Friday, May 28, 2021

Poetry Friday: Grief Cages Her

May's challenge was to respond to a work of art, using any poetic form---i.e. ekphrastic poetry.  Here is a lovely post about the many ways to do that.  

What the post doesn't mention is that choosing a piece of art can be complicated....and in this case, it also turned out to be a sleuthing adventure. Tanita tried to make it easy for me, and supplied some wonderful photos of paintings we could respond to, but since I'd helped set the challenge, I felt I also needed to provide at least one art source. So I dove into my photos from visits to DC museums, and shared this: 

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the photos of the accompanying information on the piece-- not the artist, not the name, not even the museum I was in.  I only had the date, gathered by my phone:  February 2017.  Oh, and these additional photos of the object being worn. Wowza.  

Too late. I'd already shared the thing with the other poets.  And I was obsessed. What WAS this thing I'd photographed?  All I had was another photograph taken at the same exhibit, of the artist playfully sliding down a rock face:

Too bad he doesn't have on a name tag. And too bad that repeated googling of "artist wire dress" and even "artist sliding down rock" and various combinations of those words only brought up a totally different female artist.  I was stuck.  So I decided to go with what I had: the date. Maybe if I could find out what shows had been on exhibit in DC in February 2017, I could find the information I needed.  After striking out at the archives of the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn (two places I visited regularly), I thought of the American Art Museum. I'd been there for a show in some special ground floor hall....hadn't I? 

Yes, yes I had!

 As soon as I saw the online archives of the exhibit "Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern," I knew it was the one.  Noguchi was a remarkable artist who was born in L.A., but educated in both Japan and the United States. He was known as a bicultural ambassador, as well as a multi-faceted artist and inventor. (That's me with another of the artist's amazing works, "Sculpture to be Seen From Mars.")

Noguchi made it in collaboration with the famed American dancer, Martha Graham.  Noguchi had designed about twenty sets for Graham, and this piece was for The Cave of the Heart, which tells the Greek mythical story of the sorceress, Medea, who left her home (and her father, the Sun) to be with the human man, Jason (he of the Golden Fleece), bearing him two sons.  But Jason, faithless soul, left her for a princess, and all hell ensued---multiple murders, including Medea slaying her own children.  

For most of the dance, the dress broods on stage, sitting stop the other Noguchi piece in my first photo-- "The Serpent." Then, at the climatic ending, the wire "dress of transformation" (another term the artist used) is donned by the dancer playing Medea. She whirls about the stage, encased in metal quivering spikes, as Medea burns in revengeful glory on her ascent back to the Sun. *

Whew.  Now that I knew all this, what possible poem could contain such a tale?  

Tricia to the rescue.  In our monthly ZOOM meeting, she suggested a restrictive form known as a 4 x 4. Created by Denise Krebs as a varation of the French quatern, it has four stanzas, of four lines, with four syllables each.  In addition, one line repeats four times, once in each stanza, but moves down a line each time.  Enough structure to support such a potent story, right??

Medea burns

Grief cages her;

It binds her to

him, to them, blood

years spent, now gone.

She cuts at her

grief, cages her

love, becomes all

spines, a weapon.   

She will ascend

having broken

grief’s cage. Then her

heart will be brass.

She dances, a 

wheel of blades, yet

again again

Grief cages her. 

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

My Poetry Sisters responses (to this and/or other art) are found here:







*Do you want to see that cage dress actually on a dancer? Actually being moved in?  Yes, yes, you do. I did some sleuthing on that, too, and here it is, in a clip from this lecture from the Library of Congress. It's at the 40 minute mark.  And if you want to know what the dancers thought of wearing Noguchi's often painful designs, here's a story from the Washington Post.  You're welcome. 

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Michelle Kogan

Friday, May 21, 2021

Mary Lee: You've made a thing

 When I think of Mary Lee, I think of two quotes.  The first is from Parker Palmer:

"Truth is an eternal conversation 

about things that matter conducted with passion and discipline." 

Mary Lee, thank you for teaching and blogging and writing with passion and discipline, and for the chance to be in conversation with you. (And oh, how I wish more of that conversation could've been in person.)

The second quote is from Billy Collins.  It's about poetry, but it speaks to Mary Lee's life's work as a teacher, a blogger, and a writer: 

"To the reader, a poem may seem to be about love or separation or celebration or whatever. 

 But to the poet who is in the process of writing the poem, the poem is about only one thing:

 its make a thing that can stand on its own after you leave the room."  

It's hard to improve on those two quotes, but this poem is for you, Mary Lee. 

After you leave the room

Kids will still murmur; 

books will cast their spells;

pencils, jammed in a jar,

will gossip; desks will chatter

against the floor;

but beneath that, more—

a deeper, singing current,

for you've made a thing,

my friend. It flows out

and on, binding us

together, each voice

brighter, each more true,

standing on our own,

in conversation

with you,


        -----Sara Lewis Holmes

Mary Lee,  you've made a blog. You've made friends.  You've made many, many true poems. You've made a classroom, year after year. And now, as you "leave the room" we rejoice in everything that stands brighter and taller because of you,  and we can't wait to see what you make next.  

Many blessings, and happiness on the river to you!


For more posts about #MarvelousMaryLee, head over to the Poetry Friday roundup today

Friday, April 30, 2021

Poetry Friday: In the Style of Linda Hogan's "Innocence"

I love our "in the style of" poetry challenges.  It's a chance to dive into a poet's work, to find themes, observe structure, play with new techniques. It can also be intimidating.  It's hard to shake the desire to live up to the perfection of the original. That's not possible, of course. Not really the point. We imitate by intention,  sure, but not to exactly copy; we allow for our own experience to color things. Still, YIKES.  

The best way to banish my fear is to study the poem we're striving to mimic as deeply as I can. Luckily, I also have my poetry sisters, who see things that I don't. This month, our chosen poetry model was  Innocence by Linda Hogan.  A beauty of a poem, it slowly unfurls in a descending set of stanzas, beginning like this:

There is nothing more innocent

than the still-unformed creature I find beneath soil,

neither of us knowing what it will become

in the abundance of the planet.

Wow.  So incredibly profound already.  But as we discussed the poem as a group, we were able to pinpoint more of the ordinary.  Kelly observed that the line count is 10-6-4.  I noted that the poet uses a thematic structure of observation,  question, challenge. (Or you could call that discovery, wonder, growth.) Liz pointed out that we could model our poems after just the first line, and see what flowed from there. "There is nothing more _____ than _____. "  (Or go Mad Lib style by stripping more lines down to their underlying structure, as Andi offered.)  We could also, Tanita quietly said, continue to play with the fertile theme of innocence by mining our earliest memories.

Well, reader, what would you do?  So many choices. If you want to try the challenge before you read my response, first read the rest of Linda Hogan's poem here.  Think about what you find of essence in it.  And then give it a go.  Or you could check out all of our takes, and make yours an answer to ours.  Wherever you end up, it's all good. 

In the end, I decided to follow quite a bit of the poem's structure: the line count, the thematic three stanzas, and even a bit of the specific grammar of a few lines.  I learned so much about the original poem, and loved where it took me.  

And what do you know? After this challenge, I feel both less innocent (oh, so that's how she did it) and more (wow, it's still a wonder of a poem.) 


There is nothing more candid

than a tree. Its limbs record what it pushed

aside to find the sun. Every twist and jink splayed 

open, arms caught reaching for light. Below, 

more honesty: thread-thin roots break concrete

with their greed; knots, fat as elephant knees, 

swell to dead ends. Yet, the tree bears pruning

as if shears were but tweezers, growing heavy 

afterwards with the furry nubs of leaves.

It blooms furiously. 

I take picture after picture, 

wondering: how does

this tree admit 

the fullness of each day,

let all be marked, 

tell the beauty in the bent?

The same confession must be my own,

to stagger in pursuit of light,  

be witness to all,  

allow what is.  

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

See how my fellow poets played with Linda Hogan's poem here:






Poetry Friday is hosted today by Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme.  

Friday, March 26, 2021

Poetry Friday: Dizzying Dizains

I think Tanita was kidding when she suggested "dizzying" as a requirement for our March dizain challenge. But maybe not. Writing in a form with several rules can be head-spinning. That said, I quite like this form, having written two in the past few years (Squaring up the Dizain and If Digitopolis Had a Chapel.) The line count (ten) equals the syllable count (ten per line) which makes it compact and sturdy.  As does the core of double couples in the middle of a solid rhyme scheme (ababbccdcd.)  

So I thought it safe, in such a well-built poem, to play with the dizzying wanderings of life.  And even though the completely square form of a dizain is counter to the lovely curves of a labyrinth, I find exploring them both to bring a sense of peace. Exploration within boundaries, life both circular and purposeful.  


If everything adds up, days fairly squared,

if I mark my hours, no circling around,

even then, I am undone, unprepared

for the arcs of my years, how I am bound, 

bent, broken to the curve of old ground;

battle lines not straight but a swelling spin;

what I leave behind circles, floods back in;

seeking center, even math undulates: 

all was once, all will be, all will have been;

what is life but the path our dance creates?

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

Poetry Sisters links:







Poetry Friday is hosted today by Soul Blossom Living

Friday, February 26, 2021

Poetry Friday: Happiness is a Spoon


February's challenge was to write a poem inspired by a roll of the metaphor dice.  After several duds, I rolled "Happiness is a Spoon" and although I don't use that metaphor in my poem, it's inspired by that...and my mother-in-law's spoon drawer. She follows our group efforts on Facebook and is in hospice care as we sit with her today. She can't eat much, so people are feeding her with music. I'm not a singer, but she loves poetry, too, and especially rhyme, so this Poetry Friday is for her.  



Never play with knives, 

but spoons? A way to slap 

knees to music tunes or waste 

an afternoon; soon cards 

are strewn, time as jammy

as a day in June, until noon

by noon by noon, time is

upside-down too soon.

Come let us open then

the drawer of spoons,

stem by stem, lift the

silvery blooms, cold-shined,

and sized (if held just so)

to hold the moon. We will sing, 

then, we’ll be full, on sips of tune; 

no bottom to this lagoon cupped

spoon by spoon, in voices,

not a one by tarnish ruined,

ballooning forth, a swoon 

of spoons, holding love, 

more love, see it there, 

soon, oh soon…

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

My poetry sister's links can be found here: 







Poetry Friday is hosted today by Karen Edmisten.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Poetry Friday: Dictionary Time Travel

This month's challenge was a fun one:  using your birth year, tap into the Merriam-Webster "Time Traveler" site to generate a list of words new to the dictionary that year. Write a poem (any form) from the result. Here's a screenshot of some of "my" words:  

Words, words, words...

First of all, the complete list of words from 1963 was eye-opening. Who knew zip code wasn't in the dictionary until then? And while some words have gone out of style (phat and snarf) and some tech out of use (dot-matrix printer, anyone?) others words have become ordinary (mind game, upscale, scam.) 

Beyond that, though, this challenge sparked a discussion among the Poetry Sisters about word choices, and how language can be behind or ahead of cultural change. For example, sexism was officially recognized by M-W in 1963. Of course, sexism has existed since the beginning of time, but being able to name it was a sign we were also seeing it more clearly. Maybe. (For an explanation of what "first use" of a word means, see here.

The challenge, though, was not just about words. It was about how to use them in a to create something more than a word salad (not a 1963 word, that's 1904.) For example, was writing a sonnet possible with vocabulary like "checkbook journalism" and "support hose" or was free verse the only answer to employing such sore thumb choices? Should we select words that already had something in common (sports words or culturally-charged ones or medical jargon) or should we string words along a personal narrative of memories from our year? 

As usual, having so many choices didn't make the challenge easier. Liz called her first attempt kin to making modern art. Mine was more like graffiti. (Graffiti as a noun---1945, graffiti as a verb---1964.) 

In the end, I found structure in a definition poem. Perhaps an obvious choice for a dictionary challenge, but I didn't plan it that way. As I told my Poetry Sisters, I rarely start with a plan...I write in order to find out what my plan IS. And after some scrounging (1909) and scrawling (1612!) this poem wanted to talk to me about love.  

1963 words are in purple.

Love is….

Love is not a bully 

pulpit or a bodysuit

zipped to fit. It’s not 

mind game.

Not a mini-series, bent

on one-upping itself. 

Love is a space walk. 

Love is a play-action

pass. Love is phat. But oh,

my dragon fruit, love is 

passing rare. We’ll fall off 

the leaderboard. We’ll be

the after-burn of slings

and arrows. We’ll be 

elevator music. What a

dirty trick, and yet…

there we fly, doubled

on a banana seat bike, 

plastic fronds thwapping

from the handlebars. We

ride because love is 

a gut check. Love has

no delete key. Love is 


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

My poetry sisters time-traveling poems can be found here:







Poetry Friday is hosted today by Bookseed Studio.