Dear Diary…

Today is day eleventy-twenty of being quarantined exiled for the good of the kingdom. My enemies may be invisible, but I know they are still out there, lurking. I cover my face and dress in rags when I venture into the woods for substance. So far the disguise is working but I miss my people and long for my crown, now rusting in the pantry.

Princess JM

emoji disappointed

Oh, hey there! How are you doing? Where are my poets at?  Congratulations if you are currently still swinging in the April Poem A Day challenge. We’re past the half-way point. Keep up the good work, whether you’ve got one for every day or not.  The rest of you still have over two weeks to write a poem. I believe in you!

I am happy to report that I have finally written a few non-plague poems! I mean, everyone knows we’re living in bizarro-world right now. The time has come to look up.

I’m mostly following Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides  prompts, but after years of this, I’m getting bored with the repeats. Luckily my poetic colleague, Lisa Tomey, has been offering alternative daily prompts. The first non-plague poem I wrote was to her wake up prompt. Click here to read it. It’s in the comments of her post for that day.

And, just for fun, here’s the poem that I wrote to the April 13th prompt, “write a purpose poem.” Yes, there’s no imagination in the title I choose but then again, the poem is not that imaginative either, as this item actually exists in my home. I’m open to suggestions for a new title. Please leave them in the comments.

Purpose

A place for everything ̶
everything in its place ̶
everything else in the junk drawer.

A tidy home is not the same
as a clean home. I know
where everything is;
just don’t look close at my floor.

Everything has a purpose
except the quarter inch of plastic
I found on the floor one day.
It might be a screw,
but it has grippers on it,
although it’s too small to hold a picture.
The hole on top
is for an allen wrench
if I had one that small.

Where did it come from?
What does it do?
Can I afford to toss it away?
These unanswerable questions
keep it in my drawer.

odd nut 1

Passover, Plague, Poetry

April 8th was the first night of Passover. I was blessed with an invitation to a beautiful Passover Seder hosted by dear friends via Zoom. Prior to the meal, participants received a link to a Haggadah, which is essentially a program that details each part of the ritual including questions and responses, prayers and songs, in Hebrew with English translations. 

Given that we are currently enduring a Corvid-19 pandemic, it was especially poignant to celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people after their captors had suffered through 10 plagues. That’s a lot of suffering. I’m very glad that we have only one at the moment… sort of. More on that later. Why were there so many plagues in this story?  As I’m neither Jewish or a biblical scholar I can’t answer that question. I only know that Exodus says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Hmph. He must have been a Republican.

It would be overblown and sensational to say we’re living in a parallel universe, but there is an old truism that states: “Everything old is new again.” During the Passover Seder, participants recite the 10 plagues. If you need a reminder, they were, in order: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Beasts, Cattle Disease, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Death of the first born. A difficult list to be sure, but I got choked up by this statement that came next.

The joy of our celebration today is also lessened by our awareness of sorrow and oppression in all parts of the world. The plagues of the Egyptians can be said to be repeated in modern tragedies. As the pain of others lessens our joy, let us once more take from our juice or wine as we say together these current day plagues: Hunger, War, Homelessness, Domestic Violence, Environmental Destruction, Injustice, Poverty, Toxic Chemicals, Pollution of the Earth. and Lack of Health care. L’Chaim- To Life: A UU Haggadah for Church Celebrations, copyright 2012 -Rev. Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn

Next Year in person! May all people live in peace! Happy Passover, L’Chaim, To Life!

~  / /  ~

National Poetry Month is rolling on. Are you one of many writers committed to writing a Poem A Day? I am committed to writing as many poems as I am moved to write. That might be 30, 20 or some other number. My output as of April 8, is 7 poems. But here’s the problem. They’re all plague poems! They all reference either the pandemic directly or the current dystopian environment we are in at the moment.

I’m not one to share everything I write. Some are fodder for a critique workshop; some are just poetry practice. However, in the spirit of the month, and Passover,  I’m going to share 2 of my plague poems. Enjoy. Stay safe. Keep washing your hands. Moisturize.

Breathless

I wanted a moment that took my breath away,
to be held close and get lost in your eyes,
before a kiss so deep we come away
panting with passion.

Instead I got the brush of a stranger,
a fever and a cough,
and a ventilator to push air
into my breathless body.

The nurses assure me that you are well,
safe and sheltered at home.
Their gloved hands hold mine
a poor substitute for yours.

When it is my turn to go, breathe deep
and I will come to you on the wind.

Dating in the Time of Corona
We are six feet apart, shoulder to shoulder,
if we both stretched our arms
and touched fingertips.
Forbidden to do so, we resort
to mutual masturbation.

Jigsaw Lessons

I’ve loved jigsaw puzzles since I was very young and have probably put together at least 100 in my lifetime. Trust me when I say that the 1,000 piece puzzle I finished tonight, see above, was the hardest puzzle I’ve ever completed. I brought in the picture from the manufacturer’s website, White Mountain Puzzles, because I haven’t been able to get a really good photograph.  What you can’t see is the incredibly fine detailed art and the 6-point font labels of breed and county of origin for all 67 cats in the picture. Given that there are only so many colors a cat can be, I had to work all over it right up to the end, which included the 32 mini cat portraits surrounding the large cats in the middle.

Now that it’s complete, I can give up looking for pieces on the floor and look for my sanity instead. Seriously, this puzzle almost broke my brain. But, like my hero Elizabeth Warren, I persisted. And now seems like a good time to share the life lessons I’ve learned by working jigsaw puzzles over the years.

Change your viewpoint regularly.
Get up and move to the other side of the table and work on it upside down, or stand up and look straight down.  You will see things you haven’t seen before.

Make peace with missing things.
Not all things can be completed. This puzzle came from a thrift store and I was convinced, right up until the end, that there were missing pieces. It has happened before. I’ve also lost pieces on brand new puzzles. It’s best to assume something is missing in life and be pleasantly surprised when it all works out in the end. Go forward anyway.

Change the way you look.
Sometimes  you look at the shape of the pieces. Sometimes you look for the color. It’s difficult to hold both in your head at one time, in the same way it’s difficult to clear your mind of all stray thoughts when you meditate. Just do the best you can.

Don’t get locked in.
If you don’t like doing puzzles because you were taught that you had to do the border first, I’m giving you permission to disregard that rule. Sometimes doing the border first will help you and sometimes it won’t.  If you want to start in the middle that’s okay.

Choose your surface wisely but understand you cannot control everything.
Sometimes you will put together a black cat on a dark background. Sometimes you will put together a white cat on a white background. Proceed anyway.

It’s OK to take breaks.
Sometimes you have to walk away from a puzzle or a situation in order to get perspective. As with most problems in life, the puzzle will be there when you’re ready to tackle it again.

Life is about patterns. 
Jigsaw puzzles are great training tools for pattern matching and detail work. Is that part of an eye? A nose? What is this?! It certainly set me up for a lifetime of proofing punctuation and character spacing. Humans need to identify objects and people around us for survival so our brains are geared to look for patterns, sort, categorize and organize the world. Often just a fraction of something is enough for us to identify an object. But when we can’t figure out what something is, we get frustrated, even nervous. It’s OK but try to make peace with ambiguity.   The more we can tolerate uncertainty, the better we are.

cat eyes

complete

Welcome April

It’s April again, which means it’s National Poetry Month. It’s time once again to celebrate poetry and the contribution it makes to the human experience. Poetry illuminates the dark corners and shows us who we are. Poetry tells the truth in way that prose cannot. May you all find poetry this month, and every month, that illuminates your world.

Red Virus

little white pom poms with sprouts of red yarn
leftover valentine decorations
kitty cat playthings
funny floaty festive
killers

spicy popcorn balls
cinnamon puffed rice
a petri dish of contagion

don’t get too close
beware rosy fever cheeks
wash your hands red
and raw

death be not beautiful

Online Creativity during Coronavirus

In the middle of a pandemic, there are thousands, or millions, of people stuck at home, sheltering in place to prevent the spread of the virus. (Thank you.) Many are working remotely for the first time, which is weird, and many have nothing in particular to do. Boredom has set in and there’s a lot of whining. Then there are rest of us: writers, artists, creatives, or retirees and disabled folks who haven’t had regular day jobs in a long time. I have sympathy for the folks in the first group, but I have to be careful. I don’t want all that ennui rubbing off on me. To combat that, I’ve been focused on the jokes, memes and funny videos that are pouring into social media.

Better even than the laughs are the new and exciting opportunities for learning and entertainment. One of those is my new favorite thing: a daily online master class in art and writing called Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. You read that correctly. Doodles. Mr. Willems is an award-winning author and illustrator of over 60 children’s books. He is also the current artist in residence for the Kennedy Center and he decided to do these because so many children are home from school. While the primary audience is children, the lessons are for all ages.

Willems goes beyond showing you how to draw the characters in his books, and how to doodle your own creations. In each session he picks one of his books and shows the audience early drafts, and explains how they came to be, and how the book is shaped. In one episode he showed how to make puppets and buildings. One episode he showed how to make your own game. He also answers viewer questions which give additional insight into the creative process. For example, in today’s episode, one viewer asked, “Do you write the books or draw the books first?” His answer was, “They are the same thing…. Drawing is writing. Writing is drawing.” Good to know!

Thousands of children from first grade on up are watching and loving it. Children want to learn. Children want to know how things get made. Why should you, a grown up, watch these? You will exercise a different part of your brain than you are now. You will learn new things about being creative and the process of making books. You will be charmed, and your heart will expand.

I urge you to tune in and watch. (https://www.kennedy-center.org/mowillems).  All episodes are available. Make sure you have paper and markers or crayons handy. You will want to follow along.

A History of the Pandemic

Over the course of human history, there have been many disease epidemics. In recent years, the term epidemic has given way to the far more sinister pandemic. Let’s talk terminology. What is the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?

The word “pandemic” comes from the Greek pan- which means all, and demos, which means people or population. A pandemic affects all, or nearly all, of the people. By contrast, epi- means upon. An epidemic is visited upon the people and affects more than the expected number of cases of disease occurring in a community or region during a given period of time. Therefore, a pandemic is an epidemic that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, a continent, or the world due to a susceptible population. By definition, a true pandemic causes a high degree of mortality.

The distinction is important. Our global population has become more and more interconnected. Over the last hundred years, we’ve been able to reduce intercontinental travel from weeks to days to hours. And human beings don’t pack lightly. We bring our disease with us.

Perhaps the most famous pandemic of all was the Bubonic Plague, aka Black Death, which occurred in the 14th century. Estimates were that 50 million people, or about 60 percent of Europe’s entire population were wiped out in less than 10 years. But most pandemics have been based on a less dramatic and more common illness – the flu. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed 100 million people. Before that there was the Russian Flu and since then we’ve had the Asian Flu.

For a complete timeline of known pandemics and fascinating facts, visit: https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/pandemics-timeline.

Thankfully, modern science has started to catch up and we have vaccines, but it’s always a race against time. The story of disease, its causes and transmissions, is an ever evolving one. Human beings themselves may not be evolving, but the ways we live, work and travel are. Stay alert. Don’t get too close to folks. Wash your hands.

Honorable Mention

I am very pleased to announce that one of my poems has won an Honorable Mention from the North Carolina Poetry Society‘s annual poetry contest. The contest is open to members and the public at large. They always offer several categories, some by theme, and some in honor of a person. This year there were 11 categories, and I submitted a poem to  six of them.

It was my poem Husbandry in the Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Light Verse category that won. Click here to see the complete list of categories and winners. All of the winning poems will be published in the NCPS annual anthology, Pinesong, and I get to read it at their May meeting.

The poem is a first person (fictitious) account, of my many husbands. I have no idea where the idea came from but I’m very much indebted to the Living Poetry Critique Group for their valuable assistance in helping me get it just right.

In other news: Bio-logy 2

This year’s Heron Clan anthology, number seven in the series, is almost ready to go to print. We’re still waiting for six tardy poets to submit bios. They’ve been given a firm go/no go deadline. Oh sure, they’ll still see their poem(s) in the book, but no one will know who they are.

In previous years, poets had 100 words to talk about themselves and that was included in the Call for Submission. However,  the response was so big that we accepted more poets than in any other edition, 131 to be exact. We realized that 100 words for each would not be feasible, so we set a new limit of  50 words per poet (or as close as possible). About 40 percent came in already at an acceptable length. That meant that I had to email the other 60 percent.

The experienced poets with extensive publication credits came right back with short bios. Poets who had no or few publishing credits needed the most help. Can you guess that’s what sparked my last post? That said, here’s one more tip for writing a bio that I didn’t know I needed to tell people:  Put your name in your bio.  In other words, don’t assume the bio is going to be underneath your poem. It may be at the back of book, coughHC7cough.

My favorite bio of all them was the one line bio from an older gentlemen who included “being a grandfather” in his list of skills. Now that’s gold!

I believe the books will be available in mid to late April, in case anyone is waiting for it!

Bio-logy

At the beginning of the month, I led a workshop for members of Living Poetry on how to submit poetry to journals. I felt that as a poet who submits my work, and as a poetry reviewer/editor on the other side of the desk for the Heron Clan anthologies, I had something to offer.

It was a very small group, but it’s been years since I’ve done this, so it was good practice. According to my friend, associate and provisional sidekick, Bartholomew Barker, L.P. Head Wrangler, I probably talked too much, so if we do this again next year, I’ll change it up a bit. But even with all that talking, I never got to the subject of Author/Poet bios, so let’s talk about it here.

Author bios serves several purposes. The first is to connect with readers and share a little of your personality. It’s also a marketing tool for selling books or highlighting causes you work for. Most journals have requirements for bios. Follow their directions. Typical guidelines are: 100 words, 50 words, or “2-3 sentences.”

Shorter is better. Even if they give you 100 words, don’t feel compelled to fill it. Write tight. Long bios are boring and can come off as pretentious. You can write as much as you want about yourself on your personal blog, or in your memoir, or annual Christmas card. Here are a few more tips:

  • If you’ve been published more than three times, or received more than two awards, pick the two or three journals or awards that are the most prestigious or well-known. More than that is boring, and readers don’t care.  
  • Put your name first and write in third person. Not only is it the preferred style, but it will help you be objective about yourself. 
  • Gentle humor is good. Sarcasm, while fun, is not appropriate for this venue.
  • Write multiple versions of your bio. And review it periodically for changes.

Do you like your bio? Does it need work?

Here’s the 40-word bio I use most frequently. Note, I include my blog address with no preamble. There’s no need to write “Follow her at …” as it’s understood. 

JeanMarie Olivieri, of Hillsborough, NC, a former corporate writer, now applies her knowledge of words and grammar to freelancing and poetry. She believes poetry can change the world. She has been published in several anthologies and online poetry journals. https://jeanmarieolivieri.wordpress.com/.

A couple of years ago, Button Poetry had a poetry contest for Tweet-sized poetic bios. 240 characters. I didn’t win but I like what I wrote, and since we’re talking about me, I mean, bios, finally, someone to read it!  

I haven’t forgotten my old life
but what came before
my mid-life reinvention
is a blur.
I quit my cushy corporate job
and moved 1650 miles to start over.
But it wasn’t until I got to the steamy south
which overflows with creativity
did I find my people and become a poet.

 

In personal news, the streak of bad luck (see last post) has continued. This month the problems have all been in my head — well, specifically my mouth. After several attempts to save a molar it ultimately had to be pulled which left me with an infection. All tears and pain aside the incident brings to mind the first poem I wrote for someone. In this case, it was my stepdad who had just gotten dentures.

Dentures, dentures everywhere
Mix ‘em. Match ‘em. Make a pair.

He was not amused.

Is it over yet?

I’m talking about January. Just two more days. I can’t wait.

I feel like I’ve been missing from my life for a while. What did I do in December? I read a lot of poetry for the Heron Clan anthology. More on that soon. I also wrote a poem in response to the Rattle poetry journal’s monthly Ekphrastic poetry challenge. It came out quite well and I submitted it to the contest. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t win. And then of course, there was a busy, extended week for the holidays.

Then January hit me like a swinging medicine bag and knocked me out. It’s been an expensive blur. My laptop died on Dec. 30, 2019. Despite the fact that I hadn’t backed up my data in a long time, I got everything back because the hard drive was intact; nothing the Geek Squad at Best Buy couldn’t take care of, for an additional fee. A week after I got my new laptop, my car battery died. I just ordered a new pair of prescription glasses, and I’m about to visit the dentist. My credit card is crying. Make it stop!

It’s taken me all month to come to terms with my new computer. I almost cried when I saw all my poems back in File Explorer where they belong. However, it took a lot of time and swearing to get my freshly downloaded Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook software back into the shape I want. I use these programs every day, so I customize them with the icons and the views that works the best for me. Although, I still can’t find the on/off toggle icon for Spelling/Grammar toggle in Word. I have several folders of internet bookmarks on my desktop that I can’t figure out how to upload en masse to either Internet Explorer or Chrome. Finally, I lost my graphics software. Well, I still have the 20 year old software disc, but the new laptop doesn’t have a CD drive. Don’t even get me started on that! Oy! It’s been frustrating, infuriating, and exhausting.

And…. I’m going to stop complaining about it. Thank you. You’re officially the last person to get an earful. It’s time to put this messy, financially painful, weirdest weather ever January to bed and start fresh with February. I gave up making New Year’s Resolutions years ago, but I think I might have one more in me:

Write More Poetry!

November Musings

I promised myself I’d do at least one post a month. It’s still November right? I mean, for a few hours anyway!  Today I thought I’d write to the banner on my blog: “work, life, poetry.” Let’s see what happens!

Work:  I’m swimming in poetry! I and the other editors for the Heron Clan have been reading poetry for over a month. Submission end today which is good for us because we’ve gotten almost 500 poems. It’s fun and rewarding to read so much good poetry, but it’s a lot of work. I really enjoy the meetings with the other editors as we check votes and discuss the close calls. After we get through them all, then it will get really difficult as we cull the first round into a manageable number of poems for the book.

Life: I have to replace my phone. I’ve been getting notices from my service provider for months that they are making changes to their network (cell towers, G’s, I dunno, some kind of  technical mishegas) and that my phone won’t work when that happens.  The deadline is drawing nigh and I can’t put it off anymore. I have three complaints about this. 1. $. I don’t want to spend it on a new phone. 2. I anticipate a painful transition. 3. I don’t know whether to stay with Android or try the Apple iPhone. Wish me luck!

Poetry:  The official calendar day for giving thanks has past, but gratitude shouldn’t be on a schedule. The more the better.  So here’s my thank you poem – with apologies to those who have read it already, and please forgive the schmaltzy sentiment.

I Give Thanks

I give thanks for my roof and my walls,
the space in-between, thanks for the halls.
I also give thanks for the great outside
for the world offers a wonderful ride.

I give thanks for the sun, moon, stars in the sky,
sound and silence, the shouts and the sighs.
As the Earth turns I really must say
I give thanks for the nights and for the days.

I give thanks for the A, B and C’s
and all the letters through to the Z’s,
all of the words and the punctuation
the numbers and the multiplication.

I give thanks for my hands and my feet
and every time you and I meet.
I give thanks for all you are and all you do.
Blessings and health I pray for you.