Archive for the ‘Own-Poetry’ Category


Some Thoughts On Inspiration Accompanied By A Poem About The Same, Untitled Because I Suffer From Titular Disinspiration*

June 2, 2011

When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next. • Dolly Parton

I often feel uninspired, empty, unable, unmotivated, even disinterested when it’s time to write whatever it is that I ought to write or have to write or even want to write. It doesn’t matter how urgent the task is, there are times when I need to put words together and I can’t prime the pump. Not only do the words refuse to flow, I can’t even squeeze out a sentence or two. I’m reminded of this as I listen to my students grapple with finishing final projects this quarter. They don’t have any words left—everything has been wrung out of them and flung onto a page somewhere. They are dry.

Because my own writing isn’t done at the end of a quarter, finding inspiration is a daily challenge; experience has taught me I need to jump on it when it arrives. This jumping can be jarring to someone who’s talking with me—and I’m often inspired by things that other people say. I try to capture them immediately because I know if I don’t, these ideaseeds will disappear. I am aware that this habit of writing things down while someone is talking could be considered distracting and rude, so I always try to explain. That’s why I was delighted recently when a friend pulled out her journal and began writing after I started jotting down what she was saying. “Take your time,” she told me as I started to apologize, “I want to write a poem ‘cause you inspired me too.” As she wrote, I began this as-yet-untitled poem (I am loathe to disturb another poet at work):

Working title:

Untitled Due to Avoidance of the Obviousness of the Repetitive Line and Subsequent Titular Disinspiration

W-OZ, May 2011


Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s sneaking away,

hiding out, hoping you’ll

quit looking, pretty sure you’ll

give up the search. It

might be stashed in

the garage, up in the

rafters with the unicycle that

broke Uncle Charlie’s arm. Or

maybe it’s under the

stairs in a blue cardboard hatbox

filled with family photos from

that long-ago outing to the

Grand Ole Opry where cousin Sugar

danced in the aisles while

Dolly Parton sang.


Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s eluding the search,

and it could be

lying low, disguised,

hunkered down

in the basement behind

those dusty boxes of old Mason jars

grandpa was going to use

to brew beer till

grandma found out and put

the kibosh on his plans. Perhaps it’s

at the pool hall where he

went for consolation and you

tap danced on the bar.


Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s camouflaged as banality,

dressed up as the prosaic,

costumed in the ordinary,

masquerading as the

dull. It’s pretending to be

boring, up in the attic tucked

away beneath the eaves in mama’s

maple dresser, under the mothballs

and ballet slippers and dried

carnations tied with

pink ribbon from the night she

met your dad.


Inspiration is hard to find.

So when you do,

you need to grab it,

pin it down,

tie it to the bedpost,

lock it in the closet,

handcuff it to the banister,

set it in the rocking chair and

tell it to stay there—or else.


Inspiration is hard to find.

You need to drag it from its

hiding place, sweet talk it out to

the back porch, charm it,

cajole it, coax it onto the swing or

sit with it on the steps or

lie beside it on the soft summer grass,

staring at the stars and the moon

together until it can’t

resist you.




I’m sure you can ferret out the meaning in this poem, although while I was writing it, I was not thinking of any particular point I wanted to make. It is only in retrospect, after finishing multiple iterations, that I see the relationship between the poem and much of my work as an artist and poet and teacher.

What is your advice for the uninspired?

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. • Peter DeVries

* Come up with a good title—and not the obvious one that I am avoiding—and I will include your title with your name (title provided by. . . . .) whenever I use this poem.



A Poem Is Never Finished, Only Abandoned.*

April 11, 2011

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. • Robert Frost

I told someone I lost my mother, but I find her everywhere. She’s lurking at the grocery store and at the movie theatre. She’s hidden in the pages of the books I used to buy and send to her. I see her among the bargains that she loved, like necklaces and earrings discounted seventy-five percent from their lowest marked price. We say the one who’s gone is lost, but I am the lost one, adrift in a world where I founder in the shoals of sadness, snagged by jagged rocks of memory that hide beneath the normalcy of life-goes-on. I try to find the poetry in my remembrance.

I am never sure when a poem begins because the words I write are not usually meant to be poems. I seldom sit down and say “I will write poetry today.” More often, I say “I will write,” and sometimes what emerges is the seed of a poem. Very seldom, a poem springs into being, words rushing onto the page or screen as fast as I can write. Instead, fragments arrive unbidden to be captured, saved, revisited again and again until they spark some resonance within. In my life, poetry cannot be forced and almost never flows no matter how much I might wish that it would. Right now, I very, very badly wish it would.

How do poems grow? They grow out of your life. • Robert Penn Warren

It’s almost three months since my mother died and I have begun many poems since her death. Most have been abandoned and I do not think that I will ever finish them. Revisiting the words is painful, leading me to sorrow, immersing me in grief when I want to remember joy. My mother was asked to leave a grief group shortly after my youngest brother’s unexpected death because she was not sad enough. Her upbeat attitude brought the group down, she was told. She would not want me to wallow in sadness either. “Remember me,” she’d say, “but it would make me sad to see you sorrowful. Enjoy your life and focus on the fun we had together.” I want to. I really do. It is not easy.

A poem might be defined as thinking about feelings—about human feelings and frailties. • Anne Stevenson

I do not want to hide these words where I can find them and be tempted to wrestle them into poems. Instead, I’ll abandon them here and call them done.

February 12, 2011. I wanted to play with the meanings of the word rest, the euphemism for death, the remainder, the break or relaxation, but it won’t come together as I make notes on the back of an envelope while I’m in the car. It’s a perfect example of a notion that could become something but likely never will.

A final heartbeat, a last breath,

and all my life becomes the rest.

Eternal rest

is followed by this daily rest when

life shifts into

days without and every day

I find no rest from emptiness.

I am ambushed by little things , a song on the radio, a pair of ticket stubs in a winter jacket I pull out of the closet when the weather unexpectedly turns cold, daffodils in the snow. I am adjusting to the bigness of forever, but these small reminders pull me back into my grief. As I am looking for course materials, I find something written by the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who authored the novel Gigi on which one of my mother’s favorite movies was based. She wrote: “It’s so curious:  one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.  But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions known what it means to want to escape from these things. • T.S. Eliot

February 14, 2011. I get emails from Disneyland addressed to my mother—an annual passport holder—because she didn’t have a computer. Their offers often begin with her name and I cannot bear to cancel them. My jewelry boxes are filled with rhinestone-encrusted landmines of remembrance and letter bombs await in the bookshelves where I secreted mothermail to read again. In the Goodwill, I begin another poem about these unexpected reminders:

I am ambushed by your absence and

every time I forget that you

are gone, you find me.

You lie in wait in the thrift store

where the empty sleeves of sweaters

in your favorite pink grab me

as I troll the aisles.

In the front yard the violets breathe

your name and I know that lilacs will soon

scent the air with your memory.

There are reminders everywhere and I cannot escape them. I do not know if I want to.

Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life. • William Hazlitt

February 26, 2011. I love wordplay and make these notes while we’re on the way to the grocery store:

Rest in peace, we say,

but in their end, it is our own

peace we seek:

a piece of precious remembrance without tears,

a piece of happiness without regret,

a piece of delight in what once was and

never again will be.

Yes. Rest in peace while we pick up

the pieces and move on.

March 2, 2011: The poet Robert Frost said that poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. I am still looking for the words that will help me remember and forget.

Forgetfulness is easy

if the heart is hardened,

if every thought of you is


if the mind refuses to

stoke the fires of memory and

lets the embers grow cold

from neglect.

Forgetfulness is easy

if all reminders are ruthlessly

purged, brutally

neglected, systematically

destroyed, efficiently

deleted, rooted out, leaving

nothing, not even ghosts of memories


My Saturday begins and I do not think of loss, but then the phone rings early—my mother was the only one who called me early—but, of course, it is not her and all the work I do after this wrong number bears the imprint of distraction. I cannot find the words today.

What words do you seek? What words do you find?

Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. • Charles Simic

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. • From a headstone in Ireland

* Thanks to French poet Paul Valéry for the title quotation.


Over The River And Through The Words

January 24, 2011

A little girl, asked where her home was, replied, “where mother is.” • Keith L. Brooks

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. • Washington Irving

My mother died two weeks ago and I cannot find the words I need to write about her life. I’ve tried. Begun and then begun again and yet again. The finality of this summing up constricts me, requires significance and weight and seriousness, all elusive in these tender days of memory. Instead I find myself awash in other words that dance around the edges of her life.

Elegy for My Mother’s Stuff*

Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn, January 23, 2011

There is the loss.

Yes, there is that.

But next to what is lost,

this is the hardest thing,

this letting go:

Closets cleaned, her favorite

black watch plaid will warm

someone unknown, and

cupboards now are bared of

long-remembered meals. How much

I wish I’d kept the old spaghetti pot

that I don’t need (since need has never

stopped me). No.

This is the hardest thing,

this letting go.

Drawers emptied, counters

cleared of life’s ephemera,

divided into keep don’t keep,

discarding every thing that meant

something, though not to other eyes,

and how I long to find the key that

signifies the pocketwatch the rings the letters,

all the many things we box or toss because

they’re meaning less than those

we save. And yet I do not save enough

and seek forgiveness when I reject

blue-flowered china that she loved.

This is the hardest thing,

this letting go of oh so many things

that I imagine would bring her back to me

in momentary magical connection.

This is the hardest thing:

Swift efficiency. Get-it-done.

Let-it-go. Clear-it-out. It’s-only-stuff. And yet

this is the hardest thing.

This. Letting. Going. Going.


And now I realize I have lied. This was the hardest thing: locking the door to my mother’s apartment, leaving the key inside, passing the “apartment for rent” sign outside her building, and knowing that I will never again go back to mom’s.

Who and what do you remember?

My mother is a poem/I’ll never be able to write,/though everything I write/is a poem to my mother. • Sharon Doubiago

I miss thee, my Mother!  Thy image is still/The deepest impressed on my heart. • Eliza Cook

* Please note: Cutting and pasting from this version of Word will not allow me to format the poem as I wrote it. The doublespacing is not mine. Drat and blast computers that think they know what I want. They do not.


There Is Some Pleasure Even In Words, When They Bring Forgetfulness Of Present Miseries.*

May 29, 2010

Our ability to delude ourselves may be an important survival tool.
• Jane Wagner (1985),
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Work is a comfort when you’re worried about someone or something. It is possible to occasionally become so immersed in a task that you forget—perhaps just for a moment or two—that there are sharks in life’s waters and that sometimes they bite. They circle. They lurk, awaiting their moment. You know they are there. You know they are waiting. You know their attack will come. And the distraction of work can help. Or not. Sometimes I distract myself with poetry about the act of distraction:

These Are The Things
by W-OZ

These are the things I do
in the hours
when I do not
think of you:
seventeen essays graded
scribbled with
apostrophes please
spellcheck won’t catch everything
cite your sources.

While  all I do not say
floats in the air around my head,
pen sharply bitten
never leaking out
its cranky inky admonitions:
What are you thinking?
Are you thinking?
This makes no sense!

And then it’s back to
watch your run-on sentences
and subject-verb agreement.

These are the things I do
in the hours
when I do not
worry about you:
Read three chapters of a
U.S. history text circa 1939.
Write fourteen quotations
onto blue-lined white cards,
a favorite this from Austen.
Mansfield Park.
“A watch is always too fast or too slow.
I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”

And papers sorted
this pile into that and
then into their folders.
I’ve seen some of this
too many times before
and yet
they were not ready for their place.

These are the things I do
in the hours
when I am afraid
to think of you:
Straighten out the closet.
Put the shoes into their boxes,
stack them high.
Fix the dresser drawer
that hasn’t shut for many months.
I found three socks,
a scarf,
and a red beret
I thought I’d lost last winter.

Untangled silver chains and
paired my earrings
into little plastic bags.

These are the things I do.

I do these things,
a dozen others and
then a dozen more,
inventing ways to fill the hours
I dare not think of you.

And still my mind returns
all ways
to you
of whom I cannot think.

But do.

It is difficult to think clearly when you’re distracted by worry. If you’re in school this can be particularly challenging since it’s seldom possible to stop the clock of school and take a worry break. Regardless of what’s happening in your life, papers come due and finals week approaches. At times like this, compartmentalization and distraction are useful skills to develop.

What do you do to distract yourself?

At painful times when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction.
• Elizabeth Barrett Browning

* Title wisdom is from Sophocles.


I Don’t See the World Unless I See It in Ink.*

May 9, 2010

Words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
• Lord Byron**

Although I often wonder where ideas go as they flit through my head and disappear, I think daily about where they come from and how pursuing their shiny snailtrails can lead to something more. Every day these glistening paths lead me to the unexpected. I awaken not knowing what I will say or where I will go. I search the files I keep next to the bed. I look through 3×5 cards filled with quotations. I find something and I begin, but I still do not know where I am going. I have a trail, but I do not know where it leads.

This is how it worked today.

I am working on syllabi for two courses I teach every three years, one on classroom creativity and one on writing. I have crates full of hanging files filled with teaching possibilities: articles, quotations, notes, oddservations. I have tubs filled with materials. I’ve been going through them and I found this note to myself:

March 25, 2009.
We pass a tanker truck full of ink and I think this is odd. I’m not young, I’ve been on many, many miles of roads, and I’ve never seen a truck full of ink before. I wonder how many words could be written with this much ink and what it would be like if words, like miles, were purchased by the tankful or penful. What if our words were limited by the number we could afford to drive across the page. What would I say with a gallon of words?

Today I make notes on the page. This could be an activity, perhaps for creativity or perhaps for the writing class. What if people could only write their way into the world? At birth, each child is given pen and ink and learns to write. S/he can scribble endlessly, learning rules and reason until adolescence when, in an inking rite of passage, s/he is given a lifetime’s ink, the same amount for every person. From that moment on, words must be measured out, chosen carefully. Every word counts against the whole of life. Too many and the voice is silenced; too few and the person’s mark is never fully made. No communication happens unless driven by the pen.

I wonder what I would say. Would truth matter more in such a world or would the limiting simply make the charlatan’s words seem weighty? And I think that perhaps this is the assignment: “A Gallon of Words.” If you had a gallon of ink to last the rest of your life, what would you say? I love you? I care? I’m sorry? Please and thank you? Would you spread hope and kindness? Would you pontificate? Prevaricate? I begin a list:

A cup for griping.
There’s plenty that ticks me off. And I’ll
reserve at least another cup
for writing comments on the papers
sitting patiently awaiting my review.
But wait, shouldn’t these words come from
students’ ink reserves?
No fair to have to use my own.
I won’t need much for grocery lists
perhaps a tablespoon will do since
I’ll improve my memory to save a drop or two.
Letters to my mother, another cup, at least.
And poetry requires I hoard a quart for unexpected
rhymes and fleeting thoughts.
I’ll want a pint for encouragement and even more for
saying all the things that people need to hear,
but mostly I’ll think less of what I want to say
and more of what I don’t.
No unkind words. No harshly critical or
mean remarks. No thoughtless papertalk.

I would not want to live in such a world of limitations and my thoughts take me into the explosion of words that is the internet, virtual ink written across millions of miles, something I sometimes bemoan since so many of them are not worth the ink they’d be printed with. This is another topic and I make a note to revisit it.

I remember something I read about Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough, who didn’t dot her i’s in order to save ink. She died in 1744, when ink was likely a luxury. As for me, I don’t have time to dot my i’s and I think of all the time I’ve saved not going back to do so. I-dotting distracts me and slows down my writing process. I move on from this inkish digression and hunt through 3x5s, looking for ink-related quotations. I find several that inspire further blogs and I put them away in a rubber-banded stack with other savings. I find these too:

I act as a sponge. I soak it up and squeeze it out in ink every two weeks.
• Janet Flanner

I think about how this quotation could be used to inspire artmaking. I imagine bringing sponges to class and creating art around them. I’ll think more about this one, but I’ll check the dollar store to see just how much this would cost. If it would be financially feasible, this may become an assignment. I will give each person a sponge and ask them to collect their thoughts in it for a week and squeeze them out. How they do so will be up to them.

Animals outline their territories with their excretions; humans outline their territories by ink excretions on paper.
• Robert Anton Wilson

I do many versions of lifemapping with Collectory projects. I’m saving this quotation to use with them and I’m putting it with my Yuckology materials as well since it is a bit gross, isn’t it?

Some quotations I save simply because I love them, because they capture someone’s passion for life:

If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you.
• Henry Rollins

And some I know by heart because I’ve used them for years, like this Chinese proverb: The palest ink is better than the sharpest memory. Without my inky notes, there’d be no trails to follow.

What would you say if your inking were limited?

I’ve got a vendetta to destroy the Net, to make everyone go to the library. I love the organic thing of pen and paper, ink on canvas. I love going down to the library, the feel and smell of books.
• Joseph Fiennes

* Thanks to Jewel Kilcher (professionally known as Jewel, poet, singer, actress, and more) for the title quotation.

** Oh, Byron, Byron, Byron. Since you were saying this while you were alive, I can only hope that you weren’t saying it about yourself since I certainly don’t imagine that my words here will make even ten people think, much less a thousand, and never mind millions. And I know you were a popular guy, but still, a bit of humility is always attractive in a man. Thus I would want any reader to know that you–and definitely I–mean that words matter, right?


A Thought That Sometimes Makes Me Hazy: Am I or Are the Others Crazy?*

April 24, 2010

He suffered occasionally from a rush of words to the head.
• Herbert Samuel

Once upon a time, almost thirty years ago, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist. I was selling radio advertising for a living and I detested the job. I thought there was something wrong with me. I liked my clients. My clients liked me. I was successful, but I dreaded every morning that I had to go into the office and out onto the streets. I was so stressed that my doctor recommended I see someone. It only took one visit to find out that the problem was the job. I quit sales and have never done that kind of work since.

Of course, I already knew that this was what I needed to do. Sometimes, we just need official permission.

I wrote a poem in the waiting room:

Owed to a Psychiatrist
by W-OZ

Welcome to my brain,
take a walk inside my head.
You’ll find it more than int’resting
for you can see what I once said.
‘Cause all my thoughts and secret dreams
are filed in little drawers,
and pictures from my past still hang
along the corridors.
Yes, my brain’s a fine and lovely place,
a dandy place to visit,
and while you’re there
I’m sure you’ll see:
It isn’t crazy,
is it?

I spoke with the doctor for less than fifteen minutes. He told me that his prescription was that I find another job. I did.

Are you doing something you shouldn’t be doing? What are you going to do about it?

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.
• Lord Byron

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.
• Drew Carey

* Thanks to Albert Einstein for the title couplet.


Sightseeing in the Meat Department, or Why I Won’t Go Grocery Shopping Alone

April 22, 2010

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.
• Plato
, Ion

I am an introvert. I enjoy my colleagues, I love being with my family and friends, and I like teaching and the students with whom I work, but I also need lots of time alone to corral the herds of thoughts that are always trampling through my head. Despite this need for solitude, there are some things I just don’t like to do alone. Grocery shopping is one of them. My distaste for doing this chore by myself has its origins in a memory recently resurrected when I found this poem in a box of baby pictures:

• by W-OZ, written many years ago in the backseat of my in-laws’ car

The preacher waits in the car for Gladys
who’s never learned to drive
and is too old now to learn new tricks.
It doesn’t matter where they go or
what they need:
socks or underwear or trousers or
new cushions for the sofa or
a gooseneck lamp for his study
or maybe two fried fish specials
from the Shrimp Boat on Watson Boulevard.

He’ll stay in the car thank you very much,
settling into
toetapping kneejuggling knucklepopping
impatience before the wait begins.
Today, we’re in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot and
I’m just along for the ride.

“Take your time,” he tells her,
although she knows he doesn’t mean it,
“Get what you want. You cook it; I’ll eat it,”
rejecting her pleas for his companionship,
turning his gaze away from her lonely eyes,
as he grabs the
Macon Telegraph and News
May 2, three months old,
crumpled on the floorboard next to me,
discarded wrapping from the African violet
she delivered alone
to Miss Ludie’s hospital bed.

He smooths it out and starts to read,
leaving her to hurry in and
worry her way quickly up and down the aisles,
short legs moving swiftly as I trail along behind,
forehead creased with anxiety over their three-meals-a-day,
wondering if he’d like black-eyed peas or okra,
and finally buying both.

And in the backseat as we leave the parking lot,
I vow that I will never
no not ever
live together, yet alone.

My husband and I hunt together for our food, wandering up and down the aisles, asking each other whether we are running low on cinnamon or linguine or marinated artichoke hearts, sightseeing in the meat department, wondering who will pay fifty dollars for a pork loin and why those uncooked roasts are sold pre-sliced, but knowing someone must be buying them because there they are, every time.

When I was in school, this was a date night activity, time to be together doing something that had to be done. We had—and still have—fun doing it, turning the mundane into a companionable activity. I recommend this strategy whether or not you’re in school, whatever the task. Julie Andrews, in her Mary Poppins (1964) incarnation, said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and—SNAP—the job’s a game!”

When life is busy, you have to take your fun where you can find it.

How do you add fun to your life? Try writing about it and turning your words into a poem to help you remember.

Words form the thread on which we string our experiences.
• Aldous Huxley

Poetry is life distilled.
• Gwendolyn Brooks