A Memoir Publication

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If you had told me when I started this blog in 2011 that it would lead me to writing nonfiction, I would have scoffed. But that’s exactly what happened.

A few months ago I discovered Longridge Review, a journal that is an evolution of the Essays on Childhood project started by editor Elizabeth Gaucher. Longridge’s mission is “to present the finest essays on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.”

I’m honored to have my essay published in their latest issue. You can read it it online here: Snowsuit Prisoners.

What a Nice Surprise...

...when you completely forget that you've had a poem accepted for an anthology, which, when it comes in the mail, is quite beautiful, thick and juicy with poetry. And you find your poem amongst works by such luminaries as W.S. Merwin and Jo Harjo and Denise Levertov and Lucille Clifton and Evie Shockley (who I met at AROHO), just to name a few. And the overturned truck on the freeway that lengthened your morning commute by almost an hour and the school room that is your "office" with no heat and the hard conversation you had to have with a colleague fall away as you bask in the glow. 

Thank you to Melissa Tuckey, co-founder of Split This Rock Poetry Festival (which anyone on the East Coast should attend) and The University of Georgia Press for this lovely book. Here is my poem which appears on page 197 in case you want to buy a copy here:

Serengeti Afternoon

To stand upright,

a wildebeest struggles,

wobbly, his legs broken.

In the thin arms

of a baobab tree

vultures,

ink splotches

across the deep blue sky.

They are waiting

for the wildebeest’s

last fall

before they drop

down around him.

I watch stunned

as the first one, brazen,

tears a strip of flesh

from the still-shuddering flank.

Red means only one thing

in the Serengeti.

My silent vigil

is all I offer

the dying.

For the first time

in my life

I wish for a gun.

 

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Welcome the New Year

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And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. -- Rainer Maria Rilke

2017 was a year of highs and lows for me in many ways. On the up side there was the Always a Blue House reading tour. Riding high from publishing my poetry collection with Saddle Road Press, run by the incomparable Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell, I had a wonderful time with my writer-sisters Tania Pryputniewicz, Michelle Wing, Marcia Meier and Barbara Rockman who arranged readings, planned poetry workshops and opened their homes for poetry salons. Without them, I would never have been able to pull off such a tour. I can never thank these friends enough. 

Then there was the saddest event of the year: my father's death on October 11, 2017. Having spent the last three years mourning the gradual decline of his mental capabilities, my feeling of loss has been a muted grief. I am thankful that Dad didn't linger in dementia limbo. Even at the end, he was able to enjoy visits from family and friends. He still knew we were his people even if he couldn't always remember our names. 

With all the tumult of 2017, when 2018 rolled around a few days ago I felt particularly reflective. However, before I got around to making a list of new goals, I read an interesting article in The New York Times: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. In it DeSteno claims that "By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept." Why do we fail so miserably when trying to keep our resolutions? According to DeSteno it's because of "our tendency to be shortsighted - to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future." And this is all because of the way we look at willpower as the key to success. The very idea of willpower goes against our own evolutionary path as human beings. Focusing on what DeSteno calls self-focused goals was not what mattered most to humans for most of our history. Instead, what led to our success was "strong social bonds."

So just what advice does DeSteno give to help us achieve our goals? Here's where I found the article most interesting. The author claims that we are ignoring the very tool that will help our success. What is that tool?  "It's our emotions - specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) - that push us to behave in ways that show self-control ." How intriguing.

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This idea made me look at one of the biggest resolutions I've ever made: starting a daily writing practice. When I think about what has helped me get up early every morning to write (since August 19, 2013, 1601 days and counting), certainly genuine pride in creating this achievement helps keep me going. That is simple.

But what about gratitude? What part could this emotion play in helping bolster my resolve?  Even though I am not naturally an early riser, the impact of my morning practice has been immense.  I have never felt more like a writer in my life. And without this, Always a Blue House might not have been born. And for that I am grateful.

I know I'm grateful to my writer friends for their support. I know that giving similar support to them them can only enrich my life and help me become a better "literary citizen." (See Ten Kind Suggestions for Being a Literary Citizen post on Women Who Submit blog). I try very hard to be that kind of friend and colleague.  I've just never named it as compassion before.

DeSteno's article gave me a new way of looking at setting resolutions. When contemplating a new goal, I'll try to remember to find not just the reason for that goal but the feeling that drives me. I'm hoping that will help me stick to what I set out to do. 

As for the new year, now I'm struggling to find a reason to be grateful for going on a post-holiday diet. I'd welcome any suggestions for how to feel that!

 

NaPoWriMo Daily Challenge: A Last Poem for Hawaii

National Poetry Month has been over for almost a month. Just to remind you that there can poetry everyday, here's another poem for Hawaii. The prompt for that day:  write a poem that reflects on the nature of being in the middle of something. The poem could be about being on a journey and stopping for a break, or the gap between something half-done and all-done.

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Day 15

In the Middle

On your journey down the trail,
you stop for breath between grass
that smells like molasses sweet
under rain misting your hair.

Beyond cliffs falling to shore,
water stretches in every direction.
You rest in the heart of the ocean
on the most remote islands on Earth,

on a planet spinning in the middle
of space. Watching waves pulled
back and forth, you feel its rotation,
you the center, betwixt and between.

Standing in the midst of this vista
it’s enough right now to raise your arms
to sky and turn slowly, fingers stretched
north and south, east and west.

NaPoWriMo Daily Challenge: Another Poem for Hawaii

The challenge for Day 13 was to write a ghazal. A ghazal A ghazal is formed of couplets, each of which is its own complete statement. Both lined of the first couplet end with the same phrase or end-word, and that end-word is also repeated at the end of each couplet. 

Day 13

Ghazal: Kona Coast

Under leafy rain frogs shrilled til dawn.
Sky lightened as it does each dawn.

Last night a gecko raced green fluorescence
across the wall. Now he’s gone. Dawn.

Behind this room opened to air, trees sway
with bird song. Two roosters crow, Dawn.

At home, trains whistle, planes take off,
scrape of metal shaking sleep before dawn.

Palm trees, ginger, ferns, banana leaves
all rustle the story of far-away dawn.

Tropic damp soaks every surface,
even paper I try to fill with this dawn.

NaPoWriMo Daily Challenge: A Poem for Ruth and Don

I have been writing (or trying to) a poem each day for the NaPoWriMo daily poetry challenge to commemorate National Poetry Month. As of today, April 28, I have written 24 poems. This year instead of posting all my sometimes feeble attempts to the public, I've only been brave enough to share them with other poet friends who are on the same journey. They know the struggles of trying to be almost brilliant every day. 

Now that National Poetry Month is drawing to a close, I thought I'd take the plunge to share a few of my poems here. For Spring Break this year, I took my first trip to Hawaii to visit my good friends Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell of Saddle Road Press, the publishers of my book Always a Blue House. There were a few days there in their lovely house on the Big Island when Ruth and I would be writing our poems on different floors. 

So here is one for you, Ruth and Don:

Day 12

Silver Swords

Ruth raved about them,
thorny globes glistening
among lava falls
on the slope of Mauna Kea.

We bumped our way
along a rocky track,
like the roads in Tanzania,

distant plains spread out before us
green and gold like the Serengeti.
How could this be Hawaii?

Then there they were, shining
like unsheathed blades,
presence potent
as she had promised.

 

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Poetry Challenge A Year Late

Tania Pryputniewicz sent me a poetry challenge last March:  Use at least three of the musical expressions on the front of this card, plus cat, plus piano or other musical instrument of your choice in a poem. Game on!

It's almost April, which is National Poetry Month. This was a good way to get myself back into writing shape before attempting the NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) 30-poems-in-30-days challenge.

It's taken me a year to write this poem. I guess publishing a book got in the way. But, Tania, here it is! 


Piano forte

Hauled all over Texas,
Colorado until Illinois,
Mom’s big upright in the corner
never made it past the blue house.

Legs scuffed from rough and tumble,
keys stained, discolored ivory
cracked by shoes and toys.
One senza music -
sounding thunk, thunk.

Childhood cat a black
eighth note, paws soft-stepping
across the keyboard,
drew ghost music,
dolce espressivo.

I could pick out high C,
my  piano lesson a solo
cut short when we had to move,
finding a new place again.

Mom dragged that piano
all over those living rooms:
it held stockings at Christmas,
once played divider, enough space
for a hillbilly bedroom.

From her red Methodist hymnal,
she filled each house
with  chords poco marcato:
“Onward Christian Soldiers,”
 “Thine is the Glory.”

In the end strong men
hauled its black body away,
Mom stood at the window,
sheets of music in her hands.

 

Musical terms:
dolce espressivo – sweetly expressive
forte - strongly
non tropo vivo – not too lively
poco marcato – a little emphatic

For Tania Once Again

Last weekend I took Always a Blue House on the road for the first time, going to San Diego for the Not Yet Dead Poets Society First Friday reading with my dear friend and sister poet, Tania Pryputniewicz. Tania and I then co-led a Saturday morning poetry workshop at San Diego Writer's Ink

One of the writing prompts Tania brought to the workshop was based on a poem she wrote about another time we spent as poets together at a writing retreat in Calistoga, CA.

That poem was the first in what has become an ongoing poetry challenge that we've tossed back and forth to each other. Sometimes it takes months for us to complete our poems. In fact, I'm working on one right now.

Until I finish that poem for Tania, I thought I'd re-post the first challenge poem that appeared on this blog back in June 2015. It seems like a good way to thank my friend for her love and poetry support. 

 

                                                                 

 

For Tania From Italy

Here z's
are everywhere:
Firenze
scamorza
pizzeria
palazzo
zabaglione
Piazza della Stazione
Via Panzini
San Lorenzo
Uffizi
Rizzo
They fly from my mouth,
zip through air
like chimney swifts
circling the great dome
outside my window.
Violin music swirls up
from the piazza below.
Delizioso.

Difficult Animal: A Review

In Difficult Animal (Saddle Road Press), Lisa Lutwyche shows us the meat and bones of life, that difficult animal we all struggle with, full of love and confusion, with hidden teeth. This collection is a poetic memoir beginning with her childhood: talented parents, music they produced, and her young ache for love and acceptance.  However, just when I began to believe this would be the story of a girl and her family, I was brought up short.

This is no idyllic reverie; Lutwyche doesn’t shy away from life’s pain. The lessons of her grandmothers whose presence is a soft constant in the “Great-Grandmother Annetta” and “Gentle Watch,” are shattered by the violent death of a fawn whose eyes wouldn’t close. This poem, “Requiem for a Nuisance” brings ominous undertones of danger.

That danger does come in the form of domestic violence and then cancer. It was with the second section that I truly fell in love with this book. Here Lutwyche’s strength of language and willingness to write unflinchingly grow in power. She too won’t close her eyes but instead faces whatever comes. In “Invisible,” she bravely claims:

so if I am

         invisible

let me twirl

         around your faces

laughing

        teasing

let me dance naked

and shout

forbidden dreams

Dance and shout she does. Lutwyche uses multiple points of view in her poems as if she holds life in her hands, turning it over and over to view it from every angle. Images of hands appear repeatedly throughout this book: a father’s whose hands held the power to move hearts, violent hands of an abusive husband and a new love whose touch / heals. But the most important hands are those of this brave poet, wielding her pen. In “Brewing the Witch” She stirs in the deep secret / of her untapped strength…brews the witch / she needs to be. And this reader is glad she did. 

Available on Amazon.

Goodbye Comic Sans?

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I came across this interesting blog post about fonts today: If You're Using These Fonts You Need to Stop by Larry Kim.  He lists Comic Sans as the worst font you can use on your website or blog. He also includes a list of other "offensive" font types. What surprised me? Included was Times New Roman. Really? Read his post here.

I have to admit that as a teacher Comic Sans was my go-to font when creating handouts for my students. Other fonts seemed too business-like. I guess that's the point. Think  about what font is best for your purpose. 

I haven't spent much time worrying about typography for my website but this makes me think I should pay more attention. For all you bloggers out there, I'd love to know if you've given this much thought.

A New Home for My Blog and Video Tour

 In Bologna

In Bologna

After over five years of posting on Blogspot, Poet Teacher Seeks Home has a new home. I'm excited to announce that my blog will now be housed on my main website.  This means that those of you who have supported me by subscribing to my blog will need to re-enter your email if you want to continue receiving posts. And I sure hope you will keep reading. 

Another new feature to check out is my Always a Blue House On the Road video tour. As part of my book launch tour, I've decided to make a video of me reading a poem in every place I visit this year.  Check out the first one here

 

Good Literary Citizenship Post #1: A Reminder from Emma Lee's Blog

A couple of weeks ago,the blog post How to Be a Successful Poet on Social Media (Emma Lee's Blog, October 26, 2016) appeared in my inbox just in time to remind me of my responsibilities as a citizen of the literary community. In it Emma Lee, a blogger and writer based in England, asks some important questions such as:

When was the last time you shared someone else's status update/tweet/blog link on social media? When was the last time you shared a link to your blog? (Read the rest of the post here.)

Now that I'm in the process of marketing my new poetry collection, Always a Blue House (Saddle Road Press) due for release on December 10, 2016, I find myself in the position of asking people to help me spread the news of my book on social media and in literary journals. As for many writers, this process is not always comfortable. I'd much rather be sitting in my room writing poems. But in the publication world, it's a necessary part of the journey. 

So far, I've had many generous people give me opportunities for interviews and reviews. Emma Lee is one of those. Now she's reminded me that I can return the favor in my own small way. 

What better way to make myself feel less forward and self-important than to find ways to help get the word out for others' work? I've decided to do a series of posts featuring the work of other poets and writers. Just doing my bit.

So, people, check out Emma Lee's blog. She has some great resources for writers. It's fun to read about what's going on in the English poetry world. Who knows, you might find a place for your work beyond your own country.

Such Beautiful Books!

Today the advance copies of my book, Always a Blue House arrived on my doorstep. It is such a beautiful book thanks to the editing and design work of the multi-talented Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell of Saddle Road Press

My book officially comes out December 10, 2016, just in time for my birthday. You can pre-order it on Amazon here, or wait to order it via my website in December. 

How many different photos of my books can I take?