When I first moved to the St. Louis area, all I wanted at the time was to be near my family and grandchildren, whose baby and toddler years had already passed me by. I have never regretted this move. Being involved in the hectic schedules and lives of four grandchildren and their parents has been a highlight of my life.
Yet, I worried a bit about this city which has its share of bad jokes and negative urban distinctions. So I was pleasantly surprised to realize that St. Louis also has a reputation for being one of the most literate cities in the country. Poets, writers and journals (Boulevard, River Styx, Margie, Sou’wester and Natural Bridge, to mention a few) abound. Within days of arriving here, I was in attendance at a Sunday poetry workshop sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center. A ride had been arranged for me by the president of SLPC, Loy Ledbetter, who asked Rebecca Ellis (then editor of Cherry Pie Press) to pick me up at my house in Maryville. This was my first foray into the Delmar Loop of Blueberry Hill and Chuck Berry fame. The 2 1/2 hour workshop was held in the large, public library. Since then, I have had my poems critiqued by such notable poets as Molly Peacock, Carl Phillips, Denis Duhamel and Richard Crewell, a Missouri poet Laureate.
Most surprising, and with the help of many old and new friends, I have managed to publish three books. And from the two or more annual all-day seminars offered by SLPC, I have attended five–facilitated by poets such as Allison Funk, Richard Newman, Joshua Kryah and Joy Katz. I have learned the importance of a first line, the usefulness of creating a “window” for a poem that allows expansion and layers to more easily develop, the importance of internal movement and above all, to keep going on to that next poem, not getting stuck in the present (or past). Out of all this, I know my poetry composition has improved.
There is no doubt in my mind that the bulk of my growth as a poet is due to monthly meetings with “Six on Saturday,” a group of friends who have been together for the past six years. If a title doesn’t help the poem, or punctuation is in error, or lines are unnecessary, or the sin of “telling, not showing” is committed–we all shoulder whatever criticism pertains to a particular poem. I dread hearing one of my friends say, “What in the world are you writing about?” My five friends are Gail Eisenhardt, Gaye Gambell-Peterson, Katherine Mitchell, Rebecca Ellis and Keith Byler.
On May 20, I will be among a group of prize-winning poets reading at SLPC’s annual “concert.” My poem, “Portage,” won honorable mention, having been judged by Drucilla Wall, author of The Geese at the Gates. My SOS friend, Gaye Gambell-Peterson, won first place for her action-packed poem about the 2011 Good Friday tornado that wrecked her condo. Here is my poem, a bit quieter:
She drags her kayak along the portage path
away from chaos to the calm of Basin Pond
where loons dance, cry out their eerie laughs.
She lights candles from Boston to Baden-Baden,
wonders how many it takes for God to respond?
She pulls her kayak along the portage path.
She sailed the seas of Indonesia and St. Barth’s,
ferried Stockholm’s waters like a vagabond
too far from loons’ dance and their eerie laughs.
Widowhood and grief—after his selfish passing—
made plain the importance of carrying on—
pushing her kayak along the portage path.
Basin Pond is deep and calm, her craft
a heavy heave, even with the chaos gone.
Still, loons dance. She joins their eerie laughs.
Florida is lovely in winter; so is La Paz.
But Maine is the place of which she’s most fond,
pulling her kayak along its portage path
to where loons dance, cry their welcome laughs.