Thursday, November 28, 2019


Courtyard with reflections from breakfast room

Ah, sunny Southern California on Thanksgiving Day — three inches of snow already on the ground and predictions of the large flakes to continue all day! Daughter Elizabeth, who lives a few miles away, calls to tell us we shouldn't drive her Jeep to her home as the vehicle has no snow tires. She's sending out a rescue team of grandson Troy Jr. early so we can join the family for Thanksgiving dinner.

I haven't seen such large flakes since the year I lived in northern Maine, and the sight from my upstairs window is lovely — but hazardous. Friend Darrell Bourque wrote that I should remember Chekhov who said happy people aren't disconcerted by weather, and perhaps I'll get another book of poetry from the experience. However, family gatherings don't provide extended space for writing pursuits.

I can envision fields of orange poppies in the desert 'come spring' as snow and rainfall in winter provide needed water for blooms such as that tourists came, in large crowds, to see in this desert locale last spring. Right now, Joshua trees must be celebrating the weather. A few years ago when we visited Palmdale, they had almost perished from a severe drought. My grandson Joel photographed one for a poetry book about trees that I was working on.

Pool side in snow

By nature, I'm a desert person, yet, contradictorily, live in Louisiana Teche country in the winter (25 ft. elevation) and on a mountain plateau in Tennessee (2,000 ft.) in spring and summer. Such are the contradictions of human nature, but I suppose that I'm just peripatetic and would live in an RV if I were a bit younger.

The rescue team is due any moment, but above are a few photos of snow in southern California taken from our motel windows. Happy warm Thanksgiving to readers, relatives, and dear friends in all locales and weather. Most of us are blessed despite the weather!

Monday, November 18, 2019


Yesterday, I went down to A & E Gallery here in New Iberia, Louisiana, to a reception and book signing for Margaret Simon of New Iberia, whose Sunshine, a notable middle-grade fiction book published by Border Press, just appeared on the market. (See the review of Sunshine on my blog, A Word's Worth).

However, when I walked over to the payment counter, I discovered more treasure from New Iberia’s growing body of artists/writers: In the Time of Mission and Might, the newest member of Paul Schexnayder’s children’s trilogy about Legacy Acorns. If I had found a beautifully illustrated children’s book like this one when my mother dropped me off to spend the day at the old Claitor’s Bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana so many eons ago, I’d have been ecstatic, for to live within the imagination of Paul Schexnayder is to occupy enchanted space. 

The vibrant acrylic paintings, accompanied by his fanciful tale about animals, birds, and vegetation indigenous to Louisiana, had to be read aloud at my breakfast table. It is children’s fictionalization and visualization at its finest. Whimsical and dreamlike figures interplay throughout the story, and the informational, as well as playful text takes readers into a fantastical realm.

The illustrations alone in In The Time of Mission and Might will transport young readers into an adventuresome place where Lilla Cornflake (I love Schexnayder’s namings), a care-taking doe, makes a startling discovery when she unlocks the front door of the Live Oak Museum. Legacy Acorns that were produced by only one Live Oak tree in nine coastal states had become museum pieces, and they’ve been stolen from their glass case within the museum. Professor Morton Sterling Flynn, an eminent archaeologist, is brought in to investigate and solve the case, but, of course, he encounters a formidable obstacle. I’ll only hint at one of any reader’s worst nightmares: critters that slither and hiss! 

As Schexnayder does in the two former books of his trilogy, the problem of stolen treasure is resolved in a just and charitable conclusion within the walls of the Joy and Wonder Orphanage sans Schexnayder conveying overpowering moralism, but he communicates the kind of ethic Johnny Gruelle once showed in his children’s stories about the iconic Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy (shades of a former era). Schexnayder concludes with his legacy statement that reflects his compassion and vision: “The heart of home lives inside of you all; may you plant this in a safe place to produce a legacy worthy of your own dreams.”

Paul Schexnayder is an artist, author/illustrator, and art teacher. He is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has illustrated over half a dozen children’s books. He’s known throughout Acadiana as an Ambassador for the Arts and sponsors readings, signings, and cheerful support for writers and artists throughout the South.

Another banner book, Paul! C’est Magnifique!

Monday, November 11, 2019


I sit on the sun porch of my home in New Iberia writing the review of a book about a tragic death, hoping that wherever the tortured soul of this addicted son in Sheryl St. Germain’s The Small Door of Your Death now resides, he’s no longer allergic to sunlight, as his grieving mother once supposed... and I pray that his mother no longer feels “night everywhere in me.”

This volume from the former Louisiana Writer of the Year, 2018, is a chronicle of St. Germain’s beloved son Gray’s death, by addiction and her subsequent grief —it is expressed in both tribute and lament…but does not fall into the realm of the maudlin. Surprisingly, St. Germain, like all mothers of addicts… perhaps like all mothers… gives voice to Dickinsonian hope that “never stops at all"; e.g., in “Feral”: “All you once hoped to be/still lights your face, though:/it is almost a holy light/you are trying to be a good man/you are trying to live in this world you hate/I love that you still care enough/to pretend to be/the one I named,/hoped to birth.”

In Section 3 of this volume, St. Germain tells the reader how a witnessing mother struggles with grief and her own addiction, literally stitching her fractured Self through sewing a blanket “of the most sumptuous yarns, each a/slightly different shade of gray: blue-gray, reddish-gray, silver gray, a/gray that’s almost black…and I wish I could have stitched your/wounds as confidently as I do this blanket…” St. Germain has developed a keen interest in textiles and quilt-making as part of her recovery from addiction and grief and recently visited Oaxaca City Mexico, where textile making flourishes, to help her further a second career in Textiles.

The 4th Section of The Small Door brings readers to an agonizing visualization of Sheryl viewing the body of her dead son, a dark place of realization:  “never again your body, never this vessel through which I knew you.” But she finds herself “In A Church Two Weeks After Your Death,” where she confesses, “I don’t believe, but here I am lighting a candle./She had a son too, I suddenly remember,/could do nothing/for his suffering.” Of all the Mary poems in the lexicon of poets, this one impressed me with its authentic voice, the voice of a suffering mother who is left with her son’s ashes and regrets. Here is acknowledgement of spiritual doubt, of a self-crucifixion without resurrection, again taking St. Germain to the place of “night everywhere in me.”

This volume doesn’t just trickle out and into mothers’ hearts; it touches a sometimes unexpressed deep sadness as in “Summer Solstice, 2015”: “Today, I’ll walk another day without you./I’ll carry you in me, like before you were born,/on these walks.” However, after her son has been dead seven months, in “At the Keukenhof*,” St. Germain finds resolution in viewing the color red where tulips remind her of her son’s laugh, and she expresses that she wishes she had brought him to this country she’s visiting because he had loved intensity and “would have felt it in these flowers…”

St. Germain’s “ode” to those tulips is the redeeming lyric in which she “step[s] into the sun/ step[s] into the light…” “See,” she writes, “I would have said, tulips that look like ballerinas,/fringed and frilled tulips, multi-colored parrot tulips, double peony tulips,/star-shaped tulips, lacy, open petals, thick, bold petals…” 

Here, in powerful, raw lyrics, a mother creates poetry from inevitable loss. Here, readers stand with her at the edge of a formidable chasm where she voices sadness, hope, despair, return to life, and, most of all, love. As I wrote in an e-mail to St. Germain: This collection of pain and passion reminds me of one of my own poems addressed to a daughter. “I am surprised at how agony/and tenderness/resemble one another."

*The Netherlands

Saturday, November 9, 2019


This is the first Pinyon Review without Gary Entsminger, former editor and publisher, at the helm, but Susan Entsminger, his wife who is co-editor and publisher of this journal, hasn’t missed a beat in her “troubadour’s” (as she calls Gary) song, launching the new edition with excerpts from Gary’s poems that appear in Two Miles West. Susan Entsminger poses rhetorical questions about her talented husband who died in early fall, then answers them in “The Troubadour Sings A Love Song”; e.g., “Was it the parents’ country guitars that first vibrated at a frequency which awakened in Gary that silver thread of Jungian collective memory, the Castanedaian glimmering energy with that which frees us from ourselves so that we might glimpse the source of Plato’s shadows on the cave wall and hear the songs of our ancestors?…”  She also acknowledges writers and artists who have appeared in the pages of his brainchild, The Pinyon Review: “…Gary’s imagination and quest for truth are alive in his sculpted prose, his guitar improvisations, and the exceptional family of artists we call Pinyon. The Troubadour sings love songs.”

Readers are also given a glimpse of Gary and Susan’s work in progress, Egypt ’78, in which the characters Rosalina and Robinson have decided to embrace fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. “They had invented characters, who themselves had ideas about their lives, and she would meet and talk to them here in the cottage or garden, on the hillside, by the ocean, at Robinson’s tower…” I don’t know how much copy of this co-authored work Gary and Susan had achieved, but I feel sure Susan will honor her talented husband by completing the manuscript. At one point following Gary’s death, she told me that his spirit still lives in the canyon near their cabin in Colorado. “I asked Gary the other night:/Do you miss talking?… I think he said:/What does it look like where you are?” she writes in this issue of Pinyon Review.

Toni Ortner, a newcomer to Pinyon, writes about grief in a brief poem entitled “How to think about grief": “It is futile to ask when it will subside…Grief is water running down a mountainside. The rivulet twists/ and turns through every nook around every rock and crevice. It/cuts like a knife into the dirt and washes away the leaves plants/and pebbles. It becomes a stream. Season after season it slices/and chops the dirt to silt. Then it is a river./Dream whatever you want it will make no difference.” Although this poem has an “inevitable” quality, the transcendent tone of nature somehow provides soothe to readers.

When readers turn the page, they will discover new life in “Baby Lucy’s Quilt,” a display of quilts that Laurel Brody, A Chinese Medicine practitioner, co-created for the arrival of a friend’s baby. Along with friends of the parents, she embroidered, and others machine quilted the vibrant quilt with purple edgings that inspired the parents to paint the infant’s room a matching shade of purple. Brody writes: “The process nourishes. The outcome is tangible and lasts through the years. There’s a reason women have been doing this for generations.” 

Diane Vreuls returns to Pinyon with three works, including a poem entitled “Fifth Grade.” I could readily identify with this bit of nostalgia as I’ve often said that life, for me, began in the third grade. Vreuls takes readers back fifty years, bringing alive amusing and comforting memories: “…Carol got to do the shamrock because she was Catholic./We watched it sun out the windows. Watched it cloud,/rain, snow. It was always warm in the room. Nothing bad/ever happened. No one was sick for long, or moved away./It’s been over 50 years now. I close my eyes: there’s my desk,/the children reading aloud, the rocking chair,/Mrs. Fern…” Vreuls treats readers to a profound recollection using evocative concrete detail. A former professor at Oberlin College in Ohio, she has also published short stories, children’s literature, and poetry. 

The photographs of Fabrice Poussin, arresting scenes in Oregon and Utah, showcase the work of an artist whose work has gained recognition in over 200 art and literature magazines in the U.S. and abroad. In his “A Gentle Dream,” the photograph captures a dusty road that curves around a rock formation and perhaps suggested to Gary “the turn beyond” when he was reviewing work for this issue that was initiated while he was still alive. Gary was always mystically inclined, sought harmony in nature, and engaged in philosophical searches. Poussin’s work centers on western landscapes in both black and white and color, taking readers “beyond the gate,” the title for his art contribution.

Susan described this issue aptly in her opening summary: “a fifth-grade classroom, the light touch of a friend, mystery deep in hemlock roots, radiator clank echoing clinking rings, an overgrown orchard, mountain meadow, embracing bodies, dusty trail…the liberating spaces of the mind’s eye, perhaps a small tickle of a deeply repressed memory…”

Pinyon #16 is a meet tribute to Gary Entsminger, “the troubadour” whose life mission was to celebrate the arts and sciences and whose wife Susan continues the mission. I also have a poem in this issue and appreciate the recognition as one of Pinyon’s “family.” 

Available at Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019


I looked for my CD of “In A Persian Market” by William Ketelbey this morning so I could play it while I wrote about Darrell Bourque’s newest book of poetry, migraré,  because the volume is a beautiful collection of ghazals evoking memories of my sojourn in Persia during the 1970’s. However, I did not find the CD and had to rely on the music playing in my mind as I re-read the arresting couplets that accompany Bill Gingles’s abstract art.

Bourque uses this ancient form of poetry familiar to readers of Rumi and Hafez, two poets with whom I became fascinated while living in Persia, and in this collection, he addresses the subject of immigration — migraré or “I will move”( in Spanish), referring to mass movements of people either for survival, or for life-threatening reasons, or as messengers called to divine purposes.

Bourque “moves into” the ghazals through the medium of ekphrasis wherein a poet creates a poem by looking at images and builds around “tensions, composition, line, color, and the theater created in expressionistic artworks,” according to Bourque. 

Bourque derives his poems from his experience involving the Immigration Team from Narrative 4, a story exchange program designed to foster empathy and break down barriers among students worldwide, equipping them to improve their communities and the world. Storytellers from around the world met in Arnaudville, Louisiana, where Bourque encountered carriers of the ghazal. He seems to be continually inspired by experiences that explore the histories of people deeply affected by separation and immigration; e.g., his own ancestry dating back to the 19th century when Acadians were expelled from France and Acadie. In a passionate “Foreword,” he writes that humans “must be vigilant and not separate themselves from each other in destructive and debilitating ways…”

Readers enter the sphere of Bourque’s ghazals with poems like “Division Stream,” which I felt was among the finest in this collection and featured his great-grandmother. Lines like 

…When great imperceptibles come to live with you
and you cannot travel far enough to get away, you swim daily in your division stream… 

Taken as a whole, the ghazal impresses readers with Bourque’s philosophical gifts translated (maybe migrated) into poetic form. 

She arrived one day with a small satchel and all her belongings and no husband.
What took him from her she couldn’t even begin to know. Death’s a division stream… 

However, ever the master of sensuality, he describes his great-grandmother’s separations as: 

turn[ing] to clabbers and soft cheeses spread on biscuits in the morning,
with mayhaw jellies and blackberries she picked while praying into the division stream… 

Bourque really “gets with it,” in contemporary language, as he launches into “Sun Choir” (Christ the King Bellevue Choir): 

I sit in one of the back rows with my wife, near Henry Amos. We couldn’t be higher.
There are no names on pews here. I hum. My wife sings out. It, too, is her sun choir. 

I once sat next to both of them at a celebration honoring his wife’s glass work in a triptych of this church and felt the dynamism of the sun choir, so this ghazal resonated with me, and I well understood his line: 

She sings trouble over trouble every Sunday…

The poem reminded me of Rumi’s 

The sunbeam fell upon the wall;
the wall received a borrowed splendor.
Why set your heart on a piece of turf…

When I lived in the sun-baked desert of Khuzestan Province in Persia, I longed to see water: bayou, river, even the aqua blue waters of the Persian Gulf and painted a wall in the dining room of our home a deep blue. I was taken back to that time of blueness when I read Bourque’s “Second Self,” his description of Vermeer’s blue as a way of “finding ways to second self… one self seeking another self…” My own immersion in a blue wall in Ahwaz, Iran led to a self seeking another self in that mysterious mideastern environment to which I had migrated. Expatriates to any country will identify with this ghazal.

Space forces me into brevity, but I hasten to say that migraré is Bourque’s finest gift of poetry, a meditative, mystical work that will “move” readers into the divine afflatus sans forced migration, arriving through phrasings of the same tone as the mystical Persian poets. It’s a beautiful entry into contemplative practice. As I told Darrell after reading migraré “Move over, Rumi.”

As readers can see, the review is not a definitive, scholarly treatment of a beautiful book from Louisiana’s most masterful poet, but it is an appreciative salute to Louisiana’s best ambassador for the mission of celebrating difference. 

Darrell Bourque is professor emeritus in English (University of Louisiana, Lafayette) and former Poet Laureate of Louisiana. He received the 2014 Louisiana Book Festival Writer Award and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 2019 Humanist of the Year Award, as well as the Dr. James Oliver-Monsignor Sigur Award by the Louisiana Council on Human Relations for his Social Justice work for minorities and the marginalized.

Friday, November 1, 2019


Twelve years ago, I began writing a blog called A Words Worth and have published at least four posts a month each year since that time. I’ve been faithful to this schedule during that period while living in both Louisiana and Tennessee. This past month I decided to pursue posting only sporadically, probably book reviews and literary events, rather than weekly blog posts written about a variety of subjects. As soon as I made that decision, books by friends and authors, and author events began to show up, and for a while, I may seem to be writing on a schedule, but I’m not. Three books are sitting on my dining room table, and the Pinyon Review that Susan Entsminger published as a salute to my former editor/publisher, Gary Entsminger, is en route, so…

Wednesday night, I attended a Festival of Words event in Grand Coteau, Louisiana that featured Sheryl St. Germain, Louisiana’s Writer of the Year, 2018, who read from two of her books of poetry I purchased that evening. Yesterday morning I opened and read through them in one sitting as St. Germain “spoke to my condition” in her intense, un-self-conscious voice. Of the two volumes I purchased, I chose to write about Let It Be A Dark Roux* because I think it best expresses St. Germain’s lifetime purpose, e.g., in “Flambeau Carriers”:

…I wanted it to be the poet’s job:

to carry the burning night

to hold high our stumbling,


street-dancing selves. 

Here is the finest poet I’ve read in a long while, one who has a sensuous, heart-exploding voice, who is unafraid to pour out in exquisite and accessible poetry expressions of pain, nostalgia, femaleness, able to incite nostalgia and sadness, sometimes with deft, sharp blows, but always with this amazingly un-self-conscious voice. I might add that she also has an amazingly soft speaking voice, even when she reads her harshest poems and impresses her audience in Grand Coteau with her humility. Usually, I cite other poets who may seem to be predecessors in the same style as the poet I’m reviewing, but this awesome female poet is uniquely outspoken and dissimilar to any I’ve known or read. She touches readers to the bone.

St. Germain’s Cajun origins emerge throughout Let It Be A Dark Roux, and I was drawn to her “Mother’s Red Beans and Rice,” feeling that no one of Cajun origin can flip the page when St. Germain describes the

…ham bone and marrow

to make the gravy thick,

salt pork to make them meaty, smoky

…The beans would cook all day, filling the house

with their creamy onion pork smell, the sauce slowly

thickening, the beans slowly softening

…I eat them like joy.

St. Germain does not gloss over the agonies of addiction and the woundedness of a family afflicted with the diseases of alcohol and hard drugs — father, brother, son, Sheryl herself — but readers will be moved by her candid witness to these agonies and her courage displayed in recovery. Much of the raw story to which she witnesses is told in the second volume I purchased, The Small Door Of Your Death, published in 2018, but I chose to write about the healing memories/experiences of which she wrote that revealed the redeeming aspects of Art. 

Again, returning to food — the joy of every true Cajun’s life — when I read “Bread Pudding With Whiskey Sauce,” I was reminded of my paternal grandmother’s kitchen (a Vincent descended from Nova Scotian stock), and, as St. Germain writes: 

how sorrow can be transformed
into bread pudding

… dry hard pieces into soft moist bits.
Add raisins and peach halves.
Beat eggs with sugar and cinnamon,
freshly grind allspice and nutmeg.
It will smell like Christmas,
It will smell like your mother’s
happiness. Mix it all together,
bake. The house will fill
with goodness, with the smell
of grace… 

I went hunting for Cajun fare after reading that tribute to good food (and found gumbo on a cold day in Acadiana). 

Perhaps readers will not be able to breathe easily when Germain writes of the heavy breath of God and features vultures in “In the Garden of Eden.” Still she surprises these readers with an unusual take on the giant birds that sometimes cause anxiety in humans when they come upon carrions gathered on highway roadkill: 

their unfeathered heads the red jewels
of the sky of the garden.

They were vegetarian then. 
There were no roadside kills,
no bones to pick, no dead flesh to bloom, ripen.

And they were happy.
They could not imagine
what they would become. 

Here is a poet’s poet, one who brings poets and other readers to the point of redemption and reminds all of us that “…poetry is best at howling/it’s the only way to say the unsayable.” This is what St. Germain does without mawkishness or hopelessness, bringing readers to a deep appreciation of her undaunted spirit.

Sheryl St. Germain is a native of New Orleans and is of Cajun and Creole descent. She is now retired from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA where she taught poetry and creative non-fiction and is noted for her work as co-founder of the Words Without Walls program. 

*Published by Autumn House Press. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Author Margaret Simon knows the hearts and minds of young people, as is evidenced in her forthcoming book, Sunshine, to be released by Border Press Books. She demonstrates knowledge of their feelings and behavior in her middle-grade novels about Blessen LaFleur, the heroine of the Blessen series that features a spirited and caring child who lives near the rusty Bayou Teche in southwestern Louisiana. Simon, who has been an elementary school teacher for over thirty years and who now teaches gifted children in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, possesses unusual insight into the lives of those about whom she writes. Her first book about Blessen introduced readers to a heroine who struggles to find joy within the dysfunctional family into which she was born and who proves herself to be the supreme mistress of misadventure. Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, praised the novel as a “cross between a fairy tale and wisdom literature.”

Simon’s second book, Sunshine, A Blessen Novel, again features Blessen, who has taken on the responsibility of raising a hen she calls Sunshine and, simultaneously, a homeless child named Harmony. Blessen feels she needs to save Harmony from a foster home where she has been placed and neglected. When Sunshine becomes a broody hen, Blessen is forced to get help from her teacher, Ms. Fullilove, to appease the hen, but the care needed for Harmony, an enchanting child Blessen encounters, eclipses her caretaking of this pet. Harmony is a twirling seven-year-old who talks in rhyme most of the time. Of course, the two girls, who call themselves “guardians of nature,” propel themselves into an adventure, running away from home and hiding near an abandoned convent alongside the Bayou Teche, but the unwise decision Blessen makes is resolved in a surprise ending, and young readers will find themselves wanting even more exciting chapters in the life of Blessen…and now, Harmony.

Simon features characters that resonate with authenticity; e.g., Blessen’s brief narration about herself: “All this time, in my life of eleven years, I thought I was white, and come to find out, my father was black as night. My tan skin and big wide nose come from my father’s side, along with my unruly nappy hair; Momma gave me her green eyes and strong will…” Her deceased grandfather: (Pawpee) “Even in his wheelchair, Pawpee was a handyman and master gardener. He saved enough money for Momma to make a down payment on a doublewide with central air. Thanks to my sweet grandpa, I now have my own room and my own bathroom…” And Mae-Mae, her grandmother: “Mae-Mae was the rock who held us all together. She told me then and there that God saved me for a purpose. I was reborn. I was fulfilling my name, Blessen, being a blessing to them all…”

However, Harmony emerges as the primary character in this new story about Blessen, “swirling off the porch, a young black girl [who] swoops like a hawk to my side. She wears a tattered pink dress that’s too short for her long skinny legs. Her skin is as dark as a moonless night, her hair plaited in braids close to her scalp.” Harmony speaks in rhymes that reminded me of the children’s story about the “churkendoose,” a creature who dismays fellow barnyard creatures with his rhyming speech but who becomes a hero because he chases a predatory fox out of the barnyard. Harmony introduces a nonsensical element in this novel; e.g., her wordplay: “You’re pretty as a daisy in Maysy!/Daisy, Mays,/won’t you look at me/twirling like a dancing girl/ready for a partee.”

Simon’s descriptive abilities are evident in each chapter and showcase her powers of observation: “I stop talking and look out across the fields of high sugar cane. Stalks of long, green leaves sway in the wind. We pull behind a cane truck with its yellow triangle ‘Slow’ sign shining on the huge metal basket filled to overflowing with burned stalks…” She tells of the makeshift quarters that Harmony calls home: “The window near the door is open wide, no screen or curtains. I peek inside. There’s no furniture in the room. The hardwood floors are dusty. Two makeshift beds, pallets of blankets and pillows lay in the corner. A small doll sits on one blanket, naked with frazzled plastic blond hair. The doll winks at me with only one eye open…” That vivid last line captures the unkemptness of Harmony’s quarters and underlines Simon’s talents as a writer who is master of concrete detail. 

Children’s literature is Simon’s forte. In Sunshine, as in Blessen, there are no “heavy, cluttery phrases,” as E. B. White says. The language is true and clear, the characters well developed, action consistently moving the readers through suspense with a balance of humor and serious intent, and wisdom is imparted without the writing impinging on didactic. Much of our adult morality in children’s books, White says, has “a stuffiness unworthy of childhood,” but Simon’s characters don’t overpower young readers with lessons in character building. Sunshine is a delightful, spirited work about an unusual family that, despite its dysfunction, manages to convey a message of faith and love, grace and whimsy. It’s Margaret Simon at her best.

Thursday, October 3, 2019


A Double Life: In Poetry and Translation by Stuart Friebert, one of the last books Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing, worked on before he died last month, appeared on Pinyon’s publishing list this past week. Susan Entsminger, co-editor and publisher of Pinyon, never missed a beat as she carried on the press’s work, executing Gary’s wish to publish the work of distinguished Stuart Friebert, a poet translator and co-founder of the Field Translation Series, Oberlin College Press, and Field Magazine. Friebert’s credentials are formidable, and this collection of memoirs and “late poetry” give the reader double magic in Friebert’s encounters with famous writers; e.g., Gunter Grass, Maya Angelou, Hilde Domin, Michael Mann, and other literary noteworthies. 

A touch of Friebert’s wry sensibilities introduce this volume as he recounts his experiences in an MI (military intelligence unit) in which he is left standing alone when every man receives a sharpshooter medal except him, and a man in another unit shreds the human hand holding a stick at which the sharpshooters fire when it strays above the sight line. Friebert follows this accessible essay with more solemn interviews about his visits to German poets when he receives a grant to publish poets in a textbook containing the poetry of Gunter Grass, Paul Celan, Karl Krolow, Hilde Domin and other authors who he writes were on their way to illustrious careers. The textbook never materialized, but Friebert’s narration of his encounters with these renowned German writers constitute legendary material.

During Friebert’s interview with Hilde Domin, readers share his enjoyment of her pot of tea and ginger cake before hearing her recite her famous “Only A Rose For Support,” which Friebert describes as a poem without metaphor and written in plainspoken diction. The poem begins with the lines: “I make myself a room in the air/among the acrobats and birds/my bed on the trapeze of feelings/like a nest in the wind/on the outermost tip of the branch…” Domin’s poetry reflects an immediacy indicative of several other poets Friebert has translated during his career as a translator: Karl Krolow and the Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu.

Friebert relates that although he and David Young never got around to publishing the aforementioned textbook on which they had based their grant application, “other fruits were harvested”: many translations the Field Translation Series published and the actual stimuli to publish that was engendered through interviews with imminent German poets.

Friebert’s interview with Gunter Grass in Berlin included Grass’s approval of the poems Friebert and Young had chosen to translate, via a donation of cognac and cigars from the interviewers and Grass making sure they understood his poems, “stopping painfully short of suggesting we were dumbing them down,” Friebert relates. Later, in the 90’s, when Friebert revisits Germany to work with Karl Krolow on translations of his poetry, he reads that Grass is having a noon reading in Reichelsheim and attends the event, after which Friebert joins a line of congratulators and is crushed when Grass doesn’t remember him or the cigars and cognac he and Young had provided the writer. Friebert’s wit forms the tone of this essay, as is manifested in many of his narratives.

The above is only a peek into Friebert’s encounters before he concludes with a “how-to-teach” essay on literary translations, followed by a section of Friebert’s late poetry. As I am reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours alongside A Double Life, I was drawn to the introductory verses of Friebert’s “Cowbelly”: “Look it up: ‘Patches of superfine silt/in the slowest part of rivers.’ Can’t help/thinking Virginia’s last step might have/sunk pleasurably and brought her to/a stop till the stones pressed against/a hip, jolting her on down to the bed./A life spent looking at things less simply/than the rest of us, once tuned up won’t /stop playing…” For me, this is Friebert at his most reflective best, written with his typical spirit of irony.

Friebert creates humorous visual images in “Universal Rights,” relating his discovery of a live mike in a gazebo on the town square where he warbles The longer you live, the sooner you’ll bloody well die,” an Irish ballad that draws an audience of an albino squirrel, tourists, and a cop who asks ‘Are you all right buddy? Need me to call your wife to pick you up?’” That’s Friebert — lively, outrageously authentic, magical, and engaging.

Readers can double their reading pleasure with this volume that Gary and Susan Entsminger produced — one of Gary’s many legacies, carried on by Susan, where they “glide on thermals /for hours, nary a flap, mated for life.” (from Friebert’s “For Life” at the conclusion of A Double Life.

Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. 

Monday, September 16, 2019


Squirrel at bird feeder

Author Beatrix Potter may have been enchanted with squirrels when she wrote The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, but she did portray Squirrel Nutkin as saucy and badly-behaved and almost had an owl eat him for his misbehavior. I readily agree with Potter’s portrayal of Squirrel Nutkin since an army of such ill-behaved tail swishers have invaded my backyard and sit underneath our new bird feeder waiting for sunflower seeds to fall from heaven when it’s filled daily. The feeder has a black baffle to keep them from climbing the pole, but I’ve heard they can chew through metal.

These bushy-tailed rodents are a nuisance, and I’m thinking of finding a Mr. Brown, the owl, to eat a few of them, or at least for the owl to use its talons to pull the squirrels’ tails in two when they try to scamper away (as reported in The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin). I know that I’m at risk of being called an animal hater, but we’ve worked hard at ordering a bird feeder, putting it together, and furnishing it with the right kind of seed to attract the birds we thought a Merlin hawk had done away with several weeks ago. However, the squirrels love to make the nuthatches and titmice scatter when they come to feed, and I’m not sure they don’t sometimes catch and consume the tiny birds.

After all, these critters are just rodents, and I don’t like the sight of them sitting under the bird feeder, frightening my feathered friends away. Thank goodness we don’t have any flying ones in the backyard… just big-eyed critters that come down our oaks head first, ready to pounce on our birds, long incisors bared.

I’ve never hankered after squirrel stew, but I know that James Beard has a recipe, and in south Louisiana, it’s been a favored dish (Cajuns, they say, will eat anything. Consider the mudbug!). My mother was known for stirring up a squirrel stew in a black iron pot she placed over a wood fire in the living room fireplace, thinking this arrangement made the dish more authentic and tasty. I never dared to taste it and am glad I didn’t. Nowadays, those stews are banned because squirrels are often exposed to toxic waste and in some locales have been known to cause certain types of dementia.

Thank goodness, we don’t have a colony of white squirrels in the backyard. These unusual critters often frequent university campuses because students bring them in, touting that the albino squirrel brings good luck — campuses in Texas, Kentucky, and Ohio, to name a few. So far, only gray squirrels seem to have taken up residence on the Sewanee campus,

Although squirrels symbolize energy and socialization, and orphaned ones who’ve been raised by foster human parents will return to their parents. I can’t imagine taking one in to raise. I do know my backyard squirrels aren’t Cajun immigrants because they don’t like cayenne pepper, garlic, and black pepper — perhaps because they sense that those seasonings are always used in a tasty stew or gumbo of which they may become the chief ingredient.

Photography by Victoria I. Sullivan

Friday, September 13, 2019


Convent of St. Mary, Sewanee, TN

At one time, New Iberia Louisiana’s premier artist, Paul Schexnayder, and I thought of producing a book about Episcopal chapels in Louisiana. He’d illustrate; I’d do the text. However, we both got caught up in work for other books, and all that remains of the proposed volume are the rough texts for three chapels, two of which I've attended in Louisiana and another one in a non-Louisiana region, Sewanee, Tennessee.

This morning, I discovered the notes for texts about two chapels that would’ve appeared in the volume dedicated to Episcopal chapels. At this stage of my writing vocation, I doubt if I’ll get around to writing the aforementioned book, so I decided to share the notes I made in a “chapel blog,” beginning with one labeled "Lagniappe," the non-Louisiana chapel at St. Mary’s Convent here in Sewanee, Tennessee where I worship regularly and sometimes preach six months of the year.

Angel at Convent of St. Mary, Sewanee

The chapel at the mother house of the Anglican Sisters of St. Mary, Sewanee, Tennessee was designed by Architect Robert Seals and consecrated in 1988. It was constructed of native stone similar to many of the buildings here in Sewanee, and the following text (after revisions) would have appeared as lagniappe about a noteworthy Tennessee chapel in the volume featuring Louisiana chapels:

They teach us about living in stillness with the One who guides a community that follows St. Benedict’s Rule. The Sisters, dressed in their unadorned blue jumpers with white blouses, wake up to a gray world of mist, praying the words of St. Benedict: “Let nothing be preferred to the Word of God.” At 7 a.m., a bell that was transported from their original Mother House in Memphis and placed in the tower of the stone chapel, calls them to Morning Prayer and the Eucharist, two of five offices they celebrate each day. 
    The white-walled chapel is the cathedral of our faith where we feast at The Table with this group of disciplined women. A cat lurks in the hall; an aging dog curls up on a cushion beside the Prioress’s chair and frequently goes to the altar to receive a blessing. Through the clear glass window behind the altar, mist rises over the rugged steep overlooking the Cumberland Valley. Outside, a black locust tree welcomes rain now pattering on the blue tin roof. The downpour drenches a garden of roses where a miniature stone angel sits on a swing, surveying her domain. 
    At the plain oak altar with a cross carved in center front, we gather for The Eucharist. On this particular day, the scent of Easter lilies, incense, and candle wax from the Resurrection celebration mingles in the chapel, along with the fiery words of a presiding priest who exhorts us to practice inclusiveness and justice. 
    The Sisters not only offer the world their prayers for all people, they include us in the chanting of Psalms and the Eucharist, then serve us breakfast in a refectory with windows on every side where they look out at a world they praise daily. Hospitality is part of their lifework. They began offering the sacramental life to mountain people on the Feast of the Transfiguration in the 19th century and have kept their doors open to all people since that time. The Sisters are kinswomen of the Order of St. Mary once led by four Sisters, known as the Martyrs of Memphis or Constance and Her Companions, who died nursing victims of a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee in 1878. 
    At early morning Eucharist, Sister Mary Zita, a Filipino nun, sits in front of me, a sock cap with a star design on it atop her head. She is silent, bent over her prayer book. She joined the Order of St. Mary of Sewanee after Prioress Sister Lucy of St. Mary of Sewanee went on a mission to the Philippines where she visited this religious order in the mountain province of Sagada and recruited the little nun. 
    “Life,” the Sisters would say, “is best lived in community. The Community is a microcosm of the Church. We live in dependence on God for all that is needed, using what is given with care and simplicity as stewards of God’s gifts. Let nothing be preferred to the Word of God. The altar is the home of our abiding.

My notes about this chapel end here, but for those who wish to know more about the Sisters of St. Mary at Sewanee, Ten Decades of Praise is available in the library of the Convent of St. Mary, Sewanee, Tennessee. Also available is my book entitled In A Convent Garden, poetry about the Sisters.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan