Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Last night’s dreams led me to the past. I was cast in a role from the late 1800s. I searched my closet for appropriate clothing and decked myself out in layers of long dresses, a faximile, for sure, but I had no appropriate shoes. Modern flats would give me away. It was important that I was incognito. But it was proving a difficult task as I had given away nearly all my clothing and shoes when I left my ex-boyfriend’s house last year. I found some old Reeboks but they were only single shoes, one red, and one black. How on earth did that happen? I loved my red pair, and wore them to death until this century—but the black ones were from the 1970s. Egad. I awoke wondering how I would adapt. How I would be able to pull off the disguise. How I could fool the audience. Then I remembered the black paint. Forget about the Velcro straps. I could disguise that, easily enough. Problem solved.


A friend asks,What motivates you?
Wanting something good or fearing the bad?
Born at the edge of autumn, in late November,
the convening darkness motivates me,
diminishing light relentlessly spurs me on.
A slavedriver. Call it fear, call it death. Call it desire.
But, yes, that’s what motivates me.
Creativity is its progeny,
and gratitude is something earned.
Call it a state of grace.
That’s what survives us.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

AT THE LAGUNA 3 haiku (photo)


Though the park is closed
father & son cast off their lines
while fish ignore the bait.

They will remember
this day stolen from the book
of time—if they live long enough.

Egrets patrol the floodplain
lost angels stitching the sky
to remnants of the shore.



The clerk made me a cuppa tea
We nattered on about Ireland.
Her red nails bled on the counter.

Violet said she was from the north.
I ate a shortbread. Looked for horns.
Her husband sucked on an unlit pipe.

She said, that’s my son.
GLORIA blared on the radio
He’ll give you a ride home.

Van was taciturn
It was a long ride home
a hostile wall of silence.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The difference between herons and egrets

Someone posted a photo of an egret, and a war on avian semantics erupted. Rule of thumb. Egrets have black legs. Great egrets have black legs. Snowy egrets have black legs and yellow feet. They look like they’re wearing Nikes. Apparently fish can’t resist yellow feet. The other four North American species I don’t know. I can’t vouch for. Great herons are never white. But herons come in all colors and sizes. Mostly big. Bigger than egrets. North American egrets, all six species, are always white—except for the very rare Little egrets of Florida. They do things differently down there and come in six colors and they do pastels rather nicely. Pink beak and lavender eyeshadow, a fluffy champagne neck ruff, and pearlgrey coat, they’re the trocaderos of the Egret clade. They have to be, herons and egrets have no real tail feathers, so it’s harder to get laid. Here the fancy ruffs and headgear. The rest of the world, all bets are off. No regrets. And just to confuse things, sometimes the Florida heron has a white phase. Don’t ask. If California is the Left Coast, what is Florida? You have to look at other things to ID them. Like size. Headgear, beak. Think big. I know. I had a California heron size me up in Amsterdam. A zoo escapee. He was taller than me. And a bully. We didn’t see eye to eye. I’m not talking about the itty-bitty unripe green herons along Lake Merritt, or the croaky night herons here. Just to confuse things, Heron is a name applied to the entire bird family Ardeidae. Scientists are still arguing about the distance of relationships between herons and egrets. For now, all six species of egrets are a type of heron. I don’t like that, but there it is. But herons are real assholes, they indulge in siblicide, they shove the weaker ones out of the nest, while egrets just love their nest mates. Cuddle bugs, all. Definitely true Californians at heart.

Buying art supplies during a quarantine

While my compatriots madly storm the stores like paratroopers to corner the market on toilet paper, I ordered art supplies—a full set of pastel pencils nestled in a sleek cherrywood box with brass hinges. We each have our priorities. It was a rare bucket-list kind of moment. No AmazonPrime to defray the cost. Despite the quarantine, the package arrived from Britain, outer wrap shredded, but the inner sanctum, a bubblewrapped cardboard coffin, kept it safe from harm. The pencil box delights me when it opens like a double harpsichord with a full keyboard. The pencils on the upper tier scream a rainbow arpeggio to the palate of the modern age, while the somber earth tones beneath strike a darker chord of the past. Both sets are necessary to render the face of art. The dilemma I face is whether or not I should use my last half-bottle of alcohol as a blending agent, or to sterilize my hands from the virus? And I have only the one pad of paper. It seems we are a nation of assholes, grasping the wrong end of the shitstick. Who will be left witness the subtle arias of those pencils, or any art, for that matter, if the curve doesn’t flatten soon?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Quarantine haiku


Truck screeches to a halt, honks,
but the chickens are unflappable, they know
they own the middle of the road.


AMARYLLIS (home haiku)

Each day I turn the pot
so the forced bulb will straighten up.
But the bud prays toward the light.



Ex-lovers, the kind
I once wished dead, forward emails
on how to beat the plague.



Alpha rooster proclaims dominion over his flock
The hens ignore him, go about their business
Young cock discovers he too is part of the ritual.



Amaryllis stem
grew another foot last night—
but still can’t leave the pot.



Old beveled hand mirror
reflects a patch of grizzled sky
a soft Irish day, said my gran.



The best thing she said:
something like 50-plus years later
I still have her back.



Knees and stairs creaking
together, life’s ups and downs—
one step at a time.


Tuesday Haiku (Basho style)

( setting)             Drinking tea in bed
( subject)            Waiting for it to kick in
( sudden             Why? Still on lockdown.



My Gran never said
our freckles were kisses stolen
from the Otherworld.



I don’t mind waiting
but it’s stiff competition
from the politicians.



You ask why I write
haiku in a time of plague
Baby steps. Baby steps.



Each time I have to shop
my virus exposure meter resets to zero.
Still, the nightmares continue.



Wine barrel cooperage behind a facade
a giant game of ring-toss gone wrong.
The warthog’s rusted kingdom.



Born in late November, at the edge of autumn,
the diminishing light & encroaching darkness motivates me
call it fear, call it death—but I am driven by it.



She said, Silent & listen
are anagrams. I must be bored.
I said, Careful, poetry is a gateway drug
to the road to perdition.



According to yesterday’s headlines.
Drinking is up by 41% in the Bay Area.
I’ll drink to that.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pumping gas in a time of coronavirus

The gas pump handle was something I didn’t even think about when I topped up at Costco on Wednesday evening. I was trying to be responsible by keeping my tank full in case of emergencies—something I had learned during the October wildfire evacuations. I was so careful not to touch the card reader, or the buttons or the gas grade selection button. I can’t remember if I used my alcohol gel before I recorded my mileage. Social distancing is hard enough. All this constant monitoring of unconscious gestures takes some getting used to. And as if to make up for lost time, I’ve been thinking about that gas pump handle a lot these past few days. Imagining all kinds of symptoms. The only thing I can hope for was that the Costco gas pump attendant was wiping down the pump handles periodically—but I doubt it even crossed his mind. Faced with the unforgiving math of epidemics, we are living in such extraordinary times. The entire world is having a time out at the same time. We will not emerge unscathed, nor will we re-emerge as who we were. The past has irrevocably shut its doors behind us. O brave new world, indeed.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Blue-eyed grass superbloom 2010 (photo)

First day of spring. Blue-eyed-grass superbloom 2010, Alexander Valley, Highway 128 at Soda Rock Lane. Some of the blue-eyed-grass (really a diminutive type of simple iris) were not only indigo, but violet, pink, and a few were white. Every year I’ve been stopping at that meadow across from the campground, and it's never bloomed like that again since. I wonder if it'll put on a spectacular show this year? And who will be there to witness it? I have been teaching poetry to kids at Alexander Valley School every spring for nearly 30 years. But maybe not this year. Visiting the valley, as the poet in residence for two weeks—an integral part of my annual ritual, is interrupted by the arrival of the coronavirus. And I wonder if the wildflowers of Pine Flat Ridge have recovered from the Kincade Fire. Are they out in force? Masses of superblooms, and  no one to witness the lupines and blue-eyed-grass talking to pieces of the fallen sky. And bybthe way things are going, as we all shelter in place, we may be lucky enough to escape with our lives.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Emily Carr, Canadian painter & writer, Group of Seven

Autumn, 1922-23, oil, Arts & Crafts style (1913-27) Glenbow Museum, Calgary.
One of my favorite artists of the Pacific Northwest, Emily Carr,  (Dec. 13, 1871 – Mar. 2, 1945) was also a writer who chronicled the stories of the First Peoples of British Columbia. Carr’s memoir, Klee Wyck, inspired me to travel making a pilgrimage of sorts to the then remote Nootka villages of Tofino and Ucluelet on western Vancouver Island, and later, to the village of K’san on the Skeena River, in the late 1970s, where I promptly got sick and spent a few days camping in the bushes outside of town—to the consternation of my boyfriend, the villagers, and jeweler-woodcarver Vernon Stephens, who had once driven us from the middle of nowhere to another middle of nowhere. Another story...

Though relatively unknown and unrecognized in her lifetime, Carr was one of the first North American Modernist painters to use the Post-Impressionist painting style. She bucked the prim Victorian society and studied art for three years at the California School of Design/San Francisco Art Institute, and later, Carr spent a year in France, 1910-11, where she met the Cubists and Fauvists. Their use of bold color and broad shapes greatly influenced her work.

But upon Carr’s return to Vancouver, no one was interested in her work. She toiled in domestic obscurity for 15 years, managing an apartment complex in Victoria, until 1927, when a piece was accepted to a National Gallery of Canada exhibition where she first met the Group of Seven. She was the only woman painter to be included in the Group of Seven, modernist painters who changed the face of Canadian art

After being told that Canadian totem poles and trees were unsuitable, and simply unpaintable, Carr defiantly went out and painted them anyway—for the rest of her life. She finally gained some recognition for her work when she was nearly 60. After a series of heart attacks in 1937, Carr gave up the rigors of plain air painting, and wrote seven books, winning the Governor General’s Award for Literature in 1942.

I have seen many of her paintings in museum collections, but not this one. A reverse image search referred me to the dubious ArtPoster and Pinterest sites, several titles suggests it’s called,  Lone Cedar, or (Cypress) Tree in Autumn, or simply Autumn, ca 1920, painted variously in Brittany, or in British Columbia.

I have a lino block that I carved in high school that is similar in style. I wonder if I saw her work back then? Where? At the De Young? SF Art institute? I got to see her work later, in Victoria and Vancouver. There was an article on Emily Carr in the Sunday section of the Chronicle, California Living, circa 1972, which contained a retrospective of her work. I saved that article and read it again and again and again. She was uniquely a one of a kind artist.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Earth reboot

The upside of this pandemic global lockdown is that the air quality is improving—it’s as if we were finally taking climate change seriously & actually doing something about it. It demonstrates that if we stop polluting right now, we could potentially reverse the 11th hour effects of global warming—and reboot. A second chance to get it right, for once.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Love during a time of coronavirus

Love in a time of coronavirus. Today is the first day on your inner bucket list & it’s called now. How will you spend it? Do what makes you happy. Be the love during this time of cashing in on all those bucket list IOUs.


           —after Neruda

You were painted with exotic flowers
from the Garden Isle
where the fog drooped 
on the back of the volcano
like an old gray cat 
while the sun struggled to shine
through the thick drizzle at Kalalau Point 
where fogbows ringed the rainforest 
and the ocean whispered secret stories
of the people who once lived on that beach below.
Scrunchie, you tamed my hair
during a time when nothing else would do.
But you’ve slipped back into the wilderness 
on your own, lost in a strange concrete jungle, 
a weary traveler so far from home,
to find something else to tame.

Hammer Montessori School

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Pax moon over San Mateo bridge (photos)

Purim moon over San Mateo bridge, ©Maureen Hurley 2012

Passing over that same bridge eight years later, returning from another teaching gig in San Jose, remembering that first residency, also in Willow Glen, never dreaming I’d find myself back here again, not like this, wondering how I pulled it off way back then, considering the distance, the time, making the best of the arduous journey, taking the scenic long way home for beauty’s sake, the fog licking the coastal hills where Portolá once camped, was it also under the Purim moon? Telescoping time, that moment when a memory from the past collides with time-present. This time, it was earlier in the day, so the full moon was higher in the sky, a standard issue white, but I was remembering that old orange moon hovering over the Coyote Hills, pondering how much my life has changed, never sleeping in the same place more than a few days at a time, yet the same moon still rises, like Lazarus, over the bay. The next generation of blue-eyed cormorants preening themselves on the pylons. They say your cells replace themselves every seven years, The next generation of cells have replaced my old self. Who I am. Today, we wrote color poems, a young  boy wrote a poem about picking tangerines in Israel, the tangible scent and sweetness of the globes against a blue sky, in his remembered country. He writes blue is the color of peace. He sits across the desk from an Arab boy who can only write about action figures. He writes that red is the color of peace. Poetry is a fine line, a peace fire. We are all so far from home. The whole world is a very narrow bridge. Shalom. Salaamit. Pax out.

Purim Moon, Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. ©2012

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Cross-culture clash

School parking lot guard spots me dithering outside my car, thinks I’m a soccer mom waiting to pick up a student. She yells, Yo, mama, you wanna move, So the other mamas can unload too? I looked around to see who she’s talking to, was I blocking someone’s way? No car door open. Like DeNiro, I point to myself and say, Are you talk into to me? She says, Yea, Mama, I’m talking to you. I say, I’m nobody’s mama, I teach here. She goes defensive, says, I don’t mean no disrespect. When I say Mama, it’s a sign of respect. I said, But I’m not ready to leave, I’m still organizing my stuff. She’s angry because I’m upset. I’m being hustled and I can’t find my fucking car keys. It’s as if we’re taking different languages, not English to English. I mentally translate the conversation into Spanish, which doesn’t help. It’s still out there. No common ground. I’m thinking maybe orange is the new black. Do I need a shiv? I  retrace my steps a third time. She thinks I’m stalling. It doesn’t dawn on me to tell her about the missing keys. I couldn’t hit the road—even if I wanted to. It’s quickly escalated into a lose-lose situation. Everything lost in translation. I find my car keys in the back seat beneath a heap of poetry folders. Weird poetic justice. I jump in the car and take off up 280, still steaming at the 92 exit, wondering how it all so quickly went south. I pass a pylon of cormorants sunning themselves on the San Mateo Bridge, and say hello to the blue-eyed boys preening themselves against the concrete. The color of their eyes proves that blue is better for seeing in reflected water, you’d think their feathers too would be as blue as the ocean’s dreams.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Coronavirus advice

The best coronavirus prevention strategy is to not touch anything, and to wash your hands early and often with soap and hot water. Be more like Dr. McDreamy, or Lady MacBeth—lather for a good minute. If you’re not sure how long a minute is, sing the entire Happy Birthday song as you scrub. Don’t cheat by singing it too fast. Lives may depend upon it. It goes without saying, don’t shake hands. Instead, sing Hand Jive, and bump elbows. Don’t touch your face—we touch our faces upward of 90 times a day. That’s how most viruses are transmitted, running that index finger across your itchy nose, or ramming said finger up it, and, no, you can’t use your pinkie instead. Also avoid rubbing your eyes, or donning that classic thinker’s chin-in-hand pose. Don’t touch strangers, strange hands, knuckle, or knee-knocking is OK, strange pens, or pencils, doorknobs, door jambs, light switches, or handrails, bannisters, etc. And, no, that hand sanitizer is not a very effective preventative. Worse, it provides a false sense of security. Purell has been chastised by WHO for false advertising. Hand sanitizer needs to be at least 60% alcohol in order to have any effect at all—not 60 proof. And, no, you can’t drink it. Try some elderberry wine, or a Corona beer with lime, instead, you’ll be happier for it. So will Corona, which is losing sales because of this virus. According to the CDC, and WHO, wearing a mask If you’re healthy, is unnecessary—unless an infected person sneezes on you—and then you’re way too close. You’ll just overheat, but it will keep your hands away from your face. Ditto that with rubber gloves. A Darth Vader mask is a plus. If all else fails, try rubbing your fingers with hot chili peppers as a reminder to not touch your face. Avoid crowds. Vigorously defend your three feet of personal space in public, but remember, using samurai swords and cattle prods are frowned upon in public. Claymores are way over the top. Social distancing is really a thing.

And no, the virus is not a Democratic plot or hoax to derail the election. And for gawd sakes, don’t kiss the cat. It’s already traumatized enough as it is. And add pangolins to that no-kiss list.

(My photo is of the El Cerrito car wash, at least my car is all scrubbed up. Scalpel!) —Maureen Hurley

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


The river is a loom that weaves the threads of this city into a cloak of technology and light. Crossing the Guadalupe River, I slip in and out of time, simultaneously the small pueblo that once was, and the glittering city that now is. How technology simultaneously shapes and stretches us, robbing us while it teaches us of the past, shutting those doors firmly behind, and nailing them firmly shut.


Inside my heart is a coyote of madness
drenched the color of sunset, 
inside my heart is a vast ocean of stars
where the ancestors of the past 
come and go like the tides.
My heart remembers what was once said 
in the false secrecy of distant rooms.
It wants to forget how the wheel of the sun 
is relentless in its search for time across the sky.
My heart is unusually good at hiding in the dark.
It turns into slippery shadows of denial
where anger takes its own time coming in.
Getting dressed in the dark 
or putting on its clothes inside out, it’s always a fumble.
My heart needs to learn how to avoid the dark holes.
It misses the song of the morning birds 
when it soars across the desert of despair.

Hammer Montessori School

Friday, February 21, 2020


If I were a dream of fire,
I would blaze during the darkest of times.
I would carry the embers of hope
to those lost in the obscurity of time,
and those who know longer
carry the candle of hope,
extinguished by circumstance
beyond their control.
The downtrodden, the homeless,
and those who have lost their way
among the stars of the misbegotten
who can no longer dream of a time
where hope was possible
or maybe even alive.


Thursday, February 13, 2020


Seeking help from no one
I was stuck in the darkness
like a broken dream
held together by a vase of hope
that shattered and fell to the floor,
lost pieces of an old puzzle.



Once I was the eagle of the night
I dreamed of dragons in the clouds
sleeping in the secret hearts of volcanoes
where embers where the jewels of the stars
where the rain fell in secret supplication on the sand
embedding its secrets on all the beaches of the world.

Hammer M ES

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


First signs of true spring:
buckeye buds opening the green prayer
of their small leaf hands.



A poem so extensively revised, from a few fragments, I think I should move the creation date to now. Well, revision does it mean to see it again

After the deluge, an unseasonable snow
left a carapace of black ice on the roof of the car
and on the translucent petals of the impatient jonquils—
their papery white petals translucent as glass.
You could almost hear them ringing like small bells.
Yesterday, it was barely cold enough for the snow to stick
but it whispered in a strange, silent tongue on the ridges,
unlike the droves of rain that broke the drought.
During the night, the temperature plummeted,
archiving traces of fallen snow—scattered clumps
of snowflakes frozen on the windshield left calling cards—
delicate patterns etched in ice that refracted the morning light
into prisms of iridescent hues.
This cold snap, a reprise in the death knell
ringing in the toll of mass extinctions.
As I drove north on country backroads,
the grizzled pates of the coastal mountain ranges
transformed by St. Brigid’s pure cloak,
fair stole my breath away.
Welcome spring.

rev. 2/4/2020

Friday, January 31, 2020

Teaching poetry at Juvenile Hall

California Poets in the Schools residency, Loma Alta HS, Marin Juvenile Hall, I met a dozen students once a week, on Fridays during the month of January.

Day 1, I Am poems. In my other life... The poetry of imagination.

After I introduced myself, and the California Poets in the Schools program, I asked students what poets they had worked with, and I talked about my own teaching experiences.  

In the spirit of keeping it real, or how poetry was relevant to their lives, I also told the students a story about former CPITS poet teacher, the late Judith Tannenbaum's star pupil, Spoon Jackson, at San Quentin, that, though he was imprisoned behind bars for life, poetry gave him another life. The idea that poetry changes lives. What Spoon discovered through poetry was that all human beings have one foot in darkness, the other in light. (By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives). Poems take on a life of their own, and can travel the world. Poetry is so powerful that it can affect change. I listed a litany of poets who changed the course of human events. Pablo Neruda, Bei Dao, Victor Jara. 

One of the model poems was from McGrath School, part of the Napa State Hospital—the place where kids who were bounced from Juvie, were sent to, before their final destination—prison. I wanted the students to glean the significance that though they were incarcerated, their minds weren't, that water could travel anywhere it pleased. Poetry was like that.
From the hills I learned
how to flow like a snake
I flow all the way down to the ground,
to the ocean, to some universe
far away in another galaxy
in a black hole and I become
the cloud of stars. 
      Class poem, McGrath School, Napa State Hospital
We made "I am" poems, based on the four elements, and discussed the intersection of metaphor and imagination.

I explained to the students that a poetry framework was merely a teaching model, a jumping off point, should they get stuck, and more significantly, that they had permission to take the poem in other directions. During our group boardwork, that's precisely what happened. After the first three lines, the group poem took off in another direction, wanting a life of its own, but they voted to keep it as one poem. Radical change or thinking outside the box threatens them.
I am the lion of the sun.
The universe taught me
to count the stars of the galaxy.
When we create poetry,
we shoot for the moon
We swim in sorrow, drown from the pain,
hoping to float on the waves
to reach the sanctuary of land
saturated by the past.

      Class Poem, Loma Alta HS
During a lull period where no one was writing, and no one wanted to share a poem—even though they get cellphone time points when they do share—and we had 20 minutes to go before class was finished, I asked them what secret animal lived inside them, and I held up wild animal calendar photos. They all wanted to have copies, soon they all had their totem animals on their desks. The guards were on instant alert, in case there was anything sharp, like staples. The kids don't get to use regular pens, because pens can be weaponized. I thought of the song, Pretty Boy Floyd: Some rob you with a fountain pen.
Since I had worked at Napa State Hospital, I knew the drill. No staples, count the pencils at the end of class. No contraband. I wasn't allowed to bring in a cellphone or my iPad in with me, which meant I had to rethink a few of my teaching tools. The security guards let me bring in one pen, but I had to check it both coming and going. To enter the lockdown system, you pass through an electronic metal detector gate, and three locked doors. The covered outdoor halls are lined with chain link fence, and for a moment, you're stranded in the hallway, like a caged animal, dependent on the the guards to answer the doorbells, in order to get to the next level. Sometimes they were lax. Fear bubbled in my throat each time i went through the checkpoint system, and renamed itself claustrophobia.
One guard wanted to make sure the kids got adequate time to read, even though I had already asked students to read several times, at 10:20, and again at 10:30, no one volunteered. The teacher had stepped out of the room. I was annoyed by his interference. Other guards, and there were several, were much more engaged. so it was odd—perhaps a bit of a turf war. The animal calendar photos saved the day. The kids wanted to keep them. W., a bilingual Latino, clearly the most productive and prolific of the group, really gets poetry. He is willing to share and add comments. El tigre really resonated with him.

J. didn’t write at all, at first. she was openly hostile when I was working the floor (teaching poetry is sometimes like stand-up comedy where a recalcitrant audience needs to be warmed up), but at the end, she came around and did rap an amazing poem about growing up in Oakland without electricity. The candle and the match became a metaphor shedding light throughout the poem. It was stunning, I told her to write it down, and that when she got out, she could should get involved with poetry slams. I told her she should look up Brennan deFrisco when she got out.

Three Latinix girls wrote endlessly about personal angst and pain in their journals. They were shy and didn’t want to share. I let them be. J. had trouble focusing and developing ideas in general. Ditto that with D., R., and T. T., an Anglo, and also the youngest, volunteered how much he hated poetry. I had to laugh. And I shared my story about hating poetry too. But I also told him how it unlocked my dyslexic brain so that I could learn to learn. And how it let me travel the world. One staff member, a guard, wrote an amazing I Am poem that became a Day 2 model.
I am the blood of my ancestors
with the heart of a warrior
I am like the grain of rice
being able to grow in any season
From my experiences,
I learned how to live
Being lost, I learned to grow
I cry from thoughts of my past
I am the humble beginnings
new life from the obstacles
I am thankful because I know the bottom…
I don’t need to speak of it. 
Day 2. Personification of feelings, deepening the metaphor. Feelings. If poems

I typed up and copied the group poem from last week to share during the introductory editing process. And surprisingly, the students decided to split last week's group poem into two parts and developed more ideas for each of them. So now we have two group poems.
When we create poetry,
we shoot for the moon
We swim in sorrow,
drown from the pain,
hoping to float on waves
to reach the sanctuary of land
saturated by the past.
We are the light and life
of the universe. 
      Class Poem 
I am the lion of the sun.
The universe taught me
to count the stars of the galaxy.
Books taught me of the universe.
But el norte lado taught me
the oral tradition, the knowledge
you will not learn in school. 
      Class Poem
Today we focused on poems based on personification of feelings, with William Butler Yeats’ quote, Love is like a lion’s tooth, and other personification of emotions, several stellar lines written by Laura Walker's 4th grade poets, about simile and metaphor, using "If and Then" as a bridge. The idea that If never happens. But if it happens, then there is an alternate reality. Writing is In My Heart by Ryleigh Norgrove, a 4th Gr. Alexander Valley ES, was the model poem. 
If I were a caged bird
I would try to break free
like the wind through the trees. 
If I was a river,
I’ve been moving slow, not fast
I’d be healthy and clear,
Not filthy and dark. 
We also discussed the idea of writing alternative poems to our other life. Nancy Chery's In the Parallel Universe, and Side 32 by Victor Hernández Crúz were the model poems. We never got to Billy Collins'' Litany, but that’s OK because I wasn’t sure I wanted to use it either. A little too Kahlil Gibranish for me.

The students seemed to enjoy making group poems on the board. The first day's group poem, "I am the lion of the sun," came out of that process almost spontaneously. We talked of metaphor, and I told them how I can’t teach it, but I can teach them to make simile. Basically, I’m trying to show them the transparency of teaching poetry is not so much about rules as it is about that spontaneousness that happens when you think you’re doing the lesson. In other words, it was OK to go off script. And that the poetry frameworks were merely there to help them—should they get stuck.

I introduced editing during the board work of their class poem, Perfect River, an If/Then poem, and lively discussions on linguistics and line aesthetics, and imagery arose. How could sharks eat the night stars? It doesn't make sense. I used those moments as teaching moments. 
If I was the perfect river
I would be full of fish
Big white sharks
eating the stars
out of the sky.
Have you ever seen the stars
leap out of the water
and eat the moon?
If I was a river,
I’d be moving slow,
not fast.
I am the perfect river
and I’ll never stop
flowing into your heart.
I’ll flow all the way down
to the ocean of love. 
     Class Poem
Some students were really locked into the idea that poetry had to make sense, had to be literal, had to be true. Or that it had to rhyme. Which is interesting, because when they read their poems aloud, they are, in essence rapping their poems in iambic pentameter. I pointed out the role of iambics and memory. The first poems before there was writing. The origins of storytelling and myth. The handprint stenciled on the cave wall. 

They delved deeper into metaphor—an interesting aside, was they began to spontaneously delve on the concept of spiritual awakening. I need to be careful because I didn’t want them to get into a fiery God and brimstone act. We did not get to the love is like poems which I had hoped to do. Surprisingly M. and D., the two Latinix girls wrote animal poems, and also turned in their poems (which is a voluntary process—they leave poems on top of their desks if they want me to read them).

Day 3

Since I actually typed up some individual student poems from the week before, I  individually asked each student before class if it was OK to share that their poem. They each said yes, giving me the verbal permission I needed. Of one student had said no, then, I would've changed my lesson plan, and not used the handout. They are also careful never to use last names. 

And most students did either change their poems, or added onto their first draft. I  introduced the idea that a first draft could be a separate poem all on its own, and that it was OK to change the poems because they would still have both copies after I added their edits and changes. But they were a little anxious about the process.

I introduced the concept of editing again, for Brian Kervin’s upcoming editing class on February 7. There is a Marin student poetry contest on Feb. 14. We did lots of revisions on the typed poems from the previous week. And we did some great boardwork. We didn’t get to the love poems again, the I Am poems prevailed, a spillover. I reintroduced the idea of In my other life as part two of the poems during freewrite, after the board poems. I always attempt to pick up the threads of the week before, as an ongoing process.

Some kids are willing to do freewrite, most are not. We created more board poems again at the end of class, after students shared their own work. D. seems to really like the group board work process. He doesn’t do very much on his own. W. is the most engaged student I have met in a long time. U., from Guatemala, who spoke no English, sat next to W., so W. could translate what I was saying. He was suddenly engaged. I told him of my travels to Guatemala and he wrote a poem about his village, asked him what his name meant, and said of course, Ulysses, the famous Greek hero. He beamed with pride.

R. is very thoughtful, I like his silence. T. wrote something today too, very surprising. He still doesn’t really want to share. Said he was unfairly incarcerated, he didn’t do anything wrong, a litany of denial they all share. The substitute teacher was enamored of the idea of If and Then poems and began to recite spontaneously a Rudyard Kipling poem based on If. She really enjoyed the class and it was fun to have her there, unlike most subs.

Day 4 Heart poems

It was much harder today to begin the class because most of the kids whose poems had been typed up, were gone as in matriculated from the program—including my star pupil, W. There were five new kids and that significantly changed the dynamics of the class. Wi., an African-American, wanted to take over the board poems completely with gangster talk. It was the first time we had to invoke the appropriateness clause. Three guards called him on it. I was glad for the back-up. Wi. wanted to completely take over the board poems, and no one else got a chance to say anything. However, the teacher was thrilled that he was coming out of his shell and interacting. Oh!

We revisited last weeks end-of-class board poem, a derisive poem about breakfast. In essence, it was a list poem. Some of the kids began to defend breakfast, but it was a fun mini-comparison exercise. I told them they could do freewrite riffs on it, or develop their own ideas from the board poems if they didn’t agree where the poem was going.
This morning
I ate rubber eggs
stinky as fish,
bread as hard as rock.
Frozen OJ like Antarctica
Pancakes taste like Playdoh.
Milk smelling
like rubbing alcohol.
Cleaning supplies,
like our cleaned up minds. 
     Class Poem
We finally got to Dorianne Laux’s heart poem—on the day she was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. I told them about other CPITS poets who’ve gone onto national, and international fame:  Jane Hirshfield,Juan Felipe Hererra, Molly Fisk, who also quoted yesterday in the New York Times. Students are amazed that one could ostensibly win money, or become famous via poetry. Which brought me back to that upcoming Marin student poets contest Feb. 14, with a $200 prize. To the students, that was 200-karat money.

We finally read the Laux Heart poem, which I wanted to introduce last week, so we could lead into Hikmet’s Things I didn’t Know I loved,  but there just wasn’t enough time. I asked them what lines or images resonated. I wanted students to personify the heart, or the soul, and or life—or something less than concrete, in order to be able to talk about it in abstract terms, and yet relate it to their own lives. 

I sang a stanza from the Canadian songwriters, the McGarrigle Sisters: Some say the heart is just like a wheel…. saying that song lyrics is where poetry and music intersect.  I also tell them that the hardest thing I can do in public is to sing, that I’m terrified. But I do it anyway. You could feel a palpable shift in the air. We just deepened. And now it was time to go. I wrote Josef Conrad’s famous line about the Belgian Congo, heart of darkness, on the board, and told the story of how the novel came from that metaphor. And the students wrote an amazing class poem on the board.
A heart of darkness
Takes the patience of greatness
Throughout the day
It brings on phases of freedom
Itching for poetry
It wants a door of iron, a path of fire.
But don’t get wired.
Inside the heart of a soldier
Too much on my shoulders.
An American dream. 
      Class Poem
Since we still had some time left at the end of class after students shared their poems out loud, they wanted to do another board poem. R. kicked off the first line it was great. I had him write his own line on the board, next step to owning it. Then Wi. decided he wanted to write the second line and we went nowhere fast. So I never got to do my closure speech with them. But having them write on the board was priceless. We covered a lot of ground, but the Laux poem didn't generate the response that I had hoped for. I had to remind myself that sometimes closure happens after you're gone. The board poem was my closure.

Imbolc offering to Brigid, simultaneous saint & goddess, ca. 2000

I made a Celtic scarf as a prop for finals in my MA MFA playwriting classes on monologue at San Francisco State University in 2000. Making the scarf went off without a hitch, after a lot of research, I banged the drawing out in about 45 minutes, and another hour or so for painting it with dye. The pin I was using to hold it in place, slid off during my monologue, and Justin Chinn dinged my performance for a costume fail. It was a class monologue reading for fucksake, not a public performance. He was an absolutely horrid teacher, resting on recent minor theatrical accolades, and he should never have been teaching. The class was a required waste of space, so I called him on it. He gave me a C-minus for the class. I fought the grade and won. But the A-minus dropped my entire MA/ MFA perfect GPA to 3.9. May he rot.

I also simultaneously used the St. Brigid scarf for a final in my Celtic studies class with Professor Dan Melia at UC Berkeley. I came to class dressed as the goddess/St. Brigid, so it must’ve been around Imbolc, February, 1, 2000, as I began the long poem in October of 1999. I’m not too sure where the poem came from, as it was something that literally possessed me, written in a fugue, augmented with facts—after the fact, as it were. Probably because I was devouring medieval Celtic timelines, including the Annals of the Four Masters, so my brain was oversaturated. I wish I had kept a first draft of the poem as the original might have given me a way back to the source, and an entirely different revision might have evolved. But without that long-winded piece of didacticism, the scarf would’ve never came to be. Art works in mysterious ways.

For my Brigid costume, I made a halo of twelve candles (with little battery operated Xmas lights) I was dressed in purple robes, a green Celtic shawl for a cape, a kirtle with all her symbols attached to the costume, including a poem, an iron horseshoe, a candle, and a rubber chicken, I read a poem monologue, and prepared a traditional Celtic feast for the class. Salmon, bread, and beer as she was the goddess of bread making, and beer making. Dan sniggered and said, you can’t bring alcohol to class, pocketing the Guinness for later. I got an A-plus. Sadly, I don’t have a clear in-focus photo of the scarf when it was fresh.

BRIGID/BRIGIT  A triune goddess of:
1) healing                             (therapy)
2) blacksmiths                    (fire)
3) fertility & poetry  (light—poets/seers, divination, prophecy)

Poetry fragments from Marin Juvenile Hall

I am the spark of inspiration
I dream the stars of the galaxy
into being.


Sometimes when the mood is right
I will take a wrong turn on purpose,
and allow myself to get a little more lost
on winding back roads.
Not knowing where I am is part of the thrill.
My eyes, drunk with joy.    


My heart is like a glacier
slipping down the mountain
seeking the solace of the sea.

Inside my heart is a field of darkness,
mist rising from the folds of the hills,
Seeking the blue throat of the sky,
to quench its prodigious thirst.
It becomes the hawk guarding the chickens.
It beats its wings against the cruel morning,
Seeks flight on the far horizons
where clouds hide the gathering storm.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

My Maureen Hurley Art blog is now live

I've been developing a blog collection of my art work. I’ve still got a long way to go, with only 135 posts (some revert back to this writing blog—meaning I haven’t moved them over yet—mostly because I don’t have accessible jpgs). Blogger jpgs are tiny and you can’t directly lift them from an iPad. But you can lift low resolution jpgs from a laptop, by dragging them to the desktop.

Some posts host as many as ten art pieces, depending upon the medium. I tend to work in a series, or medium format: for example, a wet pastel jag, or an aquarelle jag, etc. I will eventually need to replace some poor jpgs—provided that I still have the work. In some cases, a bad jpg was all that survived. But it's a start.

Art is listed by media type, and by category. Most of my early work was destroyed, so in many cases, it comes down to bad jpgs (digital camera was in its infancy ca. 2000), or nothing at all. Work may seem uneven, but it really boiled down to what had survived the onslaught of technology, time and floods. Pretty much everything from my College of Marin and Sonoma State days was destroyed. Not to mention all my ceramics. Who knew that those daily Facebook Memories posts would yield so many salvageable jpgs, a snap to save to my iPad, then upload to the blog. It makes me positively giddy with joy.

At the bottom of the Blogger page there's a link to access the older posts, it goes in about 5 pages worth. Or you can navigate by month, which is much less useful as I don't know what month I made some  pieces, let alone, the year. Onward, as they say.

Next up is to create a photo blog. Any recommendations? I’ve been looking at many blogs for ideas. I really like Morrie Camhis (sp) photo blog. If only Blogger would develop some new templates. But as I write this, Blogger has finally updated the long in tooth app format. Meaning it’s a little easier to use it on the iPad. It was a nightmare, and there were no decent Blogger apps in the App Store.

Maureen Hurley Art blog

Friday, January 24, 2020


Sometimes when the mood is right
I will delliberately take a wrong turn,
and allow myself to get a little more lost
on winding back roads.
Not knowing where I am
is part of the thrill.
Wrong roads become the right roads.
My eyes, drunk with joy.

Thursday, January 23, 2020



Bald-headed vultures—
Death Star congress recruiting
in the hinterlands.

Poem was

Two turkey vultures—
Death Star captains recruiting
on a country road


Turkey vultures line
up at the roadside cafe
for raccoon special.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The dungheap

The ancient cow listlessly lipped scraps of hay by the barn. Well into her second childhood, she was long in tooth and horn. But she had given the best years of her life to the family tucked inside the farmhouse. She helped raise two generations of children. The family couldn’t bring themselves to get rid of her. After all, she had given them her life. They couldn’t bring themselves to send her to the boneyard, or the stockyard either. She was mostly skin and bone, not much there left to eat. Perhaps some stew bones and something for the dog. As summer drew to an end, you could see the old cow struggled with each step. The arthritis had settled into her hips. She could no longer navigate the steep hill to the richer pastures. Thinking this was her last year, they brushed her they stroked her petted her gave her treats. Apples and small carrots from tiny hands, a gift more than the world itself. Some mornings they found her trying to navigate the dungheap. As the days grow colder the dungheap grew taller. They thought perhaps she had long since left her second childhood behind, and was moving into the third age. She kept negotiating that dungheap until she forged a trail to the top. Mornings they would find her at the top of her domain, overlooking the yard, lying in the steaming dung. She wasn’t such a dumb cow after all. She knew the score. There was warmth in that dungheap and it lasted the whole night long. Soon enough, she was joined by the young heifers wanting in on the action.  Mornings the farmer would find them perched like enormous ravens on top of the dung heap.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Turkeys on the rocks

Photographer Jerry Downs posted photos of what he called native wild turkeys, assuming they’d been in California for centuries. I said, Well, if you consider Texas native, so be it. Wild turkeys are so wiley, Ben Franklin wanted to make them the national bird. The bald eagle was an afterthought. But they’re not native at all, they’re transplants, shills, stand-ins for the native California turkey that went belly-up, dead—as in extinct, not sleeping it off—during the Pleistocene—that’s the last Ice Age. And this is why you should always drink your wild turkey on the rocks.

Rambling on about Rambling Jack

Yep, Ramblin Jack is still alive and well and living in West Marin. He may be pushing 88, but he’s not exactly pushing daisies just yet. He may also not have been a real cowboy by birth, but he is a cowboy of the heart. Still cruising the back backroads in his big blue Dodge truck, he takes it slow. I remember when he used to live in Forest Knolls. He wasn’t so much the country boy back then, but he sure liked girls on horseback. If he wasn’t half cocked, he was generally half-lit. Before I was working for Mimi Fariña at Bread & Roses, I ran into him at a concert, at San Francisco State, in 1974, where nobody showed up, so we all hung out in the cafeteria. Hoyt Axton was hunkered down, with his sledgehammer hands performing a strange CPR to the formica tabletop. I remember sitting at that circular coffee table on its singular iron leg, as they swapped yarns, their knees lifting the small table off the ground, as if it was levitating from the sheer exuberance of all the collective tall tales being told as they outdid themselves and each other. I was a fly on the wall mesmerized into muteness. That iron claw foot was scratching the floor, was screening, and wailing like a monster—tidal waves of coffee splashing in our cups. Their hands thrumming hoofbeats into the proverbial sunset. Move along, little dogies, move along.

The Human Be-In

I was at the Human Be In with my mother, barely into my teens. It was a gloriously sunny, if cold day, and the grass was damp. There were flowers and candles and feathers and cymbals and chimes and lots of smoke. Gary Snyder, in a fringed leather vest, was on stage reading poetry, Allen Ginsberg standing behind him with Michael McClure in black.

Court jester Timothy Leary leaps off the stage, tumbles down among the masses, tripping down the main aisle like a pied piper, spots my mom, a tall willowy auburn-haired beauty, and hugs her. They knew each other from before. It’s an Irish thing. She was always bringing the Irish poets home like Lew Welsh and Gene Ruggles.

As they twirled and hugged, she threw back her head an laughed, I’d never seen her so radiant as in that moment. She was like another person, not depressed. She said God bless you Timothy Leary, he laughed and drifted onward toward the back of the crowd, creating hives of excitement whenever he stopped. Me, awkwardly standing there taking it all in, never dreaming I’d one day become a writer.

Big Brother and Janis Joplin lived down the road in Forest Knolls, Sons of Champlain, Jefferson Starship, Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana also lived in the San Geronimo Valley so the musicians were all neighbors of sorts. I later met most of them hitching back and forth to high school. My mom partied with them.

San Francisco, January 1967, was an electrifying year of social deconstruction and reconfiguration. The Gathering of the Tribes where spiritual generation amassed for a Human Be-In at the Polo Fields. Guest speakers Ram Dass and Timothy Leary spoke to some 10,000 very stoned pilgrims who turned on, tuned in, and dropped out en masse.

And yes, there really was a poster. I remember it. Whether this one is real, is moot.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Rien se perd, tout se récupère?
Chaumière aux coquillages de st. Jacques.
Une halte pour les pèlerins de Compostelle ?
And when it rains,
do the scallops on the roof
endlessly dream of the sea
whispering secrets to those pilgrims
sleeping beneath its eaves.
Won’t it attract seagulls?
Does the rain sing of the waves?
Plenty of time to be afraid of the wind
among the fields of stars
on the road to Compostela.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center New Year’s challenge—all the poetry prompts

I wasn’t quite in the mood to write, too discombobulated, and I had a painting deadline looming over my head. But I faithfully read the prompts, and wrote quite a few out of sequence, making it harder to post the poems under the date written vs. conceived. Sort of like conception followed by birth.

NYPC 11 Prompts

Prompt #1: Greetings, Poets! Okay, here we go…For your first poem—and continuing Gillian’s first-poem tradition to ease us all into this—
Write a haiku for some goodness that has happened to you this year. Feel free to create a haiku series of goodnesses if it’s difficult to choose just one. Ready…steady… go…

Prompt #2: Consider times in our lives when we are at the table, or someone has said, Come to the table. Write a poem for these times, or about the many sorts of tables (dining, negotiating, or even Periodic) we come to —or leave. For inspiration, consider this poem by our current U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo: Prompt #3: Write a poem in response to this idea: The Graceful Stumble. This is a prompt from the contest portion of our MoSt 8th Annual Poetry Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 1st, 2020. The deadline for submissions is Saturday, January 11th, 2020. For more information, go to our website:

Prompt #4: Write a poem in response to one or some (or all!) of these quotations, and/or use them as an epigram in your poem, or form the title of your poem from part of the quotation:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” (Douglas Adams)

“Out of every wandering in which people and places come and go in long successions, there is always one place remembered above the rest because the external or internal conditions were such that they produced happiness…One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame.” (Willa Cather)

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.” (Natalie Goldberg)

“If we can recognize that change and uncertainty are basic principles, we can greet the future and the transformation we are undergoing with the understanding that we do not know enough to be pessimistic.” (Hazel Henderson)

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” (Albert Einstein)

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” (E. B. White)

“Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.” (Groucho Marx)

Prompt #5: Write a poem in response to this idea: Handling Earth With Care. This is a prompt from the contest portion of our MoSt 8th Annual Poetry Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 1st, 2020. The deadline for submissions is Saturday, January 11th, 2020. For more information, go to our website:

Prompt #6: Try your hand at writing an ode (a poem of praise) or an elegy (a poem of loss) to a mentor. (See more detailed descriptions by the Academy of American Poets below.)
In The Odyssey, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus whom Odysseus placed in charge of his son Telemachus and of his palace when he went off to the Trojan War. The personal name Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague. (Yes, this previous sentence has been paraphrased from Wikipedia.)
Consider who your mentors have been; write an ode or elegy to them and their commitment, energy, enthusiasm, and other characteristics. Or, to whom have you been a mentor? Who needs mentoring, and how, and why? See if you can write your poem embracing some of these elements.
Prompt #7: Write a poem in response to this idea: Notre Dame. This is a prompt from the contest portion of our MoSt 8th Annual Poetry Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 1st, 2020. The deadline for submissions is Saturday, January 11th, 2020. For more information, go to our website:

Prompt #8 (for December 22nd): Happy Winter Solstice! I guess you could call today’s prompt The Long and the Short of It, or Slow and Steady…
Write about a time when you had to do something slower than you’re used to because something “modern and efficient” broke down. OR write about doing something “the old-fashioned way” because you enjoy it. OR write about doing something carefully and meticulously because something important is at stake. OR combine all three elements…
For an example, read this poem by Maine poet Judy Punturo:

Cutting the Grass With Scissors

You do it
when there seems to be no other way,
when things have gone too far;

when the lawn mower balks
and even the weed whacker shies.
It’s slow, yes,

but surprisingly effective,
Grasp a handful, pull aside,
and shear, down near the roots,

and then you hold a sheaf like wheat
to harvest in a pile, or lay
like cushioned carpet on the path.

Sometimes spit bugs,
shaken from their frothy homes,
rest on your hand,

and then crawl on,
while copper beetles
scuttle for shade.

I like the intimacy
With a patch of ground,
The closeness and drawing in,

the sibilance,
the swish the grass makes
with the scissored snap of stems,

the way time changes,
stalls and disappears
with each slow slice.

Judy Punturo
Cutting the Grass with Scissors: Monhegan Poems

Prompt #9 (for December 23rd): Write a poem in response to this idea: Following a Thread. This is a prompt from the contest portion of our MoSt 8th Annual Poetry Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 1st, 2020. The deadline for submissions is Saturday, January 11th, 2020. If you’ve not yet registered for the Festival, please check out the information on our website:
This will be a wonderful day of poetry!

Prompt #10 (for December 24th): Write a poem about the photograph below—which I snagged from some random Facebook post a year or so ago and don’t know how to give credit. Since this is a pretty famous Eve, try incorporating some of what you see into a “Just before this…”/”Right now…”/”And then…” narrative. Consider having your title serve as your first or last line—or merely number it as if this poem were one in a series. Ready? Steady… Go~~~

Prompt #11 (for December 25th): There are a lot of holidays to celebrate in December! According to, there are several designated holidays between the 21st (Winter Solstice) and the 27th(National Fruitcake Day), including Chanukah, National Cookie Exchange Day, National Short Person Day, Festivus (!), Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, National Candy Cane Day, and National Thank You Note Day. Whether you celebrate one, some, or all of these days, or have a favorite day of your own set aside for celebration or commemoration, how do you choose to acknowledge it? What sensations (sights, sounds, smells, etc.), objects, traditions, memories, and people come to mind? Write a poem no longer than 25 lines that explores these possibilities. For an extra challenge, write a poem about a holiday that doesn’t yet exist, but should. Ready…Steady…Go~~~

Prompt #12 (for December 26th): I’ve been carrying the words and melody of the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” (based on Christina Rosetti’s poem, and usually set to a melody by Gustav Holst) in my skull for a few days now, and still find myself gripped by by these lines:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Here are a couple of versions to listen to/watch (after the annoying YouTube commercials):

Whether there’s winter snow where you live, consider this painting by Vincent Van Gogh entitled Winter (The Vicarage Garden Under Snow) as you prepare to write today’s poem:

Once you go to the Norton Simon site, you’ll probably want to enlarge, zoom, and/or pan the painting to notice the details. To the right of the picture are some bits of biographical information and some questions worth considering—to which I’ll add some other possibilities:
What is it like to work outside in cold weather? What things are under the snow? What secrets are revealed—intentionally or accidentally—when we uncover what’s been hidden?
Use any of the above stuff (the painting, the carol, seasonal sensations)—or anything that occurred to you while reading this—to write a poem set in winter, bleak or joyful, arduous or easeful.
R e a d y…Steady…Go~~~

Prompt #13 (for December 27th): Think back to a time in your childhood—or in the years since—when you collected something. (I pretty much went from putting together AMT brand car models to stockpiling record albums.) Maybe you were a philatelist, a numismatist, or cartophile (stamps, coins, baseball cards, respectively.) Whether it was these, or dolls, beer cans, license plates, or something less tangible (like regrets), write a poem in which the speaker is obsessed with her/his/their collection. Allow these objects to appear and reappear as often as possible.

Prompt #14 (for December 28th): Credit Where Credit is Due Department: I have adapted this prompt from one in the annual and excellent Two Sylvias Press Advent Calendar…
An earwig in amber. A ticket to the premiere of the Marx Brothers’ Horsefeathers. An advance advertisement for the iPhone XIX. What do you notexpect to find in an envelope that’s been sent to you (assuming you still receive mail)? Write a poem in which you receive something very strange in an envelope. Be sure to include details such as where the envelope was sent from, whether the address is handwritten or typed, what sort of stamp is on it, etc. For extra credit, lend extra mystery by having the speaker (whoever he/she/they might be) try to figure out who sent the envelope.

Prompt #15 (for December 29th): Another adapted Two Sylvias Press Advent Calendar prompt: Choose an event at which you were not present. This could be fictitious, historical, or actual. Write a poem that plays with the implications of not being present for an event. You weren’t there when Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty met. You were absent when Grandmaster Flash pioneered hip hop DJing or the Berlin Wall came down. You forgot and missed your anthropology final exam in junior college. Whether your poem is fanciful or serious, make it real. For extra credit, choose a line from a piece of fiction, a quotation from an historical time period, or something someone might have said that time you, you know, weren’t there…
Ready. Steady. Go…

Prompt #16 (for December 30th): Believe it or not, yesterday’s Prompt #15 marked the halfway point of NYPC 11!
Okay, here’s today’s challenge: Listen to this live performance (after you’ve finished reading the prompt, of course)—
or to this one recorded in a studio—
or both! If you can do so, try not to watch, but to listen—at least the first time. Now write a poem inspired by either performance/musical composition—or both, or one you compose in your head as you write.

Prompt #17 (for December 31st)—What Are You Doin’ New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?—
Write a nocturne—a poem set at night. Maybe this will be a journal of a night vigil, or a prayer at nighttime. Perhaps it will be a lyrical exploration of the transitions and emotions that occur between twilight and first-light. Possibly it will be an account of an Eve (New Year’s, Graduation, All Hallows’, etc.) that went sovery wrong—or so very right. It may be a list of all the best ways to spend (or survive) a whole night—or the quest for those ways. Ready>Steady>Bonne nuit!

Prompt #18 (for January 1st, 2020)— Otherku
Okay, I know this is too simplistic: “Right, so a haiku, huh? Like we did in fifth grade—three lines, 17 syllables, 5/7/5, somethin’ about nature, right?” For this first day of 2020, try to see the form with new eyes, and create an alternate haiku.
Perhaps you’d like to try your hand—and fingertips for counting—at a lune, also known as the American Haiku. Here’s a brief description:
Maybe your poem will have 7 lines, or 20, with syllable counts of 5/2/5/3/5/7/5/11/5/13… (in case you’re wondering, that’s 5 alternating with the first 6 prime numbers.) Maybe your theme ain’t nature, but pasta or particle physics. The important thing is to create your form; design the architecture, then let your wordplay find its way out. Enjoy—and Happy New Year! Ready—Steady—Go.

Prompt #19 (for January 2nd, 2020)
Today’s prompt is below, but first…As those of you know who’ve participated in NYPC before, each year we put together a chapbook of the favorite poems we’ve written during the 30 days of the Challenge. However, in order to have it ready by the January14th reading at the Barkin’ Dog, I need to ask those of you who wish to be included in the chapbook to submit your poems a little before we really end NYPC 11—and that submission date is roundin’ the bend.
You may submit any one poem written for any prompt of this year’s NYPC. Your poetry submission, of course, is optional; no one is required to send in a poem, but we’d really like to see your work. Send your poem to no later than midnight on Thursday, January 9th. This is a firm deadline; sorry, but we can’t accept anything after that in order to have the chapbooks ready by the Barkin’ Dog readings. Make sure you submit your poem either in the body of the email or as a Word doc. In the Subject line, please write NYPC Submission. More details in future prompts, but for now (whew, at last) here’s the prompt:

The Ballad of Ibrahim Cadwallader—In the tradition of Wendy Toftmyer, Jenny Entwhistle, Sam Tolan, Mr. Zocolillo, and Wendy again (Thank You, Gillian, for their inception), write a poem for/to/about a fictitious person named Ibrahim (or Ibrahima) Cadwallader. Perhaps Ibby has just decided to run for office and has come to you for advice; maybe he/she/they is being teased in your junior high classroom, or Cadwallader was the title of the first Turkish/Welsh album to last 50 weeks on the Billboard Techno/House charts (with Ibrahim as its songwriter and lead singer) and he’s asked you to collaborate on his autobiography. Or you just keep it very simple and write a day-in-the-life narrative poem about this character…or somebody else entirely. Have fun—and remember you are the only one who can write this poem!

Prompt #20 (for January 3rd, 2020)
As we know, the ancient Greeks used six different words for the concept of love: eros, or sexual passion; philia, or deep friendship; ludus, or playful, childlike love; agape, or universal love for everyone; pragma, or longstanding love; and philautia, love of the self. Here’s a more detailed explication:
Once you’ve looked over the list and have considered which of these loves most applies to you, choose one that relates the least to you.
Write a poem that explores this type of love. Consider doing so as a prose poem without concern (at least right now) for line breaks—create your draft as something that looks like a prose paragraph. Here’s a more detailed description—with examples—of a prose poem, in case the format is new to you:
You can always revise your prose poem and break it into lines and stanzas. For extra credit—or to get a jumpstart on February 14th!—try writing a poem or poem series that includes all six forms of love—or create and write about a seventh.
Ready, (Go) Steady, Flow…

Prompt #21 (for January 4th, 2020)
Write a poem containing the words preempt, vivacious, lope, fractal, and warren. Colonel Looseleaf Harper’s bonus word is lambent.

Prompt #22 (for January 5th, 2020)
The Pantone Color of the Year for 2020 is Classic Blue. Here’s Pantone’s own description; scroll down to see previous years’ colors:
Write a “list” poem in the form of an blog or newspaper review, listing the reasons you like or dislike this choice of color. Point out the connections the color’s name evoke for you. For example, maybe “classic blue” might bring to mind Buddy Guy, or a navy peacoat, or Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, or Levi Strauss’ first pair of riveted denim pants, or the cover of your favorite book as a child. Your review might be from the viewpoint of a philosopher, politician, art critic, or house painter. For extra credit, try writing your poem as a sonnet
or a concrete poem

Prompt #23 (for January 6th, 2020)
Write a poem in response to this untitled 2009 drawing by Kananginak Pootoogook:

If you’d like more information on him, or about the history and vitality of Inuit art, here’s some:


Prompt #24 (for January 7th, 2020)
Can I Get A Do-Over?
A palinode (or palinody) is an ode in which the writer retracts a view or sentiment expressed in an earlier poem. Maybe you wrote a poem to or for someone expressing love or admiration—or scorn and hostility—that you now regret, and you want to “take it back.” Think about a poem you have previous written—recently or long-past—(and if possible, find that poem) and write a retraction of it. Be-it-ever-so-humble, Wikipedia has some examples:
Perhaps your poem will take the form of an apology or amends, or you can always claim that somebody else wrote that earlier poem…Recant, rescind, abjure away! Ready&Steady&Go…

Prompt #25 (for January 8th, 2020)
As I write this, 2020 seems to be getting off to a dark start in many places on our planet. As an antidote or opposite to that, write a poem of the human need for connection, awareness, and/or light. Do not use those words in your poem.
This prompt got started when 2019 wasn’t done with itself, after I reread a favorite poem by William Stafford. Perhaps you’ll find something here to accompany your poem on its journey.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford
The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Prompt #26 (for January 9th, 2020)
Less than a day after writing yesterday’s prompt, I watched a CBS Sunday Morning segment on David Byrne, the principal songwriter, singer, and guitarist for Talking Heads. In it, he discussed one of his current projects: an online magazine called Reasons to Be Cheerful. Here’s some information on the magazine, and website itself:

Write a poem with that title—“How to Be Cheerful”—in an authentic voice—or an ironic one. Here are some other options:
Write a Part II/conclusion/continuation to the poem you wrote from yesterday’s prompt;
Write a poem entitled “How to Be _____________,” a “recipe” or pedagogical poem with you—or your narrator persona—are the experienced expert. Maybe your poem is “How to Be a Middle Child,” “How to Be On the Right Side of History,” or “How to Be Quasi-Apathetic.”
Write a poem about a time when someone told you to “just cheer up,” or “walk it off,” or “turn that frown upside down.”

For extra credit, write your poem to music that seems to “harmonize” with the tone of your poem—or whose melody, rhythm, or genre is entirely antithetical to the flow of your poem. So whether it’s The Piano Guys or Arnold Schönberg, Beatles or Bebop, “meditation music” or Metallica: play and write on…
Ready, Steady, You Know the Rest…

Prompt #27 (for January 10th, 2020)
Read “Writing in the Dark” by Denise Levertov. (See below.)
Write a poem about writing under adverse or unusual circumstances or in strange places—maybe standing up in a crowded airport gate waiting area and drafting that poem that must be written, even if it means using a leaky pen on a grimy window, or using your pant leg as your writing desk, or…
Writing in the Dark

It's not difficult.
Anyway, it's necessary.

Wait till morning, and you'll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.

Fumble for the light,
and you'll be
stark awake, but the vision
will be fading, slipping
out of reach.

You must have paper at hand,
a felt-tip pen, ballpoints don't always flow,
pencil points tend to break. There's nothing
shameful in that much prudence: those are our tools.

Never mind about crossing your t's, dotting your i's--
but take care not to cover
one word with the next. Practice will reveal
how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
to keep each line
clear of the next.

Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices,

or opened
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:

words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.

Denise Levertov (Candles in Babylon)

Prompt #28 (for January 11th, 2020)

The Peace of Wild Things— Read the poem by Wendell Berry.
(See below.) Where do you find peace amid and/or because of wild things? Perhaps your poem about this will be an ode to a particular beach where the tides crash against boulders, or a sonnet
about a black phoebe on a backyard limb, or some other formal poem—a ghazal?—
about being stuck in freeway traffic and having the time to notice a delta of geese against the sunset.
By the way, the painting above is Looking Down Yosemite Valley (1865) by Albert Bierstadt.


When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

(Breathe) Ready (Breathe) Steady (Breathe) Go (Breathe….)

Prompt #29 (for January 12th, 2020)
Because I couldn’t imagine myself compiling a set of NYPC prompts without including a Mary Oliver poem as “combustion” for a poem of your own, I offer one of my favorites. Respond to it/ borrow (i. e., steal wisely) from it in any way you like:

West Wind #2

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But, listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks -- when you hear that unmistakable
pounding -- when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming -- then row, row for your life
toward it.

Mary Oliver
West Wind, copyright 1997.
Ready and…Steady…Go and…

Prompt #30 (for January 13th, 2020)
I’d like to thank you all for putting up with my peculiar approach to these NYPC prompts, and I hope you’ve had some fun along with some challenges to your writing routine. I will send out all 30 prompts in a separate email, but for now:
I’d like to leave you with this challenge: write a Trenta-Sei formal poem. Yes, I can hear you say Huh?and that’s okay; I’d not heard of the form, either, until I came across it in Edward Hirsch’s splendid A Poet’s Glossary and then again recently in an entry by Robert Lee Brewer in his series of descriptions of poetic forms on the Writer’s Digest website:

Here’s some brief information and examples of the form:

Poet John Ciardi invented the form of trenta-sei(“thirty-six” in Italian) in 1985. It consists of six six-line stanzas rhyming ababcc. The first stanza establishes the opening lines of each subsequent stanza: thus, the second line of the poem becomes the first line of the third line, the third line becomes the first line of the third stanza, and so on until the end. Ciardi’s “A Trenta-Sei of the Pleasure We Take in the Early Death of Keats” (see below) was the last poem he completed before his death. The poet/physician John Stone composed a memorial poem, “A Trenta-Sei for John Ciardi (1916-1986)”. Please note that you don’t have to make death or memorials the subject of your poem!
I’ll attach Ciardi’s poem below; below that, you might just find a bonus prompt! Cheers, and may all manner of things be well with you, fellow poets!

But-Wait-There’s-More Bonus Prompt #31:

Write a poem entitled—or using the phrase—“Where Are We Now?”