Have Yourself a Menopausal Christmas

I can’t get Netflix to work for me. After diving into a new teaching job head-and-heart-first just moments after finishing my graduate thesis, I approach these holidays happy, yet drained. Full, yet running on empty. God bless us everyone. Bah humbug. Best. Worst. You get the drift.

This Christmas season, I have zero tolerance for Christmas legalists. I just want to shop on and click the gift-wrap box. I want to order good Chinese take-out and watch bad courtroom drama. I want to sleep for ten hours without waking up at 2 a.m. feeling unfocused and dull of wit.

I want to love my treadmill and crave sugar again. Most of all, I want the Republican presidential candidates to see a vision and go as mute as John-the-Baptist’s dad. I want all the people everywhere dealing with the cold to get new, thermal blankets and puffy coats. I want just a pinch of the hope that resides in my grandson’s little pinky.

I am in a weird place. I have a Pushcart nomination and no goals, whereas, before, I always had an empty cardboard box where I could stuff all the imaginary accolades, all the North American serial rights to my invisible tokens of arrival. Now, I see the empty laugh in the full belly.  Now, as my hormones are permanently moving south for the winter, I realize the very physical, biological nature of the immaterial, spiritual quest.

I go into my attic to look for boxes of red balls of glass, and all I want to do is get rid of all the boxes. I want to put names on the spoils of my lifelong accumulation of what is red and what is green.I want to be able to look at a person and to immediately discern whether I should say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. I want to box the living daylights out of  should.  Who’s with me? Who longs for the empty tree? The vacant hearth? For words that hear themselves and change? Such sweet possibility. I hear the tinning now of the chaos that is silence, and I think how foolish I have been to appropriate peace.To assume her origins. To ignore the scratchings of a straw blanket. The violence in getting every inch right.

Naked, hungry, cold, poetry-less I stand before the mirror and I don’t have one item on my to-do list or one thing to say about Christmas except been there done that. Except, how wonderful is that?






I am thrilled to report on this blog that I will once again be blogging on a more regular basis because I have finished my master’s thesis and in July will defend and graduate from Ashland University with my MFA degree! My thesis is a collection of about 70 poems entitled “Topography of the Light-Filled.”

I have begun sending out individual poems for acceptance into literary journals and already two have been accepted for publication in Foothill: A Journal of Poetry. “ECT” is a poem about shock therapy used on patients diagnosed with mental illness, and “Here is How” is a more personal poem about my own challenges in learning the instincts of motherhood without the gift of a nurturing mother.

Mothers and Daughters and more specifically the strong matrilineal bonds in Native American Culture pervade the poems in my thesis.

As if that isn’t enough good news….I will begin teaching as an adjunct professor of writing at my alma mater–McPherson College–this fall semester.


Coming and Going and Michelangelo-ing

Call me lazy or dull of palate, but I cannot keep up with coffee-trends. I read tonight that Starbucks is planning a bold move to attempt a take-over of the hipster, gourmet, high-end coffee market, which is sort of like the Christ deciding to grind up the anti-Christ (or is it the other way around?).

I live in a small town so by the time Starbucks became “the thing” in our parts, the trend-setting cities like Austin and NYC were already shaking their heads at the “Americano-latte-frappe-with-skim-milk-and-a-dash-of-vanilla-hold-the-whipped-cream-please.” Just when I was learning how to prance into the place and confidently order something. Talk about bursting my beans.

When did life, I mean coffee, get so complicated? Who, like me, wakes up in a blind stupor and needs a drip line of caffeine and wouldn’t be able to maneuver or wait for a French press at 6:30 a.m. until she got herself a tall, hot, strong cup of that nectar that Juan Valdez was having back in the innocent age? Don’t get me wrong. I like good coffee. But in a pinch, first thing in the morning, I will down just about any hot beverage someone wants to pour for me.

For me, there is something nostalgic about bad-diner coffee or convenience-store coffee with those lids that never stay on. Perhaps, I just don’t like coffee enough. Perhaps I only want her and need her–I don’t LOVE her. Not enough to oil and prime my espresso machine nightly. Not enough to enroll in a community art class on the finer techniques of coffee swirl art. Not enough to investigate if the beans are organic, Fair Trade, sustainable, local, natural, vegetarian, humane, low-carbon, small-scale or CSA. None of these activities makes me feel in the least cosmopolitan, even when I am sipping my brew in Seattle.

Don’t misunderstand. I do see the morality in attempting to form consumer habits that do the least amount of damage to the planet and that promote humane working conditions for the men, women, and children who daily pick my coffee beans (even if I don’t always know exactly where they come from). But I see no compelling reason to name-drop about this and to take up entire conversations at dinner parties or entire sermons from pulpits expounding upon the world of coffee as we know it in 2014. I have to ask myself, are the men, women, and children who are picking my coffee daily having these conversations about how back-woods a person is if he doesn’t necessarily want a coffee drink that is more difficult to decipher than his child’s IEP?

My grandmother picked cotton by hand as a child. I can guarantee she wasn’t lamenting the plight of the ignorant souls who didn’t have the where-with-all to sleep on 1,000-count sheets as her fingers bled on the bolls. Aren’t we, in addition to boring the likes of a true intellectual like T.S. Eliot with our gloats about foam, becoming more consumerist by creating some kind of faux-sophistication about the very appetites which will keep those children enslaved in those faraway fields regardless of the informed decisions we make about which brand to buy? Is it not our appetites, fueled by our feverish desire to keep up with our own urban elites, which is at the root of the evil in all industry? Because the cloud in my coffee tells me that when I contribute to strengthening that appetite, which is nothing short of lust, I contribute to mistreatment regardless of my own savvy as a coffee-bean buyer.  Is there not some other kind of slavery being created when we are more affected by the roast of coffee and it’s source than we are captivated by the conversation happening just across our cups? When we begin to judge the intelligence of another person based on their degree of lunacy about a coffee bean? Dostoevsky said it better than me: “What reason can there be for protecting the privacy and freedom of the conscience, or even the franchise, of anyone, if we assume nothing good about those whom we are protecting and enfranchising?”

When my phone alarm begins to chime in the morning, I become a lunatic of a different sort. I must have two to three cups of java every morning first thing or I will suffer from a killer migraine headache, which probably means I am addicted to caffeinated coffee. Coffee I don’t question. Coffee I don’t take the time to learn about. Coffee which sports catalogues full of gadgets I will never, ever attempt to master. For me, there is the Sistine Chapel and there is this hazelnut concoction my barista just manipulated into the shape of a bird. And there is a discernment which must transcend it’s “strut and fret” across the stage. Yes, Coffee:  “I want you. I need you. But there ‘aint no way I’m ever gonna to love you. Now don’t be sad (don’t be sad) ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.”


Blurred lines between work and play

With my first semester completed, I am now free to deep-clean my house and stay completely off computer for the next month if I so desire, yet I so do not desire that! The self-discipline of writing for four hours a day has created a writing monster within that constantly beats at my chest to produce more words. I choose to write even when I don’t have to. This makes me incredibly happy.

Today I started an essay which I hope to complete by the end of the week for submission to a contest. I am finding that writing in essay-mode is much easier than revising poems. After months on a steeply-inclined treadmill, I am now feeling the rush of sprinting toward the horizon on flat land.

Last night, just for fun, I sat down and wrote what I believe to be is my strongest poem ever. Time will tell. I am learning to give everything time. Funny, as we age, we have less and less of that precious commodity, yet more and more acceptance of its limitations and graces.

Good things happen to those who write.




Semester One is Done!

Semester One of my MFA program is in the history books. It sounds like the ticking morning clock is applauding me as I write this. Yes, I am excited about the growth I have seen as a writer through this intense semester of creating and considering and revising. It’s nice to have a period of time over the holidays to take a deep breath and watch some mindless television, but i have to admit I am already feeling the excitement and anticipation in my almost-always typing fingertips at the prospect of studying next semester with the great poet Angie Estes.

I have learned so much from this semester’s poet-mentor–Ruth L. Schwartz. In addition to reading her work in-depth, I studied the following poets: Dan Bellm, Larry Levis, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, C.K. Wright, Charles Wright and Jan Beatty. It’s amazing how reading these poets with careful consideration regarding my own craft and aesthetic has shaped my writing this semester. I am writing even better first drafts and I have developed the key and previously missing skills of revision, good news to the thousands of first drafts hiding on my hard drive.

Most importantly for my work and for my life, I have discovered that I have something to say and this is the arena which I choose to say it in. This first book of poems I will complete as my thesis project is very personal, but at the same time, evolving into interesting relationships with my faith, with history, with universal experiences. My poetry seeks imagery–my mind thinks that way and it always has. It is satisfying that this semester I have learned it is much more satisfying to create an image-heavy poem which works for readers, which coheres and makes some sense. I enjoy poets such as Eliot, Angie Estes, Charles Wright, who I “get” but I don’t fully understand at all times. Wallace Stephens. Those who have that “something” extraordinary illuminating or creating a shadow of though, illusion, allusion, myth.

I have been called “strange” many times this semester! I have learned that “strange” in poetry can be a good thing. Now someone please write me a note verifying that “strange is good” that I can hand to all the ordinary people in my ordinary life. I  have learned that I compartmentalize my poetry pursuits from the rest of my life in my thought processes. I keep it separate. I am a different person when I am putting words on a page. I hope by the end of this program that Writer Kerri and Ordinary Kerri can share more peacefully the same skin. I hope I alienate all those in my life who refuse to take me as least half as seriously as I take myself. 

I have learned so much from Ruth L. Schwartz, from her patient and constant attention to my poetry, to the many hats she wears as she enters our fledgling poems and seeks to know the writers better so she can find that jumping off point for us to learn to soar. It is different for each one of us. It is a kind of poetic parenting…this mentoring. Through her ability to find a slow peace in the living out of her personal convictions and her own poetic creations, I have learned to slow my pace somewhat as a writer. I have learned the value and the rush of staying with an image or a poem until it really feels complete, and then looking at it again the next day and the next day after that. For me it’s a process of tweaking away until I see a little light. Revision is the hard work of writing poetry. Ruth has steadfastly stayed with me and encouraged me to enter my work as the poet, and this was the main goal I expressed to her at the beginning of semester. She never forgot that, even though I handed her some of the most outlandishly disconnected drafts she has possibly seen as a poetry professor. She never flinched. At the end of this semester, I feel that I can begin to write from a place of accomplishment. Perhaps live there, too. I don’t feel that I am clawing and scratching and auditioning anymore. I feel I belong in this MFA program. It is an incredible amount of hard work to produce a book of poems. I am thankful for my community of Ashland writers who get that and who deeply through the experience of pursuing the same end really understand.


Creativity casualty

As a civilization we are destroying miles of rain forest every day, we have whittled down untouched prairie to less than 3 percent of our world’s known topography, our landfills are bloated, ugly artifacts-turned-monsters–yet what may be the most endangered life-giving domain in the post-post modern world? Creativity.

Why? It takes a deliberate snubbing of all that mainstream society holds dear for a person to creatively write, draw, paint, sing, dance, think.

Creativity requires “Thoroughly Modern Millie” to turn off the television, mute all cell-phone notifications, to begin to think of her home as a studio where art is created, which means order and simplicity and hours and hours of uninterrupted time and space. Creativity requires long periods of seemingly doing nothing. It’s much like prayer, when prayer evolves into listening to God rather than speaking to God. For me, creative moments are prayer in exactly that sense.

I wish that I could visit all the elementary schools in the world with the power of an Education Czar so that I could teach teachers and principals and parents how to structure days and classrooms and lessons so that each day children would be “required” to learn the architecture behind the creative moment, because there definitely is one, and I believe most creative souls get their architecture mown down by the bulldozer of the industrialized society, by the misplaced values of such a society, much in the same way Andrew Jackson took down the Native Americans. He couldn’t see what he was destroying for the vision in his head of what he wanted to build.

I really believe the person who will ultimately cure cancer will be a scientist who writes poetry on the side, who listens to Mozart while he manipulates cells in a test tube, who takes long walks in the evenings and reads real books, not Kindles.

Poetry makes me a better person, and there is not much else in life that has that power to refine me. Others may misunderstand, but I understand myself so much the more, which strengthens my own foundations and my resolve to continue down this path. Most of us, who do this, do it for the joy it brings.




Beautiful Let-down

Home. There is no place like it. Kansas. I feel I have the right to paraphrase Dorothy because Kansas is home to me. There is nothing like landing at the Kansas City Airport and viewing that wide expanse of sky with nothing to serve as a geographical interruption to the horizon….and I mean that, not in a sarcastic way. Whatever others feel when they arrive “home” to their Philly Cheesesteaks or Great Lakes or miles of ocean-views, or Chinese food or Indie-music, or Rocky Mountains or favorite bistro where he proposed to her, or In-and-Out Burgers, we Kansans feel that exact same feeling when we open our eyes and see the open prairie. Ah. I am home. My heart can relax and breathe again. I can see forever again. I can let down. I am home.

I am still processing all that I learned from my two weeks at Ashland University. Poetry work-shopping has much in common with heavy weight-lifting. The body gets broken down. Toward the end of the experience, I am sure I was not alone in feeling like a complete poetry imposter with no business spending money on attaining an MFA when I felt like I didn’t even want to write my name anymore, much less write a poem, much less talk about a poem, read a poem, comment on someone else’s poem. Growth and building chops in anything always presents itself as the monster we would much rather avoid. I like to refer to poetry workshops as the root canal I just signed up for.

The last day of workshop, I sat in my oversized chair that was causing my spine to crook, feeling like the weakest link. I don’t like that feeling. I hadn’t completed the one assignment of the week in an acceptable manner. I had not followed the directions of the assignment but had gone off, as I am apt to do, on a tangent of my own. Part of the struggle involves my attempt to write from a foreign image bank. I want to write my thesis project about the Native American tribes in southern Oklahoma. I am so immersed in thought about this project that my poetry right now sounds like poorly planned prose. Clarity is impossible. I have no idea what I want to say. It is too early. I don’t even know what I want to know about all of this yet. It is somewhat like attempting to write in a foreign language before learning the language. I know that, being part Native American myself and having grown up in this area of Oklahoma, that I know much more than I realize I know at this point, but writing to know (I think Frost says this is why we write) doesn’t work as well for me as writing from what I know.  I lack a voice.

After the last workshop I kidnapped myself for the remaining hours I had at Ashland and re-worked the assignment which was to copy as closely as we could the form of a Beckian Goldberg poem. I forced myself to leave Oklahoma and to write about something I do know much about–Walt Whitman. I emailed it to Angie Estes, poetry mentor at the workshop, and left Ashland feeling at least as though I had given it my best try.

I felt so pleased today to receive an email back from Angie Estes, who started her comments with the word “WOW.” First of all, it is amazing to me that a poet of this stature took the time to email me after the class ended on a poem which is clearly a late assignment on my part. All the poets I worked with at Ashland have shown me that kind of attention for the entire two-week residency. And not just to me. To all the graduate students.

I am home, still enjoying that beautiful let-down, not writing much, not thinking much. Cleaning and cooking and hugging my family a lot. My books are ordered for fall semester. Today’s email from Angie was a real boost of encouragement. Maybe I do belong in this program after all. One thing is certain. I am having the time of my life.


And the evening and the morning were the first day…

I am sitting in my “owl” pajamas (apology to my sister who is terrified of owls), sufficiently tucked in for the night in my little dorm room cubicle on the second floor of Andrews Hall at Ashland University. Coming from my over 4,000 square foot, newly-purchased Tudor home to the institutional yellow walls of the tiny dorm room that will be my “home” for the next two weeks makes me feel like after-the-felony-Martha-Stewart. I hope to post pictures of the bunk bed with the thin, not-ready-for-summer-camp blanket in tomorrow’s post. I have already Googled hotels at Ashland for next summer’s residency.

In reality, though, I am thankful to be in this quiet room with no clutter and no distractions other than the television blaring in the lounge that adjoins my room. Did I mention I am a light sleeper? Living on campus has already necessitated the making of new writer friends. Tomorrow three new friends and I will meet for a journey to find java on a Sunday morning in a small Ohio town.

I struggle with “talking the talk.” I just have to keep reminding myself that what I am here in the program for is to improve my ability not only to write poetry but to talk about it.

It helps that tonight I received an email from Relief Journal who is sending the final galley of my poems for proofreading before publication. I may come from a small town in Kansas. I may be a SAHM. I may have arrived here with the writing processes of that ugly stepsister–Journalism. But I am here, and I am already a published poet.  I love the work.

I am thrilled for the residency to officially move from introductions and awkward socializing (poets in general need more than apple juice to make us socially interesting people…) to teachable moments. Tomorrow’s craft seminar is  ” A Closer Look at James Agee” followed by a reading by poet Brian Doyle.


Ready or Not!

True to form, the pace of my summer has not been conducive to a writing life. Usually, I completely table all writing and spend my time outdoors, mostly driving my son to and from summer tennis practices and tournaments. Normally, I embrace the hiatus from writing, however, in two days I board a plane for Ohio where I will begin Ashland University’s MFA program with a two-week writing residency. I am excited, nervous, and a bit freaked-out by having to pay my first year’s tuition. I feel like I can’t waste that much money. I now must succeed. Someone please define “success” for me.
Today, I unpacked my first box of poetry books and placed them on shelves in a new room in our new home. It felt like my mind was opening and I could breath again, to see my familiar friends–these books. In the next two days, I must select a poem to analyze and present at the residency and I must fill out workshop forms for the poems I have submitted for workshop at the upcoming residency.
Most importantly, tomorrow I have a hair appointment. Nothing saps my confidence like gray roots! By far the biggest surprise to me is the angst I feel over leaving my little grandson for two weeks! I like to pretend I am this independent woman with a poetry career, sports interests, friends, hobbies, etc….that little boy has me completely wrapped around his little finger.
It feels good to write something again, albeit a hastily scribbled blog post. It’s a start. All of life is a start, a box to unpack, a changing child to remember.


Maurice Manning

I am in love with the poetry of Maurice Manning and so far this is my favorite.