Smart Poem Gets it Right

Sometimes poems say everything and get it exactly right. After a long discussion yesterday with someone who believed that the only things schools should teach is “what you need to do in life,” I realized how awful that would be.

Most of what I do today didn’t exist when I was in school. I certainly did not study how to handle communication problems in the workplace while in college. I learned that from making communication mistakes in the workplace.

When I was in college, there were no blogs, no Twitter and no websites. There were no computers, cell phones, or faxes. (Yes, that was a long time ago.)

What I still use today is the problem solving I learned. How to think, not what to think. And, of course, that art is the benchmark of a culture. And I’m still using all that knowledge, years later. This poem knows so much I can still learn.

You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

—William Stafford, from You Must Revise Your Life

–Quinn McDonald reads poetry to learn about life.

Email to a friend in pain


No. No judgment here.

I’ve stumbled down the  divorce road. Not always the high road, either. Deep in chiggers, dust and trash.

I know the need for validation, for filling up an empty bed, a night, a life.
You can walk with, date, hug, smooch, sleep with, shag, rub, drool on anyone
without my approval, permission or judgment.

What I will admit to is feeling vaguely maternal, trying to keep you from getting hurt. More.
As if I could.

–© 2009 QuinnCreative

Found: The Hunter, Poem by Jane Greer

It’s raining, spattering drops across the dusty road.  Walking, head down against the rain, I see a scrap of heavy paper stuck against a mailbox.  It’s wet and torn, covered with handwriting. It invites a look. Was it dropped, thrown away? I won’t know.

Curious, I bend to peel it off the mailbox. The paper is thick, but soaked and begins to tear. I let go and a sudden gust of wind rattles the paper off the mail box and is slaps into the street.  Suddenly it seems important to me and I don’t want to lose it.

I chase it, squishing through a puddle. This piece of paper better be good. It’s hard to read the cramped handwriting. The ink is not smeared, although the paper is soaked. The author is Jane Greer. Someone copied her poem carefully onto a piece of paper. I read it.

The Hunter

Deep in his muddy memory, something makes
A ripple on the smallest space of thick
and enigmatic water, something breaks
a thin stiff shaft of reed, grazes a stick
with wing or fin; disturbs the mist. He wakes.
The pre-dawn clamor in the fluent air
cannot drown out the subtle sound that aches
In his hollow cattail bones, and rattles there.

What could it be, this sound or rushing where
There are no wings, this snap of twig in rain,
Startling in the eye’s white corner, hair
Rising on the arms again and again?
Nothing. An absence: losses beyond repair,
Forfeitures, white arms that would not stay
Warm while he learned what early cold he could bear.
The sound he hears are the ones that got away.

—Jane Greer

Why did someone copy this poem? Did they intend to send it to someone? Was it a reminder? I’ll dry the paper and put it in my journal, a message from an unknown writer. Months from now, I’ll find it, read it again. Maybe it will spark something interesting. Maybe I’ll just read it again and again.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach. She teaches journal writing classes, among other things. To see it all, visit (c) 2007 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.


fireLicking flames obscured him
and defined him in the changing light
He stood on embers, in the smoke.
“I see ghosts” he said.
“There are no ghosts” the greedy fire hissed.
“Those are salamanders in the flame.”
The fire sang and danced all night,
spinning in a red and orange dress,
burning to see, to heat. to cook.
It charred the food and swept the prairie clean
so growth could start again.
He leaned over, mesmerized, and touched the coals.
He was a firewalker, dancing untouched on the ash with naked feet.
His fingers blistered and he yelped in pain.
Confused. His feet were whole, his hands now scarred.
Indifferent fire cleaned and scrubbed, cooked and burned.
He stands upon the coals and boasts
He still insists he sees the ghosts.

–Image: Ernest von Rosen,
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Haiku Experience

Haikus are wonderful, color-saturated snapshots of life. They can be quite complicated, but when I’m running a writing class, I stick to the simple rule of 3 lines, with 5, 7 and 5 syllables in the lines. The point is to use few words to create a powerful image for yourself and your readers.

Here are some haikus from my most recent journal-writing class:

Kitty winks at me
in secret code. I wink back.
former life: a cat.
—–Vicky Ferguson

Open the journal
Stories unfolding within
Movie frame pages.
—–Paul Lagasse

Asphalt whizzes by
Spokes sparkling in the sunlight
View from handlebars.

A clap of thunder
Whisper of falling raindrops
A summer cloudburst.
——H.P. Clamann

No wonder I write
No one expects it perfect
The first time around
——Paul Lagasse

Sensing through a fog
A gnawing anger lurking
My job pays the bills.
——Donna McGonigle

Restful summer day
There is no need for talking
My friends around me.
—–Donna McGonigle

Off to work I go
Toiling to keep our health plan
On me they depend
—–Mindy Heindl

I pause to give thanks
Fortune has smiled upon me
Don’t let me forget
—–Mindy Heindl

Not herself lately
Her world circles around her
and tightens the knot.
—–Vicky F

Art makes me happy
I do it when I have time
I wish I had more
—--Mindy Heindl