Bird Seed--Twitter Poems

Tweetspeak Poetry, the fullsome webspace curated by the gifted LL Barkat, was borne out of Twitter poems, concise lines of poetry confined to 140 spaces.  I only attempted this beginning last Spring and finished my last poem in the Fall. 
Many of these lines are responses to photo prompts ('Starry Night' and so on), others just me trying to wrap words around my life.
It's way too much fun--you should try it.
Jump rope skipping
wide door open
fragrance wafting
blue sky calling
children laughing
Spring kinda day.

Apr 21 (After Easter)
The day is empty tomb new
wide open and blazing white
with possibilities.

Here's to all the women walking busward
bags in hand, kids in care,
hard work and hope on the horizon.

Grey girders gash against the crowded sky,
filling my birds eye blue view
with dollar signs
on a horizon of diminishing returns.

Spring...death come to life,
beauty buried in bark
against a blue sky,
dreaming of green

March 23rd
Trapped in educationese
translating myself out of a corner,
I bring the child with me
but you'd rather bury us with words.

March 19th
When the flowers waltzed
back into the room
the darkness danced away.

March 18th
Ochre red feather duster
against a gray cotton sky.
Soft Spring surging.

March 16th
Reading forsythia,
preface to Spring,
 telling me there's more to come.

March 14th
Why the swirling curling
colors of sky?
Was Vincent looking for North
and lost his star?

Aug. 5
Noisy books calling 'Read me!'
I grab each spine & confine them
to their basket-y space
To Get Something Done.
I hear whispers still...
The sound of happy
is rain falling,
tipping the watery scales
leaf-wise on this
quiet, shushing morning.
(for my son's birthday)

What the Birds Say-A Winter Poem

You could say
(and you would be correct)
the mottled, colorless sky
leaves one bereft of brightness
this time of year.
You could say (see above)
the empty, lifeless branches
are dull, dormant gray/brown
slender swords against
said mottled sky.
You could say (well, you know) 
there's little beauty 
in such poor adornment,
small pleasure in the drab and drear view.

On the other hand, consider~
this backdrop reveals the birds best,
awakens ones eyes to their
blazing joy
as they dive into their days
zooming messages across the sky
and voicing these words
with their flying song,
"Faithful, faithful, faithful."
I'm beginning to think Winter is my favorite season as I watch the birds.  Merry Christmas!

Show and Tell

Write the world a story
--one of your very own--
with a beginning like no other.
Paint a picture only
you can paint
with brushes dipped in days
and nights of  liquid life
when it pools and puddles.
Illustrate the middle and 
tell us how it is,
with all the color, the light,
the dark and all the in between.
Catch the drips and let them dry,
make the most of the mistakes.
The last of the story is yet to come,
awaiting a frame
and at last the view 
as we step back and behold 
the work of art
that is your life and The Artist's
signature which says,
'The End'.

This poem was inspired by a note on my daughter's refrigerator which I snapped during our recent 11 hour painting marathon at her house.

Thanks Giving

Friends and family leave words on screens
            and phone lines,
dropping voices and laughter like
            golden pendants rippling
across the surface of my morning.
Bookends of baking--pies first and the turkey last--
           include potatoes, The Green Bean Casserole
           and sweet potatoes in between.
Chimes outside echo on the warm wind
           of a rare November day,
           breezes rustling the nearly empty branches
           like the rushing of waves on a far away summer shore.
Thanksgiving isn't a 30 second infomercial to fulfill
           the Adult Daily Requirements of finding joy
but rather a dayfull of listening and looking then
           raising heartsong Heavenwards
           towards the lifelong-loving Creator God
who gives us daily more reasons to be thankful.
Linking for the first time in a long time with the community of thankful people at Dverse Poets. 
Join us?

Poetry 101--Mischief Cafe

The second week of November I had the pleasure of hosting a complete stranger in my home, the diminuitive L.L. Barkat, a woman with a contagious laugh, a love of poetry and instigator of the Mischief Cafe--sort of a traveling road show with tea, toast and poetry. Laura is the curator of Tweetspeak Poetry, a website dedicated to bringing the beauty and wonder of poetry out of the ivory towers and down to the rest of us. The idea for a traveling cafe came from a Facebook conversation which morphed (156 comments later) into a book, complete with found poems, blank pages--for the writer--and poetry prompts as well. The blank pages are my favorite. You can read more about Mischief Cafe's origins here.)
With an event like a Mischief Café happening right in your own home (well, my kitchen,too) one would expect laughter.  Even if the guests included (almost) complete strangers whom you’d actually never met in real life.

So, with a feather boa and my Mischief Café volume handy, I was looking forward to some fun. We were duly rewarded. There were some uproarious guffaws from a couple of guests (I’m not naming names) as publishing stories were shared and hearts were bared.

While I expected a congenial time (I enjoy having guests in my home—even if they’re—ahem, an hour and a half early) but the ease with which said total strangers made themselves at home was a gift and a surprise.

Laura (L.L.) and I had time to cover ground in person that we'd only typed out between us. Our conversation was like that between old friends, friends I knew well but hadn’t seen in a long while. Friends who shared a love of poetry and writing and mischief (oh, and tea).
photo by LL Barkat, 
(l to r) Laura Smedley, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, moi, Jennifer Wagner (Poet Laundry)

And we had tea….with cinnamon toast, buttered very liberally by L.L. She made herself completely at home in my kitchen and chatted as if we’d been doing it all our lives.
That was a blessed surprise.

Kimberlee stole my feather boa...Jennifer and Laura smiling,
LL being elusive

I was also surprised to be intrigued rather than repelled (as I was on my first read) by the form and sound of a sestina.  As L.L. read aloud one of her poems, I found myself listening to the words as they looped through the air, trailing each other in conjoined phrases, like links in a chain holding a golden key at the end.  I felt like the puzzle of the form had been unlocked as I listened.

I was left feeling I might actually try to write one soon.

See what fun reading out loud and cinnamon toast with tea can get you?
And now the Poetry 101 Part:
Below is a graphic of a sestina.........which illustrates the sound of Laura's voice reading a selection from her book 'Love, Etc.' the poem, 'Petit a Petit L'oiseau fait son nid'

If you'd like to know more about Tweetspeak Poetry or how to order your copy of 'Mischief Cafe', click here.

Timber over Time

Building a marriage is
timber over time,
the on purpose-ness
of candles on the table
on a run-of-the-mill
Saturday night
illuminating the daily
gift that says,
"I made something for you."

It's a pile of firewood
carried through the cold,
banked against the night's chill.
Opera music, loud on the stereo
while dinner cools
and the shower runs.
It's thoughtful intentions
stringing together all the todays,
prepared for all the tomorrows
when we can no longer
light the candles
carry the wood
or hear the music
but the love is still there
strong and tall as those
trees blowing outside
in the night.

Waiting Room

I wanted to write like Annie Dillard
not here
in the middle of this 
city/suburbs life.
Leave the concrete and
multiplying cars
with their inhuman noises,
seek a vista, a vale
of color and light,
to inspire and bring forth
words like a flowing brook
across quiet pebbles.
But I'm here in the hum,
surprised to be A Writer
in spite of my days of
down-to-earth distractions.

Every time I want to run away
to Another Perfect Place
the words follow me
like a homing pigeon
dropping his message 
like crumbs at my feet
where my life has
been all along.
"He who wants to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life....will find it."  
Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke

An Ode to my Cold

My cough appears each hour
with the annoying regularity 
of a political ad.
Its persistence is wearing me down.
The election is over, 
the advertisements are gone.
No more enduring the monotony
of a grating sound
I do not want to hear.
(did I tell you I have a cough?)

I did my part--voted the best I could--
made my wishes known.
But I'm wondering,
is there a ballot for
Ailments, Cold-Related?
A choice to Maintain or Repeal.
I vote for Repeal.

Can I borrow your pen?

Poets at Play--an interview with Barbara Crooker

           Barbara Crooker is a quiet soul and a richly talented woman. I first heard Barbara's "voice" via a broadcast of ‘Prairie Home Companion’ when Garrison Keillor read one of her poems. I continued to discover her voice and work as it appeared in various publications, Rock and Sling, Christianity and Literature, The Christian Century, Spiritus,  and most recently in Tweetspeak Publishing’s "How to Read a Poem" by Tania Runyan (TSPoetry Press).
      In February of 2014 we both attended the AWP Conference in Seattle and 'happened' to be at the same poetry workshop. I noticed her in line behind me while we waited to speak with the workshop leaders. Sounding just like a groupie I gushed about her work and unashamedly asked for her email address. We kept in touch and she agreed to participate in an 'interview' via this blog.

Here are some of her thoughts on writing poetry.

First, from  her most recent poetry collection Gold (Wipf & Stock, 2013) 

We’re writing out names with sizzles of light
to celebrate the fourth.  I use the loops of cursive,
make a big B like the sloping hills on the west side
of the lake.  The rest, a little a, r, one small b,
spit and fizz as they scratch the night. On the side
of the shack where we bought them, a handmade sign:
Trailer Full of Sparkles Ahead, and I imagine crazy
chrysanthemums, wheels of fire, glitter bouncing
off metals walls,  Here we keep tracing in tiny
pyrotechnics the letters we were given at birth,
branding them on the air.  And though my mother’s
name has been erased now, I write it, too:
a big swooping I, a little hissing s, an a that sighs
like her last breath, and then I ring
belle, belle, belle in the sulphuric smoky dark.
1.      Although you have undergraduate degrees in English Lit and Art History, (and a graduate degree in English Lit), you said your real education came from "The School of 3,000 Books."
Tell me what you mean.

I'm one of a handful of writers without an MFA or a PhD; when I first started writing, I had small children, and if I'd wanted an MFA then, I'd have had to leave my family and live somewhere else for two years—no way that was going to happen!  Later, of course, the "distance" MFAs were born, where you only have to be in residence for a couple of weeks per year, but even that was impossible, partly because of the cost, and partly because my youngest child (who's now 30) was diagnosed with autism, and so even being gone for two weeks would have been too much strain on the family.  
So I went to "school" by buying books—anthologies, individual collections, literary criticism, and the like, and studying, studying, studying.  Then the internet came into being; that vastly expanded the availability of critical articles, poets to read (especially in "the dailies," Poetry Daily, Verse Daily), and The Writer's Almanac, plus "the weekly," Ted Kooser's American Life in PoetryI'm constantly running into writers, especially beginning writers, who say they don't read much poetry, and I don't understand this; our job as writers is to be readers, first.

And I'm constantly learning.  I might fall in love with something, say a new form, and so I research and read as many poems as I can find that exemplify the form, then try my hand at it.  I'm also constantly falling in love with new writers, and falling back in love with old favorites; in both cases, I make sure  I buy their books. 

2.      When I asked about your faith background you responded with the term,
"Zen Lutheran."  What did you mean?

I'm an active member of a small Lutheran church, but I feel that my faith walk casts its net wider.  One of the things that Buddhism teaches us is to be present in the moment, to pay careful attention to the world around us, particularly the natural world.  To be alive in the senses.  To honor all living things.  To respond to the light that's in all of us.  To be fully open.

3.      What about your writing is the most difficult?

To make the poem on the page live up to the promise of the poem in my head.

4.      What about your writing brings you the most joy?

When I feel I've "got it right," that I've been able to apply all I know about craft to a poem without losing its emotional heart.  This doesn't happen all the time; along the way, many poems are either discarded, or cannibalized into poems that go off in another direction.

5.     You have been writing a very long time (over 40 years) and your beautiful work is being discovered a little at a time. Your Selected Poems comes out next year, Gold is touching many people with the words about your mother’s passing. During this time, I’m sure there were rejection slips. What kept you going?

Oh, rejection slips!  One of the poems in Radiance  (Word Press, 2005) is called "Twenty-Five Years of Rejection Slips," and that's about how long it took for me to get my first book out.  There's a Scots prayer that goes, "Lord, grant that I may always be right, for Thou knowest I am hard to turn."  
One of my better (or worse, depending on your perspective) qualities is persistence (and its cousin, stubbornness).  Plus, I take as my model Claude Monet, who said, "Apart from gardening or painting, I really don't know how to do anything." (I'm paraphrasing.)  That's me, if you  substitute writing for painting.

6.     Any words of wisdom for struggling poets?  Any last thoughts?

Read, read, read!  Read widely, read deeply.  Read poets of the past, read contemporaries.  Read journals, read anthologies, read individual collections.  Eat those books!
Click here if you'd like to visit Barbara's website. Some of her best work is available (free!) by clicking the 'Online' button. Enjoy!

Sabbath in the In-Between

Many corners of the blogosphere are echoing the urge to find Sabbath rest. There is a book (Bonnie Gray's), a blog space--Still Saturday with Ms. Sandra King, and a Society with Ms Shelly Miller. The encouragement is to set aside a day, a space, a time to listen and look for our Creator, to find much needed REST.  In this season of my life it is more and more difficult to engage in such a practice. However, I woke up the other morning and heard, "find Me in the In-Between", so I've been Sabbathing there, in the In Between.
Here are two poems from that time:
Sabbath on the Page #1**
Lunch without a phone, or a mouse
no screen, no clicks,
no taps, just drips,
the soft sound of rain
on autumn tables and 
thirsty grass
welcoming moisture
to the dry, gray ground.
Birds balance on backyard mirrors,
bouncing to the ever-bubbling bath
and back again.

Sabbath on the Page #2

The rain sprinkles, then splats 
on windows, pouring
silken silver down the glass.
Too few tables and
too many latte-lovers
equal No Room at the Coffee Shop.
Ignoring the equation
I've sought my Sabbath solace
here in the car
banished due to lack of space
and finding, instead,
the quiet--my own, self-contained peace--
fits well in the in-between.
The rustle of canvas as I reach for my cup,
the soft 'shhhhhh' of the pencil lead on paper,
the turn of the paper to find a new page,
the back and forth 'shuga-shuga-shuga'
of my eraser--
all simple delicacies gathered just so--
surround sound I'd never hear
'midst all that other noise.
Cocooning in the car
brings them small and close;
like echoes under an upturned canoe.
Just me and all those people
separated by running rivers of water 
in between.

**from the book 'God in the Yard', L.L. Barkat

Dew Change

The thermometer affirms
our arrival at Autumn,
the droplets on the deck
declare in dew
that the air
is too cold for the water,
changing it to
liquid on the glassy, 
warm surface.

I wonder, does
the Living Water
perform the same miracle
when it touches
my heart?

do change....


                     l  l
in love isn't so much
(falling) as paying 
attention to what pulls
you  t  o  w  a  r  d  s  
someone else.

       l l
water can echo or storm,
babble and breathe quiet
but either way, moving is best--
(sitting still makes for stagnant,
and one can't have that.)

         a                   l       i
                    l                     n

l                         v
          e      a                   e               

are turning slowly,
moving--yes--towards change,
a season of quiet
like gentle green blankets
laid out on the lawn.

I welcome the shhhhhh.....
of the leaves
and look to the day
six weeks hence--when those
same trees, barren and bare,
will leave a winter view,
unimpeded by All That Green
so I can pay
attention to what pulls
me towards falling

What I Saw and Heard

Writing comes from listening,
so I've taken quiet steps outside
away from the loud 
to hear better.
Eyes open this time 
to see AND hear--this--
the delicate drops of fuchsia, 
ballerinas fluttering like so many
upside-down firecrackers,
fragile, full of beauty
dropping feathery tendrils
to the silent air.

Poets at Play--an Interview with Tania Runyan

With Tania at AWP Conference--Seattle WA
     Some poets' work take your breath away or stop you in your tracks with an 'aha'! Some will challenge you to see the world a different way than before.
     Tania Runyan's work does all that. Of her many works, her two volumes of poetry based on Scripture prompts intrigued me the most. "Second Sky" is full of Pauline-Epistle-inspired musings,  "Thousand Vessels'" pays a powerful and provocative tribute to 12 women of the Bible.
     When I found out Tania would be in Seattle last Spring for the AWP Conference (Assn. of Writers and Writing Programs), I took the day off and got a free pass to attend the poetry panel she was participating in. (say that 3 times fast).
     She let me hang out and drink coffee with she and her panel mates who were delightful as well. Then we schlepped about the books, visited her publisher's table and I headed home.
I contacted her a few days later about an 'interview' for the blog and she was game.
Herewith the first installment of 'Poets at Play--the Interviews'
1. “A Thousand Vessels” is filled with poetry prompted by your reading of particular women in the Bible.  What was the catalyst for this volume?  Any particular idea or incident?

While pregnant with my second daughter (and busily parenting a toddler), I decided to create a "non-materialistic" Christmas for my extended family by writing a suite of Nativity poems as a gift. I wrote each poem from the point of view of someone present at the Nativity and the days immediately following--Mary, Joseph, an angel, a shepherd, Anna, and Simeon. I was especially drawn to writing from Mary's perspective and continued writing in her voice after Christmas. Then I moved on to Eve and Sarah, again drawn to their experiences with pregnancy and motherhood. At that point, I got the idea of writing an entire book arranged around women in the Bible. I determined to finish the manuscript before Rebecca was born--then went on to revise it several more times!

2. How do you start a poem? For example, in ‘Queen Esther’s Name Change’ (p. 42)
“With one word they have hurled me
 To the heavens. I cannot believe…”

I don't remember how I started that one, as it was written around a decade ago. But even with that excuse, it's generally a hard question to answer! I usually start the process by freewriting rather stream-of-consciously and getting a "skeleton" idea of a poem. Then I isolate phrases I like and start forming lines and structure, changing, moving and sculpting as I go. It's intuitive but not arbritrary, even if I have trouble explaining it! When it's how it needs to be, I just know. Then when I look at it several months later, I change the lines all over again.

3. What about form?
Regarding the example above, it’s set in couplets.  Then in ‘Children of Near Death’ (Jairus' Daughter) you begin, “Edward, Drowning” with triplets (and they’re not rhyming triplets). How does one decide such a thing?
I tend to write a lot in nonrhyming couplets or triplets, but again, I'm not entirely sure why. I just know when a poem needs one or the other (or something completely different, like no separate stanzas at all). Sometimes thoughts cross my mind--is there some sort of dualism here? Or a trinitarian theme? But usually my gut makes the decision, then a person smarter than I points out how it all works together. I like it when that happens.

4. How do you find the TIME to write, given you’re a mom of 3 and have a more-than-part time tutoring job?

I've always tried to squeeze in some time, whether it be before the kids wake up or after they go to bed (though I'm not a great night writer). The biggest help arrived in the form of an NEA grant, which helped me pay a sitter to watch my two younger kids a couple afternoons a week as I worked on Second Sky. Now all three kids are in school all day, but it's still tough to fit in quiet writing time. Always so many distractions, and it's easy to get distracted from the hard work of poetry. Retreats and conferences do give me little boosts throughout the year. Often I generate several rough "skeletons" at a place like the Glen Workshop then work on them at home in the following months.
5. Many people write prose and poetry both.  How did you decide (or what lead you) to go the route of poetry?

I started off wanting to be a playwright but found myself obsessing over the rhythm and sound of dialogue over anything else. Plot stressed me out. As I became more deeply immersed in poetry, I ended up choosing it as an emphasis for both my undergrad and graduate degrees. That said, I've been writing quite a bit of prose this past year or so, experimenting with flash fiction and writing creative nonfiction regularly for Image Journal's Good Letters blog. I released How to Read a Poem, which, though about poetry, is prose. My wheels are turning again about writing another nonfiction book.

Any last words or thoughts?

Read poetry. Read it slowly and savor it, even if you don't think you "get" it. The words will slowly infiltrate your bloodstream and enrich your life.
Please visit here to order 'Second Sky' and 'A Thousand Vessels'.  Tania's book for teachers, 'How to Read a Poem' (Tweetspeak Poetry) is a great classroom resource.  I wrote about my experience with middle schoolers using it here.  

The Day the Experts Came to School

Some days I love being an Elementary Guest Teacher.  Some days not so much. 
Today was one of those days.  

They are dissecting the stories,
deciding the children should 'level' 
their love of literature,
as if they could explode the
mystery of words and flatten it,
equalize the field of flowers that are
pictures, implode the language,
flatline the cadence and 
diagnose the wonder.
They have instead
rendered the reading lifeless,
without oxygen, no heartbeat
sucked the air out of the room
and killed all the joy.
The patients are barely

"Leveled" indeed.

In all fairness, there ARE days where the magic happens. Here's a link to something I wrote about this summer using Tania Runyan's book "How to Read a Poem".

Revelation While Writing at the Bakery

Scarcity says,
"I can't commit to using all this paper.
I can't write these words, they'll fill up the space.
And then what?
There will be no more words."
I just know it.

Scarcity says,
"I'm afraid,
I don't trust you
there is not enough."
Like a greedy 5 year old
at a best friend's birthday party--
There's no way there's enough
birthday cake to go around.
They're gonna run out.
"I just know it."

Want stands empty-handed

staring at the hole instead
of the donut,
missing the super-sized
abundance of it all,
the over-the-top
carb and sugar count--
why look at all that frosting!--
that is clearly more than enough
for you
for two
for all of you.

I don't want pastries
I don't need cake
I just want Jesus--and there He is,
arms outstretched, hands full of life
with everything I need to take my holes
and make them whole.

There's enough--I just know it.