Friday, February 28, 2014


"Holy wow, Batman! That's unreal!"

"No, Robin, that's quite real. It's Psychotria elata, also known as Hooker's Lips, or Hot Lips."

"I wonder if Poison Ivy would look good in that shade? Is it toxic, like her kiss?"

"No, Robin, but it doesn't look that luscious for long. Soon those lips will fill with what looks like already-been-chewed food--"

"Like when I burp, and I vomit a little in my mouth?"

"Thank you for that visceral image, Robin.  ...That turns out to be a further blossoming, of new leaves."

"Holy Hot Lips, Batman. I just Googled it and found more photos on Amusing Planet."

"And I just Googled images of Poison Ivy, but 1) they are copyrighted and 2) she's way too sexy for you, Robin."

"Wait!? Doesn't the woman who writes this blog sometimes use Psychotria elata as her profile picture at Facebook?

"Yes, Robin, but that doesn't make her psycho."

"Holy Cannoli, Batman! She's written a poem with you and the Scarecrow in it, from when you were in Batman: The Animated Series."

"Ah, yes, Robin. Those were the years when her son's constant attire was his Batman jammies, which came with a little cape, Velcroed on at the shoulders. And cowboy boots, finally procured at Sears. The closest thing she could find to Batman boots. Where exactly is this poem?"

"In the Unreal issue of Poemeleon. It's called 'Real Life (in Nervous Font).' There are dirigibles in it, Batman, and a numerical code."

"Hmm, maybe she is psycho."

"And somebody named Samarra Samarra."

"As in 'An Appointment in Samarra'?"

"I don't know, Batman. I'll Google it."

"Just a minute, Robin. Is that a Sicilian cannolo lightly sprinkled with confectioner's sugar, with ricotta filling and dark chocolate squares, generously provided by Paolo Piscolla?"

"Holy bat*&^%, Batman! An appointment in Samarra is an appointment with death, and/or cosmic irony. Or  it might be a date with a dog in central Illinois."

"Good to know, Robin, good to know."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I have a poem up in the new issue of Sweet: A Literary Confection. Take a look at the snowy cover and the whole issue--so many interesting connections. My poem, "A Man's World," has several sweets in it, but I love that writer Amy Monticello calls it a "quiet, but razor-edged poem." (So be careful.) Meanwhile, on this Hump of the Week that is also a Random Coinciday, you can read about Scott Klavan at Escape Into Life, linking to his theatre reviews, an extended bio at Heartland Theatre Company, and guidelines for a one-act play competition for Midwest writers, deadline May 1. The theme is Escape! And a buzzfeed quiz informs me that my soulmate is Anton Chekhov, with whom I should drink champagne and think about the meaning of life. Thanks to Wikipedia for the brut cork.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Apple & Oranges

More citrus fruit, plus an incomparable apple, from Jonathan Koch. More sunshine in central Illinois, and we needed it.

I'm feeling the same ongoing uncertainty in my personal life side by side with the radical uncertainty in life in general...which sometimes makes me want to pull a dishcloth over my head.

But most of the time, I just sit there on the edge, a fat apple.
Speaking of fruit, I've reviewed A House of Many Windows, by Donna Vorreyer, for Prick of the Spindle, in my Poetry Cheerleader column. Yes, this was the only way I was ever going to be a cheerleader, thanks to my [lack of a] tiger jump.

One of her poems has the line "Care for the container and the fruit will not bruise" which may be true about fruit baskets but not always true metaphorically, poignantly pertinent in the book.

Vorreyer has a chapbook called Womb/Seed/Fruit that I wrote about here, in my whimsical way, and another about a pioneer wife, also reviewed in Prick of the Spindle. She's a lovely poet.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Lemon

Here is a new painting by one of my favorite painters, Jonathan Koch: Winter Lemon.

Background music: "Birthday" by The Beatles.

You say it's your birthday.
It's my birthday, too, yeah.

It is my birthday, and I am glad to have been born. The ice is melting into winter lemonade all around me. I hear the polar vortex is returning, but it don't worry me, it don't worry me...(another song, from Nashville, sung by Barbara Harris.) You may say that I ain't free, but I would guess that I probably am, in some deep, important ways.

I've been pondering some deep, important things while 1) re-reading short stories by Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore (wise, compassionate, hilarious, sad) and 2) continuing to read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin tells us that Lincoln went to the theatre a lot, finding it a marvelous stress release during the Civil War. Of course, that last visit to the theatre was fatal, but in the meantime he found joy! This makes me feel OK about my love of movies!

And in the amazing story "Free Radicals," by Alice Munro, she gives us a character who loves to read and to re-read, especially the classics. (I re-read, too, and re-watch movies, to see what I learn this time around. The Bruce Willis character utters something about re-interpretation of movies in Twelve Monkeys, I might add, having just re-watched and re-interpreted that. I have a happier take on the ending now.)  Back to Munro:

She would pick one up [a classic], thinking that she would just read that special bit--and find herself unable to stop until the whole thing was redigested. She read modern fiction too. Always fiction. She hated to hear the word "escape" used about fiction. She might have argued, not just playfully, that it was real life that was the escape. But this was too important to argue about.

I understand this and connect to it. In "real life," so many people wear masks and costumes, don't they? They imitate conventions, they celebrate "re-inventing yourself," etc. In fiction, people are what they are and quietly or dramatically deal with their problems, and authors create a context in which we learn more about the "why" and the "how" of their lives and struggles. Fiction broadens and deepens my compassion for the people around me in real life, while the behaviors of people in real life don't reveal much of their real life to me. A paradox. An irony.

I was recently reminded that Elbert Hubbard was the one who said the lemon/lemonade thing, in an obituary for an actor. Others used and varied it afterward. Hubbard was born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised in Hudson, up the road, the town of my rural address growing up. One of my college professors descended from Hubbard, and I handled some of his Roycroft books during my stint in a used book store. I do love the random...and connecting the random dots into a constellation. Maybe I'll call it Lemon Tree.

New background music: "Lemon Tree" by Peter, Paul, and Mary

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Still Happy

On Blue Monday in the blog, I needed to get happy, and, thanks to some sunshine and Pink Martini, I am still happy. Also, Pink Martini notwithstanding, yesterday was National Drink Wine Day, so I did not have a pink martini, nor any other kind of martini. (But Diane Keaton did, with French music in the background, in Something's Got to Give, which I watched again in order to stay happy. Once again, I adored the crying-laughing-writing montage in that fun movie.)

Anyhoo, what I meant to say was 1) you can make your own collage at the Pink Martini website and 2) I love the song "Je ne t'aime plus (I don't love you anymore)," sung by China Forbes and Philippe Katerine and written by them over several years--1997-2013. They sing in French, but the translated lyrics include such romantic lines as "And I think that you are fat / And I know that you are bald / And I think that I don't love you anymore." Don't worry, as 1) there's a context: "I am angry with you tonight / Because you told me that I belong to you" and 2) like Something's Got to Give, it's got a happy ending.

But, speaking of hair, please go read "Girls with Moustaches" and "'I Wish My Dad Had Hair'" and other poems by Yvonne Zipter, up today at Escape Into Life, with fabulous art, some of which you also see here, by Sean Mahan. Zipter's poems are sweet and funny but also elegiac, and today calls for an elegy. Our community has lost another theatre person, and a masterful singer, Phil Shaw. There is sadness in town today, and fond memories. And fading sunshine.

Here's an Origami Girl.

Now go make your own collage.

And/or arrange buttons into a beautiful flower.

And stay happy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Get Happy

This is Phyllis Diller! Isn't she beautiful? I was listening to the Pink Martini album, Get Happy, and the last song came on: "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin. (Yes, Charlie Chaplin! From Modern Times!) Anyhoo, I thought, "I know that voice!"

Sure enough, it was her.

It is her smile, isn't it, that makes her so beautiful. The light coming from her, an openness.

Phyllis Diller was on my mind, since I recently read We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy, by Yael Kohen, which reminded me that many funny women also sang. Wikipedia told me about Diller's actual background in piano. And the Pink Martini notes (on the back of Polaroids) told me "Smile" was her last recording. Oh, thank you, Pink Martini, and thank you, too, for the song "Get Happy," done in Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand style, that is, together with "Happy Days are Here Again," but here it's China Forbes and Rufus Wainwright. (I do like him, even though he whines.) Thank you because I needed to get happy (hunks of snow still and again falling, together with ice pellets, another duet) and the song was over the top and I burst into tears! But I got happy. On a Blue Monday. That's gray.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Escape Into Love

Yesterday..., I did not eat this beautiful thing. But I would have: 1) If it were in my house or 2) If I could have driven to the patisserie, Eclair de Lune, which really exists! But 1) I got dumped on 2) By snow and 3) that patisserie is in Canada.*

I wasn't driving to Canada yesterday.

I wasn't even driving down Veterans Parkway to go to the 7th grade intercity volleyball tournament, which was the romantic Valentine's Day plan! I wasn't even driving out of my unplowed neighborhood. (Plowed now! Thank you, Town of Normal!)

Instead, I posted Escape Into Love, a set of 4 love poems, at Escape Into Life. And watched Downton Abbey on video. (According to the online quiz, I am Lady Mary.) I'm in Season 3. And can actually watch Season 4 if the snow keeps up, because my parents have the whole set, thanks to donating to their local PBS station! And I posted, here in the blog, a recommended list of 14 books by women you might want to read in 2014!

Speaking of pastries, my Eclair de Lune post gets lots of hits, thanks to the patisserie, I'm sure. Or the movie Moonstruck, as Eclair de Lune is French for that. It's always fun (and a little depressing) to figure out what people are really looking for when they click on my blog. Thank you, loyal readers. I will post pictures of pastries whenever I can.

*and on Facebook, where you can "Like" it, even if you can't drive there. In the snow.

Friday, February 14, 2014

14 in ’14 on the 14th

Happy Valentine's Day!

In 2014, many readers are focusing on reading women writers, to help morally and practically support women in literature. 

Here’s a great list in the#readwomen2014 movement, by Sarah J. Sloat at her blog, the rain in my purse.

And here’s a list of 14 books (fiction and non-fiction) I recommend:

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell*
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Home by Marilynne Robinson
Bossypants by Tina Fey (laugh out loud funny and very wise)
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber (science writing)
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought by Marilynne Robinson
My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro**
The People stories by Zenna Henderson (in whatever gathering you can find)***

*If you read The Sparrow, you’ll probably also want to read Children of God, the sequel. The Sparrow stands alone, but readers asked her to keep going.

**Despite its awkward title, this is one of my faves by Munro. (I recommend any book of her short stories; I haven’t read her two most recent books yet, so I should read those in 2014!)

***I discovered Zenna Henderson in 1972 when I was living in London, though she was from Tucson, Arizona. I was in my science fiction phase of adolescence and missing the USA. While I usually read “literary” fiction or mainstream fiction, I love that I have science fiction at the top and the bottom of my list, which came out in no particular order! Just favorites over time.

I love short stories, so I also recommend Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Edith Wharton, but above I was going for mostly contemporary writers. In the list above, the books by Strout, Munro, Henderson, and Lahiri are short stories (linked stories in Olive Kitteridge and in The People series, separate volumes or collected). I’ve read a jillion novels by Anne Tyler. I love her for her compassion and natural storytelling. Try Breathing Lessons, too. The Accidental Tourist.

Maybe I’ll do a separate list of books of poetry by women, or two lists—recommended and on a personal “to read” list. Likewise, I should do a “to read” list connected to 1) book group and/or 2) ambitious reading plans for 2014. One of my ambitions is to finish Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I love it, it’s just long!

I do recommend other books by these authors, and perhaps I shouldn’t have put Marilynne Robinson in there three times, but her works really stick with me. Gilead and Home are novels that look at the same community and characters from different perspectives, at a quiet, steady pace in a rich and thoughtful prose style. The Death of Adam shows Robinson’s profundity as a thinker and her scholarship. She is a great writer of our time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I just read Bossypants by Tina Fey for my book group. I loved it. We haven’t discussed it yet, but these are my discussion questions, sent by email to the group with the warning not to read them if you haven’t finished the book yet (so I issue the same warning to you!) I think this counts toward reading 14 books by women writers in 2014! (First list to come on Friday, here in the blog!) I also read We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy, by Yael Kohen, because it was in at the library, and Bossypants (at first) wasn’t (but then it came in, and now I have returned it, if you need it!)

My bossy questions (and partial answers/comments + page numbers, hardback):

When did you first know you were a woman?

What is your shaving your legs/first period story? (TMI!)

Any instances of “girl-on-girl sabotage” (p. 39) that you care to report? As in:
--convincing the guy not to cast the blonde who “stole” her boyfriend
--getting the YMCA office job that Donna wanted

Any adolescent or grown-up appearance issues you care to divulge?

Peeing in jars, ever been around that? [Yes, if they were Arby’s cups. At the theatre with no dressing rooms, in a weird rat-infested hallway in Piper’s Alley, behind Second City.]

“I Don’t Care If You Like It” chapter! Love letter to Amy P., etc. “It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good.” (p. 144) [Preference ≠ Evaluation]

What about her workplace advice to women, re: “’Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on…If the answer is yes,…I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street film piece ‘Over! Under! Through!’…If your boss is a jerk, try to find someone above or around your boss who is not a jerk.” (p. 145)

Have you ever written letters you’d never send (but might indeed publish in a funny bestseller?!) (“Dear Internet” chapter)

“The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” chapter:

“May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.”  Discuss.  (Maybe also in the context of The Innocents, by Francesca Segal, the retelling of The Age of Innocence in the tight British Jewish community—Ellie, the beautiful model who could never fit back into that community.)

Also, “Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.”

Did you know she had a scar? [I didn’t, even after being told once or twice.]

What should Tina Fey do with her “last five minutes” [of fame]?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Abie Baby

Background music:
"Abie Baby" from the musical, Hair

Happy Birthday, Abie Baby,
Happy birthday to you, yeah!

Also, happy birthday to Charles Darwin! Thank God we evolved!

Also, my white geraniums did bloom, in case you are keeping track!

I reviewed this wonderful book of poems, The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, by Sandy Longhorn, in the EIL Blog today at Escape Into Life.

The beautiful cover art is by Marilyn Strother. The book can be found at Jacar Press.

Longhorn, Lincoln, and I have the prairie in common on this Random Coinciday and Hump of the Week in the blog.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Farewell to Art

We said goodbye to Art White, a sweet man, on Saturday, at a lovely service with New Covenant Community at the Campus Religious Center in Normal. He died at home on Tuesday, in hospice care. It was good to hear his family, friends, and colleagues speak of him--with laughter and tears. He was "a peach of a man," a thinker, a seeker, and, later in life, a poet! He wrote his first poem in a poetry workshop of mine, and I got to read it at his service, along with one of his favorites, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost. Art used to call me up and recite "Stopping by Woods" to me, or to my phone machine if I wasn't home. "And miles to go before I sleep." No more miles to go.

At the service, we learned that Art drank Scotch with some friends, bourbon with others, and sometimes martinis, which reminded me that he had taken me out for a martini once! Wooee! (It's a little odd to forget a martini date...  Or is it?) And with some pals he drank coffee or tea. I held hands with my dad (bourbon) during part of the service, and then he went up and spoke, too. Art hired my dad at Illinois State University. The whole past washed over us yesterday....and again today in church, on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles, when Russ the pianist played "Yesterday." Sigh....

The past washed over me in various ways this weekend. I judged individual events and performance-in-the-round at a regional speech tournament, and I was on speech team back in high school. My mom was my speech coach! What sweetness, joy, talent, and intelligence I saw in these young performers!

Meanwhile, my husband had taken his team of 7th graders to a volleyball tournament up north. I'd had a chance to see them play Thursday and Friday. More joy, talent, and spirit!

And, to make it a Random Coinciday in the blog, I received the next theatre review from Scott Klavan in New York this weekend, and posted it tonight at Escape Into Life. Scott reviews Bronx Bombers at Circle in the Square, a baseball dream play, and his review is also a thoughtful essay on sports vs. theatre in terms of 1) the human condition 2) commercial success. I like the background idea that being braver about the human condition might actually lead to greater commercial success.

These crows belong to John Wentz, the wonderful artist who also accompanies the theatre review at Escape Into Life.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

February Psalm

We shoveled ourselves out by 4:30 today, in the feeble sunshine, just in time for night to fall. I say "feeble sunshine" in contrast to the "feeble winter" of another February in Sam Rasnake's fine poem "February Psalm," up today at Escape Into Life. Because this particular winter's not a feeble one. The art by Chris Ballantyne is gorgeous and scary at once, you'll see!

Well, you can see a bit of it above. We have white roofs around here, and our own roof has a drift like a curling wave on it--a surfer's wave, or Camille Claudel's wave. It's all quite wondrous. But there's been a wave of grief, too. All around me, friends are losing their fathers. It's a very hard winter for some. "So," as Emily Dickinson has said, "let us keep fast hold of hands, please, that when the birds begin, none of us be missing!"

Monday, February 3, 2014

White Geraniums

My white geraniums, brought indoors for the winter, are just about to bloom. I hope they won't be dissuaded by the latest polar vortex and the snow about to come. They are white, after all, and the scene beyond the glass patio doors simply mirrors them. Right now their clustered buds stand on three straight stems that resemble weird green eye stalks.

But these camellias are by Jonathan Koch. And the lemony and the citrusy lantana have been blooming happily in their hanging pots, so I am cheered, though, today, unable to convince myself to go outside. I had promised myself (and others) to mail things, and I still do have time tomorrow, when it will be a little warmer, before the snow arrives around noon.

So I've been doing indoor editing chores today, work I love. And I finished A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore, a writer I love. She can be hilarious, though this is a serious one. With hilarity in the background in the justifiably witty prose style.

January has been hard. Good things in it, yes. But hard things, too. 2014 has begun with lots of uncertainty, most of it lingering from 2013. I'd like some resolution. Of a good sort. Meanwhile, more snow. And this same, sad magnolia. I'm glad it's February.