Thursday, September 29, 2016

September 25 - October 1 Banned Book Week

This week I’m reading The Lorax, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach to observe Banned Book Week. Yes, I’ve read this Dr. Seuss title before, but must admit that somehow I missed these two Roald Dahl books. Banned Book Week offers the opportunity to catch up!

Dr. Seuss’s classic story tells of the utter destruction of Truffula trees and its devastating effect on the environment.  In 1989, it was banned by a school district in California on the basis that it “criminalized the foresting industry.” Children might think logging was bad. But shouldn’t children be allowed to read and form their own opinions? What about Farewell to Shady Glade by Bill Peet, a book beloved by my own children? Did anyone challenge this book that showed the effects of development on the environment?

A Colorado library banned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for this reason - it embraced a “poor philosophy of life.” The book was called racist due to the factory workers’, the Oompa Loompas, skin color. So Dahl changed the description making them white in a revised edition.

In the early 1990s, James and the Giant Peach was banned from an elementary school in Texas because it contained curse words such as “ass.” In 1986 some religious groups in Wisconsin took exception to a scene where a spider licks her lips. They argued this scene could be sexual and the book was banned.

What are some of your favorite children’s books that have made the banned books list? Exercise your freedom this week and read a banned book!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Eight Step Ekphrastic Poem

Venice Facade, William Merritt Chase, 1878
This dormant season is perfect for germinating poems, isn't it? I've been germinating a poem for the Winter Poem Swap. Tabatha offered a Monet painting for participants to use as a prompt if we chose to write an ekphrastic poem. I love this sort of challenge and, for me, the process is definitely akin to germination. It can take weeks! I offer this post as a peek into my process, which is of course not the only process.

The poem (not the Winter Swap :Poem) that evolved from living with this painting  by William Merritt Chase is very different from anything I usually write! But for me, that's the gift of allowing a piece of art to inspire me. I often find myself in new territory.

Shuttered Windows
         response to Venice Facade

Behind shuttered triptych windows,
a mystic ushers in her lion.
The cool still air caresses silence
like a nun dusting a sanctuary.
She brushes tangles from his mane,
and with the flask filched in her novice days,
bestows a drop of oil.
This ritual is all that remains.
No crucifix, no candle.
Just jumbled faded tarot cards
and incense wafting away the smell of age.
She covers her head with turquoise gauze,
gazes into a ball and chants
to lovers lost and the lover found.
Her lion reclines on a cot having
discarded his hair shirt.

                       Joyce Ray © All rights reserved

So here's my process. 

Step 1: Plant the seed image. Print image and post prominently so my subconscious can begin work.


Step 2: With pencil, sketch image in a sketch book (it doesn't matter if drawing is not your forte! Writing is!)

I sketched Venice Facade at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine.







Step 3: Try stream of consciousness writing about the image. 

Or record words and phrases that rose to surface while drawing. The following notebook images illustrate work on last year's Winter Poem Swap.






Step 4: STUDY ORIGINAL IMAGE, looking for clues and missed details. Ask, what is the artist trying to say? How can I bring my experience to the image?


Step 5: Begin fitting phrases together and watch for the poem seedling to peek through. Sometimes I do this in my sketchbook, sometimes on laptop.  REJOICE when the seedling pokes its pale face through the page to greet you!


Step 6: Type a draft. No judgement zone! Try different poetic forms and free verse. In which direction is the draft stretching?


Step 7: Read the draft aloud.


Step 8: Revise for sound, excessive words, word choice. Strengthen the poem seedling so it can stand alone.

I’d like to know how others go about responding to art.

Tara has the Round-up over at A Teaching Life . Drop in. There may or may not be other ekphrastic poems today, but there'll be poems galore!

Friday, December 4, 2015


Welcome to Poetry Friday where you will find a field of poems waiting for you at  Buffy's Blog.
In the spirit of thankfulness, spilling over from last week's gathered blessings, I'm sharing a poem I found at The site offers contemplative tools, instructive videos and some lovely e-cards to mail.

I love how this poem by Patrick Donnelly transports me out of my usual culture of Thanksgiving in which chickpeas and garlic are most likely absent. Our call to prayer is our table grace, not the call of an Imam. 

Donnelly's poem makes me think that preparing a meal is a prayer in itself. May our days of thankfulness extend beyond the annual day we set aside for thanks, and may they include room for traditions different from our own.

On Being Called To Prayer
While Cooking Dinner for Forty

When the heavens and the earth
are snapped away like a painted shade,
and every creature called to account,
please forgive me my head
full of chickpeas, garlic and parsley.
I am in love with the lemon
on the counter, and the warmth
of my brother’s shoulder distracted me
when we stood to pray.

The rest of the poem can be found here.

Patrick Donnelly is the Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachussetts.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Of Athena, Greece and Olives

It’s Poetry Friday and Keri is hosting at Keri Recommends. Thanks, Keri!

Athena, New Acropolis Museum, Athens
I’m popping in with a poem inspired by my recent trip to Greece. For a long time, it has been my dream to walk in the homeland of my grandfather John Brousaides, who emigrated to Boston in the early 20th century. He fled to avoid conscription into the Turkish army where he would have been forced to fight against his Greek countrymen.

My husband Bob and I crossed off this bucket list item as our 50th wedding anniversary celebration. And our family and friends came along!

I didn't get as far north as Mount Parnassus, but came within sight of the Muses' mountain at magnificent Delphi. I'm still awash in the memories of olives, feta, Greek yogurt and honey, the many hues of Aegean blue, and the outpouring of hospitality from the Greeks we met.

Olives growing in Athens - my photo

This poem with Greece personified in Athena surfaced on the plane ride from Toronto to Athens. Pantoums always seem like a good place to start when I don’t know where I want to end up. Believe it or not, the biggest challenge for me here was the choice between dreamt and dreamed! Any votes for either one?

Many thanks to David John at My Favourite Planet for permission to post his lovely photos of Athena's statues. If you're a traveler or  researcher, check out My Favorite Planet for amazing photos and commentary.

 Athena, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

In Search of Athena

The Greek goddess beckons me
to cross my own boundaries,
to reach back and grasp the hands
of kin who dreamt among the olives.

Crossing my own boundaries,
I hear stories pouring from Parnassus
of those who dreamt among the olives
rich with the oil of belonging.

Stories pour from Parnassus
of brothers who fled their homeland,
denied the oil of belonging
cold-pressed from Athena’s tree.

Brothers fled their homeland
leaving behind the olives
cold-pressed from Athena’s tree
for other fruits and new dreams.

Leaving behind her olives,
the Greek goddess beckons me
to taste the fruits and share the dreams
of those who reach to clasp my hand.
                                ~ Joyce Ray, 2015 All rights reserved