The Queen

Some of my mother’s irises always bloom
for Mother’s Day – she never cut them
but a wind-broken stem would be vased
though it saddened her looking so alone.
Flying white standards, bearded with purple falls —
the closest she ever came to royalty.

Royal Storm bearded iris

iris parts

Listening to Someone Else Reading Your Poem

On another blog of mine, I post occasionally about what I am listening to in the podcast/online/radio world.  One daily podcast I enjoy is The Writer’s Almanac which has been on radio since 1993. It ran on public radio through 2017 and episodes are archived online. Now, the show is available as a podcast and online on the host’s (Garrison Keillor) website.

I had listened to Garrison Keillor starting in 1974 on his radio show A Prairie Home Companion. I loved that voice and his ad-libbed weekly stories of the fictional town of Lake Wobegon.  I went on to read his short stories and novels. You can label him as author, storyteller, humorist, voice actor and radio personality. He hosted that show through 2016 when he retired and passed the reins over to others.

I was lucky to have three of my poems featured on the Almanac this month. I really enjoy hearing other people read my poems and that is not something I get to experience very often. It is interesting to hear the little spins and turns that someone else will take with your words.

It is also interesting to have your poem discussed in a classroom or group. I don’t mean in a workshop way, but just as a piece of literature.

I am posting links to the three poems here – even though they are not my usual ronka poems. You can read the poems there online, but I strongly recommend that you listen to him read the poems. The poems are at the end of the program, so you could fast-forward through the news, but I enjoy the news of the day every morning as much, sometimes even more, as the poem.

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey. This Gothic beauty was the original setting of my poem, “Shame.”

“Shame” is a serious poem that came from an experience I had as a young man in a beautiful cathedral.
The other two are less serious, though not totally meant to be funny.
“Who Shows Up at My Poetry Reading” portrays the kinds of people I actually have had show up at readings. The poem often gets laughs when I read it, though fellow poets may be more likely to just nod in recognition.
My poem, “Somewhat Optimistic Horoscopes,” came from reading an actual horoscope column online. The short-form horoscopes tend to be pretty positive, though you might get a warning prediction once in a while. What I thought was missing were ones that were somewhere in-between – and so this poem.



“Elemental” by Bruce Schauble

It is always great to find out that someone is reading your work online, but recently I discovered a reader and fellow writer who tried the ronka form. I “met” Bruce Schauble online a bunch of years ago. We were both teaching, blogging and writing creatively. It turned out we were also both doing art, but he was doing it on a much higher level.

Bruce recently retired as the Director of Instruction at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am a bit envious of that location – especially this weekend as we expect snow to blast us in the northeastern U.S. I’m sure Bruce can identify, since he taught for a few decades in Massachusetts before escaping to paradise.

Here’s some of what he recently posted on his blog at about what he calls “sonneteering.”

“For the last maybe six months I’ve been concentrating on writing, poetry mostly. There are always essentially three questions to be worked out in the writing of a poem: where to start, how far to go, and where to end. Ken Ronkowitz, a teacher and writer I admire who lives in New Jersey, maintains a whole bunch of web sites that have to do with writing and education and life. I’ve had fun with a form he invented, based loosely on the Japanese form of the tanka, which he calls the ronka. The formal rules are simple: five lines, seven words per line. It’s an interesting form to play with, because once you write your first line you only have three lines before whoops, it’s over.”

Here are two ronkas that he posted:

There’s a logic to all this, first
the leap into space, then the
attempt to see something quickly enough
that the last line (coming up fast)
doesn’t cut you off before you’re done.

Another April opens up, hummingbirds and bees
flitting in the branches of the cherry
trees, a restless breeze stirring the air.
The worst of the winter is behind
us, the sidewalks flanked with new flowers.

Then he turned to the sonnet form and found that “luxuriously roomy.” I can identify with that. With the 7 by 5 ronka form you will either love the compression, or feel a bit trapped.

As Bruce says, the sonnet is actually more flexible than the ronka. You can do the octave and sestet, or three quatrains and a couplet, or seven and seven. And you can do the rhyming or not.

NOTE: I have also experimented with the double ronka (two 5 line stanzas) and there is nothing stopping you from stringing together a series of ronkas renga-style.

As I commented on Bruce’s post, I was working on a sonnet last year, and discovered the quatorzain. The quatorzain (from Italian quattordici or French quatorze, fourteen) is a poem of fourteen lines. Though people sometimes use the term interchangeably with the sonnet, it is usually used to distinguish fourteen line poems that do not follow the various rules that describe the sonnet.

Here is one of Bruce’s sonnets:

Questions about Art

Painting is still the material form of desire. – William Logan

Supposing this to be true, what kind of desire
might we be talking about? Sublimation? The yellows
and reds and blues inviting, as flowers do, bees,
the oblique mechanics of pollination and sex?
Is it a desire for self-transcendence, the urge to make
something to stand in for us when we are gone, to speak
for us once we can no longer speak for ourselves?
Or to evoke the viewer’s desire to possess this work,
the pride of owning objects we have coveted, and won?
Or perhaps simply the desire to have, for as long as
we hold the brush in our hand, a focus, a reason to hope
that at the end of the day’s work there will be something
real, something created, something visible to justify
the hours of our life given over to the making of it?

I recommend that you take a look at Bruce’s reflections on teaching, reading, and writing and art


Eighth Grade

Refuge from the confusion of home life.

A place where everything was scheduled, disciplined.

The comforting predictability of seven normal hours

of being expected to be only thirteen,

before I returned to early adulthood responsibilities.



Study Hall

After the dreaded Algebra and Chemistry when

we would talk music, read Rolling Stone,

eye the girls and share our fantasies

about them and the near far future

forgetting equations unbalanced, dreams never to happen.