Tag Archives: writing

On Reading & Reciting Poetry

I have a signed copy of this lovely book from Caroline Kennedy’s Seattle appearance a few years back. I was amazed by how many of these poems she knew by heart, many of which she recited for us  that night. 

I am a terrible memorizer. Memorization is an analytical skill, a counter-intuitive trait to this Random Abstract Global thinker. However, next to trying to remember favorite Scriptures, which I’ve gotten mostly by osmosis lo, these 40 plus years, I do want to get some poetry in my memory banks. As C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (Thanks to Johnny Anomaly at Creative Coping Podcast for that quote.)

So off we go; there are so many lovely poems to memorize.

Poem Number One-The Singing Bowl, Malcolm Guite

I began memorizing Malcolm Guite’s The Singing Bowl last March after a special retreat  where God gave me a singing bowl as a metaphor for the weekend’s experience. In an effort to remind myself often of what God had done, I committed to the process, which I discovered is very doable if the words rhyme. Meter helps, as well.

Guite’s poem is a sonnet–14 lines written in iambic pentameter, with alternating end rhymes. What is iambic pentameter you ask? For those of us not steeped in Shakespeare’s work, let’s thank Google.

“Iambic pentameter is line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.”

Read The Singing Bowl and you’ll see what I mean.

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5 Questions for…Sophfronia Scott

sophfronia2I  first met Sophfronia Scott at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids last April. I’d admired her writing work from afar, particularly an essay in Ruminate magazine about dancing in her kitchen. I knew she’d be speaking at the Festival and scanned the meeting places, looking for her beautiful dreadlocks and beaming smile. I noticed her at one of the hotel counters and taking gumption in hand, I introduced myself, told her what a fan I was of her writing and asked if I could interview her. She said “yes!” May I introduce Sophfronia Scott.

1) In your essay collection “Love’s Long Line” you begin by telling your readers about the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary where your son Tain was attending 3rd grade. After this book, you went on to write a book with him, “This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World.” What was that process like, working with a young child who also happens to be your son?

First of all, your readers should know that the way our book is set up, I’ve written the main narrative but each chapter contains a section called “Tain’s Take” where he’s written his version of the story. I didn’t want a combined voice because Tain’s voice is really what got us here. I thought he should have his own space in the book. Working on that space wasn’t always easy. We recently spoke to the writing classes at his school, Newtown Middle School, and one of the things Tain told his fellow students was how frustrating it was because of the many times I would send his writing back to him because he hadn’t told a story fully or included enough details.

As we started to work I found it interesting how the questions Tain asked about the process and the issues I guided him through were the same ones I work on with my adult creative nonfiction students. Tain was concerned that he couldn’t remember exactly some of the events because he was younger, really another person, then. At the time he was 12 writing about when he was 5 to 9 years old. I taught him how he could research his own life, how there were clues to help him. He interviewed our minister and the Sunday school director at our church. It was hard work, especially as the deadline pressed upon us. But I’ll never forget the day when the finished book arrived and I put it on the passenger seat of my minivan for when I picked him up from school. When he saw it he said, “We did it!” and high-fived me. I loved that moment.

2) One of your essays in “Love’s Long Line” is about reading an old letter your father had written to you. You liken the process to “peeling off the emotion, lies and last of all, the story I’ve told myself about all those pieces just so I could endure them.”  Do you find you are still peeling those layers?

Yes. Not those layers specifically but I’m always peeling layers in general. We all have so many layers and I don’t think we’ll ever be done with them because we are still creating them all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s simply growth, just like the rings within a tree. But it’s good to peel back to get a sense of where I’ve come from and a hint of where I’m going.

3) Practical question: Your writing experience covers a gamut of genres and styles–fiction as well as non-fiction, and work as an author and editor. When and how did you make the change from being an editor at Time and People magazine to writing for yourself, so to speak?

It started while I was at People magazine. Working for those magazines was really a training ground for me because I went straight to Time out of college. As the years went on I could feel that apprenticeship ending and I began to think about what I wanted to write on my own. Eventually, while working at People, I fell in with a group of actors and being around their energy and creativity inspired me to get to work on my first novel.

4) Names are important, the spelling of them especially. I am constantly respelling my name–Jody with a ‘y’ not ‘i’–as are you, adding the ‘f’ in the middle of ‘Sophfronia.’ Tell us about your son’s name–Tain.

Here’s the story: When I was pregnant and learned I was having a boy I knew I wanted him to have an Irish name to represent my family’s Scotch-Irish ancestry. But back then there were so many Ryans and Aidans and Connors! One day my husband, a musician, told me about a jazz drummer, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and said Tain was a cool name. I agreed. It was simple yet different and elegant. Then a dear friend who happens to be well versed in Irish lore told me, “Tain is an Irish name!” and referenced a book, an epic called The Tain. It’s the story of a cattle raid. Tain means cattle or bull. The fact that the name suited both aspects of myself and my husband and so much felt like it was supposed to be Tain’s name made it easy for us to go with it.

5) The essays in “Love’s Long Line” weave in the theme of forgiveness, because, as you say, if we live with unforgiveness, we don’t tend to our families and our gifts, we forget how to experience joy. The Sandy Hook tragedy will always be a part of your experience–How do you and your family, especially your son Tain, “experience joy” in your everyday lives?

Tain reminds me daily how to experience joy because it arises so naturally from his very being. He sings and whistles to himself all the time. And when he’s doing something that he loves to do, like being with his friends or acting in a musical or playing his favorite video game, I can see he’s totally invested in the moment and enjoying it thoroughly. I think experiencing joy is about being open to the wonder of life and love that is so simply in front of us every moment of our lives. Sometimes there are obstacles, yes, especially when terrible things happen but I’m always seeking to learn about how to deal with them. Recently I’ve read The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and found it both helpful and hopeful. I feel all that we need is ever near us, ever closer than we think. We have to notice it, and accept that joy and love, especially God’s love, is right there for us.

You can find Sophfronia’s book Love’s Long Line and the book she and Tain

co-authored, This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World

on her website.

Aging With Grace–40 Women Over 40 Tell All

Wonder+Years+Launch--contributors-best+photo

Festival of Faith & Writing, Grand Rapids MI April 2018 photo is mine. j.l. collins

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 NIV

Two weeks ago I took my first ever trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing, a gathering for Christian writers, bloggers, authors and poets at Calvin College. One speaker in particular that I hoped to connect with was the powerhouse that is Leslie Leyland Fields. 

In real life Leslie lives with her family in Kodiak, Alaska, where they own a commercial fishing business. In the summer she leads writing retreats on a remote island that you only get to by bush plane. She has also managed over the years to raise her children, to write and teach workshops, to speak and inspire people around the world. Her life and work always point to Jesus.

Leslie just turned 60 but has the power and energy of someone much, much younger. I think she’d credit Jesus for a lot of that energy, but she also is blessed with kindness, graciousness and humility, all rare commodities these days.

Leslie took on a book project several years back as she was heading into the other side of 50–gathering women from all arenas and stages of life to talk about aging. She was looking for voices of women over 40. And 50. And 60. And 70. Luci Shaw, the oldest contributor, will be 90 this year. That immense undertaking became “The Wonder Years–40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength” (Kregel Publications).

wonder years cover

Aging is not for the thin-boned or the faint of heart. As we climb year by year, whether it’s a mountain or a ladder, we need to stop for a long moment and consider the view. We need to ask questions. Maybe we should even check our ladder.  Leslie Leyland Fields

As I head into my 66th year this August, I am aware of the need for the world to hear from women of a certain age, writers and speakers who are sometimes overlooked. Where is a book that talks about aging gracefully that isn’t about face lifts and beauty products? We need the voices of older Christian women who can be examples of what to do (or give warnings about what n o t to do) as we walk this road of life with Jesus.

Leslie noticed this, too.

“Maybe we older women just want to be seen again,” she writes in the Introduction.  I would concur. We have wisdom, experience and perspective, life lessons to offer those who will listen. We’ve also discovered that gravity is not the kindest force in the universe, which is why Leslie bought a leopard print push up bra when she turned 50. (More on that later.)

I met Leslie at the book launch party for The Wonder Years (photo of the readers group above) and told her I’d write a little something about the book. I sent 5 questions to ‘interview’ her in this space and she typed me back her answers. From Slovakia! After she’d been without her luggage for 5 days…After she’d been to South Africa. See what I mean? Persistent powerhouse.

Wonder--just+want+to+be+seen+again

Forthwith, a little something about “The Wonder Years–40 Women Over 40, On Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength.”

1) Tell us a little about your journey to curate this book–what was the genesis of the idea to gather these writers?

When I turned 40, I started thinking seriously about what kind of old woman I wanted to become. I knew some elderly women I did NOT want to become! It seemed clear to me then that we either age intentionally with purpose, or we drift flesh-ily into the worst version of ourselves. I wanted to pursue this, but I was too busy to pursue this as a book. Then, blink and flash, I’m 50! Now I REALLY wanted this book that didn’t yet exist. This last year I turned 60, and here it is.

2) Forty Women Over 40 is a collection of essays grouped in 3 topics-Firsts, Lasts and Always. How or why did you choose these three topics?

When I thought of the kind of wisdom and experience we gain through the decades, it occurred to me that it could all be grouped into these three spaces:  Firsts: the things we’ve done for the first time in our middle ages! (The point: middle age and older is the beginning, not the ending of our gifts, purpose and labors.)  Lasts: the things we now have the wisdom to let go of. We don’t have to hold onto regret. Or anger. Or unforgiveness. Or perfection. We’re smart enough now to know how to lighten our load!  Then, Always: So we begin new things; we let go of lesser things, then there are the rock-strong truths and values we will always cling to no matter what else time strips away, until death do us part: Love. Fun. Hope. Self-sacrifice. And much more.

leslie l fields

3) When you spoke about the book at your launch party you mentioned it took 10 years to put together–what was the main reason it took so long? And did you ever want to give up?

I wanted to give up many times. Anthologies are much harder than they appear. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account, but this book did take about 5 years to accomplish. And it’s my fourth anthology. So I kinda know the ropes. But there are many obstacles, including finding a publisher! Publishers don’t like anthologies because typically they don’t sell very well. And—I think there were a lot of men in those decisional positions who just didn’t get how starved we women are for role models ahead of us. Aging is not a joke. It’s real. The cultural messages about aging are pathetic. They’re self-serving, about entitlement and “you’re so worth it, baby!” And of course you are, but your neighbor is worth it too! Turning 50 or 60 or 70 doesn’t mean we quit the call to loving God and others so we can hang out at the spa all day, speaking our mind and having our nails done. Yes, all clichés, but this is what women’s magazines and media tell is our due. This is what our advancing years earn for us. And I have to say, “That’s it? that’s all you got? We older women have SO much to offer the world!”  The Wonder Years is a lovely swift kick in that direction.

4) It’s probably not fair to ask, but do you have a favorite essay (or two) from the collection? 

Yes, you’re right. That’s like asking which one of your kids is your favorite. Here’s what I’ll say. Check out the writers here who are publishing for the first time. We’re always attracted to the big names—-and I’m grateful for all of the well-known women in this book. They deserve their fame. But—-check out Martha Levitt’s essay, which will break your heart. Look at Michelle Novak, who will pierce you with the beauty and pain of her enabling disability. Read Vina Mogg’s piece on caring for her mother with Alzheimers. Heather Johnson on buying a horse farm and becoming an equestrian at close to 50. It’s a thrill to be the first to publish women like this who really have something significant to share.  And—-yes, read them all! Each one has something important and beautiful to impart.

5) Last burning question–did you really buy a leopard print padded bra when you turned 50?

I’m glad you’re getting to the heart of the matter! Of course I did! I can’t make up that stuff! I am ridiculous! And I still wear that padded bra, but now I’ve got another one or two to round out the bra wardrobe. So many choices! 

The Wonder Years is available on Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.

 

I am From {a #poem}

20170501_133356I am from doughboy pools and homemade Barbie houses

from Huffy bikes and Helms Bakery donuts.

I am from three sisters to a room and broad green bermuda lawns.

I am from bright sandy beaches and weeping willows

whose drooping green sheltered me from California’s sun.

I am from Coppertone and Sun-In

from Helen and Wes and John.

I am from belting out a tune and scribbling in the dark

from roller skating and tree-fort-building

from fighting at the top of my lungs and finding quiet at any cost.

I am from Bible stories with Mrs. Cluck and anywhere-you-can-take-5-kids-on-a-Sunday.

I am from the Hebjums and Lindseys, a Best at heart with an adopted name

from porkchops and sauerkraut, applesauce and meatloaf

from a father two generations back that made a grown girl flee

and a mother who lived chasing beauty wherever she could find it, rich or poor.

But mostly poor.

I am from luaus and carnivals, beach trips and berry-picking

babysitting and in charge at age 12 and hiding with a book to make it all go away.

I am from those moments of running, singing, writing, hiding, lying in the sun

but never far from the watchful eye of an invisible Father

held in arms more real than scratchy lawns and doughboy pools and donuts and

roller skates.

A Father more present than my own skin, closer than the sunshine on my bright brown hair.

Lover of my soul who was there every meandering minute, keeping time until I came home. 

~~~~~~~

In November of 2017 I had the privilege of participating in a gathering called “What’s Your Story? Discovering the Gift of Hearing and Telling our Stories.” Guest speakers were Cornelia Seigneur, founder and director of the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference, and Velynn Brown, mentor and speaker. They are both from the Portland area.

I’m grateful to Velynn for sharing her “I Am From” poem with us and modeling how to write our own. The original form and idea comes from George Ella Lyon, writer and teacher.  If you’d like to write an “I Am From,” there are resources and examples on Georgia’s website. Mr. Google can also oblige.

How the Things we Keep, Keep Us

May 12, 1974

“Dearest Jody,

I’m writing you today to say, “I’m glad I’m your mom.”

I am now, and always have been, so proud of you, Jo. Can’t remember a single moments’ “trouble” that you’ve ever been in or any periods of anxiety that you have caused. Sure there were minutes of panic…like the time Colleen hit you with the baseball bat. But so far as the really important things like your character and independence and industriousness are concerned, you’ve never caused me any doubts.

With much love, Mom”

~~~~~~~~~~

As a newly retired teacher—first Fall without students—woohoo!—I can FINALLY get to some gargantuan projects that I’ve wanted to tackle for like ever. Seriously; we’ve lived in our house almost 24 years—that’s over half of the time I’ve been married.

One such task was culling through almost a lifetimes’ worth (well, since I was 18) of old letters I’ve saved.

What a treasure trove it has yielded–sparks of memory fanned into flame, words from the the past that have fluttered across my vision, sadness and melancholy and sweet joy all rolled into one.   It has been a sobering experience, actually.

The process took about three weeks. Boxes everywhere, piles of old letters threatening to topple and spill, pounds and pounds of ‘who in the world is this card from?’ and “who is Katie and why do I need this Valentine from 2nd grade?” ending up in the Recycle Bin. A very satisfying activity, especially when I downsized my paper estate to two medium sized boxes.

I love to write and send cards and letters. Still. And better still is the joy and pleasure of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail; it’s like finding a sweet surprise.  Saving and keeping old (and new) cards and letters is preserving the bedrock of the past. A bedrock of shared history, a running record of highs and lows and in betweens—the events that make up the everything that is our life.

I have letters my husband wrote when we were first courting, then engaged.  He is effusive in his love for me and his love for Jesus (I think He loved Jesus more—still does).  There are intimations of some of the challenges we faced back then in our Jesus People days, but nothing fazed him. He was a little starry eyed (I’m sure I was, too.)

The most precious letters are those from my mother who died over 30 years ago. Reading her thoughts was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because I didn’t remember all the kind things she’d said to me (like those above), but bitter because of course, she’s gone.  I think my grandchildren will enjoy getting to know their Great Grandma Helen a little bit when they read her letters, too, someday.

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Writer’s Retreat Recap–Yes, He Abides

 

my friend Laura S. and I leading worship
~~~~~~~~~~~

Worship–A Pantoum
Inside, two friends bend hearts towards God
stops and starts, voices raised, a daring duo
strums and strings bring songs alive
while the Holy Spirit sings His song over you

Stops and starts, voices raised, a daring duo
carrying water for thirsty souls
while the Holy Spirit sings His song through you
deep channels, delivering life via verse and tone

Carrying water for thirsty souls
this, the joy of completing his song
channeling life via verse and voice and tone
inside, two friends bend hearts toward God.
~~~~~~~~~
My heart is so full I feel it will spill a torrent of words and you might all drown for the reading.

I still can’t quite believe what God did at our ‘Abide’ Writer’s Retreat in Leavenworth last weekend.  It was everything my friend Kimberlee and I prayed and planned for and more.
I have long sensed God was going to use this time as a catalyst, the beginning of a seed from His heart and mine to see women writers of faith encouraged and connected, uplifted in their communicating.

This resonated with others as well–the desire to not be well-known, but to be known well–by our Father and by each other.  The passion for God’s presence and a desire to hear His voice and be healed in the hearing.

Leading worship was a particular joy as I felt many times the power in the room, God’s light touch on my shoulder and tears on my face as He showed up.  We sounded like Heaven, I’m sure.

I shared revelations about what God did using Writing as a Spiritual Practice introducing the women to the idea of sitting with 2 or 3 questions and listening to what God might say. (prompted by my reading of ‘God in the Yard’.) The uncovering sparked many embers, lighting fires of discovery all around.

Kimberlee delighted us with playing with words and poetry as we each dove in to write a Pantoum–a poem form that is actually easy to use (look! I wrote a pantoum!) once you get the hang of it. We wrote our “Glory be to God’s” after Gerard Manley Hopkins and wished we had enough French berets for all.
Hearing the responses as women de-mystified the poetry process would have made my friend Laura Barkat swoon.
‘Hey, look, I wrote a poem!’  Priceless.

Shhhh…..the poets are working in the Library

Our retreat site in the Cascade Mountains of Washington lent itself well to listening and looking. The Library where we met was filled with Heaven from the moment we stepped inside. The camaraderie under the apple trees, the early morning conversations on the front porch, all were strands woven together in a beautiful piece of God’s own cloth.

Fall colors were everywhere
early morning walk, Laura S.

When we shared in our Communion circle on Sunday morning, the fruit of each person’s words fed my soul:

“I’m leaving here feeling expanded.”
“The healing is real.”
“Thank you for teaching me about poetry.”
“I feel refreshed, rejuvenated. Loved the reflection time.”
“I learned to abide in Jesus, not in my pain.
“I love opportunities like this to be together with people who all wanted to find God in the space.”
“Writing pantoums was like Legos with words.
“I enjoyed this, less because of the writing and more because of the people, wrestling through faith together, living through God’s calling in our life.”
 
As I said, my heart is full.  Here’s to Abiding.
~~~~~~~
I longed for this little Retreat to be start to more in real life encounters, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, opportunities to eat and talk and maybe sing. Chances to share heart songs and stories amidst tea and cookies and kids.
(Maybe there’ll be a summer picnic, who knows?)
We have a Facebook page where you can join us.
We’re starting small and building slow, reaching out and reaching up,
continuing to bring Him glory.
***
The photos from ‘Light and Loveliness’ are Ms. Emily Allen, one of our Retreatants.
Thank you Emily!