Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


It is still (just barely) National Poetry Month, and I am thinking of Edna St. Vincent Millay, particularly since the subject of one of my favorite Millay poems, “The Strawberry Shrub,” is in bloom now. It’s an odd poem, a very close examination of this plant that she calls “old-fashioned, quaint as quinces,/Hard to find in a world where neon and noise/Have flattened the ends of the three more subtle senses,/And blare and magenta are all that a child enjoys.”

She describes its color as the “color of dried blood, color of the key of F.” I love that last metaphor. Although I do not have synesthesia in the medical sense, Millay’s “color of the key of F” makes sense to me. When I sing my own songs, my natural key is generally A or G. The key of F is lower, deeper, fuller, a bit darker. If fire red is middle C, the key of F is this color.

This past week I have been having a good time finding other blooming plants in the color of the key of F. Here are a few.


The interior of a jack-in-the-pulpit.


Pawpaw blossoms.


A kind of red trillium.

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No pictures today, but I’m posting a poem I wrote—yes, sometimes I write along with my students—during a weekend writing workshop at Tygart Lake State Park, November 8-10. We were a group of nine writers, and we had a great time. Not to mention good food and a nice hike in the woods. I hope some new folks will join me next spring or fall at Tygart Lake State Park.

The prompt that elicited this poem was one I have often used with very young writers: “Write a poem to anyone or anything: your dirty sneakers, your alarm clock, your great-great-grandfather, your dog, your big toe. Address the subject of the poem as if it were here with you and could hear you.” We often talk about the reasons for writing such a poem: you might want to say something to someone who’s gone, express a long overdue thank-you, or complain about someone or something anonymously. Writing a poem of direct address is the equivalent of writing a letter that goes unsent…unless, of course, you write it to a real person and send it to them. In the case of this poem, I decided to give a copy to my doctor, who seemed to find it amusing.

To My Intestines

Looped and wound about within me,
what a patient friend you’ve been.
Since those first few months of mother’s milk
you have accepted what I sent you,
masticated but hardly masked:
donuts and coffee, Junior Whoppers,
foods of every color and culture
from fiery Asian curries to noodle kugel.
Once, for fourteen diet-driven days,
nothing but GrapeNuts and fat-free yogurt.
Once, a quart jar of dill pickles.

I think of you hardly ever,
disregard the way you go about your business
mostly (not always) in silence, in darkness.
No breaks, no vacations, and few
complaints about being the one
who always has to do the dirty work,
whose groans of labor are the butt of jokes.

I saw a picture of you once, after
the indignity of a colonoscopy.
I’ll tell you, and it’s true:
I thought you were beautiful,
a sinewy channel of pink, not unlike
the coral coilings of a slot canyon
I traveled though in Arizona.
O secret and circuitous tunnel,
O pipeline winding through my flesh and bone,
O necessary viscera,
I honor you.

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Mrs. Cornblossom wins a prize!

Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom is bringing me so much joy. A few days ago I learned that my children’s book has won a bronze Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in the category of “Best First Book – Chapter Book.” And, even though it’s a long drive from here to Traverse City, Michigan, I intend to accept this award in person on November 10. My heart is with this little book, and I’m planning to enjoy it to the fullest.

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ImageI love this picture of Irene McKinney enjoying an evening with other writers at the Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat a few years ago. Irene loved the idea of the Aurora Project—a residency program for artists, where they have time and space to create, free from distractions. She generously donated her own time toward making the Aurora vision a reality, even while she was battling the cancer that took her from us in February of this year.

“I remember going to MacDowell Colony after four hard years of graduate school and teaching in a prison in Salt Lake City, and weeping in gratitude when they brought my lunchbox to my studio door,” she told me in an e-mail message. “I sat there in that quiet place looking out at the pines and feeling: someone thinks what I do is valuable enough to take care of me for a while.”

The Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat takes place this year November 1-4. If you have attended a past retreat, you know what a wonderful weekend this will be: time to work on your own creative endeavor, fellowship with other writers in the evenings, beautiful surroundings, and wonderful food. Someone taking care of you for a while.

In past years we have invited a well-known writer to join us and give a public reading. Irene was our guest three years ago. Maggie Anderson and Anita Skeen have also been featured. This year we’re devoting that public evening to the poems of Irene McKinney. Everyone who attends the retreat will be invited to share, in a reading open to the general public, one of their favorite Irene McKinney poems.

For more information and a registration form, e-mail info@auroraproject.org.

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It’s the middle of a hot, hot summer in West Virginia, which makes me long for autumn. And I cannot even imagine autumn without a trip to my other favorite place, New Mexico. Again this year, if the fates allow, I will be teaching a weeklong class at Ghost Ranch. The title of the class is “KISS: Keep It Short & Shapely,” and it’s a week of writing short essays, this year from October 7 to 13. We’ll hear some wonderful essays, mine our own beliefs and experiences for inspiration, write amazing essays, and then make them even better by editing them.

Year after year, the quality of writing in this class thrills me. Part of that, I think, has to do with the atmosphere at Ghost Ranch. There’s space and time and a special camaraderie here that encourages one to open up, take risks, and work at a higher level. It’s a gift we give one another and one that can remain long after the class has ended.

So…meet me at Ghost Ranch. Sign up for the class at http://www.ghostranch.org. Quick instructions: Go to the menu for “Courses and Retreats,” choose “Online Catalog,” and then search by my name or the week, October 7-13. (Sorry about the complicated  procedure, but their website won’t allow me to link directly to the page.)

Hope to see you in October!

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My Most Cherished Readers

When my book was still in manuscript form and this young man was a few years younger, his mother read the whole story to him. At the time, they were my neighbors on Arlington Court, and Mary Alice told me that Owen was a little bit confused about whether the characters in the book were real. (They’re not.) I guess he thought that, if he just knocked on the right door, he’d encounter Mr. Inchbald!

Now he’s living in another city, going to school and playing sports and…well, growing up too fast. But apparently not too old to reenter the make-believe world for a while. I love all images of children reading, but this may just be the most beautiful picture I have ever seen, even if it was made with a smart phone.

Most of the writing I have done, over many years, has been aimed at adults. But I must always have known, if not consciously, that children were the audience I wanted. Connecting with young readers—and young writers—gives me a special satisfaction because it mirrors the joy that reading brought me when I was a child. For me, the library’s collection of fairy tale collections, in all the colors of the rainbow, was a treasure worth more than any amount of money.

Of course, I still love to read, but I can rarely muster the deep immersion, the absolute giving-over-of-self, that a child brings to a story. I see it here in Owen, and it moves me. Thank you, Mary Alice. Thank you, Owen.

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About a week ago I got a call from publisher Bill Clements announcing that my first children’s book, Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom, had arrived at his warehouse. I’d have bragged about this before now, but it has been a busy, busy week: it was also my parents’ first week as West Virginia residents, and we were all busy getting them unpacked and settled in their new home.

Then, a couple of days ago, a series of massive thunderstorms came barreling through West Virginia, and I was without electricity for a while (many people still are without power, sad to say).

But I’m finally getting around to it. Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom is a book for children, families, and anyone you love. It takes place in a community called (oddly enough) Arlington Court, and it really is a love letter to my neighborhood, among other things. It includes a couple of eccentric fellows named Toothbucket and Inchbald, three 10-year-old kids, and a mischievous cat whose adventures, singly and together, teach them much about life and love.

Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom is available from West Virginia Book Company and will soon be available online in both print and ebook versions.

Here’s Mom, Dad, and me celebrating together on publication day.

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