Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I should probably mention before you look at this article that I lived in Birmingham, Alabama, for 7 years, and I'm an American Idol fan, not a fanatic, just a fan . . .

Birmingham the South's musical leader?

By DESIREE HUNTER, Associated Press Writer Fri May 26, 2:48 PM ET

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The South has always claimed to have more than its share of musical talent. But is Birmingham the center of the region's singing soul?

For voting fans of "American Idol," it would seem so.

More viewers of the popular Fox television show live in the South — 39 percent — than any other region. But that doesn't explain how Taylor Hicks of suburban Birmingham became the second "American Idol" winner from the city in just five seasons, following 2002 winner Ruben Studdard.

Or how Bo Bice of suburban Helena was runner-up to Carrie Underwood last year. Or how
Diana DeGarmo, who was born in Birmingham but moved to Snellville, Ga., at age 3, was a 2004 finalist.

Hicks has a notion why he was a winner. "I really believe it was fate," the 29-year-old said Thursday on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

David Johnson, executive director of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, says he can't explain why Birmingham has produced so many idols.

"But it really is amazing the talent that's come out of Alabama in the last 100 years," he said, from W.C. Handy, Nat "King" Cole and Hank Williams to Lionel Richie, Emmylou Harris and the band Alabama.

While none of them is from Birmingham except Harris, the one-time Steel City claimed the title of Idol Town when the silver-haired Hicks received the most votes and got as much attention for his looks as his soulful singing.

"I think there really must be something in the water," Chris West said after a watch party for Hicks at his restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings. "We've had Ruben, Bo, everybody here is just really fired up about it."

And, most are quick to point out, that talent has been in Birmingham, in Alabama, in the South, long before the TV talent show.

Many credit the region's relationship with religion as a prime reason for its musical inclinations, with children often singing in their church choirs.

Studdard and Bice both sang in choirs as youngsters, and Studdard's mother, Emily Studdard, said that's where he first got a taste of performing.

"It was very important because it gave him an audience," she said. "It came from a place where he could build his confidence ... he could get constructive criticism and feel comfortable there."

Also, there's often an expectation among Southern families that children would partake in music, said Frank Adams, director of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in Birmingham.

"Back then, everybody in the family had to do something musical," he said during a recent tour at the hall, a clarinet clutched in his right hand. "(You had to) play an instrument, sing, something — else they'll talk about you. They'll say, 'What's wrong with her?'"

Before auditioning for "Idol," Studdard was in the group Just a Few Cats and Bice was the lead singer for SugarMoney. Hicks has been touring for several years with the Taylor Hicks Band, said his father, Brad Hicks.

"I think that Bo and Ruben and Taylor were all serious entertainers and really knew that they wanted to do this for the rest of their lives," the elder Hicks said. "I think all three of those guys are really hard workers and that's made a difference."

Emily Studdard and Bice's mother, Nancy Downes, both grew up singing in church and Downes was part of a gospel group called the Singing Jays.

She recalled how Bo started singing when he was 3 and would delight when people gave him change for performing.

"A quarter was just awesome," she said laughing. "He would just sing and sing and sing for a quarter."

Bice, who moved to Nashville after the show, let Hurricane Katrina evacuees stay in his Helena home as long as they needed. He also recently donated the outfit his grandmother made for him to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

That charm and hospitality has probably helped endear these singers to their fans, said Johnson, the hall's executive director.

"They're more `people-people' — they're from the South," he said. "It's just the upbringing. You're raised in the South and we're friendly and we're nice and we like people. We like to show that appreciation back."

The die-hard Southern pride that makes Alabamians cry out "Roll Tide" and "War Eagle" has crossed over to the singing arena and bolstered Birmingham's hold in the competition, said Charnel Wright, a reporter at local Fox station WBRC who's been organizing "Idol" watch parties since Studdard was on the show.

"When you have people who start talking about it like they do games at either Auburn or Alabama, then you know it's big," she said. "You get these people — even these hardcore sports buffs — saying, 'Taylor did well this week, but I think Ace should be off,' and these are the same guys talking about (last season's Alabama star quarterback) Brodie Croyle and the NFL draft — people are treating it as if it were sports."

Having the solid backing of your home state helps on a show where phoned-in votes decide the winner.

Also working to their advantage is Birmingham's location and size, said Mark Harrelson and Courtney Hayden, both producers at Boutwell Studios in Homewood, where Hicks cut a record about a year ago.

"Birmingham has given them that freedom to develop, I think," Hayden said. "If you were living in Philly and you were trying to break into New York, you want to be more like New York guys."

Friday, May 26, 2006


American Life in Poetry: Column 061


Everywhere I travel I meet people who want to write poetry but worry that what they write won't be "any good." No one can judge the worth of a poem before it's been written, and setting high standards for yourself can keep you from writing. And if you don't write you'll miss out on the pleasure of making something from words, of seeing your thoughts on a page. Here Leslie Monsour offers a concise snapshot of a self-censoring

The Education of a Poet

Her pencil poised, she's ready to create,
Then listens to her mind's perverse debate
On whether what she does serves any use;
And that is all she needs for an excuse
To spend all afternoon and half the night
Enjoying poems other people write.

Leslie Monsour's newest book of poetry is "The Alarming Beauty of the Sky" (2005) published by Red Hen Press. Poem copyright (c) 2000 by Leslie Monsour and reprinted from "The Formalist," Vol. 11, by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


A friend sent this photo to me and I thought it was a hoax - but it is not - I found it on the Hubble site. It is an awesone photo - I am filled with awe when I look at it. The phenomenon is created by trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gas around a dying sun-like star. I like to think there is even more to it than that.

It's such a shame that it may be the end for Hubble and images like this one:

"Servicing Mission 4, the last scheduled flight of the space shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope, has been cancelled. On Jan. 16, 2004, then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced his decision to call off the mission, which would have performed Hubble maintenance work and installed new instruments. O'Keefe cited the new safety guidelines set out following the Columbia tragedy as the primary basis for his decision. New NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has promised to revisit the decision based on the success of upcoming shuttle flights."

Read more . . .

We spend so much money to war against each other, all the while, the universe is watching with an omniscient eye. There should be more people interested in watching it. Maybe then we would all realize our place in it. There's a poem here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I always enjoy visiting Peggy Payne's Boldness Blog for inspiration on how to trust yourself during the writing process and forge ahead. I also got the chance to meet her in person at the NCWN Spring Conference last Saturday at Peace College (beautiful setting, by the way).

In a recent post she shares ways to "Find The Writing Topic To Inspire Your LASTING PASSION" - and here is a question that has stayed with me:

*NOTICE: What do you spend most of your time thinking about?

Yikes, what do I think about most of the time? It seems that I'm so busy that I don't have the luxury to just think about anything but teaching and family stuff. But just last night, my husband and I were trying to make life decisions that required serious thought. I'm talking pulling yourself out of your life and looking at it from above. I'm talking long range. I tend to "what if" so looking ahead realistically can be a challenge for me, but I still think it is important to have those fanciful hopes and dreams out there as an overall guide, while also taking into account real-life responsibilities. When I boil it all down: I think about children, mine and others, how they learn and interact. I think about family and daily interactions. I think about words and how to put them together. I think about traveling and interconnectedness. I think about God, but not in a religious way. I'm UU, so I think about God in a collective sense. I think about evil and how we get side tracked by fear and selfishness. I think about trying to be a better mom, wife, teacher, person, and poet.

Here's another tip from Peggy I'll try on:

*Before you go to sleep, tell yourself you’re going to DREAM of what you’re most called to write. The moment you wake up, write down every detail you can recall, whether the dream seems to have any value or not.

This may be my "theme" for a poetic series.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


From Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1947). She wrote poetry about everyday life, collected in books such as The Boat of Quiet Hours (1986) and Let Evening Come (1990).

In the Grove: The Poet at Ten, By Jane Kenyon

She lay on her back in the timothy
and gazed past the doddering
auburn heads of sumac.

A cloud—huge, calm,
and dignified—covered the sun
but did not, could not, put it out.

The light surged back again.

Nothing could rouse her then
from that joy so violent
it was hard to distinguish from pain.

It's the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She wanted to become a writer as a young woman, and she once took a creative writing class from Gertrude Stein. But she had a hard time coming up with story ideas, so she went into education. She got a job researching the way that children learn to use language and found that children love language with patterns of sound and rhythm. She also found that young children have a special attachment to words for objects they can see and touch, like shoes and socks and bowls and bathtubs.

She eventually began to write books for children based on her research and in 1938 she became the editor of a publishing house called William R. Scott & Company which specialized in new children's literature. The Great Depression had made children's books into luxury items, and most other publishing houses had phased out children's literature. Margaret Wise Brown helped make children's books profitable, because she invested in high-quality color illustrations, and she printed her books on strong paper with durable bindings, so that children could grab, squeeze and bite their books the way they did with all their toys.

But we know Margaret Wise Brown for one book she wrote, and that was Goodnight Moon (1947), which includes the lines "Goodnight room / Goodnight moon / Goodnight cow jumping over the moon ... Goodnight stars / Goodnight air / Goodnight noises everywhere."

The New York Public Library gave it a terrible review, and it didn't sell as well as some of Brown's other books in its first year. But parents were amazed at the book's almost hypnotic effect on children, its ability to calm them down before bed. Brown thought the book was successful because it helped children let go of the world around them piece by piece, just before turning out the light and falling asleep.

Parents recommended the book to each other, and it slowly became a word-of-mouth best-seller. It sold about 1,500 copies in 1953, 4,000 in 1955, 8,000 in 1960, 20,000 in 1970; and by 1990 the total number of copies sold had reached more than four million.

Monday, May 22, 2006


An afternoon at the Nasher Museum of Art:

Our favorite was the piece that my 3-year-old calls "Angry Face." To give you an idea about size, it would be about 3 Liams tall (6 feet), maybe more. The artist started out as a puppet maker, and this is a self-portrait of what he thinks he looks like to his kids when he gets angry. The amazing part is the detail: stubble, pours, even nose hairs.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


I will have a poem published in the January inaugural issue of WOMB. Very cool.

Every time I say the word, womb, I have to think about it. Such a strange word, such a mouthful packed into one syllable. Womb. I'll look into the roots of the word, but in the mean time, here's a poem:


whether you decide to use that power or not
it is a power, a place to grow life whether
you grow a body there or not, it is a land,
lawless: food, energy, warmth, life
given freely even at risk of own
the only warring is how low
your own supplies can go
until body outgrows
rends free to obey
rules of airy

I also have poems forthcoming in two of issues of remark - a 'zine of damn fine poetry.

I've always wanted to use the word "forthcoming."

Friday, May 19, 2006


I'm off to Peace College for the North Carolina Writers' Network spring conference. I'm not much of a networker, but the fall conference was really useful and I did meet some great poets who are now friends. I'm looking forward to hearing James Applewhite and Peggy Payne at this one.

Here's a poem for the road:

she picks a flower

without thinking
and slows her father up
all the more
so he snatches
there is no other word for it
then throws
the flower down
next to where it once grew
yanks the white
of her arm

her brother stumbles
to keep up
in silence seen
from here
in his fear for her
in his relief that he
is forgotten
just behind for now

what her father says hits
again and again
and I recognize it:
my own cowering
my own unloading
on too slender
shoulders soon
to remember too late
picked flowers can't
be planted again

Thursday, May 18, 2006


American Life in Poetry: Column 060


Most of us have taken at least a moment or two to reflect upon what we have learned from our mothers. Through a catalog of meaningful actions that range from spiritual to domestic, Pennsylvanian Julia Kasdorf evokes the imprint of her mother's life on her own. As the poem closes, the speaker invites us to learn these actions of compassion.

What I Learned From My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewing even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Reprinted from "Sleeping Preacher," University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992, by permission of the publisher. First printed in "West Branch," Vol. 30, 1992. Copyright (c) 1992 by Julia Kasdorf. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I almost forgot! Irene and I were working on a Mother's Day poem to post. She kicked it off with the first line, then we took turns writing a line or two via e-mail. In her last e-mail, she asked if it was done and what the title should be, but I forgot all about it until today. (Such is a mother's life.) So here it is, the poem whose completeness and title are undetermined.

Down the hall from the delivery room
the babies form a midnight queue
while their mothers struggle to remember
every detail, but fail. It is the beginning
of beginnings. Babies sleep in circles

of overhead lights but mothers can't
yet enjoy the emptiness of their bodies,
can't see kidneys, stomach, lungs swell
in appreciation of newfound space.
Where is the milk?

Baby's mouth knows, divines first meal
that hardly seems enough, then sleeps
in tight swaddling by nurse's sure hands.
Mother looks on, detached and infinitely
connected, joy and grief
indistinguishable in the florescent light.

P.S. I had an "Oh my god, I'm a mom!" moment today. My daughter and I were at Loco Pops after school, she was stung by a yellow jacket on the playground and there is nothing like a "gourmet popsicle" to make everything better. Anyway, she had chocolate all around her mouth that wouldn't come off easily so I said, "Hold still, I'm going to do a disgusting mommy thing." Then I licked the napkin and wiped her face. A college guy sitting on the bench next to us expressed his disgust (ewww), and I replied, "Sorry, it comes with the job."

P.S.S If you're ever in Durham, a visit to Loco Pops would be worth your while, if you like adventurous popsicles. Today, my daughter and I both had two small popsicles, which are a dollar a piece:

rootbeer float
chocolate brownie
chocolate orange thyme

Monday, May 15, 2006


What a concept, today I am posting actual fresh poetry on this blog that used to serve it daily, now occasionally. I have become more of a weekend Blogger. This week I feel compelled to post more, to get back to my daily roots. So much gets in the way of writing poetry. This blog used to motivate me to write more, now I'm more motivated to check my own and other blogs instead. What will it take to make me into a morning person who gets up hours early just to write with pen and paper in the dim light? At least I could open Word first thing, and type a few thoughts, instead of going right for my bookmarks. All in all, I think MAAP has been good for my writing, especially when I strike something resembling balance. Balance. Ha. I am too easily distracted by spring weather, TV season finales like tonight's 2-hour Grey's Anatomy, a one-day writing conference coming up, and ending the school year on a high note, scratch that, just ending it will be fine. Teaching is draining. I love it and love my students, but I'm ready to be off for the summer and spend more time mommying and writing poetry. The whole teachers having it so good because they get summers off thing is also a bit misleading, we spend our summers going to conferences, setting up our classroom, and reading up on curriculum for next year. (I will be moving from 3rd to 5th grade language arts and social studies next year, I have much to read up on.) But summers are a nice change of pace. I digress in a spiral of contradictions, see how distracted I am? Here is the poem:

Gypsy Blood
J.B. Rowell

My grandmother, the only grandparent I ever met,
told me when I was young that we had a bit
of Bohemian Gypsy blood in us. My mom scoffed,
and denied such lineage, despite the photo of a great-
so-and-so on my father's side: dark eyes and dark
pulled-back hair burning through dull black-and-white.
My nose, my chin.

Now my parents live the gypsy life,
drive to and from two homes. You never know
when they may be passing through. Can't pin
them down for a reservation, can't plan a holiday
too far ahead, can't send a package without
checking, can't persuade them to stay longer
since they are on their way again.

Each morning, I call them on their cell phone
on my way to work. It takes a moment
for my mind to orientate to their location:
by the negative-edge pool overlooking green
of golf course; on white whicker, screened in, treed in,
in the mountains. It must be nice, I think, but then,

how unsettling to be so rootless. Always
switching the mail, buying two of everything,
hoping to pass death heading the other way
on the highway.


For Mother's Day, I was treated to a mimosa and buffet brunch at the top of "The Pickle." The Pickle, officially called University Tower, is a green, glass building with views of Durham, including Duke and Duke Forest. Mostly you see green all around from this lone tower. I also received two pairs of earrings my daughter picked out at Target, sherbert striped pjs (also from Target), and a card from my 6-year-old daughter that said:

Dear Mommy,

Happy Mother's Day.

I like it when you help me with my homework. I would not be alive without you. I love when you make noodles with olives. Thank you for all the things you do for me.

After we read the card she said, "Mommy, are you crying?"

Sunday, May 14, 2006


My parents just left to return to their home in the mountains of North Carolina. It was so nice to spend part of Mother's Day with my mom and own children. And my husband and dad too, of course. It has been one of those days when you look around and think, "My cup runneth over."

My mom gave me the 50th anniversary edition of Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She read the book forty years ago, and now she is giving it to her two daughters. Here is an excerpt from what I have read so far:

"For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mothercore, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular, We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist or saint—the inner inviolable core, the single eye."

Friday, May 12, 2006


We had a lovely, Italian dinner Friday at Bocci. We sat outside in a courtyard with a fountain. This is a great place for us to go as a family because after the kids eat, they can run in the grassy areas and look into the fountain. They dipped leaves into the water then "painted" on the cement ledge, then they let the leaves go on the water like boats. The food is tasty and includes kid dishes like a huge portion of spaghetti and meatballs the two of them can split. Next week, they start live music by the fountain every Thursday and Saturday night. We'll have to start going weekly. It's hard to come by a restaurant that can keep both parents and kids happy. Bravo Bocci!

Sunday, May 07, 2006


My dear friend from up north, my tatoo twin, is attuned with the planets and stars and our place in them. She sent me my horoscope and said it should be an exciting two months ahead. I'm never quite sure what I believe in this area. Could it be that the day we are born decides our personaility and destiny? I doubt it. But I don't doubt that the ebb and flow of the universe moves us and through us if we let it. Corny, eh? Once she talked me into having my Tarot cards read and I, of course, got a card with a man face first on the ground with a multitude of swords and knives in his back. She then proceeded to tell me that the card was actually a good sign and that things couldn't get any worse in my life. Good news indeed. Now that she is sending me glad tidings about my horoscope, I am a true believer, especially a horoscope with so many exclamation marks!!!

Your time is coming, dear Leo!

Next month, in June, you will see that so much
of what you have been working so hard to achieve
will come to fruition, much like a beautiful,
blooming hothouse flower. Keep plugging! In May
a number of portals will open for you and if you remain
agile, you will nimbly pass through them, one right after
another. You are so close to victory!

The coming month is a month like none other you've seen so
far this year, and June could prove even better. After
having come through a very difficult set of months in
February and March, what you need most is good news, and
that's exactly what's on the way! Your luck is about to
change, so stay optimistic!

Mars, the planet of action, will remain in a secretive
part of your chart all month, so for now, you'll need to
stay in a planning and strategizing pattern, while you
deftly move your chess pieces into place. Although the
outside world will assume that "nothing much" is happening
with you, just the opposite will be true! Let others
assume that, because your fledgling plans will still be
too fragile to risk sharing with others just yet. The last
thing you need now is inviting others to second-guess your
decisions. Keep your own counsel - you know what is best
for you, for this month your hunches will be right on

Mars will move into Leo on June 3 for a rare, seven-week
stay. It is during that coming period that this month's
planning stage will end and you will begin to outwardly
crystallize the talks, decisions, and new relationships
you began in May. The coming period will mark an exciting

I would like you to take special note of an incredibly
lucky period for you from May 4 - 7. During those
exceptional days, Jupiter (ruling gifts and luck), Uranus
(governing surprises), and Mars (the planet of actions and
energy) will work together to form a very tight
mathematical triangle from different parts of the sky.
This is VERY significant and is considered the best kind
of aspect possible! This particular aspect won't likely
repeat in just the same way in any of our lifetimes.
Expect to have exceptional cosmic help when it comes to
real estate, family, and money.

All month Mars will fill your twelfth house while this
planet tours Cancer, so it's clear you'll have help from
someone behind the scenes. The crazy thing is that you may
not even know that someone is working hard on your behalf.
You might find out later - or not! By the time Mars moves
into Leo in early June, you'll be able to cinch the job
and best the competition. Remember, to win you need to put
your hat in the ring in the first place.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


bedtime is such a victory
J.B. Rowell

a reprieve
lives brought
around clock
to seed
another day
for tomorrow
then another
bird's last call
through single-pane
what holds
it all back is only
not mother's will
what will
get us through
only geography or
luck to avoid
bus shrapnel
we are all in
danger of
our fears our
selfish victories


Finally, a manifesto that makes sense from MomsRising:

"Mothers and families are in trouble. A full quarter of families with children under six live in poverty, at least 9 million children don't have any health care, and far too many parents can't afford to stay home with sick children. Working toward common sense family-friendly policies like those covered in The Motherhood Manifesto will help all families."

* Non-mothers earn 10 percent less than their male counterparts; mothers earn 27 percent less; and single mothers earn between 44 percent and 34 percent less.

* The situation for American mothers is increasingly critical: According to the U.S. Census, women’s overall wages are dropping compared to men—women lost a cent between 2002 and 2003, and now make 76 cents for every dollar made by men. Much of this wage gap can be attributed to the maternal wall.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Stephen Colbert roasts the W to his face - maybe the term "roasting" is too kind?

My favorite line is, "reality has a well known liberal bias."