Hungry Warblers

Warbler October 24

Yellow-rumped Warblers began arriving a few weeks ago. Now they are a constant presence in the wax myrtle as they gorge on the small, unappealing berries that other warblers cannot digest.

Warbler October 23

Warbler October 24

Every year I fall in love with the warblers, all over again, and spend hours trying to photograph them.

Warbler October 24

Cloudy days test my patience with low light and grainy images.

Warbler October 23

Sunny days emphasize the warblers’ camouflage, turning photos into abstract riddles of highlight and shadow.

Warbler October 24

Exposures set for the interior of the wax myrtle flare distractingly bright whenever a bird strays into a patch of sunlight.

Warbler October 26

Exposures set for sunlight fail when a bird retreats into shadow.

Warbler October 24

Every so often, sunlight, shadow, and bird merge into a split-second of breathtaking beauty. At those moments I freeze, too captivated to remember my camera. Then the moment passes, and I’m left snapping a photo of perfection’s echo.

Warbler October 24

These photos are the most frustrating of all, teasing reminders of what might have been. They are also my favorites. They are cause and effect. A reason to keep taking photos. Photos worth keeping.

Warbler October 26

I’m finding that photography, like poetry, is a hunger that returns season after season.

Whoa, December

December 1

Whoa, December, wait one minute
I’ve hardly roused from my feasted slumber
When you start to number my days

Set clocks and worry flocks of shoppers
Lost in evergreen lots and sticker-shock
Tick tock, sweet silver bells ring the hour

As if to hurry my step into line
My dour minuet with Father Time
Stumbling on to the end

The bitter end of another year
Another calendar page, scrawled
With duty and a glitter of waste

With things I never desired
The blouse gift-receipt, creased
In haste and taped over the size

I couldn’t accept; a final refrain
After the glaze is scraped
From cold and golden morns

And oh, December, please wait
For the lights to change, for fire
To blaze through our litter of wrappings

Pause tonight among muttering beasts
In their scatter of straw, their dusty ease
From lust’s numb ache, from labor’s strain

Rest among these flight-tired geese
Mid-route, heads tucked under folded
Wings, murmuring psalms to themselves

Review: Elegy

Elegy: Poems by Raphaela Willington
(unbound CONTENT, 2012)

In the foreword to Elegy, John Briggs begins by saying, “Raphaela Willington died on January 6, 2004, of ovarian cancer. Death became her muse in her last years.” He goes on to describe a woman of admirable strength and a poet of considerable talent.

The first poem begins: “Sometimes you wake / into silence” (“Sometimes You Wake”, pg 20). From there the book proceeds to muffle death’s dirge with birdsong and rustling leaves. The poems’ gardens are vividly alive. Zucchini and paperwhites thrive there, tomatoes and zinnias. Deer, squirrels, and groundhogs roam the pages, and “The sun is today a citadel / falling falling / yet standing” (“This Day”, pg 28).

In Elegy, death isn’t a morbid centerpiece, nor is it draped in mourning. Instead, it is herded into place as simply another visitor in the gardens. When the author finds the skull of a buck, antlers still attached, she says:

“One ear remains intact, as if listening, I imagine,
for the sound of the voice of my father calling us,
     mother and me,
in from the dusk of the garden
     at the end of a long day.” (“Endgame”, pg 45)

Later, she hears her name in winter’s approach:

“deer feasting on our hearts,
tomatoes crystallized into summer’s rubies
set in circlets of dying vines” (“Growing Seasons”, pg 76)

The foreword says, “A culture plumped with its belief in self-importance and fixated on amassing accomplishment might judge that Raphaela didn’t ‘do’ much with her life.” (pg 12) I say she did much that was remarkable, and I’m particularly grateful to her for writing Elegy. It seems to me as if she peered through the veil that separates life from death and fearlessly recorded what she saw. Then she wrote her observations into beautifully lyrical, meticulously revised poetry.

  • Find out more about the book here.
  • Six poems from Elegy were the inspiration for a song cycle that recently premiered at Western Connecticut State University. Read about “Wrensong” here.

Last week, my trip included a morning in Elora, Tennessee, where my mother’s father is buried alongside his parents and a handful of other relatives. I never met my maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, and I have few memories of his parents.

My visit was intended to honor Mother’s memory, more than theirs, so I was surprised by how their headstones affected me. I became intensely curious, wandering past name after name. Who were these people? How much of them lives on, in me? My connection to these graves was strengthened by my recent experience reading Elegy, which I had finished the day before our drive to Elora.

Cicadas

Cicadas

Youth taps through a labyrinth
Of root, exploring in blind stages
Each nymph counts, each instar
Molts toward the relentless percussion
Of age, where the last skin hardens
And splits at the nape, final
Form shrugging free to unfurl song
In heat, muscles tuned to the sun’s declining
Tenor, late summer’s desperate chorus
Clings to tired limbs that droop
With the weight of leaves past saving
A monotonous harvest of lust
Set to succumb after securing the eggs
Muffling them in summer’s golden pith

2012 Hampton Roads Writers Conference, Part Two

One of the last things I did, before leaving for the conference, was bring in the mail. The top envelope in the box was one of my submission SASEs, which could only be a rejection. Since better than seventy percent of my submissions result in rejection, it was a safe assumption. The envelope contained my very first photography rejection.

As I drove to the conference, I mulled my usual regrets. Did I miss something in the submission guidelines? Did I choose wrong, as I selected what to send? (The photos in this post are some of the ones I considered, but decided against.) And, the biggest question of all, what was I thinking? Why did I ever imagine that my work was good enough for publication?

I’ve been submitting poetry since 2003. Nine years in, I’ve accumulated a drawer full of rejections and a folder’s worth of acceptances. My rejection-regret processing time is down to a little over an hour, so I reached the “it’s okay and I’ll try again” stage before check-in time at the conference. Even so, it wasn’t the best way to start my weekend.

The first night offered a choice between three sessions. I opted for “Mastering the ten-minute agent pitch” by Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management. Anyone who has ever considered submitting their work to an agent should hear this talk. Before, I had vague ideas of how I wanted to present my book. After, I had a firm outline and growing confidence that I was on the right track.

Friday and Saturday’s schedules included talks about poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. My favorite sessions focused on marketing and editing:

  • “A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent” by Molly Jaffa
  • “Getting Published … and Maybe Even Paid (for your poetry)” by editor and publisher Annmarie Lockhart
  • “Buffing and Polishing” by author John DeDakis

I learned from every speaker, but the daily first-ten-lines critique sessions were the most interesting part of the conference. The critique panel consisted of agents Molly Jaffa, Rachael Dugas, and Brooks Sherman, along with authors Rick Mofina and Patricia Hermes. Earlier in the summer, conference registrants had been invited to submit the first ten lines of their works-in-progress. These submissions were projected in the auditorium (with the authors’ information removed), read aloud, and discussed by the panel. Points of interest included formatting, character development, point of view, word choice, and placing your work within the proper genre. In each submission I recognized problems from my own work, and I left each session with new ideas about how to strengthen my writing.

By Saturday evening, my mind was full to overflowing. I was happy to come home and eager to start applying all that I had learned. Which brings me back to “what was I thinking?” I was thinking this: I prefer a drawer full of rejections to a computer hard drive packed with poems and stories and photos that I never bothered to edit and submit.

Now, it’s time to get back to work.