Edge of Appalachia and OCD


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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Dear Readers,

An unexpected occurrence jolted my Sunday a bit. I’m glad I ran 13.1 miles in training, the equivalent of a half-marathon, beforehand. That helped me feel grounded.

I promised a poem in my last post about this picture:ganz neues Gedicht!

Since I have now begun “coaching” poets, it’s probably time to write about poems that are incomplete.

They start out with inspiration. Sometimes, that awakening results in an immediate poem. I had that happen once when I was a teenager on a snowy day on my paper route. I couldn’t wait to make it back home and write my poem. The words came almost without thinking. They simply came out. Months later I received an award for the poem.

Sometimes, inspiration leads to just a good title and the poem comes later. The picture I took last week is an example. If I ever write an autobiography (and I often wonder who except for a few close friends and family would read it!), it would be called The Edge of Appalachia for all kinds of reasons.

To this day, I can’t believe I survived my youth on the edge of Appalachia, nor for that matter my 20s and 30s in other corners of the world!

Maybe part of the reason is that I have always met deadlines — for poetry contests, my work in philanthropy, as a writer and editor, and even self-imposed deadlines for marathons and personal blogs!

I also, and this is a huge step for me, need to admit I suffer from mild Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’ve had it diagnosed. I’ve been told I don’t need medication, but I do need to face the fact that it’s part of my life, who I am, what I will live with until my last breath. My husband, daughter, good friends, and a sense of humor have helped a great deal!

I probably survived the ’80s and ’90s as a young gay man because of OCD. I’ve been meticulous about being safe even though I’m a hopeless romantic.

I am also a bit meticulous about my writing and poetry.

I want to do justice to what Quakers would call a “weighty” title to a poem like Edge of Appalachia.

Stay tuned and thank you for your patience!


Coaching Poetry


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ganz neues Gedicht!Aloha Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together!

Guess what happened yesterday in my poetry workshop with high school students after I had used my last two posts, Poem in Progress, and then the actual poem, Storm Passing, as instructional material?

One of my students wrote his first poem! I was so proud of him. He stood in front of the class yesterday, a little awkward but full of courage and talent. I’ve always believed a poem, unless it’s an epic (!), should be read twice to take in its meaning, rhythm, flavor, its expected- and unexpectedness.

We gave our brave young man a lot of applause after he read his poem the first time. I asked him if could read his poem a bit slower the second time, and he did. Then I asked his classmates, as I always do, for their initial gut impressions after hearing a poem. I forbid them to overthink! Their remarks were considerate, accurate, and insightful.

I’ve realized that at this stage of my life I enjoy coaching poets as much as I like writing my own poetry. For my third year of keeping this blog, then, I will veer a bit from my goal of writing a new poem every week and mix it up with practical ways to write a poem, or, better yet, to become a poet. Maybe this year my blog will become like a poet’s cookbook!

But before this post becomes too long, I’ll finish by posing a few questions I asked my students yesterday: How does an original poem start? Where and how do you find inspiration?

I know the inspiration for my next poem. I saw it earlier this week when I was doing the laundry, a little flower out of nowhere underneath our tiny back porch making its presence known in spite of all the concrete around it! (Please see the picture at the top of this post.)

Stay tuned for next week!



Storm Passing


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Dear Followers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together,

As promised last week the poem in progress is now … a poem!

My writing method: The same for more than 40 years! I’ve stayed true to my style. Experience has changed how I make sense of life, but I’ve tried to keep my innocence and original voice in my poetry. It helps that I’m a Quaker!

The inspiration: A hurricane and private issues that had gathered speed. But my family survived both like we always seem to!

Working title: It stayed the same for the actual poem!

Rhyme scheme, length of poem: Orderly, but not overly structured. Lately, I’ve enjoyed making my poems shorter, but I give myself freedom to see where words take me. I do tend to like spare writing.

Time it took me to write the poem, having only written the working title the week before: One hour. That’s pretty much all I need for a first and even second draft.

Storm Passing

A hurricane that never came
still carried rough winds that shook our roof
at midnight while our daughter slept.
My husband and I, driven closer by the threat
that could have changed our lives again
even after we found our fifth home
in sixteen years together, eight with our child
who has kept insisting for more,
here on this island, the ocean preventing us
from easy escapes. We fixed the access door
to a crawl space blown open before more winds came
and we embraced, our daughter safe while we waited.
But after two days the storm passed, and we untied
everything outside we decided was better to keep
fastened in its settled and and reasonable place.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 3 September 2018

Poem in Progress


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Draussen vor der Tür!Aloha Readers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together!

As some of you know, I am blessed to teach a poetry workshop (and an elective in German) at a high school in Hawaii where my full-time job is what I like to call a “facilitator of philanthropy.”

My poetry students last year were wonderful: fun, creative, diligent, motivated. I’ve been lucky again this new school year.

A few are new poets who will take a few steps into writing zones unknown in the next few weeks that I hope will become comfort zones.

My students recently asked how long it takes me to write a poem and how I go about it. I answered that the actual writing and rewriting often takes an hour, but that ideas can gather in my head for years. I also noted that I have revised even published poems, but for me, this is a rare occurrence. I sometimes struggle with finding the right words, but once I do, they usually are ones I can live with for a long time.

For my students and readers of this blog, I’ll show for this post the bare bones of how one of my poems begins. For my post next weekend, you will be able to read the finished piece!

Inspiration: Hurricane, issues in private life coming to a head. During the last few days, we held our breath as a Category 5 hurricane came close to Hawaii. Fortunately, we were spared the worst although other parts of this beautiful state were not so lucky. During this time, my husband, who is dealing with the tragic death of his best friend, our daughter and I stayed together.

Working title: Storm Passing

Number of stanzas: Unknown but it will be fun to see what happens!

Rhyme scheme: Like most of my poems, direct and indirect, pretty orderly but not overly precise.

Subtleties: I love symbolism because it ennobles even difficult issues in life. Rather than spill my guts, which I can save for a conversation with a patient friend, my husband, or a therapist, I strive for words and imagery to convey emotions in a disciplined, reasonable way which is why I love writing: it often brings out the best in me!

Stay tuned, dear readers!



Vienna Woods


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In memory of Albert

This is the woods I have known since I was young and keen
to leave behind the church spires that  left me uninspired
as I walked to Stephansdom past pompous windows
full of “Made in Austria” gifts and imported finery for those
who yearned for overblown nostalgia of an empire I dismissed.

I took detours to forgotten paths and languages, discarded worlds
I wanted to salvage as I strove to accept the metronome of a life without God,
no longer surrounded by critics of my misunderstood goals.
I gave into the forest where my purest dreams let me fall back in them
one last time, where all that mattered could be redeemed.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 18 August 2018

Tracking Poetry


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As readers of this blog may know, I’ve been writing (and publishing) poetry since I was seven years old. Even though I have a full-time job in philanthropy in a small, private school, my boss has let me teach an elective in German to honor my grandfather, and a workshop in poetry to, well, honor, my mother. Who is my mother? An English and Humanities teacher for 40 years who coached several young poets (including me years ago) at a small, public high school to win a combined 20 national awards.

So the other day I looked through poems I had written in the last 20 years. My hope was to let my students know how a few came about, from the first inspiration to a first draft, to revisions, to deciding how close a poem was to being finished to completion.

In the last 10 years, my family, for life-changing reasons like two men finding a legal place to marry, their child being born, discovering their child would be born with an extra chromosome, to looking for the right community for a same-sex couple raising a child with potential special needs and strengths, moved from Baltimore to New Hampshire to Bonn, Germany, to Iowa and then, finally to Hawaii where we hope to stay forever.

Not surprisingly, I’ve lost a few poems along the way, including a few I wish I could find again!

Has this happened to any readers of this blog who are poets or artists in other media?

I’m pretty organized, but I’ve written hundreds of poems over the decades, so I guess it’s not surprising a few have gotten lost somewhere in North America, Europe, or en route to our 50th state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Maybe they landed in a car that needed to be traded in, are still in a home we have kept on the Mainland, somewhere in my mother’s home, or on a computer left behind and never to be found in my lifetime!

I’ve made a vow as I hope to complete a book of poems — which I find more daunting than completing a marathon: track my poems, keep them in one place, return to them now and then like old friends, and never take them for granted!

Filet Mignon


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Autumn in Stratford, Ontario,
after the Shakespeare Festival
my sister joined her high school classmates
for dinner, already sated with the finest
poetry that our mother, a high school
English teacher, ordered for her daughter,
on an evening lined in gold and crimson leaves
that fall early in Canada.

The filet mignon my sister chose at the restaurant
was overcooked, a bit gristly, served hurriedly
by staff thick into their evening shifts,
not knowing the high school girls
already were certain of their tastes
long before they would cut through the world
as teachers, doctors, attorneys, mothers,
some as betrayed wives on the rebound

who years later might take their own children
up north to whet their appetite for life
and all that is good and right
even if meals don’t live up to their billing,
to learn that filet mignon can be savored
if cut in small portions, exposed to heat
but not dried out, enhanced with gentle sauce,
and will more likely keep its flavor.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 5 August 2018



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How many times can I pull this off?
Leaving old worlds and even names behind
that trapped me? Budapest chained us
to centuries of hate, so we fled to Wisconsin
and two Great Lakes where my father,
still attached to his old ways, was fired as a Rabbi

and our family left for New York and I changed
my identity so we would not go hungry.
I joined a circus and learned card tricks and magic,
but fortune stayed away until my great escapes
from handcuffs, straightjackets, ropes and chains,
tanks filled with water, makeshift graves.

But even in marriage and in flight in my own planes
I never forgot the stage and fear of losing the fame
that still pays for my memory at a cemetery in Queens
and nightclubs where my followers hold séances,
waiting for my return when my greatest trick
will always remain changing myself into Harry Houdini.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 29 July 2018

Poem on Hold


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Marathon today!Dear Readers,

In my third year of writing this blog, I am writing a poem every weekend, sometimes about themes I have covered in the first two years.

A friend recently asked how long it took me to write a new poem. Well, to be quite frank, usually an hour where I first write words, and, if uninterrupted, finish a draft, walk a way for a bit, revise, walk away again, and then finish the poem by the third or fourth draft. My friend was surprised, but I’ve been writing poetry since I was seven years old!

Two disclaimers:

    1. Sometimes a poem has been floating around in my head for years or a few days. When it’s ready to come out, it does.
    2. Months or even years later, I revise some of my poems. About 70 percent of the time, though, once my new poem is finished, it’s finished.

While I look forward to writing 40 or more poems this third year Tennis, Trisomy 21, and Taking in Life Together, I’m unfortunately not a full-time poet. I am just a middle-aged dad in a career with plenty of vicissitudes, who in lieu of creating a poem will once in a while finish a marathon like I did yesterday.

I’m happy to say I’ve never been drained by writing poetry, and I’ve been doing that much longer than running marathons. Yesterday, I finished my 22nd marathon on a Saturday in a Hawaii summer on a very challenging course that included three loops with Heartbreak Hill!

As you can see from the picture with this post, I celebrated with my daughter. I wish my husband had been part of the picture, but he did all he could to coordinate the photo op!

This morning, I walked five miles to shake off lactic acid and devote more time to fatherhood. The poem I had planned for this weekend is on hold until next weekend. It’s very much in draft form right now in my head!

If for any reason, I sound less than fully grateful about this weekend, I want to make sure readers know I could never have finished my 22nd marathon without the full support of my husband, daughter, the amazing organizer of the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run, and, of course, the other runners who became fast friends. Although the marathon distance is the same — 26.2 miles — the number of participants is in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

This is the second summer I have taken part in the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run in July, and both times I have savored helping and being helped by dozens of women and men challenging themselves to do the distance. I think that is why many of us stayed long after we had finished to congratulate as many fellow runners as we could before we returned to our homes in Hawaii, or flew back to the Mainland, to our friends and family, to our jobs, to looking after our kids, to keeping up with the laundry, maybe even to starting a new poem. I hope to be back on the course next summer.

Still Auditioning


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I’ve run twenty-one marathons
and next Saturday I start another
on legs pretending they’re still young.

I’ve been married sixteen years
with many days questioned and mended,
but ready to audition for my part again.

I’ve given my daughter imperfect dreams
and lessons I’ve rehearsed with myself
over and over before I’m out of time.

I’ve worked three careers most of my life,
finding ways to keep them afloat
no matter if the tide is low or high.

Why do I keep trying?
It’s an honor to reinvent my new starts
and still be in the running for the parts.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 15 July 2018