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National Poetry Month 2021

Welcome to National Poetry Month!

Please share your poetry related posts below, so I can stop by!

I have no hard and fast plans this month, but there will be reviews and activities, and perhaps some videos. I hope you stop by and check out some of the fun poetry.

I’d love to inspire some of you to write your own poetry, too. It can be cathartic, but you don’t have to share those poem drafts if you don’t want.

Mailbox Monday #627

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

ALERT: We’re looking for a new host to help us with MM — if you have experience with WordPress or Mr. Linky, feel free to apply.

Here’s what we received:

The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva, which I purchased.

Drawing heat and music (and luscious food) from a New Orleans and Houston childhood, Steven Leyva’s poetry reveals a sensibility forged by a growing awareness of race and class: child’s joy and bafflement, a black Baltimore father’s worry. These gorgeous poems sweep the reader as into a parade, of memory, sensation, rhythm, protest.

a more perfect Union by Teri Ellen Cross Davis, which I purchased.

In the tender, sensual, and bracing poems of a more perfect Union, Teri Ellen Cross Davis reclaims the experience of living and mothering while Black in contemporary America, centering Black women’s pleasure by wresting it away from the relentless commodification of the White gaze. Cross Davis deploys stunning emotional range to uplift the mundane, interrogate the status quo, and ultimately create her own goddesses. Parenting, lust, household chores—all are fair game for Cross Davis’s gimlet eye. Whether honoring her grief for Prince’s passing while examining his role in midwifing her sexual awakening or contemplating travel and the gamble of being Black across this wide world, these poems tirelessly seek a path out of the labyrinth to hope.

On the House by John Boehner, purchased from Audible.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner shares colorful tales from the halls of power, the smoke-filled rooms around the halls of power, and his fabled tour bus.

John Boehner is the last of a breed. At a time when the arbiters of American culture were obsessing over organic kale, cold-pressed juice, and SoulCycle, the man who stood second in line to the presidency was unapologetically smoking Camels, quaffing a glass of red, and hitting the golf course whenever he could.

There could hardly have been a more diametrically opposed figure to represent the opposition party in President Barack Obama’s Washington. But when Boehner announced his resignation, President Obama called to tell the outgoing Speaker that he’d miss him. “Mr. President,” Boehner replied, “yes, you will.” He thought of himself as a “regular guy with a big job”, and he enjoyed it.

In addition to his own stories of life in the swamp city and of his comeback after getting knocked off the leadership ladder, Boehner offers his impressions of leaders he’s met and what made them successes or failures, from Ford and Reagan to Obama, Trump, and Biden. He shares his views on how the Republican Party has become unrecognizable today; the advice – some harsh, some fatherly – he dished out to members of his own party, the opposition, the media, and others; and his often acid-tongued comments about his former colleagues. And of course he talks about golfing with five presidents.

Through Speaker Boehner’s honest and self-aware reflections, you’ll be reminded of a time when the adults were firmly in charge.

Kindle Freebies from Amazon’s World Book Day through April 24:

What did you receive?

Virtual Poetry Circle: Langston Hughes

With the return of the Virtual Poetry Circle, I hope that you’ll read the poem or listen to it if it is available.

I’ll leave the comments open for discussion, first impressions, emotional reactions. I’d love to hear what you think about today’s poem from Langston Hughes.

Feel free to share poems you are reminded of, favorite lines, and whatever comes to mind when reading this poem.

I look are the lines in this poem and they ring so true. Dreams can be hard to hold onto in the face of adversity, but without them, life seems empty.

Cinquain

The Cinquain is unrhymed and five lines that are broken down into syllables. The first line is two syllables, the second has four, the third has six, the fourth has eight, and the fifth has two.

These were the first poems I learned how to create as a teen.

Try out today’s Cinquain poem generator.

Here’s mine:

Peace

Peace
Calm, durable
Reposing, lulling, resting
I could never believe it
Tranquility

I can’t wait to see yours. Hope you have a great weekend.

En Route by Jesse Wolfe

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 60 pgs.
I am Amazon Affiliate

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry collections about life journeys this month, and En Route by Jesse Wolfe is no exception. Wolfe’s poems have narrators who are “en route” to somewhere or are about to embark on the next leg of their journey. The collection moves from part one in which narrators are alone to those who are accompanied to those who have almost arrived. Like in the opening poem, “Cumulus,” we are reminded that we may consider any point in our lives a beginning, but there is history behind us that heaps up, making us the well-rounded human beings we are. We shouldn’t forget the past.

From "Cumulus"

At a certain arbitrary point
you have to say, here is a beginning
(not to pretend that nothing lingers,
that the trek across the bridge was a mirage,
or the nights sleeping on abandoned farms,
accepting bread and water from strangers).

“Polliwog Park” is one of the most heartbreaking poems in the collection, with fly balls and baseball diamonds, sunburns peeling away just as a father drives off into his own “separate story.” There are moments of “cleaving” in many of these poems, but Wolfe’s poems embrace that separation, internalizing the heartbreak and using it as a tool to see beyond that momentary end to the journey ahead. Like from “Breakup,” “Or I could turn to our love that never coalesced:/you’re half an abstraction, an empty space/into which I pour my fatigue, distress,/and inchoate faith — my shameful escape/from futures withdrawing all promise of home.//”

Although these poems speak to the “will” of the narrator to move forward from heartbreak and endings, there is also the sense that life’s “momentum” cannot be controlled, like in the poem of the same name.

En Route by Jesse Wolfe’s “Homework” reminds us that “There is work I can only do/by letting go: my hands off the wheel,/the car will find its own way/down the long freeway./ … toward whatever … inarticulate – need.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Jesse Wolfe’s poetry has appeared in publications including Tower Journal, Good Works Review, Mad Swirl, and Eunoia Review. An English professor at California State University, Stanislaus, Wolfe previously served as Faculty Advisor to Penumbra, the campus’s student-run literary and art journal. His scholarly work includes the monograph Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and a forthcoming book on intimacy in contemporary British and American fiction.

Whirl Away Girl by Tricia Johnson

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 120 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

We all identify as our role in the family (mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, cousin, etc.) and we all identify ourselves with our employment (teacher, firefighter, poet, scientist, etc.), but what happens when those aspects of our lives can no longer anchor us — hold us steady? We begin to spiral away, to lose our sense of self, and this is exactly what is explored in Whirl Away Girl by Tricia Johnson. These poems express the deep harm, anger, frustration, and sadness patients with chronic illness can feel — nothing is in their control, leaving them unmoored.

from "Fatigue" (pg. 3)

You are rising in a car and its weight slides in
and down your body
Your hands too heavy to knit
Your head too heavy to raise and no words or thoughts exist

From the first poem, readers will know that they are in for a rough journey with the narrator. Many of these poems will be tough to read back to back, but that’s the point. Someone with chronic illness (like lupus or others) doesn’t get a break. It is okay if you take a break and read this volume in spurts, and it may help to generate greater empathy for the narrator — to sit and think about what she’s telling us life has been like. From the feeling of being beaten down by disease to the condescension of some medical doctors, the narrator demonstrates not only the weight of a breaking down body, but also the weight of the broken medical system and the additional burden it becomes for those who need it most. “When added together become a 10-ton hammer” (“New Doctor”).

 from "A Disillusional Song" (pg. 55)
...
My thoughts are as tangled as the bedding
Woven between my legs
I am antsy, walking, driven
Flopping back in bed, up again
...
I am a stranger caught in a mind, that is caught in itself

Whirl Away Girl by Tricia Johnson is a candid account of being out of control when chronic illness hits and there are few answers about how to improve the situation. Johnson’s poems illustrate the fear that accompanies chronic illness and the sense of loss of one’s self throughout the process. “Battle of You” is probably one of the strongest poems in this collection, but I’ll let you find that gem for yourself. As the collection progresses, the narrator does regain a sense of self and strength, found in the moments of good days and few symptoms. There is joy to be found there, even if it is fleeting.

RATING: Quatrain

Why I Never Finished My Dissertation by Laura Foley

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Why I Never Finished My Dissertation by Laura Foley, named one of seven Best Indie Poetry Books of 2019 by Kirkus, is probably her best work to date. In the opening poem, “What Stillness,” Foley sets the tone for the collection. We picture the narrator beside the pond, in stillness and quiet. But soon there is much more going on as her dog emerges from a swim and the light catches the wet droplets as they shake from the dog’s coat. Readers are privy to how stillness and light can shine the light on situations, changing how we perceive them if we take the time to look and listen. Foley’s collection speaks to this in poems about a marriage for a green card, understanding a father whose life irreparably changed when he became a POW, when confronted with a world where hate and bombast are praised, visits to a sister in a psychiatric ward, and much more.

Foley’s latest poem, “Hindsight,” tackles something different than her previous poem “Hindsight” in Joy Street, in which she examines a photograph of her father. Here, the narrator chooses to marry a Muslim man who needs a green card as a way to escape her white, privileged life. But there’s something much deeper to this escape. It is far easier for her to escape and attempt to run from her true feelings than to think about her truth — feelings for another girl. Hindsight is a powerful thing when time has passed and we can see a situation for what it was without all the other entanglements, rationalizations, and justifications for choosing a different path.

Foley’s use of hindsight in subtler ways demonstrate how we can easily hold onto regret and blame things around us for the choices we make, but these are choices we’ve made and they have made us who we currently are. This all circles back to the title of the collection and the poem, “Why I Never Finished My Dissertation,” in that the narrator’s overwhelming life of a young child, puppies, keeping house, and more lead her to decide against finishing that dissertation. It is a choice, and it could be a choice regretted, but her life’s journey leads to great things — pieces of her family and journey she’d never want to give up.

Twice the Speed of Sound

She waves to me
from the coach window,
shadowed glass reflecting
summer trees,
her face dappled
by a scree of boughs and leaves
I can't see through --
maples not yet reddening into fall --
as she rides one plane
after another, over no rough seas,
into no threatened war,
no lack of easy communication;
still, the space expands
like the universe:
galaxies begetting galaxies,
worlds yet unnamed--
despite phone calls bouncing
from one far-flung tower
to another, while out wide world
keeps rolling under us
at twice the speed of sound.

Foley reminds us that life is “chaotic with possibility” (“Discharge” pg. 40). Why I Never Finished My Dissertation is a meditative reflection of choice, life, living, and learning to look back with a kinder eye on those twists and turns. Don’t miss this collection. I cannot wait to see what Foley brings to us next.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including Joy Street, Syringa, and Night Ringing. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books poetry contest and was read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her poem “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. For more information on Laura’s work, please visit her website.

Mailbox Monday #626

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach from Audible.

Abby Wambach has always pushed the limits of what is possible. Named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of 2015, the iconic soccer player captured the nation’s heart when she led her team to its recent World Cup championship. Admired for her fearlessness and passion, Abby is a vocal advocate for women’s rights and equal opportunity, pushing to translate the success of her team to the real world. She has become a heavily requested speaker to a wide a range of audiences, from college students to executives at Fortune 500 companies.

In Forward, Abby recounts her own decisions, wins, and losses and the pivotal moments that helped her become the world-class athlete and leader she is today. Wambach’s book goes beyond the soccer field to reveal a soulful person grappling with universal questions about how we can live our best lives and become our truest selves. Written with honesty and heart, Forward is an inspiring blueprint for individual growth and a rousing call to action.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise, Marcus Brotherton from Audible.

As a kid in suburban Chicago, Gary Sinise was more interested in sports and rock ‘n’ roll than reading or schoolwork. But when he impulsively auditioned for a school production of West Side Story, he found his purpose – or so it seemed.

Within a few years, Gary and a handful of friends created what became one of the most exciting and important new theater companies in America. From its humble beginnings in a suburban Chicago church basement and eventual move into the city, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company launched a series of groundbreaking productions, igniting Gary’s career along with those of John Malkovich, Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Perry, John Mahoney, and others. Television and film came calling soon after, and Gary starred in Of Mice and Men (which he also directed) and The Stand before taking the role that would change his life in unforeseeable ways: Lieutenant Dan in the Academy Award-winning Forrest Gump.

The military community’s embrace of the character of the disabled veteran was matched only by the depth of Gary’s realization that America’s defenders had not received all the honor, respect, and gratitude their sacrifices deserve. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, this became Gary’s mission. While starring in hits like Apollo 13, Ransom, Truman, George Wallace, CSI:NY, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Gary has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who serve this country…entertaining more than a half-million troops around the world playing bass guitar with his Lt. Dan Band, raising funds on behalf of veterans, and founding the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut from the publisher, which I’ll likely giveaway when I review Kristin’s book that she signed for me.

Becoming the Enchantress is the story of a transgender parent that faces personal longing for change. Given the acceptance and encouragement of her children, the parent magically transforms from a Wizard into an Enchantress on Halloween night. The story highlights themes of acceptance and the love between child and parent. Becoming the Enchantress is unique in that it is written for children whose parent is the one discovering their dysphoria and seeking reassignment, rather than that of the child or teenager themselves.

Becoming the Enchantress fills a heretofore neglected niche in children’s literature. It conveys the struggle of a parent to find, in this case, her true identity, and the children’s loving acceptance of it. It should prove a useful resource for families with a transgender or non-binary parent.

-W. Luther Jett, retired Special Educator, Montgomery County Public Schools, author of Our Situation and Everyone Disappears

Becoming the Enchantress is a beautiful story about a life-changing transition. It uses imagery that children can understand to discuss a difficult topic. The book details the emotions of someone who is learning how to be their true self. The story shows that while children may not fully understand the issue, they are accepting and are willing to love others for who they are. -Stacy Whipp, M.Ed.

A wonderful story for all ages of unconditional love and acceptance for people! Be true to who you are and love yourself and you will feel completely fulfilled. This story teaches us that no matter what, a person’s heart and soul is what defines them. -Katherine R Stull, LCSW-C

Becoming the Enchantress is a wonderful tale for anyone who has questioned their identity or has loved someone doing so. It treats the delicate subject in the most loving way possible, with gorgeous illustrations, spotlighting the magic that positive self-image and family acceptance can create. – Michelle Zibrat, Art Educator

I am both the parent of a trans child and a therapist that supports transitioning children, teens and adults. I love Becoming the Enchantress as it is a lovely story that explains the need to transition from your sex assigned at birth to your true self. Children will connect both with the Wizard and his family in this story. Using the experience of “trying on” a different persona is a lovely way to introduce the children to the wizard and the concept of transitions. -Theresa Fraser, CYC-P, CPT-S, NSCCT, MA, RP, Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist

What did you receive?

Virtual Poetry Circle: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

With the return of the Virtual Poetry Circle, I hope that you’ll read the poem or listen. I’ll leave the comments open for discussion, first impressions, emotional reactions. I’d love to hear what you think about today’s poem from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Feel free to share poems you are reminded of, favorite lines, and whatever comes to mind when reading this poem.

While I find this very egocentric in that poets can save the world, I do like that he reminds us how powerful words can be.

Haiku

Haiku are short form poetry originally from Japan. The poems contain three phrases that contain a kireji, or “cutting word”, 17 syllables in a 5, 7, 5 pattern, and a kigo, or seasonal reference. Basho is one of the most famous of the haiku writers.

Here’s today’s poem generator for haiku.

Check out what the generator came up with for me:

Jovian, largest
discovery of the moons
the electric lights

I hope these Friday activities are enjoyable.

Imposter Syndrome

I debated on whether I would write this post, but I feel compelled to do so. I’m taking it as my moment to stop feeling like an imposter or to at least remember that I’ve worked really hard on publishing poems in the last few years.

Imposter syndrome is something I’ve had as a writer probably since leaving undergrad. It’s the feeling that I’m not qualified enough and that I’ll be outed as a phony any moment. But I read a recent Harvard Business Review article that has me questioning the problem — perhaps it isn’t just feeling but a problem with the systems that oppress others?

What’s less explored is why imposter syndrome exists in the first place and what role workplace systems play in fostering and exacerbating it in women. We think there’s room to question imposter syndrome as the reason women may be inclined to distrust their success.

The impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed.

Is that the case with me? I don’t know that it is. I’m not a social scientist.

My new question is: how can I be a fake poet? What would that even look like?

I do have insecurities about the lack of an MFA — a conversation I had recently with a couple poets I know. I’ve sought advice, and I hope that I can internalize it and change my mindset. A lot of my imposter syndrome is internal – I read widely and write poems (not as consistently as I’d like).

I’m also not willing to go into debt to achieve an MFA. I just can’t put my family in that hole when so many depend on me, and for real, it would really just be a formalized way of getting more time to write. But as a major income in my house, carving out that time is hard enough without having to please professors, etc. I’d rather just use the little time I have for creative writing to write!

Is the lack of MFA the only reason I feel like an imposter? Probably not. It also could be because I don’t talk the poet-talk. I don’t speak in metaphor, and I don’t present myself as an academic at all. I may know things, I just don’t talk about them like many writers do.

Am I really an imposter?

No. I write poems. I work hard to refine them. I submit them periodically if not monthly to journals. I am working on a manuscript. I will complete all of these things while working full time and raising a child and caring for other family members. All of these things take time, commitment, and work. I am not an imposter.