Tribute to Jim Harrison

This poem is in tribute to Jim Harrison, poet/novelist, who passed away March 26, 2016.

“There is a human wildness held beneath the skin
that finds all barriers brutishly unbearable.”
-Jim Harrison, from “Arts”
Songs of Unreason

Upon the Death of Jim Harrison

Released. You are released to light whispers
and moonlight rivers.
Your poems high-scavenging words from eagle aeries
and young feather-down lines the canyon crags of your face.
Primitive man, you explored the river flood and flux
against the mountainside stone faces with deft
landscape scribbles and with the intention of horses,
insects and dogs. Read to me the melody of your poems – I’m listening
to the cows and darkness, your non-lament
about youth and death
an observer of cycles or pain, as big as the
universe shock of a cigarette scar,
tiny to your brain and soft like trout and pine needles
about beautiful ugly mothers and eggs
but always returning to the river.

Always returning to the river,
you are released.

Poem by Jen May copyright 2016


(not so) Secret Anymore


This coming Friday I’m going to do something momentous because I believe that being silent is complicit with evil.

I’m going to publicly acknowledge that I am a survivor of domestic violence in the form of sexual assault.  This is not to gain sympathy or to exploit my traumas. Instead I’m going to finally give myself a voice not stifled by the shame I have carried for decades. I’ll be reading two pieces at the April First Friday event at the Mutual Ground Survivor’s Art Show and Auction, starting at 6:00 p.m. in the Santori Public Library in Aurora.

I claim my ability to heal and to advocate for those who have not yet found their own voice. I sometimes use poetry to convey the horror of my circumstances and my path to survival. This is not my only story — but it’s a beginning. I’m living proof that violence can be overcome.



Pitch Perfect Style

In the words of The Mamas & The Papas: “Monday Monday, can’t trust that day.”

Not to brag or anything, but I bet my Monday was worse than yours.

I suffer from migraines. And I mean suffer… By the end of today a raging migraine made me chose to drive home on the eternally-under-construction I-90. (Any Chicagoland drivers will know my woe.) If you don’t know already, severe migraines are made worse with stress and direct light, like the setting westerly sun. And oh, yeah, also nausea… which with me often escalates to Pitch Perfect Style puking.  (Just ask my friend Rachael about the Caesar’s Palace planter I fertilized that one time in Vegas…)

pitch perfect

Well. Today as I was driving home, there was no shoulder and I was boxed in by my fellow Monday drivers. So I knew I was building up to be suddenly seasicker-than-any-seaman and I ended up launching my lunch into the only thing handy… a plastic baggie of free dental goodies. I managed to save the free toothpaste sample (which came in quite handy after the fact). However, I was now driving along with a pleasant little bagful of barf.

To add to the fun, I was driving directly behind a state trooper, so I couldn’t exactly just casually throw my puke bomb out the window. Not that I would do such a thing ; )

And because I was not quite yet ready for prime time, I threw up twice more — right on my newly purchased bright red kicky sweater– just for good measure. At 35 MPH.

So, my question is…what would YOU do?

Oh honey, isn’t this just a delightful little writing prompt?





Pretty Little Ugly Things

So often we are rushing from place to place that we don’t even see details. I mean, how many times have you arrived somewhere and you felt like you were driving on auto-pilot? Scary sensation, if you ask me. We are so collectively rushed that we don’t really see anything.

Do your creative self a small favor. Next time you go out, look for the smallest thing you can find. Sidewalk cracks? Blades of grass? Dust?IMG_20151001_094306180

Scale way down. Take a pic. Here’s mine.

Challenge: Write about this tiny thing in two ways:

  1. Describe the beauty: symmetry, color, grace, solitude, existence, careful, gentle, quiet.
  2. Describe the ugly: alien, spindly, invasive, scary, dirty, forgotten, discarded, predatory.

If you are still stuck creatively, try shuffling your descriptions to make one line about the beautiful and the next about the ugly. Or maybe there is some universal truth you can share about the duality of this tiny thing.

If you don’t get a poem from this exercise, at least you have slowed down and de-stressed a little bit. And that’s a pretty picture.





Bowl of Berries


Some time ago, I had a bad time in my life. I had to find the determination to come out  swinging when I really just wanted to crawl under my covers. It was a time of great grief and personal pain. But it is not the pain that I want to study, it is the story of perseverance.

I think so very many people can relate to this kind of darkness, at least to some degree. So how do you cope?

I have a few techniques for bouncing back that I hope will bring inspiration to you. Maybe you will even share them with someone who is smothered by depression. One small note, I am not an “expert” and if you are feeling very low you may need medical attention.  These are just a few guides along the way.

  • Intentional Gratitude: I am here and I am alive. That is enough.
  • Comparison: “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.” (source undetermined)
  • Small Doses: I got through the last minute. I can get through the next one. Then I can get through an hour. Then I can get through a day. If I don’t feel I can get though a day, I go back to getting through an hour.
  • Experience the Senses: Go to a local produce section. Find just one fruit or vegetable that catches your interest. Drink that food in with your senses. Can you see the water bursting from its cells? Discover the colors of the produce the way the light plays across the textures of it. Buy it, bring it home. Prepare it in a small dish and eat it slowly, reveling in the sensation of a full bite, the texture, the aroma and the flavor. If you can have one moment of sensual pleasure, you can have many! Buy a citrus candle, clean something with PineSol, get some heavily scented fresh flowers for your table. This sensual experience is LIFE. When you pay attention, there are hundreds of pleasurable moments in your day: how does your soap smell? Think of the cold drink in your hand, how different would it be without ice? Personally, I like the way the keys of my laptop feel when I press them down — it’s …satisfying.

Now for the challenge: write it.

Because, after all, life IS a bowl of berries.





Haircut Hope


To quote Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” I’ve been thinking about this observation for some time now. So I’ve done a little research into the literary symbolism of a woman cutting her hair. You see, I’ve been restless and pondering what defines me. I’m thinking it’s time to spice things up a bit. I’m about to make a cut.

There is no universal implication about a woman cutting her hair in literature. In some instances, a woman’s hair is cut without her consent as a way to symbolize defeat, imprisonment, lost vitality, and even illness or death. In other instances, a woman cuts her own hair as an act of defiance, upheaval, or significant change. One thing is certain, a woman’s character is often defined by her hair. I’m astounded at the literary implications.

Writing prompt:  What stereotypes surface when a character has long, straight blonde hair? Or red curls? What is the difference between these images? Do you use these stereotypes in your writing? Can you challenge yourself to write complex, intelligent, strong women without conforming to these norms? I certainly hope so.

As for me, I don’t know if there is significance in my desire for a new do, but I’m excited by the potential. I am embarking on a sort of personal journey and I’m tired of the tangles.




One of THOSE Days

Did you ever have one of THOSE days? Where you trip over your phone charger, your phone crashes to the floor, you careen your noggin into the wall, bounce off your shoulder and then twist your ankle or maybe a knee? You know, the kind of day when you go to order a salad, but you order a cheeseburger instead and then you go home and dream of only of donuts and ice cream? When you go to binge-watch on Netflix but your remote is out of batteries and then you forget your password so you have to reset and the site won’t take your newly minted universal password because it needs a capital letter AND a special character… and THEN you have to update your payment information because your bank changed your card numbers three months ago. You know, the kind of day where almost everything you do reminds you of how woefully inadequate you feel?

Yeah. It was that kind of day today.

There’s a poem in there somewhere…right?



We are jostled and leaning into the slowing and the speeding up, but it is such a part of our lives that we ride unconsciously. We singularly ride. With little talk, we plug in, we plug our ears with earbuds and we cocoon into ourselves. 

There is even a sort of winter uniform of down coats, wool hats and fake fur trim. We burrow in. Hibernate.

We don’t even acknowledge sharing a seat with each other.

Too bad for them — they will never know that I’m secretly writing them into my poems.


Clip-Art (sorta)

ClipartSo, what can you do when  you are not exactly in the frame of mind to write? Ever experience the dreaded doldrums of writing? The much maligned WRITER’S BLOCK? Sometimes you are just stuck.

When I only have white space and a cursor that seems tied to my very pulse, I take out my scissors and a bunch of old magazines. My favorites are those with loads of big WORDS and PHRASES, sprinkled with images of nature for good measure. Then I simply deconstruct. Yes, I know this is just an amateur version of those poetry word magnets, but sometimes I combine several cut outs and BAM! Inspiration.

For example, I paired an image of a mirror next to one of those lipstick models from a woman’s beauty mag. This inspired a poem entitled, “Graffiti Artist” (excerpt below):

I bought a bright red tube of lipsticklip print

one brave midnight…

…but when you were showering and

I went to write on the mirror

I had nothing to say.


 Turns out I have a lot to say after all. But we will get to that…