Monday, July 16, 2018


I’ve been working on a book of poetry about trains and have decided to stop where I am and publish it as is, thinking it’ll probably be the caboose of my poetry. However, that decision included one last tour of a historic train site — the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Train Terminal in downtown Chattanooga, which we visited last Friday. This visit remains the highlight of the series of tours we’ve enjoyed during our half-year stay at Sewanee, Tennessee. Vickie Sullivan’s photo of the interior of the terminal will probably become the cover illustration for my “caboose book.”

The Chattanooga terminal was designed by the architect Don Barber and was built in 1906 for 1.5 million dollars. In 1909, the first trains served as many as 50 passengers per day on the old Southern Railway, but by the 1960’s, railways had declined, and the “Birmingham Special” of The Southern made its last run in 1970. The terminal was set for demolition when investors stepped in and poured four million dollars into its restoration in 1973. Today, the old terminal has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a 24-acre complex that includes a museum of train models, a hotel, a rose garden, shops, and sleeper cars that attract train enthusiasts. The poem that I came away with says more about the Chattanooga Choo Choo song that Glenn Miller and his orchestra made famous than it does about the structure of the old terminal, but my memories of the visit to this beautifully-restored terminal have been in my thoughts for several days.

We ate lunch at Stirs Restaurant, just two doors from the main terminal entrance, where oysters from New Brunswick were offered at a peak price of $3 per oyster. My friend Vickie ordered two as an appetizer and decided that the food in this restaurant matched the elegance of the terminal. She also ordered crab bisque while I munched on a ciabatta sandwich because I’m allergic to shellfish. Oysters from Louisiana were also featured on the menu, and the manager told us that all oysters are guaranteed to be fresh as they are flown in daily. 

The hotel within the terminal offers rooms, starting at $180 a night, or we would’ve spent the night to further inspire atmosphere for the “caboose book” of poetry; however, my budget doesn’t include that kind of luxury. And I enjoyed free visual inspiration sans an overnight stay.

My Tourist Trains Guidebook contains 450 train rides and dinner trains, museums, trolleys, and depots, and if I’d continued to write about this favored subject, I’d still be riding when the Great Train pulled into my terminal to take me beyond… but I've traveled over some historic tracks and depot sites while pursuing material for Destinations, the title of this latest book of poetry. However, Whoo, whoo… Chattanooga Choo-Choo Train Terminal is the top attraction on my list of sites!

Photographs by Victoria Sullivan

Friday, July 13, 2018


Today is Friday the 13th, good fortune day, and good fortune appeared in the mail this morning — the 13th issue of Pinyon Review published by Gary and Susan Entsminger in Montrose, Colorado. 

The work of the Friebert family, (Steve, Eddie, and Stuart) is featured in both original and translated poetry, highlighted by the wonderful cover and title page art by Steve Friebert — an arresting piece called “Moon Art.” The royal blue background with scattered small red splashes in the design is accentuated by a moon with black branches overlaying it and, at first glimpse, I thought I was looking at the crown of thorns of the Crucifixion. I’ve looked at the work at least five times and still perceive the work as having spiritual form.

However, not to be eclipsed by Steve Friebert, Stuart Friebert offers another of his translations of German poets: that of Ute Von Funcke’s poem entitled “Twilight,” a succinct poem of five couplets: “the small horse/of twilight/day’s waning/in its mane/it paws at the/sills of night/atremble, its play of muscles/cuts a hole in the fence rails of time/night’s already resting/in the saddle of silence.” Ute Von Funcke wrote plays for children before her debut as a poet and has now published four collections of poems. For me, the minimalist style reflects her background as a children’s playwright and is also reminiscent of poems recently published in Bayou Song by Margaret Simon, a book by a New Iberia, Louisiana writer I recently reviewed this month that reflects Simon’s background of working with gifted children in Louisiana.

Fabric Poussin, a writer and photographer, whose work has appeared in more than 200 art and literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad, contributes a three-page display of “Frozen Dreams,” which includes an impressive piece, “Next Creation.” The artwork contains two open books that suggest Scripture is being re-created against the backdrop of a paintbrush and vivid patches of color — an unusual still-life that conveys the idea of co-creation.

Michael Miller, the new bard of Amherst, reminds me of Emily Dickinson, minus the dashes, and with usual self-awareness, he speaks of aging and dying in his concise style. In his poem, “Seven in the Morning,” he writes of blurred vision and cataracts where “Reality draws me/to diminishment…With my fountain pen/I draw a feather for you./I might never see/A bluebird again.” Pinyon has published two of Miller’s books of poetry: Lifelines and In the Mirror; his work is also reminiscent of W. H. Auden’s direct style and suggests ease within his language — watchful and re-envisioned.

Gary and Susan Entsminger, publishers and editors of Pinyon Review, have added a further dimension to their journal with poems that feature mixing guns and whiskey… how suddenly the world/changes with a shot…” (Gary’s “Counter-Intuitive”) and a train ride through “wide white mountains stretch[ing] like taffy/round the high horizon,” (Susan’s “Zephyr”). An artistic team, the Entsmingers write, mountain climb, garden, compose and play music, draw, paint, and are dedicated to promoting writers and artists who often deluge them with works that celebrate the arts and sciences.” 

Charles Cantrell’s work, twice-nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry, attracted my interest with his quote by Charles Simic, one of my favorite poets: “Infinity yawns and keeps yawning.” “Infinity Blues” refers to Simic’s use of the word “infinity,” and Cantrell pens a verse, a la Simic style: “At one edge of the paper, nothing/but the black of space, and past that,/deeper space. And past that?/True to form, the poet always juxtaposes/something clear and solid with any abstraction/like infinity or eternity…” 

Two of my poems appear in Pinyon Review # 13, and I’m always honored to be included among the many award-winning poets and artists in this artistically created journal. Outstanding writers also featured: Rob Walton, Rebekah Bloyd, Debra Bacharach, Neil Harrison, John Miller, Bruce Lader, Edward J. Rielly, John Abbott, Ed Meek, Thomas Els-on… and artist Sharon Johnson. 

Pinyon Review #13 is a thought-provoking compendium of poetic voices and forms — a tour de force and a joy to read. I’ve been connected with the Entsmingers on this literary journey for nine years and am always amazed at the excellent quality of their productions. 

Pinyon Review is available from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403

Saturday, July 7, 2018


Margaret Simon has hit the G7 octave (the highest octave in music) with her latest book of poetry, Bayou Song. Her explorations of the Bayou Teche, using poetry and art to showcase plant and animal life in this fecund part of southwest Louisiana, reflect a clear voice, accessible style, and a naturalist’s love of bayou country.

This is a workbook for young people who are interested in writing poetry and contains forms of poetry ranging from tercets like “Bayou Fairy Tale,” to Welsh poetry forms (clogyrnach) represented in “Weeping Wisteria.” Poems accompanied by whimsical illustrations of Anna Cantrell and the masterful photographs of Henry Cancienne, which resemble landscape painting, take the reader on a vivid journey through fragile Louisiana wetlands.

The author’s style is often playful and spontaneous, reminiscent of two books for young people in my personal library — A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by poet and songwriter Shel Silverton; e.g., Simon’s “Bayou Fairy Tale:” “Spanish moss twirls/Like Rapunzel’s hair curls/In ghostly gray swirls.” The imagery in this three-line rhyme is accentuated by the capricious illustration of a young girl with a Raggedy Ann face and tangled long hair.

Simon has a voice both whimsical and serious; and I was especially drawn to “There Is Always,” an insightful poem about a bald eagle, deserving of repeating here: “There is always/a light/flowing through leaves/creating stained glass/on a duckweed carpet./There is always/an altar/emerging as a pyramid,/fans of needles pray/in the sanctuary./There is always/a cathedral/rising near the bayou/where bald eagles nest/in a bell tower.”

Simon’s explanations of the sample poems create a valuable reference guide in notebook form for students like her own gifted students in Iberia Parish and represent her long-time professional experience as a talented teacher. Cantrell, her illustrator, has perfectly synchronized the art with poetic imagery. 

As a child, I teethed on Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Simon’s poems took me back to verses I learned at my mother’s urging at age three, a lighter time when poetry inspired curiosity and interest in the natural world. I think the imagery in each poem will inspire feelings of nostalgia and a sense of wonder in adults, as well as young people.

Henry Cancienne’s photographs of the bayou and critters that abound in the wetlands — cypress trees and knees, the meandering Bayou Teche itself, alligators in the marshlands — interspersed with explanatory texts, add another dimension to Simon’s creative explorations.

Readers are invited to sketch, write, photograph their own creative explorations in interactive pages placed after each poem, and, as former Louisiana poet laureate, Ava Haymon, writes, creative writers and artists will feel restored to their own creativity.

Over twenty years ago, when Simon was a member of a Creative Writing Group, Reflections, at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia that I led, her creative essays in Meditations Of My Heart showed exceptional talent and exhibited her playful spirit that is now at its zenith in Bayou Song. C’est Magnifique, Margaret!

Margaret Simon lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband Jeff. She’s a native of Mississippi who is a Louisiana transplant, teaches gifted students in Iberia Parish and has published in The Aurorean, Today’s Little Ditty, Poetry Friday Power Book Here We Go and in National Geographic’s The Poetry of US. Border Press published a collection of her poems with her father’s Christmas card art entitled Illuminate. Blessen, a novel for young readers, was also published by Border Press. She has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. 

Anna Amelia Cantrell is a freelance illustrator based in south Louisiana who “collects stories, moss, and rocks.”

Published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press.