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Friday, July 21, 2017

On Go Set a Watchman



     I don't as a rule review books, and this post will not be a book review as much as a sharing of my thoughts about the publishing of Go Set a Watchman.

     I resisted reading it for a long time. Then a few Saturdays ago I found a copy in the swap shop at my town dump. I brought it home and read it. It did not break my heart as I'd  heard happened to other readers. At least it didn't for the reason I'd heard it was breaking hearts across America, due to Atticus's fall from grace. To Kill a Mockingbird is, always will be, one of my favorite books, but I never saw Atticus as an infallible man. I knew we were seeing him through a little girl's eyes.

     The same girl when grown, Jean Louise, sees him more realistically. I didn't find much there to be shocking. I'm sure she wrote quite realistically of race relations in Alabama at that time. Less believable to me was the idea that she, grown-up Scout, was so pure of racist beliefs or even awareness and that her new home, New York City, was somehow responsible and so much better.

      But none of that matters. Not at all. Because we should not be reading this book. It is so clear when you are reading it that it is a draft, an early draft of Mockingbird. That is what writers do, we hash out stories on paper, wrestling with them while we wrestle with ourselves, figuring out how to tell a story while we figure out how the story connects to who and what we are. And no writers early drafts should be shared without permission. It was wrong to publish this book, at least in this format, presenting it as a finished novel. As a manuscript published for academic purposes, especially about how a novel can change so much with relentless revision, it certainly is instructive.

     This publication, and the way it was released, was grossly unfair to Harper Lee.

      When I am touched by a book, when it connects with me in any meaningful way, I give it a place in my home and am unlikely to ever part with it.

     Tomorrow I will set Go Set a Watchman back in the swap shop at the town dump. I think that is what Lee would want me to do. Scout too.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

With thanks

I really appreciate the 10 Minute Writer's Workshop at NHPR.

http://nhpr.org/post/10-minute-writers-workshop-jonathan-safran-foer#stream/0

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Going nuts about Nutshell



     I need to talk about Nutshell.

     I recently finished reading Ian McEwan's Nutshell, his 17th novel (I believe) and I suppose I have no business questioning the man's writing but that is exactly what I am going to do.

     First, let me say I loved the book. And I loved it from the first sentence, "So here I am, upside down in a woman." It is brilliant. Everything about the book is brilliant.

     But the whole time I was reading it I struggled with the point of view. By that, I most definitely do not mean that the PoV is that of a fetus. I did not struggle with that and see it as the reason for much of the brilliance.

     Nor am I referring to the fetus's ability to talk, think, reason, or imagine. I accept all of that as brilliant too.

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      No, I struggled with the first person PoV of the fetus only because it seemed inconsistent to me, so here I ask for your help. Was I wrong in that? I felt like it fluctuated and did so frequently from first to omniscient. It made me pause many times in my reading. Now I grant you that the average reader wouldn't have had as much trouble with that as I did, say a person who isn't spending a good two hours per day wrestling like a WWF star with PoV in her own novel, (or someone who hasn't taught prenatal development at the college level) but it gave me a lot of trouble.

     Early on I decided to accept anything the narrator could have heard no matter how implausible (the flip of a notebook page), and only question that which could not be heard, thus the narrator could not have known of it. I also let go everything the baby could have known, even temporal knowledge, by way of his mother experiencing it. Even with those allowances, I examined how the fetus could have knowledge of a great many things. Some just seemed impossible to me. A few of these might have been OK to slip in when absolutely necessary, (is it?) but I felt there were far too many. The editor I am currently working with would not let me get away with that for even one paragraph! There were so many of these that I began to question myself. Was I getting something wrong? What say you?

     A few examples are:

Speaking of his uncle on page 111: "Now he feels like getting up. It's 6 p.m., he notes. Enlivened, he stands, stretches his arms athletically with a creak of bone and gristle, ..."

Again on page 117: "Now he's at her side, sharing the view, trying to find her hand."

On page 144 going on at length about a social media site giving us seventy-one gender options.

On page 158 again of Claude: "He knows he must be kind. But kindness without desire, without promise of erotic reward, is difficult for him. The strain is in his throat."

    Well, you get the idea. Am I being overly critical? Can a writer be inconsistent in PoV? Or am I nuts?




     

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

End-of-year Review

      Enjoying three days off upon completion of a new job in the elementary school that my daughter attended a few years back, a school I have always been fond of. It was a very rewarding year in many ways, namely, I got to do the kind of work I love to do. My title was "site coordinator" but most of my time and energy went into planning and teaching after school enrichment clubs for children in grades K to 5, that are meant to reinforce what the teachers are doing all day in fun and unusual ways, and to prevent academic failure, especially in literacy. A perfect fit for me really. I never became a traditional classroom teacher because I can't stand the constraints of rules and regulations and need to have a fair amount of freedom to respond to what the students at hand most need. This year I was able to do just that.

     Not all of my clubs were literacy focused, though I work literacy into every one. Even when I teach children's yoga, I work literacy into the lesson. But many of them were all about books; The Eric Carle Book Club was a blast, The Pete the Cat Club was a big hit, as was the Beatrix Potter Book Club. For the older grades, I taught a Graphic Novel Club, a Playing with Poetry Club, and a BFG club where we put on a play at the end.


  Digital literacy is important too, and I introduced official author apps in my book clubs as an optional activity. These kids are trying the Eric Carle apps.
 A tea party in the Beatrix Potter Book Club was really a literacy / math activity.


       This pic was taken in a science club I taught that was all about elephants, but we did lots of literacy stuff as well.

      One of the first clubs I taught last fall was a Cursive Handwriting Club for grades 3 to 5. I think penmanship is an excellent enrichment program when schools have trouble fitting into the school day. I encouraged all of my students to enter the national competition and trained them for it. Only one of my kids wanted to go the distance. She practiced and gave me her best effort, and I sent her entry in. To my delight, she won the New Hampshire competition and her entry was forwarded on to nationals. Here she is receiving the award at the end-of-year assembly.



      In her winning entry she wrote, "It helps me be a better writer because cursive helps me learn how to write words in a fun way. It helps me be a better reader because when I write in cursive I see words ..."















   In addition to designing and teaching clubs, some of the other initiatives for literacy I took this year were to bring in the first after school author-in-residence, Terry Farish,
and to oversee an optional 25-minute silent reading session every day that turned out to be quite popular with a large group of children that really need some silent, downtime.
     Another addition I made was to end each day by reading aloud to the children, no matter their age. The reasons for that could fill an entire blog post!

      One more: early on in the year, I saw that the early release day programming, (when we have the children for an extended period of time), needed work. I decided that the only way I could endorse movie watching (which the kids enjoy and it does give them a nice change of pace) was if we made it literacy based. I curated a series of movies for the year that were all movies adapted from books, such as Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. The movies were preceded by a book talk about the author and his/her work, and followed up by fun activities related to the story. Big kids had to write a film review. These two pics were taken the day they watched Paddington.


     There were lots of Paddington books to check out, including an antique first edition.
      Kids were encouraged to bring their own favorite bear to watch the movie with and then made name tags for them.








      I loved doing this work. Getting kids excited about books and authors, about reading and writing, and sharing my love for books with them is important work, and there isn't much I'd rather be doing. But I'm not sure I'll be doing it next year.       There are a whole host of reasons why I'm unsure; the job is changing and I'm not sure what it is changing into, the grant that funds the program is on Trump's hit list for complete elimination, and coming sooner, I've been informed I am likely to lose my ACA health care. I may be forced to find a job with benefits (I currently get absolutely none contrary to what Kellyann Conway says). I wonder how society is better served by me bagging groceries instead of working with at-risk students?

     I'll keep pondering it, but in the morning I am off to head up summer camp enrichment programming. I'll keep at it as long as I can ...

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 http://www.shelsilverstein.com/fun/ 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!

                     http://www.erase-transform.ink/

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.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/55238

     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.

         https://thefemlitmag.com/say-her-name-by-tammi-truax-c6b5102682d6


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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Yesterday

     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.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/arts/george-washington-mount-vernon-slavery.html?_r=3


      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.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

WxW short shorts



      My current financial status is tight. Leaner than it has been since I was about 27 years old, a long time ago. I'm learning to live on my lean means and have found that most luxuries one can give up by being happy with the memory of having experienced them at an earlier time. Concerts for example, I used to attend every good show that came to town, but now find the cost of most shows prohibitive. But one thing I am having trouble letting go of is attending writing retreats. I miss them!

      So I invested a few hours yesterday writing a short short for a competition that will award free tuition to attend the WxW 2017 writer's conference-
Boulder Generative Workshop with faculty 
Andre Dubus III, Camille Dungy and Pam Houston .
Imagine being able to work with them for a few days! Pam is one of my sheroes, and well, Andre in person, makes me swoon.
      I had so much fun writing the entry. Here are the rules:


    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

     I just love the challenge of these kinds of crazy prompts. Wish me luck!


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Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Eve excerpt

From my novel seeking representation:
***
With letters from Lafayette and Martha at his breast, Washington purchased gifts for his wife, and for the children Nelly and Wash. Set solely on retirement, he and his fellow, Billy Lee, crossed the Potomac on Christmas Eve, under a night sky pregnant with yuletide snow. After riding their beasts hard, they delighted at seeing his windows awash in candlelight, knowing what feasts of good fortune awaited them inside.


1784 ~

When the men arrived home after eight years away, they were followed to the front door by several of the yard slaves, and everyone in the house assembled quickly in the front hall to greet them. Ona and the children were afraid and excited as they made their way downstairs. All eyes were on the General, many wet with tears.
            Ona wore her blanket around her shoulders as she was wearing only her shift. Her bare feet felt the cold that had come in with him. She looked at him from his boots up to his hat as he removed it and handed it to the butler. She thought she had never seen such a large man before. He towered over everyone in the room. His size and presence filled the space that the words she’d always heard of him had carved before he came. She knew she should not look directly at his florid face, but it seemed impossible not to look for the briefest moment, at his eyes. They were the blue his Missus had once spoke of. They seemed to see her. She knew she had to look away but could not. Everything about him was mesmerizing, especially his eyes. When he spoke everyone stilled. His voice was surprisingly soft and warm. He looked about the hall, and addressing everyone said flatly, but with his eyes twinkling happiness, “My family, how happy I am to see you.”
            He brought change to the room, to the people. Missus was beaming, the usually noisy children were dumbstruck, but most notable to Ona was the change to the slaves who were present. She knew these people well, and had never seen them this way. Their bodies never more erect, their voices never more deferential. His home and property were diminished by him, though not by his actions, which were genteel in every way. He greeted each person in the foyer individually. First a warm embrace of his wife who remained on the bottom stair so as to be a bit taller for the moment that caused her cheeks to redden, then he knelt on one knee before the children, his sword knocking the floor each time. The children politely returned his affectionate greetings with sleepy but interested eyes. Then he acknowledged the slaves individually by name and nod, each acknowledging him in return with a bow or curtsy, until at last he came to Ona, standing behind Nelly.       
            His size, his sword, his air, and of course, his authority, frightened Ona immeasurably. She trembled when he spoke to her. “So this is the little slave girl we have taken into Mount Vernon?”

            Her voice was almost inaudible. “Sir,” she chirped like a little bluebird in response, bowing her head in her perfectly executed curtsy, instantly satisfying her masters, who continued in their joyful holy night reunion. The slaves remained standing in the periphery of the light and the love.

All rights reserved.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Interview with Jeannine Atkins

Some excellent holiday gift choices available from this author:

http://www.teachingauthors.com/2016/12/poetry-friday-interview-jeannine-atkins.html

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Wizard of Uz: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...

      "There's a storm blowing up. A whopper."

       "A storm you say?" The cowardly lion, wringing his tail and trembling, cried, “I am afraid –  so very afraid, … of those who don’t look like me, of those who don’t pray like me, of lions and lionesses who get better jobs than me, … of all sorts of things that may not be real, but still, they terrify me.”

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      The tin man stood there, overheating in the ever warming climate of his armor, and spat in a rusty voice, as facts binged off his tin like limp bullets, “I just don’t care. I just don’t care about other stuff, and don’t bother me with facts and stats. I care about one thing. Oil. Fill my can. Mine. Lubricate me. I don’t really care about you and what you need. Unless, I fall down. Then I need you to help me get back on my feet. But once I’m up, get the hell out of my way. I need to fill my can.”

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      The scarecrow watched all of this. He had been watching for a while. He scratched his head, which happened to be crawling with bugs, all competing for space. “I don’t know what to believe. Every crow’s caw sounds so angry, and convincing. Some of them seem sinister. Some of them seem sophisticated. Some of them seem to care about me, and my relentless plight here in the cornfield. I'm obsolete, making a feeble attempt at getting something done. I get confused, and I ramble, and nonsense comes out of my mouth. I feel empty inside, and itchy for something new and different. Something needs to change. I’m not sure of anything. I can’t do anything. I’m stuck on this pole.”

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     Dorothy gathered all of the men, pieced them together, shored them up. It is scary for a woman to travel alone, and befriending strange men is a risk too, but she had been on other brick roads before and thought these ones might not grab her and laugh about it later on a bus. She is even more frightened by the winged monkey types. The ones she knows mean her harm. The ones who might tear her to pieces.
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      She'd fall in line with these sad, broken men, and skip off to a new place, an emerald city where everything is shiny and sparkly and bad stuff is hidden behind big walls. She assures the broken guys, “You don’t have to get along with your sister there, you can just melt her and take her house. There is a guy there, the great and powerful Wizard of Uz, he says he can fix everything, he can fix us! And only he can do it. No one else. He is a tremendous man and his emerald empire proves that.” She doesn’t share what she is really thinking …  I suppose his promises are magical, and maybe I know he is hiding behind his tweet machine, and even a silly little dog could pull the curtain back to see him for what he really is, 

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... but I want to believe.

      I just want to get in the balloon, inflated with his hot air, and float up - and back - to that homey place  - that I think I remember,


... but  maybe  it was all a dream.


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(Here's the part that hasn't happened   ...   yet.)



https://youtu.be/0hFa3YHXozA


Thursday, November 24, 2016


TBT - Quite a few Thursdays...

     My dear second cousin Barb sent me an old photo (sixty-seven years old!) this week and I have been marveling at it. It features two people I never met. They are my great-grandparents.
     I've been thinking a lot about them in this time of great turmoil in the country that they went to great lengths to call home. They, like so many of my ancestors, were immigrants.
     She was Rose Ramos, born in Terceira Portugal. the "third" of the Azorian islands, known for lilacs and volcanoes. He was named Anthony Mederios, and is thought to have been from the same island though they didn't meet and marry until they were here. He came at the age of fourteen earning his passage by fueling the fire on the ship which landed him in Providence, Rhode Island. He arrived at the turn of the twentieth century. Soon after he felt the need to change his name to William Mowry. Not sure why he chose that particular name, but there is no need to wonder why he felt he had to take a new one. It is a milky white old English name few could take offense to. He worked two full-time jobs all of his adult life in factories. Rose stayed at home raising their children. They sent their sons back out on that ocean to fight for this country in World War II.



      In the photo the couple is posing with their four grandchildren, each holding a baby. My great grandmother looks pleased and is wearing a corsage. I wondered at the occasion. My aunt Rosemary, the twelve-year-old girl pictured, remembers it as my great-grandparent's 50th anniversary over which the family made a big fuss. My great grandfather doesn't look happy, but proud and serious, and completely at ease holding a baby. The lad beside him is my father and this photo was taken close to his fifteenth birthday. That was the year he moved from Ohio to Rhode Island and was probably very unhappy. My aunt said, "Those were trying times for our little family." 
      They are all standing in front of the house that my father and his sister sold out of our family just recently. It was a three story walk up with enormous three bedroom apartments located on a corner lot in Pawtucket. My father was raised there from that summer on and my grandmother lived there from the year this photo was taken until her death in her nineties. It is the scene of many childhood memories for me, including quite a few thanksgiving dinners.
      I wish I knew more about my great-grandparents. I wonder about the corsage. I wish I knew if he pinned it on her and what they might have said to each other when he did. I wonder about the jewelry; my great-grandparents are wearing none, while the baby is, and I wonder what my father is holding. I think I see a little star on a string, but am not sure. I wish I knew what was served at the celebration dinner that must have followed. I note that my great-grandparents are not turned toward each other even though the day was about them, but instead each is turned toward a grandchild, the future. I wish I knew what that grandfather might have said to his fifteen-year-old grandson that day, a boy given the name he had given up, Anthony. Maybe they listened to a ballgame on the radio that afternoon. Maybe President Truman addressed the 48 states about his Fair Deal Program. If he did I bet my great-grandparents were listening, and think my father probably was too.
      I wonder what they would have thought about that boy growing up to vote for this anti-immigration president. I hope they can rest easy in what has come to be and in what is yet to be. That grandson is now the great-grandfather and two days ago was gifted his sixth great-grandchild, a beautiful baby girl. She carries their DNA in her tiny little body. The DNA that sailed here, alone, fueling fires real and imagined, with sweat and hope and trust, that the future would be good and safe for the babies that may come, in the years ahead, in the melting pot of milk and honey, the land of opportunity, a place they would have called the Estados Unidos da America.

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A sight from the island that my great-grandparents left behind.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Iced Mint Mocha

I didn’t feel it coming
It caught me by surprise
I just wanted a cup of coffee
I faced the barista
A young man with brown skin
Our gaze met
I tried to say the words
Iced mint mocha
They wouldn’t come
My throat closed
I pointed at the sign
Saw the words
Iced mint mocha
I made a sound
A strange gurgle
Like a sick primate
Met his gaze again
He watched my
tearful eruption
Not at all surprised
that the words
Iced mint mocha
were so hard
for me to utter.
Room for cream?
I nodded, paid, tipped,
and walked away.
Quietly ugly crying
swiping my cheeks
sipping on my bitter
Iced mint mocha.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This morning

     My artist friends have been saying we must use our work to move forward. I don't feel ready to do that, I feel swallowed and paralyzed. But I heard them and I trust them. And this poem came a few minutes ago. So I post it here. It is my first step I guess. I have nothing else to offer.


This Morning

Tis the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Crystal Night.
Named for the sound of glass breaking.
The very sound we expected to hear last night.
The very sound we deserved to hear last night.
The very sound we should have heard last night.
It was supposed to have been
a vast glass ceiling cracking,
showering us with shimmering shards
of progress, equality, decency.
We did not get that.
Instead this morning we hear 
only the echo
of the other breaking glass.
Crystal night.
People hiding in the dark,
seeking safety, not knowing
who or what is safe.
Having nothing left but prayer,
though maybe now you do not pray
the right way.
Listen for the breaking glass.
It may not be your window today.
But you should be listening,
and you should be afraid.
This will be a long

Crystal Night.

Tammi Truax 
Nov 9, 2016

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Don't Fight Life"


      Today I attended a memorial service for a woman that I had a great deal of respect for. Her name was Joyce Volk. It was a beautiful celebration of a life well lived, by many people who cared for and admired her. It occurred to me while I listened to the speakers, that in the end there might be nothing better than having your grandchildren read from great prose and poetry that you had inspired them to love. Except maybe to have your ashes co-mingled with your life mate's and buried on a beautiful piece of property of your choosing under a rock inscribed with only one word - LOVE.

      Joyce was one of my beta readers. I valued her opinion about my historical novel not just because of her deep appreciation and knowledge of American and Portsmouth history, but maybe more so, because I knew she would tell me the truth, without sugarcoating, about what she thought of my book.

      She spoke highly of my novel and had even offered to write a blurb for it. She said that no one had written about slavery the way that I did, and that it was an important story that needed to be told.
We never got to the blurb, but I am glad we had that last discussion. It was a good one. And so was she.

http://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20130404/LIFE/304040324

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Notes of Late


      I have been hard at work the last two months; getting my daughter settled into her dorm, settling into a new job, and traveling to writing retreats.
      I spent a weekend in Brooklyn at the Slice Literary Festival. It was a wonderful gift and I am very thankful to the Maine Publishers and Writer's Alliance for the generous scholarship. The highlight for me was pitching to my dream agent. She asked for my manuscript and I have since sent it to her. Please cross all your crossable parts for me.


       Last weekend I attended the New Hampshire Poetry Festival. Had lots of fun checking in with old friends and meeting a few new people. I was particularly happy to participate in January Gill O'Neil's workshop, called Note to Self. Her prompts brought up some hard stuff for me. Stuff I've left unwritten for forty years. I don't think I could have done it without her soft-spoken midwifery.

      I can't share that one. At least not yet.

      But I can share this one, a found poem from words seen outside January's workshop on  simply splendid September afternoon.

       The Corner of Chestnut and Lowell

me:
Victory Park
Farmers Market
Weston Terrace
Child and Family Services
you:
Pay Meter here
Pay and Display
Alley Cat Pizzeria
Police Lives Matter



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Day at Canterbury Shaker Village




    I was thrilled to have my prose, an excerpt from a historical novel in progress about the Shakers, selected to be part of the show Shaker Traditions: Contemporary Translations. It was the first time I've ever been part of a juried art show. I went to the opening a few days ago and had the pleasure of reading a bit of my work while also being inspired anew by my surroundings. Inspired to get back to work on the book which I had set aside awhile ago to work on something else. I will return to it soon.


      While at opening day I took advantage of the opportunity to work with other writers in a poetry workshop led by a lovely poet and pediatrician named Kelley J. White. She has published a book of poems (link below) inspired by shaker artifacts and challenged us to try it. We were shown a number of artifacts from the museum's collection and it was a little girl's shaker cloak, white with a satin lining, that caught my attention. Our instructor challenged us to write a quick haiku to share with the class. I share mine with you here.


                                                                       117_1.jpg (1257×1600)
                 A lovely white cloak
                 A pretty smiling girl
                 One I created


         The show at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire will be up until December and is worth a visit. You can find some gorgeous goods in the gift shop, but here are the souvenirs that I brought home. Picked the beans myself in the Shaker garden, where they still grow things to share with those in need as the Shakers always did. It is still a sacred place in so many ways.



https://www.amazon.com/Two-Birds-Flame-Inspired-Shaker/dp/098252143X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1470874229&sr=8-3&keywords=kelley+white+poems