I Fell in Love Today

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I fell in love with a glimpse of you today…and you never even knew.

But there you were, sitting cross-legged, Indian-style on a gravel walkway winding through a field of scattered tombstones. You wore a grease-splattered McDonald’s uniform and were happily occupying your own world. Your head was down, but bobbing slightly to the rhythm of whatever music was streaming through your earphones.

Was it simply a short break or was the work day done? What was it like to leave the circus that is the home of Ronald McDonald, only to take shelter in the land of the dead a few hundred feet away? The image of you, of all that you represent washed over me and still remains in my mind’s eye – a jumbled collage of America, commercialism, youth, morbidity, and the ever-present hope of eternity.

A Sad Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Last weekend my husband and I visited the Paul Laurence Dunbar House here in Dayton, Ohio. Being a poet myself I have wanted to check out the historical site for a while. When we arrived, I was happy to see quite a few others there, including several kids. I noticed that we were the only “white” people there (other than the tour guide), but I hoped that was just coincidence and didn’t mean that people from different ethnic backgrounds ignored this part of history. I have noticed over the years that many people tend to only care about the history of their particular heritage, which I find sad. There is so much to be learned by experiencing different cultures and studying the lives of people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Before we toured Paul’s house, we all watched a mini documentary on the life and times of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As the film went on, I began to feel worse and worse. They talked about how Paul was highly educated for his time, even becoming class president and the founding editor of his high school newspaper, but was still denied jobs in the fields he studied, because as they put it, “an uneducated white man was still considered better than an educated negro”. Paul eventually had to take a lowly job as an elevator operator. They went on to explain how even though Paul did eventually gain some notoriety as a poet, he was truly saddened because the public refused to notice his deeper, more thoughtful poems written in standard English and instead only celebrated the lighthearted ethnic “dialect” poetry. Even worse, they used his poems to back up their belief that African Americans were not as smart or important as “white folks” and even worse, that they had actually enjoyed being slaves.

When we walked over to the house, the tour guide explained that Paul and his family were the first African Americans to move into this nicer part of town (much to the dismay of some in the neighborhood). Most of the people of his race were forced to live in the “ghetto” in little shanty homes that were nothing more than thrown together huts. As I listened to all this I looked at the faces of the sweet, innocent kids around me. I felt awful that they have to live in a world where this kind of prejudice once existed (and still exists), even if the circumstances have gotten better since Paul’s day. I know it isn’t my fault and that I didn’t cause it, but I felt awful that my ancestors were likely a part of the society that so mistreated (and continues to mistreat) an entire race of people.

I could write about some of the other unfair things that were talked about, like the Dunbar family’s slavery background or how African Americans soldiers were considered “good to stop a bullet” but not good enough to be appreciated…however, I think a few of Paul’s words capture the frustration and unfairness best –

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting –

I know why he beats his wing!

Review of Patricia Neely-Dorsey’s Poetry Books

For this post I am going to review two poetry books by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, a poet who uses her writing to show her love for Mississippi and the simple pleasures of southern living.

missmagBook #1 – Reflections of a Mississipi Magnolia: A Life in Poems

The first poetry book that Patricia Neely-Dorsey released covers a broad range of topics, from southern life & country living to childhood memories, family history and other deeply personal subjects. Although I have never lived in Mississippi or spent much time there, I felt that Ms. Dorsey was able to bring the culture to life in a way that anyone could relate to. The poet’s pride and passion for her state shines through, illustrating the importance of connecting to a place and taking the time to truly lay down roots.

Although I enjoyed the poems about southern life and country living, I must admit my favorite poems came later in the book when the author delved more deeply into her personal life and relationships. I especially related to a poem titled “Know It All (He Thinks)”, as I’m sure any parent of a teen or preteen could! Another favorite was the short poem, “Waxing Poetic”, which any creative spirit is sure to understand. As I read through the collection, I enjoyed the playful sense of humor in many of the poems, but also discovered a few poems that really made me stop and think or made me smile in wistful longing.

This is definitely a poetry collection that is heartfelt, inspiring and easily understood. Whether you are a Mississippi native or not, this is one that can be enjoyed by everyone.

imagesBook #2 – My Magnolia Memories and Musings: In Poems

Patricia Neely-Dorsey’s second poetry book looks and sounds a lot like the first one if you only look at the cover and the title, but I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh, truly new material inside its pages. As I began to read through the poems, I noticed that the poet’s style and view on life had evolved and changed a little since the first collection. Although the subjects covered are similar in some ways to those explored in the first book, they are often tackled in a different way in this collection.

One addition to this collection that I found delightful was the small collection of photographs shared throughout. The visual aids definitely make the book more appealing and help to make readers feel more involved as they read through the poet’s experiences and memories.

I also noticed that the author seems to embrace free verse more in this collection. Although there are still some rhyming poems for those who prefer more traditional poetry, I felt that this collection leaned heavily towards freedom of expression and form, which seemed to make some of the poems even more personal and hard-hitting. Many of my favorite poems were in the section that talks about loss, a subject that wasn’t covered much in the first book.

Overall, I feel that this second book of poetry naturally picks up where the first book left off and shows the growth and wisdom of an evolving poet. I would highly recommend this book to poetry and literature lovers or to anyone that simply loves great writing.

For more information about Patricia Neely-Dorsey, her books or where to order a copy for yourself, please visit the author’s website, http://patricianeelydorsey.webs.com/.

Interview with Poet T. James Edward

Poetry book written by T. James Edward.

Because I often feel that poetry is overlooked and underappreciated here in America, I have decided to start featuring interviews with some of my fellow poets. So without further ado, here is an insightful and quirky interview with poet T. James Edward.

Poetry-related questions:

1. Q: How long have you been writing poetry? What first drew you to this literary form?
    A: I’ve been writing for somewhere between 15 and 20 years. What drove me to poetry is when I wrote in holiday cards as a kid, I’d write a few things from the heart and my mother said I had a very unique way with words.
2. Q: Who are some of your favorite poets? Are there any poets you credit for inspiring you to be a poet?
    A: In grade school I read the likes of Poe and Twain. I also remember reading “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Superfudge” in school. I’ve read a few books in my lifetime but not too many. I have always wanted my thought processes to not appear dogmatic to me. I find that things I have said or written are similar to what something like Hemmingway has said, just worded a little differently. Nothing against reading because it’s great, I just want my ideas about life, death and truth to be my own and not based on anybody’s theory. Not that that’s how I see books being used by others.
3. Q: Have you written any poetry books? If so, please share a bit about your latest release and where it can be bought.
    A: I have one self-published book titled “Verses of a Dead Hero”, released in April 2010. It can be found at the publishers website: http://Xlibris.com/VersesofaDeadHero or at Amazon.
4. Q: Do you have any tips or wisdom you would like to share with fellow poets?
    A: Yes. No matter who you are, whatever walk of life you’re from or whatever you write about, if the ink on the page is your blood you will always be considered a poet. Never let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t write about. Nobody is a “better poet” than another. As long as you’re writing what’s in your heart and mind, we are all poets of equal significance.
Fun questions:
1. Q: Why did the chicken really cross the road?
    A: Either to meet the little piggy that went to market or because the chicken’s nest was over there. Maybe it was merely curiosity. Or maybe there was an evil chicken on the other side who created a tempting illusion to lure her to her death.
2. Q: If you could be something other than a human for a day, what would you choose?
    A: A bird. So I could experience flight. Or, a cure for any/all diseases.
3. Q: Cat person or dog person?
    A: Dog, most definitely. I love both but dogs are the truest friend one can find. Cats are fun and independent.
4. Q: Favorite movie of all time?
    A: Not a big movie person. I live by music. But some of my favorites are The Shawshank Redemption, Heat, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Star Wars. My favorite might be Boondock Saints.
5. Q: Are there any foods you absolutely despise and wouldn’t eat even if you were starving to death?
    A: Monkey brains. Or any brain for that matter. I don’t know how some cultures can do it.
6. Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would you most like to go?
    A: Australia.
7. Q: Star Trek – Totally cool or totally nerdy?
    A: “Next Generation” with Captain Picard is great and very philosophical. The original with William Shatner is more comical to me because I personally think Shatner is a jackass. Funny, but a jackass. I think it’s totally cool, for nerds.
8. Q: If you do poetry readings, where is the weirdest place you have done one?
    A: Not that it’s too weird or anything, but probably at a second-hand clothing shop that was just a little hole in the wall.
9. Q: Do you have a favorite word?
    A: I’m not sure about a favorite word. Maybe onomatopoeia, just because it sounds funny to me. My favorite 2 words combined are “Reasonable Facsimile” because when I was a kid, I grew up watching Looney Tunes and in one episode Bugs Bunny was speaking to Elmer Fudd in a condescending manner and called him a Reasonable Facsimile. Those are the first words I remember having to look up in a dictionary.
10. Q: Favorite Cartoon character?
      A: That’s a real tough question. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Peter Griffin, Stimpy, Homer Simpson. Probably Bugs Bunny because he’s the original.

What makes a good poem?

Poetry is an intensely personal thing, so opinions abound regarding what makes a poem truly good. I’m not here to tell you that I know the magic formula or to try and pretend that I am some literary genius that has it all figured out, but I would like to share my opinion of what makes a poem stand out above the rest. Undoubtedly, some of you will disagree with my criteria, which is fine. In fact, I would encourage you to post a comment with your own opinion on the matter if you wish to do so.

So without further ado…my list of poetry must-haves:

1. Honesty – is this one really a surprise? After all, I named my recently published poetry book, “Not Afraid to Be Real”. And to me, that isn’t just a clever title. I strive in all my writing to be honest and present life realistically. Of course, since poetry tends to focus more on thoughts, feelings and images, the honesty in my poetry tends to be more about the inner life than about the outer life. However, both elements are involved.

2. Clarity – I choose this as second, because I really don’t like poetry that doesn’t make a lick of sense. That is probably my number one turnoff when I choose a poetry book to read or buy. If I flip through and find several poems that are overly ambiguous, I put it back down and keep looking. I should make it clear that there is a difference between random humor and pointless confusion. After all, I love the show Family Guy, and that humor is about as random as you can get.

3. Description – most writers know that poetry falls under the category of descriptive writing. Description is extremely important if you want to write a poem that really moves a reader and makes them feel a part of the experience. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to describe every single little thing you see, hear, taste or touch. Pick a few details that really give the vibe you want. Try to make them as specific as possible (instead of tree, use oak, instead of ice cream, use chocolate chip cookie dough, etc.)

4. Spelling and grammar – maybe a bit of a bummer, but writing poetry doesn’t mean abandoning ALL of the writing rules. Yeah, you have a lot more leeway with poetry as far as sentence structure and form goes, but please check your spelling and grammar. The only time a word should be spelled wrong in a poem is if the poet did it on purpose to introduce some clever word play.

5. Make a point – it doesn’t have to be revolutionary or mind-blowing, but poems are a lot more fun to read if they actually have a point and don’t just ramble on about nothing. You don’t have to make the poem preachy or moralistic or anything like that, but make sure you know what you are trying to say. If you don’t know what your poem means, then it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will either.

6. Don’t overdo it – some poets layer on image after image after image until their writing is so bogged down that it becomes dull and boring. Sometimes simple really is better. Know what you want to say and how you want to show it, then figure out the best way to share that with your reader. If your poem has you yawning halfway through, your reader probably won’t even make it that far into it. If you bring your readers to tears, you want it to be from a deep emotional reaction to your words, not from boredom.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little list. You might have noticed that I didn’t include typical poetic devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, repetition, rhyme, rhythm or form. That isn’t because those aren’t important at all, but because I don’t think they are absolutely necessary to create great poetry. However, if you already have a great concept, adding some of those poetic devices to your poem might make it even better, so do consider using them.