Friday, December 7, 2018

Poetry Friday: A Rum of a List

December's challenge is a list poem, using at least three of these words:

paper, stars, messages, promises, dirt, flour, rum, hope

Good words, those (thanks, Liz!) However, I got side-tracked by rum. I don't even like rum that much. But it's a fun word with a fun history, and yeah...I guess it went to my head.

SarapulSar38/ Getty Images

Rum, clouded
with ginger beer and lime:
Dark and Stormy.

Rum, sluiced
with sugar and nutmeg (or cinnamon):
Bumbo, hope of pirates.

Rum, dirtied
with water ’til Black Tot Day:
Grog, a naval ration.

Rum, crushed
with biscuits, cocoa, pecans:
High-proof bites on wax paper.

Rum, promised
to raisins, to butter, to no-flour
puddings: On message…but…

Rum, besotted
by two-mocha cake:
Starred Recipe, below.

Double-chocolate Rum Cake

1 (18.5 oz.) Package Chocolate Cake Mix
1 (3.5 oz) Package Chocolate Instant Pudding Mix
4 Eggs
1 Cup Black Rum
3/4 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 (12 oz.) Package Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
1 Cup Raspberry Preserves (Seedless saves time, or strain, as below.)
2 Tbsp. Shortening
1 oz. White Chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan, 10 inch tube pan or a 10 inch springform pan. Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, 1/2 cup rum, water and oil in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.

 2. In a small saucepan, heat preserves and remaining 1/2 cup rum. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Place cake on a serving plate. Prick surface of cake with fork. Brush raspberry glaze evenly over cake, allowing cake to absorb glaze. Repeat until all the glaze has been absorbed.

3. In a glass bowl, combine remaining chocolate chips and shortening. Microwave on medium-high heat until melted, about 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Spoon chocolate icing over cake. Let stand 10 minutes. Melt white chocolate and drizzle on top of chocolate icing. Let stand 10 more minutes.

Also, I'll be checking out these 10 Unusual Ways to Cook with Rum.

See what my fellow poets made of their lists:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Elizabeth Steinglass.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Poetry Friday: A Raven, the Shade of Shadow

Photo Credit: Wallpaper Abyss

A raven,
the shade of shadow,
robs the roofline of its clean edges,
each caustic call a spike in morning's throat. 

                                       ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

I usually introduce the challenge before the poem, but this month, it was so short, I thought I'd switch it up. The challenge (from Laura) was to compose a short poem (six lines or less) describing an animal of your choice using all three of these words: spike, roof, shadow.  What would YOU describe with these words?

My Poetry Sisters' poems are here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Poetry Friday: Before You (a cento)

The Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

Ever take something that wasn't yours? Did it haunt you?

What about a memory?  Can you borrow another person's eyes and see what they've seen? (Isn't that what fiction does?)

 And how about all the words you've consumed in the course of a reading don't ever give them back, of course, but how many can you reuse in a row without giving the original author credit?

None of these questions are really addressed by this month's challenge, in which the Poetry Sisters "borrow" lines from other poets to make new poems, an art form known as the cento. Still, in creating one, the poet has to decide what the limits of appropriation well as how to make something fresh out of "used" material.

To top it off, there really aren't a lot of rules.

To help with that last point, I threw down two additional guidelines for our centos, mostly to unify them. 

1)  We would each chose a different word from this common stanza to begin:

“This dream of water—what does it harbor?
I see Argentina and Paraguay
under a curfew of glass, their colors
breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay”
---- "I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror" by Agha Shahid Ali

And then...

2)  Using our chosen word, we would each search the database at for other poems which also had lines containing that word. The lines we found would be the building blocks of our new poems. (All lines are credited to the original poets at the end of our centos.)

I chose the word "see" from Ali's stanza and found it to be the perfect doorway to other poems and poets.  Turns out poets "see" a lot.  Or they think they do.  I could work with that.

Before you

My childhood home I see again, and sadden with the view;
Is this a dream?—I see my grandpa milking,
I see the quilted mountains

I see my mother over the hot oil in the fryers
Are those my brothers, down there, those I see evacuating?
Because I see a part and not the whole,

I see us everywhere. On occasions of fancyness,
I see the lilacs crackling like static
I see it as music, I hear it as light;

I see how our lives have unfolded:
I see her hitchhiking the stars’ tar road—
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

Speak, and I see the side-lie of a truth:
I see Argentina and Paraguay
I can see the flaws in the glass

I see the whole morning before you.

            ----A Cento, compiled by Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Line Credits:

1) My Childhood Home I See Again by Abraham Lincoln
2) One A.M. by David Young
3) Balance, onslaught by Khadijah Queen
4) The Red Sweater by Joseph O. Legaspi
5) Alamogordo 1945 by Adriano Spatola
6) I Know My Soul by Claude McKay
7) Never Ever by Branda Shaughnessy
8) Combustion by Sara Eliza Johnson
9 ) Roads by Amy Lowell
10) White Sands by Arthur Sze
11) The Last Kingdom by Jennifer Foerster
12) My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson
13) Modern Love: XXVI by George Meredith
14)  I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror by Agha Shahid Ali
15) Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood
16) For You by Maureen N. McLane

Please find my Poetry Sisters' links to their centos below.  To a word, they are gorgeous.

Liz (with breaking)
Tanita (with like)
Laura (with glass)
Tricia (with under)

Andi and Kelly are on break.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Beyond LiteracyLink.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Poetry Friday: What's to Be Done? (A Sestina)

Sestinas are not usually end rhymed. But they can have rhythm--- and when I write one,* I find myself moving into the cadence of spoken language, riffing in jagged jumps of words. I think it's to disguise the fact that I'm supposed to use the same six words, over and over and over, and we're more likely to do that in conversation, right? I also stave off boredom by embellishing the repeating pattern with internal rhyme. Whatever it takes, because this form is six stanzas long, with an additional closing envoi. I don't think I'd attempt one, except...

Tricia made me. And she made each of us throw two words into the "pot" so we'd have a common pool of words to choose from. That helped. Thanks, Tricia! (And thank you, Tanita, for turning me on to this handy Sestina-o-matic, which puts the chosen six words in the correct order.)

Beyond that, I only needed a starting place, and for me, that was one of our words:  Prism. It made me think of Miss Prism,** who is both rigid and pivotal in Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest. And it made me remember the exhibit from WONDER, at the Renwick Gallery.  (Pictured above and left)  And, most of all, it got me thinking that a simple shape like a prism can be a powerful tool to see things in a new way. We all need that from time to time, especially when the world seems stuck in blindness.

What’s To Be Done?

The wildest of plays turns on Miss Prism
splitting folly from farce, her words like a blade
sharpening our ears until we bend
to her tale of a handbag and a baby, the string
of events so earnestly told we beam
at the deception and hastily about face

from laughter to love and on the face
of it, isn’t that, exactly, what prisms
are for? To righteously come abeam
our whitest thoughts; like a climber belayed
with pale rope suddenly seeing it is but string
if split into colored strands, and if history bends

towards justice, it’s like a river at the bend,
hooking an elbow punch to dirt’s face,
breaking time’s hands; if only we could string
together a new day as bright as a prism,
as long on light as a lithe blade,
as sure as feet balanced to a beam

without splintering the past, we'd remove the beam
from our eyes. Refracting is not only the bend
of light, but the shape of shade, like a sheath for a blade;
a polished block of glass has more than one face
we are prism after prism after prism after prism
a mighty hexagonal light-shattering string

of life-changing breaths, as light as silly string,
but together, a bulwark as broad as ark’s beam;
each a camera, each a chance to flip, like a prism,
the image, until by end and by end and by end,
with far folly and fierce farce, we face
what we see; so get out the pen blade

ready both handbag, and baby, and yes, like blade
braided from broad grass, cut deep; like string
on a finger, loop the past so we don’t forget to face
forward, and up to, what lies off beam
of the right course; and if we bend
light, no one will cry praise for our prism

There’s no daring blade; no super hero laser beam;
we are but search string; making maps that will bend
one face to one face, and unlock our prism.

                                               ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Check out what my poetry sisters have done with their six words:


*I've written only one other sestina. It's chaotic, too.  Here it is.

** Miss Prism spouts judgments like: "I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice. As a man sows so let him reap."

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the amazing Mary Lee of A Year of Reading.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Poetry Friday: Independence, reported

Sometimes, the days before and after a key historical event are worth celebrating as much as the event itself.  Today, July 6th, is one of those days.

The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776, but the text of the Declaration of Independence was not approved until the 4th, which wound up being the date printed on the broadsides sent to the states to be read. One of the most famous of those readings was on July 8th, in Independence Square in Philadelphia, by Col. John Nixon, next to what would be called "the Liberty Bell." A close second might be July 9th, which is the date on which Gen. George Washington directed the Declaration be read to his troops.

But what of people not within hearing range of these readings? When did they first encounter the words of the Declaration? It seems the answer is:  as soon as their local newspaper printed it.

In fact, days before some of those public readings, the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6th, 1776. Other newspapers, including those in London and around the world, followed.

So, for today's poetry challenge, I choose to honor July 6th, the day the Declaration made it to the rest of us.  Here's to newspapers, and independence, and words that matter.

The Sixth

The sixth, a day unwreathed in stars—
Not yet eighth; when broadsides were read

To mothers of boys not yet dead
And ere the ninth, to troops war scarred— 

And yet, the sixth a salvo sent
Of spotty ink to stripe the white
Unsteady page, declaring rent

A union; dead a peace; by right

A nation born; and though no trumpets blew
By word by word by word, the Fourth was news.

                          ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Note: This form is modeled after a structure used by poet and playwright Aphra Behn, one of the first English women to earn her living by writing. (Essentially, it's a rhyme scheme of ABBACDCDEE in iambic tetrameter, with option of extra beats in the last lines. I tucked in a tribute to our flag, too!)  Thanks to Kelly for the challenge.

***Edited to add:  Okay, it turns out I messed up BOTH the rhyme scheme (should be CDDC in the middle) and the fact that only the last line (not the last two) get extra beats.  Um...I was being as subversive as Aphra Behn?  We'll go with that.

You can find my Poetry Sisters better efforts to echo Aphra Behn's rhythm and form here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by one of our own, Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Poetry Friday: A Trio of Limericks

For easy, breezy June, our poetry assignment was to write three limericks, all about birds/bees.  I chose no birds and all bees.  (And also, apparently, no depth and all funny. What can I say? This is my brain on Limericks.)


There once was a robust letter B
Who chafed at his spot next to C
So he cut back on his belly
And watched way less telly
And now he’s no more than a P.

Paul Gross
"Slings and Arrows"
 (best TV show about Shakespeare ever)


There once was a prince who said “To be”
But negated that thought immediately
Then he picked up a skull,
Asked if life was meaningful...
“For a few more scenes,” said Yorick, dryly.


There once wazzz a wood-crazzzy carpenter bee
Who vizzzited sawtooth clamzzz by the zzzea
But alazzz! that "log" had incizzzors
He wazzz a hammerhead’zzz appetizzzer
And that wazzz all the zzzea he would zzzee.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

You can find my fellow poets' limericks here, including some lovely and lyrical poems which prove this form can do more than twist words into grins.


Poetry Friday is hosted today at Buffy's Blog.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Poetry Friday: A toast! A toast!

I have only myself to blame for this month's challenge. I thought it would be fun to write a toast, in poetry form, to be recited for "any occasion, to someone or something." The only rule for the toast was that it had to begin and end with the same two words. So, as Kelly pointed out, technically, the poem could simply be:

A toast!
A toast!

Readers, I nearly had to fall back on that.

Who knew how hard thinking up a toast would be? There are so many occasions on which to toast---birthdays, and anniversaries, and weddings, and graduations---and so many wonderful people deserving of such a tribute, too (including my own mom, who turns 80 this month---Happy Birthday, Mom!)

Maybe that was the trouble...too many good choices.  I like it better when a poem forces me into a box and makes me scramble to build a way out.  Or, as some of my poetry sisters often say:  can't we have more rules?

A Toast to Rules

Rules instruct, they measure, they bind;
Rules tie the past to the future, families define;
Rules say who reigns, who serves, what’s mine.

Rules birth languages, start art schools, procreate paradigms;
Rules preserve form, marry reason to rhyme;
Rules say how to love, where to live, when war is really peacetime.

Rules lay the groundwork, they chalk mark the fence line;
Rules make vowels speak, name numbers as prime;
Rules say be this, not that, if you’ll be so kind.

Rules make straight the path, stamp out the serpentine;
Rules ink how long to care, how high to climb;
Rules say you’re out, you’re foul, you’re safe—this time.

Which is why poetry rudely rejects such designs;
It cavorts; it break dances; it steps light-years out of line;
For who says we must only be who the fine

rules instruct?

           ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Find my Poetry Sisters' toasts here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Friendly Fairy Tales.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Poetry Friday: She is Dead to Us, inspired by Elizabeth Bishop

Happy April, and Happy National Poetry Month!  I've decided that the best way to celebrate is to lose.

Yup. Lose your fears about poetry. Lose your way exploring new poets.  Lose your heart to words.

In that spirit, this month's challenge is to write a poem inspired by a line from Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art." It is a stunning villanelle about loss, and you must read it whole, if you haven't.

I can't compete with Bishop, but I did love using her poem as a launching pad for creating something new. I chose this line:

 "I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,"

Then I played (just a bit) with the order, so that "lovely ones" refers to not cities, but people.

She is dead to us

Lovely ones, I lost two cities,
and vaster, six branches of
the family tree, all the sewers
beneath, and yet—not the one day
you proposed we flee

lovely ones. I lost three bones,
and vaster, a splintered
windshield, and the courage
beneath, and yet—not the one day
you proposed we flee

lovely ones. I lost sixty dollars
and vaster, every photograph pinned
to a page, and my taste for milk
and yet—not the one day
you proposed we flee

lovely ones. I lost all reason,
and vaster, why one doesn’t do that,
and mile after mile of what if, what if,
where do we go now, and yet—not you,
that one day. You proposed. We flee.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My Poetry Sisters are each taking a different line from Bishop's poem. See what they've created here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy at The Poem Farm. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Poetry Friday: Garden of the Gods

This month's poetry challenge takes place in The Garden of the Gods.  I've been there.

Mike and I, last fall

I just didn't see this:

Liz did, though.  And she asked us to write a poem about it this month.

Remember the etheree? (We wrote one back in 2015.)  Each line has one more syllable than the one before.  Steady as she goes, for as long as you like.

I thought it an appropriate form to talk about How Did This Happen?  and Best Laid Plans and possibly: Where Do We Go From Here?

stone was alive
until we saw it
dead still, licking its wounds.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Find my poetry sisters here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by No Water River.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Poetry Friday: The Poet, as seen by a squirrel (a tanka)

February is the shortest month, so it's fitting our poetry task is on the short side, too.  The tanka is a thirty-one syllable unrhymed poem, traditionally written (in Japanese) as one, unbroken line.

In English, however, it's usually divided into five lines. The first three lines are patterned by syllable count like a haiku---5-7-5---and the last two lines are a "couplet" of sorts----a 7-7 syllable pair.  In addition, the tanka should have a "turn"---or an image that bridges the two parts.  Quite a lot to pack into one poem!

And yet....there's more.  This month, each of the Poetry Sisters is responding to one of the other sister's poems from January. I've been given the lovely task of responding to Liz, who wrote a clever curtal sonnet about squirrels called "Kin and Plot."  You can read it here.   Hooray!

I love Liz's idea that in the face of frustration, we sometimes

"toss caution ‘cross the lawn and to the sky:
take what you need, take all that we have got!"

and yet...I can't help thinking that those squirrels would take our words, too, if they knew how much we writers hoarded them, and scrabbled for them, and spent our lives chasing them.

Thus, a tanka from the perspective of a squirrel encouraging a poet at work:

Oh, word-stuffed poet
on a limb. You weigh nothing—
chitter and chime! Leap
then! the glass world sways, may yet
break, and enter into verse.

      ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Here are the other tanka responses:

Liz, writing to Tricia's poem (and steady breath)
Tanita, writing to Kelly's poem (and her cat, Kismet)
Tricia, writing to Laura's poem (and warm horses)
Laura, writing to Tanita's poem (and two-sided truth)
Kelly, writing to my poem (and cauliflower words)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Mainely Write.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Poetry Friday: Boxing with A Curtal Sonnet

I'm not in a box, but a basket.
However, I am cute so I can do whatever I want.---Rebecca's cat, Neils

Sonnets are known as a "box form" because of their precise rules and tight appearance on the page.  Some poets, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, cried out inside those boxes, and made some of the most anguished, glorious sonnets I've read.

Hopkins, in particular, was known for counting hard stresses (punches?) rather than regular rhythms, and for compacting the Petrarchan fourteen-lined sonnet into a 3/4 sized poem, of 10 1/2 lines.  For what better way to squeeze out more anguish than with less room to cry?

I've tried one in his honor today.  (Thank you, Kelly, for the challenge.)

Hopkins foxed sonnets to 3/4 spare
    wire-whipped stresses til they wailed
      half-tocked feral hymns from sprung clocks

 Elbowing joy as birdsong from air,
     priested, pressed hard, he failed
       at 44, a life, curtailed and boxed

 Yet, cold-call his poems, and he swells,
     as slugger’s bandied cauliflower ear; rung,
       you clangor, near strangled, on far-hailed
 Words; carrion cry unlocked, he wells
                                      blood to tongue.

                                 ---Sara Lewis Holmes
                                    (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters are writing sonnets today, too, some curtal, and some not.
Find them here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Reading to the Core.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Poetry Friday: Lai (A Forked Tree)

The last Poetry Challenge of 2017 was a lai on the subject of peace, light or hope.

I'd never heard of it, but when I followed Tricia's links, I found out that a lai is an old French poetry form with a rhyme scheme of aabaabaab, and even more challenging---each "a" line is five syllables long, and each "b" line, a mere two syllables.

This results in an oddly shaped poem, but according to one source this is intentional, as "the short line must not be indented, it must be left dressed to the poem. This is known as Arbre Fourchu (Forked Tree)..."

Okay. I was hooked.  Not only is that a loaded image, but I loved the French I took in high school and college, and had fun weaving some of it into this poem. (I hope most of the French is self-explanatory and correctly used. But I kind of doubt it. I've never tried to write a poem in two languages before.)

As for "peace, light, or hope," my poem talks about when those things fail.

The Storm

L’arbre fourchu cries
a cry in two sighs
Left! Right!
One root, forked, belies
how deep the divide
Oh! night!
Our split hearts likewise
cry riven! and rise!
We fight.

Branch set against twig
Little against big
Quelle sight!
Wind's jagged cruel jig
Sky scarred by zag! zig!
Oh, fright!
Feu cares not a fig
It’s a brazen pig.
Oh, bright

swords writhe sap from tree
twin arms flaming free
Left. Right.
Dieu, où est l’abri?*
We blaze cri to cri:
Dark! Light!
Come morning, oh, me.
L’arbre fourchu see:
Ashed might.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

*God, where is the shelter?

You can find my Poetry Sisters lai here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by the marvelous Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Wolf Hour Goes Roaming: Blog Tour, Stops #1 and #2

The Wolf Hour is prowling the blogosphere this month.  I hope you'll be brave enough to follow along. Here's a taste:

Stop #1

Finding Wonderland:

Despite their often bleak or violent content, fairytales are traditionally seen as stories intended for children. What's the optimum age of your target reader for THE WOLF HOUR? Who is this book for? Who, if anyone, is it not for?

Sara Lewis Holmes: 

Age and readership questions are hard. Do you like to shiver and chew your lip ragged as you read? Do you like a story that twists and turns and doesn’t go where you expect it to? Do you enjoy a story that KNOWS it’s a story, and might even challenge you to think about your own Story and whether you like your place in it? If you do, even if you aren’t in the 8-12 age range for this book…read on!

 More Q and A here:  Finding Wonderland, with Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson

Stop #2

Meanwhile, at Charlotte's Library, Charlotte had me respond to three quotes from the book, which was wonderfully fun.

She also had this to say about the main characters:

"Magia is one of the most lonely heroines I've read this year, and it was easy to sympathize and mentally encourage her as she pressed onward.  Not only does she have fight an evil, magical antagonist, she has to resist the expectations of ordinary human folk, making her very relatable.  Martin the wolf, with his penchant for a good book, and failed efforts to break the story of the three little pigs (not because he knew that's what he was doing, but because he simply was not interested in being a vicious killer), is one of my favorite wolf characters ever, and possibly even more relatable!" 

Thank you, Charlotte.  More of her insights here:  Charlotte, at Charlotte's library.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Poetry Friday: Autumn Hymns

Happy Fall, y'all.  (That might be the shortest hymn ever.)

And yet...this month, Tanita asked the Poetry Sisters to come up with more than a fall greeting.  She asked us to write a hymn to Autumn in hymn meter.  (More on hymn meter, here.)

I chose to write in "long meter" which is a form of hymn meter which has a rhyme scheme of ABAB  and equal lines of iambic tetrameter. (Eight beats each line, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM.) I didn't stick exactly to that; a few beats are off here and there (consider them acorns that squirrels buried and forgot to dig up) but I did enjoy writing about autumn in a way that encouraged both joy and sorrow.

If Apples were Dappled and Sweet

If apples were dappled and sweet,
If orchards were bee-thick with smell,
If thickets drew lovers unmeet,
I’d beckon to you, dear, as well.

For autumn is all of goodbye
And faring thee well, and godspeed;
We redden, we crumble, we dry
In casting our lives into seed.

So snap the stem of my neck, dear;
Let nightfall steal daylight from field;
If leaves rake our cheeks with gold smear,
Is Autumn but naught what it yields?

Thus, be apples, dappled and sweet;
Thus, be orchards, bee-thick with smell;
Thus, be thickets of lovers: meet,
and meet and meet ’til last farewell.

                   ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Go see what hymns my Poetry Sisters are humming today:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Violet Nesdoly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On Friends, Wolves, and Storytelling

     Today, I'm lucky to share a book birthday with my friend, Francisco Stork, whose amazing YA novel, DISAPPEARED, debuts alongside my MG one, THE WOLF HOUR. To celebrate, if you share this post about storytelling, wolves, and our friendship, and tag both of us, I will enter your name in a drawing for a hardcover copy of BOTH of our books. (I've got yours covered, Francisco!) Please comment, too, on your own path to finding your voice and your story---I'd love to hear it! (And buy/read/share Francisco's beautiful book---he is a wonder.)

     The Wolf Hour, in legend, is the hour between darkness and dawn; it’s the hour more people are said to be born into this world and more people leave it than any other —-and, if you are like me, you are often awake then, wondering if you are getting your Story right.

     Not long ago, in a nearly empty D.C. deli, I tried to bluff my way through my doubts as I shared a greasy cheesesteak sandwich with my dear friend, Francisco Stork. We were talking, as we usually do, of our families, and of the books we were working on, and of how to find courage and joy in our work. We were also talking about mental illness, and how to combat the forces that would hold us back. I told Francisco (somewhat blithely) that when I was unhappy with my life, with the way it was unfolding, with the choices I was making, I knew, underneath the angst and despair, that I could always tell myself a new Story. He looked at me then, smiled over the last of his shaved beef and gooey cheese sub, and said, kindly: and that is the definition of mental health.

     Yes. Yes, he was right. Maybe that’s why the task of telling myself that new Story seemed impossibly hard lately--- so difficult, in fact, that I felt stuck in that very Wolf Hour—-lost between dreaming and waking, and doing no good for anyone at all. When we feel that way, does Story really help? And what is Story made of, anyway?

     When I was a child, I discovered the Lang collection of fairy tales. Beneath their innocuous color names (The Green Fairy Book, The Violet Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book) were stories of iron shoes that tortured their owners, of mothers who sprouted noses an “ell” long, and of children who were loved less than coin shine and left to die. Certainly, there were no life instructions here, for casual cruelty and stunning beauty lived side by side. Animals and people fought and slept and morphed from one form to the other. Nothing made sense, and everything did. And I wanted to know why.

     Which, of course, we all do.

     Still—those tales at least confirmed that all was not rosy in the secret world of adults, and that I’d better learn fast if I wanted to grow up and survive. So I did. In fact, you could say that such books (along with lighter stories) raised me. I always looked to them first for answers, and foolishly thought that people who made mistakes…who strayed from life’s paths…had obviously not read the RIGHT BOOKS. And then one day, a fairy tale came looking for me.

     On that day, when I sat down to write, a wolf stole into the forest of words crowding my head. This wolf was educated and yet naive, bold and yet terrified. This wolf was filled with human-gathered facts, and yet he had no intimate experience of humans at all. In fact, like me, he had largely been raised by books. And like me, he didn’t know the dark role he was rumored to play in the world. (What? You think writers don’t have a dark role to play? We write about everything the world wishes to keep hidden.)

     Luckily for this wolf (and for me!) there was also a girl who lived nearby. She, too, battled rumor, secrets, and lies. She, too, rejected the role the world said she should play. And she believed her hunger for more made her alone.

     Which, of course, we all believe.

What then if the two of them—the wolf and the girl—met, smack in the middle of a REAL fairy tale? A tale with strong ideas about how each of them would fit, and what each would do, and how each would look at the other? Why, then…they would have to fight the story the world wanted to tell about them. They would have to make and re-make their tale until it rang true. They would have to grow up and into their own Story.

     Which, of course, we all must.

     I’m sure this is why Francisco didn’t laugh at me in that deli when I claimed to know how to slay the beast. He even paid for my sandwich. And sent me an encouraging email the next week.

     I still have questions about Story. About why on some days everything seems to make sense, and then the next day, nothing does. And I’m never quite sure what to do with my hunger to be more than what I am. But I do know this: That if life’s dangers are real, so are the true friends. The ones who will eat cheesesteaks with you, and tell you a Story of their own. For the best weapon against the darkness has always been not just Story—but Story told to— and with—-and for the love of— our fellow tellers.

     May we never cease the telling.

(Crossposted to Facebook:

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry Friday: Wishes Cannot be Broken

Can it be September? It can.

Thank goodness there's poetry to mark the occasion.

This month, the Poetry Sisters wrote to this photo, which I took while working at the Highlights Retreat Center in Honesdale, PA:

The first thing that came to mind was:

Promises can be broken, but wishes cannot.

And then, the second thought followed:

What if I repeated the visual breaking of the word WISH in my poem?  Just to see if my first thought was true.  (It was.)

When nothing will groW, I SHall lay a foundation
When all is askeW, I SHall straighten the way
When promises are laid loW, I SHall hold fast
When hopes are feW, I SHall break chains.

For this is no flaW: I SHall be
 thought mistboW; I SHall be, yet— rock.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

**If you're curious, a mistbow is a white arch that appears in mist, rather like a ghost rainbow.

How are wishes like rock to you?  Tell me in the comments.

And...more importantly...please visit my Poetry Sisters to see what intricate and beautiful poems they created from this image:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kathyrn Apel.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Poetry Friday: Statues in the Park

The challenge this month (given by Laura Purdie Salas) was concise---but wide open to form, point of view, language, and theme. Simply put, we were asked to:

 Write a poem with the title, "Statues in the Park."

I immediately thought of these figures near our DC home:

Yes, that's Lincoln.  Lincoln in Lincoln Park.  We went there often to people-watch, and were amused by the picnicking hipsters, and the frolicking dogs, and the cake-eating toddlers and their parents.  Good times.  But those days were not what I chose to write about. For me, statues are never just statues...and nothing is ever as fixed or as settled as we hope it is.

Statues in the Park

He is Lincoln. Lincoln in Lincoln Park!
While the slave cowering at his knees is twisted
with gratitude, underfoot as a beaten dog

as his chains are cut by proclamation
and people say—as they should—
that to show no struggle from within

but only liberation from without
is a lie—but I don’t know how to make a statue tell
the truth—every history has moments

we tag, and point to, and judge—
before we release them to whirl
in Lincoln Park which today, is a rallying point

for the KKK; no hoods, but raised signs
and a line of police horses so high you can look
into their pulsating noses and feel the earth shake;

they make a dam for the permitted
to flow safely into the street, numb
to the world; I cannot remember

a single face, only the snorting
as they walked out of Lincoln’s Park
leaving it to children who dodged

being caught, one by one, until
arms outstretched, their mosquito-bitten
legs gleaming, they stood frozen—

no one free
until all are free.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Each of my poetry sisters has written a poem to this title, too.  Go see:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by MainelyWrite.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Poetry Friday: She Walks in Beauty...or does she?

Imitation:  not a crime, but a way of learning.

At least that's how the Poetry Sisters see it.  This month, we take a famous poem by Byron ("She Walks in Beauty like the Night") and write our own, inspired by its form, style, meter...whatever takes our fancy. Or doesn't take our fancy in this case...for upon reading this well-known example of Romanticism by a poet who believes in "the celestial nature of women," I said:


I'm not a romantic. I don't gush in public.  And why use poetry to praise a women's inner peace when in daily life you destroy all calm with your constantly unhinged behavior? At least reading Byron's train wreck of a biography led me to find his family crest, which is quite fun. (See above.) The motto is Crede Byron...or Trust Byron.

Riiiiiight.  As far as I can throw him.

As for the Romantic ideal of celebrating the “celestial nature of women,” the best I can do is praise the sea and its ancient feminine power.  And pound the hell out of crashing waves of iambic tetrameter....

Crede Byron (Trust Byron)

Two chestnut horses rear beside
a red-barred shield; and yet, above
this spat of muscled manly pride,
a mermaid floats, her foaming curls

as regulated as the tide;
they surge to meet her lifted comb
and skirt her sea-shined, cross-hatched sides;
her curves complete as halves of shells

un-landed; lorded not by shore,
she’s brine and bright with naught of night;
from salt she rose; now oceans roar
in throated coves: She rules. She rules.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

You can find my Poetry Sisters echoes of Byron here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Beyond Literacy Link.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Poetry Friday: Growing a Golden Shovel

Photo: Wolfgang Forstmeier
(Posting this a week late due to travel--and general procrastination.)

June's poetry challenge was the "golden shovel," a form created by poet Terrance Hayes when he took Gwendolyn Brooks's mesmerizing poem "The Pool Players; Seven at the Golden Shovel," and used its lines as end words for an entirely new poem.  (See his intricate poem, here.)

Or to put it another way,  Hayes grew a new poem from one he loved, and made it something astonishingly fresh.

And that, my friends, is what the Poetry Sisters are doing this month, too---only we are growing our new poems from the rich soil of Gerard Manley Hopkins' gorgeous poem Pied Beauty:

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)
So much to choose from!  Each line is ripe with juicy words! What to pick, what to pick....???  In the end, I decided to use two lines, from the heart of Hopkins' poem:

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 

(I also took as my title his opening word.) 


We hope to be fresh
or even hot, as firecoal;
we hope to chew on an old chestnut

cracking open guarded words, until all falls
newly to earth. But if finches
require nine primary remiges on their wings

and twelve retrices on their tails---a landscape
of feathers carefully plotted
since the Middle Miocene age and

dappled evermore---to fly, then we, too, must be pieced
into lifting lines, and thrust from the fold
to be made fertile or laid fallow,

bouncing in flight like true finches and
tearing the earth as we dive to plough.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My Poetry Sisters' earlier posts of Golden Shovels (truly stunning---I mean, just WOW) can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by poet Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Poetry Friday: Things to Do If . . .

The challenge this month was to write a "Things to Do If...." poem on the theme of a season or month. Didn't have to be May, but...

May is fabulous, you know? I found out it used to be called primilce, which literally means “three milkings” because it was the only month of the year when cows could be milked three times per day.

Also, May contains Star Wars Day. (May the 4th be with you)

And of course, there is dancing.  Perhaps that's why this poem waltzed in:

Things to Do if You’re May

Step plainly, for you host no equinox
or solstice; only ordinary time embrocated
by commencements and commendations, yet

Turn assuredly, for late,
you sweeten Spring; early,
you swell Summer; but more:

Partner boldly, for you have but three
letters to your name, and rhyme
with each and every day; thus

Madden us, May; make us
heated to go ‘round again,
staggered with singing.

             ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My Poetry Sisters' "Things to Do If..." poems are here:

Laura (who chose this challenge!)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the incomparable Jama at Alphabet Soup:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Poetry Friday: Talking Back to Poetry

Several months ago, Laura Purdie Salas pitched an idea to our poetry writing group: why not pick a poem and "talk back" to it?  As we built our schedule for this year, she didn't claim that idea, so I picked it up; it was too good not to use. And it seemed the perfect idea for April, National Poetry Month.

Here is the poem I picked, and the rules:

You, darkness, of whom I am born---

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations---just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me

I believe in the night.

---Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

The Rules:

1)  Respond to the poem/poet however you agreeing or disputing or supplementing ....or simply chatting, as to a friend. Be deep or be sassy. Be funny or sad. Use a formal form or free verse. Respond to the whole poem---or pull out one line and talk only to it. (That last option is for the introverts, haha)

2) must be conversational. Talk back, right?

I must say that I enjoyed this challenge.  I love Rilke and I love good conversation.  If only he were alive to keep the volley going....

By God, Rilke, you have shed light
to the ends of the universe, 
even. You have left nothing

unloved. You have rendered unto me
what is not mine to have: an undying
understanding of grace. Shouldn’t 

poets—like Sujata Bhatt, perhaps—
enamor you of cow dung, until you crave
its pungent disregard of public opinion?

Shouldn’t poets—like Mary Oliver perhaps—
lure you to the wilds and then sharply switch 
you with rebukes to change your life? 

Shouldn’t they—like Kay Ryan, perhaps—
suffer you to suck brine, slapping the waves
for the raft you were building, right THERE, a second ago?

Shouldn’t they withhold embraces and comfort,
looking at you as blankly as an olive,
which by its ancient and pungent salty succor says:

oh, did you think you could outdo me?
Oh, Rilke, I want to love what is 
beyond the circle, illuminated. 

But you—you have forgiven me.
Where I am to go, then, to find 
your beloved night?

—-Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

For more conversation, please go see how my poetry sisters responded to Rilke. Or join in. There's always room for one more at the poetry table.


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene at Live Your Poem.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poetry Friday: Standing on Your Own Two Feet

Photo credit: Ana Cotta 
The ekphrastic challenge for March was provided by Tanita, who supplied this deliciously mysterious photo.

What is that girl looking at? Where is she? How did she learn to balance on that bike?

Who knows?

But she went. And she looked.  And she will remember that day.

Standing on Your Own Two Feet

A bike is for
and corners
two wheels
two legs

A bike is for
and alone
two wheels
two legs

A bike is for
flat roads
and wind
two wheels
two legs

Go now! On
your own
two feet
two wheels
two legs
Go. Go. Go!

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Find all my Poetry Sisters' poems here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Heidi at my juicy little universe.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Poetry Friday: A Villanelle Too Brief to be Believed

Brevity is the soul of wit, they say....

or perhaps it's only that too little time can make one punchy.

Whatever the case, when I realized The Poetry Sisters challenge was due this week---AND that the task was to compose a villanelle on the theme of the shortness of time---I, being actually VERY short of time---briefly (ha!) lost my mind and wrote the first thing that popped into my small brain.

(Or perhaps February always makes me get silly.)

In either case, it's no languid, genteel flow of words here today, folks---this poem is mercifully quick, and defectively concise.

A Villanelle Too Brief to be Believed

To rhyme "brevity"
requires no skill
but high levity;

forget grandevity--
it's years off your life; a pill
to rhyme brevity

with something shorter than longevity.
See? It’s no thrill.
But high levity

aside— yippee!—
wit is much more chill
to rhyme. Brevity,

to an alarming degree,
may be fast-acting, like NyQuil,
But high levity?

A truly jackrabbity
beast. Yet—what an ever so long-lasting thrill
to rhyme brevity
with high levity!

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

I'm hoping my Poetry Sisters have put up something far more poignant.


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Penny Parker Klostermann at A Penny and Her Jots.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Poetry Friday: In Love with Somonkas

A new form for a new year: the somonka.

Well, it's actually an ancient Japanese form, but it's new to me, and I kind of...


Which is nice, because traditionally, somonkas are written on that very subject: love.

Even more fun, the somonka is a two-voiced poem, composed of one "statement" poem (syllable count 57577) and one "response" poem (same syllable count.)

I guess we could've waited to do these love-themed delights until February, but Liz took charge (as usual) and made sure January would not be poem-less. Thank you, Liz.

I wrote mine yesterday before I got my eyes dilated at the eye doctor. (A poet writes when she can.)

If you want to try one, know that you can write them with another poet, or compose both halves of the somonka yourself. They are unrhymed and usually have a title. Just remember the love theme: true love, sisterly love, unrequited love, pet love, any kind of love at all.  Mine is about love, apart.


Defrosting the fish
while writing you this letter
no scales, fins, or tail
nothing to do but wait, love
headless, we still shed the sea

I’m lonely as cod
too, dear; I’ll put your letter
to nose, cheek, to bed; 
You’ve eaten by now; how cold
paper is; an ocean, drained. 

              ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Don't miss the love my Poetry Sisters are sharing today, too:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Linda at TeacherDance.