Drawing from the well

Last night, I was honored to participate in a release party/poetry reading for the “Life in Your Time” edition of The Emerald Coast Review.

The poem I’d entered, I’d written for a rhymezone.com poetry contest on the theme of “Community.”  The original title of my narrative was “The Emerald Coast Community,” but I changed it to “Pensacola, 2016,” for this publication.  Ironically, the one piece I didn’t specifically write for “Emerald” was the one piece that was accepted.

I’ve learned that just because a piece is rejected, that doesn’t mean it won’t find a home.  (Just make sure to re-edit it after every rejection.)

I’ve become comfortable reading my poetry in front of people–we all seem to be accepting of one another and are probably more nervous than we let on.  I was blessed to have my support system–my husband, daughter (okay, she’s four and had to come), parents, and grandmother.  One of the women who is in our WriteOn! Pensacola group was there with her husband, so it was great to see someone I knew.

One thing I learned:  If there’s a microphone, use it!  The book should not have to serve as closed captions unless you are deaf.

We arrived early (catching a glimpse of an albino squirrel) and found out that security had been ordered, as there’s some burly guy in town who shows up at events and crashes them with his “preaching” (as the policeman put it).  I was already thinking that the subject of my next short story was going to show up, but I got a blog post instead.

As a writer, no experience is ever wasted.  I draw from the well that is my life in this time, in this locale, every day; I like to say that I’m an alchemist who mixes fact with fiction, so that each person who reads my words sifts out their own truths.

I have to say, Pensacola gave me the material I needed to bag this one.

~~~

I’ve lived in this town for thirty years, and written about it from many perspectives.  I believe that’s a gift writers have–we can see the same thing in many ways.  I see the beauty of Pensacola, as well as the ugliness, for it’s as extreme as its weather (which range from freezing cold to boiling hot), along with its rednecks and “country club Republicans,” its plethora of churches and homeless.

So I’ve immortalized Pensacola–this city “not quite confidential” several times.  Here are a few:

Our (Quirky) Town:  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/06/15/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-397-land-of-blank/

Do as the Pensacolians do:  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/11/23/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-23-theme-when-blank/

Haunted Pensacola:  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/07/01/saturday-evening-post-honorable-mention/

Local flavor:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/10/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-9-theme-work/

My “hit piece” (for which one local writer “questioned my mental health”):  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/19/daily-prompt-west-end-girls-2/

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#Micropoetry Monday: Nature

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Spring was the baby that grew up green,
Summer, the girl that burned blue,
Autumn, the lady of Calico,
& Winter, the snowy governess
of the spring babe.

Rosemary was a spring chicken,
Dill, a summer squash.
Thyme was a winter memory,
& Basil, a Beat Poet,
falling from the womb
too late.

There was something for everyone—
majestic blue mountains,
beaches of white or brown sugar sand,
the painted deserts of Madeline O’Keefe,
wide open spaces of Andrew Wyeth,
for it was a nation of immigrants–
all of whom could all find a piece
of what they’d left behind.

The stars were like white diamonds,
the water, a liquefied jewel,
the sand, infinitesimal crystal balls,
for in each,
was a world.

She was not homeless,
for her home was Planet Earth.
The clover grass was her bed,
a stone,
like Jacob’s,
her pillow,
the brook,
a cleansing bath.
The moonshine was her lullaby,
the sunshine,
a gentle nudge to wakefulness.
It was a home without walls,
& a ceiling without end.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #401: Repair

Holes

For what is broken
can be mended,
but what is shattered,
would be like trying to gather
all the tar balls from Pensacola Bay;
with cracks,
a pitcher can hold,
with stitches,
a garment can hold together,
but with pieces missing,
too much is revealed,
for the water sloshes,
spilling out what was left
that was still good.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 401

Saturday Evening Post: Honorable Mention

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So I just entered The Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story” contest, and read on their site that as long as a story was only published on a personal blog, it would qualify for submission.  That led me to inquire if it would be permissible for me to post my story that placed as an Honorable Mention in their contest two years ago (and published in their digital anthology); they said that was fine (and also appreciated the mention).

My short story was based on a cold case (literally and figuratively) of a grave-robber who haunted Pensacola, Florida, in the Fifties.  It’s a mystery that spans generations and ends up answering the question, “Whodunit?”

I just posted the first several lines, and included the story in its entirety as a PDF for those interested in reading the whole thing.

The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery

“Grandma,” Ellie Dolan said, holding the birdlike, bluish-white hand of the woman who had raised her after her mother’s passing.  “I have wonderful news.  Mr. Trune loved the stories I sent him, and he’s going to give me my own space.  He really dug the idea of a cold case column.”

She had expected her grandmother to look pleased, but she only looked troubled.

The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery

Conference and Conversation with Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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Two of the intangibles I’ve gained since becoming a college student in my thirties are confidence and perspective; I’m not sure that would’ve happened had I continued with my original plan–get my degree in Health Information Technology and be done with it.

The semester I took a Creative Writing elective, I began to seek out more opportunities to enrich my college experience, which included participating in poetry readings, writing for the student newspaper, and work-studying in the English Department.  Attending events, such as plays, art shows, and Book Talks, broadened my experience even more.

The best Book Talk I’ve attended thus far was given by columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson (http://www.timesdaily.com/life/columnists/rheta_grimsley_johnson/rheta-grimsley-johnson-make-much-of-something-small/article_ab2398fa-af14-56c5-b20c-22eeeb51902b.html).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

PENSACOLA, FL.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a lady one might mistake for a schoolteacher, with her pearl necklace and long dress, and pleasant voice with a Southern lilt. “You can make a living as a writer,” she told an audience at Pensacola State College.

As many lovers of words are wont to do, she quoted Robert Frost, who said that writers “write about the common things in an uncommon way.”

The column that propelled her career as a newspaper columnist was about her dad losing his job. This resonated because corporate America no longer valued loyalty, but was all about hiring younger and cheaper. “My dad was a company man,” she said, and it was like being “bitten by his own dog…this one piece took on a life of its own.” Her editor loved all the letters that came in, in response to the column.

Years ago, she was told by one of her editors not to write about children or dogs. “Don’t write like a girl….don’t write about emotional stuff,” Johnson said. “There was always a dog right there next to me, no matter what was going on in my life.”

Johnson lived in Pensacola as a young child. “I knew even at seven we were trading down,” she says, of when her family relocated from Pensacola to Montgomery, Alabama. She can still remember the first time she heard wind chimes—it was a “magical time”.

In 1989, Johnson wrote a biography of Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip. When Schulz complained about the popularity of “Doonesbury,” Johnson asked why he didn’t write a political cartoon. “I want to stick with the verities.” Like Johnson, Schulz sticks with “the human condition” which transcends time.

Being a seasoned writer, Johnson doled out some sage advice: She doesn’t like v-words, like “virtual” and “vis-à-vis”—“fancy pants little words you don’t really need.” “Very” is a common repeat offender and needs to be locked away, brevity is key.

According to Johnson, people have a nine-second attention span (while goldfish have 13), she works hard on her lead.

Like the old-school notion of the three R’s being reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, Johnson says good writing has three R’s:

The first one is rhythm. Reading it aloud is the “best way to self-edit…Good writing has rhythm, just like a song.”

“If you know how to write a short, declarative sentence, you will be sought out… Good nonfiction should read like fiction…good fiction should be as well researched as nonfiction.”

Keeping a journal to jot down things as they come to her is like “having money in the bank.” Having written four columns a week, she says, “Writers block is a luxury.”

The second R was restraint. “Just say what happened.”

The third R is routine. “Try to write in the same place…same time of day.”

Because newspaper circulation is on the decline, she said, “I’m going to completely outlive newspapers…I needed to reinvent myself a little bit.” Johnson has authored “Hank Hung the Moon:…and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts” and “The Dogs Buried over the Bridge: A Memoir in Dog Years.”

“He sang me through a lot,” she says of Hank Williams, and dogs “teach us more than we teach them,” such as taking naps and hiding the best treats.

Johnson’s writing career hasn’t been one of a “front-porch thumb sucker,” but one of getting outside her head and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, 550 words at a time. “You meet the most interesting people at laundromats and bus stations.” Stories are everywhere. A good writer knows it when he or she hears (or sees) it.

Makeup on Empty Space: Poetry Reading Night

“Poetry can be a transmission to help you notice things.”
–Anne Waldman, 22 April 2017, Pensacola State College, at The Lyceum

Last night, I attended a poetry reading by poet, Anne Waldman, whose workshop I attended Friday.  I don’t write about these things so much to report, but rather to highlight the impact the event had on me.

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Anne’s son, Ambrose Bye, played the piano, which added to the ambiance, and behind them, flashed images of what she called a “family album”, or “honorary album”–pictures of poets, brain diagrams (which the medical student in me appreciated), indigenous peoples, nature (and perhaps environmental devastation–I’m not sure), so one could say that Anne had the three “poeias” down (words, music, images). 

One of the lines that captured me was “her century needed her to see above the height of the grass” which conjured up images of antitheses to anti-Christs (the latter who may always come in the form of a man).

Her poetry was written (and performed, rather than recited) in a woman’s spirit.  It wasn’t even her words so much that moved me, but the musicality of her words.  At heart, I am a storyteller; I like characters, and so many of my poems read like stories, so I saw, or rather heard, the expression of poetry in a new way.

The only thing that wasn’t for me were the chants, because it reminded me of speaking in tongues (except hers weren’t creepy).

She opened with singing the “Anthropocene Blues,” which sounded like an old-time religion church hymn.  (Btw, anthropocene is the name for the geological time we’re living in, where mankind has a significant impact on the environment.)

She also spoke on the theme of “archive,” which she defined as “an antithesis to a war on memory.”  We are living in a technological age where our words will be out there forever, which makes me very happy as a writer, but probably wouldn’t if I were a politician.  Politicians often wage a “war on memory” by trying to con their constituents/employers, saying they never said (insert inflammatory statement) if they did, as there is usually video to back it up.

Her poem on suffering was recited in a way that made me think of bullets being shot or bombs being dropped in rapid succession.  No, we don’t want to be seen as the age when people were killing each other or destroying the planet, though every age since the beginning of time can claim the mantle of the former.  We just have the power now to execute the latter.

One of Anne’s refrains was “pushing against the darkness”; I think of poetry as a way of illuminating the world.  It is the color where there is only black-and-white.  (The movie Pleasantville comes to mind.)

She recited what she called a “feminist love poem” about the g-spot (reminiscent of an apostrophe poem), which she described as a “genie trapped in a bottle.”

I concur.

I learned that the manatee is related to the elephant, and what human doesn’t love a herbivorous animal and one that won’t kill you for the hell of it?  She made a good point about man having no use for the manatee, which I took as an allegory for how humans judge one another’s worth–by their perceived usefulness or productivity (even to them).

Because racehorses have use for man, men breed them.

There was a question-and-answer session at the end, and, as Jamey Jones, the local Poet Laureate put it, “Anne really cares.”  She believes in her work, and that poets can change the world.

I will say that it already has, for is not the Bible a book of poetry?  Does that mean something has to be packaged as religion, or absolute truth, to change the world?

Something to think about.

Poem-a-Day 2017 Writer’s Digest Challenge #10. Theme: Travel

Considering I just returned from a journalism field trip yesterday (explaining my delay), “travel” was a timely theme.

Sunday and Monday, our Corsair group (The Corsair is the Pensacola State College newspaper: http://ecorsair.com/movie-review-like-water-for-chocolate/) went to Tallahassee to attend the “Word of South” festival and tour the old and new capital buildings. We also got to talk to a lobbyist about guns on campus and educational funding, and visit the Tallahassee Democrat, the last of which was the best part of the trip, as we got to talk to student reporters of the FSView (the Florida State University student paper) and the editor of the Democrat. We also got to see how newspapers were made, and though I love the look and feel of a print paper, I don’t believe print (books, perhaps, but not periodicals) will be around in 100 years.

I learned that degrees matter, but majors don’t have to lock you into a field. Just because I’m majoring in health information technology doesn’t mean I must work in the healthcare field. I would still love to work at Sacred Heart Hospital (I’ve always said I’d rather work in a cold hospital rather than a hot kitchen), but if I could work for a newspaper, writing about the healthcare field (perhaps with a human-interest slant/angle) I would like that even more. People who write don’t just write—they are doctors, lawyers, politicians, pilots, business people, etc. I’m a writer who happens to be majoring in something that is more medical coding than creative writing.

A question I asked on the trip was if this editor only hired journalism majors. He basically said he would hire any person with expertise, provided they could write well about it. (One of the ladies who worked there was a theatre major.) Everyone I know believes I am an English major, and I guess you could say I had gone after what I was supposed to want, not what I really wanted, because I was afraid what I really wanted wouldn’t pay the bills, but this was something I had to find out for myself. I live my life without regrets—pursuing this medical degree has brought me to where I am now, and I love where I am now.

I had this life plan all mapped out, and even though the map is constantly being redrawn, it isn’t frustrating—it’s liberating. Life is a process, always.

hassee

Tallahassee, 10 Apr 2017

She thought she had come too far to change her mind,
but the choice she had made for the good of her family,
would not limit the choices she could make;
for majors did not determine the only thing she could do—
it simply paved the way to greater things.

2017 April PAD Challenge: Day 10