Ace – A Photo Elegy

Patriot Ace McGill
July 22, 2001 – October 22, 2015

We found you,
a white flame in the forest,
white hot and snow white,
fur like cream, like pearls,
like the luster of the great open,
like a wide heaven.
You were a shine, a gleam,
a luminous glow,
on this spinning planet,
a lyrical greeter at the end of the day,
the composure of the night.
Your own end,
your own last day,
was like the remaining lonely cloud,
disappearing beyond the twilight horizon.

AceonWallIMG_1923CarlaAce1AceyPuppyAceWithToyMomAce1AceUnderCurtainJoelAceyIMG_0054IMG_0217IMG_0462AceChristmasFoxGreeterAceAceFollowingDog MomPJsAce


Appreciating Those Who Write – Joseph Bentz

We all think about suffering, and we have all suffered, are suffering, or will suffer to some degree, but leave it to Joseph Bentz to investigate the upside of pain, loss, and adversity. A professor of English at Azusa Pacific University, Bentz is also a novelist and writer of books related to the Christian experience. His latest book, Nothing is Wasted: How God Redeems What is Broken (Beacon Hill Press in Kansas City, 2016) explores the idea that redemptive elements are all around us and are even within the worst circumstances.Nothing is Wasted

I was in a prayer group with Joe for a few years (the group is still running, but I have not attended in a long time), along with a few other professors in the Azusa Pacific University community, and I found him to be encouraging and persuasive. The group was formed to encourage one another for creative projects and endeavors, and to pray for one another as the struggles ensued. My husband and I plan to return to this remarkable group when more time has opened up for us, but I can say here that it is made up of gentle, uplifting individuals who are humble, productive, and inspirational. They have certainly known disappointments, struggles, and suffering, but they quietly persist in their efforts, their faith, and their kindness.

Joseph Bentz has written ten books, including five novels and five books related to Christian life. We met last week at Starbucks near the campus so that I could interview him about Nothing is Wasted.


Joe does not hesitate to confront the most difficult issues that Christians face, and yet his personal demeanor is calm, thoughtful, and gentle. Not opinionated, he nonetheless has some resolute ideas about our walk with God, our awareness of the overall context of our faith in Christ, and our choices as believers in the God of redemption and hope. His books include subjects that some of us prefer to avoid: God’s silence when we want him to speak to us (Silent God), the delay we experience when waiting for God to act, (When God Takes Too Long), and now the reality of suffering and God’s redemptive “song” in the midst of our troubles in Nothing is Wasted.


I was eager to ask him a few questions after I finished the book. A believer in Christ, I have nonetheless had a crisis of faith more than once, during a prolonged period of chronic pain due to a car accident neck injury, a series of disappointments, and cataclysmic church issues that threatened to derail my faith.

Me: When did you start writing this book, and what inspired it?

Joe: I started the book in 2013 and finished it in 2015. I was interested in the ways that “redemption” was scattered in unexpected places. I met many people at writers’ conferences who had suffered great pain and who were writing about their experiences. I met a woman at one of the conferences who had been hit by a car, and yet she talked about it as a life-changing, positive experience. I wondered what the perspective of others was about the painful things that had happened to them.

Me: What kind of research did you do for the book?

Joe: I read articles and books written by people who had experienced painful events, and I also spent time with others that I met who had suffered great losses. They gave me permission to tell their stories, as they wanted them to be told. They also wanted to help others who might be experiencing the same thing.

Me: It almost seems as if you are writing in response to St. John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul.

Joe: That would be more prominent in Silent God and the issues I write about in that book. For this book, I had observed that many writers had dealt with great emotional pain and difficult circumstances, and I wanted to find out how it affected them. Were they bitter? Did they blame God? How did they deal with the effects of the tragedy or difficulty?

Me: I have struggled with the idea of what we can expect from God. Will he protect us? Does he prevent some tragedies? What can we look for in our ongoing walk as people of faith?

Joe: We can look for hints, echoes, and traces of redemption. Somehow, God will bring good out of the pain, both for ourselves and for others. The pain of our losses may never subside, and yet we can observe that good comes out of them in a variety of ways.


It is a theme song in the universe, according to Bentz. We are in a world of tragedy, disasters, and death, and yet despite the nature of the world, we will find the traces of redemption eventually, if we are open to them. We don’t have to find them, says Bentz. We can ignore them, succumb to bitterness and anger, abandon our faith. Or, we can celebrate the echoes, hints, and traces of good that we find, even in the worst of situations.NothingWasted1

It might be tempting to enlarge upon the severity of the suffering that see in the world, and yet Joe Bentz can provide both a presence and an argument that challenges us to look beyond the suffering to God’s redemptive plan, which eventually culminates in eternity with him, although we have little knowledge about what that will look like.

This book is an invitation to see the best instead of the worst, a call to look up into heaven instead of down into the circumstances, and it is also a subtle, yet persuasive, call to redemption as well as a full-on confrontation with the worst that can happen. Here’s to Joseph Bentz for looking into the darkness and finding flashes of light.

Joseph Bentz_small

Find out more about Joseph Bentz at his website,

Order Nothing is Wasted from Amazon here.

Quiet Day at Home

The day has been meditative, quiet, and productive. The study seems like a living presence to me right now, and I have enjoyed the view, watching the birds come and go, the leaves swirl and tumble, the sky change. After last’s week line up of events and tasks, driving here and there, seeing many people, battling disorder with papers and files, this week begins in silence, reading, and thinking. IMG_3312The weather, though, was a background spectacle. First, sunshine and clear skies. Then clouds collected to the north by the mountains, became dark. Chilly gusts of wind swept the leaves around on the patio now and then, ushering in a moderate rain for about fifteen minutes. After that, a rainbow, faint on one half of the arc, brighter on the other. Sharp rays coming through the darkening skies onto the ornamental pear trees, and then clear skies above the mountains just before twilight. IMG_3315I had a lot to do, so I settled into a comfortable pace. First task: open emails. Two rejections, one acceptance. Wait a minute. Really? Two poems out of four sent, and a request for recordings of both of them. Happy surprise! That called for a cup of hot tea with milk. Second task: send out more poems. That took almost all day. Each journal seems to want different things: no name on page, all information on first page, information on separate page, line count, word count, no bio, short first person bio, third person bio. It took some time to create all of the necessary documents, but I love working on that kind of a project. All the while surrounded by books. IMG_3316My eyes landed on a recent highly-valued gift from my amazing stepfather, Eric Peavy (we both hate the terms “stepdaughter” and “stepfather” but haven’t found replacement words yet). An artist and all around interesting person, he at one time illustrated an old copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that he had bought at a yard sale, and then hand-bound it. He first recited this passage to me when I was just sixteen years old:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. (verse LXXI)RubyiatI also spotted a book of poems by Larry Kramer, a mentor and teacher I had so many years ago, a lover of thrift-store browsing where “the things of the dead/for pennies are given away” (“Junk Store” p. 20). He is gone now, but I can hear his strong voice, almost frightening in its resonance, as soon as I open the book, called Brilliant Windows. IMG_3318On my desk, another highly prized gift from my friend, Stephanie, a strong supporter and encourager, the Fisher Space Pen. I love it. IMG_3322

The study is full of wonderful things, and I end the day feeling grateful for books, pens, poetry editors, art, friends, guides, and counselors. What is it like to spend a day in your study?

Time to sleep now.

Kramer, Larry. “Junk Yard” in Brilliant Windows. 1998: Miami University Press.
Fitzgerald, Edward, translator. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. New York:  Books, Inc.


The California Poet Laureate: Dana Gioia

After seeing Dana Gioia last Monday evening at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, I was pleased that I had not decided to stay home and clean the surfaces (see earlier post, Poetry and a Clean Surface).

Now that I think of it, the week presented several enriching moments, both trivial and significant. We had been at the Bonaventure in Los Angeles during the rain, which provided some wonderful moments, if you are someone who loves watching the weather change. It is always an uplift to be with the impressive and active teachers in the CTA organization (I am just a tag-along with my husband, but I get inspired when I hear some of them talk about their approaches to education — yay, teachers!).BonaventureMist

The next day, after making no progress with my filing and paperwork at home, we headed for Pasadena. We had parked the car in a structure near the auditorium and then went in search of a restaurant. Because it was the first one we saw, we went into the Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts restaurant, Technique, on Colorado Boulevard. It was one of those magical nights when delightful surprises appear, unsolicited. We loved the minimalism of the decor, our warm-hearted waitress, a Brazilian student at the school, and the incredible and reasonably priced meal (I had the coq au vin, my husband had steak). CBCulinaryArts We were a few minutes late to the event, and I blame the waitress who gave us a little extra wine, since it was so near the end of the bottle. We got our seats at the back of the auditorium, and though we didn’t have the best view as you can tell from the photo I took, Dana Gioia was a most engaging and spirited speaker.Gioia

I had seen his name for years on many of the anthologies I used while teaching American literature and Introduction to Literature courses, and even then I was amazed at how many he had edited (for just a few of them, see anthologies). He has also written books of poetry, was the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts for several years, and now he is the California Poet Laureate, appointed by Governor Brown in December.

Photo by Jay R. Hart
Photo by Jay R. Hart

The term “laureate” comes from the use of the bay laurel leaf, which was used to make a wreath or a crown for the winner of a competition, and though the tradition of having a national poet laureate dates back to the 14th century when Chaucer was given the designation along with (and you can apprehend my secondary theme here) an annual wine allowance (see citation below for Poets Laureate: A Brief History).

The Latin poet, Ovid, wearing the laurel wreath
The Latin poet, Ovid, wearing the laurel wreath

The responsibilities of the office include public readings in various state locations as well as a major cultural project. Gioia had already instituted a major poetry program as the NEA Chairman called Poetry Out Loud. In that program, managed by the California Arts Council, students learn poetry, recite it, and compete for prizes.

Gioia’s comments about art and poetry were impassioned and persuasive. He believes that we can change culture by using our gifts, especially our gift of language. You can “help create the society you want to live in,” he said; “Our gifts can change the world.” Art has the “power to awaken us to our own humanity,” he said. Poetry, he pointed out, plays an important role in education as it “educates our emotions.” He wants the vocabularies of students to grow, not diminish into being mainly comprised of trademarks and brand names. Poets show us more about the “subtleties of our existence.” Speaking to a Christian audience at Fuller Seminary, he mentioned sermon literature, the parables and poetry of the Bible, and the importance of having language skills with which to express one’s beliefs, joys, suffering, and experiences.

In 1991, his article, “Can Poetry Matter?” in the Atlantic Monthly became the locus of ongoing discussions about the value of poetry in culture. A lot has happened since then, including success with his other program, “Operation Homecoming,” a series of workshops in writing for returning soldiers. He certainly lives what he believes, and we are so fortunate that he is our state’s poet laureate.Gioia99poemsA man of many accomplishments, he is worthy of a book just about his own efforts to brighten up our world with his insights, writing, and influence. He mentioned the famous lines from the Keats poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty . . . .” We should work in the cause of truth, he said, and then followed it up with “I believe in beauty.” So here’s to truth, beauty, and also wine, the poet’s nectar. Speaking of wine, here is a photo my brother sent me of the winery known for making the best wine in the world, the Domaine Romanée-Conti in France.

Photo taken from the New York Post; photo by Corbis
Photo taken from the New York Post; photo by Corbis

Holman, Bob, and Snyder, Marjorie. “Poets Laureate: A Brief History” retrieved from

Poetry and a Clean Surface

Wistful, melancholy, looking off into the distance. All I want, I tell my husband, is a clean surface in the middle of a clean world. I say this because while I abhor clutter, I often have much of it on the surfaces I use to write. My desk in the study, the dining room table, a wooden card table I sometimes set up just to be out in the living room. Piles of files. Mail. Envelopes. Photos. Labels. Folders. Books. Computer cords. Notebooks. The photos, especially, seem to have multiplied supernaturally. I was just looking for one or two, and now they are heaped upon the table like mounds of leaves.

I did find the one I was after. I took it while my mom and I were in Boston. We decided to visit Amherst to tour the home of Emily Dickinson (because who doesn’t like her?). We took the bus during a snowstorm, and when we got to Amherst, the town seemed hushed, like a scene on a Christmas card. Here is what the Dickinson property looked like that day.


We were part of a small group touring the Dickinson grounds and home. I could almost believe in ghosts when we saw her bedroom with her small writing table where she wrote close to a thousand poems, only found by her sister, Lavinia, after Emily’s death.DickinsonroomPhoto taken from

Back to the clean surface. The line comes from a favorite poem by Billy Collins, included in his collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room (2001). The poem is called, “Advice to Writers”:

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

When I chatted with Billy Collins after his reading at Azusa Pacific University a few years back, I told him it was my favorite poem as he signed my book, and I think he understood my conflicts intuitively. My friend, Holle, another Collins fan, was with me, and here is a photo of them both.


It is National Poetry Month, the 20th anniversary celebration, started by The Academy of American Poets, and on their site you can find ways to join in. If you enjoy poetry, it might be fun to take a few moments and peruse their website, perhaps lingering over a poem or two by one of your favorite poets. I belong to the organization, and I enthusiastically support them for their efforts to permeate culture with poetry.

They suggest memorizing a poem. I must mention here our Aunt Pat, who at nearly ninety years old can recite many of the poems she memorized as a child. She recited Longfellow’s poem, “A Psalm of Life,” at the funeral of her sister (my husband’s mother) in December, as that poem was a family favorite. Their grandfather had been a “recitator” in the pubs of Ireland, an elocutionist, who read to them as they sat around the fire in the evenings, most often reading poetry, the Bible, or a Shakespeare play. Here is Aunt Pat, enjoying her vacation after reciting Robert W. Service’s poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee.


It is also the month of NaPoWriMo, in which participants write a poem a day. They were inspired by NaNoWriMo, where participants write a novel during the month of November every year. Lots of poets are contributing to NaPoWriMo, so if you are interested in reading their poems, visit the blogs of James Rovira and Jennifer Barricklow. Tim (a close friend) and I celebrated early, writing a poem a day in the month of February, although I only made it to day 7, and I think he has caught up in April with an additional dozen or so poems. I have to catch up to that by tomorrow morning when we meet to do Tai Chi and review the last week’s writing, and I can only get started at about 11 pm when we get home from seeing Dana Gioia, another poet, who is speaking tonight in Pasadena. So no time now to clean the surfaces.




The Live Poets’ Society – Part 2

The group is now called The Poetry Society of the Huntington Library, as Chris Adde told me when I phoned him last week to let him know that one of his poems was featured in that week’s blog post. Originally, the group’s name was a response to the film, The Dead Poets’ Society, now so dated that some of the recent younger members of the group had not even heard of it. The new title is dignified and appropriate, I think. Previously, I mentioned that they got started a few years before I joined them in 1991, but after recalling our decennial celebration in 2000, I realize they formed the group in 1990.

Members of the circle came and went during my years of participation, but there were some regular participants and occasionally new poets, scholars from out of state who were doing research for a few months. Aside from Chris Adde, I don’t know who belongs to the society now. The original group was made up of some noteworthy and extraordinary people.

For a time, Dr. John Steadman, one of my professors in graduate school who had a most genteel manner, joined us. A noted Shakespeare and Milton scholar, his list of publications is imposing. I didn’t dare ask them, but I think a few of the ladies were mildly infatuated with him. He was doted upon at one of our home luncheons. Dr. Steadman was honored by his friends at the library after he passed away in 2012. AveryWe never had a consensus about who actually started the group, but it was a toss up between Midge Sherwood, a mover and shaker who got the San Marino Historical Society going, and Joan Elizabeth White, who was a professor of English at Citrus College in Azusa, California for more than thirty years.

Midge believed in History (capital “H”) and worked to preserve the history of San Marino, the Huntington Library, and the state of California. She wrote books about the Golden State, General Patton, and John Fremont. A thorough researcher and stalwart patriot, Midge was particularly emotional about poetry. She certainly wrote plenty of it, and until her last year of activity at the library when she could no longer get around well, she never missed a meeting.MidgeJoan Elizabeth White was a calm and delightful individual. We often had dinner together after a day of research at the library, waiting for the rush-hour traffic to subside. She lived in an apartment across the street from MacDonald’s, and I asked her once if she ate there occasionally. Her response: “Yes, almost every night. I really should reform.” After her car was stolen, for which we were all thankful, knowing she had become a less proficient driver as she aged, she took a taxi every day to the library. Joan

Mary Tempest Bachtell (what a great name) was a volunteer at the library. A retired elementary school teacher, she wrote poetry for children and adolescents. Her stories about her sister and her father were a treat for all of us. She passed away in 2004.Mary Kazuko Sugisaki spent half the year in the United States and the other half in Japan. She and Joan worked together for a time translating Japanese poetry and prose. Kazuko is a well known Anais Nin scholar and has written several books about major literary figures. I am not sure she still makes the trip to the United States anymore, but if she does, I hope to see her again.KazukoJeanne Nichols was a supremely engaging woman. Jeanne had taught English at Harbor College in Los Angeles, not too far from her lovely home on Mount Washington. Her book of poems, Running Away From Home, can still be purchased from Amazon. Passionate about her garden, she often wrote poems about it as well as about her cats. In many ways, she was the heart of the poetry group, and her responses set the tone of our meetings. Even in the face of nursing home stays and physical suffering, she remained positive. She passed away in 2010. JeanneHer closest friend, Norma Almquist, was a warm, pleasant, and most interesting poet. Norma set out, early in life, to have as many different kinds of jobs as she could have. She was an airplane mechanic in the Women’s Marines, wrote field manuals for the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, edited a literary magazine, did social work, worked in factories, and taught English. After Jeanne’s children were grown, she and Norma traveled. We heard about their trip across the Nubian desert on camels, their island adventures, trips to India. Norma told me that she would get bored and hop a plane to Paris to sit on the Left Bank. A champion of light, humorous verse, Norma wrote a collection of it, Traveling Light, which can be ordered from Amazon. Norma passed away at the age of 89 in 2011. I smile now when I remember her phone call to me when she turned 87. “I weigh the same as my age,” she said. Here she is is 1944 when she was in the Marine Corps and then later near the end of her life.YoungNorma


Christopher Adde, handsome, funny, and kind, was a welcome addition to our group. His lovely British accent enriched his recitation of poems. I don’t have any photos of him except the one of our entire group, which includes one member (on the far left) only there for a short time, and I cannot recall her name (apologies). Chris is still in the group and has added some innovations, such as an annual poetry award for Huntington staff and researchers.PoetsFor a time, I was the youngest member of the Live Poets, and I learned much from listening to them in conversation. What an honor to have known them all.Carla

Here’s to the memory of twenty years with these delightful poets. We had so many outstanding meetings and celebrations, luncheons and Christmas poetry celebrations, and some glorious walks through the Huntington gardens. Cake

The Live Poets’ Society – Part 1

The Live Poets’ Society is a group of poets who are either researchers or staff members at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. (First two photographs were taken from The Huntington website). library-headerIt was 1991 when I first applied for a readership at the library in order to explore their treasury of Early American literature, which is extensive. The rare book collections offered a banquet of Puritan diaries, journals, conversion narratives, and sermons. My dissertation about the American Puritans would take me a couple of years to write, and after that was finished there was plenty of other research to be done in that and other areas of literature. For a person who likes reading, studying, and writing, The Huntington Library is a version of Paradise.research-headerSometime in 1991, I discovered some poets and was invited to join their group. They had been meeting for a few years, and their habit was to get together once a month for lunch and a poetry reading. Each person read a poem out loud, and the others commented upon it. I had been in a number of writing classes in college, where every comma was questioned, every word evaluated. Not so with the Live Poets. We were enthusiastic about the poems, though they differed widely in terms of style and approach. We had rhymers and free-versers, didactic sensibilities, and freethinkers. We came out with our first chapbook in 2000, California Lyrics. In that one, we were celebrating the California Sesquicentennial, so all of the poems were about some aspect of the Golden State. Midge Sherwood, one of the original members of the group and an historian of California, wrote this tribute:

California: A Sesquicentennial SaluteCALyrics

Here’s to California!
She has stood the test of time;
Her legacy is gold abundance
In wealth and healthy clime;
Her path brought freedom West,
Her frontier leaps in Space,
All hail to California —
Port of the human race!

The second chapbook, Huntington Lyrics, was published in 2002. At the Huntington nearly every day, we had plenty of material to use. Each morning as I drove through the gates, my mood would distinctly improve, so I contributed a poem about that experience:

The EntranceHLyrics
It separates sadness
hidden in the mountains
from essential beauty and form,
places of perplexity
from patterned harmony,
and so the dilemma from its remedy.
Threshold of determined blooming,
gateway to the perpetuation of enlivened
air; this world is categorized
for sun, for green, and for perception.
Find hope, all who enter here.
Dimness is abandoned,
and born, the realization of light.

The third chapbook, Garden Lyrics, gave us the chance to write some poems for our “Centennial Salute to William Hertrich,” the man who designed the Botanical Gardens. Christopher Adde, a staff member at the library, wrote one of his typically pleasant and celebratory poems:

In the GardenGLyrics
The people come as one assumes
To view the plants and vivid blooms
But there are those who much like me
Take joy in butterfly and bee
And birds that tend their latest brood
While Mantid poise in search of food

What wondrous sights this garden brings
Wildlife that scurries, chirps and sings
Lizards lazing in the sun
Turtles playing having fun
Squirrels dashing all day long
Amid the cheerful human throng.

The poets are still meeting; members come and go. I heard rumors of a new chapbook, but I have not confirmed them. Some of the group’s luminaries have departed this earth for the final Paradise. I think of them tonight and hear their voices, the individual cadences of each one reading a sublime and essential poem.