Living and Dying with Grace

BULLETIN: Kenn Nesbitt, Our U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, has joined the celebration this month of our 5th anniversary of Word of the Month Poetry Challenge. Not once but twice! With thanks to Kenn, I hope everyone will scroll to the bottom of the adult poems for excellent examples of Kenn’s winning humor!

REMINDER: We are also blessed this month with the first student poems we’ve seen in a very long time. Please read them and let the students know how much we enjoy their work and appreciate them and their teachers!

Hi everyone,

Let me tell you about a new book. It’s called LIVING AND DYING WITH GRACE: A CAREGIVER’S JOURNAL. and is written by Susan Carmichael. I met Susan when she attended my first poetry workshop in 2011. The Barn wasn’t built yet so we met in the farmhouse that once was home to the founders of Highlights.Poetry Workshop at Honesdale, 2011 024 The picture is of Susan (left) and Heidi Mordhorst having an animated chat. Eight poets attended that workshop and we named ourselves SWAP 8+1. Swap had to do “with us swapping poems, energy, problems and success, plus all the help we give each other.”

True to our name, the members of SWAP 8+1 have remained faithful with correspondence. We have shared sadness, job and address changes, and warming success. Quite a bit of publishing news has been shared and I continue to be impressed by the determination of these poets to find outlets for their work. I’ll report on everyone’s adventures in a blog this week.

But for now, back to Susan and her new book. This one is not poetry. It’s about Horace, her father-in-law, who was a fine man and her good friend. Toward the end of his life Susan was deeply involved in caring for Horace and learning from him, in the process, the grace of dying with humor, kindness, and consideration.

I began reading this book as a favor and ended it with appreciation, not to mention the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I recommend Susan’s book for anyone who is caring for, has cared for, or might find themselves caring for a beloved family member. Susan, thank you for writing this.

If you want a copy of your own, http://www.livinganddyingwithgrace.com is the only place Susan is selling it. She says, “if a group would like several copies, e-mail her at susan@livinganddyingwithgrace.com and she will gladly fill the request.

June WOM winners and July WOM word and WRITERS AT WORK: We get letters — and e-mails, too! (Part 4)

Hi everyone,

Today has three parts.
1) Announce our winning poets for June Word of the Month.
2) Present the WOM word for July.
3) Post the 4th segment of June’s WRITERS AT WORK.

1) Remember, we have two categories for winning poets. Hall of Fame Poets are chosen by ballot and Word of the Month Poets are selected by judges.

This month we had no poems posted by young poets in either of our two categories: grades 3-7 and grades 8-12. We had nine poems posted by adults. That may be a record for the fewest poems we’ve seen since starting Word of the Month in October 2009. Also, voting was unusually light. It must be summer!

My thanks to everyone who pitched in a poem for our readers’ pleasure. I love it when one word blown on the wind cames back in so many forms and with such a multitude of messages. I hope you agree that the exercise is a good way to keep your imagination flowing. Many of you now have a collection of fifteen or twenty poems inspired by WOM.

This month our Hall of Fame Poet is Susan Carmichael, from Columbus, Ohio, for her poem, “Such a Good Puppy.” Some comments from our judges: Love the originality of this one
told from the puppy’s point of view.
“Espadrille” does sound like the name of a small, furry animal
instead of a lady’s shoe! 😉
This poet not only has a keen sense of humor,
but also has a well-tuned ear for poetry.
The rhythms and internal/external melodies are brilliant,
(e.g. “…how cunning are my hunting skills…”
“…teasing me to take a taste…”
“…but Sunday’s news sounds savory…”).
“Great metaphors and voice. Love the ending.”

Joy Acey, from Tucson, Arizona, placed second with her poem, “Our New Puppy.” One judge commented, “I like the way the poet begins by offering
images that are believable in a puppy’s
repertoire of chewables, than builds toward
a litany of unbelievable, unchewable items
in this hyperbolic tour-de-force that ends
with the poet begging for someone to give
his puppy a bone! Clever!”

Our Word of the Month Poet is also Susan Carmichael who won in a close race with Cory Corrado from Quebec, Canada, for her poem, “Letting Go.” But a win is a win and I say, “Way to go, Susan!” Technically, Steven Withrow got more votes but he’s a past winner in this cycle so he has to sit this one out. But Steven, your poems are always anticipated and enjoyed. Keep ’em coming!

Congratulations to everyone who plays the game of writing poems each month to post on my blog. I hope you continue to enjoy the experience and to find support and encouragement for your work. I’m pleased that so many have found us over the months and then return to read and/or participate. We welcome poems from the pros and are always glad to see early efforts from writers who want to try their wings as budding poets.

2) The word or July.

SOUR

3) Now for WRITERS AT WORK.

WRITERS AT WORK
Letters, We Get Letters – and Lots of Email, Too
Response 4 – David
June 28, 2011

Sandy, as we conclude June’s four-part chat about the correspondence authors receive, I confess that this topic has brought back more memories than any of our others. And I know why, at least in my case. We’ve both said many times that the first thing an adult reader must do when presented with something written by a child is to celebrate the gift. One of my favorite quotes is by Susan Ferraro who writes, “To a great extent, we are what we say and write. Laugh or sneer at how we express ourselves, and we take personal offense: Our words are all about us.”

It’s easy to forget to appreciate the gift of a beginning writer, whose work is disjointed and filled with errors, when our first impulse is to suggest how to make it better. Teachers know this and remind themselves all the time to look past the mistakes to the vulnerable child who is holding his or her breath, hoping for a kind word of congratulations before the red ink comes out. Professional writers, when confronted with less than professional efforts by emerging writers, have to resist the same temptation to make judgments before seeing that adults have the same vulnerability that children do. We may think we’re tougher, but Ferraro got it right: “Laugh or sneer at how we express ourselves, and we take personal offense.”

So, Sandy, back to me, and why I think those letters from fans of all ages mean so much to an author. It’s because they represent unsolicited affirmation that our words are good. We got them right, at least this time, and so maybe we’ll get them right again on something we do in the future. They are, often, among the few positive remarks an author receives. Most editors are good about complimenting what they like, but during the course of editing a book, getting it ready on time to ship off to the copyeditor or artist, exchanges between writer and editor become mostly about the business at hand. Adults who buy books for children rarely take time to send fan letters of their own and most children are not likely to think about writing a letter to anyone these days, or an e-mail to someone they don’t know.

That’s why those letters, notes, and e-mails that manage to make it to my mailbox or computer screen are meaningful. They got here to my house against some pretty serious odds and are all the more appreciated because of it. Recently a little girl wrote to say, “I like your poems. They are fun. I enjoy reading your poems a lot. Your friend, Camrin.” Camrin took the time to tell me specifically which of my poems she liked best. That made me smile. I got those poems right! She printed her letter on a piece of lined paper, addressed it herself, and (I can imagine) placed it in her mailbox so the postman could pick it up and send it on its way to me.

Sandy, I mentioned last time that people who write asking for information about getting published are another category of an author’s correspondence. Sometimes such letters come from kids but more often they are written by young adults or adults who love the idea of becoming a published author and wonder how to go about it. Such letters can be time consuming to answer, and sometimes the temptation is to rush through them and keep them short. Why can’t these people figure it out on their own? But then I remember how confused I was in the first few years of struggling to get the words right, and how much I appreciated any encouragement and help I could get. And I realize that to be asked how to do it is a form of flattery. The person asking must have decided that I do indeed, at least on occasion, get it right. And so I do my best to see the vulnerable person behind the question who wants very much to become published, and I take a little longer to give a response that might help.

So, Sandy, it’s a wrap for June’s topic about letters and e-mails. I’ve had a good time and know that you have too. We’ve also been blessed with a number of warm comments from readers, which are appreciated!

Folks, Sandy and I are taking off the months of July and August before considering what to do this fall. We are both swamped with work and have travel plans as well.

David