The Power of Collaboration

Tidal RiseSince 2nd grade, from the age of seven (7) I have known instinctively deep down that there were three things I wanted to be when I grew up: a singer, a teacher, and a writer, in that order. However, although I still might not be a “grown up” since I believe we must all fight the impulse to ever really become one, there are a few enduring “take away” lessons I’ve learned in the process of realizing each of these ambitions that stick with me like my AARP card. The happiest moments I’ve been privileged to experience were always shared. In studying music, my goal was to be an operatic diva. But the best things that happened always happened in rehearsals for projects that took us all outside of ourselves and our narrow, singular viewpoints, and gave us a peek at being a part of something larger. Similarly, in teaching, the times when groups of like-minded teachers had the opportunity to work together on big projects that affected the lives of many students for the good of the all form my fondest memories looking back. So, imagine my surprise when, in the highly competitive marketplace of getting into print, an opportunity to collaborate once again presented itself.

On Saturday, September 19, 2015, the results of this literary collaboration will be presented publicly at The Second Poetry Circus. The brainchild of the wickedly talented and extremely energetic Nicelle Davis, The Poetry Circus is a collaborative effortMENU that I am both proud and humbled to be a part of. No less than thirty-three poets/writers have contributed to the gorgeous chapbook that will serve as a sort of “program” to guide the audience through the evening’s presentations. The event, slated to take place at the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Los Angeles, CA, from 5:30 to 9:30 PM, will feature the poet laureate of Los Angeles, Luis Rodriguez, and offer readings by an incredible lineup of 32 poets, including me! There will be haiku balloons, circus performers, crafts for kids, free carousel rides, a book fair, and literary organizations all coming together to create something larger than the sum of its parts: a chance for people of all backgrounds, preferences, political leanings, and/or religious (or non-religious) persuasions to come together to experience, revel in, and celebrate ART that takes WORD as its medium.

All I can say is that this beautiful dream that is the Poetry Circus proves once again that collaboration offers more inclusion, promises more memorable results, and is a whole lot more fun than competition ever was. Not only that, but it extends to everyone who ever wanted to run away and join the circus the chance to realize that dream and participate in the magic-making that is both the WORD and the circus.Balloon2


Sixth Day of the “Gratitude Challenge”

I am grateful for the love of my family: my parents and siblings (biological, as well as the “brothers and sisters,” travelers and “strays” my parents — especially my mother — were known to “take in”). Because of their constant example, I learned that people come first, things second. I am grateful for parents who let me make my own (often imprudent) decisions and live with the consequences of my actions. From this, I learned to make better choices for myself. I am also grateful for my husband (a good choice), my children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, assorted cousins, uncles, and aunts. There are two things that run in this family: a keen sense of humor, and a love of food, both of which make life a joyous celebration.

Memories of childhood and adolescence come flooding back at the most peculiar times, it seems, bringing with them a jumble of emotional associations. I am grateful for memories of my parents and siblings (biological and “adopted”) because they allow me to re-experience the love they’ve always shown all over again. Today’s poem was evoked by one such memory:


Gripping the edges of the cafeteria tray
Dad had given us in lieu of a sled,
my brother, light as froth, blew
past the first curb
at the bottom of the hill,
flew low over the frozen road,
smacked the opposite curb and caught air

before sliding down the second,
while I, styling like an aerialist atop the pedestal
of my first pair of high-heeled boots,
the black suede-and-leather calf-highs I just had
to have, despite all Mom’s admonitions

they’re not practical,
you’ll want to play in the snow,
and getting them wet will just ruin them

just stood and glistened like the snow-clad trees,
craving last year’s red galoshes.

Astronomical Phenomenon on Day Three

Hi ho, hi ho! I’m starting a new job today (another of the things I am supremely grateful for) so I hope you don’t think it’s “cheating,” but for time’s sake, I thought I might share a poem with you that I had already written, if you don’t mind. Writing well, though a labor of love, is hard work, a work that I am also very grateful for. The poem I’d like to share with you today literally took months to write from rough draft through to finished product. The scene it sets, however, came to me as I drove to work each morning. I do a lot of writing in my head while I’m driving to and from work, it seems. In any case, this poem also delineates a few more of the things I’m grateful for:

Astronomical Phenomena―6:39 Antemeridian

Moon faints against the sturdier light
reflected in my rear-view mirror:
Eastern sky ablaze with rising.

Hills clad in creosote, sagebrush,
Joshua trees coax her―dropping
behind the Western horizon,
she sheds her robes.

Had I mountain-moving faith
to remove these blocks of clay,
I’d part these knolls, watch wordless
Moon subside, sink into willing Sky’s
subsumed in greater light.


Two Out of Seven Days of Gratitude

For Day Two, I wanted to try to come up with something along the lines of what might be considered “Love Letters to the Cosmos,” but as is often the case when you’re writing, (especially B.C. — Before Coffee!) the poem decided to go in another direction all on its own! I’m not too sure about the “literary” quality of this piece, but I think it speaks for itself. So, here’s another set of things for which I really am grateful:

To Whom It May Concern

Thank you for traffic
that comes to a dead stop
and refuses to move for hours―
it gives me time to sync my mind
and meditate on my options.

Thank you for the calls that drop
smack in the middle of conversation,
especially when I was just about to learn
the facts, or get those vital directions―
because I get another opening for contact.

And for all the things that make me wait,
slow me down,
I’m grateful―
because trying my patience
is what lets me know
it’s working.

The Seven Day Gratitude Challenge – Day One

A high school friend, Shelia Reid Dent, issued me the “Seven Day Gratitude Challenge” and I thought it might be kind of a cool project to see if I could come up with seven poems that fit the bill. For seven consecutive days, you’re supposed to list three (different) things that you’re grateful for. The point, I suppose, besides counting your blessings, is to re-focus your mental energy on the sunny sides of life, rather than hanging out in those dark corners where a lot of poetry seems to dwell. I’ve often complained that a lot of really dark and confessional poems seem to have made it onto the publication “top hits” list recently, and blathered on to anyone polite enough to listen about nothing really celebratory making it in the world of print, but as the sign I used to keep taped up over my desk points out, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. So, taking up the “I’m grateful for” gauntlet, here goes —

Day One:

Concealed Carry

A neighbor’s rooster
scores the pre-dawn grey―
What day is it? I think,
stumbling awake.

It’s a day I will spend with my grandsons!

We walk to the park after breakfast,
slaying ninjas and stopping to admire
pennies, snails, and rocks.
The younger holds my hand,
sure of my footing. “I missed you,
Grandma, I missed you,” crows the older,
which knocks me from my feet.

Under a melon slice
of moon, we gather ourselves
to tell of our adventures,
no day ever more perfect than this.

Book Review: The Binding of Adara

adaracoverforexcerptpageI have to admit, I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to the romance genre before, and the fact that Selene Grace Silver’s The Binding of Adara is not only a romance novel, but can also be classified as belonging to the “paranormal” and “historical” sub-categories, I was a bit skeptical at first. Okay, a lot skeptical. But Adara was not without tricks up her sleeve, and I found quite a few pleasant surprises that worked to dispel my doubts and preconceived notions about the genre.

So, let’s take a stroll down Nostalgia Avenue, shall we? It’s really a groovy day. The Blackbyrds are “Walking in Rhythm” and John Travolta is “Staying Alive” – using his walk to tell us he’s a “woman’s man / no time to talk.” The mirrored ball overhead reflects the hopes and dreams of the bell-bottomed, halter-topped “disco” generation, and bra-burners across America are “raising consciousness” about women’s rights. Far out!

Yep, you guessed it. It’s the 1970’s. Like many young people at the time, all I wanted to do was strap a guitar over my back, stuff a few pairs of hot pants into a back pack, paint my thumb (for securing free transportation) and set out for Hollywood, California, USA so I could be “discovered.” How romantic! That is, of course, until your ride breaks down on the side of the road, someone steals your money or makes off with your back pack and cold, hard reality sets in. Bummer, man!

This is precisely where we first meet our heroine: the beautiful, innocent (and truth be told, a bit naïve) Adara Lane. She’s come to Los Angeles to seek her fortune, but ends up instead in a dive hotel in Hollywood, alongside a bunch of hard-partying Tom Waits wannabes, groupies, and has-beens. When her wallet gets stolen with the last of her money in it, Adara finds herself all alone in the big city, in something of a jam. Not one to depend on other people, or put them out, Adara finds herself wondering what, exactly, to do next.

Nevertheless, she is not defeated. She pulls herself together and thinks rationally about her predicament. Not many twenty-year-old women are self-possessed enough to approach their problems in this manner. Personally, I found a lot to relate to in Adara’s character. Although the card-carrying feminist in me also found a few of Adara’s subsequent decisions to be cringe-worthy, it’s apparent throughout the novel that it is Adara herself who remains in control of her fate. On the whole, she leaves us with the impression that she is a perfectly capable, though somewhat flawed female lead, which, I suspect, goes against the stereotypical heroines found in most conventional romance novels. While she meets the pre-requisites of being young and beautiful, she is neither perfect, nor so weak that she must depend on a “knight in shining armor” to continually rescue her. Rather, she is just awakening to her own sense of self, because until she winds up in Los Angeles, her burgeoning “powers” had been suppressed.

The “paranormal” aspects of the story also provide the bulk of the fast-paced action and chair-gripping suspense in The Binding of Adara, both of which serve to propel us through the narrative at a pretty good clip from beginning to end. There are at least three different sub-plots going on in the background as well, which add a depth and complexity to the narrative that, quite frankly, I had not expected to find in a romance novel. Firstly, picking up where we left off in the previous story, Brianna’s Bewitching, we have the romance between the witch, Brianna, and her cop boyfriend, Jack, who doesn’t yet know about Brianna’s, um, shall we say, “gifts”. Secondly, we have a centuries-old, over-arching conflict playing out between the community of witches and warlocks of Los Angeles and the “hammers” who hunt them. Finally, there’s a budding romance between Jack’s partner, Hanson, and another witch in the community, Carrie. On top of that, we must contend with the tormented backstory of the romantic male lead, Bowie Marsden, a warlock with commanding, albeit untapped powers who is also a Vietnam War veteran. Sounds like a lot to keep track of, right? Not at all – Ms. Silver adeptly weaves all these narrative threads together successfully by the end, however, ultimately crafting a tale that presents one of the most emotionally satisfying reads I’ve had in a very long time.

Overall, I think it takes courage and skill to write a romantic heroine who is, at her very core, a survivor, and in Adara, we have that. Strong-willed and determined, she catches on quickly and is able to adjust from her missteps, without losing her sweetness and guilelessness. As Adara learns first to “see”, then take responsibility for, and finally wield her own power with some authority, (even if it means flying in the face of the norms and conventions of her era) we are taken along for a most spellbinding ride. I am not ashamed to admit that I’m a convert, and find myself very much looking forward to the sequel.

What Women Want

A dear friend of mine, the wickedly talented romance writer, Selene Grace Silver, recently made me a gift. From what she has publicly acknowledged as her favorite poem of mine, which by no coincidence is titled “The Gift,” she created this picture so she could share it with her readers online: The Gift_Web

It is a love poem for my husband, from a new chapbook (Liturgy of Small Feathers, Yak Press) due to be released in July. But it got me thinking about reciprocity, and the initial impulse I had for writing the poem in the first place. We’re all familiar with the oft-repeated idioms and adages: “It is far better to give than to receive,” or “Give ’til it hurts,” and even “Charity begins in the home.” Each of these sayings express an idea that the giver of the gift is somehow greater, more noble, than the person who is on the receiving end, that there’s more love in giving something away. This idea suggests a fundamental inequality in the relationship between the two, and implies that the giver loses something that the receiver then gains.

There is a very old love story about a knight who, due to some unlucky turn of events, is cursed to marry an ugly old crone. Much to his surprise, however, when he enters his bedroom chamber on his wedding night, he is greeted by the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in his whole entire life. He cannot believe his extreme good fortune. This gorgeous woman explains that it is she who has been cursed, and what happens next is entirely up to him. She can either be beautiful by day, so that everyone at court and in public can see what a knock-out he’s had the great good fortune to marry, but then turn back into the ugly old crone who shares his bed in private at night, OR she can be ugly during the daylight hours and greet him at night as the beauty he sees before him now — the choice is his.

Our gallant knight thinks about this for a moment, looks tenderly into the eyes of his bride and says, “My dear, it’s your face, your body, your appearance — the decision is not up to me. You decide.”

As legend has it, because the knight wisely recognized what women want (to control their own lives, their own fates) and acted out of love (and against his own self-interest) the curse was broken, and his gorgeous wife was freed to be completely her own person — and was, therefore, beautiful all the time, day and night.

This story illustrates for me the kind of reciprocity true giving (and true love) is based on: a relationship between equals. One in which giving and receiving are the same. There’s an old Hindu proverb, “They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.” To give is to receive. When you extend love, both gain — there is nothing to lose.

I am deeply indebted to Selene, my editors, my writing community and friends for all they love they’ve extended to me. But even more, I am grateful to my husband for his unflagging support in allowing me to continuously make my own decisions, be my own person, and choose my own fate.

~ Liturgy of Small Feathers, Native Blossoms Chapbook Series One, No. 2 available now from Yak Press.


Poem In Your Pocket Day (4/24)

Just in time for “Poem In Your Pocket Day,” here’s a poem by Nancy Carroll, from her recently released chapbook, Night Walks, (Yak Press, 2014). Feel free to clip this poem, carry it around in your pocket, and share it!Image

Falling In Love With Language

It was the venerable W. H. Auden who said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” We could, therefore, find ourselves lost in a “chicken-or-egg” conundrum: does being in love with language make you a poet? Or does being a poet make you fall in love with language? But that would be an unproductive use of our time. Rather, I wish to answer another, more practical question posed to me in earnest by one of my English-teacher colleagues at a recent seminar: How do we make our students fall in love with language, too?

When faced with this very question early on in my career as a high school English teacher, the only thing I could come up with by way of a solution to this dilemma was to take a crack at creating the same types of situations and experiences for them that made me fall in love with language myself when I was a high school student. In other words, the English classroom environment I fostered had to serve as a sort of “petri dish” where playing with words and experimenting with language was not only accepted, but welcomed and even expected.

As a high school student, my friends and I first became intrigued with the language’s facility for innuendo, punning, and double entendre. Witty word-play became the norm, and many a “battle,” or friendly competition of tossing repartee around in the halls between classes and during after-school practices ensued. My fondest memories of all the little “in jokes” we shared persist even to this day. So, my answer to the question my colleague brings up is this: I think we must take every opportunity we can to engage students in word-play. I think any and every attempt at witticism should be rewarded, and that innuendo, punning, and double entendre should be made to feel at home in our classrooms. I think our own love of language should always be on display.

It is in the spirit of encouraging this kind of word-play that throughout the years, I have penned vocabulary lessons for my students. The results are tallied in What’s That Word? – A Fun Way to Build Vocabulary (Yak Press, 2012), which presents the collected lessons in a fully-illustrated workbook of fun and entertaining vocabulary activities that is chock-full of verbal jousting, and available from these sources:
Yak Press

September Haiku

Surface Tension

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