Friday, November 25, 2016


from "The Pumpkin" by John Greenleaf Whittier
Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling, 
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling! 
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, 
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within! 
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune, 
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon, 
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam 
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team! 

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better 
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter! 
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine, 
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine! 
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express, 
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less, 
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below, 
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow, 
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky 
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie! 
Wishing you loads of leftovers.
Carol hosts the round up today at Carol's Corner.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Pondering: Thanksgiving

Photo by Andreas 

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." G.K. Chesterton

"At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." Albert Schweitzer

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude." A.A. Milne

Friday, November 18, 2016

Finding Wonder in the Process with Jeannine Atkins

Irene Latham, me, and Jeannine Atkins at Poetry Camp.
I have immersed myself in novels in verse over the last few weeks. (Of course, only when I wasn't going all ga-ga over a sweet new babe.) I suppose that's what we all do when exploring the ins and outs of a new project. I always find myself with more questions than answers as I make my way along this path, and most of them, the questions, begin with "Why?" There are a few "How" questions, though many of these are answered in the context of a book. And the occasional "When?" But what I really want to know if "Why?"

Why one voice, or twenty-eight voices, or somewhere in between?
Why a close first person or a semi-distant third?
Why a mix of prose and poetry?
Why free verse over form or form over free?
Why poems with titles? Why one long, unbroken stream of consciousness poem?

Sure, some of the answers become evident in the text, but others remain in some form of wonderment  in my brain. I know this journey is a process of discovery that we all make as we press forward, and my process will not mirror anyone else's. However, that does not change the fact that I want to know why those other authors made the choices they made. I keep wondering about the process.

Fortunately I have at least one lovely verse novelist to whom I could wonder my questions aloud. Jeannine Atkins was finding wonders in verse novels long before her latest book, (of course) called Finding Wonders, was published by Atheneum Books/Simon & Schuster. Views From a Window Seat, Jeannine's blog, is a favorite spot to stop and soak up her beautiful gift with words. Another book, Views from a Window Seat (available at, was published artisanally at Stone Door Press. It began, Jeannine says, as blog entries focused on the writing process and is meant for anyone wanting company as they create. And yes, it has been good company for me on more than one occasion.

Without further ado, here are Jeannine's answers to some of my many questions.

Dori: What do you do before an idea becomes a project?

Jeannine:  Ideas are long and wandering, while books are relatively short and focused. I aim to discover all I can about someone, the work she loved, and where she lived. As I read or walk where she walked, some events surface, suggesting scenes that will hint at what to highlight.

Dori: In a recent blog post you mentioned that you work in a new notebook for each new project. Tell me how you approach your notebook. Are you organized or random? Sections? Is there order?

Jeannine:  I am so very random. (Dori interjects: I'm so glad to know there is hope for the rest of us random folks!) And those pretty notebooks eventually get so messy. Ideas don’t come to me in order, but I snatch them when they show up. Later, noting what’s repeated or simply still interesting to me helps me to see a structure. Sometimes I’ll color-code scenes. I’m always left with stray words and lines. Some will be discarded, but some that hold on become the core of poems of their own.

Dori: Is there a typical order you use as you begin a project?

Jeannine:  I first fall in love. My heart still beats hard while I start research to see whether this is the real thing or an infatuation. Some subjects can lead to dead ends if unsavory things turn up. I’m going to spend a long time with a person, so while all of us have flaws, which make us interesting, my aim is to showcase the more wonderful among us. If I’m still enchanted, I continue researching, and keep files with a timeline, known incidents, and themes I might tuck into the action.

Dori: You keep a William Carlos Williams quote near your computer. “No ideas but in things.” How do those things find their way into your notebook? How do you choose which images you will use in your poems?

Jeannine:  I write in free verse, so after paring down, the poetic aspects usually involve imagery more than aspects of sound. I look for things someone might commonly use, and natural science gave me a lot for Finding Wonders. Maria Merian worked with paints and plants, and her study of metamorphosis in moths and butterflies gave me imagery and metaphors. Mary Anning offered the layers of time she found in rocks. Maria Mitchell studied stars, comets, and the way that standing on one roof with a beloved father could show her a vast and gorgeous world. The tools of their trade as well as discoveries often suggested ways that the tangible joins abstractions, and metaphor winks.

Dori: When working on a project, do you plot first? When do you begin writing poetry?

Jeannine:  I start out writing fragments and run-ons that don’t look one bit like poetry. I keep watch for a way to create a bit of suspense. While I can know the outcome of events, the person did not. Sometimes an image glints against theme, suggesting a metaphor, so I have some rough bits of poetry. But, except for occasional lucky accidents, most of the poetry comes late in the process.

Dori: Your verse novels tend to be in third person POV. You mentioned at Poetry Camp that the distance this gives you is important. Can you expand on this idea?

Jeannine:  I sometimes write first person in early drafts to get to know the characters more closely, but then want to see them from the outside. First person might suggest more intimacy than I feel I have a right to, and third person gives me more access to the visual. I want to see these people in action, as well as visualize the work they loved.

Dori: Because you work in historical fiction with real characters, some of their back story is history. Much is probably unknown. How much do you allow yourself to imagine of what might have caused a character to be the way they are?

Jeannine:  I keep to the facts of real events, but within them, may surmise emotion. I always want to include domestic scenes, which are rarely recorded, so I research some common settings of the day (what would she wear or eat, and on what kind of table?), then allow myself to imagine. So much of women’s history has been lost. We need to honor both research and imagination, taking what we have to shape the future.

Dori: Thank you, Jeannine, for your willingness to let us observe a little bit of your process. May metaphor keeping winking at you, and would you kindly ask that friend of yours to wink at the rest of us, too?

Visit Brenda Harsham at Friendly Fairy Tales for today's Poetry Friday Round Up.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pondering: The Art of Diving

"I have come to give myself up," he said.
"It is well," said Mother Kirk. "You have a come a long way round to reach this place, whither I would have carried you in a few moments. Bit it is very well."
"What must I do? said John.
"You must take off your rags," said she,..."and then you must dive into this water."
"Alas," said he, "I have never learned to dive."
"There is nothing to learn," she said. "The art of diving is not to do anything new but simply to cease doing something. You have only to let yourself go."

--C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress

There is no more exciting, buoyant adventure on earth than that of finally giving oneself up and taking off one's rags, for that is the prelude to hearing God. It is the beginning of "understanding what the will of the Lord its" and of learning to collaborate with Him in doing it.

--Leanne Payne, Heaven's Calling: A Memoir of One Soul's Steep Ascent

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Pondering: Profound Secrets

Oh my Lord and my God! how stupendous is Thy grandeur! We are like so many foolish peasant lads: we think we know something of Thee, yet it must be comparatively nothing, for there are profound secrets even in ourselves of which we know naught.

--Teresa of Avila

Friday, November 4, 2016

November in Georgia

Today's Poetry Friday host is Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Welcome to November. It's not so much the leaves falling causing issues here at my house at it is the acorns. The patio is covered in acorns. The yard is covered in acorns. When the wind blows, acorns fall from the nether regions of my treetops and pelt the tin roof of my sunporch. They pop, bounce, and roll, sometimes jolting me out of my skin. 

Tradition says that an abundance of acorns means a hard winter. So far, there is only drought and residual heat to greet this Deep South November. If you're coming to NCTE in Atlanta in a few weeks, you won't need your heavy coat, unless things change pretty soon, but don't count on it. It's not likely that I will be there, as grand baby number nine is imminent. I spent part of the afternoon yesterday rubbing that sweet little mama's swollen ankles. I can't wait to hold that sweet boy in my arms. I'll keep you posted.

As for poetry, I was delighted to find this poem by Thomas Hood, written in 1844. 


by Thomas Hood

        No sun—no moon!
        No morn—no noon—
No dawn—
        No sky—no earthly view—
        No distance looking blue—
No road—no street—no “t’other side the way”—
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
        No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

You may read the full poem here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pondering: Greatness

Photo by Bayside Church of Christ

from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others' feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness.