To any authors/publishers/ tour companies that are looking for the reviews that I signed up for please know this is very hard to do. I will be stopping reviews temporarily. My husband passed away February 1st and my new normal is a bit scary right now and I am unable to concentrate on a book to do justice to the book and authors. I will still do spotlight posts if you wish it is just the reviews at this time. I apologize for this, but it isn't fair to you if I signed up to do a review and haven't been able to because I can't concentrate on any books. Thank you for your understanding during this difficult time. I appreciate all of you. Kathleen Kelly April 2nd 2024

23 May 2023

Portraits of Red and Gray and Canvas by James C. Morehead Spotlight and Guest Post!


In this collection of memoir poems, James C. Morehead (Poet Laureate of Dublin, California) brings universal themes to life through journeys to the USSR and the mountains of Tuscany, the concert halls in San Francisco and a tiny town in Wyoming, the cables of Yosemite’s Half Dome and the beaches of Normandy.

Kindle Edition

Published March 20, 2022

Praise for "portraits of red and gray: memoir poems"
"In this second collection of poems, James Morehead's imagery is vivid, spare and elemental, and it is consistently chosen and arranged to achieve intensely poetic effects. The rhythmic control is impeccable. The centerpiece of this collection, a long series of poems that chronicle a trip through the former Soviet Union, is a fast moving, impressionistic feast of imagery. Sunglasses, denim shirts, vodka debauches, dollars, rubles, steely-eyed Russian authorities ever on the lookout for forbidden deals - all of it is transparent and engaging." - Carmine Di Biase, Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, Jacksonville State University

In his debut collection, James Morehead paints powerful images of life, love, and loss through the thoughtful selection and careful placement of words. "canvas" features the extraordinary art of Kari Byron and Alla Tsank. The year 2020 and its pandemic-induced solitude inspired the poems that lead this collection. Most are autobiographical, in particular the title poem "canvas," and collectively form a fragmented memoir of memories and melancholy. Some are fanciful, like "tethered," inspired by a fleeting image seen while hiking the Pacific coastline. All strive to paint images in the reader's mind through the power of poetry.

124 pages, Paperback

Published June 15, 2021

Praise for "canvas: poems"
“These are poems to be savored, re-read, kept handy for those times when only poetry will do.” - W. J. T. Mitchell, Senior Editor of Critical Inquiry and Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor, English and Art History, University of Chicago

Nine Tips for Writing Memoir Poems that Capture the Human Condition

by James Morehead, Poet Laureate - Dublin, California

Memoir poetry draws on the writer's personal experiences and memories to tell a story or convey emotions. It often includes elements of autobiography, as the poet reflects on their own life and relationships, but it is not limited to literal truth. Memoir poetry can include symbolic or metaphorical language, as well as creative interpretations of events and emotions. The focus is on capturing the essence of a particular experience or moment in time, and conveying it in a way that resonates with the reader.

Writing memoir poetry is a powerful way to explore and understand your past, and unlock memories long buried. Poetry is also a powerful tool for sharing personal stories with others, and to connect with them on a deeper level. When I was a teenager in 1983 I took a life-changing 18-day trip to the U.S.S.R. with a group of teenagers from my high school. We traveled from Moscow to Leningrad (as Saint Petersburg was known during the Soviet era), and many places in between, never spending more than two days in any one place. Years later I wrote a series of poems about that experience which became the core of my most recent book, a collection of memoir poems, “portraits of red and gray”.

When writing the series of U.S.S.R. poems I had only my memories to draw from. I was amazed at how the act of writing poetry, the necessary immersion into every human sense to capture images and experiences in poetic phrases, unlocked memories. In poetry readings and open mics, people connected with my experiences in Soviet Russia and it taught me a valuable lesson that personal experience can be universal.

If you're interested in writing memoir poetry, there are a few things you can do to get started. First, think about what you want to write about. What are some of the most important moments in your life? What have you learned from your experiences? Once you have a topic, start writing. Don't worry about the form of the poem, just capture raw images, emotions, sounds, sensations. Just get your thoughts down on paper, you’ll mold that raw material into poetry later. Below is an excerpt from “portraits of red and gray” where I tried to capture a simple experience in a tea house in Samarkand (a city in Uzbekistan):


sipping tea in samarkand

a nestled perch

on concrete stilts

an eerie cove

in shadows glow

from sunlight seeping

patterned walls

open air a warmer breeze

so strangely whispers

this hidden space

on kneeling mats and

wooden slats

a simple teacup held in place

Memoir poems don’t need to be momentous, they can focus on small, personal moments. Ideally a memoir poem will tap into and express a moment that has a strong emotional or sensory connection to the writer; have faith that the experience will resonate with readers.

Another example from “portraits of red and gray”, an excerpt from the poem “That Summer in Savery, Wyoming”. I spent a memorable summer in rural Wyoming as a young child, visiting my cousins, and found creative ways to fill each day. Memoir poetry was the perfect tool for capturing snapshots from that summer in the tightest way possible. A series of images that transport the reader into an experience:

I’m awoken by a rooster to

collect eggs each morning,

reaching under the soft of hens.

I explore every corner of the dusty, manure-scented barns.

I watch a family of foxes pop up, then scurry

when I’m hiking near their den.

I build a spaceship from discarded wood.

Memoir poems can range from free verse to prose poetry to formal verse (e.g., sonnets, villanelles, and other poems with rhyme and/or meter). The form of a poem may be evident from the first word but more typically emerges from the raw material of images, phrases, and lines. I’m obsessed with live music and the Shakespearean sonnet form was perfect for capturing my love of live music. I didn’t know during early drafts that “At the barricade” would become a sonnet.

At the barricade

Packed in the Fillmore, hordes of t-shirts, no

signs of color just shades of ebony. 

Crushed bodies at the barricade below, 

my refuge above in the balcony

where I wait for blackout and tell-tale beams 

guiding shadows to the stage. Guitars are

slung on shoulders, a pair of drumsticks seem

to float on fog from hidden reservoirs. 

The crowd erupts, flash pots trigger war cries

and from the first, deep, subwoofer rumble

we are one. Speaker towers amplify

each beat, chord, strum, and lead singer mumble.

I lose myself in the torrent of sound, 

flashing color, seething masses—spellbound.

(first appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle TotalSF Podcast, 2023)

Enough of my poetry, it’s time for you to try writing a memoir poem. Here are a nine tips to help you get started: 

  1. Choose a specific moment or event from your life that holds significance to you. Trust that your experience will resonate with others, no matter how personal or small.

  2. Reflect on the emotions and thoughts you experienced during that time, be brave and vulnerable.

  3. Write down sensory details that bring the moment to life, such as sights, sounds, smells, and textures.

  4. Use figurative language, such as metaphors and similes, to add depth and meaning to your words.

  5. Put the poem first: invent if it serves the poem, the poem doesn’t need to be a documentary or fact-checkable.

  6. Experiment with different forms and structures, such as free verse, rhyming couplets, or a sonnet.

  7. Consider using symbols or objects that hold personal significance in your poem.

  8. Revise and refine your work, paying attention to your word choice and the overall tone of the poem.

  9. Share your poem with others, recite out loud, and be open to constructive criticism to improve your work

I’ll close with a video of me reciting one of my favorite poems, “crush”, from my first book "canvas”, where I capture an experience everyone can relate, having a crush, through an experience as a teenager:]

James Morehead is Poet Laureate of Dublin, California. James has published two collections of poetry: "canvas” and "portraits of red and gray". James' poem "tethered" was transformed into an award-winning hand drawn animated short film, "gallery" was set to music for baritone and piano, and his poems have appeared in the Ignatian Literary Magazine, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, 2nd Place - Oprelle Oxbow Poetry Contest 2022, Wingless Dreamer, Prometheus Dreaming, Cathexis Northwest Press, and other publications. He also hosts the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast which features interviews with poets and artists.



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