Posts by carolynmartinpoet

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey through California to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and dry summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her fourth poetry collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, is scheduled for a February 2019 release by Unsolicited Press. She is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly, journal of global transformation.

The Best 15:54 Minutes You’ll Spend This Year

It happens this way …

I’ve taken a break from blogging for a few weeks during this holiday season, not because I was very busy (the holidays were kind and peaceful for us) , but because I had nothing to say. This morning as I was pondering when to get back on the  proverbial saddle, my former MSMA student, Nan Colalillo, sent a FB link to Anne Lamott’s TED talk from early last year.

“12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing” caught my attention immediately and I’ve already listened to it twice. Anne is funny, insightful, down-to-earth, and shared exactly the ideas I needed to hear on this 10thday of 2020.

So with no further ado, I invite you to listen to Anne’s brilliance and I send gratitude to Nan for the kind of sharing that makes Facebook valuable.

Another world

Away in a manger ten days before Christmas …

It happens this way …

One of my goals as a young poet was to rewrite the Bible from a woman’s point of view. Over the years, I’ve slowly accumulated poems about — among others — Adam and Eve, Noah, Martha and Mary, Lot’s daughter, and Job’s wife. Since ’tis the season, I thought I’d share one of my favorites. It’s  based on that moment in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph are told the Inn is sold out.

Listen to the innkeeper’s wife when she comes to grips with who it was her husband turned away. What marketing opportunities were lost that day!

Innkeeper’s wife irate over loss

I could spit! I shouted in his face.

Turning paying guests away!

He brushed that couple off without

so much as, Maybe we could find … .


When will he learn? The Census earns

five years of room and board,

but lugging wood and curing hay,

learning isn’t on his mind.


Of course I’d carve a plan. I’d hearth

an extra rug to keep her bundle warm.

He and that soft-eyed man would share

a bed. And when it came her time,


we’d march those smelly shepherds far

beyond the barn and hush those wings

and aggravating songs. They could drive

a dreamer from his restless sleep.


And, the publicity we’d glean!

A destination site, at least.

Not every day do morning stars

and cameled Kings ruckus through


our town. We’d be well-mapped,

well-known for hospitality,

not the butt of half-lame jokes.

We lost the chance. I’m furious!


Know what’s worse? That dotty neighbor

with the rotting manger molding hay

lets strangers muck across his barn,

dropping coins to say they’ve been.


Now he roams his days across the hills,

singing sounds like tidingspeace,

and human hearts. Who talks like that?

I’d like to know. Who talks like that?

— from Carolyn Martin, The Way a Woman Knows (Beaverton, OR: The Poetry Box, 2015)


Sunday Evening with Buddha

It happens this way …

While doing some research on the Buddha for a poem, I came across a series of his quotations tonight. I thought I’d share some of my favorites.DSC00735

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

You only lose what you cling to.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.

People with opinions just go around bothering one another.

It is better to travel well than to arrive.

Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.

It is ridiculous to think that somebody else can make you happy or unhappy.

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.


Here’s to lifting up our eyes to the sky and laughing!


What I Just Learned from High School Students

PlaysIt happens this way …

During the past week, Kathy and I had the pleasure of going to Reynolds High School in Troutdale and to David Douglas High School in Portland to see their latest musicals. Reynolds staged the Broadway version of the Little Mermaid while David Douglas did the same with Holiday Inn.

To say that the music, staging, costumes, singing, dancing, and energy were outstanding would be an understatement. Ever since I taught at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, NJ, a lifetime ago, I knew that high school productions could be on a par with those done by professionals. (Sister Pauline was a brilliant director who called the best out of her casts.)

So it has thrilled me over the last five decades to see talented young people committed to the passion and discipline it takes to perform at such a high level.

Maybe because I have been listening to Brené Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability on You-Tube, I was smacked in the face with a lesson I need to learn from some of the young men and women on stage.

Here’s the backstory: Growing up in the ‘50s, I felt body-shamed for being overweight. Luckily, I went to Catholic schools where uniforms saved me from having to find clothes that could cover some of my heft.

However, one day the principal of my high school called me up on stage in front of an assembly of girls in my freshman class. As I walked across the stage, I heard her say to the group, Now here’s how a chubby girl wears her uniform correctly.

 Get the picture? Shame upon shame.

Now, fast forward to last week: on both high school stages, there were young women as well as young men who would probably be considered overweight. Whether they played lead roles or were in choruses, it was obvious to me that, whatever their size or shape, they didn’t allow body-shame to stop them from singing and dancing their talented hearts out. And talented they were!

There was one young woman in the chorus at David Douglas who so reminded me of me at her age that I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. As she danced with different male partners and appeared in a variety of form-fitting costumes, there was a grace and ease about her that made me tear up.

Of course, I don’t know what her life is like off stage, but throughout her performance on that stage, she exuded a self-confidence that would put shame to shame.

I’ve known people who have felt ashamed because they were too thin, too tall, too short, too whatever.  Maybe we should start a #TooWhatever movement for all of us who don’t feel right about who we are and where we are right now – not merely in terms of body image, but in terms of what we can offer each other and our world.  I’ll be thinking about this in the weeks to come. Shame has lived in my personal space for too long! And, if anyone is interested in heading up this movement, let me know!

PS: I’m just learning about Brené Brown and her extraordinary research on shame and vulnerability via programs on You-Tube. When you have time, take a look. She will change your life!


Breaking with Charity

It happens this way …

UnknownBy some strange You-Tube happenstance, I came across the conversation Tara Westhover, the author of Educated, had with Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 26, 2019.

I had written a blog (“Stunned into Understanding”) about Tara’s moving, yet disturbing book last October so I was eager to see her and hear her voice.

In case you haven’t read Educated yet – and seriously think about doing so – here’s the blurb The Aspen Institute used to introduce the conversation:

Raised by uncompromising survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover survived extreme adversity, from never being allowed to go to school, to suffering serious physical injuries (and a dad that prohibited doctors or hospitals), to being at the mercy of a volatile and often abusive older brother. How did she not only make it through this childhood, but ultimately achieve success at the highest levels? How does she look back on her childhood and her family? What has she learned from her incredible and improbable journey?

Tara is a lovely, self-effacing, authentic, and oh-so-intelligent young woman. She earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge without ever getting a GED. When she entered Brigham Young University at age seventeen, she had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement. From reading a book on her father’s shelf, she thought that slavery was bad because it was so hard on slave owners. Hence, her need to become “educated”!

Among the many things that struck me about Tara was her empathetic understanding of some of the current divisions our country is experiencing. Since she now lives in New York City but returns from time to time to her home in Idaho, she is amazed how the urban/rural divide is based on distorted misunderstandings each group has about the other.

She used a phrase I had never heard before: the breaking with charity. (I jumped for a pen to write it down so I could research it more.) As Tara mentioned, the phrase goes back to the Salem witch trials.

According to one Google entry,

It refers to the moment when two members of the same group break apart and become different tribes. In Salem, the break occurred when some among a group of young women accused others of being witches. When you break charity, bonds of trust and truth are shattered and everything good thing you have done is affected.

What is broken may be mended but it will never regain its original strength. In truth, it cannot be unbroken. Think about political commentary and the words we throw at each other today.

How many ways have we “broken with charity” these past few years over politics, religion, family, schools, whatever? Rather than throwing words at each other, we’ve forgotten to sharpen our listening skills so we can at least understand the reality others live in and the beliefs they hold on to. It may not be our reality – and we certainly don’t have to embrace those beliefs – but we may become more charitable empathizers in the process.

This is what I’m going to be thinking about this week.

PS: If you listen to the Westhover/Goldberg conversation, don’t miss Tara’s singing at the end. It’s glorious!

To All Dog Lovers Out There

It happens this way …

A friend just emailed me to say she put down her dog this morning. It was a compassionate thing to do since her sweet pet was suffering so much. My friend’s heart is cracking open with grief again – she’s experienced this before –- but she will assure anyone who listens that the love she has shared with her dear dog is worth the pain.

Everyday I receive FB posts from my dog-loving friends across the country. They include messages about the benefits – physical and spiritual – of owning a dog – or, better yet, being owned by one. They make me laugh about the silly things dogs do and joy in the tenderness dogs show in nurturing abandoned kittens or guarding a sleeping child. I can understand the love.DSC07973

We don’t have a pet – unless you want to count the feral cats, steller’s jays, juncos, robins, and other various creatures who play in our backyard. The traveling we do makes owning a good excuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a dog in a kennel or even having someone other than us watch over it when we flew away.

Perhaps another reason is equally true: the experiences my brothers and I had  with pets growing up in NJ. I dug out this poem that appeared in Fall 2016 in an anthology called Our Last Walk: Using Poetry for Grieving and Remembering Our Pets.

I think the last six lines nail the truest truth about my lack of pet-ownership. A million cheers to all of you share love with, and learn love from, your pets. Someday …

 Love’s Labor’s Lost

or Why I don’t own pets

Three chameleons


into our bamboo shades.

The horny lizard’s

soft-curled back



like goldfish

in their hazy bowl,


its down-side up.


dad booted out

the lab who


his cabbage soup.

The speckled mutt


one day,


away the next.

Need more


A droop-face cop


our summer yard

and shot

two frothing pups.

My heart

can’t bear

another crack.

I fall in love

too hard,

too fast.


SMITTEN: How do we identify ourselves?

It happens this way …

There’s a new anthology coming out in a few weeks called SMITTEN: This Is What Love Looks Like from Indie Blu(e) Publishing. It features 120 women, ages 16-87, and their poems about loving women. Five poems of mine will appear in it.

During the past few weeks, I’ve met a number of editors and contributors via social media, answered interviewers’ questions, and read the interviews of women from around the world. What a powerful community this anthology is creating!

One question consistently stopped in my tracks: “How does your identity affect your work?” In the context of this lesbian collection (There: I’ve used the L-word! It’s only taken me seven decades to do that!), the question implies how does identifying as the L-word (ok, I’m not perfect yet) affect my writing?

Huh? Being a very late bloomer – I didn’t start to write poetry until I was 27 and didn’t come to grips with my sexuality until my early 40s – I never thought about that.

Being a woman beyond a certain age, I had identified myself as a teacher, business trainer, and writer; a carbon-based humanoid who happens to be a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I have written a number of poems about my personal relationships which have appeared in a variety of journals, but I’ve not been in an overtly lesbian anthology before.

I realized this was somewhat of a coming out into a world larger than my corner of Oregon. I knew former students of mine would read my interview on Facebook, Sister of Mercy friends would do likewise. I haven’t hidden my relationship with my partner of almost 27 years, but neither have I broadcasted it in such a far-flung way.

All this is to say, the question of identity is complex. How do we define ourselves? In terms of our work roles and/or our familial relationship? In terms of our race, ethnicity, education, sexuality, social standing, friendships, religious or political affiliations? All factor in and maybe identity is a mosaic: each a piece of the whole that is us. I’m still pondering who I am. Any thoughts about how you define yourself?

PS: Here’s one of the poems that will appear in SMITTEN.

I love you more than Mariska HargitayPoem

And so the day begins with you

explicating last night’s dream

about the way she stroked your cheek 

with her arresting smile and lured

you toward a dark-eyed kiss before

you fought her off explaining

it would be criminal beyond

the ordered bounds of law 

because the fact is I’m downstairs  

in muddy garden clothes and sleepy hair

waiting for your lips so I can ditch

my coffee cup and stubborn poem

to wage my outdoor chores

and you’re telling me you’re telling her 

you never swore a vow or wear

a wedding ring but when stray nights

tempt you toward a luscious offering 

you walk away you’re telling me 

you are faithful even in your dreams.