Poet Christopher J. Jarmick: Thoughts on Writing and Dealing with Inner Darkness

What do you call someone who opens an independent brick & mortar bookstore in this age of e-everything?

bookt

A fool?

fool

An optimist?

optimist

A bit of both?

 

fool plus (2)

NOPE. Not at all.

I call him a super hero!

hero

Christopher J. Jarmick is not only a marvelous poet, but a owner of the wonderful BookTree in Kirkland, Washington.

booktree

Click this Link to go to BookTree website 

And I had the good fortune to publish his incredibly passionate collection Not Aloud with MoonPath Press.

9781936657193-Perfect-DRAFT.indd

A little more about Chris:

Christopher J. Jarmick is owner of BookTree, Kirkland’s independent book store. Creative and Freelance Writer, he’s author of Not Aloud (2015 MoonPath Press).

Visit him on his blog, PoetryIsEverything

Click this Link to Chris’ Poetry is Everything blog

jarmick

Before I get to the interview with Chris, I can’t help but post a favorite poem from Not Aloud.

CemetaryMeme

First question, Chris–

What brought you to poetry?

It happened in stages.  First Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and Dr. Seuss.  Rhymes were fun.

 garden

Then I discovered Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti when I was about 11.  I thought this is amazing.

This is poetry?

 ferlinghetti

Who is this guy?

And getting answers meant going to the library back in those pre-internet/Google days and asking questions.

 library

I learned about the ‘beats’ and this amazing poem called “Howl”:

 howl

I tried to understand more about these poems and poets and I became interested in their influences Blake, Baudelaire, Rexroth,Whitman (plus many many others and noticed some anti-war poetry from Denise Levertov and others).

 peace

I started writing poetry and got a poem published in a national magazine when I was 12 (Dear Troubled Youth).

 I must be a writer and poet, right?

And so I was bit.

 poet

I realized how poorly poetry was taught in schools (most of the time) and I would have soured to it if I had not made my discoveries and done research on my own.

-Mark Twain.

What is the best advice you received as a writer?

 Read.

 Read everything and remain curious.

Read, observe, and listen.

how

You want to be open and truthful and develop your b.s. detector.

 ask

If you don’t like reading very much, you aren’t going to be a writer worth reading.

 king

‘Write every day’ is also very good advice.

Too many resist this one.

  bradbury

Write fast and edit later.

If you can’t just write, get a prompt and write to the prompt and challenge yourself.

 edit

You learn more by failing than by being successful.

 fail

So fail often (hopefully in private).

It is important to also accept that it is okay to skip a day or two of writing.

Forgive yourself.  But no excuses.  No laziness.

 not trying

Develop the habit, the writing addiction.

 Get over yourself and write even if it is junk.

 You absolutely must read every day however.

 Read more, write often and accept that most of what you write will be awful.

 good

What is the least helpful advice you received?

 “Write what you know.”

Terrible.

 It should be:

Write and when you discover you don’t know what you are writing about—research, learn and then write some more.

 You don’t know, what you don’t know and you are always learning so why would you stick to writing what you know?

Zora

Writing is always a journey and journeys are supposed to be meaningful and that means you are learning as you journey; sharing and teaching as you write.

 As you experience life of course write about that, but let it lead you to new paths and new discoveries.

 journey

“Find your voice” is another bit of supposedly helpful advice that is also problematic.

 You already have a voice and while you absolutely need to explore and discover as much about yourself and therefore develop your voice, it is already a part of you.

 It’s the voice that is insisting you write.

 voltaire

You can write in different voices, you can be a mimic, you can stretch and should stretch until you are uncomfortable and then stretch some more.

 The true voice that you already have will tell you what is b.s. and what is honest if you remember to listen.

 hemingway

If you read and listen more than you write you’ll have an authentic voice– nothing to ‘find’, it’s already within.

voice listen

Most creative people go through difficult or dark times.

What helps bring you back up when you are down?

 Sheesh.

 If you get to your 30s or beyond and are a sensitive creative sort of spirit, then you have developed some coping mechanisms that are working.

 Managing frustration, foul moods, self-doubts and other things would be a full-time job if I didn’t develop a way to take a quick time-out.

 Get the hell out of my own head.

 head

Stop blaming others.  Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, abusers… the blame game won’t let you heal.

 point

Deep breathing exercises a couple of times per day (5 minutes is often enough time) and some positive self-talk that isn’t too sweet or insipid is necessary.

All you have control over is how you will deal with the day.

In the photo a beach in Zanzibar at sunset where there is an inscription on the sand "Breathe Deeeply".

Let good things happen.

Let the good in.

There is also good around you that is yours for the asking.

So ask and take some of the good.

 see good

When darkness closes in I wonder if there is someone I have not forgiven that I am allowing to take control of my mood.

 You must forgive and stop carrying more weight around than you need to.

 easier (2)

There will be times when you might have to fake it for the benefit of someone near you that doesn’t need your dark mood.

 pain

The most difficult person to forgive is yourself but you must learn how to be better at that every day.

 forgive

There are some people that I used to spend time with who were very negative and overly critical.

 I can be negative and overly-self-critical without anyone’s help so obviously I learned that life is too short to spend too much time with very negative, ‘mean’ people.

 Most of these people weren’t close friends so it’s common sense to limit my time with them.

I don’t have to avoid them, its simply a matter of not spending too much time with them.

  negative people

One can also escape with a movie, or a book or by eating a little too much ice cream or playing music waaaay too loud.

art

I learned by my mid 20s that killing yourself slowly through drugs or alcohol is just another way of wasting time and being irresponsible.

It creates more problems and more darkness.

And too much escape will only create a super storm that will knock you on your ass.

 drug

Sometimes I recognize a dark cloud coming in and I can minimize its visit.

 I sometimes can be affected and even infected by my perception of someone else’s mood.

It may not even be completely real and I take it upon myself.  Foolish.

I tell myself it might make me a better writer but it doesn’t help my balance.

 down

Having a variety of ways to deal with the challenges is important.

Sometimes my methods are successful.  Sometimes it is being in the writing zone, writing away for hours at a time that keeps me somewhat sane.

 hard

What do you want others to know about your poetry?

 It is an exploration, a journey, a specific observation.

rumi

 It doesn’t take itself too seriously and the poem itself is not sacred—behind the scenes the act of writing the poem is sacred (often)—but you do not need to ever give a damn about that.

 playful

My poem is alive.

My poems (most of them) are cats, dogs, chickens, or insects.

cats

I would like the poem to allow you to consider or ponder or explore something differently.

 Many poems have done this for me and so I want my poems to do it for others.

 I would love if my poem assists you and what I think I mean by that is

a) it connects to you perhaps giving you a little more confidence or helps someone to feel a little less alone, a little less crazy

b) it inspires you

c) it makes you smile

d) it resonates because of how it states something or because of a meaning you see in the words

e) it makes you uneasy, it bothers you or makes you a little angry

f) bottom line: it compels you to react and do something (maybe even write).

 eyes

Some of the poems I write are fun, even show off a little, some are satiric, sarcastic and hopefully done with wit and respect for language.

 I hope a poem or two of mine will make the reader (or listener) think, okay that’s a little different AND it’s poetic.

 fun

A writer reads.

A writer writes.

 A poet as the word origin dictates: creates.

(Poesis~Greek word for creation is root of poetry).

 create

Here’s another poem by Christopher J. Jarmick:

 

LEARNING FROM LEONARD COHEN 

 

You learn

about best defenses;

keep tears back

with a smile;

never leave the heart out

upon your sleeve.

 

Some do get older

with vulnerable hearts.

The sparkle

in an eye proves

a passionate intense life.

 

It is a blessing,

a curse.

It is brave, very

foolish, human.

 

If you have met

a few who understand,

you are rich.

 

If your heart has been broken

more than twice

and still gives

you are living your life

very well indeed.

BROKEN

Click this link to buy NOT ALOUD from IndieBound

9781936657193-Perfect-DRAFT.indd

Click this link to buy NOT ALOUD from Amazon

Thanks to everyone for joining Chris and I here.

Wishing everyone brighter days filled with poetry and joy.

creativity

Read More

Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice

Patricia Fargnoli is simply one of the finest poets writing today.

And Pat’s an important person in my life.

I’m honored to host her on my blog. 

pat smile

Patricia Fargnoli, a former New Hampshire Poet Laureate, has published five award-winning books and three chapbooks.

Awards include: The May Swenson Book Award, The NH Literary Book Award, The Sheila Mooton Book Award, Foreword Magazine Silver Poetry Book Award, a runner up for the Jacar Press Prize, and a residency at Macdowell.

duties then winter

She has published over 300 poems in such journals as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Harvard Review et. al.

Pat is a retired social worker and psychotherapist, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She lives with her cat, Rusty-Griffin in Walpole, NH.
rusty

I had the good fortune to become a student in the poetry classes she taught in New Hampshire.

keene

Pat was not only a marvelous teacher, but she took an interest in my work, and became my mentor and supporter and cheerleader.

mentor

And ultimately, Pat became my dear friend.

I will never be able to truly express the depth of my gratitude.

Pat’s belief in me is a part and parcel of every success I’ve had with publishing my work.

candle

Without further ado, Patricia Fargnoli:

Thank you to Lana Ayers for featuring my book, Hallowed: New & Selected Poems on her blog.

This month is the one-year anniversary of its publication.

Pat and book Photo on 8-28-17 at 2.41 PM #2

Health issues and issues of aging (I am 80) have prevented me from doing readings or publicizing the book the way I would have wanted to.

So I am so grateful to Lana for her interest in this feature.

How did you come to poetry?

Poetry became an important part of my life very early, largely because of the wonderful Aunt Nell who took care of me after my parents died.

dead

She had been a kindergarten teacher for 40 years and loved children.

Each night, before bed, she would read to me: all the children’s classics, and books of poetry –“Silver Pennies,” “Peter Patter’s Owl,” “The 100 Greatest American Poems.”

silver

Thus, the rhythms and images of poems became part of me…as did the love of poetry.

I wrote my first poem at age seven on Mother’s Day.

It was for my mother and I asked Aunt Nell to somehow send it to her.

sun

Then, in high school, I wrote (very bad) poems for the school newspaper.

bad

I don’t remember writing during most of the years of my marriage and motherhood, but I never lost interest in poetry.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I began to write seriously.

I somehow fell into a graduate poetry class with Brendan Galvin at Central Connecticut College and took it several times.

bg

Brendan, who is a remarkable poet, and not easy to please, taught me to write well. I was determined to become a good poet and worked hard.

There were seven other women in that class; we all became friends and, after we stopped taking the class, we continued to meet and critique each other’s work.

support (2)

Still, the group is meeting, 35 years later.

For financial reasons, I’ve never been able to get an MFA (though I wanted to).

I did, however, attend The Frost Place Poetry Conference and the Bennington Summer conference both of which brought me into contact with well-known poets and expanded my poetry knowledge and world.

The_Frost_House

Most importantly, I studied at Bennington with Mary Oliver who recognized the value of my work

and became a mentor and supporter of me.

mary

Her belief in me has been a lifelong motivator for me

and I am enormously grateful to her.

mary advice

My first book was published when I was sixty-two.

nec

[I can’t help but interject here folks — First book at age 62!

Winner of the  May Swenson Award!

This fact uplifts me greatly coming so late to fiction.

There’s still hope for me & for all of us late bloomers.]

sharon

What is the process like creating a new & selected works? Has your relationship to the earlier poems shifted? Have you discovered anything new in the process?

This is the one year anniversary of the publication of Hallowed: New & Selected Poems 

so it is a good time to reflect on the process of creating it.

book

I knew that I wanted to have a volume that recognized my previous books while it also included the new work I’ve written since Winter was published.

And I wanted to do it by my 80th birthday so as to recognize that scary (to me) landmark.

set

I contacted my previous publishers for permission to use poems from those books and Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press said that they wanted to publish it since they had published two of my previous books and considered me to be part of “The Tupelo Family.”

tupelo

The process of putting the manuscript together was quite easy: I simply chose the best of the new poems I’d written…24 of them, and then arranged them as I would arrange the poems in any book… paying attention especially to the first and last poems but also to the arc of the them and how they connected to each other.

apple

Choosing the poems from previous books was even easier. I knew that I wanted a representative sample from each book, but didn’t want a lot of poems from each book…so I went through each front to back, choosing poems that seemed to encompass the themes of that book and that had gotten recognition through audience appreciation and/or publication…plus those that were personal favorites.

fave

A friend pointed out that I left many strong poems behind and I guess I did but I didn’t want the book to become too long.

behind

What I learned was that some of my themes are lifelong themes: especially grief and loss, how to find meaning and beauty in nature and life, those consolations.

UrnV2

I also recognized that the poems of the first book, Necessary Light, tend to be more narrative than those of later books which tend first toward my lyrical and later to more and more meditative as I aged and began to be more concerned with issues of aging and with the search for spirituality and meaning in a world where there are no (for me at least) certain answers.

Fragmenting

Amazingly, when I had finished the choosing and arranging, the poems from all the books seem to become a cohesive book….something that both surprised and delighted me.

Beautiful sunrise over volcanoes in guatemala

Could you share a poem from the new collection?

To an Old Woman Standing in October Light

Better to just admit it, time has gotten away from you, and yet
here you are again, out in your yard at sunset, a golden light draping itself

across the white houses and mowed lawns,
the house-tall maple, green and rust in ordinary light,

has become a leaf-embossed, gold globe, the brook runs molten,
the clouds themselves glow gold as the heaven you used to imagine.

Do you know that your own figure, as Midas-touched as a Klimt painting,
has become part of that landscape falling around you,

almost indistinguishable from the whole of it–
as if eternity itself were being absorbed into your mortal body?

Or is it that your body, out of time, is merged into eternity?
You have been looking for a reason for your continued existence,

with faith so shaky it vibrates like a plucked wire.
Such moments of glory must be enough. As you search them out again, again,

your disappearing holds off for awhile. But see how, even in this present,
as you stand there, the past flies into the future seamlessly,

the way, above you, the crows are winging home again, calling to each other,
vanishing above the trees into the night-gathering sky.

crow

[Buy Patricia Fargnoli’s book by clicking this link!]

How did this poem come about?

This is the first poem of the book.

The “you” in the poem is, myself as I stand at the precipice of old old age, but also it reaches out to the reader who may be also dealing with issues of aging and meaning.

I wanted to write a poem that used beautiful language and light and spirituality.

nature sky clouds sunset golden night wallpaper 1920x1080 Elegant A flock of birds flying ahead the sunset birds flying

I don’t remember much of how I wrote it but I think I must have been in that poem-space where images and words come almost unbidden.

PinskyV2

What advice were you given that was the most helpful when you were first showing your poems to others (in classes or workshops or critique groups? 

It’s been 45 years since I first began showing others my poems and my memory is not that long.

I think the most important advice I could have been given is to be quiet and listen without getting defensive but, at the same time; to consider carefully all that is said.

listen

Always remember that the poet is the final authority (and decider) about their own work.

choose

Any really bad advice that didn’t help at all, and if so, how did you overcome it?

As for bad advice: negative critiques especially when given forcefully by someone who is sure their opinion is “right” have only left me upset afterwards.

These are not supportive and can be very difficult to shake these off.

I have left critiquing workshops where this happens frequently.

STRONG

Fortunately, I have been a member for many years of a very supportive and helpful in-person workshop and also an online one where I trust the feedback I receive.

success
What advice do you have for poets who are struggling in some way–either with getting poems written or with getting published?

I know this is said often but it is so true: read, read, read…all the poetry (both American and International) you can get your hands on.

read

And study the poems that you are most drawn to, not just as a reader, but as a student learning from their techniques and moves, their language and strategies.

learn

Also read fiction and non-fictions, read magazines, let all that you read become food for your own imagination.

read every

Make writing a priority in your life, make time on a regular basis to do it even if you think you have nothing to say.

priority

Study the journals before you send work to them in order to decide where you own work might fit.

lit mags

Build a poetry community.

Some poets are loners, I, myself, am an introvert, but I have found that it’s important for me to have a tribe of poets, people I can turn to to talk about poetry, share successes, even moan about failures.

tribe (2)

Thank you, Pat for bringing your beautiful, wise, and enlightening words to my blog.

Thank you readers for coming along.

Please check out more on Patricia Fargnoli here: [Patricia’s website]

WatchingLightV2

 

Read More

The Best Laid Plans…

My sweet husband decided that the publication of my very first novel deserved to be celebrated.

In grand style!

entrance to golf course

So my husband rented a small function room at our local golf course.

And we invited our neighbors and friends here in Tillamook to come share a delicious salmon dinner.

salmon

My hubby even had this nearly life-sized blow up of my book cover made up to decorate the room for the celebration.

Andy with sign smaller

It was going to be a wonderful celebration.

And for once, I wasn’t even nervous about having to be the center of attention–like I always am when I have to stand up in front of a room full of people.

nervous

When my first poetry collection came out, I seriously considered hiring a stunt double to give the readings for me.

look alikes

(okay, I don’l look like Bowie or Tilda, but you get the idea)

But this time, I was genuinely excited and wanted to celebrate, even if I was going to read a snippet from the book.

snippet

I picked out a polka dot dress to wear because it seemed fun for the occasion without being too formal.

And a purple lace bolero to wear over it.

polka dot dresspurple

But you read the title of this post, so you know something went awry.

The party went off without a hitch. People had a lovely time. So what went wrong?

party goers

Well, only the fact that I couldn’t attend my own party!

Nope.

My body decided to betray me in the wee hours of the morning the day of my party

with excruciating pain.

I ended up in the hospital.

emergency room

I’m doing better now, after a couple of days in the hospital getting test after test after test.

Diagnosed with an intestinal blockage, I’m recovering slowly.

I may need exploratory surgery if things don’t completely resolve on their own. Hope not.

no surgery

But for now, I’m okay.

Except I’m completely, totally, thoroughly bummed

that I missed my own book celebration party.

sad baby

My first thought was I didn’t deserve a celebration, anyway.

My second thought, too.

mothers voice

That’s my mother’s voice in my head talking. It’s nearly impossible to shut her up.

My next thought was The universe hates me.

universe hates me

The universe isn’t out to get me. That’s just silly.

I am just an insignificant speck in the scheme of things.

the-universe-you-are-here

The Universe doesn’t care a whit about me.

So, here I am feeling pretty sorry for myself.

pity party

How lame is that?

What I should really be feeling is grateful.

grateful

Grateful to have people in my life who wanted to celebrate with me.

Grateful to be alive.

At all.

be alive

And I am.

I am grateful to be here, for however much more time I am granted.

run down

Guess, I am just going to have to do something else worth celebrating.

Maybe write another book?

Or another half-dozen books?

desk

I better get started, huh?

Wish me luck!

prep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More

Friendship Across the Ether

Over a decade ago through the magic of the internet and the wonder of email, I “met” a poet who lived far away in the southwest named Lisha Adela Garcia. We never met in person, though.

web (1)

Lisha was putting together her very first full-length poetry collection and thought I might be of assistance. I’ve worked as a poetry manuscript organizer and editor for many years, and I was delighted to take a look at her poems.

stack of pages

The poems were amazing of course! And they turned into her wonderful, acclaimed collection, Blood Rivers, published in 2009.

blood rivers

Through the magic of web ether, Lisha and I have stayed in touch.

But despite never meeting in person, I always felt we had a deep connection.

The connection of our mutual love of poetry, certainly.

poetry books

But it felt like so much more, too.

with some

A soul connection, if you will. Maybe you’ve felt that too?

As if our life experiences sent us along similar paths.

similar paths

I’ve always wanted to meet Lisha, hear her voice in person, look into her eyes.

And last week, I finally got the chance as she passed through my town on the way to a reading for her newly published book,  A Rope of Luna.

rope of luna

This book is filled with poems of rich culture, family, and spirituality.

Here’s one of my many favorite poems in Lisha’s new collection:

 

Lisha-Poem-100

We only had a couple of hours together, and shared a delicious meal. I felt the soul connection even more powerfully in her presence.

lisha and lana

And now, we have vowed to get together again.

So, though some may think the ether an unlikely place to form friendships,

with a little bit of poetry,

Poetry-Books

these ethereal friendships can be deep and meaningful and lasting.

For that, I am very grateful.

soul-friendships

Lisha Adela Garcia’s books on Amazon.

 

Read More

A Guest Post from Stacy W. Dixon!

Hello lovely blog readers, I’m being visited by the wonderful poet Stacy W. Dixon this week.

Stacy W. Dixon’s work has appeared in The Mid-America Poetry Review, Tiger’s Eye, Pirene’s Fountain, Sweet Tree Review, Word Fountain, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

stacy dixon

She’s writing about her new poetry collection, Visiting Ghosts and Ground.    buy on Amazon

stacy book

Stacy wowed me with her clear-eyed and powerful poems of grief.

Take it away, Stacy:

“I think we naturally write about how we experience life. My work is often intimate and personal, though not always autobiographical.  I am inspired by many things; art, nature, memories, dreams, and family. 

water lily

The poems in Visiting Ghosts and Ground begin in adulthood and then turn back to childhood memories.  My mother and grandmother, and the effects of their loss upon my life, inspired some of these poems.  A few of them are influenced by my ancestors, such as Kindred Incantations, Shelf Life, and From a Stolen Child

hands

I feel this collection is largely about connections to the land and the ghosts of the past.  It’s a journey of love and loss, and the desire to keep that love alive.

love and loss

 My hope is always that my work will resonate with others, as so many poets and writers have touched and inspired my own life.”

blue light

Thank you, Stacy, for your poems and your post. As in your lovely lines, “Long days/on end/in the bluish hue,” your collection will resonate with anyone who carries loss in their heart. 

Visit some of Stacy’s inspiring work online here:

Inheritance

& here:

Superimposed

& here:

Night Muse

As always, thanks for stopping by.

thank you

 

 

Read More

Poem

We Are the Germans     (part II)

America 2018

 

The SS man.

The ICE man and Border guard.

 

What is ordered,

however immoral, is performed.

 

The German people,

with proper blood keep quiet.

 

The American people,

the privileged ones stay quiet.

 

Not one uniformed person says,

No, I will not do this. This is wrong.

 

Orders are carried out.

Leaders are pleased.

 

Jews die.

Children cry.

 

Injustice is a disgrace

with distinctly human face.

 

A distinctly American face.

Look in the mirror.

 

shelter

 

Read More

Family Poems Are Hard–part 3–final part

I left off part 2 of Family Poems Are Hard saying I thought I was done writing family poems after my first full-length collection, Dance Inside My Bones.

DanceBonesFrontCover

In the book, I have lots of poems about growing up in a difficult family situation.

Like most of us, I suspect.

There is no such thing as a perfect family.

And maybe, not even a normal one. What’s normal, anyway?

normal

There are poems about my mother, my father, my brother, grandparents, uncle, friends, and boyfriends in Dance From Inside My Bones.

There are poems about the state of my heart and mind, from childhood to young adulthood.

So what else was there to say?

no words

Mostly, all my relatives were alive when I wrote and published the collection. They didn’t read it.

Then, over the years, loved ones started dying off.

Some, of awful lingering illnesses.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: The shadow of a cemetery worker is cast on reclaimed gravestones in London City Cemetery on March 2, 2009 in London, EnglandThe cemetery is piloting a scheme whereby graves over 75 years old become eligible for reclamation. New bodies will be placed into the existing graves, the headstones turned around re used carving the names of the newly deceased. Once a grave has been earmarked by English heritage the cemetery must wait one year to see if family members claim the existing grave. By conserving as many memorials as possible the City of London hopes to maintain the historic cemetery landscape and sustain buriel provisions for the future. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Grief  is always hard. Grief over difficult relationships ending, is especially complicated.

Complex & powerful.

My brother, who had helped with rescue endeavors on 9/11, was diagnosed with a rare, likely incurable leukemia.

 

00585_p_s9acrwl7fs0424_z

My brother and I had never been able to be close growing up because my mother pitted us against one another. She was a master of hateful mind-games. And she forced my brother to to inflict physical punishments on me, as well.

This did not inspire a deep, loving relationship between us, as you can well imagine.

But with my brother’s fatal diagnosis, I realized time was short. If I was ever going to have any meaningful dialogue with my brother, it had to happen soon.

time out

In what turned out to be the last eighteen months of my brother’s life, we talked–

really talked–a few times.

We said things, I never knew were possible.

That brief time was such a gift. A tremendous gift for which I will always be grateful.

heart gift

And then, my brother died, after living his last days with a grace I never imagined possible.

A hero in life, and in death.

There was so much I never got to ask him. Or to say.

So much about our relationship I still needed to process.

So I took up my pen.

write left

I took up my pen because writing is how I process my emotions.

Writing is how I sort what I am feeling and thinking.

I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.

Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.

headstone

I never intended to publish these poems.

But I did share a few at readings.

Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.

(nowhere)

Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.

And then, a year later, my mother died.

dead mother

My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.

Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible lung cancer death.

Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.

Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.

Unlike my best friend, who had a bad headache that turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor.

Unlike my brother, who fought the illness as hard as he could, for as long as he could.

death unfair

I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.

But angry all over again that other people I loved had.

To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.

But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.

So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?

cry

Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.

Shreds them, actually.

I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.

scratch

And more poems came.

Because there was more to say about family.

And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.

truth

If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.

Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.

less alone

And so, I went ahead and published the new family poems in journals.

I read the poems at readings.

And eventually, I let the book enter the world.

dead boy

I have no regrets.

The Dead Boy Sings In Heaven is for my brother.

And for anyone else who comes from a difficult family.

I believe if my brother could see the book, he’d give me a hug.

And he’d tell me that the Godzilla poems were his favorite.

(Mine too.)

godzilla and friends

Though family poems are hard…

family poems are healing.

healing

Thank you for reading this far, and listening to my heart.

May you always find healing whenever your heart hurts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More

Family Poems Are Hard–part 2

I left off part 1 of this topic saying that publishing my first book of family poems, Dance From Inside My Bones, was truly overwhelming.

For a number of reasons.

DanceBonesFrontCover

First, let me say, my experience with Snake Nation Press, where my manuscript won the Violet Reed Haas Award, was not one of those reasons.

The strong women editors at Snake Nation, Roberta George and Jean Arambula, were truly stellar to work with.

They lauded the honesty of my work, and had me attend the AWP conference in Atlanta for the book release.

Not for one minute, did I forget how fortunate I was to have my poetry manuscript published.

Getting a poem published is hard. Getting a book published is harder. I was one of the lucky ones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yet, a part of me believed it was some sort of mistake.

That they announced the wrong winner and would take it back.

Removing word with pencil's eraser, Erasing mistake

A voice in my head (my mother’s) told me I didn’t deserve it.

Nonetheless, I was overjoyed, and deer-in-the-headlights scared.

deer in

At the AWP Snake Nation booth, I stood behind copies of my books, as thousands of people streamed by.

I am a terrible introvert. It took every ounce of bravado I had not to go to my hotel room and hide.

hiding

I smiled. I nodded I answered questions.

Mostly, the same one over and over–

what

My book is about family and growing up into a young woman. 

And the response was largely–

Oh, childhood nostalgia.

happy child

No, not that at all.

Actually, it was more like this–

crying

The problem was when I wrote the poems, I wasn’t thinking of some future point when I would have to physically stand in front of people and justify my work.

I wasn’t thinking about being there, in person with the book, putting a face to the autobiographical poems.

hiding-behind-book

When I was writing the poems, I was trying to put my experiences into words that might connect with others on the other side of the page.

Being in front of people with my book felt like one of those dreams where you are suddenly naked in public.

naked in public

I was more than uncomfortable. I was worried about being judged, or blamed.

I had written my truth, but I guess, I hadn’t yet claimed it. Not live and in-person, anyway.

I hadn’t accepted I had a right to that truth.

I hadn’t thought ahead to having to stand in front of folks and give readings.

I was really up there

But, I would give readings. And at Seattle’s Open Books, no less.

And I feared I would be hated for not saying Hallmark things about my mother. In this culture, and many others, the word mother is synonymous with sainthood.

But I didn’t have a Hallmark mother, nor a Brady Bunch family.

bbunch

And I had been in abusive situations with family members, but never told anyone, other than my therapist.

Now that the book was out, it felt like I was shouting it from the rooftops, telling the world.

shout

Well, anyone in the world who wanted to read Dance From Inside My Bones.

Then, there was the fact that all but one of those abusive family members were still alive.

What would they say, if they read my book?

account

Fortunately none of them wanted to read my book.

Which was a relief.

My mother said she knew it was “garbage” since I had written it.

I expected that. But it still hurt. Even now she’s dead, it’s still impossible to shut out my mother’s derisive voice in my head.

dead mother

So what really happened at each reading I gave?

People were polite, applauded.

polite

Several people bought my book.

Sometimes one or two folks asked me to sign it.

But one person came up and confided in me that my work spoke to them about what they’d been through.

That person thanked me.

And I cried tears of joy as we hugged.

connected

I realized I’d come full circle.

Poetry saved my life as child in harrowing circumstances. Poems reached across time, distance, gender, culture, and spoke to me of survival. Poems taught me I wasn’t alone in my suffering. And if others could survive, so could I.

bridge

Finally, my poems provided that message and reached out as well.

My words only connected with one other living soul. And that was more than I could ever hope for.

I may not have changed the world.

bridge 3

I may not have bettered that person’s life.

But for one brief moment in time, that person knew they were not alone.

And it was enough. For both of us.

poetry matters

But still, I thought, I would publish no more autobiographical poems. I had said all there was to say.

Little did I know…

[Next time, Family Poems Are Hard–part 3]

Read More

Family Poems Are Hard–part 1

You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.

Reading and writing poetry, both.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.

crayons

And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.

Family poems felt important to write.

But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.

The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.

art w

For many years, I wrote poetry just for me.

And read whatever collections I found at that struck my fancy–Sharon Olds, Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, Phillip Levine, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, Lucille Clifton, and many others.

luc cl

But in 1987, I wanted my own poems to matter. I wanted to learn how to write well.

So I signed up for a poetry workshop at the Boston Center For Adult Education with instructor Ottone “Ricky” Riccio.

To this day, Ricky remains one of the finest teachers I have ever known (and I have 5 official degrees, so that’s really saying something). He was firm, but kind. Gentle, but direct. He was a humanitarian and he took such joy in his students’ work. He was humble and loving and generous.

Ricky truly opened the door to writing poetry and welcomed me over the threshold.

His how-to book on writing poetry remains a bible for me:

int art po

https://www.amazon.com/Intimate-Art-Writing-Poetry/dp/0595093809

When I moved from Boston to New Hampshire, I discovered another amazing poetry mentor offering classes–Patricia Fargnoli.

You know how you secretly wish someone would tell you that you were special, that you had talent?

Pat believed in me. She told me what I wrote mattered. She encouraged me to start sending work out. To put together a collection. She wrote me a glowing recommendation when I decided to pursue an MFA.

Patrica Fargnoli remains my mentor, my friend, my poetry mother. I can never repay all she has given me.

DanceBonesFrontCover

Thanks to Pat, family poems were the first collection I assembled, though not my first to be published.

Little did I know what it would feel like to have this book in the world…

[stay tuned — Family Poems Are Hard — part 2 coming soon]

 

Read More