May 30, 2016

So Long to the Good Old Moon

Life magazine article So Long to the Good Old MoonI’m delighted to announce my poem “So Long to the Good Old Moon” has found a home at Ascent literary magazine. This poem takes its title from a headline in the July 4, 1969 issue of Life magazine – one of a trio I have, thanks to some creative gift-giving by my daughter, covering the Apollo 11 mission.

As you’ll see, the poem itself has little to do with the moon, but it has a lot to do with giving up our old ways of thinking about things – or at least, my experience with that.

Read “So Long to the Good Old Moon” in Ascent

Incidentally, one of these Life moon issues also includes James Dickey’s poem, “The Moon Ground” which was commissioned by ABC. You can see James Dickey reading it here.
Ascent has been in publication since 1975, switching to an online format in 2010.

Station Eleven: Beauty in a Ruined World

One mark of a good book is whether it entices me to explore subjects I initially find unappealing. By that measure and others, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, is a haunting success. Read my review of this 2014 National Book Award finalist here in the December issue of the Murfreesboro Pulse.

Speaking of Marvels, and Other News

Here' where I've spent much of my summer, with my basset hound who thinks he's a lap dog, and a stack of good books!

Jane Austen once wrote in a letter, “What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” As I write this, we’re having a heat and humidity spike in middle Tennessee that’s typical for August, and I feel quite inelegant indeed. For the most part, though, it’s been a remarkably lovely, oh-so-temperate summer here. Consequently I’ve been doing a lot more porch-sitting than blogging (and looking quite elegant in my beloved wicker porch swing, I’m sure. Uh-huh.)

So, that’s my excuse this time. But I’m back, and expect to be back again soon, and often, through the fall. Here’s what’s going on:

First, I’m honored and delighted to be featured in an interview on William Kelly Woolfitt’s Speaking of Marvels, a blog project dedicated to “chapbooks, novellas, and other shorter forms.” Will sent over a passel of great questions for me to choose from. I’m very grateful to have the chance to share some thoughts about

  • the genesis of my chapbook
  • how I organized my chapbook
  • my experience – and advice – with regards to publishing and promoting a chapbook
  • the relevance of the chapbook in an increasingly digital world
and more. Check it out here - and go on over to Will’s personal site to learn more about his own poetry and prose.

Second, I’ll be having more poetry book giveaways soon! [Read more...]

And the Winners Are…

Ooh! It is May! May 4th, soon to be May 5th, and I’ve been dallying around in the real world when I should have been online, drawing a winner for the Big Poetry Giveaway! I do have good excuses, including:

  • the fine, fine weather here in Tennessee,
  • the delicious bloom of the honey locust,
  • an early morning trip to Nashville to hear one of my writing idols, Wendell Berry, who I now adore even more, after seeing him in person
  • being unable to put down one of the World Book Night selections a friend gave me, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (I finished it in a marathon session in the porch swing this afternoon)

But – you don’t want excuses – you want to know who won should be watching their mailboxes for poetry.

So, I determined a winner by numbering the comments, then using a random number generator, and here’s what happened:

The winner of our grand prize – the Lisa Coffman book, plus chapbooks by Sandy Coomer and myself –  is #23, Michael A. Wells. Yes, a guy with my own last name. And with my husband’s first name. Yes, dear readers, I know this looks fishy, but I took it to be providential.

And then I thought we should have another winner or two, because, as I always say, why not spread that poetry love? Those winners are:

#4 Rebecca Loudon and #7 Allyson Whipple. Rebecca and Allyson, you’ll be receiving a copy of my chapbook and CD.

It’s been so nice to have people from all around the country – and the world – visit and express an interest in poetry. For you fellow writers, I look forward to keeping a watch out for your writing and blogs. Thanks again to Kelli Russell Agodon for curating this year’s contest!


Middle Tennessee Poetry News

We’re well into National Poetry Month, and besides the Big Poetry Giveaway happening on my blog (and many others), I have more poetry news to share, with a focus on middle Tennessee:

The first of two double page spreads on poetry in April's Inside Brentwood Magazine. That's me in the top left picture, reading Lisa Coffman's LESS OBVIOUS GODS.

First of all, my friend and fellow poet Sandy Coomer has the article “April: A Time for Poetry”  in Inside Brentwood Magazine. In addition to discussing the importance of poetry and National Poetry Month, Sandy also covers many middle Tennessee poets and poetry events, including – with photos – the poetry open mic group at Landmark Booksellers and the Nashville Poetry Meetup Group. I’m especially glad to see two of my former MTSU Writer’s Loft mentees, Walker Bass and Kelly Bills, pictured.

Next, I’m glad to have the article “A Trio of New Books for National Poetry Month” in The Murfreesboro Pulse. If you’ve read my Big Poetry Giveaway post, it won’t surprise you one bit that one of the books I briefly review is Lisa Coffman’s newest, Less Obvious Gods. I also review Irene Latham’s latest, The Sky Between Us, and the sure-to-become-a-classic, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee. Read a much more in-depth review of the anthology in the article, “New Anthology Spotlights Tennessee Poets,” from Chapter 16. I’m delighted to have a poem in this anthology from Texas Review Press.

MTSU poets Gaylord Brewer, Marcus Jackson and Matthew Brown are featured in April's Murfreesboro Magazine.

And that’s not all! There’s also a nice article by editor Laura Beth Payne in April’s Murfreesboro Magazine about the latest happenings of three poets affiliated with MTSU: Gaylord Brewer, Marcus Jackson, and Matthew Brown. I don’t think the article is online, but here’s an image from the MTSU Department of English blog.

Finally, I want to mention two more blogs related to Tennessee poetry:

The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee is one of the books mentioned in April's issue of The Murfreesboro Pulse.

    • The My Name is Tennessee blog hasn’t been updated in a few months, but I’m hoping its author will continue her mission of sharing and writing about poems by Tennessee authors. She’s already featured some of my favorite Tennessee poets, but as the above mentioned anthology establishes, there are many more poets to feature. (I was honored for her to share one of my poems in the post “Kory Wells: Mixing Past and Present” , although, to be clear, she’s not talking about verb tense, although I probably do that sometimes, too.)
  • Poet and professor of English Jeff Hardin, another fellow middle Tennessean, blogs about poetry and specific poems by writers from across the state and nation. Poets will find careful, detailed analysis, insight and ideas for their own poems here on Jeff’s blog. Several of his recent posts have focused on the first poems of various poet’s collections.

Are there other blogs by or about Tennessee poets that you read? Or other recent articles about middle Tennessee poets? Please share them in the comments!

The Big Poetry Giveaway

Leave a comment and be entered to win in the 2014 Big Poetry Giveaway.

It’s April, it’s finally spring in Tennessee, and it’s National Poetry Month – all great reasons to emerge from my blogging hiatus and participate in this year’s BIG POETRY GIVEAWAY being curated by Kelli Russell Agodon. Be sure to visit Kelli’s blog for a list of all the blogs participating in this event.

How it works: I’m supposed to give away my own book and a copy of a poetry book I really love. I’m also throwing in my poetry and roots music CD and another chapbook from a fellow Tennessee poet. And for all that value, all you have to do is leave a comment below and hope to be the lucky winner at the end of the month. (And do a giveaway on your own blog, if you’re so inclined.)

Something about me (per the Poetry Giveaway guidelines): My bachelor’s degree is in computer science and I work in technology, so I tend to be very logical, and therefore my poems – especially my drafts – tend to be very logical, orderly, if-this-then-that creations. This is not necessarily awful, but it’s also not necessarily good. While I know that the “unexpected” in a poem is often a great part of its delight and power, it’s often one of the hardest things for me to achieve. [Read more...]

Sharing for Veteran’s Day: A Poem by a POW

Honey and I recently re-visited the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida. We’ve always enjoyed this museum, and it had grown and changed since our last visit several years ago. I was especially moved by a display on The POW Experience which includes the handwritten poems of several servicemen while they were Vietnam prisoners of war. Here’s one that particularly caught my attention. I’ve taken the liberty of adding some notes on the image itself, in case the photo circulates around the web:

Photo of a Vietnam POW poem on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum

As you see above, the author is indicated only as “PH,” and if he is otherwise identified in the museum display, I didn’t see it. But with a little web research, I find that the author is Porter Halyburton, a Navy lieutenant who was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years. His 2013 commencement address at the Savannah Country Day School includes the poem and is well worth the read for his comments on life, meaning, and forgiveness. There is also a 1998 interview about his POW experiences here.

As Halyburton says in his address, “It is a wonderful privilege to be alive and free in this great country of ours.”  I offer my thanks to him, to all the men and women who have served, and to their families.

I think this poem deserves to be shared, so I am also including the text of the poem, as it appears in the Savannah Country Day School speech:




Trembling and silent before the threshold,

We stand on the eve of our Resurrection.

Hardly daring to believe that at last

The valve may crack and we may seep

Into the tip of an infinitely expanding horn,

To be belched into that crowded carnival,

An old song.


She stands before me, silent, across the wide river;

Her smile seen dimly through the damp fog.

Watching through my peephole, I can only

Whisper her name — Freedom.

And I, within my hardened shell,

Await Rebirth.


- “P.H.”, Porter Halyburton, 1/2/73






The Built-Wells Upright 4-String Washtub Bass: A Labor of Love and a Lot of Fun

The Built-Wells Upright 4-String Washtub Bass: As discussed on Thunder Radio’s Bluegrass Crossroads Show (listen here), appearing on our CD, and maybe at a music festival near you.

Because one string wasn't enough: My upright, four string washtub bass.

I’ve been a wannabe musician for a long time, and the “wanna” has grown stronger in recent years as I’ve seen how much fun goes on at bluegrass and old-time music festivals. I’ve squeezed into a circle of musicians with a video cam at plenty of jams, often filming my daughter Kelsey, an old-time fiddler, and her friends. It’s a lot of fun to be right there with the action, but I found myself wanting something else. Something with strings.

Despite my longing for them, strings intimidated me. It may seem silly, but after I’ve plunked a bit on the piano on and off for decades, strings seemed terribly foreign. Of the likely culprits – banjo, guitar, fiddle, etc. – I was most attracted to the bass. But how practical is that, I wondered? So large. Kind of pricey to even try. So how about a bass with just one string?  I’d see the occasional washtub bass at festivals – you know the kind – a broomstick, a washtub, and a string – and I kept thinking to myself, “Surely I could play that.” At Uncle Dave Macon Days one year, I finally worked up my courage to ask for an impromptu lesson on one, and soon found myself happily jamming on the porch of the Leeman House.

I was not, it must be noted, proficiently jamming, as it’s harder than it looks. But my happy enthusiasm made up for the shortcomings in my technique, it seemed. Fueled by the euphoria of playing tunes like “Angelina Baker” with other musicians, I came home with the idea that my very handy fella could build me a washtub bass of my own. So I Googled “washtub bass,” and what should I find? [Read more...]

Old Bunch of Keys: A Documentary on Old-Time Fiddler Kelsey Wells

Proud mama alert: Kelsey Wells is the subject of a new short documentary from folklorist Caitlin Coad. Old Bunch of Keys, named for an old-time tune, as well as Kelsey’s latest CD and thesis project as a Buchanan Fellow at Middle Tennessee State University, is a fifteen minute film available here on Vimeo.

Yes, yes, I’m her mama, so of course I’ve watched it more than once. But even you might enjoy at least one viewing to:

  • Learn more about old-time music, particularly fiddling
  • Sample a contra dance
  • Or draw a bit of inspiration from an emerging artist who sees old-time music as a community music “of the people today.”

Old-time fiddler Kelsey Wells has come into her own sound after putting in many, many hours at it .

In the film, Kelsey talks about studying other fiddlers and shares a perspective that I think applies to any writer or musician as they absorb influences and develop their own unique style:

“I’ve taken the rhythm of James Leva’s bowing and kind of extrapolated it onto the style of James Bryan… as I’ve been listening to so many different fiddlers for so many years, I’ve come to realize that as much as you can try to sound like someone, you can try to emulate their sound….the more you try to sound like someone, the more you start to sound like yourself … And so I finally, in the past year or so, have been satisfied with playing the way Kelsey plays … I’ve been learning tunes lately and deciding that well, that’s not how he did it, but that’s how I’m going to do it.”

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery requires an investment of 10,000 hours of practice. Although that theory has been disputed in articles such as this one, I’m here to witness – with awe and delight – that Ms. Kelsey has put in that time with single-minded passion and discipline.  I have never once told that kid to practice. Music simply called, and she listened.

“Music makes people really, really happy,” Kelsey says near the end of the film. “And so I’d like to do that [make music], too.”

And so she does, and always will. And I am grateful.

Watch Old Bunch of Keys on Vimeo

Are you studying and practicing the art that makes you happy – to the point of finding and claiming your own unique voice? If not, what’s it going to take for you to move forward?


An Interview with Former Astronaut Rhea Seddon

Rhea Seddon, M.D., has a history of strapping herself into rockets and orbiting the earth in the name of medical science. As I write in She’s Such a Geek and allude to in my poetry collection Heaven Was the Moon, astronauts have been my heroes since Neil Armstrong took those first small steps on the moon, so I’m thrilled to have an interview with Seddon now appearing in 2nd & Church.

Kory Wells and Rhea Seddon

Although Rhea and I live in the same city, I didn't meet her until she enrolled in the MTSU Writer's Loft program, which she talks about in the interview.

I’ve been intrigued with all the buzz surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, so it feels a bit serendipitous that my interview with Seddon, conducted last fall, has been published just as I’m reading Sandberg’s book. I’m about halfway through, and while I’ve had a lot of reactions based on my own experience as a woman working in a male-dominated domain (software development), for now I’ll share only this:

In Sheryl-Sandberg-speak, Rhea Seddon has been leaning in for a long time. [Read more...]