Thursday, April 28, 2011

Train Ride

I’m headed out of town on a train, so today’s poem-a-day prompt is “train ride.”  

Since I’ll be incommunicado for a couple days, I’ll provide the last few prompts at the end of entry, too.

And say Happy Poetry Month now to all, and to all (who wrote a poem a day) a good rest!

Imaginary playlist: “Ticket to Ride” and “Here, There, and Everywhere,” the Beatles.

Here’s a reminder about the Big Poetry Giveway!  If you missed the original post, click now.

And you can also check at Kelli Russell Agodon’s blog about all the poets participating in the giveaway that she’s initiated.  (See the list on the left for participating blogs!) You can still sign up to win free books here, there, and everywhere!

When I return, on the train, I will transfer all the blue slips with your names on them into my gray hat, shake them up, and determine a winner.  I’ll send all 3 books to that winner once I get a mailing address via comment.  (I will read and record for myself the mailing address from the comment without actually publishing the comment here, OK?!)

So check back on May 1, May 2, or May 3, depending on my exhaustion level!

I am going to Chicago to:

--participate in a release reading for Brute Neighbors
--participate in The Encyclopedia Show: Creation Myths
--lead discussions for Great Books Chicago

(See Events, on the right.)

Whew!  And write at least 3 more poems for National Poetry Month!!!

April 28 poem-a-day prompt: train ride
April 29: haiku or very tiny poem
April 30: books & beyond, or Buzz Lightyear 

(“To infinity and beyond!”)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Voice Lessons

National Poetry Month is dwindling down, four poems to go, and people are exhausted, poets losing their energy and inspiration. 

So, 1) today’s poem-a-day prompt is “exhaustion,” and 2) you might get a lift by looking at Paulette Beete’s poetry feature, just up today at Escape Into Life.  Sing it, baby!

I've been reading Voice Lessons, Paulette's new poetry chapbook, in small, sweet bits since it arrived from Plan B Press--perfect name for a small poetry press, eh?  

Sorry, I can seem to get an image of the book cover any larger than this thumbprint (or it gets blurry), but you can enlarge it at the press's website.  It's a lovely drawing.

Paulette is also included in the anthology pictured above, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, D.C.  Paulette lives in the D.C. area now, but our paths crossed at poetry workshops when we both lived in Chicago, so I have been a reader of her work for a long time.  I reviewed her first chapbook, Blues for a Pretty Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2005) for RHINO, and I am glad to see a couple of poems from that, including “Voice Lesson,” here in Voice Lessons.  (You can see samples from both books in the Escape Into Life feature.)

And, yes, this book is about all kinds of singing—songs of praise, songs of woe, choir singing, blues, jazz, birdsong.  And about finding, developing, training one’s voice. There are poems like prayers, litanies, incantations. There are prose poems, numbered poems, and even collage poems that mix voices, the poet as arranger of a new song.

There are poems to Billie Holiday and to Eva Cassidy. There are poems to a street, a poem to the vagina. Anything that can sing or be sung to might be here! Somehow, somewhere, a voice will be breaking to make someone whole.

There is a rich, conflicted relationship with the mother in these poems.  “Naming,” a ghazal, begins:

In prayer, my mother gargles my name, in her throat a small stone.
I tremble on her tongue light as a stone.

and ends:

She names me Paulette, meaning small:
I grow smaller still, my name growing cozy as a stone.

And “Prophecy,” a prose poem, begins:

Mama, I said, I’m going to be a poet.  Mama, I said, I will make your words mine. Her large hand winding its way around my small hands like a manacle, her lips parted.

Throat, tongue, lips recur throughout this book.  “I didn’t know I loved my tongue,” she says in “Poem after Hikmet.” “I used to think it was a liar. My own tongue!” The mouth is used to speak, to sing, to taste, to kiss, to eat, to love. And, in “The Woman’s Wardrobe,” to ask:

Am I an intersection of skin & voice
the shadow of that intersection
a manipulation of skin & memory

a blank wall?

And maybe to let us know what voice lessons are for:

Later after you’ve unhooked yourself…
later when you are sleeping
I’ll count your brokenness..
            where the harmonica
bruised Stormy Monday from your mouth

I’ll count the places my body mourns
your hands the fleshy length of your fingers

harp-bit rough worry your lips
like a stone greedy unstitching

that raw place where you measure loss
my tongue building a sacristy for hunger.
And here is Paulette, reading, on the Big Read Blog!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Band of Gold

Today I woke from a dream of praise to a band of gold across the eastern sky. Now I've got Freda Payne singing "Band of Gold" in my head, and the eastern and northern skies have gone gray-blue, holding more rain. The winds last night spattered white blossoms onto lawn and patio. Hosta is uncurling, and lily-of-the-valley stands around like ranks of pixie-stick soldiers at ease.  It's Fat Tuesday in the blog, day of abundance.

Easter brought Reester Bunnies into the house, and I took the last of the ornaments off the Mardi Gras tree, dropping shiny beads and plastic eggs into a plastic pumpkin till next year. Someone else must disassemble the dusty tree.

To wake in praise is really something. I'd done that thing of asking my overnight self to guide me, and the morning dream was me typing a review that praised a woman and a man, young and old, someone kind and someone mean (in the past).

At the moment I praise Blondie and Brownie (home of the unwrapped Reester Bunny) and marvel that they've actually eaten something called the Chicken and Waffle cupcake, pictured at their blog, here. Yet another taste sensation as unusual as Bacon and Chocolate, but all these foodies claim it works!

And while I'm at it, I should mention Foodgasm: the Blog.  Green bean casserole will never be the same.

Ah, and now I can praise the sun for coming out!

How long will it stay?!


April 26 poem-a-day prompt:

April showers, May flowers (but no actual clich├ęs allowed in poem; maybe it can be a ghazal)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cruelest Month

It's Blue Monday in the blog, and "cruelest month" is the poem-a-day prompt.  Rain has resumed, and we are in the last stretch of April, National Poetry Month. And it's Ted Kooser's birthday, one of our Poet Laureates of the United States.

I have three of Kooser's books, two inherited from Griff, a family friend who collected books and movies, his tiny apartment an overflowing library.  Local Wonders, a sort of memoir on place, contains Griff's little yellow post-it notes and more elaborate notes on yellow lined paper, and Flying at Night has his characteristic pencil checkmarks and loopy marginalia beside the poems. Delights & Shadows is clean, and my own.

Today's Writer's Almanac quotes Kooser from an interview in Guernica Magazine, saying, about his "success"--I guess the success of being named Poet Laureate--"The image is this feeling like one of those telephone poles...on which a lot of notices have been stapled and then torn away, and they leave little triangles of paper, held by staples. On those notices were things lost and things found and the photos of people missing, and now even the photos are missing as a metaphor for what happens in life. All this experience is tacked upon us and then torn away, and we become a residue of this experience."

Competing in my head at this moment, the wry and cheerful "Sadder but Wiser" song from The Music Man, sung by Robert Preston, and "Genius Next Door," sung by Regina Spektor.

And this very short poem by Kooser, from Delights & Shadows


All night, this soft rain from the distant past.

No wonder I sometimes waken as a child.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

When the Emperor was Divine

I am reading too many things at once.  One of them is When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka.  It is a lovely book--a crystal clear prose style, a quiet truth telling from the perspectives of multiple characters inside that unifying style, and the story of Japanese Americans in 1942 suddenly "reclassified" in the middle of their lives and sent off to internment camps.

I'm reading this one at my daughter's request, as she is reading it for school and really likes it. Whenever my daughter asks me to read something, I do it. It's a wonderful way to connect. The other night she asked me to read it aloud to her while she ate her bedtime snack of sliced strawberries and mandarin oranges.

My book group read Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, which addresses the same historical moment, but I am liking this even better for its swift telling and simplicity.

I use "simplicity" as a word of praise here, far from "simplistic," a damning word, and I notice that not everyone out there makes that distinction, so I am clarifying here. It is a directness, and, in this case, a fullness inside restraint. It is a trust, a confidence, that saying what is there will be enough.

No need to embellish or over-explain or tell the reader what to feel. The reader can be trusted to feel what is there if you say what is there. I admire this in poetry, too, so I'd call this a poetic style.

The subtlety and complexity of human existence are beautifully handled by the simplicity of diction and style in this book. There is selection of detail, and of what to say and what not to say, so there is mystery, human mystery, and a respect for the things we can seldom know or say.  All are evoked in few words. I love that!


April 24 poem-a-day prompt: Easter

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Odes to Tools

I once had a dream to start a website called Men’s

I thought better of it. Hear it as if announced on NPR, as in “N-P-R-dot-O-R-G”. Yes, it’s “men’s tools dot orgy.”  See what I mean?  But my husband really does look good in a tool belt. 

(And I call him “my husband” above, because I don’t like to name my family members online.  I’m not claiming possession of him.  Though, um, yes, I am.  And I am fine being called “his wife,” though I did keep my own last name.)

In April, I’ve been cheering on Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Dave Bonta who are reading four poetry books in common for National Poetry Month.  In particular, Dave has been reading (just about) a poetry book or chapbook a day, including one of mine.

If you click the link to his review of Broken Sonnets, you may be worried that Dave is insulting me. Maybe he is! But if you keep reading, and some people don’t, after the first two sentences, he says some really nice things.  So fear not!

But he did read and review the book while drinking, and, in fact, he says, got drunk.  So, tit for tat, last night I drank two glasses of wine in order to finish reading Odes to Tools, by Dave Bonta, and report on it!  Seemed best to do this at night so I could check to see that I didn’t say anything rude or inappropriate (other than “tit for tat”) before posting this morning.

Also, this is in keeping with Slattern Day in the blog.

So!  Odes to Tools is great fun, and I learned a lot about tools.  Living with a carpenter-electrician-car-mechanic-reluctant-plumber with a tool-belt, who just fixed our overworked sump pump, I know a few things about tools, but not everything, and certainly not everything about what can be done with tools in poems.

First off, even the titles of the poems are delightful: “Ode to a Socket Wrench,” “Ode to a Claw Hammer,” “Ode to a Hatchet,” “Ode to a Hoe,” “Ode to a Coping Saw,” “Ode to a Shoehorn.”

Second off, you might worry that a book called Odes to Tools is full of stodgy old odes, just as Dave worried that my book might actually be full of stodgy unbroken sonnets.

But these odes to tools are not dictionary odes, as in:

“1. A lyric poem of some length, usually of a serious or meditative nature and having an elevated style and formal stanzaic structure.”

These are short poems, mostly a page each, informal and lively in diction, in praise of the particular tool, or, yes, quite lyrical and meditative, sometimes seeming to go off topic into a wonderful, wild musing, as in this opening stanza of “Ode to a Claw Hammer,” which is dear to my heart, given that Thor’s Day is a category of my own existence:

Back when all angels were male,
the hammer was the first
perfect androgyne.

That’s just gorgeous!  And here’s another stanza about the claw hammer:

This is no claw, but a pair of legs
strong enough between them
to give birth to nails.

That gets it exactly, both the look and power of the tool and the experience of childbirth.  And “Ode to a Musical Saw” reminds us that tools have other uses, including as musical instruments.  This poem ends breaking my heart:

There’s a sweet spot, the street
musicians say, & they find it
in you.  Where the heart might be,
systole & diastole in perfect balance,
if you were more than cartilage.

The pure tone floats up
through two octaves of rejoicing
at your deliverance
from lumber.
Or is that grief?

Again, gorgeous.  And rings so true.  (And remember there is also such a thing as a “clawhammer banjo”!)

Nor are these odes

“2a. A choric song of classical Greece, often accompanied by a dance and performed at a public festival or as part of a drama”

but they could be! Or

“2b. A classical Greek poem modeled on the choric ode and usually having a three-part structure consisting of a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode”

but it was fun to revisit my theatre history in anticipation of Odes to Tools, which are more like free verse songs of praise, though there is a bit of Greek right away in “Ode to a Hand Truck,” by way of the opening line, “Eohippus of the truck family,” surely a great image, made even more fun by lines 2 and 3, “divergent offspring / of wheelbarrows,” so we see a kind of evolution before our very eyes!

Eo + hippus (Greek for horse) = extinct ancestor of the horse

So much depends upon divergent wheelbarrows! But Bonta provides his own allusion to the famous William Carlos Williams poem, the bane of so many high school students, the joy of so many poets, in his last stanza:

The job over,
I return the hand truck
to its spot under
the barn forebay,
between the Ford dump truck
& the old wheelbarrow,
no longer red, on which
so little
now depends.

(Who needs a wheelbarrow when you’ve got a hand truck?)

I highly recommend this man’s tools (and this man’s odes) and suggest you read about his inspiration for the book here.

I admire the precision of language and observation in this book, how the setting unfolds around the focus on the tool at hand, and how each poem, moving quickly and lightly, can also, if it wants, take on a large philosophical idea. 

I love how there’s a life here, a personal history, work, a childhood.

And I love how the poet can provide his own little river of anaphoric love in “Ode to a Shovel”:

I love groundbreaking...
I love cutting sod…
I love giving the earth…

And I can guess, from “Ode to a Chalk Line Reel,” that he would love the fact that my husband still uses a reel with string for an “electric blue” chalk line.  And, of course, we both love a spirit level.  (Yes, I sound a little sentimental about tools, but it turns out I am not drunk at all.)

You can get a copy of Odes to Tools via the publisher, Phoenicia Publishing, in Montreal, here, where you can also click to listen to Dave read the poems.  And be sure to visit his blog, Via Negativa, and his online magazine, qaartsiluni.


April 23 poem-a-day prompt: Shakespeare's birthday!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day

It's Earth Day. It's raining. This should be good for the earth, as long as the rain is clean.

Yesterday was Thor's Day in the blog, but the thunder continues. Over at Facebook, a college pal posted a funny video of "Little Thor," alerting me to the movie Thor, opening Friday, May 6.  I do hope I remember to do something about that here in the blog, on Thor's Day, May 5.

I have put it on the wildflower calendar on my office door, but there is a chance I won't look at the calendar.

Thor and "Little Thor" both have really big hammers.

As the Writer's Almanac reminded me, today is the birthday of Louise Gluck, one of my favorite poets. (If you don't like her, you can Google, find, and read the sucky commentary at "Louise Gluck Sucks," but I do like her. She's smart and honest and a good poet. She troubles me, but I'm OK with that. The world troubles me, what God is troubles me, so poetry should trouble me, too.)

I love The Wild Iris, which goes inside various wildflowers and states of weather & light and also includes matins and vespers, the morning and evening prayers. There is nothing at all sentimental in all this. There is hard, cold, bold, risky, Thor-like thundery truth-telling:

Poets might be cold. God might not be listening. Deal with it.

The Wild Iris won the Pulitzer Prize.  This year's Pulitzers were recently announced.

This morning I woke up from a dream in which I'd asked a hunky man to feel my bicep. I was pretty sure my bicep was impressive. He was not very impressed.

1) I interpreted the dream to mean, perhaps, that I am not as strong as I think I am.
2) Then it occurred to me that it's a dream of perception.  He did not perceive me as strong, but maybe I am.
3) But there was the bicep test, and he was an undeniably hunky man.
4) Self-knowledge and how we are perceived in the world are not the same thing.
5) I need to a) build my biceps and b) make sure how I am perceived matches what I know myself to be.
6) If that is even possible.
7) I remember the feel of my own bicep in the dream; there was surely something there!


April 22 poem-a-day prompt: freedom, free with purchase, or any other association or irony of the word "free"

Painting by Tony Rio, Stop Hand.  Permission given.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easing the Spring

Pink sky early this morning. Now the sun, in a pale blue sky.

Japonica glistens like coral in my neighbor's garden.

Ah, see "Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed, here.  And listen to him read it, with Frank Duncan.

His first year of college, my son made a short video on the horror of war using this poem.

The coral impatiens I brought in for the winter is budding in a kitchen pot right now, neighboring nasturtium leaves in a long tumble.  Monday I took tiny black seeds of white bleeding heart to a woman I met in a coffeeshop, handing her the little envelope with joy.

Wikimedia image attribution/license here.
Japonica, and fruits, here.
Whole page of japonica here.


April 21 poem-a-day prompt: justice or a gavel

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poem-a-Day Buzz

It's the Hump of the Week in the blog and actually Wednesday, the hump of the week, and, yes, today's poem-a-day prompt is "hump of the week."  I laid all these out in advance for my local poetry workshop and an online forum, but they are surprisingly apt once we get to them.  Yesterday's prompt was "well gone dry," and I learned that a number of people's poetry wells had gone dry, but I'm hoping the chance to write a poem about it got them through.

The little buzz one gets from writing all these poems is another thing that keeps me going during National Poetry Month, all that focused energy. But then there's the annoying buzz, the little do-bee from Romper Room telling me I've got to write a poem....

And that's the topic of this little piece over at Her Circle Ezine, a fine online gathering place for women, and for humans who read, look, listen, and think.

One woman who is doing a terrific job of writing and posting her poems is Risa Denenberg, who is posting her poems here, in her own blog, and also at Gazebo, where she participates in a poetry workshop.

Some of Risa's poems are exploring the hump of a life--that is, middle age and its stumblings and joys, sudden chin hairs, changes.  I love her use of precise medical terminology: "Today I found a spider / angioma on my cheek" and, discussing her eyebrows, forehead, and scar, "supraorbital ridge."

As some of us keep writing our poems-a-day, we hope to get through this hump of the month, this hump of the spring, with its return to snow, its sudden hail and thunder, its floating mists.

Do be a do-bee.

(I leave all jokes, puns, illegal activities, and inappropriateness to you and the Urban Dictionary.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eclectica Spotlight

The spring issue of Eclectica is out, and I am in it! In fact the spotlight is on me, as I am the "Spotlight Author," so this is a triple treat! To have poems in a magazine, to be featured, and to have this theatrical theme (because I used to work as an actor) as coincidental icing on the eclectic cake!

I've known of Eclectica for years, and enjoy it down to its clear and specific guidelines. See "A few more words..." which asks you gently but firmly to proofread your work!

I love that it is "eclectic" in its tastes! I love its clear index page, and its layout, even if I do get lost in its navigation sometimes, because of my own technological challenge and because I forget to refresh a page I have visited before, etc. And that's why I had not submitted earlier--fear of technology!--but more and more I have been getting over my fears and challenges and submitting to fine and fun online magazines!

This issue is beautifully illustrated by photos and images by past Eclectica contributors. It has stories, reviews, essays, interviews, and travel pieces as well as poems. So much to enjoy, so check it out!!

Fittingly, the Eclectica icon for the poetry section is a coffee cup, and I must confess that I drank coffee in the evening last night, 1) to warm up, as the chill and wind outside make my home office cold, too and 2) to keep working on a poetry review & interview questions for an upcoming piece.

Aauughh. Note to self: remember not to drink coffee at night!

So, while it was a bit difficult to sleep, I had a super-vivid movie-like dream that woke me up this morning. I wrote it down. Maybe it is my new job, a screenplay. Heh.

If you are writing a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, perhaps you are finding that the well has gone dry...? (Coffee dehydrates.)


April 19 poem-a-day prompt: well gone dry

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fabulous Traveling Funeral

My book group is now reading Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral, by Kris Radish. This has got to be "chick lit," as the cover shows four women in a red convertible with a license plate that reads, "Divas 50."

They all have their arms up in the air (at least one hand on the steering wheel), and one of the women is holding a pair of red hightops.

I have red hightops. Note to self: plan fabulous funeral.

Temperature today at 7:00 a.m.: 41. Feels like 32.

Poem-a-day prompt: "You've got to be kidding!"

The Kris Radish book will be fun respite, funereal fun, from the other reading and re-reading I'm still doing for Great Books Chicago (Genesis, Brave New World, and Willa Cather, the center section of The Professor's House).  Busy times in April and May.

Plus, a jillion letters from the Civil War for a script I am writing. Many thanks to Seana at Confessions of Ignorance for an in-depth look at the word "skedaddle"! It has a very pertinent Civil War context. As I love to say, "Who gnu?"

Still managing my poem-a-day, though! Still getting some poems off in the mail or by way of submission manager. Still seeing people in real life. Still married.

Still job-seeking in a haphazard trust-the-universe kind of the way. Still hoping this will be a manna-from-heaven job where someone offers to pay me for what I already do!

I've got to be kidding...

Delightfully, Kris Radish also writes poetry! Who gnu?

And has a poem called "Dancing Naked"! She sounds like 1) my kind of girl 2) someone to invite to next year's women's retreat!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Other than the tornado sirens and hellish hail, the women's retreat this weekend was sweet!!

As I recall, all I did was eat, sleep, talk, read, write, and eat. Did I mention the eating? Did I mention the fried chicken?

Seems like I forgot something. Oh, drink! There was wine! And wild laughter!

So, although it is not at all Tuesday, it is Fat Tuesday in the blog. Surely I will still be fat on Tuesday.

I enjoyed the movie Eat, Pray, Love, which had plenty of food in it, including the pizza in Naples, and Javier Bardem is delicious. Richard Jenkins (Richard from Texas) is appropriately bittersweet. Don't worry, I'm not going to keep mentioning the tasty men.

When I got home, I had a poem acceptance from Sweet! What could be sweeter?

P.S.  If you want this sweet button, you can get it at Zazzle.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Into the Wind

I'm headed into the woods this weekend, or off to the convent, however it works out, based on the weather.

Right now it is terribly windy and pretty gray and in the 40s again, so we might not have our usual sunny walks lakeside and in the nature preserve to see the bluebells, mayapples, and mating snakes.

This is my annual church women's retreat, where we 1) drink wine 2) think deep philosophical and spiritual thoughts and 3) sometimes dance wildly but 4) not naked in the woods.  And that's all I'm going to say about it, because "what happens at the retreat stays at the retreat."

Except to say that this year's theme is "nurturing ourselves" and we will have the chance to watch Eat, Pray, Love, and, yes, I loved the book (read it at the perfect time) and will probably enjoy the movie even though my beloved friend Kristi thinks Julia Roberts is "feral."

I am looking forward to the pizza. I hope the pizza made it into the movie. (Is it possible the pizza could be made with drunken goat cheese?!)

Now to follow up on yesterday:

First, here is the Etsy site for Dan-Ah Kim! This is where Julie, who commented yesterday, got a print of "Seek Me," the Red Riding Hood one, and where you can get any one you want! Yay!

Next, here is Sandy Longhorn's blog entry on her EIL feature, and you'll see you can sign up at her blog for the Big Poetry Giveaway, too, and maybe win Blood Almanac, her book!

And, because I love the third-party submission option and overall generosity of Nic Sebastian at Whale Sound, I'd also like to let you know how you can let me know of poets I can scout for Escape Into Life!

If you know of a poet living anywhere in the world who writes in English and who seems perfect for Escape Into Life, you can let me know, now that we have email, at kathleen(at)escapeintolife(dot)com. Please look at several of the poetry features, and see if your favorite poet might work out there.  Then send me an email with some links to your poet online and contact info, and I will try to check it out in a timely manner. As with many poetry editor gigs, this is a volunteer job, so I have to fit it into my wacky life.

Know that I am also reading books and journals, and looking for poets in print, too, but as Escape Into Life is an online adventure, the editors want readers to be able to find their contributors somewhere on the web, too.

See Nic's description of a "web-active poet" here, and also know that I can feature less "web-active" writers, too, sort of helping them have a web presence, hoping that there's at least a blog, a press with a website, or a few online publications for EIL readers to seek out on their own.

And while you are at Whale Sound, read and listen to the wonderful poems there!!


And finally, because I am retreating, here are the next few poem-a-day prompts:

April 15: your take on taxation this year
April 16: being quiet
April 17: field trip, free choice, maybe a ghazal

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Enthralled by the Storm

It's Thor's Day in the blog, and the poem-a-day prompt is "thunder and lightning," so I'm sending you directly to the Sandy Longhorn poetry feature, just up at Escape Into Life.

There you will find a grouping of her saint poems and fairy tale poems, including "Fairy Tale for Girls Enthralled by the Storm."

They are paired with lyrical collage paintings by Dan-Ah Kim.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott suggested that I talk about how I do things as poetry editor for Escape Into Life, and it is about time I explained myself!  But first, let me cheer on Kristin and Dave Bonta, of Via Negativa, who are celebrating National Poetry Month in their blogs by reading and reviewing/reporting on the books they read!

As poetry editor for Escape Into Life, I work as a poetry scout. When founding editor Chris Al-Aswad asked me to do this, as his previous poetry editor, Mark Kerstetter (a fine poet and blogger himself!) was stepping back, I told him I would prefer not to read submissions as I had done enough of that already! (I had paid my dues as an editor for RHINO for ten years and, before that, as an associate editor for Poetry East.) Since I read a heck of a lot of poetry in books, journals, and online, anyway, I figured I would stumble upon poets I admired who would fit the readership and artistic sensibility of the Escape Into Life "adventure," as I call it.

This "poetry scout" strategy was fine with Chris and, in fact, matched what he and the art editors were already doing--looking at lots of stuff online for their Artist Watch features!

And, Chris confessed, most of the poetry submissions he was getting were "bad." Probably from novice poets, excited to be writing, but who hadn't "paid their dues" by reading enough poetry yet. Sigh....  It's a dilemma.

So I scout out and invite poetry submissions from poets I think would be good for Escape Into Life. Not everybody follows up, but most do, and I get to pick some wonderful poems.  After I choose the poems, I look through the Artist Watch selections, or search by category for Paintings, Drawings, Collage, Photography, to find the perfect match of poem and art. Sometimes, while arranging the feature at the website, I try the poems out with 2 or 3 artists to see what juxtapositions I like best--sometimes the best "match" is a strange contrast! I love doing this.

But I must share with you my sadness about Chris, who died young, and here is the odd coincidence connected to that, in an entry from last August. I cannot tell you how glad I am that his sister, father, and fellow editors are keeping the adventure going as his legacy.

It's a beautiful blue day here so far, and I hope to walk out in it on the local hiking trail later today.  The thunder and lightning are coming tomorrow.


April 14 poem-a-day prompt: thunder and lightning

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Last night I attended a wonderful forum on civil unions in Illinois.  The law has passed, and civil unions will be effective & legally possible as of June 1, and a panel of representatives from Lamba Legal, Equality Illinois, and the county clerk’s office were there to tell people how to do it, plus a divorce lawyer (who provides other services, as well, such as wills, pre-nups, etc.), who was there to get real about dissolution of marriage or civil unions, as need be! 

Great info & marvelous humor, respect, and goodwill. I was so glad to learn more and be there in support. And it’s possible I’ll be on the tv news or have my picture in the paper and someone will want to civilly unite with me.  (Sorry, married to a man already.)

One source of humor was what to call oneself: “civil unionized,” “civilized,” or “civilly united”? They all sound fine to me, especially “civilized,” but I understand how “married” would be so much simpler, so I’ll hope for that someday, too.

Interesting quirks and complications re: taxes. Yeesh. Double paperwork will be required, as one can file jointly on state taxes but must still file separately on federal taxes, and the numbers all have to work out. Tax accountants will be getting some good business out of this, and I am thankful that 1) we have a tax man 2) he is humorously willing to be our “marriage counselor,” as in keep us together since trying to do our taxes without him might lead to divorce, and 3) the government hasn’t shut down, meaning our tax refund might come reasonably soon in the scheme of things.

Plus, there was cake.  As in wedding cake.

In other news, I won’t necessarily have to lead a discussion on Genesis for Great Books Chicago, though I am really enjoying re-reading it and creating discussion questions.  I will be the back-up leader in case anyone gets sick or delayed.  The organizer made this switch to give a new leader his own discussion group and so I don’t have to be super-focused on that, because I am performing in The Encyclopedia Show that same night!  (If my creation myth is approved.)

This is a sort of live encyclopedia event, also recorded for the radio, and I have been listening to past performances on WBEZ to prepare.  You can listen at Audiopedia; click the show title to be taken to the WBEZ program.

Yesterday I got what I hope is a final draft of my piece, which is in rhyming, slant rhyming, or internally rhyming couplets!  And, by random coincidence, I used to be an encyclopedia editor.  I love how my life keeps going in circles.

Er, um…?! Going in circles is “supposed to” be a dubious thing…?!


April 13 poem-a-day prompt: supposed to

Scrabble cake comes from Pink Cakebox!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two Poor Cow-Punchers

It's Fat Tuesday in the blog, "terrible twos" day in the poem-a-day prompting, and 2nd Tuesday at the Blue Mesa Grill, so here's a happy-hour margarita. It's also Part 2 of my rhapsody on Willa Cather, as I re-read "Tom Outland's Story" in preparation for Great Books Chicago, later this month.

"Once again I had that glorious feeling that I've never had anywhere else, the feeling of being on the mesa, in a world above the world."

I feel like that when I write sometimes.  (Other times, as on yesterday's writing projects, I feel like I'm typing and typing and getting nowhere.) A writer friend, Candace, was talking about how happy she feels when she writes, that time slips away.

Or, as Willa Cather says, "Happiness is something one can't explain. You must take my word for it." (I think I quoted this a while back, too.) "Troubles enough came afterward, but there was that summer, high and blue, a life in itself."

But there's also something terrible that happens in this story of "two poor cow-punchers" entrusted with a herd in New Mexico. They find something wonderful on the mesa, know it to be valuable, and lose it anyway: "something that had been preserved through the ages by a miracle, and handed on to you and me, two poor cow-punchers, rough and ignorant, but I thought we were men enough to keep a trust."

As I type it out, I know it applies not just to the treasures they find but to the treasure of their time together, and the story is indeed about misunderstandings of tangible and intangible value, one of my own obsessions.

These two men both seem to know when there's hell to pay, and that some things can't be undone.  All I can say about that is, no matter how terrible it gets, don't punch any cows.

And here's this from Cather: "Every morning, when the sun's rays first hit the mesa top, while the rest of the world was in shadow, I wakened with the feeling that I had found everything, instead of having lost everything." A good way to wake up.


April 12 poem-a-day prompt: terrible twos

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blue Mesa

It's Blue Monday in the blog, and that's today's poem-a-day prompt, but I am not at all blue, and neither is the sky.

I have been re-reading Willa Cather, and am taken with this wonderful sentence, "His room opened onto the street, by a sky-blue door."  That's from "Tom Outland's Story," and so is this description of the mesa:

The Blue Mesa was one of the landmarks we always saw from Pardee--landmarks mean so much in a flat country. To the northwest, over toward Utah, we had the Mormon Buttes, three sharp blue peaks that always sat there. The Blue Mesa was south of us, and was much stronger in colour, almost purple. People said the rock itself had a deep purplish cast.  It looked, from our town, like a naked blue rock set down alone in the plain...

Sometimes I feel like a naked blue rock set down alone in the plain...

Later in the story, the sun comes up and goes down on the mesa:

It was light up there long before it was with us.  When I got up at daybreak and went down to the river to get water, our camp would be cold and grey, but the mesa top would be red with sunrise, and all the slim cedars along the rocks would be gold--metallic, like tarnished gold-foil. Some mornings it would loom up above the dark river like a blazing volcanic mountain. It shortened our days, too, considerably. The sun got behind it early in the afternoon, and then our camp would lie in its shadow. After a while the sunset colour would begin to stream up from behind it. Then the mesa was like one great ink-black rock against a sky on fire.

Oh, my. Gorgeous. I hope we can always see, care for, and appreciate such beauty here on our world. Cather is describing the Blue Mesa in New Mexico.  When I visit the National Park Service site for the Curecanti National Recreation Area of Colorado, I see that there will be no access to the Blue Mesa Reservoir in the case of a government shutdown.  Sigh... Numerous dilemmas. And I hope it is OK to share this beautiful picture of Blue Mesa Lake, which I found here.

I love "all the slim cedars..."  I love that "great ink-black rock against a sky on fire."


April 11 poem-a-day prompt:  Blue Monday

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Go Figure

Based on statistics (number of views per individual blog entry here at my innocuous blog), hedgehogs are way more popular than sex.

Right now the hedgehog post has easily overtaken “Boobies and Baseball” (illustrated with a girl in a baseball-themed bikini) and is well on its way to passing “Frigate Bird.” So, yes, unusual animals are more popular than boobies (well, the blue-footed booby is an animal). 

I have to delete most of the comments that come for "More Party Girls," which is about book group and collage bookmarks, so I carefully did not title this entry "More Popular than Sex."

As the hits are piling up rapidly, “Hedgehog Hodgepodge” may also soon surpass “Intercity Volleyball.”

But could it ever accrue more hits than “My Brain is Origami”? We’ll find out.

To get back to poetry and art, today’s poem-a-day prompt is “art by women, women painters in history or now,” as I am on my way to Woman Made Gallery in Chicago for a poetry reading!  Later!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Love Potion #9

It's Slattern Day in the blog, and I am celebrating with silliness.  Did you know Sandra Bullock was in this movie? And Anne Bancroft? Neither did I.  I didn't even know this was a movie. But now I am tempted to see if the public library has it--Love Potion #9.

Ah, it was released straight to video. And for you cat lovers, there's a cat in it, crucial to the plot.

The movie is inspired, of course, by the famous song, "Love Potion No. 9," recorded by The Clovers, and used on the soundtrack of American Graffiti.

I had the musical phrase in my head this morning, "da dada number nine," because the poem-a-day prompt is "the significance of the number nine," but I had forgotten the love potion part, a sad testament to my lack of morning slatternliness.

(I also folded some laundry.)

That sent me on an odd search leading inevitably to 1) the biblical significance of the number nine 2) the occult significance of the number nine (I did not click any of those links, too scared) and 3) The Beatles, "Revolution 9." 

(Do not read this blog entry backwards.)

And, math-challenged as I am, I do know of the mathematical significance of the number nine!

Have fun!


April 9 poem-a-day prompt:

significance of the number 9

Friday, April 8, 2011

Eight Days a Week

It's the end of the first week of National Poetry Month, and I do have seven poems, and another to write today, the eighth, on the 8th. Yes, many of us, poets or celebrants, are writing a poem a day.

Every April, I get 30 drafts, some that develop into real poems after tweaking or deep revision, some that get left behind forever, and some that turn out to be "gift" poems, the ones that fall out whole. I am always amazed and delighted, once I've got a poem out there in the world, to realize how many of my published poems were generated in these April celebrations.

Today's prompt, in my blog and my real-life Poetry Someday workshop, is "the need for wine or beer." I imagine I made this one up to fit the day of the week, as in TGIF, just as yesterday's prompt was "Thor, Norse god of thunder," to line up with Thursday. But other prompts have been and will be entirely random.

And that brings me to another tally--my "eight days a week" project. After the 365-days-of-reading project, I lined up my life in "categories of existence," seeing if I would indeed have seven, to line up with the days of the week, but I had eight, and I don't believe in linear time, so now I write about things eight days a week, sometimes doubling up, sometimes skipping or neglecting certain categories.

I am happy to report that Cranky Doodle Day is lagging behind in the tally! I am not very cranky these days! (I do sort of doodle. These would be verbal doodles, on scaps of paper that pile up in various areas and turn into poems, blog entries, job applications, or to-do lists.  And I do sing nonsense songs around the house.)

So I was looking for anything to complain or crank about, and I only came up with these:

1) An editor wanted to remove two commas from a poem, saying they were ungrammatical.  (There was a reason for them, but it surely wasn't worth explaining or arguing about.) I said it was fine to take them out. I think Mary Oliver would agree.

2) My husband has a bad cold (poor him!), but now I might be getting it just before I have to do a poetry reading in Chicago on Sunday. Water, juice, tea! (Oh! Wine, beer!)

3) It's raining. What's the point in cranking about the weather?!  Soon, soon, it will be warm and sunny, and, as far as I know, this rain isn't particularly acid or toxic. It will bring May flowers.

In the background of Cranky Doodle Day is Crafty Doodle Day and, alas, I'm behind on crafty things like poetry collages and the book purse, but soon I will be making a 5x7 piece of art work for a local exhibit (it shall remain anonymous until sold to benefit the gallery, so I won't say any more about it here!), as, I hope, will my actual artist husband, once he gets over his bad (poor him!) cold.

So, not cranky! Rain, rain, go or stay, then come back on the eighth day... Not logical! Non-linear! Math challenged!

So, today's song is, of course, "Eight Days a Week," by The Beatles.
--book about final world tour here
--book about New Zealand tour here (scroll down)
--info on the single here


April 8 poem-a-day prompt here:

the need for wine or beer

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Buddha's Birthday

Happy Birthday to the Buddha, to Billie Holiday, and to the Internet, and thanks to the Writer's Almanac for this Random Coinciday in the blog. The Buddha's actual birthday is not exactly known, and the date of its celebration varies in the world, according to the lunar cycle and the specific cultural customs, but today is the celebration of Buddha's birth in Japan.

In Japan, children will pour a sweet tea, traditionally made of hydrangea, over the heads of statues of the Buddha.  This holiday, called Vesak or Vesakha, among other names, is a day of thanks and re-commitment to living a noble life. In the legends of the Buddha's life and death, this was a day of April showers leading to May flowers, in a sense, as the rain at the time of Buddha's birth caused all the flowers to bloom, and the weeping as the Buddha was dying caused him to remind his attendant Ananda not to sorrow at the disintegration of life but to remember the eternal truths.

Today's celebration in Japan seems especially poignant and horrific, as the local rain and local vegetation in some areas will be dangerous and not the life-giving nurture we want it to be for some time to come. A new commitment to a noble life is all the more urgent, and must result in action. It is a day of thanks in Japan; from afar, I thank the workers who are giving their noble lives to clean-up and repair.

Today's imaginary soundtrack is Lady in Satin, Billie Holiday's last album, her vibrant voice now more fragile but steeped in her life of dark struggle and deep emotion. I was moved to read of her generosity in a life of poverty; most of her earnings were sucked up by the unscrupulous, but she'd leave a plate of money on her table for out-of-work musicians, for food or cab fare.

It's William Wordsworth's birthday, too, and one of my favorite poems ever is his "Ode on Intimations of Immortality." He is also famous for his "Daffodils," now blooming.  So, daffodils for Wordsworth, hydrangea for the Buddha, gardenias for Lady Day.

While you're on it, say happy birthday to the Internet, and be sure to thank Al Gore for inventing it.

April 7 poem-a-day prompt:

Thor, Norse god of thunder

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hedgehog Hodgepodge

Hedgehogs here to get us through the hump of the week.

Tonight my book group meets to discuss The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, the book I bought for my daughter and borrowed back to read for myself.

I have been re-reading sections in preparation for tonight, notably the ending, plus Renee Michel's rejection of Husserl. Renee is the concierge of a residential hotel in Paris, and she resembles a hedgehog in her bristling spiny defense mechanisms and her ability to roll up in a ball of emotional denial.

Hedgehogs are mainly nocturnal and, in captivity, get along well with other domesticated animals.

Yes, Renee has a cat.

Hedgehogs live in Europe and are popular pets. There are no native species in North America, not anymore.

Terry Pratchett has "The Hedgehog Song" in his Discworld books, and, amazingly, here is a whole webpage dedicated to that, with lyrics, and a chance to hear them sung.  It's at the website of Warren Marrs, poet, who will appreciate today's poem-a-day prompt: hedgehogs in the wild or as pets.

Meanwhile, I finished Women in Their Beds, by Gina Berriault.  Oh, my, what a beautiful book of short stories.  I was delighted to encounter in it the words "slattern" and "braggadocio," which have also come up in the blogosphere of my life.

Here is another hedgehog.


April 6 poem-a-day prompt:

Hedgehogs in the wild or as pets


Sudden update, via Quentin Hardy!  Hedgehog Central!!