Friday, November 8, 2019


JUMP by Martha Slavin (watercolor and gesso)
On display at Pacific Art League's Annual Members Exhibit through November 

 I've let my poetry slip
through my fingers
down a mixed river
of watercolor and ink
to come to rest on a sandbar
Waiting like a seed to sprout again.

I think of poetry as the watercolor of writing. It is hard, it takes practice and a lot of work to create vibrant, vivid words that can describe feelings and images succinctly. I know many people who don't read poetry. I know some poems that seem so obtuse they become puzzles left for someone to try to piece together.

For a while, I was writing poetry frequently. Like painting with watercolors, I stopped when other interests pulled me away. But I recently read a poem by Stanley Kunitz called The Layers, which brought back my interest. One line, in particular, caught my breath.

"How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?"

"Feast of losses." Phrases and sentences like this contradiction grab me, pull me up short, make me sigh. I want to try to write poems again.

How could I start writing poetry again?

First, I started making lists. The subject lines of spam emails can become starter poems as these do:

Meet Your Best Matches
Gun Shows Sell Explosives

What Exxon Knew
Just Unearthed
Saudi Refugees Flee
Your Destiny Is Calling You

How to Protect Your Home
Secrets of Pond Turtles

Next, I pulled out Kenneth Koch's book, Teaching Children to Write Poetry, which I had used in my classroom a long time ago. Koch inspired kids to write poems by asking them questions or giving them the first words of a line which he then had them repeat over and over again.

His first prompt starts with the line, "I wish..." Many of the children answered with wishes for riches, not to have to go to school, or about arguments with others, but one young person wrote,

"I wish I had a home of my own."

That is what poetry does. Tugs at your heart, opens your memories, makes you see something in a new way, just as a painting can, a word painting.

What do you wish for?

Find out about Stanley Kunitz and read his book of poems and prose: The Wild Braid

Check out Kenneth Koch's books at
He also has a book called I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry Writing to Old People

Friday, November 1, 2019


Ed Clark died recently.
You might ask who is Ed Clark?
His name was not familiar to me either
until I read his obit in the NYTimes.

As an abstract expressionist, Ed Clark created sweeping works with vivid colors that hint of imaginary landscapes. As an African American, he moved to Paris to avoid discrimination in the U.S. He joined with other African Americans, such as James Baldwin and Haywood Bill Rivers, who went abroad for the same reason. After success in Europe, Clark returned to New York City to find that white-owned galleries still would not represent him because of his color. He found other galleries to exhibit his art instead. He became well-known on the East Coast partly because he was the first artist to create a shaped canvas, which inspired other artists to follow his lead.

What touched me about Ed Clark as an artist was his favorite tool, a broom, which he began to use as a struggling artist as a way to lay down the large swathes of color that he liked to create. His paintings are full of energy, imagination, and power. Ed Clark is someone to look for the next time you visit the Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit Institute of Art, or the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Ed Clark came a long way from his modest beginnings scraping by with a janitor's broom to have a place in museums around the world.

Ed Clark, courtesy of Art Pulse Magazine

That broom made me think of the various tools that I've relied on in my artwork. During Inktober, I used mostly a pen and ink but also experimenting again with other tools such as pieces of bamboo, wooden toothpicks, and twigs.

David R. Hayes made my latest brush. The brush is meticulously made from a large twig, a piece of flexible metal, and twine. Hayes sands the knots on the twig handle, wraps the bristles in a bronze piece of metal to hold the bristles securely, and covers the other end carefully in twine. Handmade work such as this reminds me of the care that Japanese toolmakers take in creating their tools.

All of these tools make me think in different ways. You can see the possibilities even in my demo of the lines each tool makes. Contrast the precise line of the Rotring ink pen with the wrapped bundle of delicate twigs. How would your writing differ with each of these tools? What would a different tool do for the expression of your ideas? Does writing with one tool make you feel freer or does another tool make you feel constrained? Try a broom and let your inner Ed Clark out.

Made with twigs, bamboo, and brushes

The collage I made of my Inktober drawings & calligraphy

Take a look at Ed Clark's work:

You can find Heywood Bill Rivers here:
Heywood Bill Rivers's paintings

David Hayes has a blog and Etsy shop:

Friday, October 25, 2019


Photo by Bill Slavin

Five deer, three adults and two half-grown fawns, stood in our yard next to a window as I came into the kitchen. They could hear the creak of the floor and looked up to stare at me. Their large, deep eyes asked questions about me. I stopped and didn't reach for the faucet. I knew that any noise would startle them away. I watched as one fawn, whose spots had faded from bright white to beige, climb the two steps to our deck to snip off the heads of begonia flowers, flowers that deer usually avoid. We've found that deer don't avoid much during the year though, just thyme and mint. The fawn then stepped into a planter box and chomped on a large foot-wide succulent. She moved with the other deer as they looked for food in the yard until they all found a shady spot, pawed at the ground, and settled down for a nap.

I made my lunch and moved to the dining room. I sat and looked up at one deer watching me. I could see her face between the slats of the chair opposite me. I stared back for a while as I continued eating. The deer never took her eyes off me and eventually, unsettled by my presence even through the glass, rose and nipped at the nandina before turning around and jumping our low fence.

Before I came into the kitchen, I had a million things on my mind, a busy week unfolding, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to manage it all. The deers stopped me, slowed me down as I watched their grace, and gave me the chance to observe their silence. It was like taking a deep breath and meditating.

Photo by Bill Slavin

Friday, October 18, 2019


Are you like me, a grammar curmudgeon who cringes at poor grammar or punctuation?

Never mind that I make my own share of mistakes. I'm well-known for run-on sentences and other misdemeanors, but some examples aggravate me. One of my pet peeves is the Oxford comma or the lack of an Oxford comma. The Oxford comma is the final comma that separates a word in a list and in some writing style books is routinely left out. Punctuation provides clarity; otherwise, writing can become unintentionally humorous.

An example of how important that comma can be:

"Among those interviewed were Tommy Smith's two wives, Mark Zito and Robert Wentworth."

"This book is dedicated to my parents, Ann Patchett and God."

"Highlights of the Branka's global tour include encounters with Mick Jagger, an 800-year-old demi-god and an exotic art collector."

All three of these sentences could be rewritten by either adding an Oxford comma before the word "and" or changing the order of the words in the list.

"Among those interviewed were Mark Zito,  Robert Wentworth and Tommy Smith's two wives."
(As I write this my computer's grammar app has underlined the "and" to tell me to add a comma.)

Clarity counts!

AP Style, used by most newspapers, does not require Oxford commas, but that style guide expects you to remember to check your work. In order to eliminate the Oxford comma, I need to be sure that I write with clarity. Otherwise, I will give someone the guffaws, chuckles, or giggles.

More from Inktober

What a little water will do to a piece of paper! Good thing this is practice.

Have you worked on an October daily project?

Check the Comments from my blog post "What's Good For You" to see one of Teresa Caldwell's daily poems at


Rest in Peace, Elijah Cummings, you stood for justice.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Italian American Heritage Month. Country Music Month. Every day in October appears to have a celebration of one thing or another. For me, October is Inktober, a worldwide challenge to artists to do one ink drawing a day.

This year I've decided to practice hand lettering. I've chosen to do a name a day so that I can practice what is called Modern Calligraphy, which is a more casual form of old fonts. The casualness of the various alphabets lets me stray above or below the pencil foundation line. I can stretch out the letters or condense them. I still need to know basic calligraphy to make my letters sing.

The pencil drawing before I apply ink

I first draw a bottom line on the page, which gives me a visual starting point. As a hand letterer, not a calligrapher, I then pencil in the letters, adjust the spacing where necessary. Once the underdrawing is complete, I usually use a light box with another piece of paper on top of my pencil drawing and  use better paper to outline the letters with ink and fill in the weighted parts of the letters. Better paper avoids the feathers that appear on the edges of letters when I am using practice sheets. Because this is practice, I'm doing everything on one piece of paper.

Oh, smears! Even small ones need to be fixed.

I walk out of the room, do other things and come back to erase the pencil lines, which still show beneath the inked areas. As I touch the kneaded eraser to the paper, I smear some of the letters. I remember my dad in his studio when he was having a bad day. We could hear the swear words ripping out of the studio door in our backyard and knew that after many hours of work, he had probably smeared something or dropped a spot of ink on the page. He could use white-out or scrap off the ink with an Exacto knife, but sometimes he had to start over.

Self-portrait by Ralph C. Heimdahl

And that is what I had to do today. Start over. Smears happen.

The corrected version of the names that smeared. I also corrected the awkward "o" in Carolyn. This is why artwork takes so long to complete. Three versions so far.

Friday, October 4, 2019


An apple a day...

"Stick your bootie out!"

A command I've often heard in exercise classes, but not one I expected in a class about good posture. Amy, the Gokhale (pronounced Go-Clay) Method instructor, told us to sit down in a chair following her command. She wanted us to forget all the ways we had learned to sit, stand, walk and even sleep. Instead she said to pay attention to three-year old children and how they do the same.

"They know how to walk, pick things up, and sit."

Amy also showed photos of people in Asia and Africa who walked with their glutes instead of pounding their heels on the ground as I have for a long time. The exercises reminded me of walking around with a book on my head as a teenager to improve my posture. She asked me to pull in my ribs and maneuver my head so that I looked straight ahead, chin slightly down. She said to forget the extra chin that appears. She claimed it would go away. She showed me how to hinge from my hips when I went to pick something up. No curved backs allowed.

Most of those positions felt awkward and uncomfortable at first, but then my body started to kick in and responded to the change. My knee stopped hurting. I walked as if I had a string attached to the top of my head as I did when I took modern dance classes. I didn't even notice my feet touching the ground. No pounding heels anymore.

I've done one form of workout or another most of my life. Each time I've found benefits from the practice. Kerry, my Pilates instructor, reminded us to use our Core. Different instructors have recommended two exercises that use all of my muscles. One is the Burpee, or squat thrust (try doing it one leg at a time at first), and the other is to sit on the floor and stand up without using your hands. Try it.

Habits take 20 days to acquire, so someone once said. Since this is Inktober, many artists worldwide make an ink drawing each day and post it to any social media account. If you don't want to make ink drawings, October is a good month to start a new daily practice. Let me know what practice you decide to do.

one of 31 names for Inktober

Gokhale (pronounced Go-Clay) Method here:

Check out Shape online for the best how-to for burpees:

Find out more about Inktober here:

Friday, September 27, 2019


The week after our son was born, an exact replica of the birthing experience filled my dreams. The next week was not so literal. By the third week, in my dreams, the doctor arrived dressed in a tuxedo and a chorus surrounded him as they waited for his cue to sing along with the orchestra he was conducting. Memories and dreams are like that, aren't they? The greater the distance from the event the more the memories can change.

I mention this only because as a writer I often draw on my memories. I realize that memories evolve, and I can't remember every detail. As a writer, just like a good storyteller, I am here to tell a story and I may embellish a memory to make it more interesting - much to my sister's chagrin. The two of us often trade stories that we remember from childhood only to have the other sister say, "I don't remember that," or "That's not the way I remember it." Funny how memories play tricks, isn't it?

So, I don't worry too much when I write something about family. It is a story that I am telling, not an autobiography. I am appealing to the universal quality of the story, not for the most accurate recollection of events. What I try to capture is the feelings that created the memory that stayed with me. I couldn't remember all the details completely anyway. Thank goodness for that.

There are people who recollect exactly what has happened to them. They experience what is called hyperthemesia. Give them a date and they can remember the clothes they wore, the weather, every little detail. How do they ever find relief from bad memories? Do they relive them over and over again? I'm glad my doctor became a conductor in my dreams. I would have a hard time living with the actual, intense memory of childbirth otherwise.