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.

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.



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!


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.


Liebster Award

I’ve been so busy this summer that I haven’t had a chance to properly thank Linda Hasselstrom ( for nominating me for the Liebster Award way back in May. I had never heard of it before, so I clicked on the link that she provided to read more about it. It is an award that is given to bloggers by other bloggers, and is a way to help others increase their readership. It’s another creative way that writers can help each other.


I looked at the rules and figured that I could follow all of them except the one that requires me to nominate five to eleven blogs that I follow that have less than 1000 followers. Unfortunately I just don’t follow too many blogs, but I’ve decided that even though I can’t fulfill all of the rules, I can use this nomination as a writing exercise.

These are the questions that Linda posed to me and the other bloggers that she nominated, and my responses:

1. What event made you start writing? There wasn’t a single event that made me start writing. I’ve always enjoyed it since I was in grade school. I still have some of the papers that I wrote for my writing assignments in grade school and high school.
2. What do you enjoy reading? I read a lot of poetry, especially poets from the Great Plains, and I also like to read novels and nonfiction when I have the time. I used to not read as much poetry as I do now, until I went to a book festival and listened to a panel of writers talk about writing. One of the panelists, Ted Kooser, said that “a poet should read 30 poems for every one poem they write.” After I heard that, I decided to set aside time each morning to read some poetry. That quiet time in the morning has been one of the best things I did for myself and my writing.
3. What do you read for inspiration or encouragement? Poetry! 🙂
4. Why do you write? What a big question that is. I have no idea, I just have to.
5. How much time do you spend writing each day? Well, I count my poetry reading and journaling time as writing, and that is about 40 minutes every day. I also try to set aside a block of several hours each weekend to work on a writing project.
6. How might you realistically rearrange your schedule to have more writing time? I’ve come to realize that I simply can’t do everything that I would like to, so I try to concentrate on the most important things. If I can’t schedule a block of time during the weekend for writing, I try to make up the time by setting aside several hours on a week night.
7. What do you do for relaxation and enjoyment? Gardening, hiking, travel, reading, baking bread, making soup.
8. What incident have you never written about? There are so many that I wouldn’t know which one to pick.
9. What is the best thing you have written and why? I can’t choose just one. They’re like my children and have different qualities and reflect a unique time and experience.
10. What question do you wish I had asked? Who are your favorite writers? My favorite South Dakota poets are Linda Hasselstrom, Kathleen Norris, Jeanne Emmons, Lee Ann Roripaugh (South Dakota’s new Poet Laureate), Leo Dangel, David Allan Evans, Patrick Hicks, and Jim Reese. And then there are Nebraska poets Marjorie Saiser, Twyla Hansen, Bill Kloefkorn, and Ted Kooser; Minnesota poets Freya Manfred, Joyce Sutphen, Tom Hennen who also has connections to South Dakota, and many others in and outside of this region.

I haven’t found the time to seek out many blogs on my own, but I would encourage my followers to check out the other blog pages that Linda nominated. If you’re following my blog you may enjoy these writers as well:

Andrea Jones Andrea’s first book is Between Urban and Wild, in which she writes about country life at her home in the Colorado Rockies.

Darcy Lipp Acord Her published memoir is Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey.

Mary Jo Doig Mary Jo is working on her memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.

Jane Wolfe Jane and I appear to have some similar interests: gardening and the ever-changing prairie.

Lisa Sharp Lisa writes about her life on an Arizona ranch in her book, A Slow Trot Home.

Deb Carpenter-Nolting and Lyn Messersmith This blog is authored by the Cottonwood Collective, a group of women writers from the west, the plains, and the prairies of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

I would like to close with a few questions for my readers:

1. What memorable family or community stories do you know (and have never written down) that other people may enjoy reading about?

2. What would you like future generations to know about you?

3. What stories do you remember your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends telling you when you were a child (or grownup)?

Even if you think that someone else has already told the stories you may want to tell, each person remembers events and people differently. You have a unique perspective that no one else has.

Thanks again, Linda, for always looking for new ways to encourage other writers!


A Flag Story For Flag Day

A year ago this month, textile conservator Terri Schindel led a group of local volunteers in a “living exhibit,” the conservation of the 38-star flag that was the last to fly over Fort Sisseton in northern South Dakota. The flag was rediscovered during a conservation workshop that I attended at the fort in 2012, and I was surprised and delighted to be asked by Terri to help with the project. I told her that I wasn’t an expert with needle and thread, but would be happy to help in any way that I could.

DSC_0676It turned out that I would have needed a lot of practice to learn the required stitches to work on the flag, and the team had only 30 days to complete the project. Thankfully, many of the other volunteers were gifted needleworkers. I thought that I could help the most by doing the documentation, writing down the decisions made and steps taken to conserve the flag and taking pictures of the conservation in progress. I had never done anything like this before and there was no template to follow. I decided to document the process in much the same way as I journal every day. I had to learn a whole new vocabulary in order to describe the work being done. I learned about the parts of the flag such as the canton, the fly end, and the pole end. I also learned sewing and fabric terms like applique and back stitch, warp, and weft, and I learned conservation terms like humidification, and the difference between conservation and restoration. Of course, as a writer I love to learn new words so the task fit right in with my strengths and interests. P1070565

You may wonder what a “living exhibit” is. The work on the flag took place on site at Fort Sisseton, and people visiting the fort could watch the conservation in progress. Some of the volunteers were designated as “interpreters” to explain the conservation process and tell about the history of the flag to the people who stopped by to look at the flag. Many of the visitors were surprised at how large the flag is, about nine by sixteen feet. Three feet of the fly end were removed at some point in its history, probably because it had gotten tattered in the wind when it flew above the fort over 100 years ago.

The best part of the project for me was learning the story of the flag. The most common question we had from visitors was whether we were going to restore the flag. I think our human nature is to want to fix things that are damaged, to make them perfect again, like new. That is what we would do if we restored the flag. Conservation means that we clean and stabilize the flag to keep more damage from happening to it, but not “fix” or repair it. The first rule of conservation is to do no damage, and the second rule is to do nothing that can’t be undone.

P1070613I began to realize how much of the flag’s story was contained in the things that made it imperfect. The tattered fly end meant that the flag had been flown. The repairs to it and the types of stitches used told other stories about the life of the flag. A large piece of the canton had been patched and we tried to figure out why and how it had been replaced. Some of the questions we had will probably never be answered — they will remain mysteries.

Last week, two other volunteers and I were asked to speak at the flag dedication ceremony about our experiences conserving the flag. The event took place during this year’s annual Fort Sisseton Historical Festival. We tried to decide what to speak about as we prepared before the ceremony, and realized that the story of the flag is as big, or bigger than the flag itself. You can read more about its history here, in the South Dakota Conservation Digest January/February 2014 issue.

Happy Flag Day!



A Poinsettia Story in the Springtime?

I really enjoy gardening, and the large bay window of my home is filled with plants year-round. For the most part, this is a good thing, except that I have a really hard time throwing out living plants that I’ve nurtured, even when they get spindly, tip over, or grow too large to be inside. I often plant them outside, and let the frost take them in the fall. The same is true for Christmas poinsettias that I’ve bought or received as gifts. I water them all winter, and then in the spring I move them outside. I had two poinsettias in the house for Christmas over a year ago, one red and one white. I kept them in the bay window after they finished blooming, watered them until spring, and then planted them outside in the flower bed. Dsc_01232008-06-01

Last fall, one of them was still doing really well so I thought, what the heck, I’ll put it in a pot, bring it inside, and see if I can get it to bloom for Christmas. I’ve done that before by putting the plant in the guest bedroom and making sure that it gets no more than 10 to 12 hours of sunlight a day for about ten weeks. Even light from indoor bulbs can affect the bud set, so I move it into a closet if guests need to use the room. This time, however, I didn’t start limiting the light exposure to the plant until early November, and that wasn’t enough time for it to set flower buds. The flowers didn’t appear by Christmas, so I moved it back into the window with my other plants after the holidays.

We’ve been really busy the last few weeks, and I neglected to water the poinsettia before we left on a weekend trip. When we came back, all of the leaves were brown and shriveled and I was sure that it was a goner. I decided to water it anyway, just in case there was a little life left in the stems. A few days later,small green leaves started to appear on the tips of the stems. This weekend while watering the plants in the window, I picked up the poinsettia and took it outside to brush off all of the dead leaves. When I looked at it closely, I saw that the new leaves appearing at the top were not leaves at all, they were actually the flowers opening, and I could see that this poinsettia was the white one.

PoinsettiaI went through all kinds of theories about how this could have happened when I was making no attempt whatever to limit the light exposure to the plant. The spring equinox was about a month before the plant began to bloom, and during the time before the equinox, we would have had less than 12 hours of light every day. However the plant was in the living room the whole time, and the room lights would often have been on when it was dark outside. Besides that, I started some herb seeds in pots about a month ago, and have grow lights in a plant stand next to the window that are governed by a timer to be turned on for over twelve hours every day.

I’ve decided to just think of it as one of those little miracles that can happen when we keep watering, keep trying even when things may appear hopeless. Most of the deciduous trees outside are still bare, but the branches are beginning to look like the stems of this spunky little poinsettia. New green leaves are uncurling from the tips of the branches, and many of the trees and bushes have begun sprouting delicate, aromatic blossoms.

Happy spring!



Photo by W.M. Jones
Photo by W.M. Jones

I attended a candlelight vigil organized by the South Dakota State University Nepalese Student Association late last week. The recent earthquake has been devastating for their home country, and  this was an opportunity for the SDSU and Brookings communities to show their support for the Nepalese people during this very difficult time. You can read more about SDSU’s response to the earthquake here.

I attended the vigil Thursday night, and left the event that evening with some ideas for a poem. Usually I like to let new poems sit for a while and work on them later when I can be more objective, but it seemed to me that I should share this poem now while the event is so fresh in all of our minds. Please forgive me if it seems a little rough around the edges since I just wrote it today.

for the Nepalese earthquake victims

About one hundred
of us move ahead
to come closer
to join hands
and I hear
the grass whisper
as we shuffle forward.

Later, at home
I hear the soft
murmur of the rain
through the closed window
and open it
to listen, to hope.