Sunday Best: Writing Workshop

This past week, I attended a four-day writing workshop at The Sheridan Senior Center. We met for two hours each day. The instructor was Jane Elkington Wohl, a local author who taught English and creative writing at Sheridan College for years and has published several books of poetry.

This workshop focused on writing personal stories. Many participants were senior citizens. The main objective was for us to have tools to work with in our future writing. Jane gave us some great prompts, and we even learned about metaphors. Most of us, myself included, loved the workshop, and Jane promised to do it again next spring. I’ll be using some ideas I picked up in future blog posts, so stay tuned.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this past week? Please tell me about it in the comment field. I hope something good happens to you this coming week.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

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What is Nature?

the breeze cooling and caressing you,

trees with swaying branches,

flowers and their scents,

spongy grass under your feet,

what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch,

what keeps us alive.

***

This poem appears in the current issue of The Weekly Avocet. Click below to hear me read it.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Thursday Book Feature: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute

Copyright 1950.

 

Jeanne, a young English woman, is taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya during World War II. She and other women and children are marched across Malaya from one village to another. One Japanese commander after another refuses to take responsibility for them and sends them on their way. This goes on for over six months. Under-nourished and receiving little medical attention, fraught with illness, half of them die but not Jeanne.

Along the way, the women are befriended by two Australian soldiers, also prisoners. One of them, Joe, steals several chickens from a nearby Japanese officer’s home in order to feed them. When the Japanese find out, they crucify him and force the women and children to watch, then move on.

Months later, in another village, with the Japanese guard escorting the women dead after an illness, they’re left to their own devices. They work in the village’s rice paddies to support themselves for the next three years until the war ends.

Years later, back in England, Jeanne receives a sizable inheritance from a deceased uncle. Armed with sufficient funds, she returns to the village in Malaya where she and the other women worked in the rice paddies. In gratitude to the villagers for supporting her and the other women during the war, she has a well built in the center of town to make life easier for the women of the village since there is no running water.

She then finds out that Joe survived his ordeal at the hands of the Japanese and travels to Australia to find him. Fate brings them together, and she starts a new life in the outback.

This story is told, in part, by the lawyer in England who manages the trust fund Jeanne’s uncle set up for her in the event of his death. The lawyer relates Jeanne’s story, as she tells it to him in person and through her letters.

In a way, this book reminded me of a memoir I read a couple of years ago. Unbroken is the story of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini’s life in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. At one point while Jeanne and the other women are marching across Malaya under Japanese guard, she wonders if life would be better in a camp. If she knew what was happening to Zamperini, probably at about the same time…

At the end of the book, the author includes a note in which he explains that during World War II, the Japanese marched a group of women and children across Sumatra, not Malaya. Why, then, did he set that part of the story in Malaya? He should have explained his reason for re-inventing history. Otherwise, if I were Australian, and you were to ask me if this was a good book, I would say, “Oh my word!”

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Poetry that Influenced Me

In a recent post, I mentioned a correspondence course I was taking from the Hadley Institute. I’m now pleased to announce that I’ve passed the course with an A Plus. For our last assignment, I was instructed to pick three poems, write about them, then compose a poem in the style of one of the poems I picked.

My three chosen poems are: “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” by Francesco Marciuliano, “The Lanyard by Billie Collins, and “In Praise of Joe” by Marge Piercy. “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” comes from I Could Chew on This, a collection of poems that tell stories from a dog’s point of view. This poem provides a humorous look at what can happen when a dog is left at home, reminding me so much of the Irish setter we had when I was a teen-ager. Marciuliano tells this story in one stanza with many short lines.

In “The Lanyard,” Billie Collins tells his story in a different way. Using several stanzas with many short lines, he shares a memory of creating a lanyard for his mother when he was a boy at summer camp. He starts in the present. Apparently bored, he’s thumbing through a dictionary when he finds the word lanyard, and that gets him to reminiscing. You can click below to hear the author read this poem.

 

Marge Piercy uses many stanzas containing several short lines, but in this case, she’s not telling a story. She’s describing the many ways she drinks coffee and extolling its virtues. It inspired me to write a poem about Dr. Pepper, which appears in my own collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

Now here’s a poem I wrote in the style of “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” and other poems in Francesco Marciuliano’s collection. It was also inspired by a visit to my brother in Florida, who has two dogs, and by something I see every day while walking. You can click below to hear me read it.

 

Four Ways a Dog Looks at Life

 

1.

 

I’m too outspoken

so must wear a special collar

during the day while no one’s home.

When I alert the empty house,

it vibrates against my throat,

feels weird, sometimes uncomfortable,

causing me to whine

when I speak my mind.

Life is “ruff.”

2.

 

“Turkey muffin, turkey muffin,”

you squeak, as my leash clicks into place.

What’s a turkey muffin, anyway?

It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing

as that rotten fish head in the alley.

Now that’s what I want.

 

3.

 

Oh, you’re hungry?

You don’t live here,

so you don’t know where anything is.

You don’t see very well, huh?

Well, how about some potato chips?

I know where they are,

in the pantry. Open this door.

They’re right here on the floor.

Now here’s one for you, five for me,

one for you, ten for me,

one for you, twenty for me,

one for you, forty for me.

Oh, the bag’s empty.

Just throw it away.

They’ll think you ate all the chips. Ha ha.

 

4.

 

What’s that on the other side of the fence?

A white stick it is,

rolling along the pavement.

A human pushes it.

I want to chase it.

I bark and bark and bark,

leap in the air many times,

try to fly over the fence.

I’m ignored.

Human and stick walk and roll away.

***

Have any poems ever influenced you? Please tell me about them in the comment field. I leave you now with the hope that someday, you can read a pile of perfect poems.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Sunday Best: Third Thursday Poets Meeting

This past week, my Third Thursday Poets had its regular meeting. For two hours each month, we write, share, and critique. We take turns facilitating, and the person in charge gives a homework assignment for the next session.

Since I was in charge last month, I gave the assignment for this month. I got the idea from Writing Poetry (Second Edition) by Barbara Drake, the textbook for a correspondence class in poetry I was taking from the Hadley Institute. The prompt was to write a six-line poem, using the following instructions.

 

Line 1. Write a line, a sentence, with a color in it (or two colors).

Line 2. Make a one-line statement about a town.

Line 3. Say something about a time of year, a season, or the weather.

Line 4. Finish a sentence that begins “I wish.” Line 5. Say something about a friend or a famous person.

Line 6. Finish a sentence beginning with the words, “Next year at this time.”

 

When we do these assignments, we each make copies to pass around and read our poem aloud. When I read mine, everyone thought it was funny, and no one offered suggestions for improvement. I guess that goes to show that you have to have a sense of humor about these things, and that there are times when a poem needs no improvement. Here’s what I wrote.

 

MY HOMETOWN

 

With blue sky, white clouds,

Sheridan, Wyoming, is the place to be

in summer when the sun shines,

far away from Donald Trump,

where Bill Cosby fades into the sunset.

Next year, I’ll be where I am now.

 

Now it’s your turn. See if you can write a six-line poem, using the above instructions. As you’re writing this, follow the instructions and don’t worry about it making sense at first. You can always go back and revise after you finish it.

Please feel free to share your results in the comments field. If you prefer, you can write about the best thing that happened to you this past week. In any case, I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Thursday Book Feature: Writing past dark…

Writing past dark: envy, fear, distraction, and other dilemmas in the writer’s life

By Bonnie Friedman

Copyright 1993

 

In this collection of essays on the writing life, the author, through stories of her own experiences and those of others, explores such topics as envy, distractions, and success. She talks about attending a writing school and how it didn’t help her. She asks the question of whether or not to write about someone you know and reflects on the loneliness of the profession and the need for perfection. In the end, she shares how she was affected by one story being accepted for publication by The New York Times and a string of rejections that soon followed.

I was compelled to read this book because of an upcoming appearance by the author at one of my writing group meetings. Because her writing can be abstract, parts of the book didn’t hold my attention. Her comparison between writing and the Biblical story of Abraham sacrificing his son to prove his faith in God was, to me, absurd.

However, I found most of her stories interesting, like the account of how her parents reacted when they read a book she wrote about them. It made me think of my own memoir. I’m thankful I didn’t have anything really bad to write about anyone in that book. To learn more about My Ideal Partner, click here.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Breaks Are Important

Thanks to Linda Hasselstrom for inspiring this. Linda runs a writers’ retreat facility in South Dakota. In a recent post, she shares how one of her clients showed her the value of taking time to enjoy what is around you. She and this client have a point.

Recently when I returned home from entertaining at a nursing home, my plan was to take a nap, walk on the treadmill for half an hour, then finish a blog post and schedule it to go live in a couple of days. However the afternoon was sunny, though a bit windy, and a dip of salted caramel ice cream from the stand in the park called my name. I decided to skip the nap and walk to the park for that ice cream. That way, I could satisfy my craving and get my exercise in at the same time.

It was wonderful to sit at a picnic table near the ice cream stand and watch people come and go while enjoying my treat. After days of ninety-degree heat, I appreciated the cool breeze that rustled my hair and threatened to snatch my extra napkins.

It only took me about an hour to walk to the stand, purchase my scoop in a dish, eat it, and walk home, probably less time than if I were to have taken my nap and walked on the treadmill instead. When I returned to my computer, ready to finish my blog post, I was refreshed.

What do you like to do to give yourself a break and enjoy your surroundings? I look forward to reading about it in the comments field.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.