Dennis Cardiff poet and author of Gotta Find a Home – Conversations with Street People

Dennis Cardiff


“Truth without love is brutality,

and love without truth is hypocrisy.”

Warren W. Wiersbe

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood

and Envy by François Lemoyne




Why would lovers wear masks,

if not to deceive?

Truth is freedom, freedom is truth.

These are not abstract concepts.

If I pledge you my love, I pledge you my absolute truth.

I stand naked before you

with my flaws, imperfections,


I beg of you

accept this humble servant

who is not worthy

but, who will give his life

to protect you and your honor.

Everything else can be taken away,

this is all I have to give.

Love me for me,

or leave me.

Let me love you

for you,

not for the mask

you choose to face the world.


Image Source:  Wikipedia

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Showing Up

“Show up every day.” – anonymous

I am an insecure writer, a condition I attribute to being whacked in the back of the head too many times by women in black and blue robes as a child. Actually, I blame all my frailties on the same thing, well that and my grade school nickname—Dumb-Dumb. It took publishing more than fifty articles and my first book to finally call myself a writer. Up until a year ago I would tell people I was a shipyard welder, even though the shipyard I worked at in my early days closed in 1995.

I have Garth Algar syndrome, “I am not worthy.” I get freaked out whenever I send a manuscript, short story and article to an editor. But I’ve learned from reading about the literary greats that I am not alone. In fact, it is a common trait that wildly successful authors don’t think much of their own work.

James Michener didn’t consider himself a great writer and claimed there were many writers in the world much better than himself. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, the difference between himself and a multitude of talented writers who wither in obscurity was that he got off his duff and wrote over forty books, while other writers with as much, if not more talent, talked and dreamed about writing but did nothing.

Frank McCourt, the great Irish author from the lanes of Limerick, and Pulitzer Prize winner himself, instructs his students in Teacher Man, “Dreaming, wishing, planning: it’s all writing, but the difference between you and the man on the street is that you are looking at it, friends, getting it set in your head, realizing the significance of the insignificant, and getting it on paper.”  McCourt urged his students, “Get it on the page, Man.”

Graham Greene, author of The Orient Express and The Comedians once said, “I have no talent; it’s just a question of working, of being willing to put in the time.”

Lili St. Crow, author of many novels says, “You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”

Many years ago I attended a seminar and remember the instructor claimed to have the formula for success—the keys to the kingdom. The students sat in a circle, and near the conclusion of his dissertation he made a dramatic pause. Everyone leaned forward and he said, “Just Do It!” That was it, “Just Do It!” And that was years before the Nike swoosh became an international marketing symbol. Those three simple words were the most profound advice I’ve heard in all my years of study. Interpreted, they mean, get up off your ass, take that first step, take control of your life. Pat Croce, the vociferous former president of the Philadelphia 76ers, motivational speaker and entrepreneur, went one step further in his book, I Feel Great and You Will Too, in which he exclaims, “Just Do It, Now!”

And “Just Do It” applies to anything you set out to accomplish in life—whether to earn a degree, run a marathon, play an instrument, master a craft, or write a novel. You will never achieve anything until you take the first step, and the first step is always the hardest because it takes you out of your comfort zone. There are no magic formulas—No Ten Steps, Seven Principles or Five Stages—that begin without that first step. The first step begins the journey from obscurity to achievement.

Don’t leave your dreams in your head. Act on them. Get them out there—on the track, in the classroom, in the workplace, on the page, wherever you aspire to do your life’s work. Do it for yourself, for your loved ones. Do it for posterity.

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Since my house burnt down,

I now own a better view

Of the rising moon.

Does your mind ever go on an excursion without notifying you, an hour or two pass and you wonder why you are reading about the history of the timing in writing? That’s what happened to me when I was doing research about minimalist lifestyle for a holistic living article and came across the haiku above by Basho. My omnivorousness led me to read more about the Japanese Edo period poet considered the master of haiku. Basho thought that many of his followers could write haiku as well as he could, and that his forte was in Renku, the linking of verse. I read deeper into haiku and Renku, which took me on a journey into the timing of words and verse.

Haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterized by three qualities:

·  The essence of haiku is “cutting.” This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and “cutting words” between them. Picture a verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.

·  Traditional haiku consist of 17 syllables, also known as morae, in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 on respectively.

·  Modern Japanese haiku are unlikely to follow the tradition of 17 syllables or to take nature as their subject, but the use of juxtaposition continues to be honored in both traditional and modern haiku. There is a common, although relatively recent, perception that the images juxtaposed must be directly observed everyday objects or occurrences. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line while haiku in English often appear in three lines to parallel the three phrases of Japanese haiku.

My initial introduction to haiku was a contest at my writer’s workshop. The haiku I submitted was inspired by John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row:

Whores, drunks and bums

life’s gaiety; Revolving around Doc

Universal deity

Renku or haikai no renga, is a Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry. It is a development of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renku gatherings participating poets take turns providing alternating verses of 17 and 14 morae. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry. This is the style Basho considered his forte.

Mora (plural morae or moras) is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. The definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D. McCawley in 1968: a mora is “something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one.” The term comes from the Latin word for “linger, delay”, which was also used to translate the Greek word chromos (time) in its metrical sense.

A syllable containing one mora is said to be monomoraic (light syllable); a syllable with two morae is said to be bimoraic (heavy syllable.) In rare cases, a syllable with three morae is said to be trimoraic (superheavy syllable.)

I am a self-conscious writer with an appreciation for words and a what I consider a substandard vocabulary. I choose words carefully and assemble them in phrases and verse with painstaking measure. On occasion I am surprised and happy with the outcome, but such occurrences are rare. The more emotional the story, the more deeply I feel about a scene, the characters, the more care I take selecting the words.

I don’t claim to be a fluid, literary writer, yet this newly found knowledge seemed familiar, innate. After two hours of research, I looked out the window at the trees and the sunny day and laughed. My mind took me on an adventure into words and timing, and now I could get back to my story.

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The Humanity of Cannery Row

Today is the birthday of American author and Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is largely responsible for my love of literature and my inspiration to write fiction, and not for the reason most people would expect.

Steinbeck’s most critically acclaimed work is the Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath. Other notable works among his twenty-seven books and sixteen novels include Of Mice and Men and Tortilla Flat. But it was his story Cannery Row that changed my life. I read Cannery Row for the first time many years ago almost by accident. Since then I’ve read it over ten times and gone on to read just about everything Steinbeck ever published.

To me, the magic of Cannery Row is the compassion with which Steinbeck treats his characters–Mack, a downtrodden drunk; Dora, a madam of a whorehouse; Lee Chong, a suspicious Chinese grocery store owner; Frankie, a fragile young boy with no one to care for him; and the band of bums Mack presides over. The universe revolves around a marine biologist named Doc, who is a deity in Cannery Row. What grasped me about the story many years ago and never let me go is the manner in which Steinbeck took what most people consider the scum of the earth and wrote a story about goodness and friendship. Where most people turn and look away, Steinbeck uncovered empathy and joy.

The character Doc is based upon Steinbeck’s closest friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist who was killed in 1948 when his car was struck by a train. Steinbeck describes Ricketts in “About Ed Ricketts” that serves as the preface of The Log From the Sea of Cortez as a man whose “mind had no horizons. He was interested in everything.” He goes on to say Ed “never moralized in any way.  He would be more likely to examine the problem carefully, with calm and clarity, and to lift the horrors out of it by easy examination.”

Cannery Row inspires me to see beyond an individual’s circumstances and find the humanity inside of her. The story gives me the courage to write about the people I am fortunate to have fill my life, not just family, friends and my blue-collar buddies, but those who battle their demons, addicts and ex-addicts, and the homeless. I don’t know if Steinbeck intended to write a religious story, but in Cannery Row I’ve found a fundamental lesson about treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

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Running Memoir at the American Library Association Conference

“I’m just a guppy in the ocean, but man do I love to swim.” – jb

Twenty-four Years to Boston on the shelf at the American Library Association Conference.

Twenty-four Years to Boston on the shelf at the American Library Association Conference.

It’s been more than thirteen years since I began scribbling notes about training for my second marathon twenty years after I’d run my first. I hadn’t planned those notes to one day become Twenty-four Years to Boston, and I never dreamed I would ever write a book that would appear on a shelf at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference. To be truthful, I didn’t know what the ALA was until this weekend.

I was encouraged to go to the conference by my publisher at St. Johann Press. As a first-time author, the ALA convention was like lining up for my first marathon. I wasn’t nervous, but I didn’t know what to expect. Unlike my first marathon, when the conference was over I knew I wouldn’t wait twenty years to go to my second.

Spending two days talking with publishers, authors and book reviewers who assembled in one place was an entire new experience for me. I couldn’t help thinking back to the days I worked in a dry dock in the middle of January welding the hull of a 60,000-ton ship. What a surreal journey it’s been.

Recently, a reader commented that she was intimidated to register for her first race. I told her to remember it’s only running, something we’ve all been doing since we let go of the coffee table as toddlers. We all wobbled a little, even fell, but then we got up and never look back.

I felt the same way walking into the Philadelphia Convention Center for the ALA Conference, and now I can’t wait until the next one. You don’t grow unless you take those first crucial steps outside of your comfort zone.

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Bookshelf #Shelfies

Fellow writer,blogger and runner, Susan Edelman, has paid me the ultimate compliment. She wrote a wonderful post about #Shelfies, a term she picked up about taking a picture of your bookshelf instead of YOURself, and my memoir, Twenty-four Years to Boston, is one of the books on her shelf. Wow! I’m blushing. Susan and I had gone back and forth on several occasions about writing and running, and am humbled that she would include my book on her shelf along with Hemingway, Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy, all of whom I’m not deserving to even sharpen their pencil. Check out Susan’s blog at and scroll down toward the bottom to see my memoir sitting among the literary icons. Thank you, Susan!

watch hatch fly

When I began this blog, I intended to write more about books, because I read a lot, and I wanted to share my reading adventures. Yes, exciting adventures! Here’s how my reading adventure ALWAYS goes:

  • Mood to read strikes.
  • Dogs pick up my “Mood to read” with their canine senses.
  • I hunt around for my glasses and my Kindle, two dogs hot on my heels.
  • Here’s our shared concern: We all want “the good spot” on the couch.
  • (It’s a contest!)
  • We exchange eye contact.
  • No one moves until I signal with the first step toward the couch.
  • The three of us hurl ourselves onto the sofa simultaneously.
  • If I wind up on the bottom of the dog pile, I win!!
  • (Often I don’t win.)

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Now, On To Becoming A Writer

My goal for 2014 is to become a writer. This might seem odd considering I published my first book in 2013, and that I’ve recently contracted with a magazine to write a series of articles. Only a writer would understand.

When I joined the Bucks County Writer’s Workshop a few years ago, the founder told me that writing is a lifelong venture, and that a workshop won’t make me a better writer. Three years, innumerable manuscripts, a memoir, short story collection and countless magazine articles later, I’ve learned that he was right.

The more I read about writing, and the more seminars and conferences I attend, the more I realize I have to learn–about story, scene building, characters, conflict, plot and other aspects of my craft. It is sometimes overwhelming; I won’t have enough time between now and my last breath. The only thing I have on my side is that I don’t know how to stop. I’ll keep going, undauntedly, the same way I’ve attacked everything else I set out to do in my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’ll die trying. Let the readers be my judge.

So 2014 will be the year I will set out to become a writer. It is a worthy goal. If the experts are right I could very well have a similar goal in 2015, and every year thereafter.

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