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Leanne Brown

Sage Cohen

Bette Husted
What Divides Us

Sarah Sloat
Without Category

Patricia Weaver Francisco 

Roberta Ulrich
American Indians

Peter Rock

Robin Rinaldi
Self Knowledge

Ruth Madievsky
Medicine & The Arts

Franny Choi
Body Language

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Ebony Stewart
Sexual Health

Sonja Livingston
Hidden Lives

J.I. Kleinberg

Barbara Crooker

Shawnte Orion
Pop Culture

Amber Keyser

Yolanda Sanchez

Diane Lockward

Nahshon Cook

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone

Shawna Lemay

Fran Kimmel
Troubled Childhood

January Gill O'Neil
Marriage & Divorce

Erin Block
Wild Places

Currie Silver
The Art of Being

Paulann Petersen
Nature Inside & Out

Scott T. Starbuck
Activist Poetry

Shirley McPhillips
Poetry in the Everyday

Rick Campbell
Industrial Cities & Workers

Sandy Longhorn
Midwestern Rural Life

Sharon Bond Brown
Women's Ordinary Lives

Jeff Düngfelder
Absence & Silence

Valerie Savarie
Art Books

Valerie Wigglesworth & Ralph Swain

Ann Staley
Past & Present

Reb Livingston
Oracles & Dreams

Eduardo Gabrieloff
Latino Writers

Lisa Romeo
Personal Essays by Women

Mari L’Esperance
Mixed Heritage

Lee Lee
(Un)Natural Resources

Henry Hughes

Tracy Weil

Penelope Scambly Schott
Strong Women

Allyson Whipple
Roadtrips & Realizations

Hannah Stephenson

Blog Index
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When we read, creativity is stirred.

And when we create, our lives expand.

3 Good Books invites writers & artists to share their favorite books on a given theme.


J.I. Kleinberg on Finding

"Every journey is about finding," says J.I. (Judy) Kleinberg, an artist and writer who has created over 1,000 found poems. "We look for the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle and if we happen to find it, we often discover that the puzzle itself has grown and there are more pieces to find."

"My found poems evolved out of a combined interest in poetry and collage," she explains. "Browsing through magazines for images, I noticed 'accidental' phrases that were created through the happenstance of page layout: words that had no connection with each other in the original text took on new meaning when they were read down instead of left to right. My process is all about finding that unintentional syntax and combining small word chunks into poems."

Kleinberg lives in Bellingham, Washington and is co-author of Fat Stupid Ugly: One Woman’s Courage to Survive and co-editor of Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington. She shares her work at Chocolate is a Verb and The Poetry Department.

J.I. Kleinberg offers three good books on the theme of finding:
by Lynda Barry

Cartoonist Lynda Barry thinks on paper and those familiar black-and-white-marbled-cover composition books are her favorite medium. She’s been keeping such notebooks for more than 40 years. Explaining what this process does for her, she says, “I’m after what Marilyn Frasca [her teacher] called ‘being present and seeing what’s there.’” In other words, finding. As Barry started teaching this practice to students in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her notes, syllabi and drawings helped her and her students find their way into the course. Syllabus is a wonderful collection that tracks that process for three years. It’s part how-to, part comics and a lot of smart Lynda Barry reflection. My favorite quote: "We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory,’ but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something, not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever."

Fishing a Familiar Pond
by Sheila Sondik

Each April, for National Poetry Month, the folks at The Found Poetry Review challenge a group of participating poets to create a found poem each day of the month adhering to specific guidelines. In 2013, the 85 participants each chose a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and used the text as their source. Sheila Sondik chose The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and her 30 Pulitzer Remix poems were published as a chapbook by Egress Studio Press. The Yearling is a haunting story that many of us know from childhood and while Sondik’s poems respectfully borrow elements of the book’s language and poignant tale, they morph the story into something entirely new, touching and lyrical.

A Tale for the Time Being 
by Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki’s novel is all about finding. Young Nao is finding her way through her own difficult teenage life and into her grandmother’s story. Walking the beach near her island home, another character, Ruth, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox with various things inside that affect her deeply and draw her into a mystery. The two women, along with a carefully drawn supporting cast, struggle forward in their nearly parallel search. The writing is warm and filled with humor and profound reflection. As a side note, if you enjoy listening to books, Ruth Ozeki reads the recorded version herself and it’s wonderful.


Barbara Crooker on Praise

Barbara Crooker is the author of six books of poetry: Radiance, Line Dance, More, Gold, Small Rain, and Selected Poems. She lives in rural Pennsylvania, and is the full-time caregiver of her son, who has autism. Praise is a central theme in much of her work.

"Thornton Wilder wrote, One of the duties of the spirit is joy, and I think that's one of my duties as a writer as well," says Crooker. "Despite a difficult life (first daughter died, first marriage dissolved as a result, third daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury at eighteen, and our son will never be able to take care of himself) I want to take Wendell Berry's words as my motto: Be joyful even though you have considered all of the facts. I hope that my work reflects this."

Crooker considers herself an "ardent environmentalist."

"Right now I'm thinking of Adam Zagajewski's Try to Praise the Mutilated World," she says, "and feeling an urgency to praise the things we are most in danger of losing: our fragile planet, our ecosystems, how everything connects. When I think about our age of greed, the never-ending wars, man-made climate change, my first impulse is despair. But then I turn to praise."

Barbara Crooker offers three good books on the theme of praise:

The Psalms of David
with illustrations by James S. Freemantle

When it comes to thinking about books where praise is a central focus, I think you can't do much better than the Psalms of David: 

"I will meditate on your wonderful works" (Psalm 145)

"In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun / which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy." (Psalm 19) 

"O Lord, how manifold are your works! / In wisdom you have made them all."

"You stretch out the heavens like a tent." (Psalm 104)

The Psalms also contain lamentations, pleas for help in time of tragedy and desolation, but then there are these great songs of rejoicing and praise. And when we praise, we pay attention, we focus on the details, we deepen our appreciation, especially of the natural world and all we stand to lose if we don't wake up. While I know that "poetry makes nothing happen" (Yeats), still, I'm hopeful. . . .

Leaves of Grass
by Walt Whitman

Who is more expansive in his praise than Walt ("I contain multitudes") Whitman?

From Leaves of Grass: "Others may praise what they like, / But I, from the banks of the running Missouri, praise nothing, in art, or aught else, / Till it has well inhaled the atmosphere of this river—also the western prairie-scent, / And fully exudes it again." 

The Poetry Foundation writes about Whitman: "In Leaves of Grass (1855), he celebrated democracy, nature, love, and friendship. This monumental work chanted praises to the body as well as to the soul, and found beauty and reassurance even in death."  

Whitman's expansiveness embraced all of American life, both high culture and low. ("The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.") He focused on the minute, then widened his gaze to the heavens ("I believe a leaf of grass is no less / than the journey-work of the stars.").  And he sang the body electric: "I dote on myself that there is a lot of me and all so luscious."  Instead of the Bauhaus "less is more," Whitman believed that "more is more," and you can see this demonstrated in his long, looping, hard-to-take a breath lines.  

The Elementary Odes
by Pablo Neruda

If Whitman is the macrocosm, then Neruda is the microcosm. His Elementary Odes are much sparer, with short compressed lines almost like the distillate you might get when making brandy. His odes are a pleasure to read and teach because of their plethora of sensory details. But beyond that, I admire them because they go beyond surface decoration, mere lists of attributes, and take us someplace else. Neruda sings praises to everyday objects, like wine, tomatoes, corn, artichokes, lemons, salt, and transforms them into metaphors that ask the essential questions of our lives.

He captures the overlooked beauty of quotidian life, and makes it new.  On the tomato: "its remarkable amplitude and abundance. . . .the tomato offers its gift / of fiery color / and cool completeness." On the artichoke: "erect / in its battle-dress" "its scallop of  / scales" "armed force skirmish" "We taste of that /sweetness, / dismembering scale after scale. We eat of a halcyon paste: / it is as green as the artichoke heart." On a lemon: "a flashing made fruitage,  / the diminutive fire of a planet."  On salt: "the smallest / miniature / wave from the salt cellar / reveals to us / more than domestic whiteness; in it, we taste infinitude." 

That's what I want to do in my work, fall in love with what's in front of me, burnish it until it shines, and then go beyond minutiae to expand and explore larger issues.



Shawnte Orion on Pop Culture

"I don’t want poetry to be confined or limited to the niche demographic of People Who Like Poetry," says poet Shawnte Orion. "I’m a 'regular' person with a normal job, so I believe poetry can be relevant and appreciated in anyone’s world." 

In his debut poetry collection, The Existentialist Cookbook, Orion offers quick wit and irreverence, along with pop culture references and clever titles, such as, Love in the Time of Hand-Sanitizer and Unable to Surface for Air During Shark Week.

Orion lives in Surprise, Arizona, and often shares his poems in public places: bars, laundromats, and on the street. He offers three influential books on the theme of Popular Culture:

by Denise Duhamel  

Don’t bother looking for my bellybutton, boys —
You won’t find it. Fascism comes to countries
wrapped in flags of freedom
as I come to Earth, minus evidence
of an umbilical cord.

— from Barbie, Her Identity as an Extraterrestrial Finally Suspected…

There probably isn’t a more pervasive pop culture icon than Barbie, so my list starts here. The book is a collection of Barbie poems, but Duhamel transcends consumer kitsch to address facets of society through the unblinking eyes of this ubiquitous doll. Dressing up each poem in limited edition outfits like feminism, history, religion, gender, and politics.

In the Philippines
women workers in fashion doll factories
are given cash incentives
for sterilization. Body parts roll
too fast on conveyer belts.

— from Manifest Destiny

Kafka on the Shore
by Haruki Murakami

This was my first Murakami book so I had no idea what to expect. After finishing it, I still don’t. Murakami’s elliptical plotlines involve themes of classical Greek tragedy and a sadistic serial cat-killer in the form of Johnnie Walker, the figure from the Scotch Whiskey logo. The novel takes place in Japan and there are World War II flashbacks, talking cats, a ghost in the library, and suddenly Colonel Sanders appears as a pimp on the streets of Takumatsu. To have that fast food mascot show up across the globe in a Japanese novel like there’s nothing bizarre about it, made me re-evaluate the alleged “limited” reach of pop culture images and references.  

Quantum Lyrics
by A. Van Jordan

math can be as simple as buttoning
a blouse, really: after you misfeed the first button,
though, every move of the hand, no matter how sincere,
becomes a lie

— from Einstein Doing The Math

This brilliant collection of poems breaks down universal concepts like love, music, and racism through an ambitious fusion of physics and comic books. In poems like “The Green Lantern Unlocks The Secrets of Black Body Theory” and “The Atom and Hawkman Discuss Metaphysics” Van Jordan demonstrates that “characters” like Einstein, Miles Davis, and The Flash are all superheroes worthy of literature’s attention.

Let's say a fist comes toward your lips and you can't lean away
fast enough, because you're carrying that placard for peace.
It's not the mass of the fist that will kill you,
but the speed at which it comes
upon seeing your Jewish hair or black face.

— from Thought Experiment #2: Toward a Unified Theory




Amber Keyser on Survival

Amber J. Keyser is an evolutionary biologist-turned-writer, who gravitates to stories about heroes, scientists, and adventurers. She grew up, and still lives, in Oregon, where she and her family enjoy backpacking, fishing, and whitewater rafting.

Just as with her recreational pursuits, her books traverse many genres and styles — from shoes to sex to survival. She is the author of The Way Back from Broken, a young adult novel;  Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes; co-author of Quartz Creek Ranch, a middle grade book series. The V-Word, an anthology of personal essays by women about first time sexual experiences, will be published in 2016.

"The Way Back from Broken is a book about survival on many levels — physical, emotional, mental," Keyser says of the her recently published novel that is earning high praise. "It is also a love song to my lost daughter, to the son I named after Shackleton, and to my younger daughter, a true adventurer."

Amber Keyser shares her perspective on survival, and offers three good works on the theme:

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing

I fell in love with Sir Ernest Shackleton [the British explorer] when I was 28 years old. I’ve always had a thing for explorers from the Golden Age of Exploration, but “The Boss” was something special.

When his ship the Endurance was iced-in before he could make landfall on Antarctica, Shackleton organized ice futbol and variety shows to keep up moral. When the crushing ice sent the ship to the bottom of the sea, he formulated a plan to get his crew to shore. When they reached solid ground on the Antarctic peninsula and Shackleton knew that no one would ever find them, he crossed 800 miles of open ocean—the roughest in the world—in a life boat. When the life boat, crashed on the far side of South Georgia Island, he hiked over a tremendous mountain range to reach a whaling station and get a ship that could rescue his crew.

And you know what? He didn’t lose a single man. That was Shackleton. He was also my touchstone when I turned thirty and tragedy crushed me as completely as ice had crushed the Endurance.

After my daughter died, I often could not get up off of the floor. I stumbled through my days half in the grave, planning ways to get all the way there. My father begged me to think of what unknown blessings the future might hold, and I told him that he would have to carry the hope for me because I could not do it myself.

And there beside me was Shackleton, adrift in the brutal vastness of Antarctica, no phone, no satellite, starving and frostbitten. If anyone had an excuse to lie down on the ice and die, it was Shackleton, and yet . . .

The Return of the King
by J.R.R. Tolkien

Also with us in this pit of grief — a hole so deep that no light from above reached the bottom — was a hobbit, well-meaning but small, and with no significant skills of any use to anyone at all. From the pages of my favorite childhood book, The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins sat beside me, worrying the stump of his missing finger. If anyone had an excuse to lie down on the side of Mount Doom and get eaten by Nazgul, it was Frodo, and yet . . .

Both Frodo and Shackleton persisted without hope. They went on, not because they believed they would be successful, but because the act of trying was a moral choice, regardless of the chance of success.

And so . . . I got off the floor. I set aside my plans to end my life. I put one foot in front of the other, not because I believed I would be happy again, but because it was the right thing to do.

Because of Shackleton and Frodo.

Other words found me.

by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,

from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel

faces down frost; green thrives; and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;

elect an honest man; decide they care

enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.

Some men become what they were born for.


Sometimes our best efforts do not go

amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.

The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow

that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

With this small blessing, I kept walking, kept living, kept trying. And I found my own words. Ten years after my daughter’s death, I began writing a novel about loss, grief, and the healing power of wilderness. It took five years and many tears to complete and yet here it is — born from the stubborn conviction of Shackleton, Frodo, and my truest self.



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