Poetry Wednesday: Other People’s Opinions

National Poetry Month is coming to a close.

And as a gift to you, I’m stepping back and offering other people’s opinions on poetry.

You’re welcome.


 Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.

—Khalil Gibran

The Persian language has only one pronoun for all genders. This means that genders in Persian love poetry—and in verses meant to celebrate the adoration of the divine— are essentially fluid.  How cool is that ?


Simple Haiku Mug


I’ve had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book.

—Kenneth Rexroth

Folk Music and Bees(Me, too)

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

—T. S. Eliot

Poet Mug

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.

—Carl Sandburg


Slam the Poet on Writing Poetry

His Prayer to Gaia blew me away.  Go watch it now.


There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.

—Robert Graves

Cow Mug

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.

—Jean Cocteau

(For more appropriate Emily, sort of, try these)

The poetry you read has been written for you, each of you – black, white, Hispanic, man, woman, gay, straight.

—Maya Angelou


Limericks Mug


To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.

—Robert Frost



All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.

—Oscar Wilde

chickenpoetblog(For more of Doug Savage’s insanely funny poetry cartoons, try his website)


Okay, y’all . . . 

I’ve been doing Poetry Wednesdays here since April of 2011, which is roughly 167 posts.  And though it may seem like I winged most of ’em,  it  does take time to research and write these particular posts—and it seems like reader interest has been flagging over the past few months.

So, while my enjoyment of poetry of all kinds—not to mention my prurient curiosity about the people who write the stuff—hasn’t diminished at all, I’m thinking it might be best to drop the regular poetry posts and just save ’em for April or when I feel the random need to share.

If I’m wrong about the general disinterest, and you’d like me to keep going, please give me your opinion by liking or commenting on this post, or by dropping me an e-mail.

Otherwise, it’s been a terrific run and I’ve met a lot of wonderful poets and poetry lovers along the way.

Thank you all—even you Thomas Hardy fans—for letting me babble on for so long about something I truly love.

And also for all the reprehensible limericks.  You know who you are.

Drama Mama


Wondermark is created by David Malki!, Sheldon is the brainchild of Dave Kellett, xkcd is written by Randall Munroe, and Savage Chicken is drawn by Doug Savage.  Ownership of these images remains with the creators, and in some cases permission to repost is restricted—so please check before sharing!


A Strong Man

Martin Luther King Jr

For we’ve come to see the power of nonviolence. We’ve come to see that this method is not a weak method, for it’s the strong man who can stand up amid opposition, who can stand up amid violence being inflicted upon him and not retaliate with violence.

You see, this method has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale, and at the same time it works on his conscience, and he just doesn’t know what to do. If he doesn’t beat you, wonderful. If he beats you, you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful. Nobody with any sense likes to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. And even if he tries to kill you,  you’ll develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for.

And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

—Martin Luther King, Jr., 23 June 1963, Speech at the Great March on Detroit

Image of Dr. King from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection of Library of Congress, through Wikimedia Commons

“Calm Down. Write a Book.” : What I Learned at the 2013 Midwest Writer’s Workshop

mww-logo-40Three days.

One six-hour intensive course on writing commercial fiction.

Ten possible, diverse sessions on everything from storytelling to dialog, e-formatting to tax considerations.

Three panels and a Buttonhole the Expert Event.

A query critique, a manuscript evaluation, two agent pitches.

Several hundred talented writers, five agents, a sprinkling of publishers and editors, terrific instructors, energetic and knowledgeable staff, and a group of kick-ass interns.

And, of course, one amazing roommate.

The Midwest Writer’s Workshop was overwhelming, informative, encouraging, exhausting,  and something of a personal wake-up call—in a good way.


Which is where the amazing roommate came in.

Honestly, if you’re going to go to next year’s MWW—and you should—try your best to room with, or next to, Sherry Stanfa-Stanley.  She brings beer, diet Coke, and snacks and shares.  She hauls you off-site for food when you’re about to drop from a combination of self-doubt and low blood sugar, and tells you that you can too write, so knock it off (I’m paraphrasing).  She throws various objects at the automatic light sensors* when your room is once again plunged into darkness—literally and metaphorically.  She assures you multiple times a day, with remarkable patience, that your hair and makeup look fine (but get those bangs out of your eyes).  She listens to your pitch so many times, she can recite it better than you can, and figures out how to convey that one bit of vital information you can’t quite parse.  She teaches you that half a packet of hot cocoa mix makes even slightly burnt, stale coffee into the drink of the gods.  And even her snores are quiet, melodic, and restful.**

She was the one who told me about the MWW in the first place, and I owe her a lot more than my half of the room payment (the check will be in the mail as soon as I can find a stamp, Sherry!).

As usual, I’ve put together, some favorite (mis)quotes*** and moments from the Workshop, as taken from my notes and memory.

Book Explosion

John Gilstrap, ^who ran an intensive workshop called “Adrenaline Rush: how to write commercial fiction”:

—You gotta write crap and make it less crappy.

—THERE ARE NO RULES (there are, however, some really reliable suggestions)

—This is not a sprint for a goal—this is a marathon for a goal

—We make movies for the reader to read.

—The beginning of the book isn’t necessarily the beginning of the story.

(Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code starts with Robert Langdon waking up in a hotel bedroom and getting a mysterious visitor who starts Dr. Langdon’s journey.  But the story begins with Leonardo putting all this stuff in his artwork and why)

—A storyteller’s greatest sin is to waste drama.

—“No, I don’t think [your book] sucks.”

Book Explosion

Roxane Gay, on getting published:

—If you’re patient and persevere, good things will come.

—Calm down.  Write a book.^^^

Book Explosion

Matthew Clemens, author, instructor, Sarcasm Master:

—Dialog, communication, isn’t just verbal.

—I’m a big believer in “said.”  That’s really all you need.  My characters don’t declare, articulate, pronounce, or exclaim. And they never ejaculate.  Bet you didn’t know that F. Scott Fitzgerald had Gatsby ejaculating.  Right there on the page.

—Bad guys don’t start out bad . . . something broke somewhere.

—“Hey, a guy who has books on the bestseller list thinks your book doesn’t suck.  That’s a major victory!”

Book Explosion

Hank Phillippi Ryan:

—Write what you love.  Write what you want to read.

—It’s not how the MC works on the situation, it’s the way the situation works on the MC.

—Setting is important.  [A thriller about stopping a nuclear disaster] couldn’t really happen in Pickatown, Kansas.

Book Explosion

I learned so much that I’ll be processing it all for weeks, but here are a few general things I grasped:

—Talk to everyone.  With maybe one or two exceptions, a simple remark will start up an interesting conversation and earn you a business card^ and maybe a new friend.  And if they can help, they will:   people who see you pacing and sweating before your agent appointments will tell you that you’ll be fine and ask you later how it went.

—Bring snacks.  It’s a long time between lunch and dinner, especially if you hail from another time zone and tend to skip breakfast.

—Pitching an agent for the first time is scary, yes, but survivable.  Pitching an agent for the second time is less scary, even if he’s waiting in the buffet line and other people are listening.

—When an agent or editor teaches you how to write a query letter, you’re actually learning about that agent or editor’s specific preferences for the queries s/he receives.  But if you take notes on what three or four agents and editors would like to see and merge those lists, you can get a good idea of what absolutely needs to go in a query.  And also what absolutely shouldn’t.

—Children do not think that the sturdy paper sacks marked “Turkey” that you saved from your lunches are good souvenirs.

MWW bag—Anyone who has read this far and leaves a comment will get the chance to win the extra swag bag I nabbed on the way out.  It includes a nice-sized blue bag, a February copy of Writer’s Digest Magazine,  a copy of Hank Nuwer’s Freelance Writer’s Desktop Companion, a pack of generically-gendered Bic pens, and a pack of Ball State sticky notes.

—Always take the day after the conference off, so you can recover and write an insanely long blog post . . .  


*The hotel we were staying in had just installed these sensors, which  are meant to turn off the lights if they don’t  sense movement for about ten minutes.  This is a great energy/money saver, but there were a few problems:

—the sensors for the main lights in the room were next to the door, pointed at the closet-nook, around the corner  from where any activity was going to be.  Sherry and I could have been doing the can-can on our beds and the sensor wouldn’t have seen us.

—And even if the sensors had been placed into the room, Sherry and I are writers—and writers don’t move much when they’re writing.  Heck, some of us—by which I mean me—don’t move much regardless.

—the main sensors also ran all the easily accessible outlets around the room, so we had to unplug the clock, the bedside lamps, and the TV to charge our laptops and phones, via cords that weren’t always long enough for the job.  Furniture may have been moved.

—the main sensors did detect when the bathroom sensors kicked in—vibrations from the fan, maybe—so whenever one of us tiptoed into the bathroom after midnight, there was a possibility that the whole room would suddenly light up.

**And she put up with me for four days and three nights, which should earn that woman a purple heart for my snores  alone, which were neither melodic nor quiet.  I’m surprised the main light sensors didn’t pick ’em up.

*** Please for to remember that all this is all filtered through my (overloaded and severely overcaffeinated) brain and I scribbled down what I heard, which isn’t necessarily word-for-word what was said.

^If you get a chance to take one of his workshops or attend a panel with him or have him assess a few pages of your manuscript, do it.  He’s funny, patient, and a good instructor, which isn’t always true of good writers.   And if you haven’t read his books, you’re missing out, because damn, but he’s good.

^^Watson and Jane helped me run some up the night before—so much easier than scribbling the information down on little scraps of paper:

Business Card Sample

^^^I’m cross-stitching this one and sticking it up by my desk.  I have such a braincrush on this woman, I can’t tell you, and I covet her tattoos.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

It was a good Thanksgiving, all told.

My parents arrived Tuesday evening so they could get up early Wednesday for Family and Friends Day at the kids’ school* and left Saturday morning, a little after I left for work.

Here are bits and pieces of what happened between:


Wednesday evening:

This is all Watson’s fault.  She’s the one who introduced us to Munchkins, a sort of role-playing, monster-fighting, flippin’-hilarious card game with warriors and levels and cursing and running away and really, really odd weapons.

She has expansion packs and different versions—Pirate Munchkins, SuperMunchkins, Zombie Munchkins, etc.—and we all played a couple of hands with Mom, Dad, and Janie while Sunny pulled all the Fairy Dust Expansion cards out of the discard piles and made up stories about them.

The game itself is hard to explain, but these quotes from our evening might give you some idea of what’s involved:

“But . . .but you have a  chicken on your head.  And I smell.

“Do you really want to ask your aunt or grandpa for help, sweetie?  Or will you ask your devoted mother, who loves you very, very  much and will kill that horrible monster for you for only two, tiny little treasure cards?  Because I will be glad to underbid those mercenary people over there just to keep you safe. You know that, right?  Sweetie?”

“No!  No, no, no—remember the first rule of Munchkins:  any dispute must be followed by a loud argument, which we’ve just had, followed by the owner of the game threatening to take her cards and go home unless she wins.  And that would be me.
“You are home.”
“Then I will go downstairs.

“I did it! I did it! I have won the Fruitcake of Destiny!!!!  Oh . . .I think I just wet myself.”


Thursday afternoon:

“Okay,” I said, rummaging through grocery bags.  “Mom and Dad may have forgotten the cheddar and the eggnog, and the baby carrots, but they did remember the diet Pepsi, so at least I won’t be curled up in a fetal position under the table by dinner.”

“You would have gone out and found some,” said my husband.

“True,” I said.  “But all the stores are closed now.  I’d have to find a caffeine pusher on the street corner and you know how that would go:

“Hey, man, all I got is 24 ounces a’Coke, maybe a little Pepsi Zero,  y’know?  The Man’s been breathing down my neck hard, lately.
Yeah, yeah  . . . Wait, is this &(@$%ing root beer?  I know you ain’t pulling this $#!& with me, punk—Paagph!  did you cut this with Sprite?!  I will &(@$%  you up!”

Which is when my husband and Watson started muttering something about an intervention . . .


While Cooking:

“You have to stir it constantly,” said Watson.

“I am.  Sort of,” I said.  “I’m just letting it relax a little.”

“Uh huh.”

“Why don’t I do that for you, honey,” said Mom.  ” If you’re getting tired of all that stirring that you really do have to do.”

“I have made this before, you know,” I said.

Mom held up her hands and backed off.  “Okay, okay.”

“I’m not bothering you with all this  noise, am I?” I asked Watson, rattling the whisk around the saucepan like a troupe of six-year old tap dancers.**

“No,” she said.  “You’ll have to do better than that to bother me.”

“Hey, Watson . . . Watson!”  I lifted the whisk.  “I’m not stirring it.  I’m not stirring it.  I’m not stirring it. I’m not stirring it . . .”

I am flipped a bird that is not turkey and start humming the Jeopardy think music . . .


Thanksgiving Dinner:

“Honey,” said Mom, eying Dad as he reached for the last roll.  “Remember, you’re having cake.”

“You’re right,”he said, pausing only a moment before securing the roll and the butter. “I am.  This is my one chance to pig out and I’m going to do it.”

“Spoken like a man who bought a large amount of Prilosec this morning,” I said.


“Mommy,” said Sunny.  “I don’t want to eat this.”

“Since when do you not like turkey?” I asked.

“Since this turkey.”

“Right. Then have some mashed potatoes.  Or your veggies.”

“But they’re too hot.”

Five minutes later.  “Try them now, honey.  you can’t just have a roll for dinner—you’ll be hungry later.”

“But they’re too cold.  Can I have another roll?”


Photo credit: jose.jhg

The Aftermath:

Watson, eyeing the mountain of interlocked clean dishes my Mom left in the drainer:  “Looks like I’m gonna be playing Jenga.”

“Oh my God, look—look!  I found the lid to this bowl and it fits!  It’s a Thanksgiving Miracle!”
“Hallelujah!  Here’s the rest of the green beans.  Do it again.”


About ten o’clock, while I’m brushing my teeth:

“Mommy,” said Sunny, rubbing her eyes.  “I’m hungry.”


* Jane aced a spelling test for the first time in fourth grade!  Her best attempt (for a given value of the word) to that point was a C-minus—Watson and I couldn’t tell if she had test anxiety, some kind of block, or a severe case of Don’t Want To.  But she buckled down all week, memorizing five words a day.  I couldn’t be prouder of her for trying so hard.  We were there when she took the test and every time she wrote down a word, she giggled—she knew she’d nailed it.

**I still have flashbacks from Jane’s last recital.

Eliminating the Impossible . . .

After several years of thinking about tattoos, I finally made two decisions:  Since words reflect who I am far more than images ever have, I wanted a literary tattoo—and I would get it done before my next birthday.

I narrowed the choices—so, so many choices—down to three, and spent more time than is strictly sane on FontSpace, downloading and experimenting, apparently willing to spend the next fifteen years tinkering.

And then life dropped me a wake-up call or three.

The day I learned the results of my biopsy, I started looking for an artist.

If you’re going to be tattooed for the first time, I highly recommended taking my SIL with you—she let me drag her all over the place, looking at portfolios and policies and general cleanliness and she leaps in when the artist asks you what you want done and your brains freezes up because oh, my God you’re actually going to do this.*

I made an appointment at one place with an artist whose portfolio showed beautiful lettering and I wanted her to do the Big One—but she isn’t free until June, so we kept looking around, just to see.

Yesterday, we had lunch out and decided to stop by a nearby studio.  The girl at the desk told us that there weren’t any artists available, but that one was subbing for the piercer and could at least talk to me about what I wanted done.

While we were waiting for him to finish in the sterilization room—which I thought was a comforting sign—we wandered around to look at the  photographed work on the walls.  It all looked good, especially a selection of portraits in a single frame.

A few minutes later, a guy with a friendly smile and extensive sleeve art came out of the back and asked me what I thinking about.

I told him was thinking of having a phrase from one of my favorite quotes done and showed him on my laptop.**

“What is that from?” he asked.  “It looks really familiar.”

I told him the rest.  “It’s from a Sherlock Holmes story.”

He broke out into this huge grin.  “Yeah! I remember —man, I love Sherlock Holmes.  My dad’s a huge fan, too—we watched all those old movies together!  Which font?”

I told him, and he started laughing.  “That’s excellent.

And I knew I’d found my artist—even before I learned those portraits were his.

He checked with the owner to see if he could tattoo me that day and got the go ahead.  Then he walked me through it and we worked out the placement, alignment, and size together—his enthusiasm is completely contagious.  He also answered all my questions, some of which had nothing to do with the matter at hand, since I tend to go all scattershot when I’m nervous.  But he was terrifically patient, kind, and gentle to this newbie.

And he does fantastic work.

So, here it is:***

When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
—Sherlock Holmes, “Sign of the Four” (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Done in a slightly tweaked Old Baskerville font.

I love it.


*She also keeps you distracted in all kinds of inventive ways while the actual tattooing is going on, including a soft shoe routine that I can’t possibly describe.

**Something I also recommend bringing for a text-based tattoo, along with a flash drive for easy transfer to the artist’s software, if s/he’ll be using any.  I had no fears about misspellings and he was able to see what I wanted and modify from there.  Saved us a lot of time.

***Looking grayer than it really is, because I took the photo.  The ink is black.