Monday, May 27, 2013


On Saturday it was my joy and honor to join other local poets at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center for a nature-themed poetry reading. We met in a room walled with windows overlooking the spring-green woods. It actually reminded me of the church where Paul and I were married, which also has those giant windows... except on that day (in April) the spring-green was punctuated by dogwood-white and azalea-pink. Gorgeous, both.

So here's the poets:
me, Alicia, Joan, Tabitha, Suzanne, Bob, Jerri, Manny, Robert

On the way out of the center, I noticed a sign announcing a "Full Moon Nature Hike -  Tonight." Paul and I already had a hot date planned, but we did take time out to snap this photo, in honor of my "sky" year:

And now it's Memorial Day. So many folks to remember, so much to be grateful for. Thank you thank you thank you. Hope yours is a happy one!

Thursday, May 23, 2013


This is my first-ever t-shirt quilt. I learned that they are harder to create than they look! Since I am the Queen of Shortcuts, I thought, nah, I don't need to use stabilizer... I'll just pin and go really slow. Well. That turned out to be far too time consuming and not nearly as accurate as I wanted. So a-ironing I went! And it took FOREVER. That really was the worst part of the whole project. But look how neat and precise it turned out?! If you look closely you can see that I actually constructed the quilt in blocks. I wanted them to be a little "crazy," so I didn't worry about the blocks being exactly the same size. Then I uses more t-shirt pieces to create a border.

Lots 'o memories preserved here... and maybe a gift more for the mom than the kid, but Daniel seemed pleased. He may be really ready to leave high school behind, but all these things represented here have made him who he is and will continue to impact his life. He did say something about how well-made it is, which amused me -- the interfacing actually gives it a heavier, more professional feel. Love when things work out like that. :)

And now my sister has delivered a box of t-shirts, and my father said his box of t-shirts is on the way. I think I may have started something... good thing I love to quilt!

Monday, May 20, 2013


This past Saturday our niece Jenn married Tim in an outdoor wedding by a lake, with a reception in a nearby barn. It was all perfectly wonderful until Jenn mounted the horse that was to carry her to the reception (and provide a wonderful photo op). Something spooked the horse, and it reared, throwing Jenn to the ground! Talk about frightening... she's okay -- probably sore today, and it was enough to shake up everyone present. But now that it's over, and all is well... isn't it a GREAT story to tell the grandkids?! 

                                           Congratulations, Jenn & Tim!

Thursday, May 16, 2013


"There are no signposts in the sky to show a man has passed that way before. There are no channels marked. The flier breaks each second into new uncharted seas."
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

... and the flier leaves its mark, at least for a moment or two...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I often tell groups about how my very first writings were love poems for my mother -- and that LEAVING GEE'S BEND is also a love poem for my mother. Which is why it's an especially magical thing when I am asked to speak with Mother-Daughter Book Clubs, as I did last night.

Before I get to how amazing these moms and daughters are, let me say again that I believe the mother-daughter relationship is perhaps the most complex of all relationships. I say this only having experience the "daughter" end, but I have enough moms of daughters in my life to have heard the "mom" end as well. I am sure that mother-daughter themes will continue to pop up in my writing for the rest of my life. A mother is that important to a girl.

And I had a delightful time with my friend Mary Leigh, her youngest daughter and all the moms and 6th-grade daughters who read LEAVING GEE'S BEND.

Here's the moms, who make it all possible:

And here's the girls eating a snack (Coke and pound cake, in honor of Ludelphia) and being silly:

And here we are all posed with quilt and Ludelphia and book:

Aren't they gorgeous? And they asked such wonderful questions and made me feel so welcome and sent me home with a treasure or two. THANK YOU, everyone! Great to meet fellow book lovers and moms. Remember what I said about sending me poems and stories -- I am happy to read. xo

Friday, May 10, 2013


I've just spent some quality time with Caroline Kennedy's POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART, illustrated by Jon Muth.

I'm not a big memoriz-er of poems. In fact I can only think of one 4 line Shel Silverstein that I know by heart... and "The Secret Life" by Stephen Dunn, which I have read so many times in public that I mostly have it memorized (but wouldn't want to be without my paper copy, just in case). Why that poem? For many years writing was my secret life. I often open a poetry reading by sharing that poem and how I've journeyed from a closet poet to an out in the open one.

I guess one reason I'm reluctant to memorize is that memorizing brings to mind all the ways schooling can kill a love of poetry. Being forced to memorize a poem is (to me) one of those things. Now, if students are allowed to CHOOSE the poem they memorize, that's a whole other thing. But still a lot of pressure for the shy ones among us.

ANYHOW. I am always impressed when poets have their own poems memorized. Spoken word poets knock my knickers off. I love the show, the performance. How do they do it?!

Back to the book. There's a nice mix of old and new here, and I was thrilled to find poems by our very own Janet Wong!

The book is divided into sections like Here I Am (poems about self) and It Is the Duty of the Student (school poems).There's even a section called Extra Credit, with longer poems like "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Kubla Khan."

Here's one of my favorites:

Baby Ate a Microchip
by  Neal Levin

Baby ate a microchip,
then grabbed a bottle, took a sip.
He swallowed it and made a beep,
And now he's thinking pretty deep.

He's downloading his ABCs
And calculating 1-2-3s.
He's memorizing useless facts
While doing daddy's income tax.

He's processing, and now he thrives
On feeding his internal drives.
He's throwing fits, and now he fights
With ruthless bits and toothless bytes.

He must be feeling very smug.
But hold on, Baby caught a bug.
Attempting to reboot in haste,
He accidentally got erased!

TIP FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO MEMORIZE A POEM: record yourself reading the poem. Play the recording while you are driving or doing mundane household chores. In just a day or two, you'll have it down. Repetition is a powerful thing! (I learned this trick when I first began public speaking and worried I would freeze onstage. Thanks to this technique, I never did.)

Happy Poetry Friday, friends! Anastasia has Roundup at her poetry blog. Yay for May!!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013


"I quit being afraid when my first venture failed and the sky didn't fall down."

Friday, May 3, 2013


Last week I shared the questions that would be addressed at the Experience Poetry! Panel in Vicksburg, Mississippi. What a wonderful event! Thanks to all involved.

This week I'd like to do a little roundup of some answers, including my own, as well as what some of you left in comments and what my fellow panelists Julie Kane and Jack Bedell had to say.

And then, as requested, I want to address a couple of questions from the student letter I posted on Wednesday.

1. Why is poetry important? 
Our moderator, author Howard Bahr answered it this way: It just is. Similarly, Myra said the question was like asking, Why is breathing important? Mary Lee said, poetry makes the imagination visible.Violet mentioned how poetry addresses the need to capture something in words, maybe squeeze a little meaning out of an experience or sight or idea, make a craft object out of words.

My answer: Poetry turns us into song. It sings us awake. It’s important because it’s a way of living this one life we’ve been given. Poetry allows us to swim in mystery. It’s a celebration, a way to praise. It begs us to question everything and invites us to pay attention to every leaf and acorn and ridge on the cap of an acorn. It helps us understand ourselves better, our world better. It encourages compassion and empathy. It challenges us with its heartbeat, What else? What else? What else? And it's a very personal thing. I wish for everyone the joy I find in poetry, though I understand that many will find that joy elsewhere. And that's okay.

2. Where do poems come from? Do you have a plan or a theory about what a poem should do; where it should go?
I think the question means to be, What inspires poems? In which case, I say everything and anything.

As for the second part of the question, I sort of brace against that “should.” I don't know that every poem has a purpose or that it should have a purpose. For me, I enjoy poems best that surprise me. I want to be surprised. I want to read a poem and experience the unexpected inevitable -- That surprising image or analogy that when you see it on the page or hear it said, feels exactly true and right. AND I want to know What stays with you latest and deepest.

I also love what Tara said about poems bearing witness to history. And what Bridget said about how poetry comes from close observation filtered through the poet's soul.  And what Margaret said about how in a poem the deeply personal becomes universal. And Linda's thoughts on so many small & important moments, sometimes discoveries of facts, & sometimes of feelings, but always connected to self. At the event, Jack Bedell talked about how poetry should share our human-ness and perhaps even help us to become better humans.

3. What are some of the developments in contemporary American poetry?
I was interested to hear Julie and Jack's take on this, especially as they both teach at universities and experience a different corner of the Poetry Universe than I do. Turns out, they were nearly as befuddled as me. (Well, not quite. These are some savvy poets!)

My thoughts are this: There’s never been a better time to be a poet. There are more publishing options than ever before, and the internet has created a wonderfully supportive community. Poets have found each other. The downside of this is that it’s far more competitive.

4. Should poetry respond to the political/environmental challenges of our time, and if so, how?
Laura said, it can, IF the poet feels those issues at a visceral issue but can also engage his or her inner editor and transform them into true poetry.  I agree wholeheartedly, in that I am not much interested in reading a rant. Mary Lee said, Poetry should respond with compassion, originality, and imagination. (Again, that tip of the hat to imagination! Love it!)

My feeling is that poetry should respond to everything and anything, whatever the poet feels inclined to address. As to the second part of the question, my answer is simple: “in beauty.”

And now, my answers for Kristina (and for Michelle, who challenged me to be as honest), who wrote me an adorable letter (that includes kittens!):

Do you have one (a kitten)?

I have two cats. Maggie, who loves high places, and Bobby, who is too fat to get himself to the high places, so he just stares and whines instead.

Do you like the zoo like I do?

I sure do love the zoo. I love seeing animals I'd never see otherwise. I love all the work zoos do to preserve species. My favorite time to go is first thing in the morning when all the critters are being fed.

What is I like to be an author and why is it important?

Being an author is awesome because I get to do the things I love best: play with words, tell stories, and connect with the world, including readers like you! It's important to me because it's the life I've chosen – and it's the life I keep choosing every single day. I don't know that it's all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it is one way to communicate. And communication could be the most important thing we do on this earth.

Do you like writing stories because I don't.

Most of the time I like it. Some days I'm positively giddy about it. Others days when I'm struggling, I wonder why I torture myself. Which is probably how mixed-up most of us feel about many of the things we choose to fill our lives with. :)  

Thanks, all, for the great discussion! Be sure and visit Liz Steinglass for Roundup!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013