A Very Poetic Walk in the Woods

Sunday, May 3, was one of those days simply made for poetry. Blue skies, dazzling sunshine, and a walk through land virtually untouched by humans. A Carolina day free from humidity is truly a gift!

Our writing group was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit with Robin and her husband Wayne, a walking encyclopedia of history and natural science, especially forestry. They are the stewards of one of the dwindling parcels of land not yet affected by the growing development in Chatham County.

IMG_1666
Wood sprites, fairies, or poets? What do you think?

Their land includes a natural spring, Landrum’s Creek (home to river otters!), and New World trees rarely seen in subdivisions these days: beech, ash, red oak and hickory. Here we are posing in front of an estimated 250-year-old mockernut hickory tree (identified, of course, by Wayne).

Nature walks, a ritual prescribed by Susan Wooldridge in her book Poem Crazy, are like oxygen to poets. Susan recommends regularly immersing yourself in nature and learning the names of flora and fauna. While we didn’t get lucky enough to see an otter (be still my heart…can you imagine?), we did spot a skink, a hawk, butterflies, centipedes, woodpeckers, and the one thing that makes you dread warmer weather: ticks! But even these pesky little creatures have earned their place. Hummm….a poem about ticks, now there’s a subject rarely touched.

Robin was an especially thoughtful hostess, as she and Wayne had thought ahead and plunked down a brand new picnic table right in the middle of the clearing. This was a perfect spot for pita chips, hummus, ginger ale, and what else? Strawberry shortcake!

IMG_20150503_112334505_HDRHere is Wayne, our intrepid field guide, who is enjoying his own well-deserved plate of cake. We are so grateful to him for his willingness to lead us through the woods and answer our endless list of questions? Is this a maple? Why is this bark so rough? Can we drink from that spring? I’ll give his answer to the last question, mine, out of due diligence. Sure, he said, if you’re used to all those microbes in your system. That was enough for me!

Shortcake was certainly in order given our group’s recent accomplishments. We found out that Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Love, Lust, and Longing, which includes a story (“Happy Pills”) by our writing group member Linda Johnson was nominated for a 2015 Anthony Award. This anthology was edited by local writer and editor Karen Pullen and includes tales from other acclaimed writers such as Ruth Moose, one of our group’s favorite writing teachers at CCCC.

And….just in time for Mother’s Day, we also learned that another member, Michele Berger, had a piece of her writing selected for a national anthology: A Letter to My Mom: A Tribute to Our Very First Loves. In this beautiful book, Michele shares her own heartfelt message to her mother in a collection of personally-crafted letters written by people from all walks of life, including celebrities (Dr. Phil, Suze Orman, and Mariel Hemingway, just to name a few!). Read more about Michele’s experience on her own blog. What I love about this book is that it represents just a fraction of a community of people who want to express their love and admiration for their mothers. In fact, you can even share your own letter on their website.

Whether it’s walking in the woods or celebrating your own mother, I hope that you will find your own inspiration in your own space and that the writing flows as freely as it does in Landrum Creek!

Celebrating April: National Poetry Month!

collageNot only does April bring us warmer weather, this month also brings us 30 days to celebrate poetry! We’ll be celebrating in a number of ways, from an interview with Scott Wiggerman (poet and co-editor of Wingbeats I and II, two of my favorite poetry-writing books) to samples of the exercises we created during our poetry workshop last month.

Today I’ll share a sample from our exercise on metaphors, what was inspired by Chapter 4 of Poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge. To get us started, I read a short work of my own (below).

Hope

When in November a candelabra of tiny pink roses
pushes up through a mound
of brittle brown leaves

I then asked everyone to draw blindly from a pouch containing cards bearing a single word, an abstract noun such as love, envy, pity, sorrow, and anger. Next, I asked them to choose one of the items on the table (pictured above) and use it as a metaphor for the word they drew. What was fun about it was that a couple of people chose the same word but ended up picking very different items. Mary and Rosalie each drew “Anger” but Mary chose the beaded purse as her metaphor and Rosalie chose the rolling pin! Judith chose the men’s tie for “Envy” and Jen chose the ring for “Pity.”

Jane, who drew the card for “Sorrow,” knew immediately that the half-burnt candle was the perfect metaphor to describe the  recent loss of her beloved Maltese. With her kind permission, I share her poem below.

Sophie Jill

Once a flame was burning bright, so full of love and joy—
A candle of life, so sweet and strong
A white, fluffy baby girl, sharing my life with unconditional love
Remembering those kisses, stored in my heart
Knowing that each day is a gift, we savored each precious moment.

Then all at once, the candle of life was no more.
The sorrow I felt was overwhelming, and I cried out
to the heavens for help
As time has healed a little, I know that the tears I cry each day
are not tears of sorrow but tears of love
Sophie’s flame of life will live in my heart forever
and there is no doubt that her spirit is still with me
She is still in my arms, giving me kisses.

—Jane Craven Thomas

What a comfort poetry can be, giving us words for those things, like sorrow, that are so difficult to express! Susan Wooldridge makes a habit of labeling concrete items with metaphors. In fact, she and her children regularly go around the house with a roll of what she calls “word tickets” and affixes them to items they find in their drawers and cabinets such as an antique globe, a piece of driftwood, even an old pair of shoes.  What fun! Bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Try it yourself!

April also brings good news for my fellow writers. Ralph Earle, one of my favorite poetry teachers, won the 2015 Sable Books February Chapbook Contest for his poetry collection, “The Way the Rain Works.” Available now as a pre-sale from Sable Books, Richard Krawiec, writer, poet, and esteemed judge for the contest, had this to say about the book:  “This is a deeply felt book about a family in crisis that lives inside you and lends itself to multiple readings.” Just as I did, order your copy today by contacting Sable Books!

I was also thrilled to learn that two of my poems, which (not coincidentally!) originated from exercises in Ralph’s class last fall at Central Carolina Community College placed in contests sponsored by the N.C. Poetry Society. “Phalaenopsis” (which came from his prompt to write about an incident that happened to us during the previous week) won second place in the Mary Ruffin Poole Heritage Competition and “Napoleon and Antosia” (write a poem on anything and then use different line breaks on 2 versions) won second place in the Carol Bessent Hayman Poetry of Love Award. They will be published in the 2015 edition of Pinesong and I will read them at the May 30 meeting in Southern Pines.

Stay tuned for more poems. Next, I’ll share poems penned by Jen and Jane on smoke, unicorns, and runaway brides, all products of exercises on random phrases!