It’s Official . . . Poetry of Presence at the South Dakota Festival of Books!

SDBookFestClip3My co-editor Phyllis Cole-Dai and I are thrilled to be hosting two sessions at the South Dakota Festival of Books (Sept. 21-24, 2017, Deadwood, SD). A big thank you to the South Dakota Humanities Council for promoting our upcoming book Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems in a sidebar of its official program. We can’t wait to talk about this  unique collection with Festival-goers. Hope to see you there!

Coming Soon… Stay Tuned!

My co-editor Phyllis Cole-Dai and I are working hard in preparation for the release of Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, due out from Grayson Books in late summer. We want to give a huge shout-out to the photographer David Moynahan for “Great Egret Bow,” the fantastic image on the cover of the book. David’s got an amazing eye and a huge heart. Maybe we’ll get to meet him one day in person!

By the way, if you’d like to be on the Poetry of Presence email list, sign up here, and you’ll receive a mindfulness poem. Our gift to you!

A Real Bummer

About thirty years ago I fell and smashed my right knee while I was ice skating with my nieces and nephews at Christmastime. I decided not to see a doctor then because it would be expensive, and I was still able to walk and resume my active lifestyle. I reasoned that there isn’t much that can be done with an injured knee anyway.

Now fast-forward to several months ago when I went for a three-mile walk on a balmy spring evening. A few days later my knee was swollen and painful, and I was unable to do many of the work and recreational activities that are a big part of my life. I nursed my bum knee on my own, thinking that it would settle down if I took good care of it. That had worked before, but this time the pain wouldn’t let up much. After a couple of months I finally made the decision to go to the clinic and have it checked out. An MRI indicated that my symptoms were due to arthritis and the doctor recommended a cortisone shot. I waited for it to take effect so I could resume my normal activities.

A week after the shot my symptoms suddenly became worse. Sometimes the pain was so terrible that I had to use a cane, but then a few days later I could get around fine. I sometimes left the cane at home or in the car, mostly because of pride and unwillingness to accept that I’m getting older. I was too self-conscious to allow myself to be seen using it. After another visit to the clinic the doctor recommended arthroscopy to clean up the knee joint and hopefully give me some relief. I decided that as long as I was having surgery I may as well have a chronic trigger finger problem on my right hand taken care of at the same time.

The first two days after surgery went better than I expected. I faithfully began exercises to help reduce the stiffness and soreness in the joints. Three days after surgery I was getting around pretty well and looking forward to getting some small tasks done around the house. When I got up off the couch that had been my little nest during recovery, my back went out. Big time. I was in more pain than the day after my surgery. I didn’t know if I should  sit, lie down, or keep moving. Nothing seemed to help, not even the pills that were prescribed to help ease the post-surgical pain. This just seemed like insult added to injury. I couldn’t kneel because of the knee, but bending over was impossible. If stayed sitting or standing I was fine, but moving from sitting to standing was excruciating.

Callie and Flash

My husband, Jim, thought that it would be good for me to move around, have a change of scenery, and get some fresh air, so he suggested that we go outside and see how the cats are doing. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to be clear that my husband doesn’t like cats. He much prefers dogs because he understands them. So it was a bit surprising to me last fall when he started to talk about how a couple of cats would help with rodent control in his shop.

Friends of ours had been feeding two strays and were worried how they would survive the winter, so we took them in.  They are a mother and daughter pair and were completely wild when we adopted them. Our friends had dubbed the mother “Callie” because she’s a calico. We named her daughter “Flash” because all we saw was a flash of orange when we let her out of the carrier the first day she arrived.

We didn’t see hide nor hair of either one for several weeks after their traumatic move. Eventually they got used to Jim banging around in the shop, and came out to watch him when he was preoccupied working on his pickup engine, or whatever the current project was. If he paid any attention to them, though, they would take off and hide again. They had made a nice little nest for themselves in a couple of old upholstered car seats that are stored on a high shelf below the shop ceiling.

I talked to them in a reassuring tone when I fed them at night after I walked the dog, and was careful not to startle them by making sudden moves. They gradually became friendlier, especially after we started to give them treats when we visited. For someone who claims to “hate cats,” Jim has been very solicitous. He feeds them, cleans up after them, and has been taking the lead on taming them. They were a little leery of us after we took them to a vet and had them spayed, but seemed to forget that ordeal after a few days. On this visit Jim pulled up a chair for me and we gave Callie and Flash treats. Jim was actually able to pet Callie, and she took the treats right out of his hand. That’s a huge step for adult cats that were wild only six months ago. I was even able to stroke both of them before we left.

While I walked on the gravel driveway with Jim on the way back to the house, I remembered how he had done something similar a long time ago by encouraging me to go outside after we’d had our first baby. I was recovering from a C-section and had started to experience postpartum blues. I felt overwhelmed at times with the responsibility that I had taken on by becoming a parent. Jim’s mother had gone home after spending two weeks helping us get settled in, and I was frightened and intimidated by the  prospect of being on my own with a new baby when Jim went back to work. Jim came inside one day and said, “how about we go outside and take a tour of the kingdom?”

It was early May, so we put the baby in a carrier and walked around to look at the fruit trees that we had planted on our small acreage. Jim is quite handy at grafting, so some of the trees had hardy crab apple roots with different varieties of eating apples grafted onto them. We dubbed one of the apple tree varieties “Prairie Pearl” because it was from a tree that grew in Jim’s mother’s garden where she threw out her compost. We had no idea what its parent variety was, but the tree was hardy and the yellow apples it yielded had good flavor. We also had planted several pear trees, some of which were grafted onto hardy root stock and others that we had purchased from a nursery. The walk outdoors and fresh air were just the medicine I needed to help me feel better about the future and start to adjust to the major change in the family that the birth of a baby brings.

These days I’m also experiencing some major transitions in my life. My children are grown and have families of their own, and I’m learning how to build relationships with them as adults. I’m enjoying the wonderful perks of being a grandmother, which can’t be overstated! However, there are some downsides to growing older, as we’re all aware, and health issues are now requiring me to make some adjustments in my lifestyle. I love to be outdoors: walking, gardening, hiking, or simply enjoying the beautiful night sky. I hope to continue those activities, but I’ll have to remember that if I overdo I probably won’t recover as quickly as I used to. Instead of long walks, I plan to do more biking. Putting in the garden this spring was tough on my knees, so I bought a little nonmotorized garden tractor with a swivel seat that I should be able to use for planting, weeding, and harvesting. I think it’s going to be fun and useful. I can’t wait to give it a try!

Jim and I have been married for just over 37 years now, and have known each other four years longer than that. One thing that I have been able to rely on throughout our life together is a partner who has been steadfast through all of those changes. Since he retired he’s been cooking most of the meals and working on the myriad projects that went unfinished during his busy years in the Extension Service. He likes to tell people that his main job now is to figure out what to have for supper, prepare it, and meet me at the door with a glass of wine when I get home at the end of the day. That works for me! I am very blessed by his love and care. Happy Fathers’ Day Hon!

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For the Birds…

I relish my quiet time in the morning before the household wakes up when I can sit, read, and write without the distraction of television, radio, or other imported noises. I’ll  open the door so I can hear sounds like the wind, rain, or wildlife outside. The birds in the yard seem to delight in the dawn hours as much as I do. Their cheerful songs drift through the open screen this morning and remind me of something that happened a couple of weeks ago.

One evening my husband and I were out in the yard surveying the trees and discussing the work that needed to be done to trim them and clear up the yard. All of a sudden we heard the birds making a loud ruckus. We turned around to see our dog with a baby bird in his mouth. He dropped it after we scolded him, and we kept a close eye on him until we put him in the kennel. I also locked up our cats in the garage before checking the baby bird’s condition. As I cautiously approached, I listened for alarm calls from the adult birds in the trees, but they remained quiet. The baby’s eyes were wide open and feathers were ruffled, but I couldn’t tell if it was injured. I was tempted to pick it up and place it on the branches of a tree where it would be less vulnerable, but decided against that. I have heard that sometimes the parents won’t help a baby bird that has been handled by a human. It seemed best not to interfere any more than necessary. I went inside for the night, hoping to check the next day to see if it had found its way back to safety.

I wasn’t able to check the next day, so I don’t know whether the little bird survived the ordeal. I’ve thought about the experience a number of times since then, because it seemed so remarkable to me that the birds didn’t seem to consider me a threat. Looking back, I also realized that the initial distress calls we heard must have been from more than just the baby bird’s parents in order to attract our attention. I imagine that the birds living in our yard reacted the same way as any community would when one of its young is threatened.

I couldn’t help but compare my own parenting experiences to the birds’ when their babies leave the nest. Krista Tippett once said that “the experience of becoming a parent is … one of excruciating vulnerability and loss of control.”[i] After my first baby was born, I sometimes felt overwhelmed  by the responsibility and lifelong commitment that I had made by having a child. When my children were young I was much more able to prevent harm to them, but now that they are grown up with lives of their own, about all I can do is hope that I prepared them well enough to be able to find the strength and resources they need when they encounter life’s challenges. The adult birds couldn’t swoop down and rescue the young bird when it was in the jaws of the dog. The only thing that they could do was raise all of their voices in alarm, and that made a difference in the end. I’m grateful to my winged, two-legged neighbors for what they had to teach me on an ordinary summer evening.

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Thirsty birds in the yard helping themselves to collected rainwater

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[i] Interview with Dr. Sylvia Boorstein, On Being, March 29, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

I was offered an opportunity a couple of days ago to submit a poem about pi to celebrate this year’s Pi Day, special because today’s date, 3-14-16 is the same number sequence as pi rounded to four digits after the decimal: 3.1416. The request came from the Astronomers without Borders AstroPoetry project. I have never before attempted to write a poem on demand, but for some reason the idea of writing a “pi” poem sounded like fun. I figured that there was no harm in trying, and I just may have fun in the process. I did a little research and studied up on math concepts that I haven’t studied for quite a while. This is what I came up with:

Pi

It’s all about circles –
the ratio of circumference
to diameter.
It’s a constant
although irrational
transcendental number –
irrational
because no fraction
can accurately describe it,
its decimal representation
infinite and random –
transcendental,
therefore the circle
cannot be squared.

Thank goodness.

Because it’s all about circles.
It’s about not choosing
the shortest path
between two points,
going the long way around –
taking the scenic route,
transcending the boundary
of the horizon
and expanding into
the random, infinite
universe
encircling us.

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Four Poems from Four Quarters

Was it really over two weeks ago since the Four Quarters reading at Briggs Library? It has been such a busy fall with house repairs, winterizing projects, and bringing in the last of the garden produce that I’ve hardly had a chance to catch my breath since the reading. I’d like to share this video clip for those of you who are interested in seeing me read from my chapbook, “Maybe the Moon is Falling”, published in Four Quarters to a Section, an anthology of four winning chapbooks in the South Dakota State Poetry Society’s  annual chapbook contest.

I was joined by poets Darla Biel and Glenda Walth who also read selections from their winning chapbooks, as well as the editor, Christine Stewart-Nuñez. If you’d like to buy one of the books, or are a South Dakota poet and would like to submit poetry for publication by SDSPS you can find more information at their website.

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You’re invited…

Quarters_poster3 … to a reading by the contributors to Four Quarters to a Section, the South Dakota State Poetry Society’s publication of the winners of their annual chapbook anthology. The reading will be on October 29th at 7 p.m. in the Archives and Special Collections on the South Dakota State University campus in Brookings, S.D. The archives is located on the upper level of the Hilton M. Briggs Library.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez, Professor of English at South Dakota State University, edited this year’s volume and will also speak at Thursday evening’s event. The contest was judged by Heidi Czerwiec, a poet, essayist, translator and critic who coordinates creative writing at the University of North Dakota. The cover image of the 2014 chapbook anthology is “Autumn Dance,” artwork by Betty L. Beer of Brookings, South Dakota.

Books will be available for purchasing and signing, and refreshments will be served. If you know of anyone else who may be interested in attending, please pass on the information. Hope to see you there!

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Four Quarters to a Section

Each year the South Dakota State Poetry Society holds a Four Quarters 2015 w-border chapbook competition for South Dakota poets, and four winning collections are selected to be published in a chapbook anthology, Four Quarters to a Section. I’m honored that my chapbook, “Maybe the Moon is Falling,” was selected as one of the winning collections for the newest volume published this year. The other winning poets were Brandyn Johnson from Spearfish, Darla Biel from Brookings, and Glenda Walth from Sioux Falls.

The contest was judged by Heidi Czerwiec, a poet, essayist, translator, and critic who coordinates creative writing at the University of North Dakota. Christine Stewart-Nuñez is the editor of the new volume, and Betty Beer created the cover art.

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Reading at the Franklin Hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota

We were  asked to read from our chapbooks at the  Festival  of the Book held in Deadwood just this last weekend, so I joined Brandyn and Darla in a reading at the Franklin Hotel. Unfortunately, Glenda was unable to attend.

I must apologize for not getting the word out sooner about this event. Another reading will be held in Brookings on October 29th, so if you’re interested in attending, mark that date on your calendar. I’ll send out more information later this month.

If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of the book you may contact me by using the form below. The cost is $15 plus shipping.

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Are You a Creative Person?

I don’t consider myself as living in an urban environment, but when I was asked recently by South Dakota Magazine how my community affects my creativity, I was challenged to examine my environment and what motivates me to write. I live on a small acreage out in the country and work at a university, and much of my writing comes out of both of those experiences. Campus Sketches: Images of South Dakota State University in Word and Photograph is a collection of poems that was inspired by my work environment, and At the Rim of the Horizon is centered around home and the natural world I experience there. Both books are now available for purchase on Amazon as well as locally in the Brookings, South Dakota area.

I have to admit that I’m not very comfortable with being singled out as a “creative” person, mainly because I think that everyone is gifted with creativity, we each just express it in different ways. We may tend to think that scientists and artists are polar opposites on a creativity spectrum and that other occupations fall somewhere in between. However, they may have more in common than we think. In order to be successful in any occupation we need to be effective problem solvers, and that requires a lot of creativity. The work that artists do often requires them to understand science and math, and the work that scientists and mathematicians do often requires inspiration and creativity. A willingness to look at our world in new ways, to pay close attention, and sometimes to ignore conventional thought is important in any vocation.

So I guess what I’m really trying to say is, try not to put yourself into any categories, be creative, and have fun!

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If you’re interested in reading about how creative South Dakotans are influenced by their communities, you can read about “Urban Creativity” in the September/October issue of South Dakota Magazine. One of my poems from At the Rim of the Horizon was also published on page 98 of the same issue.

How Is Writing Like Burning Baskets?

I have always been able to separate and distinguish between different aspects of my life; keeping my work, hobbies, writing, church, and family life in neat little compartments, but more and more I’m finding them all blending together in new and surprising ways. At work I have been adding recently acquired materials for author Kathleen Norris’ papers to her processed papers in our archives collections, and what I learn when I process another writer’s papers helps me a lot in my creative writing work.

The new materials from Norris that I’m processing are draft manuscripts and research for her book,  Acedia & me. I started reading the book because I was curious about acedia and how it is different than depression. The first chapter begins with a story from The Institutes by John Cassian about Abba Paul, a desert monk who created baskets from palm fronds to pass the days. The transportation to get them to a market would have cost more than he would have made selling them, so he collected and burned the baskets every year. Reading the story made me think about my writing and how at times it seems so futile. I think that most of us want not to be forgotten. We want some remnant of ourselves to remain after we’re gone. We want to know that our lives have mattered, that we have changed the world for the better.

Without even really being aware of it, I’ve bought into the pervasive belief that the “baskets” or physical “product” that we create is the way we leave a lasting legacy. Yet all of our experience shows us that physical things don’t survive forever, and they don’t stay the same. New technology replaces old equipment. New books and new ideas eventually become yellowed and obsolete with age. I love gardening, and I know that a garden takes continual care. I’ve planted a flower bed, tucked all of the plants in place, surrounded them with landscape fabric and mulch, installed edging to keep grass from creeping in, and expected that the garden would stay as it was for years. It doesn’t work that way! The mulch gets washed away, weeds start to poke through here and there, in winter the rabbits sometimes chew the plants down to stubs, and grass eventually moves in from the edge. Nature continually works toward changing, assimilating, re-using, or re-forming everything into something else.

In the archives profession we’re especially aware of this. Our efforts go toward slowing down deterioration as much as possible, but we can’t completely stop it for any extended period of time. The story of Abba Paul helped me to see that the only thing that really endures is the interior work that we do, the stuff that we can’t see. How and what do we learn? How do we affect the lives of others around us? What I do, say, or write will impact someone else in a positive or negative way, and that will affect how they interact with others and the world, and that is how my work lives on. The exterior “basket” is really just a manifestation of that interior work. I have always been puzzled by the Buddhist tradition of making and then dismantling sand mandalas, but now it’s starting to become a little clearer to me.

Of course, I’m not about to gather up all of my writing and throw it on the bonfire that is DSC_0407burning right now in our driveway, cleaning up several years’ worth of branches and yard waste. I work in an archives after all, and my job is preserving, not destroying historical papers and artifacts. The ideas and knowledge contained in those materials provide the seeds for new creative work, and hopefully we will all be richer for it.

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