Tuesday, June 16, 2020

In Memoriam: Carrie Lee Clickard

Steve Corey

I have some sad news to share. My close friend Carrie Clickard passed away last Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

October 10, 1961 - June 10, 2020

As difficult as this post is for me to write, I know many of you came to know Carrie through this blog and would like to send your love and prayers to her family.

Earlier this year, Carrie posted a link to "Author's Prayer" on Facebook—"I'm developing a fan girl crush on Ilya Kaminsky," she said.


If I speak for the dead, I must leave
this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over,
for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.

                    Continued below . . .

At the time, I didn't know what to make of it. Carrie would be the first to tell you that she was generally not inclined to read (or write) "serious" poetry. A poem about a zombie-mummy pas de deux, a martian lullaby, or an android dog? You bet! Rhyming picture books about mammoths, pirates, magic, and dumplings? Of course!

Two and a half years of battling stage 4 breast cancer can have a profound impact on anyone's preferences, but this one little poem on Facebook threw me for a loop. On the surface, the poem seemed to be about death (her death?) and I just couldn't go there. Because I was in denial, I chose not to respond to her post at all—me, her "serious poetry" friend—not a "love," not a "wow," not even a "like".

Now that she's gone, I regret that decision. I owed it to her to take a closer look at these words that touched her so profoundly. What I discovered is that this complex and thought-provoking poem is not really about death at all. It's about the power of language and storytelling, and what it means to be an author—a subject she knew and lived well.

If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge
of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through rooms without
touching the furniture.

                    Continued below . . .

Living life as an author means sacrificing your own ego to let your subject speak through you, even if that subject is dark and forbidding. Carrie was a true storyteller. She was grateful for the gift and respectful of the responsibility. All she really wanted to do (besides play with her dog) is write her stories. It wasn't a choice for her. She was haunted by these stories until they were released by the act of writing them down. Besides which, writing was the only way that she, their author, could find out how they ended!

Carrie was not giving up the fight. Not at all. By sharing this poem she was affirming that this was her journey. To experience the pain for what it was—it was something she needed to do.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking “What year is it?”
I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord . . .

                    Read the rest HERE.

After Carrie passed, her mother told me, "she just didn't look at the future in a negative way. When she got the results of the last scans, she told them she was not ready to throw in the towel. My daughter was never a quitter." Yes. That's the Carrie I knew and loved as well.

The cancer wreaked havoc on her body, but she also never lost touch with her sense of humor. About a month ago, she sent me a photo of the back of her head with one small patch of hair growing back. The subject of that email was "my new mullet." I'm going to miss that sense of humor. It's in every single one of her posts here on Today's Little Ditty. Her determination, drive, and knowledge of publishing markets was remarkable, as was her ability to offer astute career advice and constant encouragement in terms of my own writing. When I get my first book published I know she will be smiling and whispering in my ear, "I told you you'd be next."

Thank you, Carrie. I'll miss you.

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Today's Little Ditty is on a summer hiatus. While I'm gone, please feel free to peruse the TLD archives. You'll find plenty to keep you busy writing all summer long. You'll find an alphabetical listing of spotlight interviews HERE and links to all 50 (!) of our ditty challenges HERE. You'll also find The Best of Today's Little Ditty (2014-2015, 2016, and 2017-2018) available in paperback and ebook versions on Amazon.com.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dancing to the Music of the Madness


The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
          – Viola Davis

My baby just graduated from high school.

Miranda's first and last days of school.

As she prepares to step out into the world, I've been thinking a lot about my own momentous transition into pre-adulthood. What advice can I give her, especially given the world she is entering into—a world that I hardly even recognize anymore?

The class of 2020 is going to need more flexibility, more resiliency, and more self-confidence than I ever had at that age. And these are just a few of the characteristics necessary to pull this generation through. I do believe they have what it takes, though—Miranda and her older brother certainly do. I'm counting on them and their peers to help the rest of us find our way.

In honor of her graduation, I thought about sharing this poem by Langston Hughes.


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

                    Read the rest here.

Dreams are vital, as is holding tight to a vision of the future we want for ourselves. But what sticks with me are the images of the "broken-winged bird" and the "barren field frozen with snow." This poem is more of a warning than a celebration, no? I sense that Miranda is tired of me protecting her. She wants to be set free. I need to trust that her wings are strong.

Tim Herrick

So what about this poem by Jen Bryant?


I take my kaleidoscope off the shelf,
look through the little hole at the end
of the cardboard tube;

I turn       and turn       and turn       and turn,

                    Read the rest here.

I love that this poem speaks to who Miranda is as an artist. That vital creative force that seems like serendipity, but is so much more. Without a doubt, Miranda's ability to tap into those "strange and beautiful patterns" will take her far.

Lance Shields

And yet, beyond the message to trust herself and be open to whatever comes (which is an important one), it still doesn't feel like it encompasses everything I want to say.

There was a plaque that hung in my 1970's bedroom. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I read it so often as a child, it became an affirmation of sorts that's stayed with me over the decades. I was lucky enough to find an image online:

Yes. This is the advice I'd like Miranda to take to heart. In fact, I probably had this plaque in mind back in September 2017 when I wrote "A Mother's Advice" for Carol Boston Weatherford's abecedarian challenge. It seems fitting to revisit it on this occasion:


Along the way…

     Be yourself.

     Collect wonder.

     Do good deeds
     Every day.

     Find a reason to be

     Help when you are able.

In life…

     Joy, Kindness, and Love
     Matter most.

     Needing Others
     Pulls us together.

     Require listening,

     Speaking requires
     Thought, and

     Understanding, not Violence,
     Weathers the storms.

eXplore your horizons—         
     Your time has come.

                                    and zoom….

© 2017 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. All rights reserved.

I also wanted to find a commencement speech that would speak to Miranda—words of advice by a strong woman, like herself, with a creative sensibility. I spent a good long time searching, but eventually came up with just the right one—Viola Davis speaking to the 2012 graduating class of Providence College. (Her speech begins about three minutes in.)

She uses an interesting metaphor, comparing life to a pivotal scene from The Exorcist. Surprisingly, it not only works, it's timely—some of the demons she mentions are ones we, as a society, are facing today more than ever. More important, however, is her overriding message to find and stay true to your authentic self no matter what life throws your way. She closes with Topsy Washington's party monologue from George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum, and these defiant lines:
... whereas I used to jump into a rage anytime anybody tried to deny who I was, now all I got to do is give attitude, quicker than light, and I’m dancing to the music of the madness in me. And here I was, all this time I been thinking we gave up our drums. But, naw, we still got ‘em. I know I got mine. They’re here, in my speech, my walk, my hair, my God, my style, my smile, and my eyes. And everything I need to get over in this world, is inside here, connecting me to everybody and everything that’s ever been. 

So, hunny, don’t waste your time trying to label or define me. ... ‘cause I’m not what I was ten years ago or ten minutes ago. I’m all of that and then some.

Congratulations, Miranda, and keep dancing to the music of the madness in you. We're so proud.

8-year-old Miranda in front of the Carina Nebula (Kennedy Space Center)

Truth be told, I wish I felt more defiant these days. It's not that I'm complicit or apathetic, just tired. Exhausted really. Which means it's time for me to take a break for a while and tend to my home fires.

While I'm gone, please feel free to peruse the TLD archives. You'll find plenty to keep you busy writing all summer long. You'll find an alphabetical listing of spotlight interviews HERE and links to all 50 (!) of our ditty challenges HERE. You'll also find The Best of Today's Little Ditty (2014-2015, 2016, and 2017-2018) available in paperback and ebook versions on Amazon.com.

Stay safe and well, my friends. I'll see you in the fall.

This week's Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Inspired by Kindness, she shares an inspiring farewell letter poem to her students.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020