Archive for October, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect

Have you practiced something lately?  Apparently, practicing something helps your brain:  learn a language, memorize something, try something new.  I have been “practicing” writing poems, but as readers know by now, I am easily distracted…and my latest distraction is spinning.

No, not the exercise. Spinning as in spinning fiber using a drop spindle.  I’m taking a Mini-Class at the Wisconsin Union called “Spin, Knit and Embroider an Amulet Bag,” and the first step is to learn to spin wool.

Spinning wool is an ancient art.  Or perhaps ancient necessity would be a better term.  It wasn’t until the middle ages that any technological improvements came into the field of spinning.  The idea is to take fibers – wool, cotton, cat hair – and twist them using a spindle to make a thread, rope or yarn that can be used to weave or knit clothing or other textiles.

I have been practicing daily and I am improving.  However, if my family had to depend on me to clothe them, well, let’s just say for starters we’d have to move to a much warmer climate.

Next week we will spin camel hair and knit the amulet bag.  What shall I put in it?  An amulet bag carries an amulet or charm for protection.  I have an amulet bag that I crocheted; I put tokens from my mother, mother-in-law and my dear friend Marian inside.

I think the bag I am making now should accompany me on a vision quest:  my quest to be a writer.

Remember:  practice makes perfect!


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The Last Rose of Summer


An October rose,

sweet as any summer rose.

Bitter autumn rose.


Last rose of summer,

sweet as any summer rose.

Last, bittersweet rose.

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Devil’s Lake State Park

Leaves Turn Yellow & Fall

Yellow xanthophyll,
carrot-colored carotene
show their colors as
chlorophyll disappears.

The color is fast fading in southern Wisconsin.  This photo is from Devil’s Lake State Park, taken one week ago.  I created an album with additional photos on my facebook page.  You can see them by clicking here:
Apple Orchard Day
Apples named Snow or
Macauw, from Ski-Hi Orchard.
Gnarled limbs hanging low.

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Ruth Zardo

Ruth Zardo is a poet from Three Pines, a village in Quebec Province, Canada, the fictional creation of Louise Penny, who writes a mystery series set in Three Pines.  In the second of the series, A Fatal Grace, Ruth has just published a book of poetry called, I’m FINE, and some village members go to a book signing at Ogilvy’s department store in Montreal.

Ruth is a true curmudgeon.  She is seventy something, she drinks, often from someone else’s glass, and she swears like a trucker.   She signs the book of a villager with the inscription:  You Stink.   Ruth is also a natural leader:  she is chief of Three Pines’ volunteer fire department, skills which become needed later in the book.

The villagers give as good as they get from Ruth.  It is Christmas time and the gay man who owns the village bistro, whom Ruth calls “fag,” says Ruth will portray Father Christmas because she does not have to grow a special beard.  Ruth writes bristly poems that well from some vast source of pain.  Here is an example:

‘Forget what?

Your sadness, your shadow,

whatever it was that was done to you

the day of the lawn party

when you came inside flushed with the sun,

your mouth sulky with sugar,

in your new dress with the ribbon

and the ice-cream smear,

and said to yourself in the bathroom,

I am not the favorite child.’

Much later in the book, the wife of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Surete headquarters in Montreal, says that the letters FINE in the title of the book of poetry must be an acronym for something.  Sure enough, when Gamache asks, Ruth says, “…FINE stands for Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Egotistical.  I’m FINE.”

Another character, Clara, reads poetry in the bathtub, humming and moaning.  Her husband is jealous:  “He wanted all her moans.  But she moaned for Hecht and Atwood and Angelou and even Yeats.  She groaned and hummed with pleasure over Auden and Plessner.  But she reserved her greatest pleasure for Ruth Zardo.”

You were a moth

brushing against my cheek

in the dark.

I killed you

not knowing

you were only a moth,

with no sting.’

The series is a delight, full of village characters, some of whom have deadly secrets; breakfast at the bistro with fresh croissants and homemade jam; a smart, sensitive detective who sometimes quotes Shakespeare, loves his
wife and has conflicts with his boss; and lots and lots of snow.

Ruth Zardo is the vinegar in an otherwise sweet setting.  A keen observer who listens only to her own counsel, she’s a poet worth getting to know.


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First Quarter Moon

Autumn trees with moon

riding high in crisp blue sky.

Dusk comes to the marsh.

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Yellow Falls


 Yellow Falls

Yellow explodes in my head

like morning sunlight.

Long arches of gold leaves sweep

and bend to the ground.

I am the bride of winter.

My canopy waits.

Great gusts of wind slam the elms,

the  locusts and ash.

Swirls of yellow leaves spin like

twisters of color.

Grounded oak leaves are solemn,

authentic and true.

They send a quiet message:

Oak, oak.  Honest oak.

Maples hang on to their leaves:

Red, red.  Wait for red.

Yellow rolls over my eyes

and colors my mind.

I take winter’s arm and walk

bravely into white.


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Vachel Lindsay

A weekend in Springfield, IL.  We went to see Lincoln history in Springfield and discovered the home of poet Vachel Lindsay, who grew up there.  His home is open to the public and the docent who greeted us showed us the house and told us about Lindsay’s life.  She said he was the most famous poet of his generation but fell from favor quickly.  I made the mistake of suggesting it was because he wrote rhyming poetry, a point she returned to dispute several times during our visit.

Lindsay was born in 1879. Vachel is a Scottish family name.  He was an artist who attended the Art Institute of Chicago, and a poet who illustrated many of his poems.  He took extensive walks from Springfield to New Mexico, for instance, exchanging poems for food and shelter along the way.  His poems were very rhythmical and one of the most interesting things about him is how he performed his poems with a mix of movement and gestures and song.  The docent directed us to a video in which Lindsay’s son performed some of his father’s poems as his father would have done.

The docent told us that until American education went to hell in the late 60’s, all high school students studied and knew Vachel Lindsay’s poems.  Two poems that were likely memorized or at least known to many were “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” published in 1913, and “The Congo,” published a year later.

William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army.  The poem ( celebrates Booth in the rhythms of the hymn “The Blood of the Lamb.”  This was one Lindsay’s son performed on the video and the performance was like watching an old fashioned country preacher commanding his parishioners to come forth and be cleansed.  The performance included getting the audience to participate in a kind of call and response.

“The Congo” was inspired by a sermon about the drowning of a missionary in the Congo River, according to Modern American Poetry’s website.* It was full of racial stereotypes and Lindsay was criticized for racism because of it, but he performed it as he imagined drums and foot stomping in the Congo sounded, bursting with rhythm and meter.   Reading it, however, is to cring (

His contemporaries were the poets we remember today:  Frost, Eliot, Auden, Yeats, for example.  The Modern American Poetry website says that eventually “American critics and readers dismissed him as tedious and incomprehensible.”  By the 1920’s, time and tastes passed him by.  He committed suicide in the Springfield house in 1931.

The docent recommended Eleanor Ruggles book on Lindsay, The West-Going Heart, and I recommended to her, The Anthologist, which I blogged about in June.  You may recall it’s about a man compiling an anthology of rhyming poems.  He has writer’s block and instead of writing the anthology’s needed preface, he rails against the loss of rhyme.  It’s where I first read about Lindsay and his friend, Sara Teasdale.

Lindsay was a unique person, a poet and artist, a performer and a celebrator of America, an early advocate for the environment and a pacifist.  High school students may not have studied him for over 40 years, but perhaps they should.   By studying the life and work of any poet or artist we can learn about the many ways in which creativity is expressed.  He even has a Facebook page.


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