I don’t remember the first poem I ever read, but I have vivid memories of the first poems I heard. My mother read from the Little Golden Book of Poetry. The images hidden in the words took me to far-off lands, and the rhymes filled my young head with music.

I delighted in the poems of Kate Greenaway, where a young boy exclaims, “Oh, Susan Blue,/How do you do?”

I’d never seen a puffin, but I learned from Florence Page Jaques that they were “Just the shape of a muffin,/And he lived on an island/In the/bright/ blue/ sea!”

Since I loved to swing, R. L. Stevenson spoke to my heart when asking, “How do you like to swing,/Up in the air so blue?”

Other poetry books and poets followed, including Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, Maya Angelou, John O’Donohue, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Mary Oliver. Each poet spoke, and I listened, soaking in the form, the mystery, the everyday moments that make up a life.

As a writer, I met poets like me pouring words and life onto the page. One of those poets, Selma Martin, challenges me to write in forms I have never tried, on topics that seem mundane, sometimes foolish, but always inspiring. Her gentle nudge to experiment pushes me to become a better writer of poetry and prose.

In the Shadow of Rainbows

Selma’s debut poetry book, In the Shadow of Rainbows, speaks lovingly to the heart, open, straightforward, and sometimes, in the shadow of rainbows. Her persistence, practice, and passion illuminate the page with pieces of her heart and words spoken only to you.

The title emerged from childhood experiences that brought tears. Secluded behind those drops of sadness, Selma discovered a miracle, “through wet eyelashes and learning to stand under the sun just so, I marveled at the rainbows that settled on my watery eyes.”

Selma draws on memories, rich literary background, and love of people, nature, and life to pen “a glimpse” of herself. What does she want these poems to do for us, the readers? What is their purpose and intent?

  • Celebrate people
  • Encourage discovery and growth rooted in awareness and presence
  • Use simple language to make listening to poetry a pleasurable experience
  • Inspire a springboard to the sacred
  • Delight readers

After reading through this collection more than once, I can attest to the celebrations, presence, pleasure, sacred, and delight living within those pages. Mission accomplished.

Selma encourages the reader to find the poem that will “open you up and let you feel seen. ‘Are you my mother?’ Each poem will ask.” This simple question alters your exploration and attention to each poem. I found myself asking, “Is this one for me?”

How ever would I know? One after another, each poem seemed to gaze into my thoughts and past.

The words in “Extra” exhorted a need to stop squandering my days. Far better for me to relish in the lushness of ordinariness and know my wholeness came from those moments.

On this day given you by the giver
put the squanderer to rest
call forth the sower of hope
and from within, bring out your best.

I thought of how we build walls of differences as I read “Enough.” Why do we fear people unlike us? Those other souls who may not share our history and dare to open us to new ideas and experiences deserve a chance.

Enough! Enough griping over
what it’ll take for us to “make it.”
. . .
favorite spring flowers, and sharing of our
stories will help us make it. Together.
Enough, I say! Draw near and let me hug you.

The hypnotic music of waves rolling onto the shore mesmerizes and softens the rough edges of life, rescuing me from myself. “That Sea” is the same one Selma declared, “will invigorate me when I’m drowning.” Oh yes, I know that feeling well!

My loving partner and I share over 52 years of conversations. Our lives have become so intertwined we often don’t recognize where one begins and the other ends. Like in “Slice of Life,” our days close gently as “we swap slices of lived moments/of the same day, hearts swell replete.”

The enchantment doesn’t end there; so many phrases, lines, and poems bumping up against the boundaries of my dreams, longings, and humdrum days. So, I must answer, “Are you my mother?”

The one poem luring me back, stalking my conscience, and clinging to my heart landed in my word for this year, center. That word found me, in the same manner, Selma’s poem, “Intention,” wormed its way into my being. We all journey through transitions, and I was knee-deep in my own. I sought answers in books, songs, and everywhere except the one place quietly waiting for me to pay attention. Selma gave me the answer.

the calmest place to inhabit,
anchors safely inside of you
but look for it with intention,
confident that you will find it

My journey continues, but I now search with intention while “balancing holding on, letting go.” I travel full of confidence; the answers I seek lie within myself—I find my center.


An observation worth pondering from Mary Oliver in The Poetry Handbook:

Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost anything in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it—indeed the world’s need of it—these never pass.

Whether you read poetry regularly or not, don’t pass up this luscious volume. And if you believe poetry is only for stodgy nerds, give it a try; you may surprise yourself. If you dare, between the covers, your poem waits for you.

Thank you, Selma Martin, for sharing shadows, rainbows, and miracles.

“The world’s held together by shadows
that flit around and lurk behind the light”

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

Photo: © Kathryn LeRoy

More thoughts on poetry: The Day Poetry Grabbed Me I Never Let Go