Friday, July 27, 2018

Poetry Friday: Summer Poem Swaps

I've never signed up for any of Tabatha's poem swaps before, mostly because I was very intimidated by what I saw of them on people's blogs.  In theory, all you have to do is to send a poem to the person whose address Tabatha sends you by the date she gives you, but in reality people go all out, and there are fabulous packages that fly back and forth.  But then I participated in a swap Margaret organized, just because I was so intrigued I couldn't help myself, and it was so much fun that I wanted to do another one. This summer I was going to be traveling, so I signed up for two of the swaps. At home we just get mail delivery once a week, and you'd think that would work fine and I'd just take the extra time to do something really special - instead, I don't do anything until the afternoon of the day the mail went in the morning, and then I realize I've missed it for another week and despair at what a loser I am. Being in the US I knew I'd have access to daily mail service and I'd have no excuses.

I wrote poems on postcards and sent them to the people I was assigned. As expected, it was fun and satisfying. It gave me a little extra boost to follow through on a vague poem idea and actually write something. I was happy.

Then I got home from my trip, and when I checked the mail I realized how right I had been to be intimidated. Oh my goodness! My two poem senders did indeed go all out. Take a look at what I got:

My first swap came from Linda Baie. Linda is such a generous Poetry Friday participant. Her comments always make it clear that she has thoroughly read and digested your post, and she always finds something positive to highlight. What a great teacher she must be! She's a wonderful poet, too, and I always enjoy reading her posts.

The package she sent contained a card in an envelope, a notebook, a book of poetry (can't wait to read it!), and the poem. Linda wrote me a golden shovel poem, and for the quotes to end the lines, she used my own words. And look at the bougainvillea photo! One thing every writer needs is readers, and this poetry swap from Linda makes me feel as though I have a reader in her.
Here's the poem. (Click on the photo to get a larger version that will be easier to read.) Isn't it amazing?  Thank you, Linda!
My second swap came from Tabatha Yeatts herself, the source of all this swapping. Tabatha's blog is called "The Opposite of Indifference," from Elie Wiesel's quote, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference." Tabatha is never indifferent, and many of the poems she posts - her own and those by other people - meet Emily Dickinson's definition of poetry as something that blows off the top of your head.

Like Linda, Tabatha wrote a poem that she knew would have special resonance for me.  Back in April I posted about madeleine poems, an idea I got from Nancie Atwell.  She got the name and the concept from Marcel Proust, who in one of his novels has a character eat a madeleine cookie and then be transported back into the past by the sensations and memories the cookie gives him.  The rest of the novel is a flashback caused by the taste of that madeleine.  I used George Bilgere's poem "A Madeleine" as my mentor text and then turned the whole writing process into a minilesson for my students.  You can read that post here.

So Tabatha's package contained her own madeleine poem, with a note and a gorgeous drawing by her daughter.  She wrote about picking black raspberries as a child and about how eating black raspberry jam brings back that experience.  She commented "It was easy to write and very difficult as poetry and memories are." That right there is the opposite of indifference, folks.

Here's the poem:

a madeleine for Ruth
by Tabatha Yeatts

For me,
it's a black
raspberry jam,
a shade that might
be at the end of the
rainbow, a jiggly finale,
with a scent as rare as the
slide down to a pot of gold,
rare no matter how many
candy chemists hunch
over their test tubes
trying to recreate it.

Hold it to my nose
and I'm a child who's
twisted a black raspberry
from the bush which I roll gently
in my palm before depositing it
into a pail where I can still smell 
it and its kin as I move farther down
the hilly path, fighting the urge to grab the brambles 
to steady myself as pebbles shift under my feet,
already aware that harvesting treasure
means hazarding tumbles and thorns.

Even though these poetry swaps do intimidate me (even more now than before!), I think I will participate in more of them because there is so much delight in the giving and the receiving. 

Here's this week's roundup.

Tabatha is sharing the poem I sent her today.
And Margaret is sharing the one I sent her, too!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Poetry Friday: Vacation

by Rita Dove

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls.

Here's the rest of Rita Dove's poem.

A couple of days ago, I got a newsletter from the Academy of American Poets entitled, "'I'm just here in my traveler's clothes': Poems for Vacation Travels."  I hadn't read any of the poems yet, and when I clicked on this one this morning, I was startled by how appropriate it was for my day yesterday.  I flew home from just over three weeks traveling by myself in the United States.  Dove describes the nowhere yet everywhere feeling of airports so well in this poem.  

Getting home is always a maelstrom of emotions.  You'd think I'd be prepared for it, after all these years of back and forth, and I sort of am, but each time it hits me a little differently.  I had been up since four AM, and the atmosphere was more oven-like than I had remembered.  There were visible signs of the recent riots - frequent piles of the remains of burned tires on the road home, for example.  And my house always looks different to me when I'm returning from the States: I see everything through American eyes for a few moments and think in some surprise, "This is where I live?  Huh."  

I decided to leave the luggage completely alone.  I ate a sandwich, took a shower, and went straight to bed.  Everything would look better in the morning, I reasoned, and you know what?  It does.   

Heidi has today's roundup. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reading Update

Book #46 of 2018 was The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate.  This is a middle grade novel about Ivan, a gorilla who lives in a low-budget zoo in a shopping mall.  It's a lovely story and perfect for the reading slump in which I found myself at the time.

Book #47 was Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland.  Clara Driscoll worked making Louis Comfort Tiffany's designs in the late nineteenth century.  This is the story of her life, both her personal life and, even more interestingly, her professional life at a time when women did not receive respect or recognition at work.  Driscoll has a series of disappointing romantic relationships, but her work colleagues and creative friends are the most important connections in her life.  Fascinating.  Book #49 was Life Studies, also by Susan Vreeland, a book of short stories about art. 

Book #48 was Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, by Rachel Jones.  I have a chapter in this book.  (I thought it was pretty interesting.)  But the rest of it was good too! 
Rachel has collected a series of guest posts about TCKs that appeared on her blog a few years ago and updated them with new material such as interviews with the authors and discussion questions.  The strength of a book like this is that it contains many different voices, and I enjoyed reading it.

Book #50 was a reread, Susan Howatch's book Absolute Truths.  This is one of those books I keep returning to.  I wrote about it here in 2009, 2010, and 2015.  It's about aging, the way stories come full circle, Romans 8:28, and more.

Book #51 was a recommendation from a friend, and I finished it after leaving her house and mailed it to her when I was done.  It was Fiela's Child, by Dalene Matthee, and it covers many of the topics I like to read about: identity, cultural clashes, what home really means. 

This post is linked to July's edition of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Poetry Friday: Calling Yourself a Poet

Recently I heard a poet on a podcast say that he never calls himself a poet. He said a poet is what he wants to be more than anything, but he prefers to let other people use the word because he feels it's pretentious to use it himself. Who was the poet? I have no idea; I thought I could find the quote again and didn't write it down. I did learn, while hunting for the podcast, that there are many poets who feel sheepish about using the word; here's an article that discusses the idea.

To me, it's all right to use the word "poet" about yourself if you write poetry. You aren't saying you're a great poet or even a good one; you're simply saying that you write poetry. I do, so I'm a poet.  Just as I call myself a reader because I read and a mother because I have children and a walker because I walk, I call myself a poet because I write poetry.

Even so, it's nice when others think of me as a poet, and I had an experience like that last week.  A friend commented that something that had just happened was symbolic and then she added, "Ruth will probably write a poem about it." (You'll have to take my word for it that she didn't say this in a mocking way but sounded as though she'd actually like to read such a piece.) In fact I had already made a note in my head that this event would be a great topic for a poem. Later I took the note from my head and wrote it down on my phone, and it's a good thing because otherwise it might have gone the way of the quote from...whoever that guy was who doesn't call himself a poet.
I had gone with my friends that day to their cabin in the woods. I've spent time there every summer except one since 2011, and every year I've written poems about it and shared many with them.

Earlier this summer I listened to this podcast, an interview with Michael Longley. It has lots of great stuff in it, but one of the parts I enjoyed most was when he talked about going to his cabin, a place called Carrigskeewaun, where he's been going regularly since 1970.

Krista Tippett said, "I want to ask you also about the mystery of place. And so, Carrigskeewaun is a cottage in County Mayo that you and your wife and family have gone back to it, I believe, for over many years. And you said something wonderful about the beauty of going back to the same place over and over again, that you notice more and more. It’s not that you exhaust a place; that you go more deeply into it."

Longley responded, "Yes, it’s inexhaustible. Mind you, it is very beautiful, and it’s very remote. And we’ve been going there since 1970. And we carried our children through the river and through the channel, and now they come back over — such a compliment to my wife and me that the children want to spend time with us. And they come back, and they now bring their children, our grandchildren on their shoulders through this really quite tough terrain. Every time I leave, I think, 'Well, there can be no more Carrigskeewaun poems. I’ve exhausted it.' But there always are poems, and the place is inexhaustible. I mean, you know this — the phrase, 'Travel broadens the mind.' We do quite a bit of traveling. But I think it also shallows the mind. But going back to the same place in a devoted way and in a curious way is a huge part of my life. And I’ll be going there even when they have to push me in a wheelchair."

(Listen to the rest here.)

I've so enjoyed traveling this summer, back to places I've been many times. I didn't realize how much I needed some things to look at that were separate from my usual life in Haiti.  I love Haiti deeply, and it is home, but I needed a break, and I'm thankful I've been able to have one. (Plus you may have seen in the news that things have been sort of difficult there this summer. I don't take my privilege for granted. There are plenty of people in Haiti who needed a break this summer way more than I did and who didn't get it, but instead got trouble and a worsening of their already challenging lives.) Going somewhere new would have been great too (and I did do some of that), but it was wonderful to go to some familiar places, places I already love, inexhaustible places.

Here's a poem I wrote about the cabin in 2011.  It's about fall, a time I haven't ever been there, so I was just going from photos and descriptions and imagination.

Morning at the Cabin, September 2011

Mug of coffee in hand
He sits back on his rocking chair
And watches this day arrive.
He has a front row seat.
Each tree, each blade of grass
And each invasive cattail
Takes its place for the performance to begin.
He holds his breath.
Has anyone read this play?
Can anyone say what will happen next?
Perhaps a deer will enter,
Perhaps a squirrel.
Some leaves are reddening.
All the elements are in place
For a drama.
All that's needed is time to stare
And that, he has.
He takes a sip of his coffee.

Ruth, from

I wouldn't put that poem on the same level as anything that Michael Longley has written, but is it a poem?  Yep.  And did I write it?  I sure did.  So do I call myself a poet?  You bet I do.

There will be more poems from the cabin; it's inexhaustible. I came away with a whole list of ideas. They will give me memories and poems for the whole year.

Bonus: I wrote this post about the cabin in 2012.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Poetry Friday: What is Home?

In 2012, I posted the Wislawa Szymborska poem "The Joy of Writing."  Here's the beginning of it:


Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence — this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

(Read the rest here.)

Last month in the Poem-a-Day email from, I read Maggie Smith's poem "Written Deer," responding to Szymborska's poem.   Click through to read the whole thing, but I'm mostly fixating on the last stanza, which ends like this:

What is home but a passage
I'm writing and underlining every time I read it.

I'm away from home right now, and that always makes me think more about home and what it is and isn't.  I like the idea that it's a passage I'm writing and underlining.  Maybe I'll write my own poem about that.  

In the meantime, check out the roundup here to see what other people have posted this week for Poetry Friday.  

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Halfway Through

Doraine is hosting Spiritual Journey First Thursday this month, and she's asked us to reflect on the year so far, since we're now officially halfway through 2018. When I first saw the topic, I thought what a good one it was, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sad.

My OLW for 2018 is ENOUGH.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul wrote: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." In that spirit, let me boast that I'm very weak in the ENOUGH department at this moment, as I get ready to head southwards after two weeks with my daughter in the midwest. I am so blessed in my life, and I have so many reasons for gratitude, but the goodbyes kill me every time. When I'm here, I miss my husband and son at home, and when I'm there, I miss my daughter here, and there are always friends and family to miss wherever I am.  Several of my closest friends in Haiti have moved away during the past couple of years. The news doesn't help, as I watch families separated and think about tiny children not knowing where their parents are, not knowing when they will see them again. The world is a sad place sometimes. It seems that perhaps a better choice for an OLW this year would have been GOODBYE. 

Please don't tell me goodbyes bring hellos. I know that, but right now I'm not feeling it.  


I love the picture Sara Groves paints in this song, a place and time when everyone we love is together, where there are no goodbyes and no separations. In this life we get brief tastes of that, brief moments.  I'm trying to focus on every moment, every blessing, every piece of goodness in my life, to turn toward the hellos and find ways to make them be ENOUGH in this second half of 2018. But what I mostly need, and what I know will be ENOUGH for me, is God's grace, which has always been there, and will keep being there.  His power is made perfect in my weakness.
You can see what other people have written on this topic here