My husband and I spent this last week in a log cabin in the woods of Ohio’s Hocking Hills.  No landline.  No cell phone reception.  No internet.  No television.  We hiked, biked, hot-tubbed, talked, photographed the autumn beauty, and simply enjoyed being together.  Oh, the bliss!

What did you do this week?  Was it inspiring?  Lackluster?  Challenging?  Think on it, and let’s hear about “The Week That Was.”

 Marie Elena’s Week

Fall, In Love (A Nonet)

We shared our favorite time of year
Where each turn of the bend ignites
Flamboyant reds and yellows
A welcoming heart(h) glows
Silence is golden
Passion smolders
You and I


(If you would like to see the photo I chose to accompany this poem, it is posted Across the Lake: )



I come upon weeks like this from time to time.
The weather was changeable,
The people were manageable.
And I was as irritable as I seem to be lately.
Sleep not withstanding, life becomes demanding
the more I have to do. And it’s true that
God only gives us what we could handle.
But, I sure could have handled another hand.
The story of my life; too much to do and I’m short-handed.


Good morning, all!  Enjoying the weirdness this week!  As always, the various “takes” on the prompt are totally intriguing. The skill and ingenuity with which they were penned is impressive … no surprise, there.

Personally, I (Marie Elena) had decided my vote would go to what I saw as the most original take on the prompt.  I must say that I was most amused by Hannah Gosselin’s slant.  Yes, one cannot argue the bizarre-yet-superior complexities of the world of microorganisms.  Oh, the weird-and-wonderful things around, on, and IN us!

Hannah’s stimulating ( 😉 ) “KINESIS” gets my Beautiful Blooms pick for the week.  Well done, Sweet Hannah!

By Hannah Gosselin

Engulfing amoeba;
swarming, splitting
moving about hungrily.
Life feeding life
feeding life.

Our beloved Walt will be along with his own choice.  Stay tuned …

Walt’s Choice (as predicted!):

My bit of weirdness comes from the cornfields of Iowa, by way of Chicago and Texas. I am relating somewhat to the up and down of this piece. At times such as these, we hang on and ride it out, knowing the cycle will keep us busy (and constantly moving). So Paula Wanken, I celebrate your CONTRARY MIND with this BEAUTIFUL BLOOM.


by Paula Wanken

down, down, down
into the depths of darkness
my mind tells me
I am beyond hope
nothing can help
I should be able to manage
on my own
I do not need that little pill

at the bottom
I resign

onward and upward
into another blue sky day
my mind tells me
I am just fine
I don’t need any help
I can manage
on my own
I don’t need that little pill

at the top
I resist




In our efforts to put a face and personality to the fine poets we present, it is about time we offer for your perusal and enjoyment one of Walt’s favorite poets. She is a multi-faceted individual as you will read and very talented at that. We sometimes wonder when we stop learning; when the student becomes the teacher. This woman has found the balance of that quandry in her inimatable style. Both an educator and a student of the world around her, she shares her insights with our readers.

Here is Patricia A. Hawkenson.                                             

Poet Patricia A. Hawkenson


Welcome Patricia. I’ve been looking forward to profiling you and your work here at POETIC BLOOMINGS.

1. In following your many works, it has become apparent that as the saying goes, “You learn something new everyday.” As an educator, do you find yourself as a receptive “student” of the writing process and the craft as a whole?

I consider myself a ‘lifelong learner.’  Something new catches my attention every day, and it is an on-going challenge to sort through what I have time and energy to absorb, and what I have to set aside.  My firm belief in thinking there is no right way to do anything, struggles when my writing must conform to a form.

2. Also in that regard, do you find that you use your writing as a viable teaching aid for your students? Does it lend itself to getting them to express themselves more concisely?

My writing slips in to many of my classroom lessons.  I often write my students in as the characters of sentences, paragraphs, and short stories.  They are encouraged to write in a variety of styles, and I do hold them accountable for appropriate grammar and spelling.  Then we share their work with each other, in the hallways, and on line.

3. You have published a few collections of your works. The one I find most intriguing is MAGNETIC REPULSION (100 Poems From Desire to Disgust). Upon what was the concept based? Can you tell us a bit about your journey through that publishing process?

When I divorced, I had a lot of quiet evenings to fill when my young daughter was asleep in bed, and I was alone with my thoughts.  The poems share events that I experienced with my husband, a transitional relationship, and then the man I finally married.  The poems do not follow a chronological path, but I have collected all the “positive” poems in the beginning of the text. Then it moves through the “neutral” phase and then progresses to the “negative” aspects as all three relationships seem to run their course. Being a creative writer, I have included a few imagined poems, as well.  The magnet concept also connects to my classroom, as I coach a Technology Team of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  To earn money for needed technology equipment in our school, such as projectors or headsets, our team designs and sells locker magnets.  I am often seen in our building pushing the ‘magnet cart.’

4. Creativity seems to course through you. Along with your writing, you list your activities/hobbies/creative endeavors as: Poet (of course), Jewelry Designer/Maker, and maker of Handmade Handbags. In the summer you teach students to create videos with Movie Maker. You create stained glass works of art, specializing in 3D objects (kaleidoscopes, jewelry boxes, etc.). You draw. You paint. You enjoy camping. Do you ever find yourself spread a bit too thin for your own good? Touch on a few of these points of interest.

It is true that my artistic interests spill over into too many baskets.  There is just so much fun in trying it all.  My husband is in the process of building a 3 season room that will serve as my studio and allow me a space to continue my stained glass work.  I haven’t been able to work on that due to lack of proper ventilation.  Since I couldn’t work on glass projects, I began sewing handbags.  I kept telling myself I needed to have something in place as a back-up career when I retire from teaching.  It boils down to ‘idle hands.’  I just need my hands to be producing something.

5. As long as we’re pushing the envelope, you expressed a desire to participate in the NANOWRIMO as well. Which do you find as a more productive use of your writing acumen, poetry or novel writing? I’ll tell you, I attempted the NaNoWriMo, but found myself too tied to the poetic process and my other avenue of success, playwriting. How are you able to keep the processes separate? Do you attempt to accept both of the challenges: the NANO and the POETIC ASIDES NOVEMBER CHAPBOOK CHALLENGE?

Insanity does not run in my family.  I may be the first, but yes, I am attempting to complete BOTH this November.  Since June, I have had the impetus of a novel that is insisting it must be written.  Unfortunately, I have been suffering with back pain that has left that project simmering.  The novel will be historical fiction, but one of the characters will be a poet.  The entries to the chapbook challenge will be the character’s entries into their journal.  It will be interesting to see how I can incorporate the given prompt to fit what I need the character to feel or express.  Of course, I may not use all the poems in the book.

6.  I’ve reached back into the archive to present one of the first poems of yours that brought your work to my attention:


There is a lifelong
debilitating disease
that artists suffer
causing them to abruptly wake
from a sound sleep
as if from an electric shock
with their shifting eyes thinking
resting on nothing in the blackness
until they frantically
reach for the notepad
and pre-sharpened pencil
on the nightstand.

The ability to write
without seeing the line,
a compelling genetic defect,
is causing them to break
from the rest of night
to rise with their thoughts
before the dawn’s activity
can flood them away.

 Their lovers have come
to follow in their wake
turning off curling irons
and moving pots off the stove
where interruptions
have carried them away
drowned in thought.

That seems to play into the stereotype of one of the devices that writer’s use to stir their muse. Do you have other “tricks’ that you are conditioned to use to bolster your writing? Is writing ever the distraction that has to be set aside?

If you have a specific writing routine, can you divulge a bit of it?

Writing often has to be set aside, as during the school year, my students and their needs have to be the most important driving force of my day.  But when I am away from school, my best trick to be sure I write is to tell everyone that I am going to write.  Guilt and being held accountable are a good task masters.

7. Where do you find your inspiration? With all you do, have you ever felt uninspired? What actions brought (bring) you out of your expressive funk?

I find inspiration through many online poetry sites, such as Poetic Asides, Poetic Bloomings, Clever Fiction, and the need to add content to my own blog.

If I find it difficult to write, I will take some down time to watch tv. My favorite shows are challenge shows, such as Project Runway.  I enjoy imagining how I would meet the challenges. I have also been known to play a FB game of Bejeweled, or two.

8. You have a background in Smartboard Technology and Visual Artistry. Have you ever experimented with combining your poetry and your skill with the Movie Maker program to make your words come alive visually? If so, is there a link to something our poets may find inspiring to attempt the process? Do you see the advances in the technological realm affecting this poetic life?

Technology has been an interesting side step and it has definitely taken HOURS of my life.  Speech to text and text to speech programs are great for encouraging reluctant writers.  I think some poets may find audio recorders a great way to record ‘must be remembered’ thoughts while busy with other activities. is a fun place to start creating simple, yet professional videos. I have used Windows Movie Maker successfully with students. mixes cartoons, your writing, and movie camera angles. Great for teen writers – and adults with a sense of humor.

9. What advice do you give your students about following their interests/dreams? Do you practice what you preach? How happy are you of your success? What are you still looking to achieve?

I always tell students that they don’t have to wait until they are grown up to achieve their dreams.  The first step can be taken today.  I think I have become better at following that advice.  It took a while for me to be able to say, I am an artist and a writer, but I finally got there.  When my family gathers to say their final goodbyes to me, I hope they each bring a piece of my artwork or a poem I wrote to share.  Looking back, it might make quite a show.

10.  Another of your gems of wisdom:

Trying to Find Myself

My large kitchen spoon
bent too easily
as I tried to dig
to China.

The topsoil
was thin,
so thin,
barely covering
the rock below.

My mom
wasn’t impressed
by my efforts then.

 I just kept
on digging.

Sometimes, that is the only thing to do, isn’t it? To just keep digging? What has Patricia Hawkenson found out about herself by which others would be surprised? What has been your “A HA!” moment? If you had a motto, what would it say?

I am unable to separate myself from metaphors.  They pour through my writing and poetry.  My advice for students, and myself, is another metaphor posted on my desk: Calm Waters. The rock drops with a big splash, but given time, the waters calm. I try to teach and live by that motto.  When I find time to be calm, reflective, and write, I find I enjoy life more.

Thanks Patricia, for that glimpse into your “Expressive Domain”. We appreciate your candor and are happy you have allowed us to present you to our ever growing audience.


Recently on Facebook, a quote (attributed to Dr. Seuss) has circulated, as follows:

 “We are all a little weird, and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness, and call it love.”

 Use the premise “Life’s a little weird,” and see where it takes you.  You do not need to actually use the phrase in your piece – simply write whatever it brings to mind. 

 Marie’s Life

Life’s a little weird, in a wonderful sort of way.

When I was a child, my grandparents had one of the few color television sets in town, and the only one in our family. Signs in business windows proudly advertised, “air conditioned.”   Mom’s remodeled kitchen included a handy-dandy new gadget to make dish washing a cinch – a sink sprayer.  My time was spent with cousins, coloring books, and paper dolls.

My sophomore year of high school, we moved to Florida.  For my Sweet 16th, I got an electric Smith Corona.  State-of-the-art.  Powder blue.  Mom and Dad knew I would need it for secretarial courses. My time was spent with new friends, a new boyfriend, enjoying the beach, and missing home.

A mere year later, I was married.  At 19, I became the mother of a beautiful baby girl, and went on to have two more children in the next five years.  My time was spent with children, Care Bears, My Little Ponies, and He-Man action figures.

Eight years later, I was a single mom taking secretarial courses, where a 15-year-old Smith Corona was passé.  Only months into classes, I met my second (and final) husband, and was offered a job at the then Medical College of Ohio (now University of Toledo).  My time was spent with a loving husband, kids who were confused and challenging – but affectionate and respectful, scientists, computers, and government agencies.

Now-grown children have battled demons I could never have predicted, and would not have believed we could all make it through in one piece.  And we would not have done so, but for the grace of the God with which I have been intimate since my early childhood.  My time was spent with doctors,  government agencies, at psych units, and before the throne of God.

At fifty-plus years of age, my life is full.  My husband, who has supported my children and me through the toughest of times, remains the love of my life.  My time is spent with aging parents, cousins, scientists, government agencies, online with poets and writers of children’s stories, writing my own poetry and children’s stories, blogging, communicating with writers from all over the world, Facebooking, caring for and thoroughly enjoying a new love (my granddaughter, Sophie), and before the throne of God.

Life’s a little wonderful, in a weird sort of way.

Walt’s Weirdness:

Life’s a little weird,
but that’s the way I like it.
A little weird is good
so logically, life is good.


For a poet, is there a better harvest than that of creatively penned sentiments and images shared among ourselves?  Thank you all for giving of yourselves here at Poetic Bloomings.

I look forward to seeing Walt’s choice as much as you all do, but we’ll need to wait a bit on that.  This gives us an excuse to peek in more often. 😉

As for me, Nancy Posey’s “Harvest” gets my Beautiful Blooms pick for this week.  Harvest speaks of kudzu and wild oats, young boys and old men.  It captures a deeply rooted needfulness that can despoil our lives, if not pruned. Nancy, I cannot get enough of your work.

By Nancy Coats Posey

The kudzu, sent home in Dixie cups
with boys in ag class, planted
with apparent unconcern
on the hillside, back in ’41,
took root then took over,
and like the wild oats planted
by those same boys, the vines
sent tentacles far and wide, roots
so deep that crop failure
was their only hope, their mother’s
constant prayer. What do boys know
of sowing and reaping? Only old men
know the vigilance required to win
that lonely battle, having long ago
sown their own wild oats, tending
the harvest even as memory fades.

Walt’s Pick:

After a hectic week, I finally get to sit down and catch up with my reading. Nothing like wonderful words to sooth a ravaged soul. Poetry, as music, has powers to soothe, and this savage beast welcomes it. The work I have chosen plays on the harvest of humanity that had grown from a single act of kindness. The truest seed to ever be planted that with nurturing grows for the betterment of all. Mike Grove brings this thought to fruition in his Beautiful Bloom, REAP WHAT YOU SOW.

REAP WHAT YOU SOW  by Mike Grove

Each new day keep harvesting
all the joys the world can bring.
Changing seasons yield new fruit.
Everything grows from the root.

Plant with love on fertile ground.
Spread a caring word around.
Nurture those whose hearts are true.
Great bounties will then come to you.

An act of kindness is a start.
Give with passion from your heart.
Harvest goodness that will grow.
You’ll find that you reap what you sow.

Congratulations Nancy and Mike on your selections, and thank you all for your excellent work.

IN-FORM POET – Clerihew


A Clerihew is a comic verse consisting of two couplets and a specific rhyming scheme (aabb),  invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) at the age of 16. The poem is about/deals with a person/character within the first rhyme. In most cases, the first line names a person, and the second line ends with something that rhymes with the name of the person.

One of the most remembered Clerihew from Bentley’s collection is:

Sir Humphrey Davy
abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
of having discovered sodium.

Walt’s Clerihew:

So sleep deprived was Walter,
who without slumber would falter.
Rip Van Winkle, he was not;
just thankful for the sleep he got!

Marie Elena’s Clerihew

What Happens in Rock Vegas, STAYS in Rock Vegas
Barney Rubble
Got in Trouble
With a foxy
Gal named Roxy.


Photo by Keith R. Good

Can we be in the midst of autumn without thinking of fall harvest?   For Prompt #25, write a “Reaping a Harvest” poem.  Of course, you do not have to hold fast to the combine image in the photo.  Perhaps your muse will turn to gathering thoughts, garnering evidence, harvesting energy, or even organ harvesting.  One thing Walt and I know with certainty is that we will feast on whatever you produce.

Marie Elena’s Effort

Sow benevolence.
Weed petty self-interest.
Reap the benefits.

Walt’s Wealth of Words:


Time to reap.
Keeping what we’ll use,
giving away what others need.
Either way, we’re helping each other to stay alive.


The responses to this week’s prompt evoked smiles, chuckles, and tears.  Sometimes we’d like to choose one from each “category.”  But then, that wouldn’t even satisfy us.  Would it, Walt?  WALT?

*soft snoring makes its way due west from Buffalo*

That’s okay, buddy.  Sleep soundly for now. We’ll catch up whenever you’re ready.

Marie Elena’s Pick

As for my Beautiful Blooms pick, I’ve chosen Magical Mystical Teacher’s “Timing.”  I admire the poet’s unconventional take in this perfectly penned senryu.  Let me encourage you to visit the poet’s blog to see the accompanying photograph that speaks volumes as well: .   Delighted to highlight your work, “Teacher.”


It’s in the timing—
the rise and fall of fences
or love at first sight.

Walt’s selection:

First off, I still have to function on a somewhat normal basis. But eliminating my late night forays into the poetic darkness cuts into my sleep time.  I catch up sooner or later.

But for the matter at hand. This double edged sword of a prompt put us on opposite ends of the line. The Yin-Yang of this was placed in perfect balance in the two short and delightful poems below, Old Cat (The Rise) and Moment in Time (The Fall).  Nice work Sara McNulty in presenting this contrast.

Old Cat (The Rise) by Sara McNulty (purplepeninportland)

Old cat yowls from high
limb of a
maple, three feet tall. Step-stool
saved child’s scare-dy cat.

A Moment in Time (The Fall) by Sara McNulty (purplepeninportland)

race of life,
step back to enjoy
the moment. Never fall short.


Welcome to our 12th Web Wednesday! This time, I had the fun of interviewing a poet I’ve actually met face-to-face:  singer, songwriter, poet and friend, Amy Barlow Liberatore.  Amy took time out of her cross-country solo trip to meet me for a quick lunch.  This itsy bitsy gal has a magnanimous presence (Buffalo influence, perhaps? 😉 ), which we hope to provide more than just a nibble of in the next few moments.

 Amy, you say of yourself that you “have a tendency to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.”  Ready to strike?  Let’s go! 

PBs: In your chapbook “Dance Groove Funhouse,” you have the following statement:  “Chapbooks are dirt cheap and fun to have around (kind of like me…!).”  LOVE IT!  Will you elaborate on that a bit?

ABL:  Well, the “dirt cheap and fun to have around” bit was just a synapse firing off a little joke.  It’s true that I have always been a cheap date (in the good way)… Lex and I think a splurge is going out for coffee and scones after seeing a movie.  We live pretty simply.  And I have always been told I am fun to be around because I am accepting of all, have a dark (bordering on grotesque) sense of Black Irish humor, and love a good belly laugh.  Years ago, before I was diagnosed manic depressive, I believe I might have danced on a few tables… gee, I hope my daughter doesn’t read this!

PBs note:  Amy’s chapbook is available for purchase or trade on her website, Sharp Little Pencil.

PBs: And while we’re on the subject of groovin’ and fun, I rediscovered your YouTube clip of “My Heart Has Never Been So Broken.”   Great fun, talented lady!

ABL:  Thanks, hon!  I always introduce that tune as “an ode to heartbreak and OCD.”  Sad part is, that YouTube clip missed the opening verse, which is spoken quite dramatically over some piano chords:

 When dumped and downhearted, unloved and unsure

My girlfriends say desserts are the natural cure

Carbohydrate comfort; sugar-coated glee

A date with Ben AND Jerry… a fling with Sara Lee (that always gets ‘em!)

But I’m the kind of girl, when I get depressed,

I skip cholesterol and get cleaning-obsessed…

…and then the clip picks up there.  Thanks, Amy!

PBs: There is a poem in your chapbook that particularly describes how I feel about poetry myself.

New Drug

 Oh Lord, I’ve found a new drug called poetry

More perilous than creating music

With its rhythm and rhyme and

Only-so-far-you-can –bend-it

 Poetry is terrible, tantalizing taffy

Fun as bubblegum cuz you don’t know when it will pop

Deadly as daggers, thuggish as thoughts

Dangerous as freedom of expression can get

Bet your bottom dollar I’ll stir up trouble yet

Tell us about this poem, if you would.  Was this one of your first?   Have you found this to be quite true for you?

ABL:  That one came about a year into my writing, shortly before I decided to format and self-publish Dance Groove Funhouse.  I mean literally self-publish… format the whole thing on MSPublisher and take it to Office Max.

I found poetry to be a refreshing break from songwriting – all our other songwriting poets, including Walt, will tell you the same thing.  Free verse allows for internal rhyme or no rhyme at all.  This poem is an example of how I talk sometimes… very free-form, all over the place.  And “stirring up trouble” is second nature to me because I’ve been an activist most of my life; my work reflects a lot of those values, instilled in me by my mom.

PBs: I must say to you nearly word-for-word what I said to Paula Wanken:  Your blog, Sharp Little Pencil, attracts foot traffic and comments that would make most poetry bloggers jealous.  Are you willing to share your secret to success with the rest of us?

ABL:  Really?  I didn’t know I was that popular.  I try to answer lots of prompts, and, with the exception of a recent “blanket” thank-you to well-wishers when I posted my taking a break due to depression (there were so many – I’m really blessed), I answered every single comment personally.  In fact, if someone writes a particularly telling comment, either on the subject or because s/he is sharing something from the heart, I will usually post the reply and then send them a copy via email.  It takes time but lets folks know I really listen to them.

The other effort I make is to visit the websites of every single blogger who leaves a comment – and I leave a direct link to my latest work in the comment box.  Sort of invites people back, and then we begin exchanging links.  Once I’m through with that, I go back to prompts I’ve answered and visit those folks, leaving a link to my take on the prompt.

Certain poets have a way of “getting me” and we have established wonderful correspondence this way, keeping the conversation going.  Also, when someone hints at having problems or memories that have been dredged up by a poem about mental illness or perhaps incest or molestation, I’ll write s/he an email, a couple of lines, to say, “Seems like this brought up some stuff with you.  If you ever want to talk, email me back.”  That, too, has produced amazing give-and-take.  And what happens with Amy stays with Amy.  I would never, ever use someone else’s story confided to me as the subject of a poem.  I mean, that’s the worst kind of person to be:  mean.

PBs: Your response leads me to touch on a delicate subject. I admire you, Amy, for making no secret of the difficulties you’ve experienced in life, including mental illness.  Please tell us a bit about The Awakenings Project.

ABL:  With pleasure.  The Awakenings Project is an effort to encourage folks who have mental disorders to express themselves through art.  I submitted three poems to The Awakenings Review and was pleasantly surprised to see all three in print!  Then one of the founders, Robert Lundin, called me to chat about their fundraising efforts… and when a reporter for a daily in the suburbs of Chicago contacted Robert about the 10th anniversary of The Awakenings Project, Robert referred her to me for quotes about the value to my self-esteem, having my work published in a forum where no holds are barred and anyone can talk about any facet of mental illness.

My calling in life is to help get mental disorders “out of the closet.”  The parallels to the gay world are not lost on me.  People used to be shunned or thrown out of families or institutionalized because of what is simply a chemical imbalance.  No one’s scared of diabetes – but when the imbalance is in the brain, folks freak out.  I say to the world, “I’m manic depressive, I have PTSD and was molested by my dad when I was a little girl.  I also have seasonal affective disorder and I live in Wisconsin!  And guess what, other than the once-in-a-while ‘grey times,’ I’m a pretty functional, fun person.”  I want everyone to feel good about themselves.  Being mentally ill does not define me, any more than being straight, having political opinions that are somewhere to the left of Howard Zinn, or being a singer and pianist.  These are all parts of me; none are the sole Amy.


PBs: Amy, I’d like to share here The Other-Minded, with your permission.  It is an AMAZING statement/revelation/explanation/ode … I think it is one of your finest pieces. It completely wows me. 


 PBs: Thank you, Amy.  To quote you: “FOR EVERYONE, so they may understand what some call ‘crazy.’”


 I am one of the “other-minded”

We filter truth through a lens tinted by our mood

or lit by the fullest moon

to create art, to fulfill our promise

Who else will capture the infinite loneliness

of the slab mattress in the suicide ward?

The blurred visions of panic in a grocery store,

surrounded by cardboard people

blithely stuffing their carts with Cocoa Puffs?

Who else will bear witness to

the undulation of one’s naked self in a mirror,

mesmerized by the sheer loveliness reflected?

Who but we have days we celebrate

for their sheer boredom

Walking the fields of home

while ceiling-gazing in midcity?

We endure darkness, yet we bathe in

the glorious light that follows

We stumble, then venture down a path

the “sane” would never dare.

Our words, our artwork,

our songs and poems

breathe both bleakness and dizzying victories;

improbable stories of

real people they’ll think we made up

(if only it were so…)

We are labeled misfit toys

but we dance on the edge

of a rolling coin

that never comes to rest

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

PBs: Would you please briefly share with us what effect your journey has had on your writing? 

ABL:  I know that creative people all have a spark.  When I was a little girl, I HAD to sing.  There was no choice.  When I learned piano, I HAD to play in clubs; singing Gershwin and Ellington and all the classics was like dancing in the spring rain.  I also have a gift of gab that lent itself well to playing clubs, because it’s all about getting strangers comfortable around a piano bar.  Later I started to write my own material, both jazz and gospel tunes.

But when poetry entered my life – and it did enter, I wasn’t looking for it – I realized there is a mindset that is required in an artist.  A certain letting go, a willingness to peek at the world from around the corner and take notes, an urge to speak out about injustice, or simply craft a haiku for the sake of beauty.  I have always been different from “the other kids.”  That is partly the mental illness that runs in my family, for which I am grateful, because I took chances and went places my friends never dared.  That, along with the creative spark bestowed on me by my Creator, gave me a life without all sorts of boundaries most folks couldn’t live without.  It allowed a girl who grew up in the country a Greenwich Village lifestyle, interesting friends, a chance to live in big cities, to be pregnant in Bermuda and later teach my baby to swim off the shores of Puerto Rico.  Almost everybody else played it safer than I did, and I think I’ve had one of the more interesting lives of anyone back at school.

Here in Madison, some of my friends are homeless; some are university students; some are at my church, others in the cafes.  Some are Muslim, most are Christian… my former husband is Jewish, so we call our daughter “the Protestant Irishish Wandering Jew.”  She’s a hoot and a half, too, that Riley, living in LA now.

PBs: Along those lines, you are also a woman of faith (and a preacher’s wife).  I often ask our Web Wednesday guests what role their faith plays in their writing.  For you, I’d also like to know specifically if being the wife of a preacher inhibits your freedom of expression … or releases it?

ABL:  Great question, Marie, but not so easy to answer.  I came to faith after losing my dad and then my mother four months later, in the middle of a divorce and having just been told I could no longer play in clubs because back then, the second-hand smoke was going to literally kill me.  I have a hideous bronchial condition that still dogs me.  I had always prided myself on getting along fine “without God,” and holy smoke, when the hammer came down, all that loss and grief, I called out, and God was there for me.  Looking back, I realized that God’s fingerprints were all over my life; the Spirit whispered good advice when I could have made some dangerous mistakes.  And Jesus had the best advice ever:  Love.  That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.

When I met Lex, he was not yet a pastor.  He was a community organizer, helping low-income tenants with absentee landlords, working for social, racial, environmental, and economic justice.  I was doing the same.  He finally realized that, of all the great community organizers – folks who rally support for the oppressed – Jesus was the best example.  We met in a Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) and became fast friends; when I thought he was going to ask me out, I asked Riley if it would be OK with her should I start dating (six years after my divorce).  She said, “Is it Lex?  He’s great, Mom.  You should marry him.”  Eight years old, she was, and completely serious.

Of course, we did get married, and then he felt the call.  Once he was ordained, his first church was in a small town.  I was a fish out of water; even though I had grown up in the country, I had definitely morphed into a city mouse.  I mean, once you’ve discovered that dinner can be in Chinatown and if you cross Canal Street, dessert is cannoli in Little Italy, small-town life can seem a bit cramped.  I’m no snob – I still smile when a truckload of cow-based fertilizer drives by, because it brings back memories.  But I was so isolated from culture – a 45-min. drive into Buffalo isn’t bad, but coming home at night dodging deer on the back roads made it impossible for me to perform.  The community was also very conservative, and here’s this chick in a John Lennon T-shirt hammering an Obama sign into the front lawn… they didn’t know what to make of me, and although I tried to “fit in,” I finally decided (with Lex’s encouragement) that my life is mine.  I was in show business and writing years before Lex’s call… and our move to Madison, WI, has brought out the best in me.  The folks at this church knew ALL about me – I disclosed my mental disorders, read them my poetry, sat in at a piano bar and played some fun stuff.  Lake Edge United Church of Christ really embraced not just Lex, but me as well, for being myself.  The most affirming, real people here.

PBs: Like our own Walt, you write music (melody and lyrics).  “Tioga Moon” makes me swoon, my friend.  Lovely in melody as well as lyrics, and you have the perfect voice for the style. (Click here to have a listen [Click on play arrow on upper left-hand corner of the blog].)  Can you explain how you know whether what you’ve written is a song, or a poem?  Do the words and melody come to you simultaneously? 

ABL:  That was the first song I ever wrote, really, and thanks for the compliment!  I started it in California because it was Christmas and I was so homesick.  Also, my friend Rickie Lee Jones said, “Write your own stuff.  Write things you enjoy singing, that fit your style.  Don’t write for the world… write for you.”  Best advice ever.

Lyrics are always first.  I do have an idea of the beat or the feel, but I get about ¾ of the words written and then I go back and “find the voice” that will sing the song to me.  I’m notorious for pulling up at a friend’s house, knocking on the door, and saying, “Don’t say anything, OK?  Can I have some paper and a pencil?”  Then I scrawl five line staves on the paper and write what I hear in my head.  I’m self-taught but I have near-perfect pitch, so I know my key before the pencil hits the pad.

Lex also knows:  Whether it’s a cocktail napkin, the back of an envelope, or a scrap of paper, if my writing is on it, don’t throw it away!  I swear, one day they’ll have to carry me out from under a pile of dribs and drabs of unfinished songs.  There will be notes and poems hanging off my shoes like errant toilet paper, trailing behind me.

When young singers ask me about technique, I tell them, “First, sit down and read the lyrics like a poem.  Read it aloud, with real feeling.  Find out what the words mean before you attempt to sing the song, or you’ll just be another Ella clone, copying someone else’s style, never having that heart connection to the music.

PBs: I understand you have had more than one brush with celebrity.  Who, how, when, where, and why? 😉

ABL:  It all started this way:  I

have the coolest cousin in the world, Gregg Laughlin.  You’ll recognize that surname if you read my poetry, because our grandparents

were Blanche and Bill Laughlin, and they appear in many of my poems, especially Blanche, my guardian manic depressive angel.  Anyway, Gregg convinced me to drop everything in Binghamton, NY and move to Santa Monica, where he ran the Great American Food & Beverage Co., which in the late 70s was a very hot spot.  All the waiters, hosts, and bus people were performers – you had to audition.  He told me, “Just come.  Don’t tell anyone you’re my cousin, and DON’T mention you didn’t audition.”  I ended up being one of the only jazz people there, and all it took was sitting at the piano and singing, “Hard-Hearted Hannah” for them to accept me.  A wonderful group of people.  We were immortal, of course, took all sorts of chances with all sorts of substances and didn’t worry about the future.  And in the door came, you know, Hal Linden from “Barney Miller,” the sweetest man ever.  Patti Davis, before her dad was president; she had the best “home-grown” in town!  Davy Jones of the Monkees, who seemed to be there to poke fun at his fellow ex-Monkee Peter Tork for working at a restaurant.

I later told Peter I thought Davy was “a bitter little troll.”  Pete and I stay in touch; he’s been battling cancer recently, and Mickey has been right there for him.

I mentioned Rickie.  I met her back when we were ALL poor and she was just coming up.  Talk about a roller coaster, seeing a friend leap from a humble little cottage to the #2 album on the Billboard charts.  (Damn that Supertramp, they never fell out of first place, ha ha.)  We’re still friends, but mostly we talk about our daughters!  She truly opened the world to me, taking me along on her first tour, sharing the fun.

Um.  Bonnie Raitt, on tour with Rickie, fabulous woman, one of my heroes.  Also on tour, Peter Erskine, one of the best drummers in the world, who’s still a friend, and the nicest guy you’d want to meet.  Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston’s husband, stopped by my piano bar in Puerto Rico and waited until I’d packed up all my stuff for the night to ask if he could sit in, then got bent out of shape when I didn’t know who he was.   Like I cared! Ace Frehley from Kiss, who pushed me out of the way as I was exiting the elevator and expected ME to apologize.  “Don’t you know who I am?  I’m Ace Frehley from Kiss!”  I shook my head and said, “Proof positive that money doesn’t buy class.”  Bob Dylan, at the restaurant… talk about zero charisma, YAWN.   But when I went to visit Riley last year, I chased down Tony Shaloub and asked him to pose for a pic with me, because I’ve loved his work for years.

PBs: You are one of the most supportive poets I know.  You touched on this above, but I’d like to delve a bit deeper:  How important do you believe it is to support one another’s work, and how do you go about it?

ABL:  I’ve only been writing for a few years, and it gets to me when poets put themselves down.  I had zero self-esteem growing up, so I know something about lack of encouragement.  It’s incredibly important that we as a poetic and artistic community support one another.  The arts are under siege in this country, if only because no one wants to spend money publishing, etc.  Blogs are a Godsend, but they don’t translate into money, so if you’re a poet, you’re doing it because you love words, because you HAVE TO express yourself.  And so the more we not only praise each other’s work, but also gently critique it, the stronger we all become.  When I see a typo, I mention it in the comment, “just in case you decide to submit it.” Marie, you have one of the rare first-edition copies of Dance Groove that has multiple typos in it.  I learned a big lesson there.  And recently, I had the privilege of polishing final edits for David Fields on Fred Weintraub’s upcoming autobiography, Bruce Lee, Woodstock & Me.  Fred started The Bitter End and energized the entire coffee house scene in the Village, circa 50s and 60s.  Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Cosby, Richard Pryor, Dylan, lots of folkies, all got their start with Fred at The Bitter End.  He also helped make Bruce Lee an international star with his first wide-release film.  Anyway, if you are a fan of that era, the book comes out in January, so check it out, and look for my name in the acknowledgments, LOL.

PBs: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want us to know?

ABL:  I say what I mean, I speak truth to power (probably why my FBI file is so fat), I’ll always have your back, I am a committed pacifist and a die-hard Leftie ‘union-yes’ feminist who doesn’t want to convert anyone from the Tea Party; we all have a voice and a vote. I don’t proselytize; I try to live by Jesus’ commandment to love and not to judge.   If you’re straight or gay or lesbian or transgender, our home is a source of unquestioning love.  As for race, we are all shades of brown in some varying degree, so let’s get over the racism, people.  One more thing… my only prejudice is against bigots!

Marie, thanks so much for this opportunity to share more about my life and my work with our friends at Poetic Bloomings!  You and Walt create amazing projects, and I believe this interactive blog is some of your best work.  And to think it all started at Poetic Asides…

PBs: Thank YOU, Amy.  Your willingness to be entirely transparent for the furtherance of creative expression and mental health impresses me.  God bless you, talented lady. 

One final thing:   As always, I asked our guest to share one poem she feels embodies her work.  Usually, I post these toward the beginning of the interview.  This time, I wanted to end with Amy’s choice.  In her words, she wrote this  “… in hopes that anyone who had reached the brink of despair and was considering suicide would think twice.  It speaks to mental health issues, but also to deeper feelings, the darkness of a lost soul. It’s the edgier side, but truth is bone deep.”


Bloodletting bride of
Over-rated solution to
Delusion tells you it’s
the only way out
(“Please proceed to the nearest exit”)

Psych meds assuage the
Numb it, dumb it down

But for the dedicated
Hounds of hell at their
In the end
it’s the end.

A final farewell to friends, family
Never mind who finds you

Don’t worry, your mom will bleach
the bathtub
But the sight will frighten and
haunt them forever

Never say never – again, I say:
Pick up the phone
Make the call
You are loved

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


This week, to do our part in this poetic economy, we are providing a “two-fer” – two prompts for the price of one.  🙂

Prompt 1:  Rising to the occasion.

Prompt 2:  Falling short.

You may choose either Prompt 1 OR Prompt 2, but we’re hoping you don’t miss out on the opportunity to rise to the occasion by choosing both.  Heck, you can even combine the two if you wish.  We’re easy.

Marie Elena’s Attempts

Prompt 1.


My instructions were
idiot-proof. But they rose
to the occasion.

Prompt 2

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” ~ Romans 3:23

Some do not respect the bible, but most respect Jesus himself.
Our historical Jesus hated sin, but loved sinners.
ALL sinners.

Who are sinners?

Even if I did not believe the bible is God’s word,
I could see the validity of that statement, for
Who has attained perfection?
Whose every thought is good, and clean, and holy?
Whose every move is guided by faith?
Whose every breath is exhaled in love?

In all, all I see is me.

Walt’s Late Arrival – Prompt #1


Nodding and dozing
in and out of sleep.
I can’t keep my eyes
from drifting into darkness.
So I sit in my recliner,
feet inclined and my mind
working on rhyme.
All’s right when I sleep,
but I can’t write in my sleep.
A tug and a yawn and
I’m almost gone to dreamland.
But the big hand is on the twelve,
and I delve into the gridiron
games, finally awake enough
to enjoy some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
(Too good to be true)

Walt’s Second Shot – Prompt #2


Routine has been tweaked
(it had wreaked havoc on me).
But I see a light at the end
of a long tunnel, a journey
that had me on pace for a gurney.
But bedtime beckons,
and I reckon I can cop some “Z’s”.
Falling asleep was never a chore,
but the more I seek it, the more
I need to tweak it.
Falling short.