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Thoughts After Watching”The Life of Donnovan Hill”

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As most of you who read my blog know, I am a regular watcher of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program (henceforth shortened to OTL). Recently, OTL featured a story about a young man, Donnovan Hill, who’d become paralyzed as a result of being incorrectly taught how to tackle by a Pop Warner football coach. Donnovan Hill went from an active, athletic, and energetic young teen to a quadriplegic, and no one took responsibility.

Granted, some might see what happened to Donnovan Hill as “an act of God.” Many others on his team were also taught this inaccurate technique, and they did not become injured (much less paralyzed for life).

But what I saw–and what I internalized–was a young man who’d loved to play football, and had been bright, gifted, and doing everything he wanted to do.

Then, one day, it was all gone.

His friends mostly melted away, being unable to conceive of Donnovan’s life as a paraplegic (much less deal with it). His coaches tried to help, at least until they realized Donnovan’s mother was going to sue them; then, they also faded away.

So it was just Donnovan and his mother, living a life without any sort of help for either. Donnovan could not brush his teeth, and had to work very hard to regain enough feeling in one hand so he could put on his own pair of glasses. While his mother had to do everything for him — feed him, get him to the toilet, brush his teeth, carry him to and from the car (as they didn’t have a motorized wheelchair or handicapped accessible van, this was a huge problem for both).

It was obvious that both were heartsick, exhausted, and extremely unhappy with what had become of Donnovan’s life. But there were compensations.

First, the bond between Donnovan and his mother was extremely close. The love was palpable in the story between them, even though no words were spoken.

Second, Donnovan turned to poetry and music to express his inner thoughts and feelings. And he had a gift…one that, had he lived longer, might’ve brought him fame of another sort…the sort a young man wants to have, that of accomplishment against the odds.

Third, after the original OTL story aired, many people stepped forward with offers of help. Two handicap-accessible vans were donated. A better, disabled-friendly apartment was offered. A motorized wheelchair was given to Donnovan…so life got better for them both, due to them being willing to discuss publicly what had happened to him after getting hurt so badly.

And finally, former Pro Bowl OT Kyle Turley reached out to Donnovan as well. The two became friends, and that friendship had worth and value.

Donnovan Hill died at age 18, just after his mother had settled the lawsuit with the Pop Warner organization. Kyle Turley sang a song he and Donnovan had written together, using one of Donnovan’s poems…the church was full, and at least one of Donnovan’s former coaches did attend the service.

So, after watching “The Life of Donnovan Hill,” I am left with a deep and overarching sadness. This was a young man with great potential and a gift for poetry that was truly inspirational. I wish he’d lived longer…but the fact he lived, and kept trying so hard after being paralyzed in a Pop Warner football game, was meaningful.

Poet, Renaissance Woman Maya Angelou Dead at 86

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Poet, Actress, and Renaissance woman Maya Angelou has died, according to the Associated Press. She was 86.

Ms. Angelou wrote many poems, several autobiographies (her best-known was probably I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS), acted in the original ROOTS TV mini-series and appeared, as herself, in Tyler Perry’s MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION, where she recited a poem that discussed true love and its timeless nature.

In reading her obituary, I was struck by how many different things Ms. Angelou did during her life. She was a singer, an actress, a dancer, once owned a brothel . . . writers often kid each other about how many different jobs we’ve held, but it sounds like Ms. Angelou had all of the rest of us beat on that score.

All of that experience went into her writing, deepening and broadening it immensely. She was unafraid to be who she was, and admitted to several very bad things that had happened to her early in life. Somehow, she rose above those awful things, and became her best self.

It’s rare when a writer or poet gets to know a President. Ms. Angelou got to know at least three: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. All three men have said in the past that they felt inspired by her, so I cannot believe it would be any different now that she’s passed on.

I hadn’t been aware of half of the things Ms. Angelou did during her thoroughly extraordinary life. But I honor her for everything she did, everything she said — even if I didn’t always like it — and for living a life that inspired millions.

May her Afterlife be everything she hoped it would be.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

Posted in Poetry, Public figures, Remembrance

Tagged with Mentions My Blog in their end-of-the-year Newsletter

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Folks, I was very pleased to see that had mentioned my blog in their recent end-of-the-year newsletter — though I knew in advance that they were at least thinking about it as I’d heard from editor Jendi Reiter (herself an excellent poet) that they appreciated what I’d written in my second blog about their War Poetry Contest.

I once again do not know how to properly give links to as this isn’t a page I found a way to see without actually logging in, but I can cut and paste what they said, first about my blog:


BARB CAFFREY’S BLOG: “More on the War Poetry Contest at”
We appreciate Barb Caffrey’s recent comments about our War Poetry Contest on her blog. Here is an excerpt:

“Those fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq deserve our support, and our understanding. And the first part of giving our support and our understanding is to listen, to read, and to understand—not to shut out the soldiers who’ve given everything of themselves in order to derail the al-Qaedas and Talibans of this world so perhaps fewer innocents will die than would’ve died had our soldiers not given everything they have in the attempt.

“The War Poetry contest is a good way to keep the conversation going, and to understand exactly what is going on with our returning soldiers and how hard it is to deal with what most of us see as ‘normality’ after dealing with things that no man, or woman, or child should ever have to see. It also is a way to affirm the sacrifices of our men and women in a positive, life-affirming way.”

****** End cut-and-paste from Newsletter.

The kind folks at also listed my publication credits — more of ’em than I’d expected, actually, though I was very pleased with the “shout-out” — in this bit from the newsletter, once again cut and pasted:

Barb Caffrey has placed four short stories with e-Quill Publishing, a new e-book publisher in Australia: her original tale “The Fair at South Farallon”, a science fiction satire about aliens, friendship, and unemployment; “Iron Falls”, a near-future military suspense tale co-authored with Piotr Mierzejewski; and two stories co-authored with her late husband Michael B. Caffrey, “Trouble with Elfs” and “A Dark and Stormy Night: A Joey Maverick Adventure”. Three of Mr. Caffrey’s stories about Princess Columba and her shapeshifting cat/husband have also been released by e-Quill as a special anthology. Her poem “A Love Eternal” will appear in e-Quill’s anthology of poems about mortality. Visit their author pages (at e-Quill Publishing — Ms. Caffrey blogs at In other news, her poem “No Rest” was accepted by Midwest Literary Magazine for inclusion in their November issue and their anthology Bearing North.

********* end cut-and-paste.

I really appreciate them mentioning Michael’s work — his “Columba” stories — and that they mentioned my blog, not once, but twice.

I’ve known about this for a few days, but wanted to wait to post until Sunday — as Sunday is, for many, a day of private reflection where we might, occasionally, remember to give thanks for the good things which happen to us (along with condemning the bad ones, which tends to go on every single day).

Anyway, I’m very pleased about this; I just wish I knew how to give some decent links.  But since I don’t, please go look at for yourself and sign up for the basic newsletter as it’s free — and as I’ve said before, I’ve found it very helpful and interesting.

BTW, the links that the kind folks at Winning Writers put in didn’t work when I cut and pasted them into this e-mail — I had to take them out (as they all referred back to WordPress’s “types of blogs” thing, which wasn’t what they should’ve done) — including the link to the War Poetry Contest itself.  My apologies in advance for that error . . . I’m not great with links, but this is the first time a simple cut-and-paste did not work.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 6, 2010 at 1:36 am

More on the War Poetry Contest at

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Folks, I wrote to the kind folks at and asked for a link that would work so I could talk more about the War Poetry contest than I had, and Adam Cohen wrote back to me this morning with a link that will work:

Now, let’s talk about the top three poems since I have a good link to the contest that y’all can use.  (By the way, if you are a poet or a writer or want to know more about what is available out there to read and to try for as far as contests go, the Web site is an outstanding place to start your research.  I’ve been getting their free newsletter for at least a year and a half and I’ve found it very helpful.)

The Grand Prize winner was Gerardo “Tony” Mena with his poem, “So I was a Coffin.”  (He won $2000.)  He is a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his poem was written for his friend Corporal Kyle Powell.

This poem is searing in its imagery, and goes through a series of steps — we first see a spear, and when that doesn’t work, we see a flag.  When that isn’t quite right, we see a bandage — and this is where the poem really starts to hit between the eyes — and when the bandage doesn’t work, then the poem talks about coffins.  And about how finally, at long last, he’s a “good coffin,” when he’d been inadequate as a spear, a flag, and a bandage.

This poem stands one step away from heartbreak from the beginning, and its imagery is stark in its simplicity.  Knowing it was written for Mr. Mena’s friend just adds another layer to what makes this personally moving, but even had I not known that (had Mr. Mena not said anything about it) I believe this poem would’ve had similar emotional intensity.

The second place winner, Bruce Lack, sent in three poems entitled “FNG,” “Get Some” and “Hadji.”  Mr. Lack is a former member of the United States Marine Corps, and it’s obvious he’s used his military service as a springboard for his poetry.  All three of these poems are searing, and there’s bad language in two of ’em — understandable bad language, to be sure.  (I mention this in case anyone wants to read these with their children; adults, please check these out by yourselves just in case.)  He won $1200 for his poems, but as with Mr. Mena, it appears far more important to Mr. Lack that his poetry be read and understood than that it earned money.  (I’m sure neither of them are adverse to the money; it’s just that these poems do need to be read and understood by as many as possible.)

Specifically, “FNG” is about a soldier’s duty and how you’re supposed to keep yourself “shipshape and Bristol fashion” at all times.  (That’s not how Mr. Lack puts it, mind you.)  “Get Some” is all about a soldier who saw one of his friends die, and how he can’t put that image out of his mind no matter how hard he tries to resume his life.  And “Hadji” is about war, and about what he thought he’d see but didn’t — yet what he saw was far more than he could deal with.

All three of these poems work as a set, but they’d work by themselves, too.  But as a set, they show that even the most mundane tasks a soldier deals with daily can be difficult to deal with because all of them — all — lead to the soldier’s ultimate duty, that of war and how he (or she) must learn to deal with what they’ve seen and done, not to mention wanted to do.

The third place winner is Anna Scotti, and is the only non-veteran in the top three winners.  Her poem is called “This is how I’ll tell it when I tell it to our children,” and it’s about “prettifying” the war so what the soldiers did to the protagonist doesn’t seem as terrifying as it actually was.  Ms. Scotti won $600 for this poem, and it is a nice counterpart to the four other poems written by Mr. Lack and Mr. Mena in that it’s quieter, but no less intense.  This is the one poem of the five that takes some effort to read, but once you figure out she’s talking around the subject rather than about it,  it becomes just as heart-rending as the others.

I believe that this War Poetry contest is extremely important to highlight, which is why I’ve written this second (and far more comprehensive) blog about it.   The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen out of the public consciousness to a degree because for whatever reason the media isn’t covering it as much as it used to — maybe they’re bored with it.  Or maybe they just don’t think it’s “sexy” to talk about people dying in a far-away place for an undetermined objective.  (Or, rather, an objective that the media would rather not discuss; trying to undermine al-Qaeda or the Taliban is very important, but it’s something that can’t be conveyed in a quick “sound-bite.”)

I’ve known many veterans in my life; my husband Michael was a proud Navy veteran, my father is a proud Navy veteran, my uncles served in the Army and Marines, my cousins have served in the Marines and the Army, and my friends have served in all branches (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force).  I believe that serving our country is extremely important — my own health would never allow me to serve (I tried, in my youth) — but we can’t forget what our fine men and women see when they’re dealing with war and death.  We can’t “prettify” it — that’s why Anna Scotti’s poem is so moving — or “gussy it up” so it’ll be more acceptable in a conversation.   And we certainly cannot ignore it, because that also ignores the huge sacrifices our military men and women have made for us over the years and is damned cruel, besides.

Those fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq deserve our support, and our understanding.  And the first part of giving our support and our understanding is to listen, to read, and to understand — not to shut out the soldiers who’ve given everything of themselves in order to derail the al-Qaedas and Talibans of this world so perhaps fewer innocents will die than would’ve died had our soldiers not given everything they have in the attempt.

The War Poetry contest is a good way to keep the conversation going, and to understand exactly what is going on with our returning soldiers and how hard it is to deal with what most of us see as “normality” after dealing with things that no man, or woman, or child should ever have to see.  It also is a way to affirm the sacrifices of our men and women in a positive, life-affirming way.  

But the War Poetry contest really needs more people to go and read these fine poems (including the honorable mentions and the published finalists — I didn’t see a bad poem in the lot) and reflect upon what our veterans have done for us, as shown by the many veterans (and non-vets) who’ve written outstanding poetry about war for this contest.

So please, go to the Web site — go to the link that was provided — and read these poems.  Then think about them, and talk about them, and pass them on to your friends and neighbors.  Because maybe we can get the conversation going that seems to have been woefully absent in Washington, DC, and in all of our state legislatures besides — and a “maybe” in this case is far better than the “Hell, no!” our servicepeople have been getting to date in their personal re-writing of history in order to make it more palatable to their children, to their spouses, and to their friends.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm

A Round-Up of Thoughts: Bristol Palin, War Poetry, and more

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The last few days, I’ve been under the weather, so I have more than one subject I’d like to talk about today.

First, if you haven’t been to yet, now’s the time to go.  They have a War Poetry contest every year and the winners have been announced; I read the top three winners’ poems along with several of the finalists and honorable mentions, and can say without equivocation that they contain some of the most harrowing imagery I’ve read in quite some time.  Two of the top three poets are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while the third is not . . . if you enjoy poetry but think there’s nothing new under the sun, nor that there’s any way for poetry to convey war in any sort of meaningful or relevant way, I urge you to go to and check out the winners of the War Poetry contest.  (The links will not work unless you’re a member, I found out with an earlier version of this blog, which is why I have not posted links.)

Second, and far less serious: what on Earth is Bristol Palin still doing on “Dancing with the Stars?”

(While it may seem a travesty to have the erudition of war poetry and Bristol Palin in the same blog, these have been the two major things that have gone through my mind in the past two days, thus this blog.)

Listen.  I have nothing against Ms. Palin.  She was asked to be on “Dancing with the Stars,” has competed to the best of her ability, and has shown improvement.  She’s done what she’s supposed to do, but something has gone wrong with both the voters at home (voting by e-mail or telephone or text) and the judges panel of DWTS.

Put simply, Ms. Palin is not up to the level of previous finalists, and while she’s been compared most to Marie Osmond or Kelly Osbourne or even Warren Sapp (all of them being finalists that were good performers, or in the case of Mr. Sapp, a good performer and a professional athlete, being a retired football player, but not necessarily outstanding dancers), I don’t really see that in her because Ms. Osmond was beloved by most of the audience because she was over 45 during her season on DWTS, was out of shape and overweight when she started, and while she’d had an extensive performing career (and still does) as a singer, she’d never danced much beyond some very basic moves on stage with her brothers (most particularly her brother Donny).  And Kelly Osbourne was overweight and not exactly in shape when she started her “journey” on DWTS (by the way, the word “journey” has been so overused by DWTS and other reality shows; I’d prefer a different word such as “struggle,” or “toil” or “Labor”), so she won the hearts of the voters by how hard she tried.  And of course Warren Sapp was out of shape and also overweight when he started DWTS; all three of these contestants, Osmond, Osbourne and Sapp, lost significant amounts of weight and thus their hard work was able to be seen and measured.

I hate to stress the “they were all out of shape and overweight” part, but they were — the other thing that binds Osmond, Osbourne and Sapp together were that none of them were expected to go to the finals, yet you could tell how much they enjoyed being on DWTS.  To be blunt, the only competitor this season who engenders any of the feelings Osmond, Osbourne or Sapp did is Kyle Massey (whose professional partner is the inestimable Lacey Schwimmer), not Bristol Palin.

Ms. Palin is at a disadvantage, yes, because she’s not a performer, is not an actress, not a model, not a professional athlete, yet she is athletic — she played volleyball, softball and other sports in high school and hikes and bikes and does all sorts of athletic things for fun in her off-hours.  So in that sense, she’s certainly healthy enough to do well at DWTS, and as I said before, she has improved.

So why am I upset about it?  Well, there is evidence that many people who follow her mother, politically, have power-voted for Ms. Palin using fake e-mail addresses, exploiting a bug in that other power-voters have apparently done before (I’ve followed this show since the second season, and never knew about this; I’ve always used only my legitimate e-mail addresses to vote).  This has skewed the voting somewhat in Ms. Palin’s favor because apparently more people have done this for her than have ever done it for anyone else in the past, plus, they’ve done it publicly.  (There are multiple stories online about this at the moment; I prefer the LA Times one which has timed out for me — apparently it’s getting many hits.  Type in “Bristol Palin voting scandal” into Ye Olde Search Engine and you will find it, though.)

Because of these “power-voters,” Ms. Palin has outlasted better contestants — five of them, to be precise.  She’s taken out Brandy (this week), Kurt Warner (last week), Rick Fox (the week before that), Audrina Patridge (the week before that) and Florence Henderson (the week before that).  All of those — all — danced better than Ms. Palin does right now at the time of their elimination, and considering Florence Henderson is over 70 years old, that’s saying something.

Ms. Palin can’t help who votes for her, or the method in which they’re doing it.  But she can ask that people who don’t watch the show refrain from voting; that would be a classy move and would take away some of the negative publicity she’s been getting since Brandy, and not Bristol Palin, went home this last Tuesday night.

Now, as for the judges?  They’ve been giving Ms. Palin marks she doesn’t deserve for weeks now, and that has to stop.  Ms. Palin has improved, yes, but she’s improved from a three on Len Goodman’s scale (he gave an explanation of how he votes a few weeks ago during the results show) to probably a six on a good day.  She has no natural rhythm and no performance skills, and at some level she must know this because her body is stiff and her face has almost no expression on it much of the time.  She does not look happy while she’s dancing and she does not look like she enjoys herself; instead, it looks like dancing is a struggle for her (which I sympathize with; I’d do very poorly on that show, which is why I’d never be a contestant even if I were famous), and that she’d rather be anywhere else than dancing in front of millions of people (hundreds in person, the rest via television, of course).

The judges must score her honestly; if she only gives a dance that’s a six on Len’s scale, that’s what they should give her — not nines, like she got last week, or eights, or sevens — sixes.  And if the others are not giving ten-worthy performances (it’s very hard to get a perfect score in the real world), don’t give them tens, either!  (How tough is this, judges?)

I’ve been thinking about this for the past two days now, and while it’s probably a waste of my time and energy, I can’t help but to dissect the problem.  Ms. Palin didn’t ask for anyone to use fake e-mail addresses to vote for her, and she’s done what she’s needed to do — dance, improve, and have fun (I’ll take it on faith that she’s had some fun as for the most part I’ve not seen it).  But that doesn’t mean she’s learned to dance well enough to become a DWTS finalist, and she would’ve been better off in many respects to have gone home this past Tuesday.

It’s time for DWTS to realize that their voting system has been subverted and deal with it, openly, honestly and in a completely above-board manner.  Only in that way can I have any hope as a longtime viewer of DWTS that whoever wins this season’s “coveted mirror-ball trophy” is the true and legitimate winner.

** Note: Host Tom Bergeron recently said in a long interview that if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain.  I did vote — though my five votes can’t help Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer much compared to the “power-voters” for Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas, I did vote.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm

My poem, “No Rest,” accepted at Midwest Literary Magazine

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I found out a few days ago that my poem, “No Rest,” has been accepted at Midwest Literary Magazine and will be in an anthology from them called “Due North” along with their November issue.  Here’s their press release, which only gives my name — but does prove my work was accepted so I’m printing it:

I wrote “No Rest” two years ago, kept revising it (I have at least seven different versions, which isn’t uncommon for poets — Dylan Thomas used to work and re-work his poetry constantly, and so did Byron and so did many others like Coleridge and Keats), and finally placed it this year toward the end of 2010.  This is my third poetry sale; the first was to the Written Word online magazine in 2006 with my poem “A Love Eternal,” then sold my poem “Break the Dark Lens” to Joyful! Online magazine in December of 2009.

The writing life is fraught with peril, financially, and is extremely difficult to deal with mentally as there’s far more rejections than acceptances involved for any writer — much less someone who’s not well-known like me.   But days like this are good ones; I wrote a lot this morning (see my earlier blog of today’s date for details) and placing “No Rest” at the Midwest Literary Magazine helps give me encouragement.  I’d badly needed it after having possibly the best story I’d ever collaborated on rejected by the Writers of the Future contest as I’d reported last Friday.

The best thing you can do as a writer is to persist, while the second best thing you can do is to keep your work out there as best you can.  I believe submitting stuff is very important, but refusing to give in and continuing to work on your craft however you can is the absolute most important thing when it comes to writing, bar none.   So don’t let the rejections stop you, my friends; keep on keepin’ on, as that’s literally the only way to succeed in this business at any level.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm