A Dimming Mind

My grandmother is nearly 97.

In many ways, she is a lovely person – but at the same time, she has held on to so much of her timidity and worry about life that she has little left at this point. She had to be a strong person when she was younger, and she went through hardships. Sometimes she did everything without a husband to help her, including raising eight kids.

She’s fairly deep in dementia now, and I find it sad to see how so much of her good memories have gone and how she focuses on her worries more than her joys. I think of her when I need a reason to be positive. And I write her letters, so she knows she’s not forgotten. I want to lay up such a store of positive, empowering thoughts that when I am old it will still be there to sustain me, and my twilight will be a good one. In a way, I wrote this bit of free verse for her.



the ebbing mind

slips from its moorings

set adrift

without fanfare

a remnant of bitter flavor

acrid on the tongue

memories flow and ripple

through clutching mental fingers

nothing left

to satisfy that need

for steady ground on which to stand

-Rohvannyn Shaw


Poem: Monsoon

A brilliant branch
cracks down,
plasma booming.
It roars, reaches,
and crashes again.

Pregnant clouds play catch
with balls of rolling thunder.
Rooster tails of water spray.
and water fills the air
till it can hold no more.

The blood-warm mist
and steam wraps my skin.
I drink the wine
of the new mown lawn,
taste the rich
mesquite-green wind.




Invictus: teaching myself to be strong


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.                                                        -William Ernest Henley


This poem is truly inspiring to me. Though it seems a bit trite because it’s been quoted so often, it shows me a better, stronger, more enduring path to walk in life. At times I think “am I lying to myself? My head has been bowed by circumstance plenty of times, I have been an incredible coward.”

However, reading this poem and learning it is not about honesty – it’s about replacing old thoughts with new. It’s about convincing myself that the old way of doing things is wrong, that there’s a better way. It acknowledges that life is tough but I can make it. It gives me good, strong, positive thoughts to fasten on, so that when a weak, cowardly thought comes up, there’s something to stand up against it. In effect, it’s “perseverance practice.”

The only things I have done in my life that were worthwhile, happened because I didn’t give up. Invictus is a poem about not giving up. I wish I had learned this poem as a kid. I wonder if I would have been stronger?

Is there a poem or quote that you use to become a better person?

Poem: Unexpected Toad


While walking out at night,

I hear a hop.

Expecting someone bunny-shaped,

I train my light upon the bump.

No fur I find there,

nor twitching ears.

Instead, a toad squats on the stone.

Leg after leg he roams the road.

He freezes underneath my light

revealing muddy-tinted stripe,

and warty lumps.

Substantial sumo legs has he,

amphibian lord with purposeful stride.

We walk together now until he wearies of my scrutiny,

then clambers down to rocky stronghold.

I wrote this one at a writer’s retreat at Diablo Lake, high in the Cascade Range of Washington State. This was with my Mom.

Tips for Creating a Chapbook

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If you don’t know already, a chapbook is a small book filled with poetry, usually from the same poet. It is usually less than fifty pages in length. I just got done making one with my creative partner, using my mother’s poetry. Here are some hints of how we got it done:

The first step in creating a chapbook is to pick the poems. It’s best if they follow a theme.

Next, decide what embellishments or illustrations are going to be used. They can be anything from clipart to photos to illustrations. I used pen and ink illustrations, reduced town to pure black and white, one to a poem. So the format had one poem with one facing illustration. It’s best if there is spacing between poems like that, so each one can be savored and enjoyed individually.

Next, decide the format. We chose 6″ by 9″ perfect bound, because it allowed higher quality than a folded, stapled, booklet style, at the same time as being less expensive to print. Shop around, both at your local business supply stores, as well as at online self publishing places like CreateSpace.

Then, get the illustrations and decide what is going to go with what. Choose a good, readable font, and if the font is going to be some kind of handwriting, make sure it’s large enough to read. As you format the poems, make sure you know how wide the margins should be with the publisher you have picked.

Design the cover – again, check the minimum print resolution – how many pixels for inch, measurements, that kind of thing. Make sure to leave space for the bar code if you are using CreateSpace.

Tip: When creating the interior file, make sure you set the page size and margin width before you begin, that way you are doing it correctly from the start.

Lastly, when everything is the way you want it, convert the file to PDF. Do the same thing with the cover art. The PDF format locks the file so your format stays the same and can’t be changed. It forces the printer to make it just as you wanted it. LibreOffice will do file conversions very easily, and GIMP will convert your cover art into a PDF as well. Both are free programs with no ads or spyware.

Then send your PDFs to the printer, whether it’s an office supply store’s printing services, or CreateSpace, or wherever you want to use. Happy creating!

Meter is like the recipe for a beautiful poem

It seems to me that meter and rhyme in poetry is like a recipe for beauty. It’s like saying “although a poem can take any form, if you follow these rules you have a greater likelihood of writing a nicely structured poem that will be pleasing to the ear.” I used to think of the rules of the various kinds of poetry as useless and arbitrary, and perhaps they are, but there are some distinct advantages as well. For example, it’s really easy to love a well structured sonnet.

One of my favorite forms of sonnet uses three quartets and a couplet, and iambic pentameter. I haven’t had the guts to write one, but I will one day. I like that form of sonnet because I understand it and because it really sounds good to me. So much of poetic structure is really fairly understandable once you break it down. It’s remembering what is called what that always trips me up!

Here’s an example. “Iambic pentameter” just means a line where there are five beats to it. The “beats” are made by the stress on the syllables. Example:

the BEATS are MADE by ALL the STRESS in WORDS.

If you stressed the syllables as shown, that would be pentameter. “Pent” just means five, like pentagon. That is the foundation of a lot of poetry and quite a bit of what Shakespeare wrote. Maybe I’ll try writing a sonnet now!