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Wichita Eagle Reading Challenge 2019

This is my first year to try this reading challenge. It's great having time to read in retirement - and writers have to read, right? Here's my proposed list - subject to change at any time, depending on availability, or recommendations on Facebook.

BOOK WITH A FACE ON THE COVER: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. CLASSIC/RETELLING: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. MEMOIR OR AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh. TRANSLATION: Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko. AVOIDED OR UNFINISHED: Most Haunted Island by Gay Baldwin. CHARACTER WHO IS UNLIKE YOU: Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. LAUGH OUT LOUD: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. RECOMMENDED BY A CHILD: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. AWARD WINNER: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. GENRE THAT IS UNUSUAL FOR YOU: Sundrop Sonata by Ann Fell. BY AN AUTHOR COMING TO KANSAS: The Collector’s Apprentice by B.A. Shapiro. SET IN YOUR BIRTHPLACE: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.

Some of these titles would fit more than one category. So far I've read the first 4, almost 5. Read More 

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[In England, the first single person of the opposite sex who spoke to you on Feb 14 would be your Valentine, but it was too late after 12 noon. This poem is dedicated to the memory of Brian Kemp. RIP]

St. Valentine’s Day. No card through my door,
but if I play my cards right Brian will be mine by noon.
Saturday, no school. I stroll along the beach.
Is he at the Sea Scouts’ hut? No. Must try his house.
Boarding the bus I think, So far so good, no male
has spoken to me yet. What about the conductor?
Fares please! It’s Chris from India. He doesn’t count,
being already married to the girl next door. No sign
of Brian, as I linger at his gate in Lake Green Road.
His mum comes up the street with a shopping bag.
She eyes me suspiciously under her headscarf
before going inside—to cook his lunch, I presume.
The church clock strikes eleven, twelve. Too late.
I’ve got no Valentine, unless you count Chris.
He is quite dishy. Or has Brian been at my house
hand-delivering my card? Fat chance! Still,
you never know. Last week at school he said
hello and put his bike in the rack next to mine.

© Hazel Spire



[In England, Valentine cards are not exchanged among friends or family members as in the U.S. They are sent anonymously to someone in whom you have a romantic interest.]

Someone sent me a valentine
With rhymed verse, design hand-painted.
“Who?” squealed jealous friends, guessing
Boys with whom we were acquainted.

“Christopher Nuckley!” they declared,
The brilliant artist in Class 2-D!”
“No, it can’t be him,” I insisted.
“He really isn’t the type for me.”

Back home, I admired my valentine,
Displayed it proudly on the shelf.
No one would know, and I wouldn’t tell,
I made and mailed that card myself.

© Hazel Spire


Like a leaky air mattress, the rumor squeaked
along the church hall floor at Girls’ Brigade camp:
Hazel’s got a boyfriend!
No. Who? Tell us all about him, Haze.
Heads drew close to listen
as the name rolled deliciously off my tongue:
Jeremy Knight, from Aylesbury.
Yeah? How d’ya meet him? the girls chorused
like the Shangri La singers in “Leader of the Pack.”
Well, you know my mum runs a B & B?
His family stayed with us this summer.
Oh. What’s he like then?
A year older than me, four inches taller,
sandy hair, fashionably long but not scruffy
and sea-green eyes.
Aah. Where did he take you?
Wight City Arcade. We rode on the dodgem cars.
And he kissed me goodnight.
Mmm. When we gonna meet him, Haze?

Incredulous voices,
yet why shouldn’t I have a boyfriend?
Granted I was only thirteen, but
if Celia could hold John’s hand in French class,
if Brian could chase Susan with a beach towel,
if Shirley could gaze at Peter under the stars at the fair,
wasn’t it my turn to fall in love?
Like a smelly gym shoe, the rumor flew
through the girls’ locker room at school:
Hazel’s got a boyfriend!
No. Who? How did ya meet him, Haze?
Tell us all about it.
Heads drew close to listen as I repeated—
embellished—my tale of romance.
Jeremy Knight. He’s gone home now,
but look. He sent this letter.

From an envelope with a smudged postmark
I produced the evidence—
a polite note telling how much the Knights
enjoyed their stay on the island,
especially my mum’s blackberry pie.
They took this snap of me and Jeremy at the station,
I added, brandishing a very dark photograph.
Fingers grabbed, mascara’d lashes blinked at it.
Can’t see a thing, said Frances, disappointed.
I sighed. No, it didn’t come out, for some reason.
So, when do we get to see him, Haze?
I don’t know. Perhaps in the half-term holiday?

But they never would meet Jeremy Knight,
once he was safe on that train to Aylesbury,
off to school on the mainland, living forever fresh,
flaxen-haired and lovable, but untouchable
in my over-zealous, ever-jealous,
febrile, fertile imagination.

© Hazel Spire Read More 

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The Prairie Writers assignment for this month was a memory of an animal. After brainstorming a host of pets past and present, I cheated and submitted a poem I'd already written and published.
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As a 2nd/3rd grade teacher, on the first day back at school each January, I would borrow bells of all sizes from the music teacher and let my class ring in the New Year. Later when I taught art, I had 5th graders paste the double face of Janus (Roman god of gates and doorways) in the top center of the paper, looking forward and back. They would draw a memory (good or bad) from the old year on the left, and one thing that might happen in the New Year on the right.

Since retiring, I’ve had the luxury of time in which to reflect on my life and write more chapters of a memoir, BUGSY, SLUG, THE BEATLES AND ME. Last year my old my high school class in England held a reunion that I couldn’t attend. Instead, I sent this prose poem listing memories from 1st Form thru 6th Form (the equivalent of grades 6-12 in the US) at Sandown Grammar School:

S triped summer dresses and swimming at the Blue Lagoon.
A rt teacher Mr. Binch’s encouragement: “That’s interesting!”
N eville Anderson’s solo “O Valiant Hearts” in the Little Hall.
D ancing the foxtrot, Virginia Reel and Strip the Willow in the gym.
O ut on the field in all weathers – jolly hockey sticks!
W illie Wiseman our heart throb, along with Adam Faith and Elvis.
N etball practice for Sandham house, Grassy towering over the net.

G erman with Hinny and Helmut; my penfriend Gerlinde.
R omantic poets with ‘Lit’ English. Did she have a first name?
A nthems I still remember from the choir in Assembly.
M r. Fennelly (Flan) scrabbling in the dirt at an archaeological dig.
M usic with Pastry, including a song he wrote for Speech Day.
A lgebraic and chemical formulae, unused, long forgotten.
R ailway crossing on a blue Raleigh bike, my 13th birthday present.

S ewing a yellow gingham apron with Buster Rogers.
C od Cooper’s bulging briefcase; Bert Ayling’s red cushion.
H at that I dared not remove because I lived opposite Miss Tovey.
O ld Owens (Taffy) tapping his ring on the radiator; and the
O M skipping in plimsolls at the Inkies’ Christmas Party.
L atin declension, conjugation and Caesar’s Gallic Wars.

Our Prairie Writers homework this month is A NEW BEGINNING, for which I wrote a similar piece, but looking to the future:

A nticipate everyday miracles.

N o recriminations over last year’s failures.
E very nook and cranny of the office filed and dusted.
W riter’s Market on hand with homes for manuscripts.

B ooks to finish, books to publish, books to read.
E xpand my speaking/teaching platform.
G oals to be set, goals to be met, but with grace periods.
I magine myself a morning person, fit and trim.
N ever neglect the arts—painting, piano, poetry.
N ational Gallery visits, via calendar and in person.
I sle of Wight in May for a high school reunion?
N ephew’s gift, a journal to record my journey.
G ear up for 2013. This could be the best year yet! Read More 
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