A Writer’s Heaven

A friend once said to me, “Writing a book is like dropping a tissue into the Grand Canyon.” I’ve often thought about that remark as I plunged into the self-marketing field after self-publishing my second novel–a new experience for me after being treated to the interest, polishing, and marketing know-how of a real live publisher for my first novel. But the publishing industry has changed dramatically as we all know.
However, sometimes things happen that tell you good fortune has dropped in your lap, a little of which can go a long way.
Such was my experience yesterday as about 25 members of the Friends of the Bridgeville Library Book Group gathered for a talk about my historical novel, Elizabeth’s Field. A large number of copies of the book had been ordered a few months ago for their yearly Community Read Program and put in circulation at the library in preparation for a discussion that was open to the public.
After my talk, questions from the group were of an interested, involved audience, where contributions led to discussion in various directions. Instead of working to make an audience interested enough to read/buy the book (the job of a saleswoman which I am not) the group had already developed their own thoughts, ideas and questions which made for a lively discussion, the culmination of which occurred when one of the members actually thanked me for writing the book.
Ah. A moment of bliss! On the uphill struggle to sell a book, a plateau had been reached, maybe even a pinnacle, or at least a momentary resting place. A few members bought their own copy of Elizabeth’s Field to give as gifts or because they wanted their own copy.
I can only express my deepest gratitude for such an audience and such a wonderful reception, but the bottom line is it was a major shot in the arm.
Afterwards, I asked what would happen to the 30 copies the library now had on hand. The answer was the books will be passed along in a kit, to other libraries in Delaware as an initiative to interest them in having their own Community Read Program. Whether or not any of that happens, it is heartwarming to have one’s work received, considered, and passed along. I can’t thank you enough, Friends of the Bridgeville Library.

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National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month and while April seems to be hesitating to bring us warmth, maybe poetry will do the job.

Alora at Ocean City, September, 2005

Before this day becomes yesterday
I want to write you down–
pouring a cup of ocean
from your paper teapot
and tasting the sand,
now chocolate marshmallow
as you said, “We’re
just pretending”
to a passerby.

Before this day becomes yesterday
I want to hold it, grain by grain
and pour by pour,
the sugar and the lemon of it,
the cakes topped with bottle caps,
your brown and eager body,
your hair tossing
side to side as
down to the ocean
you ran to fill a cup
with tea for me.

I will always remember
and when I fade
I’d like you to remember
but I know you are too young–
yet I like to think that
down in the silent,
loving part of you
you might always harbor
the love that poured from me to you
that morning
as I brushed your hair
and tied it with a purple ribbon.

“Tell me a story,” you said,
and had me wrap you in the pink
towel because it was
your favorite color–
and then you sat in my lap, waiting.

I began: “Once there was a
little sea gull”–
“No!” you said
“Tell me a story about
Omie and Alora!”
And so I said,
“One day, Omie and Alora
went to the boardwalk
and Omie pushed Alora
in the blue stroller with the
hood up to keep the sun off
and Omie said,
“Wouldn’t it be fun
to dress up and have
our picture taken?”
And Alora said, “Where?”
And Omie said, “Here!”
“See all the pretty dresses?”
So they dressed up
in laces and ruffles and hats
(pink, of course)
and smiled together,
looking into the camera,
pretending yesterday,
and marking today
for all the tomorrows.

“Now tell about that sound!”
you said, as the foghorn
sent its patient signal
and I said,
“It’s only to keep the ships safe
from the rocks,”
knowing full well
it was really time
with its stupid clamor
and patient persistence
that would wear away the day
like the drawings we made on the sand
of you and a cat with feather whiskers
and a pony that looked like a dog–
which you never minded, smiled at
anyway as you asked me to draw
you on the sandy saddle.

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The Giving Trees

Many years ago I committed murder. I harvested eight acres of loblolly pines. Listening to the trees crash to the ground was horrifying. My lovely woods. Gone in a day or two. My love of the woods and the old trees was steadfast, and my desire to preserve the land was serious. The commitment to the land, however, paralleled my interest in writing and my effort in that was just beginning. I had taken courses in creative writing at Salisbury University, Johns Hopkins University and Bennington, and once the door to my inner world was opened, it wouldn’t be closed. I needed to reach further afield. I wanted to get my MFA at Vermont College where there was a low residency writing program, but I didn’t have the money for the tuition. My financial advisor at the time, Greg Romaine who has since passed on and for whose advice I will ever be grateful, suggested selling the trees.
I hesitated. I couldn’t bear the thought at first, but finally gave in to a longing I’d carried for most of my life. The trees came down, the tuition paid for, and the real work and struggle to write began. I’m not sorry. It was the best thing I ever did for myself.
A few years later, I planted 3,000 trees on the remaining 18 acres which was formally a field –Elizabeth’s, as a matter of fact. Now there are loblolly, red bud, dogwood, white pine, chestnut, white oak and river birch which are nearing the growth of the ones harvested. They will be preserved as they are part of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. As I walk the paths through the woods, I hope my sins are forgiven.

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The Giving Trees

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Poetry by Rainer Marie Rilke

Spring has returned.
The earth is like a child
that knows poetry.

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Excerpt: Requiem for a Summer Cottage

He planted raspberry bushes along the edge of the woods, and apple and pear trees near the low place in the field where water held when it rained. He had the farmer who rented from him scoop out the earth with a bulldozer, declaring what was too low to be plowed he’d make into a pond with a nature trail around it, where he’d plant weeping willows and serviceberry trees with fruit the birds loved.
His ideas were only limited by his own back and muscle, not anyone else’s approval. That’s what he liked. As the pond filled with each rain, he saw deer come cautious out of the woods to drink, a sight that always startled him to pleasure. He ordered free bass from one of the government agencies. The day the fish were to be picked up, he filled the back of his truck with empty buckets and was shocked when the ranger handed him a small plastic bag with fish an inch long. “I could have held them in my mouth and spit them in the pond,” he told a smiling Rosemary.
He planted a garden the size of a tennis court, carefully measuring the space between each row, and put up enough bean poles for an Indian village. The chickens had to be penned until September, he told Michael, and the guinea hens as well. He bought three pigs for Michael to raise, built the sty, fenced in the pony for Anne, built a pony shed, and hung a long swing from the maple in the yard.
It was a gathering, the harvest of a lifetime of secretly held wishes, this house in the country, and when an itinerant photographer showed up one day in June with an aerial view of the farm, he stared at it with a satisfaction that settled into a deep sigh. Here were the house and the drive encircling it, the orchard, the pond, the garden, the mass of woods, and the neat rows of corn. Here were the markings of his existence and vision, his tire treads on the bare earth, his shovel’s turn.
“How much?” he asked the photographer. A moot question. How much would a reflection of your soul be worth?

In memoriam for Charles Tupper, 1935-2012

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The Oxcart Man, by Donald Hall

As I passed the entourage of monster farm machinery gathered at the edge of the field yesterday, I noticed a truck piled high with seed potatoes that meant the season had begun for the potato chip contract.  I remembered this poem, “The Oxcart Man,”  by Donald Hall which was illustrated in a children’s book years ago.  I love the history, the rhythms of the work and the seasons that dictated life long ago, a cycle that took in a whole year of labor, renewal and subsistence.

The Oxcart Man, by Donald Hall

In October of the year,

he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,

counting the seed, counting

the cellar’s portion out,

and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey

in combs, linen, leather

tanned from deerhide,

and vinegar in a barrel

hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by ox’s head, ten days

to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,

and the bag that carried potatoes,

flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose

feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.

When the cart is sold he sells the ox,

harness and yoke, and walks

home, his pockets heavy

with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold

stitches new harness

for next year’s ox in the barn,

and carves the yoke, and saws planks

building the cart again.



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“Next of Kin” Art Show

On Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, the Art League of Ocean City’s opening reception for the art show, “Next of Kin,” will feature the sculptures of Paul Lockhart, and the paintings of Lynne Lockhart and Kirk McBride. Award winning author, Barbara Lockhart, will be there signing books, including her most recent novel, “Elizabeth’s Field.” Two of her children’s books were written in collaboration with Lynne. The reception will be from 5-7 pm. The league is located at 94th Street in OC.

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Review by Dr. Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, Director of African American Studies, UMES

Barbara Lockhart has written a most astonishing historical novel.  Elizabeth’s Field is full of fascinating fact, from the popular early belief that tomatoes were deadly, to the case of Preacher Sam Green, sentenced in Cambridge in 1857 to ten years imprisonment for possess of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to the fact that in the middle of that century, there were more free black people on the Eastern Shore than enslaved.  Yes, the novel is full of under-known history, but it is Lockhart’s prose that leaves me breathless, rereading again and again more than one poetic insight captured in a sentence.  Barbara Lockhart studied history for nine years to become Sam Green, Harriet Tubman, and Elizabeth, the remarkable East New Market farmer who managed to become the owner of a parcel of land.  Through oral history research, Lockhart renders the voice of her recently deceased neighbor, sharecropper Mattie, whose comic and tragic view of the twentieth century punctuates this Eastern Shore story.  All of this fiction is based on fact.  I talk to this treasure of a local author, Barbara Lockhart, in studio Tuesday at noon EST in the US.  Gaines on Gains airs on WCEM 1240 AM radio.

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Reading at Salisbury University

In honor of African-American History month (Feb.) and Women’s History Month (March) I will be reading from Elizabeth’s Field tomorrow evening, March 4, at Salisbury University, The Commons, the Montgomery Room at 6:30 pm.  A celebration for me on a personal level since I began writing through creative writing courses at Salisbury U. many years ago, and I’m grateful for all the help I received in the beginning of serious writing.

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