David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”

For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Anecdotes are the Antidote by David Stone

My daughter stormed to bed because she wasn’t getting her way.

“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, ” called her brother in concern.

“The sun’s already down. It’s dark outside,” she retorted.

Electronic devices with photo and video capability may be ubiquitous, but too many classic moments go uncaptured, whether because they are too dependent on dialogue for a photo to portray, or because they pass in less time than it takes to finger a passcode and press record. Anecdotes are the antidote.

You remember anecdotes? Those short, amusing stories popularly featured in Reader’s Digest’s “Humor in Uniform,” “Out of School,” and “All in a Day’s Work.” Or maybe you think of one of your favorite English teachers or writing textbooks suggesting anecdotes as an attention-getting option for opening an essay.

If you’ve recently listened to a political speech, a sermon, remembrances at a memorial service or a toast at a wedding, you’re more than likely to have heard an anecdote.

I believe the time has come for anecdotes to find as consistent a place on our desks, coffee tables, bookshelves, and screens as photos do. It’s time for us to sharpen our storytelling skills and to store our memories in anecdote boxes.

Selecting a box to store your anecdotes can be as much fun as writing your stories. You can browse thrift or antique stores and find a classic wood or metal card box or maybe a library card file. A search on the Internet on sites like eBay or Etsy will offer you hundreds of creative options. If you’re crafty, you might enjoy making or decorating a box for yourself. You can purchase basic card boxes at office supply stores or in the stationary aisle of a big box store.

Index cards, first utilized by the eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus to record and organize information, continue to be an inexpensive and effective choice for writing small amounts of information.

My family records our anecdotes on colored 4″ x 6″ cards, organized by each family member’s chosen color. My fourth-grade daughter enjoys writing hers on pink. My fifth-grade son likes green. My wife writes hers on orange. I like plain, old white cards. We use yellow cards for stories from extended family and friends.

Anecdotes capture a single moment like a haiku. The story of most specific events can be effectively told in three sentences. The first sentence provides the context and establishes the conflict. The second sentence creates anticipation through complication. The story’s essential twist and resolution occur in the third sentence.

My wife told me of her grandmother’s confusion when she immigrated to Canada from England after World War II. “Why have they put the tea in these tiny little bags?” she wondered. She cut apart a box full of teabags every week to fill her canister with loose tea until a friend finally explained to her how teabags worked.

When you prepare to write an anecdote, tell it out loud to someone first to see if it makes sense and has your desired effect. If you don’t get the response you’re seeking, try telling someone else. Begin making changes until you get your desired response.

Make sure you begin where your specific story starts and leave out any earlier events. Be sure you limit yourself to a single incident. Create context in the first sentence or two.

Although I usually prefer the succinctness of anecdotes in three sentences, many people use more. Reader’s Digest seeks stories of 100 or fewer words.

Determine the central point/turn of the story you’re telling. Leave out everything that does not bear on this point/turn. Include only the essential characters. Stop immediately after the story’s central point or turn.

I prefer to keep my anecdotes in a box instead of a journal. I can revise an anecdote as many times as I want. Since I write them on paper index cards, I can simply throw the card from an earlier draft in the recycle. The box also makes it easier for our family to keep our memories together.

Recently, my daughter wrote, “Near the end of recess, I sat down with a friend to talk. Suddenly a bird pooped on my arm. “Eww!” we yelled, and then burst into giggles.”

That’s the version that she put into our anecdote box. She told me the story first on the way home from school. She retold it to her mother and brother at home, and then we worked through a couple of drafts together after supper. I love the pride she takes in crafting her stories and signing and dating the back of each card.

I hope you’ll share one of your anecdotes with me in response to this column on the PE Inlandia Literary Journeys’ blog.

Verses for Those Lost to Violence by David Stone

Death in summer seems unnatural. Summer’s the season of growth from flower to fruit, but across our country, violence involving law enforcement cuts lives of civilians and police officers, an average of three a day.

Southern California is no exception. With so much death, we feel a need to put into words our loss. We need to make sense of our world. We need to lament.

Later this week I will join other writers in participating in Lament for the Dead, an online community poetry project that will mark with a poem the death of every person killed by police this summer and every police officer lost in the line of duty. The novelist, poet, and Time magazine correspondent Carey Wallace founded and curates this project.

Wallace says, “The topic of police violence in this country is incredibly raw, and the dialogue around it is filled with pain, rage, and blame. Victims of police violence and police who are killed in the line of duty very quickly become symbols in the public mind, either heroes or villains. As we shape them to fit our arguments, they’re stripped of their humanity, and we forget to cry for them.”

“Lament is a poetic form of public grief that gives us a language beyond what we hear in the public sphere,” says Wallace. “Strategy, argument, and reckoning are all crucial to change. But to heal, we must mourn.”

According to the project’s website, “When poets join, they do not know whether they will be lamenting the death of an officer or someone who is killed by police. Poets commit to writing on a specific date, and compose each poem in less than 24 hours, based on the events of the previous day. Death notices are posted as they are reported in the press, according to the time of each death, and then replaced by a poem.”

Robbi Nester, the first Southern Californian poet to participate in the project, says, “The article I received initially didn’t have any name on it or details. After doing a search for other sources, I found the man’s name and a photograph that inspired my poem.”  Kenneth Garcia, 28, of Stockton, CA died on June 14.

“I wanted to participate,” says Orange County poet Nester, “because I, like so many others, have felt helpless to do anything about the terrible trend of violence in the streets, with police becoming increasingly militarized and alienated from the public, especially people of color, and the price of life seeming to be so cheap.”

“Garcia was not the kind of person I might have thought of as representative of these problems,” says Nester, “yet writing the poem forced me to recognize that a life is a life, and this person, like all others had unspoken tragedies and trauma that may have led to his violent behavior.”

Claremont poet and retired psychologist Karen Greenbaum-Maya received an article on the death of Kris Jackson, 22, of Peretuth Lake Tahoe, CA who died on June 15, 2015. Greenbaum-Maya says, “Kris Jackson turned out to be a very unsympathetic character. In fact, my first reaction was, ‘No loss there.’ However, that wasn’t the project. I took a long walk and thought about how lamentable his life was, how much had gone wrong, rather than his death—caught myself thinking, ‘I have so many questions’—and I realized that those questions were what would make the poem.”

Greenbaum-Maya’s lament titled “Interrogation, or, Questions No One Asked Kris Jackson” artfully lists a series of emotionally charged questions, leaving a reader connected to Jackson as a fellow human.

Los Angeles poet Judith Terzi wrote on the June 16, death of Jermaine Benjamin, 42, of Gifford, FL. Terzi says, “There was scant info about Benjamin or the incident, though I did search the net to find out when he was born and if he had had any prior incidents. I found out that the police had been called to his house something like 70 times already in 10 years.”

“I decided,” says Terzi, “to write the poem in the form of a prayer using repetition and the second person. Like an ode to him. At the last minute I got the idea to include the epigraph from “Wayfaring Stranger” because staring into his photo, Jermaine Benjamin seemed so lost and forlorn. I began to feel pity for him.”

Laments allow us to see the human commonalities that bind us, to recognize how we all have added to the world and harmed it, to preserve another’s memory, and to comfort those of us who remain alive.

Almost as surely as the heat of summer rises, so will the toll from police violence. Don’t let the news reports be another number. Go to www.lamentforthedead.org and grieve another human life.

Our Long Brown Land by David Stone

Growing concern over this season’s low-levels of snowpack in the Sierras has brought numerous comparisons to California’s lowest recorded snowpack in 1977. This summer we may be once more “under the sky that deafened from listening for rain” as Gary Soto wrote in his 1977 poem “The Drought.” Californians need to place drought literature at the top of their reading lists because it provides us knowledge of our past and visions for our future.

The Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton wrote, “man uses his old disasters as a mirror.” Natural disasters such as drought allow humans to see more clearly their relationship to Earth and its natural forces.

The classic American novel of drought is John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which describes farm families fleeing the Great Plains’ Dustbowl in the 1930s with false hopes of an Eden in California. Steinbeck’s novel helps readers to see the environmental, economic, and human costs of drought and the great migrations that major droughts can cause.

The term “dustbowl” is increasingly being used to refer to California’s Central Valley. Former Inlandia Literary Laureate Gayle Brandeis recommends Alan Heathcock’s “Scenes from the New American Dustbowl” with photographs by Matt Black, published in the online magazine, Matter. Reminiscent of Steinbeck’s travel literature, the fiction writer Heathcock turns to nonfiction to tell the story of farmers along California’s Highway 99.

Drought drives home the value of water. Joan Didion’s essay “Holy Water” from her 1979 collection “The White Album” reminds us to reconsider the complex and distant sources of California’s water. Didion says, “the apparent ease of California life is an illusion, and those who believe the illusion real live here in only the most temporary way.” The megadroughts of prehistorical California, like the 240-year-long one that began in 850, make Didion’s words sound prophetic.

For the definitive history of water resources in the American West, read Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert,” commonly described as an illuminating look into the political economy of limited resources. For a more in-depth look at the history of the Colorado River, which Reisner called the “American Nile,” read “Contested Waters” by water historian April Summitt of La Sierra University.

The Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Water Knife,” now available for pre-order, presents a near future dystopia where Nevada, Arizona and California fight over the water of the Colorado River. Early reviews describe it as a science fiction thriller with a realistic portrayal of an all too probable future.

“Water Knife” may also be classified as climate fiction, cli-fi for short. Climate change concern drives this emerging genre’s increasing popularity in literature and film. Often described as a cousin of science fiction, climate fiction typically focuses on the results of climate change in the present and near future. J. G. Ballard began the cli-fi genre with a trilogy of novels in the 1960s , including “The Burning World,” which tells the story of a global drought caused by industrial waste. The novel was later renamed “The Drought.”

Should we as humans see ourselves essentially in conflict with nature? Do Southern Californians misconstrue natural disasters “by a way of thinking that simultaneously imposes false expectations on the environment and then explains the inevitable disappointments as proof [of] a malign and hostile nature,” as Mike Davis argues in “Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster?”

The academic field of ecocriticism, which examines how nature is portrayed in culture, prompts careful rethinking about the relationship of humans to the environment. “Readers should ask how could individuals and societies inhabit their world more sustainably. Literature can help us articulate the dangers and imagine the solutions,” says Lora Geriguis, associate professor of English at La Sierra University and host of the Natures conference, which annually draws ecocritical scholars from around the world.

Children can also use literature to cope with drought. Larry Gerber’s “Adapting to Drought” gives readers in grades four to eight a basic understanding of the science behind droughts as well as suggestions of how to take action. They might also enjoy Karen Hesse’s Newberry Award winning free-verse novel “Out of the Dust” that tells the story of Billie-Jo trying to survive during the dustbowl years of the Depression.

Teens looking for something beyond the myriad of dystopian novels should check out “We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change.”

If drought worries you, crack open Ruth Nolan’s “No Place for a Puritan” to the excerpt from Mary Austin’s “The Land of Little Rain.” “If one is inclined to wonder at first how so many dwellers came to be in the loneliest land that ever came out of God’s hands, what they do there and why stay, one does not wonder so much after having lived there. None other than this long brown land lays such a hold on the affections.”

One Man at a Women’s Club by David Stone

Over thirty women filled the luncheon tables of the Beaumont Women’s Club on Sixth Street when I arrived. “Would you help us with an extra table?” asked Ruth Jennings, the Program Secretary of the Club. Getting put to work, I immediately felt like I was at a family event where the men had all escaped to another room.

A few weeks earlier, Mrs. Jennings had written me a beautiful handwritten letter in response to my Inlandia Literary Journeys column, The Lost Art of Letter Writing. She had invited me to join Cati Porter, Executive Director of the Inlandia Institute, to discuss the work of Inlandia and share some of our poems. Written on gray cotton stationary, Mrs. Jenning’s formally formatted letter described her own remarkable personal letter collection, including letters written by relatives describing scenes of the American Civil War and the funeral parade of President Garfield in 1881.

Although in my childhood my grandmother Margaret Stone was a longstanding member of the Waverly Women’s Club in Pennsylvania, and my mother, a housekeeper, had been paid to wash the dishes for that group’s meetings, I had never been privileged to view the proceedings of any of their meetings.

When the women in Beaumont stood to start their meeting by saying the pledge to the American flag as I brought in the last of the extra chairs they had asked me to retrieve from the hall closet, I paused in the door and placed my hand over my heart, feeling like a kid in school. I quickly joined Cati Porter at our back table in time to listen to the women recite the Women’s Club Pledge as they held hands. At first I felt compelled to join the women in committing to virtue and service, but hearing my own lower voice, I fell silent and scanned the room. The youngest were middle-aged like myself. The oldest, Blanche B. Fries, sat directly in front of me. At a hundred years old, she told me she still teaches piano lessons to children. She has five students.

President Joan Marie Patsky, chairing the meeting from a podium at the front, encouraged members to pass a clear plastic jug and give “Pennies for Pines.” A thoughtful member told me of the Club’s service project, how they collect money to purchase property and to plant trees. I followed the example of most of the members and emptied my wallet of some green bills and not copper. A container for a fifty-fifty raffle soon followed. One lucky member takes home half the pot, and the Club earns the rest. They asked Cati to draw the ticket for the day. The winner shouted when she determined she held the winning ticket.

Cati and I filed to the back of the room to pick up one of the antique clear glass luncheon plates with a corner raised ring to stabilize a cup. Disappointingly, no matching glass cups were set out for this meeting. I have never dined with that form of dinnerware.

Stretched over several tables were finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, crudités, sweet breads, and fresh fruit. Back at the table, I pleasantly startled myself as I ate what I thought was a pitted natural olive, but turned out to be a homemade chocolate. I enjoyed the sweet treat just before I stood up to speak.

President Patsky introduced Cati and I to the members. Cati described the mission of the Inlandia Institute to promote literary activity in the Inland Empire region of California through writing workshops, readings, and the publishing of books through Heyday Books and more recently under the Institute’s own imprint. She announced the inaugural Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Book Prize. Cati read a poem from her book Seven Floors Up inspired by a sticker that came home with her son one day, “Caution Please Do Not Turn The Head Forcefully.”

Inspired by the fine penmanship in Ruth Jenning’s letter of invitation, I began my portion of the program with “If We Stop Teaching Cursive” and “Reading Time.”

Attempting to highlight the range of Inlandia publications, I read several of my poems from the 2013 Writing from Inlandia: “On Seeing the Cost of Time Change,” “Riding the Flexible Flyer,” and “A Dammed Life.” I displayed broadside prints for each of these poems with the block print illustrations I had created.

From Orangelandia: The Literature of Inland Citrus, I read “Wishing for a Ladder” and “Redlands Sunset.” From Inlandia: A Literary Journey, the official online literary journal of the Inlandia Institute, I read “Creosote,” and “A Rare Night Air.”

I closed with “Two Eggs,” “My Father’s Amputation on Tuesday,” and “My Top Drawer.”

The members asked Cati and I numerous questions about Inlandia and the topics brought up in my poems. They also spent several minutes in animated discussion of Timothy Green’s Inlandia Literary Journeys column “Poe and Poetic Discovery.”

More than thirty years after my mother had shooed me out of the kitchen at the Waverly Community House and told me a Women’s Club meeting was no place for a boy, I decided it was a great place for a man to visit.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing by David Stone

While the crowds are searching online and in the big box stores for the thinnest, fastest electronic devices with the most power and memory, I will be leisurely selecting traditional stationery and pens for novel gifts. I believe letter writing helps family and friends to slow down and reconnect.

My mother stopped writing me this past summer after thirty-one years of faithful correspondence. We have communicated through letters since I went away to a boarding high school when I was fourteen. Weekly she had sent me at least two news filled sheets with a healthy portion of motherly advice, always closed with “Love, Mom.” Through high school and college and again when I was in graduate school, her letters almost always included a check—money I knew she had literally earned on her hands and knees, scrubbing someone else’s floor as a housekeeper. Her letters were truly gifts of love.

Headlines from Beijing to Boston have heralded letter writing as a lost art. Not including greeting cards or invitations, the US Postal Service reported in 2011 that a typical home received a personal letter every seven weeks, more than three times less frequently than in 1987 when it was once every two weeks. According to the numbers of the 2014 Postal Facts report, first-class single piece mail volume declined an additional 3.2 billion pieces or 12% in the past two years, down more than fifty percent in the last decade.

In 1922 Emily Post wrote, “the art of general letter writing in the present day is shrinking until the letter threatens to become a telegram, a telephone message, a postcard.” What would she say about digital communication? Texts, tweets, and Instagrams have virtually replaced that art; indeed, we live in an era of digital fragments. That’s why traditional letter writing gifts stand out.

Compared to the 140 characters of a tweet, receiving a letter is like getting a full-sized car rather than a matchbox; compared to an email, a handwritten letter is like a hand-sewn patchwork quilt rather than a Walmart blanket. The quality comes from the unique combination of stationary, writing instrument, and manuscript form or font.

In other words, letter writing is an art form, a product of a complex craft. Letters are creations, appreciated for their beauty and emotional power. You might find buried in your desk, closet or attic, a letter or two that deserves to be framed and fittingly displayed in your home along side family photos.

Most importantly, letters connect us in a way other communications do not. A friend of mine recently discovered a letter by her grandfather who died when she was only three months old. The letter was written to her grandmother on the day after she and her grandfather got engaged. “My darling little Lily,” he began. His letter connects her to the grandfather she never met.

Letters are relational from the salutation to the closing—two elements absent in tweets, texts, and even in many emails that read more like memos. The slow process of writing the body of a letter therapeutically brings us deeper insight to our lives as we organize our personal experiences and construct the self we choose to share through our words.

A number of recently published books would make excellent gifts for those wishing to hone their letter writing skills or learn more about letter writing. Nina Sankovitch’s new book “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” begins with her discovery of letters in an old steamer trunk written by a college student over a hundred years earlier. Sankovitch shares the insights she learns as she attempts to pass on her love for letter writing to her own son who is headed to Harvard.

Simon Garfield’s “To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing” just came out in paperback. In over 400 pages, this best-selling writer retells the history of letters and provides practical how-to instruction with numerous examples.

To see a colorful and creative collection of letters, read Ivan Cash’s “Snail My E-mail: Handwritten Letters in a Digital World.” Cash shares some of the most creative letters of the more than 10,000 he and other volunteers created when they set out to handwrite and mail letters for others for free.

For a practical guide to personal letter writing that focuses on its social qualities, consider Margaret Shepherd’s “The Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to Connecting through the Written Word.”

After three months of disappointingly walking to the mailbox, I found a fat envelope late this September addressed to me in my mother’s cursive that I had worked so hard to imitate as a child, preparing for a forgery I don’t remember ever actually committing. Stuffed in the envelope were six sheets. Multiple unfinished pages and a full letter beginning, “Maybe (someday) you will get an email from me. I now have a book titled ‘Computers for Dummies.’”

I’m sending her some stationary. I’m praying she misplaces her book.

David Stone is a poet who teaches English at Loma Linda Academy.

Walking Other Paths of Inspiration by Marsha Schuh

If you write, what is it that gives you ideas?

The first question most poets and writers have been asked is: “Where do you get your ideas?”

When I’m asked this, I usually answer by saying either, “ideas are everywhere,” or “I don’t know.”

Neither answer are very helpful, are they? It is a question that novice writers ponder. Even experienced writers sometimes wonder where others find their inspiration. When I listen to powerful writers read their work, the same questions scratch at my brain: “Where did that come from? How did you ever think that up?”

Consider a few possibilities.

Writers often find inspiration while walking. Several of my own poems have grown from my morning walks around Ontario.

Walking also was a favorite pastime of writers, such as: Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and, of course, Henry David Thoreau and William Wordsworth.

Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates and Will Self have praised the benefits of long distance walking. The exercise not only provides ideas, but also has a calming effect while at the same time stimulating the brain – both conducive to good writing. Studies have shown that walking boosts creative inspiration by as much as 60 percent.

The prolific poet Mary Oliver says, “Think for yourself. Trust your own intuition. Another’s mind isn’t walking your journey; you are.”

True, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand what journeys have inspired other writers? What sparks their mysterious ordering of words that are able to stir and inspire us? Each person is a storehouse of feelings, memories and ideas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to peer into those storehouses?

Realizing this fact, I propose to interview perhaps 10 to 20 poetry and prose artists in the Inland area and combine their insights into a book, one that includes the input of several Inlandia/PoetrIE writers along with my own.

Contributors would discuss some of the things that have triggered their own creativity, perhaps offer a couple of examples from pieces they’ve written and maybe suggest prompts for other people who aspire to write.

As an example, think of Dru Sefton’s piece published on Current.org on May 30 concerning the book edited by poet Robbi Nester: “The Liberal Media Made Me Do It: Poetic Responses to NPR & PBS Stories.” It features the work of 56 poets reacting to segments and programs aired by public stations.

What a great and unexpected source of inspiration!

Elizabeth Kostova, author of novels “The Swan Thieves” and “The Historian,” finds inspiration from William Carlos Williams’ admonition, “No ideas but in things.” She writes a delightful essay on the subject in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and the object she chooses to write about is a set of metal measuring spoons she remembers from her mother’s kitchen. Consider the possibilities in “First Objects.”

Kostova says, “For writing it seems important to me that the objects we grow up with help form our sense of the world.”

Her essay provided me with a possible prompt: Think of a few early objects you remember that were your gateways to life and learning. Write about one of them, recalling the many vivid images it stirs up in you. Allow your mind to follow the flights of fancy it takes you on.

What is it that inspires you? Since the question has been discussed by authors through the ages, one aspect that intrigues me in this project is how contributors will add to the conversation.

When I suggested the topic of inspiration to fellow Inlandia poet David Stone, he had some questions of his own: “Will the writers you interview affirm ideas from the past? Will they find major or fine points of contention/difference with earlier writers? Will they bring in ideas from unexpected fields of study?”

Here is a conversation that has the potential to enrich all of our writing lives.

Based on the number of writing books and “how to” books both online and in bookstores, I believe there would be a considerable market for such a book. What do you think? Would you like to participate?

Would you like to join our conversation? Leave a comment here on the Inlandia Literary Journeys blog.

Poetry Called Present by David Stone

I stammer taking roll call the first day of a new school year. My multicultural classroom comes with a roster with names like those of the United Nations. After more than a decade at the same school, I have the advantage of having practiced a fair number of surnames, but the first name of a sibling can often leave me stuttering its first letter in a stall to determine which syllable to accent.

Jason McCall’s “Roll Call for Michael Brown,” published by Rattle on August 17, brought new meaning to roll call anxiety for me. His poem evoked my feelings of the inevitability of “honest mistakes ” but then led me to the “groans” of grief and the weight of responsibility as I came to identify my connection to the death of a young man who lived halfway across the country.

Attempting to make personal sense of Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing demonstrations and violence in Ferguson, Missouri, I found more in McCall’s poem than many of the news articles I read. I am convinced that America needs more poets to answer the roll call and write in response to events in the news. In the wake of advertisement revenues dispersing to an ever broadening array of media outlets, our nation’s newspapers falter. The number of reporters pounding the news beats of America dwindles. No wonder we turn to the archetypes of town criers, jesters, and troubadours.

I do not wish for a further demise of our nation’s longstanding fourth estate, the newspapers of traditional print journalism; however, I am grateful for our contemporary criers, the newer Internet news agencies, and our jesters, the comedic news shows that fill the expanding gap left by the thinning of America’s newspapers. I wish for more venues for troubadours, more poets to sing the songs of our evolving history.

Rattle’s new weekly “Poets Respond,” an online project that presents one poem about an event that occurred in the past week, joins New Verse News in what I believe is a small number of current-events poetry publications. James Penha has edited New Verse News since founding it in early 2005.

On Sunday, August 31, the Los Angeles Times ran a page of “opinionated poetry” for a second time as a result of the more than 1,500 poets who responded to last year’s call for current-events poems.

Southern Californians interested in poetry, music, and art promoting peace will find current-events poetry live at numerous venues on Saturday, September 27. Search the Internet for 100 Thousand Poets for Change to locate the nearest venue. Since 2013 the grassroots organization 100 Thousand Poets for Change annually organizes an international day of events.

Newspapers should seriously consider the regular inclusion of current-events poems. People still buy papers for the comics. I bet some would buy them for poems.

The poet and political activist Denise Levertov wrote for a 1967 symposium, “Good poets write bad political poems only if they let themselves write deliberate, opinionated rhetoric, misusing their art as propaganda.”

As much as current events are too important to be left to the bare recitation of facts or the fulminations of politicos and pundits, current-events poetry needs to be more than mere propaganda.

Levertov questioned whether the role of a poet should be “observer” or “participant.” I would argue we need both in our newspapers. Contemporary war poetry shows the power of both perspectives. Citizens need to read poems from soldier poets like Collin Halloran’s Shortly Thereafter and spouses like Elyse Fenton’s Clamor.

Well-written poems provide more than a sound bite.

No doubt, we need more poetry called present.

David Stone is a poet who teaches English at Loma Linda Academy.