Thursday, June 21, 2018

How the poetry chapbook idea "Drenched" arrived a like a message in a bottle

What is a poetry chapbook and how can a poet put one together? Simply put, a poetry chapbook is a shorter book of poetry, usually 40 or fewer pages, and is often saddle-stitched. It's a great first-effort for a poet, or a type of book to come out "between books." A full poetry collection is usually at least 52 pages and is perfect bound, ie. with a spine.

Earlier this year, I gave the last poetry reading at Billy Corgan's Madame Zuzu's Tea Shop in Highland Park, Illinois. As a theme, I decided to read a handful of poems I had written about tea, coffee, champagne, water, and other liquids and liquid experiences. 

In the process of reeling in the poems I'd read that night, I discovered I had written quite a number of poems not only on potable liquids, but also on waterfalls, sewers, pools, saunas and floods. Even blood. Because I had gone into my computer back-up drive of poems and keyed in search words for various liquid concepts, I found poems I had nearly forgotten about. Before long, I realized I had enough "liquid" poems for a chapbook-length manuscript. It was little like walking onto shore and finding a bottle on the beach filled with poems.

Songwriter and Beatle John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you are making other plans." This year, I have been busy working on a play, writing a manuscript for another poetry book, and listing other goals on a to-do list, anything but coming out with a chapbook of poems about liquids, which was the farthest thing from my mind.

On a whim, I sent the "liquid" manuscript out to a few poetry publishers using the title "Drenched." Before long, Main Street Rag Publishing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, contacted me with the news that they had accepted my manuscript Drenched for publication. Several years ago, I had a poem published in the "Main Street Rag" magazine, a literary periodical they regularly issue, in addition to their publishing of books and chapbooks. Not sure if that had helped me. Maybe.

I reached out to several friends and associates to read the manuscript and offer blurbs. Many thanks to Ana Castillo, Mike Puican, Jennifer Dotson, Charlie Rossiter and Raul Nino for writing such splendid words about the poems! Read their blurbs under "Comments."
Reading at Madame Zuzu's
with musicians
Tima Fei & Julian Cumpian

The 40-page perfectbound chapbook Drenched is now published. You can order only at the Main Street Rag page for Drenched.

Read a few poems from the chapbook online now under "Samples."

Thank you friends, family and readers for your support! Look for my upcoming full poetry collection to appear early 2019, Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices (The Poetry Box, Portland).

Note to my fellow poets: Take a closer look at all the poems you've written, and perhaps type in key words in your computer to search the poems in your files for recurring themes, like I did. You may have a chapbook manuscript or even a full collection manuscript in your hands that you weren't even aware of.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017 Poem

moon pulls a room-darkening shade
across the sun, a small circle
to have a private conversation,
a face-to-face performance appraisal

between this midsize star
and earth’s orbiter
after nearly a century.
the moon first gives sun honor,

praises its radiance,
while the sun bathes the side
of the moon we can’t see
in invisible, noncommittal light.

the moon, more assertive than usual,
asks for higher recognition in the solar system,
despite its pockmarked, dusty complexion,
telling the sun it needs a promotion,

after toiling and twirling
all these years for earth,
never revealing its bad side,
no matter how much it wanted to.

showing off now as it casts cities
and states one by one into shadow,
however fleeting,
hurrying on to make the next impression.

still seeing no response from the sun,
the moon turns to the words of man,

speaking the language of each country
it traced in its former eclipsical paths.

reciting to the sun countless poems
that poets have written
about its fullness and mystery,
believing earthly rumors

woven on terra firma
might make good references.
but by August 22,
the eclipse comes to an end.

the moon is disappointed.
but the sun smiles,
opens its round yellow mouth
and tells the moon,

“I know it’s been
a long 99 years,
spaceships have landed
on your surface in the interim,

for the first time,
earthlings have left
footprints across you,
stuck flags in your face,

alien colonies make
way stations
on your
dark side,

you continue to reflect,
to orbit, wax whole, wane crescent,
play hide and seek,

making the same loyal dance
every 28 nights,
nonetheless, you want an evaluation?
how about a question?

can what I say or
any earthbound poem
still the twice-daily tides you create
that rock the world?”

                        ~ Cynthia Gallaher


Thursday, August 03, 2017

A Personal Field Trip to Four Elements Organic Herbals Apothecary

Somewhere there’s a certified organic family farm, surrounded by more than 9,000 acres of protected land, far from agricultural drift, with mineral-rich soil sitting on one of the most ancient outcrops of quartzite in North America. 

Four Elements organic farm in Wisconsin
In the pristine Baraboo Bluffs, designated as one of the Last Great Places by the Nature Conservancy, is the 130 acres where Four Elements Organic Herbals grows and handpicks herbs and flowers for its line of organic handmade soaps, balms, creams, oils, deodorants and hydrosols/toners.

Shirlie & I hiking at
Aldo Leopold Foundation trails
Four of us from Chicago were camping for a few days at the local Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Before we ventured on one of our hikes up the park’s bluffs, my friend Shirlie pulled out a pump bottle of natural insect repellant from her knapsack. “Want to try it?” she asked. It was Four Elements Lavender Catnip Insect Repellant. She said she had purchased it at a shop in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago.

I was pleasantly surprised by my friend’s offering, as I had been using Four Elements products  I had immediately fallen in love with her soaps, in addition to a special roll-on facial oil called Golden Crown Botanical Elixir “designed for wise women with mature skin," for years. I first met Four Elements farmer and owner Jane Stevens at the Baraboo Farmer’s Market during a previous trip to the area.

Golden Crown
Golden Crown Botanical Elixir is made from a list of luscious naturals: sage, calendula, gotu kola and ginseng infused almond oil, neroli, rose geranium, rose and clary sage essential oils, rose hip seed oil, vitamin E and something called “pretty face flower essence.” Smells so good! It keeps my skin glowing and I am totally unable to live without it. Thus, I have ordered it online ever since.

Evidently, Four Elements has increased their distribution beyond the local Farmer’s Market and online sales, as Shirlie could attest. Four Elements products are now available in retail locations in 36 states.

As I held and used the insect repellant that Shirlie just handed me, I asked her, “Do you have any idea where they actually make the Four Elements products?” She did not. “In the little town of North Freedom, just west of here!” From the Four Elements website, I had learned that they ran an apothecary of their products in North Freedom, eight miles west of Baraboo, the town closest to Devil’s Lake.

Coincidentally, with a Four Elements brochure tucked into my camping supplies, I had actually planned ahead to suggest a field trip over to the apothecary sometime during our stay in order to introduce Shirlie to their great products. Little did I know she was already familiar with them!

Four Elements Apothecary
in North Freedom, Wisconsin
No need to talk her into making the side trip to Four Elements Apothecary.  One afternoon, Shirlie and I and our significant others drove up to the Aldo Leopold Foundation Legacy Center and visited the buildings and trails on this bucolic, environmental site. On our way back, we made a loop into North Freedom (population 706) and pulled up to the unassuming storefront of the Four Elements Herbals Apothecary

Inside, we entered a modest shop area where the skin care and wellness products and testers were lined up on wooden shelves.  We were greeted by Molly, who explained how all the products are processed and packaged right on premises in a large area behind the shop.  And how everything that went into the products is grown and handpicked at the farm, located about six miles from the shop. How often does this this local farm-to-product process take place in America? Unfortunately, too seldom! The Four Elements farm itself, founded in 1987 and certified organic since 1990, is open to the public only on a special Open Farm Day held in late spring each year, or by appointment only.  This year marks their 30th anniversary.

My cache from Four Elements Apothecary
After testing products on our skin, smelling their wonderfully natural aromas, and chatting with Molly about the benefits of each of the items we were interested in, both Shirlie and I gathered a cache of healthy selections to bring home with us. 

Hiking can sometimes leave me a little banged up after hitting stray tree branches or unseen jutting rocks, so I was eager to try the Four Elements Black and Blue Balm. In addition, my husband Carlos entered the apothecary with sore wrists and Shirlie with sore knees. After a couple of sprays of Four Elements Arnica Capsicum Botanical Liniment to the affected areas, the pain of both parties immediately vanished. Sold!

One of my family members is plagued by painful varicose veins, so I bought him a gift of Four Elements Very Close Vein Cream, which contains horse chestnut hull, gotu kola, St. John’s wort and other botanicals to help relieve vein pain, smoothly delivered in a shea butter and botanical oil base.

I was a little sad to see that my favorite and delightfully fragrant Four Elements Hunter’s Oakmoss and Pine Soap was being discontinued, but was able to pick up the last several bars half-off in the clearance bin.  A few other items rounded out my purchases including a Triple Lemon Tea, comprising lemongrass, lemon balm and lemon verbena. And Shirlie left with a healthy supply of items, as well, including a vial of the Golden Crown Botanical Elixir facial oil roll-on for herself. She and her beau Jim also liked the Herbal Shampoo in bar form. Easy to pack on camping trips, and not considered a liquid in flight carry-ons.

It was a highlight of our central Wisconsin trip to finally visit the Four Elements Herbal Apothecary in person to hand-pick new items and learn more about its earth stewardship and fair trade practices, and the dedicated local talent who grow, create, package and ship products
Owner Jane Stevens & her crew
who farm and create the Four Elements products.
they believe in.

Four Elements. Earth (some of the best soil on the planet). Air (clean air from 55,000 acres of surrounding forests). Water (set among the Baraboo, Wisconsin and Mississippi River watersheds). Fire (summer days of 16 hours of sunshine). It is all pure and vibrant in central Wisconsin. Hoping next year to take part in Four Elements Open Farm Day come spring! 

For more information about Four Elements Organic Herbals, visit:


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Notes from the “Way-Back Room” -- How I Made My Home Office My Own

I’m a writer and poet. Ideally, I need a quiet place to be creative. It doesn’t have to be large. But for years I never had such a space other than a shared dining room table. Team that with the notion that I was soon to embark on a new work-from-home schedule after a number of years commuting 50 miles a day to and from a suburban company office. Alas, it was high time for my own home office. I was joining the 30 million Americans who now work from home, and more than 60 million who telecommute.

My husband and I have a smallish house, which had no extra bedroom at that time to use as an office. I looked into renting a small office space close to home.  Of course, since we live in the city of Chicago proper, commercial rents are high, even for a one-room office. My husband panicked a little. He didn’t want me spending extra money we didn’t have on office rent.

A creative poet and thinker himself, he brainstormed and suggested converting an enclosed second-floor heated back porch into my home office. It had previously been used as a catchall for storage, odd boxes and a rack of off-season clothes. Similar to the way other people use an attic. I thought we really needed the space for all that stuff. Yet as we cleaned it out, sorted through, and made sure our grown kids took what belongings were theirs, the five-and-a-half foot by 12-foot space opened up before my eyes.

Another woman may have made it into a light and airy feminine walk-in closet, complete with a bench, accordion screen and full-length mirror. And that’s what I may eventually turn that room into if and when we sell our house. A house with an extra closet is extra valuable.

But that can wait. This office was my priority. And for that space, I favored the “Old Chicago” colors of dark rustic red, olive green and ochre yellow for my palette. My husband and stepson gifted me for my birthday with the room conversion paint and labor, meticulously painting each surface in those colors – juggling walls and trim with a mix-and-match of the three hues.

Adding a desk, a lamp, a small file cabinet, a supportive office chair, a number of bookshelves, a small throw rug, curtains that picked up the color scheme, and Chicago-themed art and photos, my office was complete.

I now lovingly call it my “Way-Back Room,” not only because is it the farthest room at the back of the house (with a beautiful view of our back urban vegetable garden, by the way), but also because it’s provided a serene, inspiring and personal space for me to find my “way back” to my writing whenever I enter.

A few small details: I like to cover my desk with a horizontal woven runner to add to even more quiet to the desk, where I place my laptop and active writing files. I stash my cellphone on a higher shelf away from me and use a coaster on my desk to prevent rings and spills from my morning coffee cup. A small wastebasket has proved invaluable in helping get rid of excess papers I no longer need, with the next stop the recycling bin.

Rather odd and serendipitous in such a small space, there are two doors leading from my office. One that connects to the rest of the second floor, and the other leading down back stairs to the first floor kitchen -- where I can grab coffee and pad back up to my haven without waking my husband during early morning writing sessions.  

Ultimately, my “Way Back” home office is not only way-back, but also perched way-up and way wonderful for creative contemplating and productive writing.  Be assured, if you can find a corner in your home that may have once been a walk-in closet, porch, stair landing or kitchen pantry, you can turn it into a creative space that’s uniquely yours. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

For this author, a writing contest made all the difference

The following is a reprint of a recent message from my publisher, BookBaby. Company President Steve Spatz interviewed me and wrote this piece in regard to the recent National Indie Excellence Award I received for Frugal Poets' Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren't a Poet:

"Last weekend I shared posts on some writing basics to help you start your next book. Today let’s talk about the other end of the process—after you’ve finished and published your book.

That’s where BookBaby author Cynthia Gallaher was last July. She had just published her book, Frugal Poets’ Guide To Life. Gallaher describes her book as 'part personal journey, part life-coaching for poets (or those who’d like to live like one), part creativity guide, and part reference.' Her book is available on her own BookShop page. Take a look.

As all self-published authors know, promoting books can be a daunting task. Gallaher saw a BookBaby blog post on entering book contests and decided to enter a few contests, including the prestigious National Indie Excellence Awards. Read it here.

'When you self-publish, it makes it that much harder to get attention,' said Gallaher. 'As I come from an advertising/marketing background, I understand the need to get the word out to as many potential readers as possible, but the word often needs to be backed with some clout, i.e. a blurb from a well-known author, an excellent review, a high number of Amazon reader reviews, and having your book be an award winner.'

I’m pleased to report her book was one of the 60 top books of 2016 produced by small presses, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, and self-published authors.

'Because my book is independent/self-published, I felt that the National Indie Excellence Awards was a good fit,' said Gallaher. 'The entry fee wasn’t too expensive–remember, I’m a frugal poet! I entered this contest basically to see what others thought. As a result, I was fortunate that National Indie Excellence Awards chose my book as one of its winners. Now I wish I would have entered more contests, but it’s a little late for my 2016 book!'

It’s not too late for self-published authors to enter this year’s contest. Submissions for the 12th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards will open on August 1st, 2017. Here’s the entry form."

All the best,
Steven Spatz

President, BookBaby

Link to a BookBaby online page with the same article.