Category: Poetry


When I write in free verse I usually avoid formal constraints. Though I do love occasional internal rhyme, I try not to overdo it as too much makes the work seem self-conscious and contrived. Instead, I arrange the  verse to suggest the rhythm and cadence of the character’s native language or accent. I think of my novels in verse more as theater than as one long poem.

imgresAt last, MY THUMB arrives in bookstores. Written for those who derive comfort from a thumb, for those who love someone who derives (or once derived) comfort from a thumb, this book celebrates the unique bond between our darlings and their digits.

And just in from the medical community:

Compared to children with neither habit, those who sucked their thumbs and bit their nails were far less likely to develop sensitivities to common allergens, according to a report published Monday in Pediatrics.

Rachel and Matt's wedding 2016-07-02 198 (2)This inquisitive lad is Asher, my great nephew, the inspiration for MY THUMB. Notice, the just-turned-seven-year-old has kicked the thumb-sucking habit.




Next across the finish line will be  MY THUMB, due in bookstores this summer. In this rhyming picture book the joy of thumb-sucking knows no bounds…or very nearly so. Inspired by my great-nephew, who, to the best of my knowledge, is still dedicated to his thumb, this book is dedicated to our one and only Asher.

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Yes. It is different. The writing process is different. Word choice is different. Literary techniques, also different. Weird as this sounds, even the physical and emotional orientation of the author toward the book is different.

This is an entirely inadequate response to this deceptively simple question. I welcome readers and writers to add their two cents.

There are so many ways to tell a story. Every time I begin a book I consider how best to convey the tale; how I might expand the reader’s access to the emotional arc of the events. More than once I have chosen free verse as my structural vehicle, each time for a different reason.

In the case of WITNESS I envisioned the book as a trial with the speaking characters offering their testimony. I hoped to help the reader form a more balanced opinion of what transpired by presenting various points of view. No one character has all the answers nor knows the entire story. In my mind it was imperative to relate the events that way to avoid a single, prejudicial narrator.

My hope was to deliver the story in a series of rotating depositions. Poetry seemed the most concise and efficient method to invite the reader in, to allow the reader to identify with each speaker, even the ones they might not have wished to identify with, and to eliminate anything extraneous.DSC05673



they sing together, this random gathering of women,

in rounds, in layers, making fertile harmonies.

ghosts loiter in the halls. spirits hover above

drinking the sound like a marvelous wine from a fine-stemmed goblet.

these women hardly know each other,

meeting once a week in the church’s dining room

down the hall from the sanctuary.

they arrive from their separate directions in their flannel shirts, their yoga pants, their long underwear.

the bitter air clings to them, painting their cheeks and

the tips of their noses. they strip off their outer clothes,

leave their boots in a long line on the metal grate, and pad, barefoot,

to form a circle in the wood-paneled room. within minutes

they are making a sound so exquisite the pastor in his office pauses, resting his hands on his cluttered desk.

the singers are oblivious to the effect, they are sailing on their ocean of sound.

toddlers attending the day care center in the church basement stop crying and wide-eyed,

the tears drying on their cheeks, they smile around the soggy plug of their thumbs.

the women open their mouths and their hearts.

the air dances with the dazzling communion of their spirits.

 glasses and bowls in the church kitchen store the vibrations for later

when a handful of congregants will gather to discuss the jangling needs of the world and

unknowingly, draw comfort from the harmony the singers have left behind.

the sopranos, the middles, the altos know nothing of this, or each other.

at the end of their two hours they re-wrap in hats, gloves, coats and scarves;

they pull on their boots warmed by the heat rising from the church’s furnace, and go their separate ways.

but the walls remember, the chairs remember,

and the toddlers downstairs at the day care center

take blissful naps, their little brains electric with  harmony.

karen hesse, february 6, 2015

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I read this poem on November 21st and 22nd at the First Baptist Church in Brattleboro, Vermont as part of the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus’ 20th anniversary concert (I sang in the concert, too.). The poem, inspired by my first experience singing with a small portion of this large and harmonious group, is no longer true in the sense that many of these singers are “hardly” strangers anymore.

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 I most certainly did. The type of poetry that uses the shape of the poem to illustrate the idea behind the poem is called shape or concrete poetry. Perhaps you’d like to try writing some, too.

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Yes. That’s called a concrete poem or a shape poem. Try one yourself. It’s fun.

121413amlc 012When organizing a book I find some stories flow easily in a continuous ribbon of prose. OUT OF THE DUST demanded to be handled in a less conventional manner; hence it is told in a cycle of poems and each dated poem helps the reader understand where he or she is in the novel’s journey. Every poem is a solitary building block in this book. I hope, by the end, the accumulation of poems creates a unified structure…one that is both made of dust and impervious to dust.

036 (7)As a reader, I find certain books linger with me for months, for years, and occasionally for decades. Books have kept me afloat when I wondered how much longer I could hold on. They have taught me about decency and integrity. Books have shown me how survival is possible even when the odds suggest otherwise. Books have also taught me the elegance and beauty and power of language, not just for the message it contains but for the simple way it rolls off the tongue, the way it delights and excites every sense. Do I expect to have the same impact on my readers that certain writers have had on me? No. But I am grateful for every reader and for each opportunity to communicate and to share. If the reader feels less alone as he or she spends time inside one of my books, that’s enough for me.