Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 Anthology

from the Shepherd’s Center
Winter—Spring 2013

This short collection is the sixth 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 2013, 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

Dumas, pere
Cynthia Schaub

Cognac brown, soft, consoling,
I tilt the decanter to the glass,
the heavy one with the scene of downtown Baltimore
etched in black and real gold,
probably 24 carat.
Not to be put into the dishwasher,
though I do.
A golden bourbon in an exquisite glass.

I stand before the bookcase,
urbane, sophisticated, like a writer,
though the books not so urbane,
I’m not ashamed, just

But behind glass, leather-bound books,
a special occasion.
Before I even know the title, I open it,
smell and riffle the pages.
It sounds like bourbon, poured from the decanter.

Alexander Dumas, one of my dad’s favorites,
The Three Musketeers,
Athos, Porthos, not D’Artagnan. Who is the
He would be disappointed that I could name only

I return to my chair, sit,
book and bourbon in hand,
to read, to find the third musketeer’s

New Garden Cemetery
Kathy Coe

For a long, lean while
I came to the cemetery because
that was the one spot where my little dog
would walk -- walk, that is, until
a strange human appeared along the path
or an intruding car slowed at a nearby gravestone,
and then, in alarm, he would freeze.

It was not as I would wish. 
I'd used to walk there unencumbered
by leash or noise or fear.
Then I marched alone past unknown graves --
Inmon, Worth, Cummings, Bowles, Baker,
others I never knew --
hoping to raise the heartbeat, calm the mind.

But over time I learned
the real dividend of my brisk routine:
that -- like a child’s toy
whose silver balls fall
into neat columns --
as I strode along
the mind-thrashing thoughts
that first drove me
to the cemetery now, too, filtered down
into columns perhaps not neat,
but finding home.

Of course.
That is how it is.

And so now I breeze out the door,
past my little dog’s pleading eyes,
and escape once more to the graveyard,
where, attended by silent neighbors,
I trace an invisible thread,
uncovering unseen patterns,
readying for the moment when,
back home at my desk,
I will pick up the pen yet again.

For Harvey Shapiro
Martha Golensky

I feel I should apologize.
I didn’t know you or your work
until I read the obit in the Times.
I said, “He could be my older brother,”
the sensitive one who preferred books
to baseball, to Dad’s chagrin.

Or the guy I started talking to
in a New York coffee shop
because I noticed he had a copy
of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems.
We spoke of metaphor, of assonance, 
but I never caught his name.

Or the guy I saw on the subway,
bent over, nose wrinkling, scribbling
in a beat-up tan notebook, oblivious
to the boom box of life around him—
intent on transferring thought to paper
before it escaped through the open window.

Now I’ve sampled your spare verse,
enjoyed a walk through a gallery of cityscapes
reeking of smoked whitefish and pastrami.
I’ve observed you observing your son,
swaying with his newborn as if in prayer.
Harvey Shapiro, I wish I’d met you sooner.

At Uncle Ott’s
Elmer Billman

A coal fire glowed in the grate.
A bowl of peanuts in the shell and
a jar of horehound candy graced the fireside table.
“I want to see the eagle,” I would say.

I followed Uncle Ott to the stairs, and ascended, one  step behind. As we approached the halfway landing
I was filled with dread, but was irresistibly drawn upward.

At the landing, from his permanent perch,
the eagle glared at me with his glass eye.

I scampered down the stairs.

Deenie Out in Front
Lee McCusick

She scampered up the rock,
my line in hand,
dragging a three-pound bass
which I had hooked but failed to land.

That was Deenie, always out in front;
she was the first to the raspberry patch
first to water ski and first the choose the spot
where we would fish for perch by night on Sebec.

We boys, in groups of two or three or four,
would follow her to do her bidding
because she knew where the fun would be,
not for fear that she was a beauty.

Comely she was not, so we grew apart.
I felt uneasy realizing she wished for me to be
a beau not buddy, a fella not a friend;
no longer could I follow where she wished to go

This chasm now cannot be spanned
for as of old she is eternally out in front,
no more boats to row, no more cliffs to climb;
now in December I long for July and Deenie out in front.

Watch Out for Things
Dave Upstill

Inanimate objects seem benign
but that is just opaque design

to hide malevolent intent
of devious mishaps they invent

else why would shoe laces part
and trusted cars refuse to start

always at the most untimely times
unless planned by rebellious minds

to make us sentient beings understand
it’s they who have the upper hand.

Piano Lessons
Bob Demaree

My lesson was before school.
My father waited in the car,
Smoke from his Lucky Strike
Clouding the windshield of our ’48 Plymouth,
Against a gray January sky
In Pennsylvania—
We did not know to call it the Rust Belt then.
My spinster teacher walked about
Her Victorian row house,
Checking on an invalid mother
And calling out to me,
“I hear wrong notes.”
The house smelled of cooked vegetables,
Even at 7:30
When Teddi Kalakos came for her lesson.
She and I played a duet once,
One of the Bachs, perhaps.
Her family ran a restaurant;
She may have inherited it—I don’t know,
One of many threads of the plot
Lost over time.
Once a year Miss Edna would take us
Into Philadelphia, the Reading Railroad
More than a Monopoly card,
Elegant iron horse, cold coal-smoke dawn,
Dutch trainmen in shiny blue suits
Calling out the station stops:
Royersford, Conshohocken.
She let us shop at Gimbel’s,
Have lunch at Bookbinder’s,
Wasted on 12-year-olds,
And took us to the Academy of Music,
The children’s concert,
Peter and the Wolf, no doubt.
Years, years later
My mother asked if I remembered
Seeing Ormandy conduct.

Members of the Shepherd’s Center Poetry Group, present and past, won awards in the 2013 contests of the Burlington Writers Club: Dave Upstill, first place, Light Poetry; Mary Vick, second place, Adult Poetry; Sandra Redding, first place fiction; Bob Demaree, first place, Adult Poetry; Cynthia Schaub, honorable mention.

Our next Shepherd's Center term will begin Thursday, January 16, 2014.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Luncheon Session Considers Uses of History

We held a seventh session on Thursday, June 6, at Graffiti's Bistro in Greensboro. We enjoyed lunch together as well as poems by Don Chiasson and Adam Zagajewski on "the uses of history." Martha's poem "Comes the Dawn" provided a strong complement to Zagajewski's poem about the documentary Shoah.

Our annual Shepherd's Center Poetry Group online anthology will appear again this year, most likely in September or October.

I recently attended a reading by Sharon Olds, a poet whose work we have enjoyed in the past ("I Go Back to 1937" and others) and found her a compelling reader as well as a very gracious person. We will read more of her work in the Winter 2014 term. 

Below are some books on poets and the craft of poetry which you may find of interest:

Jane Hirschfield, Nine Gates
Davidson and Fraser, Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches (2009)
Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual (2007)
Bill Moyers, Fooling with Words

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unfolding, Winding Up

In our sixth session on May 30 Carl Dennis asked if there is a gradual growth of consciousness, an unfolding of the spirit, even as we consider the loss of a friend or painting the porch. The answer seems to be more hopeful than one might expect: Seasons repeat themselves, but the tree/Shading the yard keeps growing.

Ciaran Carson's terse poem "The Tag" admitted of widely differing interpretations, which, of course, is part of the fun of poetry. It's not out of the question that someone is just home from the hospital and will get well, but I think Mary's suggestion is the more likely explanation and invite you to check out the following background information:

One other thought on this poem: the letters D.O.B. might also make you think of D.O.A.

For those who have signed up, we will gather at Graffiti's Bistro on Pisgah Church Rd., just east of N. Elm St., at 12:00 noon. In the poem by Adam Zagajewski, Shoah refers to a nine-hour television documentary on the Holocaust, produced in 1985. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Poets on Painters: One Medium Addresses Another

In our fifth session on May 23, we considered poems by Linda Pastan and James Arthur that dealt with artists and art, how one medium addresses another. In "Edward Hopper, Untitled" (a painting better known as "Solitary Figure in a Theater") we saw two stanzas describing the scene that Hopper offers us, and a third stanza with some editorial opinions ("cliche of loneliness"). Don offered an interesting suggestion, to split the last three lines off into a fourth stanza--this would break up the symmetry of the 8-line stanzas, but would underscore the interesting and controversial point made at the end. Maybe someone will go to the Whitney Museum one day and tell us if this painting is, in fact, "oil on board."

We speculated on the model James Arthur had in mind for the "Death of the Painter." Matisse had been suggested; Audubon and Gauguin were also mentioned. I sent James Arthur an e-mail on the subject, and received a prompt, gracious and very helpful reply:

"You're right; the artist in "The Death of the Painter" is based partly on Matisse. He's also based partly on Picasso -- and some details of his life are fabricated. I wrote the poem at an artist residency program in Provence when I was 30; the week before writing the poem, I'd been to see the Musee Matisse in Nice, and also the Musee Picasso in Antibes. 

But I'm glad you feel that you didn't need (additional) information to enjoy the poem. I often base my poems on my own life, and on the things around me -- but I want my poems to be accessible to be as many people as possible. I ended up feeling that mentioning Matisse or Picasso by name would restrict the poem's audience, and would give me less freedom to invent." (Italics mine)

So our conclusion that the painter was probably a composite seems to be what the poet intended. We also enjoyed Martha's "Pride of Place," which added to the ekphrastic experience of the morning.

I should have included in last week's report how much we enjoyed Dave's poem "Watch Out for Things," which won first prize in the Light Verse category of the 2013 Burlington Writers Club competition.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kooser, Koertge Yield Genuine Insights

In our fourth session we considered two poems chosen by Billy Collins for the Library of Congress' online collection Poetry 180. In Ted Kooser's "After Years" we found genuine insights that are more than "small,"  regarding loss and time and the causes and impacts of things that go barely noticed. Collins describes "After Years" as "a love poem in which the poet's imagination flies far from his own experience."  One further thought:  I think there's a definite connection between the falling of the ancient oak and the old women scattering corn. 

Another piece of information about Ron Koertge that supports the impression of him that comes through in "Do You Have Any Advice..." One of his books is a novel written in free verse, narrated by a 14-year-old, titled Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up.

Next week we will see how two poets draw the work of visual artists. For this you may need to be "dutifully at your desks."

Link to Poetry 180:
In Poetry 180 you will find poems by Jane Kenyon, Kay Ryan, Natasha Trethewey, Franz Wright, Debora Greger, Mary Oliver, Thomas Lux, Sharon Olds, Donald Justice, Linda Pastan, Mark Irwin, Eavan Boland, Steve Kowit and many others.

Link to Ron Koertge:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hirschfield Poems Embody Mindfulness

From morning unlocking the lake to the turning of doorknobs, one year into the next, Jane Hirschfield's poems caused us to focus on "the magnification of being."  We noted the importance of Buddhist teachings in the poet's life and work, but should also keep in mind the following observations:

"While many reviews mention, even make central, Hirschfield's Buddhism as the prevailing filter of her work, Hirschfield has expressed frustration in multiple interviews. 'I always feel a slight dismay if I am called a Zen poet for being so labeled. I am not. I am a human poet, that's all.'"

We also enjoyed a poem by Helen Deutsch which Pat had brought to our attention, and Martha's poignant "The Road Not Taken."

Next we will look at two poems from the online collection "Poetry 180," put together by Billy Collins.

Friday, May 3, 2013

We Hobble Off, Pondering Zeno

In our second session on May 2, we saw again how Billy Collins can weave serious issues into an entertaining narrative. Just as we compare the Cornish hen and the trout amandine, we note the differences between an abstract philosophical/mathematical proposition with "the world where things do arrive."  The tone of the poem shifts several times, from the satiric setting of the scene in the restaurant, to the tragic circumstances of St. Sebastian and the wife of William Burroughs; then, in the world "where people get where the are going," to the loved one arriving in your arms--but then back to Sebastian. Among many good points offered in our discussion was the contrast between things that may happen and things that do happen. Below is a link to the various artistic representations of St. Sebastian, including the one that is said to resemble "a hedgehog bristling with quills." In using the word hagiographer, the narrator reminds us that he is a college professor as well as an ironic observer. I think I'll have the trout.

We puzzled over Terese Svoboda's "Neighborhood Watch," noting from the outset clever word play ("a weather of sweaters mostly moth-woven...").We were left with a picture of a narrator  who is lonely, who describes an urban setting with perverse images of the everydayness of the world we live in--as one person put it, a poem "of thanksgiving and complaint." And maybe just a bit of hope at the end: Boot it up.

Dave began our session with an inventive collection of everyday sayings that led nicely into Collins and Svoboda. Elmer provided us with a very different setting and tone, another sensitive evoking of a Midwest boyhood. Notice that the poet does not have to say 'this happened in Indiana in about 1930'. He accomplishes that with a single word: horehound.

Next week we will explore two poems by Jane Hirschfield, a poet thought to be influenced by Buddhism. She says, "I always feel a slight dismay if I am called a Zen poet. I am not. I am a human poet."

Link to images of St. Sebastian:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Spring Term Begins with Laureate

The Shepherd's Center Poetry Group began the Spring Term with a series of "bittersweet, conflicted" poems about fathers, perhaps flawed, but nonetheless loved. We examined "Elegy for my father" by current U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, as well as Harvey Shapiro's "The Generations." Martha had introduced Harvey Shapiro to us in the Winter Term and at my request read again the poem she wrote on learning of his death. More reading on Tretheway and Shapiro below.

Next week we will consider some verbal pyrotechnics: first, a Billy Collins poem, an entertaining narrative involving history, philosophy, social commentary, and perhaps a bit more. Then, of Terese Svoboda's "Neighborhood Watch,"  I'll say simply watch the pyrotechnics.

For further reading:



Thursday, February 28, 2013

We conclude with Apocalyptic Images, A Terse Summation

In our concluding session, we considered the apocalyptic, cinematic imagery of Nicholas Christopher's "The Graveyard Shift" (which appeared in The New Yorker March 19, 2007) and John Hollander's terse, perfectly framed meditation on writing.

"The Graveyard Shift" examines the role of the functionary who is complicit in terrible things, ending on a note of a little hope, or perhaps none at all. Christopher may have in mind a larger metaphor, the place of the individual who either will or will not go along with society's program. Finally, we considered, as we always do, the personal level: Christopher's father had worked on the Manhattan Project.

Hollander suggests that our fidgeting with the "worry beads of words" is what defines the poet's task: as Dave aptly reminded us, the right words in the right order.

In Martha's poem the antiheroine misjudges the pitch and crashes again, unlike Sisyphus, sentenced only by her own actions. We agreed that the five-line stanzas make it a more complex and compelling poem.

The visitor to the art museum has greatly enjoyed our six weeks together. I hope we can say, with Melanie Rehak, "here,/I was here and I knew it." For those so inclined, we will reconvene on Thursday, April 25, at 10:45 a.m. at First Baptist Church on West Friendly Avenue in Greensboro.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Songs of Self and Perception Highlight Fourth Week

This week we looked into two poems that offered challenges and opportunities for insight and interpretation.

In Elizabeth Macklin's "Three Views of a Woman Inhaling," we were dazzled by images of sound, sight and small as we pondered "the mysteries," which. we concluded, referred to the wonder and necessity of sensory perception. I found an interesting critical appreciation of Macklin's work:

Elizabeth Macklin is a poet of the city. Her subjects are everywhere: inside apartment houses and alongside towering buildings, on streets and sidewalks, or beneath them, at the water's edge and in the changing heavens. Here the large questions are posed, the small joys celebrated. 'Here a loving sky's come out of a deep clear blue.' From beginning to end, in her able hands, through her painterly eye (Italics mine) and rich vision, the odd scraps of urban life are converted into a sort of Platonic dialogue of fruitful enigmas, paradoxes and playful epiphanies."

Melanie Rehak's poem held for some a deeper resonance, a love poem of a sort, certainly a carpe diem poem--reminding her and us to "seize the day"--balancing the seasons of the "sweet green park" with the individual who longs for the near-misses of her life. The trees, "certain their time has come," are aware that they are part of a perpetual cycle (their "delicate arrogance") and we have only once shot. Or is there more than that?

Regarding the title and subtitle: Clear enough why these are appropriate musings for a birthday. Modernism refers, in part, to a movement in literature and the arts following World War I that challenged the traditions and assumptions of the past--poets like Pound and Eliot; novels such as James Joyce's Ulysses; Picasso, Dali and Duchamp in art; and the composer Stravinsky are all examples. You see the phrase "the modernist impulse" in book titles, such as The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, and The Modernist Impulse in Canadian Women's Poetry. So how Rehak sees 'the modernist impulse' applying to her life and narrative is still not completely clear, and may even be used ironically.

In Kathy's poem--Walt Whitman on Facebook--there is a layer of social commentary ("aisles of tuna, paper towels), but beneath that, phrased mostly as questions, a tender evoking of what is truly important.

Remember that we will not meet on Thursday, February 21. For our last session on February 28, please note two corrections to the text, in "At the Art Museum": in the sixth line, tips should read tops, and the second line in the last stanza should read " the Rodin courtyard."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Great Kindness in Poems of Fathers and Daughters

The poems of fathers and daughters we read this morning held a sense of warmth and caring—a favorite line by Howard Nemerov says, “May great kindness come of it in the end.”

In Dan Masterson’s poem we see a father preparing his child (maybe nine or ten)for what will come, strong images of things heard and seen. We puzzled over the last two stanzas, and conclude that the pronouns they and them refer to the rainbows, the term the little girl uses to describe the halos of light she sees around objects, a sign that things are getting worse. The parents had meant to explain this in advance. But they would be there nonetheless. “She wonders if we can see them (that is, the way she sees them)…and we say/we do.”

Note the power of the two lines with just two words: “And sit” in the second stanza and “we do.” What is most poignant is not just the fact but the process of losing vision.

And Emma was right—it is the kitchen lamp, not camp.

It is possible the child suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, an inexorable disease over a long period of time.

We meet a different kind of loving and likeable family in “Fish Fry Daughter.” Here “the double knot of father and daughter” includes “haddock-scented hands.” Even the sub-plots of who said what to whom and why have a cheerful tone. The wise daughter knows that a father has many obligations.

We also felt warmth and kindness in the poems of two other wise daughters, Cynthia and Kathy. Memory is often the beginning of a poem, but we saw here how care in selecting and arranging the details is what makes memory into poetry.

Next week we will continue to observe sensory perception in Elizabeth Macklin’s “Three Views.” I suggested the views are of the same person. You may read it differently—we’ll discuss next week.


Articles about Dan Masterson

More poems by Dan Masterson

More poems by Sara Ries

Articles about Sara Ries

Thursday, January 31, 2013

George Bilgere: Light Touch, Serious Business

We found the work of George Bilgere anything but “glib and trivial.” Certainly “well meaning,” though.

“Janitorial” In an easy, entertaining style, Bilgere comments on race and class in America, and on college life. The skillful choice and placement of detail (“dumpster-colored/Olds…heads home/Across the barge-laden river in servitude/To East St. Louis…”) suggest why Billy Collins found Bilgere’s work worthy of the University of Akron Poetry Prize.

A couple of small touches not mentioned this morning. “Gleaner” (line 2) is interesting—refers to someone who picks things up bit by bit, but the basic reference is to gathering of grain left behind by reapers. Note also that while Kant, Heidegger and Bergman are identified by name, the ambassador is not.

This link will take you to another poem by Bilgere and an interview in which he says he works at “a sleepy Midwestern college, teaching sleepy Midwestern students.”

“The Garage”  “The Garage” is a more complex poem, which seems to juxtapose the triviality of ping-pong (“the problem of topspin”) with the unspeakable horror of the accidental death of a child (he lets us conclude that the child dies) The narrator speaks of the loss in matter-of-fact terms and may appear at first self-absorbed and insensitive. But it’s more complicated than that: retrieving an “errant smash,” he realizes that his reality can never be the same as the young mother’s—she will have fewer boxes of family history. He returns to the garage, his cave, like Plato’s, a world of shadows. The stanza break before the last two lines lets us breath and appreciate the complexity of emotions, “the white moon of the ball”—a satellite alone in space, “a fragile, weightless thing.”

In Martha Golensky’s lovely poem “For Henry Shapiro,” we have a tender appreciation of the poet/editor, his city, his faith and culture, the first and last stanzas surrounding two stanzas that deal with strangers, nameless, who likewise value language.

Next we will look at poems about fathers and daughters, the first, the more challenging of the two, in the voice of the father, the second in that of the daughter. We will look at two other poems by daughters (Cynthia Schaub’s “Dumas-pere”” and Kathy Coe’s “Business Man”) and, time permitting, another by a father.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Two Poems Stimulate, Invite Different Interpretations

In our second session we looked at poems by Debora Greger and D. Nurkse which set us to pondering pronouns and reminded us that the poet is not bound by the requirement of journalists to make it clear who is who and what happened.

In Greger’s “Autumn.” contrasting images of heat and chill, darkness and light create a tension, things not working (a meow that fails…a garden no longer tended), and we see the narrator alone, deep in nostalgia and loss.

D. (for Dennis) Nurkse seems to be writing about a relationship gone wrong (perhaps more than one). The narrator, a poet, considers human affairs global (bomb the rebel cities) and personal (walk by the breakwater), but the world goes on—the ant under its burden, as the other person (she) seems to chide. The end of the second and third stanzas suggest a darkness and sadness that one critic thinks characteristic of Nurkse: whose poems “trace with rueful accuracy the locked-together waltz of romantic attraction and dissolution.”

A couple of other interesting points about Nurkse: Mike reminded me that Nurkse’s father was a well-known economist. The poet himself has written extensively on human rights issues and has taught at the Rikers Island prison in New York.

We may not know if the “she” in the second stanza of “August” is the narrator or the cat, or what Nurkse’s she actually wrote or said. Asking these questions helps us approach the poet’s art and see different implications. Coming to definitive conclusions may be neither possible or necessary.

Further reading—bio, commentary, more poems:

Here is a link to Richard Blanco reading the Inauguration Poem. Interesting to hear him reading and have the text in front of you. A commercial may come first—be patient!

We also mentioned Natasha Thethewey, the current U.S. Poet Laureate. Check out her fine poems and her life story. (don’t be put off by the name of this site)

Next week will look at two poems by George Bilgere, winner of a competition judged by Billy Collins. Some may remember his “Grecian Temples” from last year. His breezy style is entertaining and moves along quickly, which is not to say his subject matter is not serious.


Friday, January 18, 2013


In our first session for Winter 2013 we looked at poems by Jay Parini and Billy Collins which used the setting of the American high school to make rather different points. Parini sees high school as a crucible, “a kind of furnace...a kind of maw”  where young people are “taken…assimilated, saturated, swept,” a difficult and necessary rite of passage. We discussed possible differences between boys and girls suggested in this poem, and the effective use of repetition. The poem begins and ends: “Everyone must go there/None returns.”

“The Effort” of Billy Collins’ title is explained at the end of the first stanza: “What is the poet trying to say?” Mrs. Parker joins other teachers (e.e. cummings says “the stupidest teacher will almost guess…”) who parse poems for students with baseball caps on backwards,  waiting for “that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch…that whirlwind of meatloaf.” Collins’ characteristic wit surrounds the central part of the poem, in which he reflects on the absence of a loved one, details of which are deliberately omitted. This segment is more difficult than it looks. With his characteristic wit and sadness Collins leaves it to Mrs. Parker (and to us) to figure it out.

A couple of other Collins poems on the subject of poets and poetry:   (“Introduction to Poetry”) (“The Trouble with Poetry”)

My favorite school poem is “September: The First Day of School” by Howard Nemerov. Text and some commentary at:

We enjoyed a nice poem by Cynthia Schaub on the subject of a different kind of high school, and one by Martha Golensky with a metaphor that hit home for several of us—an old Buick. You are invited to bring your poems to share with the group--they need not be on the "theme" of the day's reading.

Next week we will look at poems by Debora Greger and D. Nurkse (pay particular attention to the pronouns!).

(e e cummings quote from "if everything happens that can't be done")