Heart, Soul, and Rough Edges — A Gypsy Journey of Words and Wonder

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

What makes a poem?

What makes a poem

When I was a child, my definition of a poem was something that resembled “The Highwayman,” rhyming lines formed into stanzas, with evocative imagery, and that told a story. As I grew older, and discovered poets like Sandburg and Amy Lowell, I realized poems didn’t need to rhyme, and, as my poetic horizons expanded to include Whitman and Elliot, I realized that they didn’t have to tell a story. My definition of a poem became lines and stanzas with evocative imagery. Then I encountered prose poetry.

Now I’m not a big fan of prose poetry. For me, I need lines and stanzas to feel that it’s a poem, but modern poetry doesn’t agree with me.

So what makes a poem, beyond the let me read it, and I’ll let you know if it’s a poem? The use of language to move beyond literal meaning, to evoke a mood, a sensory image, by the way that language is used is the basis for poetry.

If you studied poetry in school, you may have studied poetic devices: rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance, consonance, metaphor, simile, to name a few.

Rhyme is probably the most familiar: cat, hat, sat, bat, rat, with meter, the rhythm that the words form when read aloud, a close second.  Alliteration, where words begin with the same consonant sound, assonance, where words have the same vowel sound, as in black cat, and consonance, where words have the same internal or ending consonant sounds as in near cure.

Here’s a poem of mine, in the tradition of Walter De La Mare’s The Listeners: It appered in the June, 2010 issue of ezine Dark Eye Glances. Notice how the first and last stanzas are   nearly  identical —
At Midnight

Three to ride the shadowed road,
two to catch them as they slowed,
one to flee and try to warn,
none to live to see the morn.

Three rode out one moonless night
beneath the shafts of silver light
of stars above in a cloudless sky
and none of them demanded why.

Not one of them asked why they rode,
why they left their snug abode
to ride the woods that dark, dark night
beneath the shafts of silver light.

When midnight chimed they stopped and stared.
Two strangers stood with broadswords bared.
Two brothers dead without a fight,
one brother left, one to take flight.

One brother turns and flees in fright,
rides and dies that dark, dark night,
killed by strangers with broadswords bared.
Three brothers caught all unprepared.

Three to ride the shadowed road,
two to catch them as they rode,
one to flee and try to warn,
none to live to see the morn.


Bliss and Gratitude

I first learned about a bliss book from Sylvia van Bruggen during a workshop at the Muse Online Writers Conference.

What is bliss? Complete happiness, undisturbed by gain or loss.

What is a Bliss Book? In simplicity: a book that makes you happy.

Whenever I feel my writing sucks, or am generally depressed, I can open my bliss book and bring on a smile. I have words of encouragement about my writing, quotes, lists of favorite things, and I’m always on the lookout for pictures to clip from magazines.

The most important rule is no negativity allowed.

Creating Your Own Bliss Book

  1. Make or buy a pretty journal or notebook. I use a lovely illustrated fairy journal.
  2. Write up a purpose page. What do you want from this book? Here’s what I wrote in mine: Fears have no power here. My bliss book is my quiet place. A way to center myself and find my muse. Smile. Play Be Free. Free my muse; free my writing; free me from doubt and fear; free me from burdens that I may fly.
  3. Add something regularly. Anything that makes you happy. Ideas: lists, pictures, doodles, quotes, stickers, poems, mantras
  4. Open your book! When you’re in a slump, or forget your motivations for doing what you love (whether that be writing, or parenting, or running). Read it front to back, or open to a random page. Let it inspire you once more.

You can expand this idea of bliss into other forms. A bliss box, a bliss room. Anything or anywhere filled with things that inspire and lift you up.

In honor of the recently celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S.A., I’m starting a new page in my bliss book. A Gratitude Page. Anytime I lose sight of the good things in life, sucked down in negativity, I can search for something to add to this page. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, even in our darkest hours.

Next time on Mary’s Expression: The Poetry of Pink.

Joplin, MO, Six Months Later

what the wind destroyed
the town cleared to rebuild as
Mother Nature smiled 

Six months ago, “the tornado,” as it’s referred to by residents, hit Joplin, MO. My cousin and her extended family were there.

One of her sons and his family were in Wal-Mart when the roof blew away; they were saved by overturned shelving, and dug out with scrapes and bruises.

Her brother-in-law and his three kids couldn’t get to a storm shelter, and sought refuge in a convenience store when the windows blew out. All fifteen people got into the cooler, which was then crushed down to a height of three feet. Layered like sardines, they got out alive.

Her grandson, his mother and step-father were home when it hit. They put a football helmet on the boy, put him in the bathtub, Mom next, hugging him, then step-dad threw a mattress over her and climbed on top. The mattress and dad were sucked out when the house blew away. He survived with a badly mangled arm that required emergency surgery. Grandson’s helmet was shattered when the wooden toilet seat ripped off and hit him in the head. Mom was injured, but all survived.

St. John’s hospital, where my cousin worked for over thirty years, was blown off its foundation. And this is just the top layer of what happened to one person’s family. My cousin had thirty-plus people staying in her storm cellar that week.

The horror and chaos of the time brought out the very best in open hearts, minds, and wallets from around the world. The next day, people  brought out grills and fixed food — whatever was available, for whoever needed it. Veterinarians provided free boarding for pets. Churches, as expected, set up shelters, babysitting, and food. Trucks began arriving from all over the country, and kept coming for weeks. People dug in and began doing what they could wherever it was needed.

Fast forward to this week, the six month anniversary.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition built 6 homes in town — one going to my cousin’s grandson and his family. The show will air in January 2012.

Habitat for Humanity built 10 homes; families got the keys to them last week.  Businesses are coming back, slowly, but surely.

The city council last week approved plans for a brand new state-of-the-art replacement hospital. Ground breaking is Jan., 2012 with completion planned for Jan., 2014.

Throughout all of this my extended family displayed grace, courage, resilience, and an abiding faith in themselves, their religion, their town, and their future. I’m awed by them, and my heart has been singing poetry ever since I got this update.

Perhaps this is a psalm of thanksgiving, crudely writ, but from the heart. There are too many hearts here, I know, but this story is about many, many hearts.

Where is the poetry in sorrow and destruction?
In the hurting heart, as always.
Where is the joy in the aftermath?
In that same heart, as healing grabs an edge.

How does it work, this healing?
With loving actions to repair the mosaic shards.
Will it ever be the same?
No, fractures form a stronger bond.
And then?
We give thanks, and promise to love even more.

How will I know?
Shhh. Your heart beats the answer.

Kristen's Post – a story to consider

Whale Song

If you love a good heart-warming story, you’ll enjoy this story about Sarah Richardson’s life. Eleven-year-old Sarah moves to Bamfield, Canada from Wyoming, when her dad gets a new job as a marine biologist. When she moves there, she encounters a harrowing life–she’s bullied, since she’s new and “white” in an Indian-dominant town, she has a crush on Adam, and she experiences her mom’s illness of PPH, all in part one.

In part two, her mom passed away, and her dad’s charged with her murder, when she doesn’t remember what happened that fateful day. When her dad goes to prison, she moves and lives with her Italian grandparents to Vancouver, and at eighteen, she lives alone and starts a new life.

In part three, she has an estranged relationship with her father between the visits and years go by, as she tries to remember what happened, when she’s an adult. In the end, she reunites with Goldie, her best friend, Adam her crush and new love, and her dad, when she remembers what happened and moves on. Also, it’s so informative on marine life and whales, that’s so touching and perfect for the story of forgiveness, love, loss and life. Bring your tissues!


(posted by Michele for Kristen)

Inspiration-Perspiration: It’s All Around You

Fridge Magnets 2

Image by Pierre Nel via Flickr

We all know the adage, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, right? Do you know it applies just as easily to writing and poetry as it does to the other important things in life?

For example, I hear people asking me “Where do you get your ideas from?” and the answer to that is “Everywhere!”

It might be in a snatch of conversation I overheard at the restaurant while we’re waiting in line. It might be in the three headlines from today’s paper that I linked together to form a writing prompt.  Perhaps that interesting documentary I watched on Discovery last night at 2 AM sparked some poem or plot ideas.  It might even be in a dramatically stormy day with lightning crashing all around me.

I mean, open your eyes and ears, folks, along with your other senses. A lingering fragrance on the breeze, the tang of Thai spices on your taste buds, the feel of your lover’s caress. Anything in your world, good or bad, can serve as inspiration.

So how do you go about capturing these things for later use?

There are things you probably have in your possession already that can do that. Your cell phone  can take a photo or record a voice memo or send an email to yourself, a thin notebook in your purse or back pocket to record ideas, and a notebook, pen and flashlight on your night stand to record those flashes of ideas that come when we are least prepared.  I keep a file of writing prompts from various sources on my computer.  I have a folder of photographs that serve the same purpose. There are many books of writing prompts, tools like Story Spinner, and writing games that can give you a heaping serving of inspiration. Let’s not forget the classic fridge word magnets either.

So don’t worry that you won’t have any ideas. All you have to do is just open your mind and it will be filled with amazing information, without even  breaking a sweat.

Make Visible

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”
~ Robert Bresson, French Film Director

This, to me is the essence of creativity, to bring forth what might have remained hidden. This gets me to write, to embroider, to do art and craft projects. There is a whole world of ideas, forms, visions and voices that have yet to be expressed. Even our poetry book, Lifelines has the word “Express!” on the cover. It’s up to us, the creative ones (and by that I include potentially everyone) to share what’s in our hearts and minds. It’s up to us to create and bring forth our truth and beauty.

By sharing what’s inside us we connect to the rest of the world. So many times I’ve heard, “I feel exactly the same way,” after a friend has read one of my poems. We are all unique and see the world differently. Go write, take pictures, craft, dance, sing, paint. Who are you to deny the world your vision?

On Writing Poetry

Poetry is about truth, and writing truly exposes me, even if I am not the subject of the poem. If I pull my punches, soften my truth, or omit some detail that I feel exposes me, I stab my poem in the gut. I have to write truth, though not necessarily for publication.

The poem that propelled me, indirectly, into serious poetry writing is a case in point. I was in a meeting, listening to someone talk about his drinking, and inspiration struck. I hauled out my handy pad and pen, and, ignoring the nudges of my companion, (She: “What are you doing?” Me: “Taking notes.”), jotted down what would become one of my first published poems. But it was about a sensitive subject, and I hesitated to submit it for publication. Would people assume the narrator of the poem was me? Maybe not, but at the very least, the poem would clearly indicate that the subject was one that mattered to me. Was I willing to risk that? Ultimately I decided I was.

Some time after that,  I wrote a poem about a batch of chicken soup (I was annoyed, and I find writing poetry can be wonderfully therapeutic) and hesitated before writing, “I wanted to hit her with the soup pot.” Yes, the line ended up in the poem. Best of all, by the time I’d finished writing it, the impulse itself had passed.

Here’s the poem. It was published in the June, 2006 Humdinger (


I don’t want to hear how unhappy you are
because I didn’t buy any Roast Beef at the deli
or because I made Chili from Dave’s recipe
with the six tablespoons of Chili powder

and Minestrone
with the rind from the Parmesan cheese in the broth
just like Marcella does.

It was enough to make me want to hit you
with the soup pot.

And if you’re ever happy with my cooking,
then please tell me.

But I’m not holding my breath.

My Expression

birch trees and some sunlight

Image by gato-gato-gato via Flickr

I mentioned a quote in the poem of my introduction post:

“The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I truly believe that quote. If we do not express ourselves, we are not complete. I exist for my art, my writing, as much as it exists for me. If you have not read any of  my writing, then you can not truly know me. In fact, sometimes I feel I am more honest, more alive, in my writing than in reality.

Being a writer is a crucial part to my identity, whether it be writing poetry, journaling in a diary or blog, or working on a novel. All these are expressions of my soul and in turn shape me as the person I am. My writing allows me to stand out to the world as I never could any other way. It is the only way for an introspective person such as I am to be bold and confident. I let people see me through my writing. Betsy Lerner says it well, “Indeed, the great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.”

I want to share that poetic, whimsical side with you. So run with me through a forest of birch trees, while butterflies and fairies dance around us.

As I am the first in our rotation, here’s what you can expect from our schedule. The six of us will be blogging in rotation, in the order of our introductions, on alternating weeks.


Our Virtual Global Village and Lifeline

It takes a virtual global village for words to become a worthy poem. Ours extended from Australia, Nova Scotia and Montreal, Canada, to Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area — our mentors and Publisher — besides our scattered band of poets.

We must also mention the broader world’s contribution: almost all of our poems started from on-line writing prompts — especially Poetic Asides PAD Challenges (Poem A Day) in April and November 2009, and the April Haiku Challenges at Forward Motion. How they ended up were very different, but that spark and the need to write daily (or as close as we could come to it), shoved our inner critics away and we wrote.

Each of us also worked with local critique groups, who helped hone our words, thoughts, and shared their reactions. Each poem is stronger for that lifeline. One of mine in particular, written when my brother was dying, led to an hour-long discussion with my local group, and several rewrites on my part. So, thank you “P-42” for being there for me, and Scott at Tsunami Bookstore, for hosting not only this poetry group, but all the other community events to support local artists, writers, and musicians. I did my first Open Mic at Tsunami, with an encouraging crowd.

We all applied these insights as we worked with each other. One of the best things a colleague said about one of my poems was that part of it didn’t make sense. After I got over the initial shock, I realized I was too close to it to see what was wrong. That one is not only stronger for the criticism, but is much closer to what I intended to write.

Over the next few months, we will share what we’ve learned about critique groups (on-line and in-person), tips for setting schedules, levels of review, how to ask for what you want in a review, how to give and receive feedback, how we’ve provided each other with encouragement and strategic kicks when needed, and how to work towards goals.

We have many other topics planned, since we come from such diverse backgrounds and interests. We hope you enjoy meeting us, will join in the discussion as we all grow, and encourage you to find your voice and courage to try, just as we did, and are still doing.

We’re very excited that our collaboration has led to this beautiful book, Lifelines, which is now available at (see sidebar). We’re working on ideas to include our local bookstores, too.

If you read our book, we’d love to have you post a review on, and to send us a copy for our blog.  Thank you!

Six Minds as One

It’s been a long road, giving us a new appreciation for what it takes to put together a collection of poetry, especially an anthology from six very different poets.

When we did decide to put together an anthology, our initial theme was the Greek Muses. We brought together existing poems, and wrote some new ones, each attributed to a muse.

We used Google Documents to share our work and make commenting and organization easier. If we’d had to rely on exchanging email, well, we’d still be sending poems back and forth. We used a spreadsheet to make voting for top poems straightforward and hassle-free. Margaret was our tech goddess in all of this.

Our first draft version didn’t work, so we came back together to figure out what to do instead. It simply didn’t have the overlying narrative arc that is the key to a really good poetry collection.

We looked for a new theme that could tie this eclectic group of poems together. Water came up a couple of times, and Michele mentioned the ebb and flow. With that, Mary began to have a vision. The ebb and tide of life, the heart, the world. She wanted to explore this further, so volunteered to take control and see what she could do in the matter of organizing. Once Mary split everything into different stages of life, she was inspired with the theme poem, the tide’s effects as it comes and goes in our lives. Finally our poems had a story, a flow that felt right. The others agreed.

Throughout this entire process, Michele kept us together. It was her bull-headedness that kept us pushing forward even when we struggled. Michele who got our wonderful mentors involved, and had the connections to pitch our project to InkSpotter.

So now the anthology is about to “go live.” It’s been three years since the day that Lisa Gentile couldn’t connect to the internet, leaving moderator Michele Graf to organize a spontaneous chat.

A collection of poetry is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the cumulative effect of each poem, one after the other, leading the reader from one to the other to create a unified whole. Without the unifying principle we have a stack of paper. With it we have an anthology.


by Mary W. Jensen and Margaret Fieland

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