Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poetry as Action

Burma Poetry Protest
Burma Poetry Protest (Photo credit: englishpen)

Over the past month, I have been writing poems to prompts on Poetic Asides.  I realized half way through the month, that some of the poems were speaking of things that I have been holding deep inside.  I guess you could say they are my protest poems.

Funny, it wasn't until I read them back that I realized I had several that really hit on issues in education that have been bothering me for a long time.  This, of course, is the beauty of poetry! 

Poetry is a means to teach, to heal, to romance, to instruct, to relate and to protest.  In fact, some of the greatest poems are poems of protest - some made into songs or some immortalized in great documents.

For example: 

Declaration of Independence 
by Thomas Jefferson [1743-1826] 

We hold these truths to be self-evident: 
that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator 
with certain inalienable rights; 
that among these are life, liberty 
and the pursuit of happiness. 

We Shall Overcome
by Charles Tindley

Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome
some day

The other thing I learned from this experience is that there is actually a genre called Protest Poetry!  Protest Poetry began in the 1970's in Soweto during Apartheid.  This form of poetry gave the oppressed of South Africa a voice.

Two of the most recent poets who have shared their thoughts with the world in protest are Dr. Maya Angelou and Manal Al Sheikh. Their words have inspired nations!

And so, I humbly add my voice to chorus of poets, who use poetry to awaken those who listen without hearing and look without seeing.  

Budget Cuts 
         © LMRN 2012

Opening the email, you hardly expect 
that the world as you knew it would suddenly 
crash down around you in a series of slashes 
cut deep into the heart of that which breathes life 
into a small corner of the community - 
a community rich in color, custom and consequence. 
But, there it is, straight from the mouth of the monster - 
"effective immediately blah blah blah - 
no longer needed blah blah blah - 
thank you for your understanding blah blah blah." 
You stare at the screen as if some alien craft 
had landed on your desk, trying desperately to comprehend 
the meaning of such callously placed terms, 
which essentially mean that your students 
don't matter to those in the front office who 
play dominoes with the lives that enter the classrooms. 

What Will We Tell the Children 
           © LMRN 2012

What will we tell the children
as the doors close on yet another opportunity? 
How do we explain to them 
as they sit waiting for us to lead 
that they are not worth our time and money 
simply because they did not 
have the privilege of being born among us? 
How do we sleep at night and 
what will we tell the children? 


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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

End in Sight

My "corner office" where all the creating happens!

Wow!  Can't believe there is less than a week to the Poem a Day Challenge.  I have managed to keep the poems flowing, in spite of grading papers, preparing finals and enjoying my new grandchild.

As I indicated in an earlier post, I am trying to keep with the theme of teaching English as a second language. This has not always been as easy as it might seem, especially if you are writing to prompts, which I have been doing.  However, I am pleased with what I have been inspired to create.

The following are a couple of favorite poems.  Enjoy!

(The prompt for these poems was to write a letter poem and a recipe poem - you can see the challenge, I am sure! All poems © 2012 LMN)


Thank you for teaching
me to think
about the words that
I learn
so that I can
use them
like money
at the store of Life.


Begin with a student eager to learn;
add in a teacher with resources galore;
sprinkle with lessons for which they yearn
to have speaking and writing and reading and more.
Ever so slowly, let it all stew,
stirring and mixing and blending it for
a wonderful magical linguistic brew!  

I have also been inspired to write poems other than those from the prompts.  The following were inspired by the birth of my grandson.


The day you were born,
your world broke into applause.
You looked deep into my eyes, 
ready to nurse - ready to face the world!
The years, since then and now,
have flown by, like leaves in the wind
that I have tried to catch -
but, they always remain just out of reach -
until, today, when I got to hold
a little piece of you close to my heart,
snuggling your firstborn, as you joined
the circle of motherhood.

Haiku for Eric

Like the winter winds
that blow early in the fall,

the wee boy arrives



Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Mother's Memoir - Madeline Sharples

Today, I have the honor of an interview with a woman, whom I admire greatly, Madeline Sharples. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, Madeline has found a way to help others. Her gift to the world is the ability to expess herself in ways that touch the hearts and minds of others. 

Madeline's new book, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide charts the near-destruction of one middle-class family, whose son committed suicide after a seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder. Madeline, an author, poet and web journalist, goes deep into her own well of grief to describe her anger, frustration and guilt. She describes many attempts -- some successful, some not -- to have her son committed to hospital and to keep him on his medication. The book also charts her and her family's redemption, how she considered suicide herself, and ultimately, her decision live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother and writer. 

What does the title of the book mean? 

At first I believed—my magical thinking—that if I left the hall light on, if we didn’t move away from our house, if we didn’t change our telephone number, Paul would know how to make his way back. Paul would know we were still here waiting for him. For a long time, I waited for that familiar sound of his Volvo coming into the garage, the sound of the door from the garage slamming as he entered the house and went down the hall to his room, the sound of him walking around the house at night, the sound of the door opening and closing as he went in and out of the house. In fact, for a while I thought I heard those sounds. I, also, left most of the things in his room and closet alone for fear of removing his presence there. For a long time, I refused to give away his things in case he would need them when he came back. Once those sounds in my imagination and my magical thinking fell away, my need to keep the hall light on became another one of the things that helped me get through my grief. We left the hall light on for him when he was home. I just couldn’t break that routine. 

What were the warning signs when your son first began to experience symptoms of bipolar disorder? 
Just before his first manic break in February 1993, he had traveled from New York where he was attending college at the New School to attend my mother’s 85th birthday celebration. I have a wonderful photo of him playing Happy Birthday on the piano with her sitting beside him. He was perfectly normal. He was calm, loving. He talked easily to everyone and readily smiled as he posed for a photo with his brother and cousins. For the two nights he was with us, he slept easily in his childhood bedroom, and kissed and hugged me when I said goodbye to him at the airport.

Two weeks later, he was calling us up every few minutes, writing all over his apartment walls with a blue felt-tipped marker, and saying people were lurking in doorways out to get him and poisoning his food and cigarettes. His clothes were strewn all over the place, his dishes were stacked up—all behaviors so foreign to the orderly and neat guy he normally was. Most important, he was a jazz musician no longer able to sit still long enough at the piano to play a song through from the beginning to end. 

In those two weeks after he returned to New York City, he played three successive gigs with some older musicians in Brooklyn, rather than with his own group, and had not slept for at least two nights in a row. He, also, drank heavily during these performances. So, it is possible that this burgeoning jazz man lifestyle of little sleep, little food, and lots of booze sent Paul over the edge. He was, also, so affected by the news of the heroin-overdose death of one of his classmates he became unintelligible and had to be taken from his school to the hospital. 

How do you give support and comfort to a person who doesn’t want support or comfort? 
We were in a hopeless situation. Because Paul was an adult child, we had no control. We couldn’t help him unless he let us. We felt like our hands were tied behind our backs—and by him. Paul was the driver—it was all up to him. We were out of touch and out of control at his choosing. All we could do was hope for the best, that somehow he would integrate what everyone had been telling him for so long—that his survival and recovery were up to him. 

At the same time, we concluded no matter what, he was our son and our responsibility. We would never turn him out into the streets. No matter how painful it was being with him, having him living with us, experiencing the effects of his illness on him and our family, we would take care of him for as long as he needed us to. 

How did you maintain your sanity after your son’s suicide? 

A long list of things helped: friends and family, getting back on my exercise program, pampering myself, writing in my journal and taking writing workshops, attending the Survivors After Suicide meetings at the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services organization, finding a job outside my home, and being respectful of each other as a family. We stuck together as a family, we moved through our grief in our own way and in our own time, and we came out the other side as a family closer than ever before. 
What can a person do to help and comfort a family that has experienced a suicide or other tragedy? 

My greatest comfort after our son’s death came from my next-door neighbor, Patty. She offered to put up out-of-town relatives, she brought over bagels and cream cheese in the morning, and she supplied the coffee for the open house after the funeral. The word “suicide” didn’t make her back off. 

Before the first Thanksgiving after Paul’s death, Patty left a basket on my doorstep. Her note said that she dreaded the holidays after her mother died, so she gathered a few things to ease the holiday season for me. As I read her note and looked through the basket, I cried, not only out of the dread of being without Paul on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and his New Year’s Eve birthday, but for the generosity and caring of a person I hardly knew. In such a quiet and unassuming way, she showed me real human compassion and understanding. She never asked me a lot of questions, and she didn’t intrude on my privacy. She just let me know she was there for me if I needed her. 

Among the items inside was a poetry book about coping with the loss of a loved one—she knew I wrote poetry. She also included a journal, a sweet smelling candle, a box of absolutely delicious, chocolate-covered graham crackers, and a smooth gray stone. 

This stone became my biggest comfort. Just large enough to fit in the palm of my hand, it feels the perfect size when I close my hand around it. One edge is round and the other is triangular. One side is plain; the other has the word “son” carved into it. Right after Patty left the basket on my doorstep, my little stone became my nighttime friend. 

I got into the habit of going to bed with it. Once settled, I held it on my chest just between my breasts. I liked its coldness on my aching heart. It helped me relax. Holding it in my hand and reading the word with my thumb, also helped. I carried it around in my pocket for a while. I wanted to feel it there for me. Then, I began to wonder about my own sanity. Was I trying to exchange my son for a stone? 

When I got myself more together and began to feel better, I let go of it and let it rest on another item from that basket—a little, silk-covered, sachet pillow that smells of lavender with butterflies and the word “heal” painted on the silk. These two gifts from Patty are still there on my bedside table after all these years. 

What advice do you have for families that have been affected by mental illness or suicide? 

First, I recommend families find out as much about bipolar disorder as you can—the best doctors, hospitals, medications available, and how to get to them. Also, know about suicide prevention. What I didn’t know when our son was diagnosed is that bipolar can be a killer disease—especially in young men. Then, try to give your loved one with the disease the facts. That way he/she will feel less stigmatized and will be more likely to accept help. 

Second, I would want people affected by suicide to know that it is possible to survive and be productive after the death of a child. I would advise them to: 
  • Take your time—don’t let anyone tell you that the time for grief should be over  
  • Take good care of your health: workout, eat healthy, get enough rest, meditate, travel, and be open to new friends and new experiences  
  • Pamper yourself: stay in shape physically, get massages, facials, and manicures and pedicures  
  • Pretend you’re feeling better by putting on a smiley face and pretty soon you will feel better (I call it playacting)  
  • Find an artistic outlet and other diversions to take your mind off of it 

Many thanks to Madeline for sharing her story and her wisdom. I encourage all my readers to get a copy of her book. 


Madeline Sharples studied journalism in high school and college and wrote for the high school newspaper, but only started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer and journalist, late in life. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, was released in a hardback edition in 2011 and has just been released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things. It tells the steps she took in living with the loss of her oldest son, first and foremost that she chose to live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother, and writer. She hopes that her story will inspire others to find ways to survive their own tragic experiences. 

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 and 2, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poetry in Motion

There are some things in life that are pure poetry - without the words.  Holding my wee grandson, who was born 5 weeks early was one such moment.  

As I greeting this tiny little miracle, the first child of my youngest daughter, he smiled.  He continued to smile as I sang to him.  Needless to say, I was in heaven!

In celebration, a wee poem (haiku):

Like the winter winds
that blow early in the fall,
the wee boy arrives

Friday, November 2, 2012

Poem-A-Day Challenge

DSC03082 - full moon
DSC03082 - full moon (Photo credit: RaeAllen)

The muse is working overtime during this Poem-a-Day challenge!  I have not only written one poem for the last two days, but other poems have come as well! 

The "matches" prompt sent the following poem late last night.
She had fanned the flames - 
with each strike - some warmth 
took the chill from her soul 

She had fanned the flames, 
holding the light close, 
believing that it could last 

She had fanned the flames - 
until one last match 
burned itself out with a sigh 

She had fanned the flames - 
but this love had died, 
long ago, in the cold of night 
© 2012 LMRN 

Today, the prompt was one of my favorite topics to write about - the full moon!  You can read my first attempt written early this morning on the Poetic Asides site.  Here is the poem that came to me as I drove to teach class this afternoon.


You ask, with sentences that skip and jump
like a rock thrown across the still pond,
how we celebrate the Moon Festival.

Rapidly, I search the depository of memory
like some frantic librarian racing through the Dewey system.

I explain, with words chosen as carefully as
a connoisseur tasting wine,
that there is no Festival of the Moon here.

With tear-filled eyes you ask in your new-born English,
“But teacher, how do the lovers find each the other?”

© 2012 LMRN

Don't forget that there is still time to join the 30 Poems in November fundraiser for the Center for New Americans, either as a poet or as a donor.  

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Poetry, Prompts and Promises

Words Cloud 02/01-08/02 2009
Words Cloud 02/01-08/02 2009 (Photo credit: GRwitters)

Words! - They have the power to do amazing things.
Today is the first day of the month, which means it is the beginning of the Poem-a-Day challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer at Poetic Asides.  In addition, it is the first day of the fundraiser for the Center for New Americans - 30 Poems in November.  Therefore, today is the beginning of a month-long celebration of words!

What a wonderful combination - poetry to promote literacy - prompts from a great literary magazine - the promise of funding by people who believe in the importance of both literacy and art!

One thing that is different this time round, is that instead of Robert Lee Brewer giving the prompts, he has invited the poets who take the challenge to share prompts with each other.  He will post the prompt each day in November.  Today's prompt was from writer, Mariya Koleva.  What a wonderful way to begin this challenge - a great prompt and an introduction to another writer!

Here is my poem for the prompt, "matches," which could be taken any way the writer wished.  Many thanks to both Robert Lee Brewer and Mariya Koleva!
Utterances and Meaning
by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas 

From day one, you were determined to master this language 
that has the power to change your life 
from one of fear and darkness 
to one of hope and dreams 

You work diligently, matching sounds 
with marks on the page - so foreign to you - 
challenging your mouth to make shapes for uttering words 
that bring power to your life

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