Friday, August 26, 2016

Poems to Keep You Going

an invitation to begin....
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Please visit Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup.

I am on a 1,000 word a day writing diet right now, as I attempt yet another draft of a middle grade novel I started in 2010! I set these 6 week writing diets for myself by carefully checking my calendar and marking off the days I know I will be traveling or otherwise occupied -- and then I get started! It helps to be realistic, and it helps me to know it will only last 6 weeks... and by the end I'll have around 35, 000 words, which is a great start for a middle grade (or any!) novel.

As of this moment I have 11,085 words in my document. Some days the words come within 45 minutes. Other days I struggle. It was on such a day that I received a Poem Swap package from Mary Lee. Among other wonderful things, it included this poem:

Don't Go There
by Mary Lee Hahn

Don't bother to fight back
when your brain says,
"You can't."

You've heard those words before.
You know that success lives
in their backyard.

Get up from your desk,
pet the sleeping cat,
stand at the open door,
watch the rain sheet down,
breath the warm wet air.

Then get back to work again.

Yes, yes, and YES! Just the words I needed then, and today, and most days, actually. Mary Lee also sent me the link to this comic that is certainly on the theme! Thank you, Mary Lee! And here are a couple more poems to keep you going:

Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.


Speaking of Langston Hughes, have you heard about the efforts to turn his Harlem home into an arts collective? Read the latest here.

Don't Quit 
By Edgar A. Guest (maybe!)

When Things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to Smile but have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he'd stuck it out,
Don't give up though the pace seems slow,
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the struggler has given up,
When he might captured the victor's cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown,

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit,
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.

Whichever way this arrow is pointing
is the "right" way.
The above poem appears in my father's file of his favorite quotes. We had a conversation about a month before he died, just after he fell and broke his hip. He was saying how sad it was that he fell, because he had been having such a good day! But he wasn't giving up. He wasn't ready to go yet. And I was telling him how much I have always loved and admired his Florida "cracker" spirit... but that I also respected those who have reached the end of their enthusiasm. We agreed on this, that it wasn't for either of us to say whether to fight or give up for anyone else. And then, just a few short weeks later, he was tired of fighting. I miss him so much, but I do respect that so, so much. Sometimes quitting is the best thing to do, the ONLY thing to do. And sometimes not!

In other words: whatever you do -- quit or don't quit -- will be just fine. You are exactly where you are meant to be. xo


  1. What a generous post! I'm glad you aren't going to quit on your 1,000 words. Sounds like a great plan! Mary Lee's poem hits the spot.

  2. You are such a giver, Irene. Thank you for these. My Great Aunt Tom loved Edgar A. Guest too...I have a binder of her favorite poems, all typed out. Thank you for telling us about your goals and plans...I think that today I'm going to make a little challenge for myself. xxx

  3. I don't know how you novelists do it, I really don't! Kudos to you for sticking it out with your plan. Mary Lee's words are truly heartening, and oh, how powerful are Langston Hughes's words? Beautiful. I needed this today!

  4. Yes, thank you for this reminder. I've given myself permission to do almost nothing other than the essentials this week as I regroup from a week of yoga training. Next week I'll think about that manuscript (she says in her best Scarlett O'Hara accent). But I will. I promise.

  5. Bravo to you! I love Mary's advice...she somehow makes it seem doable NOT to go there, but to keep persevering.

  6. You are a quiet (subversively so) force of Nature, my friend - thank you for these offerings today.
    Mary Lee's poem just nails it, doesn't it? And you've rounded out the conversation with more poetry, with hints of crystal and silver, but I do love the smell of plain rain in Mary Lee's.
    Sending you hugs as you continue to miss your inspiring father.

  7. What a great goal. Six weeks, 1,000 words. I might give it a try once the kids are back in school. If only I could decide what my main conflict is. I'm juggling three up in the air.

  8. Your words warm me, Irene, that permission to "do" or "not" what works for me. Hugs to you again in missing your dad. I like that you share some of those special moments, keeps him alive in your heart I know. Mary Lee's poem is a treasure for your writing! It does seem to fit perfectly right now.

  9. What a diverse collection of voices, each with similar messages running through them, to inspire and encourage. Wishing you well with your writing goals, Irene. And sending a hug.

  10. Irene, this post is packed full of inspirational quotes as it tightly starts its journey with Mary Lee's poetry swap gift and travels to Edgar A. Guest's lines: "Life is queer with its twists and turns,/As everyone of us sometimes learns." I always say life is fragile and uncertain but certainly filled with routes we can follow. Choice leads to amplified voice. You chose to weave in a tribute to your father as it rightfully belongs in your post of wonderings.

  11. Thanks for the inspiration. I've had a wonderfully laid-back-from-writing summer, but September is looming and I need to get back to a WIP. I love how your thoughts circled back to your dad... so grounding. All the best with your book!

  12. Wonderful post as always, Irene. I'm so sorry about the constant ache of missing your dad, but so thankful for all the wonderful memories you have.

  13. I'm with Renee, I do NOT know how novelists do it. I have a wip and it feels like a tub of jello I'm supposed to nail to a wall. It's MUCH HARDER than I thought it would be...not the ideas but the shaping and "nailing" of it. I love how these poems encourage to keep going. This is a keeper. Thank you.

  14. Hooray for Mary Lee and her just-in-time poetry! And kudos to you for setting goals and making it happen, Irene. I'm betting that's something your father admired about you. xo

  15. I'm glad my "ignore the inner voices and get back to work" poem that I wrote for myself was so perfect for you, too!

  16. This post touches me in so many ways. That you are writing another middle grade novel thrills me. That you shared Mary Lee's gifted poem and the others about staying in the struggle, and that you shared an innermost memory about your father inspires me.
    I am so happy that we got a second to embrace and show each other a little lovin last weekend. We must make time for a longer chat at NCTE. Promise!!!

  17. Excited to read your in-progress when it progress to between-the-covers!
    Sometimes giving up is only setting aside, as you have done with it. Is it a novel-in-verse? I have some tips to from a workshop if you like.
    Thanks for the link to the effort about Mr. Langston Hughes' home. And I always appreciate reading the crystal stairs poem. And Mary Lee is an always wonderful lifter upper, in my book. Like you :)


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