Monthly Archives: April 2011

Zingara’s Poetry Pick: Manzano Sunflowers by Dale Harris

Dale Harris is an Albuquerque potter, poet and author of this week’s Poetry Pick. Her poem can be found in “A Bigger Boat” anthology as published by the University of New Mexico Press. I met Dale and heard her read Manzano Sunflowers at the volume’s book release in the summer of 2008.

Because this poem evokes images of sunflowers, which are as common in the Midwest as they are in the Southwest, it calls forth the character of both regions while yet focusing on the New Mexican landscape. Harris’ sunflowers, therefore, capture more than place and image, but the very essence of sunflower-ness. And while a Midwesterner may not fully appreciate the significance of the arroyo’s image, or never attend the Indian Market, or discern the difference between Manzano or Sandia, she does understand the way sunflowers amass – has seen them take the place of prairie grass – and can appreciate the truth of sunflowers as offered in this poem:

Manzano Sunflowers by Dale Harris

You missed Indian Market and of course, the sunflowers.
As usual they swept across August,
at first a few, a yellow trickle along the fence line;
then more, making pools in the pasture
and splashing down into the arroyo;
then incredibly many more,
dappling the distance as though
a giant hand had buttered the land.

 Yet with the entire prairie to expand into
they prefer crowds of themselves.
They mass along the roadsides line up
as though a parade were about to pass.
Here and there one stands alone but not for long.
Soon his kin will come and there will be
sunflower squalor, a floral slum.

 Once out they will not be ignored.
Stretching their skinny stalks, they top our roofline,
press against the window screens, peep in a the door.
Familiar footpaths to the outbuildings are obscured
and from the road we seem afloat,
our cabin an odd tin boat in a sea of sunflower faces.

 They are the most staccato of flowers.
I catch them humming snatches of polkas
and John Philip Sousa marches,
bobbing in the breeze to the Boogaloo,
the Boogie-woogie and the Lindy Hop.
I call their names, Clem, Clarissa, Sara Jane
to try and tame them.

My neighbor comes by, she has a field full.
They’re useless, she complains;
her horses won’t eat them.
I should hope not, I exclaim after she’s gone.

I don’t remember if you even liked sunflowers
but you like life and they are all about that.
Today I wrote to your family finally.
I expect they are occupying themselves
with beautiful gestures
in order to get over the grief  of you.
As for me, I have sunflowers.

Read more of Dale’s poetry and learn about her pottery skills at Dale Harris Pottery.

A copy of “A Bigger Boat” anthology is available from The University of New Mexico Press

Writing Exercise: Dream

For this week’s writing exercise, keep a pad of paper and a pen or pencil next to your bed and use them to capture the vestiges of your most recent dream upon waking. If you find the act of writing in the mornings a difficult task (or your eyes simply don’t focus that quickly in the morning) you can dictate your dreams  into a tape or digital recorder and transcribe them later. After a few nights of recording the images, themes and emotional texture of your dreams, try synthesizing them into a poem. Don’t worry about remembering every detail correctly. Instead, just make up the parts that are “missing.” No one will accuse you of getting the facts wrong.

Feel free to post your poem in the comments section below.

Rondeau Poetry Prompt

Today’s prompt comes from Frances Mayes’ “The Discovery of Poetry”

Write a a Rondeau:

A Rondeau is a poem consisting of fifteen lines arranged in a quintet (five-line stanza), a quatrain (four-line stanza) and a sestet (six-line stanza). The first few words of the first line act as a refrain in lines 9 and 15. These refrain lines do not rhyme, but repeating the fragments seems to imply the rest of the line, including the rhyme. The rhyme, therefore, acts invisibly. The roundeau’s usual rhyme scheme is aabba, aab Refrain. An eight-syllable line is traditional:

Here’s an example:

(Barbara Howes, 1914-)

It is time now to go away?
July is nearly over; hayt winter lingered; it was May
Fattens the barn, the herds are strong
Our old fields prosper; these long
Green evening will keep death at bay.

Last winter lingered; it was May
Before a flowering lilac spray
Barred cold for ever. I was wrong.
Is it time now?

Six decades vanished in a day!
I bore four sons: one lives; they
Were all good men; three dying young
Was hard on us. I have looked long
For these hills to show me where peace lay . . .
Is it time now?

Share your poem in the comments area below.

The Name of a Tree by Catherine Anderson

Today’s Poetry Pick comes from Catherine Anderson’s second book  of poetry titled “The Work of Hands,” published in 2000 by Perugia Press, whose mission it is “to produce beautiful books that interest long-time readers of poetry and welcome those new to poetry.”


Right here on Ash Street, Ana says, she used to stagger
up the stairs like a drunk.
There was no light, so she patted the wall,
following hardened gum and kick marks.
Those were crazy days she tells me –
two kids, no money, no job –
when English made the sound of click, swish,
money gliding from a cash drawer,
and the only words she knew were numbers –
seventy-five cents ringing down the throat
of a soda machine, her soapy fingers counting quarters
to feed the dryer.

Some days I am Ana’s teacher, some days she is mine.
This morning we look through her kitchen window,
The one she can’t get clean, cobwebs massed
between sash and pane. The sky is blue-gold, almost
the color of home. Ana, I say, each winter
I get more lonely. Both of us would like the sun
to linger as that round fruit in June, but Ana says
it’s better to forget what you used to know:
the taste of fish cooked in banana leaves,
the rose color of sea waves at dusk,
the names for clouds and wild storms, and a tree
that grows, she says, as full
as a flame in the heart of all countries
south of here.

Catherine’s book is informed by her work with immigrants and refugees and explores the pathos involved in such work. Her poem “Womanhood,” which was chosen by Billy Collins’ “Poetry 180” project, can be read at

Writing Exercise: Listen

This week’s exercise requires the writer venture away from home and the writing desk to find an interesting public venue in which to work.

Find a comfortable spot in a busy location where you can to sit and listen to conversations of others around you. Naturally, restaurants and coffee shops can provide such a setting, but try to broaden your search to less obvious locals. For example, a classroom fits the bill well, especially if you happen to be student or a teacher. So does a work environment, the park, a long line or the waiting room at the tax preparer ‘s office. Be sure to bring your notebook with you.

As snippets of conversation float your way, take selective dictation in long-hand in your notebook. While there is no rule against using a lap-top computer for this exercise, the key here is to be selective in your dictation and try not to write down every detail – long-hand will lessen that temptation.

Alternately, and particularly if you are a techy, you could use a voice recorder of some sort, transcribing selectively when you later listen. This approach allows you to listen closely in the moment and focus on the texture of the conversation rather than the details of the words. Your note-taking can focus on intonation and other non-linguistic details that might help animate your later (selective) transcription.

Instead of returning to your transcribed notes right away, let time lapse and events intervene with your memory. When finally you return to your notes, it will be with fresh eyes (and ears). Hopefully you will have forgotten some of what you heard and your subconscious will have already begun to make up alternate explanations for the notes you have taken. Let your imagination fill in the parts you don’t remember accurately, or, better yet, let your imagination rearrange everything contained in your notes.

Create a poem from this experience and share it in the comments area below.

April is the Cruelest Month

Spring’s tumult stirs the air and moves the poet’s heart. It was T.S. Eliot who lamented:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Centuries before Eliot’s angst Chaucer wrote this of spring:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The drought of March hath perced to the roote
and bathed every veyne in swich licour;
of which vertu engendred is the flour

For this week’s prompt, write the beginning, or prologue, of an imaginary epic poem that evokes the feeling and imagery of Spring. Be wildly imaginative.

How My Father Learned English by Juan J. Morales

Cover by Oswaldo Guayasmin

This next Poetry Pick is pulled from Juan Morales’ book of poems “FRIDAY and the Year That Followed,” winner of the 2005 Rhea & Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition.

382nd Hospital, Japan 1952

The wounded who could not speak English
congregated around the bedridden every morning.
Manuel, the nurse from some other ward,
taught my father and others English
word by word. Sometimes, phrases, the sloppy
repeated English made sense — Because es porque.
Yo soy es I am.  I am.  Otra vez, diganme.–
Bee cause.  Pain.  I am in pain.

English moved my father’s tongue unlike Spanish.
It stuck in his mouth, stumbled past his teeth.
He dreamed he forgot Spanish and his tongue
withered away.  My father never told anyone
about this or the scratching fear of his legs,
under bandages and scars, never walking again.
He didn’t have words in English yet.

From its initial lines to its closing stanza, Morales’ book of poems are nothing short of compelling. Sometimes surreal, other times magical, these poems evoke moods akin to the visual art of Frida Kahlo. It is a staple for any lover of the arts.

Juan J. Morales is currently the Director of Creative Writing  and Assistant Professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He is curator of the Southern Colorado Reading Series as wells as the student literary magazine, Tempered Steel.

“Friday and the Year That Followed” (ISBN 9780977197354) is available for purchase at Amazon

Inaugural Poet Interview: Alarie Tennille

The subject of my first poet interview is Alarie Tennille, a Kansas City poet whom I met at a fund-raising event for The Writers Place late in 2010. Our initial conversation was everything you might expect in such a social situation, but beyond our words was an instant affection and respect for each other as poets. I frequently run into Alarie at area poetry readings and other events and always make it a point to seek her out and have a conversation with her. It is my pleasure to feature her in this, my inaugural interview. Please sit back and enjoy this lively conversation.


Alarie Tennille was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia with a genius older brother destined for N.A.S.A, a ghost, and a yard full of cats.  A Phi Beta Kappa, she graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class that admitted women.  She has spent most of her career as a professional writer and editor.   Alarie met her husband, graphic artist Chris Purcell, in college.   They moved to Kansas City in the early 1980s.

A Pushcart nominee, Alarie serves on the Board of Directors of The Writers Place. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry East, Margie, ByLine Magazine, English Journal, Coal City Review, Kansas City Voices, I-70 Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Little Balkans Review, Rusty Truck, and The Kansas City Star.

Featured poem:

How to Get an Unusual Name

Pick ancestors from a foreign-speaking
land.  Begin with a name that is little heard
even there.

Now stir up some rebellion.   Politics and
religion work best. But first make sure you’ve
chosen visionary or stubborn stock. Neighbors
must wish them dead, must drag ancient uncles
from their beds to execution by gallows or
guillotine.  This culls the family tree, makes
those who stay change their names.

Send the few remaining branches to
different countries, where spelling will be
changed and more cousins lost.  Your name
will trip the new native tongue, and you’ll
spend a lifetime correcting it.

Now for the first name.   Choose parents
who crave the exotic.  Hippies and
Southerners work well.  They’ll take care
of the rest.


What drew you to writing, or more specifically, writing poetry?

My earliest writing was an extension of make believe.   I was in the second or third grade when I wrote “The Mouse Family Christmas.”   I read it to my mother as she washed dishes, and she thought I was reading from a book.   That was a very proud moment!   In the fifth grade, I made friends in a new school when I wrote a wildly exaggerated, five-page essay on “Why I Shouldn’t Talk in Class.”  I later wrote for school papers, but didn’t care for journalism the way I enjoy writing fiction.   I was first drawn to writing because I enjoy creativity and because it’s a thrill to be able to entertain and move readers.

When I decided at 17 that I wanted to be a writer and an English major, poetry was the last thing on my mind.   I wrote short stories and plays in college along with the long stream of required critical papers. I read mostly novels and drama.  I think my lack of interest in poetry then had a lot to do with not reading the right poets.  I was in the first co-ed class at the University of Virginia.   Almost all the literature in the curriculum was written by dead white men.  But I think it was the archaic language and formal verse, rather than who wrote it, that made me feel poetry wasn’t for me.  Later, poets like Jane Kenyon, Ted Kooser, and Nikki Giovanni helped me see that I could write about the small, everyday moments in my own life rather than war, politics, and epic heroes.

I’ve been fortunate enough to support myself with my English degree, working as an editor or writer since college.   Frankly, it’s tiring and hard on the eyes to do that much paperwork every day, so for years I didn’t have enough passion or interest to write for myself when I got home from work.   A friend kept urging me to write my family stories, a project I was planning for retirement.   Then one day those stories started arriving in poems. I was hooked, and I started devoting myself to writing poetry in my spare time.

How long have you been writing poetry?

I’ve been writing a poem here or there since elementary school.  But I only got serious about writing poetry about seven years ago.  I’m a poet!

That’s still a surprise to me.  Getting involved with The Writers Place, where I’m on the Board of Directors, helped me make connections and learn more about the craft.  So I suppose I’m either an overnight success or a late bloomer, depending on whether one sees the glass as half full or half empty.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Feel free to discuss your writing space, the time of day you write or any rituals or visuals you might utilize to help you with your process.

Poetry doesn’t pay my bills.   I spend my work week writing and editing, so I try not to pressure myself with a tight  writing schedule at home.   If I’m tired and force myself to write, it shows.  I spend much more time reading poetry, which is a vital part of the process.   When a few weeks go by without a poem, I begin to fret, but looking at artwork can usually jumpstart my writing.  I’m a night owl, so I most often write when I get my second wind—after 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.   Or I may just turn ideas over in my head all through the day­–or several days–before sitting down to work on them.  I have a cheerful, red study, full of books and my computer.   But I prefer writing first drafts in my family room, sitting on a sofa with an afghan, tablet, and maybe a cat on my lap.  Then I type the poems into my computer upstairs and begin the work of polishing.  The most structured part of my writing process is my writing group.   We try to meet about every six weeks.   Because there are only three of us, we can critique quite a few poems in an hour.   ANT (Alarie, Nancy, Tina) meetings give me the deadlines I need to make sure I keep writing.  And I believe every writer benefits from constructive criticism.

Tell me about your first major publication.

Maybe it’s because I’m still new to poetry, but every publication is a thrill…and I’ve had about 50. My first poems appeared in The Kansas City Star, when John Mark Eberhart ran a poetry column in the Sunday paper.   Not only did that give me real confidence to submit to literary journals, but I was read and complimented by people I know who wouldn’t have seen the poems in journals.  I then branched into the local literary magazines, and we’re fortunate the Kansas City area is rich with them: Kansas City Voices, I-70 Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, Coal City Review, Little Balkans Review.  I like submitting to local journals because of the opportunities to give readings and mingle with the other authors.  It was a thrill when I had a poem published in Poetry East, because I was able to see my poem at Barnes & Noble.  My poems have also appeared in Margie, English Journal, and ByLine Magazine.  But, while It’s exciting to be in a volume beside poets I’ve admired for years, sending to little known journals can also have advantages.  Finding a fledgling review, Touch:The Journal of Healing, on, gave me the opportunity to publish my first chapbook through their publishing branch, The Lives You Touch Publications.   Spiraling into Control came out in July 2010 and is available on Amazon.

What are your creative goals, plans, or dreams for the immediate future?

I try to keep poems in circulation to publishers.  If I’m waiting to hear from at least three editors, I find I’m less discouraged when a rejection notice rolls in.  Often an okay will follow right behind it. Another chapbook would be nice, but publishing a full-length poetry book is my dream.

The Found Poem

Try this writing exercise for overcoming blocks, shifting perspectives or stretching the imagination. The technical aspects of this exercise keeps the left brain busy so the right brain can freely imagine.

The found poem, variation 1: Take a stroll through the grocery store with paper and a writing utensil. Write down interesting words as you encounter them. Create a form by making arbitrary line and stanza breaks. Be as random as you like. In lieu of the grocery store, try a retail store or the public library.

The found poem, variation 2:  Find book which contains hundreds of pages. Turn to different page numbers as they coincide with a significant number. For example, think of an important date and use those numbers as your guide. If the important date is June 12, 1930, for example, you might turn to page 6, page 12, page 19 and page 30 of the text. Feel free to rearrange the numbers in any manner. Each time you turn to a new page, close your eyes and drop your finger somewhere on the text. Use the words or sentence closest to your finger as a line in your poem. Don’t over think this – just jot down the first words your eyes land on. Do this several times with a series of significant numbers until your poem reaches its ideal length.

Most of all, have fun.

Lift an Image Poetry Prompt

Lift an image from this stanza of the poem To a Young Poet by Mahmoud Darwish, as translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah, and use it as the basis for a poem of your own.

Alternately, chose a line from the given stanza with which to begin a poem, craft the poem, then omit the borrowed line in your revision.

Be strong as a bull when you’re angry
weak as an almond blossom
when you love, and nothing, nothing
when you serenade yourself in a closed room.

“viii” by Lisa Gill

Red as a Lotus by Lisa Gill, La Alameda Press, Cover by J.B. Bryan

The third poem in my Poetry Picks Series, which celebrates poetry and honors poets, is from Lisa Gill’s first book of poetry titled “Red as a Lotus,” a collection of approximately 110  fourteen-lined epistolary poems addressed to Thomas Merton.

Many poems in this collection read as contemplative meditations while others provide voice to spiritual and existential questions whose answers are often ephemeral. Described by La Alameda press as a collection “with an eye which stays true to the bone,” and by others alternately as a mystery and a revelation, Lisa Gill’s first book of poetry is a worthy read and one every serious poet should have on his or her bookshelf.


I watched the lunar eclipse. Ever so gradually the shadow

of the earth crept across the surface of the moon until nothing

but an infinitely fine sliver remained. And standing under

a street lamp, I realized I’m part of what blocks the light,

just another person on this planet spinning about, following

one dizzying pattern after another, rarely bothering to calculate

the ramifications of my orbit. Perhaps despite every attempt

to move in good faith, I’ll always end up coming between the sun

and the place it should shine. When the moon started waxing,

people spilled back into buildings. I held out, thinking how

fifteen minutes ago, the bars emptied onto the street an

for a while, we all stood still and looked up, past any neon,

to the moon — as if were new, as if it were last call. Heading

back into the bar I prayed my shadow sheds such light.

– – – – – –

“Red as  Lotus” is available from La Alameda Press, New Mexico (ISBN #1-888809-33-7)

Check back here for a future interview with Lisa Gill and learn about the many projects she has been, and continues to be, involved in since the publication of her first book.

Poetry Month Writing Exercise: Walkabout

There aren’t many people who would argue that walking isn’t good for you, and that certainly holds true for the poet. What better way to clear the cobwebs from the mind and lubricate joints that are aching from too long sitting at the writing desk than to take a stroll around the block or through the park. Make a conscious effort this week  to take a walk, paying close attention to the world around you when you do. Leave pen and paper behind and really, truly use your five senses to take in the environment you encounter. Trust your senses to store your experience to write about when you return home, for nothing triggers memories better than strong sensory associations. No need to limit yourself to walking in your neighborhood, though that can be an adventure if done with an attitude of a foreigner. Consider taking a slightly bigger adventure and try walking a trail in the woods you’ve been thinking about since Autumn and didn’t get around to exploring before winter set in. If you are a fair weather walker, then check the forecast and make a concrete plan to engage with the outdoors on the nicest day this week. Better yet, use April showers as an excuse to don raincoat and goulashes for a child-like stomp in the rain to get in touch with your inner youngster (just let your inner parent keep the inner child from catching cold in the process.) Or perhaps the best way to approach this week’s writing “exercise” is to simply drop what your doing and take that walk right now!

Blue Ships Banner Issue Now Available

The first monthly issue of Blue Ships Creative Arts Magazine is now available. Take a moment to peruse its digital pages for quality creative works from artists all over the country. In addition to literary works, this premier issue features stunning photography, evocative artwork and graphic full-color tales. Blue Ships takes submissions year round, so submit something today!

Blue Ships Issue 001

How to Submit work to Blue Ships:

  • Submit via email to
  • Put the media you sending in the subject line (i.e. poetry, short story, etc.).
  • Send multiple submissions in a single file.
  • Each entry must have page number, author’s name, and email address in a header.
  • We accept previously published and simultaneous submissions.  (Please provide where and when work was published).
  • Rights return to artist upon publication.
  • One short story will be featured per month.
  • One short play will be featured per month.
  • Flash fiction must be between 100-1000 words.
  • Short story must be between 1001-5000 words.
  • No rules for poetry.
  • Both color and b/w art and photography accepted.
  • Send small bio with work including any contact info that you want to release to the public.
  • Picture of artist is requested, but is not required and has no effect on acceptance of work.