Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Operation Yes meets Blue Chicken at Phantom Tollbooth

Every word of that title is accurate. 

While in New York over Veterans Day weekend, I met my friend Debbie Freedman, author of the amazing picture book, Blue Chicken, at Books of Wonder just before their event celebrating the 50 year anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth. If you haven't checked out Debbie's interview at 7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast, run there, chicken-fast.  You must see the vivid, emotionally true, totally fun art from this book that celebrates color and redeeming mistakes. (The two-page spread which reads simply "The chicken is sorry! Sincerely sorry." is my favorite moment in the flood of disaster that overtakes the chicken----but Jules shares many other fabulous ones.)  

Debbie and I signed each other's books, ate scones and drank tea with fellow author Rosanne Parry, and my lovely agent, Tina Wexler. Then Debbie was kind enough to get my copy of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth signed for me while I dashed off to my Military Families panel at the NYPL (more on that later.)  

I took a few photos of the Phantom Tollbooth event, but the lighting was difficult, and the store was packed, so I failed to deliver much beyond the fuzzy shot below. I also had to strain to hear both Jules Feiffer and Norton Juster (who were occasionally prompted for stories by Leonard Marcus, there on the right.)  What made the event for me were the little moments---such as Norton Juster admitting to growing up with a dad who adored puns (me, too!) and the kid with the green mohawk who peppered Jules and Norton with enthusiastic questions. I can't wait to dive into my annotated version, which is, I think, the third copy of The Phantom Tollbooth I have in the house. (Can't be sure; there may be a fourth lurking around.)

I have so much more to report from my trip to New York.  It was, from start to finish, a perfect weekend, but I think my posts will have to be delivered in short bursts.  As the chicken says, I'm sincerely sorry. Will catch up soon. Very soon!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stages on Pages at Books of Wonder (Cue the Squeee!)

Stages on Pages

On Thursday, November 10th, Books of Wonder is delighted to present 7 authors who have written new books for teens that feature young people involved in one way or another with the performing arts. Joining us will be debut author SHELLA CHARI to share Vanished, the story of 11-year-old Neela, who's determined to protect an antique Indian stringed instrument that's a family heirloom which she dreams of playing for delighted crowds someday; author BARBRA DEE will present her new novelTrauma Queen, about Marigold, a teen girl who's constantly embarrassed by her infamous stage actor mom; debut author SOPHIE FLACK will take us into the exclusive world of the Manhattan Ballet Company as we follow one aspiring dancer persuing her dreams in BunheadsSARA LEWIS HOLMES will present Operation Yes, about a sixth grade class on an army base with a new teacher who uses improvisational theater to teach and inspire them and how they come together to help their teacher when her brother goes missing while serving in Afghanistan; debut author STASIA WARD KEHOEwill share Audition, the story of high school junior Sara, and the trials and tribulations she endures while struggling to become a professional ballet dancer;debut authorGRETCHEN McNEIL will introduce Possess, a dark thriller in which 15-year-old Bridget's ability to hear demons poses a very real threat to her, her family, and maybe the entire world; finally, author ROSANNE PARRY will present Second Fiddle, set around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this is the harrowing tale of 13-year-old Jody -- a violinist and composer -- who sets in motion an unlikely chain of events  when she and her friends save a Russian solider from drowning in Berlin. Join us beginning at 6pm as these wonderful authors read from their new novels, answer questions from the audience, and sign copies of their works. Some of the authors, who play instruments, will also provide live music! Ages 10-14. Thursday, November 10th, 6-8pm


Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing in the Snow with Dragons

My weekend: snow, writing, dragons (of the self-doubt variety.)

Revision is SO scary. It can feel like battling a three-headed dragon. You deal with one problem, you make two more for yourself. Everywhere, there are teeth.  But if you look for it, there is also snow. Miraculous, unpredictable snow.

See those silhouettes underneath the dragon? They're fairytale postcards I bought in Germany.  And the gypsy doll is a marionette I found in Prague one bitterly cold winter day.  (So is the dragon.)

Back to work now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poetry Friday: Ghost in this House

Poets.org sent me a link to "Ghost Poems." But if you really want to experience a haunting, listen to  the phantasmagoric voice of Alison Krauss inhabit the drifting, melancholy beauty of this song. Pair it with a viewing of Robert Duvall and Bill Murray in "Get Low" (which also features Alison on the sound track, singing "Lay My Burden Down") and you'll be shivering feverishly for a long while.

"Ghost In This House"

I don't pick up the mail
I don't pick up the phone
I don't answer the door
I'd just as soon be alone
I don't keep this place up
I just keep the lights down
I don't live in these rooms
I just rattle around

I'm just a ghost in this house
I'm just a shadow upon these walls
As quietly as a mouse I haunt these halls
I'm just a whisper of smoke
I'm all that's left of two hearts on fire
That once burned out of control
You took my body and soul
I'm just a ghost in this house

I don't care if it rains
I don't care if it's clear
I don't mind staying in
There's another ghost here
He sits down in your chair
And he shines with your light
And he lays down his head
On your pillow at night

I'm just a ghost in this house
I'm just a shadow upon these walls
I'm living proof of the damage
Heartbreak does
I'm just a whisper of smoke
I'm all that's left of two hearts on fire
That once burned out of control
And took my body and soul
I'm just a ghost in this house
Oh, I'm just a ghost in this house

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Random Noodling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Linda Urban's in town, and she and I talked cheese at Jaleo's last night.

Okay, we talked about more than cheese. We talked craft, and art, and fears and dreams in our current writing projects.  But cheese did get me riled up.  We ordered the six cheese sampler, and it was fantastic, a delectable collage of varied pungencies and textures, served with honeyed apricots, each triangle or round of cheese hand-crafted to perfection.  And I ranted about the newest campaign against cheese (spokes-demon: The Grim Reaper) pushed by some doctors who feel it's the main source of fat in American diets.  That may be. But it's also sublime.  It's an rustic art form, for pete's sake!  I'm offended it's under attack.

I guess it was also because we'd just visited the National Gallery, and seen their exhibit of artist's books, called Text as Inspiration: Artists' Books and Literature.  And let me tell you, it was tiny---one petite gallery with four glassed cases. And some of those books were as quirky as artisanal cheese.   I loved the book that featured a poem called EVE, which unfolded out of a cover made to be Adam's intricately designed, highly realistic paper rib. And the one with the slightly off-color poem that could be read two ways with the bold wire design of a cat proudly sitting in front of it.

Worth savoring, it was.

I guess what I'm saying is that campaigning against cheese is like saying life is a dry sandwich.  And everything I saw at the National Gallery---from that tiny exhibit to the arresting and often highly individualistic portraits in the Chester Dale collection---says that ain't so.

Give me some cheese. And some great art. And a friend to share both.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Poetry Friday: Bad Taste

I don't want to be accused of bad taste here at Read Write Believe---




Out of a desire to find a poem to pay tribute to Jama, hostess of Poetry Friday today---and insatiable consumer of poetry and delectable food---I lazily googled "cooking poem."

Oh, my.

Jama, I'm sorry.

Today I must serve these overbaked goodies.

First Course:

 Ye Muses nine inspire
    And stir up my poetic fire;
    Teach my burning soul to speak
    With a bubble and a squeak!

Second Course:

Light of triumph in her eyes,
Eleanor her apron ties;
As she pushes back her sleeves,
High resolve her bosom heaves.
Hasten, cook! impel the fire
To the pace of her desire;
As you hope to save your soul,
Bring a virgin casserole...


We shou’d submit our Treats to Criticks’ View,
And every prudent Cook shou’d read Bossu.
Judgment provides the Meat in Season fit,
Which by the Genius drest, its Sauce is Wit.
Good Beef for Men, Pudding for Youth and Age,
Come up to the decorum of the Stage.
The Critick strikes out all that is not just,
And ’tis even so the Butler chips his Crust.
Poets and Pastry Cooks will be the same,
Since both of them their Images must frame.
Chimera’s from the Poet’s Fancy flow:
The Cook contrives his Shapes in real Dough.

Quick! Run to Jama's and cleanse your palate!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I'm sure there will be rapturous odes to the writing gods everywhere for National Writing Day. By way of contrast, I give you "how it really is" from one of my favorite writers, Lloyd Alexander, in his Horn Book essay, "The Flat-Heeled Muse."

On another occasion, I had planned to include a mysterious and menacing portent in the shape of a dark cloud. The Muse, an early riser, prodded me awake sometime well before dawn. 
"I've been meaning to speak with you about that cloud," she said. "You like it, don't you? You think it's dramatic. But I was wondering if this had occurred to you: you only want a few of your people to see the cloud, is that not correct? Yet you have already established a number of other characters in the vicinity who will see it, too. An event like that? They'll do nothing but talk about it for most of the story.  
Or," she purred, as she always does before she pounces, "did you have something like closed-circuit television in mind?" 
She clumped off in her sensible brogans while I flung myself from bed and ripped up all my work of the night before. The cloud was cut out.

The entire article was published as “The Flat-Heeled Muse, Horn Book Magazine, April 1965. I wish, wish, wish it was still clumping around online somewhere.  A bit more of it is here, at least.

Not a sensible brogue. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Cute Photo Approach to Speaking

Is it wrong to pull out cute photos of your kids when you're speaking in public?

That's me, showing the adorable baby passport my daughter, Rebecca, was issued before she left Japan at four weeks old. In my defense, I was talking about military families and how much we move.  And how story can help. How "doing something" is better than pretending these families are invisible in our classrooms and in our literature.

I think it went well.  In fact, I think it all went well at the new Joy of Children's Literature Conference held in Williamsburg this past weekend. I especially enjoyed the other presenters' sessions which I was able to sneak into, including one by teacher Amy Moser, who recounted how her class embarked on a study of Ellen Potter's middle-grade novels, which culminated in a Skype visit with the author. Amy had the foresight to interview her students right after the visit, to document their reaction. I wish I could show you that video----talk about cute. And smart. And wonderful.

Handouts from the presenters (including mine) can be found here.  You can read about the conference here----and note that organizer Denise Johnson has already set the date for next year: Oct. 12, 2012, with headliner, Lester L. Laminack.  Denise is a firecracker of a person---determined to champion children's books in the classroom---and if you ever doubt that teachers and writers belong on the same team, read her blog.

Here's another shot of me at the conference---this time during my afternoon workshop, talking planning and improv.  That's an actual planning sheet used by my cousin, Chris, (also a military spouse) in preparing for her move to Egypt.  It's not as cute as a baby, but at least the picture isn't of me wearing a clown nose. (Yes, I put one on, briefly.)  Many thanks to all for a great day!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poetry Friday: Garlic

My mom is a superb gardener. So is my daughter. Me? I confess to having killed a rubber tree plant once. And many other varieties of green things many times over.


I bought this lovely herb planter. Walked it home in my arms from the farmer's market. Everything in it is still alive, except for the dill, which mysteriously shriveled overnight and has but one teeny leafy sprout left. I've used the basil and parsley. Admired the rosemary and marjoram and chives. And if when the nasturtiums bloom, I can even put flowers in my salads.

Why do I keep buying plants when I fear they are doomed? Because I cook. I need fresh herbs. And I'm too lazy to keep running to the store. And I like the shape the plants make as they curl down from the pot.

I'm also thinking of planting some garlic--- even more so since I found this terrific quote, which was pungent enough to inspire a poem:

"Garlic is as good as ten mothers." (from this site, no source)

Who needs admonishment
when you can plant
three or four squeaky
clean cloves of peeled
garlic between your back
molars and bite down, hard?

Who needs milk
when a steely press 
will pulp a half-moon
breast, flattening 
it to a papery empty

Who needs love
when hours later
your breath will cleave
the world into those
who don't mind your
stink and those who do?

Yet, in the ladle of my belly
I grew you, bulbous;
sulfurous juices thick 
inside your husk of skin,
til by your tender scapes, I seized you,
now a knotted rose. Ten times over 
I will crush your enemies.

                --- Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Image courtesy of Fresh Off the Vine

Poetry Friday is hosted today by David Elzey at fomagrams.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Children's Lit Conference

In full, furious (but happy) prep mode here. I'm leading two workshops at the Joy of Children's Literature Conference in Williamsburg, Va this Saturday. (Check online; it might not be too late to register)

My two sessions:

Beyond Veterans Day: Connecting with Military Families in the Classroom

A student told me her favorite chapter in Operation Yes was the one called "Do Something."  I asked why.  "Because that's my motto, too," she said. Wow. I wanted to hear everything she had planned!  And it made me think, too, about what we, as teachers and writers, can do to understand and connect with the families of our military, through fiction and beyond.  Resource list and link to online teachers guide provided. 

Saying Yes: Improvisation on the Page (and on the Stage)

Does a good writer outline or fly by the seat of her pants?  Is improv the opposite of planning? What place does teamwork have in the creative process? I'll talk about how I brought my love of the theater into my writing.  Come prepared to let loose. Link to online teachers guide with more improv games provided.  

Resources for both talks can be found on my Teachers Page at the Operation Yes website

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Dog Rule

This is brilliant: the "dog rule" for journal keeping as revealed by Author Erica Perl in the Washington Post.

Back in 2008, I called it "taking out the trash" and then "magpie intelligence," but I like "the dog rule" better. Much better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can you help me spread the word?

At Cynsations, Rosanne Parry is talking about military family culture and how "It was both an honor and a terrific responsibility to try to depict the life of a reservist’s son"  

Which prompts me to remind you that Rosanne, Suzanne Morgan Williams and I will be part of this New York Public Library program:

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Margaret Liebman Berger Forum (Map and directions)
Fully accessible to wheelchairs

Yes, that's the main branch, the building with the two famous lions out front. Please come and share your thoughts with us. I'll remind you again closer to Veterans Day.

As an added incentive, if you tweet, blog, or share this link between now and November 11th, please put your link in the comments section, and I'll enter your name into a drawing for the Audie Award winning audio recording of Operation Yes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Poetry Friday: Jar of Pens

Mine aren't in a honey crock, but a Mason jar. But they are just as mute and expectant.

Jar of Pens
by Robert Pinsky

Sometimes the sight of them
Huddled in their cylindrical formation
Repels me: humble, erect,
Mute and expectant in their
Rinsed-out honey crock: my quiver
Of detached stingers. (Or, a bouquet
Of lies and intentions unspent.)

Pilots, drones, workers—the Queen is
Cross. Upright lodge
Of the toilworthy—gathered
At attention as though they know
All the ink in the world couldn't
Cover the first syllable
Of a heart's confusion.

This fat fountain pen wishes
In its elastic heart

the rest of the poem is here.

There's also an audio link, if you'd like to hear Pinsky's voice.

Pinsky did an extended reading of his poems at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Tuesday, and as I said earlier this week, he claims we can find in any one thing----a jar of pens, a shirt, a Plexiglass lectern---a portal to the whole world.  Jar of Pens is from a series of poems he wrote in which he had to take as his topic the first object he touched...and then the next object...and then the next...

It has made me aware, ever since, of the weight, history, and possibility of each thing in my life.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Mary Ann at Great Kids Books.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Francisco Stork at DC Public Library

This one almost slipped by me:

Francisco Stork, author of the much loved YA books, Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, is speaking at the downtown DC Public Library, MLK Branch, this Saturday at 1:30.  The topic is "Writing about disAbilities," and like his books, he will charm you with his humble manner and humor and empathy.

Details (what little there are) are on the DC Library site.

If you'd like to know more about Francisco, I shared the quiet goodness of his blog and his poetry for Poetry Friday here and again here, and I wrote, very passionately, about his Marcelo in the Real World right here.

I have yet to write about how moved I was by The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, but I'll say that I read it many, many months ago, and even now, I can close my eyes and think of certain scenes, and sometimes those characters pop into my head and talk to me. Encourage me, really. If you haven't read his work, you are losing out on feeling that much more alive today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Better have a story ready

 Better have a story ready to tell.

All that talk of the moon at Linda's place earlier this week reminds me that I'm signed up for a Full Moon Hike at the National Arboretum. One of the moonlit sights will be these columns, which formally graced the East Portico of the Capitol, but now hang out in a grassy field and inspire writers. 

Okay, well, maybe not all writers. Or only writers. But me. And Robert Pinsky. 

The former United States Poet Laureate, who spoke last night at the Folger Shakespeare Library, claims we can find in any one thing----a jar of pens, a shirt, a plexiglass lectern, perhaps a set of sandstone columns---a portal to the entire world.

Is that what these columns are then? A portal? For some reason, I picture them attached to an outsized, ballooning parachute, each staid column holding down one tenuous tie, the whole thing billowing in and out like a squid, trying to get our attention.

Then I wonder if these columns are more like chapters, each standing on its own, but forming a semi-enclosed space---a space that clearly invites you to come in and think awhile. Kind of like a book. Or a poem in stanzas.

Or, possibly, they are not a finished work but a sad outline that didn't get the go-ahead to be the real article. 

One other thought: perhaps they are an obituary. Robert Pinsky loves those too---says they compact life to its best bits---children, accomplishments, flashes of fame.

If so, these columns are part of the life story of Ethel Garrett, who refused to let these beauties be destroyed, and campaigned for twenty years to save them after they were left to drown in the mud of the Anacostia River.  A bit of the story of how she and landscape artist, Russell Page, pulled it off is here.

Wouldn't you like to have that listed as one of your life's accomplishments----Mover of Columns?

And yes, they make an absolutely fabulous End of the World movie set. Sadly, you cannot hold a party here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How does a story grow?

Worthy stuff:

Linda Urban is bravely sharing an early draft of Hound Dog True and opening a discussion of how story happens

P.S. Linda is coming to DC!  I'll be getting my copy of HDT straight from her at Politics and Prose. Event details are here. Who's with me?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Poetry Friday: Only Love Can Do That

“I don’t believe poetry should be a solitary intellectual adventure. It should be a relationship with people, it should forge a connection. Good poetry does not belong to the poet.” ---Dolores Kendrick, D.C. Poet Laureate, in this interview with the Washington Post

I've been gone from this blog for almost three months now, and it's not because I was on "a solitary intellectual adventure" (although I've been revising a YA novel.) It had mostly to do with three successive moves in the family---or what we have dubbed The Summer of the U-Haul Truck. Which has ended happily with two children in new digs and my husband and I now living in a row house with its own library.

(This picture is pre-books.
Now it's full, every inch of it.)

Still, after a three-month break, it's hard to re-engage with blogging without thinking about why I'm doing it. It's a question authors get asked a lot: Why do you write? (Yes, blogging is writing.) At this past weekend's National Book Festival (to which I walked, thanks to our new location) I heard Gary Schmidt say he writes because a book may be the only companion a child has. He visited a prison where six locked doors separated the kids from the outside world, where the inmates were allowed no personal possessions, and yet, they had been able to read his book and could talk to him about it. One child said he identified with the dog in the story---because he himself would never be able to have one.

Me, Gary Schmidt, and Sondy Eklund
at the National Book Festival
Which brings me back again to the quote above, about poetry not belonging to the poet. Or, as Gary Schmidt might say, books don't belong to the author---they go where they are needed. And yet, it's the age of personal vocalizing. Blogs enable us to catcall, cheer, kvetch, croon, and crystalize our every thought. So does this blog, in fact, belong to me, in a way my poems or my novels don't?

In answer, I overheard last night a cell phone conversation at 2:00am. We sleep with our windows open, and the bay window in our bedroom amplifies sound from the sidewalk below. Usually, it's remarkably quiet---the first morning in the new house, we were awakened in this great city by a noisy. . . bird.  But last night, Mr. Angry Man crept into my sleep, gradually wakening me as he and his phone walked into my hearing zone, until I surfaced to this loud bellow: "I texted you yesterday that I WAS FINE!!!" I could even hear the unintelligible but anguished reply of his cell phone friend before he passed out of range.

So, dear friends, I am fine. This blog is fine. I do write almost all of it as a solitary adventure. I have no routine. No set mission. No way to permanently hold onto the posts or poems that I put out there.

But I don't think I want to do it without a connection with you. You are the only reason I write.

So welcome to Poetry Friday.  Please leave your links in the comments below and I'll round them up.

In lieu of a poem, I'd like to contribute these words from Martin Luther King, whose speech was often poetic. They can be found on his new memorial, which is now open to the public---and is a very long walk from my home, and yet on the day of the National Book Festival, we did that too. Because we could.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; Only light can do that
Hate cannot drive out hate; Only love can do that.

Please read Sondy's wonderful writeup of Gary Schmidt's talk and the rest of the National Book Festival.

Poetry Friday Connections:

Poet Charles Ghigna summons us with an original poem, "Drum Beats," at his new blog, FATHER GOOSE.

Robyn embarked on a walk with "binoculars and optimism," and comes back with The Birds by Linda Pastan.

Teacher Dance collects poems of goodbye for her students, and she shares a lovely one in her post, Endings Hold Mixed Emotions.

At Gathering Books, another teacher celebrates former students through the poetry of their father in The Ties That Bind.

Jone is trumpeting the Cybils Poetry Team today. Huzzah, Poetry! And as Jone says, don't forget that Cybils nominations open tomorrow, October 1st. 

Diane brings a whole basket of poetry links for us: an original poem at Random Noodling"The Oleo Kid" at Kids of the Homefront Armya poem by Gail Mazur at Kurious Kitty and a quote by Joan Giroux.Kurious K's Kwotes'.

At The Poem Farm, Amy is thinking about time and things we "used to do." She reminds me of why I have my old Raggedy Ann doll in my writing office. 

Julie Larios at The Drift Record wants us to meet two geniuses. She has videos about Kay Ryan and A.E. Stallings, two poets who received MacArthur Foundation grants this week. (Bonus: the word "hokum" is used.)  Plus she has enticed me with her call for Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults. Visit "Poetry at Play" and spread the word.

Pentimento is tending to Blake's illustrated poem, The Sick Rose.

Jeff Barger reveals how walking sticks, luna moths, and ladybugs can rock multiplication problems in his STEM/Poetry Friday post, Multiply on Fly.   

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading always has fantastic poetry to share, and today it's a glorious Linda Pastan poem about fall. Go and roll the word "pumpkin" off your tongue.

Love is in the air at Laura Purdie Salas's blog, but with an amusing twist: love poems from one animal to another by the ever-creative  Marilyn Singer. Plus, Laura has her usual (and always unintimidating) invitation to join her in creating 15 Words or Less poems.

Karen Edmisten dips into The Writer's Almanac for her poetry selection today, a pithy bit of wisdom called September Visitors.

Can I quote Maria Horvath on her blog post today? She says Carl Sandburg explains what love was, is, and shall be. A spectacular poem that I'm clipping straight into my poetry common book. 

Rice on your sock? Poems from the "purple cursive of her veins"?  How to Tell If a Korean Woman Loves You by Christy NaMee Eriksen, a glorious find by Tabatha Yeatts.  

Ha! J. Patrick Lewis is always clever, and his poem, One Cow, Two Moos, is that and more. (Be prepared to groan a bit at the pun.) Thanks to Debbie Diller for sharing it. 

On the Stenhouse Blog, Maine teacher/author, Anne Tommaso explores why "Poetry demands you return when you are different." Dang. An exploding kind of thought if there ever was one.

If you've never read Mary Oliver, let this post hit you between the eyes: Joyce Ray gives us Oliver at her finest. 

Liz Garton Scanlon knows how to ease you past a dry spell. Today, you can linger with her and savor Nothing by Ken Mikolowski.

Poetry can take on anything. Even Animal Fights. Thanks, Anastasia Suen for another STEM/Poetry Friday mashup.

I feel a swearing fit coming on after reading Jama's post, "Manners" by Kim Addonizio. But I promise not to take it out in the Clorox aisle at Safeway.

So it turns out Julie Larios (above) was right about POETRY AT PLAY---it's fabulous. You'll be a regular subscriber/cheerleader/greatbighonkingfan after this post about master poet David McCord.

Andi Sibley at the wrung sponge reviews At the Sea Floor Cafe. More science and poetry!

Heidi Mordhorst is joining us with a poem from "the trenches of 7th grade" (hoo-boy, those can be deep!)  and news about the release of the p*tag digital poetry anthology.

Gregory K, you had me at fried: Things I Saw Fried at the Fair Thing I want most to taste fried? One of those chewy orange circus peanuts. Or possibly popcorn. Can popcorn be re-fried?

Elaine Magliaro is "Saving Summer" at Blue Rose Girls and talking furniture, reclaiming a room, and grandbabies at Wild Rose Reader. Cute baby alert!

I'm one of those stab-able morning people. (I'm even worse after coffee and a run.)  So thanks, JoAnn Early Macken, for We Are the Early Risers. Wade in, morning lovers, wade in.

Sally Ito at PaperTigers shares a book her daughter loved (the best kind!): The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.

For all those who have gotten sidetracked while pursuing the muse: Not the Poem I Wanted to Write by David Elzey.  How true it is, David.

Carlie celebrates webs which "bloom with bursts of silver thread" in her original poem.  Lovely indeed.

Ah, our "bootless cries." What to do when consumed by them? Ruth has Shakespeare's answer in Sonnet XXIX.

Judy is musing on "these seamstresses’ chalks and golden needles" in Galway Kinnel's poem, The Shroud.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Poetry Friday: What gives us shape?

Elizabethan clothing
 (or what gave bodies shape in those times)

Last week, I attended No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for the second year in a row. (You can read about last year's rowdy adventures here.) This year was less rambunctious, perhaps due to the overarching theme (structure), but absolutely satisfying all the same. We heard from the architect who designed the lovely Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, talked trapdoors and lighting and costuming and rhetoric in the early modern theater, and saw a rehearsal of Hamlet and two plays---Shakespeare's The Tempest and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

The structure of the ceiling of the Blackfriars Playhouse
in Staunton, VA

As last year, I was awed by the actors' generosity, both in their performances and in their interactions with guests at the American Shakespeare Center. Watching the rehearsal of Hamlet was like watching a fabulously scary and wonderful roller coaster assemble itself on stage. In addition to the complex characters being built from Shakespeare's twisty and highly structured language, the cast is also constructing the ride's special effects. The ASC has no tech crew or elaborate sets; so when the ghost walks, it's the actors who create the supernatural atmosphere, from eery wind noises to the cock crowing to the trumpets that signal the change of scene. It was amusing and impressive to see the director call for someone who could do a cock crow and have the actors sort it out from backstage; ditto for the trumpet volley, which was offered vocally in three different riffs for the director to choose from. All the while, between these bursts of practical machinery adjusting, the actors played on, creating the emotional tracks on which the audience will rise and plunge. I can't wait to go back and see this Hamlet, which previews July 10.

Actors Ben Curns and Allison Glenzer also came to our camp sessions on rhetoric and played out, on the spot, variations to monologues they had so securely in their heads and bodies that no matter what we threw at them, they absorbed it and reflected the change back to us.  Ben's portrayal of Caliban in The Tempest was nearly overwhelming to watch at close range---he creates a "monster" so piteous and clearly abused that you ache for justice and some human dignity for him, and yet by turns, he is reprehensible, ridiculous, and soaked in such a lust for revenge and love that he will commit to anyone that will give him a taste of it. In a later session, we circled Allison, as she invested Trinculo, the jester, with swaggeringly false wisdom and hilariously shaky bravado as he inspects the "half-man/half-fish" of Caliban's hidden body.  She then shared her clown training and how she "vacuums out" the female characteristics of herself to reveal the men she's often cast to play. It was a rare gift to watch both of them.

A camper tries on the French wheel

As to the two play performances I saw, they were brave and lovely and funny, and I highly recommend you get to Staunton and see them for yourself.  The Importance of Being Earnest, while not Shakespeare, certainly has the language chops, and the troupe served up Oscar Wilde's witty skewering of humanity with relish. The entire cast was wonderful, but I was especially fond of Rene Thornton's Jack, whose sincerity in pursing love to its confused ends was a foil to all the brittle barbs flying about. It turns out earnestness is endearing. :)

Equally as strong, The Tempest opens with a stunning storm, created by the actors out of not much beyond thin air, strong rope, and a broad sheet of cloth. The players then go on to invest the play with waves of comedy, more than usual for The Tempest, I think. The performances include a sympathetic Prospero---a feat accomplished by James Keegan's calm-in-the-center portrayal---and a cleverly funny Miranda/Ferdinand romance, courtesy of Miriam Donald and Patrick Midgley, and of course, Ben Curns's heart-wrenching Caliban and Allison Glenzer's boisterous Trinculo as mentioned above.

A completely hand-sewn ruff

To me, Shakespeare's The Tempest asks us: okay, so what would YOU do if you were in charge of the world? Or if that's too much, a little island? Or for that matter, a stage? Or, say, even smaller, our own bodies? How many ways do we want to be master of our fates and yet choose the most unworthy ways to structure our lives?

Which brings me, at last, to Poetry Friday. Having Fridays filled with poetry is a sound way to anchor a week, I think. Poetry asks us to give shape to our days.  To ask what we're playing at.

Months ago, I attempted a sestina at the urging of my Poetry Sisters, but never shared it. It's a terrifying kind of poem, shaped by a scheme that asks you to repeat the same set of six words over and over in a rotating pattern.  I learned a lot by writing it, mostly that rules are how we begin the game.  After that, it's play on, as hard as you can.

Play on (a sestina)

I was made, as all, to make a mark,
made hasty fast, BANG! here
on floorboards cast,
a slight of light
hooked by barb of sperm with crooked line
to tender egg, in open-mouthed want.

I want for want
of what’s marked
as mine, biting at the flick of line---
Quickly there! No, fast, hold to here!
Chasing lapping rounds of light
shedding mortal coil and wormlike cast

til I’m a roil of slurry caught in rigid cast
to drain of stinging want;
fettered, I’m released as light---
a fellow of “no likelihood or mark.”
Is there nothing of me here?
Shut up; you distress the line.

Speak trippingly as tongue can master line;
for the die is---oh the drama!---fatal cast;
soon we’ll be---as they say---anywhere but here
where patrons queue to satiate their want
in gilded halls as barren as St. Mark’s,
while we make part with shadowed light

and in full sight of all our breath do heat til we light
a raw-birthed tempest between the ordered lines;
crack winds! blow cheeks! we overtop the given marks
end-stopped by neither fixed form nor as by words forecast;
filled---after---with wanton wonton want---
hey! ho! nonny! absurdity follows brilliance here

Lost in the now and here
in wasted light
tell me you didn’t want
it and I’ll make the words align.
I’ll release, as falconer does, the pairs as cast:
On the mark, by the mark, to the mark, we were such an easy mark

All we want is here
unmarked by time and reformed by light
Line to line, we ourselves recast.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader

What does it all mean?
Talking about the play 

More pictures from Shakespeare Camp are here. A snapshot of the week's schedule is below.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Fighter Pilot

I missed posting this for Father's Day because I was lollygagging at Isle of Palms in South Carolina with most of my husband's family---a lovely, relaxing launch to summer.

 But why not celebrate dads a week longer?

Here's me, with my dad, taken at his med school graduation:

We share a love of books, bad puns, lifelong learning, and outdoor adventure. Because he was a surgeon, I didn't get to observe his work, but I knew he could be called in at any hour to operate on someone who desperately needed his skill.  He could also be counted upon for elaborate practical jokes---including one that involved a fake radio broadcast of an alien invasion at the nearby Tyson-McGee Airport. He bakes bread from scratch, recently enjoyed discovering The Phantom Tollbooth (great puns there), and has been married fifty years to my mom.

And here's my daughter, Rebecca, with her dad:

Rebecca in her "meeting" dress with her daddy
(First deployment to Iraq)
Rebecca's grandmother made that dress specifically for her to wear to greet her daddy. Later, she would learn a new father appreciation song---and drive us nearly insane singing "You're a Grand Old Dad" over and over during a cross-country move. Most recently, the two of them handled an epic move to grad school together, complete with cat and U-Haul and towed car trailer.

The references in her poem may not be clear to those who didn't grow up as a fighter pilot's daughter. But that's the beauty of father-daughter bonds---they are story written together.

The Fighter Pilot
by Rebecca Holmes

The throttle, the pressure suit, the callsign,
the rubber sleeves, the formation. The story
about being hit by lightning. Saturdays at the squadron
and urgent missions: rows of fake switches

in the simulator to flip all on, all off, and test flights
on the bench-press. The bar songs with the dirty parts
revised, the crud table, the afterburners,
the sortie, the tower, the roofstomp:

lexicon of all the nomad people who must
have left these rituals for us, although
scattered in pieces between Alabama, Virginia,
Rhode Island, Mississippi. The burning piano,

solemn prank and memorial for some long-dead
R. A. F. aviator, repeated here for the unspoken
name and for what might happen. The one about
the dead lizard in the Philippines. The broken nose.

The war stories, the sand, the contractors on the farm
where he grew up, building a silo, who didn’t
need advice and called him college boy. Always
the catfish meunière on the first night home

from the desert. He said the ice cream in the cafeteria
wasn’t bad at all. When I was a baby in Japan,
my feet never touched the ground until the box
of Tennessee dirt from my grandmother arrived,

until the proper ceremony, the flag, all the men
in dress blues filling the little house. Never
the slightest doubt about any tale in this canon.
I have seen the movies. I know fighter pilots

are all supposed to have a tragic flaw and someone
dies before the end. It wasn’t like that, but in August
on bike-rides we would peel out from the driveway
in formation. And at bedtime the trundle bed

was a runway: procedure was observed, the tower
notified, landing gear extended, instruments checked, and I
had to call the ball, Rebecca. It was better than any
cinema dogfight. We never needed enemies or flames.

                                        ----Rebecca M. Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Carol's Corner.