Tag Archives: poetry

Little Prayers Poetry: An Interview with Susie Meserve

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’ll read anything. I love challenging myself to different genres and diverse authors. I think we learn about our world as readers, and writers, through different mediums and kinds of storytelling.

April is National Poetry Month, and I love exploring this genre because it reaches the reader in a way unlike any other written form. Many of my favorite writers began as poets, and there’s something to recognize about the talent and skill it takes to craft a poem that makes you feel something in a short amount of words and with little filler.

007-KLJ-WEB-Susie-Final-3372Susie Meserve is a poet, memoirist and blogger. Her first collection of poems, Little Prayers, was recently published by Blue Light Press and was the winner of the 2018 Blue Light Book Award.

I’ve followed Susie on twitter and her blog for years, so am happy to welcome her over to the Happiness Project to chat about her new book and why poetry matters today.


JW: Welcome, Susie! 

Describe Little Prayers in three words. 

SM: Poetry about life.

SM.LittlePrayersFrntCvrWbWhat would you say are the themes in this collection of work? 

Death and rebirth, flight and return, the life of dreams, the fleetingness of time. And maybe, as Michelle Bonczek Evory suggested on my book cover, “the daily mundane.”

Your poems feature detailed captures of moments and objects, how we can find ourselves lost within those fragments. Is that where the title “Little Prayers” comes from, those moments? 

I think so, yes! This book had several other titles before Little Prayers—for a while it was called “Losing Paradise” (and a friend suggested “The Oracle”). When I stepped back and looked at it, though, I realized that while the poems were all very different thematically and structurally, there was this fleeting, temporary quality to almost all of them. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re not memorable, but they do seem to capture somewhat ephemeral snippets of time—a bird flying in the window, waking in the middle of the night, a session doing dishes, a little ruminating on California—in a meditative, quiet sort of way. So then I looked at the poem “Little Prayer” and thought, yeah, that’s my title poem. I just slightly changed it to indicate a multitude of prayers, not just one. I should add: I’m not a religious person, but my poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2008) is called Faith. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the act of writing poetry feels somewhat spiritual to me. And let’s face it, it requires a lot of faith—in something!—to be a writer in today’s world.

What does writing poetry compared to other forms of writing allow you to do differently? Do you think you can speak your truth, or Truth, more clearly? 

I love that you capitalized Truth, here, like the universal Truth. I don’t know if I believe in that concept, though. I actually think I can speak my own truth more clearly in personal essays like this one  and this one, where I’ve had to be deeply honest to tell the story. In poetry, I can speak multiple truths, in a sense. It’s all very sneaky. Poetry is absolutely my first love, and I think what I love about it is the unexpected. I just begin sometimes, and things surprise me, and then I have a poem (that may or may not be “true”). This can be very freeing—when it’s working.

Your poems include a variety of style and format. How do you decide what is the “right” format for your poem as you’re writing? 

Great question. This book consists of poems from over 15 years of writing, so it represents a lot of different styles as I tried them on over the years. For a while I was really feeling couplets, then these formless, no-stanza, rambling poems, then poems with numbered sections. I think the poem usually tells you what it wants. For me, a poem I want more control over—because it’s got a more intense, precise quality, maybe—will ask for couplets or tercets, whereas one that feels more free and easy—or unwieldy—might not want any stanza breaks at all.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone writing poetry?

I don’t use prompts, really (though I do like the prompts in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, excellent for beginners). My biggest advice is to READ. I think when you start to be able to identify the kinds of surprises other poets incorporate into their work, you start to incorporate your own. So reading a wide variety of styles and voices is just essential.

Why do you think poetry is important today? 

I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn’t understand them. I told her she didn’t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest about poetry—we don’t always “get it” in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that’s why people run away from it. We don’t want to feel stupid or like we’re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises questions. But I think that’s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry—learning to hear it—is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.

What’s next on your writing desk? 

I’m most excited about a new poetry collection I’m working on. I’m writing a series of poems about infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. They’re deeply personal, much more raw, and all linked thematically. I’m thinking of it a bit like a memoir in verse. It’s going really well. I’m super inspired, and just hoping it’s, you know, good.

I’m sure it will be! Thanks, Susie! 


In honor of National Poetry Month, Susie is giving away a free copy of Little Prayers to two lucky people who signs up for her newsletter before Sunday, May 6th! Sign up at Susie’s website to win!

You can catch up with Susie on Twitter @susiemeserve or on her website, www.susiemeserve.com, where she blogs regularly about writing and being More Than a Mother.

A Year of Reading: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”

— Max de Pree

I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance

March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.

What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.

A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.

Overview from Goodreads:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. 


IMG_2217I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies. 

Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).

This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:

A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.
― Joy HarjoCrazy Brave

I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.

It really should be read aloud.

Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre? 

What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend? 





The Redhots: A Picture Says A Thousand Words

(image from zazzle.com)

Happy Redhots Day!

It’s another month’s edition of The Redhots and Marcia Richards and I are back and bolder than ever!


Ok, you caught us, we’re both crazed madwomen right now!

Let’s face it, the holidays are stressful!  Believe me, I work in retail.  I’ve put in an insane amount of days and hours for the past month – hence the disappearance of me from the blogosphere.  But I’ve missed you all and wrote you a little poem while I was away.  So settle into your pajamas, kiddos, Jess is going to read you a story!


The Sale Before Christmas

It was the sale before Christmas
and all through the mall
the customers were shopping
for gifts big and small!
The registers were ringing,
the managers running.
And somewhere in their temporal lobes –
a constant, steady drumming!
This coupon! That special!
Lines the length of trains! –
Had this particular manager
wracking her redhot brains!
There were gifts to still wrap,
Heck presents to buy!
Not to mention the store potluck,
that dang peppermint pie!
There was severe lack of sleep
and a small bought with the flu.
But Christmas was coming!
What’s a girl to do?
The dishes began to pile at home,
and the laundry was crawling the walls.
Is this what Kris Kringle had in mind
when he said “Deck the Halls?”
At last the day came and went,
though short, it was full of cheer.
With family members, grace and thanks
I can wish you a Happy New Year!


Your turn!  This Redhots edition we want to hear YOUR holiday stories!  Marcia and I are each posting a picture about the holidays and we’d love to hear your reactions, stories, perhaps poems (who doesn’t love a good limerick or haiku?) all about the holidays!  Thanks for sharing and we hope you all had a very happy holiday!

(image from shutterstock.com)

Monday Must Reads: Writing, Women, Mummies, and Christmas Lists

Happy Monday Everyone!  I’m madly trying to catch up on my NaNoWriMo goals, finish 2 more books this month, stop this cold I’m getting in its tracks, and still make dinner from a recipe at least once a week.  Here are the blogs that caught my eye this past week.  What else caught yours?

On Writing:

August McLaughlin wrote a beautiful post on Sweet Solitude: Creating Intimacy with Writing and Ourselves.  It’s a little bit about love, about finding creativity, and being a stronger, healthier you.  She also leaves wonderful ideas to get recharged.

Kristen Lamb serves up another batch of awesome-sauce in her post on publishing and author brand:  Beware the Social Media Snuggie – One Size Does Not Fit All!

Albert Berg is an honest man.  If you’re in need of a grip on reality and write goals, please read his post Nailing NaNoWriMo: Or Not.

On Women:

When Quiet offers us a breathtaking poem about the unity of women in WE.  You’ll want to read this one out loud, it sounds as powerful as your mind and spirit are.

True Life Stories:

Mindi Anders conducts part 1 of an interview with a Michigan Religious Cult Survivor and even the comments are interesting.  Mindi’s done an awesome job of healing herself by sharing her own survival story and creating a place for discussion on the topic.

Gene Lempp’s new edition of Designing from Bones is on The Iceman Plot, the true, or slightly fictionalized story, of a 5300 year old glacier mummy.

Kathy Owen shares the history of Thanksgivings Past from the New York Times in this part 1 edition.  How many turkeys do you think we go through now?

Social Trends of the Season:

Tiffany White blogged about a favorite guilty pleasure show of mine The Secret Circle.  Catch up on Cassie, the new witch in town and her five friends who bind a circle of witchcraft only to be found out by witch hunters and demons!  It’s creepier than I thought and I’ll be sticking with it.

Tiffany also blogged about another favorite topic of mine, Urban Legends.  From the tales themselves to the flicks that made them frightening, you gotta check this out!

Don’t lie, we know you’re already making your holiday gift lists, if not for yourself, perhaps Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life, and Pam Hawley’s got you covered.

Nursery Rhymes You Didn’t Learn

For all of you struggling with your writing projects!  Here are the rhymes you didn’t learn in school to help you.  Enjoy!

Hickory dickory dock,

the mouse ran off with my plot!

The clock struck one,

the writer was done!

Hickory dickory dock.

Hickory dickory dock.

The bird pooped on my plot!

The clock struck two

What’s a writer to do?

Hickory dickory dock.

Hickory dickory dock

The dog chewed through my plot!

The clock struck three

Guess it wasn’t to be.

Hickory dickory dock.


Jack and Jill went up the hill

to fetch another chapter.

Jack fell down

bringing the pages ’round

and Jill came scribbling faster.


Old Mother Hubbard

went to the cupboard

to give the poor dog a pen.

When she came there

the cupboard was bare

and so the poor pup wrote no end.

When Grandpa Came to Live With Us

Spent the day working at home, cleaning and organizing my desk and closet.  In the midst of the dust upheaval, I unearthed my bin full of old journals and literary magazines.  Thought I’d share a poem of mine published in Spires Literary Magazine, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Spring 2005.  The summer before I returned to school my mother’s father moved in with us due to his decreasing health.  I wrote this while sitting in the kitchen at home one night.

When Grandpa Came to Live With Us

When Grandpa came to live with us–

it was because he needed oxygen

His lungs

think with rainwater,

similar to the

heat-backed thunder,

which stewed outside

Strange enough, Wisconsin summer,

humidity so thick I couldn’t breathe


In the house

a whole woods full

of noises

a cowbird’s call

in Grandpa’s cough

seven june bugs


like pill bottles

The stir of leaves

cracks of sticks–

an oxygen machine

The long blowing

of the grasses

and tree branches,

steady hum of a sleeping

old man

The Recall

I’m reporting again.  On March 9, 2011 the Wisconsin State Senate voted on the budget repair bill without democratic senators present.  What has been proposed for two weeks as the only way to balance our state budget, and described as an economic plan, omitted every part of the bill that mentioned fiscal issues, thereby making the democratic representatives’ presence unnecessary.  The result, an unchecked and unbalanced vote to end labor unions and collective bargaining rights.  Senate members met illegally without due notice and voted on a bill that was not even present at this meeting, and never available to the public.  The following is the footage from the actual voting process and a spoken word I wrote in reaction to this shameful event.

The Recall

I grew in a state where houses

were sprinkled from a watering can

amidst farmland,

where budding cities sprouted like beanstalks

and the families, its leaves,

called out Forward!

Fifty years of paving progress

only to be wiped out

in one shady chamber room.

Shame! To you Governor Walker.

Shame! To you politicians

who don’t speak for your constituents

and ignore their educated,


respected, and collected VOICE!

Do you not see the eyes of 50,000 faces

staring into your windows,

which should be THEIR windows

waiting for an invitation into their own home?

Can you not hear them knocking?

They come to you as equals

and still you won’t look at them without lies.

Holy, holy, holy


who marched on the capital stairs

with their families and their signs,

sleeping on the sidewalks,

spilling out into the streets

they beg to have a word,

but still you haven’t heard!

What times are these

when human rights

are fallen on deaf ears?

For weeks

you’ve left our communities

in tears,

fearing but not quite believing

our democracy could end.

But with crafty hands

you penned a legislation

not even present at the voting table,

and yet so evil

it was voted in “aye!”

God bless you,

Representative Barca,

for standing up against

the murderers of the middle class!

We are a grieving public.

But our anger and our fear

will be mended

one signature at a time,

oh yes, we will sign!

For the voices in that room

did not represent our state

and therefore

we will change the faces

that sit in that shady chamber room

that took away our voices,

yours and mine,

we will meet again

when we send you

that sweet forgotten postcard,

our love note to our capital,

that check in a ballot box,

we’ll sign it,

“wish you weren’t here!”

For you are not Wisconsin’s governor!

Angelheaded Hipster

If you could make a movie feel so powerful, so historical, and so eloquently raw all at the same time, I think you’d find yourself watching the film, Howl.  Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, and starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, Howl is a film that deeply moved me.  It combines the recitation of Ginsberg’s most famous poem (Howl) with past and present day Ginsberg, as well as animated imagery.  It also depicts the obscenity trials surrounding Howl’s publication by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books.

I was first introduced to Allen Ginsberg when my high school english teacher from junior year got out his giant hardcover copy of Poetry Speaks, a vast and I believe rare collection of the poets themselves reading their work, with biographies and other writer’s takes on what their writing meant to the generations.  Howl is a poem in four parts, it is a love story to a generation, the naked truth about hypocrisy and material goods, a religious poem, a spiritual poem, a letter to one’s friends and role models, a historical and social reference mind f**k, and finally a jazz rhythm read.  He uses what was considered at the time to be crude and vulgar language, and many would say it is still crude and vulgar today.  But he spoke honestly and openly about life and became a main reference for a movement that swept a post-war generation, the Beats.

It would have been incredible to sit in the courtroom overhearing the obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl.  One side arguing that the poem has no literary merit because it is obscene, and the other defending freedom of speech and saying the obscenity comes from a known life of obscenities.  Ginsberg spent several months in a mental institution and was released after promising his doctor he would not be gay anymore.  The first part of the poem is an ode, a remembrance to a man he met in the institution, Carl Solomon, and it may be my favorite portion of the poem.

Do yourself a favor, see this film!  It is well acted, well encrypted between court trials, interviews, typewriters, and animation.  Ginsberg is someone who spoke out to other writers, who loved poetry and writing in the very pit of his stomach.  He and his work, whether you like it or not, have paved the way for expressionist art.  See this film!

When did you first encounter Allen Ginsberg?  What do you think of his work, is it life or is it just obscene?  If you haven’t heard Howl read by Ginsberg, here is a recording of part 1.

I Heard the Cry on the Capital Stairs

Thousands rally at the capital to speak up for State Worker's Rights

I know the rules of blogging platform.  We are not supposed to dive into the political, so if you don’t want to listen just click on my Jane Austen post instead.  But I can’t silence my head.  I’ve argued with people, paced around the house, drove around listening to NPR, and spent countless hours worrying about the future and my family.  If you didn’t know, Wisconsin is in an uproar regarding Governor Scott Walker’s plan to end all unions.  Thousands of state workers and teachers have rallied in protest at the capital all week long.  I really do understand the downsides to a union, in fact, in my job I educate new hires on why our company opts to do without a union, but four people in my family are union members through WEAC or other state positions.  And with the plans Governor Walker wants to put forward it will mean less pay every year for our educators and increased pay ins for health benefits.  All I’m doing is sharing a spoken word I wrote today because it’s heavily on my mind.  I thank you for listening, and whichever side of the struggle you fall on, please send support to my family as I know a battle lies ahead.

I Heard the Cry on the Capital Stairs

This is an appreciation.

You’ll have to forgive my fixation

but this crowd-

balled up against the capital stairs

speaking out so loudly

I can hear it from 200 miles away!

They say

Kill the Bill

to those who won’t even agree to listen

yet admit that their legislation

could use a little editing.

Well I learned how to proofread,

but sometimes a mistake

is not so easily repaired by the

force of an eraser on paper.

Sometimes it can never be taken back

and it becomes a mandatory civil disobedience,

a role call of citizens who speak up

and speak out about why

you can’t tear down a structure

like a building and not acknowledge

you’re leaving a mess.

And that is why we are here today!

That is why some of your children

could not attend school

because their teachers chose to walk out

rather than spend the day in denial of their own voice

their own voice

handling the matters that impact them directly.

So if you know a teacher,

are related to a teacher,

and Heaven bless you if you are a teacher,



SPEAK now SPEAK strongly

SPEAK with the conviction

of a child raising their hand and asking WHY?

Never stop asking questions!

Never doubt for a moment that our nation

would never learn how to read or count

or grow without our teachers preparing

every class lesson and opportunity

a child is given

by devoting their own free time

to the success and the future

of the next generation!

Say thank you!

Say you hear them!

Say you know there are changes yet to come,

but not from a tumbling structure undone,

in this day, while we stand

united on the capital steps

let us SPEAK,

even if you find yourself only able

to whisper.

Let all voices be known as a face,

a part of the answer,

not the problem!

Say thank you!

Say you hear them!

Say you have the courage

and the remembrance of a teacher

who has shaped your own life

to SPEAK out


SPEAK strongly

and never stop SPEAKING!

The Silent Articulation of a Face

It’s Valentines Day.  Whether you love or hate the celebration, I thought a little Rumi was appropriate.  If you’re unfamiliar with him, he was a Sufi mystic and poet, most noted for his extreme love and devotion towards his mentor Shams of TabrizNPR host, Jean Feraca, from Here on Earth had a whole discussion with Coleman Barks, one of the lead translators of Rumi’s poetry and a Sufi studier for over three decades.  I absolutely encourage you to check out Jean’s site and listen to some podcasts of her programs; they are always very moving.  While driving in the car today, I listened to caller after caller read their favorite Rumi poem, share how they knew Rumi, and why his work makes him the most beloved and best selling poet in America.

I first discovered Rumi through my sister.  She learned about him in college and brought one of his books home for me to read knowing how much I liked poetry.  I immediately devoured his words and watched a documentary about his life which interviews prominent Rumi translators and the differences these authors have on his works.  It’s really interesting how one poet has inspired many others to interpret his work.  Some is very proper and written in an older english style, while Coleman Barks brings about more of Rumi’s spirit in his translations, rather than a literal translation.  I’ve returned to Rumi poems throughout my life at different times.  Sitting by my parent’s garden, I read his love of the land poems.  And when I was too young to know any better I read his love poems and yearned for the intense emotions he wrote of.  Now, for Valentines Day, I share with you two different Rumi poems that I think are beautiful.  Enjoy!

Do you have a story to share about Jalaluddin Rumi?  Do you have a favorite Rumi poem?  I’d love to hear it!

The Silent Articulation of a Face

Love comes with a knife, not some

shy question, and not with fears

for its reputation! I say

these things disinterestedly. Accept them

in kind. Love is a madman,

working his wild schemes, tearing off his clothes,

running through the mountains, drinking poison,

and now quietly choosing annihilation.

A tiny spider tries to wrap an enormous wasp.

Think of the spiderweb woven across the cave

where Muhammad slept! There are love stories,

and there is obliteration into love.

You’ve been walking the ocean’s edge,

holding up your robes to keep them dry.

You must dive naked under and deeper under,

a thousand times deeper! Love flows down.

The ground submits to the sky and suffers

what comes. Tell me, is the earth worse

for giving in like that?

Don’t put blankets over the drum!

Open completely. Let your spirit-ear

listen to the green dome’s passionate murmur.

Let the cords of your robe be untied.

Shiver in this new love beyond all

above and below. The sun rises, but which way

does night go? I have no more words.

Let soul speak with the silent

articulation of a face.

Some Kiss We Want

There is some kiss we want

with our whole lives, the touch

of spirit on the body. Seawater

begs the pearl to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately

it needs some wild darling!

At night, I open the window and ask

the moon to come and press its

face against mine.

Breathe into me. Close

the language-door and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,

only the window.

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