Monday, September 25, 2017


My friends, we have a treat for you today. I know you have been enjoying, as much as we have, the poetry of one of our newer members, Sarah Russell, of   Sarah Russell Poetry We are zipping across-country to Pennsylvania to sit down with her, and are so looking forward to it. Sarah has an interest in dollmaking, and her work is so exquisite it can't be considered a hobby, rather another art form. Draw your chairs in close. You won't want to miss a single word.

Sherry: Sarah, recently you posted the most beautiful poem about your 25th anniversary. Would you tell us little about your wonderful life, your husband, your family, your work in the field of academia – anything that will help us know you better?

Sarah: First, thank you so much for asking me to do an interview.  Totally unexpected!  Where to start…   During the school year Roy and I live in State College, Pennsylvania, where Roy is a professor and department chair in the Education School at Penn State.  Summers and Christmases we spend in Colorado to be with children (3) and grandchildren (6).  

We love to travel, and we have lived in Oxford, England for a year and in Finland for six months.  Before we met, Roy lived in Kenya, teaching and training for Peace Corps, and I lived in Paris as a college student, so we try to indulge our love of other cultures every chance we get.  

Two years ago, we spent May in Paris where we put a padlock on a ring on the quai of the Seine to renew our vows, and tossed the keys in the river (frowned on, but so romantic!), and this year we returned and found the lock, safe and sound with 5 other locks added by other lovers. 

Sherry: Oh, my goodness, so romantic!

Sarah: We have a puppy mill rescue parti-colored poodle named Smudge who is 6 years old and who works as our personal trainer. 

There’s a beautiful wooded park in State College where we go every day to walk and receive Shinrin-yoku – our forest bath.  It always refreshes our souls to breathe air tinged with pine.  Smudge is the smallest (and arguably the smartest) of the 5 rescue dogs we’ve adopted over the years—a funny, loveable little guy.  In fact, we turn down most invitations to go out because we’d rather spend our time with him and with each other.  The life of semi-recluses, I guess. 

Sherry: That would be my choice, too! He is such a cute boy. (And your husband is handsome too, lol.) This might be the perfect place to include one of the beautiful poems you have written to your husband.  

If I Had Three Lives

               After "Melbourne" by the Whitlams

If I had three lives, I'd marry you in two.
The other?  Perhaps that life over there
at Starbucks, sitting alone, writing – a memoir,
maybe a novel or this poem.  No kids, probably,
a small apartment with a view of the river,
and books – lots of books, and time to read.  
Friends to laugh with, and a man sometimes,
for a weekend, to remember what skin feels like
when it's alive.  I'd be thinner in that life, vegan,
practice yoga.  I’d go to art films, farmers markets,
drink martinis in swingy skirts and big jewelry.  
I’d vacation on the Maine coast and wear a flannel shirt
weekend guy left behind, loving the smell of sweat
and aftershave more than I did him.  I’d walk the beach
at sunrise, find perfect shell spirals and study pockmarks
water makes in sand.  And I'd wonder sometimes
if I'd ever find you.

                                            First published in Silver Birch

Sherry: Oh, my goodness, this is wonderful. Those closing lines! They gave me goose bumps. Where did you grow up, Sarah? Were you creative as a child?

Sarah: I was born and raised in Muskegon, Michigan, the only child of older parents, so I spent a lot of time alone with my imagination.  My father was an invalid who loved poetry.  He always scanned poems for rhyme and meter, and taught me to have an “ear” for the music of poetry.  I wrote a poem every day  when I was in high school—the normal angst-filled or maiden/hero fare of adolescence—which have mercifully been lost over time, but it was wonderful discipline for daily writing, and it led me to majors in English and French in college.

Sherry: I am interested in your years in the women’s movement in the 70’s. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?

Sarah: That was another period of poetry for me—my shrill poetry, I call it now.  Having been socialized in the 50's, the concepts and truths of the women’s movement hit me like a hammer.  Sometimes I would read a passage from feminist literature and literally have to remember to breathe because it was so true, and so much the life I was living.  I was expecting my third child when I decided to return to school for a masters and doctorate.  

I didn’t follow my instincts to get degrees in English or Theater (another love from high school and college) but went into mass communication and communication theory.  My very traditional marriage fell victim to my feminist thought and my return to academe, but in time, while teaching at the University of Memphis, it led me to Roy and a great deal of happiness.

Sherry: I felt the same way back then, in a stifling marriage as the thunderbolt of The Feminine Mystique was awakening me. I am so glad you found lasting happiness.

When did you begin writing poetry again?

Sarah: When I retired after working for the Colorado AIDS Project as their communication director, and then as an editor at Penn State for several years, I was again drawn to poetry.  But oh, how it had changed!  Rhyme had given way to the thrilling freedom of free verse, and I loved it.  

I’ve read that you should read 100 poems for every poem you write, and I had some catching up to do if I were going to write in the 21st century.  I read and read and read before I started writing again.  I still adhere to the 100 to 1 rule and spend every morning, and sometimes the afternoon as well, reading and writing.  

I love the rewrite part.  Generally I write a first draft as prose, not even looking at the iPad keys—just putting it ALL down.  Then I’ll leave it to germinate, and when I go back to it, later that day or the next, it starts to coalesce as a poem.  I save an original copy of the prose, then prune and prune, shaping it until it looks right, then leave it again.  I may go back 4 or 5 times before I’m ready to let anyone else read it.

Sherry: That method seems to work very well for you. Your poems are very polished. What do you love about writing poetry?

Sarah: Words, meter, nuance, metaphor, the unexpected images I find, the search for just the right phrase to describe a concept.  I believe in clear, honest words and everyday scenes to portray abstract ideas.  And I believe the bigger the concept, the more intimate the image should be that illustrates it.  Many times the whole poem becomes a metaphor.  And I love it when readers find more in a poem than I have seen myself. 

Sherry: We are all anticipating reading a few of your poems. Let's dive in!

Sarah: I am currently muddling through my poems to form a chapbook.  I’ve always thought that borders, seams, where meadow meets woods, shifts in thinking or feeling, frontiers, are where the new or unexpected happens, so I’m working on that theme.  Here are three poems that will be in the chapbook.  I’m not much for explaining my poems, so I’ll let them speak for themselves. 

Leaving West Virginia

The road curls snug against the hills,
dips into hollows, rises up through stands
of oak, rough against dun clouds
that promise snow.

Old Jimmy waves goodbye, and Maude
is backlit in the door.  Homesick starts here
on this gravel road, I guess -- nuzzling deep
in sun-sweet quilts, an owl keeping himself
company at midnight, clanking the old stove
to life come morning.

The world is raw, waiting where the road
goes flat and blurs in a rush to get somewhere.
I watched for dawn this morning, breathless to be gone.
Now I want to salt away this place the way it is,
the way I was.

                          First published in Kentucky Review

I lost summer somewhere

in the wildflowers, woke
to trees blushing at my disregard,
wind hurrying the clouds along.  
I should have seen the signs.
I watched geese abandon their twigged
April nests, pin-feathered goslings
ripple ponds listless with July.  Now they rise
gray against the gray sky, skeining south
before first snows.

I'll stay here, I tell them.  I'll air out
cedared cardigans, chop carrots
for the soup tonight, cross
the threshold of the equinox,
try not to stumble.
                              First published in Poetry Breakfast

The Cottage

I've grown quiet here. My mind
has opened to woodsong
and the smell of earth turned
by a trowel.

I enjoy solitude, even when regrets
or the throb of an old lover happen by.
Sometimes I invite them in, make
a ritual of teacups on starched linen,
a silver server for the scones.
We reminisce 'til shadows trace
across the floor, call them away.

Afterwards, I tidy up, wipe away
drops spilled in the pouring.  I save
the leftovers though they're getting stale.
I may crumble them on the porch rail
tomorrow for sparrows
before I garden.
                 First published in Poetry Breakfast

Sherry: I love your poems, the owl keeping itself company, "homesick starts here", woodsong and crumbling the leftover scones (and memories?) on the railing for the birds....sigh. So lovely.

Do you have a favourite poet? Do you feel he or she influences your work?

Sarah: In high school, I devoured Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work, and I still love her poetry.  But now I read more free verse.  Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Stephen Dunn, Thomas Lux.  Poets who don’t obfuscate.  I believe you should get something the first time you read a poem.  You should get more on a second reading, and even more with a third or fourth.  But I have no patience for poetry that is pretentious and/or obscure.  Thomas Lux said that kind of poetry is “just rude.”  I agree.

Sherry: I do, too. I like to be able to understand what I am reading. Is there someone you feel has had a significant influence on/or has been a strong encourager of your creativity? 

Sarah: I am in a poetry workshop group in State College that has met every other Saturday morning for 4 years.  The people in that close knit group have been invaluable in helping me shape my poems and my style.  And for three years I have had a writing buddy whom I met online.  We’ve never met in person. When I have taken a poem as far as I can alone, I send it to him.  He sends his first draft poems to me. We truly are in one another’s heads, we trust each other, and the changes he suggests are always spot on.  I treasure our friendship.

Sherry: Your work is well supported. That certainly helps keep the creative juices flowing. What other interests do you enjoy? 

Sarah: For 20 years I sculpted one-of-a-kind dolls, a pastime, then a career for a time.  I specialized in Native American dolls from various tribes, and I did a series of dolls based on Edward Curtis’s photographs taken at the turn of the century. 

Here are a couple of pictures, and there are more on my old website (I haven’t updated it in several years, but if anyone is interested the URL is  

When we moved to a townhouse I stopped making dolls and turned to writing, since dollmaking takes a lot of room and a lot of supplies. 

Sherry: Sarah, your dolls are exquisite. I love that they are Native American. They are so realistic. 

Thank you, Sarah,  for this lovely visit. We are so happy you found your way to us, and look forward to enjoying much more of your work. Is there anything, in closing, that you would like to say to Poets United?

Sarah: I feel so fortunate to have discovered Poets United.  You all have been so welcoming. I love working from prompts and trying new forms, if I have time to work on them long enough to be satisfied with the results.  I’ve met some amazing poets, and I’ve been reading wonderful poetry.  What a great group!

In a couple of other interviews I’ve read, they have closed with a short poem.  Here’s one I would like to share:


Black-eyed Susans gossip in the gullies
between the road and corn
past harvest,
clouds in feather boas waltz
through pale silk skies, and cows head home
for milking, while
the hawk holds vigil on a fence post.
                              First published in The Houseboat

What a wonderfully visual poem! I love it! Wasn't this a heartwarming visit, my friends? Each poet's journey and story is so unique. That's why I love doing these features. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Poetry Pantry #372

Photos Taken Along the Bay Trail
by Bekkie Sanchez

A lone century plant blooms amongst the anise (or fennel.)
These do not grow along the Bay Tail but this one did. The birds and I love it.

A sea monster at the Magic Mountain Playground in the Coyote Point
park tried to steal away with my bicycle!

Coyote Point is a state park of Eucalyptus trees with a harbor, a museum,
 a large playground for children and more with trails running throughout.

Morning (and sparkling water) at Coyote Point
overlooking the San Mateo bridge.

This water fountain at the Oracle company was dry for years.
Now that the drought is over it’s back. What I like
 is when you look closely at the water on the rocks it
 makes beautiful patterns with the light.

There are a group of at least 6 snowy egrets in these trees.
They like to hide out and even sit in trees when not hunting up food.

Greetings, Friends!  The photos in Poetry Pantry today are courtesy of our biker Poet Bekkie Sanchez, who took them along the Bay Trail in California.  The words are Bekkie's as well.  I love that she photographed places that she saw as she biked, don't you?  Sherry will be featuring her interview with Bekkie soon.  Stay tuned!

This week many of you wrote poetry to Susan's Midweek Motif prompt - "Peace." A very apt prompt for the week when the world celebrated the International Day of Peace. Next week Sumana's prompt will be "Rising Above."

Friday Rosemary featured the poem "It Was Long Ago" by Eleanor Farjeon!  A very nostalgic poem - a lovely feature. Check it out, if you haven't.

Be sure to return on Monday to read an interview with another poet fairly new to Poets United, though certainly not to writing poetry.  Smiles.

With no delay, let's share poetry.  Link your poem below.  Stop in and say hello in the comments. And then visit the poems of others who have posted!  See you on the trail.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Living Dead

It Was Long Ago

I'll tell you, shall I, something I remember?
Something that still means a great deal to me.
It was long ago.

A dusty road in summer I remember,
A mountain, and an old house, and a tree
That stood, you know,

Behind the house. An old woman I remember
In a red shawl with a grey cat on her knee
Humming under a tree.

She seemed the oldest thing I can remember.
But then perhaps I was not more than three.
It was long ago.

I dragged on the dusty road, and I remember
How the old woman looked over the fence at me
And seemed to know

How it felt to be three, and called out, I remember
'Do you like bilberries and cream for tea?'
I went under the tree.

And while she hummed, and the cat purred, I remember
How she filled a saucer with berries and cream for me
So long ago.

Such berries and such cream as I remember
I never had seen before, and never see
Today, you know.

And that is almost all I can remember,
The house, the mountain, the gray cat on her knee,
Her red shawl, and the tree,

And the taste of the berries, the feel of the sun I remember,
And the smell of everything that used to be
So long ago,

Till the heat on the road outside again I remember
And how the long dusty road seemed to have for me
No end, you know.

That is the farthest thing I can remember.
It won't mean much to you. It does to me.
Then I grew up, you see.

— Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

I used to love Eleanor Farjeon's stories when I was growing up. Sometimes they contained poems; and this poem could well have been written for children. The 'you know' and 'you see' (which I admit I find slightly irritating) could suggest as much.

However the nostalgia for a special moment in childhood belongs to the adult, even if in the poem she means to address children. She makes me feel it too, almost as if I had had that very experience. Although I didn't, and you didn't, we can all, I'm sure, remember berries and cream, sunny days, dusty roads, cats and kindly old women.

Wikipedia tells us that she '
was an English author of children's stories and plays, poetry, biography, history and satire. Several of her works had illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. Some of her correspondence has also been published. She won many literary awards and the Eleanor Farjeon Award for children's literature is presented annually in her memory by the Children's Book Circle, a society of publishers.'

She came from an artistic and literary family. Her father was a novelist, her mother the daughter of an actor. Poetry Foundation describes their home as 'a literary and artistic hub'. One younger brother grew up to be a composer, another a novelist, and the oldest (to whom she was very close) a Shakespearean scholar and drama critic. A timid child with poor eyesight ('Just like me!' I can't help thinking) Eleanor grew up to have a wide range of literary friends, including D. H. Lawrence, Walter de la Mare, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.

Her best-known poem was written as a hymn, to put words to an old Gaelic tune. You'll know it — it's the beautiful Morning Has Broken (which she titled Morning Song) usually credited to Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) whose singing popularised it.

Her best-known novel, the unforgettable Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, was written for adults but became famous as a children's story. It works on both levels, delighted me when I was a child and still does.

You can read more of her poems at PoemHunter. Some of her books (more fiction than poetry) are listed at her Amazon page; a few of them are even in Kindle. I just grabbed the Martin Pippin book and its sequel, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field; high time for a re-read.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright). This picture of Eleanor Farjeon is in the Public Domain.