celebrate, create, grieve, repeat: a poet returns

birthday montage
birthday montage

A few days ago another calendar year started for Mama C. Like your average bear I enjoy a little birthday love, some flowers, breakfast in bed. But, what I really love is the chance to reinvent myself, again. (January 1st, and Back to School also hold that possibility–or at least the excuse to start a new calendar and fill it with all the times I went to the gym this year. A week later, it’s amazing how much the old and the new calendar resemble the other…) This year Shrek and the boys helped me to craft a list of things I can feel fiercely fabulous about. Here are a few highlights in no particular order:

  • attending my first week long writers residency
  • crossing the country twice to visit my father and step mom with a different lad each time
  • a magnificent and robust urban garden in the summer and fall
  • several home improvements
  • transitioning to a part time job for one year
  • making ends meet on a part time income
  • volunteering in the boys’ classrooms once a week
  • co-organizing three epic cross cultural events at my sons’ school since last March
  • being invited to the “table” to discuss issues of race and equity in our school district
  • presenting on race and education to a graduate program in counseling,
  • parenting my big-in-the-world boys with some success
  • working it hard in the longest committed relationship I have ever been in
  • deepening relationships with five bonus children
  • planning a wedding
  • meditating and exercising regularly
  • noticing old patterns that no longer serve me, and attempting to change them Continue reading “celebrate, create, grieve, repeat: a poet returns”

With an Open Fist (poem reworked)

With an Open Fist

A fist curled tight
a foot stomped harder
three chairs pulled over
and a blankie ripped right down the middle.

It is common she said
for our children to experience rage
on a deeper level
to relive their loss in every loss

it is common she said
for our children to need more
reassurance that we are going

Cannonball after cannonball you launch
into the deep end.
The splashes reach up over the edge
and dissolve over the concrete.

Here at the pool we can scream
and rage, and launch and submerge
and to everyone else it is perfectly normal.

I climb in beside you,
cold and uncomfortable.
Yet certain that you won’t go under
again in this lifetime.

That night you arrive in my room
after midnight
and crawl into bed
with your eyes closed.

Then you reach
underneath the pillow
in your sleep
to find my hand-
you grab on with a fierce grip

until like the water on the concrete
your uncertainty evaporates.


This poem is one I am revisiting. It originally showed up on the first incarnation of the blog in August, 2009. It is part of a handful that have a “counselor” voice too, as I was getting lots of help at that moment.

It is almost completely different. I sort of love that. Last night the boys and fell asleep in my old bed, having  a Mother’s Day extended cuddle. Marcel’s hand, not Sam’s found mine in his sleep and grabbed me. Feeling his fingers slowly open as he fell back asleep brought me back to this poem today.

Residency Day Seven, Less than 24 to go and..

Self Portrait Day 7, Chappaquiddick Beach
Self Portrait Day 7
beach framed
Noticing that there is a frame work emerging…
all work...
All work and no play makes…

It is raining. Thank God. I am ensconced at the dining room table, sipping my way too strong coffee from the ACME mug. I have an ambitious goal to accomplish in the next ten hours, before my final meal in community and our group reading.

The thought of leaving here is  (just a blinking cursor on the page after the word is).

Catherine, you can bring this framework, this poise that radiates from a center of possibility from here to home, from one place to the next, as long as you believe it is indeed waiting for you there.  Catherine you are bringing all of these magnificent connections home with you, because they have already altered your course. You may not have any idea how, but that you trust that it is so, is enough. Hold that in your heart through the wobbly good-byes.

Little bunny rabbit on the lawn just outside-you are the sweetest reminder, that my children are nearer than I think. Shrek I can not wait to have this hovering longing for your embrace quenched. It is so exciting to know that you are waiting to welcome all of me back, and eager to remind me that all of you is there too. You have given me this week without a momentary worry about the one of you. OK, there was that one moment, but it was all part of the journey…Really, how do I begin to thank you?

“Time to hit the decks,” as the novelist next to me would say.  The world needs your voice, your art, your pictures, your songs, your smile, your belief in what you have to say is uniquely yours and wildly worthy of all the space it takes.

EdgeFlow EdgeFlow EdgeFlow: A midweek check in from the residency

Where it all began, and the plant that witnessed it.
Where it all began, and the plant that witnessed it.

I am delighted to say that yesterday I experienced what some might call flow. It started from a dream I had where I was defending the legitimacy of my newest book to a friend. I woke up and recorded all the details I remembered. For the next three hours the project unfolded on the page. I literally was just holding the pen, and watching it go.

I was not only writing, creating, and in harmony with my reason for being on the planet, but I had the sense that such an alignment with the universe and my creative pursuits is indeed possible. This lasted for at least forty five seconds.

Then, for the next three hours, I wrestled through, and am content enough with the outcome.  I’m a little afraid to dip back in there again, what if I can’t find that flow again? What if it was an imagined ease?  Hogwash.

Richard Blanco’s poems,  and the little potted plant (Bellis P. Rominette for those who wonder such things) I picked up at the green house the day before (to bring home and transplant in my garden to remind me that I too can flourish when I return) were my witnesses.

I’m at the little library in town today doing a little housekeeping (procrastinating) before returning to the, dare I say it, flow. I had the glorious good fortune to enjoy a walk on the beach before the library opened with one of the amazing residents here, Deborah, who I have connected with in such an easy and reassuring way.  She is guide, mentor, and friend. We have that immeasurably sweet-I’ve known you before dear friend-ease. She showed me how to dance on the beach and let it go.

self portrait: residency day 3
self portrait: residency day 3

From this photo, I believe it is quite obvious that flow is good for the soul.  Let me reassure all of you, that the hours prior to said epiphany were spent wondering if anyone would notice if I crawled out the window and stole home on the next ferry, as I felt so daunted by expectation, and self doubt. Clearly, all that was a necessary part of the process. Tonight I am in charge of cooking the meal for nine! My gourmet skills as a grilled cheese chef will dazzle for sure.  Back to it then, or is time for another inspiring nap?

Journey to here from there. Residency Day 1

I am stunned with gratitude and humbled by all the generosity, and warmth that welcomed me to this magnificent writers residency.

I could barely sleep last night from the fortune of it all.

I walked in the side door to a place setting for me at a table set for eight. I followed as one of the outgoing writers (the residency is anywhere from one to six weeks long) graciously carried my suitcase to my perfect room, with the writers desk up against the window, and joined the assembled for dinner. I listened to their stories, took in their reasons for being here and mined as much as I could from the two who would be leaving in the morning.

We are poets, essayists, novelists, children’s book writers, musicians, journalists, playwrights, and memoir writers. We are from several continents. We are white. We span about a twenty year age span. We are married, divorced, single, partnered, childless, and parenting. We share meals, and if the first night is any indication of what is to come-we will share the maps we’ve got folded up or and not too tucked away- that got us here from there.

I spent the morning with Bell Hooks’ “Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life” as it presented itself to me at breakfast on the table next to me.  I took that is a sign that I was meant to listen to. Reaching back out to the ether via this blog could help me to land somehow.  As does the little camera on my phone. I can have this experience more immediately, or mediated perhaps as Hooks might say, if I look at myself through that lens too.

The boys are steady as can be in Shrek’s unimaginably calm and present loving care. We spoke this morning. How blessed and fortunate I am.  A special bow of gratitude to a certain artist friend of mine, who emailed me some mighty reasonable advice on how to do a residency. You and yours have given me complete permission to let this week unfold as it will.  Thank you both.

Finally, I am writing here all of this miraculous good good I got going here to encourage any of you who are reading to this point and thinking; “Could I ever so such a thing…” that you could, and you should. This months Poets and Writers magazine features a section on Writers Retreats.  What are you waiting for?

Yes, little poem, I see you there in the margins. It is time to return to you now…

And I’m off…

take off... C 2013 MamaCandtheBoys
take off…  C 2013 MamaCandtheBoys

These are the last key strokes before I pack up this typer and head out to the great writing yonder on my one week residency.  Everyone here is poised for the journey in their own way, and calling on all their coping mechanisms. Shrek is nothing but supportive, light, and “we so got this” as he makes me a loaf of bread and his five star egg salad while prepping the pancakes.  Marcel is painting everywhere, and doing acrobatics at the same time. Sam is sleeping.

I am drinking too much coffee, and repeating a few necessary mantras like; “it will be exactly what it is meant to be.” And, “it’s OK if they don’t completely fall apart in my absence…” The dominant series being; “You did it. You designed it. You earned it. Now GET it. Enjoy it all Catherine…”

I have packed lightly; clothing, a few necessary altar items, and some don’t need to live without food items.  The main heft being a selection of books to inspire, distract, and push. Among the titles;  Annie Lamont’s Bird by Bird, Robert Pinsky’s The Sound of Poetry, Maxine Hong Kingston’s To Be the Poet. Richard Blanco, Philip Booth, Marge Piercy are in between the favorite sweatshirt, and the letters from the boys. Janna Malamud Smith’s An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery is in the bag next to my lunch.

Last night I read Smith’s chapter on solitude and the creative. She provides a compelling argument for why we crave and believe in the importance of time away to do the art. She debunks the myth in part as well. In between I found myself embracing this line on the eve of my first such journey;

We hold a distorted notion that our feelings and creative impulses need to be only ours and harvested by us in isolation. But the reality is richer…Simply put, to sustain the effort of art making, it helps to have a sense, felt more than thought, sometimes eroticized, sometimes not- of someone, or several who stay(s) near you in your mind, and who is interested in you and what you have to say. Such fantasies are ubiquitous parts of mental life, hardly only the domain of art-makers. But the difference is that they particularly need to arrange a balance that stimulates their creativity yet supports their solitude. (p. 133)

So dear readers, friends, and family know that I can not enjoy a moment of this without the knowledge that you are coming with me in my mind, asking me to do more of what I do best. Because, I believe that you care about the results.

Bowing with gratitude here.




Talking race in the classroom, on the air, at the salon

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of engaging in a series of conversations/interviews with a conscientious, thoughtful reporter from our local public radio affiliate. She contacted me to discuss how Black History Month is or is not a part of the classroom.

Samantha was ready to tackle the topic in an informed and respectful way. She was very successful at putting me and my students at ease in our one on one interviews as well as the taping of the class. It was such a gift for me to have more practice at integrating my core beliefs and values within the framework of my professional life in such an accommodating venue.

To view the online piece, or listen to the audio, please click here.

In the classroom. Photo by Samantha Fields.
In the classroom. Photo by Samantha Fields.

This past week I hosted a “salon” where I invited twelve friends, colleagues, and fellow race journeyers to join together in circle to share a poem, a story, a journal entry, a song, an article, or any other medium where the intersection of race and the body were at play.

The night was energized and exhilarating. We shared. We laughed. We were still, uncomfortable, and grateful as we witnessed the crisis, the grief, the depth of the unknown, complicated, triggering and complex territory of race in our collective bodies. Yet, it felt safe. How amazing.

It was one of the more hopeful evenings I have had in a long time. Special thanks to Justice in the Body, for providing the space and the encouragement to host the event.

How are you reaching out in your personal lives to create a space to talk about your experience with race? What is working? What is helping? What can you share to give others the courage to take the same risk?

Residency count down: preparing for the journey

poet photo

In a few weeks I’ll be heading out on my writers residency on an island several hundred miles from here. To prepare for this adventure I have to:

  • work out several hundred thousand logistics with Shrek about the boys. This is no small feat to the co-parenting unit. It will be vacation week, but not for him. In addition he teaches two nights a week, and has five children of his own. We are working out the schedules, the asks for support; “Maybe so and so can take Sam for an overnight and Marcel can…” I am trusting, and staying in the “this is a good thing for me, and for them, and the world one day…” energy as best I can.
  • gather the material to work on. There are several binders auditioning for the part. There are the “old” poems, and the “polished” ones, the “new ones” and the tanker that is carrying the unwritten ones. There are the ones that go together, and the outliers. There are the sweet lines just napping on the margins, or waiting for their moment of glory in the wings. Then there are the essays, the magazine articles, the plans for the play. I am at risk of building Mama C’s Creativity Ark for Forty Days and Forty Nights, when this is only a week. What is my goal? Goals?
  • consider what food I want to bring, so that I am not paying island prices for things I could have brought. Not load myself down in the pack horse category for the bus ride. What little comfort items must come to help the muse to find her way.
  • remember how to write. A poem. From beginning to something else. To this end I have created an almost perfectly monastic and sacred writing space downstairs. I am here this morning, having promised myself I could manage a stanza. Apparently I am working on a blog post, about writing a stanza instead.
  • prepare the boys for this week away from me.
  • prepare me for this week away from them.

But perhaps the most important thing I needed to do, and can say I have checked off my list is taken the artsy, moody, poet self portrait that I will attach to the inside of my mock up jacket to the collection of poetry I am going to complete by the end of the year. I’m pretty pleased with the first take above.

Absolutely open to other suggestions, ideas, and strategies from you seasoned residency goers out there. Or just those of you who travel, create, co-parent or think you have something meaningful to add to the conversation!

Acceptance 101: A Writers Residency in April

Celebrating Mama
Celebrating Mama

It’s official. I’ve been accepted to my first writer’s residency in the spring. I sent a selection of poems from my manuscript to the director along with the application and imagined myself arriving there a few months from now with a bag of books, my cozies, my laptop, and “the binder”.  I heard the sound of the ferry as it pulled away leaving me and the other nine writers from all around the world engulfed in a late morning sun drenched anticipatory fog… Then the daydream would be rudely interrupted by the sound of “Mom, Marcel just gave me a wedgie!”  No matter what happens, I would think at those moments the possibility of a week away in my own room, with just my writing and the sound of the waves crashing outside my window was a delicious gift.

To that end I also have to admit the sending of the work out into the world, to be deemed worthy or not, was a test of my work, and a test of my readiness to be seen. Would I make it into the “maybe next time” the “to be invited” or the “to be fed to the gerbil’s cage” pile? (Now isn’t that an image for a short story? Lines of poetry all over the gerbil’s cage?)   So when I read the line; I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your poems from “Black  Enough” and am looking forward to meeting you and to talking with you more about your work I felt my skin expanding.

My work is ready.

So, am I?


Are you interested?  I came across this post this morning by Tracy Marchini on looking for a writer’s residency while searching residencies as a topic. It looks super useful, and I hope to return to it to learn more.

Have you?  Have you been to a retreat or residency? What was your experience like? Would you recommend it? How did you prepare?

Manuscript news and a poem’s premiere

Cover page
Cover page

I am asking for some good vibes out there in Mama C ville. I have sent my “manuscript” (which is actually ten of my poems) out to three different venues. The first two are competitions. I won’t say where, or when so that I don’t end up having one of you being the judge, or married to her, but both are big deals. The third is a residency that Shrek is wildly supportive of me going to if I get accepted. Again, I will wait to give out any identifying details until I know one way or the other. I am just thrilled that I am collecting my work, all or most of which you read here first into a larger body of work to be taken in as a whole. It is time.

I am also organizing a night of readings on race in April locally.

The word I chose to organize 2013 around for myself, is SEEN.  This feels so powerfully important to me suddenly. More on that principal, and how all of us are working on it at the house soon.

In the meantime another world premiere of a Mama C poem which I wrote a few weeks ago. The form is the pantoum, one that I worked on with my students, and they loved it. Several of the lines repeat, so you are only writing 8 lines for a 16 line poem. Give or take a line depending on your style. Enjoy, and thank you always for your support and encouragement. It means so much to me.

A Rushing Pantoum

Always rushed.
Can I have a cuddle?
There is no time for a cuddle now.
Stop pounding on your brother.

Can I have a cuddle?
Where are my car keys?!?
Stop pounding on your brother.
When does do it differently begin?

Where are my car keys?!?
Soon they’ll have their own rides.
When does do it differently begin?
Watching them drive away from me.

Soon they’ll have their own rides.
There is no time for a cuddle now.
Watching them drive away from me.
With a suitcase of everything I didn’t have time for.

-C Anderson 2013