Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Turkeys and Timing and True Love

So I go to pick up my bowl of butternut squash soup at the Cherrydale Atlanta Bread Company Thursday night and I look down and there is a TURKEY in my soup: an adorable, hilarious, most unexpected, and completely delightful outline of a turkey drawn (somehow?!) with sour cream. I laughed out loud and Charise Carroll, 19-year-old aspiring gourmet chef, peeked at me from behind the counter and, eyes twinkling, asked, "You like it?"

Let's just say good food surprises are a rare thing. I liked it so much that I invited Charise to come sit with my friend Angie and me and tell me what inspired her to make my supper so much fun. Turns out that the lovely Charise is one of ABC's bakers and is studying culinary arts at Greenville Tech with the hope of making a career out of food one of these days. "I really love baking," she confessed, and told us how she grew up making masterpieces in the kitchen with her mom and siblings. Creme brulee is one of her specialties, as are desserts in general. Working at Atlanta Bread Company lets her put that passion to good use while she studies her craft; she likes to let her talent and creativity shine wherever it can.

I don't know that this sparkly, wholesome, beautiful teenager decorates everyone's bowl of soup; I think maybe I got lucky because Charise happened to be in a very good mood that day. You see, her boyfriend of two years had just asked her to marry him; they're planning a Fall 2011 wedding and, yes, she's thinking about making the wedding cake and, yes, she was pretty much on Cloud 9.

Interesting that on a day when I'd read a disturbing article about how four in ten people now consider marriage obsolete, and at a time when positive role models for young girls seem all but nonexistent, I meet this charming young woman with a firm faith, strong values, who calls her mother "my best friend," and is giving 100+% at her job while studying for her degree and planning carefully for her life with the man she loves.

I've been sleeping better ever since; all is still right in at least part of the world. If you want proof, drop by the Cherrydale ABC and say hello to Charise.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You're Never Too Old to Learn

I just returned from a week of teaching writing at the John Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. The experience was everything I anticipated it would be, and more. Set in the lush, untarnished mountains of Clay County, the folk school draws a hundred or so eager adult learners each week who are housed, fed, and trained in sundry subjects from basketry and blacksmithing to shoemaking and woodworking. Now in its 85th year, JCFS is based on the Danish folk school concept of education without competition. John and Olive Campbell, who devoted most of their lives to exploring, recording, and improving the quality of life in Appalachia, worked for years to establish this unique school, and Olive Campbell worked hand in hand with the residents of Brasstown to bring her husband's dream to life.

Simply put, you need to go. We adults get so far removed from the joy of learning once we trade classrooms for paychecks that we forget what fun it is. Or perhaps classroom learning was never that fun for you. At John Campbell Folk School, the fun begins when you start flipping pages in their catalog or poring over class descriptions online. It continues day after day during week-long or weekend sessions that will have you laughing out loud as you send wood shavings shooting in all directions, hammer red-hot iron into submission, coerce recognizable tunes from a handmade banjo, turn mud into art, or words into poetry. Someone I sat with at lunch one day (the food, by the way, is amazing) said, "This is like summer camp for grown-ups," and it is--except classes are taught year-round. I'm thinking summer camp in the fall or winter might be even more fun; colored leaves or falling snow would only add to the beauty and magic.

John Campbell Folk School is not a cheap thrill, unfortunately, though they do offer occasional and various discounts. Given that housing, three homecooked and delicious meals a day, your daily classes, and a fair amount of entertainment and activities are included in the fee, it's not as expensive as it sounds. Just think of it as a more wholesome alternative to a week at DisneyWorld!

All I know is, I can't wait to go back. From the local honey I found my first day there, to the bluegrass concert the night before I left, it was the most enjoyable week I've had in a long time. I urge you to check it out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Meanwhile, Creativity Lives!

In case you didn't catch the story about eight-year-old Kieron Williamson, who is dazzling England (his home country) and the rest of the world with his Monet-like paintings, here's the link--proof positive that creativity is alive and well, at least in this little boy! The loveliest aspect of Kieron's story is his parents' concern about keeping his life as normal as possible. They don't want to deny his talent, but neither do they want to see him exploited. Sounds like Kieron is blessed to be in that ideal environment for nurturing creativity: a strong, stable home with supportive parents, access to plenty of tools and supplies to enable his artistic interest, and a good balance of encouragement for his painting but also for other activities.

The truth is, most of us are creative beings if given the opportunity. Our talent may not manifest itself at such an early age as Kieron's has--Grandma Moses was almost eighty when she first picked up a paintbrush--but it's probably there, just waiting for a nudge. In these last few days before school starts, why not take your mind off this ridiculous, energy-sapping heat by launching a "Creativity Camp" at your house? Ask each family member to pick something creative they'd like to do, or come up with a group activity. Gather the necessary tools, declare a temporary moratorium on chores, and let those creative juices flow!
Remember that creativity does not have to be expensive; in fact, brainstorming to come up with alternative, inexpensive supplies could be your most creative act! I remember one summer when my sons occupied themselves for days building a tee-pee in their grandmother's back yard out of fallen sticks and branches and weeds. They had a blast and were justifiably proud of a very fine-looking --and even functional!--structure.
Even if there's just one of you at your house, give yourself permission this weekend to indulge your inner painter, writer, musician, gardener, builder, seamstress, chef, actress, sculptor, filmmaker, photographer, get the picture. Take Kieron Williamson's advice-- "Never give up. Try and keep your buildings straight. And don't do a plain blue sky" --and you might discover a side of yourself you never knew existed!

Photo of Kieron Williamson and his painting are copyrighted by Albanpix.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Here's What Creativity Does

In my Summer 2010 newsletter (read it here), I address a recent pronouncement that American creativity is waning. As someone who holds creativity sacred and considers it infinitely closer to godliness than cleanliness will ever be, this is sad and scary news.

How do we fix this sad place we've come to be--a place where multiple generations have been raised without knowing the dignity of meaningful work, the pride of owning a home, or a stable family environment that provides the love, discipline, and encouragement essential for adult independence and success? And as this recession stretches on, once-stable middle class families are now trying to keep their heads above water as the tide of job layoffs, rising tuition, exploitive media, $5 a gallon milk and eroding ethical standards threatens to suffocate the American dream once and for all.

If ever we needed creative minds, it is now. And so it is with much pleasure that I point you to a story about two young women who have come up with an invention that may revolutionize health care in underdeveloped countries. What a perfect example of why corporations and Washington decision-makers should make rewarding ingenuity a major line item in their budgets! Why aren't automakers working with colleges and universities to offer a million dollar prize to the student who comes up with the best alternative fuel vehicle? Why doesn't the FDA sponsor an annual contest to encourage innovation in food packaging or crop management? Every time I sit at a red light watching a hundred cars idling while not a single car passes in the cross street, I think surely technology that can let us launch bombs in Afghanistan from a building in Nevada can make our traffic lights traffic-responsive. Somewhere out there is a young mind capable of solving this problem; I just hope its owner got breakfast this morning.

So, tell me: what do we need to do to prevent America from losing its creative edge? How do we foster a more encouraging environment for our children in these turbulent times?

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

If Moms Ruled the Airwaves...

Okay, so some moms are Sharon Osborne and some are June Cleaver. Still, you have to think TV might be more worth watching if there were more moms at the helm. Better language, better plots, a lot fewer interruptions, and a lot less wasted time.

Let me introduce you to my friend Leslie Owens, who wants to claim her 15 minutes (well, she'd prefer 13 weeks!) of fame. Leslie took advantage of a recent opportunity offered by Oprah to plead her case for hosting a talk show on Oprah's forthcoming new TV network. She sent in an audition tape describing why Oprah should give her a show and is now hoping she'll get that chance.

Leslie lives in Greenville, SC, is married to one of the world's truly great men, and has one of the world's cutest little boys. She's pretty, perky, smart, funny, knows what it's like to balance family and work, is kind to her fellow man, and wants to make the world a better place for her child. Now, really, what more could you WANT in a talk show host?! I'm thinking she could take on Jon Stewart, Bill O'Reilly, and Jay Leno and never break a sweat.

In Leslie's words, however, she's "about five million votes behind," with less than a week of voting to go. I don't think I know five million people but, hey, with a little loaves-and-fishes magic, anything can happen, so I thought if I told you about Leslie, you might be willing to vote for this All American Mom and ask your friends to vote for her, too, because, gee, wouldn't it be nice to have at least ONE hour a day when you don't have to worry if the TV's on while your kids--or YOUR mom!--are in the room?

I asked Leslie to share some of the ideas she has for her show:

Why do you think you'd be successful as a TV talk show hostess?
Because I am passionate about creating a better world for my son and I know every other mom feels the same way about their child. Can you believe there is not already a show for us? Plus I can ‘get my blab on’ with anyone and have a great time in front of the camera. I want to create a show that is educational and interesting and gives every mom a much needed break and a treat just for her--so she can say, “Everyone leave Mommy alone for a little while; I'm going to watch my show!”

Who would you have as your first guest if Oprah's new network gives you your own talk show? Sandra Bullock - she is a new single mom with lots of challenges.

Your video references going into moms' homes to help out with "honey don't" lists. What kinds of tasks do you envision doing?
Organizing areas for book bags, coats, bikes, toys, play rooms, etc.
Cleaning up the garage, backyard or spare room for a safe play area.
Changing fixtures, curtains, bedding, or painting mom's bed/bathroom to help make her space special!

Taking a deserving mom out for a new outfit and arranging a night out on the town for her.

What other regular "features" do you think you might have on your show? I have a million show ideas because, as a mom, you need help with pregnancy, toddlers, teenagers, and it goes on and on. More importantly, my show is about finding out what other moms need help with right now!

I would like to work with the National Center for Missing & Exploited children and feature a missing child on every show. I would also like to have moms send in nanny-cam videos showcasing exceptional and inexcusable child care provider behavior.

Name six people you'd love to interview on your show.
Michele Obama
Jenny McCarthy
Brooke Shields
Katie Holmes
Beth Holloway
Casey Anthony

The moms of the show "Modern Family:"
Sofia Vergara – Gloria
Julie Bowen – Claire
Jesse Tyler Fergusan – Mitchell
Eric Stonestreet - Cam

Here's Leslie's audition tape. Click on the green "VOTE" button to help her out. And if you'd like to throw your hat in the ring to "get your blab on," as Leslie so colorfully puts it, there's information to the right of Leslie's video with details about upcoming casting calls and how to send in an audition tape.
Here's to moms making the world--or, at least, the airwaves!--a better place!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Summer: Dive In to a Refreshing Pool of Words!

It's long been confirmed that I'm a little different. This time of year, that becomes readily apparent when everyone else is carting around the Beach Read of the Week and I'm buried in War and Peace or some such lofty tome. I chalk it up to having been an English major: there are so many classics, and so little time, that I just couldn't get through them all! So here I am, x number of years later (no need to dwell on that number), still reading classics. And I read them during the summer, when the pace is slower, so that I can sit on my porch with a glass of ice-cold, sweet tea and savor every word. (Oh, don't I wish it were so!) No, the truth is, I read wherever and whenever I can sandwich it in between the routine tasks of being a working writer, wife, and mother; sometimes, there's a glass of tea and a comfy chair involved but, more often, it's a bed and a pillow!

In any case, my first choice this summer is Eudora Welty's entire collection of short stories. I've read many already, of course, but I'm looking forward to reading the whole body of work, chronologically. Eudora Welty has always reminded me of my Aunt Eula, a feisty, fabulous woman who raised five of her seven brothers, made a career out of being a Pink Lady, could as easily have been a movie star as a drill sergeant, and made the speed of light look downright lethargic. Miss Welty's words flow with a staccato urgency whether you read them in your head or aloud; she does not dawdle in her tale-telling and her characters brook no nonsense. Those sharp-tongued domestic mavens, slightly off-kilter curmudgeons, and endearing innocents are people I have known all my life, for better or worse, and I love them before I even know them (one of the South's best qualities: we love you even if we do know you!).

I figure it will take me a couple of weeks to get through the entire collection, maybe three if I get distracted along the way (I have a bad habit of reading several books at the same time). I'll report back and perhaps we can chat about some specific stories.

Meanwhile, what's on your reading list this summer?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Check Out This Fun Family Film

Just watched a thoroughly delightful movie made in 1936 called "Pennies from Heaven," starring Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Madge Evans, and child actress Edith Fellows. Fellows' acting was so impressive that I went online looking for information about her and discovered this sad, but ultimately inspiring, story:,,20089371,00.html

I'm eager now to see more of Fellows' work; I found her utterly charming and her acting--in this film, at least--to be much more natural than that of most child stars. (Of course, maybe she just clicked with the wonderful Mr. Crosby!) She does no cutesy mugging for the camera; her facial expressions in her close-up scenes with Bing are understated and impressive.

I love old movies, and Bing Crosby is one of my favorite actors, but "Pennies from Heaven" is notable because of its spunk, lack of sentimentality, and clever staging of a "haunted" restaurant. Children from 5-12 will find this highly entertaining. Get your hands on a copy and get out the popcorn!
NOTE: There is a 1978 mini-series with Bob Hoskins and Christopher Walken and a 1981 film with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters called "Pennies from Heaven." Totally different plot, and definitely not family-friendly!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Farewell to the 2010 Poetry Parade

And so this year's Poetry Parade comes to an end. If you've enjoyed reading a poem a day during National Poetry Month, I invite you to continue the fun by subscribing to Your Daily Poem, where you'll get some behind-the-scenes commentary along with each day's poem. You might also want to follow my occasional poetry-related posts at Twitter.

For now, though, here's the final poem of Wordwoman's Scintillating Springtime Parade of Poetry 2010; it's been a blast!

The Reading Mother
Strickland Gillilan

I had a Mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings--
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be--
I had a Mother who read to me.
See more here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pubescent Swan Song

It's true: I do not have daughters--which made me awfully hesitant to write a book about them. My publisher thought it should be a piece of cake: I'm a daughter...I had a mother...what was the big deal?

In any case, I didn't need a daughter to write this poem; anyone who has ever been an adolescent girl remembers those roller-coaster days in vivid detail. This seemed a good choice to juxtapose against yesterday's cotillion chronicle--sort of a "prequel," if you will.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 29

Ode to a Young Girl's Metamorphosis
Jayne Jaudon Ferrer

It's what they call "the awkward stage"--
that purgatory before hormones rage,
when everything's sprouting except self-esteem,
(which is hurtling downhill with a full head of steam).
Your hair's stupid, you say; you feel weird in your clothes.
You're too old for socks; you're too young for hose.
If only your body could spin a cocoon--
a safe place to hide till you feel more in tune
with all of the havoc that Nature hath wrought.
(And emerging a beauty? Now there's a nice thought!)
The best news I have is that when this has passed,
you'll stop seeing yourself as a social outcast
and rise like a phoenix from hormonal ashes
to straighten your shoulders and flutter your lashes.
The new you will light up your old mise-en-scénes
like bright morning sun lights up cold, dreary dawn.
So be patient, my dear! It won't be very long
till the "you" you don't like gets to sing her swan song.

From Dancing with My Daughter: Poems of Love, Wisdom & Dreams (Loyola Press)
Used here with the author's permission.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

One, Two, Three...One, Two, Three

I don't have daughters (more on that tomorrow) and I came from a town too small to do the debutante thing; still, I did my best to convince my sons they should take a class in ballroom dancing and social graces. Let's just say that didn't happen. I'm one of those people who thinks you should be prepared for any occasion--and just because they've gotten this far in life without being called upon to "dip and glide," as Janice puts it, doesn't mean the need won't yet arise!

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 28

First Cotillion
Janice Moore Fuller

Behind us, balloons drunk
with helium waltz together
as light on their feet as Arthur Murray.
Beaded curtains sway invitations
to the foxtrot, the tango,
and a fan turns the air
like the perfect dance partner.
Everything says we are ready.
Everything says this is what
we have waited for
all those nights our pillow
partners held us to them,
barely touching our waists,
leading us among phantom
couples who dip and glide,
fluid and seamless.
But tonight the boys stand like bayonets,
planted together, angled apart, arms crossed.
Their white Oxford shirts
battened down, starched stiff
as the box steps they strain to remember.
They inspect the wall, the ceiling,
the parquet dance floor
for patent leather mines
waiting to detonate at each misstep.
Who knows, after all,
where danger might lurk,
the crinoline skirt, the anklet sock
its lacy edge only half folded down.

From Sex Education (Iris Press, 2004)
Used with the author's permission.

Read more about Janice here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Intrigue or perfection? You choose.

Okay, so perfectly manicured lawns have their place, but doesn't the grass Janice describes here make you want to find a blanket and a picnic basket and spend a few glorious hours stretched out in the sun...a spring breeze blowing gently through the blades and across your face? I passed a patch of clover yesterday, so appealing I wished I could do just that. And this morning, as I admired the lovely yellow wildflowers sprinkled across our yard, I was sad as I realized they'll all be gone as soon as we cut the grass.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 27

Note to the King of Green Lawn Service

Janice Townley Moore

Your grass fails to intrigue,
programmed as cloned blades--
bermuda or centipede.
No pleasant wild onion reek,
luck of the four-leafed clover.
Where lies the allure of strawberries,
the first tiny hearts we ate
on a dare for their poison?
No ripe boys roll cigars from weeds
No queens of the May
sit splay-legged, threading clover
stem upon stem for the longest chain.
In your sad sod dandelions remain extinct,
their little parachutes never blown
by children with grass prints on their knees
into the wild green yonder
till our mothers’ voices call us in
across the patchwork giving up its light.

First published in The Appalachian Journal.
Used here with the author's permission.

Learn more about Janice here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Time for Some Cowboy Poetry

Mike Logan is a cowboy poet--one of the best. I happened across this poem and knew I'd want to share it with my Poetry Parade spectators.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 26


Mike Logan

Well, I’ve seen some wrecks ahorseback
An’ quite a few with cars,
An’ I’ve even seen the carnage
Of some awful wrecks in bars.
But the worst wrecks in my mem’ry
Was the ones a comin’ on
When there come a perfumed letter
That started off "Dear John."

From Laugh Kills Lonesome & Other Poems (Buglin’ Bull Press, 1990)
Used with the author’s permission.
Read more about Mike and his poetry here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Teaspoonful of Happiness

Imagine: your life's work in a teaspoon! Every now and then, we need a little smack in the face to stop our whining and complaining and realize how blessed we humans are. This poem did that for me, as Jeanie points out that the sum total of a honeybee's life is six weeks and all he has to show for those six weeks of frantic productivity is a single spoonful of honey. I haven't checked this fact for scientific accuracy--I'm guessing she did--but teaspoon or tablespoon (or half a cup, for that matter!), the message of this poem stopped me in my tracks.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 25

Jeanie Tomasko

God gave the honeybee six weeks
and so
she flies
five hundred miles
in short refrains
of alleluias
to windy, white clover fields
to pink and proper rose gardens
gathering nectar in that careful needle
taking no time for self-pity, though
her life’s work, together
with that of eleven sisters
was the teaspoon of honey
I just stirred into my tea.

Sometimes she stops to walk
on my sunflowers,
her sturdy legs grow heavy
as she fills her pollen-baskets
with food for the bees back home,
but I like to think her stroll
on those upturned yellow faces,
is more for the joy of making me wonder
what I know of happiness.

This poem first appeared in the Wisconsin Poets' Calendar.
Used here with the author's permission.
Learn more about this poet here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Less About Line Breaks, More About Life

Poets who come from nonwriting backgrounds often bring a freshness to the genre. Like preachers who were engineers or rock singers before they turned to ministry, they're more willing to stretch the parameters and break the rules sometimes, taking us places we might not otherwise have gone. Christine is one of those poets; she worked in the automotive industry before deciding to stay home and be a mama and then, ultimately, becoming a writer.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 24

Five Thousand Times

Christine Rhein

If it’s true—you, me,
five thousand times more likely

to crash in a car than
in a plane—we should kiss

as we are kissing now,
outside the airport, in a downpour,

every bleary morning, every time
one of us grabs the keys,

kiss hard enough to register
the friction, the precise

tilt of our heads, hint of salt
on our lips, heat or thaw

of something nebulous,
edgeless, that we long to carry

in a pocket, glue to the underside
of skin, hear in a rustling

willow tree as it sways with all
our many-weathered kisses, tangles,

the fringe of every held breath
and this one-and-only gaze

in the rain, in the splatter
of car horns and thunder,

of little choice but for one of us
to head inside, the other to drive

away, and both to flash a last
halfhearted smile through

the windshield wipers’

© by Christine Rhein.
First published in Scythe Literary Journal, Volume 1.
Used with the author’s permission.

See more about Christine here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Did You Know It's the International Day of the Book?

And who better to celebrate on the Day of the Book than Jane Yolen--who has penned more than 300 titles in multiple genres, for multiple age levels, which have been translated in multiple languages. Family has always been a central focus of Jane's life; she was unabashedly in love with her husband, and she's always blended her writing into her role as a mother, which is one of the reasons I have always followed her career so closely. She's one of us! And now that two of her children are writers and one a photographer, she's collaborating on creative projects with them--something I hope I'll have the chance to do with my sons someday. Despite her status as one of the world's bestselling authors, Jane is one of the most approachable writers I know--generous with her time and expertise, and always encouraging to aspiring writers and fans of her books. Her nonfiction guide to writing, Take Joy, is one of my favorite books to recommend.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 23

Carrying On Carrying On

Jane Yolen

When life is a blevit of failure and grief
We carry on carrying on.
When life is so tres, even nothing’s relief,
We carry on carrying on.

When things of the future are things of the past,
When death is before us and first is the last,
When everything comes as a TNT blast,
We carry on carrying on.

When all the mananas are dwindling down,
When slips on bananas are tattered and brown,
When it’s too hard to smile and much simpler to frown
We carry on carrying on.

I’ll carry on you, if you’ll carry on me
On a tres filled with sorrow, and crackers and brie.
And the only thing tres-er is so tres jollie
That we carry on carrying on.

Printed by permission of the author.
©2009 by Jane Yolen.
First publication in Miss Rumphius Effect.
All rights reserved.
See more here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

I think this exuberant tribute to earth from poet Tim Nolan is a most apropos way to celebrate Earth Day.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 22

Words Can Describe
Tim Nolan

Did you ever think the astronauts should have done
a better job describing the Moon for the rest of us?

We spent billions of dollars to send them there,
to walk around on that glassy sand in those

synthetic mukluk boots, driving their goofy, lunar
dune buggies, slapping a golf ball 5386 yards

to an endless sand trap. We heard that static through
corridors of space until they had the chance to describe

exactly, ROGER, what they saw, AFFIRMATIVE,
and instead we heard: “Words can’t describe,”

CHECK, “the stark beauty,” A-OKAY,
”of the landscape . . . I mean the moonscape.”

They were young. Inarticulate. Absolutely
without words to describe what they saw. But then,

when they watched the Earth Rise from the Moon’s
fluorescent horizon, I remember, their words were pure

excitement and Oh, my God and It’s so beautiful.
We knew what they meant from our Earth-bound

imaginations. We knew that the rising Earth was
the jewel of our breathing, the swirling of our weather,

a wondrous cat’s eye marble rolling across black velvet,
reminding us of our daughters’ faces, the freckled

continents, those oceans of blue eyes, the determined set
of our son’s jaw in the angle of a peninsula. And that stillness

around the globe like a lake viewed through the pine woods.
They were speechless because they were reminded of everything

they missed. From their tin-foil shed, on the Sea of Tranquility,
first witnessing, ROGER, the beloved’s face out there.

This poem first appeared in Legal Studies Forum (2004).
© by Tim Nolan.
Used with the author’s permission.

For full details, go here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lord, Let Them Eat Cake

The line that grabbed me--instantly--in this poem is the one that says, "knowing your sisters will drop by and say Lord yes/they'd love just a little piece;" in those sixteen words, my entire childhood flashes before my eyes. My mother had seven sisters; all of them amazing cooks, and at least three or four of them had a freshly made cake on hand every single time I ever visited. The sisters were always dropping in on each other and the standard answer was always, "Lord, yes, I'd love just a little piece." In their rich Alabama drawl, "Lord" had about three syllables; it is one of my favorite "sound memories" and one that still reverberates in my brain and makes me smile, years since I sat eating cake in any of their kitchens.

The other line that grabbed me was "Everybody should/drink coffee with their nephews," because they should, but I never get to because mine live hundreds of miles away. In a perfect world, I would have coffee with my nephews (okay, tea; I don't do coffee) once a week. But we all know the world is not perfect, and I think that is, finally, why I love Ginger's poems so much. She takes our imperfect world and ekes out whatever goodness and beauty she can find. And as I read somewhere, fleetingly, this morning, "There is goodness in every day, no matter how bad it seems."

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 21

Down on My Knees
Ginger Andrews

cleaning out my refrigerator
and thinking about writing a religious poem
that somehow combines feeling sorry for myself
with ordinary praise, when my nephew stumbles in for coffee
to wash down what looks like a hangover
and get rid of what he calls hot dog water breath.
I wasn’t going to bake the cake

now cooling on the counter, but I found a dozen eggs tipped
sideways in their carton behind a leftover Thanksgiving Jell-O dish.
There’s something therapeutic about baking a devil’s food cake,
whipping up that buttercream frosting,
knowing your sisters will drop by and say Lord yes
they’d love just a little piece.

Everybody suffers, wants to run away,
is broke after Christmas, stayed up too late
to make it to church Sunday morning. Everybody should

drink coffee with their nephews,
eat chocolate cake with their sisters, be thankful
and happy enough under a warm and unexpected January sun.

From An Honest Answer (Story Line Press, 1999)
Used with the author’s permission.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rain, Rain, Come TODAY!

I have a wonderful sketch of a napping kitten in my home that says, "I have so much to do that I am going to bed." And, truly, when you work all day, take care of a home and family, and lend a helping hand to a few favorite causes and organizations, there's just not much left over for those dull but indubitable chores. I keep thinking Richard's last line could have been, "Smiling, he crumples the list." :-)

Richard Swanson

Aching, he stares at the list,
the must-do's, should-do's. He sighs.
Maybe the weather will save him.
Lately their house gets to him;
the window cracked, the porch that lists,
the siding unpainted, the eaves that sag and sigh.
The place’s warts are growing in number and size.
This is no way to treat him,
all those tasks a petty grievance list.
It’s raining, pouring, a deluge hymn of salvation.
Sighing, he crumples the list.

From Not Quite Eden (Fireweed Press, 2010)
Used with the author’s permission.

Learn more about the author of this poem here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ordinary Moments--That Aren't

Each of us functions within a zone of comfort and familiarity that eventually turns even the most unusual activity into the ordinary. Two of my sons are drummers; while they never take their instrument for granted, the mystique is long gone because they know their drums intimately. But let someone enter our home who is not a percussionist and they are instantly and inevitably drawn toward the drum set just as the children in this poem are drawn to the knife-grinder's sparks. Walt Whitman often creates a mystique about the mundane, turning the ordinary into something special through his "writer's microscope."

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 19
Sparkles from the Wheel
Walt Whitman

Where the city's ceaseless crowd moves on, the live-long day,
Withdrawn, I join a group of children watching--I pause aside with them.

By the curb, toward the edge of the flagging,
A knife-grinder works at his wheel, sharpening a great knife;
Bending over, he carefully holds it to the stone--by foot and knee,
With measur'd tread, he turns rapidly--As he presses with light but firm hand,
Forth issue, then, in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.

The scene, and all its belongings--how they seize and affect me!
The sad, sharp-chinn'd old man, with worn clothes, and broad shoulder-band of leather;
Myself, effusing and fluid--a phantom curiously floating--now here absorb'd and arrested;

The group, (an unminded point, set in a vast surrounding;)
The attentive, quiet children--the loud, proud, restive base of the streets;
The low, hoarse purr of the whirling stone--the light-press'd blade,
Diffusing, dropping, sideways-darting, in tiny showers of gold,
Sparkles from the wheel.

This poem is in the public domain.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gift Moments

I call them "gift moments"--serendipitous snatches of time you weren't expecting, couldn't plan, that brings something wonderful into your life: a spectacular sunset, the sound of a child laughing, being in the right place at the right time to witness...well...a gift!

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 18

Last Light
Lynne Santy Tanner

It’s that time of day
when I climb the hill
to hold the sun a moment
longer but caught instead
at my desk I get up
to stretch and see, there

in the shadows of my yard,
a doe and her yearling,
his immature antlers aglow
with the last light.
He darts into the holly
where two fawns fearlessly
nibble a burning bush.

The room shifts to dark
behind me and the doe, alert,
raises on hoof, her skin
taut over sculpting of muscles
and bronzed with attention.

Barely able to breathe, I
sidle to the window. She

gestures to stamp but halts
an inch from the ground
and becomes quicksilver.
Which of us will move?

I shift my weight only
a whisper but the hoof
drops and four white tails,
like ceremonial prayer flags,
trace arcs into the gloaming.

From Where There is No Night (Finishing Line Press, 2004).
Used with the author's permission.
For complete details, go here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

One, Two, Three, Turn, Comma, Comma, Kick!

Well, if anyone could dance an exclamation point, it would be Gene Kelly! Watching him dance is definitely poetry in motion; don't you wish we knew which movie prompted Sandburg to write this poem?

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 17

Lines Written for Gene Kelly To Dance To

Carl Sandburg

Spring is when the grass turns green and glad.
Spring is when the new grass comes up and says, "Hey, hey!
Hey, hey!"
Be dizzy now and turn your head upside down and see how
the world looks upside down.
Be dizzy now and turn a cartwheel, and see the good earth
through a cartwheel.

Tell your feet the alphabet.
Tell your feet the multiplication table.
Tell your feet where to go, and, and watch ‘em go and come back.

Can you dance a question mark?
Can you dance an exclamation point?
Can you dance a couple of commas?
And bring it to a finish with a period?

Can you dance like the wind is pushing you?
Can you dance like you are pushing the wind?
Can you dance with slow wooden heels
and then change to bright and singing silver heels?
Such nice feet, such good feet.

This poem is in the public domain.
For full details, go here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

You're Only as Old as You Fantasize!

Taxation frustration is behind us; time for some fun! Here's a chaste little "bodice ripper" (as those lusty Harlequins are sometimes called) to get your heart pumping:

2010 Poetry Parade

Aunt Eudora’s Harlequin Romance
Marilyn Taylor

She turns the bedlamp on. The book falls open
in her mottled hands, and while she reads
her mouth begins to quiver, forming words
like Breathless. Promises. Elope.
As she turns the leaves, Eudora’s cheek
takes on a bit of bloom. Her frowzy hair
thickens and turns gold, her dim eyes clear,
the wattles vanish from her slender neck.
Her waist, emerging from its ring of flesh,
bends to the side. Breasts that used to hang
like pockets rise and ripen; her long legs
tremble. Her eyes close, she holds her breath—
the steamy pages flutter by, unread,
as lover after lover finds her bed.

First published in Passager (1998).
Used here with the author’s permission.
For full details, go here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Methinks We Don't Protest Enough

My husband is a numbers guy. He has an undergrad degree in accounting, an MBA, thirty-five years' experience cracking systems and codes, and trying to figure out the the tax credit for having two children in college had him ready to strangle somebody this year. If someone who has spent THIRTY-FIVE YEARS struggles to do taxes, what hope is there for the poor guy who dropped out of school in tenth grade but is a great mechanic who's owned his own business for fifteen years? Something is wrong, wrong, wrong here in Capitalism Land!

Thus I set the stage for today's featured poem; feel free to vent!

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 15

The Tax Poem
Author Unknown

Tax his land, tax his wage,
Tax his bed in which he lays.
Tax his tractor, tax his mule,
Teach him taxes is the rule.

Tax his cow, tax his goat,
Tax his pants, tax his coat.
Tax his ties, tax his shirts,
Tax his work, tax his dirt.

Tax his chew, tax his smoke,
Teach him taxes are no joke.
Tax his car, tax his grass,
Tax the roads he must pass.

Tax his food, tax his drink,
Tax him if he tries to think.
Tax his sodas, tax his beers,
If he cries, tax his tears.

Tax his bills, tax his gas,
Tax his notes, tax his cash.
Tax him good and let him know
That after taxes, he has no dough.

If he hollers, tax him more,
Tax him until he’s good and sore.
Tax his coffin, tax his grave,
Tax the sod in which he lays.

Put these words upon his tomb,
"Taxes drove me to my doom!"
And when he’s gone, we won’t relax,
We’ll still be after the inheritance tax.

This poem is presumed to be in the public domain;
no copyright or credit information can be found.
For more information, go to

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In my book, this poem pretty much ranks as perfect; with every reading, I love it more. There are so many stellar characteristics to point out, it's a great teaching poem as well as one to be enjoyed purely for its entertainment value.

2010 Poetry Parade - Day 14

In the Memphis Airport
Timothy Steele

Above the concourse, from a beam,
A little warbler pours forth song.
Beneath her, hurried humans stream:
Some draw wheeled suitcases along
Or from a beeping belt or purse
Apply a cell phone to an ear;
Some pause at banks of monitors
Where times and gates for flights appear.

Although by nature flight-endowed,
She seems too gentle to reproach
These souls who soon will climb through cloud
In first class, business class, and coach.
She may feel that it’s her mistake
She’s here, but someone ought to bring
A net to catch and help her make
Her own connections north to spring.

She cheeps and trills on, swift and sweet,
Though no one outside hears her strains.
There, telescopic tunnels greet
The cheeks of their arriving planes;
A ground crew welcomes and assists
Luggage that skycaps, treating bags
Like careful ornithologists,
Banded with destination tags.

From Toward the Winter Solstice (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2006)
Used with the author’s permission.
See more details here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Smell of Spring

We had a clothes dryer when I was growing up, but it didn't get used a lot. My mother was a firm believer in the clothes line, and though I can't say I've ever given this much thought till now, today's featured poem has brought back vivid "scent memories" of those wind-stiff sheets and clothes from my childhood and made me wax nostalgic! I've been having fond recollections of bringing in laundry off the line (not hanging it: wet laundry is gross and heavy!) and its wonderful, clean, fresh smell. Line-dried towels are stiff and scratchy, those I don't miss, and line-dried clothes spell i-r-o-n-i-n-g--which I do NOT do. But, yeah, the sheets? I miss those. Too bad my back yard is aswirl with the pollen of a zillion blooms; I'd like to go hang up a few bed linens!

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 13

Catching April
Heather Moore Niver

I hang out linens
on a bright raw morning.
The spring sky sneers,
reluctant to warm up
to me or the season,
so I retreat with moist numb thumbs.
All day I hear the sharp snap of sheets
whipping in the cold gusts
that try to rip them from the line.
Dark stick silhouettes
claw along tangled cotton,
but orange cases pillow
with the season’s spite and glow
in a row of summer moons.
Late in the afternoon I bring them inside,
dry and sun-warm,
and fold up the sweet clear air
caught within their threads.

© 2009 by Heather Moore Niver
Used here with the author's permission

Monday, April 12, 2010


My husband's always saying he'd like to be a dog in his next life, free to romp at will, chase pesky cats and obnoxious squirrels, nap in the sunshine, sprawl on a cool floor. Admittedly, our dogs seem to have a fine life. Today's featured poem does a great job of capturing canine bliss:

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 12

Ginny Lowe Connors

Oh you are a beautiful flash of purpose
as you race toward the geese,
scattering them, every one. The wide
arc of their furious flapping, their loud
squawking, their berating, their clamorous

lifting is like great bells of hammered brass
ringing out in the Church of Brave Terriers
on The Day of Infinite Bones. And you,
my brown and white bullet burning with joy,
you are magnificent as the ringer of bells.

Please, allow me to be your student,
let me learn to be as purely alive as you.

First appeared in Dog Blessings: Poems, Prose, and Prayers Celebrating Our Relationship with Dogs, (New World Library, 2008).
© by Ginny Lowe Connors.
Used here with the author’s permission.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When I was in college, I watched a lot of foreign films, always struck by how much more of a role sensory impressions played in those films that the American ones I was used to. Colors were brighter, sounds more pronounced...aspects that would have been completely overlooked in an American film often took center stage in these.
That's what strikes me about this poem--how the modest and mundane can become beautiful and significant if we just slow down long enough to really notice them.

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 11

Sight Will Sharpen
S. Thomas Summers

If you gaze through a window long enough,
you’ll discover your eyes tether themselves
to some trivial chip of scenery: a gray mailbox,
its open mouth tilted skyward like a canon –
the dark belly of a garbage can harboring secrets:
the brown flesh of a half-eaten pear and the worn skin
of a kitchen towel stained with mustard
and strawberry jam. Your sight will sharpen itself
against your imagination and the darkness insulating
the air between evergreen branches will brighten.
The shade tattooed beneath a row of tulips near
the neighbor’s fence will glow.

© by S. Thomas Summers
Used here with the author's permission.

To see details, go to

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Charitable Deductions: A Different Interpretation

My sister and I always take the soundtrack from Chicago along on our road trips. Our favorite line is "...that's because none of us got enough love in our childhood"--a theory that can be applied to most bad behaviour, I think. Here's Kate Benedict's reasoning behind why we should be kind to one another:

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 10

Charitable Deductions
Kate Bernadette Benedict

This is what I deduce:

That selfishness is born of deprivation.
That harsh words are the fearful’s bungled prayers.
That the gluttonous are starved,
the greedy cheated,
the lecher too unloved to hazard love.

Beneath the cold rock, the slug takes cover,
despised, unbeautiful,
spineless, lacking skeleton or shell.
Raise the rock:
it twirls its little feelers and shrugs itself,
innocent, tolerable, defenseless in the sudden light.

From Here from Away (Wordtech Communications, 2003)
© by Kate Bernadette Benedict.
Used with the author’s permission.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Making Things Right

Today's featured poem is about atoning for past sins. Wouldn't it be great if we had the chance to make up for all our fleeting hateful moments? Think about the meanest thing you've ever done; anyway to make restitution for it now? Go ahead; pay it forward!
2010 Poetry Parade: Day 9

Kathe Palka

tends to catch you by surprise,
like an old high school teacher,
math or English, the one you
made fun of because she lisped
while encouraging you in front of friends
after a failure. You hated the subject,
her class, the way the radiator
hissed incessantly all winter
in the drab room.
Back home years later,
you meet her on the street
and she smiles at you, happy
about your successes, glad
you’ve turned out all right,
her forgiveness making the trip

From Faith to See and Other Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2007)
First published in The Penwood Review
Used with the author’s permission.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Guy Can Dream, Can't He?

In-depth interviews with intelligent people are always a pleasure to watch. My own favorite "profile"show is the long-running CBS show, "Sunday Morning," which, thanks to TiVo, I finally get to watch (I'm always at church on Sunday mornings). But poet Joe Sottile thinks Charlie Rose is the master of unwrapping our culture's most provocative personas. Read on to discover his secret fantasy!

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 8

At the Mahogany Table
Joe Sottile

I am retired now, and I have time,
Time to rise late and go to bed late

I cherish the luxury of listening to Charlie
interview people from all walks of life.

How easy it is for me to admire this Rose
with his good looks and tailored suits.

He knows he has won the job lottery,
talking to famous folks around the world.

But his home court, his uncut diamond is
rotunda in shape, made of Mahogany.

The background is usually pitch-black
and the set is noiseless where he sits,

slightly hunched over with a tired face
he has read their books, seen their movies,

enjoyed their concerts, listened to their politics,
and poked into their being with revealing questions.

He washes away their inner fears and jitters,
taking you and them on a gentle journey

where we discover what makes them tick,
what matters most, and what challenges lie ahead.

Charlie understands, appreciates and explores
their passions, while he cradles to his chest

what makes their lives worth living
and their sojourn so important.

By doing so, our lives become richer and fuller.
We may even daydream about Charlie calling us

“Joe, come sit at my Mahogany table
and share how poetry can save the planet.”

© by Joe Sottile.
Used with the author’s permission.

For more details, go to

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Is there anything prettier--or more lethal to your lungs?!--than cherry blossoms in spring?

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 7

Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now
A. E. Houseman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

This poem is in the public domain.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 6

Love this poem! Makes me nostalgic for many things--from train rides to good manners to spring break with no responsibilties!

The Dining Car of the Southern Crescent
John Campbell

The Southern Crescent
snakes its way through
the rolling fog shrouded
piedmont landscape;
a young man on spring break,
returning home from
college, crosses the creaky
passageway that leads from
Pullmans to the dining car.

Breakfast smells give rise to
an ambitious order of fresh coffee,
country ham with red eye gravy,
grits, scrambled eggs and
biscuits with blackberry jam.

The waiter, agile and accomplished,
dressed in a white starched apron,
steadies himself against the swaying
motion of the train; with serving tray
in hand and balanced, he places the
piping hot breakfast on a table decked
with a linen table cloth, pewter
creamers, thick silverware, coffee
cups and saucers and plates etched with
a crescent moon insignia; a small
bundle of daffodils sit in a crystal
vase near the window.

The young man with the vittles before him,
relishes a feeling of adult composure
and delight. “How could life be this good?”
-A breakfast fit for a king, waiters
eager to please, railway views of
rural Carolina: tenant shanties,
grazing black angus, abandoned junkyards,
brownstone depots and sleepy towns.

He, still unfamiliar with the niceties
of the wealthy elite, or even the
acquired dignities of his college
professors, avows, while pouring
coffee from a silver carafe into
a Syracuse China cup, that the
dining car of the Southern Crescent
is a place of utmost refinement.

From January Snow and Other Poems (Williams & Company, 2008)
Used with the author’s permission.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Do You See What I See?

Probably not. Because my life experiences are probably quite different from what yours have been. One of the joys of sharing experiences with friends is being able to extract extra meaning from the moment through their "filters," as well as our own.

2010 Poetry Parade - Day 5

Of Feathers, Of Flight
Adele Kenny

“…if I look up into the heavens I think that it will all come right …
and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
– Anne Frank

That spring, a baby jay fell from its nest, and
we took it to Mrs. Levine, who told us the
mother would know our hands and never take
it back. Spring that year was a cardboard box,

a bird cradled in cotton, cries for eyedropper
food – the wide mouth that became a beak,
feather-stalks stretched into wings. We knew,
of course, that we couldn’t keep it. (Later, we

would mark the spot with stones and twigs –
where the bird fell, where we let it go – and
sometimes, stopped in the middle of play,
would point and say, there, right there.)

The day we freed it, it beat, a heart-clock
(wound and sprung in Ruth Levine’s old hand)
that, finally, finding the sky, flew higher than
all the briars strung like metal barbs above the

backyard fence – a speck of updraft ash and
gone. Heaven, fuller then for one small bird,
spread its blue wing over us and the tree and
Mrs. Levine who, breathing deeply, raised

her numbered arm to the light and moved
her thumb over each fingertip as if she could
feel to the ends of her skin the miracle edge
of freedom, of feathers, of flight.

This poem won the 2007 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award.
Previously published in the Merton Seasonal (Summer 2007).
Used here with the author’s permission.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A morning like no other

2010 Poetry Parade: Day 4

Morning Red
Rossiter Raymond

Morning red, morning red,
Now the shadows all are fled;
Now the Sabbath’s cloudless glory,
Tells anew the wondrous story,
Christ is risen from the dead.

All around, all around,
Solemn silence reigned profound;
When, with blaze and sudden thunder,
Angels burst the tomb asunder,
And the Savior was unbound.

Forth He came! Forth He came!
Robed in white, celestial flame!
Mary, at the empty prison,
Knew not her Redeemer risen
Till He called her by her name.

Morning red! Morning red!
Christ is risen from the dead!
Still He walketh in the garden,
Speaking words of love and pardon.
Though the crown is on His head.

This poem is in the public domain.

(For more details, go to

Saturday, April 3, 2010

You're Doing Just Fine: God Said So!

Day 3 of Wordwoman's Springtime Parade of Poetry

This is a great example of a poem that can be interpreted and appreciated on several different levels; I think it would be a terrific discussion starter for a youth group or Sunday School class.

Jesus Told Me I’m Just Fine
Charles Ries

I sat in the rear pew of The Parroquia, the grand church off
San Miguel Allende’s city center called the Jardin. It was early
on Holy Thursday morning and the church was empty except
for the volunteers who were mopping the floor and dusting off
Jesus, who will be carried through the streets later that day on
the backs of twelve believers.
I was there to think, having argued with my brother the night
before over who loved our mother more. This is always a
delicate debate and unwinnable, unless complete and absolute
fidelity is declared to her memory. My love for her is deep,
but not so complete. My brother worries that the memoir I
am writing will not do justice to her memory. I tell him “It’s
a fictionalized memoir. All memoirs live more in the author’s
mind than reality,” but he was very drunk and would not listen.
The youngest is often such a gate-keeper.
So there I sat, eyes closed, listening for some message from
God. I often pray in this way, having a “My Own Personal
Jesus” moment in which the supplicant (that’s me), acts as if He
(God) is listening, pausing to consider my question, and then
stating, loudly and infallibly, (in my mind) the correct answer.
I’m quite certain that many dictators, demigods, and serial killers
have used this same conversational technique with a wide and
surprising host of replies, but I’m a simple man (today) and keep
my questions basic. “How am I doing, Jesus?” I think in my mind.
“Why, you’re doing just fine.” I hear His reply in a lexicon that is
surprisingly like my own (he’s a very personal God).
I leave the church grateful to God for taking time out of His busy
schedule to speak to me, and continue my work of fictionalizing my past.

© by Charles P. Ries
Used with the author’s permission.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Color of Day is Green!

Winter drab, begone! 'Tis time for tulip pink, hyacinth yellow, and new leaf green!

My daughter laughed
Katrin Talbot

My daughter laughed
and said
she could only hear
her boots
but couldn’t you hear
it too?
The prairie swelling,
the dark and trembling crescendo in
the thawing earth
as the bilateral state
begins to unfurl
and I begin
to remember
the shock value

© by Katrin Talbot.
Used with the author's permission.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's National Poetry Month!

I know April 1st means April Fool's Day to many...or two weeks till taxes are due...or perhaps the advent of spring cleaning. But for me, April 1st means the beginning of National Poetry Month. I've celebrated for the past eight years by sending out a poem a day to anyone who wanted one. But last year's "Poetry Parade" gave birth to a daily poetry venture--a website called A new poem is posted on the website each day, and subscribers enjoy a bit of private commentary which never appears on the site. I've been delighted and astounded at the support the site has found. Now, in this ninth year of my Springtime Parade of Poems, I've decided to post the selections here on my blog as well to allow for some discussion. I always get a ton of comments on the parade selections (ranging from "That's the dumbest poem I ever read!" to "I want this on my tombstone!") and some have suggested it would be fun if everyone got to see those comments and respond with their own, so we'll see how it goes.

I'm not an early riser, so don't expect to find anything to comment on before 9 AM!

Here's the kick-off for the parade this year--a very funny, very clever piece from Wisconsin poet Bruce Dethlefsen:

Mineral Expectations
Bruce Dethlefsen

limestone awfully lonesome
since my father’s gone
and miss our little talcs
and conversations

how I marbled
at the strength of this good man
a grocer who would sandstone much all day
that he developed varicosities
in both his legs and never once complained

even though I took his love for granite
I can still recoal his exact words and sediments

it slate for him he’d say too late
but you shale mica difference in this world
he’d point at me and shake his finger

of quartz he understood and wished for me
not just the same old schist
but a future that pyrites
would be mined
and mined alone

(Something Near the Dance Floor, Marsh River Editions, 2003)
Used with the author's permission.

To see the full posting, go here. Comments, anyone?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Teach, Therefore I Inspire

Don't you wish that were the motto of every instructor we encounter during the course of our and our children's lives? It's not, of course; I can name a lot more boring and mediocre teachers than I can inspiring ones in the nearly fifty years I've spent in my own and my sons' classrooms. Isn't that sad? On the other hand, the good ones are so life-changing that they almost make the dull teachers worth enduring.

This week on my Your Daily Poem website, I featured a poem by Edwin Romond, who taught English in Wisconsin and New Jersey for 32 years before retiring. The first time I read it, when Edwin submitted it to YDP for consideration along with several others, I cried. I cried because the impact and sweetness of his memory are so profound. I cried because this poem brought to mind my own life-changing moments in school--passing blips of activity or conversation, seemingly insignificant at the time, that nonetheless buried themselves in my brain and still resonate half a century later. I cried because I fear today's students are missing out on these moments because teachers are so burdened with covering what's on THE TEST (pick one; they seem to be endless) that they can't spare an unscripted, serendipitous hour to gush over the gossamer art of butterfly wings or discuss why a rainy day makes us feel so melancholy. They certainly wouldn't derail the day's syllabus to sing beautiful ethnic ballads; most schools don't even have music class anymore and if they're lucky enough to still have a music teacher, there's probably some law in place by now that says you can't sing ethnic songs because it might offend somebody. . .or if you sing one ethnic ballad, you have to sing them all. (But then, chances are, today's students don't know any ethnic ballads anyway because their music education is coming from iPods and "American Idol," but I think that's a blog for another day.)

In any case, I wanted to share Edwin's wonderful poem with you (see link below). And I want to encourage you to appreciate those teachers in your life who give inspiration along with information; if you have any pull with legislators, please remind them that the classroom should be a place for learning, not memorization, and certainly not simply for prepping to pass a test. Being well educated encompasses soooooo much more than being able to diagram a sentence, dissect an earthworm, or determine a square root. It's being able to identify and savor special moments in life, connect with and care for our fellow man, spawn new ideas and create works of art born of nothing more than ingenuity.

Here's a suggestion: next time you need to give a teacher a gift (and June is just around the corner), instead of the ubiquitous Starbucks gift card, give Edwin Romond's wonderful book, Dream Teaching. Poetry book not your style? Here are some other wonderful books that recognize and celebrate extraordinary teachers:

  • Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt
  • The Thread that Runs So True: A Mountain School Teacher Tells His Story, by Jesse Stuart
  • The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker Palmer
  • Mentors, Masters, and Mrs. McGregor, by Jane Bluestein
  • Extraordinary Teachers, by Fred Stephenson, Jr.

It's important that we reward outstanding teachers--by buying their books, praising them to their superiors, giving them thoughtful gifts, thanking them--frequently--and recalling their magic long after their tenure has ended. And remember: it's never to late to tell a teacher how he or she made a difference in your life.

Here's a review of Edwin's book by George Mason University instructor Erica Jacobs, and here is Edwin's beautiful poem, "Everything About Egypt." (If you cry when you read it, it's okay; you're one of many!)

Want to share a life-changing classroom moment of your own? I'd love to hear about it here!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Lucille Clifton

My heart, and that of many others, is aching today over the death of poet Lucille Clifton. I received a poem from Wisconsin poet Bruce Dethlefsen Saturday night that made me gasp and think, "No! Not Lucille!" but couldn't find any news headlines to validate my fears. Today, however, her death has been confirmed and I share Bruce's poem with you in tribute to this wonderful woman who gave birth to six children, twenty children's books, and eleven poetry collections during her lifetime.

(for Lucille Clifton)
Bruce Dethlefsen

I’m not here to speak louder
you’re here to listen harder

someone asks the windows open
so the overflow can hear

black faces white
stretched above the sills
brown heads rest
their cheeks along the ledge

she reads
I hear my mother speak
the church breathes in and out
each sound each word
a coo a hurricane inside my ear

a threat of rain
the father with the black umbrella bends
to kiss his daughter on the lips

the daughter slumps
her water breaks
when she hears her mother’s dead

she reads
my eyes are shut and with permission wet
we lean against the church

the soft applause
and then it’s done

I raise my head from my mother’s lap
I rise to stand
with the listeners on tiptoes at the windows
to stand until miss clifton passes

From Breather (Fireweed Press, 2009)
Used here with the author's permission. (Thank you, Bruce!)
Written after hearing Lucille read in the old church at
the Dodge Poetry Festival, on a very hot day)

I have two favorite Lucille Clifton poems. The first is "Homage to My Hips," which, to me, offers up a prime example of her wit and sass. The second, "Sisters," packs so much in its lines and flat out nails the sister relationship.

Homage to My Hips
Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

From Good Woman (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1987)

Lucille Clifton

me and you be sisters.
we be the same.
me and you
coming from the same place.
me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.
me and you
be scared of rats
be stepping on roaches.
me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you.
me and you
got babies
got thirty-five
got black
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters.
only where you sing
i poet.

From Good Woman (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1987)

If you know Lucille's work, I leave you this to mourn her loss with a smile. And if you don't know her work, I hope it will inspire you to find to go find one of her books before this day ends!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

gO Canada!

Kudos to Canada for including poetry in their celebration of the 2010 Olympic Games! Shane Koyczan did an outstanding job cataloging his country's sundry qualities in his poem, "We Are More," a piece he wrote for the Canadian Tourism Commission back in 2007. Not as dignified a performance as some might have liked, not as lofty a poem as others might have written (Canada abounds in excellent poets), but I thought the presentation was hip and from the heart and exactly right for the the occasion--which had more warmth than most of the opening ceremonies I've watched. Unlike a song, where the music gets in the way, and unlike visual art, which lacks the words to define the moment, poetry marks an occasion like no other art form. My hat is off to whoever deserves credit for making a noble occasion truly memorable.

In case you want to know more about Shane and his poetry--and I hope you do--check out his website.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What Lies Ahead

I wrote recently, on another blog, that despite my best efforts, I'm starting to feel like a literary dinosaur, or maybe like a forty-year-old size 10 feels in Hollywood. Why? Because the world of books as I know it is changing.

My hat is off to Stephanie Meyer and J. K. Rowling but, frankly, I don't have any interest in reading OR writing about witches or vampires. I like to read and write about normal people with normal lifestyles. (Well, actually, I like to read and write about Southern people with Southern lifestyles which, to some, is weirder than vampires, but that's only if you didn't grow up eating grits and collards. Not together, mind you; that would be weird.) I appreciate an old Star Trek episode as much as anyone, but when it comes to literature, I like my plots to revolve around familiar things and my characters to come from Planet Earth. (Okay, I admit that Douglas Adams did lure me into paranormal places and I enjoyed it, so I get points for being a little flexible.)

Furthermore, I do not want to cozy up with a Kindle; I want to curl up with a book. I get at least one e-mail a day from Amazon telling me how wonderful the Kindle is. Maybe so, but I'm not interested. I like my books to come with pages and covers and pictures and blurbs that help me decide if I'm going to invest myself in that story or not. I like to walk by and touch old favorites on my bookshelves and remember the first time I read them, or how significant they've been in my life. Some of those books I loved as a child wound up in the hands of my children and I am eagerly and carefully preserving them for my grandchildren; what joy!

In my wildest dreams, I can't envision a world with no books. Is it possible to have the same relationship with a cold, hard, soulless techno-toy as one has with a beautiful first edition? I think not. Are turned-down corners and beautiful bookmarks destined to go the way of the formal dining room: fondly remembered but rarely used? One of the sillier justifications I keep hearing for the Kindle is that it can store text for up to a thousand books. Since the average person reads fewer than four books a year, that "benefit" seems a tad overblown--kind of like calling up a 747 to go buy a gallon of milk.

It was inevitable that technology was going to impact the world of publishing, and I'm certainly enjoying some of that impact: I wouldn't think of embarking on a road trip without a book on CD, and I most assuredly would not want to go back to creating my manuscripts on a typewriter. But it makes me sad to think that some toddler in 2050 may never get to Pat the Bunny or ask Where's Spot? and find him. It makes me even sadder to think that a generation raised on shape-shifters and warlocks might dismiss Huck Finn or Anne Shirley as hopelessly dull in comparison.

I'm trying to be open-minded, but here's the bottom line: I'd take a REAL Trixie Belden over a virtual Top 10 any day of the week!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Llove for Llamas is Over

I am SO over my llama phase.

Once upon a time, I thought llamas were the most wonderful animals on earth. I had dozens of stuffed and ceramic ones. I had llama earrings, llama clothing, and accessories made from llama wool. Then, for a "significant" birthday, I decided I would treat myself to a llama trek. Instead, I ended up BUYING a llama from the woman who owned the llama trek company. Actually, I bought two; because llamas are herd animals, she wouldn't let me have my sweet little Smore unless I took his not-so-sweet buddy, Pongo. The bell that went off in my head as Pongo looked disdainfully down his nose at me (quite a feat since, at that point, I was taller than he was!) should have been a warning.

Three sons, two dogs, and two llamas made for a great life. We live in the country where there's plenty of room to romp and play, and llamas are the world's best pets: low maintenance, curious and clever brains, great eyelashes. Though my furry little fellows had great bloodlines, I quickly discovered I did not have the patience to go the show route (for their one appearance in a local parade, it took four hours a piece to brush and groom them!), and as a busy mom, I didn't have the time to pursue breeding them. Thus Smore and Pongo were left to enjoy life as "gentleman llamas"--lounging in the pasture, entertaining neighbors, sneaking out for an occasional stroll across the yard. We found out they loved guacamole taco chips. We found out they liked Christmas carols. We found out they love to sunbathe on scorching hot days. (Go figure!)

A couple of years ago, my beloved Smore passed away. He was twelve years old and had lived a happy life. As we buried him, I worried about Pongo, in spite of the fact that he had done little over the years to endear himself to me. Did I need to find him a new buddy? Did I need to find him a new home? I was worried he'd be sad and depressed. Ha!

Sweet Smore was barely in the ground before the pompous, arrogant beast I'd always suspected Pongo was revealed himself in full force. He snorted, he bucked, he charged--and, oh, yes, he spat--with great contempt and greater enthusiasm. He broke out of the pasture and headed straight for our back door, where he left a mound of "calling cards" then pranced around as if to say, "C'mon, cross that line. I dare you!" Once out of the pasture, it was almost impossible to get him back in. As long as Smore was alive, pasture breaks were no big deal; we'd lead both llamas right back in with a bucket of grain. But now, if any of us dared to leave the house while Pongo was on the loose, he'd come charging across the yard with malice in his heart, a look in his eyes declaring, "You want a piece of me? Huh? You want a piece of me?" Then he would GIVE us a piece: a hearty helping of stinky, slimy spit delivered with machine-gun force, and woe be unto whoever happened to be in his line of fire. As long as I was watching from inside the house, it was pretty darn funny to see this shaggy, 500-pound son of Satan terrorizing my 6 foot, 200+ pound guys. Not nearly so funny when I was the one running for my life--uncertain whether Pongo's goal was to kill me or claim me. I had no desire to experience either one.

For the last few months, ol' Pongo has been pretty docile. It's been really cold, and he likes cold weather, so maybe he's been in a better mood. Or maybe he's getting old and worn out. In any case, apparently he woke up this morning and decided it was time for a reminder about who's in charge. When my husband and son and I started to leave for work, there was Pongo in the front yard, looming like a long-necked, horizontal Abominable Snowman. I swear his eyes were twinkling; I know he was grinning. Forty-five minutes, four boxes of cereal, two ropes, and a Ford pick-up later, he was back in the pasture. His heart wasn't in this escape, I could tell, because one buck, one snort, and a few half-hearted charges were all the protest he offered. I think he just needed to show a little attitude for old times' sake.

But as I stood out there shivering in the cold, waving that bucket of corn flakes (a sorry substitute for guaco taco chips, I might add) and wondering if my life should be flashing before my eyes, I thought, "Lord, it's time You call this llama home." And then, I'm sorry to say, my next thought was, "Wonder what kind of pet a miniature donkey might make?"

I am truly my own worst enemy.

AN UPDATE TO THIS POST: During his last breakout, Pongo trotted down the road to visit neighbors who, unbeknownst to me, have apparently been bringing apples and carrots to Pongo since they moved into the neighborhood a few years back. When we went to fetch him home, they confessed their fondness for our furry beast (which seemed to be mutual!) and said if we'd ever like to get rid of him, they'd love to have him. I am happy to report that Pongo the Terrible is now holding court around the corner, finally the king of his own pasture, with a new lease on life in his old age, and smothered with the attention he's always thought he deserved. Rock on, Pongo; rock on.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Time to Swing the Bat!

WHERE did the last decade go? No matter; I won't miss it. There were some good things--watching my sons grow into men...publication of two new books and new editions of two older ones...reuniting with a couple of cherished old friends...getting to know several new ones--but there was a lot of loss and sadness in the past ten years, and a heap of struggling. I welcome 2010 with open arms and high expectations, and hope you do the same!

Here's an opportunity to get this new decade off to a great start: The Tennessee Women's Theatre Project is accepting submissions for "Women's Work," their annual festival and celebration featuring the work of women playwrights, poets, musicians, essayists, painters, filmmakers, dancers, and photographers from across the country. For three weekends in May (May 7 through May 23), Women’s Work will showcase the talents of creative women at Nashville’s Z. Alexander Looby Theater; submissions are being accepted now through April 5th, but why wait? If this is the year you're determined to get back in touch with your creative self, or acknowledge the creative self you've been ignoring or trying to deny, this is a terrific way to dive in. Get out that camera, dust off your oboe, belly up to the barre, or dig out that manuscript from the bottom drawer: it's SHOWTIME! Click here for details about TWTP's big event, and check my blog often because I'll be posting other opportunities to celebrate your fabulous self as I come across them.

Because here's the deal: life is short and every day counts. Don't miss out on the joy (and there is joy in every day)because you're too busy, too shy, too modest, too broke, too embarrassed, too fat, too short, too clumsy, too disorganized, too overwhelmed, or whatever other excuse you keep using to keep you from becoming the Woman You Were Meant To Be. Grab this year by the horns and go after what you want! As somebody once said (and if you know who deserves credit for this quote, please let me know!), "You can't hit the ball if you never swing the bat," so START SWINGING!
P.S. Attention momwriters and wannabe momwriters: this just in! Katherine Hauswirth ( is offering an "Hour of Solidarity" writing challenge on January 10th--a perfect opportunity to stop talking about writing and actually DO it! Sign up and get details here.