Posts Tagged 'Poetry'

Happy National Poetry Month!

In honor of National Poetry Month, on Saturday I read at the Santa Barbara Library, along with six other poets who also had a new poetry collections published in 2009. It’s really nice to see that people are still coming out for readings and that poetry is still alive and well.

Even if you are not a poet or avid reader of poetry, this might be a good time to bring poetry into your life. Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

1)    Select a poem you love. Copy it and put it in your pocket. For the month of April, share it with co-workers, family, and friends. This is called the “Poem in Your Pocket,” program.

2)    Receive a poem a day. Here’s where you can sign up: Each morning in your mailbox, you will receive a new poem to celebrate National Poetry Month. Incidentally, the poems have been selected from new books published this spring.

3)    Attend a poetry reading.

4)    Organize a poetry reading.

5)    Subscribe to a literary magazine.

6)    Revisit an old favorite poem.

7)    Memorize a poem.

8)    Write a poem.

9)    Send a poem to a loved one.

10) Start a poetry notebook where you copy and save favorite quotations and poems.

11) Put a poem in your child or loved one’s lunch box.

12) Buy a poetry book.

Although I have done a number of things on this list, the most recent undertaking was to buy a copy of Billy Collins’ latest poetry collection which was just released in paperback. It’s called, Ballistics: Poems (Random House, 2010). As usual, it’s never easy for me to choose a favorite poem of Billy’s because I love them all, but here’s one to whet your appetite and maybe send you to the bookstore to buy the entire collection:


As young as I look,

I am growing older faster than he,

seven to one

is the ratio they tend to say.

Whatever the number,

I will pass him one day

and take the lead

the way I do on our walks in the woods.

And if this ever manages

to cross his mind,

it would be the sweetest

shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.


I wrote this blog in honor of my cousin, Jed’s 55th birthday. (Happy Birthday, Jed!)

Most of my favorite poems are found on the pages of Billy Collins’s poetry collections. So many of his sentiments and images resonate with me. If I had to chose one poem to share, it would be, “Forgetfulness.” The main reason is that this poem inspired me to rediscover the poet in me who had been dormant since childhood.

This is how it happened. It was 2003 or 2004, and I was in the charter class of Spalding University’s low-residency program, working on my MFA. Our class was invited to a Billy Collins reading at a neighboring university. It was just after Billy completed his term as Poet Laureate of the United States. The university auditorium was packed and Billy read many poignant poems, including “Forgetfulness.”

I vividly remember chuckling to myself throughout his entire reading. It was just about the time of my fiftieth birthday and I was beginning to forget more than I remembered. Billy received a lot of laughs during his reading, but with an audience filled with baby boomers, I think he got the most chuckles while reading this poem. If you have ever heard Billy read, you understand his talent and dry voice. In his poem, “Forgetfulness,” he incorporates his classic teasing technique told in a conversational and accessible manner. His imaging is extremely clever and it continues to resonate with me this many years after that first discovery.

I rarely will choose to spend the time to stand in line for an author signings, but after Billy’s reading, I purchased all his books piled all the way up to my chin and decided to wait for his signature on each one.  I didn’t care how long it took me to reach the front of the line. I knew that his reading would launch the new poet in me and I wanted to avail myself of the opportunity to read the poems of a giant.

You can hear him read on u-tube or you can read it here:


The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

You Don’t Have to Be A Poet to Write Poetry

This past weekend marked the first of my poetry readings for my latest collection, THE GUILT GENE. This is a collection which I really enjoyed putting together.

It has been said that poets should not give away their secrets because there are people seated on benches waiting to copy and emulate—but as an instructor of writing, it is just a part of what I do. The secret I want to share with you is that you do not have to be a poet to write poetry.

Really. You don’t and I will tell you why.

The first poem I wrote as an adult was about fifteen years ago. The poem, called Park Avenue, was inspired by being watched by a senior citizen sitting on a bench outside my favorite coffee shop. As a woman taught to park in New York, by her car-loving father, I knew that I was a darn good parallel-parker. The gentleman on the bench on Park Avenue insisted on staring at me and his glance aggravated me so much that I decided to write a poem about the experience.

I read the poem at my writer’s meeting that week and received accolades. As a nonfiction writer, I was proud of my work, and realized the importance of words stemming directly from emotion. In addition, there is this certain unexplainable magic that happens when a poem is born. The poet is filled with a sense of joy and fluttering which creeps along the skin. Just try it. Sit for a few moments and think about an emotion or image which has recently grabbed you and write a poem about it.  Examine the details in your every day world; isolate one moment or image and dig deeper into it and you will surprise yourself.

My other secret is that most of my poems are inspired by a recent image or emotion. Below are two poem selections from THE GUILT GENE:

The Library

In the happy moments

of childhood

a public library sits

nestled between a department store

and a post office,

the only place I could find peace

from the yelling and screaming

at home

and the fallout shelters at school.

That little library card

bearing my name beneath

lamination could protect me

more than the words of my father

who would take me onto his lap,

swear to me that everything would be okay.

In the end books would save me.

Knowledge is the only thing

that cannot be stolen away.

California Roll

On route to my favorite coffee shop

in the building beside your place,

my mind meanders toward

the neighboring mountains

where we trekked long ago

and yodeled to the world how we

wanted to be forever arm-in-arm

when all of a sudden

a glance into my rear view mirror

meets the flashing lights of the law

signaling for me to pull aside.

He asks about the stop sign I blew through.

Having a blank moment

I mutter something about being

new to the area

don’t mention that for the past few weeks

friends and family have been

teaching me the lovely local dance

they call the California Roll.

I don’t mention you either.

I just say I’m sorry.

It won’t happen again.

the guilt gene_cover

Journaling About Inspiring Moments

 Whenever a writer moves on, I believe we should take a moment to reflect on their work and I have made this my own particular practice. Even if you were not a great admirer of their work, I believe it is important to stop and examine not only their contributions to the literary world, but also what drove them to the page in the first place.

In yesterdays’ newspaper, I learned that the confessional poet, W.D. Snodgrass had died of old age. I had not read a lot of his work, but with the click of my Google finger it was easy to read some of his most popular poems. Even though Snodgrass wrote more than 30 books, the book of poetry which brought him his Pulitzer Prize in 1960 was called Heart’s Needle. This particular book grew from his apparent heartbreak of losing custody of his daughter in a very bitter divorce.

Even though many have credited Snodgrass as the founding member of confessional poetry, he disliked the term, believing it had too many religious connotations and he was not religious. I tend to agree, although the term for me denotes a certain amount of intimacy and an invitation for the reader to enter into the poet’s life.

Most authors are compelled to the page because of an inciting incident, something that may have happened early in their lives. I have always been fascinated by studying these inciting incidents amongst my peers. For me, personally, the incident which drove me to the journal and a lifetime of writing was the suicide of my grandmother.

Reading about Snodgrass’ life inspired me to journal about inciting incidents. What about you Are you able to identify what has drawn you to the written word? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Old Notebook Prowling

Many people are advocates of spring cleaning, but over the years, I’ve become an advocate of fall cleaning. I think it all began when my kids were young and September meant shipping them off to school. I love all three of my kids, but after a summer of activities with little or no time to write, I craved my time alone.

Now that my kids are grown I continue my ritual of fall cleaning. You may think this involves emptying out closets of unused items, but, in actuality, it is about thumbing through old notebooks for writing ideas.

For example, yesterday I pulled out a red journal with unlined parchment paper, used in a poetry workshop with Sharon Olds. I reread my comments about women’s purses and my observations about their relationships with them—their sacredness, clutched close, jammed with receipts, business cards, scribbled notes and unsent letters. I thought about my new purple purse (I adore purple) and my vow to keep it clean. I thought about other women and their sentiments about their own purses. All these are wonderful seeds for today’s poem.

I just love the thoughts and surprises hidden inside the covers of old journals. Don’t you?

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Quote of the Week

"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me

I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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