Vicki Windle, who lives in Casper, is this month’s featured member. She joined us at the WyoPoets’ open mic April 18, 2014, in Casper. When her name was called, she bounded to the stage with such excitement to be a part of this event. Remember the joy of sharing a new poem or finding a fellow poet’s work that captures a moment or a place? Read on to see her response to “What are your writing rituals?” You’ll see how that exuberance manifests itself in her poetry.
As a teen, I wove poetry from ribbons of longing, bound with angst. Then I became “an adult”. I succeeded after decades of working, studying, parenting, teaching, and struggling to ascend the escarpment of being a solid member of society. I retired in 2013 after 32 years of teaching elementary school and with a master’s degree in early childhood.
I discovered that putting my head down and pushing was a good way to reach my goals, but I missed some scenery. In 2006, I started traveling to Peru, Italy, the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands, London, and Hawaii.
A writing class at Casper College in 2010 set me on fire. The writer in me had been cocooned for too long and burst forth -- whole. Although I’ve been writing for only these last four years, I have a deep well of experiences from which to draw.
I belong to the Casper Writers’ Group and WyoPoets, I have read at the Metro Coffee House, The Art of Coffee, and the Nicolaysen Art Museum all in Casper, Wyoming, and at the Patris Art Studio in Sacramento, California. Two of my poems, “October” and “Timeless” were recently published in the WyoPoets’ Weather Watch; Poems of Wyoming. My friend Cory McDaniel and I performed for ArtCore’s Music and Poetry series in 2011. Cory and I will again perform at 7:30 p.m. on July 21, 2014 at the Metro Coffee House in Casper.
I enjoy reading poetry because I find its brevity and directness transcendent. Writing poetry is the only way I can put words magical and profound enough to describe the feelings I have for what I see in the world.
I don’t know if random writings at 3:00 a.m. or leaping from the shower to scribe with an eyebrow pencil on the bathroom mirror qualify as rituals. The poem below came from one of these profound moments.
Sometimes I Wax
Warm clay pearls fall
from an undone chain of random thought,
rolling, scattering, pooling
in my heart,
with point of pen
and thread of ink
upon a page
This month, the Colorado Authors' League included Art Elser's chapbook, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, in its list of 2014 award-winning books.
The chapbook is a collection of some 20 years of poetry he wrote about his combat experiences in Vietnam as a forward air controller, flying a small Cessna, directing fighters and artillery on enemy troops who had ambushed friendly troops or were engaged in a firefight with them.
"Writing those poems saved my life in a manner of speaking," he said. "I was able to work through some really deep emotional issues and leave behind most of the flashbacks, nightmares, daymares that plagued me for many years.
He also has written a memoir for his son who wanted to know what Art had done in Vietnam. "The year I spent writing that helped me perhaps even more," he said. "I think the memoir really started the healing process and the poetry moved me to where I am today."
Art currently serves as treasurer of WyoPoets. A Colorado resident, he joined the organization because the other poetry groups he looked into seemed closed to outsiders or were too academic. "WyoPoets graciously accepted me and many of them have become friends over the years and mentors," he said. "Chris Valentine, who escaped from Montana to WyoPoets, has become, as my wife says, my Montana Wife, and we trade a haiku virtually every morning. Chris also critiques poetry when I ask her to and has helped me a lot with her critiques."
Here is the opening poem in the book, one that he wrote in 2012. A woman who regularly cuts his hair is Vietnamese and is the inspiration for the poem:
The young Asian woman motions me to a chair
and covers me with a black cloth. As she reaches
for her tools, I read Anh Lam on her license.
I ask if she’s Vietnamese. “Yes,” she answers.
But her tone allows no further discussion.
I watch her graceful motions and try to imagine
how she’d look in an Ao Dai, the traditional
white silk tunic—ankle length, slit to the hip--
over black silk slacks, a white rice-straw
conical hat covering her beautiful black hair.
I remember the graceful women of Kontum,
and those of Pleiku, and Quang Ngai.
I think abstractly about Anh’s mother.
She probably wore the Ao Dai for celebrations,
perhaps even for her wedding to Anh’s father.
Then, I feel a familiar chill in my soul as I
imagine her mother forty years ago, a child,
learning her father would never come home.
He had watched from a bunker in a tree line,
as my little Bird Dog dove to aim a smoke rocket
near where he hid. He didn’t see the bombs,
only felt the fire engulf him. I imagine that
I had killed Anh’s grandfather, widowed
her grandmother, deprived Anh
of her grandfather’s love.
“How’s that?” Anh’s cheerful voice breaks
into my thoughts. She holds up a mirror.
It reflects a sad man with dark memories.
“How’s that?” A distant voice asks.
We Leave the Safety of the Sea may be ordered from Finishing Line Press.
This month Tom Spence has contributed tidbits of his writing life. Tom lives south of Buffalo with his wife. Together they live “with fowl, horses, dogs and fences and off the grid which does much for their self-esteem, but it is expensive.” He is a retired teacher and has been a transit worker (NYC Subway) and restaurateur (Buffalo). Tom writes, “Self-promotion is a young man’s (woman’s) game. Old men—short-timers-- of frail ego, should just write, and hope not to repeat themselves too often.” The tour that Tom gave me through his life shows me why we poets enjoy writing and reading poetry and why we relish getting to know more about our fellow WyoPoets. Here’s Tom – self-promoting away.
I like to write poetry to squeeze new meanings out of old words that might speak with my voice.
I like to read poetry because much has been said but little said well; still, I am surprised by how much seems to have been well-said.
Every time the sun sets and long blue shadows layer the draws in Powder River Basin, I foolishly believe that it must be the first time anyone has witnessed the event – subjectivism in the extreme. I don’t write about it; I write about the reasons I don’t write about it.
I have a fondness for form, sometimes. I am suspicious of free verse. I am suspicious of the strictures of form, sometimes, and yearn to be unencumbered.
I like syllogisms.
I write every day. This is not self-discipline any more than inordinate thirst unstoppers a flask.
Sonnet for GGM
We were reading about Solitude
of the century variety.
We should have known about decrepitude,
and about time’s impiety.
For in eternity, a hundred years
isn’t longer than a single day,
and almost capacious for our fears.
We were distracted, while he slipped away.
Our solitude has suddenly turned chill.
Still gypsies come to tease our disbelief
and tell us that it’s best to fill
a void with laughter rather than with grief;
harness up the time, both soon and late,
and for a Hundred Years to celebrate.
Carol Deering has shared a poem and a summary of her extensive poetry background with us this month. Poets discuss the “audience”, and sometimes write with the audience in mind. More often we write with the words and subject at the forefront and hope that the audience will broaden. As you will see, Carol has had diverse audiences and settings for her poetry. Even those things that stimulate her writing (nature – past and present) must serve as her audience. If only we could be a silent stone in her path silently waiting for her words.
Writing or reading poetry slows me down and lets me see the beauty and grace in the twister, and the twister in the beauty and grace. I scribble feelings to find words and images that help me understand humanity.
Shortly before my husband and I moved to Wyoming I interviewed poet Richard Hugo, who had impressed me greatly the night before when he walked out on stage, stood beside the lectern, and recited “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” to a devoted audience. In the interview, he was warm and genuine, and I’ve carried that feeling ever since. I’m also eternally grateful to Naomi Shihab Nye for reviving my journal writing.
I’m a founding member of West Thumb Poets, six of us who live scattered across western Wyoming (including one who’s crossed the line into Montana) and who’ve been meeting tri-quarterly for a dozen years. We critique each others’ poems, and recently we’ve begun an annual poetry reading at Yellowstone’s Lake Hotel sunroom. I also belong to the newly formed Westword Writers in Riverton. Friendship with writers is invaluable.
The summer of 2012 the Wyoming Department of Education asked me to put together a reading of writers in my community (at the Central Wyoming College Sinks Canyon Center) for teachers of writing. Everyone remembers that night as magical. I felt so empowered that this will be my second April of pulling together a county series of writing, reading, and diversity events (at libraries, schools, and colleges) under the heading “One County/Many Voices.” It has been slow-going, but I believe each year it will grow.
I was a Wyoming Arts Council Literature Fellowship winner in poetry, and my former chapbook (now bulging into a book) was a contest finalist. I was selected by the Bear Lodge Writers for a quiet writer’s residency at Devils Tower. I’ve attended a great many workshops, and rarely have I come away without something of value.
I’m inspired by listening to music (tone, rhythm, flute, and tenor sax); the awe of nature (animals, plants, the moon, sounds, and scents); staring at paintings (expressionism, impressionism, post-impressionism, primitive, surreal, Brazilian); the West, so open (clear view of mountains) that it stimulates powerful images (fire, horses, and ancient civilization); and people (especially children) who are true to themselves. Lately, I’ve returned to photography, with its possibilities of focus and cropping; somehow that informs my writing.
I’m a free-verse poet who plays with rhythm and oddball rhymes. That makes me a free-verse rhythmical rhyming oddball.
Last night, and before, the wind
wrapped a ribbon around and
around our house, a noisy
process, rapping and wrapping.
Tonight it’s silent, and sleeping
is truly a gift. But, look!
Now he’s polished the sky
obsidian. If you could run
your finger around the horizon,
it would sing like a bowl.
originally published in Riversongs, September 2012.
This month we feature Susan Vittitow Mark. She grew up in Ohio. Her father, from Kentucky, insisted that a Buckeye was nothing but a "worthless nut." In 1992, she went to Alaska for the summer and decided she wanted to make her life in the West with her now-husband. She is a librarian with the Wyoming State Library and has written for newspapers and for the Wyoming Library Roundup magazine. She is a past president of Wyoming Writers and is currently the WyoPoets’ webmaster. She lives in Cheyenne. Although she will confess to not posting often enough on her blogs, you can follow her at Bluegrass and Bindweed or Fat Chick in Lycra. She's more faithful about her Pinterest board. She posts many writing-related Pins and loves to connect with other writers there.
Susan interviewed me for a magazine article once upon a time. She and I run into each other at writers’ events. Her husband was one of my students in a hazardous materials class. I treasure every email from Susan no matter how short and no matter the subject. She must have a way with words that she shares with us below.
I write poetry when something occurs to me that I can't express any other way -- when it doesn't feel right as prose. It may be an image I want to capture or how I feel about someone I love.
As a child, I loved reading Lewis Carroll's poetry. My all-time favorite poem at the time (not by Carroll) was "God's Judgement on a Wicked Bishop," a cheery description of God sending 10,000 rats to eat an evil man. I'm not sure what that says about me. Now, I am a big fan of Ted Kooser and the proud owner of a "Ted Head" t-shirt. I enjoy reading poetry that I can relate to and that I find accessible but complex and meaningful. I agree with Kooser completely that poetry should not be a puzzle you have to figure out. I've greatly enjoyed the works of my fellow WyoPoets -- Pat Frolander and A. Rose Hill, in particular.
When I started writing poetry, I spent the longest time looking at what I had written and taking it to writing groups with the question, "Is this really poetry?" I hadn't studied poetry forms. In fact, I'd had poetry mostly ruined for me by high school and college instructors. It always seemed to be an endless stream of those puzzles to be solved. It sort of sucked the joy out of something that should have been joyful. On second thought, there was no "sort of" about it.
I tend to write in fits and stops, not consistently. I don't have a set ritual, although I am trying to carve out some morning time before I go to work. In addition to poetry, I dabble in memoir and fiction. I wrote for newspapers and magazines for quite a while. I learned a lot, but right now I am just going where the writing takes me and when it takes me.
I've been blessed to have a few poems published or that did well in contests, which is always heartening. My fellow WyoPoets and Wyoming Writers members have encouraged me through the years. They've been remarkably tolerant of my inability to read my own poetry without falling apart. I can be a crier and a shaker, but I'm working on it.
I often find inspiration to write poetry from the people I love. This poem I wrote toward the end of my father's life:
In the dark he searches,
Not finding his bedroom door.
Touching rosary beads, stumbles
Over the Hail Mary, the Glory Be.
I fly 1200 miles to see him.
“Who’s this?” he asks.
“I’m your favorite, Dad,”
I yell above his deafness,
Ears lost to power saws
And construction sites.
“It’s Susie,” my mother tells him,
then louder, “Susie!”
“Oh!” He smiles. “Susie!”
Maybe seeing a round baby,
Wide eyes, white-blonde ringlets,
Not this woman before him
Unable to tell him her hurts.
In an hour he will ask again.
Sally McGraw, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is this month’s featured member. WyoPoets has quite a few members from surrounding states with Sally being one who enriches WyoPoets as she contributes to our poetry world.
My mother, who loved poetry, read poetry to me from the time I was very small. In junior high school, I was the editor of the school newspaper for a year. At the same time, I began writing a novel, but not knowing how to type I soon gave that up. (Since Sally sent her submittal to us via email, I think she’s improved her typing skills.) Now I keep a journal about the happenings in my life and the lives of our family.
I read lots of Haiku and am particularly inspired by Issa's Haiku. Small grandchildren, the weather, small animals and bugs also inspire me to write Haiku. Reading the poems of all of our WyoPoets’ members is inspiring, too. (Members’ poetry is featured in every issue of our newsletter, a benefit of membership in WyoPoets’.)
Sally has shared one of her Haikus with us:
Moon looks in, shines on my bed
As I lie sleeping
I know it's not a true Haiku, because it doesn't indicate a season, but we are in a "new" house following the fire. This is the first time the moon has shined on me indoors. I love it!
A. Rose Hill resides in Sheridan. Aside from being a staunch supporter of WyoPoets, poetry in general, and other writing groups through the years, her profile shows us several sources of her inspiration. Rose has given us many memories at our workshops. The poem that she shares illustrates how her dedication reminds us that poetry can be found and made anywhere.
In country school, I wanted to be a mother and a writer. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and as a freshman at Sheridan College I edited the school newsletter printed on a hectograph. (Can anyone other than Rose describe a hectograph?) In the early '70's I joined Range Writers, and I attended the organizational meeting of Wyoming Writers, Inc. at Sheridan College. Since 1974 I have attended every Wyoming Writers Inc. conference except Sundance in 1992 while the family awaited the birth of our first grandchild.
My husband and I have three adopted children, one of whom is deceased, and six grandchildren. One of my earliest published poems was "Wyoming Sounds" in a 1975 Sheridan College publication Scabbard. After one of Barbara Smith's workshops, I wrote poems from my memories and during our son's terminal illness.
I am most proud of poems which appeared in Leaning into the Wind and Woven on the Wind (Houghton Mifflin, 1997, 2001) and another titled "Deep Purple" on the strength of which the Amy Kitchener Foundation named me 2012 Wyoming Senior Poet Laureate.
I participate in a monthly Third Thursday poetry group which has met since 2006 and a round robin group begun by Clarence Socwell in the mid-nineties. In addition to poetry I also write a column for my church newsletter, as church historian, and write an occasional column for the local newspaper's Seniors Page. My article about Sheridan appears on the Smithsonian magazine's Web page "Your Kind of Town."
My form of choice is free verse. My poetic philosophy is to communicate in as few words as possible a poetic idea. I cannot say I have a writing ritual. I write late at night when the household traffic has slowed. It often comes down to meeting a deadline. I am a writer and that means I continually think about writing.
Grandma Tol' Me Long Ago
Grandma tol' me long ago,
she tol' me many times
if dinner burnt 'n black
break out that tuna can 'n
smile, honey, smile
'cause cryin' won't help.
Grandma tol' me long ago,
she tol' me more than once
yo' car got two flat tires
roll up yo' sleeves 'n
smile, honey, smile
'cause cryin' won't help.
Grandma tol' me long ago,
she tol' me every day
coal bin show up empty,
go chop some wood 'n
smile, honey, smile
'cause cryin' won't help.
Grandma tol' me long ago,
she tol' me not to scold
Junior trackin' in the mud;
hand 'im up a mop 'n pail 'n
smile, honey, smile
'cause cryin' won't help.
Grandma tol' me long ago,
she tol' me through her tears
words done broke yo' heart,
in pain so bad, can hardly
smile, honey, smile,
then's when cryin' might help.
© 2008 A. Rose Hill
Previously published in Western Nebraska Community College’s, Emerging Voices, 2009
This poem came out of our poetry class assignment on writing blues poems. I once asked my grandmother how she could laugh about things that were so serious. She said, "If I weren't laughing, I'd be crying." That memory triggered this poem.
WyoPoets’ member Nancy Curtis was in a cover photo for a Publishers Weekly email newsletter on October 15, 2013. Nancy recently exhibited books for her publishing company, High Plains Press, at the Mountain and Plains Independent Booksellers Association. She reported that, although few publishers exhibit poetry, booksellers remain interested in poetry books especially if they are attractive as gift books.
"I was delighted to see that Craig Johnson's new book Spirit of Steamboat refers to Candy Moulton's book Steamboat: Legendary Bucking Horse which we published. That's why I'm in the photo with Craig Johnson,” Curtis said. (Craig Johnson lives at Ucross, Wyoming.) Johnson's wife, Judy, will be cross marketing the two books in her gift shop. "Craig and Judy are super generous and supportive of Wyoming in general and especially of Wyoming authors,” Nancy added.
"It was a good show (MPIBA) and seemed more upbeat than it was last year. In 2012 it was obvious that the economy, digital books, and Amazon were hurting small bookstores,” Curtis remarked.
Nancy Curtis is a long-time member of WyoPoets and, through High Plains Press, publishes a series of poetry books with the pre-title of Poetry of the American West.
WyoPoets congratulates Nancy Curtis with some excellent marketing for Wyoming.
Art Elser resides in Denver. He has been our WyoPoets’ treasurer for several years. Art may think that he’s hitched his star to WyoPoets and several of our members; some of us think that we have hitched to his star instead. We look forward to his poetry, insights, support, and cheerfulness at workshops and meetings.
Writing poetry has helped me relate to the beauty and craziness in my life. It has helped me deal with the emotional residue of a year of combat in Vietnam 45 years ago and the resulting flashbacks and nightmares. Reading poetry has helped me understand how others relate to the beauty and craziness in their lives.
Joining WyoPoets and going to my first WyoPoets’ workshop several years ago was a key factor in my development as a poet. I was welcomed warmly and formed friendships that have inspired me to continue to write. Being able to share my work and read that of others in the WyoPoets’ newsletter has also been a major influence on my writing.
The meanness, beauty, and love I see every day and the beauty and cycles of nature inspire me to write. I trade a haiku almost every morning with Chris Valentine (former newsletter editor and current assistant editor), and those 17 syllables often capture ideas and images that expand into larger poems.
I'm still trying to settle into some sort of writing routine. I am now trying, without a lot of success, to follow the advice I've found in Rosanne Bane's Around The Writer's Block. She suggests committing to just 15 minutes each day to do something productive in writing. I can expand that time if I wish, but by committing to only 15 minutes a writer doesn’t feel like a failure when not fulfilling a commitment to an hour or several hours every day. But then I find that life happens while I'm trying to make plans. Silly that!
I basically write free verse with an occasional sonnet thrown in when it seems to work.
The Old Picture In The Back Hall
I walk into the back hall, stop, bend down
to take the leash off the dog, catch my breath
after our three mile walk. I glance at a picture
hanging to my right. A young man smiles back
at me, leans jauntily against a small, gray airplane,
right hand resting easily on a pistol at his hip.
The plane is in a revetment built from rusty
fifty-five gallon drums, and in the background
puffy clouds hang in a pale Vietnamese sky.
The picture, taken forty-four years ago—its color
faded from sunlight and age—has hung in that spot
for a dozen years. I walk past it several times a day,
without noticing it. But today, the stark realization
of the passing of all that time catches me up.
What that young man did then, I could no longer do,
or even want to do. His deeds were adventurous
and exciting to him. Today they are the fearsome
and haunting memories of an old warrior.
© 2012 Art Elser
Previously published in Open Window Review, Winter 2012.
Gail Denham resides in Oregon. Our very far reaching WyoPoets is proud that we can bring her background to you. She writes short, short stories, news articles, poetry, and essays. From her own computer far across the country she tells us about her writing life.
Not sure I want to spend months writing a book and then have it rejected. Besides, I like variety. About 35 years ago I began by writing short family essays. One sold the first time out! I was hooked. Many writing classes at conferences and critique groups followed. From little up, I’ve been a story teller. Some of the first writing that caught a professor’s eye was my poetry.
I discovered that photo illustrations sold to magazines and books made more money so my work became two-pronged. After digital emerged, the photo markets mostly closed and so I began poetry and the short story stages of my writing began.
If I write or take a photo, I want to place it somewhere – a magazine or a contest entry. For several years I worked as a stringer for a couple newspapers and sold human interest articles with photos. Over these 35 years, I’ve sold hundreds of stories, essays, news articles, poems, and photos. I lead many writing and photography workshops in Pacific Northwest Conferences.
Recently photos began to creep back. My photo is the cover on Encore 2012, the NFSPS anthology. My poems have won prizes in many state poetry contests. Some poems and photos have been used in on-line publications. Each week I try to send out batches of poems to various contests. I belong to many state poetry associations.
My family has always figured in my poetry, short stories, and photos. I love to make people laugh or give a sigh of recognition at the end of a poem.
My husband and I’ve been married 54 years. We have four sons, their wives, l4 grandchildren and seven greats. I keep journals that chronicle family happenings, funny stories, memorable events, and personal journals. These can be mined for inspirations.
I enjoy writing to a theme. Therefore, I follow the Writer’s Digest Poetry Editor’s themes (Robert Lee Brewer). I also belong to an on-line group that throws out themes from its members.
My writing rituals are when I can get to it. Evenings I often rough out a poem or story. Mornings are work time – complete a poem/story or send entries to contests and magazines.
It’s great fun to try new forms of poetry. This I try to do often – a stretching experience. Also I read poetry books continually -- and have favorites such as William Stafford, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, Collette, and Tennant. Any poet who writes plain, understandable, simple poetry are those I admire. I desire meaning, emotional connection, storytelling.
I’ve produced three poetry chapbooks. Mainly I’m a story teller and a humorist. First loves.
Here, WyoPoets asks its members to summarize their writing lives, poetry backgrounds and inspirations. We hope that if you are not a member you will think about joining. If you are a member, this is a chance to learn how other WyoPoets’ members get their poetry onto paper. Submissions receive only minor edits. Each poet’s voice clearly shines through. If you would like to share your poetry experiences, email Myra L. Peak for details.