Saturday, December 29, 2012


“Prowling his own quiet backyard or asleep by the fire, he is still only a whisker
away from the wilds.” – Jean Burden -

This world is a jungle where the ginger tabby roams free. He crosses my patio and pauses before St. Francis: an icon of celibacy in stone. Tabby looks into the expressionless face, searching for clues about keeping himself from roving around all night, spraying car tires, eating poisoned food, getting chased by wild dogs…he may as well be a black cat without any future. I see questions forming in his sly eyes: What is the secret in the stone heart that keeps St. Francis home at night, at peace with desire? Why do his arms embrace birds rather than chase them? A sparrow lights on the tonsured head, questions rising in the muggy air. Enough. The tabby lunges, toppling St. Francis, scattering the shards of piety.

Yellow tomcat and St. Francis
He isn’t nonplussed by his encounter with St. Francis. I’m seated in the chair by the living room window and see him strutting down the drive as if he has conquered his last objection to living the life of a bon vivant. He seems to belong to no one except the neighborhood at large. A block away, my daughter says he visits often, scratching at her back door because she has eight cats swinging from the rafters, draped on table tops, and sitting in the chairs I can’t sit on because I’m allergic to animal dander.

Tabby's a stately creature that I seldom see crouched in attack position or running after others. He just walks sedately past my window, always in command of the territory under my carport, which he has marked several times. I envy him his composure and lack of fear. Vets report that he's exposed to AIDS the same as careless humans are, and because of his dalliances, he could become a victim. Perhaps that’s why he seemed to be imploring St. Francis to tell him about celibacy. But, then, he did shatter the stony saint.

Three miniature dogs down the street yip at Tabby when he passes, but his disdain of the canines matches that of his composure. At night, he jumps on my rooftop and centers his body above my bedroom, thudding heavily to let me know that he regards my habitat as his territory. I’m startled into consciousness and run to the window to see if a branch has fallen or someone has thrown a shoe at him. I hear nothing but the hum of the refrigerator and see only the dark street. It’s 2 a.m., and he’s dancing on my rooftop. What’s up there? He dares me to come out and search for him, but I go back to bed, wishing he’d find a Mehitabel and create a family of his own, but he’d probably desert her just as the reincarnated cat poet, Francois Villon, did, and she’d drop her kittens in a rain barrel…

I receive an e-mail from Sewanee, Tennessee where I reside in the Spring and Summer: “Residents tell me tonight that they have confirmed there are three yellow cats in the area. Two have homes. The third is an unaltered male with claws intact. Very friendly, appears healthy and clearly wants his home. Will enter houses and doesn’t seem very afraid of dogs…” Could Tabby have gone East looking for my second home?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Nothing arouses an appetite so much as the smell of cornbread “dressing,” as we southerners call it, baking on Christmas Eve. On the day that the kitchen becomes the central room in the house, memories of my childhood Christmases spent in the old Victorian home of my grandmother Nell rise to my consciousness. I know it is Christmas, not by the scent of candles and evergreens, but by the mixed aroma of turkey fat and cornbread cooking!

Myriad recipes for dressing aka stuffing fill cookbooks: bread and oyster stuffing, bread with mushrooms stuffing, giblet stuffing, wild rice stuffing, sausage stuffing, chestnut stuffing…but no recipe can surpass the one for a good southern cornbread dressing, for which I have no written recipe. The ingredients and approximate measurements for dressing passed from my Grandmother Nell to my Mother Dorothy and then to me, and I think that most southern cooks probably don’t “go by” a recipe, they just put together a dollop of this, a dash of that, crumbling and pouring, mixing and baking to produce this quintessential dish that complements a baked turkey.

My good friend Janet, who was born and bred in southeast Alabama (the heart of red dirt country), talks about that cornbread dressing, as well as other southern delicacies in her charming book entitled Road Home, which emerged a few years ago from folders she had labeled, “Things to Think About.” The last chapter in the book is entitled “The Road Home,” and is a delightful chapter about holiday food, including a few sentences about having dinner with friends at Chapel Hill one Thanksgiving and being forced to partake of Mushrooms Berkeley as the main dish, a food swimming in what she calls a “dark, brooding sauce…”

In the chapter entitled “The Road Home” Janet tells about her grandmother’s famous cornbread dressing, which she explains had to be made in two different pans – one for cornbread dressing with onions and one without onions for the children and her adult uncle. “Food from this part of the country tends not to be highly seasoned; onions were the exotic seasoning in our kitchens, and you had to admit, even if you didn’t like the taste of onions, the smell was fabulous…” All of the food from the Christmas dinner was stored on the kitchen counter, covered with the oldest tablecloth on hand, and was left unrefrigerated until supper time, but Janet relates that no one ever became sick after a holiday or a Sunday meal. And, of course, everyone always took some of the remnants home with them.

The best part of the cornbread stuffing vignette in Road Home has to do with storage of leftover food. Janet writes: “My sister, who as an adult is a fastidious housekeeper, wins the prize for the most creative ‘to go’ storage container. One holiday when she was eight years old, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Jennie left Granny’s house with cornbread dressing, sans the onions [thank goodness], wrapped in aluminum foil and tucked way down into the toe of a knee-high sock. Unmindful of her cargo, we returned home, and my sister took the sock directly to her room with her other belongings. Weeks later, when a peculiar odor caused my mother to track down the sock, which had found its way to a resting place under Jennie’s bed, she was the only one who could unequivocally identify the sock stuffing as cornbread dressing…”

I hope you “passed a good Christmas,” as the Cajuns say, and perhaps enjoyed a scoop of cornbread dressing aka stuffing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It’s 70 degrees this afternoon in south Louisiana, and I just shed a leather jacket that I had been prompted to wear because the early morning temps were in the 50’s. What a wimp some of my friends in the mountains think I am! As I write this, winter storms are brewing in the West and Midwest, and this morning’s email from Gary Entsminger, publisher of Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado, carried a wintry message. “At last,” Gary writes, “we awoke to a winter storm. Five inches of snow have fallen so far, and it is snowing steadily. The atmosphere is calm…nice. Susan (Susan Elliott, Gary’s partner and artist at Pinyon) and Garcia (a beautiful black Lab) shoveled our first paths and stocked the feeders, so we have about 100 little birds dancing and pecking in the snow and on the pinyon branches. The mountains have been getting good snow for a few days, but our storms had been just dusting until this morning. Hooray! It’s a classic winter wonderland outside…”

Gary and Susan have many indoor pursuits that keep them busy while the snow falls and have been working steadily on publishing books, selling second-hand editions, practicing guitar mandolin, and piano music, singing and dancing, cooking and canning. Their latest indoor pursuit is a beautiful project that they finished just in time for Christmas. Susan created Art Cards from two of Pinyon’s book publication list, Open the Gates: Poems for Young Readers by Dabney Stuart, which contains 43 illustrations drawn and painted by Susan; and Why Water Plants Don’t Drown: Survival Strategies of Aquatic and Wetland Plants by Victoria Sullivan, which contains 62 illustrations rendered by Susan.

Almost all of the artwork in Open the Gates is of animals because the creatures are what the poems are about. Susan chose eight animals that displayed the different vibrant watercolor styles she used in the book: bat, rhino, fiddler crab, newt, bumble bee (one of her favorites because it’s a Bombus appositus bumble bee on a Delphinium barbeyi larkspur, subjects in Susan’s dissertation study – she has a Ph.D. in Botany), impala, water ouzel, and wolf.

We ordered several of the packets of the Art Cards featuring Susan’s illustrations in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown and plan to order more. Although Why Water Plants Don’t Drown includes technical illustrations to accompany the section in which Vickie describes the primary needs of plants: light, gases, structural support, and reproduction, no Art Cards were created from this section. Other sections include aquatic plants (sub-categories of Divers, Floaters, and Floating-Leaf Plants in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown) and wetland plants (sub-category “Waders”). For the Water Plants cards, Susan chose four aquatic examples (lotus, sea grasses, spatterdock, and water hyacinth) and four Wetland examples (water tupelo, cranberry, venus fly trap and swamp milkweed).

We’ve given several packets of the Art Cards as Christmas gifts that our friends opened immediately, and the response to Susan’s artwork has been tremendous. For those readers who haven’t purchased either of these books, you’re in for a treat. Susan says she chose images that were striking and elegant on their own (without accompanying text or poems), and the images bear out her descriptions of both animals and plants.

Use the Art Cards link to contact the publisher online or at mailing address: Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.


Last night I watched a taped episode of “Downton Abbey” that sent me to bed musing about the advantages / disadvantages (?) of being an independent woman, one who had several careers, (and still has) did her own housework (and still does), maintained (and still does) her own finances, and hardly ever pleads a case of “the vapors” that assailed women of the late 19th and early 20th century. This morning, I got up and opened two file cases of articles published in The Daily Iberian, searching for one of my old columns, “Cherchez la femme,” in which I had a lot to say about the liberation of women.

My column in The Daily Iberian
 The column I sought and found had to do with my remarks to a man who had teased me about being a liberated woman, quipping that he had heard the Shah (this was 1975) had posted “Wanted” posters and offered a reward for me after I left Iran that year because of my incendiary writing in “In A Persian Market” and “Cherchez la femme” concerning the rights and appropriate place of women in society. After he had finished his tirade about contemporary women, I asked him if he had rather be married to the kind of woman who “wimped about” in 1875. Then I went home and wrote a column describing this frail creature, deriving material from a book entitled Counsels to Women, written in 1878. I am including some of the material below.

Seems that the fair maiden of 1875 gained her name as “fair” for several reasons. Poor woman was encased in a special housespun cocoon. She wasn’t allowed to warm up at the fireside because sitting over the fire spoiled her complexion, “causing it to become muddy, speckled and sallow.” And a breath of wind wasn’t allowed to touch her cheeks because strong air gusts caused her to become “wan as clay and bloodless,” or if the gales induced color, that color was termed the “hectic flush,” which foretold “speedy decay.”

I don’t know how this fair maiden stabilized her temperature in winter – she couldn’t walk in the wind and she couldn’t hang over a fire. If she sat too close to the fire, she not only ruined her complexion, she became nervous and dispirited.  She couldn’t turn her back to the fire as this brought on sickness and faintness, “injured the spine, weakened the spine marrow and debilitated the whole frame.”

Presuming our 19th century belle lived through the rigors of winter, she could tipple a little sherry.  According to Henry Chavasse who wrote "Advice to a Wife and Mother," published in England in 1878, a lady couldn’t eat her dinner unless she had a glass of sherry before or during dinner and one glass after dinner, but she was never to exceed two glasses of wine daily. If wine didn’t agree with her, she was to drink home-brewed ale or Burton bitter ale or good sound porter instead of water. However, if she drank beer, she had to exercise or otherwise she’d become bilious.

As if this fair female didn’t have enough trouble staying the right color, she had to carry along a valise of varmint repellants when she travelled or slept in a strange bed. She had to have four things in her trunk; namely, a box of matches so that at any moment in the night, she could strike a light as bugs never bit when there was a light in the room; a box of night lights; a packet of La Poudre Insecticide manufactured in France; and a four ounce bottle of oil of turpentine, a little of which was to be sprinkled between the sheets and on the pillow as the oil of turpentine kept the bugs at a respectful distance. The bug-besieged damsel had to be careful not to place the turpentine too close to the candle, or she might catch her hair on fire.

If she still had hair after her bout with the bugs, milady kept her mane tidy with an "application" for it. According to Chavasse, scented castor oil or coconut oil applied with an old toothbrush did the trick. And if her hair “fell off,” as he phrased it, she could use that same castor oil or coconut oil, rubbing it literally into the roots. As I write this, I can’t help wondering if the male who teased me about liberated women would have enjoyed climbing into bed with this turpentine smelling, well-oiled female who had gone to bed after tippling two glasses of strong sherry or stout ale!

Woebetide the female who showed precocity of intellect in the late 1870’s. Chavasse claimed that if she exhibited premature talents, greater arterial blood was sent to the brain, and this blood fed and excited inflammation, causing convulsions, water on the brain, insanity, or idiocy. “Precocity is an indication of disease,” summed up Chavasse.

Seems to me that this Englishman was one of the first male chauvinists who thought that women’s charms lay in intellectual inferiority, and he advvised young women to take up housewifery to keep healthy and happy. He polished off his counsels for the happy and healthy wife with Swift’s adage: “The reason why so few marriages are happy is because young ladies spend their time in making nets, rather than making cages [the home].”

Monday, December 17, 2012


“May you have a blessed Christmas” is the phrase of the season, a kind of benediction that is pronounced on those whom we want to touch and embrace, perhaps even to heal, by wishing them well. Christmas is the time to bless one another, to change the atmosphere of doom and gloom that surround us on every side in this postmodern world.

A few Christmases ago, a friend gave me a copy of a book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donahue, a writer who lived in Ireland and who frequently traveled to the U.S. to give lectures and trainings. O’Donohue used Celtic spiritual traditions to construct his poetic blessings, explaining that the word “blessing” evokes in us a sense of warmth and protection, that in a blessing the “human heart pleads with the Divine heart.” He believed that regardless of our differences in religion, politics, and language, there is no heart without this divine reference.

When I was a child, my mother gave me the blessings of good books, objects that comforted and transfigured my life, inspired me to become a writer. In the preface to my book about Louisiana women, Their Adventurous Will, I speak of her gift of books to me:

“…My mother loved words and books. When I was three years old, she would seat me, cross-legged in the middle of a small kitchen and open for me giant editions of Mother Goose, A Child’s Garden of Verse, and Marigold Garden, laughing at friends who often dropped in to proclaim that I was backward because I did not talk and only sat quietly, absorbing the book characters she knew I would remember for a lifetime. She read aloud the entire series of Uncle Wiggly in the Cabbage Patch, The Little Colonel, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Greek Legends, Black Beauty and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, even after all of the children in our family had learned to read.

“Every month for years, my mother would take one of the three children in our family to Claitor’s Bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to choose two books for our nightly reading session. She was the first family member to open the books, touching the pictures with credulous delight. My mother began to fly in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her umbrella to make her wonderful flights…”

I remembered those wonderful children’s books as I re-read John O’Donohue’s book this morning, thinking how meet his words are that describe blessing as a “direct address, driven by immediacy and care” – the qualities that drove my mother to share books she knew would always be my good friends. When I opened To Bless the Space Between Us, I blessed my mother as I pondered how we can dissuade negativity by simple blessings, by acknowledging that we have been blessed with inestimable gifts – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, warmth and shelter, good food, love, discoveries, small accomplishments, the ability to animate our ideas, and, of course, books that remind us how words can illuminate and transform our lives.

May you have a blessed Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


My “writer’s window” faces a small patio bordered by a tall live oak tree and a few plants that have survived our lackadaisical care. It isn’t a patio of great beauty and is peopled by a St. Francis of Assisi statue, a small rust brown chimenea, a struggling Norfolk pine in a black pot, and a green table holding a dying house plant. Occasionally, we place two chairs on the floor of this almost-barren patio in hopes that the mosquitoes will disappear long enough for us to enjoy the outdoors and a blazing fire in the chimenea. St. Francis looks stoic and unmoved by the scene, but, then, when he was alive, “God’s jester,” only went indoors to his Portiuncula (the little chapel) to pray. Most days he frolicked with his band of Subasio monks in the outdoors, talking to the birds, absolutely detached from material things and the “real world.”

I interact with the life of the patio from behind the smeared glass of my writer’s window and enjoy the view, but many times while I’m viewing the outdoor scene, unlike St. Francis, I’m being a Martha, looking at the acorns, pine needles, oak leaves and dust strewn across it and reminding myself that I need to take up the broom instead of becoming immersed in the outdoor world. Such is the distraction of domesticity, as C. S. Lewis called it – the burdensome sense of duty that keeps many of us from “enjoying the view.”

Lewis wrote about this distraction in The Four Loves, proclaiming that the practical and prudential cares of this world, and even the smallest and most prosaic of those cares, are the greatest distractions. He writes: “The gnat like cloud of petty anxieties and decisions about the conduct of the next hour have interfered with my prayers more often than any passion or appetite…” He goes on to say that the reason St. Paul tried to dissuade his converts from marriage and domestic life is because the domestic life often presents distractions from more important work or keeps us from progressing on our spiritual journeys.

Who would prefer wielding a broom to watching the wind move in the branches of the oak overhanging my patio or listening to the crows argue about their place on a precarious branch? The question is rhetorical for me, and I answer it with the words, “compulsive-obsessive cleaners!” Two of my close friends who know about my obsession with the dirty patio keep reminding me that the floor of this patio lies in the outdoors and that a crackling bed of acorns and brown leaves provides a better welcome mat than the cold tiles in some of the rooms of my house. It’s only pride that pushes me to consider the possible distaste good friends might show when they enter through my back door and stop to look at the messy patio floor, which they would have missed had they come in the front door… like strangers. And what about the water puddle in a low spot of the patio floor that fills after a hard rain? And the coiled green hose covered with mud and mold hanging on a rack on one wall of the patio?

So…so when I return from Sewanee to Louisiana each fall, the first item I write on my grocery list is a large bottle of Clorox – and the siege of broom and pail begins on a concrete pad painted brick red that has weathered a humid Louisiana summer. It’s not for nothing, as the kids say, that I earned this title of “Tidy Idy” in my family. What a drudge! And I’d much rather be remembered as a Sister Clare, St.Francis’s first woman follower who established the monastic Order of the Poor Clares based on Equality. However, I hasten to add that although Clare was the respected head of this female band, she never gave up her household duties. Had patios been constructed during her lifetime, she probably would have been a precursor of my cleaning sieges.  And so much for the domestic life deterring spiritual progress!

Monday, December 10, 2012


Before I left Sewanee, Tennessee to winter in New Iberia, Louisiana, Sister Elizabeth, a sister at St. Mary’s Convent, gave me the name and email address of a friend who is a Presbyterian minister and professor of pastoral theology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The friend has written several books on spiritual growth and was interested in obtaining a review about her book, Joy Together, Spiritual Practices For Your Congregation, on my blog. As I’m retired and am no longer assigned to a congregation, I thought perhaps the book might have no relevance for me but I was curious to read what this author had to say about spiritual practices. At my bedtime reading, I read half the book in one sitting and was engaged enough to complete my reading the following morning!

One reviewer wrote about Joy Together, “this spiritual journey isn’t about hiking solo,” but I found it to be a good guide to a deeper spiritual life on an individual level, and a cogent text for strengthening Christian congregations. The sections on prayer, hospitality, Sabbath, fasting, etc. could serve as suggestions for an individual to practice a Benedictine-like Rule of Life to deepen his/her faith, as well as provide a guide to building community within dwindling congregations.

Joy Together describes six specific spiritual disciplines in detail to indicate how these practices can be experienced communally: thankfulness; fasting; contemplative prayer; contemplative approaches to Scripture; hospitality; and Sabbath keeping. Baab says that these disciplines, particularly when practiced communally, assist us in resisting the attraction of acquiring an increasing number of possessions and accelerating our materialistic lives… so that we can rest in the love, grace, and peace which derive from God.

I was drawn to the opening chapter about thankfulness in which the author talks about experiencing boredom and repetitiveness in her prayer life twenty years earlier. We all know the drill – making a list of needs and describing those needs at prayer time. Baab writes that she decided to do a thankfulness-in-prayer experiment and was amazed at the many things for which she wanted to thank God: friends, extended family, a neighborhood garden, colorful leaves in the fall…and the “specifics of daily life became more visible to us as manifestations of God’s care. We had always been thankful for food on the table each day, but now many more aspects of our life seemed to flow from the hands of a gracious and generous God…we became more aware of what we had been missing in all those years of prayer times that were packed with our needs and wants. We simply hadn’t noticed God’s good gifts to us…”

From those realizations about how blessed she and her family were, Baab proceeded to introduce thankfulness praying in church groups, a support group of women clergy, and other small groups. In Joy Together, she emphasizes that prayers of thankfulness enable us to see what God has been doing and where God has been working…such prayers make us stop and look. “I wonder if the lack of vitality in so many congregations comes in part from the paucity of our thankfulness,” she writes…”if gratitude is a central way to express dependence on God and our desire to be together with God, then we may be missing a primary route to divine intimacy…”

Another cogent chapter in Joy Together deals with hospitality, the ancient practice that describes some of Jesus’ most memorable encounters with individuals, the most significant example being that of the last meal with His disciples. Baab advocates congregational hospitality in homes and in hosting the wider community. She emphasizes the latter in a Celtic saying, “Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,” citing service to the homeless and disenfranchised as examples of Christ’s hospitality. She sums up: “Hospitality requires a skill in thinking that affirms the significance of trading hospitality back and forth, the way my parents did so well and so generously, while also affirming the joys of engaging with strangers, the marginalized and unexpected guests.”

Each chapter in Joy Together ends with questions for reflection, discussion, or journaling, and recommendations for further reading. This is a distinctive book about the use of practices that deepen faith in individuals and in entire congregations so that transformation can occur in both cases. It’s enlivened by the author’s own experiences and those of individuals she meets in her work as a minister and professor of pastoral theology.

A memorable quote from Henri Nouwen is featured in the text: “The word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up.” In the midst of our days being filled up with Christmas hecktivity and consumerism, Joy Together is a “must read.” Create some space in which God can act.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Ginger in coulee
“Coulee” is a French word derived from “couler” which means “to flow,” and is used to describe a channel created by water erosion, but here in south Louisiana, the word is used loosely to define a drainage ditch, a deep ravine in which thick vegetation overtakes its bank. However, a coulee can be a canal in the swamp that is smaller than a typical Louisiana bayou.

A long and slowly-widening coulee runs behind our backyard, and a few years ago we built a bulwark along its edge to prevent further erosion. Throughout the years we've found another use for our now-luxuriantly-edged coulee.  Into it we have heaved pot plants that have dried up, plant cuttings, and plants that have invaded the fence and been dug up. And in this rich Louisiana soil, if we have a particularly rainy year, we've watched many plant resurrections that, in time, form a beautiful garden along the ditch.

Some plants that have resurrected include elephant ears, cicad plants, and, lately, a beautiful ginger plant. This Spring, ginger plants that had overtaken the fence were dug up and thrown into the ditch, and when we returned in October, five-feet tall ginger plants greeted us! They have been our most successful “throwaways,” and we’re considering harvesting the roots.

Ginger plants thrive in subtropical conditions, so we weren’t surprised when we saw what our “disposal” had resurrected. The root of the ginger plant provides a wonderful spice used in cooking, and the Chinese use it as a medicine for healing colic and flatulence; but we’re content just to look at the plant and hope that next year it will flower at its predicted two-year mark for flowering.

A biologist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette once said that gardeners in south Louisiana should never fertilize plants but should just put them in the ground and step back! In our case, it’s a matter of just digging something up or taking a leaf cutting or a dead plant and throwing it into the coulee. Hay la bas, we then witness a miraculous south Louisiana garden!

In the introduction to my young adult book, Flood on the Rio Teche, I wriote about this luxuriant culture: “The air, fungi-laden and humid, presses down on us all the time... The place seems somnolent and enclosing... I can never leave its banks for long. It has a voice, a liquid voice, husky because of the mist above the brown water... and the decay, dark banks loamy with decay…animals lurking... [in our case possums, coons, and armadillos forage in the coulee], the mosquitoes and the stifling curtain of heat, behind which they [the Cajuns] sang and told stories. Its voice is a very old voice..."

Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It’s fast approaching – the date that marks the end of the Great Mayan Cycle, according to Gary Entsminger, publisher and editor of Pinyon Publishing. “To some this suggests the end of something, to others a beginning, perhaps, of a New World Age,” he says in the introduction to the latest issue of Pinyon Review.

For Gary and Susan Elliott, artist and designer at Pinyon Publishing, it seems to be the end of a successful year in independent publishing and the beginning of a New Age in literary publications as they launch Issue #2 of the Pinyon Review, a literary and arts journal they established this year. Gary is already busy collecting work from artists and writers for the third issue, and he says the Review has attracted a growing number of happy readers.

In addition to poetry and short stories, the November issue of Pinyon Review features a plethora of art and photography, including the outstanding work of Stan Honda, who spent over a week at Grand Canyon and two weeks at the Petrified Forest National Park as a National Park Service Artist-in-Residence. During that time, Honda worked on night sky settings, photographing the Chaco Canyon: “The East Sky at Pueblo del Arroyo,” “Moon and Venus,Casa Rinconada,” and “The East Sky, Casa Rinconada,” my favorite being “The East Sky at Pueblo del Arroyo,” which features the stars making odd-shaped trails across the night sky. The photographs are accompanied by an essay about the Chaco Sky photography written by Honda that showcases his facility with the written word, as well as with the camera. Honda’s arresting photograph of the eclipse, when the sun, moon, and earth align, appears on the cover of Pinyon Review #2. He’s a photographer with Agence France-Presse based in New York City and does astronomy-related photography in his spare time.

"The East Sky at Pueblo del Arroyo"
by Stan Honda

Publisher Gary Entsminger ‘s own photograph of “The Colorado River From Dead Horse Point” follows Honda’s essay, and his love of mesas and rock formations is reflected in a photograph that captures the mesa and the river in vivid color and features the sharp detail of a fine painting.

Pinyon Review #2 is rich in poetry by regular and new contributors, including two of my own, “The Final Sleep” and “Life Support.” Robert Shaw, author of Aromatics, a collection of poetry published by Pinyon, provides the opening three poems, the most cogent one entitled “Her Mother’s Seashells”: “Sometimes I feel flung up by the tide/or Sometimes I feel empty inside?...Too late now, though, to experiment./The shell was gone, shattered by someone’s/slapdash dusting. It would have listened/in calm, mother-of-pearl inertia/yielding back its never-lapsing sigh.”

Readers who have seen issues of the Pinyon Review and Pinyon’s recent books, have been extravagant in their praise, and after a look at the cover and interior, usually respond: “What a beautiful presentation.” My reaction is always “Read further.”

May this year be the beginning of a New World Age for a small press that celebrates the arts and sciences and spotlights the work of a diverse group of artists and writers. Again, Brava, Gary and Susan!

Copies can be ordered from Pinyon Publishing, 2384 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Strange, how poetry wells up out of small towns perched on the bayous of Louisiana, and fine poets seem to emerge from the mists, reading poems that reflect the watery landscape. Their works are almost organic, coming out of the soil and water of Acadiana, appearing at celebrations of the rural arts such as the Fire and Water Celebration I attended Saturday in Arnaudville, Louisiana. Arnaudville, population 1500, is a town near the muddy Bayou Teche, that body of water which has birthed a culture rich in the arts. The last time I visited Arnaudville in the 90’s, the town was just beginning to develop an artistic energy that has burgeoned and begun to attract new residents from throughout the U.S. Today it draws artists and musicians from around the world.

Darrell Bourque, former
Louisiana Poet Laureate
 I went to hear my friends, Darrell Bourque and Margaret Simon, read from their latest works and to reconnect with Clare Martin, a woman with whom I once worked on the executive staff of Bayou Girl Scout Council in Lafayette, Louisiana. During the 90’s, Clare worked as Public Relations Officer of the Council, and one day at coffee break, she showed me a few of her unpublished poems. After I had read the few poems that she handed to me, I could tell she had “voice,” and although the poems were dark, they were mysterious and filled with longing for a fulfilling work and life that touched me deeply. After both of us left the Council, I saw Clare a few times on one occasion I wrote a letter of reference for her to work on her Master’s at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; on another, I heard her read at a poetry celebration here in New Iberia. I lost touch with Clare but discovered Saturday that for the past eight years, she has found new life through her poetry, writing for the Avatar Review, Louisiana Literature, Poets and Artists, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and publishing in numerous literary journals and poetry anthologies. She has also been nominated for several awards that include Best New Poet, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web (2011), and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net (2008 and 2011).

Clare Martin, Author of
Eating the Heart First
 In Arnaudville, Clare read from her debut book of poetry, Eating the Heart First, published by Press 53 in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and I was stunned by the power of the poems she shared with us. They ranged from memories about her first child, Adam, who was born weighing only two pounds and maimed with cerebral palsy, to her bouts with mental darkness, and I kept thinking of two famous female poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who gave us revelations of their darkest moments in stark and powerful language similar to that expressed in Eating the Heart First. I bought a copy of Clare’s book and spent Sat. evening reading the work of someone I had once divined would become a fine poet. Before I left the “Little Big Cup Restaurant,” site of the reading, Clare told me that she was going to send her book to Oprah, and I think she possesses just enough tenacity and talent to enlist Oprah’s endorsement of Eating the Heart First.

Authors: Diane Moore (L)
and Margaret Simon (R)
 Margaret Simon, author of Blessen, sat next to us at a front table, and was moved to tears by Clare’s reading, and Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, whispered to me, “She is a good poet. Darrell endorsed the back cover of Eating the Heart First, praising Clare’s work as “an oneiric treatise guided by the powers she believes in: the power of memory, the power of water, the power of moons, the powers of longing, and the power of love.”

One of the shorter, lighter poems akin to Haiku that I favored in Eating the Heart First, is entitled “Tattoo:”

“She has a tattoo
on her hip of a painted
Chinese horse—the brushstroke
animal grazes at her waist.

Black ink struggles
as if locked in wind.
In muscular unison the horse
strides to her belly:
         a field of moons.

Copies of this impressive book of poetry can be purchased from Press 53, P.O. Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130. Cover design of Eating the Heart First by Kevin Morgan Watson, and cover art, “He Cometh Out of the Swamp,” by Pamela Womax. Author photo by Jo Depew.