Women’s Voices from TED – Liz Diller

May 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Tech

With this article it is our pleasure to begin an ongoing series of spotlights on the TEDTalks. 

These short video talks, available online at no charge, are delivered at a conference held twice yearly by a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” The conferences “bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).” 

It is our opinion that there is little else to rival TED online for provocative, inspiring, breathtaking, and just outright amazing content. Furthermore, the beauty of these video talks is how they blur generational lines. Unlike entertainment media, TED takes the position that what matters is brilliance, not demographics, and if you present it, they will come. Links to TEDTalks are perfect to send to younger family members, old friends, and anyone who could use a little wonder in her day.

Here is a way to attend a graduate-level lecture in your pajamas—a window on worlds we would love to explore and a way to end the day with something other than concerns in your head. Many of us like to listen to a “Tedster” on headphones just before we drift off to sleep. Who knows what those ideas do to our brains during REM? One thing is certain—they can only help.

Over the coming months, we’ll call your attention to TED with particular emphasis on the ladies who have taken the stage, but we won’t be blindly chauvinistic. One of the best parts of being human is being fascinated by how people unlike us can bring answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.  

We look forward to discovering those answers together, and we invite you to suggest any TEDTalks you’d like us to bring to readers like you. There are more than eleven hundred of them to choose from. Do you have a favorite? Have any of these Talks moved you? Please tell us in comments.

Featured  first on our site is a TEDTalk by architect Liz Diller.

 Liz Diller founded Diller Scofidio + Renfro with her husband, Ricardo Scofidio, in 1979.  Together they were the first recipients of a MacArthur Prize in the field of architecture.  She is as much a philosopher and theorist as she is an architect, and with her partners she has crossed the border into the place where design detonates into sea change. She is a professor at Princeton University and is reputed to work from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. on most days. In 2007 she was voted, by Crain’s magazine, one of the most powerful women in New York.

In truth, her ideas have been some of the most powerful and groundbreaking the world has ever seen. Here she speaks of democratic spaces that look backward and forward.  The 99 percent look to her without even knowing it.  She has grace and a social conscience—all while believing the imagination is where the lifeboats are.

The Day after The Derby- I’ll Have Another

May 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Sports

It’s both celebrated and controversial—the Sport of Kings, it was once called—horse racing.

It’s been a dismal year for both railbirds and casual fans.  Casino gambling’s arrival as a way to prop up degenerating tracks as well as to energize new locations has changed the metrics of what was once viewed as a gentleman’s and gentlewoman’s domain.  While there have always been Damon Runyon characters in the grandstand and at the betting windows, it was assumed that blood ran blue on the farms and in the stables—both that of the horses and that of the owners.

A fiction, perhaps, but not far off the mark in the heyday of racing when the names Vanderbilt, Whitney and Astor were paired with the sport,

Now the reality is that aging thoroughbreds, propped by painkillers and other drugs, are raced over and over in pursuit of purses sweetened by slot machine proceeds at tracks that have diversified.  Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo pf New York appointed a task force to investigate the correlation between the size of purses and the worth of horses entered in a race—an algorithm long ago thought to have been decided in favor of safety.

This year, the HBO cable network came face to face with the ugly side of the public’s attraction to competition among beautiful horses.  Though the show’s producers averred compliance with the strictest rules of animal safety, three horses died in he course of the production of the dramatic series called “Luck,” which was, among other things an insiders look at the seamy side of the race game. The show was cancelled though many thought it was destined to dominate ratings.

Photo: Associated Press

This brings us to yesterday.  Derby Day.  A record   165,307  attendees saw  a 15 to 1` long shot named I’ll Have Another (right), ridden by a jockey (Mario Gutierrez) riding in his first Kentucky Derby, beat 19 other horses– many of them with bloodlines and records that were far more likely to propel them to victory—to win the Run for the Roses.

Before the media coverage, most people assumed the lovely chestnut colt’s name came as the result of a cocktail lover’s enthusiasm.  In reality, the owner of the horse named his colt in honor of his love for his wife’s homemade cookies.

The next two jewels in the Triple Crown (The Preakness on May 19 and The Belmont Stakes on June 9) will reveal whether I’ll Have Another is a true champion or just another horse who won horse racing’s most revered race. One thing is certain: In the face of what is wrong with thoroughbred racing, the sight of a long shot– ridden by a rookie, named for a ritual between husband and wife–  closing in on and beating a hands-down favorite was a beautiful thing to see.

It’s a frivolous thing for sure, but in these days of malfeasance and mayhem, it just may turn out to be something grand after all.

Poetry Sunday: Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012 (VIDEO)

April 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Poetry

One of Adrienne Rich’s resting places—and there will be many—is where she would not think to choose but could not avoid.  Adrienne Rich, the voice of outrage, the conscience of several generations, a poet to the bone, died last week, and she was mourned amidst the wars, the political crowing, the opinionated hand-wringing, and the sad evidence of the misguided human impulse toward the thing she most despised: domination.

Adrienne Rich’s death was news, you see, and so it was noted on the front pages of The New York Times  and every major newspaper, on the once-powerful news wires, on websites and blogs, and from the podiums of hundreds of classrooms and gatherings across the land.  Her death led the stories on Google News for some hours, and led to follow-up analyses like David Orr’s in Friday’s Times.

Columns about her death march next to those about her  perennial subject matter and her ceaseless motivation: the wrongs we do to one another.  She might be surprised at the notice given her passing, but she would have hoped for the connection between her life and the imperative to make things right.

There will no doubt be more ceremonies and attempts to set Ms. Rich’s reputation in stone, but she was not a poet of static impulse, and her restless public spirit will be called upon again and again anywhere that anyone thinks to meet the clumsy, lumbering monster of injustice with the elegant precision of a few words carefully chosen.

Adrienne Rich was our most public and politically motivated poet for decades.  She had a chip on her shoulder large enough for all the unrepresented to stand upon, and she had an intellect larger than any platform.  We so recommend you read the New York Times obituary, but just in case there is no time for that we recall its comment that she was triply marginalized: as a woman, a lesbian, and a Jew. Yes, perhaps, but she had responses that negated those margins:  feminist, spokeswoman, mother, citizen of the world. She was an observer of the identities we surrender to and a nagger who reminded us that surrender is the response chosen by those who forgo courage.

Photo: PoetrySociety.org

She was never caged inside the definitions society pins on the famous, but, ironically, Adrienne Rich was the canary in the coalmine of her times.  As with the delicate singer sent into the darkness to face what man has wrought, her death reminds us of the dangers we create, but in her songs the flame of her well-placed anger will live on.

From “Song”


If I’m lonely
it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on
the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that
knows it’s neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but word, with a gift for

Adrienne Rich



Reflection: Ladders in Later Life

March 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Musings

“I’ll be on a ladder all day.  Checking email only intermittently.”  So ended a recent message from a dear friend.  She’ll be 66 this week.

Sharon regularly travels from her home outside Boston to Maine, where her son and daughter-in-law live. Visiting them is genuinely joyful to her—yet, more often than not, she is there to help with something on their to-do list.  Last month, it was painting a room.

Coincidentally, I, too have been on several ladders this past month—we’re in the middle of a remodeling project that has created tasks that could only be accomplished several steps up.

Though my mother and her sisters were Olympian cooks and cleaners, wonderful washing machine jockeys, and exemplary ironing board experts, they weren’t the types to be painting rooms on ladders at any point in their lives, and certainly not after they turned 60—or maybe even 50.

I have a picture in my mind of my mother sitting quietly in the corner of the restaurant where we celebrated her 65th birthday. I just know that the suggestion that she wield a paint roller or stand on anything other than the stepstool in the pantry would be greeted with the same enthusiasm as the prospect of scaling Everest. Being that age meant you were grounded.

There’s something of a metaphor here, it seems to me.  We women of a certain age in this very exciting era are breaking new ground in being up in the air. Fitter, to be sure, but also unburdened by a notion of propriety or limitation, we do climb things—ladders, mountains, and challenges. Sometimes we take for granted the freedom we enjoy in not questioning whether we are up to something that previous generations would have considered out of the question. It’s a precious liberty to be able to face what needs to be done without feeling that you are not the one to do it. It’s also a great feeling to come down rung by rung and look at what you’ve accomplished.

I salute Sharon, who never met a task she wasn’t equal to—particularly in the service of others. Let’s salute all of our friends and sisters and selves who regularly undertake what has become the new normal in altitude and attitude. The view is really inspiring from up here, isn’t it?

How to Write a Love Poem

February 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Poetry

It goes without saying that the best love poetry has been worked over for days and months, if not years.  Yet many of us would rather give something from the heart than from the mart, and evidence that we have thought long and hard about someone and put those thoughts down in a caring way is just about the most heartfelt expression there is.  So, don’t worry about winning a Pulitzer.  Just enjoy yourself.  (And print your poem on some pretty paper and give it a spritz of perfume, too.)

Let’s look at three poetic forms that lend themselves beautifully to speaking of love.

1.  The “Look Around You” Poem

This poem uses objects as representations of an emotion, a state of mind, or a person.  It says what you mean by showing what you see.

To write a poem about your loved one, go to a place or a room where many objects represent that person and just “speak of them.”  With luck, this will lead you to two or three lines that can wrap up the story.

Here’s a brief example, but it can go on and on.


You and I in the Kitchen


The coffee cup from that rainy vacation in Maine
(How we laughed at the ferry captain)
(Gardening does make me less grumpy)
The empty garbage can
(And I didn’t even have to ask you)
The juice glass, the cracked plate, the battered spatula
(The breakfasts you make taste best of all)
Everyday things in the once-in-a-lifetime love story that is ours
I am so grateful the one-in-three-hundred million that is mine is you.

2.  The Pantoum

This is an ancient form that depends on repetition.  In the hands of a master it can be mystical, but what is particularly wonderful about a pantoum is how its deceptive simplicity lends weight to thoughts.    The form for a three-stanza Pantoum (which requires writing only six lines) is this:


Line 1

Line 2

Line 3

Line 4

Line 2

Line 5

Line 4

Line 6

Line 2

Line 3

Line 4

Line 1



Here’s how one would look:


Our Life Together


You’ve made the years a joy.

As life came at us we worked hard.

We never learned the art of resting.

The fun was worth the effort.


As life came at us we worked hard.

Though being parents wasn’t work.

The fun was worth the effort.

All that ever mattered was love.


As life came at us we worked hard.

We never learned the art of resting

The fun was worth the effort.

You’ve made the years a joy.


See how easy it can be? It’s also important to know you are allowed to tinker with the lines in a Pantoum; they don’t need to be exactly as they were in a previous stanza. Here’s an example of how that might happen:


The Seasons of Our Love


We met in spring

We sang in summer

We loved the autumn

We survived the winter


We sang in summer

Even the bad seasons were good

We survived the winter

And everything else


We sang in summer

We loved the autumn

We survived the winter

The miracle was when we met in spring


3. The Imitative poem

Take a famous poem—say, ‘How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways,’ the grandma of them all (we’ll be printing it in its entirety next week) and substitute your own words.



How do I love Thee?  Let me count the ways
I love Thee to the height of our attic that needs cleaning
The depth of our basement that needs the same
And the ends of all the games we’ve watched together
When ignoring the laundry and enjoying ourselves.

I love Thee in the chaos of every day’s
Most annoying email, by sun and lamplight.
I love Thee joyfully as a child’s birthday party
I love Thee angrily after you leave the seat up
I love Thee with energy that comes out as nagging.

In my old griefs, and with my sagging boobs
I love Thee with a love I’ll never lose.



How do you write a love poem?  Well, for the purposes of Valentine’s Day, with a light heart and a playful spirit.  (Or by going online and looking at the dozens of tutorials there).  Have faith in your natural powers of expression (and don’t worry about punctuation).  You are sure to come out with a poem that says what you want it to say in a way that means a lot to you and the person you love.

(VIDEO) Moneyball Strikes Out on The Feminist Field

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies, Musings, The Arts

I like baseball movies. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen The Lou Gehrig Story or laughed at Tom Hanks’ epic urinal scene in A League of Their Own, or cried over Bang The Drum Slowly. I’m sure I’m part of a roster of wives and girlfriends who asked themselves, “Why can’t (insert husband’s or boyfriend’s name here) be like that?” when Kevin Costner gave his “I believe” speech in Bull Durham. (To refresh your memory, it ends, “I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”)

This may explain why I didn’t call foul on Moneyball until the day after seeing it. It wasn’t long, however, before hindsight brought the realization that the portrayal of women in the film is not about the ethos of baseball, but about a sensibility that is Neanderthal.

Admittedly, it’s a true story that doesn’t lend itself to a big part for a woman, but it takes place in 2002. Is it really possible that the scene of the high-heeled, mature secretary arriving with two trays of coffee — one for Billy Beane, the modern general manager, and the other for John Henry, a supposedly progressive team owner — actually happened? And was this scene necessary? Was Beane’s relationship with his own secretary (again a mature woman) truly limited to barking the names of people to whom he wanted calls placed (and, oh yes, asking if the coffee was made)? Couldn’t the beautiful and gifted Robin Wright have been given more than just one scene during which she was restricted to indicating her loyalty to her supercilious second husband?

I worked in Boston ad agencies in the Seventies. Some of the secretaries brought coffee to their bosses in 1970, but by 1976, the men were most definitely in charge of their own caffeine fixes. I very much doubt the Oakland A’s and the Red Sox didn’t get with the times by the new millennium.

Where does this leave us? Well, it would be silly to boycott an intelligent, warm film with such fidelity to the truth —particularly one being mentioned as an Oscar opportunity for Brad Pitt — but it wouldn’t be bad if we left some comments on Rotten Tomatoes pointing out (or even belaboring) this obvious flaw in an otherwise decent movie. (Count the number of women in the trailer below. – Ed.),At a minimum, it’s hard to believe that a story about a guy who bucks outdated thinking about the value of players is so clueless about outdated behavior views of the dignity of women.

September 11, 2011: A Nation United By Hope

September 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Musings, Pleasures

On Sunday just past, the New York Times ran a special section titled “The Reckoning.” It began with a long essay by N.R. Kleinfield, who began the piece with these words:

“On that day—the September 11 that requires no year—the sun set on crushed buildings in a reimagined world. It set on a recontoured skyline and a haunted city. The equations of life no longer worked. That’s the way it seemed.”

The task before me today is to answer just one question. Did September 11, 2011, reconstitute any of those equations? Put another way, did the marathon of remembering restore us as a nation in any way?

Strangely, I believe the answer may be yes. We may not have gotten back to the innocence of a decade ago, but we just might have healed a bit in places where we weren’t even aware of the hurt.

For many of us living in New York that hurt came from a new brand of loneliness—from having our reactions to the event be ours alone. Many of the people we loved the best were hundreds of miles away from the city where we were part of a grief that came with the background noise of ceaseless sirens and droning F-16’s.

The experience of watching the event replayed in so many ways ten years later was for many a confirmation of that singular suffering, even if one was only barely connected to someone who died that day or not connected to the deaths at all. Having that pain confirmed and having it defined in words and images was cathartic for many. What’s more, having the ability to turn away from the reporting and the insistent replaying was a power that was not available on the day being brought back.

In 2001, I resolved never to use my story as the basis of anything public. I witnessed too much disaster as diversion that year and heard too many peripheral stories that were, perhaps unconsciously, designed to say, “I am part of this moment in history. In fact, my role is enormous.”

I wasn’t very patient with the near-hysterics nor with those who dealt in speculation scenarios. Mine was a very particular time of upheaval and chaos, born of the illness of two family members and the predictable resulting trauma for my eight-year-old daughter. Some of it didn’t get better after the month of mourning or by the turn of the year, or even in the ten years that followed.

Yet Sunday somehow did make things better for me and, I suspect, for many others. It showed me what we all went through. It catalogued the shocks without any shocking impact in the moment. It was exposure therapy and it was as connected to survival as it was to those who did not survive.

When the day got to be too much for us, my daughter, who’s now 18, and I went to a farm stand. The picture-perfect apples and peaches represented real gifts from something outside of human frailty, and our interaction with the woman at the register summed it up. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” she asked.  “Yes,” I said, “beautiful and so very sad.” She looked me in the eye and said, “I know, I know, but we do go on.”

Perhaps that was the salve of September 11, 2011. There was the reminder of all that happened while there was the reality that we did manage to go on. As with the memorials being built around and of the few remaining pieces of the buildings that disappeared, we revisited the incomprehensible destruction while dwelling in what we have managed to construct in the days and years that have followed.

Most days, the news reports leave us with the truth that we are a nation torn apart by our disagreements and disappointments. On Sunday we saw a way in which we are united—as people who buckled and then got up and went on. Realizing we went on brings the knowledge that we are alike in the ways in which we persist in our efforts, whatever they may be. There’s an equal sign there and that makes it an equation we can call unchanged—or at least restored.


August Musings: A Most Unusual August, 1967

August 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Musings

It would be easy to believe that 1967 brought a memorable August for me because of what hadn’t happened. Martin Luther King was still alive. Hundreds hadn’t been critically wounded at the hands of the Chicago police during the Democratic convention. Richard Nixon hadn’t announced his run for the presidency. The Tet offensive had not begun nor had Robert Kennedy yet succumbed to the horror of an assassin’s bullets.

Still, I’m certain it wasn’t an innocence that made that month so bright, but rather what passed for sophistication in the mind of a 20-year-old. Having survived The Death of a President (the title of 1967’s No. 1 best-seller in non-fiction) in high school, there was a sense of being tapped by history. The blooming of the hippie culture and the clear revolution in music also helped buy my generation a ticket on a very particular power trip.

Strangely for me (a dedicated non-dater at that point), a sense of importance came from the Homecoming Dance, just two months away at my Ohio college. I was the chairman (not chairwoman — feminism hadn’t reached me yet) and I was determined to outdo any collegewide event that had happened in the long history of my school. That spring we’d chosen the theme, “A Most Unusual Trip,” and I spent the month of August pretending I had any inkling of what psychedelics meant or did.

My best friend (newly engaged, planning to marry the minute she graduated in June of ’68) and I decided we were owed a pre-Senior Year treat and so we took a room with a balcony at the Jersey shore. This was decidedly not the “Jersey Shore” of MTV. This was the seaside with the puppy pulling at the Coppertone kid’s bathing suit. The one where you walked the boardwalk in anticipation of a sausage and pepper sandwich followed by real Italian lemon ice. The shore that meant, for us, sleeping till 10, overdoing the “tanning” (read that crisping ourselves till we knew our skin would peel when we got home) and reading, reading, reading.

I had brought lots of craft supplies with me. I experimented with crepe paper and glue to make the most garish flowers I could devise. I strung beads till my eyesight blurred. I sketched a plan to drop balloons from the ceiling of the gym at midnight.

I was the crafty big frog about to return to a very small pond. But that summer, before so many bad things happened in the months that followed, I found part of my voice. It didn’t come from trying to speak in the lexicon of Timothy Leary, but from trying to visualize a different environment from the one at hand. I truly believed I could transform a small-town college from the tweed-wearing, bridge-playing campus it was into a locus of the new world order.

That August a seed was planted for me. I took a leap of faith in myself — faith that what I imagined could actually come to be. I won’t bore you with the tales of how that played out again and again in the years that followed, but I will say every job I ever had called upon the confidence that was born of the glue and glitter that I worked into trifles while Jane read brides’ magazines and announced her preferences in wedding hors d’oeuvres.

It would be seven years before I married (at an age considered spinster-ish by my family) and 17 years before I realized I was continually being counted on to make much out of very little.

Resourcefulness is a trademark of the generation of many Women’s Voices readers. Children of the children of the Great Depression, we learned to make the most of what was at hand. August 1967 was about making more of what one young woman had at her disposal and making a kind of magic in the process.

I can look back to October of that year and see her today. She’s supervising the stringing of fish nets filled with balloons. They will fall from the ceiling at midnight and she will jump into her true calling at the same time.

Poetry Friday: A Midsummer Week’s Dream – The Poetry Workshop

July 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Poetry

Perhaps it is a friend of yours. Perhaps it is you. That woman who looks out of a rain-streaked window and sees not mud, but a metaphor. An observer in the supermarket who when walking by the kiwis thinks of tennis balls gone wrong. The grandmother watching her grandchildren play video games and recalling the first time she saw television.

Maybe, just maybe, you or a friend of yours (or both of you) should consider a poetry workshop.

Every summer I find myself involved in a Summer Writers Conference. For 12 summers now, my work has been mostly behind the scenes, but, for four summers when we were starting out, I attended one of the several poetry workshops that were offered.

No two experiences were alike and no two teachers taught the same way, but all were more than worthwhile and each contributed to my confidence and growth. More than anything, I came away from each having made friends whose secret or not-so-secret dreams and concerns came to light in verse.

This summer, for the first time in six years, I’m back in the classroom. I’m not studying poetry this time, but I often do study the poetry students during the hours when all the conference participants get together. They’re easy to spot. They smile a great deal, they stick together and they adore the poets who are their teachers. They are envied.

The poets. Let’s talk about them.

Billy Collins, Tom Lux, Derek Walcott and Mark Doty. All are teaching or have taught at this Conference and all are stars in poetry’s firmament. Each can be described as generous to his students. Yet, it’s the women teachers who might be of more interest to us today.

What I particularly wish is that you had had or will have the chance to study with someone you can truly identify with– someone like these women poet-teachers who have guided so many students in the gorgeous agony of making poems. It is no coincidence that these women are all just about the same age as the readers of Women’s Voices. Now is the perfect time of life to have the understanding that we owe guidelines or lines of poetry to those who are still trying to decode melancholy and joy.

On this Poetry Friday, it’s a pleasure to give you a glimpse of each by quoting a bit of her work. Enjoy (and think about joining in the conversation of poets someday soon).


Carol Muske-Dukes (whom we have recently brought to the WVFC stage.)

Here’s how we were counted:   

firstborn, nay-sayers,

veterans, slow-payers,

seditionists, convicts,

half-breeds, has-beens,

the nearly defined dead,

all the disenfranchised live.

From “Census,” by Carol Muske-Dukes

Marie Howe

Immense, entirely itself,
it wore that yard like a dress,

From “The Copper Beech,” by Marie Howe

Susan Kinsolving

Birds hush. A dense calm weights the air. Across
the steamy lawn, shadows darken. Branches
undulate with an ominous grace. Clouds
converge into friction

From “Summer Storm,” by Susan Kinsolving

Julie Sheehan

I hate you truly. Truly I do.

Everything about me hates everything about you.

The flick of my wrist hates you.

The way I hold my pencil hates you

From “The Story About The Hate,” by Julie Sheehan.

Laura Baudo Sillerman is an adviser to the Stony Brook University Southampton Writers Conference and The Southampton Review.

A Father’s Day Goodbye: Clarence Clemons Dies at 69 (VIDEO)

Photo by Manuel Martinez Perez

Even Father’s Day brings the rituals of a Sunday and reading the paper or watching Sunday Morning or turning on the radio as you take a drive for fresh baked goods is usually a part of it. This morning, many of us were met not with the familiar, but with the shock of losing someone we didn’t exactly know with whom we had a very clear relationship.

Clarence Clemons has died.

You don’t need blue collar roots to care about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but if you have them, you care in a particular way. You care about the way your father is represented in the songs of hard work, struggle and near despair. You care about the promise you know was there in him that necessity claimed and returned as a steady dispatch of duty. You care about the music as much from raw instinct as intellectual connection, because any sound that comes from commitment to the truth invades a body and circles around the place that can only be called the soul. The word reverence is one you wouldn’t mind putting to the emotion of caring about the Springsteen/E Street experience and the road to that experience was, more often than not, rolled out by the wailing of The Big Man’s sax.

Today I think of my father, long gone, because a 6-foot-5-inch monument of a rock musician has left a hole in the future as big as the doorway through which legend has him striding during an electrical storm decades ago. The story goes he felt propelled to the door of that bar. When he got there he locked eyes with a young man on his way to becoming an icon and the New Jersey stage they shared that night became the birthplace of a friendship and rock ‘n’ roll magic.

I’m from Jersey and my dad was one of those factory guys Springsteen sings of and for. It was Clarence Clemons who wailed out the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy that working class men brought to the surprise of finding themselves in moments when work was over and exhaustion was at bay. It was Clarence Clemons, who rose from a wheelchair and hobbled on shattered knees to play with his soul mates at the Super Bowl in 2009. He had the grace to be the silence that gives music its sacredness and apparently he took the abundance of pain in his life and thought of it as a training ground for good things to come.

With maturity comes the acceptance of inevitability, but even maturity is a poor match for the shock of loss that accompanies death. It’s hard to imagine what music will come from the E Street Band when the shock of this death passes. Perhaps it will be what memories of lost fathers bring — not so much recollections as feelings — of warmth without words and the essence of something that was just about enough to last forever.

Make Memorial Day Weekend Memorable: Write a Group Poem

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Poetry

Somewhere short of Charleston, at 39,000 feet

I realized how high I had been in Costa Rica

Where life was suspended in a tantalizing dream

An amazing dream that I never wanted to wake from

To stay in the baking sun at the Cape of Sails

and move at such a pace

That I would see every creature and be worthy of her seeing me.



Ben Franske

It’s not Keats, but it’s not dreadful and what’s great is that it was written by seven friends as they flew home from vacation.  It’s a group poem and this particular group produced seven poems that all began with the words “Somewhere short of Charleston at 39,000 feet.”

Perhaps you, your friends and family might just break out of charades or cards and undertake the joyful and often hilarious activity of writing group poems during this long weekend.

If you have never written a group poem (for our purposes a group can be as small as two or as large as two dozen), you have missed one of the great pleasures of being with other people.  Writing group poetry can be surprising or scandalous, touching or provocative, serene or chaotic.  To a large extent, it depends on the group and how many rebels are in it.

If you are doing this with a partner, the simplest way to write a poem together is to decide on a first line (this can come from a book, or from your imagination), write it down and then pass the paper back and forth taking turns writing one line each until a pre-determined number of lines is reached.   This works if you break a large group into teams of two as well.  Give every team the same first line and the same number of lines to write.  You can make this a little more competitive by allowing only 60 seconds per person before the paper has to be switched.

A little more complicated, but very, very interesting is the group poem game where you give everyone in the group a piece of paper and pen and have each person write the same first line on the top of the page (if you are very organized, you can have sheets of paper with first lines already on them).  The person who starts writes the second line then passes the paper to the person on her right.  That person writes a third line and passes the paper to the person on her right.  There will be many pieces of paper being passed and when the penultimate line has been completed the paper is passed again with the direction to everyone to write the poem’s last line.

If you have 12 people, try writing 12-line poems.  After that write some six-line poems.  Start with silly first lines sometimes.  Use the name of someone famous in a line that starts another of your poems.  It all works.

In all cases when writing poems with other people, be it one other person or in a large group, there are three simple rules.  First, you must read what has gone before.  Second, you must either write a line that keeps the sense of the poem going or a line that derails it completely but relates in some way, using a word or image that has come before.  And last you must all agree to read all the poems produced in any round aloud.  It’s better if you mix the poems up before you do this so you protect the anonymity of your guests.

Why not try it this weekend.  We don’t make claims that what you’ll produce will be worthy of anthologizing, but we do promise you’ll create a memory of the night when you and everyone around you tapped into their inner poet and began the summer in a new and joyful way.

When Oprah Plays Poetry Dress-up, It’s Not Pretty

April 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Poetry

The minute we heard that Oprah’s O magazine was planning a poetry issue for April—with Maria Shriver (whom we admire mightily for her women’s conferences and so much more) as guest editor and a gaggle of “all-star readers,” including such celebrated intellectuals as Mike Tyson and Ashton Kutcher—we paused to ponder our responsibility as champions of poetry and believers in standards.

And then we did the wise thing. We walked away from the fight.

There is no battling with the poly-extremitied  power of Oprah. For every misstep there are a thousand leaps—for women and for humanity. For every gaffe, there is a wealth of grace. And for the sheer impulse of lending the influence of her magazine to feed the fragile garden that is the tiny plot allowed to poetry today, we could only say “Brava!” and “Thank You.”

But still.

Still, we prayed the spin of mass marketing didn’t wring the sacred out of the practice of writing and the rite of reading poems. And we hoped someone would stand for what poetry stands for in the human experience.

And then David Orr stepped up and spoke. David Orr writes the “On Poetry” column for the New York Times Book Review.  In that role, he is likely subjected to sycophantic sucking up and certainly the object of much disdain. Poetry is a matter of taste as much as it is an art form, and as such it allows for the prerogative of disagreement and results in more than a little that is disagreeable. There have been times when Mr. Orr has been downright petulant and unpleasant.

That said, David Orr has perfectly captured the issue of O’s National Poetry Month issue. If you didn’t get to read this on Sunday, March 27, we offer it here for your edification and entertainment (yes, people who passionately care about poetry can be funny). And we say, without qualification, that this man is saying precisely what WVFC is thinking. He speaks for anyone who truly cares about both why and how poetry matters, and he deserves the respect of a careful read.

Celebrating National Poetry Month The Easy Way (VIDEO)

April 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Poetry

Start by visiting some poems online

Poets.org is a site sublime

Poetry Daily is another treat

And Borzoi emails each day

Isn’t that neat?

Okay, that’s enough of that. The one thing we most definitely do not want to do is visit the banquet that is National Poetry Month and end up with a wiener of doggerel on our plates.

On the other hand, we do want to start April by highlighting how easy it is to find your way to poetry these days. Poems can be the gems in the coal mine of day-to-day life. They can lighten the load of worry, provoke thought, or give you a sense of belonging to a world where the mysteries of existence vibrate with a visible aura. Provocative or rueful, transcendent or common-spoken, poems reveal. Just bear in mind that revelations need not be inscrutable.

It’s important to make that point, because the reason most people do not approach poetry—or have not since they were forced to, in one classroom or another—is because they fear they don’t understand it.

If you’ve been a bit verse-phobic, isn’t this the year to open your mind and use National Poetry Month to reacquaint yourself with “the awareness of experience” that is poetry? What is so wonderful is that, in order to do that, you need do nothing more than sit at your computer.

May we suggest Poets.org as a wonderful place to start? The website of the Academy of American Poets, Poets.org invites you in with a home page that offers a plethora of portals to innumerable ways to view and think about poetry.

You can follow one of their suggested routes, or search a poem or poet you remember from the past. You can listen to poets read poetry. Or access a resource called Poetry 101, a guided tour through poetry appreciation. You can even sign up to have them email you a poem from the new spring poetry titles each day during the month April (or to your mobile device every day of the year). It’s a site to bathe in, to get lost in, to find yourself in and to return to day after day.

For those who don’t want a lush and dense experience of poetry, but rather a quick brush with the magical, Poetry Daily is perfect. It’s a straightforward site that spotlights one poem each day, offering a profile of the featured poet and a look at the book from which the poem came. You can access the archives of previously featured poems and poets, and read news about the “Po World” there as well.

And for the retail minded, both Poets.org and Poetry Daily have wonderful shopping opportunities, which could come in handy when looking for gifts, especially for lovers of poems.

The Borzoi Reader Poem-A-Day is a wonderful way to feel like a poetry insider. The offspring of Knopf/Doubleday books, Borzoi’s selection of poems is far-reaching. Unlike the daily poems from Poets.org, Borzoi sends both the old and the new. Last year, a wonderful offering from Keats was followed by David Lehman’s “Poem in the Manner of a Jazz Standard.” There’s a word for how subscribing to Borzoi’s free poem-a-day feature makes you feel: smart.

You may remember when, in 2002, Ruth Lilly, heiress to the Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals fortune, donated $100 million to Chicago’s Poetry Foundation.  At the time, many felt the Foundation would go to the ruin that befalls many lottery winners. To the contrary—the organization has been thoughtful and measured in its use of the windfall, and its website attests to the taste and egalitarianism that is present in much of their work. Particularly wonderful is the way in which they offer categories of poems (“Weddings,” “Sadness,” and “Dogs,” to name just a few). If you are at a loss for something to say to someone about an occasion or an event, or you’re just looking for a new way to consider something you haven’t explored for a while, this is a great place to start.

Of course, we at Women’s Voices for Change like to think we have carved a very special niche in the cathedral of poetry. Our weekly Poetry Friday features poems, interviews, and books by women poets who speak to what we think about. They are women who find new and wonderful ways to bring us into the world, where we can discover something we’ve always known but hadn’t expressed for ourselves.

One day last week, entering the word “Poetry” as a Google search yielded 196,000,000 results. Hardly a day goes by when we aren’t told the internet has robbed civilization of something: innocence privacy, time, community. National Poetry Month is the perfect time to celebrate something very tangible that the web offers everyone: poems of every stripe and stories about the people who write them. Here’s hoping you add prosody to your life this month and discover the wonder to be found there.

Second Read: “Sh*t My Dad Says” is for Moms

March 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Family & Friends

If you are a mother, run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore (or e-tail outlet or downloading device) to get Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says (It Books, $15.99). If you are a mother of mothers, do the same.

It shocks me to be writing that. I love literature—the denser the better, preferably with stirring insights lyrically delivered. Poetry is the background music of my life—a pursuit and a passion, the ever-moving goal of most of my serious undertakings. You might say I am less than drawn to light reading about crusty parents who maintain that their every grouchy impulse is an inalienable right and a worthy way of behaving. Have I made the point that I don’t customarily seek out characters whose every other statement begins or ends with the ‘F’ word? That should make all the more vivid the revelation that, closing the book, this reader finds herself ready to defend to the death the worthiness of one such man—Mr. Halpern’s dad.

It’s an achingly funny book, though the trope is clear and the snapshots are predictable from about Page 4. Yet there is something about the juxtaposition of Justin Halpern’s skewed and admittedly geeky forthrightness and his father’s seemingly monodimensional perception of the cosmic zeitgeist that arrows its way into the reader’s heart. What sneaks up on you feels like the opening of a cardio chamber that has been cloaked in self-protection. It’s possibly a dropping of the guise that grew out of that penchant for doublespeak that most of us have taken on in response to our own parents’ essential, albeit well-meaning, dishonesty.

Dishonesty, yes.

Reading this book is like having a window into the ways in which most families disavow the herd of elephants marching around virtually every dinner table, crowding into every car ride, dancing at every reunion throughout the long time we spend together, related, but relating only on levels that mask the true things we know.

There is no room for fabrication in Justin’s dad’s world. The product of a sharecropping childhood in Kentucky, later a research physician working to decode cancer, this man pulls no punches about bowel movements, sex, responsibility, marriage, pornography, or anything anywhere in that spectrum or beyond.

His punches land like a prizefighter’s fists right in the solar plexus—delivering laughter, for certain, and that sharp intake of breath that comes when the Truth is revealed with the hammer strike of a capital “T.”

And there’s a Big Something more.

When Justin started blogging about the things his dad said, there were just a few interested readers. When his portrayal became mega-viral, the readership grew to the hundreds of thousands, and publishers starting getting interested. As he began to write the book, he must have understood that to give it real heft he needed to string together the scatological encomiums that were strewn around his dad’s orbit like so many GrapeNuts with longer stories about growing up under the man’s influence. (I doubt that brand-name mention is there for product placement, but a side effect of reading this book is that it will make you crave this breakfast cereal.) What he didn’t know—couldn’t have known—was that his dad would give him a gift that wraps the book up as a volume with a hidden story arc.  It’s a comedic/tragic insight into the reason we all have to be careful with how we use our hearts. In the end, this seemingly insubstantial story reveals no less than how the body’s pumping station has very clear pipelines to the soul of each lifetime.

Equally great is the realization that the coarse hero of this book, easily dismissed as a two-dimensional and impervious bully, was nearly brought down by a grail of an epiphany during an experience of near mythic proportion. That part of the story is told by father and son in the kind of quiet voice that stops time, breath, and thoughts of anything else. It’s a nuanced and tender moment that winds up being a bigger wallop than all the jabs and left hooks that have come before.

I’ll say no more about Sh*t, other than to repeat the conviction that any woman who is raising a child should read it. All too often we speak to our children in mom code, a parental politesse that masks the fear, anger, confusion we feel. Women in particular, so well-read in parenting literature, so dedicated to getting the mom thing right, can easily be guilty of false and platitudinous attempts to preserve our children’s precious self-esteem. This book could have the impact of a modern Spock, causing us to rethink how we are delivering the message that though life is hard, honor can preserve the possibility of the miraculous.

Simply stated, no matter how it is marketed, Sh*t My Dad Says matters. What a nice surprise.

NPR and the Nation

March 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Media, Newsmakers, Politics

NPR keeps a high, thick firewall between its successful development office and its superb news division. The “separation of church and state” – the classic division of editorial and finance – has been one of the glories of public radio as it has won a large and respectful audience as the place on the radio spectrum that is free of commercials and commercial values.

If you would like to see how this integrity is upheld, go to the NPR web site and pull up any of its reporting since 2009 on the Tea Party movement. Read the transcripts or listen to its coverage – you will find it impartial and professional, a full representation of various points of view, pro and con. Further, examine how, over the past few days, NPR has covered the O’Keefe/Schiller contretemps and made no attempt to cover up or ignore its own failings and responsibilities.
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, writing for truth-out.org

Time was when radio was the country’s primary news source—a veritable Town Hall for the nation where, particularly in times of crisis, citizens came together to be informed, bolstered, and called to action.

It would be unnecessarily nostalgic to wish for a return to those “Radio Days,” but it would likewise be tragic if there weren’t voices we could all harken to as radio experiences we can have in common, regardless of our political views or personal fears.

Our National Public Radio system has been that since the first non-commercial stations grew up around colleges and universities in the 1920s. Throughout nearly 100 years of non-commercial broadcasting at the low end of the FM band, independence has been a hallmark of NPR’s member stations. Independence being perhaps the one of the few values that our nation’s many partisan factions agree is worth preserving.

The mission of NPR is simple, and stated on their website thus: to work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public—one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.

It seems as though the least we can do is inform ourselves about our National Public Radio system and its actual practices. Let’s all make a point of going to www.npr.org and seeing if the 27.2 million listeners it reaches each week deserve its continuing presence as a voice that they—and we—have in common. Let’s at a minimum know what we’re talking about when we enter the debate about what should be heard.