Friday, December 30, 2011

Begin a Foolish Project

This is our classic week of review, recalibration and resolutions. What were the highlights of 2011? How do you want 2012 to be better, different?

A classic week for hopes and dreams. I’ll be getting back to that theme at some point in 2012. Not sure when, because shortly into the year, I’ll be switching gears, moving over to Italy for three months, and blogging about that experience. The Boatyard blog will be quiet until I get back…but the brain will continue to mine this vein.

Volume II of Poems from the Boatyard is pretty well under wraps, and goes on hold now as I wait to submit—in 2013! I’ve found the workload on book marketing and selling to be much higher than I anticipated, and I need to pace myself! A book tour is tentatively in the works for late summer/early fall 2012. After that, I’ll submit my second manuscript.

In the meantime, another manuscript (a baby one) is going to Poetic Asides—The November Poem-A-Day Challenge. I barely made it across the finish line on that one, but did it, and after a series of revisions this month, off it goes tomorrow, just in time for the New Year’s Eve deadline.

Another submission to Atlanta Review is in the works as well.

I came within an email of having one poem published alongside a Mako Fujimura piece, Waterflames, the subject of the poem. Mako is one of my art heroes, so this would have been awesome; unfortunately, the gallery wouldn’t give permission to reprint the artwork. Dang.

So, no end of writing projects, but a little pause in it all to wish you a dream-building new year. And just in case you're feeling any trepidation about those dreams, here’s a little kick-in-the-butt from Hafiz:

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions.”

And one from 13th C. Persian poet Rumi:

Move from within.
Don’t move the way that fear wants you to.
Begin a foolish project.
Noah did.

My father did. Will you?!

Happy New Year and thanks for helping to make 2011 an exciting one for this poet!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Now is the Time

"Now is the time to remember that all you do is sacred."--Hafiz

This month I've been reading Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved, by Persian poet Hafiz (1326-1390). Hafiz is one of the world’s most beloved poets, affectionately known as the “Tongue of the Invisible” for his poetic expression of spiritual experiences as a Sufi mystic, in love with his Beloved. For many in the Islamic world, Hafiz is the greatest poet of all time. If you get the opportunity to interact with someone from Iran, Iraq, Turkey, or India, you should know about Hafiz. It's a great point of contact.

The poetry of Hafiz is playful and enchanting, but was 'in your face' for his time--using highly sensual language in his trademark ghazals (from the Arabic "love song", lyrical poems recited or sung by minstrals in the royal courts of pre-Islamic Iran) to speak out against deceit and hypocrisy at all levels of society, "scathingly sarcastic if not downright confrontational...Although he was said to be a Sufi, his 'religion' was the love of God and the expression of that love. No spiritual institution could contain him" (from the Introduction).

Sufi master poets often compared love with wine, and Hafiz is no exception, using the metaphor in delightful ways, naming God as the Winebringer, the Winemaker, the Wineseller, selling on Wine Street, and entering the Winehouse.

Ralph Waldo Emerson called Hafiz a poet for poets. He is dazzling, and I suppose it's no accident that I'm reading Hafiz this season, as I try to keep from being dazzled by Western Civilisation's tinsel version of Christmas. I prefer a little poetic awe, and to drink whatever dazzling wine the Winebringer offers this season.

And so, as I exit the madness and turn off on Wine Street for my Christmas celebration, I offer you a toast: may your own experience of the holidays include a little Hafiz, and may you be drunk on the Wine of the Beloved!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beautiful & Pointless

Confession: I barely read books about poetry—except the craft of it. I read contemporary poets, the occasional article about why poetry matters, and, some years ago, once got halfway through Seamus Heany’s The Redress of Poetry. That was enough to put me far ahead of any but the academic. But a whole book on literary criticism? Nope.

But now that I’m a published poet, I decided to get more erudite, up my game, and read a book whose title intrigued me: Beautiful and Pointless, A Guide to Modern Poetry. (A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was involved.) I expected a stiff read, possibly dry and academic book, but was curious. What would such a book be like? I waited till I had the head space to plunge into potentially heavy intellectual plowing on a subject that I don’t really need to be convinced about enjoying.

I didn’t expect to start laughing, and this was before the Cabernet took effect; I was only in the foreward. Example:

“If there’s one thing that often unites academic treatments and how-to guides, it’s the implicit assumption that relating to poetry is like solving a calculus problem while being zapped with a cattle prod—that is, the dull business of poetic interpretation…is coupled uneasily with testimonials announcing poetry’s ability to derange the senses, make us lose ourselves in rapture, dance naked under the full moon, and so forth.”

Yep, gotta keep your wits about you as you follow these intricate sentences. But before you get whiplash, author Daniel Orr steers you quickly into a way cool thought:

“When a non-specialist audience is responding well to a poem, its reaction is a kind of tentative pleasure, a puzzled interest that resembles the affection a traveler bears for a destination that both welcomes and confounds him. For such readers, then, it’s not necessarily helpful to talk about poetry as if it were a device to be assembled or a religious experience to be undergone. Rather, it would be useful to talk about poetry as if it were, for example, Belgium. (pg. xiv)

Ok, so he hooked me on the travel analogy and Belgium seemed positively prophetic, since I was supposed to be there this month. I was 'in' and forged ahead to Chap. 1, fortified with another Cabernet.

“…I proudly announced, ‘I’m a poetry critic.’ She gave me a look as if I’d just tossed a sackful of kittens into a mulcher. ‘Wait a minute,’ she said, ‘you mean you criticize people’s poetry?’”

I was now up to page 2, and, once I finished laughing, posted this to my FB status.

“…T.S.Eliot’s famous declaration that ‘the progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality…’”

Well, I needed to mull that over…until the library called saying I needed to return or renew. I renewed.

I’m now up to page 8, and probably shouldn’t be recommending this book based on eight pages, but feel sure that a tour of poetry written by someone who can make me laugh continuously through the first 8 pages can probably deliver.

What the heck, it’s the holidays. We need some decompression in our lives to survive them, and poetry is just the thing. Or "Beautiful and Pointless." A Cabernet goes without saying…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mom Sam

If you read my last post, and clicked on the link to learn more about Susan, you might have noticed another climber, Mom Sam. (You might have to scroll a bit; as climbers are added, the order shifts.) Here’s her story, from the website:

Mom Sam was born to the Phnom Penh village chief in Cambodia 31 years ago. In the 80s, her father was killed fighting Khmer Rouge soldiers. Her mom sold everything and moved the family to a poor neighborhood. When Mom was 16, a lady offered her a job as a waitress. Her mother was convinced to sign a document, giving Mom permission to work, and received $50 in return, along with a promise that her child would earn a lot of money. Her daughter, however, did not go to a restaurant…

You can read more about Mom’s story. I'll hear more about it in the future, because she will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with Susan. I may never get to meet here in the here and now, but I love Mom Sam already, and believe she has great courage.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From the Boatyard to Kilimanjaro

My friend Susan is walking around with a backpack on a lot these days. If you don't already know why, she'll invite you to ask, by announcing with a big smile: "I'm in training!"

For what (you can't help but ask)?

"I climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January!"

This week, as temps dropped to 24 degrees F, Susan slept outside to test her sleeping bag. It didn’t work. She didn’t sleep. But at least she's not discovering this on Kilimanjaro. And she went to work the next day.

Why is she climbing? You can read about it here.

What does this have to do with Poems from the Boatyard?

Desire. Dreams. Going for it.

Yep, we’re going back to that subject, friends! It’s the end of the year, a good time to evaluate what dreams got dashed, what dreams inched forward, and what dreams we want to dream for 2012.

There are a lot of reasons why Susan could excuse herself from this climb.

For one thing, she celebrates her 70th birthday next year.

She'll have to test a new sleeping bag out soon, when the temps drop sufficiently.

It’s a climb, not a cakewalk, to 19,000 ft. She has to raise several thousand dollars for expenses.

Before this climb was publicized, she had only minimal awareness of the sex trafficking issue. It was not “her” issue, she confided one day, as she weighed her decision. But, she did her homework, engaged, and is now an articulate and assertive spokeswoman for women without voices.

She had to fly out to Colorado at her own expense for a 3-day retreat with all the climbers, and climb Pike’s Peak (14,000 ft.), a team-building "exercise." (The women had to abort the climb part way up because of weather conditions.)

And, she had to sign on the dotted line that she would raise $10,000 for the freedom of women caught or coming out of sex-trafficking. Or to prevent them ever getting caught in that hellish web.

Susan has not only raised the $10,000, but had a desire to raise $19,000, a dollar for every foot of the climb. At last count, she was up to almost $12,000, and still, um, climbing :)

Susan is not a wealthy woman. She is a bookkeeper in a non-profit. Bookkeepers in non-profits are not exactly known for their deep pockets.

The summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is known as Uhuru Peak. Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom. It’s the highest mountain in Africa, and was chosen to symbolize the mountain every woman and child has to climb to get out of slavery.

Talk about desire.

Everyone needs a friend like Susan (scroll down!). I want to write her a check for the remaining $7,000 just to applaud her desire. But poets aren't exactly known for their deep pockets either, and anyway, that wouldn’t be half as much fun as seeing where all these contributions are coming from, and to hear the stories!

This is not a financial appeal (but you can donate here), nor is it intended to guilt you into thinking you're not doing enough.

It is to inspire you to dream.

A New Year is about to begin.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

--Langston Hughes

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Power of Critique

If you connected some dots through my last few posts, you realized that it is only as we let ourselves be critiqued that the fullness of the creative act emerges--not to mention our personality and character. It is in dialogue with the audience, the readers, and viewers, who always see more than you do, or at least other things than you do. And it is in dialogue with others that our true self emerges.

I regret when some do not accept this process, whether in their personal lives or their creative exploits. Everyone is diminished. But that’s life. We are either closed or open, any given hour.

But this is an hour to be open! No one has braved the critique process, but I’m going to forge ahead and give you my revised version. Or maybe you are just backed up on blog reading…in which case, you might want to read this post first, then come back here.

Here's a snapshot of the questions and comments that flew around my head in the writer’s group as they critiqued the Egret poem; remember, I'm not allowed to respond unless it's in response to a direct question (so I put my reactions in parentheses!):

“Does an egret have yellow feet?”

(Um…I think so….)

“Yes, I googled ‘egrets’--some species do.”

(Whew…saves me the research.)

“'Lucky and positive I feel' sounds like Yoda-speak.”

(Oh yeah…now that you mention it…can that work?! Too artificial?)

"I like it when it rhymes better!”


“I really like the line ‘full of grace and light’.”


“What if you drop the first stanza and begin with 'Look at the haunted ones'?”


“It really bothers me that you don’t have a verb in the last line…”

“I like that she doesn’t have a verb!”

“Does she need one?”

“Maybe a punctuation mark, to clarify….”

“Oh! NO! No punctuation, just a blank space, and then into the next line, no verb!”


Well, I gathered the comments and went home to examine and revise. And found the fundamental weakness, decided to keep a loose rhyme scheme, and sorted out my mixed metaphors. Oops...just see a mistake...ok, correcting...and here is the latest result:

Egrets are in the air—
white with yellow eyes.
Lucky and positive I feel—
full of grace and light.

Look at the haunted ones—
with yellow eyes and feet—
white with fear it seems,
and thoughts they dare not speak.

Egrets are in the air—
white with yellow eyes.
They glide above the mud flats—
I feel my own heart rise.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Egrets are in the Air!

Recently I brought a poem to my writer's group for critique—a simple poem, easily accessible, one I wrote at least 3 decades ago, and that didn’t have any great meaning to me. I just liked it, and thought it would be a good one to start off my second manuscript. I really just wanted to ask the question: which do you like better, the rhymed or the unrhymed version?

The almost unanimous, and not unexpected, answer was: rhymed! Dang. That is just not the way contemporary poetry is going, folks, but I'll think about it.

Anyway, as the critique group asked questions, it became clear that I had bigger fish to fry. Layers of meaning emerged with each question, a metaphor suddenly popped out at me that I had missed entirely, and I was on the verge of an epiphany...agh!!! This poem was supposed to be almost complete!

I took a deep breath and steadied myself as the questions continued. (Rule #1 of crtiquing is: defend your poem, not yourself. You have to justify craft, not your reason for being or your belief systems. If you feel yourself getting angry, your critique group is probably hitting a nerve; rant and rave at home, then get back to work on the poem!)

So the questions and suggestions continued (and my critique group is very gentle and kind, just to reassure you). What others were seeing in the poem astonished me. What I felt, thought and was experiencing those days when I wrote the poem fell out of some closet in my heart as they probed, and I felt quite vulnerable. It’s one thing to put oneself out there intentionally in writing (good writing is all about transparency, right?). It’s quite another when you don’t even know what you're talking about--and you're the author!

I had to clarify a central metaphor I didn't even know I was using. I had to explain the 30-year-old epiphany; I didn't know the first thing about epiphany when I wrote the poem. I kicked myself for not catching all this before coming, but this is why I belong to a writer's group. Blind spots, ego, impatience to finish something that just won't quite cooperate...any of those battles sound familiar to you?!

Finally I was left speechless, and had to admit to the group that I honestly didn’t quite know myself what the poem meant, and we all had a good laugh.

Well, I survived, and the poem finally ‘dawned’ on me. I literally discovered it 30 years after writing it. (And my heart sank a bit as I thought about revising something I thought I was finished with.) So don’t worry if you don’t think you ‘get’ a poem—sometimes the poet doesn’t either!

I am back to the drawing board, looking at this poem in light of the new insights, to see what I need to change. I’m kind of eager to get to it, though, to see if the process will reveal anything else. Care to join me?!

The title of the post is the first line of the poem…so let’s have a little fun here, and let me give you the original poem, and next week I'll show you what I did, if anything. You may not know the first thing about poetry, but you can probably tell me what works and what doesn’t work, where you get lost, don’t understand, what you like and don’t like. There’s a couple of problems with it, that maybe you’ll find along with my critique group. But how much revision does it really need?! That is the question...have a go at it, and I’ll be back next week with my conclusions!

Egrets are in the air—
White with yellow eyes.
Lucky and positive I feel—
Full of grace and light.
Look at the haunted ones—
White with fear it seems,
With yellow eyes and feet—
With thoughts they dare not speak.
I want to humanize.
Egrets in the air.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, produced in reaction to Spanish Civil War, is a great example of artwork that could be dismissed as self-expressive indulgence. It repulses; the work is grotesque and ugly. You may hate it and denounce Picasso as a fraud, saying: “My five-year-old can do better!”

This post might change your mind.

"Guernica" was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, in Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War--following a directive by the Spanish Nationalist forces. Picasso, living in Nazi-occupied Paris, was outraged, and painted it out. Then the Gestapo came around one day, in their harassment of the artist. One officer, seeing a photo of Guernica in Picasso's apartment, asked him, "Did you do that?"

Picasso's response: "No, you did."

The work went on to gain incredible status and an international anti-war symbol. It helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention.

Ever since hearing this story, Guernica has captivated me. I love what Picasso said with it--in three words. The piece communicates what no history book could. And as 'ugly' as it may seem visually, I can no longer see it that way, but as something beautiful in what it communicated.

And I have relived that experience countless times, as I’ve talked with artists, writers and poets. I do not always ‘get’ their work, but when I start talking about it with the artist, I am routinely captured. Sure, there are the narcissists, the arrogant, and the egocentric artists out there, but most of the time I hear humility, sensitivity, process and depth.

So, have I convinced you? Ready to get out there and talk to an artist?!

If you don’t already do this, by all means, start! Poetic awe awaits you...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Desperately Seeking Transcendance

Not knowing the boundaries between public art vs. private art, self-expression vs. art for public consumption, has created unfortunate rifts between the artist and the non-artist, and the artist and the church—rifts not easily bridged. The artist seeks expression, venue, acceptance; the non-artist is avoiding a rant, propaganda, manipulation. Lines are blurred between pursuing craft and pursuing the heart, as if this were an “either/or” and not a “both/and” situation.

In my first few art classes, I learned no techniques, but was encouraged to simply ‘express myself.’ For someone who didn’t know where to point the pencil, I was intimidated; putting that first mark on paper, whatever paper, and not knowing the least thing about composition, I wondered, how does one express oneself? I craved guidance, eventually dropping out of all classes. (I found my answers through some books.)

In poetry workshops, I noticed how high the drop-out rate was as soon as we moved from expression to craft. Not many wanted to meter a poem, or have it critiqued; they simply wanted to ‘express’ themselves. Now I love poetry, but I do not enjoy the Hallmark card variety, the self-expression that is often a soapbox, or propaganda poetry. I get bored when people rant, whether at the dinner table or in a poem. Dont' you?

Those I talk with who hate art and the art world are usually reacting to the imposition of the rant, egoism and manipulation, the normal reactions of any human being to such tactics.

Others disengage with a passive, polite and tepid, “To each his own. Art is a matter of taste.”

Well, yes and no. There are criteria.

I know many who wouldn’t dream of sharing what’s in their art journals; others want their expressions hung in a museum, though no skill was involved in producing them.

Propaganda has its place, as does self expression--a critical place in fact. But aren’t we all satiated with pop culture and self-expression? Don’t we all crave transcendent work?

To get there, excellence in craft is as vital as self-expression. I want both fine art and expressive art, believe both are vital, and know there is place for each in this wide world. Fine art is judged by its technical skill as well as its expression. Expressive art, if it is “judged” at all, is certainly not on its technical skill, but valued for its process in healing the human heart.

The drill is “Show, don’t tell.” Knowing when to blast and when to suggest is key to successful poetry or art. My vote is for discretion, discrimination, critique, and humility.

Rant over :)

Friday, November 4, 2011


Well, look what I found a nanosecond after I posted the last post..a review of Beautiful and Pointless, A Guide to Modern Poetry, by Daniel Orr, a poetry critic. I know, it's taken me more than I nanosecond to post, but here it is, just in time for your weekend surfing...

And an excerpt to warm you up:

"Orr claims that most people not deeply familiar with poetry assume that the form is a personal enterprise and that poets are mostly in the business of baring their souls. It is therefore considered akin to an act of cruelty to be a critic of poetic self-expression. 'Is it any surprise that an art form whose conventions are largely unknown, and whose practitioners often seem to be addressing themselves, has come to be seen — by lay readers, anyway — as presumptively personal?' Orr asks, 'As something it seems cruel to criticize?'

"But poetry isn't actually all that personal. It might seem to be so from all the personal statements contained in poems. That's an illusion, though. Poetry, Orr claims, uses the language of personal revelation as a vehicle for getting across images and ideas. We are thus under no obligation to coddle the sometimes painful personal material of poems. We are free to address them as poetic acts, playing with form and language that, seen in the proper context, have their own rules for success and failure. The first misunderstanding duly dispatched, Orr is now free to dig deeper into the mystery that is contemporary poetry."

And if you want something else to do this weekend, jump into the November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge. Who knows what epiphanies might come tripping out of your mouth?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Work Those Epiphanies!!!

What epiphanies, intuitions and/or perceptions have you been experiencing lately?! Hope you're jotting them down...

My previous post edged us into one of the most hotly debated issues around the art world, and the spiritual world too for that matter (which I include here because the two worlds are so closely connected).

Can you spell ‘subjective'?!

The experiences I’ve been writing about have been very subjective and personal of course, and could easily be dismissed as the effects of an over-spiced enchilada. And while I have felt validated in discovering that others have written about this type of experience, I also recognize that there is plenty of room for error in the interpretation of these phenomena. But how rich the exploration!

Subjectivity—whether it refers to poetic or religious awe—is a hot topic. What do we do with writing (or religious experience) that is very subjective? Is there a place for it? Absolutely, but there is also a lot of confusion out there.

A few years ago, I got one of those great, clarifying, simple questions that help me think about such things, and in particular how to think about the strange, ineffable experiences we all go through. It came through one of my former pastors. I was grappling with the strange, ineffable experiences of a French friend, which had baffled my cognitive and theological constructs (as a lot in France did!). But this pastor wisely asked, “Is the person sharing this experience credible?”

Yes, she was. Did that make the experience credible? I know I certainly looked at it with a lot more care than if she had been a flake. And we got to the bottom of some things that were entirely credible. Credibility can earn a second look at the most incredible experience, which may be entirely valid and true, however subjective.

With that one question, and years of living in France, I learned not to dismiss things prematurely if they didn’t fit my paradigms, if the source was credible. Even our justice system, flawed as it is, runs on the testimony of ‘credible witnesses.’

Anyway, back to poetry and epiphanic moments: what was that epiphany and what did it mean? Can you write a poem or prayer about it? Make a piece of artwork from it? Write a theological doctrine on it? Is it personal, subjective, expressive, for you only, or can it benefit others? Is it art/prayer/doctrine for public consumption?

Yes, we are back to the question of what is art, with a new layer: public art vs. private art, self-expression vs. art for public consumption.

I gave you m y favorite definition of art last post. But we have lived for decades in a culture/artworld where self-expression is paramount, beauty is optional, and critique is “mean”— the cultural equivalent of bullying. For some, personal expression is far more important than adherence to any criteria for craft.

The clash arises when personal expression invades the public domain inappropriately. Let me give you an example:

You may not enjoy a poem I write raging against someone who offended me in some way, and correctly judge that it is self-expression. You’ll probably dismiss it for what it is (a rant); publishers surely will. What keeps my rant poem out of the publishers’ rejection pile? Working my craft. Working my epiphanies, not just blurting them out.

So if I take that rant, and bump it up to describe a journey from rage to resolution (even if only in my own heart), I enter universal experience, and that should resonate with you. You may not have dealt with the person I’m enraged with, but you have no doubt been enraged by someone else.

The well-crafted poem might give you the shock of recognition, the release valve of insight, possibly even a solution. The glimpse into your own humanity, and the companionship of common struggle might give you relief for the journey. You might just get an epiphany of your own, even some healing for your heart. This is why we need poetry, and this is why I will never stop working the craft.

But I’ll spare you the rants, and other personal expressions, which will stay in the notebooks! Time and place...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Epiphanies, Intuitions & Perceptions

Leanne Payne, one of my heroes, describes an experience similar to mine in one of her books, which I can’t cite at the moment, but which I read somewhere in between my two epiphanic moments. (I believe it is in The Healing Presence.)

She would call it a ‘seeing’—Perceptions of the Unseen Real—the quintessence of poetic awe, that phenomenon whereby the poet, the artist, sees past the visible into deeper, invisible realities. Keats the poet complained that Newton the scientist had destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to its prismatic colors. But that ain’t necessarily so. The scientist is merely approaching the rainbow from another perspective of awe, and trying to describe it with his mathematics, tools, words, telescopes.

The artist’s task is to select his medium, master his materials, and produce in tangible form that which is intangible. To ‘eff’ the ineffable, as Brennan Manning so wonderfully puts it. So my poetic awe of the moment might move me to write a poem one day, and not just call my brother and say, “Guess who I ran into at the post office today?”

No small task. Do I have time? Do I care to write about that moment? Did I ‘get it’—can I identify the epiphany in the encounter with an old neighbor in my home town? Did I even notice it? What is the metaphor?

In my poem “The Girl Scout Badge”, what moves it past another scout earning another badge? In “Navy Dentist”, what moves the poem past just another disagreeable session in the dentist’s chair, to the epiphany that we are prone to vices destined to earn us more disagreeableness (clue: answer in the last two lines of the poem)? What drives us to do the things we do?

One needs a lot of time to think and to be for this stuff. You may have noticed how loathe we are as a culture to think and to be.

So I only write a fraction of what I ‘see' in the frenetic pace of today's society. I wish I could capture more, stare out the window more, write faster, with more lucidity. But it sometimes takes me years to find the time to unpack what I ‘saw’—to identify the epiphany, find the metaphor, and choose the words that capture the ‘seeing.’

In the meantime, I jot down my Perceptions of the Unseen Real, for those days when I can sit and stare out the window and wonder what they mean. One of my favorite pastimes, one of my favorite definitions of art, and one of my strongest challenges in writing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Incident on a French Beach

I love epiphanies, don’t you?

Writing about this epiphany at the post office quickly segued into the memory of another epiphany I had had, years prior, during my first summer in France.

I had traveled to another region this particular summer, from my language school in a southern suburb of Paris to the beautiful region of Brittany. As I arrived at the beach with some others, the earth shifted slightly under my feet. I was ‘home.’

Impossible, I thought, shaking my head. Must be some sort of culture shock experience, I decided (now in my 6th month of living in France). But I couldn’t shake the feeling.

I looked around. The beach, the gulls, the boats…

The music drifting out of a shop on the French version of a boardwalk was decidedly Celtic. That must be it, I reasoned, the combination of music, salt air and squawky gulls. I was just experiencing a bit of nostalgia.

But the whole time I was there—two weeks—I lived with that eerie feeling of being home. With or without the Celtic music, with or without the gulls. I couldn’t explain it. My roots were Irish, not French.

Imagine my awe, then, when I returned to my Paris school, and discovered a package from my father, who had been researching our roots in his retirement. The trail led him to France, and…yep, that exact region I had just been in.

He sent me all the info, with maps, family crest, and a wine label with our name on it—Bouteiller—which was translated “Butler” when the family arrived in Ireland, during the days of William the Conqueror, in 1066.

Like, wow.

How does one explain such things?!?

Sunday, October 2, 2011


So there he was, this old neighbor, and I recovered control and smiled. We chatted as if we had just seen each other yesterday, while I downloaded the epiphany: home was not just the United States, but a specific geographical location: Oyster Bay, NY. The vague ache I had lived with for years overseas finally felt relief. Returning to the States wasn't enough; I needed to return here.

But home is larger than just a geographical place: it is also the community of people with whom you lived while growing up--the neighborhood an extended living room. Home was the people who waved to you from their cars, whose kids you played with, who you bumped into at the post office and supermarket. They become your extended family. Nobody knows you like these people.

I had gotten that later part--which is why I thought anywhere my friends and family were was home enough for me. We found the local beaches, boatyards and clamshacks in our new geographical locations. But here was a new aspect of home I hadn't ever experienced: a particalar geographical location. Something 'in the blood' recognized it with one simple greeting from a former neighbor.

This man knows me from early childhood. His son is still my brother’s very good friend, at all the weddings and funerals. He knows more than I even know about myself in some ways. And though he knows nothing of me now, that didn’t matter in the brief exchange we had. I had a new definition of ‘home.’ With people who knew my nickname, knew the house I grew up in, knew my father had been building a boat. They knew how long I wore braces, and how I played with the redhead up the street. I didn’t have to explain any of this history to him.

This came at a time in my life when I was a tired foreigner, tired of explaining who I was all the time, to a people for whom personal history mattered. Probably this is true for every culture, whether they know or not. Ancestral worship, genealogy and in America the "Roots" phenomenon of the '70's attest to this longing to know who we are, where we are from and who we belong to.

Every person I met in Lille was so curious as to why on earth an American—especially a New Yorker—would choose to move to their city. They wanted to know my background, about my family, and the geography of my locale. Not in a nosy way--they usually dug these facts out of me with the utmost discretion. But they were curious. They didn’t get the chance to interact with too many Americans, and I was happy to oblige. I was just getting tired after several years of it. Wouldn’t it have been nice to just hand them an autobiographical DVD?!

The relief of not having to repeatedly create history for myself washed over me. Perhaps only ex-pats know this feeling. For some, it’s probably a non-issue. For others, I know they go an entire lifetime with the ache for the homeland throbbing. Now I understood why (although I was dismayed to learn that this opened a new ache; how do you ache for something you didn’t know you didn’t know?!)

Some need to get away from the stifling constraints of home; for others, home created a launching pad into the big wide world, creating the healthy desire to encounter new neighbors, wherever they lived. Good stuff, but a return to roots so often necessary for the soul to breathe.

One of my favorite definitions of home was written by poet Robert Frost, in Death of the Hired Man: "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

The little time warp with my former neighbor opened and closed in a matter of minutes. We moved on to our next errand. I left with my epiphany, the basis of all good poems. Funny…I still haven’t written that poem...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Incident at the Post Office

The matrix of Poems from the Boatyard is the town of Oyster Bay, where I’ll be in about two weeks, trying to get to the one year anniversary of Think Long Island First, which is selling the book.

I didn’t know it was a matrix at the time. I'm not sure that word was current in any but the most scientific conversations. And there was no rocket science to putting together the collection of poems. It just sort of emerged as I was writing poem after poem after poem...and then realizing themes were emerging, and one of those themes was home and family. Hmmm, I thought, I think I have a chapbook!

I was writing from a search for identity. Living in a foreign culture can do that to you. I was living overseas at the time, and was “home”—i.e., in the United States—for an extended stay. In Connecticut to be exact, where most of my family had relocated. Three of my brothers still lived in Oyster Bay, and I had always made regular visits there previously, for both business and pleasure. It was always a treat. And I was on my way down for another one of those treats. And happened to stop at Oyster Bay's post office first, before arriving at my brother's. And there I discovered the power of place.

A man intercepted me at the mail box. A former neighbor, the father of the man who remains one of my brother’s best friends. I hadn’t seen him since childhood. Vision blurred for a moment. I felt a little dizzy and my brain flipped through categories. Yes, I knew who he was, but who was I?! A child again...I was home! (I swear I heard the “Cheers” theme song begin…”Where everybody knows your name…”)

Ever have one of those moments? Like when someone you knew and loved rises from the dead to reincarnate through someone else? Same build, same type of hat, same gait. No, wait…not the same. Uncanny resemblance…you wait for your heart to slow down, and your center of gravity only returns slowly.

I have gotten a lot of things wrong in my life, and here was another: the concept of home.

Having lived in Europe for some years, returning home prior to this incident meant simply returning to the US. To Connecticut to be exact. To see family and friends, people with whom I had history. Since most of the family had by now migrated up into New England, that was ‘home.’ Most if not all of my adult friends were made in Connecticut. All my friends in France knew me less than a decade. Home is where the heart is, right? Well, yes and no….

Because there he was, this neighborhood father of my brother’s best friend, running into the post office and running into my 5-year-old heart. A man I hadn’t seen in probably 30 years, who called me by my childhood nickname. Provoking an out-of-body experience. This bore investigation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Back to the Boatyard

Well, it’s been awhile! I know, I’m a little late…what can I say? I got lost myself in a series of boatyards, first in Hungary, then in one of the matrices of the poems, New England. Does a girl good to get home now and then, especially when she has a book to sell and needs fresh inspiration for the next one!

Before I really get rolling with the blog, just want to report the happy news that two bookstores on Long Island have picked up my book:: Think Long Island First
an innovative treasure run by the very friendly Ewa, located in Buckingham’s Variety store. Totally ironic that I am now selling the book in a variety store that, when we were growing up, we loved to hate. The hawk-eyed manager, watching customers with the wrong ideas, left us feeling like shoplifters just for setting foot in the door.

Stop by on Saturday, October 8, 2-4 pm, and say hi to Ewa and of course, if you don’t already have one, pick up a copy or two of Poems from the Boatyard! (36 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay. Map on the website.)

And Forest Books in Locust Valley has also graciously agreed to carry some copies on consignment, so stop in if you’re in their neck of the woods and say hello (182 Birch Hill Rd, Locust Valley, NY 11560).

Thanks to those who’ve written, emailed or facebooked me to enthuse about Poems from the Boatyard. I’m loving it. The adventure continues….

Friday, July 8, 2011


The sound of chapbook pages turning is heard in the land…Poems from the Boatyard is shipping and my Facebook, Twitter, and email boxes are pinging!

I’m delighted to learn that many of you are receiving your chapbooks, and others can expect to receive theirs within the week.

Just in the nick of time for me: today I leave for Europe, and reeaaallly wanted to know this was happening before travel & spotty internet connections would interfere with timely communications. I can now breathe a sigh of relief, kick back for another tiny celebration, and enjoy all your wonderful comments and reactions, and click on "Like" a lot!

What a journey. And now that this phase is over, it seems to have gone so quickly, with all those hoops to jump through, amazed that it was all happening. But tonight I flop on the couch, flip the pages of the little darling, and celebrate again.

So, travel news…I leave for Europe, returning the first week of August. I will be switching over to my travel blog, and you can follow those adventures if you like, or take the time off to read the poems. If anyone 'gets' kicking back for the summer, it's me. I’ll pick up again here in August, when further boatyard explorations are on the agenda!

And just in case you don’t have enough to read, thought I’d add these links, for those who are enjoying learning about the chapbook, and for those who just relish a good bit of writing:

For more on the lowly chapbook, click here. And here for a bit of loveliness from the Georgia Review.

And speaking of reviews, I’m now on Amazon’s Author Central . Stop by, chat about the book, leave a review, and watch the premier Poems from the Boatyard video! (Kitsch at its finest.)

Or just go to Amazon, and create your own review. Please: no less than 5 stars, thank you very much!

That oughta keep y'all busy till August!

Thanks so much for taking this journey with me. It really has only just begun, but isn’t it good to stop along the way and savor the moment?

Have a great July! See you in August!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Little Ship with Big Possibilities

Well, well, well, look what just arrived from Fed Ex!

A mailing tube from brother Paul. Inside is what looks like papyrus scrolls from Egypt, but on closer examination, is astounding: original blueprints for the boat my father was building!

I am astonished that the blueprints are still in existence, astonished that my brother should take the time to send them to me, instead of just calling to say he’ll show me next time I’m up. But that’s just the kind of brother he is—one of my heroes! Thanks Paul!!!

There is also a sketch of a gravestone design, for our father’s dear friend Heino, from Estonia, and you’ll find one poem about him in Poems from the Boatyard. Heino’s end was tragic, and we won’t go there right now. Back to the blueprints!

Yellowed and with print faded out of one corner, I can nevertheless share this with you:

“Discovery is a little ship with big possibilities. [Sounds like my chapbook!] She needs but a small cash outlay, she’s simple in construction, and she’s one of the most useful boats per dollar that it is possible to devise. On an overall length of 22 feet, she can be built complete with outboard for under $750—and built by anyone with the tools and know-how to knock together a flat bottomed skiff. When completed, she looks shapely, sails beautifully, and runs along at five knots with a 2-hp outboard. If desired, she can be driven by any inboard engine with a displacement of less than 60 cu in. She’s grand for either cruising or day-sailing.”

A grand design…a sexy little skiff…a little ship with big possibilities…all for only$750! I wonder what that equates to today. Can you imagine building a boat for $750?! That’s probably a tank of gas for some of the larger boats I see in the boatyards these days!

Imagination wanders to the day we might have sailed it...Thanks again, Paul, for stirring the pot!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

London Bridge & The Chapbook

More gleanings from Wikipedia...

The centre of chapbook production was London and, until the Great Fire of London, the printers were based around London Bridge. The numbers are astonishing: in the 1660s as many as 400,000 almanacs were printed annually, enough for one family in three in England. One publisher had in stock one book for every 15 families in the country. Inventory of Charles Tias, of The Sign of the Three Bibles on London Bridge, included books and printed sheets to make c.90,000 chapbooks and 37,500 ballad sheets. This was not regarded as outstanding in the trade!

In the 1520s the Oxford bookseller John Dorne noted sales up to 190 ballads a day at a halfpenny each.

In 1707, Josiah Blare of The Sign of the Looking Glass on London Bridge, listed 31,000 books in inventory, plus 257 reams of printed sheets. A conservative estimate of their sales in Scotland alone later in the century was over 200,000 per year.

This is a lot of reading material floating around the UK!!! Nothing like the onslaught we’re swimming in during this age of internet, but who was reading all this material?

Chapbooks were priced for sales to the worker bees of the Kingdom, and contributed to the development of literacy—which in England in the 17th C. was around 30 percent for males and rose to 60 percent in the 18th C. Many working people were readers, and pre-industrial working patterns provided periods during which they could read. Chapbooks were undoubtedly used for reading to family groups or groups in alehouses.

One chapbook collector wrote: "The printing in many cases was execrable, the paper even worse, and the woodcut illustrations, some of which did duty for various tales regardless of their fitness, were sometimes worse than the paper and presswork combined." However, some chapbooks were long, well produced, and some even historically accurate.

Chapbooks spread popular culture to the common people, especially in rural areas. They provided entertainment, information and (generally unreliable) history. They are now valued as a record of popular culture, preserving cultural artifacts that may not survive in any other form.

Then came the mimeograph machine (remember its purple ink, and that wonderful inky smell?), followed by low-cost copy centers, digital printing, and the cultural revolutions spurred by the internet. The punkification of poetry: everybody gets to play and self-publish. Zines, blogs, poetry slams, followed.

And the chapbook lives again, the darling of indie publishers, romancing artists, poets and postmoderns alike. Hope you will get to like them as much, when Poems from the Boatyard arrives in your mailbox! (I know, when?!?)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How to Fetch a Shilling Out of a Handerkerchief

You are all such patient people. I am sure you will receive your book soon, but I don’t know when!!! Hang in there, and perhaps by the 4th?!

In the meantime, let’s continue our trek through chapbook land…

Remember Samuel Pepys from high school English days? He had an interesting collection of 114 chapbooks, which he called "Penny Merriments"--ballads bound into volumes, under these categories:
1. Devotion and Morality
2. History – true and fabulous
3. Tragedy: viz. Murders, executions, and judgments of God
4. State and Times
5. Love – pleasant
6. Ditto – unpleasant
7. Marriage, Cuckoldry, &c.
8. Sea – love, gallantry & actions
9. Drinking and good fellowship
10. Humour, frollicks and mixt.

Wikipedia tells me that “other examples from the Pepys collection include The Countryman's Counsellor, or Everyman his own Lawyer, and Sports and Pastimes, written for schoolboys, including magic tricks, like how to "fetch a shilling out of a handkerchief", write invisibly, make roses out of paper, snare wild duck, and make a maid-servant fart uncontrollably.”

Any ideas on how to fetch a shilling out of a handkerchief?!

And I sincerely hope my chapbook does not have the same affect on you as the schoolboys’ tricks on the handmaiden!!!

Chapbooks continue to charm collectors and wordsmiths: “They can be held in the hand, tucked graciously into a bag, slipped safely into a pocket. They can be read in one sitting. They are inexpensive to produce and purchase, and thus provide a perfect means for getting more new poetry into the world. Their compressed form encourages innovation. Their established relationship with the fine letter press makes them a vehicle for collaboration between artists and writers. They are so easy to read and pass around that conversations and communities are build around them.” (In Praise of the Humble Chapbook, Vivé Griffith, Poet’s Market, 2004)

May your patience pay off, and may you soon fall under the charm of chapbooks as you receive your copy!

PS: the chapbook is now available on Amazon, for those of you who have not ordered yet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg & Dad

Chapbooks have played a key role in American poetry, integral to its development in our culture. It has provided a platform for emerging poets, and for that reason attract the indie, experimental and avant garde. Something about chapbooks romances people, and brings out the inner artist in poets. If you want to see an example, take a look at the chapbooks reviewed by Fiddler Crab Review.

About the time my father was contemplating boat plans, two emerging poets were rocking culture: Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsberg.

Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, NY, eventually resettled in San Francisco and founded the now famous and iconic City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. By 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house--a mecca for a generation of writers, artists, and intellectuals—Bohemians and the Beat generation.

The City Lights Pocket Poets Series was a series of poetry collections—chapbook style—small, affordable paperbacks with a distinctive black and white cover design. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was #4 in the series, and led to obscenity charges for City Lights, who successfully opposed the charges with ACLU’s help. (Who ever thought poetry was genteel!?)

The two men were often described as anarchists, opponents to American imperialism, militarism and capitalism. As one poet described him: “Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a more complicated individual than we’re used to having in American life.”

My father had a few obscene comments himself about the poets, and I’m not a fan of either one either. But they changed the face of poetry, gave it a subversive edge, and endure as cultural icons (Ferlinghetti is still living and active in poetry readings; Ginsberg died in 1997). Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind remains the most popular poetry book in the United States.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chapbooks & Starbucks

A flare from the publisher this week: Poems from the Boatyard is next up in the printer’s queue! Inching forward…

In the meantime, how about a little history on the humble and darling chapbook?

Chapbooks have a long and illustrious career in poetry-dom. Records go as far back as 1553 of “a man offering a scurrilous ballad ‘maistres mass’ at an alehouse, and a pedlar selling ‘lytle books’ to people, including a patcher of old clothes...”

These peddlers—or “chapmen,” from whom the term “chapbook” is derived—were itinerant in England and Scotland. Traveling from town to town, they peddled their small books—pamphlets, political and religious tracts, penny songs, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children’s literature and almanacs—in bars, by-ways and street corners, for a few pence each. Some of our most culturally embedded stories began life as a chapbook: Tom Thumb, Mother Hubbard, and Jack the Giant Killer. Abridged forms of Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe circulated.

The chapbooks were simply constructed, and might have been just a single page, or a multi-page fold-over, up to a 24-page booklet, usually with a woodcut design on the cover. Obviously they didn’t last long in that ephemeral state, and because paper was expensive, they might have ended up as wrapping paper, for baking, or, um, "bum fodder" (i.e., toilet paper).

Chapbooks were traditionally illustrated with crude woodcuts, and they captured the imagination from the 16th C. right up until now, with poetry become more popularized through poetry slams and indie publishing. Chapbook publishers, contests, and grants support this popular form, as cozy and comfortable as the coffeehouses they are more likely to be found in than the big box store. I can’t believe Starbucks isn’t on this. Hmmm…

Today, chapbooks can be hand-made, self-published, a low-cost limited edition press run (like mine), or expensive, special edition works of art. They seem to inspire the artist in each poet, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, saddle-stitched, stapled, or silkscreened, very often with a woodcut, but just as likely to have some original artwork from the poet or a friend.

I say we mobilize and harass Starbucks to get on the ball! Click here and tell 'em you want to see poetry chapbooks! You might have to create an account, but that’s cool—you'll get a free cup of coffee on your birthday...and, if they bite, you can take pride in knowing that you have helped launch a cultural phenonmenon!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is it a Date Yet?!

Still no chapbook, and no word from the publisher, so everyone sit tight!

How about a video in between? This was filmed in the Pawcatuck Film Studio, aka Mom’s house, during my Easter weekend visit with family. I call it "Clarinet." Such cooperative brothers—I have four—and I’m amazed at how willingly everyone got into the spirit of things.

This was filmed after three of us went down to the Greenhaven Marina to try some live action footage in their boatyard, complete with swans lazing about. Alas, the wind did us in. My little point-and-shoot camera isn’t exactly high tech for this sort of stuff, but we had fun. Stay tuned for another try one day when we have a real video camera and no wind.

In the meantime, click here for the first Poems from the Boatyard video!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Let’s come back to earth for a post or two as the magical publishing date has arrived...May 27...but alas, a recent word from the publisher is, “Looks like we have a 2-3 week delay from the printer.” Dang!

Thanks to all of you who are awaiting the book as impatiently as I am—does an author’s heart good to know she’s not a total narcissist. Talk about earnestly desiring…but we’ll leave that subject for a bit and return to another FAQ surrounding Poems from the Boatyard:

“How big was the boat?”

This second-most-frequently-asked question is interesting because it is most often asked with an air of entrapment, as if I would answer something like a rowboat, canoe, or small dinghy. As if I was pulling their leg, and they caught themselves in the act of believing that my father was actually building a real boat. As if the size of the boat would determines the heft of the project, the goal, the dream, the lunacy, or the depth of the loss. Small dreams, small loss--big dreams, big loss?

“Big” as an answer wasn’t cutting it. My inquirers are no dummies; they know everything is big to a kid. I needed a number.

I know it was over 20’, but how much over? By now, you’ve probably seen some of the photos, so you have an idea of the scale of the boat, but I checked with the sibs to see who remembered. After a flurry of emails and guesses, Pete mentioned that we still had the blueprints. We could just look at those. Blueprints?! Really?!

Another round of emails--"He has it"--"No, he has it"--"No, I'm sure it's at their house"--and then Paul offered up this tidbit: “Somewhere in my archives I have a set of the 'Mechanics Illustrated' construction drawings for the Tahiti Ketch. Back in the day it was my favorite style sailboat. There was a nice one in Oyster Bay harbor during the late fifties, and then we got to see one up close & personal when Frank Bladykis [one of our neighbors] built his magnificent boat in the sixties. He picked that design because "you could walk around deck like a gentleman." Dad's boat was a flush deck cutter sailboat called "Discovery," which also may have been from Mechanics Illustrated. I'll look for it.”

"Discovery”--ironic name for the boatyard full of discoveries this chapbook as shaken out: the world of publishing, book reviews and social media marketing, childhood memories of course, but different ones, some I'd never heard before, as perspectives are different in a large family; photos emerge that make us laugh and recall gentler days; nautical terminology (anyone know what a ketch is?!); the importance of the father; creativity, imagination, and the indispensable and completely human activity called 'desire.'

The search is on among the sibs to find the blueprints, a search of archelogical proportions in our cavernous homes, and soon we will verify the actual size and make of the boat. Inquiring minds want to know, some of them even outside our family...

In the meantime, let's look up ketch--and while we're at it flush deck cutter.

All things come to those who wait--dreams, chapbooks, blueprints.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend! Do get out on a sailboat or prowl a boatyard or marina if you can!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Let's Get Large!

More food for thought from Saint Nelson (Mandela):

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?

"You are a child of God; small games do not work in this world. For those around us to feel peace, it is no example to make ourselves small. We were born to express the glory of God that lives in us. It is not in some of us, it is in all of us. While we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same. When we liberate ourselves from our own fears, simply our presence may liberate others."

We want to be larger than we are, yet we are afraid of it. Julia Cameron calls it ‘shape shifting: "...we often try to play small and even stay small. When the creative power moving though us asks us to expand, we would rather contract...We are spiritual beings, and when our spirit grows larger, so must we. There will be no comfortable resting in yesterday's definition of ourselves. It is spiritual law that as the Great Creator is always exploring, experiencing, and expanding through its creations, we must cooperate or feel the pitch of spiritual dis-ease. We can try to play small, but if the universe has big plans for us, we are better off cooperating than resisting. Creativity is God's true nature and our own. As we surrender to becoming as large as we are meant to be, great events can come to pass for us...In a sense, the size the Great Creator makes of us is none of our business. We work on art and we are the Great Creator's work of art. Perhaps we shouldn't meddle." (Walking on Water, pg. 45)

So, what size are you feeling these days?! Can you imagine a new one? What would it look like?

I can feel the one I’m presently in, and would normally call it ‘molting’—what the snake does when it sheds skin. Ever shed a former way of thinking or being? It’s kind of uncomfortable, isn’t it? Especially around those who know you well. You feel exposed, vulnerable—will they like you in the new skin? Will they pressure you, consciously or unconsciously, to behave like your old self? How did you navigate that?

I’m not sure where I’m headed, and maybe you don’t either. But for now, I’m just trying to imagine a few “What if…” scenarios. And wondering how big my next size is, and trying to shed a few fears about it. How about you?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Climbing the Hills of Desire

So! What do you earnestly desire? Have you had time to think about it this week? What did you come up with?

Are you having a hard time digging out that desire? Or are you, like me, probing—what do I earnestly desire now? Maybe some dreams and desires have come about; do you stop there? Are there any more on the list, or do you need a new list? Maybe you got your dream, but you aren’t challenged by it anymore. Maybe you don’t even like it anymore. Maybe it changed you, and you don’t know how to incorporate the change into life as you’ve known it. Or you gave up dreaming, because it’s been decades, and, well, maybe you just got it wrong. Maybe this dreaming stuff is all a load of hooey.

I could believe that except for the restless expansion always going on inside of me, and no doubt inside of you. And isn't it interesting how that aligns with the fact of the Universe always expanding, that children are always growing, gardens are always overtaking the neat boundaries we place on them, cities sprawl and the social network--well, how many friends do you have now?!

As Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

For those of you who are weary of the great hill in your life, Mandela has a word: “I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Keep walking, my friends, and keep climbing. Your long walk is not yet ended.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Poet & The Paradox

Alert readers will pick up the paradox of my last post. Since no one mentioned it, allow me!

On the one hand, I can tell myself it is selfish to pursue my dream. I may waste years in the pursuit, and valuable time or money, right? (This assumes the product is more important than the process.) I may sacrifice my children’s education, my marriage, my financial stability, in order to accomplish my dream. I may not eat this week, or pay my bills. If I pursue my dreams, I cause others to sacrifice. They lose out because of my focus. They may not eat this week!

On the other hand, I can tell myself that if I pursue my dreams, I will become a larger person. The discipline, dedication and perseverance build my character. Relationships and networks form that might never happen otherwise. I might actually inspire others, and foster their dreams. My dream, realized, might even provide for others, generating new ideas, income and relationships. So I owe it to others to pursue my dreams, right?

I’ve tried both philosophies. How about you?

With the paradox comes the deeper question: how important is it to pursue a dream?

My current paradigm is: I would rather start something and not be able to finish, than to not start for fear of not finishing. No guts, no glory. No pain, no gain.

And here are some things I’ve discovered: I have to pursue dreams. I become a larger person. It is a divine attribute; there is something eternal about it, life-giving, life-saving. It can go toxic. I have to know when it’s time to sell the boat. I’d rather trust and enjoy the process than worry about the product, although I admit, the ‘product’ of this chapbook is mighty satisfying!

So I’m going to ask you a question someone asked me once, with profound repercussions: What do you earnestly desire? If you can’t name that, take some time soon to dig it out. Listen to Thomas Traherne, 17th C. poet from England, for the most affirming message on desire I’ve ever come across:

“Desire is a mighty force, one of your most divine attributes! Whatsoever thing ye desire when ye pray believe that ye have received them and ye shall have them! See the God-like quality of desire. For it is part of the Atomic energy of the soul. The Kingdom of heaven within you is operating through desire. Do not quench it or crush it or suppress it. Rather offer it to Me. Offer Me your most elementary desires, your craving for happiness, for love, for self-expression, for well-being, for success, for joy, on any level of your being—offer these freely and without shame to me and I will transmute them so that you shall achieve release and fulfillment and complete freedom from frustration.”

Kinda makes you want to go home and make a list, eh?!

What do you earnestly desire?  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Second Question

Here is what happens when I tell people my father didn’t finish the boat: their faces fall. Their shoulders slump. Then they begin reassuring me—as if I needed it, as if I carried the weight of shame, the family burden of failure.

I can’t wait to give them the punch line—the why of my father’s not finishing—because here is what happens: a look of shocked surprise, a momentary flash of grief, then a big smile, and, more often than not, tears in the eyes.

I feel no shame whatsoever when I say my father didn’t finish the boat; in fact, I don’t think I could be more proud of him if he had finished it. His ‘failure’ was a hands-down, slam-dunk success in fathering. He made the impossible choice: providing for his family rather than pursuing his dream, demonstrating his love for us in giving up his one and only boat. He clipped his own wings so we could fly.

That’s a level of sacrificial love we all know, rarely see, and that brings tears to eyes. The difference between success and failure—however one defines these two terms—has been the second most frequent question, spawning meditative, philosophical discussions, rational analyses, and heated debates.

One father, contemplating the impending college educations of his two children, suggested that it was a resounding success if my father’s boatbuilding could finance a college education. He wished he had a boat in his backyard to sell off!

Interesting to think that pursuing one’s dreams can launch others’ dreams…

So was my father’s boatbuilding venture a success or a failure?

Guess it depends on who you talk to.

Guess you know what I think.

Monday, April 25, 2011


“Did your father finish the boat?”

That’s the number one question I’ve been asked in talking with people about Poems from the Boatyard. Just as I begin telling the story, and before I’m even halfway through, listeners invariably interrupt—with some urgency—to ask, “Did your father finish the boat?”

Of all the questions that could be asked, why this one? Why the urgency?

The question is revealing, and it has become another one of the heartbeats in the developing story surrounding Poems from the Boatyard. As pressing today as it was 50 years ago, when family and neighbors were wondering if my dad would finish the boat, the question conceals another.

People generally assume that my father’s boat was a dream, and they are right. Even though we lived on an island, and in a fishing village known for its oyster harvest, the assumption is that my father didn’t need a boat, and that is correct. Another assumption—again accurate—is that it was a pleasure boat. These are the questions of an affluent society.

But my father was building when the world was still ‘modern.’ Inheritors of the Industrial Revolution, survivors of the Great Depression, and World War II, this was the no-nonsense generation. There was little acceptance of dreams and visions, let alone luxuries. Waste was the unpardonable sin. My father was caught in the act of flagrant violation of the herd mentality. The neighborhood was alternately aghast, amused, or nervous.

In the context of the times, a boat in the neighborhood signaled hopes and dreams, potential disappointment, probable waste, and a possible success. Each scenario was destabilizing in its own way. This was a generation that understood viscerally disappointment and dashed dreams. Make it do or do without. The neighbors didn’t want disappointment rubbed in their faces one more time if my father failed. They didn’t want to be challenged to tackle their own dreams if he succeeded. One dared not talk of hopes and dreams yet. We were not yet the Affluent Society.

But those dreams don’t go away, do they? They may go underground, and surface in a question, and the question reveals a longing. Now we are the Affluent Society, but how starved our souls are of dreams! We are in a famine of dreams, awash in pleasure-seeking and luxury, but still afraid to hope too much. We could lose everything in a heartbeat, and we know it.

So maybe everyone is asking for some hope. If you ask me, everyone wants to know if my father finished the boat because everyone loves a winner. And if he accomplished his dream, there is hope that I can finish mine, and you can finish yours. Maybe his success would have spurred others on—to whatever dream they were/are not undertaking for fear of failure. To whatever dream they were/are in the middle of and afraid of not finishing. Whatever dream they were/are contemplating but afraid of what others might think or say. They need to know someone else made it. They need someone to tell them it’s worth it.

May I be the first to say Go for it!!! And my father might have added By God!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


My brother finished his bathroom, and his upstairs master bedroom. It took him a long time, but he did it, and we all congratulated him because it was a work of art. The specter of an unfinished boat drove him, no doubt. When I first saw that bedroom, I was struck by the fact that it looked like a boat.

We don't always get things right in our family, but we get them done—by God! My father breathed moral fiber into us, like wind in a sail, like the wind in these poplars I'm walking beside, whose scent I inhale and say: Thanks, Dad. At least you tried to build a boat.

The Endless Immensity of the Sea

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." --Antoine de Saint Exupéry

My father launched much more than a boat in my life. Imagination, for one thing, and we all know where that can lead: a wilderness even the Paynes wouldn't dream of fencing in. I even listen to opera now, and invite foreigners over on a regular basis. "Everything in moderation,” my father always said, but this is what I heard: eat, drink, and build boats. Plant poplar trees, have six children, and make friends with people from Estonia. Persevere, and when necessary, let go. People are more important than boats.

A Death in the Family

The day the boat left was a grievous day. It was a symbolic shipwreck, the day my father faced the reality that some dreams go unfulfilled. We stood around the backyard and ached while it was towed away. No one said a word. That boat had been with us since before some of my brothers and sister were born. His family couldn't manage anymore without him, nor could his house, but he couldn't manage without his boat. It was perhaps the day he started to drink more; the day part of his soul died.

I wish my father could have finished his boat, and I wish he could have sailed it. But he didn't have to finish it to prove his moral fiber to me, because he did that long before the boat left our yard. The day it left, we understood what he didn’t say: we were worth more than his dream. We would have done anything to help him get it back.

The Choice

My father never finished anything he started, my brother always said, worrying that, like our father, he would never finish anything either. It is a psychological scar he still bears from childhood.

For example, a second bathroom never got finished in the new house, just like a second bathroom never got finished in our old house. The toilet was functional, which saved considerable conflict in a family already sufficiently conflicted. But we could have used a second shower: now we were nine, including three teenagers and a grandmother, and this represented serious bathroom conflict.

I don't remember that my father didn't finish things. He had to sell that boat for the money. Life gave him a choice one day: he could have the house or he could have the boat. To help him make the choice, it took away his job. He almost lost the house, he almost lost his mind, and he did lose the boat. Then life left him alone for a while.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"When is it going to be finished?"

There were no poplars in our new yard. Just familiar maples, and some varieties we had never seen before: a cherry tree, a tulip tree, and a Japanese maple. By now we were used to foreigners, so foreign trees didn't bother us. Life took on a reassuring rhythm. Heino came to visit us, and I hoped he had forgotten about the war.

The new house needed plenty of work, and plenty of money, as did the boat. We were growing into impressionable adolescents, and my father's commitment to his boat, his perseverance (we didn't know about obsessions yet), infected and inspired us. We began to study his boat plans with him. That first winter he heated up the carriage house and strung lights up to put fiberglass on the hull. When the fiberglass went on, we began to think about possibly even sailing in this boat, and hoped it could happen before we went off to college.

Maybe my father chose to build a boat because it would take years to finish and that way no one could ever say, "See?" Perhaps he deliberately chose to tackle something he couldn't finish, lest in the finishing he betray his own father. Because his own father didn't finish raising him, but died suddenly when my father was twelve. Maybe that's why my father tried to build a boat. He had no one to tell him it was too big a job for him, like no one told him he couldn't be the man of the family at twelve.

We would ask impatiently, "When is it going to be finished?" and he would respond patiently, "It takes time to build a boat.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Moving Day

Then the Crosses moved, we moved and the boat came off its struts and moved with us. Now we knew that our father meant business, meant to finish this boat, and something stabilized in me. The boat had languished the last few years under the poplars, while my father and his Estonian friend looked grave and talked about something called a layoff, which I didn't understand but which made my stomach queasy. But by taking the boat with us, my father confirmed that he intended to finish it By God! (as he was fond of saying). My stomach relaxed.

Our new house had what my father called a carriage house. He tore out a horse stall in that carriage house and installed the boat in its place, so he could work on it through the winter. Now we all had our own rooms, the boat had a stable, and there were no weird neighbors next door listening to opera. My father began renovating the new house, and we learned how to tear off wallpaper, strip woodwork and use staple guns. My father thought he could renovate his dream house, build a boat and raise six children. We didn't think this was odd, and no one asked my mother. I guess that's why now I always do too much. My father set a blistering pace, and we all ran after him.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Man from Estonia

My father also made friends with foreigners: a Dutch man, a Japanese family and a man from Estonia, whose name was Heino. No one else knew anyone with a name like that. One day my father brought his Estonian friend home to visit. We struggled to understand his Estonian accent, and wondered how it came to be that my father brought a man from Estonia to see the boat and eat at our house. No one else's father had a friend from Estonia. No one else knew where Estonia was or why this man wore black turtlenecks all the time. But then we went to his house, and art studio, and his artwork was like nothing we had ever seen before, and we instantly approved. He and my father worked together in New York City, the mother lode of anomalies, so we knew we were flirting with a serious one now. Heino told terrible stories of life in Estonia during World War II, and I worried that those who had once been looking for him in Europe might find him one day at our house. I hoped I wouldn't be home that day, and I hoped they wouldn't arrest my father with him.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Payne family lived next door, and Mr. Payne often came over to watch my father working on his boat. He would also lend a tool or bit of advice, and chuckle at my father's pluck, like someone who knows he'll never build a boat, but sure admires the guy doing it. My parents befriended the Paynes, which troubled me. For one thing, Mrs. Payne listened to opera. And they had a fence in the middle of their backyard. Behind this fence, they let their property grow wild, another neighborhood anomaly. I worried that their wilderness would sneak over into our backyard when we weren't looking and flirt with our poplars and upside-down boat. Baby anomalies would be born and unpredictable forces unleashed.

I needn't have worried. The Paynes moved away, to be replaced by the Cross family, which cut down the wilderness and added children to itself with the same regularity as did my family. This conveniently lined up playmates for each of us, and we all got along famously. Mr. Cross was a mechanical genius, demonstrated by the fact that he owned a French car, which he could start with a screwdriver. He showed us the engine in the trunk of the car, and the piece of plywood he had built in between the front and back seats. This kept children from falling off the backseat in the days before seatbelts, and we thought this was way cool. We begged him to take us for a ride in it, even though it was an anomaly. He piled us all in and we rolled around that piece of plywood like bowling balls and bowling pins.

Mr. Cross' particular genius with engines, and the fact that he loved airplanes as much as my father, sparked a lasting friendship between them. A kindred spirit had moved into the neighborhood. My father's vision for the boat expanded, fueled by Mr. Cross' technical knowledge, which now invested itself into nautical transportation. My father peppered Mr. Cross with questions, and their heady collaboration produced a great deal of energy, which they funneled into the boat. Ribs went into place, and a hull covered the ribs. Our cat took to sleeping under its shade. Peggy Cross and I danced under that hull¬-tent in the shadow of the poplars and held tea parties on its struts.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lew's Ark

Soon the whole neighborhood heard about the boat, and neighbors began coming over to see "Lew 's Ark"--as it was dubbed. We could have sold tickets.

I don't know how many believed my father would actually finish the boat. The general feeling-in the family and in the neighborhood-was not so much that my father was building a boat, but that he wouldn't finish something he started, and why start something so difficult to finish as a boat?

I wanted my father to finish the boat. His character and our reputation were at stake. I knew, as did everyone in the family and the neighborhood, that one shouldn't start projects one couldn't finish. Moral fiber hung in the balance. I wanted visible proof that his moral fiber would not be found wanting, to show the neighborhood, and myself. A boat would do it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Build a Boat

The boat began life upside down. "Why?" we asked our father. "Because that's how you build a boat!" When he gave us cryptic answers to simple questions, with his crooked smile, we balked. But this time we weren't sure how to proceed, baffled as we were by the boat. Fortunately, our father's love of teaching rescued us from his love of teasing, and he continued: "First you put these ribs up, then you build the hull over them. This is easier to do upside down. Then when you finish, you cut the ribs away from the struts and turn it right-side up. "-- phenomenon we were not to see until some years later when we moved.

Moral of the story: sometimes the solution is to look at thing upside down.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Scent of Poplars

That's brother Al up on the boat, which served also as our backyard tent, jungle jim and parlor for tea parties.

Notice those poplars to the right in the picture? They, or rather their scent, have brought me right into the heart of many a poem. I'm sure they didn't know it at the time, but many years later, while walking alongside a row of poplars in a cemetery in France, I caught that familiar scent, and was transported back in time to the five poplars standing in a row in our backyard, along a white fence, like folded umbrellas ...

The poplars were foreigners in a neighborhood filled with maples and pines. No one else had poplars in their backyard. The neighbors said they came from Italy. I wondered how it came to be that poplars from Italy stood in our backyard.

The poplars stood like sentinels, guarding the other anomaly: my father building the boat. No one else's father was building a boat in their backyard. Should we be worried or proud? We decided to be proud, although our mother had her doubts, and I was a bit worried.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Last night I had a 'moment.'

You know when you're talking with someone, and they say something that drops into some deep pool of your heart, sending reverberations through your soul? I’m sure there will be some poems to mine from this conversation. Here’s how it went:

I was answering some questions, explaining a bit about the background of Poems from the Boatyard--backstory, in creative lingo. What does the ‘boatyard’ refer to? What's this book about? How long did it take you to write it?

The simple answer is that Poems from the Boatyard is about growing up. But the real story, which I didn't realize until I had to write a short bio (no more than 50 words), was that it was about my father. Oh, he doesn’t appear in too many of the poems, but he’s there—that is to say, his influence, his imprint, his impact on my life.

And as I shared it all with the person asking me about the book, I told her how my father sold the boat to provide for our education. We talked for a while about that quintessential fatherly function: provider. Whether or not a father provides well for his family, which is usually taken to mean financially, remains a benchmark for good or bad fathering in our culture.

We then went on to discuss the marketing of the book, and how it worked, and how pleased I was that I could honor my uncle by using his artwork on the cover.

This dear person commented that I got to honor both my father and his brother with this chapbook, and could earn some much-needed shekels in the process. And then she dropped the stone into the well of my heart: "Your father's still providing, isn't he?"

As I mine my heart to explore that for the poems I'm sure it will bring, let me end with one poem that was written while driving in the car with my father, many years ago. The memory is still sweet, and captures three of my favorite aspects of time with Dad: art, a boat, and the sea. The blogger has erased the formatting, but you can get that in the chapbook...picture a sunset...


We sink
quietly into each
other’s company, watch
the sunset pour into the sea
a pink the sky cannot contain,
the artist cannot paint. Instead,
she paints the boats, kissing her
baby profusely between strokes.
Gulls squat on the stone bench
where we sip coffee. In the
salt marsh, a light blinks,
summoning infinite
summer bugs.
We ride home in silence, sweating, past all the swans.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Hyperbusy Social Media Party

Interesting to manage marketing from the road, while engaged in a conference …can you spell HYPERBUSY?! Yikes.

But it’s still fun. Like getting my first week’s sales figures (10 copies) and realizing I know of about another 20 orders, bringing me halfway to the first goal . I have such good friends…

And some of you dear ones are starting to spontaneously share the link on your Facebook sites – thanks for random acts of literary compassion! If you haven’t done so already, please consider joining the social media party, and throwing the link out to your network.

I have to admit, social media has made this a much richer experience than mere snail mail could ever have done. I think that’s what I like best so far—realizing how wide and far and wide and deep the whole experience has gone, in ways I never imagined when I first dreamed of writing a book.

And for the next two months I will be on the road visiting many of you, and face-to-face fun will add to the virtual fun. I’m very much looking forward to it all.

Thanks so much for your solidarity and enjoyment of this process with me--y'all are great!!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Well, I’ve barely had time to create buzz, but since 'going live' last weekend, it's been quite the buzz...a fast, fun week of marketing and media releases, with the learning curve taking on new meaning, and a whole new world opening up. Lots more Facebook friends for starters :)

I’ve been a marketing maniac these past two weekends, visiting art centers, libraries, coffee shops and bookstores. And after monkeying around with Mail Chimp all month (not sure the boatyard prepared me for Mail Chimp…although it sure required perseverance!), I got my first media release out before heading to Florida for a few days.

A flurry of phone calls to brother Pete, coordinating the northern media blitz on LI and New England filled in any gaps I might have found during the week. He is poring over family lore and photos, scanning in all sorts of goodies, and in his own learning curve on social media marketing. Thanks Pete!

Many thanks to all of you who wrote, bought, and/or encouraged this week. It has just added to the fun and I really appreciate celebrating with you.

In case you missed this in Mail Chimp, I have some answers for the FAQs coming my way; if you’ve already read it, you can stop here, and enjoy the rest of your day. See you next time!

1. The book is not published yet. This is an advance sales period, during which the publisher is testing the marketability of the book. Based on sales during this period, they will or will not publish. They need a minimum of 55 orders.
2. I am ‘paid’ in copies; the more copies that are sold during this period, the more ‘free’ copies I receive, which I can then sell at retail. My goal is to sell 205 copies during this advance sales period, which will net me the highest quantity of free copies the publisher will send me: 100.
3. Assuming all goes well, and I sell the 55 minimum, this is a limited edition press run. The maximum number that Finishing Line Press will print is 1000. So you may want to get in on the action early!
4. Shipping costs are reduced to $1.50 just for the advanced sales period; costs will go up once the book is published.
5. I do not have any copies of the book to give you when I see you in person, because it is not published yet! I will take orders, however, if you don’t mind waiting until you see me to receive them! (I don’t want to incur shipping costs for myself.)
6. During the advance sales period, if you use Pay Pal, you can also use the ‘bill me later’ option, and get a $10 rebate.
7. Because you want to amaze Finishing Line Press with how vital ‘Poems from the Boatyard’ is to your life, the poetry world, and culture in general!
8. You want to encourage me ? (shameless, I know…).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Start Your Engines!!!

We’re live folks!!!

That's right--Finishing Line Press is ready to roll, a little ahead of schedule, which is fine with me, as I benefit from an extra 10 days of marketing. So here’s the nitty-gritty, from the press release:

"Finishing Line Press is proud to announce the publication of Poems from the Boatyard, a collection of poems by Pat Butler.

“In Poems from the Boatyard, Pat Butler…is our tour guide, leading us via stark, concise images through a past as vivid as right now. Butler weaves her narrative in verse, honestly, like one whose life depends on it. These poems hit hard, get straight to the point and you’ll want to experience them again and again. Just listen to this as Butler writes in “Riptides,”

“they go straight through you, and hold you down that one second longer
than lungs can hold air. The sand scrapes your knees, sears the skin
off knuckles and nose, and fills your bathing suit, teeth and ears.
You get pounded up the beach, legs over head, to surface with sand
in your mouth and salt in your eyes.”

—Travis Wayne Denton, The Burden of Speech

Poems from the Boatyard can be ordered through Finishing Line Press, during an advance sales period ending March 30, at Click on “New Releases and forthcoming title” link, or go directly to:

This is an advance sales period. Books will ship May 27 (just in time for Memorial Day laziness!).

The books are listed in order of author’s last name, so you will need to scroll down to find my title—on the third row down. Please note that Poems from the Boatyard will not be available on until after it is published (May 27).

Why buy during advance sales?

. shipping costs are reduced;
. if you buy before Feb. 28 using Pay Pal, you can get a $10 rebate—so the book would only cost $3.50.
. the press run is determined by advance sales; the more sold, the higher the press run, and the more I am 'paid' (in free copies, which I can then sell for retail);
. this is a limited edition press run, and I know a LOT of people!!! Only 1000 copies will be printed max.

Unless they go to a second edition. Which they almost never do.

Of course, we could blow the socks off their whole routine, and exceed all expectations, couldn't we?! My brother thinks so...

Go for it, dear friends, and many thanks!!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

P minus 14 days….

For those of you trying the link to order the book, and discovering it’s not active yet, that’s because it’s not active yet!

Feb. 15 is P for publishing day, and I will let you know, so do your finger exercises until then, and get ready to click on “order” at my signal!

In the meantime, after monkeying around with Mail Chimp for a couple of weeks, I have officially won and am now moving on to tinker with the postcard. The version Finishing Line Press sent me does not meet my finicky standards, so--time to create another! May I please be pre-forgiven by any of you who receive a graphically overloaded if informationally correct postcard until I get my own version out?!

And brother Pete is on the 'scouring every library on Long Island' to market the book. Go Pete! He is also on his way to my mother's house, to pore over Uncle Jack lore, in anticipation of blogging about Uncle Jack's part in this venture. (That blog is here if you want something to do while waiting for Feb. 15, but there's not much yet--only one blog post so far!)

So many projects, so little time...but all things come to those who wait.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blurb #3

Robert Brewer, Editor of Poet’s Market and writer of Poetic Asides, the Writer’s Digest online poetry blog, has one of the most helpful online poetry blogs, stimulating us with prompts and challenges constantly, while participating himself, and raising four kids. Amazing.

Last year, I participated in his November Poem A Day Challenge : write a poem a day for the month of November, clean 'em up in December, Create a chapbook in January, and enter a competition. I actually managed to do it last year, and enjoyed it thoroughly, but no, didn't win that competition. Finishing Line Press was more than a consolation prize.

So, since publishing with them was the challenge this year, I had to forego
Robert's challenge, and asked him instead for an endorsement. He was kind enough to write the following:

"Poems from the Boatyard is a wonderful collection that often provides the reader with a nice combination of sounds and structure in poetry. This collection reads like a postcard from the sea written by a girl who’s been paying attention to every heartbeat that surrounds her and is not afraid to point out the contradictions of living. I can’t wait to see where Pat Butler will be traveling next.”

Thank you Robert!

This will be my last shameless promotion...until I get a good book review :)

Thanks for following along!