Saturday, September 8, 2018

We Have Lift-Off!

I’m looking forward to hearing all the great poets and also to reading two of my new poems, including "Let Them Eat Cake," at this!

Saturday, Sept 15, 2018
2:00-4:00 pm

The Poeming Pigeon:
“In the News” Book Launch at Milwaukie Poetry Series
The Pond House
(at the Ledding Library)
2215 SE Harrison Street
Milwaukie, OR 97222
Near the orange MAX line

Featured readers include:

Nancy Flynn, Christopher Luna, Linda Ferguson, Dan Raphael, Julene Tripp Weaver, Eleanor Berry, Lindy Low Le Coq, Vivienne Popperl, Cathy Cain, Eleanor Kedney, Kathleen Patterson, Collette Tennant, Laura LeHew, Brad G. Garber, Brittney Corrigan, Lynn Knapp & Shawn Aveningo Sanders

Books will be available at the event.

Monday, August 27, 2018

In the News -- the Front Page and Beyond

What's my favorite section of the Sunday paper?

Not the front page, for sure. Likewise, sports and business don't do it for me.

On Sunday mornings, the first thing I want to read is the New York Times wedding section.

This is not because I'm wedding-crazy. My own was lovely, but to be honest, I didn't have strong opinions about its planning. While it's true that as a kid I liked dressing my favorite Barbie in a full white gown, it's not the trappings of a ceremony and reception -- the clothes, the flowers, the cake -- that's so appealing.

It's the love stories that interest me. The way a couple met. How they were just friends at first or didn't even like each other much. Or how they knew each other in high school, but didn't connect until two decades and divorces later.

Yes, the atrocities on the front page are happening. Yes, we need to know what's going on.

But love is happening, too. It's real. Married love. Same-sex love. Parent-child love. Neighborly love. Love of plants and pets and painting, of doing good work for society. Love that transcends the fences of faith and race. Love is as real as fire and bullets and shady campaign contributions. Love is a fact, part of the truth equation that's often regarded as frivolity, not real news.

That's why so many of my stories and poems are about love. That's why when I first saw the Poetry Box's submission call for poems from the news, I was sure I would spin the theme on its head and write a quirky, inspiring piece about the Sunday wedding section. I knew for certain I didn't want to write about the misery that's all around us. And there was no way I was going to write about guns.

And then I did.

I have columbine flowers growing in my front yard, and every spring when their slender stalks start to rise, I'm reminded of the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, when my own children were young and just beginning their lives. As horrific as the topic of mass shootings is, I had to write about it.

I'm honored that my poem "Columbine," as well as a new piece on homelessness, will be included in the Poetry Box's In the News anthology, which will be published in September 2018.

This volume is packed with stellar work by Carolyn Martin, Tricia Knoll, Sharon Wood Wortman and many, many others, including my beloved friend Lindy Low Le Coq -- all poets trying to make sense of today's world, all poets who remind me what it means to stay alive and loving and connected.

To order a copy of In the News, click

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Yes, Your Words Matter!

Gram and me in her backyard in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood.

Thanks to the editors of Postcard Poems and Prose for publishing my poem "Blue Dress." You can see it at

The poem is about my grandmother, a tough lady who lived to be 101 and who was also extremely kind and generous. A champion of my literary aspirations, she paid for my first writing class and also bought me a printer when mine went on the blink.

I heard about this fine journal from my good friend Lindy, another strong, inspiring woman. Here's a link to her work, which beautifully combines writing and photography:

One of my adult writing students recently told me she wanted to write something that made a difference. I don't remember how I responded, but I wish I'd told her, "You already have." In class one morning, she read a piece about giving money to a man outside a grocery store. Like Gram's cheering me on and Lindy's creativity, that story made an impression on me. It made me think yes, I can spare some change for someone who needs food or water or just proof that passersby aren't indifferent to their existence.

I recently went to my daughter's college graduation. Expecting to sit through a long, dull commencement address, I was surprised to find myself riveted by the dynamic speech Michael Alexander, the Interim Vice President of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Portland State University, gave. In a time when so many people are shouting, this soft-spoken man made a powerful statement about the problems of poverty and shootings and racism in a way that left my family and I awed and determined to answer his call to action.

The day after the ceremony, my husband and I left for our pilgrimage to Glasgow, where his father was born in 1922. Walking around the university there, we saw a multitude of waving banners that bore the words “World Changers,” and I felt heartened that the school was openly asking its students to do more than pursue a comfortable life made possible by a lucrative career. 

Bad news is literally streaming in our ears, but inspiration is there, too, and its messenger could be anyone – a relative, a friend, a stranger, a student or you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Healing Art: Rebecca Smolen's "Womanhood and Other Scars"

I'm thrilled to announce the publication of a new volume of poetry by my beloved friend (and former student!) Rebecca Smolen.

You can read my review below to find out why I'm a fan of Rebecca's writing.To order your copy, click

Illustration by Fiona Ferguson

Womanhood and Other Scars by Rebecca Smolen is more than a book. It’s an invitation, not just to peer into the inner life of its author, but to walk around, sniff the marrow inside her bones and explore the bruises buried deep inside.

When I met this gifted poet four years ago, I was struck by the depth and honesty of her work and the richness and mystery of her imagery. Her new collection is no exception. These 28 poems take an unflinching look at life, using metaphors that pulse with the heat of a variety of emotions, from the intensity of maternal love to the aching need to break free from isolation and anxiety.

While the pain in this collection is palpable, there’s also joy, seen especially in the pleasure Smolen takes in her work. In “Such Hobbies Must Have a Warning,” she literally describes writing as a handicraft, suggesting she can “quilt myself back together” or that “one neglected strand could be crocheted into something warm.” The despair in this piece is real, even chilling – she says she can either “Slice apart my blue-veined threads or toss the blade, end the threats” – but she also rejoices in the fact that her artistry creates “something beautiful.”

Many of the poems also celebrate the happiness of connecting with others. In “Dusting,” Smolen muses on the particles of dried skin cells that coat her and “considers of what creatures, wounds, this dust was stripped.” She also comes to the conclusion that in a world where our cells all intermingle, “I can no longer be considered a singular woman nor ever deserted again.” Similarly, in “Where Has Peace Gone?” she says she will “gulp heartily without breath” the laugh of a loving friend. That, she says, is where peace is.

The wounds described in Womanhood and Other Scars often stem from a sense of disconnection, especially between parents and children. The mother in “Never Far From Dwelled Upon Fairytales” is determined to help her daughter achieve outward beauty, but ends up damaging the child who’s now haunted by repeated criticisms of her appearance. In the same poem, the child’s innocence drowns in the “disappointed sigh” of her dad.

If the mother figures in these poems can be unpleasant (in one, thin wrists “present” a mother’s “harsh lines of her fingers like a crown”), Smolen knows that parenting requires a sometimes painful zeal. Worried about a 7-year-old son who doesn’t want to play, she says, “I can feel the ache and ice in his eyes, how they beg for the something he needs.” In “An Ode to Motherhood,” she also expresses the weight of that parental responsibility, contemplating “being this universe to the bundled children upstairs.” Digging even deeper, the poem “A Birth of a Daughter” acknowledges that no parent can make life perfect for a child and that the path of this girl will be “laced with scraped knees and raspberry bushes.” The mother in this piece vows to let her new daughter “softly sip the fragile sweetness amidst thorns.”

In Smolen’s world, the isolation of people living in their separate shells can be intolerable, but through her art, she bravely seeks to make connections by exposing her rawest emotions in her finely crafted poems. Always a generous writer, Smolen knows that her interior journey is both unique and universal and that sharing it has healing powers for both herself and us.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Red Star: Memoir by Liz Samuels

Take a trip through space and time with Liz Samuels' memoir about The People's Republic of Benin (now Benin) in the 1970s. A West African nation that was formerly known as Dahomey, the shores of Benin were part of the Slave Coast, where captives were once sent across the Atlantic. Ironically, the nation's current president, Patrice Talon, is a businessman who's called "the king of cotton."

Liz Samuels with her dad in front of the flag of the People's Republic of Benin
 at her school in 1976. Photo courtesy of Liz Samuels.

The Red Star
by Liz Samuels

In the dead of night, naked and dripping sweat, Mike and Susan Ellis slept, a mosquito net the only barrier between them and the air. They were startled by a hollow knocking on their heavy, double-width, mahogany front door. When Mike answered, two gendarmes, brandishing machine guns lit up only by one bright flashlight stood in front of him. They shouted the name of the wanted man. They were searching for the neighbor next door, a teacher who had recently been a leader of the teacher strike in their town, Porto Novo, Dahomey. The teacher got away just in time, leaving behind his Russian wife, Olga, two children, three-year-old Demitri and baby Vladimir, and a nine-year-old child/servant.

Since I took over for the Ellises, the remaining family would soon become my neighbors. The young servant was often outside with Vladimir on her back sucking sugar cane or, as I later discovered, sneaking sugar cubes from my refrigerator. Dimitri once took a calculator from my table and brought it to his house. Olga worked a lot of hours at the nearby yogurt facility across the street. She advised me to never marry a Dahomian. The family became my friends.

What transpired in the country during the husband's absence was enough to make a mind swirl. I was also a teacher and a few months later, on November 30th, 1975, I marched in a parade with my students, the lone white face in a sea of black people. At mid-day, the sun was hot and the sky completely blue. Dust from the dirt road was visible in the brilliance. We all smelled of sweat. Uncharacteristically, the students didn't complain. They loved anything to do with the revolution and were inspired by the band playing revolutionary songs. Everyone, that is the entire population of Porto Novo,  was talking loudly, so I didn't hear the announcement on the intercom. Word got around fast, though. The leader of the country, Matthieu Kerekou, now a member of the Communist Party, announced the country had a new name, the People's Republic of Benin, and she had a new flag too, instead of yellow and green and black rectangles, it was now solid green, with a red star in the corner. Word was that Dahomey only represented an elite group, and Benin was more universal. It was hard to change the word I had come to identify with but the reasons sounded like a step in the right direction.

Other changes impacted me more directly. The school year was changed to start in January instead of September. It was meant to coincide with the African growing seasons rather than the European ones. That sounded positive, but it meant six months of summer vacation instead of three.

Agriculture became part of the curriculum. The idea was well meaning, but I was expected to demand students perform manual labor, like plowing parched earth with hoes or hacking fast-growing vegetation with machetes  in the hot sun. I would rather have been under a roof deciphering English grammar or better yet discussing their perspectives on writings by Chinua Achebe or Charles Dickens in front of my students' chalkboard drawing of Lenin.
I liked it when  young, fit, military students, both male and female,  in crisp khaki uniforms were sent to our school to augment the teaching crew. They probably had guns too. I think I had become too accustomed to notice. I liked the fatter female teachers, with their pagnas adjustable for  pregnancies who only taught home ec, but this change to more equality for women was a nice contrast.

Liz Samuels carrying the current flag of Benin and  marching in the Portland Rose Parade 
in June of this year.  Photo courtesy of Liz Samuels.

Over time, the military slogans continued to increase. The students stood when I walked into the classroom. "Ehuzu, Din Don, Ehuzu, Din Don", they  shouted. "La Lutte Continue! The struggle continues!"

One day, I came home and the house next door was eerily empty. Rumor has it that Olga and family were able to reunite with man of the house in Cameroon. Today, Benin is a democratic country, in fact it became democratic under the same president, Matthieu Kerekou. He is known for having a very long presidency which changed with the times. His nickname is the chamelion.  

About the author: 
Liz Samuels says, "I'm a beginning creative writing student. My only experience has been hand written letters to my family from the early 60s to the early 80s, high school and college exercises in the 60s and 70s,  and  a few assigned, self-reflective essays since. Despite this, writing comes  naturally to me. I hope to do more of it in the future, especially fiction, with which I have no experience at all."

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Now Summer Blinks on Flowery Braes

The summer sun blinking on the River Spey in the Scottish Highlands.

Dear Friends,

I'm just back from a wee trip to Scotland, where the new summer sun in the Highlands was beginning to show her face around 4 a.m. and didn't fully descend until after 11 p.m.

Another nice thing about Scotland: It's a country that adores its writers. Last week we visited a delightful little museum in Edinburgh that's devoted to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Tucked in a mansion (which bears the piquant name of "Lady Stair's House"), the museum houses an array of interesting objects, including chairs that belonged to Burns and a white leather glove that may have been worn by his wife. It also features a quote from a letter Burns wrote to James Hoy (the librarian to the Duke of Gordon), in which the poet states, "Those who think that composing a Scotch song is a trifling business  let them try."

Burns's Scotch songs were inspired by traditional tales and lyrics that he made his own. I love the rhythm of his "The Birks of Aberfeldy":

Bonnie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go;
Bonnie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy?                             (birches)

Now simmer blinks on flowery braes,            (summer)
and o'er the crystal streamlet plays:
Come, let us spend the lightsome days
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

One of the statues of Burns at the Writers Museum.

The Scots love Robert Burns so much that they still celebrate his birthday with special dinners (and a dram or two of whisky) on January 25 each year, but the country is also home to amazing modern voices. Scotland's current national poet is Jackie Kay. Born to a white mother and Nigerian father, Kay was adopted by white parents. In her poem "George Square," she celebrates her adoptive parents, who still participated in a peace march when they were in their late 70s, despite her mother's arthritis and her father's artificial hips. The demonstration took place in Glasgow's George Square, where, Kay writes, the banners were waving "like old friends."

The official title of the national poet of Scotland is "Makar," a Scots word that refers to a writer who's skilled in their craft. Whether we write poetry, fiction or memoir, the quest to become skilled writers is, as Burns said, not a trifling business, but I've found that communities of kind and creative people can make that journey a joyous one.

For women in the Portland area who are looking for some creative inspiration, here are the details for a short but sweet summer session of my women's writing class:

Creative Writing for Women
Mondays, July 16 - August 6
10 - 11:30 a.m.
Taborspace, 5441 SE Belmont
$12 to drop in or $40 for all 4 weeks

Wishing you all a wonderful summer full of lightsome days, wherever they may take ye.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Free Range Poetry

I'm looking forward to this!

Free Range Poetry presents 
Carolyn Adams, Linda Ferguson, Penelope Scambly Schott 

Monday, June 4, 2018  
Northwest Library 
2300 NW Thurman Street 

An open mic will precede featured poets.  
Sign up for open mic at 5:45 pm.   
Reading 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm. 

Carolyn Adams’     poetry, photography, and collage art have been published in numerous journals, including Willawaw Journal, Caveat Lector, Skylark Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Forge Journal, among others.  She is author of four chapbooks, Beautiful Strangers (Lily Press), What Do You See? (Right Hand Pointing Press), An Ocean of Names (Red Shoe Press), and The Things You've Left Behind (Red Shoe Press).  She has been nominated for a Pushcart prize, as well as for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net Anthology.  In 2013, she was a finalist for the post of Houston Poet Laureate.  Having recently relocated from Houston, TX, she now resides in Beaverton, OR. 

Linda Ferguson     is an award-winning writer of poetry, fiction and essays. Her poetry chapbook was published by Dancing Girl Press. As a creative writing teacher, Linda has a passion for helping new writers find their voice and for inspiring experienced authors to explore new territory. 

Penelope Scambly Schott’s     verse biography A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth received an Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Recent books include Serpent Love: A Mother-Daughter Epic about a struggle with her adult daughter, along with an essay in which the daughter gives her point of view, and Bailing the River, a poetry collection full of dogs, coyotes, and the unsolvable and sometimes funny mysteries of the ordinary. Her newest is House of the Cardamom Seed. Penelope lives in Portland and Dufur, Oregon where she teaches an annual poetry workshop.