PROMPT #148 – BACK TO SQUARE ONE : GUEST HOST – JANE SHLENSKY

I would like you to welcome our co-host who has risen to the top of our craft. She is a very talented and highly prolific poet. Her work is always exceptional and her accomplishments in poetics are very telling. She is very good.

IN JANE’S WORDS:

POET JANE SHLENSKY

POET JANE SHLENSKY

It has always interested me that some of the most difficult circumstances of my life have ultimately fed my loves and my work in the world. I guess that’s grace. Edgewood Farm in rural North Carolina taught great work ethics, our days spent in tobacco fields, milking cows, growing food and learning to entertain ourselves productively. Naturally, music provided a rhythm for our labors, harmony kept us friendly to one another, and lyrics introduced rhyme, the basics of many formed poems. Some songs fed desires in us, like “Faraway Places” recorded by Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Willie Nelson—everyone had a go with it. That song fed wanderlust in me, but I never dreamed I would travel to those places other than in imagination or in books. Music and reading kept me engaged, nurtured by a mother who looked on poetry as a way of seeing clearly and a musician father who dreamed bluegrass dreams. I loved that farm but couldn’t wait to get away from it, ironic in that my poetry goes back to it so often now. In hindsight, each life challenge has prepared me for the next challenge or opportunity.

I began writing stories and poems in elementary school and won National Student Press awards in high school, was editor of both yearbook and newspaper, learning to compose with a camera, all of which was handy as a teacher sponsoring those activities. My English BA is my “reading degree,” while the MFA in creative writing years later is my “fun degree” and an ‘attagirl’ to myself for enduring the marking of literally thousands of student papers while teaching in high schools, community colleges, and universities. But slowly, I began to travel to faraway places, usually as a student or a teacher with students. It was good for my soul and my words. I matched places to go with what I taught: Shakespeare= England; Mahfouz=Egypt—like that. As a theater director and teacher, I had to act in community theater and write plays; if they were musicals, I had to write music and compose lyrics. How else is a teacher to retain joy and the life of the mind?

Just when the heart was going out of teaching for me, I was invited to China to teach English writing at Shandong Teachers University, where I stayed for two years, traveled a great deal in Asia, and met and subsequently married a colleague from the USSR. Those travels in Asia led to teaching Asian Studies and American literature at the NC School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, which naturally led to more travel on scholarship in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Korea and Thailand, later becoming academic director for teachers’ programs to China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. That girl in tobacco fields wouldn’t have imagined this life. I guess I needed to travel far away in order to come back home purposefully.

I wrote a few teachers’ guides to literature for Penguin and published poems and articles in professional journals during my 40 years being super-teacher, but my creative work was largely on hold until 2011 when Nancy Posey, my conference buddy and fellow writer, directed me to the April PAD at Poetic Asides. There I “met” such generous and skilled writers—Walt and Marie and Iain and De, and, well, most of you. And see, here you all are, my “faraway places” mapping words each week to keep me traveling. These days, I work as a church musician. I play organ, piano, and tinker with autoharp, dulcimer, and psaltery. I sing with a group called Stringfellows and send poetry or fiction out every now and then so I don’t forget resiliency through rejection. My recent poetry has been published by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bay Leaves, Emerge Literary Magazine, Prompted and Beyond the Dark Room, Poetic Bloomings: the first year, Final Draft, Pinesong, KAKALAK, and Writer’s Digest. I’m at home in Bahama, North Carolina with my husband Vladimir and two pushy cats, Warren and Flora. I welcome you travelers to visit me. Bring a song.

 

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Prompt #148 – “BACK TO SQUARE ONE” – Find a poem you have written early in your writing adventures (or one with which you’re unhappy). Take the three best lines from that poem and use them in a new poem. Please include a link to the original poem if it is available.

WALT’S EXAMPLE:

THE MUSIC OF LOVE

Songs start in his heart,
gentle melodies that trip
from his fingertips, composed
with every emotion and notion
that says what flows as sound
goes around. In his head it plays,
it says love will linger; find a way
to keep the music alive. He strives
to express in a tender ballad
what his heart needs to sing,
for in his song are words
and once heard the lyrics stay.
It plays in ways only love knows.
And so it goes. And so it goes.

© Copyright Walter J Wojtanik – 2014

Lines from my poem, “Composer’s Tableau”

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JANE’S SQUARE ONE:

From “Defying Gravity”

My thoughts about gravity have shifted
over the years, my stars shining
a little closer to home…

The whole poem is available at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature
http://www.deadmule.com/poetry/jane-shlensky-%e2%80%93-four-poems/

LANDSCAPING

Time has a way of easing bulk
into new formations,
massive peaks sloughed
to mumbling mountains
sanded to slope-shouldered
mounds, surrounding valleys
round as matrons’ hips,
meadows finely furnished
by eroded topsoil
headed downhill.

Some blame winds,
ice and rain, terrain,
weather engineering change,
lake-to-desert development,
forest-to-plain reconstruction;
mud and snow
avalanching downward,
taking trees along, create
a balding pate of earth
soon to be redecorated
with wild flowers.
Some call it fate.

We carry time’s pull on us,
the weight of years hanging
limp as saddlebags.
We think to thwart this fate
with diet, exercise,
with maintenance,
with cosmetics, surgical
lifts and temporary tucks,
gravity grinning
at our attempts to
manage re-landscaping,
our foiled imaginations
stuffed into life’s sheath.

We reassess our shifting
acreage as if we watch
a beloved pet grow old,
a beloved star grow cold—
with a heart and eye
for bovine usefulness,
feline resourcefulness,
songbird trust and praise.
We exercise forgiveness
and radical acceptance,
a different kind
of beauty.

© Copyright Jane Shlensky – 2014

 

In two days, we will embark on Poetry Month. Many site will be doing special prompts or challenges to occupy our collective muses in April. We will continue to run our normal schedule.

The Sunday Seed Prompt and the Wednesday INFORM POETS will follow their pre-arranged routine. A special page will be posted in the menu tabs where you can post poems written for other sites, but you may wish to share with a larger audience here. We welcome your work and will help promote it. Please include the site for which it was written and an idea of what the prompt was.