Archives for posts with tag: Writers

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How to Write a Villanelle
by Marjorie Maddox

To write a villanelle, think like a bird
that soars and swoops in seven different ways
then sings a song that you’ve already heard,

returning to its favorite branch to perch.
Become a sparrow—light, and quick, and gray—
to write a villanelle.  Think how the bird

salutes you every morning undeterred
from trilling what it always wants to say.
within its favorite song; the one you’ve heard

so many times you suddenly are stirred
to listen closer still, to find the way
to write a villanelle, just like a bird

that flits across your vision in a blur
and leaves the sound of beauty in its trail,
still singing songs that you’ve already heard.

Next time you want to fly away on words,
remember what we talked about this day.
To write a villanelle, think like a bird
that sings a song that you’ve already heard.

SOURCE: “How to Write a Villanelle” appears in Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Finalist Children’s Educational Category 2020 International Book Awards).

IMAGE: Sparrow on a Flowering Branch, circa 1930s, by Ohara Koson (1877-1945).

EDITOR’S NOTE:villanelle is a 19-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately at the end of each subsequent stanza until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines.

Marjorie Maddox May 2020 with Inside Out author photo copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize); True, False, None of the Above (Illumination Book Award Medalist); Local News from Someplace Else; Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite); four children’s and YA books—including Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Finalist Children’s Educational Category 2020 International Book Awards),  A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry and I’m Feeling Blue, Too! Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry (assistant editor); and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Forthcoming in 2021 is her book Begin with a Question (Paraclete Press), as well as her ekphrastic collaboration with photographer Karen Elias, Heart Speaks, Is Spoken For (Shanti Arts). For more information, please visit marjoriemaddox.com.

PHOTO: The author with her book Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (Finalist Children’s Educational Category 2020 International Book Awards).

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How to Write a Poem
by Robert Okaji

Learn to curse in three languages. When midday
yawns stack high and your eyelids flutter, fire up

the chain saw; there’s always something to dismember.
Make it new. Fear no bridges. Accelerate through

curves, and look twice before leaping over fires,
much less into them. Read bones, read leaves, read

the dust on shelves and commit to memory a thousand
discarded lines. Next, torch them. Take more than you

need, buy books, scratch notes in the dirt and watch
them scatter down nameless alleys at the evening’s first

gusts. Gather words and courtesies. Guard them carefully.
Play with others, observe birds, insects and neighbors,

but covet your minutes alone and handle with bare hands
only those snakes you know. Mourn the kindling you create

and toast each new moon as if it might be the last one
to tug your personal tides. When driving, sing with the radio.

Always. Turn around instead of right. Deny ambition.
Remember the freckles on your first love’s left breast.

There are no one-way streets. Appreciate the fragrance
of fresh dog crap while scraping it from the boot’s sole.

Steal, don’t borrow. Murder your darlings and don’t get
caught. Know nothing, but know it well. Speak softly

and thank the grocery store clerk for wishing you
a nice day even if she didn’t mean it. Then mow the grass,

grill vegetables, eat, laugh, wash dishes, talk, bathe,
kiss loved ones, sleep, dream, wake. Do it all again.

Originally published in Indra’s Net, an anthology in aid of The Book Bus charity (Bennison Books, 2017).

PHOTO: Nautilus Shell by Edward Weston (1927).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My process sounds odd to most people, as I seldom know what I’m going to write about when I sit at the table. I simply start writing. Sometimes a word or a phrase sets me off. Or an image, or even a vague feeling, a discomfort or a pleasure of some sort. Life’s circumstances also come into play, and my landscapes, both emotional and literal, affect the output. The words carry me along, and at some point in the writing, perhaps only one or two lines in, but often much deeper in the piece, the poem, the flesh of it, starts coalescing. And then I backtrack and revise. In essence, my subconscious guides me, and such a guide is not always trustworthy or easy to work with, as many false trails are laid out and pursued. But even the false trails lead somewhere, often to greater rewards. ¶ Not knowing is central to my process. This probably sounds cryptic, or pseudo-zen, but it’s honest. I learn by questioning. By doing and failing and trying again. I revise during the course of writing, even during the first blush of creation, as well as after. The poems always sit and marinate for a while, sometimes for just a few days, sometimes for weeks or months, and there are a few that have stewed in their juices for years. When I return to them, I see problem points that weren’t apparent before, and I revise accordingly. At some mysterious point, the poems are done, or at least as done as they’re going to get, and I consider sending them out in the world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Okaji is a displaced Texan hunkering down in Indiana. He holds a BA in history, and once won a goat-catching contest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Vox Populi, North Dakota Quarterly, Slippery Elm, Panoply, Book of Matches, Buddhist Poetry Review, The Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. He blogs at robertokaji.com.

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With activities and movement curtailed during the pandemic, many of us are spending our quarantine-in-place time learning or practicing new skills—with bread baking as a popular choice. This idea and a recent Twitter thread from Heather Christle about “poems in the form of instructions” have inspired the HOW TO Poetry and Prose Series. What have you learned how to do? What do you already know how to do? What would you like to learn how to do? Your answers can range from the practical (how to fix a leaky faucet) to the abstract (how to heal a country). If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s a link to “How To” poems from other authors.

PROMPT: Tell us how to do something (nothing R-rated or X-rated, please)—it could be something you’ve learned, imagined, or wish for—in a poem (any reasonable length) or prose piece (300 words or fewer—this word limit also applies to prose poems). We prefer narrative work written from a personal perspective, and avoid material that attempts to speak for the world at large or comes across as didactic or preachy.

WHAT: Submissions can be original or previously published poems or prose. You retain all rights to your work and give Silver Birch Press permission to publish the piece on social media. We are a nonprofit blog and offer no monetary compensation to contributors—the main benefit to you is that we will publicize your work to our 10,000+ followers. If your piece was previously published, please tell us where/when so we can credit the original publisher.

WHEN: We’ll feature the poems and prose in the Silver Birch Press HOW TO Poetry and Prose Series starting in late February 2021. We’ll also feature the work on Twitter and Facebook.

SUBMISSION CHECKLIST

To help everyone understand our submission requirements, we’ve prepared the following checklist.

1. Send ONE MS Word document TITLED WITH YOUR LAST NAME (e.g. Smith.doc or Jones.docx).

2. In the same MS Word document, include your contact information (name, email address). Also list your home state or country.

3. In the same MS Word document, include a one-paragraph author’s bio, written in the third person. You are encouraged to include links to your books, websites, and social media accounts — we want to help promote you!

4. In the same MS Word document, include a note about your poem/prose or creative process written in the first person (this is optional — but encouraged).

5. Send a photo of yourself as a SEPARATE jpg attachment (not in the MS Word document). Title the photo with your last name (e.g., Jones1.jpg, Jones2.jpg).

6. Email to sbpsubmissions@gmail.com—and put “HOW TO” in the subject line.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Sunday, March 7, 2021

We look forward to learning from (and about) you! 

Photo by Chernetskaya, used by permission.

Marlenee Photo 1
Sea Stories
by Ruthie Marlenée

The old man of the sea stands dockside waiting for his son’s ship to come in. After two weeks guarding our coastline, part of Homeland Security, the USCG Cutter docks for fuel. The old Guard watches as the young Guard nails the landing. That’s my boy, the Captain. Even under his face covering, it’s clear the father’s pride swells higher than an ocean wave.

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I board with my husband, a USCG Officer, retired after 31 years, bringing chowder, fish and chips, careful to social distance at least one fathom apart on the ship’s fantail. Soon, young crew gather for a chance to hear one of the notorious salty sea stories from this white bearded ancient mariner. He shares about surfing in Samoa and trolling for ahi in the South Pacific. But too soon, it’s time to depart.

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We watch as the ship slips away. My husband wipes a tear, remembering his boy, remembering missing his family while being gone at sea. I know the tales he didn’t have time to share today. The ones he and his son will share someday over a cold beer about all the search and rescue missions, all the lives saved, the countless dangerous boardings and interceptions of panga boats full of drugs along our coastline. My husband will recall the trainings he did in India and Africa, the interdiction of enslaved migrant women and children arriving on rat-infested boats from communist-blocked countries and how he provided food, water, and medical attention.

In the end, they’ll talk about how proud they’ve been to serve in the United States Coast Guard. Always ready, Semper Paratus.

Join me in saluting this father and son and all the other Coasties who’ve served and continue to serve our country during these uncertain times. Thank you for keeping our borders safe and for protecting people from the sea and the sea from people.

PHOTOS: 1) United States Coast Guard Cutter coming in for fuel.  2) The author’s husband, Jeff Gunn, and two USCG crew members listening to his sea stories. 3) The author’s husband in his younger days before retiring after 31 years as a USCG Chief Warrant Officer.  Photos by the author. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruthie Marlenée is a California native, isolating in Los Angeles with her husband. Her novel, Agave Blues, is due in 2021. Her second novel, Curse of the Ninth , nominated for a James Kirkwood Literary Award, published in February 2020, is available wherever books are sold. She earned a Writer’s Certificate “With Distinction” from UCLA. The author of several novels, she is currently working on the sequel to Curse of the Ninth. She is a ghostwriter, screenwriter, novelist. and a poet whose work can be found in a number of literary publications, including Silver Birch Press. Visit her at ruthiemarleneewriter.com and goodreads.com

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We were so inspired by our LANDMARKS Series (June 30-August 27, 2020) that we’ve decided to continue our world tour with a new travel poetry blog called POETRY and PLACES. The blog’s tagline is: “Sharing our travel adventures and celebrating our planet…through poetry.” Our logo is a bird atop a cage, ready to explore — the way many of us feel during the quarantine. Travel poems are a doorway to learn more about the world — geography, architecture, art, climate, nature, history, as well as our fellow humans, and much more.

We look forward to your visit at poetryandplaces.com. Learn how to submit your travel or site-related poetry here.

Logo image by Elena Ray, used by permission.

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To the classroom pencil amid Covid-19
by Paul Ruth

Somewhere there is a classroom with
a drawer in the teacher’s desk,
or a bin partially filled in front of the class,
or off to the side,
or by the door near the hand-crank pencil sharpener used
only when the electric one burns out,
that contains used pencils.

At the beginning of the year,
they might have been new.
Some were a carryover
from the year before.

Some might have been donated new,
but often they are donated by forgetfulness
on the desks, floors, and in the corners
of a lost thought.
The hexagon with an eraser tip
is the classic shape.
Many are round,
coated with a message or holiday theme.

Yet they all wait quietly
for brainstorming sessions,
math calculations (where you need to show your work), and
historical exposés on why all this matters.
In the right hands it can even be used for a representation in graphite.

If the pen is mightier than the sword
then the classroom pencil is the infantry,
the pawns in a game of chess.
It is the unsung hero given a medal for bravery.
The frontline worker only noticed now.

But it isn’t a fighter.
It is a peaceful rendition
hopefully waiting
for the classroom to fill
for minds to awaken
for hope to spill
over jumpstarting motivation,
passion,
enlightenment.

Has the classroom pencil seen its last days?
I think not!

It would be pulled through a fist
encasing it with a sanitary wipe
while a pandemic rages
and safety fades.
Although, the sticky pencils always seemed to get thrown back in the bin.

Still used to scribble notes
when despite its best efforts,
the computer just can’t quite keep up with our thoughts.

So they wait for the longest break
to end.
They wait to do what they have to do.
To forge ahead
to do what they did
once again
when we will begin again to live in a world
free from dread.

PHOTO: Student with pencils by Sashasan, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wanted to capture not just the person but the experience of the teaching profession during these times. The classroom pencil bin was always something I and others took for granted in the classroom. Now I understand how deeply Covid has impacted our lives, right down to the playful practicality of borrowing a pencil to do schoolwork. In writing this, I thought of all the teachers I have known and all the classrooms I have been in as a teacher and student.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Ruth is a high school English teacher and adjunct college instructor from the Metro Detroit area. He has written opinion articles on the state of education in Michigan and makes his aphorisms available through his Instagram account @envisionedaphorism. He also co-produces the Instagram account @limmieslimericks with his girlfriend with limericks from the perspective of his Old English Sheepdog named Limerick.

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Our deepest gratitude to the 116 authors — from 20 countries and 29 U.S. states — who took us on a fascinating journey to 32 countries and 25 U.S. states during the Silver Birch Press LANDMARKS Series, which ran from June 30-August 27, 2020. We salute the following authors for their inspired, informative, and enlightening poetry and prose!

Brian Ahern
Donna Allard
Cynthia Anderson
Susanna Baird
Barbara Bald
Roberta Beary
Kerry E.B. Black
Shelly Blankman
Mark Blickley
Aida Bode
Rose Mary Boehm
Steve Bogdaniec
Erina Booker
Cheryl Caesar
Don Kingfisher Campbell
Lorraine Caputo
Susana H. Case
Margaret Chase
Tricia Marcella Cimera
Clive Collins
Patrick Connors
Barbara Crary
Neil Creighton
Howard Debs
Steven Deutsch
Julie A. Dickson
Dakota Donovan
Gisella Faggi
Susan Farris
Paul Fericano
Jennifer Finstrom
Yvette Viets Flaten
Sue Mayfield Geiger
Ken Gierke
Gary Glauber
Vince Gotera
Vijaya Gowrisankar
Anita Haas
Tina Hacker
Ken Hartke
Rachel Hawk
Robert Hieger
Veronica Hosking
Stephen Howarth
Andrew Jeter
Joseph Johnston
Munia Khan
Tricia Knoll
Jennifer Lagier
Kyle Laws
Barbara Leonhard
Joan Leotta
Eleanor Lerman
Cheryl Levine
Robert Lima
Ellaraine Lockie
John Lowe
Virginia Lowe
Rick Lupert
Anne Namatsi Lutomia
Marjorie Maddox
Ruthie Marlenée
Betsy Mars
Lindsey Martin-Bowen
Mary C. McCarthy
Catfish McDaris
Joan McNerney
Karla Linn Merrifield
Michael Minassian
Elaine Mintzer
Neil David Mitchell
Stephanie Morrissey
Leah Mueller
Jagari Mukherjee
Lowell Murphree
Robbi Nester
Maria Nestorides
Gerald Nicosia
Hana Njau-Okolo
Suzanne O’Connell
James Penha
Rosalie Sanara Petrouske
Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad
Chris Precise
Ismim Putera
Patrick T. Reardon
Will Reger
Frances Daggar Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts
Sarah Russell
Rikki Santer
Gerard Sarnat
James Schwartz
Tali Cohen Shabtai
Leslie Sittner
J.P. Slote
Massimo Soranzio
Rosemary Marshall Staples
Carol A. Stephen
Jeanine Stevens
Jennifer Su
JC Sulzenko
Terrence Sykes
Ann Christine Tabaka
Alarie Tennille
Mary Langer Thompson
Mark Tulin
Chris Vannoy
Richard Vargas
Alan Walowitz
Kelley White
Lynn White
Lisa Wiley
Graham Wood
Jonathan Yungkans
Joanie Hieger Zosike

Illustration by Vikor Stollov, used by permission.

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The Great Smoky Mountains
by Jennifer Su

I trusted that my cousin’s intuition was sharper than mine. I glanced at the path we emerged from, a mix of crushed leaves and twigs that tunneled back into a tangle of branches. Sunlight poured over the canopy, tingling the skin on my shoulders. It had been nearly three hours since we last stepped into broad daylight, and the sun had shifted from its sleepy state to a blazing, unsympathetic glow above us. The only ones that challenged its dominance in the sky were unsuspecting wisps of clouds and the smoky mist cast on mountaintops. My eyes panned away from the sweep of green, turning instead to the new terrain before me. The water lapped up against the pebbles on the shoreline. Its gentle ebb and flow either indicated a sanctuary for a quick prayer or a calm before the storm.

With a leap of faith—figuratively and literally—I jumped from the gravel to a light grey stone peeking out of the water. Once my left sneaker left the shore, my arms began making circles—forwards and backwards and forwards—like airplane wings tipping my balance just when I thought I would fall. My momentum continued thrusting my upper body forward, and desperate, I hobbled off to another slippery stone. My eyes darted from side to side, scrambling to find my next destination—the creases around my eyes wrinkled as I braced myself for the icy waves of the roaring river to submerge me—but there was only a splash. My sneakers were soaked instantly, but my knees were dry. Perhaps I overestimated my athletic feat: we were just five feet from the shore. Our laughter bounced from mountain to mountain, and I honestly didn’t mind if we could be heard from miles away.

PHOTO: The Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee .Photo by Dave Allen Photo, used by permission.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. A subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, they are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 11 million visits per year, it is the most visited national park in the United States.

PHOTO: Little Pigeon River, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Photo by Darrell Young, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I remember this experience quite vividly during my trip to Tennessee in 2013. This account was inspired by a five to ten minute experience when my cousin and I ventured off to dip our hands in the nearby river. I wrote about the experience in my Smoky Mountains journal almost exactly seven years ago, and I’m glad to retell the moment again with some new life.

PHOTO: The author during her visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee (2013).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Su is a high school senior who writes short stories, prose pieces, and speeches. Both her written and artistic work has been featured in magazines and in local libraries. Jennifer enjoys creative writing as a means of documenting stories in her life. She finds inspiration everywhere, from a handwritten sign in a small shop to a summer trip across the continent. She is a member of several literary and Toastmasters groups and looks forward to refining her craft.

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UPDATE: We have decided to accept multiple submissions for our PRIME MOVERS Poetry & Prose Series. Authors can submit to three poems or stories (or poems and stories!). If you like to honor more than one person, feel free to do so by sending up to three pieces (submission details below).

OVERVIEW: While many of us are working at home and limiting our time outside, the world has to keep moving – and people on the front lines are making that happen. Let’s celebrate these heroes with our PRIME MOVERS Poetry & Prose Series – and pay tribute to our health care workers, child and elder care providers, teachers, postal workers, delivery staff, warehouse workers, trash collectors, food service workers, grocers, gas station staff, auto mechanics, bus drivers, train engineers, veterinarians, barbers, beauticians, and so many others who are putting themselves out there to maintain life as we know it.

PROMPT: Think about a front-line worker that you’ve interacted with or have observed doing his or her work. Tell us about your interactions or observations in a poem (any reasonable length) or prose piece (300 words or fewer — this word limit also applies to prose poems).  We prefer narrative work written from a personal perspective, and avoid material that attempts to speak for the world at large or comes across as didactic or preachy.

WHAT: Submissions can be original or previously published poems or prose. You retain all rights to your work and give Silver Birch Press permission to publish the piece on social media. We are a nonprofit blog and offer no monetary compensation to contributors — the main benefit to you is that we will publicize your work to our 10,000+ followers. If your piece was previously published, please tell us where/when so we can credit the original publisher.

WHEN: We’ll feature the poems and prose in the Silver Birch Press PRIME MOVERS Poetry and Prose Series on our blog starting in late August 2020. We’ll also feature the work on Twitter and Facebook.

SUBMISSION CHECKLIST

To help everyone understand our submission requirements, we’ve prepared the following checklist.

1. Send ONE MS Word document TITLED WITH YOUR LAST NAME (e.g. Smith.doc or Jones.docx).

2. In the same MS Word document, include your contact information (name, email address). Also list your home state or country.

3. In the same MS Word document, include a one-paragraph author’s bio, written in the third person. You are encouraged to include links to your books, websites, and social media accounts — we want to help promote you!

4. In the same MS Word document, include a note about your poem/prose or creative process written in the first person (this is optional — but encouraged).

5. If available, send a photo of yourself with the person you’re writing about — or a photo of the person you’re writing about — as a SEPARATE jpg attachment (not in the MS Word document). If you submit a photo of the worker, let him/her know it will be featured on a blog and ask if the person would like us to include his/her name. (If the person agrees, ask for an email address so we can inform him/her of the post.) We are making reporters out of all who submit for this series!  If possible, also send an additional author’s photo for your bio. Title the photos with your last name (e.g., Jones1.jpg, Jones2.jpg).

6. Email to SBPSUBMISSIONS@gmail.com — and put  “PRIME MOVERS” in the subject line.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Tuesday, September 15, 2020

PHOTO: U.S. Post Office worker, Bisbee, Arizona (April 2020) by Thomas Carlson, used by permission.

hall of faces, holocaust museum
Walls
by Shelly Blankman

Dedicated to the family of my grandmother, Regina Wallenstein, and the millions slaughtered by the Nazis while the world turned a blind eye.

I’ve walked these halls before,
seen the dimmed faces of those
born to die because they were Juden,
Jews.
Time-tattered images of people
frozen in time, matted on walls
like cheap paper.
Flammable.
Disposable
Eyes of the innocent open.
Eyes of the world shut.
Now I’m left wondering,
in a world once again
infested by
parasites of hate,
if this could ever happen
again.
We cannot forget
those who now live
only on walls.

Previously published in The Ekphrastic Review.

PHOTO: The Tower of Faces — photographs of Holocaust victims — at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Photo by D.S. Dugan, used by permission.)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States’ official memorial to the Holocaust. On Nov. 1, 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Wiesel, a prominent author, activist, and Holocaust survivor. Its mandate was to investigate the creation and maintenance of a memorial to victims of the Holocaust and an appropriate annual commemoration to them. On September 27, 1979, the Commission recommended the establishment of a national Holocaust memorial museum in Washington, DC.  Nearly $190 million was raised from private sources for building design, artifact acquisition, and exhibition creation. In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan helped lay the cornerstone of the building, designed by architect James Ingo Freed. Dedication ceremonies on April 22, 1993 included speeches by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli President Chaim Herzog, and Elie Wiesel. On April 26, 1993, the Museum opened to the general public. Its first visitor was the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

PHOTO: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, with the Washington Monument visible on the right. Photo by Timothy Hursley for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When my family visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC a few years ago, I felt like I was walking in the shadow of my grandmother, whose  parents and siblings had been murdered by the Nazis. They were trapped in a world of hatred, where Jews suffered, were punished, and died for being Jewish. This haunts me even more now, as we see an escalation in this country of anti-Semitism, racism, and every other form of hatred that results in despair and death. I left the museum after about three hours. It has never left me.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelly Blankman and her husband are empty nesters who live in Columbia, Maryland, with their three cat rescues and one dog. They have two sons— Richard, 36, of New York, and Joshua, 34, of San Antonio, Texas. Shelly’s first love has always been poetry, although her career has generally followed the path of public relations/ journalism. Her poetry has been published by First Literary Review, Verse-Virtual,  and The Ekphrastic Review among other publications. Recently, Richard and Joshua surprised her by publishing a book of her poetry, Pumpkinheadnow available on Amazon.