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A Thinking Break

April 12, 2016

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In the middle of ‘productivity’ on a writing retreat, you still need breaks. Your brain needs a breather. A stretch of sorts, just like your muscles and your butt.

My walks around Eureka Springs have been the best of breaks, more than I could have asked for: gentle crisp early spring air, blooming trees and gardens so bright they look painted, and surprises around corners.

That combination stirs the poet in me, and I’ve written several pieces that I am very happy with, between my work sesssions on non-fiction and the prairie project, which is my first goal for this retreat.

Sunday afternoon I walked downtown and back.  A creature I’d not seen before in a garden spot on Spring Street appeared and posed a question for me.  He dared to stretch my mind. Here’s the result:
If They’d Had Lights

If they’d had lights,
they would not be extinct.
I thought so when I saw him,
the stegosaurus made of stone,
bedecked with strands of mini-lights,
a string of large bulbs, smartly laid,
strung where his plates would be.

If they’d had lights,
survival would have been
a matter of the brightest,
the dusty air no sweat for them,
despite the skies made dark and dim
when asteroidal impact made
their forage hard to see.

If they’d had lights,
they still would roam the earth.
I wonder, though, if whether
an allosaur’s electric grin,
a flashy T-rex, or his kin
might blinking, blind us, and between
their teeth, extinct, we’d be.

© 2016, Damon Dean

Treat of a Retreat…

April 2, 2016

I am on cloud nine… or ten, or more! I am in the hills of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

LastWP_20160401_18_17_29_Pro summer I applied to the  Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow for a residency fellowship called the Moondancer Fellowship. This fellowship is a paid two-week residency for writers about nature and the outdoors. Since I’ve been in a non-fiction mode for two years, and have several projects I’m working on about nature, and since my poetry is almost 80% about nature, I thought I might be a good match.  I sent samples, a bio, and explained my works in progress.

I was notified last September that my application was not selected, but was asked to apply again next year, and that I had been a 2nd choice.  Naturally I was a bit disappointed, but still honored to be considered (tho I’m not sure there weren’t only two applicants! )

In January I got a call from the director, Linda Caldwell.  The selected recipient from Boston had taken a job as a television broadcast writer, and could not attend.

“Would you like to attend in 2016 as our 2015 Moondancer fellow?”

I remained calm. I replied professionally.  I gratefully accepted. I hung up.  I jumped on the couch, bounced off the ceiling, and sprung out the door.  I was ecstatic.

Nothing enhances my writing more, in either productivity or purpose, than being on a retreat.  I find that like many writers, my life (my good life–I’m not complaining) gets in the way.  I really feel like writing is a calling to me, but the necessities of life impose and hinder and detract, and my writing (which for years I treated as a ‘hobby’) suffers.

Several years ago I took a week for a retreat at White Oak Lake State Park, in a camper.  I was refreshed deeply, and in that week wrote some poetry and developed some ideas for projects that couldn’t have happened in the normal stream of my life. That poetry, those projects, still hold momentum from the full attention I gave them  during that week.

I fully expect what I take home from my stay at the Colony will have  the same benefit.
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So I begin my fellowship stay today, for two weeks, April 1-15, when I get to write write write write write nap write write write walk write write write nap.  And then eat.  Dinners are provided by a wonderful chef named Jana, and they are superb.  This is the off season and there are no other writers here during my stay. Usually there are several residents, who gather for dinner and talk about their art and craft. That is an experience I also want in my writing journey.

During the week I get to serve the community by working with students in a nearby school, so I’m working on poetic elements on two Thursdays.  Also, I get to meet with kids at a coffeehouse after school since I’m here the first Tuesday of the month with their creative writing teacher, Kenzie Doss.  She holds an event called ‘The Buzz’ which usually brings in middle school and high school students.  I plan to lead them in a discussion on ‘personification’ and engage them a related writing activity.

I’m thrilled, and just had to share the news. They’ve initiated April to celebrate National Poetry Month, and we hung poems with some other poets and kids at the Basin Springs Park downtown on the Poet-tree.

Visit the Colony page, and take a look at the wonderful gift I’ve been given.  It is a treasure of a retreat for me, and for my writing.

Taking a Pause…

March 9, 2016

We are having a retreat, and taking a pause in the normal routines of our lives, as we camp in north Arkansas between visits with family.

While browsing
(I know, it’s not real camping if you have internet, but hey…let’s call it modern camping)
I ran across this month’s post by Michele Heinrich Barnes, a poet friend who interviews poets monthly who offer to the readers a challenge.

This month’s guest was the wonderful Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, whom I admire for her work and her inspirational sharing and teaching.

Her challenge was to write about something small, which we see everyday and give little thought to.  Sitting here in the camper while it rains all over Arkansas I thought of various small things, but one came to mind that I encounter every day, and somewhat miss since I am away from home, apart from my dogs.  I admit, the poem might be weather-inspired, with the pat-pat-pat-pat-pat of raindrops on the camper top providing a nap-inducing music.

Here’s the result, I hope you like it.

Paws

First,
tap-tap-tap-tap-tap
on morning’s bedroom floor,
impatience played
between long stretches, yawns.

Then
scratch-scratch-scratch-scratch-scratch,
the tugs at bedside covers
pull my sheets,
beg for me to peek
—at least one eye—
to see a wide-eyed plea.

Next
rat-tat-tat-tat-tat
claws celebrate surrender.
Though reluctant,
I arise and stumble to the backyard door
in early-dark,
accompanied by staccato joy.

A caesura, fermata—a pause.

Then,
my slow wake,
my long-drawn-out capitulated yawn
breaks short at
sudden rhythms,

scrape-scrape-scrape-scrape-scrape,
wood-scarring pleads
upon the door.

I let them in,
all four percussion-gifted paws.
My day begins
with music
to my
ears.

© Damon Dean, 2016

Struggling and Signed Up Again…

October 27, 2015

IPiBoIdMo 2015 Part was vacillating.

I was wavering.

I was stammering, stuttering, and stuck.

No, I wasn’t struggling with a picture book idea. I was struggling with the idea of picture book ideas.

I was looking at my upcoming month–our trip up north, our up-ended schedule, the uprooting possible if we sell our house…and the downside of joining PiBoIdMo this year. (That’s Picture-Book-Idea-Month, a challenge to find an idea every day for 30 days.)

The chances of getting 30 ideas for 30 days was intimidating. But then I read the pre-PiBoIdMo posts, and a few choice guest posters pointed out how, in reality, it only takes one inspiration, one idea, one blink of a light bulb, to make a book.

The idea may come from anywhere. It may take time to germinate. But it won’t germinate until it’s planted and that takes a choice, a determination, a decision.

So I’ve signed up again…and even if my participation is minimal, it won’t be a loss.

It will be a gain.

in-Habit-able Haiku

September 14, 2015

A book on mini-habits I purchased during last year’s NF4NF conference in Texas is finally being read.  I don’t remember who pointed me to this book…perhaps Kristi Holl.  Maybe Pat Miller, Kristen Fulton, Steve Swinburne, or Peggy Thomas.  But thanks to whomever did. (And to the author, Stephen Guise, Mini-Habits)

The purchase was digital.  Yes–out of sight, out of mind–until this year’s conference drew near and prompted me to open the file in my Kindle app.

The read has resulted in my rising early in small, minute increments. Most days now before daylight.  I spend time on the deck with coffee, the tablet, the dogs, and time to read scripture and pray.

I decided, after a few days of that mini-habit, to add one other small mini-habit to the habit.  Mini-writes.  Something small, each day.  Something brief, easily achievable.  Something easy, delightful, and something that would let me say, “I wrote today.”

The perfect candidate? Haiku.
In perfect form? Nope.  Perhaps I took a few liberties, which a poet easily and guiltlessly can, before daylight.

But I wanted to share my small successes, and gathered the first eleven here.
Let me know if you have a favorite. I hope you enjoy them.

MORNING HAIKU

morning mists grow thin
as words appear, revisions
of my fading dreams

POEM-A-CUP

long night dozes off
and day wake finds me smiling
sipping on my thoughts

STRETCHING

loosening haiku
my freedom from the form is
aromatic java

SKYOUETTE

yawning pink and blue
a waking summer sky hosts
a ballet of bats

DREAM WIND

sad willow stands still
but maple’s leaves flutter in
her own dreams of wind

PECKER

pecker taps a pine
gray flakes of bark flutter down
and beetles cower

QUIET FAST

fog muffles morning
bats hang hungry in the trees
breakfast past hearing

STILL LIFE

I chatter chatter
to scampering squirrels above
who pause on tree limbs

UNPAVED

garden path disturbed
bricks tilted by the restless,
but slow, toes of trees

BREAKFAST MEANS

a single robin
hopping on a vast green lawn
seeks a worm’s demise

IRREGARDED BUSH

a haiku or two
in hand is worth a dozen
pantoums in the bush

(c) Damon Dean, 2015

 

A Tanka for Spring

March 6, 2015

Worm Moon whispers sighs

frowns, blows down through her pursed lips.

These frost-cold snow clouds–

unwelcomed winter cousins–

stay. No dirt stirs tonight.

© Damon Dean 2015

I am participating this month in a challenge hosted by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at TodaysLittleDitty.com . The challenge issued from her guest author Margarita Engle is to write a tanka on any topic.

But specifically Engle asks us to “Seek the resonance that enters a poem only when it is touched by the stillness of nature.”

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Frog Song – WORD PLAY

February 27, 2015

My last book for the 14:14 Challenge is not your ordinary ‘ribbit.’

Frog Song 1Frog Song
author Brenda Guiberson
illustrator Gennady Spirin

(c) Henry Holt & Co. LLC

(1,375 words, AR Reading Level 4.5)

Lush in the color and detail of Spirin’s illustration, this picture book is also rich in language with Guiberson’s lyrical approach to the lives of frogs.  Like most good non-fiction works, the focus is narrowed to a particular aspect, in this case, frog song.

First, what kid–any age between 2 and 62–wouldn’t grab a book with a cover like this off the shelf and hop to the first cozy lily-pad to read about a big red frog? I did.

Furthermore, consider the opening page, full of word play:

Frogs have a song for trees, bogs, burrows, and logs. When frogs have enough moisture to keep gooey eggs, squirmy tadpoles, and hoppity adults from drying out, they can sing almost anywhere. Croak! Ribbit! Bzzzt! Plonk! Brack! Thrum-rum!

Frog Song 2Every spread shares interesting facts from the lives of normal to unusual frogs. Some I’ve never heard of. Some I know well.

Their songs are printed in various fonts, splayed across colorful habitat backgrounds.

Word play features such as onomatopoeia, assonance, metaphor, alliteration, consonance…all are in place in this book. After all, it’s a book about swamp music. Sound is the main character.

Kids will love the uncommon behavior of some of these amphibians, but will also have fun ‘performing’ the various calls that appear on every page. I did.

This book is an exemplary model of how story elements such as word play can be used to elevate non-fiction above the simplicity of bare facts.  If you find this book, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

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