Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget - Mary Eastham

I didn't choose poetry, it chose me with its spare, elegant language that stuns your psyche like a stray bullet. I think of myself as a storyteller who sometimes uses the format of poetry to tell a story. Oprah Winfrey, who until recently read very little poetry, now sees it as one of 100 THINGS THAT ARE GETTING BETTER because it is the key to modern conversation. In her book poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge says poem-making is freeing your life with words. She sees poetic moments everywhere - on a night walk in the hills near her home, in a high school auditorium where she and her neighbors gathered to avert a stray tornado, and feathering through her geek friend's car-repair manual. Her book teaches all of us to be more spiritual and powerful with our words.

I write in fragments which is perfect for poetry-making and I love to sing and dance, which helps to give my poetry that FIVE...SIX...SEVEN...EIGHT... poetic rhythm. I can actually hear the beats in my head, telling me how many words it will take to finish a stanza. But mostly, I love poetry's forgiveness clause. I can move words around. I can 'kill my darlings', those beautiful words that JUST DON'T WORK to move a poem along and I can take that one good line, yes, sometimes it is only that, and start an altogether different poem or story.

My goal in writing this post is to bring you a few quick poetry tweaks to make you love whatever story you're working on. It can be as simple as thinking about an image or 'hook' that you begin and end each chapter with, something that makes your readers want to continue to turn the page. I get ideas for my poems everywhere - from a paint store's color wheel, (the higher end paint makers like Ralph Lauren have the coolest names), from the Sunday VOWS section of the New York or LA Times, where each announcement reads like a hero's journey, complete with the obstacles each couple faced in their struggles to stay together in their dating to marriage saga. One fun poetry assignment I was given was to go out onto a busy street or into a backyard garden, close my eyes, then try to describe for someone everything I heard around me. Kate Braverman, a phenomenal poet, had us keep a fragment file. Nearly ten years later, I refer to my fragment file often when I'm 'stuck' in a poem or story. It never fails me. I put everything in my fragment file - snippets of conversation I overhear, unusual names (I LOVE names!), ideas for future stories, great lines from books I admire. When I reread those wonderful lines, I am always inspired. The longer you keep your file, you will see themes that interest you as a writer popping up. It's what led me to the writing of my first novel, Night Surfing. Kate also reminded us that unlike writing scripts for movies, where characters have to MOVE, we can go inside our character's heads on the page. 'Have your characters WISH for something,' she told us, 'and then make it excruciating for them to get whatever it is they want'.

I was told to 'shamelessly' promote, so I would encourage you to check out my website at:

I have been a Judge for the past decade in a wonderful writing contest here in San Francisco called the Soul-Making Literary Competition ( ) The contest accepts entries in 12 categories and includes an Awards Reading at the Koret Auditorium in the San Francisco Main Library where it is taped for viewing on Access San Francisco TV. I was a First Place winner in the short story and poetry categories for two years and was then asked to be a Judge. After Judging in several categories, I started the Humor Category because I needed a good laugh! Next year I will be the Judge of the Flash Fiction Category.

I've included some of my favorite poets here in case you want to follow up: Kate Braverman, (she's the Queen of Darkness but BRILLIANT in her word and phrase imaginings), Lyn Lifshin, who I refer to as the Susan Lucci of the Po-Biz, this woman must write in her sleep, she is THAT prolific. There is not a topic she hasn't tackled in her work. I actually like the ten poems to open your heart compilation by Roger Housden. It's a good mix of great poet's work. I would encourage you to look up the work of former Nobel Laureate Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I love reading both the Spanish and English versions of his work. Neruda asks the important questions of life like: Whom can I ask what I came to make happen in this world? And now, hold your applause please, I would like to end with one of my favorite poems, A Hymn for Wish, my SUPERSTAR poem, always winning something when I send it out. I love it best and most because it was inspired by an image I saw of a dog clinging to life on a narrow porch railing during the Katrina floods. I raise Golden Retrievers, so I just had to write this poem:


A sunset that was all blood, the dog
missing in the flood.
Wish, the boy I didn't know I needed
my smuggler of tangled hearts
popped living color into this blind man's life
lying with me every night on the grass
as we waited for restless stars imagined
to fling themselves steady and fast against a midnight moon.
Wish let me steal the best life and make it mine.
I love him the way you love cake for breakfast.
Alaskans have countless words to describe snow
and none to describe time.
The mind of a blind man has different tones, it's not our ruin
how can you miss what you never had?
Wish understands the melody in my soul
the haunted echoes released in fairy-tale riffs, my hymn for Wish.
If I could I would write this dog a love song every day.
People ask me, 'Why are you crying?'
I tell them if love were enough, he'd still be here.
I tell them my boy is standing on the rail of the porch
ears cocked, the water rising, waiting for my whispered 'Hello'.
'Find him,' I beg the rescuers
trying to describe for them, as if I ever can,
the place where he last loved me.

ISBN: 978-0-9727721-7-4

Published by: Robertson Publishing (RP)

Thanks so much for letting me Guest Host.

Mary Eastham


Celia Yeary said...

MARY--truly wonderful. Your post was a joy to read,because you have such command of the English language and the skill to string words together for a rich, coherent sentence. And the poem, too. I thought it was moving.
I don't write poetry, just silly poems for somebody's birthday, to win a contest, to "roast" a dear friend--my favorite--and while every one has brought laughter to my audience,not one will every win a prize. Thanks for visiting--Celia

Savanna Kougar said...

Mary, tackling life so intensely with your words, your poetry, I admire you and your ability.

I've written poetry all my life, but never as a serious "I'm going to be a poet" or "I am a poet".

Flash Fiction category, eh? I've written a lot of that, since finding out what it was... about two years ago.

Thanks for sharing.

Bekki Lynn said...

A beautiful poem, Mary. It reaches out and tugs the heart.

I think anyone with a pet they love as much as a child can relate. I know I do.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Mary - thank you so much for beautiful and inspiring article on poetry and for your lovely poem that speaks so achingly of love and loss.

Linda Swift said...

Mary, I enjoyed your article and poem vry much. It is obvious that you are a "serious" poet and I admire you for that. And thank you for the list of poets. I will be looking for them in the future.
I wish you continued success with your work. Linda

Word Actress said...

Wow...I just now found out where they posted this. It was such a nice summer Sunday surprise to see ur wonderful, thoughtful comments. Thanks all, ur a great group...Mary Kennedy Eastham...oh, and just this morning I came up with a small tweak that might introduce my work to more readers. Rather than 'poetry', I'm going to call it poetic stories. I dunno, it just sounds more appealing, yes???