103 Years Old and Still Loving Poetry

As editors of Poetry of Presence we take tremendous joy in hearing how readers are using the anthology. This story, gleaned by serendipity from Facebook, really brightened our day:

Cheryl Hale works in the activity department at One MacDonough Place, an assisted living facility in Middletown, CT. “I read poems from this anthology to the residents where I work. It’s such an inspiring, positive collection.”

One of the activities they offer the residents “is a program for expressing oneself through poetry. Sometimes we have them write with prompts and sometimes we share poetry with them. I love your book … as the collection of poems has examples from such a wide range of poets, with the focus being on mindfulness and being present in each moment. They enjoy it, as do I. Thank you!”

phyllis 104
Happy birthday, Phyllis

Cheryl says that one of her role models at the facility is named Phyllis, like one of us editors. “[She] writes, paints, participates in literally everything, [and] will be 104 in a couple of weeks! Here she is, after I read her `Sifter’ [by Naomi Shihab Nye]. She is awesome, and always up for anything new!”

Cheryl and Phyllis, we’ll be up in CT in a couple of weeks to do (among other fun things) a reading organized by Ginny Connors, publisher of Grayson Books. Maybe we’ll just swing by One MacDonough Place to greet you and celebrate a 104th birthday! In the meantime, continue enjoying the anthology and writing your own poems.


Poet Spotlight: Twyla Hansen

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Twyla Hansen.


POP spotlight hansen

Short bio:
I’m Nebraska’s State Poet (2013-2018). I co-direct the Poetry from the Plains: A Nebraska Perspective website. My latest poetry book is Rock • Tree • Bird (The Backwaters Press, 2017). Two of my books have won Nebraska Book Awards, including Potato Soup, a Nebraska 150 Notable Book for the 2017 Sesquicentennial. My writing has appeared widely in periodicals, newspapers, anthologies, and many other publications.



Thoughts on mindfulness and poetry:
I have been practicing yoga for five years with a small group of women, and it has made a positive difference in my life. In today’s troubling times, deep breathing and yoga pose stretches are part of my daily routine, calming mind, body, and spirit. Spending time outdoors and writing poems have a similar effect on me. Stepping on to a native tallgrass prairie connects me deeply with Earth, from which all bounty flows. Creative writing also takes me to a place that is timeless. I love to lose myself in the process of writing a poem, and am astonished when I again resurface in the real world. This doesn’t happen every time I sit down to write, of course, but when it does, it gives me hope and the world seems a little brighter.

Fun fact: I’ve been collecting rocks in the shape of Nebraska for years, and by now have well over 100 of all sizes (see photo).


hansen rocks

Website and social media:

Poet Spotlight: Laura Grace Weldon

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Laura Grace Weldon.

POP spotlight weldon

Short bio: I live on a small farm where I cook weird things, sing to livestock, and stay up late reading library books. I’m the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning, with a book of essays due out soon. I also write about mindfulness in prose and poetry. These pieces include welcoming mistakes and celebrating humanity as well as finding meaning in coyote songs and spider webs.

Bonus material:

Look Up

Summer is a perfect time to gaze at clouds.

The traditional spot to indulge in this pleasurable activity is sitting in the grass. Better yet, lying on the grass. Stay there as clouds drift into view over treetops and roofs, slowly changing form. Linger long enough, you might insist you can feel the planet moving.

Looking at clouds is a perfect way to disengage from all the buzzing, ringing distractions that claw our attention to shreds. Those puffs of air vapor seem to invite contemplation. And that’s good. Daydreaming is so rejuvenating that it can boost creativity. It also helps us to relax, review emotion-laden situations calmly, generate new ideas, and get to know ourselves better.

When we let our minds wander, we’re in what neuroscience calls the “default mode network.”  An L.A. Times article titled, “An Idle Brain May Be The Self’s Workshop” notes,

Just as sleep appears to play an important role in learning, memory consolidation and maintaining the body’s metabolic function, some scientists wonder whether unstructured mental time—time to zone out and daydream—might also play a key role in our mental well-being. If so, that’s a cautionary tale for a society that prizes productivity and takes a dim view of mind-wandering.

Even when you don’t have time to lie in the grass, take the time to notice the sky. Really look at a starry sky, overcast sky, rainy sky. You may be getting more than a glimpse of the firmament.

I learned this when I helped conduct a psychology study in college.  We went to urban office buildings and asked people two questions. First, we asked each person to describe his or her mood. Second, we asked them to describe the current appearance of the sky. These people were in offices or hallways when we talked to them and the windows in most buildings were shuttered with horizontal blinds ubiquitous during that decade, so the only way they could have described the sky is if they had paid attention on their way to work or during a break. Here’s the interesting part. People who identified themselves as pessimistic, angry, depressed, or in other negative terms tended to be the ones unable to describe the sky’s appearance. You guessed it. The happiest and most optimistic people either correctly described the sky or came very close.

That study was never published, but research these days now indicates that pausing to experience nature in our daily lives is powerfully positive. Just a few minutes of regular exposure has been shown to improve our emotional and physical health. It leads us to be more generous, to enhance relationships and value community. The effect of nature, even looking out a window at nearby trees, seems to lead us, as one researcher noted, to be “our best selves.”

Go ahead, look at some clouds right now. You may see a cloud pig sailing a cloud boat. The sailboat may morph into French fries before the whole thing breaks apart into a shape resembling a bongo-playing octopus. Good thing the images we see in clouds aren’t a meteorological Rorschach test.


Website and social media:

Poet Spotlight: Teddy Macker

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Teddy Macker.

POP spotlight macker

Short bio: My first book of poetry—This World (foreword by Brother David Steindl-Rast)—appeared in March of 2015 through White Cloud Press. A lecturer at University of California-Santa Barbara and orchardist, I live with my wife and daughters on a small farm in the foothills of Carpinteria, California.

Thoughts on mindfulness: Mindfulness helps me with the practice of faith, of living beyond answers, solutions, knowledge, the clamoring demands of mind; encourages me to let the mystery be the mystery.

Because We Love You, a February Special!

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Poet Spotlight: Judyth Hill

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Judyth Hill.

POP spotlight Hill

Short Bio: I’m a poet, author, editor and teacher living in the aspen-swept mountains of Colorado. Educated at Sarah Lawrence College, I studied with Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, and deep ecologist Dolores LaChapelle. A recipient of numerous literary grants, I served as Literary Projects Coordinator for New Mexico State Arts Division, 1994-2000, and am the current President of PEN San Miguel.

I have conducted poetry and memoir workshops at conferences world-round, authored poetry curriculum for the O’Keeffe and Folk Art Museums in Santa Fe, NM, am the Poet-in-Residence at various schools in the U.S., offer classes, manuscript-editing and mentoring online at www.judythhill.com, and lead global WildWriting Culinary Adventures (learn more at www.eat-write-travel.com).

My nine published books of poetry include Dazzling Wobble and Tzimtzum. My poems are widely anthologized. I have co-authored cookbooks and textbooks, and was the Santa Fe, NM, restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal. I am also the creator/owner of Santa Fe’s premier bakery, The Chocolate Maven.

I was described by the St. Helena Examiner as “Energy with skin,” and by the Denver Post as “A tigress with a pen.”

Thoughts about mindfulness and poetry:

I’m from the “Everything Matters” school of writing.

My writing, performing and teaching come from my faith in the delicate and intricate connection of our political, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, imaginational bodies, both within the self, and within the social web, to each other.

And all of this connected to our funny bone.

I love the balancing of craft and passion, the work behind the work.  And then, I love to share it with you.

Because that’s what completes the circle of the creative act: it’s not “whole and sole” without your presence.

So, Everything Matters:

Being a force for good in the world, keeping a sense of justice and a sense of humor. Knowing to fall in love with each other, good desserts, red tails in flight. To notice Bear Creek when she is running full, the appearance of mourning doves in June, the line breaks in Williams, the melody in Yeats, the instress in Hopkins and the way the lilacs fill the city with purple blossoms in April.

To use my mother’s good dishes because she never did, and my own gift with language, because if I don’t, who will?

Making love, dinner and connections. Getting the point. Listening deeply to the music of the ordinary, the wisdom of elders and infants, and the night wind moving through. And singing it back, as best my innate talents and acquired skills will grant me.

Making sure my best keeps getting better.

Admiring the plain, astonishing beauty everywhere present, and not losing sight of the fallen, the Middle East, and oil spilling onto our so-vulnerable seacoasts.

Remembering to show gratitude, forgiveness and a little leg.

Remembering that if it’s true that 90% of success is just showing up, 10% of every effort goes for glory.

So, I am here, pen in hand, ready, willing, able: and going for gold.

Relevant quotes:

“My life in new surrounds has graced me with learning to rest in the All-The-Way-Alive center of Right Here; to fall, once and for all, in love with the Way It Is.  It’s a pure practice of awe.  It’s give and let give, it’s touch and know, and better still, it’s right here, the Altar of the Ordinary, a shrine we fill with acacia and adverbs, cappuccino and thick cumulous—a way we find…. by stopping the search, and staying Present.”—Judyth Hill

“Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.”—Hopi Elders

“You know we have come at last home
because we can’t see anything here
that is not already the Beloved.”
—Judyth Hill

Fun facts about “Wage Peace” (my poem in Poetry of Presence):

“Wage Peace” has been set to music by four different composers, and performed by a full symphony orchestra, a women’s chorus, a college choir, and a lounge performer! And a fifth composer is working on a new version now!

“Wage Peace” has gone around and around the world on the internet, inspiring many amazing activities for peace.

A grassroots group of Palestinian and Israeli women created a peace organization in 2014, naming their efforts in the Middle East after the poem: Women Wage Peace. It currently has over 20,000 members.


The world famous graffiti artist, Banksy, was inspired by “Wage Peace” to create a large mural, “The Flower Thrower,” in Jerusalem.

The University of San Diego Center for Mindfulness teaches “Wage Peace” in their curriculum, as does the International Society of Military Ethics.

Website and social media:

Poet Spotlight: Linda M. Hasselstrom

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Linda M. Hasselstrom.

POP spotlight hasselstrom

Short bio: With fifteen books in print, I write and conduct writing retreats in person and by email from my South Dakota ranch. My newest book is The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook, containing two years’ worth of writing suggestions and examples.

Other Works:

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet (with Twyla M. Hansen); No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life, Between Grass and Sky, Feels Like Far, Bitter Creek Junction, Land Circle, Dakota Bones, Going Over East, Windbreak, Bison: Monarch of the Plains, When a Poet Dies, The Roadside History of South Dakota, Roadkill, Caught By One Wing.

Editor of Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind, Crazy Woman Creek (with Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis), and Journal of a Mountain Man (by James Clyman).

Thoughts on mindfulness and poetry: Buddha said, “With our thoughts we make the world.” Pablo Neruda said, “Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.” (Memoirs, Ch. 6)

These are among my many favorite quotations centering on the act of writing poetry. When I am deeply engrossed in working on a poem, which means every time I am writing poetry, I am creating my own peaceful world of words—even if the poem is about violence or pain. Making poetry is, thus, an act of utter mindfulness.

Fun fact: I may be the only person in the anthology (or not) to have won a big western belt buckle for poetry. This was called the Elkhorn Prize, and was awarded by the magazine Nebraska Territory in 1991—just as it says on the buckle in the photographs below.

Website and social media:

• Website
• Facebook


Poet Spotlight: Larry Smith

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Larry Smith.

POP spotlight smith

Short bio: I’m a poet, novelist, biographer, and editor of Bottom Dog Press. A retired professor of Bowling Green State University, I’m a co-founder with my wife Ann of the Converging Paths Meditation Center in Sandusky, Ohio. We celebrated our 10th anniversary this past June. I’ve practiced meditation and mindfulness for 30 years now and share it online and in my many books of poetry and prose, including Each Moment All: Meditations as Poems. I am also a practicing Christian and see no conflict between these spiritual paths unless you get bogged down in “the church.”

Website and social media:



Poet Spotlight: Penny Harter

This is part of a series highlighting some of the poets anthologized in Poetry of Presence. We thank the poets for providing the material. Today we shine the spotlight on Penny Harter.

POP spotlight harter

Short bio: My recent books include The Resonance Around Us (2013); One Bowl, a prizewinning ebook ( 2012); and Recycling Starlight (2010; reprint 2017). Recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in a number of journals and anthologies. I’ve won three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America. I live in the southern New Jersey shore area.

Website and social media:

• Website

Book Bash in Neighboring Minnesota a Huge Success!

Marianne Murphy Zarzana (left) and Ruby Wilson (right)

Last Saturday night Trev’s Kitchen in Lynd, MN, was packed to hear area poets read from Poetry of Presence. Our thanks to contributing poet Marianne Murphy Zarzana for organizing the event, to all the poets who graced the stage, and to everyone who turned out to listen. It was a great way to start the New Year!

Click the play button below if you’d like to hear a radio interview with Marianne and us editors that helped promote the Bash.