A short, but excellent, poetry lesson

Jeffrey S. Hillard, writer, poet, editor of RED!webzine and professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph
Jeffrey S. Hillard

I’ve mentioned Jeffrey S. Hillard here before. He was one of my professors when I returned to college at Mount St. Joseph University for an English degree in the early 2000s. I took two creative writing classes from him: Short story, and Poetry.

Jeff is a gifted poet. I think you’ll agree when you read it. It is accessible, and it sings. This year he received the honor of being named the Cincinnati Public Library Foundation’s Writer in Residence. You can read all about it here.

He is also an inspiring teacher.

This week Jeff published a blog post on the library site entitled, Anatomy of a Poem (1). If you have any interest in reading good poetry, understanding poetry, or writing poetry, this is a must-read. This is where Jeff really shines.



Springboro, Ohio – on the route to freedom

A Scoot and Shoot event.

Being located on the Ohio River just across the water from Kentucky, Cincinnati in particular, and Ohio in general were heavily engaged in the Underground Railroad and former slaves’ journeys to freedom. A small town just north of Cincinnati called Springboro was founded by a Quaker named Jonathon Wright in  1815. The Quakers abhorred slavery and Springboro became actively involved in the Underground Railroad. Quaker and non-Quaker residents of Springboro risked legal consequences from their illegal activity of aiding slaves on their way to freedom. Many of the homes and businesses of these courageous individuals are still standing on or near Main Street in the small downtown strip of Springboro, Ohio.

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Unfortunately, even though I had a brochure that described the various buildings, I am not able to match the exact buildings to the descriptions I have. We started the tour somewhere in the middle, later crossed the street, and ducked into the Wooly Bully Yarn Company at one point. Which, by the way, had an awesome selection of yarns. On these Scoot and Shoot events my companions are more interested in taking photographs than in writing journalistic reports. And sometimes I am too.

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At 200 South Main Street the Jonah Thomas House has a documented connection to the Underground Railroad.

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Jonah was a Quaker and a conductor on the Springboro leg of the Underground Railroad.

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I think this is the Joseph Stanton House at 250 South Main Street. According to the Springboro Chamber of Commerce brochure, “This building was a stop on the Underground Railroad which may have been known as the ‘Quilt House.’ Quilts hung in back of the house told runaway slaves it was safe to enter. The basement hiding space extended westward under what is now the side walk.”

I’m patting myself on the back that I was able to bring you two buildings that were involved in the Underground Railroad, but instead of trying to read illegible house numbers, or match my photos to small black and white thumbnails on the brochure, I’m just going to throw in a slide show of some of the buildings and details I saw along Main Street in Springboro. Perhaps you’ll take the walking tour someday if you find yourself in the area.

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I don’t know about you, but I have always been enthralled by the idea of an Underground Railroad. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center stands on the riverfront in downtown Cincinnati and teaches about not only the path to freedom through this area, but also about current locations where freedom is still out of reach. It’s worth a visit if you are in town. Maybe I’ll visit there with my camera, and a notebook, sometime soon and share my identified pictures with you.

Do you live where an interesting part of history took place?

Dead Sea Scrolls – the Exhibit

A few weeks ago we spent the afternoon visiting the Cincinnati Museum Center and immersed ourselves in thoughts of the past sparked by the pots, coins, weapons, jewelry and writings from the beginnings of Western civilization. The Israel Antiquities Authority has made a sample of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other historical objects from the “the Holy Land” available for public viewing. Below I try to bring you an abbreviated history of the time period involved along. I hope you’ll bear with me. One thing I became painfully aware of while touring this exhibit was how little I know of world history generally and Middle East history specifically. Something I hope to remedy.

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The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Union Terminal Museum Center in Cincinnati, OH. January 2013

You might know the story. In 1947 a young Bedouin shepherd finds a cave in a crevice of the limestone cliffs lining the rim of the Dead Sea near the site of Qumran, east of the city of Jerusalem. The shepherd tosses a rock into the cave and hears pottery breaking. He investigates further and finds a collection of large clay jars that contain old scrolls. He has no idea of the historic and religious treasure he has discovered.

A clay jar found containing scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are  the collection of ancient religious writings, documents and letters, found in eleven caves near the site of Qumran. Some scrolls were found intact, but many were in fragments of parchment and papyrus.

The biblical manuscripts contain “books found in today’s Hebrew bible.” The non-biblical texts written during the Second Temple era are related to the texts in the Hebrew Bible. Some describe religious beliefs and practices of a specific religious community. (Exhibit signage)

Scales and weights – A barter system was used in biblical times. Towards the end of the Iron Age, scales, weights, and silver pieces appeared indicating a move to using silver in exchange for goods. Stone weights were used to determine the weight of silver ingots before coins were minted.

Jerusalem, sitting high in the Judan hills and roughly at the center of ancient Israel, was inhabited as early as the 4th millenium BCE. “King David chose the city for his capital, probably because the territory did not belong to any of the tribes, but also because its location on a hill meant it would be difficult to attack. […]”  (Exhibit signage)

Goddesses – Some 2000 goddesses were found in homes in Judah. They likely represent the Canaanite goddess Asherah or her Greek counterpart Astarte.
Evidence indicates that many ancient Israelites believed Asherah was consort to the god of Israel.

“The exact site of David’s Jerusalem remains hotly debated. Under King Solomon a permanent home—the First Temple—was built for the Ark of the Covenant atop Mount Moriah, and the fate of the city as the dwelling place of the Isralite’s god was sealed.” (Exhibit signage)


The First Temple (960 – 586 BCE) period began during the Iron Age while the kingdoms of Judah and Northern Israel were still divided. The first Isralite Kingdom was united under David and Solomon.

The biblical texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls are believed to have been composed during this time.

Jars from the end of the 8th century are common finds throughout the kingdom of Judah. Many are royal storage jars and may have been used to collect grain or other goods for royal taxes. They have a stamp on one or more handles designating they  belong to the king. The jars are associated with Judan King Hezekiah’s military administration.

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written between the 2nd Century BCE and 2nd Century CE, during a time when different Judean groups struggled to obtain and maintain political and religious leadership.

Iron arrowheads

The Judean Kingdom came to an end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of citizens to Babylon in 586 BCE. The temple was utterly destroyed. “With neither Temple or homeland the exiles began to place their sacred writings at the center of their faith.” (Exhibit signage)

Small household items provide clues to the family’s activities

The Second Temple was built after 539 BCE when the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. The Persians maintained control of the area until 332 BCE when Alexander the Great conquered Judea. This began the Hellenistic era. Most of the non-biblical texts of the Deep Sea Scrolls from Qumran date to this period.

Roman coins

Enter Rome.

Judea lost its independence to the Romans the first century BCE. After an unsuccessful Jewish revolt, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE and much of the population was killed or enslaved. After the second revolt failed between 132 and 135 CE, the Roman emporer renamed the region Syria Palestina. He renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and forbade Jews to enter.

Many of the ceramic jars have pointed bottom. It is believed they were held in holes in the ground.

The  Post Second Temple time period included Roman rule from 73 – 324 CE, followed by the Byzantine from 324 – 638 CE. Palestine came under Islamic rule with the conquest of Jerusalem in 638 CE. Judea was incorporated into the Islamic Empire from  the 7th – 11th centuries, known as the Early Islamic era.


Then the Christians came.

Broken limestone bread stamp –  Bread intended for consecration and communion within the Christian traditions was stamped. This fragment of a bread stamp contains a Greek inscription circling sixteen squares. The center four squares contain a Christogram (abbreviation for the name of Jesus). The other 12 squares represent the twelve apostles.

Christian Crusaders from Europe were the dominant power in “the Holy Land” from the 12th – 13th centuries.

A ceremonial bath

At this point in the exhibit, we were ready to enter the room that housed the Dead Sea Scrolls, and photographs were prohibited. The scrolls were displayed in glass cases in a large ring in the middle of the room that visitors could walk around. Although translations and explanations were displayed beside each fragment of the scrolls, I could only imagine how thrilling it would have been to actually be able to read the writings. You can view images of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.

The other thing that struck me as I moved slowly around the ring, looking at these writings that were done so many years ago, was the realization that in a time period where communication of the written word was painstakingly done by scribes with ink and parchment and hand-delivered by walking or perhaps riding an animal of one sort or the other, these biblical stories were preserved, transferred, dispersed geographically, and carried on through the ages. It causes one to wonder.


The  Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times will be on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center through April 14. The first set of ten scrolls, including Genesis; Numbers; Samuel and Psalms among others, were on display until Jan. 28. They were rotated out and a brand new set will be on display until the exhibit’s last day on April 14.

“Because of the fragility of the scrolls, they may only be on display for three months at a time before they must “rest” in complete darkness for one year. The new rotation includes scrolls of Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah Commentary, Book of War, Aramaic Levi, Pseudo-Ezekiel, Apocryphal Lamentations, Papyrus Bar, Community Rule and Leviticus/Numbers.

“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times is created by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) from the collections of the Israel National Treasures and produced by Discovery Times Square and The Franklin Institute. Local community partners include Presenting Sponsor: The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and Associate Sponsors: the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Diocese of Southern Ohio, SC Ministry Foundation, Office of the Provost, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University, among others. Special Exhibit Partner: Hebrew Union College. http://www.cincymuseum.org/press/dead-sea-scrolls-rotation.”  (Cincinnati Museum Center).

Sources of Information:

Signage at the exhibit: The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times, by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Viewed at the Cincinnati Museum Center, January 2013

The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Libary 

The Cincinnati Museum Center

Of Guardian Angels, Gardens, and Gratitude

Pecan pie (made by my daughter Anna) minus one slice, from Thanksgiving 2011.

‘Tis the time of year to think about gratitude. Gratitude always reminds me of the time I spent volunteering at Our Daily Bread in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati, in 2006. Our Daily Bread provides a warm meal, social services and socialization for neighborhood residents.

You know from some of my recent posts about Cincinnati that Over-the-Rhine is making a resurgence and that Mark and I frequently visit the local restaurants or entertainment venues there now. But in 2006, it could still a bit rough in some parts of the neighborhood at times. What follows is a short op-ed I wrote, submitted, and was published in  “Your Voice” in the Cincinnati Enquirer, December 24, 2006.


Guardian Angels in Over the Rhine

Guardian angels come from unexpected places.

This fall I volunteered at Our Daily Bread in Over the Rhine where I met Ted, a well-liked and regular guest.

“I am 75 years old and proud of it,” Ted claims.  He has a limp that he acquired from a war wound in Vietnam and walks slowly with a wooden cane.  A long black rosary hangs around his neck and a royal blue ball cap rests on his head with his wiry gray hair sticking out of the bottom.  Ted’s eyes are brown and his smile is genuine. He has street smarts and is quick to laugh during conversations.

Ted’s financial difficulties come from the fact that he’s an alcoholic and has made bad choices in the past.

As I was leaving Our Daily Bread that day I witnessed a fight.  One man was pressed up against a car yelling, “Help!  Call the police.”   People were standing around on the sidewalks just watching.

When the men separated and I saw the gleam of a knife in one of their hands, I hurried back inside Our Daily Bread to get help.  A few minutes later the situation diffused itself as one of the men left.

The following week I spoke with Ted again.  I asked him why nobody wanted to do anything to help this guy who was taking a beating.  The people, Ted said, “Don’t care.  Don’t want to be involved.”

“If I was in trouble, do you think someone would help me?”  I asked him.

“I would,” he said.

As I was getting ready to leave, Ted asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

He stood up and started walking behind me.  He wanted to know where I had parked.  I reassured him that my car was just across the street and a few car-lengths away.  He continued with me as I went outside.  He stood there on the corner on that chilly autumn day and watched me get into my car and drive away.

I smiled as I thought, “What is Ted going to do, at his age and with his disability, if I need help?”  And then I felt my eyes begin to fill with tears at his noble gesture.

Ted returned my wave as I drove past, then he turned around and slowly walked back into the soup kitchen on a corner in Over the Rhine.


I mention Ted’s story today when I want to remind everyone of gratitude, because on any given day you could ask Ted, “How are you?” and without fail, he would answer, “I’m blessed.”

As my American friends are getting ready to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, and for my international friends for who it is always a good idea to remember and be grateful, I thought I would leave a couple of “Pocket Positives” from another one of my little books:

“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill, British Statesman, Prime Minister and Writer

“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door; I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door: Something  terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” ~ Joan Rivers, American Comedian

“May I a small house, and large garden have. And a few Friends, and many Books, both true, both wise, and both delightful too.” ~ Abraham Cowley, English Poet

“How to be happy when you are miserable. Plant Japanese poppies with cornflowers and mignonette, and set out the petunias among the sweet-peas so they shall scent each other. See the sweet-peas coming up.”~ Rumer Godden, English Writer

I give thanks for parents who raised me, a husband who loves and supports me, children who enrich my life, a little dog who keeps me company and all of nature that surprises and thrills me, friends who lighten my spirits, and all of you for sharing this time of your life with me. Happy Thanksgiving.

A beautiful place to rest – Spring Grove Cemetery

“If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”
  Khalil Gibran ~ On Death

Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati is one of the largest nonprofit cemeteries in the United States.

It is a National Historic Landmark with graves of both revolutionary war and civil war soldiers.

“When the hours of Day are numbered,
And the voices of the Night
Wake the better soul, that slumbered,
To a holy, calm delight. . .”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Footsteps of Angels

Spring Grove is a beautiful cemetery and is famous for its lawn plan, unconventional at the time of its creation, but now a model for many other cemeteries.

The designer, Strauch, “believed in developing the landscape to harmonize with nature. He re-routed roads to follow the natural shapes of Spring Grove’s hills and valleys.

He built lakes, islands, footbridges, protected woodland areas,

and brought hundreds of trees and plants from other parts of the world,” (Spring Grove Cemetery).

“Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy! ”  John Keats ~  Ode to a Nightingale

The varied landscaping transports you from what might be a mysterious Louisiana swampland

to a stately Georgian plantation.

“Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.” Emily Dickenson

Gravemarkers range from the elaborate—

buildings made of marble and stone,

this one boasting flying buttresses—

to the simple.

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so . . .”  John Donne

“I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.”   W. B. Yeats ~ An Irish Airman Foresees his Death

“Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”  Christina Rossetti ~ Remember

A short ride on the Ohio River at dusk

Last night we went on a BB Riverboat cruise on the Ohio River with Scoot and Shoot from the West Chester Photo Club. The minute I stepped on the boat and looked around, I noticed the clouds—they were putting on a show.

It was just before dusk, and to our west, off the back of the boat, the Roebling Bridge and Paul Brown Stadium were becoming silhouettes against the evening sky.

We were on the Newport, Kentucky side of the river looking across at the Great American Ballpark and the Great American Building’s princess tiara in downtown Cincinnati.

Mark made himself comfortable on the third floor deck, while I shot around for a little while.

The sun started to set behind us, over the Roebling Bridge,

casting its rays up to Mount Adams that sparkled back in reply.

We passed stately church of the Immaculata, a beacon of light and hope from its high perch up on Mount Adams.

The sun behind us began to color the sky,

creating a soft pastel backdrop behind the Cincinnati skyline across the river from where we were

on the Belle of Cincinnati.

The nearly full moon rose to light the night sky.

Little lights along the hillside road reflected in streamers out across the water.

The curtain of clouds opened to reveal the hilltop buildings as we passed by.

Ahead turbulent clouds serpentined over our path,

yet behind us the sky remained soft and tranquil.

The lights from a little church begged for my star filter,

as I captured the light that shined in the darkness.

Sending you the wish that you may always find a light in the dark.

Artworks dedicates Charlie Harper mural

While we were downtown for the Underground tour earlier this month, we stopped by the Artworks dedication of the Charlie Harper mural.

You can see a photograph of the wall before the mural as well as a picture of the Charlie Harper painting here.

“Founded in 1996, ArtWorks is a non-profit arts organization that connects artists of all ages with opportunities in the arts through inspiring apprenticeships, community partnerships, and public art,” (Artworks/about us/ organizational information).

Tamara Harkavy, CEO and Artistic Director, has served at the helm of Artworks since its beginning. The Charlie Harper mural is one of ten painted this year. Created in partnership with Charley Harper Art Studio and Court St. Executive Suites, this rendition of Harper’s “Homecoming (Bluebirds)” is the largest Artworks’ mural to date.

Tamara Harkavy with Brett Harper, son of wildlife artist Charley Harper at dedication of Court Street Artworks’ mural, September 2012.

Born in West Virginia in 1922, Charley Harper came to Cincinnati to study and later teach art at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. He became well-known as a wildlife artist. Charley Harper passed away on Sunday, June 10, 2007. (About Charley Harper). His son Brett Harper represented his father’s work at the mural’s dedication. This is the second Harper mural. The only other one is in Dayton near The Green.

Tamara expresses her appreciation to lead artist Jenny Ustick with a bouquet of flowers.

Jenny Ustick, the lead artist, worked with two teaching artists and a group of students to produce this beautiful piece of art on Court Street in downtown, Cincinnati.

What’s Happening Downtown – Artworks 2008

Over the last 16 years, Artworks has produced 46 murals in Cincinnati and three other cities. As we walked the few blocks from our Underground tour to the Charley Harper mural, we passed this 2008 Artworks’ mural, “What’s Happening Downtown,” on Walnut Street,

Kroger Headquarters mural on Vine Street – 2012

and this new mural on Vine Street at the Kroger headquarters.

You can find more information about this year’s and the previous years’ murals at the Artworks website.

Read my post from last year, Artworks is painting up the town.