What a Nice Surprise...

...when you completely forget that you've had a poem accepted for an anthology, which, when it comes in the mail, is quite beautiful, thick and juicy with poetry. And you find your poem amongst works by such luminaries as W.S. Merwin and Jo Harjo and Denise Levertov and Lucille Clifton and Evie Shockley (who I met at AROHO), just to name a few. And the overturned truck on the freeway that lengthened your morning commute by almost an hour and the school room that is your "office" with no heat and the hard conversation you had to have with a colleague fall away as you bask in the glow. 

Thank you to Melissa Tuckey, co-founder of Split This Rock Poetry Festival (which anyone on the East Coast should attend) and The University of Georgia Press for this lovely book. Here is my poem which appears on page 197 in case you want to buy a copy here:

Serengeti Afternoon

To stand upright,

a wildebeest struggles,

wobbly, his legs broken.

In the thin arms

of a baobab tree


ink splotches

across the deep blue sky.

They are waiting

for the wildebeest’s

last fall

before they drop

down around him.

I watch stunned

as the first one, brazen,

tears a strip of flesh

from the still-shuddering flank.

Red means only one thing

in the Serengeti.

My silent vigil

is all I offer

the dying.

For the first time

in my life

I wish for a gun.



NaPoWriMo Daily Challenge: A Poem for Ruth and Don

I have been writing (or trying to) a poem each day for the NaPoWriMo daily poetry challenge to commemorate National Poetry Month. As of today, April 28, I have written 24 poems. This year instead of posting all my sometimes feeble attempts to the public, I've only been brave enough to share them with other poet friends who are on the same journey. They know the struggles of trying to be almost brilliant every day. 

Now that National Poetry Month is drawing to a close, I thought I'd take the plunge to share a few of my poems here. For Spring Break this year, I took my first trip to Hawaii to visit my good friends Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell of Saddle Road Press, the publishers of my book Always a Blue House. There were a few days there in their lovely house on the Big Island when Ruth and I would be writing our poems on different floors. 

So here is one for you, Ruth and Don:

Day 12

Silver Swords

Ruth raved about them,
thorny globes glistening
among lava falls
on the slope of Mauna Kea.

We bumped our way
along a rocky track,
like the roads in Tanzania,

distant plains spread out before us
green and gold like the Serengeti.
How could this be Hawaii?

Then there they were, shining
like unsheathed blades,
presence potent
as she had promised.



Sea Ranch, June 2016: A room with a view and starting a book campaign

For the past few years, I've made an annual trek to the northern California coast to Sea Ranch. This is a rather other-worldly place. Made up of a community of cedar-sided houses perched on the edge of the Pacific, there is little to do here. In June, it's windy and chilly. The nearest town is tiny Gualala, 12 miles up the road.

So what's the draw? For me, it's the chance to be with an amazing group of women I met in 2011 at the AROHO retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Another ranch, another place where there was nothing to do except eat, read, write, talk and experience the beauty of nature.

This year at Sea Ranch my bedroom is in the library of one of the houses we've rented. As I type this, I sit surrounded by books. Out my window, the ocean roars, gulls riding the wind currents. This is a glorious, wild place to begin my summer vacation.

Every year when I come to Sea Ranch, I set myself writing goals, just as I would expect of my own students. This blog post is the beginning of my first goal for 2016: begin a book campaign.

One of the wonderful women in my mighty band of writers here is Ruth Thompson who runs Saddle Road Press out of Hilo, Hawaii. I am honored that Saddle Road will be publishing my first full-length book of poetry in December.

Creating a book of poetry can be a long, painstaking process. I published my chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean (Big Table Publishing) in December of 2010. For the last six years, I've been slowly and steadily building a new collection of poems. And now my completed manuscript is in the hands of my trusty publisher.

Well, at least the first draft is in her hands! I know I have many revisions to go through before the book is ready to go out into the world. All writers can expect that. We may not like it, but we expect it. It's what writers do.

What many people don't know is the other work that goes into getting a book into people's hands, especially a book of poetry from a small press. And that's a marketing campaign. Most of my non-writer friends are surprised when I tell them that I will be responsible for marketing my book. But it's true. Being a poet and teacher, I never thought I'd have to add PR representative to my resumé. Now I am.

So in the next six months, I'm off on a new adventure of revision, choosing a cover -- and marketing. I know I'm not alone in this. I'm lucky to have writer friends who have given me great advice already. But I'm always looking for more ideas.

I'd love to hear from others, not just writers, who have have been on the same path. I know artists, photographs or filmmakers face the same challenges. What was it like for you to get your work known? Maybe I'll add your ideas to my to-do list.

SOL 2016 Day 28: Really Only Four Days Left?

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

Here I am, having posted for 27 days in a row. Some posts were more successful than on others, depending on the demands of daily life and my involvement level.  That's how writing goes no matter what the task. For a few days now I've been counting down, hoping I could make it to the end of the month. Now that there are only four more posts, including this one, I find myself feeling almost nostalgic. 

I've participated in such online challenges before. For the entire year of 2014, as part of a private Facebook group, I wrote and posted a haiku everyday (well, to be honest, almost every day. I missed 2 or 3). 

Writing haiku became so much a part of my life that I've continued with that group although I  admit I haven't written one every day. But every few days I find a haiku within me to post.

Last year I wrote a poem each day for NaPoWriMo as part of National Poetry Month.  National Poetry Month - April - starting four days from now.

And that's what I've been pondering as I reach the end of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Am I up for another month of writing and posting? Can I come up with 30 poems? 

I find myself doubting my ability to commit in the same way I felt as March 1st rolled around for Slice of Life. But as I make it to the home stretch of this wonderful journey, I feel that maybe, just maybe I can keep going.

SOL 2016 Day 22: It's hard to know what to say...

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

Today I don't seem to find words. So I'm reposting my friend, Esther Cohen's blog for today. 

I’m Posting Someone Else’s Poem Today, or Muriel Rukeyser

by Esther Cohen
It's hard to know what to say about something as awful as the Brussels terrorist attack.
By Muriel Rukeyser
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser, “Poem” from The Speed of Darkness.
(Vintage Books, 1968)

SOL 2016 Day 19: Poetry Workshop with Ellen Bass

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

This is my latest Slice so far. I just got home from an all day poetry workshop at the home of the wonderful poet, Ellen Bass.  I sat on a very hard folding chair for 7 hours with 13 other poets while Ellen talked about poetry and gave us strategies and advice on taking our poems from the purely personal to be more universal. It was so inspiring.

Luckily I sat facing her front window. Outside she has the most beautiful olive tree. At one point in the afternoon I managed to write a few lines about it:

Olive tree coming into bloom
outside the window,
leaves silvered by sun low
in the afternoon sky.

I wish I had a full poem to share about this day, but the 1 1/2 hour drive each way has left me tuckered out. There's always tomorrow.

SOL 2016 Day 16: Today I Was Not Inspired

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

Today I Was Not Inspired

not by the bumblebee rolling in shaggy blooms

or  flowers orange as little suns
not by the stone dog guarding a neighbor's house 

or the purple burst of irises
No, today I was not inspired

SOL 2016 Day 15: Sometimes Writing Time Turns into Reading Time

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

There are days when the 5:40 a.m. alarm seems crueler than other times. On those days, when I sit down to write, I can tell right away that I won't get much writing out of my sleepy brain. Today was one of those days.

When this happens, I know what to do: read. I have a pile of poetry books next to my chair. All I have to do is choose one, and then spend a half hour immersed in words, even if they aren't my own. 

Today I chose a literary journal I received in the mail a few weeks ago. I hadn't made time to read it, but this morning was the right time. Reading poems by several different poets kept me on my toes, having to pay attention to diverse voices and styles. 

By the time I was done, I was wide awake. And I had an idea for a new poem of my own. Yes, sometimes writers just need to read.

SOL 2016 Day 13 - For Poetry: A Day in Poetry Workshop

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

For Poetry

Driving flooded streets,
windshield wipers whooshing,
Waiting on train platforms,  
boots shushing in pouring rain,
umbrella fighting winds.
All to meet with poets,
drenched in line breaks,
sonnets, imagery,
talk of metaphor.
Refreshed, reverse

SOL 2016 Day 6: The Solace of Daily Life

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

Today still trying to cope with the news of my friend's illness, I have found myself relishing today's round of household chores. Washing dishes, grocery shopping, changing my sheets, doing laundry: these mundane tasks I often resent seem important to me today. 

They sooth me with their assurance that there is still some part of life not rocked by fear. 

I'm sure my friend would welcome the chance to choose the perfect apple or smell sheets fresh from the dryer. So I will do all these things for her, hoping that soon she will be at home again lying in her own bed. So this poem is for her:

The  Promise

Slide crisp sheets fresh from the wash,
snap the wrinkles out and let
the top one float gently to rest.
Smooth over corners,
tuck them in taut, clean folds.
Slap and fluff the pillows,
slip them into their cases
still unwrinkled from a sleeping head.

Dare to take a new journey.
Traverse the map of night
to descend streets of dreams,
as you lie on sheets
sweet smelling,
cool and soft as longing.

SOL 2016 Day 1 - Poem for Tania: Piazza della Rotunda

Today I begin the Slice of Life March Challenge, writing and posting every day this month. Wish me luck.

During the summer of 2015, my poet friend Tania Pryputniewicz of Feral Mom, Feral Writer began a poetry challenge with me. She began with giving me the task of writing a poem using the letter Z, one of my favorite letters for obvious reasons. Then I sent her a prompt of my own: write about a resting place. At the time, I was at rest on an Italian vacation, so relaxation was on my mind. It took a few months but, as requested, she finally wrote a poem. Tania's lovely poem, Meditation Garden, Encinitas inspired me, but in a way I didn't expect. Somehow it made my thoughts turn to Italy again.

One of my favorite places in the whole world (or at least the parts I've been to) is the Piazza della Rotunda in Rome.  On every visit to that city, no matter how short, I always make my way there to sit at a table at the same cafe and dream I'm Roman. Here's poem about a slice of the life in that beautiful place.

Tania, now it's your turn to send me another challenge. You said you had a good idea for me. Send it my way.

Piazza della Rotunda

Pantheon cool, serene,
oldest of the buildings 
cradling the body
of this small piazza.
Tourists stream past
my café table under 
its orange umbrella,
orange drink in my hand.
We have all emerged
from our heat-addled naps.
Stroller wheels rattle
over cobblestones,
nuns in white habits
eat gelato scooped
from the corner stand.
Sunburned shoulders
peeking from skimpy tank tops,
girls huddle on fountain steps,
giggle and bubble
like the water behind them.
Their friend snaps photos,
Egyptian obelisk
their solemn backdrop.
Small brown men,
from the Phillipines
or Indonesia perhaps,
shoot shiny
toys into the air,
hoping one will land
near a child’s foot.
She might pick it up
and beg to keep it.
We all long 
for bright tidings
to soar over our heads
like birds, like stars
into Rome’s
blue-falling night.

Related Links:
Respective poems from the first challenge: 
Write a poem using the letter Z:
Firenze Poem, For Tania from Italy by Lisa Rizzo
21 Zs for Lisa: Omen Hunting in Yo El Rey Roasting by Tania Pryputniewicz

The Power of the Internet Part III

Only one week to go before the monthly challenge begins!

Back on March 27, 2012 I wrote a post about writing odes with my eighth grade students:

Writing Odes with Eighth Graders

Just when I start dreaming of early retirement, the sun shines through the dirty, cracked windows of my classroom, and I forget all the bureaucratic and political hoo-ha to fall in love with teaching all over again. That’s what happened when I spent the day writing odes à la Pablo Neruda with my 8th graders.  (read more here)

In the last two years, my classroom website,   http://www.msrizzo.org   has just languished in the cloud without me. I'd even forgotten I had that website at all. Then today I got an email from Karin Warzybok, an 8th grade teacher at Sussman Middle School in Downey California telling me how much her students had enjoyed one of the odes written by one of my students. She even posted the poem on her blog: Warzyblog. And she wants the assignment I used to teach those wonderful poem. What an honor for my former student (I wish I could remember his name! Since I had to remove it before posting his poem, all I have are his initials: S.S.), and what an honor for good teaching. 

Once again I have been pleasantly surprised at the power of blogging. I've written before about hearing from people who had found my blog, and reached out to me. I even had one of my photographs I wind up in an art exhibit in Germany. (The Power of the Internet or How I Wound Up in an Art Exhibit in Germany)

When we blog, we can reach so many lives in ways we don't even realize. How encouraging it was to get that email the week before the Slice of Life Challenge begins. Just when I was starting to get cold feet. 

November Harvest: Two Publications

November 1st brought the news that my poem "Prairie Easter" is now online in Allegro Poetry Magazine published in England.This is my second publication with this journal. 
Then today I got my copies of the Fall edition of Naugatuck River Review in which my poem "Autumn" appeared. 

Once again I'm honored to have my work published with many other wonderful poems.  It also helps ease the two rejections I received only days before.

Family Respite: Salmon and a Poetry Challenge

These past two weeks I've been in Portland, mostly helping my 88-year old parents.  In the midst of a heatwave that has kept temperatures above 90º for over a week, it has not been easy to keep my spirits up. I know I'm in a situation shared by many others my age, but sometimes that knowledge doesn't help. When I felt like I couldn't take anymore, the heat broke and Oregon's beauty gave me respite when I needed it most.
The other day while walking in my quiet Sellwood neighborhood in southeast Portland, I came across a small section of Chrystal Springs Creek

A part of the Johnson Creek Watershed, a sign called it a salmon resting place. The creek was once channeled through a culvert under an apartment building. The water flowed too quickly for the young salmon who needed to use this waterway. 

Restored in 2012 to its natural state, it is now a lovely piece of wilderness tucked in among houses and lawns.  This bit of natural hope lifted my spirits on a particularly difficult day.

This made my think of my poet comrade Tania Pryputniewicz, also dealing with family issues.  In her blog Feral Mom, Feral Writer, she sent me a poetry challenge while I was in Italy. Now we are trying to continue these challenges, hoping they will help us find our own resting place, to keep poetry flowing despite the day-to-day concerns that seem to bog down our lives.

So, Tania, here is your challenge: write a poem about a resting place.  When you give me yours, I'll respond in turn. 

"Old Cars" published in Allegro Poetry Magazine

I'm very excited that my poem "Old Cars" has been published in Allegro Poetry Magazine Issue 5. This online journal is based in the United Kingdom. What an honor to have my work in such an international forum. You have to love this about the internet!

To find my poem, scroll to the bottom of the screen. Mine is the last one before the contributors' biographies. Don't forget to read some of the other wonderful poems along the way.

National Poetry Month: April 29, 2015

Prompt: Today, I challenge you to write a poem in the form of a review. You can review either animate or inanimate things, real places or imaginary places. You can write in the style of an online review (think Yelp) or something more formal that you might find in a newspaper or magazine. (I imagine that bad reviews of past boyfriends/girlfriends might be an easy way to get into this prompt, though really, you can “review” anything in your poem, from summer reading lists for third graders to the idea of the fourth dimension).

Day 29: This started as a review poem, but turned into more of a rant. 

             -- The Washington Post

Like God, poetry is said to be dying.
Proclaimed by an article
from the Washington Post
using statistics, 
America’s favorite weapon.
Readers decline in number,
poetry only slightly more popular
than opera, less desirable 
than knitting or jazz.
I bet the guy who wrote this 
doesn’t read poetry 
or go to poetry readings,
has never been to a slam.
Maybe he still resents memorizing
“Annabelle Lee” in fourth grade.
What should I tell that sixth grader
who told me she is a poet,
who sat scribbling lines in class yesterday?
Stop, don't bother, 
only 6.7% of all Americans
will care about your words?

No, I will say, "Let me read your poem."

National Poetry Month: April 2, 2015

Today's poem comes via a writing prompt from Kelli Russell Agodon:  Grab the closest book. Go to page 29. Write down 20 words that catch your eye. Use 7 of the words in a poem. For extra credit, have 4 of them appear at the end of a line.
I grabbed Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost.  The words I chose were: blue, edges, depths, spectrum, shallow, scattered, touch, horizon, go, ranges
Day 2:


beyond computers
and Facebook
grocery shopping
grunt of everyday
beyond the mundane
want of I
lie the blue edges
of the horizon

if we go there
where rocks range
scattered above shallow
waves slapping sand
perhaps then we can
touch what we have
always been
meant to find

National Poetry Month: April 1, 2015

It's that time again: National Poetry Month which means I'll be participating in NaPoWriMo once again. Last year I posted a haiku on my blog every day in April. This year I'm determined to post different types of poems each day. 

And if any of you want to write a poem to me, I'll post your work as well. 

So taking courage in hand (who in her right mind would post poems when they are newborn?), here goes.


Day 1:

Washing Dishes

White shards shattered,
scattered over the tile floor.
The plate flew past his head,
like in a movie
she had once watched,
like she had often imagined.

How it started doesn’t matter.
A bird trapped in her cage,
approval the worm she craved.
Not his half hidden glance
as he turned away,
derision written in the curve of his lips.

As she wiped that plate dry,
warm from its bath,
porcelain smooth,
this time her hand
knew the reply
she had never dared.