A Famous Proposition

Today’s Poetic Asides prompt was to write a confined spaces poem. I just couldn’t resist penning a limerick about Fermat’s Last Theorem, mathematician that I am.  In 1637, Fermat postulated  that, “It is impossible for a cube to be the sum of two cubes, a fourth power to be the sum of two fourth powers, or in general for any number that is a power greater than the second to be the sum of two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition that this margin is too narrow to contain.”  This became known as Fermat’s Last Theorem, and it remained unproven until 1995.

Fermat’s Last Theorem

There once was a mathematician
Who conjectured a famous proposition
But the margin was too thin
To contain his weighty thoughts within
So his proof never came to fruition

Summer Writing Goals

I write haiku all the time. Really. And as I only submit a small fraction of them to Kukai, where better to post them than here? It also occurred to me that at least one of the bloggers I follow regularly, Erika Dreifus, of Practicing Writing, not only posts regularly, but also seems to post regular features on certain days. I like that idea.This inspired me to try something similar. Of course if I get too gung ho for starters, I will likely fizzle out.

So my small scale idea for this summer is to post haiku (or four and twenties) every Monday, continue to post my Poetic Asides poetry on Wednesdays, and post a book review/event recap/author interview, or at minimum a book/movie related post on Fridays. I’ll give this all summer to see how I like it, before re-evaluating. So in the spirit of “no better time than the present”, consider this yesterday’s post, and I’ll be right on track. 🙂

Yogic inversion
I in cat tilt
my cat
in repose


A Midsummer Night’s Scene
Moonlight spills over the water—
on the breeze
the song
of a thousand crickets


Saturday Market
marionberries and peaches and plums
oh my!


We Call it Home
Just a blue-green marble
on a track unseen
rolling endlessly
through space and time

Losing My Cool

This book review is cross-posted on Reading Local: Portland.

Reading Local Portland Review: “Losing My Cool” by Thomas Chatterton Williams

By: Cara Holman

[ Losing My Cool | Thomas Chatterton Williams | Penguin Press| $24.95 ]

Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture began as a 1000 word op-ed essay Williams had to write for a class assignment when he was in grad school at NYU. The only requirement was that he take a strong stand about something he felt passionate about. When the essay was later picked up by The Washington Post, it generated a lot of both positive and negative feedback. That’s when Williams knew that he had more to say on the topic, and this book ensued.

Originally intended as an essay against what Williams “saw as the debasement of black culture in the hip-hop era”, he discovered in the course of writing that it turned into something quite different. By the time he was finished with the book, he discovered that it had become more personal, a tribute to his father, and hence the subtitle of this book.

Williams grew up in to the suburban neighborhood of Fanwood, New Jersey, to a white mother and a black father. His family lived on the white side of town, where Williams immediately felt out of place. He began to identify early on with the hip-hop culture which he discovered on Black Entertainment Television (BET). The first half of the book describes Williams attempt as a teen, to emulate the lifestyle of the rappers he admired, with the goal of “keeping it real”. Williams describes the world in which he tried to fit into, as one with an emphasis of conforming, by dressing and acting a certain way, disrespecting women, and dumbing down not just speech, but aspirations.

Countering the effect of hip-hop culture was his father, whom he called Pappy, a highly educated man with an extensive library who named his younger son after the 18th century poet Thomas Chatterton. Pappy exerted a strong influence on the teenaged Williams, encouraging him to read, study for the SATs, and live up to his name. Eventually Williams earned himself a spot at Georgetown University, in Washington D.C., but it wasn’t until his sophomore year that he began to take school seriously, studying philosophy, and looking outside the narrow world he had boxed himself into. “For nineteen years,” he observes, “I had seldom ventured, mentally or physically, beyond the guarded borders of the only patria I really knew or cared for, which was the nation of hip-hop.”

Losing My Cool is all in one, a coming-of-age story, a tribute to a father who never gave up on his son, and a moralistic essay of why it’s so important for not just the black youth of our nation, but for any youth, not to be seduced by the destructive and debasing lifestyle glorified by rappers.

Trail Talk

Today’s Poetic Asides prompt was to make the title, “The Meaning of [blank]”. “The Meaning of Life” kept flitting through my head, blocking out other ideas, until I thought of this.

The Meaning of the Trail

As we round the bend,
we enter suddenly into a clearing,
the sun warming us
like a benediction.
How much further,
I ask,
trying to keep the fatigue
out of my voice.
Not far,
he reassures me
as we dip back into
the cool dry chaparral,
his back a guiding presence,
the silence broken only
by the sound of our padded footsteps
as we continue our ascent.

Poetry in the Lan Su Chinese Garden

Last week I attended a poetry workshop, led by local Portland poet Sage Cohen. It was held in the Celestial Hall of Permeating Fragrance in the Lan Su Chinese Garden, located in downtown Portland. It had been 10 years since I last visited the garden, shortly after it first opened in 2000, in  a space that once held a parking lot.

My memories from my past visit are vague. I remember only strolling along the footpaths with other members of my extended family, who were gathered in town to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. The garden was a lovely backdrop for our conversations and reconnection.

Last week, the garden again served as a lovely backdrop, this time for the poetry workshop. There, gazing at views of the garden through windows open to the outdoors, Sage offered us an invitation to write poetry in community. The only requirement to writing poetry, she told us, was to pay attention. Interestingly, my yoga instructors all tell me the same. Pay attention. Be present. Tune into the moment.

Sage dispelled the myth that poets need to be suffering in order to write good poetry, by sharing with us a quote by singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen (no relation): “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

Through a series of prompts, we then wrote our own poetry. After each prompt, two or three poets volunteered to share with the group what they had written. It never fails to amaze me how a roomful of writers, using the same prompt as a springboard, manage to create such a wealth of diverse writings (in this case, poetry). And how poetic all the writings sounded, even though they were first drafts, penned in approximately 7 minutes apiece.

It also always catches me by surprise at what I choose to write about—often things I rarely consciously think about—when I am in a writing workshop. This time was no exception. I wrote poems about the Sunday mornings of my childhood, the randomness of life (prompted by two friends going in for cancer treatment that week), the bonsai in the front of the room, and my Tai Chi class. All in an hour-and-a-half workshop.

Afterwards, I took the time to wander leisurely around the garden, fully immersing myself in the beauty of the place. It was a typical Portland June day—somewhat cool, somewhat cloudy— but with everything growing lushly, and flowering shrubs and plants in full bloom. I viewed the garden from various angles and penned some haiku, finding inspiration in the reflecting pond, mirroring the clouds and downtown towers in its lightly rippled surface, the pounding of the waterfall, the willow bending to water, and the tantalizing fragrance of some unknown plant wafting through the air.

mirrored pond-
holding the sky
in its depths


bamboo bends
but does not break


three friends of winter-
evergreen pine, resolute bamboo,
the dormant plum


scarlet peony-
blowzy blooms
a single dropped petal

A free poetry writing workshop with Sage Cohen is available to listen to online at The Inkwell, on blogtalkradio. Additionally, you catch an interview with Sage by Nyla Alisia, also at The Inkwell.

Stuck, Times Three

Yesterday’s Poetic Asides prompt was to write a poem in which someone or something is stuck somewhere. Well, at least this was one prompt I wasn’t stuck on. I immediately thought of: stuck in the past, stuck in the middle, stuck at a red light, stuck on someone, stuck in a stalemate, stuck on a crossword clue, music stuck in one’s head, a stuck zipper, stuck in a spider’s web, stuck with glue, stuck in a holding pattern… well, you get the idea. And I thought of Billy Pilgrim coming “unstuck in time” (Kurt Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse Five). For starters:

the record skips
stuck in a groove–
eternal sameness


in the spider’s web
stuck, a milkweed seed
a gnat


stuck in the moment–
waiting for red
to change to green

The Future of Publishing

I read this interesting post yesterday, by Nathan Bransford, a literary agent from San Francisco, regarding his views of the future of publishing: The Rejection Letter of the Future Will Be Silence (And Why This is a Good Thing)

This was my response, which I posted as a blog comment:

Nathan—I found this blog post heartening. It is very important to delineate between those who write and market books as a business concern, and those who write primary as a means of self-expression and connection with others. As a writer, and yes, a cancer survivor with a story to tell, I would be perfectly satisfied if I ever published a book that sold thousands, hundreds, heck—even tens of copies. Success is in the eyes of the beholder. What might be a piddling number of sales for a large, profit-driven publishing house, sure doesn’t sound like silence to me!

What do you think?

Three Views

Only one day late on the Poetic Asides Wednesday prompt. That’s not bad, considering all that’s been going on this week: writing group last Thursday, a Friday night book talk at Powell’s with Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter, a bridge and poetry walk Saturday with poet Sage Cohen and Sharon Wood Wortman, volunteering with Komen Sunday at the Cancer Survivor’s Day celebration at the World Forestry Center, a poetry workshop in the Chinese Gardens with Sage Cohen on Monday, and our last writing group until the fall today. Busy, but rewarding. Now it’s time to get caught up!

The prompt was to write about three objects I see from my computer.

Three Views

Ahead of me a computer screen
providing unseen connections
across the years
and across the miles.
To my right and left,
the sofas, the sink, the stove,
evidence of living,
and behind me a window,
a leafy invitation
to the great beyond.