Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Tomorrow is the last day of April.
This month has flown so quickly.
The end of National Poetry Month is here.
Our intense and intentional celebration of poetry is almost over.

As we exit  this formal time for relishing poetry and  honoring verse, I became curious about the posts I had previously written related to poetry.

Prior to April 2014 I had written 15 poetry posts, ranging in subjects that connected poetry to love, pain, memoir, and experimentation.

Several types of found poetry were explored:  blackout or erasure poetry, book spine poetry, along with carved books.

More traditional forms were also explored including ars poetica, ekphrastic poetry, and ghazals.

And any consideration of poetry is not complete without acknowledging the  poetry of witness, how poetry gives both reader and writer a place to stand, as well as the resilience of poets who write such poetry.

What new poem or poet did you discover during this past month?
What familiar poem resurfaced for you and reminded you of why you love it?

Did you write a poem-- or two-- or seven-- or more?
What new technique or strategy or form did you try?
What poem or poet did you imitate?

Please feel free to share in this space your new learning, discoveries, successes-- and even your failures as you attempted to more deeply explore the world of poetry.

For ideas to continue in your explorations, you may want to explore one or two of my past poetry-related posts. Enjoy these posts from the past year.

Love and Poetry

Blackout Poetry and Carved Novels

Poetry: A Place to Stand

Book Spine Poetry

Poetry in the Time of Pain

Guzzling Ghazals

Came Again, Anaphora

Ars Poetica

Poetic Memoirs

Found Poetry and OCIRA 2013

Essential Poetry Collections

Ekphrastic Poetry

The Poetry of Resilience

Exploding a Moment: Exploring with Writing

Against Forgetting: Poetry of Witness

You may also want to  review or reread the more recent collection of poetry posts from  National Poetry Month 2014

Women and Poetry

Men in Poetry

Haiku Meditations

Conversations in Poetry

The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Mourning

Gravestones: Writing a Life

And as we move into May and leave behind this formally designated and  artificially provided time for us to read, write, celebrate, and discover poetry, my hope is that you will continue to do this as a normal, if not necessary and required, part of  your literacy life.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What new poem or poet  did you discover during this past month?
What familiar poem resurfaced for you and reminded you of why you love it?

Did you write a poem-- or two-- or seven-- or more?
What new technique or strategy or form did you try?
What poem or poet did you imitate?

Write an personal  essay about your new discoveries and experiences with poetry this month.
Or write a persuasive essay about why it is important to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Write a poem about why poetry is important  to you.

Friday, April 25, 2014


What do we write about those who have died?

What do we write to and for those who are left?

Obituaries memorialize the life of our deceased loved one and are often the first piece we write after a death.  I carry a laminated card  of my father's obituary and picture in my Bible.

 I just reread his online obituary, along with the messages of condolences that appear there, as well.

In response to the news of a death, we write those messages designed to comfort, strengthen and give a degree of peace.

With our new technology, we can do this in so many way--online guest books, texts, emails and, of course, the traditional sympathy card.  I have saved the many beautiful cards I received with messages of encouragement and support.

We hear sermons and homilies preached by pastors offering theological assurances and celebrations of a life well-lived.

We remember, along with family and friends of the deceased, as they offer  reflections, remarks and tributes.

Click here to read a tribute to my father, a version of which I offered at his funeral in February.

And then comes the final writing--we must arrange words to be carved in stone--  on headstones, or grave markers, crypt walls or tombs,

All somber and serious.

But... all doesn't have to be so grave-- no pun intended.

My friend, Kevin Cordi, whose own father recently died, sent me a link to an article about the most fascinating cemetery in Sapanta, Romania.  The Cimitirul Vesel or " Merry Cemetery".

In this small town, Woodcarver  Stan Ion Patras collects the stories of his neighbors, observing their lives and taking notes day by day, then carving their stories after their deaths.

According to this article:

Death is not always as grim as it seems. At least not in Sapanta.
That’s because bodies laid to rest in this Romanian town get another chance to tell their tales.
The gravestones in Sapanta’s Cimitirul Vesel, or “Merry Cemetery” are brief glimpses into the lives of the people they immortalize. Over 1,000 blue wooden crosses have crowded into this cemetery, each illustrated with a bright, colorful picture and a darkly-humorous poem.
There’s no point in hiding secrets in this small town in Maramures, so people’s lives are captured honestly in their epitaphs, with none of the sanitizing that happens at many modern funerals. Flaws accompany the deceased into the afterlife — whether it’s a drinking habit or an adulterous relationship.

Click here to read the rest of this article and to see the illustrated crosses. 

Hmmmm.... I wonder exactly what Woodcarver Stan Ion Patras would carve on my cross... or your cross.   What secrets would be captured from my life and  be humorously memorialized in poetry?

J. Patrick Lewis offers two books in this same darkly humorous, poetic vein that will delight children and adults alike.

In Once Upon A Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses, we find 22  short, gravely comical, grimly hilarious poems or epitaphs for folks of various occupations.  Giggles and guffaws are guaranteed as we approach a subject around which we  normally tip-toe and whisper.

Here are two selections:


Here be the bones of Mabel Grady
Extremely thoughtful school-lunch lady
She never served a Jell-O mold
If it was more than six weeks old.

Our grief'
Was Brief

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs takes us beyond  humans, to morbidly and humorously mourning our pets and other animals .  Patrick has teamed with Jane Yolen to offer witty and wickedly funny last words for our furry, winged, and scaled friends.

Sample the play on words, puns, and fun:

Ciao, Cow
This grave is peaceful,
the tombstone shaded,
but I am not here--
 I've been cream-ated.

In this excerpt from title poem, Last Laughs, he urges us to:

...Read the words
 of bugs and fishes,
beasts and birds.
They know it's not
all gloom and doom
that's written
once upon a  tomb.

What do we write about the dead?
What will someone write about us after we are gone?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

Reflect on the life of someone who has died.

Write an obituary or epitaph for that person.

Can you also write a humorous poem in their memory?

Write your own obituary, being brutally honest.  What secret might you include about your life in a humorous way?

Monday, April 21, 2014


Weeping Angel 
Metairie Cemetery, Louisiana
Marcus Mosely
How do we process grief?

What do we do with the feelings of  loss, the spaces  no longer occupied, the voices no longer heard?

What do we do as we encounter the remnants of our  loved-now-gone  one--the pictures, the phone messages, the clothes, the jewelry, the chair, the everything...

How do we establish new habits?
How do we approach a new normal?

Several fathers and mothers of folks I know have died recently.
My own father died in the first month of this year.

And... there is another funeral... for another father... tomorrow.

The processing is ... a process.

As my father remained in the hospital, I wrote.

I wrote poems to stave off the inevitable.  I wrote poems to avoid certain conversations.
I wrote poems that argued with God.
I wrote poems in which God argued with  me.

Poems saved me.
Poems save me.
Always poems.

It is comforting-- a  source of strength--to read poems by others in similar situations, poems written in our common context of death, grief, and mourning.

It is renewing to walk or wallow in the words of those who know your story because they know their own.

Reading these poems is nodding my head--Yes! this one knows what it is like.
It is discovering a name for that which I had been struggling to name.
A validation of my emotions in stanzas.
A credentialing of my experience in verses.

Kevin Young offers two wonderful sources of such poetry.

In  The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, he gathers 150 poems-- poems that walk us through the pain, the grief and the mourning in the most beautiful, remarkable expressions-- poems in which we recognize our own pain,  even if it is old and long-healed.

Young categorizes the poems in five sections mirroring the stages of grief, outlining universal responses, enumerating the process--Reckoning, Remembrance, Rituals, Recovery and Redemption.

This is a compilation of work by our best loved poets.
Your favorite poets are included. Mine are, too.

We are offered, in this collection, a gift that can cover our wounds and heal our open places.

In this anthology he gives us a way through... a way back to ourselves.

In his introduction he explains:

The best poems, it seems to me, evince their origins in the need to speak, or to write; to render a complex fate simply; to render chaos as chaos; or to examine the unseen complexities of seemingly simple, even everyday experience.  A poem must be willing to be unwilled, beckoned by need...
I am struck here that in our time of need, or high celebration, we reach for poetry just as we do food....Poetry steps in at those moments when ordinary words fail: poetry as ceremony, as closure to what cannot be closed.

Kevin Young knows first hand the pain of losing a loved one.  His father died a sudden and tragic death.

In Book of Hours: Poems, he reaches inside to write the kinds of poems he gathered for his anthology.

He reaches back-- a decade after his father's death --to  remember, to analyze, to rant, to  question.  He interweaves his pondering with birth-- and many small dyings and risings.

He starts in Bereavement near the beginning of his collection:

Behind his house, my father’s dogs
sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.

They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails

& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal

& forgetful.
Each day they wake
seeking his voice,

their names...

Click here to read the entire poem, Bereavement.

His words take us through a lifetime of living and mourning and living again to, in his last words in the book., an invitation to sing.

the moon's squinting

into space.
The trees
bow like priests.

The storm lifts
up the leaves.

Why not sing.

Poems heal us.
Poems save us.

Which poems have you read in the midst of mourning?

What other writings have your read in your grief?

What poems did you write to save yourself?

Click here read my related previous post, Lifetimes, Deaths, and Beyond, which suggests additional resources related to death for children, as well as adults.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Remember and reflect on a loss in your life.  It may be a death-- or it may be the loss of job, relationship or something else important to you.

What did you read to help you through your loss?
What did you write to help you process your loss?

Write a poem of remembrance. Celebrate the absent.  Explore your journey back to yourself.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Poems talk to each other

Poetic expression can be a sublime way to address our other self(s), our God, our friend, our lover, as well as, objects, situations, nature, and more.

Poets can talk to each other in their common language of images and metaphor, rhythm and meter, rhyme and alliteration, emotion and lyrical expressions,

Poets Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser have always exchanged poems, but practiced this habit  more intentionally after Kooser was diagnosed with cancer. In  Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry, we have the privilege of eavesdropping on their short poetic bursts of conversation in which they consider everything aspect of their lives-- nature, aging, friendship, poetry, and more.  The continuity of the conversation is uninterrupted, as they have chosen to omit attributions of which poems are whose.

Here we peek at  their ongoing conversation:

Old friend,
perhaps we work to hard
at being remembered.

Which way will the creek
run when time ends?
Don't ask me until
this wine bottle is empty.

When my bowl is still half full,
You can eat out it too,
and when it is empty,
just bury it out in the flowers.

All those years
I had in my pocket.
I spent them,

Earlier Kooser had published Winter Morning Walks : 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison.

To whom might you write short poems ?  With whom might you exchange a conversation in poetry

While Kooser and Harrison addressed the stuff of everyday living,  David Breeden and Steven Schroeder conversed and collaborated in poetic conversations around religion and philosophy and the meaning of life beyond our everyday living.

In Raging for the Exit: A Commonplace Book, we witness their poetic dialogue. Unlike Kooser and Harrison, we know whose thoughts we are reading--Breeden's are in regular type and left-justified, while Schroeder's are in italics and right-justified.  As they respond to each other, they weave a map of evolving ideas and  a window into the progression of their thoughts.

( from How Many Miles?)
....Oh, Babylon,
The merchants will weep
And the saints rejoice
When you fall.

But as for the rest
We will have
Forgotten our way
And we won't
Be back again.


 (from there)              
  we forgot
                                            the song singing
                                            us, thought music
                                            like language ended
                                            when we laid down
                                           our harps and

                                          by the rivers
                                          there.  We wept
thinking ourselves
 a poem abandoned...

 What religious or philosophical themes might you address in conversations written in poems?

One of the richest conversations that exist in poetry is For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, a choreopoem by Ntozake Shange, created to be performed.

Both the book and the Broadway play  were moving experiences for me.

 Remarkable and powerful, For Colored Girls. the film directed by Tyler Perry, received little of its deserved recognition and accolades.

He uses Shange's poems as the dialogue for his characters with very little modification, and presents a powerful conversation which fosters much reflection and  many further conversations.

The preview below features the first poem in the book, which contains the title line and opens the movie.

 Can you express a social issue in poetic conversation or series of poetic dialogues?

We can also engage in conversation with the poems of others, their teaching, and their influence on us.

 This is the  focus of  collected poems in A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford  edited by  Becca J. R. Bachman.  20 years after his death, poets address Stafford directly, remember him, and reflect on his work in relation to their work, creating a letter to him, a conversation with him.  

What writer, teacher or other person will you engage in a poetic conversation or letter?

Finally,  poems can declare our love and praise the object of our affection. 

I have spoken in previous posts about my affinity for short traditional Japanese poetic forms.  I was delighted to recently find a form new to me-- the somonka.  Robert Brewer writes about this form in the current issue of Writer's Digest (see page 17) in his Poetic Asides column.

The somonka is a ten-line, two-stanza  love letter.  Using the structure of the tanka ( five lines with a 5-7-5-5-5 syllable structure), one person writes the first stanza, while the receiver of the first stanza writes the second.

Click here to read sample somonka.

To whom will you address your love poem, your somonka?

With whom can you engage in a conversation in poems?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Write a poem about something  that has been on your mind.  It may be a poem about circumstances in your everyday life, a philosophical or religious quandary, a social justice issue. or a declaration of love.

It may focus on a person from your past or someone in your life now.

Once you have completed your poem, share it with another person and invite them to respond in poetry, as well.

You may continue to share back and forth creating a series of poems-- a conversation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I just discovered Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons a wonderful new children's book (an all-people's book) of haiku.

Here are my own haiku inspired by this find.
Watching the spring rain
bring life to the presumed dead--
tears watering growth.
Summer winds catch our breath
tossing us into the blazing  sun.
Light dispels darkness.
Falling like crisp leaves
we blanket the earth and ourselves
for the coming sleep.
Cold and white and soft
the earth has disappeared --hidden
under a hush of quiet.

Haiku celebrates nature
and the turning of seasons
and the turning of our lives
in short bursts of images
which shift and turn
causing us to rotate
the captured moment
around and over
displaying new angles
surprised by unexpected truths
gasping at recognition.


I love haiku.
I love a variety of short poetic forms.
But of them all, Haiku is my favorite.

I think because I talk so much, it is an exercise in both discipline and creativity for me to think small-- in short forms, in few words, in limiting structures.

In the traditional Japanese form, haiku was originally  hokku  and  did not appear as an independent form, but was an integrated verse or section of other traditional forms like Renga or Tanka or Haibun.

From the time of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), one of the most well-known Japanese poets, however the hokku form began to appear as stand-alone poems and  was renamed haiku by Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).


In Japanese, haiku is written in a vertical line.

In English, we write haiku in three lines with a suggested number of syllables for each -- five for the first and third, and seven for the second lines. The content of traditional haiku is usually nature and highlights a shift in perspective, focus or thinking.  The first two lines carry one idea with the shift usually occurring in the third line.

I believe the limits of the structure free us to be creative in ways we may not have considered otherwise.

When I teach and encourage haiku, we look at many models from both Japanese (translated) and English.  In translation, the Japanese haiku rarely fit the 5-7-5 restrictions, so it becomes easy to make my point--- dont' let the limits bind you like barbed-wire.

Read samples of  Basho's haiku translated by three different editors/translators.

Additional haiku written by Basho can be read here.

Read samples of  haiku by Masaoka Shiki here.

For more haiku you may want to visit the Haiku Poet's Hut.


I have been surprised and delighted to discover haiku in unlikely places.

  Richard Wright, author of Black Boy and Native Son, wrote numerous haiku in the last year of his life, which his family gathered and published after his death. Family members indicate he was never without his haiku notebook.

His short earthy everyday thoughts present a modern twist on this ancient Japanese from.  Several  are included below:

I am nobody
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.

 In a misty rain
 A butterfly is riding
 The tail of a cow.

With a twitching nose
A dog reads a telegram
On a wet tree trunk

 Likewise a recent volume by Sonia Sanchez, Morning Haiku, celebrates life, mourns beloved writers, artists and others, analyzes our life together  and experiments with this ancient form. She dedicates series of linked haiku to people remembered (such as drummer Max Roach, and singer Odetta), as well as events we still ponder, such as 9/11

These two verses below are excerpted from 21 Haiku, her series for Odetta

by politics
you dared to love

your music asked:
has your song a father
or a mother?


Finally, I think about our younger writers.  Children love haiku--both reading the short forms and trying their hand at writing it as well.

In addition to  Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons, I offer several excellent books that will delight student writers on the  first and second, tenth and twelfth readings-- and then serve as perfect mentor texts as they write their own small verses.


When a moment is big
or emotions uncontainable
haiku stretches to hold it all

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

 Look out your window.

 What do you see?

What captures your attention?

Write about a small moment you observe.

Reflect on an important event, person or situation in you life.
Compose a haiku or series of haiku to capture that moment.

Here are sample haiku that I wrote sitting on my deck last August and September.
They may spark your own ideas.