Monday, March 30, 2015


ESO/T. Preibisch

We have been on earth for thousands of years.

Wandering and wondering, roaming and  researching, exploring and examining our world.
Seeking to understand, to number, to order, to name-- all that is...

Ever attempting to answer the perennial questions:
What is real?  What is true?
How did it all begin and how does it all work?
Who are we?
And why are we here?

What if the answers are more complex than we ever imagined, yet far simpler than we have guessed?

What if it's all poetry?

I recently discovered several amazing books that seem to suggest just such an answer.

In CosmoLyrical: what if it's all poetry?Phievalon (stage name of spoken-word artist Phil Long) offers answers from across the cosmos, pointing us to language  and ideas and poetry as the question and the answer.   And the source of it all-- A Poet!

In an excerpt from What if it's all poetry?  He offers the following:
What if matter is actually made up of what really matters?..... what if atoms were iambs.... and rocks  are merely metaphors?....
And in another excerpt he asserts:

That we are absurd,
we spoken words,
language in dust,
poetry in protein,
amino acid adventures,
prose, still waiting for answers.
This IS my reason to believe; a fairy-tale God-poet
writing souls into eternity
with dust...
Click  to listen to What if it's all poetry? or  watch a live performance at the Java Monkey in Decatur, Georgia.

Likewise,  we are invited to continue our ponderings and wonderings about the cosmos, our existence, and the whys of it all in The Universe Verse by James Lu Dunbar.

His book serves up a double dish of delight--- poetry and comics converge to explain the origins of the universe, our own earth, and life, including human beings  He spans all time and theories, from the Big Bang to the invention and benefits of writing.  In between he considers energy, space, time, matter, DNA, and much more.

He ends with an invitation to continue to question what we know and what is known;

While science is new
and still in it's youth,
already it's shown us
such beautiful truth,
all it needs is a question
and some willing sleuth.
Do you like to wonder?
Do you like to ask?
You might be just who
we need for this task....
The universe is a chain
 and you're one lucky link,
 so be grateful and kind,
 and do try to think!

Science in rhymes and frames.
Theories in verse and panels.

In order to appreciate this book, you must see the text integrated with the images--- They cannot be separated.  Click here to see images, as well as a brief  video allowing you to peek inside the book.

Poets have always contemplated, metaphorized, and versified the universe, their world, and their place in both.  They have pondered in galactic generalities, as well as personalized specificities.  We have volumes of poetry which support the notion that it's all poetry.

 In Verse & Universe: Poems about Science and Mathematics, editor Kurt Brown has gathered  quintessential representations of such poetry by poets we know and love, including Charles Simic, Howard Nemerov, Albert Goldbarth, Jorie Graham, John Updike, William Stafford, Rita Dove, Billy Collins, and more.

This collection of verses tackles all that exists.  The selections include topics such as the universe, space, time, matter, heavenly bodies, earth, animals, and humans, as well as theory and speculation, and numbers.

Science and math translated into poetic wisdom, reflections, and questions.
Theory and research in stanzas.

One of the epigraphs chosen by Brown, a quote by Edward Abbey from The Journey Home, says it all:
Any good poet, in our age at least, must begin with the scientific view of the world; and any scientist worth listening to must be something of a poet, must possess the ability to communicate to the rest of us his sense of love and wonder at what his work discovers.

Abbey seems to agree--- it's all poetry.

I remember my  amazement at Carl Sagan's Cosmos.  These poetic texts on the same subjects make perfect companions to Sagan's now classic scientific work.

And not only is it all poetry on the cosmic scale; it is all poetry in our personal lives, as we consider where we fit in the larger plan, place, and purpose.

In the Bible, Ephesians 2:10 asserts that we are God's workmanship,  his masterpiece, his opus, his handiwork------  the Greek word here is poiema.  
Yes....we are God's poems.
It is all poetry.

In poetry, we can  seek, name, number, and order our lives in the context of the cosmos. We can observe, reflect, and question who we are individually, as well as cosmically.

In Secrets to the Universe, Wit Woliczko has recorded, in haiku and senryu, personal observations and theories of his own life in the universe.  Here are two samples:

How does one slow time?
Listen to every second....
for Infinity.

I anticipate
to look at the world anew
with every poem

And young writer, eleven -year old Savion Harris writes poetry to explore his narrow, homeless universe. His poem Questions is included in  2014 Rattle Young Poets Anthology.

Who am I?
Where do I belong?
Do I have a home?...
I'm not even sure if
I exist.

And finally, as we consider our lives in our world, lived in relationship to all that exists, there is nothing that we think, feel, say, do or encounter, that is not poetry, that cannot become a poem.

So in closing I offer Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis.  In this collection,we find people, animals, places, riddles and reading, nature and nonsense---- all become poems.

What if it's all poetry?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Consider those perennial questions:

What is real?  What is true?
How did it all begin and how does it all work?
Who are we?
And why are we here?

Write a meditation exploring these questions.

Consider the notion that it is all poetry.  Write an essay, personal narrative, or poem entitled What if it's all poetry?

Sunday, March 22, 2015


I saw my first robin of the season on the way to church last week.

The sun was shining.  It was warmer that day than it had been in a long time.

I did not wear my puffy down coat.
No hat.
No gloves.
No boots.

Just a light shawl.

I have been hearing birds singing ever since that day.

Spring is here.

And we welcome this season of new life.
We welcome the shedding of  heavy clothes--the stripping of  winter skins
We look with anticipation at bare limbs beginning to sprout buds-- the foretaste of green leaves  and colorful blossoms.

We even welcome the rain that will come in seasonal abundance, smelling of soil and growth and sunshine.

Spring inspires poets.

We can't look at all the changes and beauty of this time of year without painting images on paper, seeding our world with words of  resurrected life, and welcoming the new lightness that we are beginning to feel.

We can't help but stand at our windows with Billy Collins in his poem, Monday,  and watch the world gradually dress itself in lovely Easter finery.
The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

We experience these changes with Basho in his haiku--- with our eyes and our noses.
Spring air —
woven moon      
and plum scent.
 The  rays shift and shade new angles--in 812, Emily Dickinson highlights that spring light

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you....
 Several years ago, as my fifth graders and I were walking back in to our school from recess, we saw several crocuses just blooming.  These were the first flowers we  had seen that spring.  At their insistence, I snapped a picture.

Once back in our room, we immediately engaged in a cumulative sentence process (Holland 2012, pp 171-175) to  collaboratively produce the following cumulative poem:

Five purple crocuses
pushed their heads up
through the hard winter soil
greeted the sun
opened their silken petals
drank the sweet spring rain
and danced--
just for us.

As you search for poems that reflect your spring spirit, there are many resources that offer what you seek.

The Academy of  American Poets Website, Poets.Org, offers a range of spring poems

Poetry Foundation also offers us a range of poems and articles about spring

Another source for classic and contemporary spring poems is the poetry section of

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

 Stand at your window and observe the seasonal signs and changes that indicate spring is here.

Take a walk noting the evidences of new growth and life.

Write the longest sentence you can, detailing your observations.  Include many clauses, phrases actions, and descriptions.

Then begin to choose several phrases from your sentence to create your own cumulative poem.

Here is my sentence and resulting cumulative poem:

New life hides beneath the surface waiting for one more drop of rain,  reaching for one more ray of sunlight, hoping for a quiet breath of spring air, while judging just the right moment to poke through the hard dirt, to show one bare bud, to furl one green leaf,  gasping at the struggle to defy winter death.

New life hides
beneath the surface
waiting for one more drop of rain
one more  ray of sunlight
and a quiet breath of spring air
while judging the right moment
to emerge
poking through the hard dirt
showing one bare bud
unfurling one green leaf
at the struggle
to defy winter death.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


 I talk a lot.

Sometimes it would be better if I didn't utter so many words.  Or maybe no words.

When I write, I also use many words. Writing group members and friends who edit my work are always suggesting that I not be so repetitive--- that I use fewer words.

In order to control and combat that wordy urge in writing, I naturally gravitate toward short forms--- haiku, haibun, tanka and the like. (See my earlier posts related to short forms: Haiku Meditations and Conversations in Poetry.)

As an illustrator, I would probably be that artist with too many lines, too much color, and many unnecessary details.

I recently discovered two delightful new books that have perfected the minimalist approach-- in both words and images.

 Work: An Occupational ABC  by Kellen Hatanaka  challenges us to revisit our classic conceptions and connotations of jobs, who can do them, and how they are to be done. Women are engaged in jobs we stereotypically portray as male-centered.  Elderly folks are included, as well, as young folks.  And the illustrations offer people of a variety of colors, and even include, on the xenologist  pages, a four-legged person from another world.

Each  page (and some two-page spreads)  include a large capital letter and one word identifying an occupation. Simple.  Yet as we ponder the array of jobs-- some we have heard of and others that  may be unfamiliar-- we begin to notice connections and  embedded stories. We begin to see hidden visual jokes and surprises. Complexity.

The cover shows the illustration from the grocer page, but to be fully enjoyed, this illustration cannot be separated from the forest ranger page preceding it, and the  horticulturist page following it.

I collect ABC books, and this is that, but so much more.  Children and adults alike will delight each time they discover a new  twist and turn in Hatanaka's creative offering.

To view images from this book and read Maria Popova's related article, Rethinking Our Atlas of Possibilities: An Alphabet Book of Imaginative, Uncommon, and Stereotype-Defying Occupations, click here.

 Before After by Anne-Margo Ramstein and Matthias  Aregui enchants our eyes and our minds.This wordless book will provide hours of contemplation and fun for everyone who opens these pages.
What comes before? What comes after?  We all know the koan about the chicken or the egg-- in this book  the egg comes first...or does it?

Again, children and adults will delight in discovering  connections, humor, reappearance of previous items and ideas, literary allusions, political statements and more--- all with no words.  Much discussion, laughter, and after-thinking will be generated around reasons an item is before or after.

Click here to see sample images from Before After.

Both of these books, discovered within days of each other, immediately reminded me of the artistic and intriguing visual conundrums offered by Blexbolex. With only one or two  words  to  label each image, he also creates connections-- some obvious and some obscure.   His books,People and Seasons, will make perfect companions for Work: An Occupational ABC  and  Before After.

Click here to see images from People.
Click here to see images from Seasons.
When the words are few
the images can grab you
and say it all.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Examine the images in the above books. Note and write about some of the connections, patterns, humor, literary allusions, political or societal statements.  

Reflect on times when images, rather than words, delivered strong messages for you.

Write an essay or poem about that event or situation or moment.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


What is going on when a writer is not writing?

You know what I am talking about.  Now that I have mentioned it, you realize that your favorite blog has not shown up in your mailbox for several weeks.   Or perhaps it is months.

Or you have been waiting and waiting for a new novel from your favorite writer.  You are missing her characters and their escapades that mirror yours. Or maybe it is the exotic locales to which you travel through her pages that you miss.

Perhaps the poet whose words you cannot live without has not published a new collection for quite a while. There has been no way for you to examine your interior landscapes or map outer-region observations without the words from this prophet who poetically turns everything inside out, bringing clarity to your world and naming your realities.

What is going on when a writer is not writing?

I have not been writing.
I am guilty.
At least I have not been writing the intended writing ... or  the "should-be" writing.

I am guilty of being absent from this blog for about a month now.  And the spaces between posts over time since I began the blog has stretched to a length that tortures me, haunts me..... chases me in the night, holding up idea after idea which I have not been able to pursue.

How long is the window on writing ideas?  Do they have a shelf life and have I missed out on some of these fleeting ideas forever?   See my earlier post, Expiration Dates, exploring these questions.

In the meantime,  I have been "out" living an extremely busy life.
You know what I mean... you are busy too... appointments, meetings, events, projects....
I am too tired to write when I finally get home... or so I tell myself.

I am a morning person, so if it doesn't begin in the morning, it is probably not going to happen.

In the meantime,  I have been working on my book outline for our  2015 Advanced Summer Institute in the Columbus Area Writing Project.  And I have been writing responses to thoughtful reflections, questions, and suggestions from those who will be writing chapters for this book I  will be editing.

I have also been procrastinating,  a process which I have turned into a high art. See my earlier post, Procrastination and Writing, which details all the ways I manage to write and not write at the same time.

One of the most productive activities, in which I have engaged during this time is reading--- reading about "the writer's life."

 The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo was just what I needed during this period, as I reassessed my life as a writer.   It was suggested by a member of my writing group.  I already had it on my iPad, but moved it up to next on my To Be Read List.

In this meditation on the writing life, DeSalvo gives us glimpses and gulps of  real writers' lives and processes-- famous writers, some we may not know, classic writers, as well as contemporary.

  (This book)... is based not upon how I believe writers should work, and not upon how I work, but upon decades of research into the writing process and the work habits of real writers. If we understand the writing process, learn how real writers work, and use that information to develop our unique identity as writers, we'll transform our writing lives.

As we read how these writers write, research, persevere, and sometimes fail, we find these reflections to be invitations, as the author suggests in the introduction:

...invitations for us to think about specific techniques we can use to enter the slow writing life; find ways ways to deal with the emotional pitfalls-- fears, anxiety, judgement, self-doubt--that inevitability accompany our work; delve into what it means to live a healthy and productive creative life; and celebrate our tenacity and our accomplishments.

I am still considering DeSalvo's idea of slow writing:
I'd begun collecting anecdotes about how slowly many famous writers and artists worked.
..."slow writing" doesn't just take time, but makes time."  Slow writing is a meditative act: slowing down to understand our relationship to our writing, slowing down to determine our authentic subjects, slowing down to write complex works, slowing down to study our literary antecedents.
Slowing down...

Even as I am still digesting the helpful, encouraging, and challenging words in this text, I wanted more of the same.   So I turned to another book in my To Be Read Pile.

Curiosity's Cats: Writers on Research edited by Bruce Joshua Miller proved to be the perfect  companion book.

Like DeSalvo, Miller also gives us peeks into the processes and postures of writers-- this time as they engage in and reflect on research for a variety of types of writing and final products.  He introduces his work:

  ...(this) is a book about context, primary sources, and the indispensable value of libraries and archives as repositories of original books, documents, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals, photographs and tracts.
 He goes on to emphasize the importance of research in the life of a writer:

"I've heard, to often, the old admonition: write what you know," says novelist Margot Livesey in her essay,  He Liked Custard. "I was slow to understand that research could allow me to know more..."

Indeed as writers, we cannot write well without engaging in research.  I find this to be true, even to produce the shortest poem... or this blog.  And what a variety of ways we can find information, follow the trail of one fact, or trace the history or impact of one idea.

The essays in  Curious Cats take us inside this process from the varied perspectives of  thirteen very different writers.

As I return to my blog today, still pondering all that I have read and am still learning about the writing life, I am thankful always that I am a writer.   See my earlier post, Thankful I Am a Writer for all the reasons why and also  for several additional resources about about the writing life.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on your own writing processes, postures and habits.  

When do you write?  When is it difficult for you to write?
What helps you? What factors hinder you in the writing process?

When  and how do you engage in research?

Write an essay describing your  own processes and the value of knowing what other writers do. Include advice you deem essential for a beginning or struggling writer.