Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Contemporary American Voices – featured poet and friends

February 4, 2015

One of the best benefits of being a poet is the friendship of other poets.  When we find each other, we do what we can to help each other write because we know three things: that writing is necessary; that there is a communion with all others that takes place when we write; and that we are always up against daily pressures and cultural disregard that prevent us from accessing that communion.

Through friendships with other poets, I am enjoying a deepening of that communion this month.  My dear friend and fellow poet Norbert Krapf encouraged me to send my poems to his good friend, poet, and editor of Contemporary American Voices, Lisa Zaran.  She chose me as featured poet for February’s issue of this online magazine and asked me to pick the month’s guest poets. And so two other amazing Indianapolis poets, and dear friends of mine, Dan Carpenter and Bonnie Maurer, are this month’s guest poets.  I have just finished reading their work in this months CAV and am honored to be sharing the stage with them. Their work is powerful.

I am blessed to be part of the community of poets in Indianapolis. There are so many wonderful poets in this city, and I wish I could have invited them all as guests poets this month. I hope reading my poems and the work of my two friends inspires everyone to keep writing.

Here is a link to February’s Contemporary American voices.

Writing about Difficult Relationships Workshop, Feb 21, 205

January 8, 2015

Here is a link to learn more about and register for my upcoming workshop on writing about difficult relationships, Feb. 21, 2015, which I will be presenting with former Poet Laureate of Indiana, Norbert Krapf:–psychology.html

A full description of this workshop can also be found on my blog, on the Upcoming 2015 Programs page.

Upcoming workshop with Norbert Krapf

Upcoming workshop with Norbert Krapf

Two New Book Projects

December 28, 2014

This December marked the launch of two new book projects I was glad to be involved in.  Both of these projects support organizations that help make people’s lives better.  The first of the books to launch was Indy Writes Books: A Book Lover’s Anthology.


Here is the description of the book from the following link, where you can go to buy a copy:

“Indy Writes Books is an anthology of some of the wonderful and generous authors who have been a big part of the first two years of Indy Reads Books. Indy Writes Books has been made possible by a generous grant from the Margot L. Eccles Arts and Culture Fund. All proceeds from Indy Writes Books support Indy Reads’ adult literacy programs in Central Indiana.”

I was delighted when Travis DiNicola, the editor of the book, asked me this summer if I would contribute to this project for Indy Reads Books.  Not only is Indy Reads Books my favorite bookstore in town, but their mission of supporting adult literacy is one I very much want to support in whatever way I can.  Being asked to write about books, literacy, reading, reminded me that reading and writing have been loves of my life since before I could do either. I decided to write all new work for this project, and was surprised by the 4 very different poems that emerged in the month following the invitation from Travis.  In “Household Gods”, which was selected as the first piece in the collection, right after the introduction and preface, I describe how books have been passed down to me and endure in my home as sacred objects. In “Romancing the Book,” I describe how books are an essential part of dating, and marriage.  In “Immram Catherine Meehan (The Voyage of Catherin Meehan), I was delighted to find myself writing about my Irish great-great grandmother, imagining how she learned to read, imagining her voyage to America as a girl, connecting her story to ancient stories of heroic voyagers.  And in “Trilogy” I found myself writing, in poem form, the fantasy trilogy I have often fantasized about writing.

Since the release, I have enjoyed being part of book signings with the other authors. Indy Writes Books is now the bestselling book at Indy Reads Bookstore. It gives me a warm feeling of being part of a community of authors, our book being given as Christmas gifts all around the city of Indianapolis and beyond, and through this book, being part of an effort to help adults, who weren’t given access as children to books and reading, find the open door inviting them into this sacred world.

The second heart-warming book project to launch this December was Writing About Cancer: The IU Health Simon Cancer Center Literary Journal.  I have been working all year with the art and music therapy team at IU Health Simon to make this narrative therapy project a reality, and I spent the fall editing this collection, putting together the various submissions we received, and turning it into a real book.  Here is the description from the back of the book, and a link to the website where it can be purchased.

Writing About Cancer cover image
The poetry and stories in this collection were written by cancer patients, family members and caregivers who found comfort and strength through writing about the physical, emotional, and spiritual impact of cancer on their lives. As part of the IU Health Simon Cancer Center Complete Life Program, this literary journal is the first of what we hope to be an annual poetry therapy project. The authors included here trust that these pages will bring courage to all whose lives have been affected by cancer. This project was facilitated as part of the IU Health Simon Cancer Center art and music therapy services, which are funded through the generous support of the Riley Cheer Guild.
I am proud of this book and look forward to seeing the impact it has on the cancer patients and family caregivers who are able to read copies of it while they are receiving chemotherapy, or are going through inpatient treatment.   I will post more about this book as we start sharing it throughout IU Health Simon Cancer Center.


Gifts from the Muses

June 22, 2014

A lot has happened in just the past month.  Life has been abundant and Providence has been awe-inspiringly bountiful. I hoped to write about what follows as things were happening, but have been busy living in response to the bounty, so will have to recap and document all that has been unfolding in this one post.

In mid May, I went to Archbold, Ohio to attend, for my first time, The Harp Gathering.

I spent the weekend going to workshops on improvisation led by Maeve Gilchrist and Lisa Lynn, both incredibly talented and skilled musicians.  As someone who will always be a lifelong beginner when it comes to music, at times  I struggled to keep up in the workshops, but understood the presenters were packing into each hour and half a wealth of material which was meant to be taken home and worked on gradually. I have been doing this since returning from The Harp Gathering, and already have found my improvisations on the harp have gone through a quantum leap to a new level.

This growth in my playing alone was what I went to The Harp Gathering for.  However, I came home with more than that.  On Saturday evening, during the concert performances, there was a grand prize drawing for a new harp built by Jeff Lewis of  Lewis Creek Harps and Instruments. While I love my affordable and easily transportable Harpsicle harp, which has served me well as I learned to play harp in hospital and hospice settings, I have been longing for a slightly larger, therapy-sized harp, with more resonance and a few more strings to provide deep, low, soothing notes.  But, having a big travel adventure on the horizon with my daughter (more on that to follow) and college costs for her looming in less than two years, I knew that I was not going to the Harp Gathering this year with any possibility of purchasing a new harp for myself.  And so, I placed my ticket in the basket for the grand prize drawing with that longing as a kind of prayer.  As the drawing happened, I thought to myself, “Well, if I am meant to continue the therapy harp path, maybe…” and then I heard my name being read from the winning ticket. The rest of Saturday evening and Sunday morning went by in a state of elated disbelief: I just won  harp! Did I just win a harp?! And not just any harp, but one that is exactly the kind of harp I needed to enhance my therapy harp work.

In the journeys of heroes and heroines, the gods provide some kind of magic gift – a sword, a shield, a seed, a chalice – that will assist the hero to fulfill her calling on the quest the gods have required.  At the end of the journey, there is often a reward of some kind – a crown, an inheritance, a recognition bestowed to proclaim the hero’s true identity.  I feel that the prize-winning harp is both of these gifts for me. It is  the reward after a long journey to build the life I have and the work that fills it. And it is also a surprising gift at the beginning of a new adventure into the next stage of life,  as a woman who has, this recent year, passed through the threshold of turning 50, her mother’s death, and entering menopause, and as a poet and harper as I am finally finding opportunities to share my creative work in the world.  The magical gift of the harp feels sent by the muses themselves!

In the week following The Harp Gathering, my book launch for The Mother Poems happened at Indy Reads bookstore.  It was a great afternoon. Despite thunder, lightening, hail, and flooded streets, at least 30 people came to help me launch the book.  Friends from all stages of my life arrived as well as people I was meeting for the first time who heard a promotional interview on Art of the Matter. 

It was scary to share this poetic memoir, which revealed the darker struggles in my relationship with my mother, as well as the strength and wisdom she gave me in life. But the audience was generous and supportive and I felt them giving to me as I gave to them. It was a wonderful experience, with so many people to talk to and thank for being there.  Another experience of bounty.

And then, my daughter and I took of for Costa Rica!  I had promised her a trip outside of the country, using  a bit of inheritance from Mom to give ourselves an adventure beyond any trip I have been able to provide her before.  During the past winter-of-all-winters, while we were deciding where to go, we began to long for the tropics. We considered Hawaii, but Maggie wanted a trip requiring a passport, and so we chose Costa Rica.

Maggie and I on Tamarindo beach, Costa Rica.

Maggie and me on Tamarindo beach, Costa Rica, 6-6-14.

It was a wonderful week with my daughter at a perfect time. We have come through a difficult stage of adolescence in which she went from easily connecting with me to adamantly pushing away in order to assert her independence – and in which I had to learn how to let go.  I felt glad we have come through this transition and want to travel together!  And Costa Rica was a very hospitable, welcoming, beautiful place to go for this celebration.  We went on boat rides through the rain forest, and hiked on hanging bridges in the tree canopy, swam in hot springs from a volcano, went zip-lining and walked on Caribbean and Pacific beaches. Our favorite place was Tortuguero and my favorite moment was when we saw a spider monkey mother make herself into a bridge for her youngster to scurry over in order to span the gap between trees.  When we returned home, I found myself thinking about how my daughter has acquired a driver’s license, a used car, a job, and a passport all in the past six months and so she is increasingly on her way, needing me to be her bridge less and less.  No wonder the spider monkey sighting brought tears to my eyes.

Since returning from our travels, Maggie has been off with friends and at her job, busy, busy. And so have I! Last weekend, I returned to Indy Reads for another poetry reading, this time shared with two other poets published by Chatterhouse Press – Tony Brewer and Todd Outcalt.

I brought the new harp and finally braved playing the harp while saying a few poems, in the style of the old Irish Bards, a goal I have been working toward this year.  These efforts were well received and I’ve already been asked to be part of a spoken word stage, with the harp, at an event this Labor Day Weekend!

Following the Indy Reads program, I went to The Unbroken Bones Society where singer songwriter Sarah Grain was performing. Unbroken Bones Society is one of the best kept secrets in Indianapolis, where every two months poets, storytellers, humorists, and singer songwriters perform to raise money for a soup kitchen.

Sarah and I met last year at Unbroken Bones and fell in love with each others work.  So we decided we need to collaborate.  Sarah has taken one of my poems (from Under My Skin, “While Replacing an Old Window…) and set it to music, and she performed it for the first time last weekend.  I felt so touched, so honored hearing her rich voice putting such life into the poem. I am really excited about where collaborating with Sarah will take us both.

All this, in just the past month.  Life is good! And I am grateful for such beauty!



The Mother Poems Book Launch – May 21, 2014

May 4, 2014


The Viking Queen in Her Boat

The Viking Queen in Her Boat

On May 21, 2014 at 5:30 pm at Indy Reads Bookstore, in Indianapolis IN, I will be launching my new book of poems, The Mother Poems – A Memoir:The Warrior Queen Novelist and Her Poet Daughter, published by Chatter House Press.  I never planned on writing any poems about my mother, let alone an entire book of them.  In fact, at the beginning, I wanted to write anything but poems about my mother. Now that the book has been written, it feels to me like the book needed me to write it from the day my mother told me what a writer was, when I was no more than 4 years old and could not read a word.

The first of these poems (which is now in the middle of the book) came, when – in the midst of writer’s block during and after my divorce – I found myself writing about the scar on my mother’s hand caused by a cooking-accident grease burn. I struggled with that poem for several months.  Later, after a visit with her, when I watched her hobbling around with a cane, impatient with everyone who wouldn’t slow down for her, I decided to write about the ways I remembered her moving through the world when younger. For most of her life she was impatient with everyone for being too slow and I was the child hurrying to keep up with her.

I imagined maybe 5 or 6 poems, a short series, and then I could move on to other material.  I wrote about my first memory, following her to the pear tree in the pasture beside the first house I lived in. I wrote about hurrying to catch up with her as she charged through the mall when I was a teen.  I wrote about her teaching me to brave the monsters in the basement by singing a battle hymn as I marched down the steps.  I wrote about how she walked outside to survey the damage minutes after a tornado felled trees in our yard.  Before I knew it, images and memories of her in times in between what I had already written also began to speak their way into poems.  I found myself filling in the gaps chronologically, piecing a story together that was not only a story about her, but a story about me and ultimately, the story of our relationship.

The first poem about the scar ripped its way out of me in the summer of 2006.  In the summer of 2008 I had begun writing about how my mother moved through the world and by the summer of 2009 I had accepted that this writing was going to require me to write about our entire lives, the whole story, from my first memory to her death, which I sensed was approaching faster than she wanted to admit.  I did not imagine that the poems would be published. I needed to write them privately, for their own sake.  I did not plan on sharing any of them with her.  I needed to be as honest as possible, from within my perspective, no matter how painful.

By the summer of 2012, most of the poems had been written and along the way much more than poetry had been created.  Unexpectedly, through the writing, I had done a life review of our relationship, and I had discovered my own lifelong love for this woman who could not let herself be loved. I had found forgiveness for her.  And gratitude for what she had given me, especially for the love of writing which she passed on to me.  In the fall of 2012, I decided to publish The Mother Poems while my mother was still alive and to ask her to write her own response which could be also included in the book.  Impatient as ever, her “response” was a brief email to let me know she had read them, found some of them strong, and that she would start writing a response. Then, a few days later, she died, hurrying on to the next adventures of the Warrior Queen.

After her death, I needed to write several more poems.  I wrote about her death. I wrote about other memories from childhood that popped up. I realized that I will be remembering and writing poems about her for the rest of my life.  But I also knew that I needed to give The Mother Poems to readers now, even though there will be more mother poems for me to write.  I have found that every time I have shared a poem from the book, the response is immediate.  Women especially have told me that they want to write about their own mothers and that my poems have given them the courage to start doing so.  I hope to begin scheduling readings and workshops using The Mother Poems as catalyst to encourage other women – and men – to write about their own complex, unique, challenging, and numinous relationships with their mothers.

I don’t have a preconceived agenda for how and where I am going to do these readings and workshops.  I sense that, like the poems themselves, these opportunities will emerge organically.  The poems will touch people, invitations will emerge, the poems will continue to take me beyond where I imagine going, and giving much, much more than I expect to receive, tapping for myself and everyone whom they inspire to write about their own mothers, the mythic mother-load of story, memory, creativity, and healing.

If you’ve read this post and would like a Mother Poem  reading and workshop, please contact me! I look forward to meeting you on this journey.

Sharing the Presence of Clear Mind, Wild Heart

March 15, 2014

Clear Mind, Wild Heart , Sounds True

Yesterday, I drove to work listening to David Whyte’s recording, Clear Mind ,Wild Heart (Sounds True ). I can listen all day to his speaking of poetry, his encouragement to live at the frontier of self, and have listened to him on other drives all the way from home to parking space.  But I didn’t yesterday. In the year since my mother’s death, I have been clearing space in my own mind, my own wild heart.  And somehow, in the past month, I have found myself reentering my life, my poetry, my imperfect self, in a way that astonishes me.  And so, yesterday, as I drove, after hearing Whyte’s poem of dropping into the deep well of his work, I turned off the CD and drove in quiet into the city to a day of my own work.

It was a blustery day, so even the weather added to the feeling of space being cleared, old leaves and winter’s debris being moved away so that green shoots can appear. After all the many ways I have told myself that the specific realities of my personality, my way of being in the world, my houses and jobs and choices are not good enough, in the past year I began to experiment with telling myself the opposite:  that all the imperfect details of my existence are so specifically mine that they are exactly the life I am meant to live.  And as I drove to work yesterday, I felt joyfully at peace in my life.

I parked in the parking garage across the street from a complex of hospitals in downtown Indianapolis and wheeled my harp through the pedestrian walkway over Michigan Street.  As I walked, I took a moment to look through the windows of the walkway at an old building built in 1927 as Coleman Hospital for Women.  In 1962, I was born in that building. Now, it is no longer used as a hospital.  But I have occassionally felt a wordless awe that life led me back to this spot and that here, in the same city block where I was born, I am doing what feels like the most meaningful work of my life.  Most days, I rush through the walkway and into the Simon Cancer Center where I play therapeutic harp, hurried, not even thinking.  But yesterday, I decided that from now on, I will try to remember to pause and reconnect myself to this birth place as part of my spiritual preparation for my day’s work.

Once inside the building, I put my coat and purse in my locker, my phone in my pocket and clipped my name tag on my collar and then I called the social worker who gives me referrals for those patients who are actively dying.  I hadn’t heard from her for several weeks, and with the long, hard, very cold, very snowy winter we had this year, during which the first anniversary of my mother’s death was contained, I found myself not wanting to sit in the presence of those actively dying. In January and February, I have instead focused on playing the harp for patients who had not been placed on hospice care.  Yesterday morning though, intuition told me to call the hospice social worker and she sent me to offer harp to a patient on the third floor.

When I reached the room, the social worker, two nurses and the patient’s daughter were in the room. The social worker introduced me and the daughter agreed her mother would like the harp.  I sat down and began to play and the nurses finished their work in the room and lingered for a little while, but soon everyone left, giving space for the daughter to be with her mother as I played the harp.  Before leaving, one of the nurses asked the daughter about a necklace her mother was wearing and the daughter explained she had given it to her mother and that its wishbone pendant symbolized the small ritual they had shared every year at Thanksgiving.

The daughter was younger than me. I placed her as being only in her early 30’s.  In the first few minutes of my playing her phone rang and she talked to someone about how she and her mom were doing.  Later, she got a few text messages and her phone made a soft birdlike sound to let her know.  But most of the time, she sat silently attending to her mother, holding her hand, leaning her head down on the bed, resting there with her.  I watched the wishbone pendant rise and fall on the mother’s chest as she breathed, slowly, deeply.  Sometimes the mother’s face seemed to respond to the daughter’s touch.  I sensed that the harp was comfort to both and I played for at least an hour, losing track of time.

I have come to know that every death is different, and I found myself thinking about how blessed this mother and daughter were to be sharing such peace in this moment.  How lucky they were that their relationship was such that they could share in this way.  I thought about my own mother’s death and how alone she needed to be in it, how alone she made me in relationship to her. I thought about how I hope that I can keep finding my way to  gentle and connected places with my daughter as I grow old, as I die.  Gradually, as sometimes happens when I play for those dying, a simple melody began to come to me and I improvised until the melody began to flow and repeat, change and return. When I left the room, the daughter was breathing slowly and deeply, with her head lying on her mother’s bed, holding her mother’s hand.  The daughter did not lift her head, or stir as I quietly left the room and so I closed the door hoping that she had relaxed into sleep as she listened to the harp.  Touched by this beautiful sharing, this mother and daughter taking care of each other in this way, my eyes welled with tears as I put the harp in its case.

I was too emotionally stirred to go straight from that harp session into another patient’s room.  So I chose instead to go down stairs and play my harp in the open area of the infusion pods.  In the first pod, I was greeted by a couple patients who have been “regulars” for the past year. Playing music for these survivors, who, despite living with chronic illness, have found their zest for living is still abundant,  felt like the right place to be next.  I played the improvised melody that was the mother and daughter’s song, and then merged it into the mix of familiar and Irish tunes I play when in the infusion pods.  The emotions of the morning filled the harp music with an extra layer of expression that carried life into the music.

I took a break for lunch, then played for the second infusion pod. I set up my chair in the open area in the center of the pod, where nursing staff and patients all can hear. Shortly after I started to play two patients who I did not know came over, wheeling their iv poles and sitting in the comfy chairs near a fireplace next to where I sat.  The immediacy with which the harp drew them to sit with me was quite touching. As I played, one of them talked to a nurse about her treatment and I gathered that she was new to treatment and had been in a difficult place the day before. I heard her say, “But I got some sleep and a shower and now she is playing the harp for me, so today is going to be much better.” I felt again how much a lifeline the harp is for people in the hospital and was glad again that I can provide it for others.

As I played, I felt how the feelings of peace and clarity with which the morning began had only continued to deepen throughout my work that day.  I am here, I thought as I played, in my life, being just myself, nothing more, nothing less, doing what I have learned to do, sharing.

I thought back to David Whyte’s encouragement to live at the frontier of our lives and understood that everyone I had interacted with at the cancer hospital that day was doing just that and that when I play the harp for them, I bring myself to the same frontier.  It is not a solitary place, that frontier, but a place that we all share.  And we get there, as David Whyte says, by letting of our old selves and stepping bravely into the unknown.  Yet somehow, when we do just that, we come home to ourselves, we come back to ourselves, we become ourselves as we have been meant to be since our origin, since birth.

This touched me yesterday in ways I am only just entering into.  I wanted to write here about it to begin to express it in some imperfect but explorative way.

Where I’ve Been for the Past Year

February 7, 2014
me with two of my best friends.

me with two of my best friends.

Its been a long time since I posted anything to this blog.  The last time I was here was about a year ago after my mother’s death.  My head was in a fog for several months and at the same time, I had more work than ever before in my life, all while trying to stay healthy and pursue some creativity and self-care.  And so a year has flow by and there just wasn’t time or energy for this blog.

But I am back now and I hope to try to post something here around once a month.  I feel like a different person than I was a year ago. Part of that is the internal changes that come from turning 50 and then experiencing my mother’s death.  I am much more keenly aware of my own mortality.  There will not be enough time in life to pursue all the dreams I’ve already dreamed, let alone the new interests that will emerge in the coming years.  I feel a need to prioritize like never before.  I need to make time for what I truly love.

In response to this new prioritizing, I have changed the name of this post to reflect what I am living most connected to personally and professionally.  I completed my training as a certified clinical musician in 2013.  During my training, I began playing harp at the bedsides of hospice patients, adding that to the harp music I was already providing for cancer patients in outpatient infusion and inpatient treatment settings. I had expected that I would play the harp for my mother, who planned to move back to Indianapolis this year, but she was, as usual, in a hurry and didn’t stick around long enough for me to share the bedside harp experience with her.  It was shortly after her death that I played for my first hospice patient.  So, from the beginning of 2013, I have been learning about death and how each person’s dying is utterly unique. It has been a profound learning.

Part of why I hesitated all last year to add to this blog is because I did not have the words to speak about these experiences of dying.  I still don’t. I have just given myself permission to say things imperfectly or not at all.  To say what I can, however it comes out.

Becoming a clinical musician has been a deeply, deeply rewarding process. I feel as if I am finally coming into the fullness of my calling.  After years of believing I wasn’t a musician, I have, as Rumi says, “fallen into the place where everything is music.”

And now that I am hear, I am thrilled to also be called to mentor other harpists taking the same journey, as part of the team of mentors in the Harp for Healing program.  Since starting to play the harp at IU Simon Cancer Center, three people I’ve met there have purchased Harpsicle Harps like mine, so I feel I’ve already been a mentor in this way and I am looking forward to continuing to help others who love the harp.

Stories Made of World

Stories Made of World

I have also continued to deep my love of poetry. My chapbook, Stories Made of World, was published last October by Finishing line press. (  I am really proud of this chapbook and the eco-poetic voice with which these poems speak is something I hope to be able to connect with for the rest of my life. Speaking of that desire, I have taken the day off today, to spend some time with poetry and self-care.  So, I am going to finish this post for now. I will return later.