Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whimsy-Colored Glasses

Today is a busy Fat Tuesday in the blog: exercise class, ekphrasis class, housecleaning, hosting of book group tonight. So, mainly, I will link you to an interview in Adanna Journal, where I talk about poetry, seriously but through the lenses of my whimsy-colored glasses.

Roughly the rosy, pinky, orange of this morning's sunrise.

By whimsy, I mean you'll find the occasional musical-comedy lyric + my kids rolling their eyes. By "seriously" I mean, I do try to answer the real questions about poetry, poetry process, avoiding sentimentality, and being all that you can be in the army of women writers in the world. And, as the genie reminds Aladdin when he's trying to  talk to Jasmine ("Bee yourself," in the guise of a bee), I try to bee myself.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

--Emily Dickinson

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stoic Kindness

Yesterday my mom brought the new issue of Poetry East to our Sunday afternoon poetry workshop. It's the Fall 2011 issue, Numbers 71, 72, & 73, containing art by Odilon Redon, and writing by George Herbert and Nathaniel Hawthorne, along with a whole bunch of contemporary poets, including my mom!

Her poem, "Tact," by Margaret Kirk, is on page 103. It was inspired by an incident in the McLean Museum of History, but it is the kind of thing any of us might have witnessed somewhere or had to handle ourselves, which, as my mom puts it, takes "stoic kindness."

She is my poetry "student" now, but I first learned about poetry from her, not to mention everything I know about stoic kindness. Thanks, Mom! And congratulations!

An extra delight is that a poem by Patricia McMillen, "Running Wild," is a couple pages away, and there's this poetry friend from Chicago running wild as a child (and a horse) in her front yard and in her imagination, becoming "a whole herd."

Further on, the poignant "Too Late," by Barry Silesky, a poetry friend and mentor. I learned about prose poetry from Barry. Favorites Michael Hettich and Lee Rossi are in there. Oh, and many more. I've only had the issue a few hours! There's a lot in it.

And my mom!

And that's my mom at Heartland Theatre, looking stoically kind in the play Eleemosynary, which means benevolence.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Going to Heaven

Today I was smacked in the head and chest by Emily Dickinson's poem on The Writer's Almanac, titled there as "Going to Heaven." Don't ever think she's sappy. She isn't. Wait till you get to stanza three.

Likewise, smacked by a quotation from Anton Chekhov, who had been praised in a letter that also challenged him to take his writing more seriously. "Your letter struck me like lightning. I became very emotional upon opening it. I nearly cried. I understand now that if I have a gift, I should honor it, which I have not always done in the past." I nearly cried, too, on reading this! Again, not sappy. Serious! Takes courage to do that. And, the Almanac reports, as he became more monetarily successful as a writer, he kept up his doctoring, providing free medical care to the poor. I like that guy.

To make it a Random Coinciday as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog, I was just discussing an excellent production of Three Sisters with an actor last night, in the green room of a Gala event for the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. Yes, a glorious combination of business people and creative people; sometimes the twain shall meet! (And, no doubt, great businesses have plenty of creativity; and great artists, even those without good business sense, figure out how to get the job done!)

RE: Gala. Actors recreated business people from McLean County's past for the business people of McLean County's present, who were receiving the annual Chamber of Commerce Awards. Ruth Steele, who appeared in the wonderful Mitsubishi commercial that made Normal, Illinois famous, was there to speak, and great fun was had by all. I was glad to be a part of it and to join the business community for cordials in the after party.

RE: Three Sisters. A marvelous collaboration of the MFA program at Illinois State University and Heartland Theatre, where the play was performed, directed by Sandi Zielinski. The production itself was both moving and funny, as Chekhov should be, but I was also powerfully moved between acts, as the actors, in character, rolled up rugs and moved furniture to change the scenes. It was part of the change of household going on in the play. Terrific!

Yesterday, I left the house at 11:15 a.m. and returned at 11:15 p.m.--yep, actors work hard. So it was not a Slattern Day. Hence, today is not a church day but a work day: all the laundry, all the dishes, a chicken soup to prepare, plus two poetry class preps. Does this mean I am not going to heaven? (Or that I am!)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Into Adieu

Google this morning has the animated image of a cow lowing at a giant snowflake, and, indeed, we woke up here to more snow.

(This giant micro-snowflake is thanks to Michael/artgeek via Wikipedia.)

And sometime yesterday a loop of Shakespearean punning began to play in my head:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

I've been told that "solid flesh" can be interpreted as a pun on "sullied flesh," since it can be heard as such, and Hamlet's soliloquy was heard by its audiences, not read, at that time, and because it fits his own feelings of being sullied by recent events (his mother's quick re-marriage to his uncle after his father's death in suspicious circumstances that turn out to be murder) and his own despair.

"Sullied flesh" seems an appropriate pun to pursue on Slattern Day in the blog.

Likewise, "a dew" can resonate as "adieu," since Hamlet is contemplating a farewell to the earth.

O, that this too too recent snow would melt
Thaw, and resolve itself into adieu.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Flexible Folk

Happy 20 years of Acousticity to this guy, Bruce Bergethon, whose "flexible folk" program is on WGLT (and has been for 20 years...!)

He's also the producer of Poetry Radio, co-hosted by Kirstin Hotelling Zona, where you can listen to poets read their own poems or favorites by others, accompanied by snippets of music, on the radio or via podcast!

I just spent the morning taping some poems with him, including some from the forthcoming Nocturnes! 

Bruce is the guy who introduced me, via his Sunday night program, to the CD Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns, by playing the thrilling "Jamie, Come Try Me." It's one of my 3 favorites on the survey you take on this Acousticity page (refesh if it doesn't show up on the first try). You could win a guitar pick.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Offer Your Art Up to the Whole World

As if to contribute to yesterday's discussion on asking the most basic questions about art, Lucinda Williams says this, "Above all, the listener should be able to understand the poem or the song, not be forced to unravel a complicated, self-indulgent puzzle. Offer your art up to the whole world, not just an elite few." It's her birthday, that fact and this quotation thanks to The Writer's Almanac. Thanks to Wikipedia and Creative Commons for Lucinda with her guitar.

Of course, Lucinda's music and lyrics are right out there, raw and repetitive (in the way refrains are, so we can sing along and really feel it), her heart offered up to the world. Her dad is the poet Miller Williams, and I got to hear them together in a program of the Poetry Center at the Art Institute of Chicago once! Great evening.

But her country-music out-thereness is not for everybody. And I don't mind unraveling...a braid, or putting together a puzzle, if I see that the unraveling frees the wild mane or the jigsaw diligence reveals the whole with my participation, and if there is something of interest available right away. So it is still a matter of balance. We can be available and accessible as artists and still offer a reasonable challenge.

If we are seeing something new, that's what we want to show, yes? If we are feeling something intensely that we sense is probably a shared feeling, we want to communicate our experience, not just express a feeling (the self-indulgence Lucinda warns against).

Oh, I know that English departments have broken off from Communications departments on just this issue, with Communications identified with delivering information for some specific purpose (advertising or public relations, journalism or broadcast journalism, etc.). But what I mean is that when I read or write a poem, I am hoping to commune with someone in some way!

Uh, and it's not "an elite few," really, I hope, but it is an intimate communion with each member of the community I find there. Let us share this moment together, whoever we are, via the tangible poem or song and the intangible experience created by it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cold Enough to Cry

It's not that cold here today, but it could be, and has been. No, I am quoting from the poem "Snow, the Lane Home," by Angie Macri, up now in her feature at Escape Into Life. Don't worry, you won't stay cold. The seasons change in her poems, and in the photos by Mahbubur Rahman, which also offer a different geography and terrain, other waters.

The sky is a diffuse cloudy blue-gray here today, and the tall wheat-colored prairie grasses in the ditches are coated with frost. But it's above freezing, and tomorrow it'll go into the 40s, and I may take a long walk into town to the post office to mail a letter to Switzerland. I give myself reasons.

Today I'm still thinking about that desire in us, as writers or as visual artists, to let the work speak for itself. We don't want to have to explain or interpret. But in what ways can we help listeners at a reading, or viewers at an opening or "art talk," perceive the offered works? What little bit of context will ready the hearer for the poem? Or what interesting question can get a viewer looking more closely at a painting or photograph, or seeing something s/he didn't see before?

Is your first impression here of one tree, or of two? Is this a new tree growing from the roots of the old, dead tree? Or is this a young, vibrant tree that sucked up what the old tree needed, killing it? What is it about the rest of the photograph that provides evidence to support you in either impression? Or a third impression?

These are the kinds of simple, natural questions that I like to ask about what I am seeing. It doesn't bother me if someone thinks I am simple, as I know myself to have a side-by-side sophisticated awareness of various things, or the ability to research what I don't know, etc. It doesn't bother me if the photographer turns out to be more interested in how he manipulated light or color, or if the painter is more interested in texture and composition. When I write a poem, I, too, am aware of some formal things going on that are essentially invisible to many readers. As they should be!

But truly, if I look at two trunks in the foreground, I am going to ask the simplest questions about what I am seeing, and wonder why the artist pursued that particular subject matter. My simple questions will cause me to pay attention, look closely, and start to see new things.

I see here a road somewhat traveled. I imagine I will keep walking and won't sit down on that bench.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Free Food

It's double class day again: exercise class followed by ekphrasis class. So we might consider it a nonfat Fat Tuesday of abundance in the blog. Yes, we will! Represented by the Free Stock food image of cabbages, everybody's favorite fat-free food. (Hold the slaw dressing.) I can't show you the Edward Hopper paintings I'll refer to in class today, because he's not in the public domain, and I don't have permission.

But we'll have plenty of art to look at in the McLean County Arts Center, and I got to go the opening for the 3 shows now up this past Friday. Colorful imaginary landscapes by John Cassidy in the small gallery, and photographs in the large gallery by Jin Lee (Great Waters series) and Rhondal McKinney (Illinois Landscapes). Got to hear a double art talk by the last two, so more abundance.

I find a particular pleasure in the pairing of Lee and McKinney as all the photographs are bisected horizontally by the horizon, making me stand there and contemplate it in peace, as I do in life.

And another particular delight in looking at wild color and motion muted by soft pastel in the work of Cassidy. It all makes me meditate on the interplay of motive, technique, and effect in visual art as compared to literary art!

Not to mention the particular irony of an "art talk" by people who would prefer not to talk about their art and/or who wish, as Jin Lee put it, "to circumvent language." So now, I will simply contemplate cabbages. And nonfat, high-iron dried apricots.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In Praise, Again

The last couple blog entries have been in praise of The Sun magazine and of the wisdom of people around me, and here's some more of that, and more praise for the fine writer Joe Wilkins, whose work I first found in The Sun! While I know him as a poet, the current (January) issue has his beautiful essay, "Bruised," in it. You can read an excerpt here.

Here is his poetry feature (with scary art) at Escape Into Life, and here is my mini-review of his new book Killing the Murnion Dogs. You can find the book here, at Black Lawrence Press, or here, at Powell's. (I'm sure you can find it elsewhere, too!)

And this (not scary) art brings back a couple of familiar birds, from Pamela Callahan.

No sun here today, and thunder and lightning last night!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tangled Nets

This morning I had just been looking at a poem I've been revising for months (OK, years), printing it out to get some feedback on it later this week. It has the ocean in it, "a slipper silver as a fish," and a fishing net.

So what's the reflection about when I get to church? Fishing nets. All right, dropping them to follow the big guy. But enough to make it a Random Coinciday!

Pastor Bob was interested in what would make you drop everything and start a new adventure, and, specifically, what would you need to give up to do so.

This was not leading to an easy equation, nor a conventional platitude: to win big you have to take a big risk, etc. This was a suggestion that we might have to give up a sense of identity. When Simon and Andrew left off fishing, they were leaving a way of life. When James and John stopped mending their nets, they were leaving a family business:

We can safely suppose there were sacrifices involved--psychological ones as well as material, having to leave behind not only their livelihood but something of their self-understanding, too.

If I've thought of myself one way, how do I think of myself a different way in order to grow or try something new? And it might not be the positives I am leaving behind but the negatives. As Bob put it:

But we don't pay as much attention to ideas and attitudes that keep us from more creative and satisfying possibilities.  For instance, what about self doubt?  What about resentments and grudges?  What about taking responsibility for problems that belong to others?   What about the need to please someone who'll never give their approval?  What if some of our mental baggage amounted to the fishing nets those first disciples walked away from to promote a more optimistic and worthwhile agenda for our neighbors and family and friends?

Yes, the nets could well be seen as entanglements, or things we hold onto that can drag us down into the swirling depths, or even drown us. It's hard to swim tangled in a net or lugging a lot of mental baggage.

So this is something I'll be thinking about for a while and hoping to implement. I realized I could report in church today that I had been a good goatherd this week! A guy who could have gotten my goat didn't. I let him talk and let it go. I suppose it could be said that I did not take any responsibility for his problem! He gets to do that! (Poor him.)

Meanwhile, I had some poem acceptances this week, including a poem called "Grudge." I'm not sure what to make of that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Spiritual Midwifery

I could say I am late in posting because it's Slattern Day in the blog, but the truth is I've been at a volleyball tournament all day, watching beautiful, healthy, athletic young woman of all shapes and sizes smash the heck out of a volleyball. Between sets and matches, I was reading an interview in The Sun--oh, how I love The Sun! thank you, Kim J Kimmel for that gift subscription!--with Ina May Gaskin, author of Birth Matters and the book that rocked my pregnant world, Spiritual Midwifery.

This makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog, as well, since my recent finalist chapbook manuscript (over at Comstock Review) is also titled Spiritual Midwifery, in honor of that book, and contains a poem titled "Spiritual Midwifery" about a sad childbirth (that also stands for several losses in lives close to mine) that prepared me to accept what might go wrong at my own labor and also served as the contrast deepening my joy at my own wonderful luck.

I seldom read this poem aloud at public readings, but whenever I do, it releases something in someone who lets me know. And thanks me. So I am moved, grateful, and reluctant to read it in public again, lest someone be unprepared to revisit a sad moment, but I shouldn't be, right? They are glad to know someone realizes, and cares. Dilemma.

The interview in The Sun is powerful, reminding us that the mortality rate for mothers is rising in the USA, where many do not have access to midwives and doulas, and is very low in countries that do. I was surprised to learn that 100% of women in Germany have access a midwife because "there's a law that a midwife must be present." Here, doctors are no longer even instructed on how to handle a vaginal breech birth and routinely do a caesarian. Etc.

Part of what surprised me was the lessening of awareness that natural childbirth, aided by midwives or doulas, is a wonderful way to have a baby. My son is 21 years old, and somehow I thought we'd have progressed in this...return to the older, natural, woman-centered ways...but no. Gaskin points out three main ways to have a baby in America: planned home birth with a professional midwife, hospital setting with a certified nurse-midwife (and doctor handy if needed), and hospital setting with a doctor and nurses.

I had both my babies with certified nurse midwives in a hospital, no pain meds, which was right for me, and all was well. If my daughter chooses and is able to have a baby, she will probably need to be in a hospital setting, as well, and I am glad of our medical knowledge today, and glad of the midwives who understand that love, encouragement, and support are crucial.

Also on my wishlist is Home/Birth: a poemic, by Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker. Maybe I'll have read it by the time I can hand it down to my daughter!

The Sun's cover photo is by Corey Hendrickson.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Boxed Melon

Oh, glory! A reminder of summer on this bitter, windy winter day with a frozen pipe in the upstairs bathroom.
We're hoping it doesn't break.

Yes, this is the latest box of notecards from Jonathan Koch!

And I think this is the last day of the chapbook sale at Hyacinth Girl Press, where one of the choices is my forthcoming Nocturnes. Here's another brief nocturnal example:


Havana at night:
ladies with lace nets of light,
beetles in their hair.

That one was first published in Blink, a tiny magazine for tiny poems. Women really did put glow-in-the-dark beetles in their hair as adornments! Happy weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A woman's  mother's poet's artist's editor's person's life can have many interruptions, and so can the Internet. Yesterday I interrupted my usual blog content (which is--? unusual?) with a Blog Blackout to help raise awareness of Internet censorship and piracy issues, and to give myself and others a chance to learn a bit more by way of a few fun links.

And to join Wikipedia, the people's encyclopedia, in solidarity!

Since my first job was an as encyclopedia editor and staff writer, back in the days of print, I am also aware of the complexities of a people-written information source, believe you me! I know the Facts-On-File fact-checking we did as a staff to keep information accurate, objective, and up-to-date, and we hired experts in the field to write the appropriate in-depth articles. And as a college teacher, I required students to use regular and scholarly sources like journals and databases, where the information is reviewed and double-checked, and also to "know your source" or the slant of the particular journal or writer, as needed. Etc.! But I do love Wikipedia as a quick, fun, and easy place to get an overview, crucial details, and links to other sources, a starting place to see what you're going to have to find out and confirm. It's also a wonderful collaboration of information-sharing people. Thank you, Wikipeople!

Speaking of collaboration--and interruption--I refer you today to Collaboruptions (made up word), a mini-review of Interruptions, collaborative poems by Jessy Randall and Daniel M. Shapiro, an article I posted yesterday in the Escape Into Life blog. It is a fun and funny book that demonstrates poets interrupting each other as a way of writing, and, yes, collaborating with the mysteries of the universe in surprisingly accessible language. Or vice versa.

Eh? Speaking of...I don't know what--mysteries of the universe!--, are any of you having trouble commenting on the blog these days, or even seeing the comments of others? Hmm, how would you let me know? I ask because my friend Kim J. Kimmel is having such trouble, and I don't know 1) the reason or 2) how to solve it. I see that the new "Reply" function creates a text box that requires you to scroll down to find the place to type in the verification word if you want to comment, and I had to click around a bit to figure out how to comment on someone else's blog, so I suggest 1) patience and 2) clicking around until Blogger figures out...a fix.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blog Blackout

Like The Bloggess, I'm not tech savvy enough to actually black out the blog (and be able to retrieve it from blackness tomorrow), so here's some info:

Darth Vader on youtube

Google's black box

How to SOPA strike if you 1) can read instructions and 2) are not technology challenged

Reuters saying Facebook, etc. did not join in

Adrian Hon explains the complexity & international ramifications with a page from the Gutenberg bible

A survival guide to today

Wikipedia today

I love you, Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nocturne: Blue and Silver

Misty & gray, windy, with the temperature expected to drop from the 40s, when I went out this morning to exercise class, to 13 by tonight. It's a Fat Tuesday of general abundance disguised as a Blue Monday.

I started teaching a class in ekphrasis this morning, too, and it's fun to be both learning & teaching--exercising muscles, joints, and brain, encouraging full range of motion in all ways.

Came home to find A Wicked Apple, by Susan Slaviero, in my mailbox, and the chapbook sale is still going on at Hyacinth Girl Press, if you want to get 2 for $9! My very-forthcoming Nocturnes is one of the options.

Here's one of the "night songs" from it:


--James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne—Blue and Silver: CremorneLights (1872)

No one noticed my shy shift to joy
as the lights came on in the bay.

The water reeds were characters
of an ineffable alphabet.

I switched from show tunes to Chopin,
floating on the blues.

I wrote my last testament,
left my estate to nuthatch and finch.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blue Hills and Citrus Dreams

Yesterday I got to hear this reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on his actual birthday, and to serve cupcakes to my mom (at our poetry workshop) on her actual birthday.

The reflection ends with Wendell Berry's wonderful "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," for all you local food and back-to-the-earthers! And then we were invited to offer a one-sentence "dream" we might include in our own manifestos. Some of those are in the comments section, and you can leave one of your own, if you like, and if you will sign your name to it. Do you have a dream?

In poetry news, the beginning-of-the-year rejections are rolling in, along with various bits of good news, and new poems are creeping out from the smoke of the smudge pots. I was not a winner of the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Contest, but I was a Special Merit finalist (back to being a bridesmaid for me!), and have 2 poems forthcoming in anniversary issues of the Comstock Review.

I can't help but be glad for the winner, Lucinda Grey, and look forward to receiving her winning chapbook The Blue Hills: Poems After the Life of Maud Gonne, which sounds intriguing, Yeatsian, historical, and actressy, all coincidences of the sort I like. I do appreciate it when contest entrants receive the winning book.

And how wonderful that Jonathan Koch is now offering some of his gorgeous art on notecards! See them and get them in his Store!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

You Say Libero, I Say Libero

In volleyball news, the teen club season has begun, and I got to see my daughter play again yesterday. She is the libero, a back row player who can come in for two other players without a special moment at the line with the referee to handle the substitution. It makes for swifter play.

At high levels of competition, there is a "libero tracker" to make sure these entrances and exits are all in order. The position of libero started in international play, and went to the clubs and colleges before it went to the schools, filtering down from high schools to junior high, but soon it will be pretty standard.

It is pronounced LEE-burr-o, evidently from the Romance languages and related to being a "free" substitution player. Around here, people say Luh-BEAR-o, as nobody knew how to pronounce it when it first arrived. So, either is correct, but, given the accents, you can't really sing it to "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," by George and Ira Gershwin, from Shall We Dance. "You say potato, I say potato...You like tomatoes, I like tomatoes..."

My daughter is playing in Peoria today (theatre joke), where my husband was coaching a younger club team yesterday. He's there with her, to watch, and then has to turn around and come back to coach his team at the local club. This extra driving could have been avoided if I were not part of the 50%. Yes, really, as a team (marriage, family, American citizenry), we are part of the 99%, not the rich 1%, but in the scheme of things, I am part of the vast majority of women whose husbands only listen to 50% of what they say. As in, "Do you have to go to Peoria tomorrow? Because, if not, she can get a ride with a teammate. She has to be there at 9:00 a.m."

"I have to be there at 11:00."

"Do you want to take her and see her play before you have to start coaching?"

"Yes, I can do that." Etc.

Suddenly, this morning, my husband realized he had to drive to Peoria.

Shall we dance?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Scatterbrained Hathead

Why is my hair so flat these days? Why is my brain so scattered? Answer: it got cold, I'm wearing a hat all the time, but hats don't actually hold together the thoughts in your brain, and it's the new year, with lots of new starts and necessary organizing. I'm doing all the to-do lists, the housecleaning, the class preparations, the 2012 submissions, etc. I'm getting a lot done. It does not help.

My brain is scattered, it's disappearing in a mist, and it's growing green fuzz.

Oh, thank you, Jonathan Koch, for this Study of an Oak Tree, on a Slattern Day in the blog.

Friday, January 13, 2012

13 on the 13th

When I woke up this (Friday the 13th) morning, it was 11 degrees. I let my husband drive our daughter to school on the somewhat slippery roads and headed out for round 2 of major shoveling. Round 1 was yesterday, but it kept snowing. The temperature went up to 12 degrees.

I was plenty bundled up for the job, as I kept my jammies on under my jeans, wore two scarves around my neck, hat and gloves, the thick, non-slippery gloves good for driving and shoveling, and only the tips of my fingers felt cold. Now I am waiting for the temperature to rise one more degree, so I can post this as "13 on the 13th."

But in case it remains at 12, I offer this list of Literary Waterways--literary journals with some kind of water, body of water, or liquid in their name. I'm sure there are more, but here are 13:

Bayou Magazine
Big Muddy
Crab Creek Review
The Fourth River
Gulf Coast
Literary Juice
River Styx
River Teeth
Sleet Review
Spoon River Poetry Review
2River Review
Water Stone Review
Willow Springs

Also, it's Lorrie Moore's birthday, a hilarious short story writer. I have here her book A Gate at the Stairs, retrieved for free from the library sale, on that day after the last day when they want you just to take stuff so they don't have to move it elsewhere, to read some day. Hey, I'm interested in the similarity of shape and arrangement of cover images on these two books, this one:

and the one I'm currently reading: Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan (above).  I am 1/3 of the way through and have crossed the border into Burma and reached the passage that explains the phrase "saving fish from drowning." 

They get stuck in literary waterways.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Winter has arrived, the first snow-storm of the season. According to the local paper, January 12 has quite a "history of bad weather," and I was in town for some of it.  I remember the floods, the flooded office, tearing up the carpet, moving my office furniture upstairs, writing in front of the unfinished fireplace (separate story, house fire) draped with blankets to keep out the cold, installing the trench and sump pump, etc. Sigh...  Anyhoo, so far, so good, but there are some area cancellations, early dismissals, and so on. It was an icky morning, and somewhere a Humvee fell over, but no one was seriously hurt. I'm glad and lucky to be somewhere warm, and I hope you are, too.

Here's Tori Amos as a snow angel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mooning Again

Early this morning I put up a new poetry feature at Escape Into Life--funny, sweet, surreal poems by Scott Poole, with wild and wonderful paintings (like this one!) by Masakatsu Sashie. It was a late-start morning at school, so when I drove my daughter to school the recently-full moon was in a different place in the sky, higher, a faint globe of white hanging in the blue among white clouds. I thought I was done with the goatcheese moon, but I'm not. I'll never be done with the moon.

I don't know how to credit these marvelous moon-shots that have been going around Facebook. If you know who took these photos, please credit the photographer in the comments! I am charmed by them.

And Ren Powell posted a link to this great article on stress in Wired. It's fascinating, explains so much, and rings so true. I agree that stress damages and kills us, and I'm glad that scientists are paying attention to that.

I'd say my concern (beyond all the bad human and bad baboon behavior) is that the scientists see the "cure" as a vaccine, and see that as getting to the source, while I see that as still addressing the symptoms by attempting to prevent them in advance, with a drug.

I'd like to see us pay attention to the root causes of stress, and attempt to solve those in global & societal ways, in a shift of attitudes, and/or using a combination of natural and organic ways...but that's complicated and takes hard, patient, diligent, cooperative work.  A vaccine is easier.

Oh, you'll see. The article has all kinds of social, economic, and political pertinence, as well as the science and health aspects, and is funny and a smooth read. Long, but if you are patient and stick with it, you will learn a lot and win the Be a Better Baboon Award.


Update, with info from Susan Elbe!  Thank you, Susan.  The moon photos are by Laurent Laveder, and you can see more and get some at his website, here!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lonely Goatherd Award

If you are just now joining the discussion of goats and goatherds, you might want to read yester-day's post. Today I would like to give Kristin Berkey-Abbott not only the Random Coinciday Award, which she requested, but also the Got Me Giggling Award, the Not a Good Goatherd Award, and the coveted Lonely Goatherd Award. The prize is not this sweatshirt. (But you can get your own goatherd shirt at Zazzle!)

Nancy Ruder, aka Collagemama, receives both the I'm My Own Grandpa and the I'm My Own Goatherd awards.

And Bob Ryder, of Pawsitive Transformations, receives the Herding Your Own Goat Award, the I'm My Own Pastor Award, the I'll Train Your Goat Award, the I Got My Own Goat Award, and the I've Got Your Goatherd's Back Award.

I saw the full white round goatcheese of a moon this morning, and that's enough of that.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Fat Moon, Married Love, and a Goatherd

OK, it took all my concentration this morning to be a safe driver, once I'd seen that big fat full moon hovering on the horizon. I pointed it out, over my left shoulder, to my daughter, as we turned right, or east, toward her school, and then I chose the route home that would let me drive safely west, straight at it, watching it elongate (become more oblong than round), drop, and disappear. This happened rather quickly, on a stretch of rough road that takes me by the home of Chris Al-Aswad (founding editor of Escape Into Life), as part of the moon's appearance in the morning at this time of year, I hear, is illusory. It's there and not there, visible through refraction? That is, illusory at the moment of sun coming up on one horizon and moon going down on the other horizon. Tonight, look up! Tomorrow morning, arrange the routine to see as much of that moon as I can!

I also realized this morning that I'd come round in the Poetry Radio rotation again last night. Alas, I missed the cool 20-years-of-Acousticity show, with Allison Krauss as a teenager!  You can hear the poem if you want, "Married Love," as a podcast, or read it in the Love Poems issue of Poetry East, #53, which you can find here. It's also in my chapbook Broken Sonnets, as it is a "broken" (and unrhyming) sonnet about an "unbroken" (sometimes, OK, often rhyming) marriage.

And I am my own goatherd, I hope, thanks to this fine reflection by Bob Ryder, in the Reflecting Pool. Bob was reminding us at church yesterday of the vigilance it takes to remain nonviolent in life, down to not letting someone "get our goat"--that is, not letting someone provoke us into being cranky and irritable in our own actions and speech.

Bob told about a job interview, and a boss's warning about a certain manager:

“This guy seems to know how to get a person's goat,” he explained. 

“No worries.” I countered, “I’ll leave my goat at home.” 

Heh heh. Bob then confessed to his own failure to leave his goat at home, and I have been known to be cranky and irritable in response to the bad behavior of others or to actual or perceived insult, offense, or injustice, so this was a good goat's heads-up for me. (Also, I had been craving drunken goat cheese on the walk to church, but that's another story, and a great excuse for the drunken goat cheese illustration again!) While I did not speak into the microphone at church about it, I had a little epiphany! I had just run into a guy who not only gets my goat but resembles a goat! And I was gentle with him, said happy new year, and wished him well. I wasn't letting him off the hook, er, the shepherd's hook(!), but I was letting him be his own goatherd, as I'm not interested in that job.

Thanks, once again, to Jonathan Koch for the watermelon, which is neither goat nor moon.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Heaven and Hell

Well, it's Sunday, so today's long walk will be to church and back, where I may or may not ponder Heaven and Hell. (We reflect on a wide variety of things at my particular church but seldom that.)

But I invite you to ponder Heaven and Hell via these poems, compiled by poet and poetry editor John Guzlowski, in the new issue of The Scream Online. John asked me (at Facebook!) to help spread the word, so I hope it's OK to do this way, including the photo by Richard Beban, also a poet!

First up in this issue is Kirstin Berkey-Abbott's wonderful poem "Heaven on Earth," which begins, "I saw Jesus at the bowling alley, / slinging nothing but gutter balls." There's a link to Garrison Keillor reading the poem for The Writer's Almanac, and Beban's photo on that page includes chocolate, or, as it reads in French, chocolat! Now you're tempted, yes?!

This afternoon, my poetry workshop starts up again, with red wine and new assignments. I was tickled by the coincidence that Richard Beban and his wife Kaaren Kitchell also teach workshops in their home! Kitchell is also represented in Heaven and Hell, with the stunning poem "Blue Town" and the glorious gift of "Gift."

Later this month, I start teaching a couple of classes in ekphrasis, or poetry in response to painting, at the McLean County Arts Center. Yes, the new year begins! Heaven on earth, in bowling alley or art gallery, living  room or kitchen, church or hiking trail. And, speaking of hiking in Illinois, let's save Starved Rock. And, speaking of heaven on earth, take a look at the slide show of photos by M.A. Rauf here, in the blog synch-ro-niz-ing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On the Trail

I've been on the trail lately, our local hiking/biking Constitution Trail, one of those rails-to-trails renovations, thanks to the wonderfully warm weather. Yesterday I bumped (not literally) into a poet friend on his bicycle, teaching his "new knees" (post-surgery) how to bend and getting some of the fresh winter air. Conversing, we right away went deep, as he noted; it's what we always do: get to the heart of things. We are poet friends.

The day before that, a total stranger, out for a run, cared for me, my random life. We were crossing the street together, where the trail crosses the road, in opposite directions. We had waited for one car, and another was just then turning left out of the school parking lot. She'd had time to see us and was driving slowly, and had paused, but I think he noticed how she was now blinded by the sun, and he made eye contact with me and said, softly, "Watch out," not to frighten but just to alert me in case she lost me in the sun. We all survived.

This small spontaneous kindness fills me with all kinds of wonder. Of course, this is what we should be doing for one another in the world, caring for and protecting one another, but so often we don't. People go on in their routines, neglecting one another or not paying sufficient attention, and wham! or alas! or dwindle...sigh...

Anyway, my heart was warmed, and so was my body, by the winter sun.

Somehow this connects to Once, by Meghan O'Rourke, a book I reviewed for Rattle here. I was reading it before Christmas, not knowing that the poet's mother would die on Christmas Day in these poems. There was plenty I did not know about O'Rourke, and, I guess, was glad not to know, and only learned today, reading this other review, by Greg Weiss, also in Rattle, of Halflife, a book I got hold of, used, after reading Once. (I look forward to reading it but will wait till the perfect, random time!)

And, by chance, I had a lunch meeting with a poet friend over the holidays who had just finished reading The Long Goodbye, O'Rourke's memoir about her mother. She found it sentimental. I did not find the poems sentimental, just straightforward and fairly spare. I must ponder what is meant by "sentimental" each time that comes up about someone's writing, including my own. (And I have to answer a question about avoiding sentimentality in love poems for an interview pretty soon!) I consider myself tenderhearted but not very sentimental. I have too much irony in me for that. But that doesn't stop anyone from accusing me of it! Which I say laughing, because, among the things one might be accused of in life, sentimentality is harmless and not illegal.

Anyhoo, like Greg Weiss, I didn't know anything about Meghan O'Rouke before I read Once, except that she'd written these other books and had a professional career. I find myself cringing a bit at the "gossip" that Weiss notes has attached to her, and I continue to feel the same compassion I felt before, now adding some for the suffering that goes with being gossiped about. I wish her a full and gentle healing as she continues the lifelong grieving for her mother, and I am glad she has writing as an outlet for this grief. All the rest is her own business, and no doubt she's attending to it. If I were a runner on the trail, and saw a car too near, the driver blinded by the sun, I'd make eye contact with her and say softly, "Watch out."

Friday, January 6, 2012

In the Pink

If I say I am starting the new year off "in the pink," I mean it more literally than an expression enclosed by quotation marks might suggest. And, while I am enormously healthy, I probably don't mean "in the pink" as in perfect physical condition, though I do start my Stretch & Tone class again soon, as I can't swim laps outdoors now and walks will become less frequent as winter progresses, though I took one on the trail yesterday and will walk into town today.* This gentle fitness class is a gift from my mom, and she'll be in it, too! Thanks, Mom!

By "in the pink," I mean I have been surrounded by pink at dusk and dawn the past few days, glorious pink. Last night the pink surrendered completely to blue fairly quickly, but the night before it was like living in a world of pink for some time, yes, a sustainable pink. This morning, on the brink of post-holiday nostalgic despair while driving my daughter back to school, I was a Jonah inside a pale blue whale with ribs of pink.

Sometimes when I use a particular expression, I remember asking my mom, "What does that mean?" Those wonderful moments of childhood confusion and delight return. I remember asking my mom, "What are whores  devores?' and her asking to see the exact place in the book I was reading. Yes, they were hors d'oeuvres, and if I could graze on a steady diet of not-too-rich hors d'oeuvres, I probably would. Hoping they'd keep me in the pink.

These days I can Google a phrase, to learn more about its meaning and origins, as I did with "in the pink," finding this delightful article on its history and this fashion website. I am unlikely either to shop in the pink or to hunt foxes (also, we learn, an unlikely origin of the phrase, as the fox hunting jackets were scarlet and the tailor Thomas Pink might not have existed), but I am very likely to see pinks in my garden again come spring and was delighted to learn (or re-learn) that the name Pinks relates perhaps to color, perhaps to the "pinked" (as in pinking shears) edges, and to the Dutch name for these pink Dianthus flowers, "'pink-ooghen'--'little eye' (literally--to blink)." (And I am glad the flower connection is "to blink" and not pink-eye, or conjunctivitis.)

The other place I go regularly to learn about word origins is the Con-fessions of Ignorance blog, where a fine discussion of trifles is ongoing! Yes, this is the same excellent person who once thought I had called her a Versatile Slattern!

*And I was urged out of doors yesterday not only by the fine winter weather (40s, 50s, and today maybe even a high of 60!) but also by the blog & walks of poet Carol Berg, who has lovely poems up in the new issue of IthacaLit, which, she says, she found thanks to me! Yay! Ah! And her blog background, you'll notice, is pink!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Superhero Son

OK, permit me a huge wracking sob, and then I'll get on with my day. We are a tenderhearted family wamily--I think even genetically!--and goodbyes are hard. My son headed back to college today, a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day, not too cold, good for traveling, and he'll probably be back for a visit fairly soon, by train, but--gasp, wrack--! My little boy who wore cowboy boots and Batman jammies every day for the early years of his life. He will graduate from college this spring and, I hope, get a good job in Chicago as an industrial designer!

OK, it may be time for some reading around in Literary Mama.

No, he was not this Batman. This is vintage TV Batman. But his jammies were.  Vintage Batman gray.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Crab Creek, Sugar Creek, and Spoon River

When the mail did arrive yesterday, in answer to my question, “Where’s the mail?”, it brought the new issue of Crab Creek Review, where, in a wonderful random coincidence, I found myself back-to-back with Marie Gauthier, the lovely poet I also mentioned yesterday as having just been reviewed at Fiddler Crab, home of the poetry chapbook review! Marie’s poem “Dispatch from the Sick-House” is on page 17, and my poem “Waking Up Fragile” is on page 18 of the winter issue of Crab Creek, with its marvelous magical rowboat cover! I hope it is all right to reproduce it here, sending you to more of Lucia Neare’sTheatrical Wonders here!

This particular photo reminds me of a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the woods of Saginaw, Michigan, many years ago.  I was Titania (and Hippolyta) and was rowed across to a clearing for one of the scenes. Of course, I was not the one wearing the ass head.

Then yesterday I was gazing into the cold but rippling water of Sugar Creek, snow and ice on its banks, as we stacked a tower of freshwater mussel shells for a new ad to go with a new logo for Spoon River Poetry Review, now edited by Kirstin Hotelling Zona, who wants to make a clear distinction between the review, named for the actual Spoon River, and Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters, a completely different poetic endeavor.

Spoon River, as Zona explains in her introduction to issue 36.1, the winter/spring 2011 issue of SRPR, “was itself purportedly named for the palm-sized freshwater mussels to which it was home, bivalves whose shells, so the story has it, were used by the region’s Native Americans in preparing and serving food.” 

Yes, as spoons.

So that’s what we were doing: stacking shells like pancakes in a heap, or pearly inside up as spoons, and strewing them on the crackly ice and snow in that “certain slant of light” (not at all oppressive) of a winter afternoon.

Here’s how this came about: in “Amelie” fashion, when Kirstin asked if any of us Sugar Creek and Spoon River poet naturalists might have some photos of stacked mussels, or a set of mussels to stack, I recommended Dennis Campbell, a biology professor, whose class I’d once accompanied down to the banks of Sugar Creek to find and sort mussel shells.*

Soon after that field day, I wrote a wacky poem incorporating the wacky names of freshwater mussel species in Illinois. Look for it to appear in a forthcoming issue of SRPR! I connected Kirstin and Dennis by email, because, hey, that’s what I do, and sure enough he drove up from Springfield, stopping in Lincoln, to pick up mussel shells from his Lincoln College lab, and we spent a lovely afternoon under the blue sky, looking at water, and taking pictures of shells.  Look for them in a forthcoming ad for SRPR.

*Dennis and his class also found the world’s largest woolly mammoth on another field day that spring!  Look for it (in pieces) in the Illinois State Museum and the soon-to-open Environmental Center at Lincoln College! Both tusks were found (and I got to stick my arm up one), a partial jaw, and other pieces, and perhaps there will be more (mammoth) to come!

So, from Crab Creek to Sugar Creek and Spoon River, from freshwater mussels to woolly mammoths, all in one blog entry. That should get us through the hump of the week!

For me, it’s back to the “exquisite dark beauty” of Crab Creek Review, as editors Kelli Russell Agodon & Annette Spaulding-Convy call it in their Editors’ Note. Exquisite, indeed.