Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Memoir Book from Bottom Dog Press

New Title from Bottom Dog Press's 

Harmony Memoir Series

“War reporting from foreign lands is an exciting business, but the drama is as likely to involve hostile passport officers and feral dogs as whizzing bullets. In Far Country, Tim Kenny shares his memorable adventures, separated from the events and characters that dominated the headlines of the day. From Berlin to Prague to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sarajevo, these stories tell what it was really like to be there at the time.”  ~Tom Gjelten, National Public Radio correspondent and author

Monday, April 06, 2015

Writing--The Path Less Traveled



Writing--The Path Less Traveled   ~Larry Smith

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Perhaps America’s most popular and often quoted poem, this one from Robert Frost was learned “by heart” by many of us in grade school. And that is where I wrote my first poems as well, in Mrs. Merzi’s sixth grade English class. Some say Frost was writing about his choice to be a writer here, the less travelled path, but for many it comes across as any major life decision. And yet for me, being a writer may have come then as I looked out the window at my steel mill town where announcing that you were a poet was little recognized and might even get you ridiculed or punched. I recall one day later in high school English learning that a poet named James Wright from down river in Martins Ferry who had won some national award for writing poetry. It knocked me out, and gave me inspiration that those poems and stories of mine that I’d scribbled in notebooks and tucked away in a desk drawer at home might someday see the light of day. 

Where I am headed with this recall of my writer’s path is tracing where and how this less traveled path was chosen, or did it in fact choose me. Back in 1961 when I graduated from Mingo Central high school, going to college was a little traveled path. Out of a class of 61, only 6 went on to higher education. I was one, as I quickly followed my older brother David in being the first and second in the Smith family to ever go on to college. Both of us became teachers, the closest profession to our working-class youth, and I like to think, a way of paying back for the help we had received. 

So what fires did Mrs. Merzi light for me back then? I recall with wonder sitting in sixth grade class behind Paula Rauch and staring at her long dark hair when Mrs. Merzi announced, “Okay, now let’s close our books. That’s it, just put them away, because I have a little present for you.” Sorry to say that “cookies” was my first thought. I mean, what teacher ever gave all of us something! But what she unwrapped and handed one by one to each of us at our desk was a small booklet. It was printed on soft cream colored paper with small type and a single staple. “This is a gift of poetry from the Haldeman-Julius foundation.” I’d never heard such a strange name. But as I turned the small pages, poem after poem came smiling back at me. “And these are just for you.” 

When Kenny called out, “To keep?” Mrs. Merzi just nodded yes, to keep.

“And we’re going to read some of the poems.” We weren’t surprised at this, but when she added, “And, then we are going to write some of our own,” I stared back at her in amazement as she nodded again. “Yes, you are going to learn to write poems as well.”
As I remember it now, that first day we read Emily Dickinson’s little poem: 

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish -- you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

There was some laughter at this for those who got it, some stares of puzzlement. And then, we were given the challenge. “Now, boys and girls, we are going to memorize this poem.” Sighs and groans went up. “Now, I know that you can do this. And we will each stand up and recite it in class on Monday.” More groans. “Don’t doubt yourself. You will learn it by heard and say it out for all of us. And next we will write our own small poems like this one.” Again sighs.
The bell rang, and we each left the classroom with our little booklet of poems in our hands, to go to our lockers, put on our coats, stand in the hallway and be dismissed for the weekend and home.

I had the poem memorized by Sunday morning and recited it in the kitchen for my mom and dad before church. By Sunday evening I had also written one of my first ever poems. The words came out one by one as if dictated, though they needed a bit of arranging.
On Monday we each stood and recited, some better than others, but we knew from her belief in us that we were not nobodies. And I had found a path, one that would take me through endless self searching, risky assertion, and painful rejection, yet would teach me sensitive listening to others and to language, and reward with the satisfaction of deep connections and finished works. And that has made all of the difference.

Monday, March 16, 2015





Jane Hirshfield is one of our finest poets writing today and also one of our best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry. - See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/ten-windows#sthash.wqcu0pu5.dpuf

Jane Hirshfield is one of our finest poets writing today and also one of our best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry.

 From Basho she quotes:

don’t copy me
like the second half
of a cut melon!

And so tellingly she concludes, “Bashō’s haiku are the record of what the world placed in the open begging bowl of his life and his perceptions.”
Though this essay alone is worth the price of the book, it is literally surrounded by long, insightful, often demanding studies of other fine poems and poets, and in fact the very nature of Poetry. Just as Jane Hirshfield opened gates for us to see poetry’s bond with life itself, here the windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out. 
 

Jane Hirshfield is one of our finest poets writing today and also one of our best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry. - See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/ten-windows#sthash.wqcu0pu5.dpuf
Jane Hirshfield is one of our finest poets writing today and also one of our best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry. - See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/ten-windows#sthash.wqcu0pu5.dpuf

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Writing Process



The Writing Process: Tension and Release…Holding on and Letting Go

“Don’t tell your stories too soon,” she said and walked away at the book party, leaving me in a quandary. Why not…I’m a writer? This from the same person who told me I need to share my work with others in workshops. When I tracked her down with a question and glass of wine for both of us, she explained, “Oh, honey, what I said was don’t tell your stories too soon. That’s the key to getting them written. Hold onto that tension of their seeking expression. If you talk it out with your partner, over coffee with friends, or in a classroom before it’s written, it probably never will be finished.”
It was beginning to dawn on me that there was a reason she wrote a book on teaching creative children. And she’d been right about sharing writing that had been labored over with others in workshops where you come to own it and sense how it is heard and shared.
“How do you think I finished my novel?” she added sipping her white wine and winking. “If I’d told it all before I’d hashed it out, it would be there in air. You have to sit with it, live with it till it blooms inside you and all you can do is write to out.” Then she stroked my cheek with her free hand, “Oh, you men never get to know what it’s like to carry a child. Let it gestate and something wonderful will develop.”
Feeling a little like a puppy at her heels, I nevertheless allowed the sense of it to connect with my experience. There were countless times when I had an idea on the drive to school, then released it in the classroom as I taught. It all felt so natural, the story connecting in my head and heart with the lesson I was teaching. And yet, Jane was right. How many times had I sat down and written that poem or story? Almost never, unless it evolved and had a second life. Better had the idea come on the drive home from school, where I had time and space to scratch it out and turn it from talk in the air to words on the page. When the writing comes, go to a place where you can receive it…pull off the road or go to your room, or the corner of the coffeehouse. Receive it as a medium for it will carry you along.
You see, there is this creative tension no one talks much about, a large secret we artists and writers don’t want to expose lest it disappear. Ask an artist about his or her art while they are at it, or after, and most will give you nothing in response. Silence before the inner muse. They don’t want to analyze it away. Allen Ginsberg once warned against self-consciousness while creating, saying something like: “When you stop your writing to say, ‘Hey, look at me writing,’ you no longer are.” Staying with the creative tension, the seeking and following what you’ve found, is the way in and out.
As an editor-publisher, I have sat at book fairs and listened to people tell me about their novel…spinning it out with endless unfathomable detail…and never buying a book. But when I ask how long is it? I typically hear, “Oh, I haven’t written it yet.” And pointing to their head, they add, “It’s all up here.”
And I just smile and nod, “Well, get back to me when it’s written.” But what I’m really sensing is that it never will. 

Now, I know that no two writers or artists work the same, so this may or may not be true for you. But I whisper this secret of creating as a little riprap along the trail, and one of the many ways of the craft that may guide you on your way. 
 Best...Larry