March spring break theme: Poetry!

Because I have always worked at another full-time job in addition to my career as a children’s book author, I have had to focus my writing efforts toward producing pieces that I hope will be publishable. Given that I can devote, on average, only an hour a day to my professional writing (my own blog is called “An Hour a Day”), I need to make sure that I wring maximum benefit from that hour, keeping my eyes on the prize of meeting publishers’ deadlines. I love every minute that I spend writing, but the vast majority of my writing minutes have been devoted to scribbling a page a day, in my hour a day, on some children’s book-in-progress.

Then, seven or eight years ago, I had the chance to attend a poetry writing retreat in early January, held at a historic inn in rural Pennsylvania. I loved writing poetry as a child and adolescent, but had written no poetry since, except on the happy occasions when I needed to craft a poem on behalf of a poetry-writing book character.  But that winter I was at a bad place in my personal life, and a dear friend who was planning to attend the retreat urged me to sign up for it. So I did. And poetry came back into my life again.

The first year at the retreat I could hardly write anything. My words remained frozen within me. The second year a few dripped out, drop by drop, from some melting corners of my hurting heart. The third year, poetry gushed out of me in a torrent, a deluge, a Genesis-worthy flood. I continued writing poetry after the retreat ended; I arranged poem-a-day exchanges with fellow writers; I signed up for a wonderful poetry boot camp with poet Molly Fisk; I took a challenge from contests sponsored by Tupelo Press to write poems prompted by first lines of Petrarch sonnets and by fragments from Sappho.

For a while I entertained the idea of trying to “do” something with my poems. I had some on fairy tale themes – perhaps a kid’s book of fairy tale poems? I had many, many, MANY poems about doomed love – perhaps the New Yorker would want me to become a regular contributor?

But then I discovered, after taking a few of my fairy tale poems to my writing group for critique, that I didn’t like hearing suggestions for improvement. Like the worst stubborn novice, I liked my poems just fine the way they were. Rather than sending them off to poetry journals for possible publication (and much more possible rejection), I found that I liked emailing them to a few friends, just to share. Poetry, I realized, was not meant to be part of my writing career. It was something I wanted as a break from my writing career, albeit a break that itself involved writing. It was therapeutic, cathartic, liberating, and most of all fun. Poetry, at least for now, is writing I do not for a publisher, but for me.

So here’s one little fruit from the season I spent writing poems inspired by Sappho. The prompt here was a three-word fragment: “If not, winter.” This blog will be the only place it’s ever published. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine and dandy.

Do You Love Me?

If not, winter
If yes, spring

If not, feet
If yes, wing

If not, empty
If yes, filled

If not, barren
If yes, tilled

If not, hole
If yes, healed

If not, desert
If yes, field

If not, homeless
If yes, home

If not, silence
If yes, poem


  1. Claudia, I love this poem! I also love to write poetry... it's a great playground. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree with Irene, Claudia! Great poem, and inspired by Sappho! Wow! How neat that you use poetry as your writing break.

  3. Love this piece on poetry. Poems keep me writing in a way that's sustained me for decades. And they do so much in so few words. I may write a few this spring break!

  4. I love poetry, write some (dabble really), taught a lot about it with elementary kids, am a huge poetry cheerleader for teachers to put poetry at the heart of learning, had me at "poem"..... and I LOVE your poem. I love the form you have created here. I think kids could easily "get" this and do some really neat things with it, plus go beyond as they often do just naturally. I need to take more poetry classes, but I am learning as I go.
    Janet F. aka Janet Clare on FB (don't ask...I am slow to the social media world and was hesitant about sticking my little toe in the water!) Need to get a blog going, but I love to read others and comment often.

  5. BEAUTIFUL poem, Claudia! I'm also really intrigued by the fact that you spend one hour a day on your writing. Looking forward to hearing more about how you make it work!

  6. I've also found that poetry is a refreshing change from the massive undertaking of a novel.
    I've been wanting to take a poetry workshop--for fun. Can you recommend any?

  7. Thanks to all of you who love poetry, too, and who responded to my post. Dia, the retreat I went to is no longer going on, but the woman who used to organize it recommended retreats by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, also held at the same convent in New Jersey where our retreats migrated a few years ago - a former orphanage with the most darling pink and green little orphan rooms where the poets get to stay as they write.


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