SOS – My Poetry Group

A Mighty Fine Poetry Group

I want to introduce you to my wonderful poetry group — SOS or, Six on Saturday.  For nearly seven years we have been meeting monthly to feed each other with food, drink and inspiration.  I think we have reached a point of trust where there’s very little we wouldn’t say or write.  Sometimes we seem to know each other better than we know ourselves!  For instance, I remember protesting that I didn’t consider myself a Native American poet exclusively–something like that, whereupon all five of Bunchies (as I sometimes call them) raised their eyebrows and uttered a collective “Huh?” From left to right, here we are:

Alice Azure‘s writing have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, the most recent being Yellow Medicine Review, Studies in American Indian Literatures and The Florida Review.  In 2011 she launched two books, a memoir, Along Came a Spider (Bowman Press) and a book of poetry, Games of Transformation (Albatross Press), the latter selected as the poetry book of the year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers.

gaye gambell-peterson is a degreed visual artist and self-taught poet–stays busy doing both.  Recent kudos: First place in 2012 St. Louis Poetry Center’s Nash Contest; art and poetry published online by qarrtsiluni (Fragments). Two chapbooks feature her poetry & collages: pale leaf floating (Cherry Pie Press) and MYnd mAP (Agog Press).  Art featured twice on covers of Natural Bridge and elsewhere; poems in anthologies Breathing Out and Flood Stage, and elsewhere. She belongs to Loosely Identified (a women’s poetry collective), St. Louis Poetry Center (formerly a board member), St. Louis Writers Guild, and SOS (her favorite).

Katherine Mitchell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri St. Louis.  She has taught the Alexander Technique professionally for over twenty years.  Katherine has a background in dance and teaches Argentine Tango at Washington University.

Keith Byler is a physician with ten years in the trenches of the emergency room and is now in private practice.  His poems have appeared in Emergency: True Stories from the Nation’s E. R.’s, Hurricane Blues, Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, Untamed Ink, Thema, Flood Stage and others. He is also a winner of the Metro Arts in Transit 2008 Poetry in Motion contest.  Keith has been active in the St. Louis Poetry Center and is a past board president for the organization.  He and his wife Danica (a marriage counselor) live on a small farm outside of Edwardsville.

Rebecca Ellis lives in southern Illinois, on the eastern bluffs of the Mississippi, just high enough above the floodplain.  Her poems can be found in Prairie Schooner, Natural Bridge,, Bad Shoe and Crab Creek Review.  She edited Cherry Pie Press, publishing nine poetry chapbooks by Midwestern woman poets.  She now finds an artful home with two writing groups–Loosely Identified, and Six on Saturday.

Gail Eisenhart‘s poems can be seen in California Quarterly, Assisi, The Centrifugal Eye, The Quotable and qarrtsluni. Her chapbook Dip in the Road was runner up in the 2012 Mary
Ballard Chapbook contest sponsored by Casey Shay Press.  A retired Executive Assistant, she works part time at the Belleville (IL) Public Library.




Thriving in St. Louis

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.