Terri Ford, who is the daughter of a good friend of my sister's. Had Terri's indignant response not been published, I would never have seen Packer's original comments; with my limited discretionary time, I choose to read poetry rather than the New Yorker. But because Terri's mother shared her daughter's fifteen minutes of fame with my sister, and because my sister sends all poetry-related things she encounters my way (bless her), I'm now annoyed with the guy myself.

According to Mr. Packer (who is not a poet, by the way), American poetry is "written by few by few people...and lacking the language, rhythm, emotion, and thought that could move large numbers of people in large public settings." Wow, tell us how you really feel. It's true enough that the audience for poetry is small; it is, however, significantly larger than it has been in many years. There is renewed, growing interest in poetry and, on any given day in major cities, one can very probably find at least one poetry event. The assertion that poetry is written by few people is blatantly false. Half the planet writes poetry--most of it bad. One is often, in fact, reluctant to admit to being a published poet because of the likelihood of being assaulted by unpublished (and justifiably so) poets in search of validation and encouragement.

But it is Packer's declaration that, on the rare occasion when poetry has been included in an inaugural celebration, it is because "the incoming President seemed to be claiming more for his arrival than he deserved, and to be doing it by pretending that poetry means more in American life than, alas, it does," that really peeved my participles. Perhaps those presidents who choose to include an inaugural poem have more culture than the rest--or greater grasp of decorum, or a better feel for posterity, or perhaps they simply had a fabulous English teacher who taught them to enjoy and appreciate poetry! The suggestion that an inaugural poem represents pomposity and is insignificant is both fatuous and insulting. Surely after the hours upon HOURS of campaign rhetoric we have endured, even a marginally entertaining poem is a welcome change and a fair reward for those of us who revere the power and beauty of the English language.

Packer has apologized for his remarks about Ms. Alexander, but his labeling of multiple generations of American poets as unskilled and uninspiring still stands. Gee, Packer, maybe you should broaden your reading material, because there's actually a fair amount of superb and stirring poetry out there. Could be that most poets have stopped wasting their time submitting to the New Yorker; onslaught, anyone?