Today I’m honored to have guest blogger Carolyn Caines share her insights on the Poetic Life.
I met Carolyn back in college, lost track of her, and found her last summer at my husband’s high school reunion in Kelso, Washington, where she mentioned she writes poetry. When I got back home, I discovered she’s a prolific poet with numerous publishing credits, and I wanted to know how she got started. So here’s Carolyn!
My beginnings as a writer came from the love of reading and the love of poetry. Once I humorously wrote that I needed to join Poets Anonymous.
Hi. My name is Carolyn, and I’m addicted to poetry.
It all began when I was four, maybe even younger.
The Tall Book of Mother Goose tempted me
with “Little Miss Muffet.” I could see her,
curds and whey (whatever they were)
dripping down her chin while the spider
slid down beside her. It was spine-tingling.
I asked for it again and again.
I learned to do the hand-clap, knee-slap version
of ‘Pease Porridge Hot,” taking perverse pleasure
in thinking of children eating mush made from peas. Yuck!
By the time I was eight, I was addicted.
Not knowing this, my mother gave me
my own copy of Sung Under the Silver Umbrella,
a fitting title because I hid my addiction under
the covers at night, flashlight in hand.
I couldn’t quit saying
“Mary Middling had a pig,
Not very little and not very big…”
The honeyed words flowed down smoothly,
intoxicating music to my young soul. I dreamed
of sailing away with the owl and the pussycat
in their pea-green boat. Or with Wynken, Blynken,
and Nod in their wooden shoe.
I thought the five little monkeys deserved
what they got for teasing Uncle Crocodile.
I imagined that my mother would give me
animal crackers and cocoa for supper. (Sigh.)
I admit to buying poetry books even this week.
I stash them atop a pile on my desk, not even
finishing one before opening another.
My husband blatantly enables me. He drives me
to Barnes and Noble and hands me his credit card.
My name is Carolyn, and I am a poet.
I don’t even hide under the covers anymore.
(Published in In the Noiseless Night: poems about childhood in the 50’s, 2011)
Aside from writing poems for family and friends and maybe a few for English 101, I began writing for publication my junior year at Seattle Pacific. An English professor encouraged me to submit a story to Light and Life Evangel, and in the next few years, they published a dozen of my short stories. Prof. McDonald said I was getting more published than he was himself.
Life as an elementary teacher as well as marriage and starting a family interrupted my writing, and serious efforts were put off for a number of years. During those years I published a small piece in a teacher magazine and a short devotional for a Christian magazine.
But the biggest surprise came in 1989. While teaching in a Christian school, I had written a piece called “To Be Educated” as a take-off on the love chapter, 1 Cor. 13. I had overheard a conversation a Christian school parent was having with a friend about why she was going to send her child to public school the next fall. The whole idea of explaining what a real education involves started forming. I truly believe it was God-inspired.
I mailed off the piece “by mistake” to the Association of Christian Schools International, and the rest is history. Since the first publication as a newsletter for Christian schools around the world and then a pamphlet, the piece has been published hundreds of times (as far as I know), was read on Moody Radio, and was made into a video. It is still requested several times each year for publication in school annuals or to be used at graduations. You can find it on my website: www.carolyncaines.com
Also while teaching, I decided to go after my dream of writing a novel and enrolled in a correspondence course. You know, snail-mail. My final project was the outline and first three chapters of a young adult novel. I chose the life of my grandparents as inspiration and did a great deal of research about their lives in Finland in the early 1900’s: the reasons so many families emigrated to America, the political climate, etc. Grandmother was from a land-owning family, and my grandfather was from a tenant farm family. Easy to get a little conflict going there. Needless to say, there was much more research into steamship travel, Ellis Island, and what life was like in Astoria and in the Longview/Kelso area in that era.
Good research, a page-turning plot outline, and encouragement from my mentor got me on the road. It took over a year until completion. Then began the heart-wrenching process of mailing out the manuscript to publishers. My first choice actually sent the novel through a few committees before saying they liked it, but…
During that time I was teaching kindergarten in the mornings, and high school English in the afternoons. I assigned my juniors to write a choose-your-own-adventure novel as their Friday writing project. Since they were having to write a novel, I felt compelled to share my efforts with them and read a chapter each day. All this happened while I continued to mail out my manuscript and wait for replies. After at least twenty more publishers’ rejection letters, I made a few copies for family and put the manuscript away along with my dream of publishing.
Meanwhile, I was inspired to dive into poetry. I wrote for school events, for ladies’ programs, and was often inspired by Sunday sermons. After giving a few to my pastor, and when he read one on a Sunday evening, I was encouraged that this could be my true gifting. Since then, I have written more than 4400 poems, around 150 of them published in various journals and magazines.
Don’t be afraid of those rejection letters that will surely come. I used to keep them in a file by my desk until one day my little granddaughter taught me a thing or two.
HANDLING REJECTION WITH GRACE
Grace is not bothered at all by rejection.
Me, I had been stuffing rejection into a red file
fat with discouragement.
Grace persists until she has a grip on the first letter.
I admit I filed that first letter feeling
the rejection sear my forehead with its big R.
Grace crumples the letter, quickly tossing it aside.
I wanted to read it once more to see
if there were some hidden clue to my failure.
Grace continues to pull out letter after letter, chewing some.
Yea, Grace. You go, girl! I’ve been holding on
to rejection far too long. Chew it up, baby!
Grace is not daunted by the exceeding great pile of it.
I’m beginning to see rejection is something to pull out
and toss away. There’s no point in letting it fester.
Grace empties the entire file and crawls right over it.
All right! I’ll crawl over it, too. Tomorrow that rejection
file can sit empty for the first time in a long, long while.
I figured that was a sign. After each rejection I was a little closer to one being sold. I didn’t have to let them discourage me. My advice is just keep writing. Some days it will be good, some bad, and some days you won’t even know where your writing is headed.
When a poem takes its first breath,
you become the mother of her.
Having endured hours of labor,
now you smile through sweat and tears,
amazed at the miracle of
each line and digit lying there
so perfect against the white sheet.
Too soon the poem will raise its cry,
protesting a comma or colon,
insisting on a change,
thirsty for more than milk-sweet words.
No pacifying gestures of comfort will do.
Pick her up,
walk the night with her
drooling on your shoulder.
When a poem takes its first breath,
you have no idea
how big she will grow
or even what her name will be.
As nice as publishing is, one of the most fulfilling outlets for my poetry is writing about the lives of my grandchildren. All those great stories about growing up just waiting to be chronicled! I have six grandchildren who think of me as the poem grandma. If I miss including a poem in a birthday card, I’m sure to hear about it. Each grandchild has a notebook/scrapbook with their poems. My oldest grandson is sixteen, and he has about 285 poems so far. I must add that Jack has written some good poems himself, one of which is included in my latest book, SUNSHINE IN MY SUITCASE: travels with a poet.
But I am getting ahead of my story. In the last five to ten years, the publishing world has changed tremendously with the introduction of print-on-demand. The journey to publish my novel was a twenty-five year marathon, which saw completion in 2011. I found a publisher, Lulu.com, where I wouldn’t have to invest any money up-front, unlike so many vanity publishers of the past. Since I felt fairly comfortable that my book had been critiqued by knowledgeable people, I dusted off the manuscript and did one more thorough rewrite and edit. The thing about Lulu is that if you are computer-savy, you can upload your manuscript, even make a professional-looking cover on your own, and come out with one or a thousand copies of a quality publication.
Since publishing my novel, Passage to Love: an Ellis Island Story, I have sold copies through author events and speaking engagements, Finnish festivals, book clubs, gift shops, and even Amazon. I’m not boasting huge sales, but it has been a satisfying experience. Since finding Lulu, I have also re-published a family history that I wrote for “The Cowlitz Historical Quarterly” and have published four books of poetry. Presently I am working on a family/Christian school classroom devotional book based on poems about animals and what they can teach us. Several more books are on the back burner as well. What can I say? This is my passion.
Oh, yes, I have also been writing a weekly poetry e-mailing for about eighteen years. It all started because a few close friends wanted me to e-mail them copies of what I had been writing. Most of them are still on the mailing list for Poems For You which has grown considerably since those early days. Many times I receive thank-you notes and encouraging comments from my subscribers. A good word goes a long way. Even so, if I didn’t have the God-given passion to write, I doubt I would have kept it up all these years.
Eight years ago now, I began writing a haiku diary. It started with a year of thankful haiku to honor a high school friend of mine who passed away from a brain tumor at the age of 60. She was so thankful for the years God had given her and the blessings she had received. Then the following Christmas, my sweet four-month-old grandson died, and I felt I had to plow ahead with another year of thanks just to deal with the pain. Well, I got into the habit of haiku and have since continued each year to write about my life in haiku. I find it a fascinating way to skim back over the years.
One other thing I sort of fell into is teaching workshops on journaling, one of my favorite topics. I’ve done this with a number of churches as well as having paid students in classes through a gift shop that sells local authors’ works.
My! I am overwhelmed just thinking about all the ways God has blessed me along the way and how He has reached out and blessed others through the poetry as well. I never cease to be amazed when someone says, “Oh, I know you. You’re the poet!” Then they might share how they still have a copy of a poem I wrote that touched them personally. Couldn’t be better than that.
My advice is just keep writing. Some days it will be good, some bad, and some days you won’t even know where your writing is headed.” – Carolyn Caines
Carolyn is a third generation resident of the Longview/Kelso area in Southwest Washington. She lives with her husband Michael, and they have three children and six grandchildren. She is always reading a new book and has totally run out of bookshelf space, but giving away any of them is a painful separation.
Thank you very much for sharing your poetic life and writing journey with us, Carolyn!
Click here to see all six of the books she’s written thus far.
Posted on January 12, 2016