and you always know it when you see it.

Enjoy Connie Sun’s daily cartoon posts.


writing and healing

I tripped across this beautiful, well-constructed website that brings poetry into the self-awareness and healing process.  The Healing Poetry page provides great examples for trying moments.  I enjoyed the reminder of “The Peace of Wild Things.”  Since I’m lacking a woods, my version of this is to sit on the front porch steps in the dark of one in the morning.


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

When I write – especially poetry – I always seek to use “power verbs” wherever possible.  It’s never, “I was angry.” I’d wait for words like froth, seethe, frizzle, clench, etc. to come to me.  After listening to a TED talk while out on a walk today, I recognize that verb tense – especially the subjunctive – can wield great emotional power.

Think of the line, “I coulda been a contender.”  Sure, Brando’s intense delivery iconized it.  Brando2But imagine that same line if it had been written, “I was never a contender,” or “I wasn’t a contender,” or “I never saw myself as a contender.” Even tripping from Brando’s lips, they don’t have the same power.  There’s no wistfulness, no regret, no loss, no ‘what might have been’.  That emotion all comes from the world “could” (the subjunctive tense) in there.

In the TED talk, I learned there are many languages that have no subjunctive and it likely influences those cultures and their beliefs.  Since we (English-speakers) do have the  woulda-coulda-shoulda, what has that done to us? I wonder if I were to keep my thoughts in simple tenses, will it affect my ability to stay present?  Ha!  pun.

Last weekend a writing group friend, Bob Kralapp, and I did a poetry reading at Clare Bridge in Middleton. Clare Bridge is a “memory care facility” and, from what I could tell, a very nice, caring one. When you’re buzzed in, the front room has a fireplace burning, comfy couches and wing chairs. There are framed photos of residents in various activities in perched on tables and the mantle. Also very obvious was the lack of smell I’m going to just call “disinfectant” — that smell is what actually kick-starts the fear in your lizard brain. That smell transports you back to the time when you were little and went to visit Grandma in The Home, or had to go to the hospital when you broke your collar bone or sit in the waiting room while your Dad went to visit Uncle Bob at rehab. . . It was so not there, that I noticed it.

Some residents were waiting for us in the activity room when Bob and I came in. Most were ambulatory and sat in chairs with walkers parked at hand. A few were in wheelchairs. Most of the women were dressed specifically for Valentine’s Day in pink or red, with heart-shaped jewelry.

As we read, they were (mostly) quiet, but sometimes commented randomly. Not all that different from a coffee-shop poetry slam now that I think of it. One resident did call me “ornery,” though. I’ve tucked that away for some future poems.

Here’s a poem I read for them:


This Winter

This winter is the winter I catch him.

What? You don’t believe that old myth, do you?


I’ll layer up and slog through snowy drifts.

Zillions of snowflakes dizzying down around me.

Everyone else will be inside cupped around cocoa

and melty marshmallows, but they’ll miss the clues.


This winter I finally know when to catch him.

It won’t be during an early November or even December snow.

This winter, he’ll wait until late,

when our backs are achy and

even the snow angels have gotten up, dusted off,

and left for choir practice. Read the rest of this entry »

“Don’t scorn your life just because it’s not dramatic, or it’s impoverished, or it looks dull, or it’s workaday. Don’t scorn it. It is where poetry is taking place if you’ve got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open.”

Philip Levine, describing what he learned from William Carlos Williams

NPR aired a story this morning about Philip Levine, who died this last weekend at 87. As I heard listened to the story, I re-opened my eyes on my drive to work. Here are just a few of the things I saw:

A big red garage door, vanity on long beige metal building

A license plate that read HUG after the numbers – did they do that on purpose?  or lucky?

The cars driving around me, their shiny colors muted by dried salt and grime

Three men statued on the sidewalk in front of the building, heads bent over their phones as I walked by -They’re missing stuff! What if I had been young and pretty?

Read or listen to the full story here: . Then go notice something.


I added Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to my niece’s baby shower gift.  I had the bright idea to inscribe it with a little poem in Seuss’ trademark meter – tetrameter.  It was much harder than I thought it would be, especially because I already had the last line and had to build up to it.  It ended up taking me about three hours to write, but I’m happy with the results and know it’s a unique inscription.  Can’t return that gift!

For Marisa’s baby girl:

You’re smart and good looking.
You’re generous and kind.
And we can’t leave out
adventurously inclined.
Your life will be a journey
of curiosity and awe
unbounded depth that
the seers all saw!
You’ll fill your life to the edges
with astonishing scenes
because you and I, girl,
we share the same genes!

 – Great Aunt Pat


stylish poet catI’m going to facilitate a poetry workshop!

Waunakee Poets Workshop

February 18, 2015 6:30 pm

Waunakee writers! Let’s celebrate the writing, reading, performance and appreciation of poetry. Whether you see yourself as the first to sign up to perform your poem or the shy scribbler in the corner, you are welcome!

We will encourage your unique expression, and create a safe place to share and experiment with poetry. We will watch/listen to a Poetry Slam champion, do a writing exercise, discuss, and end with poetry readings.

Who can attend?  Any age, any writing skill level

Where?                   Waunakee Public Library

When?                     February 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Cost?                       Free

Bring?                     Poems in any state (spiffy or misshapen; ideas and feelings) or just a desire to write

Use?                         Writing utensil and paper, laptop, etc.

Who is leading?   Me!

For more information on the location visit the Waunakee Public Library site.

I could not resist re-posting this Discover Magazine blog post.  Enjoy!

Is there a relationship between poetry and psychosis?

The idea that ‘genius’ is just one step removed from ‘mamentaldness’ is a venerable one, and psychiatrists and psychologists have spent a great (perhaps an inordinate) amount of time looking for correlations between mental illness and creativity.

Now a new British study has examined whether poets exhibit more traits of psychosis than other people. One of the authors is a published poet, Helen Mort.

The researchers recruited 294 poets in an anonymous online survey; 92% of them had published their work. On the O-LIFE questionnaire, a self-report measure of psychotic symptoms, the poets scored above average on the “Unusual Experiences”, “Cognitive Disorganization” and “Impulsive Nonconformity” traits.

Furthermore, poets who described their work as ‘avant-garde’ scored even higher on “Unusual Experiences” and on a questionnaire of mood disorder symptoms.

Rates of self-reported mental illnesses were also high.

two poets (0.7%) reported schizophrenia, 15 reported bipolar disorder (5.1%), 152 reported depression (51.7%) and 80 reported anxiety disorder (27.2%).

Although actually these percentages are not that much higher than we see in the general population.

So it seems as though poets are more prone to psychosis – or at least, they think that they are [emphasis mine]. All of the traits were self-reported. Could it be that poets, having internalized the ‘mad genius’ archetype, are more prone to describe themselves in those terms?

Read the entire post at

Last night I watched a filmed production of the play, The Belle of Amherst.  It’s a lovely, amazing, and heart-breaking portrayal of the poet, Emily Dickinson.  Julie Harris performs the one-woman play in front of a live audience for a 1976 TV-movie.  Even from the back of the audience’s heads I could tell it was the seventies. When you’ve lived the hairstyles, you remember.

IMDB gives the movie a solid 8.5 rating.  I loved how it showed Dickinson’s play with words and playful personality.  Often the character spouted poem after poem melded into the plot, performing the poems ecstatically at times. Her interpretation made me run for my Collected Works copy.

I’m going to watch it again.  Highly recommend it.

I wrote two poems last night. Sometimes a piece comes almost perfectly formed and other times a piece will take ages to get it to the state I feel comfortable with review. After the fact, I think it was because I immersed myself in some of the best writing ever. In this case it was poems and songs, but I don’t think the medium matters. Read really good writing, listen to really good writing, visit art – that’s the key to pulling your own muse out from under the basement stairs.

I watched Tavis Smiley’s interview with Joni Mitchell on the PBS Roku channel. (Thank you inventors of the technologies that make “internet TV” possible!). Joni looked so amazingly cool still – she’s 71. After the interview I put on her music, cranked it up, and sang along for an hour or so. I can do that. “I am a woman of heart and mind with time on her hands, no child to raise.” Or is it, “Just another silly girl when loves makes a fool of me”? Probably both.

Here is one of the poems from last night. 

The Arts

I thought I was a play

the simple story of a life

wherein the actor

survives the shifts, the plots

in the scuffle for the front of the stage Read the rest of this entry »