Evolution of the Poem: charcoal landscape …

If you’ve read my poetry, or follow my Instagram account, you’ll notice that I have an obsession with clouds (see photo above!). Last December, this poem of mine was published in the new Autumn Moon Haiku Journal:

charcoal landscape
a smudge of nimbostratus
on the horizon

I like this poem because it captures the ephemeral nature of clouds. I can almost visualize the artist at the easel, trying to get the effect just right before the cloud changes shape again.

When I was very small, I took an art class and used charcoal pencils. Over the years, I’ve taken more of a liking to pencil sketches, but the technique of shading – or attempting to capture a moment through shading – is similar. For me, this reminds me of smudging and erasing and smudging again, coupled with watching clouds and trying to capture their beauty in words or by photograph.

Now, similar to other poems I’ve explored through Evolution of the Poem, this one didn’t start out this way. An early draft read:

shaded charcoal lines
smudged slightly at the edges …
nimbostratus clouds

In retrospect, there’s a lot wrong with this picture. First of all, there is no picture. What are we even looking at? L1 doesn’t tell us.

L2 doesn’t fare much better. The phrase “slightly at the edges” is wordy and doesn’t add anything to the image.

L3 is redundant. I remember thinking that it was a heavy line, ponderous like a dark cloud ready to rain, but in reality, it just weighs down the poem.

I played around with this haiku for at over three years – and it was rejected at least twice – before it found a home.


The Bad Poem

Recently, I stumbled into some old poetry of mine. This one, written April 6, 2009 as part of the Poetic Asides Poem-A-Day Challenge, made me smile. I made a few changes to the formatting, but it’s essentially the same bad poem …

(Like a ring without a stone, this poem lacks shine.)

The Bad Poem

My words were
carefully manicured
into neat and
orderly prose.

Line-breaks were
all logically placed
at the end
of every row.

Pacing was slow
and rhythmic,
rocking back
on every clause.

One could almost
drift to sleep
with each
reliable pause.

The syntax was tidy
and error free,
but the poem refused
to speak to me.

Where was
the whimsy
and marvel
and wonder?

Where was
the dancing
and flatbread**
and thunder?

I tried to force the poem
but it refused to go.

I stirred in jazz
and funk
and zydeco rhythms
but the poem held on so.







but it refused to die.

It seemed to cling
ever tighter to form
with each technique
I’d try.

So, though this poem
is rather far
from one I would call
my best,

I’m pulling it out
from my misery
and laying it
down to rest.

** – Note to 2009 self: flatbread? Flatbread?! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

25 Science Fiction Tanka and Kyoka at Atlas Poetica

My friend Susan Burch and I co-edited a special feature at Atlas Poetica (thanks, M. Kei!) on science fiction tanka. In the style of previous special features, that allowed for one poem per poet – 25 poems, no more, no less.

Susan and I had a blast working on this. We met for lunch several times to go over the submissions. Her poetic story began with tanka, the five-line poem with Japanese origins, whereas I started my short-form journey with scifaiku, a unique cross of science fiction and haiku. There isn’t much written to define science fiction tanka, so we explored the boundaries of the form. Strong candidates were well-crafted tanka, had a clear voice, and had the immediacy of immersing you in an alien world.

As editors, our goal was to interact with the poets as one voice. Behind closed doors (of Olive Garden), however, we debated the merits of the submissions. I have a stronger science background, so I wanted the poems we published to be scientifically sound. Susan has a much better grasp for the feel of a good tanka, so she made sure the pieces we chose were well-crafted. 

Even though our backgrounds are different, we tended to like the same poets. There are definitely a few “Julie poems” in the mix, as well as a few that I shrugged my shoulders at but Susan felt we should include. My thanks to all of the poets who submitted to this special feature and entrusted us with their odd little poetic children.

 In addition to little poems, I make little wreaths. Some are odder than others. 

I’ve read that reading a good haiku sampler should be a similar experience to trying a box of chocolates – lots of variety, a few favorites, but nothing tastes bad. I think we’ve achieved that here.

25 Science Fiction Tanka and Kyoka can be viewed here. (If you can’t get the link to work, try standard view.)

A Science Fiction Character With A Hidden Visual Disability Changed My Life 

I fell in love with Jason from Battle of the Planets in 1978, when I was nine years old. That year, my friends and I ran around yelling “Transmute!” as we jumped off playground equipment, trying to emulate those brave cartoon orphans battling hostile invaders from foreign worlds. Initially, Mark, the well-behaved leader, and Princess, the only girl, were my role models, as the writers’ intended. But when I saw the episode Strike at Spectra – and realized that the surly second-in-command had a serious vision problem – I became obsessed with Jason. 

In the episode, the character is shown to be suffering from severe double-vision, which he hides from his teammates during a mission. Jason can’t participate in the team’s signature move – the Whirlwind Pyramid – without falling out of formation twice. He is sent back to the spaceship, dejected, where he punches the command console in frustration. Despite his problems, he manages to pull it together in time to prevent the rest of the team from falling to certain death. G-Force saves the day once again. We are assured by the narrator that “Jason has come through a big crisis,” but he will be just fine.

Even at nine years old, I knew that Jason wasn’t fine. I couldn’t wait for the following week to uncover his real issue. A cartoon character with a hidden disability was an unknown in my previously viewed Hanna-Barbera world. I was certain that Jason needed glasses, like me, or maybe he had a hidden vision impairment similar to mine. 

I’m legally blind in one eye but I do use it for peripheral vision. Sometimes, I get migraines with visual auras. Like Jason, I struggle with pretending to be “whole” when I am not. Some of the problem with a hidden disability comes with having needs that aren’t easy to accommodate. For example, I have difficulty parking a car due to my lack of depth perception, but I can do it. I spend an inordinate amount of energy converting a two-dimensional world into a third-dimensional one. When Jason shot that Super Sniper Missile to save the day and nearly crashed the ship, or when the team came back and he dropped his head in relief and exhaustion, I felt such a strong kinship with his character. I latched on to Jason and his undefined visual problems with a fervency bordering on obsession.

But when I watched my favorite show the following week, Jason seemed perfectly fine. It turns out that a prior episode – which I had missed – hand-waved away his double vision as the result of stress. No further explanation was given for its recurrence. When the program disappeared from American television screens, I was crestfallen. The expected outcome – easily resolved in under thirty minutes – never came. What was really wrong with Jason? In my young mind, his troubles continued.

Ongoing, variable visual issues are rarely seen in science fiction. There is an underlying assumption that advanced science has led to improved vision correction, so any deviation from this must solely serve to further the plot. Vision problems we do see usually fall into one of two categories: easy to fix or permanent blindness.

We encounter “good guys” overcoming visual disabilities and being restored to wholeness, such as Geordi La Forge with his magical visor (and later, artificial eyes) in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Han Solo overcoming temporary blindness due to hibernation sickness in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

We also have completely blind characters who have acquired great wisdom and strength since losing their sight. “Blind and badass” includes Chirrut Îmwe in Star Wars: Rogue One. The website TV Tropes even has a category for this: Blind Weaponmaster is a subtrope of Handicapped Badass.

Rarely do we see partially sighted characters in science fiction. Those that we do encounter are warriors who have lost an eye in battle. Think General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, General Martok of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or Honor Harrington in the book series by David Weber.

Jason’s plight falls outside these tropes. As a child, I’d never seen any storyline like this on daytime cartoons. His lament of “My comrades! They’re all going to fall to their death because I failed them!” while staring at a blurred target array still chills me. Jason fulfilled my childhood desire for a role model. His character was struggling with feelings of inadequacy due to poor vision but still met his duties. I could relate.

As an adult, I learned that Battle of the Planets is actually an Americanized adaptation of the Japanese amine Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. This first revamping of the series – which both removed most of the violence and incorporated themes from Star Wars: A New Hope – introduced unintended gaps in the plot. Only 85 of the 105 episodes were adapted, and rewritten episodes were shown out of order, so the continuity of the original storyline suffered greatly.

My favorite character was developed using footage of Gatchaman’s Joe Asakura. He actually had brain damage due to shrapnel in his head and an unfortunate trip in a human-sized centrifuge to remove it (not recommended). Fortunately for Jason, this particular episode was never adapted and rewritten. Joe ultimately died before being resurrected as a cyborg in Gatchaman II (I did not take this news well.)

The irony, to me, is that if Gatchaman had been translated precisely, my interest in this character would have never become a lifelong obsession. As a young viewer, I needed someone with whom I could empathize. Jason, with his double vision and desperate desire to hide his problems and appear “normal”, spoke to me.

Captivated by the character and his unresolved health issues, I lulled my childhood self to sleep at night writing stories in my head about Jason and the team. Little did I know that I had embarked on a lifelong journey into fan-fiction. 

Many years later, I posted my Battle of the Planets stories online. I gave Jason brain implant failure – “cerebonic” implants give the G-Force team members the ability to transmute – along with glasses to appease my nine-year-old self. I’ve since written about Han Solo’s night blindness (an unfortunate after-effect of his time in carbonite) and penned a series of short stories starring one-eyed monster hunter Dean Winchester, of the television series Supernatural. (Of course, in my world he didn’t lose his eye to a monster. He was born that way and had to work hard to compensate for his lack of depth perception.)

My friend Springie drew this picture of Jason in glasses for me to accompany my Battle of the Planets stories. Thanks, Springie! 

Most of my fan-fiction revolves around visual limitations. I’ve generally shrugged it off as a weird quirk of mine. But that’s not the only reason: There simply aren’t enough realistic portrayals of visual disability in fiction, especially in science fiction. I’m eager to see that change.

Thoughts on Mindfulness

I was sitting in the doctor’s office yesterday, scrolling through an app on my iPhone, when a television commercial caught my eye.

“Is that lady orange?” I asked the woman sitting next to me.

Her eyes moved from the mounted television to my face. “Oh,” she said, as though I’d woken her from a dream, “I wasn’t paying any attention.”

It occurred to me then that mindfulness in this age of media saturation is truly a challenge. On one hand, in order to experience some semblance of internal peace, you need to be able to ignore the constant barrage of “Pay attention to me!” screaming from a wide range of electronic devices. Even pumping your gas or grabbing a burger, there’s a constant stream of “news” blaring from nearby screens, demanding your attention.

On the other hand, mindfulness requires that we sit in the present moment and experience what is going on around us. It’s the main reason that I write haiku poetry – it forces me to stop and pay attention to my surroundings. What do I see when I look at this acorn? How does the air smell right before a thunderstorm? How does this chili taste?

I don’t have any answers for maintaining a balance between tuning out what I am starting to think of as the rage machine of today’s media, and focusing on what truly matters to us. I suspect that the answers lie with folks who have grown up in the digital age – people who don’t remember four TV stations (CBS, NBC, ABC, and a pixelated version of PBS) or the excitement of playing that new game, Pong. I need to ask my kids for advice.

How do you retain your mindfulness in the digital age without getting overwhelmed? Let me know in the comments.  

  My cousin took this great picture of me last summer at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I was so intent on taking a picture of the dragonflies circling the lily pads that I almost missed the one on my phone!

Thoughts on Writing: Using Texts in Your Narrative

Thoughts on Writing: Using Texts in Your Narrative

I recently finished reading a novel that spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. It was a mystery, so I expected twists and turns in the plot. What I didn’t expect was to identify weakness in the writing.

One flaw was easy enough to spot that I’m surprised that none of the author’s editors picked up on it. Even in written communication, each character should have a distinct voice. This book wove text messages from multiple characters through the narrative. And every one read like it was written by the same person, despite the fact that these texts were supposed to be from people of different ages, genders, and educational backgrounds. Sorry, no. That fails the plausibility test.

Check your mobile phone and open to any text conversations that you are currently having. Do you phrase things in the exact same way as the other person? Probably not. People have distinct texting patterns. Often, we greet one another and sign off using different phrases. We each have our own unique way of abbreviating words. Some of us are sticklers for proper grammar; others use text-speak. Some folks overuse punctuation!!! Others favor certain emojis. 🤣😂 It all boils down to this:

Make sure your written communication is as unique as your dialogue.

Supernatural Tanka

Recently, I saw a call-out for poetry based on the TV show Supernatural. Given that I am a fan of the Winchester brothers, I thought I’d try my hand at penning a few. Sadly, haiku were not eligible for this project, since the poems had to be at least five lines. (You can read some of my Supernatural haiku here.) So, I decided to write tanka (or, at least, modified tanka). Two of my poems are still under consideration for this book  – yay! – so I thought I’d post my rejected poems here. Only, let’s not call them rejected. How about under-appreciated?


beside a devil’s trap
painted with blood sigils
dusted in rock salt
the Winchester brothers
and endure


If I could
I would bake you
a lattice-topped cherry pie –
pit-free, sweet, with no lingering aftertaste –
just the safety and comfort of home.

Have you written poetry based on a favorite book or TV show? Let me know in the comments!