A Shaky Reading

On Sunday afternoon I went to a poetry reading. When I stood up to do my thing, Both my voice and knees began to shake.

What was going on? I performed as a storyteller every day in the school library for seven years. Then I remembered. That was thirty years, almost a lifetime, ago.

We all live so many lives. (I know if I walked up to my younger self, I’d scare the pants off her.)

The poem I botched on Sunday was from a sequence of dramatic monologues I wrote when we were living in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Yes, LA does have distinct neighborhoods. I’ll tell you more about them another time.)

I composed the piece in the late eighties or early nineties for a group of actors who teamed up with the Arroyo Arts Collective to do cold readings of local authors’ poems, short stories, and novel excerpts. The title was “The Marriage Bed.”

Mostly invented, the sequence drew on things that happened even earlier in my life, in the mid-sixties.

I was nineteen. I’d just run away and married my husband, a guy I’d dated a month.

On our first morning together the phone rang. One of my husband’s friends, Jim Ashley, lived in Ouray, a tiny nineteenth-century mining town in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. He worked for the Idorado Mine, the village’s economic engine.

The afternoon before, Jim had stepped on a rotten board just inside the mine entrance and plummeted down through a dark vertical tunnel all the way from the Red Mountain entrance to the Telluride entrance, hundreds of feet.

I didn’t know Jim, but that secondhand experience drilled itself into my mind. Every so often I fall into it, just as I did on Sunday.

There was one more layer to my shaky reading. After its first, last, and only cold performance by the Arroyo Arts Collective players, “The Marriage Bed” disappeared into my files. I made a few half-hearted attempts to send it out, but knew it was destined to be one of those things I did just for myself. (There are a LOT of those.)

Then I saw a call for an anthology in Coda (which later became Poets and Writers.) It was for ghost poems. The voice in one of the monologues in The Marriage Bed, “Frank,” was a ghost, the long-dead father of the husband in the story.   I sent it.

It was accepted. I’d forgotten about the book, Ghost of a Chance,  until Sunday. Looking at it, I was amazed. There I was, hired-gun ed writer, with Rita Dove, Billy Collins, and others famous for their poetry.

Then I remembered, huddling in the back seat of my dad’s ’41 Chevy, playing with the sounds of words. I must have been two or three.

We live so many lives. So many layered lives. Sharing them with others can be a shaky experience, but we only have the stage for a few minutes, so why not?





Ratchet Up Your Writing by Studying Poetry

I have written poetry since I was a child, but I know that many authors have never explored the medium. It offers important lessons for any writer. Besides, it’s fun.

What Poetry Teaches Us about Writing Prose.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 30 | Milk Poem | WritersDigest.com

Today is the last day of the Poem a Day Challenge. I did not finish my NaNoWriMo goal, but I did write a poem every day. Now, it’s time to go through them and choose between 10 and 20 for the chapbook competition. You can enter too, even if you didn’t post. Today’s link leads to the final prompt, a “milk” poem, and the community’s responses.  There you will also find a link to the submission rules. Revision is allowed, and so are some poems not written during the competition, but most should have been created for the PAD challenge. You have until January to submit. (I get involved in other things and forget, so I will probably put mine together much sooner.)

This has been a wonderful experience, and I know that my efforts have been read by more people than would have seen most printed journals. I’ve met some wonderful new poets. I plan to keep posting my own warm-ups here, but other challenges loom and it might not be daily. Thanks for following and I hope you had fun, too.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 30 | Milk Poem | WritersDigest.com.


White as

winter, poured

icy from

the refrigerator


White as



delivered to the doorstep


White as

summer clouds

in my

first cup


White as


for Dad’s coffee

from the top


White as


through the morning



White as




Make a Story Map to Unearth Buried Memories

Click on the link below for a terrific method to generate story ideas. It works best for children’s books, but it could work for adult trade authors too. It’s simple, fun, and very effective! I encountered it on the Picture Book Idea Month Facebook page.


2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 18 | Glosa Poem | Poetic Form | WritersDigest.com

Today’s prompt is from Carol Stephen. It is a form called the Glosa.

Visit the site to read the complicated directions and to see some of the amazing responses.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 18 | Glosa Poem | Poetic Form | WritersDigest.com.

Here’s my attempt:


so much depends


a red wheel


(William Carlos Williams)


snow clouds drift


our valley


stair-step summer


bitter winter


weather bends

so much depends


on fickle


swinging south


with bird flights


weeks ago,


over lakes spun



with visual


of industry


a dormancy


of last flash


to mold-meal

a red wheel


turning through


in coursing blood

and genes

in water and


cycles shifting in


slicing harrow;



so much depends


a red wheel


2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 17 | How to Poems | Write Poetry | WritersDigest.com

Maxie Steer offers today’s prompt on Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog.

It’s a how-to poem. Read the contributions of others and add your own.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 17 | How to Poems | Write Poetry | WritersDigest.com.

How to Paint


Set up a surface,

whether canvas,

paper or weathered

wood doesn’t

matter, at least

not at first.

Next, squeeze

out a bright

worm of color,

or mix it up

from powder

with medium

and binder.

Invite your

thoughts to

depart, opening

to other

forces beyond


Then, pick

up the brush.

Linda Armstrong, 11/17/2012. All rights reserved.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 13 | Letter and Recipe Poems | WritersDigest.com

Today’s poetry prompt on the Poetic Asides blog is a letter poem (and/or a recipe poem). These are prompts I used in class when I was teaching. They are classics for a reason. They produce varied and excellent results for writers of all ages (and not just poets).

If you want to read the poems of other participants and post your own, click on the link.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 13 | Letter and Recipe Poems | WritersDigest.com.

Here’s mine:

Dear Dad,

You never were
much for writing
so I never wrote
you a letter.
You and I
always knew
each other
best through
pigments, brushes,
lenses, captured
hours, minutes,
and seconds
that will never
come back
but could be
relived again
and again
through transparencies
or stacked paintings
in a closet.
I write to you
now, looking
down at your
hands, freckled
and funny
as a write this,
and later,
when Alden
and I take
pictures of winter
deer, you will
be shooting with us

As always,

If you’d like to see some of my dad’s paintings, his dealer’s site is here: http://www.californiaartgallery.com/ec-watercolor-keck.html

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 9 | When He’s Gone Poem | WritersDigest.com

The challenge today is to write a poem that uses the phrase or theme “when he’s gone.”  Click on the link below to read the responses, starting with mine, which is also included here.

2012 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 9 | When He’s Gone Poem | WritersDigest.com.

When he’s gone,
she misses him,
sometimes stepping
into the room
where he works
to share something
she has found
like a child taking
a toy to a visitor,
remembering with
a start that he is
off on another trip
she slips back into
her own routine,
reading on the couch
and taking long
walks alone by
the river. When the
phone rings, his
car pulls into the drive,
or he appears at
the arrival gate,
his face is always
new, and everything
they have shared
comes home.