Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Let There Be Swimming

Let There Be Swimming

Early spring, 2020. I was not thinking of swimming. I was thinking of turning 74, its offerings and its inevitable diminishments. 

For the occasion, I gave myself the luxury of a not-too-luxurious studio on the Paseo, specifically, at the Plunge. It was once a swanky swimming pool. Now funky, it seemed perfect.

 I didn’t have a creative plan or a project other than wading around in the words I’d been writing for twenty years. A private retrospective.  I was looking to see if there might be a hidden school of fish I hadn't noticed; maybe a tributary to take me forward.

While I smelled coffee and fresh donuts every morning from below at Holey Rollers,or  listened to bookish chatter wafting up from the downstairs Literati Books. I wrote six pieces. Each began: “Now that I am 74…”. I was facing the moment, belly flopping into the new year. I didn’t want to write a book necessarily, but I wanted to find a current current for myself. By way of poetry, of course. 

I had an open house that Friday night, March 6. Friends came and went on their way to Picasso’s or Paseo Grill, or Sauced. Street music was free. Laughter splashed up like birthday Champaign. It was, for many of us, our last big party night. As far as I know, no one got sick from kissing and sharing sips of Merlot. We hugged like we had a million more to share, anytime. 

It was ending days, and it was early days. All of Paseo went quiet, though Picasso’s offered carry out and continued piping dance music into the air. I was allowed to keep my studio, carefully entering through the back door, climbing up to my spare solitude. I moved my desk in front of the balcony. Suddenly it was just me and the Oklahoma skies, a show of tulips down below, and sometimes the sound of a skateboarder bumpity-bumping down the empty street.

This week I received a proof of the book, yes, the book, I built. This is the work I began when I was left alone at The Plunge, and finished, finally, at home. Let There Be Swimming, as it came to be titled, often seemed like dog paddling, or being caught in a useless game of Marco Polo. Now, it feels inevitable, the way it feels when you learn to swim. You didn’t know how to do it, but now you do.

This book didn’t care my age or creaky knees. It didn’t take pandemic for an answer. I think it made itself of water, pooling here and there, going at its own speed, defying time. It has some shallows, some eddies. If it has anything contagious in it, let it be good for something.

If you have read my work before, you know I look for ritual, I dive into the stories of girls in trouble, the run-aways, and the ones who hide or make their hiddenness essential. I try to move forward with the backstroke. I let history have her say, freestyle, fictionalized.

Now that I’ve hit 74, and am one of the vulnerable, I’ll wear a mast without complaint. But, I will not let a lock down keep me out of the swim of things. Let there be books, and coffee, and art in our times of trouble; things to share.

Please notice the cover art is that of Marissa Raglin. I commissioned her to create the cover. I will post more later about Marissa's work and our collaboration (mraglinart.com). She works her magic with the utmost skill and insight. 

Let There Be Swimming will be available in August from Lulu.com or locally. Contact me for details.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Reasons for Creative Collaboration

The talented Jane Wheeler.

Last night we went public with
Defining Commonality: A Handmade Dictionary

 a collaborative project between photographer, Jane Wheeler, and myself.

Thanks to Full Circle and to all the people who came, it turned out to be a party that was not only fun, but one that mirrored the work itself.

In conversations, I heard a common interest in what language can do, much talk about sustainability in our neighborhoods, plain old catching up,  plus, delight in looking deep into at the images.

I do not claim that collaborating is easy, but there are surprising rewards. Surprise itself, for one.

You get out of your own head and into another's.
You can let go and have fun.

You keep working toward something you can't know until it's made.

People talk and ask about your work along the way.


You and your creative partner are forever linked in someone else's hand. 

When someone buys your work it's 2x the pleasure.

Your work becomes grounded and coupled beyond your control,
and more than the sum of its parts.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Defining Commonality: A Handmade Dictionary

Come look what we made:

a little library of dictionaries, handmade references sourced with Jane Wheeler’s creative photographic eye and my companion lyric poems, each a one-of-a-kind work of art.


 Since the beginning of this year Jane Wheeler and I have been carrying on a conversation about form and color and composition. More specifically we’ve been working together and talking about neighborhood patterns, local beauty, and how to sustain a sense of the common good.

Expressed in these photographs and poems, this conversation is ready to be offered to you, our friends and neighbors. We hope you will join us in discovering what we hold in common, and where and what we find beautiful.

Art Opening

Full Circle Books ( in 50 Penn Place)

Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019

7: p.m.  



Monday, December 17, 2018

In Ghost House - A Fine Collection

The Books I Read in Autumn
for Kathy, Jeanne, Mike, Chip, Marty, Paul, Josh

They were all mysteries, flesh

and blood; contemporary, all cutting edge.

None were made from a false scaffold.

Each spine listened in the morning light.

No page played the know it all.

The plots meandered the way I like.

Someone sat at a prairie sickbed.

Love came on hard and sexy. Another love

got funny with a gun, and bones. Intermittent

were the chapters of forgiveness. Horses, Paris,

 cactus, windows, swaddled babies, tyrants. Each

 story knew it’s perfect article, a or the. Each

 loved its “S”es and was possessive, sibilant

 and strange. Such a book becoming plural 

gets my full attention. Seven minds

together in a small adobe room 

remain this year's best of best.




Sunday, August 5, 2018

Accidental Collaboration

All my poems and poetry projects grow out of collaboration.

My first book of poems, was a collection of companion poems written with the poet, Judith Tate O'Brien. We threw out seed words to each other each Monday when we met to write together. At first, we simply considered these practice poems. Eventually, some of them became a shared chapbook. This kind of collaboration is intentional, ritualized, and requires the push and pull of two different voices and styles.

There is another kind of creative activity I call accidental collaboration. Some image or story falls into my secret pencil case and starts to write itself. This has happened a lot over the years with my grandchildren. They are just walking seeds for creativity. Sometimes their sparks are so bright there is no poem that can contain it. That's fine. There are written poems and lived poems. We all know that.

The accidental collaboration can happen anywhere, even on the often banal landscape of social media. A few months ago I was captured by the beauty of a friend's photograph of a slice of moon which appeared to be balanced on a wire making our common neighborhood street appear magical and mysterious.

I thought: what's going on up there?  I wrote the following poem and post it here with the image and permission of Mary Catherine Reynolds, my accidental collaborator.

Moon on the Line

Look, a mid-June rocking curve of moon

seemingly balanced on a wire, electric,

like an Oklahoma neon light.


Did you see the cowgirl, old Calamity

Jane, fringe-frayed, but still brazenly

brave, smiling at the open door?


She’s retired her Remington and runs

a tiny joint up there on Western Ave.

called Janie’s Moon on the Line


and if timing’s right, and the bar band’s

loud, we sing along here down below

to tunes we used to know.

(June, 2018)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ghost Ranch Fall Writing Festival

What was I thinking titling my poetry class Ekphrastic? Obscure. From the Greek.
Not a welcoming word.

 It drew five participants, but one dropped out after being told it was not, as he thought, a class on the geology of the southwest. It was poetry based on art.  So, I had an amazing class of four.

The thing I love about a tiny group is that we can meet in the intimacy of Ghost House, the first adobe structure build on the property in 1888.
Through the double cranked out windows we can see the old rustler cottonwood, the “hanging tree” turning golden. Farther out, the  mesa which is surely about to wear out its ancient name: Pedernal.

The other thing I love is that with four writers, five with me, there’s room to notice all the other invisible spirits who want to hang around and have their say: living and passed -- a wife, a son, a dog almost lost to depredation. We welcomed in van Gogh, an artist named Veeneman, songster Donald Fagen, O’Keeffe, of course, and a farm in Namibia called Damara.

The room fills up with newness. The daily grind we left behind recedes. Language powers us up beyond the tiring talking points lodged in our heads from dogged media.

These writers were so creative in that space I almost decided against a field trip to a gallery in Los Ojos. But the day was ashine with Aspen and Chimisa, so we went.  One the way, a flock of Churro sheep slowed us down. The border collies and horse-mounted shepherds minded hundreds of woolen ungulates waving down and up, down and up, Highway 84. Other drivers turned around. We took turns jumping out the truck to get a closer look. That day in Rio Arriba County something was happening and we were there to see it, smell, and feel it -- the October ritual of guiding sheep down out of their summer highlands.

When the flock turned left and quilted down toward the valley, we were suddenly less interested in a gallery. Anyway, it was closed. Tierra Wools was open, though, and we went in and marveled at the brilliant hues of wool, the looms. We loved the women with their needles clicking, talking, laughing, by the fire as though it was an ordinary autumn day.

Nothing during the week was very ordinary, especially the poems, a few of which I am happy to share with the wider world. With permission, here is a sampling.


Georgia O’Keeffe looked at Pedernal
Everyday even if
Only in her mind because
Really the mountain dominated her life,
Gave her
Inspiration to take her
Artist brushes in hand and paint.
Charles E. Colson


We saw a bobbing sea of walking wool,
A mass of undulating fleece that blocked
Our way. Police directed, traffic stopped,
A cowgirl waved, and dogs insisted on obedience,
Until the crowd of cloud-hued sheep was gone.

Proceeding on our way, we came upon
A shop, where crafty weavers worked their magic.
From skeins of yarn a colour wheel unspooled.
They warped and weft it by design and now
It’s done. Now all that wool’s for walking on.
                                                Dianne Hubbard

(from a series of linked poems entitled HWY 84)

A gentle turn north becomes the road to Abilene, I pass a
Business man, a Sales man, a Willy Loman, piloting his sixty-grand Ram
I feel his lurking quota, his debts, a desperate book of business hanging over his head
Like Gollum, failing, greedy, grabbing for that one ring of power
Even a sucker, a rube, a mid-level manager can sense his anger and his hangover
Now I pass trooper lights, stopped and popping like the Fourth of July
Every trooper’s witnessed desperation, but this one’s gone and he can’t know what I know I’ve done
Gary Alexander

The Woman, the Horse and the Sheepdog

Warmly dressed on a light snowy day
A woman stares at something beyond, something
we cannot see
and can only speculate has something to do with
the sheep behind them –
Behind the woman,
                behind the horse and
                                behind the sheepdog.

The woman, the horse and the sheepdog
A unity of being in three parts
A perfect Trinity.

As she looks, so then does the horse move
                sensing her gaze or the
                                imperceptible pressure of reign and flexed
                                                leg muscles.
And the dog, curling around dangerously close to iron
 Hooves, follows the horse,
                                following the woman
following the gaze.
This is harmony
                the woman,
                                the horse,
                                                and the sheepdog

Can we respond to a passion more felt than seen,
more intuited than understood?
                Can we hear it,
feel it,
trust it?
Do we know what it even is
And is it a part of us,
are we a part of it?

Not a thing obtained
But one nurtured,
found within and cultivated.

To follow a gaze,
                To respond to a gentle pressure,
                                To trust the one we are following,
The woman,
                The horse,
                                And the sheepdog.

                                Scott Herren

Friday, September 16, 2016


How to coax a poem out of hiding was the general theme of last week’s poetry interactive at Artspace At Untitled. I was joined by Ben Myers (Oklahoma Poet Laureate) and Chad Reynolds (of Short Order Poems and Penny Candy Press) in talking about methods and meanings of our own practice of poetry.

Special thanks to the writers and artists who came out to listen and who wrote fascinating pieces of their own right on the spot!

To add to the fun of the evening, our favorite influences showed up in spirit as we traded tips and threw out prompts. It seemed as though William Wordsworth, Ted Berrigan, Richard Hugo, Bernadette Mayer, and even, for a moment, Doctor Who showed up.
 I was reminded of my first poetry teacher, Betty Shipley, who often focused on gathering language, and continually wrote the code “ww” on my paper. Wrong Word. She was such a believer in finding the just-right-word. She was a proponent of the scavenger hunt.  Just go look on page 52 of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Betty would say. She played the sheriff and the seer and other funny juxtaposed authorities.

 So, in this spirit of play and happy exchange, I’m inviting you before time runs out (Sept 22) to come downtown (1NE3 street) and participate in A Hiding Place. As Betty would say, there is something in that gallery you need to know. Just be open to it and let color, shape, contrast, language, texture, sound, story, movement, talk to you like an old teacher.

And for your scavenge pleasure, here are 8 evocative lines from the participating poet which you can look for on the finely letterpressed poems mounted on the wall.

Ben Myers, Jeanine Hathaway, Chad Reynolds, Julia McConnell, Anita Skeen, Jane Vincent Taylor

The result of my body’s friendly fire///once fresh cream now pinked by Oklahoma dust// / duppies good and ornery vex me here///you have chosen not to open///the labyrinth of wrong turns taken///we break for higher ground///on an altar of cardboard box///we each imagine on the other side///

Before you leave, please thank the Gallery geniuses, Rebecca Bloodworth and owner, Laura Warriner, for bringing us all together in this way. 

Then make something. You know you want to.