More Inaction – A Response to the Editorial on Glenara Bates

We shouldn’t be horrified by the singular death of Glenara Bates. We should be horrified that 17,000 children, in similar circumstances, each day are part of the caseloads of the JFS, an agency that also oversees 800 employees. Are more resources needed or better ones? Is more training needed? Is better training needed? Are more laws needed, or better laws? Is the system so inherently flawed that we are setting up our agencies for failure?

But we are no longer horrified at the frequency of these events. The regularity of child abuse and death leaves us anticipating more of the same. Like the Reds losing, a situation not planned for, but nevertheless, not unexpected.
We shouldn’t be horrified many children would rather return to the life of abuse because they cannot live without those maternal or paternal bonds. We should be horrified we have left adults, in agencies such as JFS, without the supports necessary to do their job.

We shouldn’t be horrified about this child, who lived in poverty, or those in the other recent Enquirer news story. We should be horrified that our politicians are too busy always running for office to address the real issues (Kasich), or trying to disassemble programs that are already in place, (universal healthcare), or so damned focus on LGBT issues which should be non-issues by now, that said politicians don’t have the time, skills, interest and wherewithal to attack the problem in the main.

We shouldn’t be horrified these children want to be in their parent’s home, where they are comfortable and away from the watchful eye of strangers. We should be horrified that laws require agencies, lawyers, and the court system to return the children to the home. Even the county prosecutor, at his wit’s end, drew the only conclusion available to a sound, general public. Some adults should not raise kids. We should be horrified that, with that level of education and experience, that is the only solution proposed.
Instead, we have more inaction. Why are we looking to change the people of JFS, and not the creation of an entirely new system? Where is legislation to raise minimum wages, to keep families whole? Where is the legislation to create jobs, and not give away the store to the next hot company who comes to town? Where is the training to cover the skills gaps? Who are the judges we need to vote out? Where, if those children were removed from family homes, would they go? In Ohio, there are 14,000 kids in foster care, 2,500 waiting for adoptive homes.

Daily, grant applications for non-profits to reach the demographic of faltering parents or abused children, fall into two categories: children/poverty/literacy and adults/poverty/jobs. Systems are so fragmented that it is difficult to grant funding, because non-profits themselves are so thin, with no ability to maintain funding. Agencies build these programs pebble by pebble, not brick by brick, and inevitably become unstable and unsustainable.

Band-aid solutions to children in impoverished situations, such as Home Depot building shelves in Millvale for donated snacks or firing a JFS case worker (assuming they resigned before they could legally be fired), is admirable but also, not sustainable.
Like any other tragedy that makes the headlines, this death is good for only one news cycle in terms of raising the issues. Then, policy makers, journalists and citizens return to their regularly scheduled programming. And JFS still will have 18,000 children in their sights.

Even the Enquirer, reduces the issue to such a simplistic declaration. “Feel your revulsion. Feel your shock.” This is not talk therapy. Last time I checked, Pulitzer Prize winners take the time for more than “feel your anger.”

We shouldn’t be horrified that these cases are put away on the shelf. We should be horrified that tomorrow the newspaper will put on the front page another misleading story about Downtown development, a recap of Shayna Huber’s trial, or even Bryan Price’s count of the “F” word, and forget all about Glenara Bates.

Read text of Enquirer Editorial here.


A Fit Inheritance – Eden Park’s Author’s Grove

(And – Cincinnati Parks has a librarian!)

My latest forays into Eden Park yielded the discovery of the Author’s Grove. When I first encountered the grove, articulated on a plaque near the park’s water tower, I was ecstatic, photo copy 5and could hardly wait to find the actual monument.

But upon further investigation, I found the Author’s Grove was no longer. It now existed as half of a curved brick wall with a concrete statuette of an open book placed atop the caved in portion of the wall.  The book looked out of place. Author names were missing.

photo copy 6“Of course,” I said to my husband, Mark, at the time. “Of course they would let this fall down.”

They being caretakers of the park, citizens of Cincinnati, any writer who once cared, including myself. All were either oblivious to the Author’s Grove and / or its current condition. Or were not in a position to undertake the upkeep.

My mind immediately jumped to the phrase above the Symmes Township library door, where once upon a time, I took a few wee ones. Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. – Henry David Thoreau

Fit inheritance. That phrase always stayed with me, as I taught my son to read. As my mother had taught me, and how she still held a book in her hands, feeble mind, and could still parse sentences into meaningful words. Books, literacy should have been codified in the Constitution as a right. A right to read, a right to be literate. A clear right, spelled out in no uncertain terms, would have ensured today, we would not still be spending millions of dollars on literacy alone.

A second run back weeks later through Eden Park jogged my memory about the Author’s Grove. What was it really? I couldn’t complain about a monument that had disintegrated, if I knew nothing about it.

I returned home to research. Luckily, I now live five blocks from a very large library that contains the collected works of local writers and I hope, long after my death, will still retain a copy of mine. I discovered Thoughts and Experiences In and Out of School by John B. Peaslee, a former superintendent, one of the youngest, of Cincinnati Public Schools. He arrived in Cincinnati in October of 1864. Prior to that, he had given a commencement oration, whereby he was congratulated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He initiated many reforms within public education, in particular, the “devotion of fifteen minutes a day to the systemic teaching of Gems of Literature…and prepared a course of study for lower grades of entire pieces, and of such as are calculated to develop their emotional nature (..), and to give them correct rules of action; those for the higher grades containing grander and enobling thoughts, clothed in beautiful language, calculated to inspire them with higher aspirations in life, to lead them into pure fields of English Literature and to teach them to revere great and good authors.”

Thus, he introduced children to a love books and introduced great and good books to children. His “Peaslee Gems,” selections of prose and verse, not only provided stimulation but became an innovative means by which to celebrate authors and the written word.

His schools went on to celebrate the likes of Whittier, Emerson, Longfellow. In 1882, an “Author’s Grove” was planted on six acres in Eden Park, as part of a larger movement to enlighten the citizenry about the forestry movement. A vast number of trees were planted, each dedicated to some distinguished writer. Afterwards, granite tablets, with the names of authors, were placed near the trees.

A year later, the event blossomed into what become known as Arbor-day, where pupils were led to the park and recited various compositions they wrote about forestry, which had been part of the superintendent’s plan to educate and inspire. They read or reread letters from living local authors, or those who had passed away. Each pupil took turns tossing soil into trees planted in the honor of the author, dedicating a tree by reciting the full name of the person being honored.

The collection of trees became the first memorial tree grove ever planted in America by “loving hands and appropriate ceremonies,” and basis for modern-day Arbor Day celebrations.

In 1882, those whose lives and works had been celebrated by the planting of a tree were given their due, their trees and names marked by granite, with the name of the author and the school planting the tree. The markers were eight inches square and stood about four inches above ground. One such example was:


died the very day these trees were

planted in his honor

Hughes High School.

Fifty names were honored, including Whittier, Horace Mann, Prescott, and F. S. Key. Mrs. Emma Hardacre described the first ceremony as “a dense mass of gayly-dressed children in active motion over the surface of about six acres, and whose voices wafted across the deep hollow to the western ridge, sounded like the chattering from a grove full of happy birds.”

photo copy 4In 1883, 12 names were added, including Alcott, Fuller, William W. Fosdick, (recognized as the City Laureate), and General Lytle, a Cincinnati poet. Presumably twelve autographed manuscripts from the same authors were gifted from Mrs. Annie Fields of Boston to the schools.

The celebrations and the list of those who were honored continued for several years. – Hale, Mrs Sarah J., “ is known all over the land for her efforts to promote the intellectual elevation of her sex.” Underwood, Francis H. Underwood, author of a work of English and one on American biographies, Mrs. Sarah C. Coolidge, another favorite author for little folks, as Superintendent Peaslee had noted during the first year too many authors were identifiable only by adults and not children. All works at the time were made available through the public library.

In 1884, Mr. Peaslee’s book listed seventy names, most authors dedicated to the craft of the written word for the younger grades.  He also equally recognized male and female authors.

In a presentation Mr. Peaslee later gave, he declared, “Let there be an author’s grove in which school children shall honor, by living monuments, the great men and women in literature so that while they learn a love of trees, they will become interested in the writings.”

By 1885, the celebration was relegated to the schoolroom once more.

I could find no more information on when the celebrations stopped or when or how the memorial fell in disrepair. I placed a few phone calls and emails to our Cincinnati Parks Department, and learned this from Jim Burkhardt, Superintendent of Operations:

Several years ago the majority of the Author’s Grove monument was removed at the request of the people living around Eden Park and, as part of a renovation of the area.  A small section of the monument was left as a representation of the original monument. Because of the design of the original monument, it became a haven for undesirable/criminal activity. 

Many of the plaques had been damaged over time.  We saved what plaques that we could.   

UnknownI was also pleased to learn, the department has their own librarian/historian, Vicky Newell. She wrote back:

According to one document I found, there were thirty-five (thirty-six according to another document) authors honored in the 1882 planting.  I found a map from 1895 that shows the locations of the markers that were placed in that first go-round.  It looks like by that time, some markers had been added.   

“According to Park Director Fred Payne’s remarks made at the 1980 rededication of the Authors Memorial Grove, forty-five of the original stones were found and placed in the memorial wall created at that time.


I found a 1939 letter to Park Superintendent J.W. Tait requesting that a tree be planted in honor of Mrs. Frances Willard.  His response was favorable so it’s likely that was carried out, but I find no other information, so far, about how long the practice was continued or if it was ever officially stopped. 

Part of the mystery had been solved.

But I returned to the concept of fit inheritance over and again. How many more authors we could have honored today, with a diversity of thought and culture? How many more trees would have been gifted to Eden Park? How many more children would have been literate, their parents too?

It was right and fitting that my mother’s first task, after feeding, changing and napping, was to ensure my ability to read, to retain, to ensure that what I read was relevant or inspiring.

Take a trek up to Eden Park again. Seek out the Author’s Grove. Ask yourself, who was your favorite author. Memorize a piece of their work, go seek it at the library, or stalk them via the Internet to let them know.

Perhaps, a more heroic course of action would be to become a tutor, volunteer at the public library or donate to organizations such as the Literacy Network.

Finally, according to Mr. Burkhardt, there are no plans to revive the actual monument. Write to the Parks Department and ask them to reconstruct or reimagine the memorial. It is Cincinnati’s fit inheritance.


Thoughts and Experiences In and Out of School, by John B. Peaslee, 1900, pp 115-125.



The Art and Craft of the Word Alive and Well in the City

(Credit: Findlay Market)
(Credit: Findlay Market)

(Note: Links to all references designated at conclusion of post.)

“If I open the door to words, I will leave this world.” – Poet in the Garden participant.

For three days I left this world, and with muck boots on, waded into the world of words, poets and writers. Daily, they muster up the courage to not only write about their life, surroundings, anger and joy, but they hone those words until their meaning takes the same shape as in the writer’s mind, and finally, they whisper, recite or shout out those words to the public.

Upon returning, I pronounced the art and craft of the spoken and written word alive and well, breathing and pacing, kicking and screaming, in Cincinnati, with subject matters as diverse as the city itself. Topics ranged from geology and fossils, to Michael Brown and rape, and the poetry of pottery. From twerking to the Genius of Water. And, of course, Skyline chili.

My first foray began with judging a spoken word contest at Findlay Market. The event, hosted by Findlay Market and Kathy Y. Wilson, opened with several young competitors in the upcoming weekend’s Louder Than a Bomb spoken word contest. But the other participants ranged from young, black women to old, white men, and everyone in between. Brian Sullivan, founder of Roh’s Coffee Shop Queen City Poetry Open Mic/Slam, coordinated the event with his usual invisibility and efficiency.

First, what was a white woman like me, sitting there in judgment of a poetry form that is as foreign to me as the Chinese language? To be honest, I don’t know, but I sure had fun. Besides, I was told repeatedly, it was all subjective.

While I absorbed much about the craft and form of spoken word, I also learned a few things about myself. I was conscious of my scores, asking, am I rooting for this person because of the color of their skin? At one point, our host called me out for giving the sensitive white guy a high score, but to be honest, I scored him high because  no one else would, and wanted to give him props for getting on stage. Sometimes, we have to rate courage equal to art.

In the final rounds, my scores were lower than the other judges. I had become a bit more, well, judgmental. However, I scored fairly, using the first slam poet as a measuring stick, and the rest scored below her. She turned out to be the winner.

It was an exercise in fairness for me. Was I prejudice? Did I only want women to win? The three winners were Protagonist, Arianna, and Calla, all women, two African-Americans, one white. All blew my mind. Several perform at Roh’s Queen City Poetry Open Mic & Slam. And, you can catch more spoken word performances at Louder Than a Bomb, April 18, with teams from Elementz, Seven Hills, and Wordplay.  Read here and here, to learn more about poetry slams and why they exist.

Later that evening, I reworked a poem of mine. When I broke down the lines to add layers, I noted the rhythm of the piece had turned more towards spoken word than usual. I had been unduly influenced. My only regret about the spoken word event had been poets spoke too fast for me to get my readback lines down.

My second experience was as holder for Meaningful Mondays: Women Poets in Arnold’s Courtyard. Typical of my actions, long ago, I stated to the director of Women Writing for a Change I hoped my move into the city would bring the voices of WWfaC here as well. When the opportunity arose to lead and host poetry readings at Arnold’s, I took the chance. I have not looked back, and our success is evident in that women poets who are not members of WWfaC contact me to find out how to be a part of the event.

MM 2Our third Meaningful Monday offered the same diversity as the poetry slam, in a different from. Each woman was given eight to ten minutes to read and share. The women ranged from elders, Linda Busken Jergens, to Alison Caller and Celeste Fohl, to Jaye Johnson, a young woman now teaching our even younger girls in our YW programs. The topics ranged from friends who died, mothers who left, origin poems, and what does it mean to be black, but not black.

These women are not “published”, though we always call readarounds a form of publishing, and the Arnold’s event proved to the be the same. Guests circled around the poets afterwards to ask questions, and congratulate the women for their courage, their words, to share how those words touched them . I too congratulated them for contending with the birds that flew in the courtyard, the bells that chimed in the distance, the barrels that rolled below us. In attendance was the founder of WWfaC Mary Pierce Brosmer, who will read her original works in May, and also, a supporter from the local trio, Raison d’etre, Roberta Schultz, a poet in her own right. I would see her the next night as well. The final Monday of the series wraps up May 4 and we, I, hope to repeat our event in the fall. In the interim, WWfaC offers poetry workshops and public readarounds where one can hone their words and share in the bounty of others.

Finally, the convenience of city living offered the opportunity to attend the third week of Poetry in the Garden at the Main Public Library. While the space is technically not a garden, due to space considerations, the chairs faced out to Piatt Park, where city life it is own sort of garden. Prior to the reading, a church group was grilling burgers in the park and serving those in need. An occasional siren whisked past, as did Red Bike patrons, and a few onlookers, dressed for a finer dinner than those of us who had scarfed down chicken to get to the good stuff – poetry. The series is held in partnership with the Greater Cincinnati Writer’s League, but moderated by library staff.

As I walked in, I immediately spotted – Arianna, second place winner for the poetry slam two days ago. It turns out, Arianna works for the library coordinating special events. And in the audience, was Roberta, guest from one night ago, to support her friends. Also in attendance were renowned poet Pauletta Hansel (Thomas More College Writer in Residence for the Creative Writing Vision Program) and Valerie Chronis-Bickett, who leads classes through Little Pocket Poetry, both of whom I have known since my “early” WWfaC days. I was greeted by Bucky Ignatius, an affable gracious poet/coordinator in the GWCL and Susan Glassmeyer, (also of Little Pocket Poetry) a prolific and witty poet who generates a daily poetry email during the month of April, called April Gifts.

The poets in the garden were Dr. Annie Hinkle, a literary arts teacher from Ursuline, who knew two of my daughters, Sarah Nix, a young artist/poetry, and Patrick Venterella, last name rhymes with Cinderella, who inspired with his infusion of geology and science terms into his poetry.

For those who came prepared, audience members were invited to the podium for open mic. And yes, I stepped up twice, hoping the battery life on my iPhone would last through my readings. The evening closed with Arianna performing one of her spoken word pieces. The night had come full circle.

My husband had dutifully attended all three events with me, and had even begun writing his own poems. We later discussed the events of the past days over a glass of wine.

Neither of us lay claim to being poets in the traditional sense, but we appreciate music and wisdom no matter the form.

“You know, I liked the explanations poets gave before their readings, but for me, I really didn’t need to know about the forms, villanelle, 7x7s.” (I guess he had been paying attention).

“And sometimes, the explanations were longer than the poems.”

“Because what I love, without all the extras, even the slam poets, is I can create my own experience from the poem.”

Can you understand why I love this man?

His other observation was, “I can’t believe that one guy talked about workshopping a poem that was like, twenty lines. You’re not talking a short story or novel, but dedication to twenty lines. Wow!”

There are more than enough outlets in this city for a poet or writer to find a home. There is within each of these organizations, the opportunities for words to find space and grow. It is April. Time to sprout, time to plant.

Here’s a run-down of spoken word, poetry and writing I have found and been inspired by, around the city. It’s the how’s and where’s and who’s of people gathering to celebrate the art and craft of the spoken and written word.