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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.

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

Book Review: Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis

Becoming JudasBecoming Judas by Nicelle Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hypothetically, do you prefer compassion squarely pegged, or unconventionally rendered? If your answer is, “squarely pegged,” then Becoming Judas, Nicelle Davis’ second full-length book of poems, invites closer inspection and warrants your consideration; if “unconventionally rendered” more suits your style, then this is the book for you. A fascinating foray into iconographic studies, Becoming Judas examines, interprets, questions, challenges, and re-invents the iconography of as unlikely a conflagration as one can envision — a trio of characters (still) shrouded in enduring myth: Judas, the “betrayer,” Jesus, the “betrayed (?)” and John Lennon, who imaginably stands in for “everyman.”

Contemplate for a moment if you will, the Pietá: a persistent motif and one of the most revered icons in all Christendom, which depicts a sorrowful mother cradling the dead body of her adult son. Stripped of its classic interpretation as the Virgin Mary embracing Jesus’ frame, we are left with the image of a woman, any woman, grieving over the corpse of a man, any man. In one of the most novel conceits for a poem I’ve ever encountered, Ms. Davis offers up “The Woman Who Cut Judas Down” which presents us instead with a Pietá for Judas: “This body strung/ from a branch could be anyone―/ even hers.” Looking toward our commonalities, rather than expounding on our differences, even Judas had a mother, as we all do; which suggests that whatever his “sins,” may have been, even Judas deserves a Pietá.

Another poem in the collection, “Flash: Leibovitz’s Photo of John and Yoko,” studies a type of image, the Polaroid, to explain the culture it originated in, rather than the other way around. The poet aptly describes the composition of the famed photograph, and delivers with it this account: “Together they have survived each other…His legs, bent into inverted V’s, encase/ her torso. Captured: the sight of a man becoming a shrine.” What we are looking at in Becoming Judas, then, is the content of the images, through the artistic lens of the poet’s sensibilities, as she queries aloud our insatiable need, “to conceive an understanding/ of what all this suffering is for.”

Although the majority of the poems contained herein remain accessible, (like the two previously discussed) a few are necessarily difficult, both in terms of intellectual rigor and emotional content. The images are compelling, but hard to look at. Nonetheless, like witnesses passing by a collision in heavy traffic, or viewing televised war coverage, we also cannot bring ourselves to look away. I read right through Becoming JudasBook Bite_cropped in one sitting, as I could not put down. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it, including the “difficult” poems, entirely worth the effort. The imagery is spectacular. And if that weren’t enough already, the pencil drawings contributed by Cheryl Gross, and the inventive use of line breaks and white space to create “concrete” poems (that form images of their own on the page) deliver value-added bonus features. I heartily recommend this book.

View all my reviews

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