Category Archives: poetry

No Easy Lesson

Recently, Benjamin Carson has been in the news. The poem his mother had him read when he was feeling put upon hit home with me. Ben Carson had all the odds stacked against him. He was born to a mother who was married at thirteen and had only a third grade education. But as all good mothers do, she wanted a better life for her two boys. The boys were going down an all-too familiar path. Bad grades in school, bad influences on the street, bad habits at home. To make matters worse, Ben was convinced he was dumb.

His mother knew better. She turned off the TV, handed the boys books, and told them that they had to read the book and write a report for her. At first, he hated reading. It was a waste of time. But his mother was stronger willed, and he kept reading. When the boys gave the reports to their mother, she’d go over them, making little check marks, and highlighting areas. What the boys didn’t know was that their mother couldn’t read.

It didn’t take him long to realize that he could go anywhere, be anyone, and experience wonderful adventures all through the pages of books.

She also taught them self-reliance. When they’d complain that this wasn’t right or that person wasn’t fair, she’d have them read the following poem.

You Have Yourself To Blame

by Mayme White Miller

You Have Yourself To Blame

for disgracing your own name.

Thinking it’s laborious

meaning it’ll be victorious.

Always pretending to be cool,

so that you’ll be popular in school.

Never caring about others

and trying to be tough to your brothers.

Being in so much fame,

never knew something that came.

I’m looking at you now,

wondering why and how.

Now you’re on your own,

with no one to show.

You’re alone in the dark,

left there in the park.

I hope you now know or conjecture

what you should’ve a long time ago that

You Have Yourself To Blame.

And what became of this boy? He attended Yale and University of Michigan Medical School. He’s a Professor of Neurosurgery, Oncology, Plastic Surgery, and Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008. He is the only Neurosurgeon ever to part twins who were conjoined at the head. And as if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he has written four best sellers, Gifted Hands (an autobiography), The Big Picture, Take the Risk, and Think Big.

When I think the publishing business isn’t fair, I look at the poem on my wall. After all, it’s up to me. I hope Dr. Ben Carson’s story and the poem are as cathartic for you as they were for me.


Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Idaho, inspiration, poetry, power, Psychology


Writing in Tragedy

If you are reading this post on Christmas day, my advice for you is to go hug your family and get off the internet!

On the other hand, maybe you’ve had too much of them by now. Okay.

In the hours after I heard about the shootings in Connecticut over a week ago, I wrote two poems. Poetry is not something I write often. Rarely do I end up publishing it for others to read. It is usually a way for me to process difficult emotions, overwhelming joy, or just plain amazement. This time it was horror, shock, pain, helplessness.

Isn’t that why we write in the first place? To share what being human is? So that’s why I write poetry. And I’m sharing these today with you. I hope my words touch that place in  you that will resonate how I felt at the time.

The Only Thing

The only thing

I can do

in this madness

is to love

to create peace

where I can

to hold in my heart

the wounded

the poor

the sick

the sad

the only thing

I can do

is live

by the spirit within

and hope

to give enough

of myself

to make

some difference

When They Ask

When they ask

How did we let this happen?

Say to them

I did nothing to stop it.

Did you?

This is the culture

We have all perpetuated.

We all committed this act

Because we are a society

Of violence

Of intolerance

Of guns and killing

Of hatred

When did we sow seeds of love?

When did we help someone in pain

So bad that he might think the only way


Was to kill and then die?

When did we say

It is my responsibility?

As a citizen, I own up.

I did it.

Because of my inaction

Things happened.

Because I was too busy,

Lives ended.

How many times do we have to

Relive this

To realize we need to


Not with more guns

Not with more fear

Not with more anger.

Act now

With love

Care for those on the edge

The fringe

Do you even see them?

They feel invisible,

So is it any wonder they


Their actions aren’t important?

Reach out

To the weak

To the crazy

To the suffering in silence

To the odd one out

To the desperate

It’s easier to ignore

But that

Is how we let this happen.


Posted by on December 25, 2012 in Idaho, poetry


A Challenge

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems

We’re almost through the first half of the year. I came across Mary Oliver’s work a couple of months ago. I didn’t go looking. The quote just fell into my view. I don’t go seeking poetry on any subject so it struck me how profound the words were to me.

Lest you think you must do something great by society’s yardstick, see the beginning verse of another poem.

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
Mary Oliver

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
Mary Oliver

More of Mary’s works are here.

So I challenge you. What are you going to do with “your one wild and precious life?” I’ll start out.

I’m going to be true to myself and love what I love.


Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Boise, inspiration, Love, poetry, writing


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My grandfather was an Appaloosa horse rancher in Ola, Idaho. Horses bred from his stud, Dark Warrior, were sold all over the country. Born in 1899 and a product of his generation, Grandpa didn’t talk much or show his feelings often. He worked hard, rode hard, and worshipped God. My mother was the eldest and the only daughter, followed by three sons.

Grandpa expected his children to work the ranch. Doing your part was expected. The third-born child (second-born son) didn’t like the ranch or the work. It happens. He left as soon as he could, rarely communicated, and was estranged the rest of their lives. It was much the same with his siblings. He seemed to resent them, according to Mom.

I heard about this uncle every now and then from Mom. He was in California and started his own church. He got married. He got divorced. He left California. As executrix of my grandparents’ estate, the next time Mom heard from him was when he accused her of cheating him out of his fair share. My mom was the type who would put a quarter or a dollar in with her children’s birthday presents if the total didn’t add up to the exact total of the other kids’ gifts. She was crushed that her brother would think that of her.

We heard he finally settled Boise in his later years. That was the last we heard until we read his death notice in late March.

Forgive the long intro, but I wanted to put in the backstory. 🙂

After Mom died, we were going through her things. We found a poem that Grandpa wrote about this wayward son. This rancher, this taciturn, stern man put down on paper what he couldn’t share with any of us. Hopefully, he was able to do so with Grandma. He died just shy of eight weeks after she did. He had no previous illness and was strong and agile for his age. The doctor said it was of a broken heart. Grandpa loved her so deeply that he couldn’t go on. Here is the poem.


by Edwin Antonio Gardner

Many years we’d been together
Just our little family tree
Kay and Bud and Marvin, Lary
And of course there’s Ma and me.

Come Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year
Made no difference what the day
We’d be eating, joking, hopin’
It could always be that way.

Christmas day in fifty three
Turkey’s cookin’ shoppin’s done
Presents wrapped, we are waitin’
But there’s one who wouldn’t come.

If he only knew the feelin’
Of the parents he forsook
Or by magic he could peek in
See their silent, vacant look.

Then at night when all is still
And outside there is a chill
Ma and I will think it through
Of what it was we didn’t do.

Ma will read a bit of Bible
And we’ll have a silent prayer
Then we’ll finally seek our rest
Thinking of the one out there.


Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Family, Idaho, poetry




Non-writers might assume we are struck with an epiphany one dark and stormy night and just KNOW what type of writing is for us. That’s so cute. The fact is, writers often don’t find their writing genre immediately. Even multi-published writers change genres for many reasons, some of which are career-driven, the need for new challenges, or by a publisher’s request.

I won’t speak for the published authors, but I can share my writing genesis. Natasha Tate wrote a guest blog and also referred to her writing development in

A writer’s journey does not stop at fiction. Poetry comes in many formats. It’s not all rhyming couplets. Starting with the “A’s,” there is the Acrostic. Pick a subject and make it the title of your poem.  Write this title in a vertical row downward.  Then write the lines of your poem, starting with the letters you have written.  Each line can be a word, a phrase, or a sentence.


When the creative flow

Rolls off the pen,

It seems impossibly slow

To ever find the end.


That was a quick one I made up, but you get the picture. Other forms of poetry include cinquain, free form, haiku (my personal favorite. I love the depth in simplicity), limerick, and sonnet. Rapping is poetry, although more some of us would disagree.

Genre fiction includes action-adventure, crime, detective, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, western, young adult, children’s, and inspirational. Within each of these, there are sub-genres. For example, mysteries have too many to list, but some are cozy, woman in peril, procedural, noir, and caper, to name a few.

How do you know if your initial passion is actually your strength? Just write it. Try it on. Live in it a bit. I won’t tell you any of it will come easy. Easy is not a word we use in this profession.

But how will you know if you don’t try? In romance, I’ve written historical, category, paranormal, and single title. Each story brought new skills and insight into my strengths (and weaknesses) as a writer. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, that’s not exactly true. With insight came the painful realization of not quite getting it down on paper the way I wanted.

I’m writing a single title with a partner now and it’s a warm, extended family story with romance, humor, and friendship. The first of a planned series of books. I’m having the time of my life. Is it my niche? I have no idea. But, I’m learning and growing.

What is your RIGHT-ING? Where has your writing road traveled? Where is it going? Did you find your place in writing with the first book you wrote? I’d love to hear about your journey.


Posted by on February 27, 2012 in poetry, writing


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Winter Solstice Inspiration by Johanna Harness

Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it’s no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I’m desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:

A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.”  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I’m seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it’s a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on,, and LiveJournal and I’m sure there are many more.


This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don’t have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here’s the brief description: “Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash.”  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It’s a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian’s Daughter.


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Poetry Slam

Poetry Slam. The term even sounds intriguing.

Last month I attended my first poetry slam at the Women of Steel Gallery in Garden City. A slam is not a typical poetry reading. It’s competitive, performed poetry. It’s loud. It’s ruckus. It’s a whole lot of fun.

Marc Smith, a construction worker from Chicago, is credited with the origination of the poetry slam. A construction worker—how cool is that?

The M.C. of the slam I attended was highly entertaining, and he started things off by serving as the “sacrificial poet.” He read his poem to the audience with Shakespearean theatrics, and the five judges, selected from the audience, gave him a score. The intent of this “sacrificial” reading was to help the judges calibrate their rating system, which consisted of a wooden paddle with numbers.

After this introduction the actual competition began. Each poet had three minutes to present his or her original work of poetry. The audience cheered, hooted, and hollered at the end of each reading.

If the poet were to exceed the time limit, the jeering audience would yell, “You rat bastard, you’re ruining it for everyone.”

After each reading, the five judges held up their individual scores, awarded for the quality and delivery of the poem. Again, the audience cheered, hooted, hollered, and, in some cases, booed and harassed the judges (it’s not bad behavior, it’s part of the fun). The highest and lowest scores were dropped, and the remaining three were tallied.

The event I attended was upbeat and exciting. The poetry was good. The energy was high.

Give it a try. You might even be moved to perform. It is, I should note, a free speech event. Poems are not censored, so poetry slams are not for the easily bristled.

Slams are held at the Ladies of Steel Gallery in Garden City and at the Neurolux Lounge in Boise. There’s $5 fee ($1 for students). A workshop is held prior to the Ladies of Steel slam, which tends to draw a college-age crowd. For the slam held at the lounge, participates must be 21.

Here’s a website for Big Tree Arts where you can find more information on Poetry Slams:


Posted by on October 13, 2011 in artist, Idaho, poetry


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