Thursday, January 26, 2017

Learning to write poetry from the masters

Early morning. The sun gives the horizon a tentative kiss. I shuffle in pink moccasins to the kitchen to prepare 8 ounces of honey and lemon water to hydrate and soothe my parched soul. After a few minutes of meditation in the silver gray solitude of this new day I turn on the light to read.

I am often in the process of reading several books at once but divine dawn is reserved for poetry, or poetry related books, or inspirational reading that centers me and reminds me to be mindful of each glorious moment of my life.

This precious morning I cozied up to the following books.

The first book was Mary Oliver's new collection of essays. "Upstream." Oliver is my poetic idol. Her knowledge and experience with nature in all its beauty and destruction is unparalleled. She describes flora, fauna and experience in intimate details, images that shock and surprise the reader. And she takes those details and connects them to a larger universal connection that exists among all life whether we acknowledge it or not. She makes me gasp. She makes me pick up my pen and journal to write my own thoughts or to copy down lines from her poems or essays I don't ever want to forget. Reading Oliver is a gift I give myself, ever grateful for the magic of her thoughts and words.

The second book I read this morning is one of a pair I just discovered while perusing "How to Read a Poem" and "How to Write a Poem" by Tania Runyon. I was attracted to these books because they are based on Billy Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry." Collins is one of my other favorite poets and I love the poem so I ordered the books straight away and was not disappointed. Runyon offers several facets of a poem to explore, each based on a verse from the Collins poem. She then sets the reader a series of questions to ask about a poem based on that verse and gives you several poems to practice the process. The poems are wonderful and turn the book into an annotated anthology that enlightens the reader of poetry. So far I am enjoying the first book and look forward to seeing what she has to say about writing poems. 

I love finding new books of poetry or books about poetry that inspire me and help me learn. Perhaps one day some reader or poet will open one of my books and become inspired too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Art and Poetry as Spiritual Practice

I grew up with no religious training or spiritual practices. Holidays like Christmas and Easter were celebrated because they were fun and were reasons to bring family together for good food, laughter and card games. I didn't attend church or synagogue except for rare transitional events like weddings or funerals. I grew up fine but always with the feeling that something was missing.

Over the years I tested a few religions, tried them on to see if they fit but they required too many alterations to be the right style. I had been told so many times that religion was silly, or wrong, or so much nonsense that I just couldn't find one to suit my needs. And yet, I kept searching for a spiritual practice that would make me feel complete.

I tried yoga, tried to learn meditation and Buddhism, and even spent a weekend at an ashram with a friend to see if there was anything there that could become my spiritual practice.

Over the years yoga and meditation gave me some peace of mind and an excuse to enter the solitude and silence I so desperately require in every day. But it didn't seem enough. And then I discovered something. As a child I had a spiritual practice but didn't know that's what it was. I had poetry and nature and art. I would lie in the cool morning grass of summer and watch the clouds roll by. I would observe the plants turning green in the spring and flowers exploding in an unbelievable variety of colors and shapes. At some subconscious level I must have absorbed all of nature for being the miracle that it is. Mother Nature was my goddess but I didn't name her as such until well into midlife.

Slowly I came back to my childhood passions. First it was poetry--reading and writing poems became my expression of spirituality. A connection to emotions and thoughts that sleep beneath the heart and are difficult to recognize and arouse until I spent many quiet mornings sinking into the rhythm and meaning of poems or watching my own feelings sprawl across the white page in waves of blue or purple ink. 

In later years I discovered I still had a passion for art. I started out scrapbooking then moved on to collage, art journaling, mixed media and painting. I learned techniques through online classes, books and magazines. And finally I had a spiritual practice I could relate too.

Ultimately I needed a way to combine these two creative modes of expression. And though I'm not quite there in a consistent way I started this blog in the hopes I could develop a daily practice of art that incorporated my own poems--or lines from poems by poets I love like David Whyte, Mary Oliver and Mark Nepo.

Here are two samples of my attempts at adding my own poems to my art work.

I'm trying to develop an artistic style that will work and can be consistent so people will recognize the art as mine. I have long since refined my poetic voice and I believe it's fairly recognizable to those familiar with my work. This is definitely an ongoing project but it has become my spiritual practice and I am grateful for that.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It's raining here in southern California and I hear that's unusual but since we just moved to the west coast a few months ago I have nothing to compare it to. So I am taking advantage of this gray Sunday to formulate my plans for blogging.

I had considered starting a whole new blog based only on poetry and calling myself the Zen Poet but that presented a few problems. First of all I would lose all the art I've posted here and second it would limit what I could include. So I've decided to stick with this blog because I can write about poetry and art and just sort of follow my heart. I hope to have more informative posts and to blog more frequently.

Today's post is about stepping out of my comfort zone in relation to art. I typically have a simple style with soft colors or neutrals and not too many layers on my pages. Doing many layers in one piece just never appealed to me. But I began taking some online courses with Mimi Bondi, an Australia based artist whose book "No Shenanigans" inspired me to get creatively uncomfortable. There are e-classes that match each chapter of the book and Mimi is an amazing teacher. Her free youtube videos are amazing and very accessible and I recommend them.

These are two new journal pages that I created with guidance and inspiration from Mimi. I'm not totally pleased with them but I am pleased with the stretch I made to work in new ways with paint and ideas. I even managed to let my fingers do the painting and get pretty messy in the process!

I encourage you all to step outside of your comfort zone and create something using new materials or techniques and if you have't made an art journal page or painted the way you did when you were a child I certainly encourage you to try it out. It's lots of fun and it makes a rainy Sunday brighter and more colorful.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Art and Poetry Journeys

Yes it has been a very long time since I posted on this blog! You see we have been busy moving across the country from New York to California. It began with an online search of apartments in Southern California back in January and then in May we flew out here to find a new place to live.

We are settled now and loving life on the west coast.

Now of course it's time to get back to art and poetry.

I plan to expand this blog a bit and incorporate more of my own poems turned into art work as well as share some of the special poems I've read and enjoy over and over again. To me poetry, both writing and reading it, is a form of meditation. Art serves that purpose as well, helping me to stay focused and block our the negativity of today's world. I find solace in art and poems and want to spread that feeling of calm serenity to my readers. My hope is that my posts will bring that same sense of peace to you. 

I would like to call this blog Zen Poet and will work on refiguring this blog design to match that mode.

In the meantime here are a few new art journal layouts for you to peek at.

Hope you enjoy these until I return with more art and poetry!

copyright by Renee Howard Cassese

Thursday, April 14, 2016

National Poetry Month and Mother's Day

April is National Poetry Month and so I am writing more poems and sending my present collection out for more contests and publishers and hoping for the best. Next month is Mothers' Day, actually only in a few weeks so it's a good time to write another poem about mothers and to tell you about my upcoming event.

in the glass
I see your face,
clear loving eyes
a slight smile,
I trace the tracks
that frame your eyes
and that soft mouth,
tracks made in joy
and sadness,
I know it's me
in this early morning
half light,
I stare at your face
wishing I could touch
the sweet papery smoothness
of your cheek,
wishing I could hear
the conviction in your voice
as you tell me
which way I should turn
as I contemplate
the years
left to me,
wishing I could bring you back
to share them with me.

I dedicated my first collection of poems to my mother, even naming it for her--"I am My Mother's Only Poem." And now as Mothers' Day approaches I am happy to be doing a reading and an art exhibit at Long Island Writers House on May 7 from 1:00-4:00.

I hope to see my blog readers there as I discuss the marriage of poetry and art and why I find it to be the most rewarding of my creative pursuits.

You can find information at 

Come on out and hear some poetry, look at some art, and have some refreshments!

Art and books will be for sale and would make perfect Mothers' Day presents!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Serendipity in the Land of Art and Poetry

Those who believe in the Law of Attraction know that what you emit you also attract into your life. I also believe that if you focus your thoughts on what you want to achieve the universe will reward you with unexpected opportunities. The past couple of weeks have gifted me with many magical opportunities and chances to expand my creative life.

The first was an email from the Long Island Romance Writers group announcing an author book event at the South Huntington Library. I have applied and been accepted and will be offering my books for sale and hoping to meet and speak to other writers and share the triumphs and tribulations of a writer's life.

The event will be held on April 9. I believe this opportunity came to me because I have been focused on writing my romantic women's fiction series and have consequently rekindled my interest and participation both in LIRW and Romance Writers of America.

I also came across a post on facebook about Long Island Writers House in Huntington Village. I looked at the website, shared the discovery with the women in my writers' group and then put it aside. But while participating this month in Write A Thin, sponsored by the Womens Fiction Writers Association, I decided to pursue it a little further. I emailed LIWH and made contact with the founder and director of this wonderful new establishment offering many opportunites for writers. 

A return email from Karen Levine created a new connection with a wonderful friend in the making. After viewing my blog she suggested an art exhibit and poetry reading at Long Island Writers House and we have scheduled that for May 7. You can find more information at

In addition I met with Karen and discovered we have quite a bit in common and spent an exciting and enjoyable two and a half hours chatting about art and writing. She also offered her space as a venue for me to teach Journal to the Self writing workshops which I have been wanting to do since I became certified as a Journal Instructor.

I can see this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So many wonderful writing things are coming to me now that I am spending more of my time thinking about writing and actually working on a solid writing project like the romantic women's fiction series.

I also recently discovered a bookstore/wine bar in Rockville Centre called The Turn of the Corkscrew which offers self-published authors a chance to sell books through their author events. Though I missed out on the one being held tomorrow there will be others in the future that I plan to participate in.

The world is conspiring to boost my writing life and I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Haiku Poem and Winter Art

between snowflakes
silence is a symphony
no one else hears

This is what I have in mind as I continue on this blog, hopefully posting more frequently and providing more about materials and techniques and inspiration.

I used a photograph Frank took from our window during the massive snow storm yesterday. Strips of ice were clinging to the screen and everything outside was shadowed and fuzzy from the falling snow.

I used gesso and Distress Paints from Ranger for the background then used a stencil to create bricks around the image with light molding paste tinted with charcoal spray ink.  I stamped a script stamp randomly around the page for a bit more interest.

The haiku on the page was something I wrote last month during an online holiday haiku class with Lorraine Mejia-Green, a fantastic poet and teacher.