Archive for the ‘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.



Poetry Is Just The Evidence Of Life. If Your Life Is Burning Well, Poetry Is Just The Ash.*

March 5, 2011

The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse. The one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. • Aristotle, On Poetics

In The Sole Survivor, Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1983) said that “[a] poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote.” Although music was her passion, my mother’s poetry was, she believed, her gift from a God she spoke with often, providing her with what she called pure moments of truth that she was always looking for, but seldom found.

Her poems represented this voice of God in her life, evidence of her strong faith, their words at the heart of her mission on earth. They provided her with transcendent purpose. The poetry in her head came, she told me, at times when she needed epiphany, bringing her grace and sustenance for life’s difficult times. She wrote “Home at Last,” the poem we read at her funeral, more than forty years ago, standing at the stove, my youngest brother a toddler pulling at her skirt. The poem “appeared all at once, a voice talking to me as clear as can be, as clearly as you are talking to me now.” It was this way with all her poetry.

Home at Last

by Eunice Wilkins Stukan; professional name, Carol Daye

If I should die, don’t weep for me!

For I’ll be where you’d like to be;

Away from all the pain and strife

That ever haunts us in this life.

I’d like no mourning at my shroud;

A sign to say – – – “No tears allowed

For she has gone to Heaven’s Gate,

And though you tarry she will wait.”

Time flies so fast, the years go soon,

Some lives are short, from morn till noon,

While others their full course do run,

And tarry yet when day is done.

This life is good – – – though oft’ too late

We learn this lesson, for we wait,

For things of greatness to impart – –

And pass an understanding heart,

Without a pause, and ne’er a glance;

The piper plays and off we dance.

We passed a tree – – – no time to look,

Or maybe ‘twas a babbling brook;

Perhaps a child with word and smile

We thought a nuisance all the while.

Yes, shed no tears for I have passed

To claim a perfect life at last.

You knew my faults, at least in part,

You knew my independent heart.

No, shed no tears, for there I’ll be

With friends who’ve gone ahead of me.

And when they ask of you, I’ll say,

“They’ll be along another day.”

No, don’t feel sad, I’m home at last!

My tears and trials are in the past.

Help finish what I’ve left undone,

It seems – – – so much – – – I’d just begun.

So, bow your head, in prayer rejoice,

In hymns of praise life up your voice

And thank the Lord for wondrous grace,

That gave me entrance to this place.

Yes, I’ll be waiting at the gate – – –

No, don’t be sad – – – you come, I’ll wait.

In the decades after mom wrote this poem, she shared it with thousands of people. I’ve been given copies by people who had no idea that my mother had written it. In the letters she left behind are many from people comforted by the words she gave them along with pots of spaghetti, boxes of homemade fudge, and, finally, when she was too tired to cook, half-pound boxes of Mrs. See’s Candies.

There are people to whom others gravitate and open their hearts, knowing that they have found a safe harbor. My mother was one of them.

What is the poetry—and purpose—of your life?

Your prayer can be poetry, and poetry can be your prayer. • Terri Guillemets

I don’t create poetry. I create myself. For me, my poems are a way to me. • Edith Sodergran

* Thanks to Leonard Cohen for the title wisdom.


Education Is Homeland Security

July 23, 2010

For July 19, 2010

The Possible’s slow fuse is lit
 By the Imagination.
• Emily Dickinson

I’m a no-nonsense kind of gal. I don’t coo over babies and long to have another tiny one around the house, although, note to my children, I really enjoyed them when they were tiny. I don’t like tearjerkers. I wear comfortable shoes. I visit a hair stylist only to have a couple of inches chopped off the parts of my hair that have grown irritatingly long. I cut my own bangs. I spend less than ten dollars a year on makeup. My girly side never fully developed, although I do love shiny stuff like rhinestones.

While other little girls were sugar and spicing it, I preferred reading revolting stuff, grubbing in the trash, and taking my fashion cues from movie gangsters, my grandpa, and Fred Astaire. I’ll take snips and snails and puppy dog tails over pink frou-frouish delectables any day. And about that shiny stuff, crows like it too.

I usually eschew the touchy and feely, but sometimes in the business of teaching, I need it. I need to be reminded why I do this job that can often feel thankless. Teachers are blamed for many things that are beyond their control. We are easy targets for cultural disappointment.

We can design meaningful lessons and we can provide classroom opportunities that are differentiated to address our students’ multiple learning preferences and abilities, but, in the end, we cannot force anyone to learn. Still, we need to believe that it’s possible that all of our students will learn. I think often about what’s possible in the classroom, and sometimes I ask my students to think about it too.

I’ve been working for years on a collaborative found poem taken from responses to the question, “What is possible in your classroom?” This year, some of the responses are from students finishing a teacher licensure program. The ongoing poem is entitled “Education Is Homeland Security,” and here are a few of this year’s responses. I’ll add them to the others to remind me that regardless of how bleak things may seem, what teachers do matters and continues to make a difference in people’s lives:

It is possible to inspire, love, challenge, intrigue, respect, cherish, and give one hundred percent to your students. It is possible to share yourself and stay true to who you are. It is possible to be someone’s favorite teacher.

It is possible to create a space that celebrates students as individuals and as impassioned collectives. It is possible for students to change their communities. It is possible for education to be an adventure we as a class embark upon every day.

It is possible for students who don’t want to discover anything to change everything.

It is possible that each day as students leave our room, they will know that they are loved .No matter what type of home students come from, they have a safe haven where people believe in them. Connection.

It is possible for me to choose to love and care about each student who comes into my classroom.

In my classroom, it is possible for students to learn valuable life skills, no matter their academic skill level. I want to make a difference in all of my students’ lives. In my classroom, it is possible to be successful. Hopefully, it is also possible to dream.

You’ll see more of these later. As a funsultant, I am inspired by these possibilities and by the opportunities for learning that are orchestrated in classrooms around the world. What is possible is unlimited.

If a teacher has ever made a difference in your life or challenged your thinking or helped you in any way, I hope you’ll let her or him know. S/he needs your encouragement in order to live in the possibilities.

We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize. • Thich Nhat Hanh


Dear Todd: I Hate You Now. You Broke My Heart. Your Words So Mean Tore Us Apart.*

May 30, 2010

Note: I’m leaving today for Washington, D.C., via train so will be posting when I can. Connectivity is uncertain on the rails.

That’s the way it is with poetry. When it is incomprehensible, it seems profound, and when you understand it, it is only ridiculous. • Galway Kinnell

I remember sitting in the back seat of the car while my mother drove us to some sort of church meeting that I’d been looking forward to until my heart got broken. As my mother and her friend talked in the front seat, I watched the rain on the window and cried silently. I didn’t want them to hear because I didn’t want to hear anything about how I’d get over it. I knew I wouldn’t.

Skeeter Davis was singing “The End of the World” on the radio. It’s the perfect breakup song, letting the breakee know that s/he isn’t alone:

Why does the sun go on shining,

Why does the sea rush to shore.

Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world,

Cause you don’t love me anymore.

I share this bit of history because I’m officially kicking off my BADolescent Poetry Contest. I will personally provide $50.00 to the person who submits the best angst-ridden poem about adolescence. The contest is for anyone who is—or ever has been—a teenager. Length? Long enough to be meaningful and short enough not to be annoying. Details to come.

You can post your poetry as a comment at badolescence.wordpress. Find it at I’ll be posting some favorites I’ve saved over the years. Revel in this sample from 1993 of what you can expect:

If my boobs were bigger

And my butt weren’t so wide,

Would you love me then, Keith,

Or would you still hide?

If my hair were curlier

And my zits went away,

Would you love me then, Keith,

Or would you still say,

“Let’s just be friends, Jill.

I like you a lot,

But some girls are for dating,

And you, Jill, you’re not!”

All these years later, I still can’t hear Skeeter Davis sing that song without thinking about my first love and my first broken heart.

Do you have a memory—or a poem—about young love or other adolescent experiences?

At fourteen you don’t need sickness or death for tragedy. • Jessamyn West

* Name changed to protect the guilty.


Poets Have Been Mysteriously Silent On The Subject Of Cheese.* Ditto Zamboni Machines.

May 21, 2010

A challenge was given. A gauntlet flung. I’ve been charged with writing a poem about the Zamboni machine. I am not a dare-ing woman, but I made the mistake of saying that poetry could be written about just about anything and thus, this.

The person who issued the challenge said that some words are just inherently funny and that Zamboni is one of them. I agree, although Zamboni isn’t in my top ten. George Carlin once said that kumquats, garbanzos, succotash, and guacamole were foods that, because of their names, were too funny to eat. Garbanzo is on my short list, although I prefer it paired with its natural mate: beans. Garbanzo beans. Go ahead, try it. It’s fun to say. Admit it.

Lumbago (lower back pain) is on my list. My grandma suffered from lumbago and complained about it regularly. It sounds like fun or like a small Eastern European country, but it isn’t either. I like slivovitz and Congoleum® and plethora. Plump is another favorite. It sounds like what it describes. But enough. You can come up with your own faves and I have another point to make.

I’m wandering a bit from the notion of a poem about Zamboni machines, but that’s going to take more thought. Ham boney, macaroni, cologne-y, rigatoni, baloney, groany and moany. Too many possibilities. There is a further point to be made, though, and it’s about conversation.

I’m teaching a course for future high school and middle school teachers called language and literacy and I’ve been doing some eavesdropping on conversations. I hesitate to call it eavesdropping since it’s just listening to what people are saying loudly to one another as though they are performing a play to which the rest of us are a captive audience. If you would like your conversations to be private, lowering your voice is a possible way to accomplish this.

Teaching students how to discuss issues and converse with one another is part of developing their language skills, and since I’ve noticed that conversations can quickly devolve into gossip fests, it’s useful to provide a topic. I don’t think that teachers will be able to completely do away with gossip, but I do think that they can point out that there are other ways to talk with your friends.

Many of the braindances I devise target helping students develop discussion skills without talking trash about someone or something, although I am not opposed to the occasional gripefest since I do love ranting myself. However, complaining about the anonymous people who toss unwanted clothing on the floor at Ross and TJ Maxx is healthy and harmless. Ditto highway litterers. I’ve yet to hear a rational explanation for tossing your Wendy’s or Arby’s or Taco Bell trash by the wayside. Please stay home if you’re too lazy to walk your trash to a receptacle. There you can wallow in mountains of it for all I care.

A simple question like “What words are inherently funny?” can get people talking and also disagreeing amiably. It can also teach them a new word, inherently, or “existing as an essential element of something.” I asked some friends this question last night and they replied with smidgeon, hyperbole, spigot, Fresca, ennui, and moist (a word described not as funny but as one that makes you uncomfortable for some reason).

What’s on your list of funniest words? And, if you dare, write your own poem about a Zamboni.

There are three things in life that people like to stare at: a flowing stream, a crackling fire, and a Zamboni clearing the ice. • Charlie Brown (Charles Schultz)

* Thanks to Gilbert Keith Chesterton for the cheesy quotation.


I Love, I Wish, I Always Wanted, I Believe, I Like, I Would, I Will, I Thought, I Worry, I Should, I Might, I Am. I List.

May 2, 2010

Q: What did you believe at eighteen that you wish you still believed?
A: That life was about having fun. I love what I do, but there’s so much tied to it every day. I realized that building a business needed to be a part of something much bigger: family, community, helping the Aids community, and the homeless.
• Kenneth Cole in the September 1998 issue of

I’ve been going through a suitcase full of 3×5 quotation cards, sorting and Ziplocking® them, looking for inspiration. It’s easy to find. I’ve been doing this for years. Sometimes they provide inspiration for a title for a paper or an article or a presentation. Somehow, finding the right quotation centers me and keeps me reminded of a central purpose for a particular piece of work. I am also reminded that others share my vision, whatever it might be. (Student success note: This is a writing hint you might try. Sometimes the pivotal quotation comes from lists of such, but often it comes from research and from finding words that resonate and capture my intentions.)

For example, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst said, “I am what you call a hooligan.” I used her words as part of a Women’s History Month art exhibit, “You & Your Big Mouth: Insight & Irreverence from Irrepressible Women,” that celebrates Gloria Steinem’s words: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” I am sometimes frustrated by how little I know about my female forebears. I do not like Women’s History Month. I do not want to be celebrated in little boxes or special chapters or the occasional illustration in history books. I want to be–and to know that others like me were–an integral part of history.

“Since flesh can’t stay, we pass the words along,” Erica Jong said in 1975 in “Dear Keats.” Quotations capture some of the words. Much of my work is devoted to passing them along. Today I share a few that inspire and amuse me.

I am strongly drawn to the simple life.
• Albert Einstein

I would rather be a meteor than a sleepy permanent planet. For man’s true purpose in life is to live, not to waste time merely sustaining himself.
• Jack London

I love the ugly stuff, the things that have no home, the unloved and unwanted given-away rejects lined up on shelves in secondhand stores across the land. I’d take them all home if I could.
• Dr. Pauline Wayne

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
• Lewis Carroll

I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all, I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. • Agatha Christie

All my life, I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific.
• Lily Tomlin, in The Search For Intelligent Life In The Universe by Jane Wagner

I worry that a whole lot of the curriculum on the reform agenda exists on the “get even” premise: I suffered through this when I was in school. Why shouldn’t these kids suffer too?
• Susan Ohanian (September 1997), “Insults to the Soul,” English Journal, p. 34

I thought it was the dumbest song I ever heard.
• Dodie Stevens about “Pink Shoe Laces,” the song she recorded in 1958 when she was twelve years old.

I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.
• Edgar Allen Poe

Lists are the butterfly nets that catch my fleeting thoughts.
• Betsy Canas Garmer

Serious or silly, create your own list.

I believe in rainbows and puppy dogs and fairy tales. I believe that robots are stealing my luggage.
• Steve Martin, “What I Believe,”
Saturday Night Live, Season 5


Every Writer I Know Has Trouble Writing*

April 27, 2010

I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.
• Anne Morrow Lindbergh

There’s one thing I hate about this blogging thing besides its onrushing daily pressure to perform. It feels like I’m writing less when I’m actually writing more. All of my journaling, regardless of the kind, has usually focused on things I want to say to myself. My professional writing has always been situation- and audience-specific, written for particular purposes. Because all writing could probably be categorized as self-indulgent in some way or another, awareness of an amorphous potential audience—and their potential interest—makes this infinitely more difficult regardless of whether or not I really give a damn if anyone reads it. The word count here may be the same as in a journal, but there’s much I edit out.

I have many words inside of me, like the novelist Vladimir Nabakov (Lolita) who wrote that “the pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” This project bullies the other words inside of me; they’re there, but they don’t seem to be coming out to play. Their playtime is dominated by this bigger thing. And, yes, I could stop. Just stop. But not yet.

One of my students, Amy Sidwell, wrote this untitled piece. I hope she’s still out there writing.

I searched this weekend for stories of places like this, people like us.
Living, breathing, rolling their eyes when someone is silly,
pretending not to see when someone cries.
But in all of my books, I could not find our stories.

There were stories of pirates and talking cats,
Women in bloomers and children playing games outside.
I’ve never met a pirate.
My cat doesn’t talk.
No one I know wears bloomers.
And today, children have forgotten how to play outside.
We stay locked inside safe.
Away from the speeding cars, away from the gangs of fear,
away from the winter wind,
Away from the sweetness of a springtime rain.

So I searched for our stories.
In books filled with wild things and sidewalks ending.
In poems full of walks in the woods and lonely beaches.
Our stories our stories are not there.
We keep our stories locked inside like our children.
Only we can write them down, let them out to play in the winter wind.

What’s your story? If you were writing a daily blog, what’s the first thing you’d write about?

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
• William Wordsworth

* Thanks to Joseph Heller (please read Catch-22 if you haven’t) for the title quotation.