“Joyous . . .Merry . . . Happy.” Welcome words? Not for the many of us who are coping with loss of any kind – a death, divorce, family illness, job – or simply garden-variety depression. It’s well-known that these tinsel-decorated holidays find more patients than usual in psychologists’ offices .

It’s so easy to focus on that sad data, and on the total sum of sad facts in our lives.  I’m not saying this from some kind of superior perch, but as someone who is coping with the illness of the one I love. (Whenever I hear that familiar, “God bless you,” I mutter, “I hope so!” )

Meanwhile, what can we do to bring some of those blessings into our lives? I’ve discovered how much depends on the half- full -or- empty attitude . My own losses have multiplied in the last few years, including the inevitable loss of old friends. I often say that I have more friends in the Other World than I do here!

So what can we do when we fall into an “annus horribilis” mood ? That was Queen Elizabeth’s famed summary of the year when one of her castles burned and more than one of her children had her burning. I’ve decided to try something: make a list of all the things I’ve wept over in the year that’s dying. They range from illness and death down to the loss of a favorite earring. Then I’ll tear up the list and make an alternate one – whatever I can unearth that was a blessing, even a small one. A new friend emerging, or an old friend getting in touch after all these years, a teenage grandchild actually getting on the phone with me (!), a morning when I woke up earlier than usual and saw the dawn through the window and realized how beautiful the world still is.

Despite laudable efforts we’re still faced with the holidays – Chanukah and/or Christmas, plus my least favorite, New Year’s  Eve. Last year I was alone on that fabled Eve for  the first time in my life. I dreaded the prospect and made the mistake of turning on the TV at midnight . There were all those people in Times Square hugging and kissing. I watered my glass of wine with my tears.

This year I’ll find a better way. I may or may not go to a party. I may in fact even choose to be alone. If so, I’ll plan for what brings me some measure of joy – order in my favorite foods, buy a bottle of good wine, stock up on movies. I might write that evening, perhaps start a new story or poem. Someone told me, “You shouldn’t work that night.” Why not, if writing brings me more satisfaction than almost anything else does? I might call a friend who’s alone, too; one I can count on to share – not self-pity – but laughs. I might also use the evening to list what I will give myself permission to enjoy in the coming months. (I know a woman who spent the evening studying travel brochures and planning a trip.) Then at midnight I’ll raise a glass in a private toast. We can at least celebrate ourselves.

To each of you my favorite New Year wish:
  May you go from strength to strength .

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk–; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor – and Amazon Kindle.
Children’s book: Maya’s Magical Adventures



Unless you’re a turkey, Thanksgiving is a day for being grateful. But if “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” it also applies to the plus or minus way we view our lives.

An hour ago I escaped from the phone after being deluged with complaints by a distant cousin (a cousin I’ve kept distant!). She spent her cell phone data listing all the things in her life that she feels victimized by. Her list only partially includes an ungrateful child, an equally misbehaving stock market, a TV technician who failed to show up on time, a supermarket that sold her overripe bananas, plus all the afflictions of age (arthritic knee, wobbly walking, ad infinitum.) I’m sure her list also includes me for not being sympathetic enough.

The reality is that each of us could have a negative list. It depends on how negative you want to be.

I don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna, the saccharine heroine of children’s books, who is famed for having “irrepressible optimism.” Forced to read her as a child, I developed a loathing for that sugary attitude. So I went the opposite way, until what was “irrepressible” in myself was a tendency to see the half-empty cup. I turned everything into verification of victimhood.

So I decided to deliberately reframe every bad karma into something at least a little positive. In the past three or so years I’ve had plenty of ill fortune to complain about, primarily my partner’s becoming so debilitated he’s in a nursing home. Hard to find anything positive in that. But what if I appreciate the times I visit him and am able to bring a smile to his face, to help him understand he’s still loved? And what about being grateful I’m well enough to walk out of that building!

I’m in a lonely profession- writing – and being alone so much encourages dark periods of self-pity. So I have now adopted a habit I’d heard about but scoffed at: making a daily gratitude list. Each night before going to bed I remind myself of at least 10 things to be grateful for that happened that day, even what seem like very small things. Sometimes I have to stretch to meet the ten. (A friend who had a “disastrous” day said she was thankful that at least she’d had a “good breakfast”!)

Here’s my own partial list from last night:
I’m grateful I got through today without falling.
I’m grateful that although agents are ignoring me I’m able to keep working on my new book.
I’m grateful for two phone calls from supportive friends.
I’m grateful I found another cartridge in the desk.
And – yes! – grateful I, too, had a good breakfast!

I also add thanks for blessings that aren’t limited to this one day, but that I need to remind myself of.
I’m grateful that my mind still works (after seeing the wreckage of so many minds in the nursing home).
Grateful for my good memory – so that the wonderful times aren’t lost.
Grateful I can see and hear – no small blessings.
Grateful I can walk (okay, hobble) despite my injured knee.
Grateful I can talk, whether or not anyone’s listening.
Grateful I can still laugh!

It’s interesting how powerful these expressions of appreciation can be, for both the sour and the sweet are infectious. The choice is ours.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk–; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Role Play and Ten Women of Valor – and Amazon Kindle.


Our great Toni Morrison passed away earlier this year. With perfect timing, she first finished appearing in a documentary about her life. It’s titled, “The Pieces of Me” and I greedily grabbed the DVD as soon as it was available.

If you’re looking for a lecture on how to write, you won’t find it in the film. What you will find are the determined “pieces” that added up to Morrison’s being such a superb writer. Of course, she first contributed her immense talent and feeling for language.

Talent may be a gift we’re born with, but it doesn’t come with a guarantee of success. We have to be willing to add other elements. One of them is jettisoning the excuse ,“I don’t have time to write.” Early on, Morrison had to balance being a single mother of two boys, while also holding down a fulltime job as an editor, teaching, and somehow writing her first novels. True, she had her family’s help with the children . But the more important piece was the way she utilized time. She had a routine of getting up before dawn – “the best time,” she insisted – and using those precious early hours to write before other demands were on her. She also used whatever moments she could throughout the day. “I brood,” she said, “thinking of ideas – in the car, in the subway, while mowing the lawn. By the time I get to the paper something’s already there and I can produce.”

A friend recalled Morrison driving her car and, during the long wait before a toll booth, holding a notepad against the steering wheel so she could jot down some thoughts she didn’t want to lose. “You don’t steal time,” Morrison said, “you make time,”

The other lesson we could all learn was her refusal to accept negatives. Many times she was advised not to “limit “ herself to writing about “Black people.” But she knew that her own people, her heritage, were what gave life to her fiction.

One of her remarks that most resonated with me was about “the little white man on my shoulder.” She was referring , course, to the inner critic familiar to most of us. Too many times I’ve heard that creature whispering in my ear that the story I’m writing isn’t any good, isn’t “going anywhere, “etc. Our critic doesn’t have to be a “white” man, as Morrison wryly described, but any color with a voice that could defeat us. Morrison’s solution? “I knock him off my shoulder!”

Try doing that for real. When you’re stuck, brush a defiant hand across your shoulder and tell that destructive critic, ” Leave me alone!” (I confess to “Get the hell away!)
When teaching a memoir writing class, I had a student act this out with me. I sat at the table writing,, while she whispered defeating words in my ear. I stood up and gently (or not too gently) pushed her out of the room. “You can come back later and give me editing suggestions,” I said. “But don’t come near me while I’m writing!” ”I think Morrison would appreciate that.

The documentary is overlong and also verges on fan magazine gushing. But these faults are worth overlooking, for the lessons we can learn from an indomitable writer.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through and; also Amazon Kindle.


A devastating loss is heading my way. It isn’t my first loss and it’s not likely to be the last. I feel vulnerable and alone, but the reality is that I have lots of company. One of my closest friends is coping with her mother’s terminal illness, another with his wife’s death. Nor is death the only form of loss, as anyone who’s endured the end of an affair knows. Yet knowing how common grief is doesn’t comfort me. It only adds to feeling we’re all helpless in a dark world.

Francis Weller wouldn’t agree with me. He’s a psychotherapist and author specializing in what he calls the “wild edge of sorrow.” In the serendipity of the right words at the right time, someone sent me one of Weller’s most challenging quotes: “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, and be stretched large by them.”

I sit here looking at my two hands, pondering his words. Holding on to grief is my habit already and my fingers close around it. The fingers on my other hand are still open. I can’t grasp this impossible thing called gratitude. How can I be grateful for a future without the one I love? But let me try.

I am grateful for the moments my love and I shared – in museums, for he was an avid artist; on beaches, where we reveled in the ocean together; at the opera world he introduced me to. I have always found it too hard to look at what has been lost. But perhaps these scenes and so many more can still be mine if I let memory hold them. As poet Mary Oliver found, memories can be either a “basement without light” or a “golden bowl.” So let me have the strength to turn on the light when the difficult holidays come, and instead of sorrowing let me hear the echo of our laughter as we created our own greeting cards together.

Gratitude can spread to wider horizons. I’m thankful for the friends who take time to be supportive, despite their own wounds. For the fulfillment I still get from my work – and though I sink with each rejection, appreciation of the will to keep trying.

The man I’m about to lose is my partner. The cruel truth is that I have been losing him already, for dementia erases him more and more each day. Like so many others in this painful situation, I put on a smiling face, a cheery voice, when I’m with him. I’m grateful I have the strength to help him this way and to have whatever can be rescued from our fading days together.

Despite the inevitable cost, aren’t all of us who have the courage to love fortunate? My fingers curve around the gratitude hand.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through and; also Amazon Kindle.


With Father’s Day on the horizon I find myself wondering why I’ve written almost nothing about my father. I’ve certainly mined other relatives – my mother, grandparents, aunts, even my children, but not my father. The sole exception is a poem I began soon after he died.

It’s not that I didn’t have a relationship with him. Actually, some wonderful writing has been done about absent parents (see Barack Obama’s ” Dreams From My Father”). My father was absent in a different way, emotionally. He was big on criticism, stingy on expressions of affection. I was a disappointment from birth, being the wrong sex. Not having a son added to a current of bitterness in my father. As a child and teenager, I hated and feared his critical attitude towards me. As an adult – and parent myself – I wish I could reach back across the years and try for the bond we didn’t have.

In a way I did this with my one poem. Originally I tried to include every memory I could dredge up,  draw what I thought was a full portrait of this inaccessible man. It ran to three typed pages –-single-spaced! When it was rightly rejected by numerous editors, I put the poem away for a few years.

But it meant too much to me to give up on. So I rescued the pages and began revising. As I stoically – painfully – started cutting, the poem began to breathe. Instead of throwing in every memory, I zeroed in on one: the young child I had been, clutching her father’s hand as we wandered past the scary dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History. The poem tied this in with the adult daughter holding his hand as he lay dying. Eventually I discovered how much could be said without saying it. LESS IS MORE– an adage prized by writers.

The original three pages reduced to just one – and “On The Edge Of My Father’s Dying” became my first published poem.

It’s a belated gift to him that he will never know. But it’s also a gift to myself, as writing can sometimes be . For it not only helped me see my father more clearly, but to unearth the love that lay beneath the rage – in both of us.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through; also Amazon Kindle.


Inspiration can be found in unexpected places – like an obituary. This one was in a recent issue of “The New York Times,” about a woman I’d never heard of, but should have . Geraldyn M. Cobb reminded me of NASA’s “hidden figures,” publicized in the popular movie. She wasn’t African American like those heroines, but she was the victim of the same prejudice: NASA’ s “men only” world.

An accomplished pilot , Cobb began by flying her father’s WACO aircraft in 1936 when she was just twelve years old. At 16 she was flying solo, and by 20 had earned both private and commercial licenses. Dropping out of college after a year, she worked in the local municipal airport on pipeline patrol or flying as a crop duster. But her dream was to fly into space. Despite her impressive credentials, NASA rejected her for being the wrong gender.

She then applied for a job as a DC3 co-pilot with a Florida company and was hired sight unseen. But when she showed up, the employers , shocked that “Gerrie” wasn’t a man, refused to hire her. So she went to an aircraft maintenance shop which did hire her – as a typist and file clerk. Eventually she found work as a pilot for an international aircraft ferry service, delivering aircraft and B-17 bombers around the world. By the time she was 28 she had logged 7000 hours as a pilot.

Then in 1961 it looked as if the doors to NASA might open. One of its research scientists believed that women could be excellent astronauts. He offered to give her and 12 other women the same strenuous physical and psychological tests the Mercury 7 astronauts went through. (The women dubbed themselves the Mercury 13.) In the overall testing that was primarily men, Cobb scored in the top 2%. She seemed on the verge of becoming the first female astronaut. But the project hadn’t been officially authorized by NASA and, without explanation, was cancelled.

By the following year young women around the country were applying to be astronauts and informed that NASA had no plans to include women. They lobbied a Congressional sub-committee formed to determine whether women were able to be astronauts. Cobb told the committee, “We women pilots who want to be part of the research and participation in space exploration, aren’t trying to join a battle of the sexes. We seek only a place in our nation’s space future without dissent.”

But she was up against a national hero. John Glenn had orbited the earth, but he didn’t circle around his objections to women coming into the program. “Men fight the wars and fly the planes,” he told the Committee, adding, “The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.” NASA’s doors slammed shut against “females.”
(A year later the Soviet’s Valentina Tereshkova, became the first woman to fly solo into space.)

The reason Cobb’s story riveted me doesn’t have to do with space. (I’m so afraid of heights I can’t sit on my friend’s 20th floor terrace. ) No, what makes me keep thinking about Cobb isn’t what’s been termed her “tragedy,” but the way she never let disappointment be her whole story. She turned her energy in a different direction, flying numerous humanitarian missions to deliver lifesaving medical supplies and food to isolated indigenous tribes in the Amazon jungle. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for this. She set new records for speed, distance and altitude, and her solo pioneering of air routes across the hazardous Andes Mountains and Amazon rain forest eventually landed her in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

But space was still her unrealized dream. She saw her final chance in 1998 when NASA decided to test the effects of weightlessness on an aging body, sending 77- year- old Glenn back into space. Cobb, who was the same age, told the Associated Press, ““I’d give my life to fly into space.” The National Organization Of Women campaigned for Cobb, saying it was important to test the effects on an aging female body, as well. But NASA said it had “no further plans to send older people into space.” For the last time, the doors closed on Cobb.

Flash to myself and many writing colleagues, whose dream is to get a book published, but are repeatedly turned down by agents with the standard reply that our work “doesn’t fit their needs.” So what do we do when we’re surrounded by rejection? Give up? Crawl into a corner and cry, “Not fair”? If I had been Cobb in 1969 when the world learned we had landed on the moon, I might have beaten the trees in rage that I had been so unfairly denied my chance.

On that momentous July night she was alone in the Amazon when she heard on the radio that Armstrong had been the one to take that “giant step for mankind.”
What was her response?
She danced on the wings of her plane – by the light from that far away moon!

It’s a long way from astronaut to author. But like her, we can rise above rejection and proudly claim our strength. Because, no matter what the naysayers do to us, we are still writers.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play– both available through and; also Amazon Kindle


The controversy about Vice President Biden giving unsolicited hugs reminds me of the importance of understanding what another person may – or may not – want. I, for instance, am a hugger, perhaps because I used to be in the theatre where a hug is as commonplace as a handshake. On the other hand, many people dislike being touched. One of my oldest friends is affectionate with me verbally, but all these years has refused to give or accept a goodbye kiss on the cheek.

What the Biden story should teach us is that we need to develop enough sensitivity to hear what that other person isn’t saying. How often has someone asked you, ”Tell me what you really think.” When asked that, I often fall into the trap, saying with misplaced honesty, “That color [dress, hair, tie, shirt ] doesn’t do anything for you.” This well-meant remark is usually met with resentment or a tearful reminder I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. The demand should have been: “Tell me what I want to hear.”

Another friend appreciates candor. Unfortunately, her daughter doesn’t. Recently she asked me to read a poem she’d written and to “be honest.” The poem was beyond rescuing. Straddling the truth I told her I found the subject “poignant.” Good enough. But then I added, “It’s helpful to read a lot of poetry.” In return I received an irate E-mail from the mother saying I’d hurt her daughter’s feelings. “She has always read poetry.” So if you’re going to venture into critiquing for friends, remember that evasion is the safest route.

This doesn’t apply, of course, to professional colleagues. I have a long- standing relationship with a gifted writer-friend. We exchange critiques within our writing group and outside of it – always confident we will speak and hear the truth..That’s because our mutual unspoken message is: Tell me what will make my story (book) better!

Sensing is especially fraught when it comes to someone going through loss. When a neighbor’s husband died I told her, “I know how you feel.” She erupted in understandable rage (anger is always beneath the surface of grief)). ”You don’t know how I feel because you’re not me!” She was right. Just because I, too, was widowed didn’t give me the right to presume I understood another person’s pain.

I’m busy sharpening my ability to hear with my heart – and to equally express what I need. Given our current environment I’m not too hopeful these messages will always get through!

BOOKS:”WIDOW’S WALK” – available through iUniverse: “TURNNG TOWARD TOMORROW” –; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and “ROLE PLAY” – Amazon and Amazon Kindle.


When someone passes out of our life, we often discover we’ve been bequeathed a legacy,  but it’s not money or jewels or anything you can hold in your hand. The legacy may be just a few words that this person said to us,  a remark we took for granted that reverberates  long afterward.

The death of science fiction author Carol Emshwiller in February inspired my thinking about this. For many years Carol and I were members of the same writers’ group.  Invited by a member who had been her student, she visited our group one evening as a guest. I was intimidated by her presence, for here was someone well-known, already widely published, whereas I was putting a tentative foot on the bottom step of a tall ladder. Carol surprised all of us by being so enthusiastic about the critiques she heard, that she asked to be allowed to join our group.

It took a while before I felt at ease, not only because of her reputation, but because the work she submitted for our opinions each week was either an avant garde short story or a quirky passage from a science fiction novel. Both were inexplicable to me. I found them too daunting to comment on. One day I summoned up courage to tell her I wasn’t a fan of science fiction. She calmly replied that she, in turn, didn’t read “average-style “stories.  Having leaped over this uncomfortable hurdle ,we found we were able to give each other helpful comments, for what makes a story “work” is surprisingly similar in any genre.

We also discovered a mutual insanity: both of us so addicted to writing that being at our computers for hours on end  was more important that any socializing distraction. With that bond in common, we became friends.

I was aware that my biggest fault as a writer was overwriting, Even in college – decades earlier – a teacher had written across the top of my story: “Trust Your Reader!!” Good advice, but years later I was still constantly filling in too much, worried that the reader wouldn’t “get it.” Carol came up with more specific advice. One evening after I read yet another over-loaded story she said, “The most important thing in writing is what’s between the lines.”

I can’t say that comment changed my life or that I even grasped the full meaning. until much later. It was a while before I realized that my writing was changing. I was explaining less and leaving more room for the reader to move in. “Between the lines” echoed within me

We could all replay many words, sometimes too late.  Due to a variety of pressures, my friendship with Carol ended. What I most regret is that I never told her what a pirvital gift she gave me.

In a revised script we would recognize when a voice turns us in a new direction – and let that person know, yes, you once played a valuable role in my life.

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role  Play –  both available through and; also Amazon Kindle.


The meek may inherit the earth, but what kind of earth will it be? Despite a UN Climate Report warning that we have only a decade to radically reverse climate change, too many people either act as if this is some kind of fiction or give up. Yet where do we all go when the home we call Earth becomes unlivable? What kind of world are we leaving the children who will inherit this?

In a dramatic change, those young people are no longer waiting for their elders to do something. They are taking matters into their own hands – and voices – largely through a rapidly growing environmental movement known as Sunrise.

Co-founder and Managing Director, Sara Blazevic, is a 25- year- old activist who is also an award-winning poet. She could have focused her life on poetry, but she wasn’t interested in ann ivory tower refuge from the reality of global warming. As she says, ever since she was a child there’s been a “heaviness” within her, because of what she heard and saw about a Nature gone berserk: floods, draught, tornados, fires. At 16 she volunteered to go to New Orleans to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Earlier she spent her childhood summers in her father’s homeland, Croatia, with grandparents she adored. But while she was in college a massive storm struck the Balkans. She saw a video taken from a helicopter flying over the flood, people standing on rooftops in a desperate attempt to survive. “They looked like my grandparents,” she says. Worried about her Croatian family, Sara tracked the storm for days. It didn’t end up striking her family’s village, “but it could have.” Even worse, she says, was the indifference of the rest of the world. It lit a fierce desire in her to do something about climate change.

She turned her sights on a major culprit: the fossil fuel industry. While still in college (Swarthmore) she began organizing to persuade “fossil fuel billionaires,” (s term she borrowed from Bernie Sanders) to divest from these toxic fuels and convert to 100% reusable energy. Courageously Sara led a 33-day “investment sit-in” at Swarthmore.

After graduating she continued her organizing work through the Students Divestment Network. Then – about a year a and a half ago – she got together with other activists to found the Sunrise Movement. Its mantra is A Green New Deal, for Sunrise isn’t solely about seeing the sun rise on healthier fuels, it’s projecting that converting would transform our national infrastructure, producing millions of new jobs, and helping to eliminate poverty in America.

A naive dream? Tell that to the thousands of young people who have joined Sunrise, not only in America, but all across the world. ”Some are as young as 12,” Sara boasts. They don’t speak of topics like melting ice floes and starving polar bears, but relate personal stories about friends and relatives who have lost lives or homes through floods and fires;, and young relatives developing asthma from the polluted air.

The Sunrise staff may be idealistic, but they’re also politically savvy. They worked during the midterm election for politicians sympathetic to their goals, and afterward 200 members of Sunrise staged a sit-in in Speaker Pelosi’s office. They’ve won the very verbal support of new Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Ortiz, who put forward a resolution to form a Select Committee For a Green New Deal. Sunrise has the backing, as well, of a growing number of other prominent Congressional figures, including Senator Bernie Sanders who originally inspired Sara.

All this activity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Sunrise has had thousands of PR ”hits” in major publications ,including “Time Magazine”: and “The New Yorker, and on TV.

Personally, I feel hopeful for the first time – doubly hopeful because our young people are leading the way. In what’s been called a “generational switch,” they’re joined by the Parkland students I wrote about previously, who reacted to the massacre in their school, not just with tears, but by creating a huge global demonstration for gun control.

As a Sunrise member said, ”It’s our future that’s being impacted.” Let’s not fail our children.

(Donations may be made to sara


BOOKS: WIDOW’S WALK, available through;TURNING TOWARD; TEN WOMEN OIF VALOR  and ROLE PLAY – and Amazon Kindle


When I heard the news about the death of poet Mary Oliver, I shouted “No!” at the TV. It was as if I’d lost a friend, one I turned to for inspiration and solace. The millions of readers who love Oliver’s work will understand. Those who don’t know her may wonder why she is so popular. Some critics have carped about her conversational style, her simple topics (an owl’s “binocular eyes,” a rabbit’s fur, the rocks and forests of her beloved Cape Cod). Yet Oliver, who disdained PR hoopla and shied away from interviews, became that rarity – a best-selling poet. The author of some 30 books, she also won the Pulitzer Prize.

It’s Oliver’s very simplicity that helped make her so popular. Her attention to – and ecstatic pleasure in – Nature. But that simplicity covers, like a thin veil,  haunting thoughts about the brevity of life, as well as its beauty. In a poem ostensibly about the delights of a summer day she asks, “Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?” And she challenges us with what are perhaps her most famous lines:
What is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I teach writing classes, with an emphasis on memoir. If I give students an assignment to write a nonfiction piece or to attempt fiction, they eagerly dive in. But if I challenge them to try poetry, they invariably draw back, daunted. Does it have to have a certain format, they wonder, unsure of poetic structures. And how can they rise to the eloquent verbal height they think is demanded? One woman raised her hand to ask timidly, “Is it okay if I don’t use rhyme?” Oliver, herself, didn’t rhyme. She wrote in blank verse, which is more freeing. And her “eloquence” lies not in lofty language, but the longing beneath the words.

Often I answer my students by referring them to Oliver’s work (and to Billy Collins, who is similarly accessible). These students are surprised to find that the language is like someone talking to them in ordinary speech. nothing flowery. As rhapsodic as her feelings were about nature, Oliver could also write with piercing directness about the parents who failed her, and about the loss of her beloved partner, photographer Mary Malone Cook, after some forty years together. ”She spoke to our hearts,” a reader says.

In class this week I will talk of Oliver, and how she found inspiration by walking in the woods or on the beach, always – I’ll stress – with a notebook! I will reassure my students that whether writing poetry or prose, they should speak not only to hearts – but from their own – with courage and candor, as she did.

One of my most talented students, Roberta Koepfer, is a retired science professor.She’s now venturing – and adventuring – into new territory by writing her first poems. Her lovely haiiku sums up our loss:
A poet has died
Although I never met her
We met every day
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and  Role Play available through and; also Amazon Kindle.