Saturday, December 21, 2013


'Tis the season to be jolly.  The only reason for the existence of this line is that jolly rhymes with holly (forget folly).  

Christmas is the season when feelings other than jolly can present themselves.  In the midst of all the business, the ghosts of Christmases past often appear in our consciousness.  Charles Dickens has written a masterful tale about Christmas and transformation in "A Christmas Carol".  We are able to identify with many of his characters…and realize there is a little Scrooge in all of us.

Admitting this allows our dark side to float up in times of fatigue.  Irritability grabs us while compulsively shopping for food or gifts, standing in mail lines, endlessly decorating the house or making arrangements for meals and festivities. Let the feelings surface, be sad, give way to a regret or two, make friends with the ghosts. After acknowledging this, like Scrooge, we can let go of Bah Humbug and jolly up.

It will be time then to light the lights, give away a smile or a hug, dip a finger in the eggnog, and if you can, have a dickens of a time.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poetry And Food

Photograph by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

Food is essential for life.  Some say poetry is too.  Eating can be as simple, forthright and easy as peeling a banana and wolfing (eating in an animal-like way) it down.  No fuss, no prep, no presentation.  But food can also be cooked carefully and lovingly and presented artfully.  Pretty as a picture. Good enough to eat. Then food is an expression of concern and care and becomes an art form.  A poetic cheeseburger.  Probably not.  But an artfully arranged and garnished plate of succulent scallops delights the eye, stimulates the salivary glands and satisfies the hunger of the belly and a soul starved for sensual pleasure. Whew!  I wax poetic.

Writing poetry in response to the creative urge is also a medium for expression.  Reading poetry is an enjoyable experience and feeds the soul.

Imagine gathering at the table for a feast.(Not hard to do since Thanksgiving is upon us.) It is a sensory pleasure, but also a time (hopefully) of conviviality, congeniality and the flow of friendship. Imagine gathering around a table to read poetry.  It can arouse the same emotions, challenge the mind and satisfy the soul. I see many similarities. Bringing food and poetry together seems appropriate. Enjoy my food poem.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  Savor your meal and after dinner before you nod off…read a poem.

Second Serving

Mother made the potato salad
early in the morning
with raw eggs and cream,
her special recipe.

We five ate it later that day
from the trunk of the car
for lunch.

Then all the August afternoon
we wandered through the exhibits,
the animal stalls,
taking in the smells, colors and noises
of the late summer fair.

We returned for supper
to un-iced food
in the hot trunk
to eat
more of Mother's Potato Salad

Salad to die for--- which
by some unlikely miracle
we didn't.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Poetry and Politics

Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

An Oxymoron?  Recently on Capitol Hill you had a twenty-one hour display of the spoken word that was not poetic (despite a dash of Dr. Seuss).  Language that soars---not so much.  Even though the government has shut down, Congress has not remained silent.  What I have heard emanating from that august (?) body has not inspired me or moved me to anything, only perhaps to the edge of despair.

The shutdown has caused hardships for many. It may seem trite to complain about a seemingly small loss that I am experiencing…the loss of the Panda Cam.  The windy words emanating from Congress caused me to turn to a more contemplative activity…quietly and in silence watching the Panda Cam daily. The only noise I heard was the squealing of the five week old Panda cub and the Mei Xiang's solicitous licking of her baby. That scene rested my mind and soothed my soul.

Now it is no longer available on my computer. I miss it. To fill that precious time, I turned to writing a poem about Mei Xiang.

Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin


Big Momma needed a tiny nudge
to change her ways,

smaller space, less food, no desire to roam
from her cubby hole these days.

Far from her adoring fans
no need to strut her stuff

She's got other things to do
much sweeter than bamboo.

Wonder where she's been?
She's mothering in her den.

A place of peace and calm
Big Momma now a Mom.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Good Bad Poem

Photo of Federal Hill Park by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

An essay by Thomas Vinciguerra in the New York Times Book Review of August 18th critiques the hundred year old poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer.

There is ingrained in the subconscious of many Americans the first two lines of Kilmer's poem "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree."  and they leap readily to our national lips. Most critics (including Vinciguerra) think "Trees"  is a terrible poem and it has been parodied by many.

It wasn't the only poem that Kilmer wrote.  According to Vinciguerra, he wrote several volumes equally simplistic and sappy before he was killed in World War 1 at age 31. Perhaps had he the chance, he would have grown into a better poet.

Does he have no defenders?  George Orwell defends Kipling's "Mandalay" as a good bad poem writes Vinciguerra, a term that seems applicable to Kilmer's works.  We can all get some enjoyment out of these seemingly trite verses. We remember Kilmer's "Trees" and relate on an emotional level. Though perhaps not moved profoundly, if it makes us once look up from our technological devices to take in the beauty of a tree, it is a poem worth reading and remembering.

Happy Birthday to "Trees".  May you live another hundred years.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poetry Doesn't Howl Anymore

Allen Ginsberg

Another blow against contemporary poetry surfaced in Mark Edmundson's essay "Poetry Slam" in the July issue of Harper's Bazaar.  He complains that today's poets  are not ambitious enough.  Ambitious in the sense that they lack a big vision and are concerned only with small themes. They are writing in the sound of their own voices---their own uniqueness, rather than speaking expansively. He bemoans the missing 'we and our' in poems.


I think, to a degree, he has a point.  Art does reflect the times in which it lives. The times they are narcissistic, which causes poets to draw inward and be focused on their own experiences, rather than facing outward.  It is easier to ruminate and stay in a circumscribed comfort zone, rather than take on the world and the future.


Edmundson misses some of the 'outward facing' poets of the past like Shelley, Yeats, Williams, and Ginsberg, to name just a few mentioned in his article. This is a call for poets to speak more often about our common experiences.


I think there are contemporary poets that do speak to larger, universal themes, among them Natasha Trethewey (appointed for a second term as poet laureate) and David Whyte.To quote David… "A good poem, is a brave intuition of what could be or what could have been, it looks life straight in the face, unflinching, sincere, equal to revelation through loss or gain."


So poets…write whatever you want, however you want, but on certain days summon your courage to think big, look life in the face and howl.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Poetry and the Moon

Moon over Lower Kimball Lake by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

The moon fascinates.  The moon is mysterious.  The moon is rising and as it ascends the horizon tonight, it will look gigantic.  This is an illusion caused by the random coming together when the moon is at its fullest and closest to the earth. It occurs about once in every fourteen full moons acceding to Wikipedia.


It happens this year on Sunday, June 23rd at about 7 am, but you don't have to rise bleary-eyed to see it.  It will be plenty plump, Saturday and Sunday nights around 8pm and 9pm, respectively.


Many poets have written about the moon.  Shakespeare uses the moon theme often in his writings, most notably in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Other moon obsessed poets are Wordsworth and Dickinson.


You just can't get away from it. The moon is magic. Tonight and tomorrow night it will be super magical. Go take a look. Then, write a poem.  Here's mine.


Moon Joy


I saw the moon

the other night,

glowing with

the strangest light.


It hung suspended low

behind twisted strands,

orange-swaying yo-yo

held by unseen hands.


I inhaled its milky vapor

dazzled by this heavenly toy,

reached to touch its misty taper

caught rapturously in moon-joy.



Saturday, May 25, 2013

Poetry as Cultural Force

Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

I attended Natasha Trethewey's closing lecture May 1st at the Library of Congress. Rather than quote directly, I will paraphrase her last words as poet laureate and write some thoughts that she left for me to absorb and to share with you.


Natasha focused her remarks around the theme of poetry as a cultural force.  Poetry gives us something that cannot be found elsewhere.  We as individuals and a nation turn to it when we need it.  Poetry then becomes a collective container for the profound experiences of our lives---birth, love, commitment, loss and grief.  It illuminates these experiences and gives them a necessary utterance.


To support these ideas, Natasha read from some of her favorite poets so that we as a group could "revel in the pleasure of poetry."


This pleasure was followed by another…standing in the Great Hall of the beautiful Thomas Jefferson Building…then walking out into the cool May evening and seeing the dome of our nation's Capitol glowing against a darkening, cerulean sky, illuminating for all the hope of freedom and the freedom of hope.  Symbol as cultural force.


("Thrall", Natasha Trethewey's newest poetry collection was published in the fall of 2012.)


Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Shower Of Poetry

Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin


April is poetry month.  Poems arrive daily on my computer from Knopf Poem-a-Day.  Poetry readings and panel discussions proliferate.

I am blinded by a burst of candle lights on the cake of the greatest Poet of them all---Shakespeare, whose birthday and brilliance is celebrated this month.

Alas, there is no shower from within.  I have hit a dry patch and struggle like the cherry blossoms to open to the warmth of any creative urge.  All is dormant.
But, I am hopeful.  Maybe with the warming days, my creative juices will begin to flow.  Poems will spurt from my throat, my pen, my fingertips---brilliant and well crafted…maybe even a rhyme or two.  They will float from my mind to seed and sprout around me…an array of colorful flowers. I will bloom again. Until then, I soak in the shower of poems that abound, now that April is here.

Note: The Folger Library celebrates Shakespeare's birthday on April 23rd with an open house, many festive, fun activities and a front lawn cutting of a birthday cake…check their website. Also the Library of Congress is offering many poetry events at: