Monday, May 31, 2010

A List of Empty Things

An apology that begins with “if.”

A church trying to be relevant to the culture.

97.3 percent of People Magazine.

Sound bites that pass for political speech.

Most contemporary political speech.

The prosperity gospel.

People who say “we’re the experts; trust us.”

The editorial page of the daily newspaper, most days.

A congressman or senator who votes for a bill without reading it or understanding it.

The New York Times best-sellers list, most days.

The self-help section of the bookstore.

Most corporate vision statements.

The belief that marriage will meet all your unmet needs.

Believing that “reality television show” is not an oxymoron.

A culture besotted with celebrities.

The belief that “educating the public” will solve all your problems.

Most acceptances speeches at the Academy Awards; a simple “thank you” will do.

Dictators who say all they want is peace.

When the definition of “is” becomes relative, as in, “It depends on what your definition of ’is’ is.”

Spending money our great-grandchildren don’t have.

Knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

“You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.”

Companies who say “employees are our most important asset.”

School officials who say “it’s for the children.”

Organizations that call jobs “roles” and people “talent.”

The hole in the human heart.

If you’d like to read other posts on emptiness, visit the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Bridget Chumbley.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Because It Matters

Grant’s Trail, a biking-walking-jogging-rollerblading trail in St. Louis some eight miles long, begins about a mile-and-a-half from my house. It’s a converted railroad track bed, and I’ve been biking it for years now. Counting the round trip and an occasional side meander, it’s a good 20-mile ride.

Just before the trail begins, there’s a brick apartment complex of some 40 to 50 units in five or six buildings. Rather nondescript, it’s neither at the luxury end of residential living nor the housing-of-last-resort end. Nondescript, and rather anonymous, sufficiently describes it.

Each time I’d go to Grant’s Trail, I’d bike past the complex, barely giving it a thought except to watch for doors suddenly opening from cars parked on the street (bikers have to watch for these things). But it wasn’t the kind of building or complex that you’d pay much attention to.

Until January of 2007.

One cold, icy day (I remember because we eventually lost power from the ice coating the trees), police made a startling discovery. Inside one of the apartments was a 13-year-old boy, kidnapped a few days before as he rode his bike home from school in rural Franklin County, near St. Louis. And with him was a 15-year old boy, Shawn Hornbeck, kidnapped when he was 11. The good news was that both boys had been found alive. The bad news was what they had endured, one during a short few days and the other for several years. Police arrested Michael Devlin, 41 at the time. He later pleaded guilty and is now in prison.

The story became international news. During the next few weeks, news media from all over the United States and several other countries converged on the complex, the local pizza parlor where Devlin worked, his family’s home in neighboring Webster Groves, the police department and everywhere else in our suburban St. Louis municipality of Kirkwood.

The news cycle eventually turned and went on to other things. But I can’t ride or drive by that apartment complex now without thinking about Michael Devlin and those two boys. What happened there horrified all of us who live in Kirkwood and anyone who read or learned about the story.

For me, the horror went deeper. I don’t really understand why it did – there’s nothing repressed or anything that happened to me when I was young that would trigger such a reaction. But I was profoundly affected.

Many people asked why or how. Why didn’t the older boy try to escape when he had so many opportunities? How did neighbors ignore screams coming from the apartment? Why did the police ignore tips? Why didn’t Devlin’s family question some of his odd behaviors?

I didn’t ask how or why. I understood. I knew the answers to all the questions. Instead, I focused on the shock, the fear, the horror, the desolation, the pain, the hopelessness, the desire to survive that became part of these boys’ experiences.

I finally knew what I had to do to deal with it. I wrote it out. More than 44,000 words poured out of me until I knew it was time to stop. I wrote it as fiction, far removed from Kirkwood and the events of February 2007. Anyone reading this manuscript wouldn’t recognize anything of what actually happened.

In The Right to Write, author Julia Cameron says that “when we commit our thoughts to paper, we send a strong and clear message that what we are writing about and whom we are writing to matters.”

In my head and in my heart, I became a conduit, what Cameron refers to as “become a channel.” I don’t understand why this happened, but it did. I’ve shown the manuscript to no one. No one else has read it, and it’s likely no one ever will.

But it mattered.

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 loneliness, writing as witness and where a writer writes. This week's discussion is about connection, being an open channel, and integrating.


L.L. Barkat's Excuse Me, I'm WRITE-ing.

How a Life Makes Sense by Nancy Kourmoulis.

Melo's The Little Things.

Cassandra Frear's The River.

Julia Says by Nancy Rosback.

Monica Sharman's Writing, Prayer, Confession.

On This Day, Just a Few Short Years Ago

Janet and her grandson Cameron
She may be a grandmother now, but she will always be the girl I married. Happy birthday to my beloved.

Related: Happy Birthday, Mom by Travis Young.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

Some weeks I think the good reads will lean toward poetry, and some weeks I think they’ll lean toward prose. And some weeks they lean toward both simultaneously, like they did this week.


American profits – when I am part of the problem” by Fred Sprinkle.

If You Were Here” by Lesley Moon at Moondustwriter.

Theory of Equine Economics” by Lorenzo at Crowned With Laurels.

We were digging” and "Lightly Now” by Melissa at All the Words.

Trouble Comes to Dry Gulch” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

Hours before the dawn” and “Silent Speeches” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

Cinders Path” by Pete Marshall.

Movin on” by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

Eat Well, My Son” by Karen Eck at Phoenix-Karenee.

Ode to a White Dog” by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.


Hal” by Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers.

A Summer Place” by John Blasé at Dirty Shame.

Cairns of Enchantment” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

The road is life” and “In the silence of my heart” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

The Razor’s Edge” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children, If They Are Listening.

Walker Percy and the Century of Merde” by Andy Whitman at The Image Journal.

Change” by Duane Scott.

"I Just Couldn't Help Myself" by Billy Coffey.

The Making of a Marriage Bed” by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

Absorbing Black” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Redeeming Time” by Deidra at Jumping Tandem.

Friday, May 28, 2010

God in the Yard

My wife will tell you that I read a lot of books. (She’ll also tell you I spend too much time online, but that’s another story.) Some I get from the bookstore; some I order from Amazon; and some come in from small booksellers, publishing services and various other sources. I’ve even been known to download ebooks, but I’m still not ready for an electronic reader, at least not yet. So for now, the post office loves me.

Yesterday, I got home after a very long day at work, and there in the pile of mail was what was obviously a book package, small and rather slender, a single book. I knew of a couple of orders coming but not for a while yet and there had been no emailed shipping notice. But there a package was. And it turned out that one order had shipped early.

It was God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us by L.L. Barkat.

I had ordered the print version (a Kindle version is also available) but didn’t expect it until sometime in June. But there it was.

I’ve made no secret of how much I enjoyed L.L.’s Stone Crossings, or her InsideOut: Poems. I even have a badge widget for InsideOut on the lower right of this blog. So when I saw that God in the Yard was available, I ordered it.

It’s described (by the author) as a “12-week course in discovery and playing towards God.” It’s readings, meditation and thinking, and writing. Laura Boggess over at The Wellspring started it this week (I suspect she has the Kindle version). L.L. has a post about it at her signature blog, Seedlings in Stone. (The cool cover photo is by Kelly Sauer.)

I’m starting God in the Yard this coming week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Song Has Not Been Heard

The song has not been heard in the
street or the market, nor sung in the
village or on the highway, nor flown
across the courthouse square since
before the time people remember.

The farmer in the field mourns a way
to end his day; the mother grieves
the absence of what quiets the child.
The singer stands mute, impotent; the
poet despairs with a shriveled soul.

Locked within the white tower, the
song has become a fictional shadow, a
parody of itself, preoccupied with its
form, its structure, its notes, its lack of
notes, its own self and none other.

It sits within its assigned cage, failing to
entertain a priestly few, a few deaf
priests, priests with bony fingers and
hearts of stone who poke and prod with
sticks but hear no music.

The poem above describes what I believe one of the ideas behind “Barbies at Communion” – to help celebrate the poetic in everyday life and in so doing help return poetry to people.

Over at TweetSpeak Poetry, we are helping Marcus Goodyear celebrate the publication of Barbies at Communion: and other poems. I reviewed the book of poems last week; we devoted a TweetSpeak poetry jam to Barbies on Tuesday. Check out how to win a signed copy of Barbies.

You can order the Kindle edition at Amazon, and the print edition at CreateSpace. You can also order a signed copy via the book’s web page through PayPal.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I hear the voices rising and falling;
back and forth they go although I did
not understand the language, a
Slavic dialect perhaps. Gentleness
alternated with accusation, rising and
falling, back and forth.

Waving my arms back and forth through
the linguistic fog, I understand it is a kind
of trial, although accuser and defender
share a sameness of form and sameness of
voice, as if they were brothers born
closely together.

With my hand, I grasp a stone, an arrowhead
broken and discarded long ago, and scrape my
arms back and forth, letting the blood flow
freely. Touching the blood to my lips, I find it
burns hot and acidic. The voices stop; perhaps
the judge has called an adjournment.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Christa Parrish’s “Home Another Way”

Earlier this month, author Christa Parrish’s novel Watch Over Me was named the 2010 Christian Book award winner in the fiction category by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. In Christian book publishing, this is a big deal. I reviewed the novel here in the blog back in March, and it’s a well deserved honor.

Parrish’s first novel, Home Another Way, had been nominated for the award in 2008 but another novel was chosen. After reading Watch Over Me, I had to read her first novel. Both books are published by Bethany House, one of the leading publishers of Christian fiction.

Home Another Way is an unusual book; unusual, that is, for Christian fiction. Fromthe first page, the reader meets Sarah Graham, who must be the most unlikely heroine ever encountered in a Christian novel. She’s rude, crude, conniving, obnoxious and totally unlikeable, as in, this is one offensive character. She comes to the small town of Jonah, New York, to claim an inheritance from her deceased father, whom Sarah had despised and hadn’t seen for more than 20 years while he was in prison – for murdering her mother (and you thought your family was dysfunctional). She finds a room at a local inn, gets something to eat, finds a pub – and promptly picks up a one-night stand, whose name she can’t remember the next morning.

I told myself that, if this novel was going to work, there was going to be one massive act of character redemption before the book was over with.

Sarah learns that her inheritance has a catch – she has to live in the town for six months. Since her car’s been stolen and she’s broke, she decides to do exactly that. And in those six months, she finds people she comes to love, values that have been alien to her, someone she’s attracted to romantically, and, ultimately, the truth about her father.

It is a tribute to Parrish that she doesn’t take this story into a clichéd and predictable direction. She could have, and easily. There were several points at which I wanted her to do exactly that. But she didn’t. She kept the story real.

She’s also created a cast of unforgettable characters. From the crotchety Doc who knows more about Sarah’s father than he’s telling, to a very large woman named Memory with a brain-damaged son, Parrish has made what could have been stereotypes into originals.

When I finished reading it, I wanted to say “Sequel! Sequel!” And perhaps there will be, one day. But Home Another Way is the kind of novel that is sufficient without one. It’s a rough, hard story to read. But it’s also a true one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Writing Heart Is Not a Lonely Hunter

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron talks about loneliness, and the common perception that writing is an inherently lonely occupation. And yet, she says, this is not her own experience, and she feels like something of a heretic: “So much has been written about the loneliness of the writer’s lot that it feels like heresy to report the truth as I know it: in my experience, not writing is a lonely business. The minute I let myself write, everything falls into balance.”

She could be describing my own experience as well.

It doesn’t matter what I write. It could a short story, a poem, a speech, a blog post, a letter, work on a novel, or a news story, it really doesn’t matter. I never write alone. And it’s been that way as long as I can remember.

There may not be another person in the room, but that doesn’t mean I’m alone. And that’s because when I’m writing, I’m inside a character’s head or the middle of a scene; between the lines of a poem pulling out what will be coming; thinking about the people who may be reading a blog post or article; or, if I’m writing a speech for someone, that person is figuratively sitting on my shoulder so I can hear the voice, how it sounds, what it says well and what it mispronounces, and what will communicate with listeners.

I have interior conversations with all of these people and scenes. I play with words and silently yell at them when they don’t work or don’t string together like they should. I puzzle of where a new character suddenly erupted from. I watch a scene in a story unfold, and I don’t think of myself as the director but more as one of the actors in the scene.

I didn’t say it wasn’t weird; all I said was that I don’t feel lonely.

Frustrated, out of sorts, short-tempered when I can’t write? Absolutely. And also lonely.

But lonely when I write? Never. For a writer, it's not writing that's one of the heights of loneliness.

(And yes, my apologies to Carson McCullers for adapting the title of her novel for this blog post.)

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 going deeper in your writing. This week’s discussion is about loneliness, writing as witness and where a writer writes.


Love.Letters by Nancy at Poems and Prayers.

Out of Sorts by Nancy Kourmoulis.

Lyla Lindquist's A Little Help from Mr. Fusion.

Day 21: Right Day, Right Time by Melo.

Erin Straza's Let's Be Brave.

Morning Pages by Cassandra Frear.

Witness by Laura Boggess.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

It was a good week to be reading posts on the web.


Paperback Mood” by Heather Truett at Madame Rubies Writes.

I thirst” by Melissa at All the Words and “Planning in Prose” at The Far Blue Hills.

Journey’s End” by Pete Marshall.

Dad” by Bob at Wilderness Fandango.

Noisy Nature” by Nancy Kourmoulis at Treasures of Darkness.

Reality” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good Poetry.

What the Renaissance Forgot to Renew” by Fred Sprinkle at I Force It to Rhyme.

Beaten-Broken-Bleeding” and “Memorial for Love” by Leslie Moon at Moondustwriter.

A Kiss – Grace This” by Anne Lang Bundy.

The alchemist” and “The dark” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

I Called” by Mike Bullock at Versical Rhymes.


The Story We Write” and “Where's the Fountain Free?” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children, If They Are Listening.

Want to get to know somebody? Understand their story” by Don Miller.

A Boy Named Day” by David Griffith at The Image Journal.

The 60s and the Evolution of Liberalism” by David Koyzis at Evangel.

Stealing Time” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Let Go” by Jeanne Damoff for The Master’s Artist.

The miracle in seven years” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Interview with Artist Harold Sikkema” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

"Mike and Sarah" by Billy Coffey.

And the post that had me checking the back of my head for thinning hair: “From Hair to Eternity: The Summer Sky Mall Catalog” by Kathy Richards.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Red Birds

Beneath heavy, darkening skies, the
canvas of green, white, gray, off-white
is punctuated by red, first a flash here and
a small spot there, then reds, reds of every
shade, an ocean of reds teaming with reds,
a heavenly host of reds soaring, stopping,
hopping, bouncing, walking, prancing.
Then a sharp whistlewind, a crack of
branch-like wood, and the reds shift into
coordinated motion, simultaneous
eruption, then calm, quiet, long periods of
seeming inactivity, followed by short
but intense bursts of motion, movement,
independence suddenly folded into a
unity of red, red.

A roar bursts forth from the un-treed stands,
and the St. Louis Cardinals win 4-2.

The Cunning Poets Society poem-prompt for May is “birds.” No stipulation was made as to whether or not it was birds of the flying variety. I attended the Cardinals baseball game Thursday, they did indeed beat Florida 4-2, and I got inspired.
Photo courtesy of Photobucket.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Marcus Goodyear’s “Barbies at Communion: and other poems”

You’re sitting in church, the communion plate is passing down the pew, and as you reach for the little cup of grape juice you notice your young daughter playing with her Barbie dolls.

You’re coaching your first boys’ soccer game, and you err on the side of bending the rules so the kids can have a little fun.

An old resort hotel is abandoned to collapse in on itself. Or you cut your grass too short and here come the weeds. Or a water pipe breaks in the attic, ruining the stored Christmas decorations. A puppy dies when it catches the motorcycle it’s chasing. Two friends build a bookshelf. Deer show up in the negihborhood to eat your plants. Piano practice.

This is the stuff of poetry? This ordinary, everyday living stuff?

In Barbies at Communion: and other poems, poet Marcus Goodyear (editor of the High Calling Blogs) answers with a resounding yes, because something profound is found in this ordinary living.

Consider “Epiphany:”

We put our Jesus in the attic
after Christmas, buried in boxes
between plastic wreaths and cheap lights.
I rarely think about the idle figure
when I fetch luggage for business trips.
Near the boxes, the space is a maze
of pipes wrapped in thin foam, too thin
for January freezes when water reminds us
who is in charge. So here I am,
my breath like a pillar of cloud.
When the pipes crack, the water sprays.
There is no controlling this flood
and the damage it causes, soaking
through our Christmas, baptizing Santas,
Rudolphs, wreaths and every single Jesus.

Like many of Goodyear’s poems, “Epiphany” is full of Biblical allusions, and not only the direct reference to Jesus. Consider the flood, the breath like a “pillar of cloud,” the reminder of “who is in charge and the water from the broken pipe as a kind of baptism. On one level, “Epiphany” is a poem about nothing more than a broken pipe. But he massages it into a richly layered meditation on faith and God, using the commonality of Christmas decorations – how we understand faith – and how that understanding drowns in the reality of what faith is really about.

What Goodyear has done in this collection of “poetry in the everyday” is to demonstrate that poetry can be accessible, understandable, and real to people who long ago turned their backs when it came to be dominated by the academy.

This is about the poetry in life, about poetry as life, the life we all know.

Reading these poems was like reading some of my own personal history. Like when I was 5 and my dog was hit by a car. And the three days after Christmas we spent in a motel when the pipes burst in our house in New Orleans after a hard freeze. And cutting the grass too short. And cutting the grass on a Sunday. And riding my bike up to Tastee Donuts on Sunday mornings to get breakfast for the family. And the time when I worked with a carpenter friend who made me a typing table and a bookshelf out of yellow pine. That’s the stuff of Barbies at communion.

It speaks to the depth and insight of the poems that they become and reflect our own experiences.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Yet another day in this ancient place, this Romanized sepulcher,
this urbanized temple to worship what never was, this sacrifice
of marbled skin and stone life-blood, paleness of what was.

Yet another span of hours, sameness and tedium; another day
of listening to the new ideas that are neither new nor ideas,
because of the baneful and prideful duty of an archon.

Today a respite from legalities – a babbler commending us for
our gods, known and unknown. What an impudent fellow, as if
our gods known and unknown actually cared for him and for us.

Although he speaks socratically, with both passion and calm,
like a voice of iron in the forge, does he know the fate of Socrates?
We kill our prophets; assassinate our heroes; poison our truthsayers.

I half-listen until I see Damaris, seated at the front of the crowd in
rapt attention, hearing the babbler’s siren song. Damaris, my soul
mate, my consolation and affirmation that I am not wholly mad.

She is transfixed. The others murmur, laugh and snicker. I turn to
face the babbler, with his thorned flesh. And in that flash of time I
first listen, my soul is seared, torn, shattered like smashed stone.

My heart is pierced; my heart so dead in sameness and tedium, is
stabbed, consumed with the same words that force the crowd’s
laugh and sneer to rise in an illusion of levitation and levity.

The babbler’s piercing look silences the crowd. He leaves with his
few close behind him. I stand to see my white robes now stained
with spilled red from my fingernailed palms, an archon’s stigmata.

Silence gives way to sardonic sneers of those who cultivate minds
of emptiness, the intellectualism of the void. I run to catch the
babbler with the thorn and piercing look, Damaris at my side.

I am broken, she says.
I am not mad, I say,
and run faster.

Painting: St. Paul preaching at the Areopagus by Raphael (1515-1516).

Over at the High Calling Blogs, the prompt for the Random Act of Poetry (RAP) was to go to an ancient place – Egypt, China, India, Greece, Rome, wherever, as long as it was ancient. I chose the account of St. Paul in Athens, speaking at the Areopagus on Mars Hill (Acts 17).

The Gospel and Stephen King

My article on the influence of Stephen King on Christian novelists has been posted over at Christian Manifesto. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grace on a Tombstone: A Story

He wasn’t sure where she’d been buried. Her parents had moved away, and he knew that if she’d been buried here, the only place would be White Cliff Cemetery, in the small hills out the western road from town. More than a decade ago.

He parked in front of the cemetery office, once a small frame farmhouse. An older man, late 60s, still tall and broad-shouldered with a shock of white-gray hair, answered his knock.

“Help you?”

He hesitated. “I’m trying to find a grave. But I’m not sure if she’s buried here or not.”

The man gave a short nod, motioning him inside what had been a living room or parlor but was now an office cluttered with paper, boxes and old filing cabinets. “Come in. What’s the name?”

“Elizabeth Prentiss.”

The man gave Sam a quick glance, and then nodded. “I think it’s section 3 but let me check.” He sat at a desk computer and typed in the information. “Section 3, Row 4. Walk up that middle walkway and it’ll be on your left.” He paused. “It’s a nice section. Quiet. Nice view.”

Sam nodded. “Thanks.”

Walking up toward the gravesite, he didn’t see the man walk outside and watch him.

The June wind should have felt warmer than it did. Walking among the graves, Sam pulled the collar of his jacket up around his neck.

He knew it might be hard, but he wasn’t prepared for the tombstone. He saw her name, the dates of her birth and death, and then the inscription.

He fell to his knees and began to sob.

“It caused a ruckus, that tombstone,” said a voice behind him.

Sam turned, wiping his eyes, and saw the man from the office.

“Don’t mean to intrude, but when you said her name I figured you were Sam.”

“What ruckus?”

“Her parents insisted on the inscription. Made folks angry that her parents thought the jury was wrong when the whole town believed you were guilty; that prosecutor had you dead to rights. Shows you how gullible we are. But her parents, well, they never said one way or the other, at least to anyone I ever talked to, but they had to get a monument company in Bozeman to do it; the local people wouldn’t touch it. Engrave that inscription and they knew they’d lose business with the town.”

Sam thought of the crowds more than a decade before at the courthouse, screaming for him to hang; the woman who jumped the courtoom rail and hit him from behind, spitting on his face when he turned towards her; the rock thrown when they escorted him to the prison van. Life without parole. Ten years of life without parole.

“Her parents didn’t like me,” Sam said. “But Beth, well, she was more than I had any right to expect. More than I could have imagined.” He traced the inscription with his fingers. “It’s all gone now.”

The man looked up at the wide blue sky. “Well, maybe her parents were just stating facts." He watched a flock of birds overhead. "Or it might be one of those messages in a bottle, know what I mean?"

Elizabeth Ann Prentiss
June 16, 1978 - April 4, 2000
She loved Jesus,
And she loved Sam.

If you'd like to read more posts on grace, visit Bridget Chumbley's place for the One Word Blog Carnival.

Photograph: Beach, by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

An Artist's Date

Cars need gasoline and cell phones need charging. Writers need fuel, too.

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron makes the case for what she calls “The Artist’s Date,” a once-a-week “solitary expedition to something festive that interests us.” It could be anything – a museum, a walk in the woods, a festival in a park, a play, a concert, literally anything that you find interesting that will provide a good dose of “writerly upkeep.” (And you’re supposed to do this alone.)

I have three typical venues for an “Artist’s Date,” but only one of them is at least weekly.

The first is the art museum. St. Louis has a nice one, and actually one that has a larger and deeper collection than you might expect, the result of the city’s late 19th and early 20th century heyday and the various bequests of wealthy individuals and companies over the years. My favorites are the 19th century and 20th century American rooms, with the “democracy series” by George Caleb Bingham and the Winslow Homers and Thomas Hart Bentons. I love to stand and study the Bingham paintings; I actually have a framed print of “Stump Speaking” in my office. But when I go to the art museum, my wife is with me, and we explore the place together.

Once a year, when we’re making our pilgrimages to Chicago, we almost always find our way to the Art Institute. I can get lost in the gift shop, much less the collection. But whether it’s the smaller museum in St. Louis or the colossus in Chicago, the art is a definite stimulant, rich fuel and extensive “writerly upkeep” for me.

So art is one kind of “Artist Dates” for me. Another is the Shaw Nature Reserve, what we St. Louisans will always call the Arboretum, 40 or so miles west of St. Louis. It’s 800 acres of woods, trails, prairies and gardens. When my sons were little, they often accompanied me on hikes. Now, it’s usually just me, although my oldest (now 30) did come with me the last time I went. I’ll usually hike to the Meramec River, and then just sit, listening to the water current and the distant cows on the bluffs on the other side. It’s an emptying out for me, becoming a speck in the geography and just listening.

The third “Artist’s Date” for me is biking. My typical ride is either a 20-mile ride on Grant’s Trail in south and southwest St. Louis, or a 30-mile ride that involves riding east through inner suburbs and the city to the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. (I’ve done longer rides, but these are my usual ones.) You have to concentrate on automobile traffic (and drivers using their cell phones are oblivious to everything), but there are stretches of paved trails and dedicated bike lanes where it’s easier. And then the view from the bluff – you can see for miles up river, down river and across to Illinois.

Biking clears my head and, oddly, opens my heart. And I find I do some of my best “writing” on a bicycle.

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 going deeper in your writing. This week's discussion is on artists' dates.


Nancy Rosback’s “The right to write and buying work.”

Monica Sharman's "Sketching."

"Enter the Body" by Nancy Kourmoulis.

Cassandra Frear's "Walking and Writing."

Marilyn's "You Never Take Me Anywhere Anymore."

Melissa's "Slip, Slipping Away."

L.L. Barkat's "Finding Your Words."

Painting: Stump Speaking (1853-1854) by George Caleb Bingham; St. Louis Art Museum.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Graduation Day

There are too many things to say about a child's graduation, too many emotions that run through the heart. For now, I need to let the pictures tell the story, or part of the story. Our 22-year-old son Andrew, our youngest, graduated from the University of Missouri today.

I think my favorite photo is the last one -- a "mistake" in that it all blurred. Except that it perfectly captures that brief moment God gives us children -- and tells us we have to let them fly. Twenty-two years -- and just a moment.

The photos were taken by either my daughter-in-law Stephanie or my wife Janet.

Related: "My Brother, the Mizzou Alum" by Travis Young.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

Many good things were on the web this week. While I was working through my blocking issues with Twitter, I’m thought about posting a few each of these each day instead of a whole bunch of them on Saturday. We’ll see.

And speaking of Twitter, my account has been fully restored. It turns out that somehow I got caught up in a spam cloud – whatever that is. Twitter apologized – it should never have happened.

I’m going to have to write a poem entitled “Ensnared in a Spam Cloud.”


An economist at the University of Chicago gives a short lecture on how we (and our politicians) use words.

My Mother” by John Blasé at Dirty Shame.

Monday Muse: D.C.’s Poet Laureate – Delores Kendrick” by Maureen Doallas.

How to Craft a Great Voice (in fiction)” by agent Nathan Bransford.

In Defense of Art and the Artist” by Don Miller.

The Myth of Calling” by Bradley Moore for the High Calling Blogs.

We Are Paper Snowflakes” by Billy Coffey for The Master’s Artist.

Fishing” by Anne Lang Bundy at Building His Body.

Thief of Something” by Stephen Parolini at Novel Doctor.

The Solidarity of Tears” by Brian Volck at The Image Journal.

Something happened on the road to cool: why the church will never ‘relate’” by David Rupert at Red Letter Believers.

Purpose in Every Step” by Jennifer Dukes Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

Writing & Revenge” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Paper Cranes and Wishes” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.


The Jackal” and “The Last Will and Testament of…” by Pete Marshall at his own blog and “Alone in Her Dreams” at AuthSpot.

Silence” and “Torment” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

All” and “Lyrics…can you hear the tune?” by Nancy at Poems and Prayers.

Inverted Vision” by Karen Eck at Phoenix-Karenee.

A Few Words for the Road” by Melissa at All the Words.

Silent Cry” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

Ode to a Social Network” by Heather at Madame Rubies Writes.

Toward Dawn” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.
"Lamp," photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Liberty Hyde Bailey’s “Wind and Weather”

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry lately, primarily his short stories and poetry. I reviewed That Distant Land here and wrote a post on "Wendell Berry and the Land" over at Christian Manifesto. And then, shortly after those posts, I noticed a reference (via Twitter) to a book of poems by someone with the improbable name of Liberty Hyde Bailey, and the reference was about Wendell Berry.

I clicked on the reference, which took me to the Englewood Review of Books and a poem by Bailey, from a volume entitled Wind and Weather. From there I went to Wikipedia, to see what I could learn about the author, and from there to Amazon to see if it was available. It was, from one of Amazon’s affiliates for $12.95.

There’s a story here.

Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) was the third child of a Michigan farm family. He went on to become a professor of horticulture at Cornell University. He was one of the first scientists who urged a reconsideration of Gregor Mendel’s work in genetics; he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to chair the National Commission on country Life, which urged the rebuilding of a great agricultural civilization in America; he wrote numerous scientific texts on agriculture and horticulture; he articulated a philosophy of agrarianism that echoes today in writers like Wendell Berry and in advocates for the organic agriculture.

And he wrote poetry.

His poetry, including Wind and Weather (1916), combines two themes – his strong faith in God and his strong feeling for the land. As in Wendell Berry’s writing and poetry (Berry credits Bailey as an influence), the landscape and geography seems to take on its own spirit or personality, and its own being. From the poem “Discovery:”

I went into the starlit night, I sat me by the way,
A silence overtook me there, a silence soft and gray;
I roamed into the forest depths, I wandered far and far,
The silence followed where I went, like silence of the star…

The poet finally finds the source of this silence of the landscape:

…I went into my questioned heart, my heart of hopes and fears, --
I found the perfect silence there, the silence of the years.

The poet measures time by the seasons of an apple orchard (“Apple-Year”); he considers nature gradually subsuming the remains of an old train crash (“Wreck”); he hears the voice of the wind with its promise that “All the world a poem is / To them that hearken to the wind” (“The Great Voice”); he surveys the whole of geological history (“Mt. Tom”).

Included in the volume are 15 pages of poems about farmers and farming, in which Bailey celebrates agriculture as a heroic occupation, or perhaps something more like a calling. From “It Rained:”

The plowman walks his furrowed quest
With wind and rain from sea to sea –
What bears he there upon his breast? –
He bears the Seals of Destiny.

It’s this section that contains my personal favorite from the collection, “Tile Drain,” about a tile drain lying beneath a farmer’s field and telling the stories it sees and hears: “…Calm and content / I silently lie / And carry my work / As men pass by.

The poems are old-fashioned, to be sure (after all, they rhyme). But there is something curiously contemporary. Reading Bailey is to understand some of the influences on Wendell Berry, but reading Bailey is also a pleasure in its own right.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pilgrimage To Chicago

Last week, my wife and I did our third annual Long Mother’s Day Weekend Pilgrimage to Chicago. We go with one primary purpose – a singing duo named Chad and Jeremy. She first met them when she was 12, which was at least, uh, well, a fairly long time ago. For the last three years, they’ve performed two or three times in Chicago during the Mother’s Day weekend. This year, the Friday night concert was at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, and the Saturday night concert was at SPACE in Evanston. We stayed downtown, just off Michigan Avenue.

We love Chicago. We got to eat at Emilio’s Tapas in Streeterville, a short two blocks from our hotel (I had small plates – salad, grilled calamari and a black bean soup that was spectacular; my wife had grilled salmon). And a bottle of LAN, a Spanish wine that’s sort of like merlot but isn’t. Sitting at Fitzgerald’s Friday night before the concert, we were catered by Wishbone Restaurant, adjacent to and part of Fitzgerald’s. Wishbone specializes in something called “Southern Reconstruction Cooking,” and I don’t know if the reconstruction refers to how they’ve redone southern food or the period after the Civil War. Either way, I had the crawfish etouffe, which was good but I had to scarf it down in record time because the concert was due to start and we were sitting right in front.

We did shopping on Michigan Avenue (Johnston & Murphy and Nordstrom’s, you’re welcome). And we walked, oh, man did we walk. Fifteen blocks to Navy Pier, then at least that or more to the Art Institute, and then about 10 blocks home. And we walked around the huge exhibit of Matisse at the Art Institute – I had to sit and rest four times. The exhibit is worth its own blog post; it was about how Henri Matisse reinvented his art from 1913 to 1917. On Saturday, undeterred by rain and wind, we went to the Celtic Festival in Millennium Park.

Chad and Jeremy were great. The music leans to the ballad form, but these guys are professional entertainers – telling stories about the 1960s, being on television shows like Dick Van Dyke and Batman, singing beautiful love songs and occasional funny ones, like a riff on an Eagles’ song entitled “Avocado.” Chad and Jeremy are still making great harmony – and they first sang together in 1960. The two concerts in Chicago were hosted by Lilfest, which brings a lot of cool music to the city.

And yes, we drove, to, from and in Chicago. We even drove in rush hour traffic (aka motorized insanity) in 5 o’clock rush hour traffic on Friday, to get to Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn.

The most sobering sight was the Chicago Tribune newspaper on Sunday. Chicago is truly one of the great cities of the world – with an Illinois state legislature refusing to make the hard choices to avoid bankruptcy, the head of the Cook County suburban school district in a plea bargain over alleged theft charges, and the head of the transit authority killing himself by jumping in front of one of his Metra trains; he was being investigated for financial irregularities. Chicago is a neat city, but its politics make my home state of Louisiana look like a paragon of governmental virtue.

In spite of the political muck, we still love Chicago.

Painting: Bathers by a River by Henri Matisse, 1909-1916; Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester Collection, Art Institute of Chicago.

Update on My Twitter Problems

Yesterday, I posted about the problems I was having with Twitter, specifically with my main account having been deemed “spammy” by Twitter’s algorithm. “Spammy” is different from “spam,” in that spam is blocked and “spammy” is only cordoned off from the use of hashtags and showing up in Google search results.

I don’t particularly care about the Google search results; but the hashtag block is a real problem for participating in our Twitter poetry jams. There’s one tonight, hosted at TweetSpeak Poetry at 9:30 p.m. eastern time. You can participate directly from there or from Twitter, Tweetdeck, HootSuite, etc. (just make sure you use the #tsptry hashtag) (the one I can’t use).

The developer of the TweetSpeak Twitter application learned what my problem was from a developer at Twitter. I’m glad they told someone, although it would have been helpful to have also told me. The developer requested that my account be fixed, but said I would likely have to contact Twitter directly (which customers like me can only do via the U.S. post office). In the meantime, I could create a new Twitter account, so I could at least participate in the poetry jams.

I created a new account yesterday. I tweeted it a total of five times. And then I discovered this morning that it, too, has been classified the same way as my main account. I could tweet, but I can’t use the hashtag and I can’t use the application developed for TweetSpeak poetry.

The Twitter algorithm didn’t do that. Not that fast. And not for five tweets, which went to a total of nine followers. And the new account worked with the hashtag yesterday.

Not to mention the fact that my Twitter account for work functions just fine and is able to use the hashtag with no problem. I just can’t use my work account for poetry jams.

So I have now sent off a letter to Twitter via the post office. Twitter should receive it by Thursday or Friday. We’ll see what, if any, kind of response I get, and how long it takes.

Now I’m going to go do something productive. But I really hate to miss the poetry jam.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Twitter: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A mystery has been solved.

For our last poetry jam on Twitter, something odd happened – when I used the hashtag (#tsptry) with posts, my tweets didn’t show up in the hashtag stream.

At first I suspected that something had happened when the new Twitter app developed for TweetSpeak poetry has been installed and launched. Matt Priour, the developer in Texas who did the app with Marcus Goodyear, couldn’t find a problem.

Marcus discovered that my #tsptry tweets were also not showing up in Google searches. And that was the first clue.

Matt contacted Twitter and learned that, according to the current version of the Twitter algorithm, my Twitter account is considered “spammy.” Not exactly spam, but more “spam-like,” because my tweets include a lot of links and a lot of retweets. So I haven’t been kicked off for spam; my followers can still see my tweets; but forget it when it comes to using hashtags or having your tweets available to search engines.

It’s true that my tweets include a lot of links and retweets – by design. I find a lot of good things online – articles, posts, commentaries, poems – that I like to call attention to. And according to the Twitter rules: you’re spamming “if your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates.” (The “if” in that statement is significant – it doesn’t mean it will happen, only that it’s possible.)

The Twitter algorithm has decided that doing that is “spammy.” Actually, the people who design the algorithm have decided that. And no one actually examined by tweet stream and applied rational human judgment. Or even human understanding.

I have to keep reminding myself that Twitter’s algorithm is designed by IT people, that it’s constantly being tweaked, that they try to protect Twitter users from spam.

(And I also have to remind myself that it was the most visionary IT I knew who told me (in 1995) that the worldwide web was a flash in the technological pan, that it would soon go the way of eight-track tapes, because the future was Lotus Notes.)

Matt asked Twitter to fix it, but he said it may require me contacting them directly.

Have you ever tried to contact Twitter?

If you’re a developer or a reporter or a policeman, there are special contact email boxes. If you’re a customer, you click on customer support on the contact page, and you get an array of boxes that relate to commonly asked questions.

But no email box. That’s a hint that Twitter thinks it has answered every question possible and so you won’t need to contact them.

But they do provide a mailing address. That’s right, the king (or co-king) of social media provides one way for customers to contact them – and that’s via the post office.

Very retro. But not very cool. Unintended or not, there’s an important message there – that reporters and developers matter more to Twitter than customers.

So I will have to create a new Twitter account for the TweetSpeak poetry jams to be able to use the #tsptry hashtag and have it show up. Which I will do.

I’m also going to be radically reducing the links I use in tweets and the number of retweets – because I could get blocked completely. (One caution – this happened about the time of my first anniversary on Twitter, so be aware if something similar happens to you.)

But my days on Twitter are likely numbered – by my choice. I’m beginning to understand why people are migrating to Facebook exclusively. I beginning to see what several of the people I followed – people who have run afoul of Twitter rules because of how the algorithm was programmed at the time (and was later changed) – rarely post any tweets now. And these were people with vastly larger numbers of followers than I have.

But a social media algorithm is only as good as the human understanding that goes into it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Writing and Reading as Private Acts

I’ve been blogging here for more than a year, and I'm still often surprised to see what posts or articles resonate with people, and what don’t. There have been poems that evoked a major response, and ones that didn’t. There have been posts that received all kinds of comments, and those that didn’t. With very few exceptions, I still can’t predict which will be which.

One exception: if I post a photo of my new grandson, I’ll get a lot of comments. My wife says this is a cheap way to drive traffic, and I should be ashamed. (I’m not.)

But if I look at the posts with the most comments, they do have one thing in common – they tend to lean to the specific and the personal. This isn’t true only for my posts, and there’s a reason why.

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron says that “it is a great paradox that the more personal, focused and specific your writing becomes, the more universally it communicates.” Cameron doesn’t go into great detail as to why, but I think we all know it anyway: the more personal and specific, the more the writer increases his or her own vulnerability – and it’s that sense of vulnerability that strikes a chord deep within us. In truly great writing, the pretense is gone, the public face has disappeared, and what we see is the exposed human being.

And in that exposed human being, we see ourselves.

We typically read in an intensely private way, regardless of where we’re doing the reading. We connect to the written word in a private way, and we can laugh, cry, cheer, cringe and be offended without anyone around us knowing our feelings. And this works regardless of the form in which we’re reading – ebook, hardback or paperback book, magazine newspaper, brochure – it’s doesn’t really matter.

The written word communicates in a very private and personal way, and the more private and personal the writing (the skill itself is assumed here), the more the words speak to us as if they were our own, reflecting our own experience.

Explanatory Note on 2 Poems

I posted two poems last week – “The Silence Beneath the Trees” and “Country Store” – that prompted some comments on the blog posts and even a few emails. The main question was – what are these a part of? What’s the back story?

The simple answer is that I’m using poetry to help frame a novel. The first draft of the novel is done, and I’m going through a major rewrite, using poetry to help me do that. I didn’t intend to confuse or tease (and I think I did that in some cases). I’ll be talking more about this in future weeks, and posting some additional poems related to the story, with more background provided. But thank you for the comments – they’ve been especially helpful, including the ones that talked about being “chilled” to read "The Silence Beneath the Trees."

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 “nurturing our writer.” This week's discussion is about "going deeper."
Monica Sharman's "Details, Details."
Nancy Rosback's "Just Write" at Poems and Prayers.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday Good Reads

Maybe it's my imagination, but the list of good things to read on the web seems to be getting longer. Not my list -- I'm trying to get it at a manageable length -- but the possibilities of good things to read. And I haven't had as much access to online writing (and the video) this week as I usually do.


The April Poem” by Bob at Wilderness Fandango.

Final Goodbye” by Lesley Moon at Moondustwriter.

These Are Roses” and “Right Here, Right Now” by Melissa at All the Words.

Joy” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Gift” by Karen Eck at Phoenix-Karenee.


Via American Digest, Leonard Cohen sings “Anthem.”


Five Principles of Civil Dialogue” by Don Miller.

An Expectant Uncertainty” and “I Can Fly” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Jesse Owens’ Gold Medal Friendship” by Dan Wooldridge at Inside Work.

The Swing” by Billy Coffey.

Via Crucis” by A.G. Harmon at The Image Journal.

Running” by John Blasé at Dirty Shame.

Joy Under the Covers” by Jeff Jordan at To My Children, If They Are Listening.

Pastors as Poets” by Peggy Rosenthal at The Image Journal.

The Writing Life” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Meeting Jakob,” guest post by Jeff Selph at Kathy Richards’ Hey Look, A Chicken!, and then one by Kathy herself: “The Thing About Writing.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Country Store

She watches him sitting
by the old cast-iron stove,
she only kept it because
it had always been there,
central has been put in
years before. Slightly slumped
he holds his Styrofoam cup,
black coffee straight,
and stares waiting at the
street. He makes her
nervous she knows it’s
foolish he was innocent but
inside ten years who knew
what had happened what he
was like what he’d become or
the anger bottled up the
injustice done and we all did it.
He glances at his watch and
then she knows he’s waiting
for the bus from Billings it
was due in but usually late she
hopes not today.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jon Acuff's "Stuff Christians Like"

There’s no question that evangelical Christians, across both denominational and non-denominational, have a “culture.” But you don’t consider how that culture can manifest itself until you read something like Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff.

Based on the posts on his blog of the same name, Stuff Christians Like examines through the lens of the humor microscope how Christians pray, worship, witness, read their Bibles, go on missions trips, think about God, think about each other, think about non-believers, learn if other believers drink alcohol (or not), dance appropriately, do baptisms and a host of other “cultural” practices.

Acuff does not skewer or lacerate his subjects (after all, he’s one of them himself). But he does point out the things that Christians do that stereotype themselves, like using the word “just” in every prayer, as in, “Lord, we just ask you for…” or look for typos in the worship songs on the jumbo-trons (for those of us who don’t use hymnals and have churches big enough to use jumbo-trons to display worship songs) or the seven types of people you meet in a prayer circle.

His purpose isn’t to ridicule. Without his underlying fondness, sympathy and love for the people he’s talking about, in all the crazy ways they practice their faith, this would have been an “edgier” and more biting collection, of short articles, long articles, and cartoons. Instead, the humor leads you into more serious thought about how much of this could be about yourself. Acuff’s final section, with the title of “Saturday Night Cryfest,” particularly does that.

I smiled. I laughed. I cringed. I got embarrassed. Because what he writes is true.

I may never be the same again. I’m certainly going to be aware of my tendency to use the word “just” in a prayer.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Watch Over Me" Named Top Fiction

Yesterday, Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish was named the 2010 Christian Book Award winner in the fiction category by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Five finalists are selected in each category and then the winner is chosen by a panel of judges.

I reviewed the novel here in March. It's a great story, and a fine novel, and fully deserves the recognition.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Renee Riva's "Heading Home"

I don’t normally read Young Adult (YA) novels. Not that I have anything against them; I just haven’t been a YA for a long time, although I remember with great fondness always being directed by any church we attended to the class for young couples. But even then we would have been too old to be classified as YAs.

But I’m interested in all things fiction, and Travis Thrasher, whose books I enjoy and have reviewed here, is currently writing a series of YA novels under contract. So when I received an email asking me if I might be interested in a review copy of Renee Riva’s Heading Home, I said yes (Federal Trade Commission – please note that I have made my disclosure here). (I’m going to be very disappointed if I find out that the FTC is not monitoring my blog to make sure I spill the beans when I get a free book to review.)

Heading Home is the third novel in a trilogy, preceded by Saving Sailor and Taking Tuscany (yes, I noticed the alliteration in all three of the titles). So I was starting at something of a disadvantage, and not quite sure what I would be reading.

In Heading Home, 18-year-old A.J. Degulio returns home to the Pacific Northwest after eight years in Italy with her family. The family remains in Italy; she’s coming back to see her dog Sailor, renew her friendship with her childhood friend Danny Morgan, and to start college, where she intends to study veterinary science. Sailor remembers her, Danny turns out to have become something of a hunk (A.J.’s words, not mine), and vet studies might have to take a back seat to A.J.’s intent to become a nun.

A nun?

How about a would-be nun who gets jealous when Danny begins dating someone else?

It’s complicated. The lives of YAs are always complicated.

Here’s what I learned from this well-written, fast-paced YA novel.

The audience is not YAs; the audience is most likely YA females.

Someone reading this book would not be embarrassed if her mother or father found her reading it. It’s clean. For whatever reason, I was reminded of reading the Hardy Boys mysteries when I was slightly younger than a YA.

It’s funny. Riva, the author of several children's books in additiont ot hese novels, writes humor well, and there are scenes (including one involving blackberries) that first provoke a smile and then a laugh. Once the family arrives from Italy, and then the extended family from all over, the story moves into an ongoing series of funny scenes.

And Heading Home is touching, including one scene between A.J. and her father that’s happened a million times in fiction but here seems fresh, tender and real.

Heading Home is not the kind of fiction I usually read, but it’s aimed right at its target audience, and the target audience’s parents (and grandparents) won’t mind reading it, either.

Monday, May 3, 2010

It Is But a Tiny Glimpse

Arriving at the foundation’s compound, Moses stopped the group at the entrance. “The children should be at recess about now, out on the playground. We’ll go straight there, unless you need to have something to eat and drink first.”

"Speaking for myself,” Hank said, glancing at Trevor and the others, “I’d like to go straight to Andera. But if you chaps are hungry, I can wait.”

Trevor laughed. “I think we can wait for a few more minutes, Hank. And I’m dying to meet your new adopted boy.”

Moses led the group quickly through the building to the playground. More than a hundred children were running, throwing balls, playing, singing and climbing all over the playground equipment.

As Hank scanned the scene for Andera, Trevor turned to Moses. “Are these children all orphans?”

Moses nodded. “Many came from the same kind of situation as Andera – families killed in civil unrest. Others were abandoned by families who could no longer afford to care for them. And another sizeable group had parents who died from diseases like AIDS.”

Trevor stared at the children in silence.

“So here at the foundation, we provide housing, education, medical and dental care until the child reaches 12 or 13. If a family has not stepped forward to take a child by that time, we actively seek one, here in Kenya or elsewhere.”

“And for the few for whom no family can be found,” Hank added, “Moses and Florence find ways to take care of them themselves.”

“God provides the means, Hank,” Moses said.

“And sometimes that means is named Moses and Florence,” Hank said, still scanning the playground. “I saw what you did this summer.”

Then he saw him. Six-year-old Andera was standing to the side, watching a game of what looked like a short form of soccer. Or whatever the game is, thought Hank, it uses a soccer ball. One boy kicked the ball, and it landed next to Andera, who scooped it up and began to bounce it from knee to knee as Hank had taught him.

Moses smiled at Hank. “A son will learn many, many things from his father.”

At that moment, Andera bounced the ball back to the playing group, and caught sight of the group of men watching from the back veranda. The boy froze as he saw Hank. Then he began to walk quickly, and broke into a run as Hank began to run to him. They both stopped, and stood face to face, as many of the other children recognized Hank and all of them watched.

Hank, still in his business suit, fell to his knees in the dust and opened his arms, and Andera hurled himself into them.

“That, my friends,” said Moses, “is but a tiny glimpse of how our heavenly father will welcome us home one day.”

To read other posts in the One-Word Blog Carnival on joy, visit Bridget Chumbley’s place.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"The Poetry That Surrounds Us"

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron describes writing as a conversation, one that “offers a different and more engaging way to look at things.” She then quotes poet James Nove, who says all of us have this “poetic vision” if we would just “give ourselves permission to see the poetry that surrounds us.”

The question I ask, even if Nove and Cameron don’t, is what is this poetry that surrounds us? Or asked another way, could God speak in poetry? I don’t mean “could God speak through the poetry that people write or have written in the past.” I do mean something else: is there a poetry that is intrinsic to creation, a rhyme, a meter, a narrative that speaks to all of us, whether we hear it or not (or choose to hear it or not)?

And if the answer to that question is yes, could what we know as poetry be a reflection of that “divine poetry,” even if a pale and fragile one?

The first poetry I can remember reading or having read to me was children’s rhymes. The first poetry I can recall reading and writing about in school was Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I can remember having to discover Masters on my own; my teacher for American literature believed Jacqueline Susann had written the great American novel with The Valley of the Dolls, published the summer before my junior-level course.

In college, two basic literature courses were required for everyone during the sophomore year, English 55 and 56, which was mostly American literature. How many millions of students had to write papers on “Young Goodman Brown” and “Barn Burning?” How many times did I have to proof papers written on those two stories for fraternity brothers? English majors, however, didn’t take English 55 and 56; they took 51 and 52, the literature of Britain. For those students boneheaded enough, they could substitute 51 and 52 for 55 and 56. Nobody did, especially not journalism majors who had to contend with a professor for introductory journalism (taken the same time as the English courses) who handed out automatic Fs like peppermints.

Only one person I knew actually chose to take British literature.


So instead of “Barn Burning,” I met Beowulf and Chaucer; Shakespeare and Milton; the great essayists of the 18th century; Wordsworth, Keats Shelley and Coleridge; Tennyson; Hardy and Housman; and Eliot. It’s only now that I realize that the lion’s share of what I learned in those two courses was poetry. And I still have the textbooks we used – the two-volume set of the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

More than a decade later, I started reading the American poets, because I was on the speechwriting team at work and it was actually something smart to do – read and study poetry so that you could apply and adapt the rhythm, meter and flow to speeches. (No one does this anymore.) (That’s why so few speeches today are memorable.)

And then, last year, I started writing poetry. I’m not sure why; I’d been reading contemporary poets for some time. I think it has something to do with growing older, at least for me. Some of what I’ve done is bad, and some is – not bad. But I’m learning how to be better at it, and I’m learning some other things, too.

To write poetry is to believe in the symphony of life, life individual and life collective.

To write poetry is to believe in the underlying order of all creation, and to believe that the order can be understood.

To write poetry is an affirmation of faith.

To write poetry is, as Julia Cameron says, to listen with the heart.

And to listen to the poetry that surrounds us.

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 the time lie (as in, you never can find the time to write). This week's discussion is about inviting the muse to tea.


In February, I wrote a post here called “In Defense of Poetry.”

L.L. Barkat's "Julia Cameron Meets ProBLogger."

Cassandra Frear's "Living With My Writer."

"Mood Altering" by Nancy Russell Kourmoulis.

Nancy Rosback's "Thoughts and Dreams."

"Playtime: are you doing what you love?" by Tess at Anchors and Masts.

Monica Sharman's "The Sincerity of Pretense."