Sounds of Life

It is 3 AM and I’m awake again.  This time the noise that woke me was the garden cart blowing away from the house.  At first I thought someone was trying to steal the cart from all the racket the wheels made rolling over the concrete patio.  But when I turned on a light in the garden and saw the cart in the flower bed, I knew the culprit for all the noise must be the wind.

There has been the constant tingy music from the wind chime and I remember the weather announcer saying we were having 17 mile-an-hour winds for the next three days–trade winds.  Or did he predict the wind in knots?  No, it must have been miles.  The ocean waves surrounding this island have been cresting in white foam.

My mind is wandering, as minds will late at night.  All of the sudden it seems very important to remember the sound of the creek that ran, burbled behind the house I lived in in Chapel Hill.  I can picture it.  The sunlight glistening off the ripples, like diamonds tossed in the current.  I can remember the green of the moss that grew on the wet rocks and the way I’d leap from boulder to boulder as I tried to cross the creek following the old path the deer have tromped out for centuries.

Yes, I can see the creek clearly in my mind’s eye.  I can feel the cooling chill of its wet water. I remember it all so well.  So why can my ear hear that burble of the water tumbling over the rocks?  Why can’t I hear that sound, the white noise which will lull me back to sleep?


I trust…

I recently received a weekly post from Poets & Writers.  It included a poetry prompt and a book recommendation.

It also included this:


If you’re looking for more inspiration, visit Writers Recommend, our online feature in which writers reveal the habits that keep them writing. This week’s installment comes from Bao Phi, author of Thousand Star Hotel (Coffee House Press, 2017).

“That blank page is there waiting for me to jump in, to sink or swim. I end up flailing about and not knowing what I’m doing. But I trust it’s all part of the process. I trust that…”
It was that repetition of “I trust,” that got me to thinking, do I really trust my writing?
What do I trust about it?
Do I trust when I sit down with a blank page and begin to write that something interesting is going to happen?  Do I trust that my words are going to be significant?  That they will be worth the time or in a little way important?  The only thing I trust is that whatever I write, it will need re-writing, revision,and a great lot of editing.
These days, I can’t even trust that the pen I pick up to write with is going to work.
I guess you could say I have trust issues because when I sit down to write, I never know where I’m going to end up. I never know where my writing is going to take me.  That is where the fun resides for me.
My writing is goulash, a mesh-mash of flavors and textures.  It requires a lot of refining to achieve something edible or sustainable.  My only hope is that with practice, I will get better.
What about you?  Do you have trust issues too?


I do believe in karma, fate, and serendipity. Recently I had a book jump off of my too crowded bookshelf begging to be re-read. A convenient sized little paperback, “Zen and the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury. ©1999.

It has been so long since I first read this book, it is like a whole new adventure and coming home at the same time. The first two words of the book are “Zest. Gusto.” Who doesn’t need a little more of that in their life? In their writing?

In his essay on How to Keep and Feed a Muse, Bradbury advises, “Read poetry every day of your life.” As a children’s poet, how can I not love a man with such understanding of the benefits of poetry?

In the essay Drunk, and in Charge of a Bicycle, Bradbury talks about a fan letter he received at 33 years of age. “I had my way of seeing, writing and living approved of by a man who became a second father to me.

I needed that approval. We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell us we are not crazy after all, that what we are doing is all right. All right, hell, fine!” (p. 54)

Reading those words, it hit me. Yes, there was and there still are many times in my life when I need someone to tell me, it’s OK. I’m doing all right.

Looking back, I think the first time I heard those words, they came from Bee Cullinan at one of the Chautauqua Summer Writers Workshops. She encouraged me to write children’s poetry. Then, every workshop I have attended since, I have had other voices of encouragement. (David Harrison, Eileen Spinelli, Alice Schertle) That is what the Highlights writers workshops are all about–offering encouragement to one another.

Each time I come home from a Highlights event, I fall crazy, madly in love, all over again with the act of writing poetry for children. For me, life doesn’t get much better.

Who are the people in your life who tell you it is all right, you’re doing fine? Who makes you feel you’re OK?

No, No Words

Growing up, I’m sure you had a list of words you weren’t supposed to use, or at least say out loud.             What is on your list?

I think I was six when some teenager had soaped the F#$* word on our car window on Halloween night.  The next morning on the ride to school, I tried to figure it out. I was learning to read phonetically.  I knew the word duck so I could sound out this new word. As I said the word aloud several times in the car, Mom became upset.  I didn’t know I had done something wrong.  I don’t think Mom defined the word for me, except she did say  it wasn’t a nice word and I should never, never say that word out loud, especially at school.

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I frequently would have elementary students tattle on each other, “Freddy said a bad word.”  The students were testing me to see how I’d react.  My list of no-no words grew longer.

“We don’t call anyone stupid.” And bullying isn’t allowed.  “Let’s try kindness instead.”

As a poet, when I read the words of a poem, I often see words that just shouldn’t be in the poem.  These aren’t cuss words.  Just words with sounds that don’t fit in a line, or words with too many syllables to fit nicely. (The words in a poem do have to play nicely with each other.)

When I participated in March Madness Poetry fest where each poet was given a word to write a poem with, my word was disencumberment I was supposed to write a children’s poem with this word. I kept arguing with myself that disencumberment would not be , or rather should not be in a children’s poem.  It is like trying to fit a six syllable word into a five syllable line of haiku.  It just shouldn’t be done.

I was reading a poem about rain today and the poet mentioned the deluge.  In the next line were two alliterative “d” words.  But that deluge just seemed to grate on my ears.  It has a harsh sound to me.  To my delight, it did provide a challenge.  Can I write a poem using that word? Otherwise this poor little word is going to end up on my list of words that shouldn’t be in poems for children.  And with our rich tapestry of language, deluge is a great word to have in your vocabulary.  Especially since we have been having blowing rain all night.  It has been coming in interrupted bursts of down pour.  Yes, a deluge.  Enough to wake one from sleeping.

Do you have your own list of no, no words?  What are some of them?  Or is this just a plain stupid idea?





Poetry’s Bells and Whistles

I was doing some research this morning and came across a workshop session titled, Adding the Bells and Whistles to Your Novel.  There wasn’t a description of what the workshop would include, but I was fascinated by the Bells and Whistles.

My two year old electric car has lots of bells and whistles.  It has a rear view camera.  It can parallel park itself.  It signals me when cars approach on the left or right.  There is even cool purple interior lighting at night that outlines the door.

In doing a web search for the meaning and origin of Bells and Whistles, I’m more confused than satisfied.  The definition is something non-essential added to a product to make it more attractive to buyers.  Given this definition, I wonder if poetry should ever have bells and whistles since really good poetry boils the words down to only the bare essentials.

But, my web search attributed the origin of the term to shipping where bells and whistles are used to mark time and signal alerts.  It was suggested that it had something to do with carnival organs that have both bells and whistles and finally, I found several references to the term coming from trains.  Most of the references I checked did agree that the term came into usage during the 20th century in the US and now is recognized in most English speaking countries.

OK, so lets get back to my question of, What are the bells and whistles of poetry for you?

For me, one is the way a poem looks on the page.  I love when poets use caesuras to good effect.  Concrete poetry does this, too.  The reader not only gets the good words, but the lovely image on the page.  Years ago when Toi Derricotte pointed out to me that William Carlos Williams poem The Red Wheelbarrow is set up in stanzas of little wheelbarrow shapes, the poem took on a new life and energy for me.  For me, that is a bell and whistle.

I can remember spending months wrestling with a poem about the sunrise and I wanted the poem to read right to left to show how the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  I struggled with this poem because I was writing it for children and having them read backwards was not a good thing to do since they were struggling with learning to read in the first place.  I finally solved my problem by writing the poem as a reverso, a poem that can be read top to bottom or bottom to top.  In my case the poem could be read left to right or right to left.  Now, there is a bell and whistle added to a poem.

Since poems are meant to be spoken aloud, I wonder what the bells and whistles of that are.  Is it onomatopoeia?  How about assonance,  consonance or alliteration? Would those all fall in the bells and whistles category?

I’m going to have to do some more research and thinking on this, but in the meantime, what are your ideas for Bells and Whistles in Poetry?

Living on an Island

I took a letter to the post office to be mailed yesterday. As I stepped into line I heard a rooster crow inside the building. I couldn’t believe my ears. As I stood waiting, I could see a man at the counter with a big wooden box and he was mailing chickens! He got done with one box and pulled up another that had been setting next to the wall. When he had completed his transaction, filling out forms, the postal clerk picked up the big box and moved it to their storage area. The chickens started crowing and were quite loud inside the building. The clerk scraped his fore arm on the wooden box, so he paused to get another form (I figured it was a workman’s injury form) from a co-worker. When it was my turn at the counter, I got this postal worker.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

Oh, sure.”

When do you get a pick up so you don’t have to listen to that all day?” I asked.

They’re going by over night delivery. But if they aren’t quiet, I’m eating them for dinner.” He smiled at his joke. “Actually they get picked up at noon.”

I was glad because even I wouldn’t want to listen to loud, crowing chickens all day.

Living on an island is an adventure. All I could think of was how far the chickens were going to travel. Were they going to another island? Were they being shipped to the mainland? Were they a special breed? Special layers? Or fighting cocks? Were they going to a fair or other chicken competition?

I didn’t think that the chickens would be coming back, because Kauai is very careful about letting agriculture of any kind on our island for fear of bringing in foreign substances and diseases.

Oh, the Kauai chickens are so much fun!

How to Write a Poem

First, start with the Universe,

grow it bigger, vaster

than even you can hope.  Try

to find new words to describe

the unimaginable.

Next,  wait

for the sound of parakeets

swarming, in the evening,

roosting in the trees, what words

their dreams provide.

Finally, smell gardenia and clover.

Fill your lungs with the scent

of possibility.

Now, take your pen

and write your heart.