Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Away Time

For most of my life, I have written poems and stories. I also love to read and always enjoy having a good book on my bed stand. Recently, I have been immersed in a project that has taken me away from writing poetry and reading. This project, still under wraps, has consumed the better part of six months. It has been hard, exacting and exciting work but I long for the day I can return to my first love – writing poetry.

Sometimes when writers are suffering writer’s block or stuck in an emotional quagmire, writing becomes a chore. At those times, it’s good to step away. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear young adult author, Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak), at a writer’s retreat in Rhode Island. She urged us to explore other creative outlets that might fuel our art. She recommended visiting art galleries, taking a painting class, dancing, acting in a play, etc. The idea is that, as artists, we should get out of the usual way we see things and jumpstart our art by dipping into other disciplines.

Although I sometimes feel frustrated that I can’t wear my poet’s hat for another month, when I finally come back to my notebooks, I will perhaps have a renewed sense of purpose and a new way of seeing. Like Halse suggested, my poetic self will come alive having had some away time. I can go back with fresh eyes and fresh thoughts.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Fall Poem

Wild Turkeys    


 Rumors from the north country
 favor bobcat sightings.
 Here we have neither fat bear
 nor spindly moose
 but a family of wild turkeys
 crosses the driveway
 at dawn, the young ones
 scrabbling along the stones --
 beaks down, eager for
 acorns or nuts. The two females
 dull-brown, strut briskly
 as they scan for shelter.
 Soon enough they cross
  over to woodlands,
  a flock of feathers
  disappearing into brush.

   In mid-October
   the signs of change
   are everywhere.
   Red ferns, goldenrod,
   shy asters.
   When I burn the leaves
   of the aster plant,
    I drive away
    the evil spirits
    of the cold.
    Let the season
    begin. May the dry leaves
    leap and spin
     in the wild air.


    Autumn takes her

    first hostage,
    my delicate she-cat.
    No cry, no thrashing 
    in the underbrush. 
    Simply gone ...
    The shades of coyotes
     like the spirits of summer
     roam the edges of woodlots
     and forest paths.
     A blackened bush,
      victim of child’s play,
      belies the russet-colored leaves.
      Winter when it comes
      will swallow everything
       in shrouds of white.

     When a young turkey 
      goes missing
      the whole flock stops,
      waiting for the little one
      to return.
      Like them,
      I search the golden fields,
      the grassy inclines
      for that one moment
      when I spot the beloved,
      the world gone mad
      with the frenzy of my longing
       then a stalled breath,        
       then quiet, then
       fog lifting
       over the dark earth.

(From Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter, published by Word Poetry, 2013)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Poetry Group Update: Planning for Fall

One of the magical things about having a poetry group is sharing with my fellow poets. The Steeple Street Poets will celebrate its fourth anniversary next month and I have the satisfaction of knowing a good thing when I see it. Our group has grown, adding new members each month, and the energy and enthusiasm has swelled as the group has gotten larger. We have a core membership, perhaps ten to twelve poets, with other people jumping in when they have free time. Since the Cape is a seasonal place, there are also poets who join us in the summer months but head home when cold weather is on the horizon.

Our August meeting was a time for meet and greet, as well as for planning out the coming year. Our group is unique in that we alternate leaders each month and have different subjects introduced. In the past, we have worked on persona poems, line breaks, titles that work, etc. For the fall, we have some interesting projects to tackle. Often, we’ll be asked to bring in poems to workshop that fit the theme for that month.

In September, poetry member Kathleen Casey will talk about her time taking a workshop with Robert Pinsky on "how do you read a poem." She will take notes to share with us about her experience. Next, in October, dancers Samm Carlton and Karen Klein will explore poetry of movement and expression. They may introduce prompts for us to work with during the meeting.

I will be leading the group in November with poems relating to fairy tales. This is a subject dear to my heart. In fact, I have a section of fairy tale poems in my book Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter entitled “Once Upon A Time.” My hope is that poets will bring in poems either reworking fairy tales or somehow referencing them in their poems. I plan to bring in examples by famous poets (for example, Olga Broumas and Anne Sexton) to share with the group.

In December, co-founder James Kershner will ask us to write poems of origin (where we come from). He was fortunate to attend a writing conference at Wild Acres in Little Switzerland, North Carolina, this summer where he was asked to write an origin poem.
His poem was descriptive, funny and heartbreaking. I already have ideas for mine.

In the end, it’s all about feeling comfortable reading our poems together, doing an honest critique, and forging a community of like-minded poets. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Summer's Poem

The Art of Levitating
-- South Cape Beach, Mashpee

In between the swimmers,
and far off, a lone sailboat or two,
is a man floating.
His face and palms, lifted
to an orange sun,
are a supplicant to light.

For many minutes he drifts
and seems suspended in water,
as in an earlier century,
Daniel Danglas Home
floated in the air eighty feet
above ground, then glided

through an open window
and sat to chat with friends.
But here there is no Tolstoy,
no Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
no applauding princes or queens
to watch our swimmer

weightless in water.
The waves lift, fall –
his globed face upturned.
For this moment, he escapes
to lightness, to buoyancy,
to the moment between lifting up

or sinking
blissful in the embrace

of forgetting.

(from Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter, Word Poetry, 2013)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Finding inspiration in unexpected places

While cleaning out my desk at work recently, I found a note penned by my father. Since he passed away in November 2011, I know it was written some time ago. He writes “Thanks for all the e-mails and poems and stuff. I’ve been doing some writing and once in awhile I look at past writing. This little story “A Special Breed” was published in the Cape Codder about twenty years ago in slightly different form. Maybe you could pass it on to the editors of “Prime Time.” Maybe they could publish it. Hope so.” (Note: Prime Time is a magazine for people over 45 published monthly by the Cape Cod Times.)

I was struck by how persistent my dad was about his writing. He was always sending out queries to editors for his stories which he called “Wendell’s Briefs.” Some of these were published, but many were not.  Somehow, he never lost his faith that it was worth writing and sending out his work.

I miss my father and treasure this small letter I had tucked away for future reading. Now it’s time to carry on his tradition: write and keep sending out my writing. As Isaac Asimov said, “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist.”

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cape Cod Writers Center Conference 2015

One of the great opportunities for local writers is a chance to take courses at the annual Cape Cod Writers Center Conference each August. Once situated at the picturesque Craigville Retreat Center, the conference now takes place at the Resort and Conference Center in Hyannis. In the past, I have studied with poets William Wenthe, Donald Baker and Gail Mazur, as well as taking a young adult writing seminar with Jacqueline Kolosov. Each class gave me fresh insights on the writing process, as well as inspiring me to try new writing techniques.

This summer the theme of the conference is “Inspired Storytelling by the Sea.” The classes encompass many genres of writing, including fiction, memoir, screenwriting, and, of course, poetry.  For poets, there are several intriguing options. Kevin Pilkington will teach “Writing Publishable Poetry” and “Poetic Techniques for Prose.” He teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and has won many awards.

Other classes that might appeal to poets include “Edit Yourself into Print” with Michael Carr, “A Premier of Self-Publishing,” with Stephanie Blackman and “Internet eBook Promotion”  with Steve Manchester. Local poet and playwright Gregory Hishak will teach in the Young Writers Program along with Scott Bladen and James Kershner.

The 53rd Cape Cod Writers Center Conference will take place August 6-9, 2015. Keynote speakers this summer are Marge Piercy, an award-winning poet who lives in Wellfleet. Her most recent book of poems is Made in Detroit (Knopf, 2015). Claire Cook wrote her first novel at 45; her second novel, Must Love Dogs, became a major Hollywood movie. The Keynote Presentations will be held on Friday, August 7 from 7-8 p.m. with Marge Piercy in the Bass River Room and Saturday, August 8 from 6:15-7:15 p.m.with Claire Cook also in the Bass River Room. Both events are open to the public. . Note: Participant readings will follow Marge Piercy’s presentation on Friday, Aug. 7 from 8:30 – 10 p.m.

There will be agents available and manuscript evaluation/mentoring. For more information and to register online, visit www.capecodwriterscenter.org. A limited number of scholarships are available. Among them is the Kevin V. Symmons Scholarship for Second Career Writers. You may submit a letter by June 19 stating financial need, a ten-page writing sample (send as email attachments in word or RTF format only) and a registration form indicating your suggested courses. Requests will be reviewed wiith notication by July 7.

This conference offers the opportunity to meet fellow writers, take informative workshops and get help with manuscript development. There is also a conference bookstore which sells books by faculty and Cape Cod Writers Center writers. If you have some free time this summer, I highly recommend this conference as a way to jumpstart your writing.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

My Second Book Becomes a Reality

After my first book, Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter, was published last year, my brother interviewed me for the Grub Street writer’s blog Beyond the Margins. The last 
question he posed was an interesting one:

DS: What’s next for you? Will there be a sequel to Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter?

RSJ: I would love to try a chapbook next rather than another full-length book. And, who knows, maybe I’ll finish my young adult novel. For now, I’m enjoying being a first-time author.

Well, I’m still working on the novel, but I’m about to have my second book, a chapbook of poems titled Gale Warnings, published by Finishing Line Press out of Kentucky. It’s wonderful news and I’m still pinching myself from excitement.

This journey began last summer when I returned from a week’s trip to Texas. I had a few weeks before I started teaching again at the community college and a little extra time. I discovered that Finishing Line Press was offering a chapbook contest, so I began preparing a manuscript. The deadline was September 15 and I had to move quickly.

I looked through folders of poems and began selecting ones that looked promising. I already knew I wanted to use my poem, “Gale Warnings,” as the title of my book. Cynthia Brackett Vincent, editor of the Aurorean, had selected me to be a feature poet for the Fall/Winter 2014-2015 issue. One of the three poems she picked to print was this one. As I whittled down a list of possibilities, I began to see connections between poems (ones of loss, striving. ocean and nature themes). I also included several of the poems I had written as part of my Mutual Muses pairings..

My full-length book is comprised of seven sections. By contrast, my chapbook is one long sequence of poems. I sorted by intuition and instinct. When I was finished, I went over it several times, printed out a hard copy, and sent it off. Months went by and I never heard another word about my fledgling manuscript until one day in February, I received the happy news that they wanted to publish my book! I had not won the contest but I was still in the runnng to have my book considered for publication.

The book is dedicated to my three sons and the cover art is from a pen and ink my husband Greg did in his early years. Like my first book which features cover art by my very tallented sister-in-law, Liz Smith, this book has personal connections as well.

Gale Warnings is now available for pre-ordering at Finishing Line Press.: If you visit their website – www.finishinglinepress.com, you can either access my book at the bookstore site or Preorder Forthcoming Titles..


Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Visit to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

A week ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 7th annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, Massachusetts. The festival ran from Thursday, April 30 through Sunday, May 3. It has long been a dream of mine to participate in this event, so it was thrilling to get the opportunity to travel to a place celebrating poets.
Two Cape poetry groups were accepted to read at the festival, including our Mashpee poetry group, the Steeple Street Poets. Once arriving in Salem and receiving my presenter’s badge, I sat in on the Cape Smackdown. Cape poets, including Lauren Wolk, Chrstine Rathbun and Carole Stasiowski, donned sparkly capes and squared off against several Cape Ann poets. The poems were expressive, racy and explosive. In the end, the Cape Cod poets won by a small margin. It was a great start to my day.
Then, I attended a reading by young Asian-American poets called The Poetics of Construction in the Peabody Essex Museum. Using art from the museum and projecting it on a big screen in the conference room, the poets presented poems that highlighted their ancestors’ history and current events. The juxtaposition of visual and oral images was stimulating and emotional. My friend, Samm Carlton, and I were moved by the presentation.
Next, we traveled over cobblestone streets to the Old Town Hall. Our reading was to take place on the 2nd floor at 2 p.m. Although the online schedule said our event was filled, the meeting room could easily have held 300 people. We had about 30 people in attendance, but it was perfect for our reading. Alice Kociemba, director of the Cape-based Calliope series, introduced us. Next, I stepped onstage to talk about the Steeple Street Poets and read a few poems. We had about ten poets reading including Sheila Whitehouse, Rich Youmans, Judith Partelow, Christina Laurie, Lorraine Brown, Samm Carlton, Laurel Kornheiser and Maeve Hitzenbuhler.. Since the theme of our reading was a sense of place, Alice finished by reading a Mary Oliver poem. We also had a few open mic readers, including David Surrette. The audience seemed appreciative of our poetic efforts, including a few folks who stumbled in and stayed to listen.
After the reading was over, I stepped outside into welcome spring warmth. I spent several minutes lingering in a local bookstore, then ambled down the street, perusing the local shops featuring psychic readings and spell enchantments. I felt as if I had fallen into Diagon Alley. Suddenly, a woman ran out to give me a hug. It was my friend and fellow poet, Regina Carreira from Falmouth. She brought me into a coffee shop where she was up as the next featured poet. I enjoyed listening to her poems about Cape summers and young love. Another poet, a 19-year-old woman, read from notebooks she picked up, then discarded as she read through her treasure trove. I loved the energy and passion of her poems. It was unstructured and electric.
Afterwards, I met up with fellow poets Christina and Judith. We went to a
reception for poets with wine and food to fortify our poetic appetites. It was fun to see so many poets enjoying themselves. Now it was time for the headliners. We joined fellow poets heading to the Universalist Church to hear Richard Blanco and Rita Dove. We were not disappointed. Richard went first, reading his three poems written for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. I found his poems personable and descriptive. Born in Cuba, he read poems of place that affirmed his sense of geography and sexual orientation. Next up was Rita Dove. Her poems were powerful and personal. After a fire destroyed her house, a neighbor offered to take all the people affected by the fire to a ball. This was her introduction to ballroom dancing and a new lease on life. It was a magical evening.

Now I feel filled up with poetry. I also think it was a boon to travel off-Cape and connect with a wider poetry community. With luck, I’ll be able to go to next year’s festival.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Spring Poem

It’s All Music

My neighbor’s pickup truck,
filled with a winter’s load of garbage,
is a fixed point from my front step.

Scarecrow men from Halloween past
rest in tipsy poses by the door.
One waves as I collect my Sunday paper.

You, in the disintegrating overalls,
can you hear my voice?
Is the snow on your head

a benediction or a sorrow?
Dead leaves rustle the trees.
The sky is painted gray

as the spring-ready birds cry
wake up, wake up.

(from Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter, Word Poetry, 2013)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Judging Poetry Contests

One of the advantages of being a writer is that sometimes you get to critique other people’s work. It is a responsibility and a learning opportunity. Recently I was asked to be one of three poetry judges for the PrimeTIme Cape Cod Magazine. This contest is open to writers 45 and older. When Erin Healy, the magazine’s editor, handed me the big manilla folder, I was anxious to get started reading the entries.
I picked a quiet weekend morning to begin leafing through the stack of poems.. With coffee in hand, I settled into a comfy chair and read through the 75 or so entries. I was able to immediately put half of the entries into a discard pile. Many of these poems dealt with abstractions, had simplistic rhyme schemes, or were didactic. I used a big binder clip for the maybe/almost there/yes pile. I was drawn to poems that had an original voice, used interesting language, and moved me in some way. Somehow, the best poems had a resonance that stayed with me in the hours after my initial reading..
Since we were meeting at noon on Saturday, Feb. 28, I needed to be ready. A few days before the judging, I pulled out the clipped poems. I read through each poem carefully. Our judging ballot listed ten choices and we were asked to order the best poems from 10 (being the best) to 1 (being the weakest). I had seventeen possible winners, but I had to narrow these down. The best poems were obvious choices, but beyond that I had to choose between several that had merit but weren’t as strong as the frontrunners. After much soul searching, I had my list of ten poems and on scratch paper, I listed five honorable mentions. The final two poems seemed slight so I added them to the discard pile.
Our judging session at the Times was a great time with poets Peter Saunders and Kathleen Baker, both from the lower Cape. I have known Peter for many years, so it was nice reconnecting with him. Kathleen was outgoing and positive. I liked her immediately. Erin served as our moderator and cheerleader. She also provided us lunch (thanks, Erin). We went back and forth on the strengths and weaknesses of our top choices for almost three hours, but in the end we had our three top winners and three honorable mentions. Interestingly, we all agreed on the winning poem. It was clearly the best of the bunch.
This experience was a good one for me. Sometimes I like to step back and analyze another poet’s work. I have also been asked to judge the Emerson College poetry contest as part of their annual Evvy awards competition. According to the Evvy website, it is the “largest student-run production multi-camera award show in the nation.” I’m looking forward to this new challenge next month!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notes from a Blizzard

As I write this, Juno is bearing down bringing heavy snow and strong winds to Cape Cod. We have upward of two feet of snow in our yard and a travel ban is in effect for our region. This is a time for quiet and reflection. I have spent my day inside except for a brief period attempting to shovel the piles of snow in the front yard. This afternoon I wrote in my journal and savored putting words on paper.

Although our power has stayed on, I was also writing by the flickering of several candles. I felt like a pioneer woman writing a letter back home, hoping to capture with words her longing and loneliness for loved ones far away. All afternoon, I felt a connection to those women of long ago and imagined their hidden lives, revealed only through old diaries and letters.

Now, as darkness falls, I think how good it is for writers to have a day to do nothing but listen to the wind and their inner thoughts. Although I haven’t written today other than in my journal, I feel the stirrings of creation. Perhaps tomorrow or next week, I'll write a new poem. For now, I want to sit quietly and dream.

Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Winter's Poem

Rolling down

By mid-January, I long for an open door,
clear empty light,
the rustle of my kitchen curtain
and the green breeze off the porch.

The drift of dust curling past my bedroom rug
and the dregs of tea in a forgotten cup
recall me to myself, sleepless nights now
fending off the weight of warmth

in rooms overstuffed with pillows or
overrun with blankets, piles of books
tempting me into other worlds.
Instead, I dream the lopsided pull

down a grassy hill at sunset,
five years old and sticky with juice.
There's a kind of grace in forgetting
or starting at the beginning

before storms riddled the dark,
before I knew what storm was
or sleep
or mercy.

(from Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter by Robin Smith-Johnson)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Starting a Poetry Group: Tales from the Steeple Street Poets

Note: My brother, Dell Smith,  is a member of the Grub Street Writers which has its own blog called "Beyond the Margins." In this interview, he talks with us about starting a poetry group on Cape Cod.
Robin Smith-Johnson and James Kershner are Cape Cod poets and founding members of the poetry group Steeple Street Poets. Today we present a conversation between these two seasoned writers about their experiences starting their own group and cultivating a writing situation to suit their needs. They bring their collective years of experience writing poetry and attending other groups to bear with insights into how poetry groups operate and thrive.
Dell Smith: How did you start Steeple Street Poets?
Robin Smith-Johnson: Back in 2010, I mentioned to fellow poet and colleague at Cape Cod Community College, James Kershner, that we should consider starting our own poetry group. We agreed that a group closer to home was a wonderful idea. I was traveling a half hour each way to the two poetry groups I belonged to, many times at night along dark roads after a long work day.
Since writing poetry is a solitary occupation, it is vital to get together with other poets to share our work and form a social bond. We decided to approach the Mashpee Public Library to find out if space was available for our fledgling group. The librarians were very supportive and offered us a conference room on the third Saturday morning of each month. So, we put our plan in motion. We were on our way!
James Kershner: I had been a member of another group, but I found myself going less and less frequently because it was about a half-hour trip from my house. Robin and I were both living in Mashpee then, so it seemed logical to try a new group in Mashpee. Also, Mashpee had recently built a big, beautiful, new library, and their meeting room is a perfect setting.
We started out calling ourselves the “Mashpee Poetry Group” but nobody was entirely satisfied with that, so we tossed around a lot of ideas. From our conference room windows, we can see out to Steeple Street, which is named for the steeple on the beautiful Roman Catholic Church across the street. One day, one of our members, Rich Youmans, was reading a poignant poem about soldiers being killed in battle when the bells in the steeple began to chime, as if in response to his poem. I think we all knew by then we were the Steeple Street Poets.
Were you as surprised as I was, Robin, at the rapid growth of the Steeple Street Poets?
Robin: Yes, very surprised. At the beginning, we might average six to eight poets, but now we’re seeing sixteen to eighteen poets per meeting. Most of the poets are local and include writers with books under their belts: Judy Askew, J. Lorraine Brown, Sheila Whitehouse, Judith Partelow, Rich Youmans, Alice Kociemba, to name a few. I also like that I have strengthened my friendships with the various members of the Steeple Street poets as well.
James: And your book came out recently, too, Robin: Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter. The Steeple Street Poets also includes plenty of enthusiastic amateurs like myself. I was a professional journalist and now I teach writing, but I never took my occasional forays into poetry seriously. I am learning a lot from the more experienced poets.
Dell: When you start your own group (as opposed to joining one in progress) do you have a set of rules or guidelines in mind? Or do you let the group evolve organically?
James: When Robin and I started the group, I think we both wanted to keep the guidelines to a minimum and let it evolve. We decided to rotate the leadership, so that a different member gets to be the leader and choose the format each month. This gives the meetings a lot of variety. We meet for two hours on Saturday mornings, and most leaders have included at least an hour of classic critiques. Each of us, in turn, reads a new poem, and then the person to the poet’s left reads it a second time. Then the poet sits in silence while the rest of us comment on the poem. When everyone has had their say, the poet gets to talk, and usually it’s just to say something like, “Thank you very much!”
But what makes the Steeple Street Poets different is that we do a variety of other things. One time I led the group in silly poetry-writing games suitable for children. We have had members offer lessons on good poetry markets, on the haiku, on enjambment, on movement and poetry, and many other topics. I think that has kept it fresh, don’t you, Robin?
Robin: I like having a different poet lead the group each month and it’s definitely a unique approach from other groups I have been in. It’s also a way to highlight different interests within the group. One person might lead a workshop on the pantoum form, for example, while another poet gives a refresher on line breaks or meter. The workshops are often surprising and innovative.
Dell: Do you find having the deadlines imposed by writing groups helps you write at times when maybe the muse escapes you?
Robin: I have always found deadlines helpful for me. Since I’m busy with work and family, a deadline allows me permission to sit down and work on my poems. Sometimes, if I’m really pressed for time, I might take in an older poem for critique that still needs revision. How about you, James?
James: We all have busy lives, and poetry-writing tends to fall to the bottom of my to-do list. The deadline of an approaching meeting encourages me to pause and look for that illusive inspiration. Because we are all friends, and everybody is supportive, I’m not afraid to being in a new piece that may not be finished yet. I think of it as “wet paint.”
When I really can’t come up with something new, I will bring in an older poem of mine, and it is exciting to get a fresh perspective on a piece I thought was finished long ago.
Dell: Do you have any advice for writers thinking about starting a writing group?
Robin: I think you need to throw caution to the wind and plunge in. Also, I’m glad that James and I worked together to form our group. We take turns putting out a monthly reminder (via e-mail and Facebook) about upcoming meetings. Also, if one of us can’t attend a meeting, the other steps in. James maintains the growing list of poets, while I’ve been searching out new venues for our group to perform. During 2014, we had readings at the Cultural Center in South Yarmouth and Sturgis Library in West Barnstable. Of course, starting a writing group is a big responsibility but the rewards are worth it!
ROBINpictureRobin Smith-Johnson grew up in Orleans, Massachusetts where she honed her love of reading and creative writing. She has degrees in English from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Her poems have been published in various journals, including The Aurorean, CapeWomen, The Larcom Review, Sandscript, Voices International and Yankee Magazine. Currently, Robin works as the newsroom librarian at the Cape Cod Times and teaches at Cape Cod Community College. She is also a co-founder of the Steeple Street Poets of Cape Cod. Robin lives in Mashpee with her family. Her book of poems, Dream of the Antique Dealer’s Daughter, was published in 2013 by Word Poetry press. Read the Beyond the Margins interview with Robin.
Jim2James W. Kershner teaches writing at Cape Cod Community College. During a 30-year newspaper career, he was staff reporter for the Providence Journal, city editor of the Carlisle (PA) Sentinel, Sunday editor of the Cape Cod Times, and executive editor of the four weeklies on Cape Cod of the Community Newspaper Co. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Marietta College and a master’s degree in journalism from Penn State University. He is the author of The Elements of News Writing, published by Allyn & Bacon. His interests include writing, meditation, running, hiking, and camping.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Lower Cape Sketchbook

Note: This is an excerpt from my father's journal (1961-62). I love his ideas for using his sketchbook as a tool for his art. I also think this could be a lesson in writing using all one's senses ("to feel the feel of it") and making a collage of words.

Perhaps I have already begun this book with the infrequent entries in a diary started last summer. But what sort of book could I write concerning our life on the Cape? Not a diary simply, for too many books take that form. A chronicle of nature that follows the cycle of the seasons. In some respects it might follow this form. 

Rather I will write a sketchbook of what I see around me from the elbow of the Cape north to Provincetown – Cape Tip – or wherever my travels on the Cape take me. For every few days finds me in a different spot, nosing around; the beaches, the bay, and marsh shores along the tideline rubble, looking for flotsam to add to my beach collages. 

In my collecting trips I look for almost anything that carries the marks of time. Anything characteristic of the environment of sea, bay, shoreline; whether wood, metal, shell, or bone. If they are small enough to carry I take them and dry them out and let them set for a time to make (them, us?) aware of their bounty. 

So I will record in my sketchbook that which I cannot carry but which is part of the environment – wood, metal, shell, or bone. Indeed it may be part of the scene, the effect of where I am. It will be a collage in words, a searching for the same effect that time-worn objects have—words on paper for wood on wood. Cork on wood. I want the reader to be able to rub his hand over a weathered washed up plank and feel the grit of it, the smell of it. To feel the feel of it.