These Winter Sundays


Mini-chapbook by Marilyn McCabe


Yes, these are really our socks


These winter Sundays, when snow mounds, temperatures plummet, and spirits sag a bit, I renew my appreciation of spirit lifters, chief among which are the Women of Mass Dissemination, my writers’ group of the past decade. We meet monthly, go on a weekend retreat twice a year to write, and hold each others’ multicolor sock-toed feet to the metaphorical (and this year, literal) fire. In the past decade the six of us have published more than I can count (books, poems, video poems, novels, reviews, and essays, with plays in the works), but only after months and years of drafting, rewriting, sharing, critiquing, debating, informing, and exploring. We write collaboratively, try out or create writing  prompts, debate literary standards, test the water-worthiness of our rafts of words. We take two drafts forward and three drafts backwards. We mutter, we admonish, we ask, we suggest, we redirect, we inspire, we bless, we curse, we wonder, we wander, we read, we retreat, we return, we succor, we savor, we paint, we review, we write, we blog, we brand.  We expand each other’s reading lists and hone each other’s literary taste. (Of course, chocolate and pot pie are often involved.) We worry, we plan, we learn, we teach, we share, we fuss, we fix, we applaud. But mostly, we write.

Here’s to the Women of Mass Dissemination,* without whom I’d be sitting in a barn somewhere wondering where all the poets are, wondering too what happened to the poet in the mirror. And here’s to you, writing at your desk, on your bed, on your train, in your barn. Here’s to your tribe, whether you’ve found them yet or not.








*The Women of Mass Dissemination (WMD for short) are Lale Davidson, Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe, Mary Sanders Shartle, Nancy White, and yours truly. (In the photo above right, standing: Marilyn McCabe, Mary Sanders Shartle, Elaine Handley, Nancy White; seated, left to right: Lale Davidson and Kathleen McCoy.)


Book Fair Season


22nd-Chronicle-Book-FairTo smell damp leaves, feel the crisp cheek-brush of November breeze and enter a grand old hotel full of books–poetry, novels, children’s books, travel books, regional books, genre fiction and more–well, it’s difficult to think of a better way to spend a weekend day. Especially in a small town. This Sunday, November 5, join award-winning poets and novelists like Barbara Ungar and Mary Sanders Shartle between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at the Queensbury Hotel (did I mention I’ll be there too?). We’re reading 12:30-1:00 in the Saratoga Room, talking with folks and selling books all day, and your presence will make our day. It just might brighten yours as well. #Chronicle Book Fair on Twitter; Glens Falls Chronicle Book Fair on Facebook. Click here: Chronicle Book Fair.

Green&BurningCover     More Water Than Words     Lily Martindale.jpg Barbara Ungar Immortal Medusa.jpg

When To Say No[t]

IMG_7984Angela Nardin sings “The Nearness of You” by Ned Washington and Hoagey Carmichael at Hudson River Music Hall on September 17, 2017

It’s not always the evanescent wonder of words that entices readers. It’s just knowing when to say “no[t].”

It wasn’t just Hoagey Carmichael’s ear for a tune that made “The Nearness of You” a hit in pre-WWII America; it was lyricist Ned Washington’s use of litotes, the figure of speech that turns a negative into a positive: “It’s not the pale moon that excites me, / that thrills and delights me, / oh, no. It’s just the nearness of you.” The negation of beauty is paradoxically enhanced by the understatement of a positive. This technique is useful for poets–actually, for sane and savvy folks of all stripes these days.

Paradox makes for fine poetry, particularly when prose falls prey to prevarication.

When current events fuel your ire, or when you just want to praise someone you love, take a stab at litotes. And enjoy this short clip of SUNY Adirondack music student Angela Nardin at

Nat Geo and Processes of Poetry, of Peace

Watching Nat Geo gets my engine going with its brilliant animations and explanations of the processes that go on beneath our feet in the bowels and heart of the planet. Millions of years ago uncountable blankets of dead plankton settled into the bed of a dried-up antediluvian sea, descended far into the earth, were superheated by the oven-engine beneath them and tossed about like ashes in a hurricane, then settled into the sandstone deep down between crust and core and, after much pressure and slow tectonic shifts, became the black sludge that powers cars, computers, cities, universities, nations. We jack-hammered hundreds of miles down and pumped up this blackness, this foulness, this richness, this pure potential, the energy required for the engine of modernity to chug to life. While it’s far past the time we should be weaned from our oil diet in every city and town, hard drilling is how we started to create and share power.

What struck me most is how similar evolution must happen in our psyches and our nations before we can become a world where peace is even possible. The hard labor of breaking up the stone that surrounds our inner core must happen before we can discover the richness that makes such ecological and psychological trauma an unnecessary, outmoded process of the past. We must destroy the old illusions that we are separate, that there is no deep core of potential in our antagonists, that we can persist in oblivion upon the crust of social systems whose magma is about to erupt from beneath our dancing feet.


(Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons)

So we must do with our being: bore into the hard stone inside us, break it up, pump up the rich energy it releases. Carefully. That superheated heart has been known to blow off the tops of mountains and level whole towns in rains of fire.

When it is relieved of pressure intentionally we find power; when the pressure is relieved by nature itself we find the land blanketed with lava that can melt our shoes, but that becomes, when it cools, the most fertile of fields. Love. Forgiveness. Will to give ourselves to art and to each other.

If you have not yet done so, read Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Recommend it to your elected officials. Before you write your next poem, read her prose poem “Transformations” from In Mad Love and War.

Getting Back In

As difficult as it is now to imagine, as I child I was beyond timid. While in my imagination I could make things that were beautiful to my child-eyes, swim all day without tiring, ride a pony into the sunset, speak my mind without shaking, in actuality I was frequently frustrated by art that didn’t match the intricate mandalas I could see in my head before I knew what a mandala was, a pony so stubborn she wouldn’t take a step without cajoling, a body so terrified of deep water that I’d rather tremble at the edge of the pool than jump in (and the ocean?–for toes only), a voice that shook and hands that sweated so badly I’d have to wipe them multiple times during any test. Now, I’m deeply grateful and certainly not complaining about what was, all told, an idyllic beginning on this planet. But the felt gap between the desire to get “out there” artistically, physically, intellectually and my perception of my ability to embody this free, artistic person I longed to be was, at times and for decades, crippling. It’s been, shall we say, a theme for me.

I blame only myself for this. It’s like knowing you’re so far from your longing that you see only a corner of it through a telescope whose eyepiece has been blacked out. You think the lens is very, very small until you realize that if you clean the eyepiece, you can see; the irony is that you were just so darn close to the eyepiece that you couldn’t see it, really, at all, much less fix it–and where you can see, one day you can go. But until the voice telling me to go for it was my own, until I could feel in my body that failure is more a possibility I can learn from than a death trap–only then could I get out of my little self in little ways and keep pushing outward from a center that knows that the extent of what is possible only grows.

Now, in a season of change when rock-solid friends are dying young and my list of must-dos seems to lengthen with every breath, I realize I’m again at the edge of the water, frustrated that my Crayola art looks little like the Sistine Chapel, that Taffy the dark, dappled Welsh pony with the gorgeous flaxen mane is snorting, stock-still. She used to keep that up for so long (it seemed like fifteen minutes but was probably more like three) that I would give up, dismount, and walk her back to the shed. My friends that said you have to get back on after any buck or disappointment didn’t understand that my ride just wouldn’t move. Welshb_shangri-la

(Wikipedia, “Welsh Pony and Cob”)

So here I am again, not that different, I suppose, from anyone else, wondering what’s next and how to reach it. The difference for me from my younger self is the richness I’ve found inside myself. (You can be brought up in the church and still take a rather long time to reach this point, I’ve learned.) The Source of all goodness is source for everyone (I’m not talking about creeds here)–I feel this in my core. It is that love I seek to embody, that that gets me out of bed. Breathing it in, filling with it feeds, resurrects. The mindfulness we now agree is transformative (in homes, in schools, in artists) is a moment-to-moment invitation. I find myself wondering, instead of whether I will evolve as an artist, how, which of several projects to prioritize artistically.

What does it mean to be in the present and still be a thinking person? (I won’t even touch Alfred North Whitehead’s paradox–or more recently, Deepak Chopra’s–that none of us is the same person in any sense that we were at some undefinable point in the past; most of our bodies’ thirty-seven trillion cells would be unfamiliar to the children we were, and yet we feel some I-ness that grows far more slowly.) Then the present, I suppose, is not limited by space and time and current perceived actuality; reality is comprised of a richer, sourced, psychological and spiritual landscape enriched by the thoughts of all those I can access in the Information Age, in my memory, in the stream-of-consciousness within my head, in the wild imaginings of the heart. The earth is present and so is the beyond when heart and mind synchronize, when we breathe/imagine/write from a single light-filled breath that widens and widens, selects, illumines, includes until limitations fall away and worlds like sci fi, telephathy, poetry, the unwritten history of a people, the unscored music of the spheres take on a body, a shape, a color, a stream in the senses that renders them as real as if they were being seen, published, written, sung, recited, read, experienced in the present moment. This is a space no longer limited by dogma, acculturation, doubt, or fear. We are liberated in the act of creating.

Yet there is always more work to do, a process with one’s own mind, with the heart, with the mind several more times, with one’s peers, with the experts before it ever reaches the public, or some sliver of the public (my writer-friends are fond of saying we must each find our “tribe”) in form of publication or performance. But the enrichment of the artist’s soul is an essential precedent to any contribution to one’s own life, teaching, family, dreams, self-actualization, philosophy, spirituality, technology, medicine, politics, artistic creation, self-healing, healing of others, and innovation in the world.

At this point, dear reader, please take a moment to read Denise Levertov’s poem “The Secret.”

Now a rare airplane buzzes over our house; locust leaves waft slightly, brooding, waiting for rain; the cat sits tucked and patient for my lap to be free of books and computers. Taffy’s stopped snorting; her right foreleg is actually lifting from the hard ground.

May your water be safe, your pony trudge forward, your art pour onto the canvas or the page in vivid color.

Black Holes, White Holes, and Rainbows

Poets know black holes. Our heads are full of them at times. As are our houses. And our calendars. Or is it just me?

I’m focusing on white holes at the moment. True, to discuss them “we may have to go out on an astronomical limb” (PBS Nova, “Are White Holes Real?”); nevertheless, the concept of an inverse to the life/time/sanity/existence-sucking power of a black hole–something that emits Hawkian radiation, a kind of poetic, albeit theoretical, brilliance–entices. It offers hope. Yes, there are holes you can’t get out of, cosmic joy-sappers, but there just may also be voids of creation, or at least light-emission zones. And if they’re out there in the cosmos, the writer speculates, maybe, just maybe, they’re also in here (the hapless poet taps her temple for emphasis).

My point is that I’m back to blogging and writing, after a hiatus for life-coping, job-learning reasons of little interest to fellow poets and writers. You all have them: times when illness, death, surgery, family needs, learning curves, job challenges (yours or your mate’s), pets, political tension, finances, and general entropy seem to conspire against the odds of your pumping extra creative juices through your cerebrum. Your black-hole times.

That’s precisely when it’s time to declare a White Hole Time.

During July, I’m participating in the 30/30 Project of Tupelo Press, committed to writing 30 poems in 30 days. This will mean a number of things, including but not limited to the following. (1) No excuse short of personal coma will keep me from writing daily this month. (2)  No procrastinating. Writing comes first. (3) Perfectionism has been given the boot. While aiming for quality, 30/30 poets have to press on, trusting their guts and knowing the revision will continue after the poems are posted. (4) My family, assured repeatedly of my enduring love, will have to deal with wife/mom who lives in her home office and lets the dishes pile up until bedtime. Occasional muttering must be tolerated.

I would be delighted if you would consider donating toward my fundraising goal. Be sure to name “Kathleen McCoy” in the “Honor” box to credit my goal for the 30/30 Project. If you would have a subject you’d like me to write about, leave a comment. It’s an exciting endeavor, gathering poets from across the country who write in a variety of styles and support one another throughout the month–all to help out an award-winning independent press that publishes high-quality poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

This week, the SCOTUS surprised and delighted us with its vote for marriage equality. There are rainbows everywhere. And in undertaking 30/30, I realize there are real benefits for the “marathon poets” who participate. We are creating a virtual space where we can focus on white holes, rainbows, sparrows–anything that engages, enrages, delights, or endures our attention.

Suddenly, my teenage daughter is focusing on her summer homework! When I took a moment to praise her, she shrugged it off with, “Well, it’s easier when you’re out of the way.” Permission to retreat can be bittersweet.

Art should be for all of us. It’s an expression of love, passion, curiosity, longing, faith, doubt, unity, dissent–all the thoughts and emotions that help us embrace our humanity. Take a moment to check out the 30/30 Project. It’s art for all of us.

Between “Human” and “Being”

Poets, like humanoids of all stripes, play a balancing game on a daily basis. Grade papers. Run to meetings. Teach classes. Run kids to events and activities. Check in with the spouse. Dust once in a blue moon. Throw leftovers in the microwave. Eat. Run some more. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s what Ekhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, calls “finding a balance between human and Being” (104). The human part of us is the ego, which is wedded to the roles we play–poet, teacher, wife, mom, etc., etc.–while the Being at our core is timeless, disembodied, the Spirit that transcends all our earthly errand-running, role-shifting, ego-propping, power-grubbing, material-minding chaos.

Today, it’s meeting with the WMDs (Women of Mass Dissemination) to tweak, update, and generally improve our web sites. Tonight it’s marking draft poems for students who are (generally) more confident about their fiction.

But soon–not now, but SOON–it will be just the page and me. Setting the “human aside.” Connecting with poetry. Just . . . Being.