Monday, December 14, 2009

Wood, Sand, Water

Visual Aid

Complexity is underrated,
the trees teach us.


My snowbird sojourn is well under way. I write this morning from Jekyll Island, GA. However, the adjacent image, "Uprooted," was taken a few days ago at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina, my favorite state park in all the land where we always stop en route south. In recalling that memorable visit (several beach walks!), I wrote the above poem. It's a scherzo, a form developed by friend and poet William Heyen and one restricted to 13 syllables, not including the title. Each scherzo must also include a rhyme as does "Visual Aid."

Hunting Island will recede further into the distance as we make our way later this morning to Georgia's lovely Crooked River State Park for three days beneath the rare long-leaf pines in the habitat of gopher tortoises. I will breathe the tidal rhythms of the St. Marys River and ponder further the miracle of diversity in Nature.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In Snowbird Season

Today is our last day at home; we head for points south tomorrow morning at daybreak, a 294-mile run to Carlisle, PA.

But I take a few minutes' rest from the whirlwinds of packing van and trailer, savoring our home on a wintry, gray morning. Beloved husband Roger is off to nearby Albion to tend to repairs on the minivan. Seems after 132,000 miles -- most of it pulling Alis Elizabeth Trailer -- Bore the Van needs new struts and related suspension work. Unplanned, unexpected, this duty calls him off on one more last-minute mission. Men's work.

It gives me some time to bask in the glow of a candle, listening to Simon & Garfunkle's Concert in Central Park in the comfort of the library one last morning. I get to do poet's work. Drafting a sonnet, revising a poem I wrote last week.

And quietly reveling in this morning's good news: Literary House Review has nominated my poem, "According to Instinct" for a Pushcart Prize! A second nomination! Yehaw! Thank you, LHR!

Soon I will turn my thoughts to my winter to-do list. The mundane calls.

Be well, friends and visitors.

May you receive the many gifts of the Universe this holiday season. And fellow poets? Write on!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Godwit: Poems of Canada Chosen for the University of Rochester's Andrew Eiseman Writers Award

On Thursday evening, November 5, I had the honor of receiving the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award at a ceremony at the University of Rochester's Rush-Rhees Library. I was thrilled to the point of tears, an upwelling of emotion that had nothing to do with the $1000 prize.

Poets really do suffer long and hard in the lonely world of words. We really do, I believe, write because we have to. A powerful internal impetus drives us to the blank page. And we write, write, write (and edit, edit, edit) because we feel we must. The spirit moves us; the muse moves us. Occasionally poems see the light of day and appear in journals. And, if we are lucky, the poems make their way into books, which a few people may actually end up reading.

So, to be honored in public with this distinguished award was breathtaking and tear-making.

Once again, I wish to thank many people: Andrea Weinstein of the University of Rochester for all her work in coordinating and planning the award process and Thursday's ceremony; the award judges for believing in my traitorous book; FootHills Publishing, a small press of 20+ successful years that has furthered the careers of poets and kept poetry alive in the world -- I owe so much to publisher Michael Czarnecki; and Bill Heyen, my mentor and friend…who stood at this podium a few years ago -- I was so very, very honored to follow in his footsteps. But most important of all, I offer here my undying gratitude and devotion and love to my husband, Roger Weir, who traipsed with me across Canada to every province and territory in that great country. We are proud to be south Canadians. And I am so very proud to be his wife.

For more details about the award, go to:

To order your copy, write me at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let Your River Journey Begin

A “quest for the center of poetry itself…” – FootHills Publishing Releases Karla Linn Merrifield’s Newest Poetry Collection

Etowah River Psalms is a chapbook that seeks the primal

Wheeler Hill, NY – “I focus and actually exult” is how poet Karla Linn Merrifield of Kent, NY, succinctly conveys the poetic process of exploring life’s timeless themes – eros, death, time, patience, longing –- in her new chapbook, Etowah River Psalms.

Merrifield’s is a deeply spiritual and sensual collection in which nature is worshiped and the human-as-animal is integrated into the web of life. Thus, in “The Beholder,” two lovers are united under “shimmering light… under the ancient stars above us. And in “Entering the Garden of the Universe,” what is human in the poem’s speaker is part of the fabric of nature in its entirety: “I now choose to live carnally. / Like the ocean, I have no other god / than gravity.”

“In psalm after riverine psalm here, whether her subject is tongue or Indian summer or the eye or box turtle and moon or mountain or love, Karla Linn Merrifield continues her quest for the center of poetry itself, the primal, and we are glad, by way of her voice, to hear and behold, to draw closer, says poet William Heyen, author of Shoah Train: Poems, and finalist for the National Book Award, about Etowah River Psalms.

The collection was inspired by Georgia poet Beau Cutts’s master poem, “The Etowah,” from which she drew lines that became the kernels for all of the poems in this chapbook. Thus, Cutts originally wrote of “cleansing the inner gray” and Merrifield, borrowing the line, created with it the poem “Darkroom Work,” the first stanza of which is:

Cleansing our inner gray,
we plunge first into black and white,
a glossy emotional tableau
of Ansel’s grandest views:
mountains, mesas, canyons, coulees.
He parses the territory
of our great hearts in full moonlight.

Thus, from one poem about a river flowed the many poems of Etowah River Psalms.

Etowah River Psalms (40 pages), with a cover photograph by the author,is available for $10from FootHills Publishing at or directly from the poet at


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Far, Far Away

I've only been home two weeks from our expedition to the Canadian high arctic and Greenland and already it seems as far away as it is on the map.

But when friends and famiiy ask me, "So, how was it" it's easy to recall. I say, "Bleak, desolate." And, even as I recall the welcoming smiles of so many Inuit in the three villages we visited, I also remark, "Sad."

Everywhere is evidence of global warming. I'd expected that but not the extent of the damage. Until we got far, far north in Baffin Bay, ice was hard to come by. As Jimmy, one of our two Inuit cultural guides on the expedition ship Akademik Ioffe, pointed out when we arrived in his home town of Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island, the glaciers are decidedly retreating. The massive one behind his town used to come down to their backyards; we craned our necks to see its foot -- easily two miles up into the brown hills overlooking Grise Fjord. Seal hunting has become more difficult for Inuit and polar bear alike. The floes where they hunt are going, going, gone.

The arctic's is a sad history too. Inuit were relocated, their children sent off to "residential schools" far from their parents to be starved, beaten, raped. Whites stole their language by forbidding it. Anglican priests eradicated the First People's shamanic traditions. Thankfully, some restitution has been made; the Inuit are now celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of Nunavut, a vast northern territory of Canada that is theirs to govern. And parents and schools are now teaching Inuktitut. Children are learning to hunt; they're learning how to drum and dance and sing once again in their native tongue.

Although whites eventually conquered, theirs is a sad arctic history as well. Shipboard lectures and a subsequent visit to the graveyard on Beechey Island attest to the fatal follies of 19th-century arctic exploration. I've long been haunted by the saga of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845-47. Both of Sir John Franklin's ships went down; all of the 129 men died seeking the Northwest Passage to the Orient. A 150 years later it's pretty much been proven that lead poisoning was the principle culprit -- lead in the solder of the tin cans of food they consumed, ingesting the metal with the meat -- and driven mad by it. Many, many contemporary searchers after Franklin met much the same fate. Their bones are scattered across the brownscape of the arctic and buried in the sands beneath the sea.

I spent considerable time contemplating the fate of Franklin and his men in a series of poems, including the one below in which I imagined what the the fate of the pet dog that accompanied the crew on their journey to an arctic death.

Unleashed, 1847

A frigid ocean away
from heathered highlands,
one border collie
with no sheep to herd
aboard the Erebus
trotted aimlessly among
scurvy-weak sailors,
lead-demented officers.
But when Jocko,
the ship’s pet monkey,
nipped her heels
and the boatswain’s
swift kick clipped her ribs,
Neptune let over the rail
and followed the trail
of arctic wolves
into the icy mists—
the Franklin Expedition’s
sole survivor.


P.S. Roger took this photo of me at Lemieux Point on Devon Island; the landscape is quintessential high arctic.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Into the Far Country

Today, August 11, it is warm and sunny along the south shore of Lake Ontario, but the ice is not far away. Just a drive to Ottawa and a flight of several hundred miles north into Nunuvut in the Canadian High Arctic. I'll be there by Friday. On board a ship, the Academik Ioffe, a former Russian reserch vessel that will take me on a vagabond poet's expedition of the polar regions and Greenland--the Far Country

I imagine it, difficult to do with my neighbor's garden awash in floral beauty within eyeshot and the hummingbirds nipping in and out of the lush white Rose of Sharon. Hard to imagine the white of Baffin Bay. Perhaps it will look much like the wonderland in the photo here, one taken from aboard ship in Antarctica, the nether antipode I visited almost two years ago. How will the poles differ? What ice remains? How is the Arctic changing? How will I be changed?

To be continued upon my return from the world that swallowed Sir John Franklin and his crew and his two ships and the dog and the monkey that voyaged with them on that doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Along the Third Coast

As I've made my way eastward across Montana, through the badlands of North Dakota and into the verdant north woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Michigan, I've spent considerably more time pondering the meaning of place.

Many years ago, in my first book, Midst, I mused on my vagabond life and observed:

"I hear voices. It's been happening over the past several years as I have traipsed up the backwaters & into the wilder regions of the North American continent. As I traveled, I left behind Ruskin's pathetic fallacy that had taught me to avoid imbuing the natural world with human feeling. I left behind the work of many modern poets who have used the pathetic fallacy to ironically emphasize the loss of communion between the individual & the natural world. But I stuffed into my backpack the belief that that communion could be regained & that the natural world could imbue me with its feelings. And it did."

By learning to speak cod and halibut, by learning the languages of mountain and glacier, I was able to immerse myself in place, whatever that place might be, whether badlands or Everglades or....

Recent discussions with backcountry ranger John Heiser in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Unit), deepened my understanding of place and my place in it. He is a man who clearly knows his place, his home, having been born and raised in North Dakota and having served 26 years at the ND park where we met. "Where is your home?" he asked of me one day and again on a second day, along with a dozen fellow hikers, many of whom called that quarter of the state their "home." My answer to John came in the form of a poem (no surprise) with a refrain that hammers home my response:

I am where I am.

In the moment. In the place.

Somewhere in North America.

Since writing that poem, I've continued to ponder the meaning of place, realizing as I've returned to the Great Lakes region -- the Third Coast as it's often called -- that, while I'm at home wherever I roam, I'm most at home on North America's inland seas, if only from habit. After all, I've lived on the south coast of Lake Ontario going on 23 years -- half my life. No wonder it feels familiar, feels comfy.

I also realize now that not all places are equal. Lake Ontario is more home than other homes such as Teddy Roosevelt NP, which was my home this summer for five days for a return visit. The Everglades, where I was national park artist-in-residence last winter, is not so much a second home as it is my holy land, a place where I make an annual pilgrimage to refresh my spirit even while mourning the degradations it has suffered.

A place called Canyon de Chelly in Arizona is also a sacred place that beckons me. It is a place that gives birth naturally to poems as I describe in my essay, "Stanzas in the Stone," that was published this month in the Oregon Literary Review.

Having just spent several days on an island in Lake Superior (conveyed there by the ferry pictured above), today I'm a few miles from Lake Michigan; tomorrow I'll settle in to a campground on the shores of Lake Huron. In another week, I'll tent on an island in Lake Erie. In two weeks, I'll be back "home" on Lake Ontario, a Third Coaster at heart. But add to that tender heart a body and soul and I know I have many places, many homes. I am a creature of an entire continent; I am a being of North America.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fewer, Smaller

Montana greetings from the Vagabond Poet who is just now resurfacing from immersion in mountains and valleys and more mountains and valleys in Glacier National Park. It's a spectacular corner of the country where grizzlies rule and campers are wise to be cautious. We didn't see any of the ursine family in our four days there, but reports came into the campground of encounters -- all of them ending happily for bear and hiker alike. Word from the rangers is that Ursus horribilis is doing well; it's the glaciers that are really suffering. You look out from an overlook at a glacier then down at the roadside exhibit showing what the glacier looked like 10 years ago, 30 years ago. Today's glacier is an icy ghost of its former self. It's in-your-face global warming. It's in-your-eyes cold tears.
Still, beauty remains, sometimes in the smallest things that often go overlooked. I found my solace in Glacier National Park thus:
In the Valley of the Shadows of High Mountains
The active ingredient
in spruce trees
is lichen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

From the Badlands Past the Bighorns

It's hard to believe that three weeks have passed since we left home on our pilgrimage to the western mountains via the Badlands of South Dakota where this photograph was taken along a trail through the rugged landscape where the Earth shows her bones. We've since left the Great Plains behind and have made it safely through the Black Hills of western South Dakota with a stopover in Deadwood to relive the wild-west late 1800s in that national historic town, and then over our first mountain range, the Bighorns of eastern Wyoming. Soon, into Yellowstone National Park where it's impossible to ignore that the Earth is alive--and gasping, gushing, bubbling and heaving beneath your feet or several safe feet away.

For now, I leave you with a short poem that I hope will give you a sense of what it felt like to cross over the Bighorn Mountains at 9,000 feet above sea level on a chilly June morning.

Amid the Bighorns

snow swale

fog drift

stream rush

raven glide

If I am not crushed
by cliff slide
I will become
the summit

Saturday, May 23, 2009

East Meets West

At last spring has come to the south shore of Lake Ontario and our lilac bush is in bloom, two weeks behind those that graced nearby Rochester's annual Lilac Festival. I picked two bouquets to enjoy on my desk, in the kitchen--which will travel with us across the U.S. towards Montana. A gathering of blooms and aroma to remind us of home, at least for the few days they last.

We depart tomorrow, May 24, for a nine-week expedition-by-trailer to the Badlands of South Dakota, Black Hills, Yellowstone in Wyoming, Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park in Montana and then our return trip via the Badlands of North Dakota and along the Great Lakes shores from Minnesota to Ohio and home again on August 1. I promise updates from the blue highways of the plains and Rockies. Meanwhile, a tiny poem to celebrate Spring-at-Last:

May Star Date #4:
Lines Aligned in a Parallel Universe

Overhead after midnight,
a shining through—
new life.


Peace and health to all.



Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Where did the winter go since my last posting? In Western New York, the answer is: “Not away.” It’s been unseasonably cold since I returned north from Florida two weeks ago. A late-February expedition into the Baja of Mexico to see whales seems eons ago and my Artist-in-Residency program in the Everglades even deeper in time. While winter continues to have its grip on the shores of Lake Ontario, I try to hold on to the warmth of the south and of Mexico.

Photographs and poems of the Baja trip help me hold onto the magic of being among the great cetaceans – five whale species, including mating humpbacks with the randy males ramming each other to win breeding rights to the evasive female. This photograph of a humpback’s flukes is a clear reminder of the majesty of these mammals, our cousins who also remind me of how insignificant is humankind. And how fleeting is our time here on Earth.

That must have been on my mind when I wrote this poem.

The Price of Souvenirs

We leave something of our souls
in our footprints in foreign lands
and take only these photographs:

The one where I left a flicker of myself
reflected in a gray whale’s eye
in Magdalena Bay in the Baja of Mexico.

One where I left a scrap of being
in Los Islotes on those rocks
of seals and pelicans in the Sea of Cortez.

You saw me amid cardon cactus and elephant trees
leaving one last innocence aside
on Espiritu Santo like skin drying in desert air.

You have seen how I leave a dream behind
among Pacific turtle bones and sand dollars
on a bleached beach by an ocean of death.


Meanwhile, I’ve home and settling into a spring brightened by poetry readings and gatherings with friends. Snow may be yet on the ground, but the promise of spring’s renewal is kept by birds at the feeders and buds thick on the trees in the neighborhood. I feel the warmth within. I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Morning in the Everglades

Greetings, readers!

I have surfaced for a few days from my artist-in-residency in Everglades National Park...and will be heading soon to the Baja for a Lindblad expedition to see the gray whales in their nursing lagoons.

The Everglades residency experience was eye-opening in so many ways...through writing and editing poetry, a poetry reading, photography, botanizing, hiking, biking -- being. It will stay with me forever. That is the nature of the Everglades.
Among my accomplishments was a collection of 19 "cameos" -- miniature portraits of people in Everglades history dating from the 1500s to the present. Each one is 100 syllables long (or 200 if a double cameo) and is based on historical fact presented with mythic embellishments. The research for the poems was almost as fun doing as the poems themselves. So I will leave you with one in the series...about Guy Bradley, the future park's first game warden, one who was murdered by plume hunters at the beginning of the 20th century.
See you next time with tales and whales' tails from the Baja.
1905, Guy Bradley Cameo: Dead or Alive?

To St. Bradley,
patron of subtropical birds,
our latter-day Assisi,
our Everglades martyr
to its causes, I pray.

How unceremoniously they took aim
and shot you, those greedy hunters,
those ravaging devils, that plague
of egrets great and snowy,
of hierophantic great blue herons, too.
Those killers in the rookeries
are dead. But you live on
among the glossy ibis,
a feather spirit, listening.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ever the Everglades

Everglades Horizon #1

If I do not evaporate
in winter’s drought,
I will become
the summer slough.

Everglades Horizon #2

If I am not lost
in the ten-thousand watery labyrinths,
I will become an island.


Greetings from Chokoloskee Island in the western Everglades where I've made a base for exploring both Big Cypress National Preserve to the northeast and the 10,000 Islands of the Gulf just beyond the small wharf at the campground. Some hiking, some kayaking, some lazing on the verandah watching the pelicans, spotted sandpipers (a bird-first) and terns while they watch for anglers to return with their catch and the detritus that will fall their way when cobia, snook, snapper and sheephead become filets.

On Sunday, February 1, I return to the eastern Everglades to commence my two-week artist-in-residency program where much inspiration awaits, including the splendor of purple gallinules like the handsome fellow in the above photo. In addition to giving a couple poetry readings, my goal is "to contemplate the Universe from the Holy Land of the Everglades." More specifically, I wish to complete a cycle of short poems -- "Cameos" -- that pay tribute to key figures in Everglades history. I'm sure other poems will arrive on the wings of birds to celebrate the flora and fauna of this unique place on Earth. The thought of unfettered hours to write (I'll be "off the grid!" and not much concerned about cooking and other quotidian tasks) is thrilling. Update to follow upon my return from the wild, the wonderful River of Grass.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Beckoning Beacon

Greetings from the Atlantic coast in Florida near Ponce Inlet where this 1887 lighthouse -- Florida's tallest -- guards the entrance from ocean to the Halifax River. The imposing tower, second highest brick lighthouse in the U.S. (only the Cape Hatteras lighthouse is taller), stands stately guard over the tricky inlet. While no longer operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, it still functions as a "private" lighthouse, lovingly restored and maintained by a non-profit foundation that has even restored the 1933 first-order Fresnel-lens light. On such a beautiful day as yesterday when I visited the handsome structure, it stood out for its rich brick-red color against a flawless blue sky. No, I did not climb to the top for a lighthouse keeper's view of the surrounding waters, but stood humbled beneath it with respect for its architect, masons and the generous people who restored it and the mryiad lenses and prisms in its lamp. Sometimes mankind gets things right. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is one of our more admirable achievements.
Posted by Picasa