Friday, September 23, 2011

Shepherd's Center 2011 Poetry Anthology


from the Shepherd’s Center

Winter—Spring 2011

This short collection is the fourth by our Shepherd’s Center Poetry Group.

These pages are meant to be a memento of our weeks together during the winter and spring of 2011, which I believe have emboldened us to find and affirm the poet in ourselves and others. Thank you again for sharing your talent and insight with the group.—Bob Demaree

Uncle Al

Martha Golensky

Her dad admired him,

so she did too.

He got them free tickets

to Yankees games.

They read his bylined column

in the Herald Trib.

He was famous

in the family

for colorful language—

his signature line:

“You take a pee,

and we’ll take a powder.”

After the paper folded,

he did PR for the Jets.

He invited her to see a game

at his Manhattan hotel suite.

Her dad was dead by then.

She was thrilled!

The epitome of the young

New York career woman,

she dressed with care.

He offered a drink;

she opted for Pepsi.

They sat together on the couch.

Suddenly he lunged

and tried to kiss her.

In anguish, she cried:

“Uncle Al!”

He said: “You have

to call me uncle?”

He explained it was

con amore.

She agreed to go to dinner—

not sure why.

He flirted with the waitress,

who seemed to know him.

The numbness wore off

on the train back to Brooklyn.

She called home.

Her mother was outraged;

her sister, embarrassed.

Then never told Aunt Bess.

Uncle Gordon

Elmer Billman

Actually, he was an older first cousin.

He was likable, and a favorite of my mother.

He helped his father on the farm,

But during the great depression he tried to sell kitchen utensils.

My mother encouraged him to practice his spiel on her.

She bought a colander.

The Indianapolis papers carried stories about the motorcycle bandit.

Riding a cycle he specialized in robbing

filling stations. An owner was reading a

newspaper, facing the door.

On his lap was a pistol, which he fired.

Uncle Gordon died in an Indianapolis hospital.


Cynthia Schaub

Long, elegant fingers untouched

by labor.

Work boots, muddied,

Pith helmet tilted

back, sweat-drenched,

A lock of black

hair fallen front.

A gentleman’s farm of

lawns and gardens,

mowed by a Saturday tractor

Eighth Grade

Jenny Angyal

Reading aloud

the fragile tissue of words

wrapping your small grief—

the sweet smell of hay

and the mare’s sweat,

the unbroken membrane


what struggled

to be born—

you hear

without lifting your eyes

the snickers

and draw

about you tightly

your thin translucent caul.


the light is cool and clear

and the air is filled

with the sound of words


their cramped wings.

Winter Beach

Donna Torrico

A winter scene in Maine

a lonely abandoned beach

On the table, no hot dogs, no drinks

only clean, white snow

A mild wind is blowing

clouds are moving

The only sound is the ocean

slapping against the rocks

If your gentle soul listens

you may hear the voices of summer

trapped inside the garbage can

children laughing, crying and playing

adults telling stories, laughing, singing and


Sounds of sea gulls begging

for scraps of food

Now the gulls are calling to small fish

"Beware, beware, here I come."

Fertile Ground

Judy Harris

Anguish and action,

Twin consequences of the flood of oppression,

Rise like the Nile,

Seasonally, powerfully.

Plagues and pyramids,

Pharaohs and prophets

Come and go.

Let my people go.

Let my people know.

Surge and suffering

Shatter safety like the hull of a seed

Lying on fertile ground.

Jezebel’s Demise

Sandra Redding

Full of fun and frolic, my imaginary pal decreed:

“Strip petals from your mother’s roses;

To scatter across your bed.”

When Mother found us, lolling like movie stars

Tipsy from the fragrance of forbidden floribunda

she grounded me, ignored my accomplice.

My imaginary pal coerced me to slide down a fall.

I knew I shouldn’t. I wore new jeans.

“Take them off,” she said. “No one will ever know.”

Mother lifted ragged panties from the trash.

Scowling she asked, “What is this?”

I started, “My imaginary pal…”

Stopped, stared at my sneakers, who would believe?

My imaginary pal bullied me to ride my bike

Far, far away, fast on a busy highway.

I protested; she controlled the pedals.

Home after dark, I faced my silent mother.

She peeled a hickory stick.

“Why don’t we go deep into the wild woods?” I asked

One stormy day. “Okey dokey,” answered my imaginary pal.

Wicked wind howled; we stumbled over roots and bone.

When we sighted drooling dogs, I shivered, flew away.

My imaginary pal skipped on, foolish, unafraid.


Dave Upstill

Snatched up from witting,

Towed into space and freed to fly

At a speed above the edge

Where flying becomes falling;

Held up only by the love of wind,

For the planes’ form

Which took three centuries

To discover

And confirmed by

The tandem company of a hawk,

Wings also motionless.

We move together

In perfect freedom,

Knowing and accepting

Freedom’s limitations.

If I Should Die

Jane Kirkman-Smith

How did that childhood prayer go?

Something vague about the soul?

I seldom went to bed without it;

no wonder I have insomnia.

I remember a friend from the city who came to visit, and it was the early morning

rooster that caused her difficulties.

Then there was the neighbor boy who named

his pet rooster “Fi Shu Die” because the sharp

piercing crow cut through his sleep and dreams

long before the sleepy kid would have chosen to rouse.

But no cock crow do we hear today; no Chanticleers

within miles of this retirement housing, nevertheless

“If I should die before I wake..” is of major concern,

and a portion of us living here is almost surprised

every morning, on waking, to do just that,

One dear, poor friend, with fading patience

Daily faces that morning disappointment.

But as for dying before waking or otherwise:

May it never be said that I have passed away.

Nothing that submissive, that acquiescent for me, ever!

No euphemisms, please, especially—God forbid—

May it never be said that I have passed.

The teacher in me demands that it be said:

Life is not on a pass/fail basis:

no final grade you pass at death

by failing completely. I have passed

some of life’s exams, failed some, and would

prefer to have passed them all if I could have.

And, for Heaven’s sake, let no obituary report

that I have gone to be live Jesus.

(Jesus must feel terribly crowded) but above all

let me decisively, boldly, actively, die

or I will not play.

Chicago 1968

Mary Vick

Such fine college students,

My minister proclaimed.

They sought a place to sleep...

My day care would work well.

Such committed young people,

I decided,

As we talked earnestly

Of politics and change.

Such polite guests...

They left at dawn,

Infiltrated the crowd

Trashed the Democratic Convention.

Such lovers of peace

The Seven professed to be..

Until their violent acts

Blazed across the headlines.


Bob Demaree

My mother and her friend

Loved those New Hampshire auctions,

July afternoons

Sixty years ago,

Wooden folding chairs

In the warm meadow,

Outside a white barn:

I’ve got two, who’ll give me three.

Cream cheese and olive sandwiches,

Brought from home,

Preferred to a hot dog

From the caterer’s wagon.

I’ve got three, going once for three.

My mother collected nothing in particular,

Loved those mysterious boxes,

Saucers without cups, perhaps a small

Unsigned oil landscape, hidden

Under an old Life Magazine.

Her friend would offer sagacious bids

On Chelsea, Flow Blue,

Even Carnival Glass,

Storing up wares

For a retirement shop

Which, of course,

Never opened.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Term Considers Huddle, Dennis

The spring term of the Shepherd's Center Poetry Group is underway, meeting Thursday mornings April 28 through June 2 from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Greensboro.

In the first session we considered two mellow and reasonably cheerful reflections on the senior years:

No shame in a ticket to a concert seven months off,
Or, better yet, two tickets, as if you were hoping
To meet by then someone who'd love to join you,
Two seats near the front so you catch each note
--Carl Dennis, "A Maxim"

As David Huddle puts it in "Roanoke Pastorale": I dream this life, walk this world.

We also heard fine poems by Jenny Angyal, Elmer Billman, Donna Torrico and Dave Upstill. Those who wish to bring poems are encouraged to do so, but the participation of those who prefer to comment and listen is valued just as highly.

Our main subject next week will be the long poem by Campbell McGrath, an acerbic comment on 'the way we live now'. Please check your e-mail for the text of additional poems that will be read next Thursday, May 4.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Final Session February 24; More on Ellipsis

For the final meeting of the Winter Term we will look at poems by Philip Schultz and Katha Pollitt. Shultz's poems are expansive, conversational. Last year we enjoyed "The God of Loneliness," in which fathers wait in line at a toy store. Schultz's father figures in today's poem, in which seemingly casual takes on pop culture are again juxtaposed with deeper questions of identity. Pollitt writes in a more compressed fashion--"not afraid to write beautifully," as one critic observes--and the key to her reverie about a New York apartment lies in the last two lines.

We talked last week about ellipsis, both a mark of punctuation and a rhetorical and poetic device. Ellipsis in the middle of a line of text clear denotes an omission. But we sensed, correctly, I think, that an ellipsis at the end of a line suggests something else, a sudden silence to which the poet gives meaning. There's a name for this--aposiopesis (accent on the second "o")! I think, too, that the distinction we drew between a dash and three dots at the end of a line was worthwhile, although some discussion of punctuation seem to lump them together.

Another poem by Pollitt, with brief discussion by her, from her new book:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 10: More on Eavan Boland


A couple of notes gleaned from further reading on Eavan Boland, which may or may not advance the understandings of "The Blossom" we arrived at this morning. First, the suggestion that Boland's mother-daughter poems (this critic was writing specifically about two collections from the 1990's) relate to "two underlying myths--the Biblical story of Eden and the Fall, as well as the classical myth of Demeter and Persephone."

In another article, I saw the suggestion that "The Blossom" has to do with picking her daughter up from a party at 7:30 a.m.

Dave Smith's work is dense with imagery, and I especially enjoyed how we were able to pool insights and arrive, I think, at his perception of fathers and sons.

We heard fine poems this morning from Dave Upstill, Jenny Angyal and Sandra Redding. We will want to talk a little more about the titles of poems next week.

I hope you will enjoy Grace Paley and Jean Valentine.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter 2011 Under Way; "Phone Booth" Considered


The Winter 2001 session is under way for the Shepherd's Center Poetry Group, with 23 participants. Thus far we have looked at work by Frank Bidart and Phillip Levine (on war); this past week we looked at a spare and affecting poem by Linda Pastan on "The Burglary" and Brenda Hillman's "Phone Booth," about which more could perhaps be said.

"Rimbaud's vowels" is a reference to a specific poem ("Vowels" or "Voyelles") by the French poet considered to be a precursor of free verse, in which he assigns a color to each vowel.

The first part of Hillman's poem deals with the past, down to "onto the glass door while talking". The central idea of this section seems to me tied up in "While we gathered our actions/wits For magic and pain/The destiny twins." Then she shifts to the present--to cell phones--and reintroduces the idea of nouns--for things sublime ("the clotting of numbers in the sky") as well as the current and mundane: "a word for backing away/ from those who shout to their strings."

I like the ending, which trails off in a "whorl," following the image of the "perfume in the mouthpiece" (and what is a "Grecian sash"?) and just before it the sombre message: "We are solitudes aided by awe."

Would this poem be better served with stanza breaks and punctuation? What are we supposed to think of the narrator?

Brenda Hillman is married to Robert Hass, a past U.S. Poet Laureate, and is interested in Gnosticism. More information about her at