Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Social Stigma

Midweek Motif ~ 
Social Stigma

Social stigma is not ordinary fear, but rejection that is culture bound.  Except social stigma about some mental and physical illnesses is universal.

Group of people outside
December First is World Aids Day.  The World Health Organization's goal is to have no new cases, no more deaths and no more stigma attached to the disease by 2030. Social stigma surrounding the disease inhibits communication and treatment.  

Have you seen social stigma at work? 

Your Challenge: Compose a new poem with a motif of social stigma.  Don't feel restricted to stigma surrounding AIDS and HIV.

Some Quotes:

“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; at the same time he must keep himself at that remove from us which assures our painlessly being able to confirm this belief about him.”  ― Erving Goffman

“The animal part of him in pain accepted my caring. But the part of himself watching himself in that pain didn't believe I could ever respect him again.”― Diane Ackerman

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”― Audre Lorde

“I got tested for AIDS. I know Barack got tested for AIDS. There's no shame in being tested for AIDS.  It's an important thing.”  Joe Biden

"AIDS occupies such a large part in our awareness because of what it has been taken to represent. It seems the very model of all the catastrophes privileged populations feel await them."― Susan Sontag

Some Poems:

excerpt from The Four Humours

Related Poem Content Details

I. Blood                                 
We wondered if the rumors got to her.
I’d seen her with that other girl behind
The Stop and Shop when I was walking home
from school one day. I swear, the two of them
were kissing, plain as that, the grass so high
it brushed their cheeks. I told my teacher so,
and maybe it was her who called their folks.
Before too long, it was like everyone 
in town had heard. We waited for them at
the dime store once, where Cedric grabbed her tits
and said I’ll learn you how to love how God 
intended it, you ugly fucking dyke.
Thing was, she wasn’t ugly like you’d think.
She had a certain quality, a shyness
maybe, and I’d describe the way she laughed 
as kind of gentle. Anyway, we never saw her with 
that girl again. They say she got depressed—
shit, at the service all of us got tearful.
I got to thinking what an awful sight
it was, all that red blood—it wasn’t in 
the papers, but I heard Melissa’s mother,
who was the nurse in the Emergency
that night, say how she was just covered up
in blood. I can’t think how you bring yourself
to cut your throat like that yourself—I asked
the counselor they called in to the school,
and she said something like, What better ink
to write the language of the heart? I guess
it proves that stuff from Bible school they say, 
that such a life of sin breeds misery.
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE.)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)

Related Poem Content Details

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - 
That perches in the soul - 
And sings the tune without the words - 
And never stops - at all - 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - 
And sore must be the storm - 
That could abash the little Bird 
That kept so many warm - 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - 
And on the strangest Sea - 
Yet - never - in Extremity, 
It asked a crumb - of me.
Excerpt from  The Bell Jar

My mother smiled. "I knew my baby wasn't like that."
I looked at her. "Like what?"

"Like those awful people. Those 
awful dead people at that hospital." 
She paused. 
"I knew you'd decide to be all right again.” 


Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others  in the spirit of the community.  AND: please put a link to this prompt with your poem.  

(Next week Susan's Midweek Motif will be Aviation )

Monday, November 28, 2016


Today, my friends, we are chatting with Karin Gustafson, who blogs at ManicDDaily.  We last spoke with Karin, whom you have likely come across here or at our sister site, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, in 2014, so I thought it was time to see what she has been up to in the meantime. Rumor has it she has a new book out, so let's order coffee all around, and settle in.

Sherry: Yay! I am so happy to be chatting with you, after all this time. I have been following your progress with interest. Karin, for our newer members, would you give us a little snapshot of your life in the Catskills, and commuting  into New York for work? You have the best of both worlds. What are the joys?

Karin: Dear Sherry,  First, thanks so much for having me back to the wonderful site that is Poets United.

I do split my time between the mountains in Upstate New York and midtown Manhattan. I am not sure I have the best of both worlds though! I am truly based in the country and my once-a-week trip to the City takes nearly four hours each way! I then typically spend three days and two nights down in Manhattan, where I stay with a good friend.

The joys of the life?  Well, it enables me to live most of the time in a somewhat remote and magical area of the country (which also happens to be where my husband is based) while still keeping my day job!  The bad parts—it can get very discombobulating to drag around so much!

That said, there are, of course, many joys—my train ride along the Hudson River is one of the most beautiful in the world—the banks of the river are full of hills and cliffs and mountains and mist and is just lovely every time of year.

Sherry: I envy you that lovely train ride!

Karin: I tend to be pretty busy with my job in the City so don’t get to go to as much City “stuff” as I’d like, but my dear friend there twists my arm to go to music performances every so often.  Then, usually my husband comes down too, and we go to the opera or Carnegie Hall, where I am always just astonished by the level of musical genius in the world.

The place where I really do get a certain “bestness” is the country. I work some days a week from upstate, and try to spend a great deal of time outdoors even when I am working, talking on the phone from the driveway, etc!  I feel just tremendously lucky to be able to be there while also keeping up a pretty urban type of job.

Sherry: It does sound a magical mix! Especially your cottage in the country. Would you bring us up to date with what’s going on in your life since we last spoke?

Karin: The very bad news has been the death of a close work colleague. This brought not only his loss, but a great deal more work and responsibility. So, it’s been a sad and rather stressful time with regard to my work life.

Sherry: I am so sorry to hear that, Karin.

Karin: The good news is that I did publish a new book called Dogspell, a children’s novel about a girl and her dog that I also illustrated.

Sherry: I have a copy, have read it and enjoyed it very much. Not only are the illustrations adorable and amusing, but the story has a very good message in it for middle school children. It is enjoyable for adults as well, especially those of us who find dogs and kids irresistible! (It is available here, kids, and is a delight!)

Speaking of dogs, I am wondering if you might have added another dog to your life? Or is it still too soon after Pearl? Her passing was so sad, and I still think of her every time I come to your site.

Karin and Pearl

Karin: We’ve thought about getting another dog! Anyone reading Dogspell will know that I heavily relied on direct canine contributions for that book!  Right now, all my travel to the City would make getting a new dog a bit difficult, but it would still be pretty nice.

Sherry: All that puppy-love on your return home! Visitors to your blog enjoy your wonderful sketches as much as your poetry. Would you tell us a bit about your journey through art and writing? I remember you began very young.

Karin: I’ve wanted to be a writer my whole life.  Though, unfortunately, it’s never been my “day job,” it has always been my star.

I became very interested in drawing and painting in high school, but never took my own art work seriously (perhaps because I was close to people who were extremely dedicated visual artists.)  But then, years later, when I had my children, I found myself making little playdoh sculptures for them, especially little playdoh elephants.  This led me to do my first book--a children’s picture book called 1 Mississippi, which features a lot of watercolors of elephants. 

1 Mississippi (available here), led me to start my blog--initially as a way of promoting the book!  That didn’t work out so well--I’m not a great self-promoter--but it did lead me to do a lot more drawing and painting to use with my blog.

I am hoping, if I can ease up in my job life, to spend a lot more time doing illustration as I would love to do more children’s picture books.

Sherry: That would be wonderful. Tell us about Dogspell, won't you?

Seemie and Sally

Karin: I am honestly quite proud of my latest book, Dogspell.  It is a book that I started years ago, when my own children and our beloved dog Pearl were young.  As a result, it’s a book that has been in my life for an embarrassingly long time!

It is the story of a girl and her dog.  Or, maybe I should say it’s the story of a dog and his girl.  But really it is a story about friendship, with the added sweetness of dog friendship. 

I did a large number of illustrations for the book.  On one level I am not completely happy with the illustrations, as I would like to have used “higher tech” means of inserting them into the text—they are a little clunky—but even so, I think they are one of the nicest aspects of the book.

Illustration (for me) is a thorny issue as my best drawings are done in pencil with a rather sketchy quality. This does not always reproduce well on paper. In the case of Dogspell, I finally gave up on the idea of re-doing all the drawings digitally, but I have thought a lot about trying to get better with digital media, as it would certainly make it a lot easier to get to a final product.

Sherry: I think your illustrations are delightful! You have other books, as well. What do you love about writing books for children?

Karin: Ha! I actually have four other published books (five in total) - 1 Mississippi (little children’s counting picture book written and illustrated by me); Going on Somewhere – a book of my poetry illustrated by Diana Barco and Jason Martin; Nose Dive - a young adult novel written by me, but illustrated by Jonathan Segal; Nice – an adult “literary” novel written by me and cover by me; and now Dogspell, a children’s novel written and illustrated by me.)  

I love writing books for children, in part, because I have a bend in my work towards the “cute” which may be more acceptable to a young audience, but mainly because I also just love children and love children’s books! The experience of reading as a child, or being read to, are to me among the most important of a lifetime.

The main problem for me in writing books for children is that it is an incredibly difficult commercial market, particularly for an unknown writer.

What also makes it a bit hard to self-market is that many adults immediately assume that a book written with an eye towards children or young adults wouldn’t be interesting to them.  As a result, a lot of my adult contacts won’t even open a book like Dogspell or Nose Dive!  (Even though I think that adults would actually find my books fun.  I hope anyway!) 

Sherry: I certainly did! I enjoyed every page and smiled all the way through. You captured the tone of a conversation between a child and her dog to perfection, I thought.  In your interview in 2014, you were at work on the novel titled “Nice”. Tell us about that one. 

Karin: Nice has been out for some time!  It has a rather dark subject matter - child sexual abuse as well as the types of societal abuses going on in 1968. I love the book and was happy with the final version.  One annoying issue for me has been that many people reading Nice have assumed that it is autobiographical.  While 1968 was certainly a time I knew (and the book reflects my experience of the era), it isn’t autobiographical. That said, I think it’s my strongest book, and would urge you all--especially those who don’t like children’s books--to read it. 

Sherry: It does sound like a deep read, and certainly topical for these times.  Are there two or three of your poems that you would like to share with us?

Karin: Here are a couple of poems.  I chose the first “June Upstate” because it describes the glory that is the shared experience of a children’s book, and the second, “The Year of Weeping Dangerously” because I know that you, Sherry, personally like it!  Thanks again so much for having me.  

June Upstate (Beginning of Vacation)

I call it spring,
because my children were
still lamblike
and we uncurled on a wool blanket
edged by grass that sprouted as wisps
rather than blades

and their hair downed
my arms, their heads resting so they too
could see the book, which I sometimes held aloft
like our own cloud, but more
like our own sun--what we
revolved around
as we moved the blanket about
an apple tree, in and out
of heat and cold,
brightness and wind,
the way the sky itself moved--
sometimes holding
our breath--for it was an exciting book,
a novel--
sometimes not speaking
in a way that was different
from listening, even me not speaking,
who read aloud---for it had sad parts

after words,
in a stiff unfold (as if our spines
had become the book’s spine),
our skin prickling (as if just then feeling
wool’s scratch),
and blinking at the overclouding blow
of afternoon,
we pulled ourselves back
into this single, unpaged, world, kneeling
as we rose.  


The Year of Weeping Dangerously

It made it hard to see
where she was going,
harder to see
where she’d been.

When she walked, she seemed
to squeegie,
shoe leather sodden,
even rubber soles
losing their grip.

Old friends stayed out of her way,
only animals
never strayed,
liking, she assumed,
the salt.

These things tend to come in waves,
maybe because we’re part sea
and Time part sand (the other part tide).
But caught in that divide,
she cried,
sometimes beside
herself, sometimes,
like a small animal,
beside herself.


Oddly, I think each poem was written during the 30 poems in April period—so they each kind of show how you can come up with material when pushing yourself.

Sherry: Both are wonderful poems. I love the children's heads "downing" your arms. I do especially like "The Year of Weeping Dangerously". I resonate with the tone, and with the weeping. Smiles.  

Tell us what you love about blogging, won't you?

Karin: Well, I love the camaraderie, the sense of sympathetic readers that one has whenever posting.  This has been a great help to me in getting work done, and in particular, in thinking of myself as a writer, i.e. in feeling some kind of claim to that identity.  Of course, I wrote for many years before blogging, but even with six or seven manuscripts stacked up, it’s hard to feel like a writer if you don’t feel anyone else granting you that role.  Blogging—the camaraderie with other writers, the sharing of material, the back-and-forth—has just been terrifically helpful in feeling more publicly myself.

Sherry: That is a wonderful description, "feeling more publicly myself". I love it! Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Karin: Thank you!  You are always (all of you over here) kind, welcoming, creative, accepting.  It is such a pleasure and comfort too that you exist!

Sherry: Thank you, Karin, for this opportunity to catch up with you. And for all of the wonderful illustrations!

Wasn't this fun, kids? It inspires me to get more of my own books on the go. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Poetry Pantry #330

Macy's Holiday Windows 
Downtown Chicago  - 2016

The Outside of Macy's
Department Store

Greetings, Friends.  Welcome to another Poetry Pantry, where we all have the opportunity to share our poetry and enjoy the poetry shared by others.

The photos this week were taken by me last weekend when I spent much of a day in downtown Chicago.  Macy's Department Store decorates their windows every year.   I remember sharing them with you last year as well, when they had a "Peanuts" theme.  They really go through a lot of work, as each year has a unique theme.

Thank you, Rosemary, for the wonderful feature Friday on Leonard Cohen's poem "A Kite is a Victim."  This is a Cohen poem that I was unfamiliar with, and I really enjoyed this particular share.  Look back if you haven't seen it.

Monday Sherry has a great update for us with the poet Karin Gustafson.  Don't miss it.

Wednesday Susan's Midweek Motif will be "social stigma."  You might want to think ahead about things that divide us, reasons we are discriminated against.  One subject you may want to explore is HIV/AIDS, but don't limit your thoughts.  Give it some thought ahead of time, or wait for Susan's explanation on Wednesday, along with some wonderful example poems.

Don't hesitate to email me if you have some photos to feature in the Pantry.  We all enjoy looking at photos from different areas of the world.

Planning ahead, Poets United will be taking a holiday break, as we have been doing for the past few years.  We will have Poetry Pantry on December 18 & then go on break for two weeks.  We will resume our regular schedule again with Poetry Pantry on January 1, ringing in the new year with you!

With no delay, let's share poetry.  Link your one poem below.  Stop in and say hello in comments.  Visit the poems of other poets who post.  Thanks to all of you who take part in the Pantry and in our other features.  Without you, our site would not exist!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Living Dead

A Kite is a Victim
By Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

A kite is a victim you are sure of.
You love it because it pulls
gentle enough to call you master,
strong enough to call you fool;
because it lives
like a desperate trained falcon
in the high sweet air,
and you can always haul it down
to tame it in your drawer.

A kite is a fish you have already caught
in a pool where no fish come,
so you play him carefully and long,
and hope he won’t give up,
or the wind die down.

A kite is the last poem you’ve written,
so you give it to the wind,
but you don’t let it go
until someone finds you
something else to do.

A kite is a contract of glory
that must be made with the sun,
so make friends with the field
the river and the wind,
then you pray the whole cold night before,
under the travelling cordless moon,
to make you worthy and lyric and pure.

– from The Spice-Box of Earth, 1961 

Not all songs are breath-taking poems. I think we'd all agree that Leonard Cohen's are. In fact he was a published poet (and novelist) before he launched his musical career, and that was how I first encountered him.

This poem is the first in his second book, The Spice-Box of Earth, first published in 1961. I still have the copy I was given in the early seventies, a 1968 Bantam edition in its 6th printing. It was perfect-bound badly, and all the pages have been loose a long time, but I still cherish it and keep them in the right order. Around the same time I acquired his novels, The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers (quite different in flavour from each other, and equally wonderful) and Poems 1956-1968

They were all given to me by a lovely lover who also sang me lines from Suzanne, and later, when we ended, bits of Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. Cohen is forever associated, for me, with one of the most romantic episodes of my life.

For many people that might be enough reason to love a poem or a song. For poets, we have to love the word-crafting too. It was more a case of loving my lover a little more because he had such an ear for good writing, and gave me gifts I could treasure for their own sake – making them, of course, even better as love-tokens. The affair ended long ago, but my passion for the words of Leonard Cohen never did. And didn't he give us decades of extraordinary words!

Most of them were songs, and all the more beautiful for that. But I wanted to give you something that perhaps not so many of you would already know. I chose it not because it came first in the book, but because it is a little unusual. Many of the poems are love poems, often very beautiful and tender; others are spiritual, or socio-political. These are the great preoccupations of Cohen's work. This piece has a topic of its own, yet one that most of us can relate to (all kids try to fly kites, don't they, or at least watch?). It has the beauty and startlingly original imagery characteristic of his poems, and even a little touch of the bizarre – which is also a characteristic – but here softened.

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you about such a famous artist's life and career, particularly so soon after his death and all the eulogies. If you feel a need to enquire further, you could try the Wikipedia article, and there's also a wealth of material at his official website.

His books are still available at Amazon and don't look like losing their popularity any time soon. The same link takes you to books about him and his work.

In an interview shortly before his death, he joked gently that he had decided to live forever. I believe he very likely will.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)

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