Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Outdoor Voices in an Indoor World

 After that very long hiatus, I'd like to take a minute to share this latest video from Outdoor Voices in an Indoor World, a poetry video series created by Keith Allison.

It's been great that Keith has put these videos out during the pandemic to give us all some virtual poetry readings, and I've been honored to have poems accepted for all three videos thus far. The lineups are absolutely stellar.

Enjoy these poems from Ohio and beyond!

And if you need more poems, you can also check out Volume 1 and Volume 2!


Peace, friends. Stay well in these mad times.

Friday, January 3, 2020

A Republican Examination of Conscience

Disclaimer:  This is not about poetry, but it is being posted here because this is the forum that I have.

I have debated--agonized--over whether or not to write this.  I would get fired up about something and punch out a couple paragraphs in a tantrum, then delete it all when I looked at it the next day.  But I think this needs to be written.

This is a confession, an examination of conscience, and a promise to do better.

I was a registered republican for most of my adult life.

Some of you who only met me recently may balk at this.  Many who have known me for a while were already aware of this.  If you regularly follow me on Facebook, you may have caught me mention this.

But yes, I used to be a republican.  A conservative.  Been to a Tea Party rally.  Been to a Glenn Beck Rally for America.  Voted for G. W. Bush.  Both times.

My family was and still is very conservative.  I attended Catholic school for 11 years.  Conservative talk radio served as background noise in my house growing up.

As a Catholic, issues like abortion and gay marriage were at the top of the list of reasons for voting primarily republican, but I also gravitated toward platform ideals like protection of individual rights and fiscal responsibility.

In high school, I joined the pro-life club.  I remember one time, even as a seventeen-year-old who couldn't vote yet, the club was writing letters to the governor urging a stay of execution for a death row inmate, Wilford Berry.  Even though I had learned in religion class that pro-life philosophy also incorporated social justice issues, I started to question 1) whether I was really pro-life if I might not feel completely against capital punishment, and 2) whether conservatism was really pro-life if they supported capital punishment.

Even at seventeen, I was starting to see some cracks in the politics and feel opposing voices arguing in my head; opposing voices, both of which, I was supposed to believe.

Despite growing up very conservative, I was also born in the early '80s, and kids in my generation were fed tons of propaganda about recycling and saving the planet.  I say "propaganda" because I know now that a lot of these ad messages were created for the purpose of shifting the focus from the producer to the consumer (I'm looking at you, McDonald's, and your styrofoam shells for packaging Big Macs).  I even remember a school assembly in second grade where Ronald McDonald and the whole gang (!) did a skit for the school where we all sang along as they chanted, "Reduce...reuse...recycle!" 

I was the generation of Captain Planet and commercials for juice box recycling programs.  One summer, my brother and I and three of our friends formed a "club" that we called The Environment Savers, and the five of us spent one scorching afternoon drinking Kool-Aid and picking up trash along a drainage creek.

Thanks to the media of the '80s, environmental responsibility was (and remains) just as ingrained in me as conservative values.  I told myself that these two things were not incongruent.  Environmental responsibility was really about protecting individual rights, I told myself, a cornerstone of conservative values.  It's my individual right to have clean water and air, and to deny a fossil fuel corporation the ability to set up shop on my personal property.

As an adult, I started reading and watching a lot of documentaries about environmental justice and the contamination of our food supply.  I became frustrated when I'd see republican politicians siding with corporate interests over individual rights when it came to manifest destiny issues of mineral rights.  I became frustrated when conservative politicians chose corporate interests over the individual rights of organic farmers to keep their fields free from commercial toxins like Round-Up.  I became frustrated when government agencies that were supposed to be providing consumer protections instead sided with corporate interests when it came to labeling foods and products of questionable safety.  But when I looked across the aisle, just as many democrats were taking money from those same corporate interests.

Leaving to Find

I left the party, but didn't see a philosophical home for myself with the democrats.  John McCain was the last republican presidential candidate I voted for.  I started voting for green party candidates and independents whenever and wherever they appeared on the ballot.  I became a protest voter, and democrats started yelling at me for doing so.

Freeing myself from any political ties finally allowed me to discover what I truly believed, and I found my philosophical guiding force in my Catholic faith and a consistent life ethic.  I could finally resolve the conflicts of opposing ideals between my faith and my politics.  Without the talking heads mimicking distilled sound bytes in my ears , I finally aligned my beliefs with the way I saw my religion--which is one of love and life and peace.  Yes, it sounds terribly hippy-dippy put that way, but Jesus was always hippy-dippy.  Republican politicians co-opted one or two talking points out of context and tried to make Christianity into something hard and exclusive.  Sweep it clean of the politics and see it for what it is.

It means don't kill--anyone, no matter what they've done.  That means politicians shouldn't be starting wars, and that true Christians should be against those who do.  It means that we need to respect God's creation of all life and be as respectful and protective of that life around us as possible--human, animal, plant life.  Do not poison our oceans and airs and soils because to poison those environments is to destroy the life that relies upon them.

It means love thy neighbor, thy black neighbor, thy white neighbor, thy brown neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy Jewish neighbor, thy Christian neighbor, thy atheist neighbor, thy immigrant neighbor, thy incarcerated neighbor, thy poor neighbor, thy LGBTQ neighbor, thy homeless neighbor, etc.

It means that one day I found myself in a conversation and I surprised even myself when I said out loud, "If Jesus came back today, he would be hanging out with gay people because they're the ones oppressed right now," and since that moment of realization, I hope I've been a good ally to my LGBTQ neighbors.

It means that if you truly want to prevent more abortions, you need to accept the statistics that show that stricter abortion laws often mean a rise in abortions, and that nations with the strictest legal and social restrictions on abortions have the highest abortion rates.  It means that if we want to reduce the number of abortions in our nation, we need to embrace policies that provide healthcare, paid maternity leave, child care, educational assistance, and an array of social services to support mothers who don't otherwise have the financial and social support that is needed to support and raise a child.  And yes, it means that healthcare needs to include birth control.  As someone who is pro-life, I will forever prefer that people who aren't ready to have a child use birth control rather than feel the need to have an abortion after conceiving.

I am still working out where my beliefs fall in many places.  I am informed by my republican past, and because of it, I refuse to allow my liberal friends to demonize republican voters in broad strokes whenever possible.

Most importantly, I want my experience to serve as an option for others.  I want you to know that you are not locked into listening to and accepting everything a politician or a party says.  You are allowed--and indeed, the history of our nation encourages you--to disagree.  Disagree--fervently, vehemently, intelligently, morally, and ethically--when the situation calls for disagreement, especially with those for whom you have voted.  Please do not conflate the identity of a politician for whom you have voted with your own identity.  And please do not equate an attack on a politician for whom you have voted with an attack on yourself.

You don't need to swear off your party identity, but know that it is a normal human state of affairs to not agree completely with everything prescribed by a certain set of rules, whether those rules have their roots in a political platform, a religion, a union contract, or a club formed by elementary kids in a treehouse.


Hillary Clinton wasn't my candidate, though I understand her appeal to her biggest supporters, and I voted for her in 2016.  She was the first democrat I ever voted for in a presidential race.  I had a lot of issues with her, and I knew from being a former republican and from my republican friends and family that she carried way too much political baggage for conservative-leaning swing voters to vote for her.  But 2016 was not the year for a protest vote.

Republican politicians will toot their horns about the "victories" achieved under this president, most of which involve the appointment of conservative judges and a tax-cut.  But ANY republican would have appointed conservative judges and signed off on a tax-cut.  It did not need to be THIS president.  This president is not conservative.  He engages in actions that appease the republican side of the aisle because it is expeditious to his own goals, whatever they may be.  Very few of his actions actually align with conservative ideology.

I'm not going to run down the list of infractions this president has committed, I'm not going to list the dozens of ways he's acted in direct conflict with traditional conservative values, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about what happened yesterday in Iraq.  There are two dozen places you can find more thorough and knowledgeable analysis than I would be able to provide.

In short, it is not a republican president to which I am opposed.  It is a crude, immoral, unethical and unpredictable president to which I am opposed; one who does not listen to those with lifetimes of experience and knowledge he does not possess, who refuses to familiarize himself with facts or laws and persistently defies them, a president who treats with dictators and rebuffs the leaders of free nations, who insists on lying about easily refutable matters like weather maps and crowd sizes and as such we can expect that he most certainly lies about large and extremely important matters in equal frequency.

The world will tell you there are only two choices, because binaries are beneficial to those in power.  Binary options can be twisted to easily manipulate people's emotions.  Example:  "You're either with the president, or against America."  See?  Of course this is not the truth, and we know this is not the truth, and we know that there are a million possibilities between the two options presented.

You don't need to be a democrat or republican.  You don't need to be liberal or conservative.  And you probably aren't.  I'm here to ask you to consider where you fall in the middle (or maybe even out of bounds all together), because most assuredly, very few if any of us truly fall 100% in alignment with any other person.  Decide what is truly important to you, what it is that guides your personal ethics and beliefs--whether it is a religion, a philosophy, a love--because it probably isn't a political party.  We can all benefit from a political examination of conscience right now, and do our best, at this moment, to decide what it is that we need to do to further what is right and good in this world.

Friday, October 11, 2019


I've been spending a lot of time lately reading and knitting and crocheting.  But as I start getting back into writing my own poetry, I have a couple of events to announce.

First, I had a poem accepted into Summit Artspace's Poe's Garden exhibit, a collaboration of literary and visual artists.  The opening reception is October 18th starting at 5:30pm.

Second, Steve and I will both be featuring, along with the lovely Juliet Cook, at Manic on Main in Wadsworth on Saturday, October 19 at 7pm.  Big thanks to Cat Russell for hosting and organizing the event!

Looking forward to all the poetry in October!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Some thoughts on rejection

Reporting to you from a perfect Ohio afternoon...Ignore my weird toes.
I was the kind of kid who started writing angry letters to politicians by the time I was in middle school.

I can't say I was exactly politically informed, but I knew enough about how to fire off a letter to my local council members, school board, congressmen, and even to companies with shoddy products when I read something in the paper or otherwise encountered something that bothered me.  Sometimes, I even received responses.

I was a weird kid.

I've been reflecting on this personal history in words as I continue to ruminate on a recent rejection for a submission in which I'd invested a lot of work, and as such, became more emotionally invested in acceptance than I wanted to admit at the time.  A couple weeks since the news, and it's still sensitive to the touch.

I've been working on remembering that this rejection doesn't invalidate me and what I do.  I spent a good amount of time feeling sorry for myself, but now I'm remembering that words matter, that my words matter.

I recently finished reading an advanced copy of Vox by Christina Dalcher.  It's a Handmaid's Tale-type of setting in which a religious dictator in the White House decides that all females should be limited to speaking no more than 100 words per day.  The book pays homage to Atwood's classic, though includes more "ripped from the headlines" sort of details (a reference to MAGA lets you know who she's talking about if there was any doubt), and the end is twisty in a pop-fiction, it all works out happily ever after kind-of-way.  But the point is that words matter.  If you don't use your voice, you will lose your voice.

I know that my words have mattered.  I can look back at letters I have written that have helped friends or been the impetus for changes in the private and public world.  These changes have been small.  I haven't cured cancer, I haven't changed the course of international policy, but I've tangibly changed a couple things in the world because of a letter or opinion I have written.  If everyone could change one or two small things in their immediate world by embracing their unique talent--whether that be art or writing or gardening or music or math or farming or science or carpentry or listening or any one of hundreds of vocations that we find ourselves called to, then everyone's lives would be just a little better.

It reaffirms that my words matter.  They may not capital-M Matter in the way I wish they would right now in this exact moment, but they do matter.  Words matter.  That will need to be a good enough reason to keep at it right now in this moment.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Politics in Poetry

I once wrote a blog post for Cleveland Poetics suggesting that politics does not belong in poetry.  I distinctly remember an open mic reading in which a young man stated that he was a veteran, and proceeded to read a poem or two that he had written about his war experiences in the Middle East.  The poet who immediately followed him read a piece that was vehemently anti-war and anti-the current republican government.  Shortly after, the young veteran stormed out, and to my knowledge, has never been seen since at a poetry reading in Cleveland.

Stock photo from Pexels
At the time I wrote the essay, I believed politics was the cause, politics was driving people away from poetry.  We’re making everything too political and can’t we all just kum-bay-ah our way through poetry?
I don’t regret writing that essay now, but I have changed my stance.  It’s important to remember that people can change, people can hold one idea that may evolve over time based on experience or interaction with others.  It is even possible for us to hold two or more contradicting ideas in our heads at the same time, to grapple with them and try to work out the complexities of the issues and ideologies we can be faced with every day.  Life is not binary; neither do anyone's ideas about important issues need to be.  It is a very human experience to learn about points of view different than your own and to then cobble together a new opinion on a topic where you once believed or felt something entirely different.  God gave us big brains to do this, to have ideas, to see facts and process facts, and then use those facts to formulate new ideas.  We don’t need to cling to an idea we held 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or heck, even yesterday, for the rest of our lives.  That is counter to the lifelong mental and emotional growth we as human beings are supposed to undergo.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a very contemporarily digital social experience to never be able to consider more than the one thought you have conditioned yourself to hold and have held, excluding any and all new information.

I say all this because my poetry lately has been predominated by political themes.  I can’t seem to write much of anything without it turning into a commentary on politics and social issues.  Life in America in 2018 feels like an inherently political experience if you are paying attention to anything happening nationally or globally.  Even in the personal relationships where I know discussing anything political would cause some angst so I try to keep things neutral, it still squeaks its ugly head into conversation every now and then.

When life is political, art can’t help but be political, too.  When politics affects you personally, when laws and applied policies directly affect the lives of you and your neighbors, there is no longer a line that can be drawn between politics and everything else.  And the truth is, life is and always has been political, whether some of us have been isolated enough [waves hand] in the past to ignore that fact or not.

But to circle back to that open mic reading, it wasn’t politics that was the problem that day.  Politics didn’t drive that young man away.  It was a lack of reading the room, a lack of compassion, a lack of sensitivity in that moment.  That temporal tone-deafness is also something that I and probably everyone else reading this has also been guilty of at some point in our lives.

Where am I going with this ramble?  Here’s what I can conclude right here, right now:  write whatever you want, read whatever you want, create whatever you want.  But let’s all work on making sure that we create out of awareness, and hopefully, love.  Now, love can encompass anger, and frustration, and a lot of other “negative” emotions, but I hope we can create out of love.

But who knows, tomorrow, I might find reason to change my mind.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Video from CVAG reading


Thanks to Michael DeBenedictus for hosting and organizing the poetry reading last weekend at Cuyahoga Valley Art Gallery!  It was great to share a stage with Dan Smith and the Deep Cleveland Trio again, and I was so happy to meet and hear work from EbaNee Bond.

Here's link to the video from my reading that evening!


Friday, May 18, 2018

Around Akron with Blue Green

Tonight's new episode of Around Akron with Blue Green will be featuring, among other segments, several spots of poetry with some great Akron poets!  The episode airs at 9:30pm on Western Reserve PBS.  (Also airing at 9am & 11:30pm Saturday 5/19; 2:30am Sunday 5/20; 6:30pm Tuesday 5/22; 5pm Saturday 5/26.)

Don't miss it!  Blue is one of the folks doing the work to make Akron what it is.  Be sure to watch!

Check out this quick preview write-up from The Devil Strip!

Update:  You can now watch the full episode online here!  Thanks again for making this happen, Blue!