When I write poetry, it is a beautifully strange experience. Poems can begin with something that I see...a particularly striking movement or gesture, an observation of an insect or a tree, a collection of colors.
I also hear lines. This usually happens in the morning, when I first wake up, or in the late afternoon, just before sunset. I think it's the softness of the light during these times of day that inspires me.
Whether poems arrive through sight or sound, I pay attention. I listen. Often, I don't know what it is about a particular moment that makes it poetic. I simply know that it feels out of the ordinary. So I follow it. I research and research until, as my good friend June says, I am "way down deep in the rabbit hole." Yes, Lewis Carroll gets credit here too, but June is the one who instilled this phrase in me most consistently. She follows rabbits too.
Below I offer cottontail trips that led me to some of the poems within my chapbook, Galaxy Around My Neck. This collection is about family, childhood, nature, love, and loss. It's about coming to terms with our fragile, brief existence, and it's about recognizing our significant places in the lives of those we keep close to us.
I invite you to read and enjoy the anecdotes.
If by some crazy stretch, you are a publisher of a literary magazine, and you'd like to print Galaxy Around My Neck, please do not hesitate to correspond! I am currently sending Galaxy out to various presses, but until she's accepted, I'm open to discovering new publishers. Once she becomes a little book, I will update this site and make the collection available for sale. Please keep checking. And thank you. I am sincerely grateful for the time you've taken to read my words.
As I was searching for places to submit my poetry, I came across 3Elements Literary Review. This groovy journal tasks writers with creating work that incorporates three specific words. For their Spring 2016 issue, the words were: measure, cleave, and sliver.
I immediately thought of my Mom. When I was little, my Mom sewed my clothes. I was always fascinated by how she could make flat fabric into something that would fit around my body. I loved the pattern paper, how thin and tissuey it was, and how complicated it looked. I loved how fabric sounded when my Mom cut through it. I remember feeling a combination of fear and awe whenever she pinned fabric onto me. She kept the pins in her mouth as she did this, and she could even talk without swallowing her weird metal teeth. She was a superheroine.
I sat down and wrote this poem in one day. This has never happened to me before. I submitted it to 3Elements Literary Review, and they published "Anything But Simple" for their Spring 2016 edition. I was thrilled!
Please enjoy a stanza from my poem:
How much a sleeve, before it is a sleeve
resembles a plot line. Arm measured,
cloth cut, exposition begins at the wrist.
A French fold, added ruffle, or lace tells us
this is the story of a girl, and her mother
My brothers and I have always been in love with trees. We grew up in both Wisconsin and Florida where we spent countless hours running around woods and swamps among so many varieties of trees.
A few years ago, my middle brother called me for one of our chats. Somewhere in the conversation, he let me know that his tangerine tree had died due to frost. His voice was incredibly sad.
I wanted to write something for my brother to honor his tree and a few of the trees in our childhood.
To write "Tangerine," I used references to:
The Federal Poet published "Tangerine" in Spring 2012. Please enjoy a stanza from my poem:
As children, we covered our eyes
when a chainsaw took the ‘bunk bed’ oak.
Having slept on her giving limbs, her bark
on our skin, always the scent of wood,
her bright surface, our private terrace,
we mourned her loss as a friend.
From my mid 20s into my mid 30s, I road tripped a lot.
I drove across the U.S. on several restless excursions—from Florida to the MidWest, across the SouthWest through the deep South, up the MidAtlantic to the Eastern Seaboard, and back again many, many times. I rode with friends and lovers, met great new people, and experienced good times in cities, small towns, canyons, prairies, and forests.
Ditches fascinated me. If you spend enough time on the road, you notice how broken things, things that people throw away have their own way of shining and appearing quite beautiful.
People are broken too. We break apart ourselves, and we break each other's hearts. We are a fragile species.
The idea of the broken apart and the pieced-back-together inspired this poem. For "Roadside Saint," I combined:
Kalliope, A Journal of Women's Literature & Art published "Roadside Saint" (formerly titled "Narcissistic") in Vol. 29, No. 1, 2007. Kalliope also honored me with the Sue Saniel Elkind Poetry Contest Award and a monetary prize of $1000.00.
Here are some stanzas from "Roadside Saint:"
You wear a light blue dress
stitched with the broken chips
of somebody's rearview mirror.
Sunlight jumps from the ditch,
I scoop up the shards, and narcissistic,
I swivel your mosaic hips
to see my face moving back and forth
across the sky of your body.
This poem was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend when I was 13 years old. We were talking about the universe, trying to comprehend the nature of infinity. This was no small task for two teenage girls.
I know, from teaching 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, that somewhere during this time in our lives, our brains start to develop the ability to analyze information. We become more curious about broad topics. We begin to form our own opinions and theories of how things work in the world, and in a good way, we are challenged and a bit confused. What used to be one way or the other changes. Dualities turn plural.
"Artifacts" contains a line that inspired the title of this collection. It's a short poem, but it has big ideas.
To complete this poem, I used images of:
Phoebe, An Interdisciplinary Journal of Feminist Scholarship, Theory, and Aesthetics, (now Praxis, Journal of Gender & Cultural Critiques) published "Artifacts" in Vol.14, No.1 & 2, 2002.
In March of 2015, I attended an incredible workshop taught by Pamela Manche Pearce, an instructor trained in the Amherst Writers and Artist method. A core philosophy of this approach is that "every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft." In keeping with this, each participant promises to keep the work that is shared private. I will only say that I was in a room with some incredibly talented writers, and I felt honored to be among their voices.
I am going to keep Pamela's particular technique private too. I will only share that because of her encouraging, creative use of color as a jumping off point, I was able to write my way into a villanelle. This one is for my father and the memories I have of planting peas in the garden with him.
Here are a two stanzas from "Terra Firma:"
on a little girl's pinky or a pollinator's wing
she dips her finger, she carries the dust
the scent of it tilled in the gardener's spring
the power of that dimple, the harvest it brings
when seeds drop down into its crust
dark brown dirt is a common, pretty thing
When she was thirteen, my niece ran through a North Carolina State Park where there were chunks of quartz jutting up through the dirt. Hannah ran with the confidence of a young person. It did not occur to her that she was holding her camera and she might drop it.
This image of Hannah in such a moment of strength and abandon led me to memories of other times when she was equally as strong, especially in tune with herself, and positively mystical to me.
"Mirrors" grew into a big poem. To complete it, I researched:
I was in the Tarpon Springs Florida Aquarium with my nephew. Near the entrance, there was a petting tank, and a whole group of spastic kids surrounded it. Blake walked slowly over to the tank. The other kids were splashing the water, and the fish and reptiles were desperately swimming to the center to escape them. Slowly and calmly, my nephew put his hand in the water. A little turtle swam past all the flailing hands right to him.
This tender moment had me looking at Blake with new admiration. To me, his completely biased Aunt, he has always had a unique gift with animals, particularly reptiles, but this moment was especially telling. I saw his power. Blake was born with some physical challenges like I was, and like me, he's fought to overcome them. I knew in that moment I would somehow connect these two aspects and write a poem to his strengths.
To finish "Hatchling", I researched the following:
My niece had just lost the last of her baby molars. She opened her mouth to show me where the tooth had been. I saw a little bump on her gums and asked if it hurt. She said, "It feels like there's a lady bug in my mouth."
Of course I thought this was a great image for a poem, so I began my research, and this led me to:
Here are two stanzas from "Lady Beetle:"
She dreams of a convex hemisphere
on her gums, a map of Europe,
where grandmothers trace the lines,
and doctors holding insects
ask her to open her mouth,
ask her if she wants a lady beetle
right where her tooth used to be.
My great, great grandfather, Valentine Rossa, was a healer. He practiced cupping, or the ancient art of using boiling hot cups and suction to draw blood and infections from the body. He passed this tradition to my great grandmother, Martha. Martha continued the practice. She also stilled and sold her own alcohol during Prohibition to make a little extra money.
Martha died a year before I was born. According to my Mom, I am a lot like her.
This is a witch's poem. Writing it simply involved:
One summer, some years back, three women in my family died. I chose to write poems that spoke to both their lives and their deaths.
"There is a Passing" is one of these tributes honoring my grandmother Sylvia, who had 7 children and lived her life as a devoted Catholic, and my Aunt Ruth, who served as a Franciscan nun for over 50 years.
"Passing" began as I was thinking about things that root and uproot. For much of my family, including Ruth and Sylvia, music and songs are important. They hold together, uniting us when we play or sing in groups. But music also releases us in mystic, private ways.
Then, there are the bigger things that keep us together and pull us apart. Things like blood and tornados.
This poem is heavy with imagery.
To complete "Passing," I connected:
Years ago, a friend of mine randomly presented me with a photograph of some wolves howling. There were about five or six of them standing in the snow among pine trees and bare branches. The picture was beautiful, but I didn't understand why she was giving me this specific image. Even more bizarrely, my friend had used a ball point pen to scratch words beneath the photo. She had written: 'A Thousand Howls in Silver Air.'
I remember saying thank you and giving her a puzzled look.
"It's what it's going to take," she said.
"Take to do what?" I asked.
"I don't know. I just know it's what it's going to take."
Whether I questioned her further or not, I really can't remember. I probably didn't. My friend was a writer. She had a stoic, private side to her, and both of us lived by an unspoken respect for mystery. Most likely, I left it at that. Most likely, I resigned myself to thinking that someday I'd understand.
Now, as I write my novel, titled A Thousand Howls in Silver Air to honor that moment, I do understand.
Writing a novel means dedicating yourself to something risky and challenging. It doesn't make money, at least not at first. Writing a novel is walking around with characters in your head, all the time. It's sitting with the plot, writing chapter by chapter, scene by scene, sentence by sentence, and then scratching out parts to rewrite them all over again. It consumes your time. It is composing, revising, proofreading, and editing, every day. Weaving it into your routine takes discipline and solitude. Some might say it's lonely, and it is. Some may say it makes you feel crazy, and it does, but it's also quiet, slow, and beautiful, and I love doing it.
For now, I devote energy to writing content, but eventually, I will need to focus on the practical aspects of getting it out there--writing a query, seeking an editor, possibly an agent, and hopefully, a publisher.
At this point, I can share only the story of how the title was given to me. In keeping with the wolves metaphor, I am roaming the woods at night, still hunting, still writing. I'm a lone wolf for now. When I am ready, I'll hopefully share some howls with a pack of hungry readers.
Thank you for reading thus far, and kindly listen for the call.
One particular winter a few years ago, I was walking by the shrubs that bordered our building. Dozens of sparrows were perched inside peeping away. I talked into the bushes, "Hello, puffy little birds." As I turned away, a strand of my hair got caught in the branches, forcing my neck to bend back slightly. I chuckled. This made me think that both the birds and the leafless branches were trying to get my attention. Perhaps they wanted to tell me something, maybe some positive message about winter.
I have always dreaded this cold, gray season. I need clear thoughts, and winter challenges my mood. On that winter day, however, I argued with nature playfully, and in a lovely moment of inspiration, I came up with a character. I spoke the name of a little girl who personified Spring. "I am Petunia Fairweather," I said, with only the birds and branches to hear me.
I knew she had welled-up from a childhood nickname my Mom had given me. She used to sing a funny song to me called, "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia." In the song, Petunia cries, "Boo Hoo," because she is in an onion patch. My mom sung the crying part with extra drama to make me laugh. I spent the first years of my life in and out of hospitals. I know my mom wanted me to be strong and not feel sorry for myself. She taught me not to let pain defeat me.
While Petunia is partially inspired by who I was as a child, I also see her as my niece when she was eight years old. At this age, Hannah really began to show her witty, self-assured, and independent nature. I saw her sometimes as this mini super heroine, so it is fitting that in my imagination, Petunia looks and acts like her.
Later, during Spring, Petunia woke me in the middle of the night. I heard her voice. She insisted that I write her into a children's book. She needed to be the star, but she also needed sidekicks or helpers, namely, her brother, Logan Waverider, and a crew of various animal and plant friends. I must extend a big thank you to my nephew who helped with Logan's name. Blake is the inspiration for this character, and yes, Logan will be like him at five years old. The crew of nature helpers honors my overall respect for nature as well as the birds and shrubs that first sought my attention.
Petunia Fairweather is a children's book series, a work in progress. I hope to share more as I network with illustrators, do further background research, and write more drafts. I want Petunia Fairweather and Logan Waverider to help raise awareness on certain environmental issues, particularly the struggles of the pollinators and the health of the world's oceans.
Stay tuned for updates, and if you have ideas or thoughts to share, feel free to contact me. Thank you!