Friday, January 5, 2018

Poetry Friday: Boxing with A Curtal Sonnet

I'm not in a box, but a basket.
However, I am cute so I can do whatever I want.---Rebecca's cat, Neils

Sonnets are known as a "box form" because of their precise rules and tight appearance on the page.  Some poets, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, cried out inside those boxes, and made some of the most anguished, glorious sonnets I've read.

Hopkins, in particular, was known for counting hard stresses (punches?) rather than regular rhythms, and for compacting the Petrarchan fourteen-lined sonnet into a 3/4 sized poem, of 10 1/2 lines.  For what better way to squeeze out more anguish than with less room to cry?

I've tried one in his honor today.  (Thank you, Kelly, for the challenge.)

Hopkins foxed sonnets to 3/4 spare
    wire-whipped stresses til they wailed
      half-tocked feral hymns from sprung clocks

 Elbowing joy as birdsong from air,
     priested, pressed hard, he failed
       at 44, a life, curtailed and boxed

 Yet, cold-call his poems, and he swells,
     as slugger’s bandied cauliflower ear; rung,
       you clangor, near strangled, on far-hailed
 Words; carrion cry unlocked, he wells
                                      blood to tongue.

                                 ---Sara Lewis Holmes
                                    (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters are writing sonnets today, too, some curtal, and some not.
Find them here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Reading to the Core.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Poetry Friday: Lai (A Forked Tree)

The last Poetry Challenge of 2017 was a lai on the subject of peace, light or hope.

I'd never heard of it, but when I followed Tricia's links, I found out that a lai is an old French poetry form with a rhyme scheme of aabaabaab, and even more challenging---each "a" line is five syllables long, and each "b" line, a mere two syllables.

This results in an oddly shaped poem, but according to one source this is intentional, as "the short line must not be indented, it must be left dressed to the poem. This is known as Arbre Fourchu (Forked Tree)..."

Okay. I was hooked.  Not only is that a loaded image, but I loved the French I took in high school and college, and had fun weaving some of it into this poem. (I hope most of the French is self-explanatory and correctly used. But I kind of doubt it. I've never tried to write a poem in two languages before.)

As for "peace, light, or hope," my poem talks about when those things fail.

The Storm

L’arbre fourchu cries
a cry in two sighs
Left! Right!
One root, forked, belies
how deep the divide
Oh! night!
Our split hearts likewise
cry riven! and rise!
We fight.

Branch set against twig
Little against big
Quelle sight!
Wind's jagged cruel jig
Sky scarred by zag! zig!
Oh, fright!
Feu cares not a fig
It’s a brazen pig.
Oh, bright

swords writhe sap from tree
twin arms flaming free
Left. Right.
Dieu, où est l’abri?*
We blaze cri to cri:
Dark! Light!
Come morning, oh, me.
L’arbre fourchu see:
Ashed might.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

*God, where is the shelter?

You can find my Poetry Sisters lai here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by the marvelous Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Wolf Hour Goes Roaming: Blog Tour, Stops #1 and #2

The Wolf Hour is prowling the blogosphere this month.  I hope you'll be brave enough to follow along. Here's a taste:

Stop #1

Finding Wonderland:

Despite their often bleak or violent content, fairytales are traditionally seen as stories intended for children. What's the optimum age of your target reader for THE WOLF HOUR? Who is this book for? Who, if anyone, is it not for?

Sara Lewis Holmes: 

Age and readership questions are hard. Do you like to shiver and chew your lip ragged as you read? Do you like a story that twists and turns and doesn’t go where you expect it to? Do you enjoy a story that KNOWS it’s a story, and might even challenge you to think about your own Story and whether you like your place in it? If you do, even if you aren’t in the 8-12 age range for this book…read on!

 More Q and A here:  Finding Wonderland, with Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson

Stop #2

Meanwhile, at Charlotte's Library, Charlotte had me respond to three quotes from the book, which was wonderfully fun.

She also had this to say about the main characters:

"Magia is one of the most lonely heroines I've read this year, and it was easy to sympathize and mentally encourage her as she pressed onward.  Not only does she have fight an evil, magical antagonist, she has to resist the expectations of ordinary human folk, making her very relatable.  Martin the wolf, with his penchant for a good book, and failed efforts to break the story of the three little pigs (not because he knew that's what he was doing, but because he simply was not interested in being a vicious killer), is one of my favorite wolf characters ever, and possibly even more relatable!" 

Thank you, Charlotte.  More of her insights here:  Charlotte, at Charlotte's library.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Poetry Friday: Autumn Hymns

Happy Fall, y'all.  (That might be the shortest hymn ever.)

And yet...this month, Tanita asked the Poetry Sisters to come up with more than a fall greeting.  She asked us to write a hymn to Autumn in hymn meter.  (More on hymn meter, here.)

I chose to write in "long meter" which is a form of hymn meter which has a rhyme scheme of ABAB  and equal lines of iambic tetrameter. (Eight beats each line, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM.) I didn't stick exactly to that; a few beats are off here and there (consider them acorns that squirrels buried and forgot to dig up) but I did enjoy writing about autumn in a way that encouraged both joy and sorrow.

If Apples were Dappled and Sweet

If apples were dappled and sweet,
If orchards were bee-thick with smell,
If thickets drew lovers unmeet,
I’d beckon to you, dear, as well.

For autumn is all of goodbye
And faring thee well, and godspeed;
We redden, we crumble, we dry
In casting our lives into seed.

So snap the stem of my neck, dear;
Let nightfall steal daylight from field;
If leaves rake our cheeks with gold smear,
Is Autumn but naught what it yields?

Thus, be apples, dappled and sweet;
Thus, be orchards, bee-thick with smell;
Thus, be thickets of lovers: meet,
and meet and meet ’til last farewell.

                   ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Go see what hymns my Poetry Sisters are humming today:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Violet Nesdoly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On Friends, Wolves, and Storytelling

     Today, I'm lucky to share a book birthday with my friend, Francisco Stork, whose amazing YA novel, DISAPPEARED, debuts alongside my MG one, THE WOLF HOUR. To celebrate, if you share this post about storytelling, wolves, and our friendship, and tag both of us, I will enter your name in a drawing for a hardcover copy of BOTH of our books. (I've got yours covered, Francisco!) Please comment, too, on your own path to finding your voice and your story---I'd love to hear it! (And buy/read/share Francisco's beautiful book---he is a wonder.)

     The Wolf Hour, in legend, is the hour between darkness and dawn; it’s the hour more people are said to be born into this world and more people leave it than any other —-and, if you are like me, you are often awake then, wondering if you are getting your Story right.

     Not long ago, in a nearly empty D.C. deli, I tried to bluff my way through my doubts as I shared a greasy cheesesteak sandwich with my dear friend, Francisco Stork. We were talking, as we usually do, of our families, and of the books we were working on, and of how to find courage and joy in our work. We were also talking about mental illness, and how to combat the forces that would hold us back. I told Francisco (somewhat blithely) that when I was unhappy with my life, with the way it was unfolding, with the choices I was making, I knew, underneath the angst and despair, that I could always tell myself a new Story. He looked at me then, smiled over the last of his shaved beef and gooey cheese sub, and said, kindly: and that is the definition of mental health.

     Yes. Yes, he was right. Maybe that’s why the task of telling myself that new Story seemed impossibly hard lately--- so difficult, in fact, that I felt stuck in that very Wolf Hour—-lost between dreaming and waking, and doing no good for anyone at all. When we feel that way, does Story really help? And what is Story made of, anyway?

     When I was a child, I discovered the Lang collection of fairy tales. Beneath their innocuous color names (The Green Fairy Book, The Violet Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book) were stories of iron shoes that tortured their owners, of mothers who sprouted noses an “ell” long, and of children who were loved less than coin shine and left to die. Certainly, there were no life instructions here, for casual cruelty and stunning beauty lived side by side. Animals and people fought and slept and morphed from one form to the other. Nothing made sense, and everything did. And I wanted to know why.

     Which, of course, we all do.

     Still—those tales at least confirmed that all was not rosy in the secret world of adults, and that I’d better learn fast if I wanted to grow up and survive. So I did. In fact, you could say that such books (along with lighter stories) raised me. I always looked to them first for answers, and foolishly thought that people who made mistakes…who strayed from life’s paths…had obviously not read the RIGHT BOOKS. And then one day, a fairy tale came looking for me.

     On that day, when I sat down to write, a wolf stole into the forest of words crowding my head. This wolf was educated and yet naive, bold and yet terrified. This wolf was filled with human-gathered facts, and yet he had no intimate experience of humans at all. In fact, like me, he had largely been raised by books. And like me, he didn’t know the dark role he was rumored to play in the world. (What? You think writers don’t have a dark role to play? We write about everything the world wishes to keep hidden.)

     Luckily for this wolf (and for me!) there was also a girl who lived nearby. She, too, battled rumor, secrets, and lies. She, too, rejected the role the world said she should play. And she believed her hunger for more made her alone.

     Which, of course, we all believe.

What then if the two of them—the wolf and the girl—met, smack in the middle of a REAL fairy tale? A tale with strong ideas about how each of them would fit, and what each would do, and how each would look at the other? Why, then…they would have to fight the story the world wanted to tell about them. They would have to make and re-make their tale until it rang true. They would have to grow up and into their own Story.

     Which, of course, we all must.

     I’m sure this is why Francisco didn’t laugh at me in that deli when I claimed to know how to slay the beast. He even paid for my sandwich. And sent me an encouraging email the next week.

     I still have questions about Story. About why on some days everything seems to make sense, and then the next day, nothing does. And I’m never quite sure what to do with my hunger to be more than what I am. But I do know this: That if life’s dangers are real, so are the true friends. The ones who will eat cheesesteaks with you, and tell you a Story of their own. For the best weapon against the darkness has always been not just Story—but Story told to— and with—-and for the love of— our fellow tellers.

     May we never cease the telling.

(Crossposted to Facebook: