Friday, August 8, 2014


Pashupatinath on the Bagmati River in Kathmandu - Bob Ray photo

A poem has bubbled up from my visit to Nepal last year at just this time. In Kathmandu, we visited Pashupatinath, the most scared Hindu temple, where we were only allowed outside. It was the first time we had witnessed cremation, which takes place around the clock on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River. It was a somber experience and Bob tried to be sensitive with his photography.

My first poetic attempt was in free verse. Yesterday I tried it in a form completely new to me. At first I got the rhyme scheme wrong and had to go back and fiddle with the lines, so I think some parts seem forced. And I think it came out in tetrameter, not pentameter, but maybe that’s okay. 

So I’m sharing my draft of my first Terza Rima which I read about in J. Patrick Lewis’s Poetry Calisthenics, posted on Poetry at Play, and further researched on Feel free to comment, help me out, make suggestions. I’d love your feedback.

Thanks to Mary Lee who is hosting the Roundup today at A Year of Reading.

Cremation pyre - Bob Ray photo
Pashupatinath Temple

On the shore above Bagmati
Shrouded bodies rest on stone pyres.
Monkeys chatter a litany.

Kindling smokes into flame and fire,
crackling like a snappy chorus
decked out in marigold attire.

I have known cremation minus
incense or wood smoke in the wind.
My dear ones’ ashes knew no fuss.

They have joined the soil or commend
themselves to dance with ship’s bows. 
We’ll meet and mingle in the end,

because now your temple allows
no beef eaters, although my God
was first warmed by the breath of cows.

       ~ Joyce Ray - All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Horton Center, New Hampshire
I’m glad to be back after a long absence which included two months volunteering in Japan, writing a new picture book manuscript, and the launch of my YA historical novel. I haven't written much poetry, and I’ve missed the richness of this community! This week's Roundup is at Reflections on the Teche. Thanks, Margaret!

Last year I shared a Build-a-Poem poetry workshop for middle-graders. I’ve just used the same basic building idea with a group of terrific young teens at a New Hampshire camp in the White Mountains. They gave me permission to post some photos.

The week’s theme was “Get Real-Finding Your True Self.” Each day they studied what that might mean as a Christian. So with a few paint chips, a handful of words from a word pool, and my own example, they wrote poems with new names for this self they were discovering.

Scaffolding consisted of “My real name is..., My name used to be…, In my dream my name was…, and Tomorrow my name will be… .” This Re-naming poem is not my original idea, and I am sorry to say I can’t remember the source! If anyone is familiar with this exercise, please help me out.

It was a fun exercise, and not too academic for a summer activity. Two Deans and other camp staff  jumped right in and wrote poems, too! In one hour we had built a poetry wall.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Feathers & Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen

 March 16th Launch

What an exciting week it is! My publisher is hosting a launch party for my book this weekend, and I'm preparing a talk. Looking back over my 13-year journey with this story has been an amazing exercise. Most writers do not write in a vacuum. In re-living each stage of my manuscript, I've come to appreciate more deeply the mentors and colleagues who have guided me to each milestone. I've paid homage to Agnes, the character who walked onto the page and changed my writing.

Appearances and opportunities are starting to line up, and I hope young readers will soon meet the young medieval girl who developed into the 12th century's strongest female voice. Though I will never achieve Hildegard's fame, I am thinking how far I have come and am enjoying my little spotlight. Thank you, Vermont College of Fine Arts for preparing me for this journey!

I hope that Saint Hildegard is smiling.

Feathers & Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen, YA historical novel
Apprentice Shop Books, March 16, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The Secret World of Hildegard
By Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Arthur Levine Books (Picture Book Biography), 2007

To celebrate the upcoming publication of of my YA novel about Hildegard of Bingen, I'm highlighting another book that tells the story of the recently named saint and Doctor of the Church. Mother and son team Jeanette and Jonah Winter have created a terrific picture book that introduces Hildegard to very young readers. As a Hildegard scholar, I love this book.

Let me tell you a bit about Hildegard first. Hildegard was a prophetic woman of many talents. She was a Benedictine nun and then an abbess who lived in the 12th century kingdom of Germany when women had no voice at all. After an unbelievable childhood of seclusion at a monastery, she dared to share visions she felt were from God at the risk of being named a heretic. But the pope blessed her visions, and Hildegard went on to become a writer, composer, artist, scientist, natural healer and preacher. Without the pope’s approval, she would have had no voice in that time and would have remained unknown. Her writings helped shape Christian doctrine; she founded the first independent woman’s monastery; she composed the largest body of 12th century music; and in 2012, Pope Benedict named her a Saint and a Doctor of the Church.

The Secret World of Hildegard is a clever and historically accurate telling of Hildegard’s story. Jonah Winter used snippets of biblical construction to frame Hildegard’s story for the youngest readers. Phrases like “And lo” and “Now it came to pass” repeat throughout the text, linking this story to the grand epic of the Bible. Echoes of the creation story in Genesis show up in this repeated sentence:

And there was grayness
and silence and sorrow,
though a light shone brightly inside her.

How appropriate for the story of a woman who devoted her life to serving God!

Throughout, the author presents Hildegard’s life and the concept of her visions in a very accessible manner. The subject matter is spiritual, but young children do have big questions about God. They will relate to this amazing historical figure because her story begins as a child – one who was sent away to a monastery where she would be safe and have the greatest chance for survival. One half of the book relates Hildegard’s unique childhood. The other half presents her adult life and her many accomplishments and contributions to her world and to ours.

Jeanette Winter’s illustrations are a visual feast. Her color palette is bold, and she designed the book in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript. Each illustration is framed with an arched border. It seems we are looking through a window at Hildegard’s life. One of my favorite illustrations shows Hildegard emerging from seclusion. She carries her candle, symbolizing the light she will come to share with the world.

Another illustration interprets one of Hildegard’s visions of the universe surrounded with creative energy and Jesus at the center.

This book earned starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist. It is
a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing.

The Secret World of Hildegard is a gem and the perfect introduction to Hildegard for young readers. I hope as older readers they will one day want to read my fictional version of Hildegard’s story in Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen,coming this spring from Apprentice Shop Books.