Giving Away a Book of Poetry

Now and then, I weed my bookshelves (not often enough).  Today, I picked up a book of poetry, browsed through it and felt like it was one I could release.  I put it aside.  I would take it to the garage later on and start a giveaway book box.  It occurred to me that I should see if I’d written any private notes inside as I sometimes do.  On the last page and back book cover, there was a poem I’d written (with pen) in the year 2000.  I could easily rip the one page out but tearing off the back book cover seemed like too much of a vandalism.

What to do?  I could tear out the one page, make a copy of the back page to salvage my poem in toto and then put white acrylic paint over my words on the back cover.  The poem was about having broken up with someone.  I’d gone to the big city and was sitting at the cafe counter having breakfast.  “Everywhere I turn, there are reminders of us.”  About how I was hoping to dilute my loneliness by being around lots of people in the big city…

Finally, I decided to tear out the first page of the poem and leave the second.  No one would know that these were my words…anonymous script in a book of poetry feels like an intrigue, right?  Whoever finds this book might recognize themselves in my words.  Or somehow be elevated or validated, hopefully not depressed.

Finally, I gessoed over, painted over, whited out my words on the back inside cover.  A few words peaked through…that would have to provide enough of an intrigue.


So do you write in your books?  Is that a way to engage the conversation that any book engenders by virtue of being A Book?  Or is it more like any scrap of paper has to do when inspiration strikes?



quig6aShe was made to give
© by Christine O’Brien

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they took and returned to her
in intimate ways
and each was happy.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they plowed and sowed her
to feed the many
who had set up villages
and put down roots
and they took and returned to her
in amenable ways
and each was content.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they came with their heavy equipment
and modern ways
scavenged in her very bowels
bound her up in asphalt and concrete
rumbled heavy machines over her bare breast
constructed factories and buildings
increased their numbers
to populate these structures.

They said “We will make her subject to us.”
They worked the many to support the few
–a masked feudal system.
And they took
and they took
and they took from her
and it was never enough.
It was her nature to give
and though she felt dishonored
she complied.

The earth she says
I was made to give.
take from my…
however her larder was less abundant
and she felt a certain exhaustion.
To continue giving
to those who showed no appreciation
nor reciprocity
seemed a betrayal.

How much longer could she sustain them,
sustain herself?
Where she had once given
from her abundance,
now she was giving
from her personal storehouse.

“Ah, I am tired,” she said.
“I’ll shake these ungratefuls
from my empty breast.
I’ve nothing left to give.”

Writing Prompt:
One definition for ecology is “the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.”  What is your relationship to your physical surroundings?  Write about it.


For the love of collage–embracing the irregular

Semi-Wild Collage by Christine O’Brien 2018

What is it to me?  Laying down bits and pieces of scrap paper and then, being open to what emerges from chaos. In the initial stages of collaging, there is little direction.  I might have a theme in mind…or not.  I might choose a color scheme…or not.  I might lay down only words–upside down, right side up, sideways, any which way…or not.  Patterns?  Drama?  Comedy?  What wants to be conveyed?  Show me as I go.

I started with my painted purple elephant.  I printed her out in three different sizes realizing that I had a 6×6-inch birchwood panel to work with.  It was like the Goldilocks’ story…the first elephant was too big, the second one too small…the third elephant was “just right.”

I had a stack of mandalas that I’d drawn and painted a few years ago.  Sorting through, I gravitated towards patterns with stripes and dots, some words, shades of purple and magenta.  After placing and gluing the torn papers down, I collaged on the elephant.  I noticed the woman’s face in the far left corner.  Her face needed a neck and then she developed into the figure. I applied acrylic paint to bring some elements of the piece forward.  At some point, I knew I it needed silver leafing. In other words, I was in conversation with the piece as it evolved.

While collage can be an odd assemblage there is a point at which I desire to bring order to chaos.  And, I want to retain the wildness, the freedom I had in creating it.  Yet, I also like something recognizable.

One thing about collaging, you learn to be comfortable with stages…there is the drying time to consider between applications.  This allows you time to step back and see what wants to be seen.  Sometimes a new direction presents.  Do you follow it or stay  with your original intention for the piece?  Do you flow in another direction or exert  your own influence?  It’s always different and without a real formula other than trusting your instincts.

Finally, I appreciate finding the integrative component…whether it is color, design or pattern–whatever it is that brings cohesiveness and completion.

Consider This:
To make art, you don’t have to have the most expensive materials.  You really only have to make yourself available to it.  The muse is there, waiting for you to SHOW UP!  Have you been saving scraps of paper?  Is it time to do something with them?


if you write it, will they read it?

I do write for myself first.  I admit it.  It’s my process.  As I write for myself, if it feels “right on” in some way, I then have a desire to refine and share it with others.  I can’t keep it to myself if I discover something exciting, intriguing or fun.

Beyond writing for yourself, do you write for an audience…then, who is your audience? If you are writing a book, an essay, a poem, a trilogy, a novel or nonfiction, do you have someone in mind? By envisioning your readers, might you have a better idea of what and how your writing unfolds?

If you write it, will they read it?
A writer’s voice–it’s tone and cadence, it’s inherent poetry, the subject matter and author’s perspective–are some of the aspects of writing that gather an audience, a following of readers.  Then, there are less obvious things that make a reader choose your book off a bookshelf and take it home.  A connection that is felt…sometimes it’s the book title or cover.  A flip through the pages and a catchphrase that makes a reader curious to know more. Or it could be what you’ve written on the back cover of the book.  Or even the reviews from other authors.

I remember the slogan of a cement truck company in San Francisco from years ago “Find a need and fill it.”  That’s what writers strive to do.  Then, when all the other elements of a book are “in place,”  our audience grows up around this need and the author’s inferred promise of offering a solution.  Even if that solution is solely for the reader’s entertainment.

Remember this scene from Field of Dreams?  If only we had such a mentor as James Earl Jones when we are procrastinating on writing or hesitant to put it out there.




“…the book you can write…”

A few years ago, I took an online course on illustrating children’s books.  The course was peppered with interviews by successful authors of children’s books.   I was so impressed with one interview in particular that I wrote down some of the author’s wisdom verbatim.

From children’s picture book author, Maria Van Lieshout:

“Write only the book you can write. …when you define yourself as an artist, that comes through in your style or [through] your voice when you’re a writer.  It is all about who you are authentically and that is defined by where you’re from, where your home is, who your parents were, where they came from, what appeals to you, what you react to, what makes you emotional…[you ask] what is it about me that makes me respond so much?  Because the more I understand about me and where I’m from, the better of an artist I will ultimately become and that will shine through in my style in the books that I do….It is about who you are as a person as much as who you are as an artist or a writer that ultimately defines the book that you need to be working on…You want to find the story that is absolutely yours because you are the only one who could have created the story.”

I’m going to suggest that you read the above quote aloud, once more.  And listen to the words that you read; take them inside.

Though I’ve said something similar in earlier blogs, I find that it helps to have something of value repeated.  And, when someone says the same thing in a different way and/or with a different tone, it might be heard by a new audience.

Writing Prompt:IMG_9697
All of that said, what is the book that only you can write?
Or the poem?
Or the art piece you can make,
mold or build?
Or the painting that only you can paint?

Inspired by a painting

The Dive
© by Christine O’Brien

Diving Bird by Christine 2018

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.

Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
neither towards perfection
nor for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.

I surface a few feet away,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

I was invited to write and read a poem for an art gallery event.  The invitation was to choose a painting from the gallery show and write a poem to complement the painting.  I had two days.  I had been on a poetic hiatus and there is often the doubt “Do I have it in me to write poetry?”  I strolled through the gallery looking for a painting that resurrected my poetic voice.  There she was, the girl standing at the edge of the diving board.  I sat with her and asked what wanted to be spoken.  I took a photo and notes and went home.  This was not the first poem that came…the first poem was the process that lead me to this poem.

Writing Prompt:
Give yourself this challenge.  Go to an art gallery, stroll through and stop when you feel that gripping connection with a painting.  Then, sit with it for awhile, take notes, take a photo.  Go home (or to a cafe–make it an artist’s date) and write your poem.  This is such a special experience.  Do try it.

Note:  Remember the first poem may not be the final poem (nor the second or third).  Allow yourself to be in process with what wants to be spoken referring back to the painting as inspiration.

Note 2:  The artist is Jan Wurm.  Her painting is called “The Dive.”  I was hoping to include an image of the painting.  However, I have not received permission from the artist to date.


What I Take for Granted

Making my morning smoothie.  I lay out the ingredients–apple juice (the apples were from my apple trees), aloe vera juice, flaxseed oil, bananas, yogurt, cabbage, berries, cherries, cantaloupe–whatever fruits and vegetables that are organic and in season–protein powder…the list goes on.

This smoothie has become a daily ritual.  As I add the realfood
ingredients, I am aware that not everyone has these
vibrant fruits and vegetables available to concoct
a nourishing and delicious smoothie.  Yet, here I am,
gazing out the kitchen window at trees and mountains while doing this morning ritual.


Writing Prompt:
What do you take for granted?  Write about it.
Give it some recognition and appreciation.