Sunday, December 20, 2009

Other guests. . .

My grandson, Nicholas, for whom I began writing annual poems when he was seven (and the first became the collection's title poem) came by to wish me well. So did his beautiful mom, my daughter, Teresa. My dear son Stephen slipped in and out so quickly that we didn't catch him on camera. Nor did we get Tommy who was holding court over coffee in the Crape Myrtle.

Here's a few more of Paul who was going to surprise his wife (and I hope she's not reading this) and Jimmy Carl Harris, fellow writer and board member of Alabama Writers'Conclave.

John Hornsby came by after seeing my sister-in-law Wanda and her hubby, Dr. George Smith, in the cafe!

Other beautiful Thompson women who showed up were Kathy, another sis-in-law, and her daughter, Rachel. Such family support! I am one lucky mug!

Too bad we didn't get a shot of our two photogs, Harry and Brian, and mom Lucy! They deserve the credit for adding another dimension to this description.

And I must add one more shot of Carolyn with that gorgeous sweater. It has a story. It stayed lost for twelve years, and the day Carolyn found it, she was so happy she wore it, dust, mothballs, and all! I think she's writing her own story about that.

Brian Bellenger was good support from the the church! Thanks to all the readers and cheerleaders!


Linda Busby Parker, editor, Excalibur Press, has once again given us a book to celebrate the season!

The signing yesterday at Little Professor Books & Cafe was all a good party should be--family, friends, book talk, laughs, and more than a little silliness. I'll be posting some pics as I get them downloaded. These first ones are compliments of Harry Jones who came to see his friend and my co-signer, Liz McCormick! Thanks to Harry and Lucy and their son Brian, "adopted" grandson of Liz, for dropping by to keep us company. Shown in this grouping will be Carolyn, my Fa Sol La singer-friend, and David, who was simply browsing when he stumbled upon two giggling women wearing Santa hats!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You are invited. . .

I will be signing my story "Finding the Lord" which is included in Christmas is a Season!2009 at Little Professor Books & Cafe, Homewood, in Birmingham on Saturday, December 19, 2009. Come and bring a buddy!

Here's the introductory bio: KATHLEEN THOMPSON holds a BS from The University of Alabama and an MFA in Fiction/Poetry from Spalding University. A former teacher of high school English, she has an online editing and writing business with her son, Stephen. She also conducts writing workshops as a “Road Scholar” for the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in various literary magazines. Searching for Ambergris was her first published chapbook of poetry. She now has two new books at once: The Nights, The Days won the 2008 Negative Capability Press Chapbook Series Award; and her full-length poetry collection from Coosa River Books is The Shortest Distance. Both books arrived in January within three days of each other.

“Finding The Lord,” is another of the linked stories I’m drafting. Clyde, I’ve discovered, is a character rife with story. The title is not meant to imply irreverence or humor, although the characters may embody those traits. On the contrary, the story is undergirded by the theological issue of free will which is often pondered by scholars. Do we have free will? Just how free is our free will? Paul Zahl (Grace in Practice) suggests that addiction, as well as depression, worry, and mourning, can strip us of our free will. My story explores an ancillary question: how can coincidence, or a single happenstance, shape/change a life?

The big SURPRISE: Editor Linda Busby Parker says this about nominating my story for the Pushcart Prize:
Kathleen Thompson’s short story, “Finding the Lord,” is a rich character study. Clyde is reminiscent of Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces. Something is not quite right with Ignatius and something is not quite right with Clyde—the exact nature of each man’s mental/emotional problem(s) is not quite clear, but something is amiss. Both Toole and Thompson allow the reader to assess the situation and make their own judgment calls. In Thompson’s story there is the wonderful (almost miraculous) intervention of Preacherman. Is Preacherman real? Does Preacherman represent each of us? Are we our brother’s keepers—or in this case Clyde’s keeper? What responsibility do we have for those who are struggling as Clyde struggles? Thompson’s story asks all these questions—but with whispers rather than shouts.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Billy Collins is coming, Billy Collins is coming. . .

I first met Billy Collins in Charleston in the '90s when I was invited to have dinner ahead with some Poetry Society friends who had planned the reading: Denny Stiles, Susan Meyers, and Linda Ferguson. My good buddy from Savannah, Carolyn Watson, rode over to Charleston with me. That whole evening was such a memorable occasion, for one hysterical incident occurred. Billy was going to read the next day in Montgomery, AL. My son, Stephen, had a best friend, Trip, who was teaching high school history in Montgomery, so I thought it would be wonderful if Trip had a heads up about his visit, and hoped that perhaps Stephen might drive down from Tuscaloosa as well.

Well, I carefully wrote Trip's name down on the back of my card and Billy tucked it into his inside coat pocket. Trouble was, I thought Trip taught at Montgomery Academy where Billy was speaking when indeed he was teaching at St. James. This was pointed out to me (did I hear I note of "Oh , no, mother, you've done it again) in no uncertain terms by Stephen when I called him on the way home to suggest that he might need to drive down to hear Billy as well.

Now, at the time Amazon had a deal going online with a millenium poem. Reminiscent of the pen pal poems where each poet contributes an alternate line, or going even farther back in time, of the Japanese renga which was composed of any number poets alternately. Well-known and well-published poets were being asked to be a part of this group of poets. Billy had just been asked, so when I got home, I immediately went to Amazon to see what this millenium poem looked like.

I'm sorry I can't drag up from my files a hard copy of that poem. Recently I assembled a group of poems which might be occasional verse rather than poetry. The working title is CHALK TALK AND HEN SCRATCH, since it is all about poets and teachers I've encountered. For this project I did dredge up the poem (using the term loosely) I wrote and sent to Billy Collins, regarding the blunder I had made about his seeing Trip in Montgomery.

Close, But No Cigar: What I Would Write If I Were A Billy Collins

I would not write of calendars
or snow or foul winds that blow
away hats and people, not sonnets or haikus
or villaparadelles but this disease I have,
congenital, foot-in-mouth, faux pas’s, very plural—
those I would write over, make funny if I could.

I would have eaten my first short story, its green
pastoral setting as bland as the shepherd’s promises,
instead of sending it out to the New Yorker.
I probably could laugh about that blind date;
I would not say to Jane Smith that he kissed
like a cow at the drive-in. I would check
for a recorder under the seat, all around,
everywhere; I would strain harder to think
of something more glib to say to William Styron
than his quote about the wings of madness.

I could laugh about jotting down a name
for Collins, so sure of myself,
about where Trip taught school, so smug
that I, myself might have been mistaken as the visiting
poet that day rubbing elbows at Zebo’s, secure
that mine was the tangiest balsamic vinaigrette,
one my lesser could only hope to taste.

I might double over
at what Collins must have thought
when he fingered inside the left pocket of his jacket,
you know the one, for my card, proclaiming who I am,
to hear him read from its back, in my eloquent hand,
Trip Franklin at Montgomery Academy,
whom the headmaster had never heard of
but one whom the librarian guessed might teach
at their near-unspeakable rival, Trinity Presbyterian.
(I try to placate myself. Trip was in the same town.)

Given the chance,
I’d rather run, hellbent like some hyena,
relentless bloodhound, streaking
through a pasture of cow piles,
fresh ones, then scrape my soles
onto my pristine carpet, grinding the smell
into its weft and woof—
that to admit—
like stepping on hot coals,
that I have once again tripped,
red-faced, about this Trip
and his whereabouts.

Will it matter at all, though, I muse—
by the time the new millennium poem is finished?
I wish a word were dead when it is said
and what it might purport, for such an epic
as life hardly merits a footnote about fools,
and I wish I were going west in a box
with Joe Priskulnick who probably killed himself
(before Eavan Boland could in the poem)
deeming stupidity of such magnitude,
like mine, truly terminal.

My next encounter with this poetry phenomenon was in Louisville, KY, in the early years of the new millenium. Billy was reading at Bellarmine College and many of us studying for the MFA in Writing at Spalding University went to hear him. I brought a couple of my books for him to sign that I hadn't had earlier. By now he had become Poet Laureate, (2001-03)and all things were different. Instead of the smallish intimate group of listeners in Charleston, I was one among hundreds standing in line to get his signature, and as much as I wanted to remind him of that fun evening in Charleston, his eyes were truly glazed over a bit at the emormity of the crowds facing him, each, like me, hoping for a little personal word, a little spark of the magic, a bonding to a kindred soul. I surmised that by the end of that evening, he would have no recollection of any face he saw there unless he truly is the genius we all think he is.

Billy will be here on February 19. As late as last Thursday, December 3, I used a power point presentation for a group at LAMP high school during a poetry workshop which included his poem "Introduction to Poetry." It turned out that the teacher, Leah Stoudenmier, loved this particular poem. I find that students, too, love the metaphor of tying a poem to chair and beating the meaning out of it. Next to that one I posted "Turtle" by Kay Ryan, our current Poet Laureate of the U.S. She was well known in the low country area before our recent fame, and Billy Collins chose this poem of hers as one of his daily poems for schools.

Who would be a turtle who could help it? asks the poet, Kay Ryan.

I say, who would be a poet who could help it?

Billy will be reading at Hoover Public Library on February 19. I'll be on the front row--or very close. That way I can watch his feet as he reads--for he does have that unique little dance as he performs!

By the way one of my brand new friends, River Jordan, with whom I sat on a panel at the Dahlonega Writers' Festival will be participating on Saturday, February 20, at the same author conference!! River lives just up the road in Nashville.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

WIK, Christmas, and Muscadines

Yesterday at WIK (writing & illustrating for kids/regional SCBWI) I was reminded that one of my deepest desires is to have a beautifully illustrated picture book with my words in it and my name on the cover in the hands of one of my grandchildren. Why is that so hard? Writers who haven't tried it assume writing for children only requires shorter words, fewer words, and simpler words. Wrong! So wrong.

But that tale has been told many times over. To sum it up, an excellent picture book is possibly the water color of all the genres.

Happiness is having my words of any kind accepted for publication. Christmas is a Season! 2009 will be coming out soon from Excalibur Press and editor, Linda Parker, with a group of seasonal short stories and essays. That project last year produced readings all over the state, and culminated with a reading at Spalding University at the spring reunion. My story, "Finding the Lord" will be included this year. A lot humorous, a little serious--and it actually has a plot!

Kathy Rhodes, editor at Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, has just accepted "Woman's Wait" for the first 2010 issue online. (Thanks to my friend, Joan Donaldson, for suggesting that submission!) Don't you love the title? If you don't know the word muscadine, you may not know scuppernong either. Grapes. One beautifully deep purple; the other, green. For jelly. And muscadine pies.

Did you know that if you make muscadine jelly or pear preserves every fall of your life, they will never turn out the same color? My sisters, Annie Bell, Ann, and Marie, Ree, taught me that and a lot of other nuances about the preservation process.

Scuppernong Jelly

It’s that time:
my old nemesis

when a muggy hush
falls each day
with temperatures

a crow’s caw
from the pine
is intensified

when my fall harvest
has dwindled to
greenish-gold grapes

smashed, cooked,
bubbling up hard
in clear juice,

to be strained
through cheesecloth.
Scalded jars

wait to the side.
Filling, cooling,
skimming, sealing.

It’s that time,
phlegmatic, slow,
sticky sweet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Summer to Autumn. Green to gold. Hot to cool. Blue blog to orange/brown! You like? I like. For now anyhow.

Last week I changed the furniture in my dining room to accommodate a large antique sideboard with an oval mirror that wouldn't fit into my daughter's condo when she moved the rest of her furniture from the basement. I thought about how we've about reached the end of a decade in this house. Usually that heralds a huge change: a move. That won't happen by choice; we're in the city where our children are, so why would we move?

The last decade was spent in Savannah (as was the decade of the '70's) and during our mountain trip last week, we stopped in Dahlonega, GA, for a brief visit with Regina Odom, an "olde" buddy from Savannah, owner of Regina's Books & Cards. She is now working with Monteluce, a winery and Italian villa development. We took her to dinner at Le Vigne Monteluce, and here's evidence of more change. One friend on Facebook said we now look like twins.

My hair was has been au naturel since the 80's but gray was a change since I'd seen Regina. We renewed aulde acquaintance after dinner by listening to the music of her friends, a young husband and wife team whose names I missed, at The Crimson Moon Cafe. They sang folk/popular songs we knew the words to. Tommy and I actually took a whirl on the bit of floor between small tables.

When Regina opened her book store on Victory at Skidaway, one of her first guests was Lois Battle. At the time I was even more an ingenue at writing than I am now. Mostly I had written poetry, but I did have a novel finished. Or I thought it was a novel. I was trying to market it as a young adult novel, but, truly, that was silly. It's still around, still unpublished, but now I know it's a coming-of-age novel with little sex and violence. (Perhaps someday a revision will change that.) Lois that day actually handed me a card with the name of her agent/agency in NY. I've not had such an act of grace shown me by an established writer before or since. Although I corresponded with one of the agents for some time, I never found a fit with what she was looking for. Still Lois performed a memorable act of kindness. If you aren't in the profession, you wouldn't know that an agented writer, for some reason, guards the name of that agent as if naming might condemn her eternally from the upper "I have an agent" rung of the writing ladder back down to the "I'm looking for an agent" group.

So what does such a ladder have to do with change? All professions have their up's and down's especially writing. Write that on your forehead, writers!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cataloochee Ranch: Ride? Write?

In the south where these two words sound a lot alike, we pack summer away on Labor Day; Tommy and I often want to gratify our disparate passions as Autumn sets in. He wanted to vacation with some horses, and I needed to continue drafting a collection of stories. The perfect place for both? Cataloochee Ranch, Maggie Valley, NC. We'd been there before, and it's one place on this planet that hasn't changed that much in its 75 years!

Some Floridians were there, too--Larry and Rosanne; Dennis and Nan--all riders, not writers!
The leaves have started to turn a bit at the top of the mountain, but mostly the green lushness would hurt your eyes.
As I approached the dock on the pond, hundreds of little froggies plunged from the tall grass into the water. Lily pads as large as dinner plates covered the pond in green patches. The distant trees were reflected in the pond. On the mountainside in a vivid green pasture horses grazed and a row of wild turkeys foraged for grasshoppers alongside them. After a hundred little blip blips of the frogs hitting the water, an extreme quiet set in. The summer zizz of locusts and tree frogs (I'm guessing) sounded very much like the summer sounds of my back deck in Birmingham.
On the path from Sourwood, our cabin, to the ranchhouse where we had communal meals with one of the Alexander family (owners) always at table as host, two large boxwoods and two large coniferous "bushes" framed the path. The boxwoods, Judy Alexander explained, were sent as sprigs by Sears Roebuck when her father placed an order with them. She told me the name of the "bushes" but I failed to write the name down. Each looked like a Frazier Fir which had spread into a bush before it got tall. It had tiny cones on it. Those, she said, were a part of a swap of plants that her father made with a nursery in New Jersey.
Other trees of interest were the Norway Spruce, heavy with long slender cones, and the chestnut trees planted as an experiment. They are helping to develop a chestnut tree resistant to the blight which was introduced to the U.S. by the Chinese Chestnut which wiped out all the native chestnut trees.
So I soaked in the flora and fauna more than I wrote. Now I can "recollect in tranquility."

Monday, August 17, 2009


Ah, the winding road to the mountains, the smokey-blue overlooks, the trout at The Wine Garden, grouper with a sauce of lemon butter and capers at On the Verandah overlooking the Sequoyah, the temperatures of 60's/70's, the ice cream sundaes at Kilwin's, and, the best of all, Cyrano's, Cyrano's--the busiest, fastest two-hour signing I've had so far! Thanks to Clair, Arthur, and Stu for a fun-filled afternoon.

Readers were nose to nose, elbow to elbow, finding their favorite books. Some were picking up their new Pat Conroy. (180 were ordered and all pre-sold. Wow!) I was directing traffic at the front from my little signing nook. At one point I guided a woman to the coffee table books on birds by pointing to the man in the green shirt way in the back, Stu. Customers left carrying armloads of hard cover books, and many even found the space for my poetry books. Many thanks to those who did.

Conversation was the best: Mike from England for whom I sang C.M. Bellman verses; April,local resident from MA whose name called up Shakespeare ("Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime");the Pollards and mother Rita all celebrating Rita's 90th birthday; Rod Rogers, the Civil War writer who followed me in signing (who knew my Charleston friends, Dennis Stiles, Susan Meyers, and Linda Ferguson); mom and daughter,an English teacher; a young man whose girlfriend was "edgy"; a woman who uses the Bible as a resource book as do I--so so many. I wish all the names had stayed with me as the faces have!

Too bad I forgot to take pics during the signing. Tommy and I returned just before five on Saturday and did snap a few, but you won't see the crowds I've described. They were all getting ready for dinner. I wanted to take a street shot to show the clever use of the front window to display books.

Easy to see that I've made one stop too many at Kilwin's. Ah, but who could resist?

Young internationals were working in the shops and restaurants. A Russian woman shared conversation about my Russian friend here, Polina. An Irish fellow served us one evening. He said the chef was German. I learned from April at Cyrano's that a large house in Highlands serves as a local residence for young folks who want to come there and work.

Because our old Savannah buds, Delores and Steve Wright, were not at their place in Cashiers for the weekend, we stayed at Highlands Inn, a homey place a stone's throw from Cyrano's. There we met Betty who was staying at the Inn through Labor Day before returning to Rock Hill, SC. We had great fun talking about our memories of Savannah where Tommy and I lived for two separate decades.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You are invited. . .

to a booksigning of my full length poetry book, THE SHORTEST DISTANCE. Saturday, August 15, 1-3, Cyrano's Book Store in Highlands, NC.


“…[her] poems are quietly earth-shaking—an oxymoron written like the moron I become when having read something that moves me, and Kathleen Thompson’s have reduced me to a quivering mass of admiration & greed for more.”
-Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird.

“Kathleen Thompson writes about the joys and sorrows, as well as the ordinary daily experiences in between, that make up our lives. She explores the wild in the domestic and the domestic in the wild. Like conch shells held to the ear, these poems let us hear the oceans they contain. The Shortest Distance is a true and moving book of poems made to last a long time.”
-Greg Pape, author of American Flamingo, Montana Poet Laureate

“Kathleen Thompson's The Shortest Distance presents a compelling, reflective, and compassionately crafted world-welding that brings near the ways in which the human heart is shaped by relationships and by the particularities of place.”
-Sue Walker, Alabama Poet Laureate, Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, University of South Alabama

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What's in a Name?

Victoria, Cousin Nicholas, and Will

Announcing a new grandson: William Meron Thompson, born Thursday, July 30, 2009, at 3:03 p.m. 8 lbs. 4 oz. 21 1/2 " long!! Parents: Stephen and Tracy; big sis, Victoria, 6.

His first name is to honor the Williams family name of my daughter-in-law, Tracy. The second was after my father-in-law, Meron James Thompson, June 18, 1918-December 4, 2004. He was named after his maternal grandfather of Wayne County, MS, James Marion Thompson, Feb. 2, 1854-?

Well, I've found out just how many William's are in our family since this baby was named--my oldest brother, William Eura Smith, August 24, 1926-July 17, 1972, and at least four nephews! This son of Stephen and Tracy and little brother of Victoria is the newest.

The oldest ones I know about are:

a maternal Taylor grandpa, William J. (Billy) Taylor, born 1836 in Tuscaloosa County, died August 1904 in the Civil War, and buried in Richmond Virginia;
and a paternal uncle, son of Robert Smith, 1818-1840 (my great-grandpa), William C. Smith, 1846-1923. (Robert Smith also fought in the Civil War--Co. A 41st Infantry Reg.)

Here's a poem about naming that I wrote a long time ago. Note that I took poetic license here because the truth is sometimes harder to believe than fiction. Grandpa Newton Howard Taylor actually had two wives, Jennie, and then Ella. By those two wives he had 27 children. I think seventeen were Ella's.

In Memoriam: Tempie Savannah Taylor Smith
November 18, 1902 - September 28, 1966

Her name was Ella.
Ella Hasslentine Ella
Sanford Taylor.
I never saw her chop cotton
or cabbage for kraut.
I never heard her hum
the lyrics yellowing now
in her trunk for one
of their seventeen.

I never saw the bundling
board, or the dog trot,
but fireplace rocks still
stand there, outwitting time
like a marble monument
marking hours spent,
stirring syrup and stews
and nurturing new names.

She named you Savannah.
Had she felt the spiky
side of a sand dollar?
Had she ever chased
a bevy of sand pipers?
Did the breeze that bends
sea oats cause her to shiver
as she stoked the fire?

You never saw that place
she conjured up for you.
You named me Mary Kathleen,
youngest of twelve. My pew
in Savannah is marked with brass:
I sit next to your shiny name
and wonder what you dreamed
for me--what horizons, what sea?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The NO-poetry Week!

Okay, if poetry doesn't interest anyone, how about the beach and all things peachy beachy?

How about the dazzling white sand against the emerald green water of the Gulf--all hazed out and mixed like an impressionistic painting by the summer heat? That's where I am. I'm almost frenzied with decisions: to write (my new collection of linked stories is in progress); to paint (Nicholas and I are taking a few lessons from self-taught artist, Jennifer Harwell and we brought art supplies); to read (I'm on a Hudson Strode kick--taught creative writing at the U of Alabama for years); or just to munch on parched peanuts bought raw at Buress's on the way down, sip on a Diet Coke, eat watermelon, take a nap...the possibilities of sheer joy are endless here!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Second Monday Poem

Ah, and good Monday to all! Today-- the other "love" poem Robbins liked and published:


Painting an acrylic sky
and adding a bit of black--
a must the teacher stressed--
shattered my bent to extremes
but not then.

Only the hottest coffee,
the quickest route;
right was right; wrong, wrong,
and I knew which was which.

Years after that sky had hardened,
I walked alone on the beach
at sunset in Savannah
and watched the edges
of creams, pinnks, and blues--
and, yes, I guess, black--
fading and seeping
into each other.
Even the sand piper
reflected this natural shading
from his stark white breast
to his wings tainted gray
and dipped in soot.

Without you
things are not certain
that always were
except skies; skies
should always be done
in water colors.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Carol York & Co. (Gadsden Library)

Librarians and Poets Laugh Off Weather Warnings

Weather forecast for Alabama on April 2, 2009: Severe thunderstorms, high winds, possible hail and tornadoes.
Who remembers the weather forecast on April 3, 1974? That was the day 100 tornadoes hit in the U.S. The previous Monday our neighborhood in Huntsville had been hit by a tornado, and many houses totally demolished. Our house only got a damaged roof and a door, along with a truckload of debris in the yard.
Last night at the Gadsden Library, Alabama Humanities Foundation sponsored another poetry workshop. These happy folks braved the storm to paticipate in "planting a seed."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hambuger Beans, Sea Purses, and Poetry

Sailor-By-The Sea

This morning on my walk I picked up a Sea Purse, which is a little one-inch sea bean that washed in from who knows where--probably the shores of South America. It looks very much like the Hamburger Bean (whose name says it all) except that its "zipper" seam stops short of circling the bean; thus, its name, purse.

Overhead a line of pelicans clouded the sun; thirty-four. I counted. The sand has been littered all week with the unique two-way sail design of Sailors-by-the-Sea and the diaphanous blues of the Portuguese Man of War. The background music is the whoosh of true seafoam-green waves crashing onto the sand. March in Melbourne Beach. That's pure poetry.

Yesterday I had a poetry workshop with nine wonderful participants against that backdrop at the Barrier Island Sanctuary. (My daughter and I anticipate the reading of a creation above.) Tomorrow I'll read poetry out on the deck. Sweet.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How does a poem mean?

Ever been shaken by coming up against a poem on the page that defies any meaning, one that might as well be written in the Finnish tongue as far as you're concerned? I brought up that subject at my Alabama Humanities Foundation Road Scholar workshop yesterday.

Wow! What a lively and supportive bunch of writers in Calhoun County! Thanks for coming!Yesterday at noon we met at the library and I presented my "Nine Bean Rows: Planting the Divine Detail" to about thirty-five folks. It started with a very professional recorded introduction by Alice Duckett who had invited me. For publicity of the event, Alice went to the local radio station to be interviewed about the meeting. Her recorded interview was wonderful!

The reason I write is this: in our discussion of poetry after the workshop, I offered the suggestion (not original with me at all--John Ciardi had a whole book with this title) that when you're baffled by how to approach a poem, try not to limit your thinking to what does this poem mean, but find an entry point at which you can think about how does this poem mean. There was not nearly enough time in the hour we had to sufficiently explain what I meant.

I offered as example the first line of my persona poem, "November Kitchen." The first line is "Her kitchen is rosemary." That line many seem confusing at first. That line alone does not suggest any concrete meeting, but it does suggest to the reader by that singular metaphor (the direct comparison of the kitchen to rosemary) that this is not the typical opening line of a poem.

What does the line mean? Who knows?

How does it mean? Well, it suggests that the persona of the poem is in her kitchen. Perhaps the kitchen is her writing place. At least it must be a special place to be mentioned in this first line. It suggests that her kitchen perhaps smells like the pungent herb cooks use to enhance pork, or beef, or many dishes. So we could conjecture that she must enjoy and savor cooking.

That first line is a promise to the reader. It names and reinforces the setting, the kitchen, repeated from the title, and suggests a tone--a little unsettling, perhaps a little offbeat for the rest of the poem. With just this tiny hole we've picked in the first line, perhaps we can unravel enough seams to get into the whole poem. Perhaps something is awry with this woman in her kitchen which smells like rosemary.

Yesterday when I was holding forth, when I said we shouldn't struggle to determine the meaning of a poem (See Billy Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry"), one writer objected and gave a really sensible counter argument about looking for the meaning in a poem. He said he understood completely the meaning of Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." I was delighted to have someone offer a counter opinion, and even more to discuss this beloved poem.

There wasn't enough time to compare and contrast Frost's first line with the first line of my poem above. Frost's first line is "Whose woods these are I think I know/."

Now, what a striking contrast: first, listen to this line. It is the sound more than the content that draws us into the poem. Say it aloud and you can't help hearing this perfect iambic tetrameter line. (whose WOODS/ these ARE/ i THINK / i KNOW) Even if you'd never read Frost and did not know that he always uses traditional meter and rhyme, you would know immediately (in his first line-promise) that this poem would probably have a similar beat/meter.
And how interesting that it should be sound! Snow blankets and quietens everything.

The reader knows from this one line that the persona of this poem is attracted to the woods (the title indicates he has stopped) and perhaps that the snow is so deep that the woods are unrecognizable. He only "thinks" he knows whose woods these are.

If someone asked me whether he should use "I think" in a poem, I'd say, "No." Why? Consider the difference in these two statements: "I think God exists"/"God exists." Which is the stronger and more convincing statement? The latter, of course.
But isn't it wonderful the way Frost proves this English teacher-turned Road Scholar wrong?? He cleverly uses "I think" to suggest that the landscape is so snow-covered you can't distinguish one neighbor's trees from another, or that perhaps in the dusky dark of New England he can't do so.

My only point is this: if you should encounter a poem which scares you to death to read it for fear you won't understand it, don't TRY to understand it. Dissect it; delve into the structure of the poem, and let it know who's boss.

Examine its meter, its rhyme, its tone, its imagery--pick the tiniest hole to start and soon you will have opened several seams of understanding. Before you know it, you'll start to come up with what the poet wanted to impart to the reader.

Handle the poem as you would handle a yummy, buttery, from-scratch pie crust when transferring it to the pie pan. Let the poem know who's in charge here!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow Date Correction!!

Numbers are definitely no friend of mine; they hide behind the few brain cells that are left. The actual date for the last big Alabama snowfall that I saw was April 3, 1983 in Prattville. (I had to check the poem!) On a previous April 3, 1974, one hundred tornadoes hit in the U.S. One hit our neighborhood in Huntsville the Monday before that Wednesday.

We missed the snowstorm in the '90s; that was our second decade living in Savannah. A snow is rare in Savannah indeed. But while our kids here were reporting snow, we were having our own blizzard in Savannah. Mostly wind that whistled so long and loud around corners that it hurt your ears.

My oldest sister, Annie Bell, remembers a winter before I was born when it snowed so much that when they walked in it, it was up to the knees. And she was about fifteen!

Well, March did roar into Alabama like a lion, so we'll see what April holds. . .

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Can you spell S-N-O-W?


March 1, 2009 SNOW DAY! Winter has wandered off-course and we have a snow-covered lawn and deck! Our pastor let us know earlier that all services are cancelled for the day.
Nicholas, Teresa, and I had fun for a while throwing snowballs and making the requisite snowman on the back deck. The pots of pansies and snapdragons are completely covered over.
The last snow I remember that was close to being this exciting was in the eighties in Prattville. On April 1. I remember that date only because I wrote a poem about it. Snow is a rare treat here!

I've been up since about four and can hardly force myself to get away from the windows! I did take some time to go out and play a bit with my Teresa and Nicholas. Too bad Victoria doesn't live in our neighborhood.
Here we romanticize the snow because it seldom comes! Things scarce become precious, don't they?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whoopee! We've Increased By Three

In honor of my sweet niece, Picket, who may encounter this situation standing in line at the Pig once she's become famous (isn't she already?) enough to be recognized there. Not a humorous poem, but one that will make you stop and think, especially about names and what they mean. (And aren't we still discussing a name for my OTHER niece, Amanda?)

The poem is all about appearance/reality as well. End of poetry lesson.
Men Who Buy Lunch At The Pig

His eyes are like a flame of fire. . .
and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. . .
-Revelation 19:12

Jeans raveling over their boots,
shirts hanging out of their jeans,
they wear their names stitched on
for forgetful men who pay their wages,
but one in line is startled when he is called
by name, as if he might have worn
the wrong shirt; then he resumes staring
down past the pocket that names him.

Chicken with potatoes and gravy and peas
scooped into sectioned Styrofoam plates
give-away day-old chocolate chip cookies
quarts of drinks for a gallon-sized thirst
and the essential cordial, two packs of Camels,

look lady, hurry it up will ya
the others are waiting in the truck
the boss is waiting, and I’m sick
of standing here waiting for you;
you should be the one shoveling dirt,
lady, if you can’t figure one simple price
the only way I’m going to have a good day
is to get out of here in time for a smoke

"Thank you, M’am," he says,
naming her with generic respect,
reaching for his prodigal lunch.
By the way, why didn't someone worn me that blogging is as addictive as nicotine? I'll work on the old notebook another day. Now I must crack the whip and get myself back to the writing grindstone! Thwack! thwick!

Monday, February 23, 2009

And the winner is . . .

Well, finding that word hasn't created much interest among Kathleen's Cadre (thanks, Sheila--we can try that for a bit and see how it slips off the tongue) but I think those who want to guess have guessed!

Goody for you, Ms. Magpie and Carrie--both of you have taught me something! I just don't know what I called the process. Maybe it was simply initial. I know it wasn't rubrics because my definition for that word would have been explanatory rules or guidelines, but it seems from my trusty Oxford English Dictionary that you are right on the money, Carrie. Couldabeen!

Since Ms. Magpie was so expedient with her answers, here's a boring little ditty for her:

Initial? Drop Cap? Who Knows The Word?

he early bird who won is quintessential;
a couplet for her has little potential
except perhaps to shred and further feather
her already brilliant nesting endeavor.

o why not string along a quatrain instead?
Then rip it up to sheet her frilly bed;
wallpaper the lamp, and stuff the pillows
with syllables that sound like weeping willows.

f meter and rhyme run wildly amuck, no matter.
They’ll pair up with other shining trash and tatter,
and become so comfy, so cozy, that Miss Magpie
must resist, lest her wings forget how to fly.

[Bah humbug! The copy and paste didn't keep the beautiful drop caps I worked so hard to create. Sorry!]

Meantime, have we settled on salamanda, Amanda? I like the wordplay. But do you like little critters? I actually do. We used to call salamanders mud puppies or spring lizards.

Picket is back! My blogging mentor!! Yeah--now we have a real blogger back blogging!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Baker's Dozen!!!!

. . .and immediately the Terrific Twelve Bloggerettes became TAH-DAH: A Baker's Dozen.
The oldest known source and most probable origin for the expression "baker's dozen" dates to the 13th century in one of the earliest English statutes, instituted during the reign of Henry III (r. 1216-1272), called the Assize of Bread and Ale. Bakers who were found to have shortchanged customers could be liable to severe punishment. To guard against the punishment of losing a hand to an axe, a baker would give 13 for the price of 12, to be certain of not being known as a cheat. Specifically, the practice of baking 13 items for an intended dozen was to prevent "short measure", on the basis that one of the 13 could be lost, eaten, burnt, or ruined in some way, leaving the baker with the original dozen. The practice can be seen in the guild codes of the Worshipful Company of Bakers in London. (from Wikipedia)


Meet our lucky thirteenth bloggerette, another sweet niece of mine, Amanda. (Girl, we have to re-name you! Amanda is too much like a real name. Think magpies and picket fences. While you're at it, work on mine, please!)

Shall we re-name our group each time we have a new member?

What's That Word????

Ever try to remember a word that used to roll off the tip of your tongue and now you can't even google it? (If you say, "No," I don't want to talk to you. Just you wait, sistuh! Your brain cells are dwindling just the same as ours! ) Well, another of my sweet nieces, not Picket, (I have dozens) wrote me this question, but I can't help her.

Okay, here's the question to my TERRIFIC TWELVE bloggerettes! Twelve, can you believe, a handy-dandy dozen? Welcome #12, Miss Magpie (drumroll, please) of the quintessential kind!

Here's my current brain lapse: The first word in a line begins with a larger letter than any other one in the line or paragraph, such as the one in the medieval illuminated manuscripts; what is that called?

The first Bloggerette to answer this puzzler will win the prize of a personalized couplet written just for you!! Put your thinking hats on. . .

. . .tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. . .

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Visit to Mobile

Mobile and Savannah are twin cities! Perhaps Savannah is a little more humid and for sure it has more sand gnats, but a lot of things are similar. I spent the night with the Walkers (thanks, Sue and Ron) last Thursday night. All over the south those folks spoiled by temperate weather year round were whining about the cold. (Ivodean found an icicle at Melbourne Beach. Do tell. See this, girlfriend. It's the world's tiniest fiddle playing for you, poor baby, having to live in such a place!!LOL) But green, green, and more green was a telltale sign that Mobile had not been as cold as Birmingham. Can you spell spring? The Tulip Trees and Bradford Pears think it's spring already. As do my frilly daffodils.

Ah, Mobile. What a lovely audience for myAlabama Humanities Road Scholar gig "Nine Bean Rows: Planting the Divine Detail" workshop! Polly Pope guessed about 30-35 writers were there. I agree. And everybody was so willing to participate! Heartwarming, too. Joyce Scarbrough was a dear to arrange that meeting for me.

It was a little like old home week because these same folks were in the Christmas short story anthology which made a few waves in the Alabama literary scene in December. A bunch of them came up here for a signing I arranged at Jonathan Benton Bookseller.

The drive both on Thursday and Friday was gorgeous. Sunny, springlike. Coming back I stopped off at the library in Prattville where I'll have a reading in April. Even the library has changed drastically in the 18 years since we moved back to Savannah from our decade there. The reading room is now a lovely children's room. Downtown, too, is totally different. Hope' is gone and replaced with an upscale gift shop. Carol Brooks. The couple retired from FL to be close to children who live in Selma. Betty Clapper and I had lunch at Marchelle's ( a far cry from Quincy's--that and Jim's were the only two choices in 1990) or Betty did. I had vowed if I ever ate there again I would have dessert only. I had a chocolate/caramel pie that was huge and yummy. Prattville Drug is no more. It was there that I bought Nicorette Gum, lots and lots of it, and also wedding gifts. My personal card was kept on file there. As was the other Mrs. Tommy Thompson's, so our bills sometimes got mixed up. I bought a footed crystal punch bowl and cups there which I still use. A couple from our church, Julie and Don Edgeworth, have transformed one of the old corner buildings to sell and eclectic collection of antiques. We parked in back of a darling school supply store opened by Nancy Hefner. The name escapes me, but I bought Henny Penny for Victoria. I remembered the sky is falling story, but I hadn't seen that book for years.

Our neighborhood, Hunting Ridge, so swank-seeming in the 1980's seems a little overgrown, a little gone-to-seed now alongside all the newer, larger, more-modern houses further up and over the hill. Our two cherry trees in front are huge. All the azaleas which were big then are in terrible need of pruning, it seems to me. Too much foliage for the house.

As go houses, so go our peers. The sixties seem to be the door into a certain seediness. But I'm not going there. Not tonight.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Books, books, books. . .

They're here!

And I've had two readings/book signings already!!
First signing at Little Professor Cafe & Books!
You've read a poem already from TSD!
Would you like to hear what the poetry is like in The Nights, The Days? Well, get ready for something really different here: these poems are dream poems (yes, right from my real dreams--isn't that a scary thought) and each dream poem is accompanied by a journal entry from the year 2000 (even scarier) and many of my Savannah buddies are mentioned by real name. (Too scary.)

Here's a sample:

subtract and add

a man allowed his body
to be sliced off

here and there
to aid in the cosmetic
surgery of women
so many times
he was left lumpy

Wednesday, January 26, 2000 7:25 a.m. Fixed a nice lunch both Monday and Tuesday so that we could have a SlimFast dinner. I have dropped five pounds after three days of that, but I'm hungry and thirsty. Tommy and I are both desperate to break the mold of overeating which started at Thanksgiving and hasn't let up yet. Worked on the Bob poem. I think it's better. Courtney brought back the pool key and the other papers. She hasn't made a decision about the house. She also likes Betty's which is a one-level. Email from JV who shares my feeling about BR. Says he's a nice fellow. Says M is gaga over him.

I warned you! Pretty different, huh? I think I've fallen through the genre cracks again with this one. But since everybody is so consumed with weight loss at the beginning of every new year, I thought you might identify to some extent.

Questions? Shout them out!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Yippee! So this is blogging. . .!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you, dear Picket. Thank you, dear friends of Picket.

I can't believe I have a blog, and now I have Picket's friends at my blog!!!! Chris, I'm going to try and find the recipe for you, Chris.

Paula's Banana Pudding

3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter (My mantra from Julia Child: "If it isn't butter, don't bother.")
3 medium bananas, sliced
vanilla wafers

Mix together sugar and flour and slowly add milk. (Use whisk; don't want any pesky little lumps.) This can be cooked in the top of a double boiler, but you can cook it over low to medium heat if you don't know what double boiler is !! or if you triple the recipe as I did for the one you saw on my stove. Slightly beat egg yolks and temper (Paula's word, not mine. I think it means so the eggs won't curdle, my word, when the heat hits) with a small amount of the hot custard; stir well. Add egg mixture to custard pot and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter. Let cool. In a 13 x 9 casserole (Picket, have you ever heard of such? We always put our puddings in a deep bowl, don't we?) alternate layers of pudding, bananas and wafers, beginning and ending with pudding.

Meringue Topping

3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and sugar until stiff. Add vanilla. Spread over pudding mix; completely seal around edge. Bake until desired brownness on top. (Paula notes that she prefers to use freshed whipped cream in the restaurant, but, of course, you have to chill the pudding before adding the whipped cream. Otherwise, tiny disaster--which you don't want to have in front of the fam.)

Picket, did you say you have mama's recipe? I don't think I do. Give us a cooking demo. (I'll bet she could do it!!)

Okay, off to that refrig with my big-headedness-from-your-compliments waddling behind me!! (What are you having for dinner, Chris?)

So long, Closet Writers!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Two Poetry Books Coming Out At Once!!

Who could have ever guessed? The Shortest Distance is a full-length poetry book that I've been working on getting ready to publish since October 2007 when Susan Shehane, Publisher/Editor of Coosa River Books contacted me to ask me about publishing my work. The artwork, "The Sleeping Head," by my good buddy, Carolyn Watson, is worth more than the book costs at $15.00. The book will be available at Little Professor here in Homewood (205)870-7461 and at if I ever get it posted correctly. Right now you have to put in both my name and the title to bring it up. Take a peek at the lovely cover!

Thank you, Susan. I am forever indebted to you: it is about to happen! (Susan is also the author of a lovely memoir, Alabama Listening.)

One of my favorite sections of this book contains poems I've written for my grandson, Nicholas. The title poem is in that section. I thought you might like to see it here. (See below.)I wrote the first one when he was seven and have kept it up annually.

My other book is The Nights, The Days, a chapbook of dream poems combined with journal entries of the same time. This one won a competition. I LOVE the cover on both books, but the art director has interpreted this one beautifully. Brenda Thornton's "Across the Fens" was the basis for the cover. See that gorgeous cover soon at This will be the place to purchase this book as well. (Chapbook means little book, less than 48 pages. Price only $12.00.) Some of my Savannah buds are going to be very surprised to see actual journal entries published that include their names!! (It's all good. Very, very good. I promise.)

The Shortest Distance
for Nicholas, at seven

Angles with formulas over equations,
axioms memorized over the unknowns;
earliest choices so easily concluded.

Now as we meander along this rickrack
of shoreline, our tracks skirting the water,
we pore over shells being swallowed

into wet sandy graves; we pick one up
and try to thumb him open, as tightly seamed
as a green pistachio, then throw him back;

we scan the drier sand for fresh turtle tracks
and follow the smooth slide to a roped-off
orange square dated by a tracker today.

The wind will sweep her mounds level,
disguise the high drama of timing her dig,
of her great effort to release the eggs,

her eyes locked in a glazed-over stare
each time a contraction begins and ends
with another of the one hundred eggs laid.

This part I will not explain to you now.
Anyhow, you will be spared that one pain.
I run back to the surf and walk backwards,

an old Indian trick, I tell you, but you know that one
already, so we grab the bucket near our umbrella,
to start an aquarium with seaweed and water.

We each net the waves crashing onto sand
in threes; yours is squirming with a sand flea,
a baby flounder, and minnows of all sizes

while mine hangs empty; I am dawdling
unable to stay on task with this strange
arithmetic that at once suspends time

and yet has it speeding away, a catamaran,
sails puffed, grown miniscule, the size
of little hands spread in plaster, as fast

as your mother and her brother grew
too shy to hold mine, too busy for sand castles.
Factor in this constant of passing time

and the shortest distance between two points
is not always the straightest line; the brown
mermaid’s purse lies emptied, curled up;

the spidery hermit crab lurks inside a shell;
the turtle tracks will be erased. Our hyperbolic
beach mornings burn away long before noon.

And now, back to the grind of marketing. . .

Friday, January 2, 2009

Okay, Guys. I think I've Got It.

My first photos. Maybe I can move on into design and substance from here! Happy New Year to anyone who stumbles upon this.

Mom and offspring, dubious about this pose?

So, here it is right out of the oven in my ovenproof M.A. Hadley fish bowl--banana pudding a la Paula Deen times 3!! (And situated just in front of the pot of blackeyed peas and next to Teresa's yeast biscuit project-in-progress. More photos if this works.

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...