Sep 2, 2013 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

Labors of Love

Detail of "Kindness" by Gina Percifull

Detail of "Kindness" by Gina Percifull

It’s Labor Day and, strangely enough, one of my favorite holidays. Although, as a kid, it was the last day of summer vacation for us, this one day seemed all the sweeter. The pool taste of chlorine, the coconut reek of suntan lotion, the sun browning the already tan skin of back and thighs had to last for the rest of the year. Back then, I didn’t think of my PaPaw, Jethro Cross, and the sacrifices he made as a Labor Union man in Arkansas. He was a yellow dog democrat until the day he died, and he believed in hard work and the power of the workers united. Of course, I never knew these things about him when I was young. I just knew he worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill in Camden and that we needed to stay out of the house and be quiet when we were inside during the heat of the day.

I have a deep admiration for the working men and women of today. The kind of work, especially, that seems to be fading as technology takes over the workforce. But there are still farmers who grow plants with their hands, feed and water their livestock, “pick” the eggs from the nest boxes every morning, and milk their goats and cows. Nurses and aids are still turning patients who can’t move for themselves, changing sheets, bathing the sick and elderly. Men and women are working in garages, fixing your cars and motorcycles, bumping their knuckles and burning their hands. Bakers and chefs and moms are still cooking in kitchens where the food doesn’t come out of a microwave and the veggies must be chopped and the chicken cleaned and baked.

I have always loved work. Good work makes a person feel useful, healthy, productive. We feel like we are contributing to our world–whether that world is our immediate family or whether it is our communities or society as a whole– in a beneficial way. It’s a labor of love. Recently, Leigh went to visit her brother halfway across the country. His wife of only two years, his “ain true love” a woman for whom he labored tirelessly so they could go on motorcycle trips and adventures, was dying unexpectedly of a brain tumor. From the moment they knew, only a few months ago, she was given 2-4 months to live.

He immediately took a leave of absence, closing up his auto shop, in order to care for his ailing wife; in order to spend every moment he could with her. A big, strong man–a man’s man as they say–he lifts her, bathes her, feeds her–not even allowing the help who comes daily to do the job alone. He does not trust them to be gentle enough. This is a labor of love.

Leigh decided to go for a visit and to help with what will surely be her sister-in-law’s last birthday party. While she is there she cleans the house, does the laundry, entertains guests, and yes, even cooks for them (I am trying to figure out how to get her to do all this at home outside of dire circumstances) so that they can enjoy the few precious moments they have left together. This is a labor of love.

Back the the homestead house (still waiting for the closing of our next real home), I tend to the chores that are left for me to do, mostly take care of our motley crew of dogs, clean up the rental house, mow the lawn before the big rain. I make myself available for texts and phone calls from my beloved because I know how this sad ending to true romance at a young age will affect her, and that she will be strong for her brother. She sends me little pictures now and then and I try to see them through her eyes. I write and read poetry every day. I write for her because I know that while she is there, she can’t. I write her poems and songs. This too, is a labor of love.

As artists and writers, our labors are often under appreciated. The general public, in large part, thinks we are simply playing, like children with finger paints and crayons. They don’t see the education, the dedication, the commitment to continue our study and our work at the desk, sitting in front of an easel or at a potter’s wheel, always with a pad of paper, a pen, a paintbrush, a pencil, a piece of clay, an open book that is not National Enquirer (although it might be occasionally) which is the history of our labor. Our work must be a labor of love. We must do it because we love it. There can be no other reason that trumps this one; not a desire for success nor to impress our friends or family (this simply will not work, okay?) and not because there will be rewards in heaven.

We must, like Leigh’s brother with his wife, treat our work tenderly and open our hearts to life and the love of life and whatever art work we have taken on, and do what comes naturally to us–create. We must do this work even when it breaks our hearts. That is a labor of love.


—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). You can order books, make a comment or subscribe to blog posts by email at her website

Aug 22, 2013 - How-To, Writer's Life    1 Comment

The Discovery of Poetry–A Brief Review


As I was saying in my last post, times are hard here on the farm for writers, even though when I look over how my time is spent I do see plenty of time for writing. There it is in the morning before the dogs get up and need to go out or be fed. There it is at 4 am and I’m awake while Leigh is sleeping. Here is time in the afternoon while we are awaiting word from the now notorious Big Bank (in the post boom days) to see what kind of irrelevant piece of paper they need next in order to get our house loan. Leigh jokes that the only thing they have not requested from us yet is a DNA sample. We are ready, though, with tongue depressors and coffee stirrers from Starbucks.

Then there’s the time waiting at the VA as I reestablish myself in a new town. There’s no need to go into the horrors of that particular story. However, there is a lot of waiting around that could be put to use writing. I tried this however, and what came out was so terrifying that I was afraid I would scare off patients who were awaiting scheduled procedures. But I did write. It just didn’t seem like publishable material, although most veterans could certainly identify.

So, what may sound like plenty of downtime for writing, is actually spent waiting. Unfortunately, waiting is difficult to translate into writing. It’s the wrong kind of tension, at least for me. However, the time can be used wisely for reading, and even penning out an exercise or two that may come in handy later. There’s really only one thing to do: find or buy a book that will entice me into reading and writing when I can. And THIS means I get to go to a BOOKSTORE!!! An independent one is best, of course. With coffee. My Fayetteville readers will know I’m talking about Nightbird Books on Dickson St. Here in Asheville, although there are actually several independents, Malaprop’s is an experience unparalleled in both book-buying and coffee. Despite my persona non grata status due to a poetic dispute with the owner, I cannot tell a lie. It is simply a delightful place to hang out and experience the rich texture of being surrounded by some of the best books ever written, sip delicious hot brew, and leave with the unusual sensation of money well spent.

I know I need a book that will inspire and direct. I drag my good friend, the former manager of Malaprop’s, with me. She is like Super Bookseller. (This would make a great comic, don’t you think?) If anyone can help me find the book I need, simply by a vague description of what I’m looking for since I’m not sure myself, it’s Jane Voorhees. She’s so fast, we miss some of the fun of perusing. Within ten minutes I am holding the book I need in my hot little hand. All I feel I have time for is poetry– and because poetry is good practice for any other writing I may want to do later–I choose a book on both reading and writing poems. The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, appears to be exactly the book I need. As I do when book-shopping, I thumb through it, read a few pages, and carry it around with me while continuing to look at other books. The heft and weight of it, the paper and print, as well as the poems, are all important in deciding whether or not to purchase. If I never set it down in pursuit of something else, it’s the one I need.

In this very fine book on poetry, Mayes offers access to a variety of poems she has chosen to illustrate the art of poetic device. The exercises are brief and leave the bulk of the work to the readers’ imagination. I find both of these things refreshing. It’s a grown up poet’s book. She expects you to know how to read and appreciate poetry. She uses examples from both past and present day, English-speaking and translated poets. She asks you to do the work yourself. I give full credit to the fact that I am, at this stressful time in life, able to string a line of words together to Frances Mayes and her The Discovery of Poetry. In my case, perhaps, the re-discovery of poetry. For poetry is a form I must discover and uncover and recover time and time again. And each time I am astounded at “what is found there.”

This is what writers do when they are stuck. They look for and buy a book that will, by its flow and fire, move them forward in their work and allow them the room they need to write. The book allows us to roll words around in our mouths and taste them– salty and fiery as cayenne, bitter as a fine home brew and sweet as Leigh’s honey. Good books like Mayes’ can rekindle the tiniest glowing ember and put ink back on the page where it belongs. I recognized the right book for me and here it lies, already bent and creased in all the write places. 

Sometimes even the great beauty of wherever you may live is not enough to make the writer write. Sometimes it takes the hand of an experienced author to help us find our way to the page; to inspire us to look beyond the limitations of our own day-to-day and realize there is an entire world out there waiting for us to discover it. In this case, Frances Mayes leads us into that world, past and present, by her own Discovery of Poetry.


—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010).

Aug 10, 2013 - How-To    4 Comments

This “Pied Beauty”

One reason I love living in Appalachia is it parallels my personality.  Every moment there’s some new drama occurring which, thankfully, has little to do with me. The mountains are as moody as a Russian poet and constantly in flux. I go for a walk and behold, the clouds have wrapped the Blacks in cotton, or the gray of early morning fog makes the green hillsides jump out at you. A white deer appears on the sloping meadow across the rocky rift of road as if she were just a deer like all the others. The painted pony prances for you as if he knew you were taking his picture.

Nowhere is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty  so appropriate a poem. Over and over, as streams gurgle and chuckle beside the roadbed I repeat the lines, “Glory be to God for dappled things–” and “All things counter, original, spare, strange;/Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?).”  Here in the North Carolina mountains, drama and dapple is just a way of life. This simple fact makes me feel at home.

Perhaps I am more aware of my surroundings. Certainly, I am able to take part as the heat is not intolerable and the sun does not burn as brightly as in the Arkansas Ozarks. Most days here are at least partly cloudy and always there are so many trees that I can find shade even at high noon. I spend my life outdoors and that is where I have always felt most comfortable. Four walls confine me as surely as if I were sitting in a prison cell. Even the sometimes bitter winter weather doesn’t prevent me from taking a daily walk. That’s why god made smart wool.

However, moving always sets your writing back. At my age, nearing 60, a move alone can take a person months to assimilate. Add a spouse, 4 dogs, and a business to move as well, and your writing practice can really suffer if you let it. I say that as if I have some choice in the matter. That’s because I do. One must decide to write and, during difficult times, that decision must be made nearly every day.

There will be days, if you’ve been a writer for some time, when your hand simply cannot stay away from the pen. But these days grow few and far between when, say, your partner’s small press has the busiest month in two years the July after you’ve moved. How did they know? Our customers could care less that we are completely discombobulated. They didn’t know we had not found a printer, that we are working out of an old garage which requires a dehumidifier running full time to keep the their booklets flat enough to pack. We’re short on boxes. And where is our current paperwork?

We have no fence and the dogs must be walked. The rental is so small we bump into one another on the way to the bathroom. But it has a glorious porch and the view is stunning. Our neighbors are good country folk working the nearby rock mine and then their gardens when they get home. Nobody shirks and they set a good example for me. Looking around for my pen and notebook, I decide to write. Yet, despite the piebald beauty surrounding me, I cannot find my words anymore than I can find my old notebooks or my writing books.

But there are poems which are already written everywhere. So I read them. Gerard Manley Hopkins has been a favorite lately.  As has James Dickey (read Cherrylog Road) and Emily Dickinson with her “Zero at the Bone.” I’ll tell you where to find such unlikely bedfellows all in one place in my next post. Suffice it to say, when you can’t find the words to write, let the poets, who have a long tradition of putting words in our mouths, help. You know who your poets are. Find them. Pull their slender volumes from the shelf and blow the dust off the covers. Read a fistful of poems every day until the images are engraved on your heart and the words stick to your mind; until, finally, you can pen a poem of your own again.



Jul 31, 2013 - How-To    4 Comments

Is It Sin or Just Southern?

I have to say I’m amazed to be included in this anthology of Southern women sinners. Really, all I did was enter an essay that I had so much fun writing that it seems a sin for it to actually be published. But then again, isn’t that the best kind of work? The kind you had a blast writing and then, just for the helluva it, you entered it in a contest because it was so blamed funny, and TRUE, which is the real kicker, and there you are, in a book edited by the “Godfather of creative nonfiction.” I thank Lee Gutkind and Beth Ann Fennelly for including me in this collection of Southern women writing sinfully, deliciously true stories.

The book releases in October and there isn’t a single person who keeps up with my blog that should not be pre-ordering this book. In three different cities in North Carolina and Arkansas, I have hosted open mic readings celebrating women writers; many who, had they submitted their own work, would be included in this collection. I can tell you this from keeping up my subscription to Creative Nonfiction magazine–the stories will all be good. Here is the editor’s preview of what you can expect:

“These stories may be from the South, but there are no shy, retiring belles here!

Whether remembering the power of a cheerleading uniform or flirting with another woman’s husband, the women in this collection of true stories play with fire — sometimes literally. These stories range from the poetic and personal — dancing warm nights away with strangers and renting out rooms to adulterers with an exhibitionistic streak — to the journalistic, including a piece about Willie Carter Sharpe, the “queen of Roanoke rum runners,” and the story of Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward, whose plan to run away and live as “man” and wife ended in scandal and murder in 1892.

This collection includes contributions by Southern women from a broad range of circumstances and stages of life–from teenage lifeguards-in-training to middle-aged lesbians struggling to find acceptance from their aging parents and Atlanta divorcees trying to get back into the dating game.”

I leave you to guess which one of these examples speaks of my situation. To be sure, you better get the book and read them all. Every one of them sounds fascinating. Really, I cannot wait. And for my nearest and dearest, know what you are getting for Christmas presents this year. I’m ordering at least ten of them myself.  I’m sure I’ll spend most of my check on the book. You can pre-order if you want (and I would if I were you) by going to their website– My gut feeling is, get a bunch. You are going to want to give these babies away without lending out your copy.

I have always loved the South; am proud to be “from here” which I consider the home of true story-telling. I have heard tales similar to those published in Southern Sin whispered by God-fearing parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They’d gather on front porches at night, the halo of nearby street lights limning their profiles as they rocked forward to keep their voices low. Grown-ups didn’t want the kids, who lay on the sofa just below the front windows eavesdropping for all they were worth, to hear the raunchier stories of neighbors and not-so-distant relations.

I know some folks say about the South, but those same people will dog out any state, no matter on which side of the Mason-Dixon it lies. As if the State were the people who lived there, the politics belonged to all people alike, and everyone did nothing but listen to country and bluegrass all the livelong day. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with country or bluegrass. Like opinions and prejudice, Southern music has changed over the years. And it has long included voices that were hard to hear outside of New Orleans or Memphis, Biloxi or Charleston.

So, listen my friends and you will hear, Southern stories by women that will burn your ears. And I’m not talking the hot, buttered variety. Not the way you usually think of it anyway.


Jul 20, 2013 - Writer's Life    2 Comments

The Bridge

All my life I’ve wanted a bridge. It seems an odd desire, taken out of context. I suppose it means, to me anyway, that I would also have a body of water to cross if I had a bridge. Now it looks as if I may soon have two. One is a simple beam construction and the other is mostly natural, made of soil and clay and reinforced by stone. From my bridge, I can stand above a tumbling stream and stare down at the water constantly flowing from Pine Ridge mountain above me and entering the South Toe (Estatoe) River below me. The bridge is a perfect metaphor for this juncture of my life, having recently moved back to the Blue Ridge as I bear down on the age of 60.

According to Wikipedia,  the bridge is a “structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley or a road.” The design of the bridge depends on its “function, the nature of the terrain, the materials used to make it, and the funds available to build it.” Musically, too, the bridge stands as metaphor for this juncture of my life: “The bridge is often used to contrast with and prepare for the return of verse and chorus. Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of the song or to prepare the listener for the climax.” The bridge is obviously different than the rest of the song and can add a whole new observation in both tune and lyric. It is a reflection on what has gone before and where the next movement will lead. 

Leigh and I left Fayetteville , AR at the vernal equinox; the exact same time we arrived 8 years prior. Our years in Fayetteville grew us up. They taught us to forgive things that seemed so harsh upon arrival: the rocky soil, the heat, snakes and bugs, drought, tornados and storms, family members, and ourselves. In Northwest Arkansas we discovered new friends and a new way to have friends. We worked harder than ever at the things we wanted and believed in: justice, right livelihood, a book or two, local food and farmers, reconciliation. We learned to rejoice in the company of others and to share what we had accomplished with our new community: music on CD’s and New Year hootenannies. We swapped poetry, essays, and stories at HOWL, our monthly open mic readings. We celebrated life with fish frys and campouts and joyful birthdays. We discovered there ARE good neighbors to be had. People were good to us and expressed their love in the Ozark way, by sharing what they had with us. We bartered with talents and veggies alike. I had my parents nearby and we recorded the history of their life together in our hearts as well as on video. I spent time with my sister and brother-in-law with whom we celebrated the maturing of my nieces and the losses that are common to all of us as we age…or really, just as we go about life in this world.

The 8 years I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas became a bridge for me that spanned a period I required for greater acceptance of my limitations and enabled me to relax as to what the future might hold. I watched my work mature and was able, for the first time, to hold that work as physical materials–books, CD’s, money, awards–in my own two hands. Even better, I could watch my work being enjoyed and inspiring people I loved and admired. I learned the value of a consistent and committed, as well as extremely gifted, writing group. I pushed myself physically to be part of a team, swimming for gold with the Ozark Streamers. I matured in my relationship with my beloved, accepting her new interests and a whole different set of friends and relationships. These 8 years were a period marked by growth and tendered by loss. Saying good-bye to family and friends was one of the hardest things either of us has ever done.

At the house which I sincerely hope will be home by autumn equinox, I will have a real bridge. It crosses from the finely kept lawns and gardens of the neat little house into a beautifully unkempt field that was once used by Indians (I assume Cherokee) for their summer hunting village. Wild turkey, deer and bear eat, sleep and nest there now. Finally, I will see every day an actual reminder of how the stages of life are but bridges to the next level. When I stand on my new bridge and look down at that clear running water, I will remember that nothing stays the same. You quite literally “can’t cross the same river twice.” Nor do you want to. At least I don’t. Even though I have returned to the home of my heart here in Appalachia, I am not the same person who left. The Ozarks and her people, my people now, changed me–for the better.

I return to a new bridge. Here, I hope, I will make the final crossing which I pray is still a long way off. But the River Styx awaits us all and I might as well not ignore it. In fact, I want to embrace it, embody it in poetry, songs, essays; whatever I might write next. I want that knowledge to flow into and out of me without fear and create in me a fresh love for life, family, friends and my dear partner. Because now I have a bridge to help me make that passage. And should I fear or face discouragement or frustration with aging, then I can simply cross my bridge and walk in the field where many souls have walked before; who drank from these same clear springs, and were refreshed.

Apr 2, 2013 - Writer's Life    1 Comment

Meeting the Master–A Night with Garrison Keillor

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of watching Garrison Keillor perform at the Walton Arts Center here in Fayetteville, AR. Most of us are familiar with “A Prairie Home Companion,” the weekly NPR radio broadcast with its mixed media of stories, songs, jokes and poems which true fans will go to most any length to hear every Saturday or Sunday. We are addicted to Guy Noir, Tales of the Cowboys, Lake Woebegone. We need to hear powder milk biscuit  encouragement and be reminded why it’s important to eat ketchup. These are the vignettes I supposed I would be hearing that Thursday night. I was wrong.

For Garrison was actually celebrating his 70th birthday with a revue of stories, poems, and songs that would have burned the ears of some of his most faithful listeners. Few of us were actually prepared to hear the bawdy comedian who graced the stage that night. He embarrassed his 15-year-old daughter with a song about how, when she was a child, he “held out his hand” to catch whatever inappropriate bodily expulsion a toddler might emit at any given moment. He emphasized the story with a beautiful little song that highlighted fatherly love. I was not surprised when the couple in front of us with horrified expressions did not return after intermission. I was thrilled however, since it opened up a wonderful gap for better viewing as the great man continued his act.

Garrison allowed us back seat views of  dates from his high school years using songs of the era to set the stage. He had one gifted female singer with whom he sang harmony and two incredible musicians who played synchronized  compositions on giant grand pianos. The two grands, fit together like a yin-yang symbol, took up over half the stage. Altogether, there were four people involved in the entire onstage production of a musical revue that took us on a journey through the lifetime of one of America’s most gifted storytellers. The story-song accompanied by the pianists of how he explained to his daughter how life used to be “in the old days,” before internet and cell phones, would have been worth going to hear all by itself. Yet, he continue to regal us with collages of his young life through songs, sonnets, and poems, all of which he penned himself. He even took the audience on a merry turn about town to Penguin Eds and Dickson St., a piece he must have composed that very afternoon.

Besides being a master storyteller, Keillor is a prolific writer. Certainly you understand he must write all this stuff down, just as a minister prepares a sermon each week. However, he carries no notes, and he appears to allow himself the freedom to range a large area within the script, wandering from the path and returning, wandering and returning, but remaining true to the tale in the end. He is after all, an English Major with a “radio face,” gruff, serious, seldom smiling, and yet he insists he is quite cheerful. And he sounds it. He has and is still enjoying life. He appears to have invented the perfect job for himself. This is what I call “right livelihood.”

I feel sure it is not as effortless as it sounds or appears. But he does make it look and sound that way. He is a radio man, a fact made obvious by his lack of visual connection with his audience. For him, they exist at the other end of his voice. He is a writer and his stories are driven by sound and content. His voices is mellifluous, pitched so perfectly that one could listen to it all day. It’s easy to forget that he is a writer first, a performer second. Standing in line to shake his hand and get my book signed, it’s obvious this is true as folks waited to have their programs signed instead of purchasing a book. Come on Fayetteville, I thought. The man is a world-renowned artist. Buy a book.

But Garrison didn’t seem to mind. After all these years, I’m sure he’s used to it. He has probably signed millions of programs instead of books. He treated each person with quiet dignity as he touched them on the arm, had his picture made dozens of times with cell phones, shook hands. I was so excited to meet the great man (and have my book signed) that I could barely contain myself. He told me I was awfully lively for an English major. “Didn’t I think they could be terribly stuffy and rigid?” he asked. At first I didn’t think so; not the ones I knew anyway. Then I realized I didn’t really know that many English majors. I knew writers, from all walks of life. And that made the difference. I only hope some of his mastery rubbed off on me as he took my elbow and shook my hand. Thanks, Garrison, for making the long trip from Minnesota to Arkansas. And for making the life of the writer/performer something I can claim with pride I share with you.


Feb 21, 2013 - How-To    1 Comment

Inspired on Facebook

Where do we go to find a well of inspiration?  Julia Cameron had the brilliant idea of the “artist’s date.” In her book The Artist’s Way, Cameron suggests that we take a few hours every week to explore something we know nothing about. Go watch a glassblower work. Try your hand at throwing a pot or drawing. Take a picnic to the mountains. Alone. You take these risk adventures by yourself. The level at which we are willing to risk embarrassment or failure is different when we are among strangers; when we think no one we know is watching. It’s a brilliant idea and it works. But Cameron wrote her book long before there was such a thing as facebook or social networking,

If we are going to spend time online either  actively  participating or lurking in the shadows reading, we might as well use it as a source of inspiration. And, depending on the friends you choose, you might find a well of information and even inspiration there. I realize we use facebook as an escape quite often, but I have a lot of thoughtful artistic friends who post ideas in the form of quotes or photos. Some who like to philosophize begin dialogues that bestir the imagination and force us to think, or post a link that leads to an interesting article. We can choose to use facebook as a source of inspiration as opposed to a time-burner. When you read something that touches you, go to “Word” instead and begin writing.

Recently, the “pay it forward” idea took hold on facebook. Someone would offer to give you and four others a gift of some sort if you promised to gift 5 others. Artists took it a step up. On my own page, artist and puppeteer Jo Ann Kaminsky offered to hand craft five gifts if the receivers promised to hand craft their own gifts to five more people. Knowing Jo Ann and her husband Hank, and the incredible artists they are, I immediately signed on, asking if a poem to another person would count as handmade. She said yes and I put it out there. Within a day, I had five takers. Several wanted love poems for their heartthrobs, one desired a sexy poem for herself, and one was “anything.”

I created some questions which would tell me something about each of these people or their loved ones and sent them by message. Within their answers I discovered the poems. What was their favorite color? What foods did they like? What animal did they consider a totem? What was falling in love like? What were their best memories? What songs did they listen to? A handful of questions opened up a barrage of answers and I had more than enough material with which to work. The hard part was deciding what my focus would be. So far, I have written two of the poems. Since I retain the rights on the poems, I can both give them away and keep them, which is not possible for most gifters. I will share a poem with you that I wrote a male friend for his beloved wife. He told me she loved dragonflies. Then he said she was a dragonfly. He told me a lot more about her, but my heart latched onto that image and, like the dragonfly from the nymph, the poem was born. I did the research and Dragonfly Love emerged. (Link to the poem: )

For my poem recipients, I requested they give away five gifts that would inspire creativity in others, suggesting found objects or perhaps something they, too, had created. They didn’t have to be artists or poets to pay it forward though. They just had to know how to find inspiration in life. And so I am following my own request as I share this post with you. Find inspiration everywhere. Then pay it forward.


—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). To order your copy of A Little Lazarus directly from the author, please click here.  Or, if cookbooks are more your style, get a copy of Mendy’s family cookbook Across the Arklatex at

Feb 5, 2013 - How-To    Comments Off on Keep It Simple to Keep Going

Keep It Simple to Keep Going

I’m sorry, Faithful Readers, for abandoning you so long. I can tell you that I had a painful foot surgery, but that did not affect my writing hand. I can relate to you how my 80-something parents moved to Dallas from Benton, AR and what THAT was like, but my hands weren’t bound, just busy. I could have found the time. For sure, there was a bit of emotional blowback from those two events. Still, my hands were free to blog if I took a mind to do so.

However, as we all know, it takes more than hands to write. It takes heart. For a moment there, which I let turn into months, I lost heart. My confidence sank deep below the surface like fish in winter. In other words, my self-assuredness was hard to find, much less catch and net. Then, just as I was crying, wringing my writing hands, and asking that age-old question: Why, why, why do I keep on doing this…this insane writing thing? WHY?!! The Universe responded.

I was published in a lovely online journal called “Rise Forms” which is written by well-spoken, highly educated fishermen. They have both a poetry section and an essay section, and the editor decided my poem belonged in the essay section, which serves to tell me something about my writing; how it really is somewhere between a short story, poem, and essay. As far as I was concerned, he could put it anywhere he wanted. I was delighted to feel a nibbling at my heart.

Next, I received a wonderful rejection letter from “Creative Nonfiction” magazine, edited by the godfather of creative nonfiction himself, Lee Gutkind. The letter essentially said that they loved my essay “Matinee” but in trying to achieve balance in their “Southern Sin” edition they unfortunately couldn’t use it. It did however, make the top 25 out of 600 essays and they would like to hold onto it for a book proposal they were considering. Now, that is a good rejection!

And finally, I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in some time at the hairdresser’s and out of the blue she said, “You are my favorite poet. I just love your book.” A little praise goes a long way with a writer. I am so grateful to her because it was with those words, I began again. All of this happened in the span of one week. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I begin again. Now there’s a phrase you’ve heard all your life. Start over. Try it again. Get back up on that horse and ride. Begin again. Simple as that. Yet, you have to lay claim to it to understand that it takes courage, some kind of crazy bravery to start over, to keep going, to try harder. Speaking of bravery, here’s a little phrase I picked up from the movie “We Bought a Zoo,” which I watched out of the need for a little comic relief. I found more in it than I ever thought I would. “It only takes 20 seconds of courage; foolish, embarrassing, crazy bravery…twenty seconds and it can change your life in the most fantastic ways.” That is all it takes because once you’ve signed on for those 20 seconds, you are committed to follow-through. A wonderful, simple philosophy I will never forget.

As for the persistent and annoying question of why, why, why am I doing this? Well, the zoo movie had an answer for that one, too.

Why not?

—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). To order your copy of A Little Lazarus directly from the author, please click here. Or, if cookbooks are more your style, get a copy of Mendy’s family cookbook Across the Arklatex at

Dec 16, 2012 - How-To    2 Comments

New Nonets

As promised, I have included the nonets that were sent to me at my last post’s request.  The first one called “Star” is mine and was done at a friend, Jane Voorhees’  request to try an upside down nonet in order to make a Christmas tree shaped poem. Then Jane, using old-fashioned letter press equipment, formed the words and with a swipe of a watercolor brush, formed a beautiful little Christmas card. This is the fun and beauty of collaboration.

Snaps the cold
Air whitened by
Sifting snow. Red bird
Flutters in her night’s nest
Suggests holly berry bright.
Black trunks cast long shadows against
Drifts while stars drape boughs in mystery.

Below are the nonets readers submitted. The submissions are all quite good and prove the point that surprising things can happen when we fit our words into a form. It was very hard to choose a winner from these great nonets, so I put the names in a hat and drew one out. The winner is Pamela Hill. She wins a copy of “Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words” by Kim Rosen. Congratulations and enjoy!

Lucid once, then often not, she leaves
more quickly now, frightened by a
shadow, spark, or spot, she’s off
to wander isles of blue,
then asks “Where are we
now?” “Who are you?”
I’m missing
her, a
(A nonet by Pamela Lee Hill, Nov. 2012)


 Waiting for my Eye Exam
 An old hand, wrinkled skin drapes on bones,
creped fingers curl softly around
two younger hands — a picture
in a magazine I
use to pass the time.
Tears sting my eyes —
I see my
by Ann Teague
Aging in Place 
Cruel alarm shatters the darkness of early morning sleep.
Full moon spies paper tossed carelessly on wet lawn.
Fresh coffee, soon your doctor we greet.
Relentless pain, crippling spirit, mind, body.
Constant love the only drug
Binding us past reason
Hope and fear
You are
 © Jeanne M. Sievert 12/1/12 /3/12
Semester’s End
No more hikes up the hill to Hogwarts.
No more challenges to old rules
of writing, of power, of
living a successful
life.  Teacher, you led
my heart through the
stone shower
 —Jan M.  VanSchuyver  12/6/2012
My Sundowner

She asks my name like we have not met.
Cloudy eyes gaze, her hand comes up
To brush my cheek and the tear…
Mother, it’s your daughter.
Barb? Where have you been?
Here mom, right here.
Who are you?
Mom, it’s

—Barb Wallace


Stoney grey, the weather holds us in
Doors cordon off drafty windows
Steamy cup of joe to warm
And blanket in my lap
A cozy corner
In well lit room
thaws my
—Susan R.
Nov 28, 2012 - How-To, Writer's Life    6 Comments

Writing When You’re Down

As I experience my 7th day after Achilles tendon replacement, I’m starting to feel a little limited by the fact that I must use crutches to get around. We thought our house was accessible to all, but now I see that some significant doorways (like bathrooms) are not wide enough to accept the easier alternatives. I have, so far, slung myself into chairs, dropped from great heights onto sofas, lost control and fallen into doors and dressers. My shoulders ache and my good leg cries for a break; not literally.

It’s easier to stay in one or two well-cushioned spots with the bad foot up. I study Buddhism, meditate, read bad novels, watch “Glee,” and thumb through journals like Writer’s Digest or my current favorite, The Writer, for inspiration as I try to keep up my practice. I would love to begin and even complete my first TV series while lying around for several months waiting to heal. Then I can run off again. I’ve decided that’s why you have to hurt something once in awhile­–so you can complete a long project. However, I must be able to do without the painkillers before I can begin my series in earnest.

Meanwhile, I came across a creative challenge in Writer’s Digest to write a form poem called a nonet. The word nonet is is defined as a combination of nine musical instruments or voices. The form is fun, only slightly challenging, and there are no definitive rules aside from the structure: The poem is nine lines long. The first line is nine syllables, the second line is eight, and so on until the last line finishes in a word. The form, as many do, force you to keep the poem short and concise, use vivid imagery and verbs, and compress your lines.

In “Sundowners,” I try to express a syndrome known to the elderly, the dying, an injured middle-aged drama queen poet, and most of us during the season when the light starts leaving the sky earlier and earlier each day. It seems better to turn these “negative” feelings into art so that, even if they seem dark, there’s a shine that comes off them like a low light bouncing off an unsunk eight ball.

Below, you’ll find my nonet. I challenge you to try your hand at this form. If you’d like, you can paste your nonet into the comments section and I’ll put them in a blog post for all my 31 ½ readers to see. Just kidding, but you won’t need to feel overwhelmed by the publicity. I can use your name or a fake name or no name. If you like this idea, just put “can include” next to your nonet. I will also pick my personal fave and send the winner a prize, which will be a writing book or mag to inspire you onward. I’ll contact you through your email on the comments page. I realize authors and poets fear putting their work on the web, but I’ll cover that fear in a post soon. For now, here’s my nonet:

Leaves copper with shine, wings flicker, suns fire
until the sky’s gold-coin brightness
silvers to a fifites’ dime,
darkens to old penny
flattened on a track.
No way to flip
back to light



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