Thursday, April 29, 2010

National Poetry Month: Silence of the Trees

Friday concludes National Poetry Month for the United States and Canada (the British do theirs in October), and we’ve been talking it up a bit over at TweetSpeak Poetry. We’ve had a daily post that was usually a short feature on a poet with some of his or her poems, with an occoasional poetry review thrown in. We even did a random giveaway of a opy of InsideOut:Poems by L.L. Barkat, and Karen Eck of Phoenix-Karenee had her name chosen, received her book, and actually drew some illustrations in it.

The poets featured included Rupert Brooke, Sara Teasdale and Vachel Lindsay, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Jack Gilbert, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, Louise Gluck, John Ashbery, Gary Soto, Gwendolyn Brooks, L.L. Barkat, Robert Frost, Maureen Doallas, Derek Walcott, Mona Van Duyn, Edgar Lee Masters, Nancy Rosback, Emily Dickinson, and John Keats. (Friday’s feature is Edgar Allan Poe.) Some old, some new, some published, some unpublished. In putting this together, I had the opportunity to read poems I haven’t read since high school and college.

Take a look; the English language has a rich legacy in poetry, and the posts at TweetSpeak only scratch the surface.

For this last day of National Poetry Month of 2010, I offer one of my own. It’s not based on a true story, but it is based on a story.

The Silence of the Trees

He stands within the silence of the trees,
wind filtering morning light on
his bare limbs,
not hearing the rustling of new leaves.
Beneath a green dome of soundlessness,
he stares at the house,
unmoving; remembering.

He hears her voice, lilting in
laughter as she leans from an
upper room,
the voice of the girl becoming
young woman, a voice vanished,
a voice he hears
now only in memory.

A voice silenced in violence, a
violence that came to him,
too, later.
He listens now for ghosts,
lingering traces of ghosts,
whispering soft words
in the silence of the trees.

"Last Light," Photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with Permission.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mike Dellosso's "Darlington Woods"

It took me a week to read Mike Dellosso’s Darlington Woods. I could have read in far less time; it’s that fast-paced. But it is also one scary read, so scary that I had to read some, put it down, read some more, put in down and catch my breath. It’s definitely not a book for the fainthearted.

But it is a great story.

Rob Shields has lost his wife Kelly and son Jimmy to kidnapping and murder. Kelly’s body is eventually found; the police think they've found Jimmy’s body but it's not definitive. Then Rob inherits a house in Maryland from his aunt, and he travels from his home in Massachusetts to see it, only to find a profound evil and perhaps – just perhaps – his son.

Dellosso, author of The Hunted and Scream, writes in the Christian supernatural, horror, and suspense genre. And he writes better than well. Each page crackles with tension, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the story. The action happens simultaneously over just a few days – and 20 years. No small feat to pull that off, and Dellosso does it with ease. And as the sun sets in Darlington and its nearby woods, we meet the darklings, led by the Wax Man, who is out for revenge, and revenge against Rob in particular. Only gradually does the reader learn why, and that gradualness adds to the tension.

Darlington Woods is a terrific story and a terrific read, Dellosso’s best yet. He knows how to tell a wild, dark and suspenseful story.

Just don’t go into Darlington Woods.

(Attention Federal Trade Commission: I bought this book from With my own money. Just so you know.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monsters, Too (Two)

L.L. Barkat posed a monstrous challenge for this week's Random Act of Poetry at the High Calling Blogs -- write a poem from a monster's point-of-view.

I couldn't write one poem from a monster's perspective. But I could write two.

A Good Year to be a Zombie

Appearances deceive.
And it hurts.
Yes, I lurch a little when
I walk. A bit ungainly.
It’s the arthritis, common
to the undead,
especially the long undead.
My skin, well, yes, there’s
that I suppose. Yes, I
know it has a greenish-purplish
tinge and a few splotches, and
some pieces fall off now and
then (shaking hands is always
problematic: “let me give you
a hand”). Then, the clothes.
Sure, I could be more stylish,
a kind of Coffin Chic,
but even if I didn’t
scare the clerks at Brooks Brothers
just by walking in the door, I’d have
trouble with my stiff
arms (arthritis again).
And no Visa card.
The undead can’t get credit cards
but they do let us vote
in Chicago.
But I hear there’s this guy
In Texas,
who’s good for a cup
of coffee,
and maybe he’ll buy me a
venti non-fat latte; if I find him,
it will be a good year for a zombie.
And no iced latte, please;
I can’t shake the chill.

(Photo by someone obviously not Marcus Goodyear; used with impunity.)

It’s a Long Time Between Gigs

Hey! Another pina colada, and don’t
forget the umbrella!
So it may look cool, hanging here by
the pool, but it’s work. You have to
be seen, baby, and it can be a long
time between gigs. I was huge, man,
back then, big time. Walk down the
street, show up at the Brown Derby,
no reservation, people noticed, man.

It was 30 years, three decades, from
Fay to those Japanese send-ups. I
parodied myself in a language I
couldn’t speak; pitiful but you have to
eat. But Fay, ah, now there was a real
sweetheart, always watching out for her
leading man. The planes buzzing the
Empire scared her more than me, but
I knew it was OK, man.

All that fame; I loved it. They asked me
to concrete my prints at Graumann’s,
you know. But we had to do it out back
in the parking lot. That’s a joke, son.
Yeah, I know the Japanese movies
were embarrassing but look, I needed
the money and all I had to do was knock
down a few buildings and power lines and
beat up Godzilla. And it paid good.

But those Japanese, no romance. No Fay.
And sure I wanted to do Othello or Hamlet
but even Olivier had trouble getting work.
I really thought the remake in ’76 would be
my meal ticket. I even wrote a book, you
know, the old movie-book tie-in. It even
sold OK. And then what? Nothing. My
publicist blew it and I had to fire that
thieving no-good wastrel but don’t quote me.

So I keep up appearances, hang around
Beverly Hills, loiter on Rodeo, do the
premieres and some charity stuff. Tried
out for a few movies, too, do you know that?
Costner got Dances with Wolves after I
stepped on the wolf pack. Accidents happen,
man. That role was written for me. They wanted
me to be an orc in Lord of the Rings but I said no,
I like characters with empathy, know what I mean?

And I miss Fay. She was the best. One of a
kind. Real people, she was.
Hey! Where’s that pina colada?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Right to Write: Laying Track

Julia Cameron in The Right to Write talks of “laying track” – getting the words, and getting them all out, before going back to edit and revise. (In May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, short story writer and soon-to-be-published novelist Benjamin Percy has a good article entitled “Home Improvement,” about how revision can also and often does function as major renovation; alas, the article is available only in the print edition.)

I like the idea of getting it all out, and then going back to revise. Revising during the original drafting process is often futile, and it’s been my experience that most writing – a story, a poem, an article, an essay – benefits more from getting the words out first, followed by editing and revising.

And then there are speeches. Or at least the way I write speeches.

I have generally written speeches in the same way since I started writing them, which was, well, let’s just say I was writing speeches before we had desktop computers or laptops and word processing software.

But early on I fell into a pattern, and once I began to recognize it, I formalized it. And it went (and it still goes) something like this.

First, I type the speech draft on my computer. I let it pour out, assuming the words are pouring (sometimes they trickle, and sometimes I have to call the plumber in to unclog the faucet). But assume they’re pouring. I let the whole thing just cascade onto the computer screen. At this point, I avoid editing at all costs, because editing will only bog me down. Julia Cameron would be proud.

Next, the first Big Edit. I engage in what I call SWBWA – speech writing by walking around. I print a copy of the prose torrent, and then I walk around, reading it. There’s nothing magic about the walking; it’s just what I do, most likely out of nervous habit. As I walk, I will often will read it out loud, to listen to how it sounds (well, it is a speech, after all, meant to be heard as opposed to read). I have a pen with me, and often stop to make notes, change a word or phrase, or strike a sentence or paragraph. Back at my desk, I start the second Big Edit –and edit the typed draft by hand. Then I’ll type the changes.

Finally, and especially for those speeches requiring emotional writing or the use of empathy or compassion, I will write those sections by hand, and often over and over again. I can’t explain it, but I write emotional sections of speeches by hand, and it always comes out better than trying to write it on the computer or a typewriter. After I’ve got it where I want it, then I type it into the draft.

It’s probably no coincidence that I write poems like step three of writing speeches – always by hand. But that’s another story.

Over at the High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess is leading a discussion of Cameron’s The Right to Write. Take a look and see what others are saying, commenting and posting. Last week’s discussion was about writing where you are. This week's is on the "time lie."


Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers talks about making time and bad writing.

Nancy's "Just A Minute" at Treasures of Darkness.

L.L. Barkat's "Writing Theft" at Seedlings in Stone.

"If" by Marilyn as As Good A Day As Any.

"Flight" by ELL at Red or Gray.

Monica Sharman's "The Right to Write."

Maureen Doallas' "Creative Rituals for the Writing Life."

"Blacktracks," photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

This list of good reads on the web is growing. So much good stuff to read and enjoy.


Why Poetry?” An essay on L.L. Barkat’s Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places and InsideOut: Poems was published over at Hearts and Minds Bookstore.

Poetry by Prompt” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Dear God, this is my pouring out” by Kelly Sauer at This Restless Heart.

How to be a true writer” by Mick Silva at Your Writer’s Group.

Frames and Focus” by Tess Giles at Anchors and Masts.

"Jacques Maritain's Christian Art" by Noel De Vries at Novel Journey.

Mommybloggers are the Mary Kay Ladies of the Internet”by Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary.

Kathleen Overby celebrates her youngest’s birthday in “Brita.”

How Writers Build Courage” by Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal.

It’s Story Time” by Jeanne Damoff for The Master’s Artist.


Reward” by Anne Lang Bundy at Building His Body.

The Rhyme Not Written” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good. (And we all apologize to Robert Frost.) And “Laugh Lines.”

"Closing the Window" by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

The Park” and “The Old Church Hall” by Pete Marshall.

Only a Step Away” by Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography

Needing to sleep” and "The world's rim" by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

Losing Control” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Green Flannel Blanket” by John Blasé at The Dirty Shame.

Inside Joke” by Melissa at All the Words.

Lost” by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 27th Day of Community: Kathy Richards

There are at least three Kathy Richards.

First, there is the Supreme @katdish on Twitter, where she reigns in awesomeness.

She is the author of the Katdishionary, which has no equal.

She thinks of nefarious things to do (via Sky Mall) to people whose houses will soon occupy the fields behind her home. (Would you like to be confronted by a smiling Buddha or a zombie statue in your neighbor's yard?)

She is not afraid of telling anyone "you are not the boss of me" and has a comeback ready when her kids use it on her.

She wages war on clowns.

She is THE charter member of the Fellowship of Traveling Smarty-Pants.

And she keeps Buddy Love the dachshund in line.

Then there is the Kathy Richards who encourages.

She generously opens her blog every week (by invitation) to guest bloggers.

She discovered Billy Coffey's writing and played an instrumental role in stopping him from chucking it all in discouragement. (And how many people has that alone blessed!)

She leaves thoughtful, deep and profound comments on people's blog posts (in addition to the funny ones). (I'm still working on getting the beret she says I need to have.)

The third Kathy Richards is the one who loves God with all the exuberance she can muster (and she can muster a lot). She loves her family and her church. And that love and exuberance comes flowing out over all of us who read her blog posts and follow her on Twitter and marvel at her creative imagination.

And she paints, too!

How can you not read and follow a blog called Hey Look, A Chicken!

And you better follow her on Twitter on you may find a zombie statue in your yard.

(Last December, a number of us participated in the "Twelve Days of Community" - see the button near the top right - sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight a blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I liked the idea so much that I'm continuing to do that -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Conspicuous Virtue of Sunburn

Forty years ago today, Earth Day was born, the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and organizer Dennis Hayes. If you were in college at the time, it was a big deal. At LSU in Baton Rouge, where I was a freshman, I remember speeches, how –to demonstrations and information booths (and just possibly bands performing but that might be what I remember and not what really happened). Yet there is one memory that overwhelms all the rest.

I got sunburned.

So did a lot of other people, including many of my professors. In fact, for a short time at least, the Earth Day Sunburn became a way of saying you had been there and so you were environmentally conscious. And you could feel slightly superior to all your pale-faced brethren who did boring and conventional things like go to class. I sported the only sunburn in my fraternity house, in fact. Which sounds slightly oxymoronic.

Even that early in Earth Day and environmentalism history, conspicuous virtue was embedded as a kind of purposeful deliberate rejection of the “conspicuous consumption” of the 1950s and early 1960s. Of course, truth be told, conspicuous consumption – or advertising your wealth and position to the obviously excessive – has always been part of the American, and human, landscape. We used to like people to know we were materially well off, and we can’t remind people too much.

Today, we like people to know we’re virtuous. It’s like letting our neighbors know we’re going to church on Sundays. So we do it conspicuously without the inconvenience of actually going to church and we create a sociological phenomenon. I didn’t invent this idea, by the way. To give credit where credit is due, I first heard about it more than three years ago from the Wall Street Journal. (See “My Goodness! Conspicuous Consumption and the Sustainable Sofa”).

In my self-inflated importance, I convinced my mother to stop using colored toilet paper, because the inks could harm the environment. My father said nothing; what he was probably thinking was “We’re sending him to college to learn about colored toilet paper?”

My career took me in directions far from colored toilet paper – to issues much closer to what the environmental movement was all about. Except I was seemingly in a different place. Like BIG OIL. And BIG CHEMICAL. The bad guys. Evil incarnate. The OTHER.

And yet, something about that sunburn must have stuck. By the time of Earth Day 20 in 1990, I had helped write two speeches that helped change the course of corporate environmental history. The change came about not so much because of my peerless prose (although the speechwriter in me argues otherwise, as all good speechwriters would) as because who gave the speeches – two corporate executives who led their company and their industry in a very different environmental direction.

Today, 40 years after I sat and wandered around LSU’s Parade Ground, listening to speeches and earnest exhortations and believing most of what I heard, I can look back and say, conspicuous virtue or not, that sunburn mattered.
"Wyoming Wind," photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with Permission.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Might Have Been, or What If?

Bonnie Gray over at Faith Barista posed a “what if” challenge last week. Instead of focusing on regrets and the “what might have beens,” she challenged her readers to write down five “what ifs” and then to do one of them. The idea was to follow through on one of your possibilities and see what happened.

Bonnie personally challenged me (via Twitter) to participate, and I said I would if I could think of a “what if” to write about and do.

But there’s a problem.

I don’t do “what might have beens.” I’ve never done “what might have beens.” And perhaps that’s why I’m having such trouble coming up with one “what if,” much less a list of five.

It is an act of courage
to ask what if;
It is an act of self-deception
to ask what might have been.
One looks forward, one
looks backward; both
are ways to view the world.
Both are ways to understand one’s soul.

What if creates possibility;
what might have been celebrates
What if grasps the thought of
what could be,
what might be;
what might have been is gripped
by the memory of what never was.

I did think of examples of what ifs, but not ones that were theoretical.

Some 17 years ago (ancient history, in electronic terms), I tried for months to get the IT Department where I then worked to approve me doing an email newsletter (I told you this was ancient history). For two months I went to these weekly meetings of the “governing council” to plead my case. They wouldn’t say no, but they also wouldn’t say yes. What I was proposing, they darkly hinted, would disrupt the email network, bring the U.S. financial system to a halt and cause the collapse of Western civilization.

And then one day, on my way to yet another council meeting, I had a blinding flash of the obvious. They couldn’t stop me. Short of shutting down the email system, they couldn’t prevent me from sending out an email newsletter.

So what if I sent it out anyway?

So we started by sending out the newsletter to 100 people as a test. Within two weeks, word of mouth had pushed the distribution to 1,500. Within a month, we reached every employee who was on email, about 6,000 at the time, all by word of mouth. And we never advertised its existence. (I also didn’t tell Law or Human Resources about it either, and that eliminated the need for “review” until the newsletter was so accepted and so established that a “review” wasn’t needed.) (“Review” is the polite word for “censorship.”)

Call it a blessing or a curse, or both, but I don’t deal in what might have beens. I never have. There are plenty of mistakes I’ve made that I’ve regretted or repented, but I’ve never dwelt in the land of what might have beens. And it’s odd, too, because my introverted nature would tend to lead me in that direction.

I think I’ve flunked the “What If Challenge.”

Perhaps it is a gift,
the gift of faith, or
perhaps it is a blessing,
the blessing to encourage
(for to encourage is to be
to ask only what if, and
never what might have been.

(To see more posts on the “What If Challenge,” visit Faith Barista.)

"Door," photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with Permission

Monday, April 19, 2010

No One Ever Told Me

Is there such a thing?
Is there a way to control my
self, my desires, my
inclinations, my thoughts,
my actions?
Is it possible to bring
discipline and order to this
chaos of a soul, this being, this
person? Even if there were,
why would I want to do this?

I like the chaos. I am chaos, and
I’m loving it. Gratify me.
You’re talking a strait-jacket,
right? Like a rope tightening around
my heart , binding me,
or a coffin-like box to
empty my mind into. Or some
nasty diet I use to
self-flagellate myself into

Not me, baby, not me. Ain’t
natural, ain’t normal. It’s about
my wants, my urges, my needs, my
power. Period. End of discussion.
Congress gets it; why not you?
A good thing?
Right. If self-control’s not about me,
then who?
It’s always all about me.
Just ask my self-esteem.

What? Not me? Others? What?
I control myself to
let others live?
I submit myself to
let others be free?

No one ever said such foolishness.
No one ever told me such foolishness.

I never thought it would simply
be an invitation to accept,
a question to answer yes,
a decision to surrender
what did not matter anyway, really.

No one ever said this.
No one ever told me this.

(To see other posts on self-control, visit the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley's place.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Right to Write – Beginnings

There was a time when I wasn’t a writer, but I think it was before I was eight or nine years old. Something must have been obvious to my parents, for it was about that time my printing-business-owner father brought home a paperbound blank-page book that he had assembled for me to write my own mystery story.

But even then, writing remained something I did in school. In high school, I had a tendency to turn to creative writing, “creative” in terms of parody and satire. But I never thought of writing as a possible career. I was going to be the doctor my father had wanted to be until the Great Depression cut short that dream.

Two semesters of college chemistry, and the prospect of 13 more hours in chemistry for the pre-med curriculum, convinced me that practicing medicine was not my future. I also had this bent toward English, literature and history, especially literature, but they didn’t seem to offer much in the way of a career, at least as my father saw it. “Look,” he said, “at least do something practical. If all else fails, try journalism.”

All else didn’t necessarily fail, but journalism offered the practical training my father was looking for and a huge number of free electives, which allowed me to add whatever looked interesting in the way of history and literature courses.

A life pivots on such a simple statement from a father. My dream wasn’t to be a reporter or editor, but journalism would allow me to use words and possibly even be paid for it. By the end of my freshman year in college, I was learning that I enjoyed using words more than anything else I could think of.

As Julia Cameron says in The Right to Write, “The act of writing, the aiming at getting it right, is pure thrill, pure process, as exciting as drawing back a bow…I love it when I write well, but I love it when I write, period.”

Over at the High Calling Blogs, we’re starting a discussion of Cameron’s The Right to Write. Laura Boggess is leading with her introductory post, "On Forgetting Myself." Take a look Monday and see what others are saying, commenting and posting.

Related Posts:

L.L. Barkat's "Let Yourself Write" at Seedlings in Stone.

"Let's Write" by Nancy Kourmoulis at Treasures of Darkness.

Monica Sharman's "Book Club: The Right to Write" at My Big Three.

Louise Gallagher's "An automatic response" at Recover Your Joy.

Nancy Rosback's "Ready Set Go" at Poems and Prayers.

"Just Writing" by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good.

Cassandra Frear's "In the Quiet" at Moonboat Cafe.

If You Can't get Enough Wendell Berry

Christian Manifesto has posted my article "Wendell Berry and the Land," which takes a look at how Berry's philosophy of the land -- a kind of spiritual reverence -- plays through his short stories (That Distant Land) and poetry.

Related posts:

My review of That Distant Land published here last week.

My review of Berry's Leavings: Poems posted at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

Good poetry, good prose, a lot of good articles, a video -- and a cool painting, too. Not to mention a three-part exploration of what Sky Mall can do for your backyard -- and for your neighbors.

It was a good week for good stuff online.


Bone Against Stone” by Amy Sorrells.

Unspoken for better or for worse,” by Fred Sprinkle at I Force It to Rhyme.

Poetry is Shorter,” by Phoenix Karenee.

The Slave Soul,” by Justinian at Delight And Glory and Oddity and Light.

From Boy to Man,” guest poem post by Pete Marshall at Leslie Moon’s place. And a poem he posted on his own site, "Act Two, Scene One."

Close as a Whisper,” a romantic poem by Leslie Moon.

Bruce Bond’s “Wake” – How a Poem Happens.

What I Remember” by Melissa at All the Words.

Another Poem – Baptism” by Marcus Goodyear at God Word Editing.


Spreading Stories” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy. l

God is still in the miracle business,” by Larry Meredith at Night Writing in the Morning Light.

"Growing Cold" by Billy Coffey. And his “Renoir, Rockwell and Jesse,” post for The Master’s Artist.

The Impermanence of Things,” by Rod Dreher at BeliefNet.

K.M. Weilland guest posts at The Master’s Artist, "The World View of Christian Fiction."

The Way It Is,” by Melissa at The Far Blue Hills.

Bookstore Vikings” and “First Bookstore Signing” by Kathleen Overby.

Marty Duane Scott, “It Isn’t Too Late Until It Is.”


Natalie Merchant sings old poems to life at TED. (Thanks to @TchrEric for the link.)


"From the Foothills to the Peaks," watermedia on paper by Randall David Tipton.

Special Bonus

Kathy Richards, the incomparable @katdish, posted a three-part series on statues you can buy from Sky Mall to decorate your backyard and, well, offend your new neighbors (and that's the point; you have to read it). Part 1 is the African Safari. Part 2 is the Garden of Tolerance and Diversity. And Part 3 is -- Zombies! And the best part of all of this -- she's not making this up; you really can buy this stuff.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I’m frowning.
The clay clings to the shovel;
I have to keep scraping it off because
otherwise all it does is cling more and
then it cakes up and then I really
get frustrated. I keep stopping to
scrape and soon my hands and feet are
coated in dirt, the blacks of top soil and
the dark browns of something called
composted cow manure and the
billions of atoms of peat moss covering
me and sticking to the dirt smears on
my jeans and t-shirt. As soon as I wipe
sweat from my face I know I’ve smeared
dirt there too because I can taste it.

I push the shovel down into black dirt
then through a mix of blacks and grays
and finally the tan of solid hard-packed
Missouri clay that is soft and pliable as iron.
Digging in clay is like digging in a tan
brick, a chip here and there but generally
just forget it. But the hole is now deep
enough and filled with enough good
stuff to get this rosebush off to a fair
start, this bush that will produce a flower
named Janet of pinks and ivories and
perhaps salmon. Three feet away sits
another rose, this one named
Christopher Marlowe like that friend of
Will and it writes Renaissance plays while
it waits patiently for its hole too.

All I
to do
is dig
and a

Nancy Rosback, Lord High Executioner of the Cunning Poet Society, provided the poetry prompt for April to all of us cunning poets. The prompt was to write a poem based on the first thing that came to mind when you heard the word “Dig.” Since I had five rosebushes, a lilac and a dozen perennials waiting to be planted, I knew what I had to write.

The Cunning Poet Society was founded by Nancy on Facebook. Our motto is "I'd rather be a cunning poet than a dead poet."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mourning the Sheep

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry lately – That Distant Land: The Collected Stories (see the post immediately before this one); A Timbered Choir: Poems; and Leavings: Poems. And this has all put me in mind of – a sheep.

From the time I was roughly 8 or 9 to 12 or 13, I spent time each summer with my paternal grandmother in Shreveport. I never knew my grandfather; he died when I was nine months old. But these visits were special, for a number of reasons. I was able to spend time with a grandmother I adored, away from my parents, and, either coming or going, I got to fly in an airplane. This was the time when air travel still had something glamorous about it, and you dressed up to fly.

My grandmother lived in a two-bedroom house in western Shreveport, right across the street from my aunt and uncle. The house had been built by my grandfather for their retirement. The front yard by the road was edged with crepe myrtle bushes; I loved popping the buds open. There was a pecan tree in the front yard and a pear tree on the side.

A frame house painted dark tan, it sat on piers and had a combination garage and workshop out back. The garage side of the structure contained an old Ford that my grandmother tooled around in (and our escapades in that vintage automobile should be and likely will one day be a separate post); the workshop side was largely unused but left almost exactly how it had been when my grandfather still used it.

It was a large yard, close to an acre, and part of it was fenced. To keep maintenance costs down, my grandmother kept a sheep in the enclosed area that grazed the grass. Once a year, she had a man come by to sheer the wool. And my job, whenever I was there in the summer or for Christmas or holiday visits, was to throw stale bread over the fence to the sheep.

I don’t recall if it was a male or female, but I think it was a male. I seem to recall it being generally disagreeable, downright ornery, in fact, unless you had something to feed it.

It was that sheep that kept coming to mind as I read Berry’s stories and poems. That sheep was part of a place, a time, of people long gone, and on a piece of land anchored in my memory.

Berry writes a lot about place and land and memory. He also rails against “industrialized aliens” who have forgotten the land and are severed from it – those aliens largely being commercial interests or people with overbearing commercial proclivities or, worse still, people ignorant of what the land truly means (in contemporary society, that's most of us). In one story, he has a character named Wheeler Catlett, an attorney, look at the main street of the town of Port William, and see how much decline there had been, how much there had been that had disappeared, deteriorated and not replaced. It is a kind of mourning scene, mourning at the loss of what once was.

My grandmother died in 1984. My uncle had died before then and my aunt several years later. Both properties were sold. The last time I saw my grandmother’s house, the neighborhood was in serious decline; her house was boarded up and had graffiti sprayed on one side. The fence that had enclosed the sheep was gone, as were the pear and pecan trees and the crepe myrtles.

And I find myself mourning that ornery sheep.


There must be something in the air. Rod Dreher at BeliefNet blogged Monday on “The Impermanence of Things.”

Sheep image courtesy of Martin Junius via Flickr; used with permission.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wendell Berry's "That Distant Land"

That Distant Land: Collected Stories includes all of Wendell Berry’s short stories published up to 2004. It’s a remarkable body of work, and it’s only the short stories – it doesn’t include the novels, the books of poetry or the essays and articles.

Maybe I should say what a remarkable writer Wendell Berry is. If you haven’t read Berry before, you should. Choose anything by him. Anything. In his novels and short stories, you walk into the fictional world of Port William, Kentucky. It is a small world, geographically speaking, a few square miles on the banks of the Ohio River across from Indiana. But it stands for something much larger, something more universal, and something that's important.

Two of the stories serve as a kind of bookend summary of the whole volume, and tell you much about the author’s beliefs and philosophy, and the ideas that infuse all of his writing.

“It Wasn’t Me” uses the form of an auction to pit a reverence for the land against the narrow and uncaring commercial use of it. There are three bidders: a young man named Elton Penn who has farmed the land for his landlord; a doctor, who is most likely looking for an investment and possible tax shelter but who would be more than willing to have Penn manage it; and a neighboring farmer who wants to expand his farm holdings, and this particular farm sits right in the middle of it. In the few short pages of the story, Berry explores motives and beliefs, stripping them down to bare essentials. This is a clichéd story of “good versus evil;” it is something deeper and more profound than that.

In the other story, “The Boundary,” 82-year-old Mat Feltner’s world has, because of his advancing age, become increasingly confined to the area immediately around his farmhouse. But he begins to worry that a fence hasn’t been properly maintained, and he sets out on foot to check it, much to his wife’s concern. The fence turns out to be fine, but Mat’s journey turns into both an exploration of memory and the land, as well as a physical ordeal.

Both stories encapsulate the themes of all of Berry’s writings, fiction and non-fiction alike:
· A spiritual reverence for the land. This isn’t “nature for nature’s sake” but a reverence that recognizes the innate connection we have to the land.
· A belief, some might say a recognition, that for most of us, the connection to the land is forgotten and broken. We think of it, when we think of it at all, as a financial asset, something that’s part of our investment portfolio or that shelters taxes.
· We are stewards of the land, and because of that, we are also stewards of memory, because some of our most profound memories are found in land and place.

All of these stories display a beauty of thought and narrative. And they arranged in the table of contents in the order they occur in Berry’s fictional world. (The novels are also listed in this chronology to show where they are placed in the rich world he’s created.) Arranging them this way, and adding a genealogy and a map at the end of the volume, emphasizes that memory, history and people are inevitably one with the land, part of a coherent whole that Berry believes we have fractured and nearly destroyed in contemporary life.

He may have a point.

Sacred Sand

On Thursday at his Good Word Editing blog, Marcus Goodyear posted a poem entitled “Yet Another Heresy,” that had to do with Moses. Inspired by the poem, L.L. Barkat posted “Note to the Shepherd,” about the burning bush, at her Love Notes to Yahweh blog. As soon as I read L.L.’s poem, I knew I had to to write one on the sacred sand.

With no planning or coordination aforethought, we’re telling the story of the Book of Exodus, Chapter 3.

Sacred Sand

I stand upon holy
ground, sacred sand
that burns my soles,
my soul, sand burning
hot and holy, holy
where you are, purifying
with the inferno’s roar.
Fiery needles of silicon
scorch my feet, pierce my
soles, my soul, but like the
bush leave them flaming,
not consumed.
I hide my face in the
cleft of the rock.
The sand reflects the
cloaked face I cannot hide.

Update: Phoenix Karenee adds a fourth poem, "Not Me. I AM."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

A lot of good things were posted on the web this past week. Here are a few of them.


Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy read a prompt, read a poem, read another poem, and then wrote one of her own: "River Deep."

Branch” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good Poetry.

Easter Earthquake” by Sarah Vanderveen at Once by the Pacific. (found her via @godgrrl, Cathleen Falsani)

Bearing Much Fruit” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Worship” by Nancy at Poems and Prayers. And “The Picture.”

I Can Hardly Imagine,” by Fred Sprinkle at I Force It to Rhyme. And take a look at “Snap Shot’s Lament.”

Our ends,” by Justinian at delight and glory and oddity and light.

"The Language of Honesty at Work in Art" by Marcus Goodyear for The High Calling Blogs is both poetry and prose, and includes the Random Act of Poetry feature with a whole list of links to good poems.


Henry’s American Dream,” by Billy Coffey for the High Calling. And on his own blog, a son teaches his father gentleness: “Letting Things Happen.”

One Way Road,” by Dyana Herron at The Image Journal.

Time Lost and Found,” by Anne Lamott for Sunset Magazine. (Thanks to Kathleen Overby for the find.)

Mike the Mechanic” by Gordon Atkinson for the High Callings Blogs.

Wings Not Made of Wax,” by Lindsey Crittenden at The Image Journal.

In addition to the poem noted above, Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy also had a great prose piece: “Lifted Up.”

And Bridget Chumbley hosted the twice-a-month One Word Blog Carnival, with 39 links to some great posts on "gentleness."


Winter Slough Study by Randall David Tipton.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The 26th Day of Community: Erin Kilmer

You have to wonder about a mom who has kids named Bubs, Stinky the Pyromaniac, and Little One. I can understand names like Bubs and Little One, but Stinky the Pyromaniac, predicted to burn down the state of Iowa one day? Who would nickname a child that? (Only a mother who really knows.) (For some odd reason, I think she identifies with Stinky.)

Erin Kilmer blogs at Together for Good. She’s a wife (to husband Art), mother of the aforementioned three, a writer and a poet. She also takes photographs, mostly of the family she’s obviously crazy about (see "Behold the Easter Cuteness").

She tells stories with humor (read “The Rat” or “Maybe I Should Change My Blog’s Title to Together for Random”); she tells stories with deep insight (“On My Head” or “They Are Listening”); and with love and pride in family spilling out all over the place (“The Spelling Bee” or “In Which the Pictures Are as Overwhelming as the Lack of Content”). We also know her children come by it honestly (“Because You Needed Proof of the Crazy”).

Then there are her poems.

Erin is a regular contributor to our poetry jams on Twitter, which we assemble over at TweetSpeak Poetry. But take a look at her poetry blog to see what she writes and how she writes. Take a look at “Branch,” “To That Humble Cot Upon Which I Daily Lay My Head” (a sonnet!), “Us, Together,” and “Boundaries.” You will be challenged, encouraged, impressed and moved – and often all in the same poem.

So check out Erin’s blog and poetry blog, and follow her on Twitter. It will be difficult to miss her incredible enthusiasm for family, for life and for God.

(In December, a number of us participated in the “Twelve Days of Community” - see the button at the top right - sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight the blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I liked the idea so much that I’m continuing to do that -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I call these short poems "Fragments" because they are pieces from other places -- comments I've left at places or just some doodlings.

Inside Out

She stares at white paper,
unsure, a bit tentative
at first. And then she finds,
or stumbles upon,
a stone to cross,
a stone to turn
inside out.

On Notice of “To Be Published”

These words from stones,
from a life lived,
from bits of data
infinitesimally small,
to pages shed by woods,
cycled and recycled to use
for beauty,
to help us see
what is there
and to savor the life
of the


The pieces are souls;
the shards, hearts.
The inside story begins
with a blue mist,
but warm.

Spin Top

I once knew a man who
had a spin top like
the one the woman had in
her closet with a
window and
he loved it.

The Poetry Editor

I have good
friends, who
alliterate and
tweet. I
only collect the
tweets and
see what hatches.

Photograph by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers. Used with permission.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Gentleness of Attila the Honey

Eight years span the births of our first and second children.

There is a reason for that.

Our firstborn is the one people say you should have second, because if you have him (or her, but it’s usually a him in these situations) first, you may end up with an only child.

He was four-on-the-floor from the get-go. A salesman, the life of the party, Mr. Totally Gregarious born to two quiet, relatively introverted writers and readers.

He walked at nine months old, and he walked for one day. Then he ran. He never stopped. And he was quick.

He loved (loves) sports. During the 1984 Olympics, we must have depleted two rolls of masking tape so he could “burst through the ribbon” and win the race. About the same time, we found him awake one Saturday morning at 6 a.m., watching golf on TV. Golf!

Mr. Rough-and-Tumble played soccer, and basketball, and baseball (his true sports love). The way he played, basketball was a contact sport; he always looked so surprised when the refs called a foul on him. And baseball was the most intense experience anyone could ever have.

Gentleness was about the last word one would use to describe him. Except we, his parents, knew better. We knew his tender side.

That’s why we called him Attila the Honey. (I’ll take credit for the nickname.)

The University of Missouri survived Attila, and he went on to gainful employment. He eventually landed in Phoenix, helping to manage a semi-pro baseball team in a new league. His ability to network was amazing. His ability to talk to anyone was even more amazing.

Then at his church, in a young adults group, he met Stephanie. We met her when we spent Christmas in Phoenix in 2006. And the “honey” side of Attila the Honey began to become plainly evident. She brought out the tenderness and gentleness in him.

Not quite two years later, they married. And about a year and a half after that, they came up with Cameron.

To watch Attila the Honey with his infant son is one of the sweetest joys I’ve had as a parent.

It defines gentleness.

If you’d like to read other posts on gentleness, stop by the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget’s Chumbley’s place, One Word at a Time.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Western City, Dreaming

“How many times I saw my western city/Dream by her river.”
--Sara Teasdale, “Sunset: St. Louis” from
Flame and Shadow

"A mourning figure walks, and will not rest..."
--Vachel Lindsay, "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight"

That’s what old river towns do,
dream by their rivers, dream of the
days of glory and wealth and triumphs,
when the making of things was important
and the shipping of things was vital and the
banking of things was critical and the litigating
of things made and shipped and banked was lifeblood;
and now old river towns doze and occasionally half-wake,
with ears closed and one eye open, dreaming by their rivers,
and with ears open and one eye closed, dreaming of the
mourning figure walking
the prairie streets.

This is a poem for the Random Act of Poetry sponsored by the High Calling Blogs. L.L. Barkat provided the prompt: Begin with a sentence with a picture in it, like from a poem, and then write from a memory or event or simply what comes to mind. I chose the lines above from the Sara Teasdale and Vachel Lindsay poems, both of which are featured today at TweetSpeak Poetry for National Poetry Month.

And Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy got inspired by all of this and wrote "River Deep."


It was empty, that
small cleft in the
it was empty, that
morning, that day.
The only presence,
silent, a
few cloth strips,
the only presence,
moving, the
dust particles
filtered by
the sun,
floating, pulsing from the
life created from
the life created from
nothing, from
the emptiness in the
small cleft in the rock.

As in the beginning…

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

There were a considerable number of good things to read on the web last week, with a special section just for Easter.


Marcus Goodyear’s “The Poetry of Money.”

Two by Melissa at All the Words: “En route” and "What Face Now."

Two by Justinian: “Brokenness” and “Not too sure.”

Chew on This” by nAncY at Poems and Prayers.

Redemption” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Short,” by Kelly Langner Sauer.

Reason to Write” by Phoenix Karenee.

Pieces” by David Rupert.

"Acid Washed Love" by Phoenix Karenee.

And two sonnets:

To That Humble Cot Upon Which I Daily Lay My Head” by Erin Kilmer at Together For Good.

"Lenten Sonnet" by David Koyzis at Evangel.


An Easter egg hunt. “Finders and Hiders,” by Billy Coffey at The Master’s Artist.

Chrystie Cole's “The Whole Earth Sings.”

Does Christ Have Fans or Followers: On the Road to Calvary” by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

Easter: Expectations” by Shaun Groves.

The Real Meaning of Easter?” By Chaplain Mike at InternetMonk.

A Son’s Wisdom,” another good one by Billy Coffey.

Peeps: The Epic Battle,” a review of Easter candy by Kathy Richards.

"Good Friday," by Sarah M. Salter. Great collection of Easter songs on YouTube.

"One Brilliant Show," by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Easter Video

There are a lot of videos about Good Friday and Easter posted this week; this is one of the best I’ve seen. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming,” the famous sermon put to video and posted at Christian Manifesto. Really, really, good.


Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy: “If you don’t like what you’re doing: Stop it!” and “Leaving the World Better Off.”

I Was Normal, Then I Wrote My First Story,” by K.M. Weiland at The Master’s Artist.

Top 10 Worst Creativity Tips of All Time,” by Demian Farnworth via Kathy Richards

Whitman at Gettysburg,” by Andy Whitman at The Image Journal.

10 Things I Did on My Retreat,” by Cassandra Frear.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 25th Day of Community: Corinne Cunningham

Wife of Lucas, mother of Paige and Fynn, Corinne Cunningham is a New Englander who blogs at Trains, Tutus and Tea Time. And she tells ordinary, and extraordinary, stories.

Try Navigating, where she yells at a town recreation worker.

Or something as prosaic as sugar cookies, which she turns into a love story (and recently reposted at Motherese).

Or a photo post of Paige and Fynn dying Easter eggs.

Or, one of my favorites of her posts, Cocoa Shenanigans.

Or try one of her guest posts (she’s in great demand), like at Crying Out Now. She’s told this story on her own blog, and you read it, not expecting what the story turns out to be. And you go back and read it again, and you’re stunned. Then the third time you’re hit with the reality of the story and her profound honesty in telling it. And you know why – to help and encourage others (and there are a lot of others).

Corinne struggles, like we all do, and writes about it. And then she struggles in different ways, and she writes about that as well. I read her posts, and I find love for others, love for her family and love for God.

So read her blog, follow her on Twitter, and be blessed.

(In December, a number of us participating in the “Twelve Days of Community” - see the button at the top right - sponsored by The High Calling Blogs. The purpose was to highlight the blog or web site of someone other than ourselves during the season of Advent and Christmas. I liked the idea so much that I’m continuing to do that -- highlight a blog or web site of a person whose thoughts and writing have had an impact on me and others.)