Thursday, February 20, 2014

Celebrating Black History Month

Today for Poetry Friday, I'm celebrating the wonderful contributions people of color have brought to our culture.

Stop over at Karen Edmiston's blog for oodles of poetic words as she hosts the round up.

I have loved reading, yet again, Marilyn Nelson's Carver: A Life in Poems. I think he is on my list of people I'd like to sit down with in heaven and have a long conversation.

File:George Washington Carver c1910.jpg

From Nelson's poem, "Veil-Raisers," on the relationship between Carver and Booker T. Washington.

You saw them sometimes
if you were sneaking in past curfew,
after a tête-à-tête on a town girls porch:
shoulder to shoulder
and dream to dream,
two veil-raisers.
Walking our people
into history.

One of the books in my stack from the library is The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist.

Greenfield was only three months old when her father took a train north looking for a better life. Like so many other black families, the Greenfield and her mother and siblings followed when he had found a job and a place to live.

I love the way Greenfield has organized this book. In the first section, mask poems express the hopes and fears of individuals caught up in the great migration. In my favorite page spread, illustrator Jan Gilchrist, uses a photograph of a real child's face in her striking illustrations.

The middle section tells the story of the journey by rail in narrative poetry. As the end of the journey and the end of the book near, part four asks the question in every mind.

from "IV. Question"

Will I make a good life
for my family,
for myself?
The wheels are singing,
"Yes, you will,
you will, you will!"

Greenfield ends the collection with a free verse narrative poem about her story, her family: "We were one family/ among the many thousands."

A beautiful book, published in 2011, by Amistad (Harper Collins imprint).

This is a poem I wrote, a sort of tribute to Joyce, a sweet African American friend I made in Chautauqua, 2007, who tried her best to teach me to dance!


images rock step, cha-cha-cha
words heel click and slide
heartbeats ball change in my chest
light  moonwalks behind my eyes

it isn’t the hips gyrating
a pirouette on pointed toes
it isn’t in my feet
the way Joyce can jive and sway
it isn’t from the knees

when I dance

           © Doraine Bennett

And finally this. These girls are the Divine Praise Dancers of Los Angeles. I just love the freedom!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Strangers on the Street

I went for a walk this afternoon, one of my normal routes around the neighborhood, through the woods to the park, around the lake, and back down the connector street to my neighborhood. On the last leg going slightly downhill, I noticed a little boy and his mom in one of the yards, a car parked at the curb.
Photo by Vinnie Ahuja
The little guy looked up and saw me coming, he headed for the street. As I neared, he stepped from the curb, grabbed my hand began shaking it.

"Hi," he said.

"Hello there," I returned as his mom approached.

"We're going to his first t-ball game," she informed me.

"Really? Are you excited?" I asked this outgoing four-year old.

"Do you want to come and watch me?"

"Oh, I have to go home and cook supper," I said.

He slapped his palm to his forehead. "You should come watch me instead."

Would I like to write a book for that little guy? You bet your t-ball I would!

The perfect audience. I'll keep that one tucked away.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Books on Tape

Yes. That's what I said. Books on tape.

My local library has finally decided to purge the old tape-recording technology. Smile. Smile. Smile.

I still have some of that old technology. I've hung onto a CD player that has a tape player built into the machine.

And my old car, a 2002, still has a tape player on the radio panel. I do have a CD player in the glove compartment, but when I bought this car, used in 2004, I had a few very specific specifications. The seat had to let me sit at an angle close to 90 degrees at the knees and hips. The steering wheel had to be smooth. And it needed an old-fashioned tape player. That was ten years and about 130,000 miles ago, and I've listened to an awful lot of books on tape in that time.

So, the Friends of the Library store has two or three of those carts they use to shelve books packed full of books on tape that they restock as fast as friends of the library can carry them out in plastic grocery sacks.

I am definitely a friend of the library, there at least once or twice a week. And I cannot resist those tape-laden carts lining the hallway between the atrium and the conference rooms. Hey, they're only fifty cents apiece. That's cheaper than what I would pay in library fines, though I'm really trying to get better on that. And now that I have the local library app on my phone, I'm a little more consistent. Just wish it had a reminder feature connected to my list of checked out books.

I love listening to stories. Reading aloud to my children was always built into our days and nights. Now I read to my grandchildren, even long distance. There are many studies that highlight the benefits to reading aloud to children, including developing their vocabularies, enhancing their writing skills, and increasing their ability to perform in other subjects. So why should it be any different for adults. Or for writers!
I keep a book on CD or tape going in my car most of the time, always my choice for listening pleasure over music. It started when my children were teens and we headed out on a road trip. We went from Mrs. Polifax and her CIA adventures to The Cat Who books. I was hooked and just never stopped listening. 

I've listened to these in the last month.

Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute, read by Frank Mullerpublished in 1960 to starred reviews. Atlantic Monthly said, "A story remarkable for its lucidity and amiability. Trustee from the Toolroom is that rarity in our time, a happy book about a decent and resourceful guy."  A delightful adventure story about an average guy who walks into circumstances he could never have imagined and comes through smiling. I must admit, I was smiling, too.

The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters is one of the Cadfael Mysteries. The marvelous reader, Patrick Tull, brings the Benedictine brother to life. He reads with the most wonderful sense of timing, stretching words, pausing in the most perfect places. Set in twelfth century England, Brother Cadfael solves all sorts of crimes using his knowledge of herbal lore and his good sense. I love these books that were made into movies by BBC with Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael. Ellis Peters is a pen name for Dame Edith Pargeter who wrote for sixty years and published over seventy books.

The Tristan Betrayal by Robert Ludlum, full of labyrinthine plot twists that had me wracking my brain to keep up until the very last chapter. Published after his death, written by a ghost writer from an outline Ludlum left, apparently this is the seventh book "Ludlum" has published posthumously. Death did not make him a better writer. I liked the Bourne books he wrote in real life better.

The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell, best known for his chronicles of rifleman Richard Sharpe during the Napoleonic wars. (I listened to one of those this month, too, but it was on CD and made it back to the library without fines!) This book is the sixth of the Saxon Chronicles. No, I didn't find one through five, but maybe will go back and find the hard copies. I like the way Cornwell writes, love the way in the heat of battle axes and blood, he suddenly draws your attention to a purple flower growing on the moor or baby rabbits in a hollow on the hillside.

I love a good story. And I love listening to someone read it to me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

I stopped in the library last week and brought home an armload of poetry books. One of the books in my stack is Valentine Poems selected by Myra Cohn Livingston, a sweet little collection that features delightful poems and whimsical illustrations by Patience Brewster.

"My Love is Like a Cabbage" is a traditional English verse.

My love is like a cabbage
     Divided into two,
The leaves I give to others
     but the heart I give to you.

One of my favorite poems from the collection is this one by Emanuel Di Pasquale.

Valentine Thoughts for Mari

I'd like to bunch your lips
into a goldfish pout,
let fly your chestnut hair,
smooth the strands out of your eyes,
stroke your sparrow hand
and say, "Let's go where
               the small brook frets.
               Let's join
               it's silvery play."

                --Emanuel di Pasquale

Read more of Pasquale's work at Contemporary Italian American Writing.

Join Linda at TeacherDance for a love-filled round up of poetry today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Few Things on Tuesday Night

I thought I would pass on a few things that I have enjoyed reading lately.

This blog post about Ray Bradbury on list making and it's connection to writing is worth a few minutes of your time.

Views from a Window Seat is chock full of such beautiful, and helpful, thoughts on writing. So much to love.

cover Carver.jpgI recently re-read Marilyn Nelson's beautiful book, Carver: A Life in Poems. I cry every time I read this. I love this simple man who lived a selfless life of service. Nelson captures both his essence and his place in the history.


Marilyn Nelson is going to be at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan in April. Wish I could go, but the schedule is full. Others speaking are Anne Lamott, Scott Cairns, Rachel Held Evans, Richard Foster, and Pam Munoz Ryan. And the list goes on.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I've been playing with poetry forms the last few weeks. A nonet has nine lines. The first line has nine syllables with each subsequent line decreasing by one syllable until the final line contains only one.

File:Spring tree Victoria cloudy day.jpg

Nonet at Dawn

I awake to cloudy skies and wish
to stay swaddled in night-warm sheets
that coddle my lethargy,
keep me slip-sliding in
and out of waking
dreams that flee
the filtered
light of

© Doraine Bennett