Good Books: Inner Lives

“I am the daughter, granddaughter, and sister of psychiatrists so I have always been drawn to the inner stories of people," says artist and avid reader Sharon Bond Brown.

Over at Push Pull Books, I ask writers and artists to share their favorite books on a given topic.

Why? Because when we read, creativity stirs, and when we create, our lives expand.

Go here to discover Sharon's favorite books on women's ordinary lives.

What books would you add to the list?



Be a winner!

Need a break from all that shopping? It's time to give yourself a gift.

Enter the drawing to win The Existentialist Cookbook, a smart, sharp, tender collection of poems by Shawnte Orion.

The poems are strong, and the writer is real. Here's what I mean: 

I don’t want poetry to be confined or limited to the niche demographic of People Who Like   Poetry.  I’m no professor. I didn’t come out of a University writing program. I’m a “regular” person with a normal job, so I believe poetry can be relevant and appreciated in anyone’s world.

— Shawnte Orion

Go here to read the interview and enter the drawing.
Don't delay. Deadline is Saturday, December 20, 2014.

If you win, I'll mail the book anywhere in the world, at no charge, and for this special occasion I'll include a handwritten, homemade, all-natural, good-natured, personalized, holiday letter written just for you.

A free book and old-fashioned, personalized mail — now that's a merry Christmas.

* Note: I'm giving this book as a gift to my
favorite people who think they don't like poetry.
They'll read these poems and discover they really do!


Thankful Thursday: Shift

Shelly Modes - Start with the Heart

Sometimes it doesn't take much.

You drive a new route. You read a new book. You wake early, or sleep late.

Sometimes it takes more to shift your perspective — a vacation, an illness, something that jars and alarms, something that disrupts the flow.

My head has been deep in a list of plans and tasks, gifts to buy, people to see, places to go. This week I am thankful for the small shift out of myself.

The other day I was Santa's helper, greeting children and taking photos at a community center bustling with holiday cheer. Piles of cookies and candies lined the room, and while a choir sang off-key but earnest families chatted and children squealed. In this delightful chaos, children lined up dozens deep to meet Santa Claus.

These were not tots with trendy clothes and savvy parents, but children with bare necessities and struggling households. With reverence the youngsters walked toward the big bearded man. Child after child quietly whispered their wants. Legos, dolls, Easy Bake ovens. The desires were not fancy or large. There were no lists, no demands, just tender awe and adoration.

In the background a rise of voices joined together in Silent Night, and my own voice quaked with realization. My to-do list felt distant, my own desires petty. In the immediate clamor of need and love and trust, all this was Christmas.

Sometimes it takes so wonderfully little to change our world, to shift our perspective.


Gratitude. Appreciation. Praise. Please join me for Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to give thanks for people, places, and things in our lives. What are you thankful for today?



Let me see who you are

Who are you?

The literary you. The writer you. The poet you. The professional you?

It's a hyphen-/slash world in which most of us juggle multiple roles. Like a closet full of clothes (though nothing to wear), I've created a menagerie of personal statements to explain who I am. Marketing me/reporter me/editor/poet/teacher/reader . . .

It's difficult to write about yourself without appearing a braggart or a dullard. I've got many versions that do the job but never really shine (see also: pencil skirt hanging in the back of my closet). I tug at the words, worrying that they're too stiff, too long, too little, too much.

I don't like cutesy bios, in which a writer gets too familiar or too clever. Don't tell me your favorite foods or your cat's name, and don't share the bloated tale of how you've been writing since age two. I'm old school: keep it third person and professional.

Why this concern with the self? If you're sending your work into the world, you need a bio. We want to know the person behind the words. Who doesn't turn to the back of the book to learn about the author? And anytime your writing goes public — from novels, to poems, to blogs, to reading events and teaching gigs — you'll need a bio, and preferably short and engaging.

Here's my latest favorite bio, from Christopher McCurry as it appears in the back pages of Rattle. It breaks the literary norm in that it's not a tiresome litany of his publishing history. Instead it gives a quick but meaningful peek at who he is: 

I write poems because a high school English teacher in Bourbon County, Kentucky, believed I could, and now I want my students to believe that they can write them too. Actually, I want everyone to believe that."

In those two sentences, we learn so much: the writer lived in the South, and he is now a teacher with heart. Knowing this about him, I am eager to read more of his work.

Short, succinct, humble — that's my kind of bio, and my kind of writer.


Who are you? How do you shine in 50 words or less?




Fast Five with Shawnte Orion

I never noticed the difference

between naked and exposed

until your sweater was puddled on my floor

and your shoulders remained covered

in kaleidoscopic swirls of ink. A tattooed

cartography of memories and myths.

Sleeves I could never remove.

- Shawnte Orion, Sleeveless

Because a few questions can lead to great insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — interviews with my favorite writers, and chances to win great books. (To enter the drawing, simply post your name and contact info in the comments section below).

Shawnte Orion takes poetry to the streets, bars, laundromats and more. His work has been published in numerous literary journals, including Crab Creek Review, Barrelhouse and New York Quarterly. He lives in Surprise, Arizona, and has been named one of 100 Phoenix Creatives.

In his debut poetry collection, The Existentialist Cookbook, Orion sifts through the absurdity of modern life for scraps of philosophy, religion, and mathematics to blend into recipes for elegies and celebrations.

You often perform your work in non-traditional settings: bars, hair salons, museums, laundromats, and street corners. Why?

I don’t want poetry to be confined or limited to the niche demographic of People Who Like Poetry. I’m no professor. I didn’t come out of a University writing program. I’m a “regular” person with a normal job, so I believe poetry can be relevant and appreciated in anyone’s world. I love occasions when I get to read to people who aren’t usually exposed to poetry. Whether they left the house for the sole purpose of doing their laundry or seeing a punk band, I like the challenge and reward of trying to hold their attention and maybe even win them over.
The Existentialist Cookbook, your first full-length book, offers a great blend of sharp and smart poems mixed with wonderfully tender and touching pieces. Was this range intentional?

Yes. I experience the world through an array of emotions and moods and I want my poetry to reflect that spectrum. Times when I am withdrawn and pensive are as integral to my process as moments of hilarity. This might have worked against me with certain presses who prefer a more unified “voice” but fortunately Raymond Hammond and NYQBooks appreciated my amalgamated poetics. I don’t necessarily want this collection to contradict itself, but it should contain multitudes.
Your poems are quick-witted, full of clever word play and pop culture references, and peppered with such engaging titles as, "Love in the Time of Hand-Sanitizer" and "Unable to Surface for Air During Shark Week." Who (or what) has influenced your writing?

Before I started getting into poetry, the songwriters and filmmakers I was obsessed with in my youth left an imprint on the way I approach poems (Soundgarden and Frank Black music- Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman films, for example). Back in middle school, I also paid a lot of attention to what stand up comics could accomplish on a stage with nothing but words and perspective. It wasn’t until I took a workshop with Denise Duhamel that I began to realize how much crossover there was between the poet and stand up comic worlds. She pointed out that Denis Leary started out as a poet (even published in Ploughshares). I looked up one of the comedians I remember most (John Wing) and found that he published a few poetry books. Influences are a small world after all.
Your book bio says you “attended community college for one day” but that your poems have appeared in many respected literary journals. How did you come to poetry, and how did you “learn” to write?

My French teacher in 7th, 8th and 12th grade, Elaine Phelps, had our class work with poetry to understand the language. Translating and discussing the poems of Jacques Prevert showed me how efficiently ideas and experiences could be conveyed through a handful of lines. Once I started reading lots of contemporary poetry, it wasn’t always the brilliant stuff that taught me the most. Often times, it was noticing where and how certain poems fell apart that “taught“ me what I wanted to avoid.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Continually revisit the poems you thought were finished weeks, months, even years ago. A little bit of distance can create a lot of clarity.
Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?
I also try to keep lists, so here are a few of my most recent additions:




Win this book!
Enter a drawing to win The Existential Cookbook by Shawnte Orion. Simply add your name and contact info in the comments section by December 20, 2014. I'll randomly (eyes closed!) choose a name from the entries, and the winner will be contacted via email.