From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer?
"Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Littlest Poets

     I have been working with the littlest poets, children of all ages, for more years than I care to calculate, but it is something that I truly love to do. From reading Mother Goose rhymes to babies all the way up to reading (and now writing) novels in verse to big kids. In this post, I'd like to share some of my most recent work teaching an after school enrichment club to children in grades 3 to 5 that I called Playing with Poetry.

      I called it that because that is exactly what I aimed to have the children do if for no other reason than I wanted them to know that poetry is not boring, and that creating a poem is something that everyone can do. My objective though was not to have them write poems but to make them laugh. I really didn't want to hear poems, I wanted to hear giggles because of poems. That isn't at all hard to do.

     We started each session with a read-around (passing allowed for those that prefer listening) from anthologies of the funniest poets for children I could find, relying heavily on Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. We passed around one book and read the poem that was opened to at random. It gets them giggling while the sound of poetry settles on them.

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     Then each week we would try a fun way of creating a poem. The first week was what we called
Twisty-Turny poems inspired by Prelutsky. They took to it as naturally as I thought they would. Below is one child's very first attempt.

     Another week was rebus poems mixing symbols with words. The following week was devoted to Book Spine poetry which is a way of playing with poetry that many adults enjoy (just google it if you haven't played yourself.) Kids, I think, enjoy it more because it gets them up and moving around and talking and they like documenting things digitally. Here are a couple of examples from that day.

      Then I introduced an old favorite of mine that I have done with children as young as age four as well as new adult readers. It always, without exception, produces results that are impressive to me, but more importantly, make the creator feel creative. I call it cut-up collage poetry. It is easy to tell how much they like it when they ask if they can do another, and maybe just one more... I ensure success by doing most of the cutting myself and sharing an abundance of words and phrases for the poet to choose from that are likely to lend themselves well to poetic expression. It results in poems that are also visual works of art. Here are some pics:

     They also spent some club time playing at because there are lots of fun things to do at the site. A little something for everyone.

     While we are on the subject of children and poetry I'd like to encourage you to check out the work of a few of my friends at I Care Foundation and find a way to participate and play with poetry.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Erase-Transform Poem

    Mine is the latest installment of this national poetry project. I found it a bit cathartic. Go ahead and give it a try!


Monday, May 8, 2017

Festival Hopping

      There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when attending festivals three weekends in a row, meant something entirely different than it does now. I haven't written a blog post in a while because I have been so busy attending festivals!

      The first was the annual conference of the New England chapter of SCBWI. Though I've been a member for a few years I had not been able to attend before and I had heard from many writers that it is a conference that really pays off. So I splurged and hopped into the car of friend and Maine author Terry Farish to spend the weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is a huge conference and it is wonderful to spend time with the visual artists as well as writers who descend upon the city. I met so many interesting people I hope to stay in touch with. The dinner conversation I had with one writer whose mother escaped Auschwitz and made it to America will stay with me forever. It was especially helpful to meet and work with others, especially Jeannine Atkins, who write novels in verse, as that is the focus of my work these days. Meeting Jane Yolen was a thrill, of course, but the biggest surprise for me was how inspired I was by another Maine artist, Melissa Sweet. Her keynote presentation was one of the best I've heard in a long time. Barry Lyga gave a great speech too, and I will remember his admonishment to "take the risk" (and the one about ignoring the unsupportive father!). I've been querying up a storm to conference contacts since.

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      The next weekend brought me to the Newburyport Literary Festival which I have been attending for years. It is an excellent and affordable conference in a little city that I love to visit. Except for the unnecessarily long wait in the hot sun to get in to see Jeff Kinney, I was glad I went. I heard another talk given by Melissa Sweet (I really am a big fan now!)
      I loved how she talked about writing up for children, not down, and how she looks for one keyword that serves as an anchor for the art she creates for each page or spread. I intend to track down the essay she mentioned EB White wrote before Charlotte's Web called The Death of A Pig. Here is an example of Melissa's work from Some Writer. She told us all about the many decisions that went into this page and it was fascinating. This book is marketed to children ages 7 to 10 and I have shared it with that age group but it is a great read for adults too.

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     It became downright strange that I kept driving from Maine to Massachusetts to meet exceptional writers from Maine. I haven't read Monica Wood's work yet, but I am looking forward to it. The Portland Phoenix just named her both Maine's best Miane author and best Maine playwright. She gave a fun reading and talk that kept her audience laughing. I felt a silly kinship with her in that we had both been writing about characters named Ona for the last few years.

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     And lastly, I attended the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, another that I have been going to for years, and that is always worthwhile. My first workshop was titled the Poetry and Healing Venue which I will post about on the @Prickly Pear Poetry Project Facebook page.
      In Beyond Giggles: Writing Children's Poetry I picked up a few tips and a bunch of picture book recommendations. Did you know that words that begin with P and K are considered the funniest?  I thought that was plum kooky!
      Meeting Springfield Poet Laureate Maria Louisa Arroyo is going to stay with me for a long time as will her lessons about authenticity in voice. She uses a prompt with children and new American readers in her work that I am sure I will now use in mine; "Tell me the story of your name." I hope I get to work with Maria more in the future, and in the meantime will keep re-working the poem I wrote in her workshop.
     My last panel, called History's Inspiration: Poetry out of the Past, was such an interest to me as much of my work the last year has been poetry created out of the past. Last night when I got home I read Sarah Sousa's book The Diary of Esther Small in one sitting (another Maine connection, but an oh-so-sad one!). I can barely wait for Ellen Dore Watson's next book to come out - her reading was such a teaser!
     I'll close by sharing one of headliner Louise Gluck's poems, something to savor over multiple readings and maybe a warm cup of an earthy tea.
      Thanks to the hundreds of people that put in so much work to make me a better writer these last three weeks.

     The final stanza of Gluck's Afterword speaks to me, writing about what was, for what may be.

Shall I be raised from death, the spirit asks.
And the sun says yes.
And the desert answers
your voice is sand scattered in wind.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poem at The Fem

      I have been studying and writing found poetry for a couple of years, and find it to be an interesting artistic practice that can be used very effectively as protest literature. I recently had one of my found poems published at The Fem, and share the link below. When I was creating it I was really struck by the number of times the officer used the word "I" especially when juxtaposed with the phrase I used as the title. I'm also posting an image of Sandra Bland found online that was published by the Chicago Tribune last year.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017


     Yesterday I gave a brief talk about Ona Judge Staines, the subject of my novel, for a group of mostly young people who had never heard of her. That is why I wrote the book in the first place - I wanted to make sure her story was never forgotten. While I thoroughly enjoy sharing the details of Ona's life, I think my favorite part of the talk was when we had a moment of silence in her honor. Yesterday was the 169th anniversary of her death.
       Yesterday felt like Ona's day. For some reason, I kept thinking about a piece of art created by Karen Battles that is also a tribute to Ona. Maybe because like me Karen is a creative artist who wanted to tell Ona's story through her art. I saw it when it was on display in Portsmouth a few months ago. It, like Ona's story, has stayed with me from the first. Though I have no money to spend on art right now, I contacted Karen and asked her if it was for sale.
       Yesterday the sun shone so big and bright, but made it too warm for the month of February. It was like a gift one knows she does not really deserve, but accepts, with both guilt and gratitude.
       Here is a pic I took of the art;

Monday, February 13, 2017

WxW short

     I lost the WxW short short competition this was written for, so thought I would share it here. The rules were: 

    Your piece can be fiction, non fiction or memoir, but it must contain a New Year's resolution, a Mustang or a mustang, the name of a Mountain Range, a reference to a seventies song, comfort food, and hope. Word Limit:  300 Words

Take It Easy

    The doctor had said, “You’ve got to lose weight. Do you really want being fat to be your cause of death?” I knew my family wanted me to lose weight too. I’m old, and have no more time for putting things off.
    So on New Year’s Day, I resolved to loosen my load. To lighten up while I still can. I want to lose enough weight to climb Humphrey’s Peak, but told only my cat. I decided to start training by walking to town, and put on my sneakers for my first trek. I hadn’t gotten more than two miles behind me, when I found myself wheezing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona staring into the window of a shiny new diner. The smell of mac and cheese and French fries immobilized me. Oh, how I faltered.
    Just when I was about to breakdown I heard an engine behind me and let the reflection in the diner window come into focus. It was a girl, my Lord, in a mustang ford, slowing down to take a look at me. I turned to see my granddaughter, looking embarrassed at the sorry sight of me.
     “Open up, I’m climbing in,” I said. She helped me lower myself into her car and drove me home. Parked, we stared out the windshield at the mountains and talked of our hopes for the future. Both seemed so distant. Mine to lose weight and stay alive long enough to witness hers, to become an architect, and build things of great beauty. Feeling frustrated at going it alone, we decided we’d buddy up to get things done, that we would both get to where we wanted to go if we help each other. “Take it easy, Gram,” she advised.
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     Her sweet love is going to save me.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Bruised Ego

      I guess this blog post is a confessional, a lame little lament about a battering my writer's ego has recently taken, and how I have humbly recovered from it, and am ready to plod on.
     Many of you know that I spent five years of full-time work researching and writing a historical novel about the life of Ona Judge Staines, and that much of the last year was devoted to seeking representation for it.
       A few weeks ago I discovered that a non-fiction account of her life has been published by scholar Erica Armstrong Dunbar. I confess my immediate reaction was a panicked little sense of loss, which has mostly dissipated. I am truly glad for her accomplishment and know that her book is needed having been frustrated by the lack of such books when I was doing my research. I wish her the utmost success.
       Here is a piece the NYT put out yesterday about the story.

      At about the same time that I learned about Professor Dunbar's book, I came to a realization about my own that was another humbling blow. After getting feedback from some outstanding literary agents who all said similar things about my story being "almost, but not quite, good enough" I have decided to hire a developmental editor to help me revise it again. I found one who specializes in historical fiction, and once I accepted the idea that it is necessary I have become excited about working with her. It is an expense I can't really afford but after investing five years and a lot of money into writing the story, skipping this step just seems silly now. Together we will spend the next few months polishing my pages and then I will start the querying process all over again. That will also give me time to read Ms. Dunbar's book and perhaps change anything I may have gotten wrong in my research. I also hope to meet Ms. Dunbar. There is no doubt we both share a special love for a woman who was almost, but not quite, lost to history.