Archive for April, 2012

Honorable Mention

This weekend was the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets spring conference, and I received an Honorable Mention for the Muse Prize, an annual prize open to all Wisconsin poets.  It was also my first WFOP Conference, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was like many conferences I’ve been to.  It was held in a hotel with hotel food and tables in a big room, unreliable microphones and lots of networking among members. 

In addition, there were speakers and Roll Call Poems, where everyone in attendence rose, introduced themselves and read a poem.  The poems were funny, poignant, sad, inciteful…everything you could want from a group of poets.  I learned that there are 529 members and there is a ratio of 2.6 women to men. 

There was also “Survivor:  Poetry Island.”  Members listed three words on a piece of paper.  A list was selected at random and a panel of four poets each wrote a poem using those three words.  They had five minutes.  The results were obviously spontaneous and very funny.  The idea was to vote one poet off the panel after each round.

About 125 people submitted poems for the Muse Prize.  There were three Honorable Mentions and a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner.   So I feel very honored to receive recognition from this group.  The judge was Sheila Packa, the Duluth, Minnesota Poet Laureate.   I wrote the poem after reading about the Law of Conservation of Mass, which states that no energy or matter can leave or enter a closed system.  

Carol’s Dog

I couldn’t remember what the dog was called.

It followed me through the State Street crowd.

The boy came next, his pace matching mine.

His accent was foreign; Roman, he said.

“In a closed system, like the sun and earth,

matter cannot be created or destroyed.

The Law of Conservation promises…

in effect, it’s a promise of eternity.”

At Marquette, we talked to some priests

who tried to explain their experience of Belief,

and I remembered:  the dog belonged to Carol.

Its following me was an act of faith.

The boy, whose name was Luke, said,

“Things cannot be born from nothing,”

which meant Carol’s dog was

an other matter altogether.

The day was transforming into night.

I told the priests I wanted to return

to talk about science:  this system

in which energy can only convert itself;

and when we die,

the heat of my body

and the boy and the dog

will simply change hands.


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I am starting a series of poems that use heteronyms in the title.  Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently when the meaning changes.  For instance, tear.  A tear fell from my eye when I heard the fabric of my dress tear. 

Some words are homophones, like knight and night.  They sound the same but mean something different.  Heteronyms are more interesting because their pronunciation changes as well as their meaning.  Of course, this can pose a challenge for readers if the word is used in an ambiguous way such as in the title of a poem:   Tear is not a Simple Word

Last Saturday I was at the Art Institute of Chicago.  From small town to big city in three hours.  Just point your car toward the Southeast and soon enough, there is O’Hare International Airport – ORD – one of the largest in the country in terms of moving huge numbers of passengers and waylaying luggage (mine, April 2011). 

And then there’s that cluster of skyscrapers in the distance – John Hancock is my favorite.  I love the two antennas that stick up off its roof like they are signaling to space aliens.  By now my heart is really humming.  Then suddenly we are off the freeway and into a funky neighborhood heading East on Ohio toward Michigan Avenue and there is Millennium Park and, ta dah, the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Inside, I snagged a docent tour of Ab X art – abstract expressionists – starting with Jackson Pollock.  Toward the end of the tour the docent showed us Andy Warhol’s gigantic silkscreen print of Mao Zedong.  It’s fabulous.  There is Mao in his grey jacket emerging from great swatches of paint and he’s made up in drag with pink cheeks and blue eye shadow.  And it is huge.  No small life size portrait like Warhol’s multiple Marilyns.  Mao’s dimensions are 176 ½ inches by 136 ½ inches.  That’s over 14 feet tall.  Powerful.

When I got home, I asked my husband how he would pronounce MOW.  He said, mmm – ow, which rhymes with cow.  It could be pronounced mmm-o, like the word low (long o sound), as in, “Please mow the lawn.”  But we call our cat MOW when he’s being noisy and making those loud, demanding MOW sounds.  His name is Rio (rhymes with chee-o), which is a heteronym for the town of Rio, Wisconsin (long i sound like ri-ot).   

So for us, Mao and Mow are homophones, words that sound the same but with different meanings.  Sadly, however, not everyone recognizes the Mow that rhymes with cow.  There is a website called Rhymer at  When I entered Mow, all of the words that are listed rhyme with JELLO.

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National Poetry Month

A man sells his poems in San Francisco.

Me, I write in bed here in Wisconsin.

We capture a moment or a brief thought.

We use words to describe what we can see

or just because they make related sounds.

Or maybe, just like each day that passes,

just because one word leads to another.

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Giving It Away

Last September I had a garage sale.  I sold a few things for far less than I wanted and donated the rest.  It was an education.  People want what they want, when they want it.  If you are not selling what they want, you will either put it back in the garage or basement, or you will donate it. 

This spring I have discovered another truth.  People will take anything for free, and they will take it away very quickly.  Leave books at the library exchange or a box of iris on the lawn and poof they are gone.

Getting rid of stuff used to be a matter of just keeping the fire hazard down.  Then I got worried about leaving all the work to my husband if something happened to me.  What would he do with all the sewing, knitting and stitching supplies and fabrics I inherited from my mother, aunt and grandmother, much less the items I collected on my own?  What would he do with all the papers and art supplies I accumulated from taking classes and experimenting? 

Now my thinking has changed once again.  It is very difficult to write and keep up with all my other interests, too.  I have struggled for years to focus and I have winnowed the list down, but not enough. 

Recently, I have been writing a lot of poems in preparation for a contest I want to enter.  To do this, I have had to make painful choices about how I spend the rest of my time.  There are the things that must be done:  cooking, cleaning, playing with the cat and husband, and exercising. 

There is the reading that must be done so I can get better at what I want to do most, which is write.  There is the yard and garden, which came up two months early this year, wiping out hours and hours of time in March and April that I could have been snug inside doing inside things.

So as I look at the fiber and textile related side of my life, I think:  get rid of it.  Be done with that phase of your life interests.  Get a laptop with a lot of memory and a wireless connection for writing and read on your Kindle and simplify, simplify, simplify. 

We’ll see.  So far, I have mostly just culled old magazines and books and plants.  But at least I know that when I’m ready, it won’t be difficult to find homes for all of it….as long as I give it away.

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Spring Sonnet

I have been reading works by A. E. Stallings, who recently received a MacArthur Fellowship.  Here’s what the MacArthur website says about her. 

“A. E. Stallings is a poet and translator mining the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft works that evoke startling insights about contemporary life. In both her original poetry and translations, Stallings exhibits a mastery of highly structured forms (such as sonnets, couplets, quatrains, and sapphics) and consummate skill in creating new combinations of meter, rhyme, and syntax into distinctive, emotionally compelling verse.”

Her works inspired me to write rhyming poems about mundane subjects, like the North Dakota plains where I grew up.  However, in honor of spring, here is a sonnet I wrote a few years ago.

Purple Spring

The color purple has a mind of spring,

so to the cool outdoors I take my spade.

It pleases me to hear the robins sing.

I lift some leaves: violets peek from shade.

A ladder of lavender makes an ascent.

Strong stalks in a cluster emerge by the door

and in the sun a sweet and heady scent

releases eau d’hyacinth and more.


Along a wall I move some twigs and there

I see a petal-curl about to open:

a tulip bulb, streaming yellow hair

and purple streaks; a Sultan’s turban.


Now day is dusk, I must go in,

and wash the purple from my skin.



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