[This article appeared in slightly different form in 2014 — ed.] As writers, our ears are tuned for measuring the quality of the words we hear around us. Sometimes, our ears catch speech we think is pure poetry or could be if read that way. We find that with a little rearranging these words express more humor, more … Continue reading
This winter’s holiday school break, my grandson, now 15 and a half years old and equipped with his driver’s permit, took a two-week intensive driver’s education class. I certainly felt the passage of time as I remembered using an image of my son Seth receiving his driver’s license as I wrote a poem for him … Continue reading
Writing poetry, no matter what genre you usually work in, is truly an experience of re-creating a self. In writing poems from experience and from meditative and reflective moments, we are the makers of something that helps us come to know ourselves and have increased intimacy with ourselves. From this intimacy comes the creation of … Continue reading
In our final week of posting contest entries from the fall/winter WIR writing contest, we have seven poems by Linda M. Robertson. Our contest judge Sharon Bryan wrote this about selecting these poems as winners: These poems speak in a voice that makes me want to listen to everything it says. They are so well-crafted that … Continue reading
For National Poetry Month, tonight I am reading from my own poetry at the link below. For me poetry is an everyday experience and so there aren’t any huge production values or perfect lighting in this video. Just me sharing my poems and talking to you about what I hope poetry accomplishes for humanity. You can … Continue reading
As my mother’s 90th birthday approaches, my husband and I have sorted through photographs from nine decades of her life. He is making a photo essay book to be given to her this Sunday and shared with guests at the party we are making.
As we sorted, I reached into a manila envelope and to my surprise, it wasn’t a photo inside but a record, the size of a 45 rpm, with a note, “Bert and Arline, March 1945” handwritten on the label. I soon went to see a DJ at KPTZ FM, the station for which I produce my program “In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life.” The DJ kindly used the equipment the station has to play what turned out to be a 78 record.
Everyone there at the studio stood in the soundproof room waiting to hear what my parents, who were 18 at the time, said to one another in a recording booth they must have dropped into in NY six months before they eloped and probably just as my dad prepared to leave for Oklahoma having enlisted in the Navy. It’s a short recording. One of the most endearing moments for me is when my father says, “I love you so much” and then asks, “Do you love me?” My mother says, “Yes, I do.” My dad asks, “Why?” And she laughs, “God only knows.”
So, I am thinking of my dad a lot as we prepare for this weekend’s celebration. I have gone into my files to find the eulogy I wrote for his funeral services. I see that I employed anaphora, the craft form I wrote about last week. I am sharing the writing I read at my father’s funeral in the hopes that it may help you if are tasked with writing a eulogy or want to write one, even long after a person has died.
As you will see, repeating a specific phrase helped me keep writing and conjuring moments infused with meaning for me.
At My Father’s Funeral, 2001, The Words I Shared
When I think of my father, I think of the words he taught me: presentable as in his morning question those years he was climbing the corporate ladder, “Do I look presentable;” indispensable as in the mantra that kept him motivated toward excellence, “No man is indispensable;” and the one he taught us using the British pronunciation because the company he worked for had had research done there, “laboratory.”
When I think of my father, I think of the way he taught me to be conscientious, honest, forthright, and disciplined. Homework was to get done, goals were to be set and reached, and mistakes were to be noted and fixed.
I think of the gifts he most cherished giving my sister and me—copies of books like Treasure Island, a white football he tried to teach us to throw, a chemistry set we could only use with him as our proctor, money for college saved each week in the blue envelopes we brought to school.
I think of the things we took as gifts—riding his shoulders to play at great height in a swimming pool, his hand on the back of our two wheeler seats as we pedaled down the sidewalk learning to balance, his driving lessons and the degree of attention and seriousness he gave the task and his bravery sitting with us as we pressed the accelerator and learned to steer. He concentrated on helping us learn to make our way as well as helping our way be joyous. When I had my first job as an administrator and found the nonprofit I worked for was in the red, my father came to visit and sat for hours teaching me how to create, monitor, and control an organization’s budget. When my teenage son designed my husband and I a house, he donated the financing for skylights, an extra that would make all the difference to his grandson project. When I had a collection of poems that needed presales for the small press to make a print run, my father ordered about 50 copies and eventually gave them out like cigars when a baby is born.
When my dad’s health declined these past few years, I began writing poems incorporating my memories of his fathering. I would like to share one today because I think it best evokes his nature and what I will always treasure.
Some Things He May Not Know He Taught Me
For my father
I praise him for two varnished skulls from cats
he’d dissected in biology, the way he bolted those skulls to mahogany
and kept them on his shelves, a trophy for attending college against the odds.
I praise him for the diligence with which he wrote a jingle night after night
at our kitchen table trying to win prizes from the supermarket, the special care
he took with the 78 rpm Pinocchio album his jingle won him, how he kept it
on a high shelf so my sister and I would not touch it when he was not around.
I praise the way he cherished what he worked so hard for.
I praise him for the clay pot he planted with grass seed scooped from the ground
when gardeners sowed a lawn each spring between the buildings of our court.
I praise him for the joke he made, cutting the grass each Saturday
with a scissors, showing my sister and me that chores get done.
I praise him for the day when I was four and watched him shave
until the plumbing backed up. With an inch of sewer water
underfoot, he lifted me from the room waking my mother in a hurry,
telling her the problem, his feet already out the door to work.
She yelled how it wasn’t fair to leave her with the mess;
I praise him for teaching me nothing unexpected need be fair.
I praise him for the hand he slammed against the steering wheel
our first time through the Lincoln Tunnel when a car rear-ended us
and his sample cases of pharmaceuticals clanked, smashed and oozed.
I praise him for the way he did not easily accept what wasn’t in his control.
Quick most times to anger, he let us know his burden and his soul.
As a writer, repeating phrases helps me occupy and contain my abstraction-making mind so my image-making mind can deliver the details that bring my subject alive without me worrying about how to fit them into a narrative.
One of the beautiful things about a eulogy, in prose or in poetry, is the way that in honoring the dead with details and images, both writer and listener resurrect a life.
I do not know what memories my mom will find flooding in as we share my young father’s and young mother’s voices and the decades of photos with her and family members this Sunday. But I do know that whatever that reaction, it will usher in an occasion from which I will write. I know that the technique of anaphora will help me include more than I might otherwise be able to comfortably gather into one piece of writing.
For January: Dreams and Repetitions In this month of the inauguration of a new president of our country, it seems particularly appropriate and important to study the orators of our great nation who called out for freedoms we enjoy. Reading the words of Dr. King, Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama, we can experience the power … Continue reading
[Note: I originally posted the following article in December, 2007. It’s holiday preparation time again and lists keep us sane. They can also keep us writing! Try the exercise I am suggesting based on writing lists poems. Try it more than once during this season of shopping lists, invitation lists and gift lists.] You might … Continue reading
What is a prose poem? “It is a piece of writing in prose having obvious poetic qualities, including intensity, compactness, prominent rhythms, and imagery.” — Chrome Browser Link. Why write it? “Baudelaire used prose poems to rebel against the straitjacket of classical French versification. He dreamed of creating ‘a poetic prose, musical without rhyme or … Continue reading
Robert Epstein has invested years in conceiving and writing books, among them a series of impressive haiku anthologies. This National Poetry Month, I am delighted to post an interview with him that gets to the heart of how haiku connects us to the sacred and demonstrates what we come to poetry for — to understand and to share … Continue reading
Years ago, a poet friend of mine, Jim Mitsui, ended a poem with an image of people “following their keys home.” That image has lingered with me as a lesson about what the writing life saves us from, which is the dullness of always expecting the expected, and what it requires of us, which is … Continue reading
Before appointments, when a meeting hasn’t started, when a bus hasn’t come, when a friend is late, when you have finished something and still have time before the next thing in your day, when you arrive early to work — do you write or reflexively check your email or text a friend or leaf through … Continue reading
This, my second week in Denmark visiting my daughter and her family, I continued with my idea of writing more poetry in form. I flipped through the book my younger grandson, who had used it in third grade, had given me, A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, and stopped on … Continue reading
I am in Denmark for the month of August visiting my daughter and her family. She and her husband are here working, and the international school my grandsons attended is out for the summer. My job is being nanny, but it’s more like company, for the boys. An enthusiastic traveler, Emily makes sure weekends are full. On my first … Continue reading
Christine Hemp offers us her thinking about how we may find our prose and poetry’s true subjects followed by a writing exercise for practice and two sample poems. [This article and exercise were originally published in Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, from Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, edited by Sherry … Continue reading
This week I am posting poems by three more poets whose work I have been following. Each has offered words about the creation of the particular poem included. And, as before, you’ll find writing ideas from me based on each of the poems. Let these poems live inside of you for a bit after reading … Continue reading
We present three poets, offering one of their poems along with words about its creation. My writing ideas are each based on one of the poems and are useful whether you are writing poetry or prose.
National Poetry Month started yesterday. This week’s article is an oldie but goodie, originally published in 2007 and updated for 2014. In Port Townsend, the daffodils have been up several weeks. As usual out here, it looks like we’ll get rain this next week and certainly lots during the month of April, but I remind … Continue reading
Three accomplished writers have as editors acquired a collection of essays in The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Writing Across Borders in which poets explore the way their journeys to foreign lands helped them add to literature’s great conversation. Susan Rich, one editor of the three, whose newest poetry collection Cloud Pharmacy is just out from … Continue reading
In choosing Beth Spencer’s poem, “The Shipwreck Coast,” as the fall/winter Writing It Real contest third place winner, guest judge Molly Tinsley wrote: “Yes, poetry is memoir–at least in the case of this intriguing narrative poem. I loved the resolutely unpoetic, sardonic voice. Again, the emotional control over deeply painful material impressed me. We have all … Continue reading