Wednesday, May 30, 2012


It seems natural that a man who says that he respects people “who pay attention to their minds and bodies, appreciate life, are present in their daily tasks and are thoughtful and selfless” would continually be expanding his work and seeking ways to communicate ideas to a growing readership. I refer to Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado, who recently expanded the publications of his Indie press to include a magazine, Pinyon Review, Celebrating the Arts and Sciences.

The magazine features a line-up of poets and short story writers, computer programmers, and nature enthusiasts, and includes an essay on fractal geometry by Larry Fogg. Gary’s sidekick, Susan Elliott, an accomplished artist and ecologist, contributed several watercolor images to the issue and designed the front and back covers of Pinyon Review.

The Pinyon Review is a handsome journal, and I’m happy that it includes two of my poems alongside those of another Louisianan, Ken Fontenot, a native of New Orleans now living in Austin, Texas. Pinyon recently published a volume of his work entitled In A Kingdom of Birds.

I was fascinated with the Mandelbrot Set Fractal by Larry Fogg that appears on the title page of Pinyon Review, although I found his essay on fractal geometry not-so-easy to understand, except from the standpoint of fractal art: “Fractal geometry has been called ‘the geometry of nature’ because it does a good job of drawing objects like galaxies, mountains, trees, and blood vessels. Fractals are infinitely detailed and self-similar. That means that as you zoom in on the image, the smaller details resemble the large scale shapes…,” Fogg writes.

I'm partial to poetry about crows and was drawn to Don Thompson’s poem about this raucous bird. Don lives in the southern San Joaquin Valley of California, and his most recent book, published by Pinyon, is entitled Everything Barren Will Be Blessed. The poem is simply entitled “Crows.”

Crows never make excuses,
unlike us — but like us
complain bitterly about their blessings,

This one beside the road,
dissatisfied with the leftover rabbit
I killed for him yesterday,

squawks at the cosmos without thinking
anymore than we do,
how easy life is for him—

compared to rabbits, so undemanding,
for whom every run is a risk
neither man nor crow would take.

Coulter Country is the featured non-fiction article that appears in Pinyon Review and was written by Dr. Gerald L. Brody, a pathologist, an amateur ornithologist, and fly fisherman, who writes about his early adventures as a newly married person when he and his wife hiked in the remote wilderness of Wyoming.

The fare in this journal is varied and showcases quality writing selected by an Indie publisher who lives on the Uncompaghre Plateau at 7,000 feet in the southern Rocky Mountains. Gary works in a cabin where east-facing windows bring in light and where he can see the Buckhorn Mountains nearby. He’s a writer, publisher, naturalist, musician, and computer programmer who has written over 100 scientific/technical articles and computer software that helps scientists understand patterns of biodiversity and biogeography. From this brief biographical note, you can see why Pinyon Review contains a plethora of diverse writing for a universal audience.

Congratulations on Volume 1 of the Pinyon Review,Gary and Susan (Managing Editor) — may your readership increase with each new publication!

Pinyon Review can be ordered from or Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO, 81403.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Grandpa Paul  Clabber enthusiast & 
grandchildren not so fond of the drink
Yesterday morning after preaching a Pentecost sermon at St. Mary’s, the Episcopal Convent here on the bluff at Sewanee, Tennessee, I went into the refectory to breakfast with the congregants and Sisters and got into a conversation with Henry Hamman, publisher of Plateau Press. Henry had begun searching for his wife Kathy because he said that he had to get home and build a fence around his tomato plants – the ubiquitous deer on the Cumberland Plateau had been sniffing around his garden. I immediately went into a déjà vu about homegrown products; namely, the tomatoes that my Grandfather Paul used to grow in his backyard at Franklinton, Louisiana (the town where I was born)… and the memory lengthened into one about supper feasts in the “country.”

When I visited my grandparents during summers of the 40’s, the supper table often contained simple fare of thick slabs of Big Boy tomatoes, sliced cucumbers that I helped my grandfather pick, butterbeans left from lunch and warmed up, fried cornbread, and clabber. My grandfather’s supper consisted of only a tall green glass filled with clabber and crumbled cornbread, a concoction he drank throughout the summer.

At the age of nine, my appetite centered more on the vegetables than the strange concoction Grandfather Paul drank because I thought that clabber was a medicinal food he endured as a remedy for his condition of Bright’s Disease. Years later, I tasted clabber and agreed with the moniker it acquired through the Ulster Scots in the Appalachians – that of “bonny clabber.”

Clabber is simply curdled milk, or unpasteurized milk that has been allowed to turn sour at a specific temperature -- room temperature. As the milk curdles it develops into yogurt-like consistency. In this age of pasteurized milk regulations, the drink isn’t too popular anymore, and the pasteurization process kills the bacteria necessary for it to sour. The closest we can get to a clabbered drink is buttermilk. I’m told that if you heat clabber a little, the curds in it separate and become cheese.

Some farmers use clabber to feed their chickens as it provides calcium and protein for the chickens – the farmers claim that if chickens are fed this concoction, their meat is softer and they become better layers.

I have no idea where my grandfather got his raw milk because he didn’t own cows, but Washington Parish abounds in dairy farms, and he may have obtained milk from the owner of a cow that grazed on an open lot on 10th Avenue in Franklinton, one that I skirted on the way to visit my Aunt Kathryn who lived about a block away from the cow. I’d get off the sidewalk and wade through weeds to avoid the harmless cow who kept her head lowered and had no interest in a frightened, nine-year old girl. My mother had a phobia about cows and passed on the fright to me, along with fear of lightning, tramps, and a host of other senseless anxieties. A contradiction to this phobia was my liking for the verse in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse about the “friendly cow, all red and white/I love with all my heart…”

A few decades ago, perhaps a thousand dairy farms abounded in Washington Parish, and I understand that today there are less than two hundred; however, the three parishes of Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Washington parishes have the largest concentration of dairy farms in Louisiana. I don’t know how much of the milk is used for curdling purposes, but in many rural areas, people still enjoy their milk soured to the stage of a firm curd. Remember the old nursery rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet /sat on her tuffet/ eating her curds and whey?”

I recently read an article highlighting Russel Creel, who owns a dairy farm five miles east of Franklinton. Creel received the title of “Dairyman of the Year” from the LSU Dairy Science Club (once known as the Cow and Cream Club!), and I bet he knows how to make a good bowl of clabber since he has been in the dairy industry for over forty years.

By the way, clabber can be eaten with brown sugar, nutmeg, or molasses. However, my grandfather was a purist and ate it unsweetened, flavoring it only with fried cornbread (no sugar added). A Greenlaw, of Scots lineage, Grandfather Paul thought it was “bonny clabber.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


In my last blog, I talked about the writings of aspiring authors who had published some of their memoirs written in a Life Writing Class taught by Kim Graham at the New Iberia Library in New Iberia, Louisiana.  The book, Let Me Tell You A Story, has been selling like a Dave Robicheaux novel since its publication — it seems that the town of New Iberia turned out for a recent signing at the New Iberia Library, and class members may be doing a second printing.

Instructor Kim Graham has been teaching a similar class sponsored by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette since the 1990’s, which was originally taught by Joan Steer, an English teacher, and the late Ida Neezy who worked at Lafayette General Hospital.  This class has also published a volume of their reminiscences entitled Wit, Wisdom, and Mostly True Stories and can be ordered by clicking on the title.

The book includes memories of Hurricane Betsy, World War II experiences, Guatemalan adventures, travels in the Mideast, a family camping trip, and many other life experiences written after students received instruction in dialogue, character development, and other writing techniques.  Kim Graham calls her class members “incredible authors.  Through humor or tears, a story will emerge… with references to the past, ones that will be recognized by family or place…”

The authors include teachers, legislators, doctors, geologists, farmers, and people representing other vocations.  Many of the stories feature photographs, even paintings, to illustrate their memoirs.  The biographies of the writers at the conclusion of their stories are as intriguing as the stories themselves.
I was drawn to a story entitled “Texas Plumes” by Jean Sellmeyer Smith who included a poem at the conclusion of her vignette.  Her story is filled with sensual, concrete detail; e.g., her description of an old-time country meal prepared by her grandmother: “Three meats – clove-studded ham, crispy fried chicken, a pot roast with smooth dark brown gravy – every kind of fruit and vegetable in season, or in the storm cellar …bread and butter pickles, crisp and cold from a big clay crock – sweet tea in a frosty pitcher – fresh hot bread topped with home-churned butter molded in the glass swan mold…and from the wild muscadine cascading high over the back fence, a grape jelly as clear and deep purple as a brilliant amethyst…”  This story evoked memories of my Grandmother Nell’s country spreads that included plump butterbeans, sliced Big Boy tomatoes and cucumbers, and fried cornbread.

As I’ve written many poems and stories based on my life experiences, I can appreciate the feeling of “closure” a writer sometimes gets when he/she has spun a vignette that “places value on a moment in time,” as Kim says.  There’s something cathartic about penning a memoir.

Life Writing Classes provide a kind of creative synergy for students who long for self-expression, and some of the classes have been around for four decades.  However, in the last few years, advances in printing technology have allowed the publication of memoirs to burgeon — valuable life stories are being preserved for many generations.

Brava Kim Graham — and your students — for producing two colorful anthologies!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


After the famous author Henry Miller visited Weeks Hall, master of The Shadows-on-the-Teche, he wrote that he had just been to “that strange part of the world called New Iberia, Louisiana.” When I first moved there in 1964, I agreed with him. Rain fell throughout the month of January, and my first glimpse of Bayou Teche, a murky brown tributary, made me shudder. I thought I had arrived in a place where dark stained, well-soaked ground was the norm. I felt this way until spring came to Teche country, and I fell in love with a place that I now call “unique,” rather than Miller’s word “strange.”

During the lush spring, I learned to enjoy and appreciate the people of multicultural origins who had settled in the Teche country and formed a culture that fosters art, music, and writing. New Iberia is the place that nurtured world-famed author, James Lee Burke; the Blue Dog artist, George Rodrigue; the jazz trumpeter, Bunk Johnson; and many other notable artists who thrive in a warm, romantic culture.

In that multicultural atmosphere, I began to seriously write and continue to write poetry, living in New Iberia part of the year and deriving from the culture enough subject matter to fill more than thirty books. During my sojourn in New Iberia, I’m sometimes asked to speak to students interested in Creative Writing and to engage in two or three hour conversations with the aspiring authors in a room at the New Iberia Library where cultural events take place.

Five years ago, I was happy to discover that Susan Edmonds, who brought many outstanding programs to the library, had written and been awarded a grant to initiate a memoir writing class, aka the “life writing class.” By the following year, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette had formed a similar class, and the two classes have been functioning since that time under the tutelage of Kim B. Graham of St. Martinville, Louisiana. Some of the students produce an essay or short story each week; others write poems or songs. 

All of the writing material is inspired by their personal lives and backgrounds. As Kim Graham says, “Memoirs are written not so much to become famous, but to place value on a moment in time. This genre of writing is about how one remembers one’s life, or a part of one’s life, and not about the outcome of the life as a whole…we hear the writer’s voice and his or her style in each story…”

This year, Kim engaged my friend Victoria Sullivan to publish the stories written by classes in New Iberia and Lafayette, and Let Me Tell You A Story emerged this month. It’s a book written by teachers, doctors, cowboys, housewives – people who like to tell stories about family and about that unique part of the world known as Acadiana.

The book also contains photographs and drawings that capture the moment in time about which Kim spoke. Stories range from those that have been inspired by ancestry to humorous vignettes. At the risk of being chided for not including all of the writers in a review, I just wanted to share with readers of “A Wordsworth,” a bit of humor from Glenn Oubre’s essay entitled “Nicknames in My Home Town.” Glenn grew up in the small community of Loreauville, just down the road from New Iberia, and writes that Loreauville once had more nicknames for people than any small town in the U.S. “Generally, the names were terms of endearment that made people feel good about themselves,” Glenn says. “However, some names were mean and cruel and intended to ridicule. The names stuck like glue and stayed for a lifetime.” 

The nicknames included important people like former Mayor Forbus Mestayer who was known as “Bagasse,’ which denotes sugar cane residue. This strange moniker was delivered in Cajun dialect. But most nicknames were more pronounceable – “Mutchie,” “Te-boy,” “Butsy,” “Too Too,” “Full Choke,” and “Hesitation,” to name a few. Glenn even went so far as to prepare an alphabetical table featuring many of the names and to compose a poem (he is also a musician) of eleven quatrains; e.g., "There was Sue Sue, Cho Cho, and Goo Goo,/names that all sound the same./And Me Me, Ge Ge, and De De/they were their claim to fame…My neighbors in the country/were Poon, Too Loo, and Toe Joe./Next door were neighbors Te-Bic, and Ze Ze./Down the road lived Noo-noon and Low Low…” “Pooyie, so much fun,” Glenn concluded his essay. And Pooyie, I agree!

Let Me Tell You A Story will soon be available on and at Books Along the Teche bookstore in New Iberia, Louisiana.  You're in for a reading treat when you sample these stories composed by authentic southern voices.

A subsequent blog will highlight the Lafayette Life Writing Class’s publication, Wit, Wisdom, and Mostly True Stories.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Gray day on the mountain
Friends here at Sewanee, TN chide me for giving Sewanee the “aka” of “Grayburg,” but today when I woke up, I thought about this neutral color of gray that seems to pervade the atmosphere on The Mountain. This morning, a gentle rain and overhanging clouds make the name Grayburg seem fitting for these environmental changes, but on far more dry days the iron-colored sky and encroaching mists overpower the village, and Grayburg seems to be a likely name for the place. Natives of the community bristle when I use this name, especially when I say, “it’s an ugly day outside today,” and they hasten to describe the “beautiful mystical look” of the environment, using adjectives like “pearl,” “charcoal,” “silver,” and “gunmetal” to define just plain old gray. It’s a color that isn't white or black, but is a sort of pessimistic hue which forms the background for movies about the British moors, medieval castles, murders in the mists, and other murky subjects.

Green forest in our backyard
Of course, my native Louisiana is often no more uplifting in color, as I’ve always described the sky there as a “threatening-to-rain sky,” and many days in the Fall and winter, fog shrouds the cane fields, highways, and swamps. However, the architecture in Cajun country is not Gothic, and here at Sewanee, we’re surrounded by Gothic buildings on the campus and gray stone residences scattered throughout the town. The color is dignified and authoritative, but constant exposure to it sometimes elicits “gray moods.” Even the fence that surrounds our cottage, which began its life as a natural tan color has begun to silver and now blends in with the rest of Grayburg.

I read that if you want to feel creative and joyful about life, stare at a green object or landscape for two seconds and you’ll lighten up. One of my favorite rites for overcoming melancholia is to walk outdoors and look at the woods where green is the most prevalent color in the natural world, a refreshing color that alleviates anxiety and restores energy.

When I lived in the province of Khuzestan in southern Iran for two years, I appreciated the blue-green colors of gates, mosques, and grillwork on houses and learned that shades of green and blue are regarded as sacred in Iran because they signify paradise. I lived on desert terrain, and with the help of a Portuguese friend, painted a wall in our dining room the color of the ocean to boost the spirits of my family who drooped in the tan landscape.

On a particularly gray day recently, I penned the following poem entitled “The Color Green,” which may become the title poem in a new book of poetry I’m writing:

the experts say,
is requisite for creativity,
stare at a verdant object
or landscape for two seconds
and words reach their level of spirit;

trees leafing out on the Cumberland hills,
lichen climbing a stone wall,
the color of hospital wards,
an emerald peace,
mint that my father planted
in the yard of my memory,
grass drinking in dew,
and onions finding their Spring life…

all for the poem that announces life
saying the words for strumpet seasons,
for even the sky washing green.

This, touts the experts
is the color of the opera of language,
the dense forests of stories
you can now listen to in a color…
for everything there is to say.

Friday, May 4, 2012


It’s Spring at Sewanee, a felicitous time to publish another book of poetry, and I’m right on schedule with it because I anticipated bringing one into the world in May, my birthday month. A good friend plans to review Postcards From Diddy Wah Diddy, but I usually mention my latest book for A Words Worth readers. I won’t review my own book – just wanted to give a thumbnail sketch of it a la blog.

About the cover: I have my mother’s collection of postcards from our family trip to California, during the late 40’s and planned to use one of them for the cover before I discovered that the one I wanted to use is a famous painting by a well-known, deceased western artist who lived in New Mexico, and the card was copyrighted after the 1921 cut-off date for expiration of copyrights – a copyright for ninety years! I did unearth a few of mother’s collection that had no copyrights printed on the cards and used one of these sepia-colored cards on the back cover of Postcards, but the front cover is a snapshot of my mother, my older brother Paul, and me – three of the principals traveling in the blue Ford coupe to Diddy Wah Diddy, my father’s name for California in 1946. California was Mecca, in his opinion, but when he uprooted his four children to make this odyssey, we weren’t too sure we wanted to live as gypsies traveling toward his envisioned paradise. The first few poems in Postcards From Diddy Wah Diddy express the feelings of the entire family concerning this memorable trip, excepting my father.

Many of the poems in this volume are nostalgic; others speak of friends and ancestors, of aging, travels and nature. As lagniappe and for varied reading, I included three short stories that have been in a box for years.

My grandson Martin designed the cover of Postcards From Diddy Wah Diddy, and the book is a product of Border Press, Sewanee, Tennessee.

Click on the title, Postcards From Diddy Wah Diddyanywhere in this post to go to a website for ordering. Write to Border Press, PO Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 for mail orders, and include a check for $12 plus $5, shipping and handling.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Our resident wren's new home
We now have a resident wren, one that has made its home in a hanging pot containing a strawberry plant on our back porch. It’s either a Carolina Wren or a House Wren, but it darts away so swiftly that I’m unable to examine it closely. However, I know it’s a wren, and this identification of the small bird comes not from my copy of The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds, but from my memory of the picture of a wren in an old linen-paged book about birds my mother bought for me during pre-school years. It’s true that I could only identify cardinals, robins, blue jays, wrens, and crows after looking through this beautiful children’s book, but looking at it inspired me to deeper study of the bird kingdom. The book was eventually stolen from our van at a Motel 6 in Albuquerque, New Mexico when we were taking a load of books to my grandchildren in California back in the 80’s, but the pictures are etched in my memory. My mother loved birds and bought me my first set of binoculars, and I’ve passed on the hobby of bird watching to my youngest daughter Elizabeth who keeps binoculars and a field guide to birds on a table in her den.
After a light rain last week, I discovered potting soil scattered on the back porch and thought a deer had been foraging for the strawberries in the hanging pot, but the following morning, I saw a small, compact wren bringing a leaf to the pot and knew that it was settling in with us. She eyed me while she buried the leaf in the pot and finished her task before flying away for more nest lining. Although I’ve spied on the wren for several days, I haven’t heard the gurgling or bubbling song that wrens make during breeding season. Some sources report that the song is loud and insistent and that it’s difficult for one to believe that such a small bird can project such volume.
My friend Vickie, the consummate bird identifier, wants to take down the pot to study the nest, but I’m reluctant to disturb my short-winged friend. I think that it forages for nest material (and insects) beneath the tall hemlock in the yard as I’ve seen it moving through the tree’s lower branches during early morning.
Wordsworth wrote a lengthy poem praising the wren, but I prefer the Japanese poems about flora and fauna. Issa, one of the most renowned poets writing in the Japanese haiku tradition, penned these lines about our undaunted bird friend who’s building a home on our porch:
    “fighting the mountain wind
     on foot…
     a wren.”
I can easily envision my small friend climbing up the mountains near Sewanee, fighting the fierce winds that frequently blow through, to reach the Cumberland Plateau…and, ultimately, my back porch.
Issa, whose name means Cup-of-Tea, wrote haiku during the 19th century and used Buddhist ideas about grace, compassion, and, in the case of our house wren, “joyful celebration of the ordinary,” wandering the Japanese countryside, composing haiku about such ordinary subjects as birds battling the elements.