PoetryDispatch No. 308 | January 15, 2010
From age 6 when I punched letter by letter type into a neighborhood newspaper, I have written something—In my teens through an understanding English teacher who looked beyond the surface of my tough-girl attitude and acts, I entered into the joy of writing—both prose and poetry. My first book of sorts was done then—probably filled with mash notes to some boy or other but the words wanted to have their proper place. Then came the alcoholic years—mostly blurs but yet poems by the cartload from such phrases as the soul cried tears of blood to bucolic ramblings, usually ending with holes in the paper from frustrated pounding of pen or pencil. For years when I worked in State Government, I penned anonymous responses to bureaucratic bullshit memos about how to turn on the radiators or to keep the blinds drawn in place of air conditioning. I had a following; people enjoyed my sense of things. Two marriages and two children softened my edges as did the passing years, but still I was seeking the inner smile of writing accomplishment—The Book.
Enter The Clearing [Ellison Bay, Wisconsin]: I was looking for a quiet place to “find myself” in some safe place mentally and the music week was full—so the writers’ week it was. Every writing theme and effort I’d had became a legitimate benchmark on my journey. I began to tell people I wrote poetry, put work into little books so I could carry it around and savor it. What a high! Over the next 15 years, I wrote all the time and admitted to it; three books and two that I was working on, all lovingly typed, copied and stapled together with a cover carrying My Name.
It would be difficult to select a favorite book from those I’ve put together over the years—beginning in 1984 and having one I’m working on now. All these little books say something different about me—my first stumbling steps in writing poems; coming out of the poetry closet in the 1990’s and joining a group.
I tried sending poems out to little magazines as everyone seemed to be doing, but I was less than successful and each rejection was a death knell for that poem—I had no confidence at all when it came to accepting rejection or criticism. Reading helped; I began to enjoy the company of poets and began to read my work out loud at coffee houses. A great venue for being told I had a great poem, or many times, “a great reading voice”!
The real book, the book that made me a poet was White Shoulders. A real press published work, with credits and acknowledgements. This was my truth—I’d begun it as an exercise in different genre—a transition between poetry and prose. All my adult life, I’d given my mother the back-handed remarks that made me who I became—the teen who acted out, got drunk, the failure at marriage and alcoholic—all her fault. Suddenly, it became important to me to give her the chance to respond to my accusations—difficult because she had died 12 years earlier. So began the book, originally titled, Mother’s House. It is a lovely book with a beautiful sensitive cover and a content of absolute honesty, much of which tears away the years of excuses I made for my screwed up life. It was cathartic writing it, editing it and finally seeing it as a finished beautiful product, and I had begun to hear her voice explaining to me what her life was about during those years—I’d write something bitchy, and she’d respond by telling me of her fears and life as a single parent; this was a revelation to me and my truth began with the telling of that story, which became White Shoulders, a conversation between a daughter and her deceased mother, published beautifully by Cross+Roads Press. At last I had a legitimate book of my own to hold close and share with others, and the absolute thrill when I first saw it come alive through the brown paper packaging will remain as the most exciting and emotional event of my life.
The important part of my writing is keeping the truth of the poem and my own dignity in the writing. I’ve never considered myself anything but an individualist, feminism is grand for those who have carried me along, but I’ve had my hands full staying true to me. I’m a decade past the baby-boomers and have had to bear the guilt of the fifties ingrained in the back of my left knee whenever I’ve tried to be a woman of the times—usually overdone with my lack of perspective. I’ve recovered from most negatives in my younger years, abuse, alcohol, tobacco, divorces. I live alone now and enjoy every minute of it—and it’s safer than getting involved with the old people-pleasing games of my youth.
There have been two more books since White Shoulders, and one: Just What in Hell is a Stage of Grief? is my story of losing my 33 year old son to booze and sleep apnea. It was important to me to have a written dialogue with him and myself about the days following his death and I’m very pleased with the book; it’s not everyone’s choice for reading, but the purpose has been completed. I hope to complete another book within this year and perhaps if I write again about The Book, it may be about one to come—but for now White Shoulders defines my library and influences each poem I write with truth.
- Bar Code, Little Eagle Press 2008, and Peninsula Review, Sister Bay, WI 1989: “The Staring Contest”
- Rosebud, Cambridge, WI, Issue #1, Winter 1993-94: “Choices”
- Women’s Recovery Journal (?), 1993: “My Name is Jackie”
- Cats’ Meow, Maine Rhode Publ. Woolwich, ME 1996: “Business Venture”
- Tasty Morsels, Lonesome Traveller Publ. Madison, WI, 1996: “Camellia” and “Role Model”
- Poetry of Cold, Home Brew Press, Fish Creek, WI, 1997: “Darkness of an Early Morning Snow”
- Detours II, Lonesome Traveller Pub.1998: “The Shoji Screen”
- Coming Home to Door, Home Brew Press 1998: “The Dinner Party”
- Three Legged Cats and Other Tales, Wheels Press, 1989
- Private Thoughts, Wheels Press 1991
- Coming of Age, Wheels Press, 1992
- White Shoulders, Cross+Roads Press, Ellison Bay, WI 2000
- Just What in the Hell is a Stage of Grief, Ghost Horse Press, Verona, 2008
- Confetti in a Silent City, Ghost Horse Press, 2008
- 1988: Joyce Web Poetry Award, Wisconsin Regional Writers Assoc. “Shoes”
- 1997: First Place Poem, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Trophy Award. “Living Separated from Him”
- 1999: First Place Poem, Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters Annual Award, “Tai Chi in Four Movements”
- 2000: Jade Ring, Wisconsin Regional Writers Assoc. “Casals’ Cello”
- Barefoot Grass Journal, Vol 1, Fall/Winter 1997: “Stone,” “Invitations,” “Generations”
- Writing Across the Boundaries Between Poetry & Prose, Lonesome Traveller Pub., 1999: “Mother’s House”
- Reflections on the Train, Detours: Poems of Travel by Land, Sea, Air and Mind, Lonesome Traveller Pub., 1997; RobinChapman’s Blog, http://robinchapmanspoemaday.blogspot.com/ 2006: “Reflections on the Train”
- Poems of Love, Lonesome Traveller Publishing,1998: “If I Were to Take a Lover”
- Wisconsin Academy Review: Summer, 2004: and RobinChapman’s Blog, 2006: “Father Writes to Mother From California”
- Wisconsin Academy Review: Spring, 2003 and RobinChapman’s Blog 2006 “Letter to My Daughter”
- Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters: Spring, 1999 and Taijiquan Journal, Minneapolis, 2004: “Tai Chi in 4 Movements”
- Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters: 1996 “The X-Ray”
- Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters: 1998 “Ablutions”
- Word of Mouth, May 1993 & Spondee Internet: http://www.spondee.net/“Jason at 23, White, Adriatic Sea”
- Poetry Dispatch #118 Norbert Blei, Ed Internet 2007, https://poetrydispatch.wordpress.com/ “Once Again I Fail To” and Excerpt from White Shoulders
- 100 Words, University of Iowa, ** “Second Sight”
- Midland Review, University of Oklahoma, May 1993 and Spondee Internet Site “Jewels”
- Looking Out the Window, The Writers’ Place, 1994 and Spondee Internet Site “In the Party Room at the Nursing Home”
- Peace Project, 2003 Exhibit: “Women Drumming”
- Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Calendars 1991-2010: Various poems -
- Slender Thread, Little Eagle Press, Bailey’s Harbor, WI 2008: “Universal Sorrow on City Street,” “Old Woman Lays Husband to Rest,” “Paper Pink Iris”
- Tiger’s Eye, Tiger’s Eye Press, Oregon, 2008: “Old Woman Lays Husband to Rest”
- The Aurorean, Encircle Publications, ME, Vol. XIII 2008-2009: “Seasons”
- Silk Road, Pacific University, Oregon, Vol. 3 Spring 2008: “Pentimento II”
- Chaffin Journal, East Kentucky University, 2009: “Aneurism”
- Volunteer and President of Board of Directors for The Writers’ Place, Madison, WI 1996-98
- Editor, Looking Out the Window, The Writers’ Place First Annual Literary Anthology, Madison 1995
- Co-Editor, 2004 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Annual Calendar