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A Thinking Break

April 12, 2016

In the middle of ‘productivity’ on a writing retreat, you still need breaks. Your brain needs a breather. A stretch of sorts, just like your muscles and your butt.

My walks around Eureka Springs have been the best of breaks, more than I could have asked for: gentle crisp early spring air, blooming trees and gardens so bright they look painted, and surprises around corners.

That combination stirs the poet in me, and I’ve written several pieces that I am very happy with, between my work sesssions on non-fiction and the prairie project, which is my first goal for this retreat.

Sunday afternoon I walked downtown and back.  A creature I’d not seen before in a garden spot on Spring Street appeared and posed a question for me.  He dared to stretch my mind. Here’s the result:
If They’d Had Lights

If they’d had lights,
they would not be extinct.
I thought so when I saw him,
the stegosaurus made of stone,
bedecked with strands of mini-lights,
a string of large bulbs, smartly laid,
strung where his plates would be.

If they’d had lights,
survival would have been
a matter of the brightest,
the dusty air no sweat for them,
despite the skies made dark and dim
when asteroidal impact made
their forage hard to see.

If they’d had lights,
they still would roam the earth.
I wonder, though, if whether
an allosaur’s electric grin,
a flashy T-rex, or his kin
might blinking, blind us, and between
their teeth, extinct, we’d be.

© 2016, Damon Dean

Treat of a Retreat…

April 2, 2016

I am on cloud nine… or ten, or more! I am in the hills of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

LastWP_20160401_18_17_29_Pro summer I applied to the  Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow for a residency fellowship called the Moondancer Fellowship. This fellowship is a paid two-week residency for writers about nature and the outdoors. Since I’ve been in a non-fiction mode for two years, and have several projects I’m working on about nature, and since my poetry is almost 80% about nature, I thought I might be a good match.  I sent samples, a bio, and explained my works in progress.

I was notified last September that my application was not selected, but was asked to apply again next year, and that I had been a 2nd choice.  Naturally I was a bit disappointed, but still honored to be considered (tho I’m not sure there weren’t only two applicants! )

In January I got a call from the director, Linda Caldwell.  The selected recipient from Boston had taken a job as a television broadcast writer, and could not attend.

“Would you like to attend in 2016 as our 2015 Moondancer fellow?”

I remained calm. I replied professionally.  I gratefully accepted. I hung up.  I jumped on the couch, bounced off the ceiling, and sprung out the door.  I was ecstatic.

Nothing enhances my writing more, in either productivity or purpose, than being on a retreat.  I find that like many writers, my life (my good life–I’m not complaining) gets in the way.  I really feel like writing is a calling to me, but the necessities of life impose and hinder and detract, and my writing (which for years I treated as a ‘hobby’) suffers.

Several years ago I took a week for a retreat at White Oak Lake State Park, in a camper.  I was refreshed deeply, and in that week wrote some poetry and developed some ideas for projects that couldn’t have happened in the normal stream of my life. That poetry, those projects, still hold momentum from the full attention I gave them  during that week.

I fully expect what I take home from my stay at the Colony will have  the same benefit.
So I begin my fellowship stay today, for two weeks, April 1-15, when I get to write write write write write nap write write write walk write write write nap.  And then eat.  Dinners are provided by a wonderful chef named Jana, and they are superb.  This is the off season and there are no other writers here during my stay. Usually there are several residents, who gather for dinner and talk about their art and craft. That is an experience I also want in my writing journey.

During the week I get to serve the community by working with students in a nearby school, so I’m working on poetic elements on two Thursdays.  Also, I get to meet with kids at a coffeehouse after school since I’m here the first Tuesday of the month with their creative writing teacher, Kenzie Doss.  She holds an event called ‘The Buzz’ which usually brings in middle school and high school students.  I plan to lead them in a discussion on ‘personification’ and engage them a related writing activity.

I’m thrilled, and just had to share the news. They’ve initiated April to celebrate National Poetry Month, and we hung poems with some other poets and kids at the Basin Springs Park downtown on the Poet-tree.

Visit the Colony page, and take a look at the wonderful gift I’ve been given.  It is a treasure of a retreat for me, and for my writing.

Taking a Pause…

March 9, 2016

We are having a retreat, and taking a pause in the normal routines of our lives, as we camp in north Arkansas between visits with family.

While browsing
(I know, it’s not real camping if you have internet, but hey…let’s call it modern camping)
I ran across this month’s post by Michele Heinrich Barnes, a poet friend who interviews poets monthly who offer to the readers a challenge.

This month’s guest was the wonderful Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, whom I admire for her work and her inspirational sharing and teaching.

Her challenge was to write about something small, which we see everyday and give little thought to.  Sitting here in the camper while it rains all over Arkansas I thought of various small things, but one came to mind that I encounter every day, and somewhat miss since I am away from home, apart from my dogs.  I admit, the poem might be weather-inspired, with the pat-pat-pat-pat-pat of raindrops on the camper top providing a nap-inducing music.

Here’s the result, I hope you like it.


on morning’s bedroom floor,
impatience played
between long stretches, yawns.

the tugs at bedside covers
pull my sheets,
beg for me to peek
—at least one eye—
to see a wide-eyed plea.

claws celebrate surrender.
Though reluctant,
I arise and stumble to the backyard door
in early-dark,
accompanied by staccato joy.

A caesura, fermata—a pause.

my slow wake,
my long-drawn-out capitulated yawn
breaks short at
sudden rhythms,

wood-scarring pleads
upon the door.

I let them in,
all four percussion-gifted paws.
My day begins
with music
to my

© Damon Dean, 2016

Struggling and Signed Up Again…

October 27, 2015

IPiBoIdMo 2015 Part was vacillating.

I was wavering.

I was stammering, stuttering, and stuck.

No, I wasn’t struggling with a picture book idea. I was struggling with the idea of picture book ideas.

I was looking at my upcoming month–our trip up north, our up-ended schedule, the uprooting possible if we sell our house…and the downside of joining PiBoIdMo this year. (That’s Picture-Book-Idea-Month, a challenge to find an idea every day for 30 days.)

The chances of getting 30 ideas for 30 days was intimidating. But then I read the pre-PiBoIdMo posts, and a few choice guest posters pointed out how, in reality, it only takes one inspiration, one idea, one blink of a light bulb, to make a book.

The idea may come from anywhere. It may take time to germinate. But it won’t germinate until it’s planted and that takes a choice, a determination, a decision.

So I’ve signed up again…and even if my participation is minimal, it won’t be a loss.

It will be a gain.

in-Habit-able Haiku

September 14, 2015

A book on mini-habits I purchased during last year’s NF4NF conference in Texas is finally being read.  I don’t remember who pointed me to this book…perhaps Kristi Holl.  Maybe Pat Miller, Kristen Fulton, Steve Swinburne, or Peggy Thomas.  But thanks to whomever did. (And to the author, Stephen Guise, Mini-Habits)

The purchase was digital.  Yes–out of sight, out of mind–until this year’s conference drew near and prompted me to open the file in my Kindle app.

The read has resulted in my rising early in small, minute increments. Most days now before daylight.  I spend time on the deck with coffee, the tablet, the dogs, and time to read scripture and pray.

I decided, after a few days of that mini-habit, to add one other small mini-habit to the habit.  Mini-writes.  Something small, each day.  Something brief, easily achievable.  Something easy, delightful, and something that would let me say, “I wrote today.”

The perfect candidate? Haiku.
In perfect form? Nope.  Perhaps I took a few liberties, which a poet easily and guiltlessly can, before daylight.

But I wanted to share my small successes, and gathered the first eleven here.
Let me know if you have a favorite. I hope you enjoy them.


morning mists grow thin
as words appear, revisions
of my fading dreams


long night dozes off
and day wake finds me smiling
sipping on my thoughts


loosening haiku
my freedom from the form is
aromatic java


yawning pink and blue
a waking summer sky hosts
a ballet of bats


sad willow stands still
but maple’s leaves flutter in
her own dreams of wind


pecker taps a pine
gray flakes of bark flutter down
and beetles cower


fog muffles morning
bats hang hungry in the trees
breakfast past hearing


I chatter chatter
to scampering squirrels above
who pause on tree limbs


garden path disturbed
bricks tilted by the restless,
but slow, toes of trees


a single robin
hopping on a vast green lawn
seeks a worm’s demise


a haiku or two
in hand is worth a dozen
pantoums in the bush

(c) Damon Dean, 2015


A Tanka for Spring

March 6, 2015

Worm Moon whispers sighs

frowns, blows down through her pursed lips.

These frost-cold snow clouds–

unwelcomed winter cousins–

stay. No dirt stirs tonight.

© Damon Dean 2015

I am participating this month in a challenge hosted by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at . The challenge issued from her guest author Margarita Engle is to write a tanka on any topic.

But specifically Engle asks us to “Seek the resonance that enters a poem only when it is touched by the stillness of nature.”

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Frog Song – WORD PLAY

February 27, 2015

My last book for the 14:14 Challenge is not your ordinary ‘ribbit.’

Frog Song 1Frog Song
author Brenda Guiberson
illustrator Gennady Spirin

(c) Henry Holt & Co. LLC

(1,375 words, AR Reading Level 4.5)

Lush in the color and detail of Spirin’s illustration, this picture book is also rich in language with Guiberson’s lyrical approach to the lives of frogs. Like most good non-fiction works, the focus is narrowed to a particular aspect, in this case, frog song.

First, what kid–any age between 2 and 62–wouldn’t grab a book with a cover like this off the shelf and hop to the first cozy lily-pad to read about a big red frog? I did.

Furthermore, consider the opening page, full of word play:

Frogs have a song for trees, bogs, burrows, and logs. When frogs have enough moisture to keep gooey eggs, squirmy tadpoles, and hoppity adults from drying out, they can sing almost anywhere. Croak! Ribbit! Bzzzt! Plonk! Brack! Thrum-rum!

Frog Song 2

Every spread shares interesting facts from the lives of normal to unusual frogs. Some I’ve never heard of. Some I know well.

Their songs are printed in various fonts, splayed across colorful habitat backgrounds.

Word play features such as onomatopoeia, assonance, metaphor, alliteration, consonance…all are in place in this book. After all, it’s a book about swamp music. Sound is the main character.

Kids will love the uncommon behavior of some of these amphibians, but will also have fun ‘performing’ the various calls that appear on every page. I did.

This book is an exemplary model of how story elements such as word play can be used to elevate non-fiction above the simplicity of bare facts. If you find this book, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – The Beatles Were Fab – CHARACTER

February 26, 2015

I remember the day, coming home from church. Dad turned on the radio in our red Ford Galaxy 500. We sat there in our skinny black ties, hearing music we’d never heard before. “Who’s that?” we asked. “Just a bunch of long haired hippies the communists are sending over to ruin our country,” Dad said. It was our first exposure to “The Fab Four.”

The Beatles Were FabThe Beatles Were Fab
authors Kathleen Krull
& Paul Brewer
illustrator Stacy Innerst

(c) 2012,
Harcourt Children’s Books

(1,924 words, AR Reading Level 4.8)

This is a fun book between jelly-bean end pages. Rich illustration by Stacy Innerst accompanies the story of the Fab Four, those famous boys from Liverpool who changed the sound of modern music with not only their tunes, but their characters.

After reading this story, I wonder if they’d had to depend only on music, whether they would have had the impact they are famous for. Television and radio, through the the power of airwaves, revealed so much of their individual character as their popularity spread.  Character is what made them ‘fabulous’ as much, if not more, than their music.

Krull and Brewer reveal who they were in this delightful account, with a focus on their humor and their ability to make people laugh.

“From the time they got together as lads until they became superstars, the Fab Four made music, made history, and made people laugh.”

The story shows their determination, their hard work, their confidence.  Always, it seems, flavored by humor. When they first performed for the Royal Family,

“John invited the main-floor audience to clap along. Then he peered up at the dignified royal family in the box seats. ‘And the rest of you, if you just rattle your jewelry.”  Everyone giggled–even the Queen Mother.”

Two spreads offer questions reporters would often ask, a page each for John, Paul, Ringo, and George. Their quick answers show their wit:

Q: How did you find America?
Ringo: We went to Greenland and made a left turn.

Certainly the ‘fab’ in fabulous describes much about the Beatles, but it’s more than just the music, and this books makes that clear for a generation of children who have no idea who they really were, and what they meant to my generation and musical history.

Only a few years after listening to my first Beatles song on the car radio, I had full-sized posters of those long-haired hippies on my bedroom walls, and I was strumming their tunes on my own guitar.

And, of course, I was smiling.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – You Are the First Kid on Mars – DIALOGUE

February 25, 2015

Space–the final frontier.

You Are The First Kid on MarsFirst Kid on Mars
author & illustrator
Patrick O’Brien

(c) 2009, G. P. Putnam’s Sons

(1,944 words, AR Reading Level 5.0)

One thing that launched some thought when I opened this book was the jacket-flap description of this Patrick O’Brien book as one of his ‘factual’ books.  Having determined to focus my participation in this year’s 14:14 Challenge on non-fiction, I pulled this book out immediately.  (Besides.  I’m a Trekkie, I loved Star Wars, and I’ve been a science fiction fan for half a century.)

I opened this book to look for story elements. The first element that’s noticeable in both title and text is the point of view.

YOU.  This book is second person point of view, and the whole adventure is directed at imagination, engaging the reader from the first sentence. I supposed then the element, by broad definition, is DIALOGUE.

While one book might tell a story from the third person point of view as an outsider, another might tell it from a first person point of view.

I think O’Brien matches the topic here (an imaginary, but fact-full future journey) by using second person point-of-view.  YOU. The writer (or should I say the book?) is speaking to the reader, and explaining to reader just what an experience would be like.

“This book will tell you what would happen, and what you would do, if you were the first kid on Mars.”

(Emphasis mine.) Great pacing ensues, with the young astronaut leaving earth, boarding a spaceship from a space station, seeing Earth shrink and Mars grow larger, and landing on the red planet. But throughout, the reader is engaged in the experience:

You feel the ship shaking and jerking, and you see flames shooting past the window.  The Martian air is slowing you down. Then the flames stop and you are plummeting toward the surface.”

There’s much to learn and experience, from high mountains to deep canyons that exceed anything on earth. Each embedded picture shares facts about the trip, the Mars environment, the ways people adapt to live on the planet.

But dialogue is the key element here, and effectively takes the reader on a journey to “boldly explore where no kid has gone before.”

(Meanwhile…how do you define “factual?”  Is it a fact-based presentation based on an imagined experience? Should it be totally void of imagination, purely non-fiction? What is factual, and is it distinguishable from non-fiction in terminology?)

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Child of the Civil Rights Movement – THEME

February 24, 2015

Child of Civil Rights MvmtA front row seat in a theatre is fine, but the best view of the play is on the stage.  Paula Young Shelton, daughter of civil rights leader Andrew Young, shares her view in this first person point-of-view story.

A Child of the Civil Rights Movement
author Paula Young Shelton
illustrator Raul Colon

(c) 2013, Schwartz & Wade Books,
a division of Random House

(1,796 words, AR Reading Level 4.8 )

It was a long-distance view of the turmoil in the south–black and white television images of burning buses, arrests and beatings–that drew Paula’s parents Andrew Young  and Jean Childs Young back home to help fight violence and prejudice. They took Paula and her sisters onto the stage with them.

The element of THEME in Paula’s story is evident. There is a pursuit of equality and freedom. But supporting themes are just as important and critical in this story. From the first spread, the theme of family is strong. It becomes an immediate vehicle for the action, the emotion, the character development that takes place in this wonderful history.

“Mama was from Alabama.
Daddy was from Louisiana–
the Deep South.
They had been called bad names, treated badly, told, “You can’t do that!”
just because of the color of their skin.”

In subsequent ‘chapters’ (well designed sections the story) we follow Paula’s journey with her family to her account of “My First Protest,” which happened in a Holiday Inn restaurant when she was younger than four.  She sat on the floor and cried loudly as her family was denied service.

In “Uncle Martin” we learn of the ‘extended’ family relationships that were such a driving force in the movement for equality.   “The Civil Rights Family” shows us that this theme of family was full of emotion, sometimes disagreement, sometimes celebration, and good food.

“No matter how many people came to dinner, there was always enough to go around, enough to strengthen, enough to comfort the family of the civil rights movement.”

In “Selma to Montgomery” the pivotal event is remembered, as the Young’s entire family goes to Alabama to participate. Paula’s memory of this event is rich with the bonds of family as they share the passion for freedom with a world-wide family:

“I looked around and saw so many different kinds of people. Black and white. Young and old. Rich and poor. There were Jewish rabbis, Catholic priests, and lots and lots of Baptist ministers. There was even a man with one leg who everybody called Sunshine.

Like so many good books, the story cycles around to another scene with a television screen. Here again, in black and white flickering images, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Faces keenly familiar to Paula and her sisters appear on the screen beside him.

I found that the theme of family that Mrs. Shelton uses in her story adds so much validity to the overall theme of freedom and equality.  What might be somewhat abstract concepts to young children are perhaps defined, clarified, and validated by the underlying theme of family that most children know.

I think this book is masterfully done, and should be out in every library and bookstore, not just in February but all year long. And if you haven’t seen the movie Selma yet, check this book out first–and read it to your kids.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)


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