Discussion Questions for Solace in So Many Words


Intro: pp. 1-5

-What definition do you have for ‘solace?’ What sorts of occurrences or thoughts represent solace to you?

-Ellen lists many different kinds of solace. Which kind of solace do you resonate with

most? Which one has the most meaning to your life?

-What do you hope to find from reading, “Solace in So Many Words?”


Bleeding Heart – Constance Vogel Adamkiewicz: p. 7

-Is the bleeding heart a metaphor? If so, for what?

-What does the woman’s age have to do with the poem’s story?

-What remains and what changes?


Library Tours Invites You to Spend a Day with Islam – Constance Vogel Adamkiewicz: pp. 8-9

-What does this poem teach? What kinds of memories, thoughts, and emotions does it bring up from your life?

-What does the “Sphinx-like woman” who takes photos that flash like “blinding sun as through bars” express about the writer’s fears and thoughts?

-Do you think that the ending of the poem expresses guilt? Longing for a better connection? Remorse? Or some thing else? Support your answer.


Turkey Pond: Scattering the Ashes – Kathleen Aguero: p. 10

-Who is the “you” leading with a “lopsided crawl?”

-Do you think that the highway overhead represents changes, is simply part of the scene, or has a different important meaning for the writer?

-Pull out a few moments that you resonate with and explain why these portions of the poem appeal to you.


Stop to Think – Antler: pp. 11-12

-How did your thoughts progress as you read this poem?

-What kind of an effect did reading this poem have on you? If you felt a change how did it feel, what was it, what did you think of or about?

-Do you hear a rhythm in this poem? Could you point to and describe which portions of this poem hold the rhythm? Does it make a difference if you read the numbers as words instead of just looking at them?

-Does this scientific approach to poetry appeal to you?


For All Baby Knows – Antler: pp. 13-14

-This poem’s argument rests on the initial statement that a developing baby does not know that it has a mother. Do you agree with this? Is your answer based on science, spirituality, something else?

-Do you agree or disagree with other statements in this poem? Why or why not?

-What do you think of that Antler uses a scientific fact to point to something outside of proven facts? Do you appreciate the way that Antler mixes science with religion or spirituality? It is okay in your mind to make these steps from science to the unknown?

-What do you think of the broad message of this poem? Do you agree with it? Disagree with it? Explain.

-Does this poem bring up any sentimental memories for you? Can you connect your memories with the broad message of this poem?

-Choose an insulated, secluded, enclosed, or otherwise metaphorically ’in-utero’ location and/or moment. Describe the moment and the physical surroundings, and then describe what could be or is outside of your chosen situation. What does this do to your perception? How does this practice make you feel?


First Breath Last Breath – Antler: p. 15

-What kinds of things have you shared in this significant way?

-What does ‘breath’ symbolize or mean to you? In this poem?

-This poem is divided into two potions, what is the significance of each portion?


And What If I Spoke Despair – Ellen Bass: pp. 16-17

-Which use of an element (water, fire, air, earth, or other) do you like best? Why? What associations does it bring up for you?

-Can you untangle a line of thought from this poem? Describe how some imagery connects or is used to express this thought.

-What does this writer fear or despair about? What does she find inspiring?


Don’t Expect Applause – Ellen Bass: pp. 18-19

-Share a simple thing that you did today that you would like celebrated.

-What do you think of the idea of applauding ordinary deeds? Do you support it, like it? Why or why not?

-One of the poem’s messages is that life is difficult. Name an obstacle that you are working on overcoming, or would like to be working on overcoming, and a small step that you made towards that goal (including naming it.)

-Name something simple that someone close to you did today that you would like to applaud. Name something that someone further from you did. Name something simple that your society did that you would like to applaud.

-Speak of a friend, relative, or stranger who is overcoming a difficult obstacle or difficult obstacles whom you are proud of.


Jack Gottlieb’s in Love – Ellen Bass: pp. 20-21

-What “lies beyond hope?”

-Do you think that this author adequately describes Jack’s experience – as a roller coaster ride? Discuss.

-How does this poem give you hope?


The Thing Is – Ellen Bass: p. 22

-Consider the link between obesity, over-plentitude, and acceptance.

-What would it mean to have a stomach for life?

-Which metaphors in this poem really resonate with you?


Me & My Brother & The Skunk: K. Biadaszkiewicz: pp. 23-35

-What is your favorite quote form this story? Discuss what the chosen line means to the character(s) as well as what it means to you.

-What do you think of this story’s writing style? What kind of character does it give the story?

-How does the title “The Skunk” fit with meaning for you throughout the story? What kind of a father does the narrator have?

-What do the characters in this story come to terms with? How?

-Are there any activities or personality traits that you or someone whom you know shares with one or more of these characters? If so does this story elucidate anything to you about the chosen individual?

-Why do the photographs mean so much to the narrator? List a few reasons. What do these points say about what makes objects memorable or important?


Why You Knit – Jan Bottinglieri: p. 36

-Describe a soothing hobby of your own.

-Do the lines “What you most wan to keep/ you can give away./ You can love the yarn/ but not what you make of it./ You can wear it anyway.” mean something more to you than the obvious? If so, what do they metaphorically express?

-How is this author soothed by knitting?


Oliver – Jan Bottiglieri: p. 37

-What is a “doveheart?”

-How do you interpret the fourth stanza?

-Does this author’s interpretation of God match yours? How or how not?

-Have you ever watched a movie or heard or read a piece of media that inspired you spiritually and motivated you in life? Describe and share a link if you have one.

-This poem describes contradictions (ex: “God and hunger.”) How do these things coalesce and work together to bring about the poem’s message?

-Is there a contradiction pair in your life that confuses, inspires, or broadens your understanding of what it means to be here, living?


Hopes Rise – T.C. Boyle: pp. 38-49

-What is the relevance of the doctor in the beginning of this story? What role does he play in forwarding the point of the narrative?

-What do you think of Peter and Adrian’s relationship?

-What is the moral of the frog parable? What is the author saying by mentioning the disappearing and found frogs and toads?


Veritas Primatur Non Opprimature – Bret Calderwood: pp. 50-53

-What is this poem about?

-What does this poem say about family structures and unprecedented changes?

-What is important about this author’s grandfather? What are his main character traits?

-Is “the violent stream” at the end of this poem a metaphor?


22 Hiding Places – Daniel Chacon: pp. 54-56

-How does hiding create reconciliation? How do you think it satisfies the young boy?

-What’s up with the mention of the second child at the end of the story?


Predictabilites – Susan Spaeth Cherry: pp. 57-58

-Choose a metaphor and expand it into a short poem of your own.


Details – Joan Corwin: pp. 59-67

-What are your favorite details about a past of current partner? Describe.

-Find a topic that you find dissatisfying and, similar to Evan Rhys, meditate on what was or maybe still is satisfying about it. Share your thoughts or discoveries.

-What do you think of the secret way in which Evan Rhys goes about his ‘study?’

-How would you feel about such a ‘study” being carried out on yourself?

-What does this short story teach about creating ‘inner glow?’


Portuguese Sweet Bread – Amy Dengler: p. 68

-Does this poem seem to have or to incorporate pagan elements?

-How does this poem reference family? Describe.

-Describe what kinds of deep associations can you draw from some one beloved thing or aspect of your own life?


Archangela Bautista – E. Michael Desilets: p. 69

-This piece is about a traveler. How do you feel about this sort of itinerant life?

-Would you agree that only difficulties lead to such a traveling life?

-Do you think or believe that the main character is trying to run from something within herself, such as painful memories, or from something else?

-How do you interact with traveling people of this kind?


Faithful Departed – E Michael Desilets: p. 70

-Discuss the hints which reference ‘human interests’ as opposed to ‘higher’ interests.

-What does this writer miss? What is this writer trying to reconcile?

-Have a conversation on the plays of words such as “… Sister Assumpta, / Sister Redempta, Sister Forever and Ever Amen”


Stops and Starts – Kathleene Donahoo: pp. 71-82

-What do you think of the mother’s character?

-Ask and answer your own question about this piece.

-How do you judge the family interactions that occur in this story?

-What do you think the title of this piece refers to?

-Are there people in your life whom you judge and could express a deeper compassion for? Describe and discuss.

-Does this story help you to let off judging some person in your life? If so, then how does it help to do so?

-Consider the play of hospitality and irritation that is described in the story. Does hospitality seem to have a direct correlation with children? Why? What is the message that the author forwards in relation to these points?


Untitled – by Margarita Engle: p. 83

-What does it mean to “choose the slow road?”


Calculus – by D. I. Gray: p. 84

-How do you think literary tropes mix with mathematical themes
in this sonnet to further illustrate its intended meanings?


Flowers – by Donna Hilbert: p. 85

-How are the aging flowers like the women the speaker observes?

-Does society see beauty or value in the aging woman, or is she disposable like a flower?

-What is the attitude of the speaker to the women she observes?


In Quintana Roo – by Donna Hilbert: p. 86-87

-What is the significance of the word “interregnum?”

-What part does the parrot play in the dream?  The lilies?

-What is the speaker hoping to find in Mexico?

-How might a “non-believer” find solace in the midst of grief?


Waiting – by Jayant Kamicheril: pp. 88-90

-This act of waiting in line at the post office, within the context of the protagonist’s story, inspires everything from patience to solidarity. Why, in the mind of the protagonist, does it inspire such depth of thought?

-The protagonist begins in past tense and moves to the present; he loses his train of thought and reminds the reader of what he was supposed to be doing during this story (i.e., “watching the mail clerk’s body language). What did you take away from Waiting’s form?

-Consider the last sentence of this story: “Life is what people do while they are waiting to die.” Is this a narrative of a protagonist filling empty time, or one of him given the aforementioned time to reach a new state of mind?


In the Wake of My Son – by Jayant Kamicheril: pp. 91-93

-Consider the different responses that the narrator receives with regards to his son’s death. Some he finds dissatisfying, and some bring him solace. Why do you think he reacts in these ways?

-Discuss the qualities that we pick up from Anand, based on how he is depicted in this essay. What can we learn about his relationship with his father?

-“Continuity, that’s all I wanted to be assured of” (92). What do you think about the narrator’s reaction to the hospice patients and their near-death experiences?



Her Best Medicine – by Caroline Kanter: p. 94

-What, do you believe, is the attitude of the daughter in this poem? How does she feel about her mother’s determination to keep her hair polished?

-Why is Vonda “more wizard than beautician?”

-On a similar note, why is the mother “more herself” with her teased hair?


Alternative Eulogy – by Carol Kanter: pp. 95-96

-Why would “self-images of empathy” be something to “purge?” What else is the narrator purging?

-In what sense is this poem an “alternative eulogy?”


The Advanced Course – by Carol Kanter: p. 97

-Discuss the fishing imagery at work here.

-With the narrator suddenly bereft of a teacher, left “high and dry,” would you consider this a poem of solace?


High-End Grocery Solace – by Jodi Kanter: pp. 98-99

-The narrator plans to “shop until she’s whole.” What relief does she acquire from grocery shopping, and the fantasies that she indulges while doing it?

-What effect does the iambic pentameter have on you, as the reader?


To Love an October Garden – by Elizabeth Kerlikowske: 100-101

-Why do you think this poem is written with such distance?

-Much of the comparative traits offered to the plants in the garden are human defects: “pimpled,” “badly shaved,” “bald.” What does this say about the relationship between gardener and garden?

-At the poem’s conclusion, do you think the narrator has managed “to love an October garden?”


The Industry of Sleep – by Elizabeth Kerlikowske: 102-103

-Throughout this poem, sleep is given several forms and appears in a myriad of settings. What ties this poem together as an entity, for you? How does “sleep” present itself throughout?

-What makes sleep an “industry?” Why do you think the narrator chose to include so much activity in a poem about sleep?


The Solace of Reading: How to Survive the Hormonal and Spiritual Upheavals of Midlife – by Kathleen Kirk: 104-110

-Do you turn to reading for solace?  If so, in what situations?  Does it help?  Do you ever feel like a perpetual seeker, like the author of this essay, or a perpetual reader?

-Do you tend seek out self-help books (like The Power of Now) or primary sources (like The Dark Night of the Soul)?  Memoir (like Eat, Pray, Love) or non-fiction (like The Gnostic Gospels)?  Or, like the author, are you an omnivore when it comes to books?

-Did you have a midlife crisis of any sort?  If so, what did you do to cope?  Did you come through it OK?  Do you know yourself better now?

-Do you ever worry that you are escaping into a diversion, as the author worries about “escaping into reading”?  Do you ever retreat into fantasy, hobbies, television, or other people’s lives instead of confronting the realities of your own life?  Or is immersion in real life a source of solace for you?

-Why do you read?  How has reading enriched your own life?


Postponing a Response to the Fact of Mortality – by Kathleen Kirk: pp. 111-113

-In what ways do you postpone a response to the fact of mortality, your own or someone else’s?  Is this postponement a kind of denial, perhaps a necessary stage of grief?

-Have you ever experienced grief-in-advance the way the student Fatima does in this prose poem, and in the essay that follows?  Or have you witnessed or heard about such an experience?

-Does humor or some other form of lightness help you cope with fear or denial, or the fact of your own mortality?

-Did the essay help you make sense of the prose poem?

-What does the prose poem do that the essay cannot do?


The Heartbreak House – by Kathleen Kirk: pp. 114

-Were you familiar with the term “heartbreak house” before you read this poem?  If so, did you know it from the play Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw or in the way it is used here, as a term used by realtors to label that house that breaks your heart because you made an offer on it that was rejected?  If not, does the poem define the term for you, in the real estate sense?  Does it also suggest another definition?

-The background reference to Heartbreak House would be a literary allusion in this poem.  What is important about the other allusions in this poem?: 1) The opening reference to St. Francis of Assisi 2) The quotation from Emily Dickinson: I cannot live with you—it would be life! Emily Dickinson, like St. Francis, was a great lover of birds and also wrote: “Hope” is the thing with feathers—/ That perches in the soul—

-Who is the “you” in this poem, and why does the speaker (the “I”) address this “you” so directly and intimately?

-Why does speaker say she could “sing to you” and “transform you” into birds or those “who eat these small crumbs for sustenance.”  Who would this “all” be if not birds?

-Why is the speaker still yearning for this house? Why does she want the “you” to

read her lips?  What are they saying?


Nagasaki Shadows – by D. J. Lachance: pp. 115-116

-The nurse in this story discusses three different types of shadows with her patient. What kind of shadow is primarily represented? What are the “Nagasaki shadows?”

-Why do you think the protagonist allows his football fans to visit him?

-Why do you think the protagonist decides to have the name on his patient chart changed? What personal adjustment will follow for him, after the story’s conclusion?


Lead Us Not – Kerry Langan: pp. 117-125

-Discuss the themes of crime and punishment in this story.

-Why do you think Mary connects with Michael? Why do you think the class sides with him when he flees the classroom?

-What about Sister Serena, specifically, makes her so easily vulnerable to Michael’s antics?

-After Mary has been granted her Christmas wish of long hair, why does she still pursue the Little Kiddles dolls?


Songs – by Philip Levine: pp. 126-127

What traits does the narrator attribute to “songs that mattered?” Why, given what we are told about the singer and the poem’s narrator, do you think these traits stand out?

-Discuss the presence of solace in this poem.

Waking in Alicante – by Philip Levine: pp. 128-131

-Why do you think the narrator has chosen to take his son to Alicante for one night?

-Read the poem aloud. How does it feel to you? Why do you think the poet chose to write it in this form?

-Discuss the sensory imagery present in this poem, especially ‘taste.’

Winter in Bosnia – by Lisa Liken: pp. 132-133

-Discuss the juxtaposition of innocence and violence in this poem.

-Why do you think the poet chose to use such a distant voice?


Fighting Inertia – by Susan O’Donnell Mahan: p. 134

-Consider the change in formatting in the last stanza of this poem: from “but let me go forth” to “and I will go forth.”

-Why do you think that this poem, a reflection on a loved one’s passing, is told in the present tense?


They Call Me Grumpy – by Susan O’Donnell Mahan: p. 135

-The narrator suggests that she lost her “true self” when she was not using her grumpy exterior as a defense. Discuss this.

-What about this poem, in particular? Is it told in the voice of the narrator’s “true self,” or as her “grumpy” self? Or does it fall somewhere in the middle?


Sometimes – by Pamela Malone: p. 136

-Why does the narrator of the poem seek solace?

-What is her attitude toward her husband and sons?

-Does she wish for a permanent or temporary break from them?

-What is her relationship to her house?


Out of Hate Speech, a New Language – by Teresa S. Mathes: pp. 137-139

-Consider how the narrator receives different responses from her family and friends when they hear about the posted death threat. What makes assistance “passive” vs. “active,” and is one better than the other?

-What do you think about the narrator’s conclusions regarding male-female communication?

-What is this “new language” to which the narrator refers in her title? Who speaks it?


Alleys – Michael Constantine McConnell: pp. 140-144

-What do you think of this story’s portrayal of loss of innocence? To what extent does a parental figure control a child’s loss of innocence?

-Discuss the theme of culture/ethnicity in this story.

-Why do you think that malaka is never defined?


Faith – Ann McNeal: p. 145

-Why is this poem called Faith?

-Why do you think this poem is written in the second person? Given that it begins in a reflective tone (“You don’t remember it, my children”), why do you think that this poem is written with such immediacy?


A Strange Episode of an Aqua Voyage – by Joe Meno: pp. 146-149

-The protagonist mentions his frustration at having missed the conclusion of the Aqua Voyage episode, saying that, “in this world, the world above the sea, nothing ever goes that easily.” What do you think about this mindset?

-In this story, the protagonist finds several forms of relief from his medical ailments—all on late-night television. What about this kind of entertainment provides such solace?


What It’s All About – by Pamela Miller: p. 150

-What do you think of the corrective nature of how this narrator defines love?

-What do you think she is referring to in a “love letter yet to be written?”


A Caring Place – by Tekla Dennison Miller: pp. 151-153

-Why do you think the protagonist made the adjustment from a solitary form of exercise to group activity? How do you think that changed the way that she viewed physical activity?

-Consider the name of her group: Durango Women at Play.

-Why do you think the protagonist chose to begin her essay with the Ditka quote?


Nature’s Balancing Act – by S. Minanel: p. 154

-To whom is the “who’s” in line 2 referring?

-Why the em dashes at the end of the first three lines? What does this form do for you?


Coconut Milk – by Paula W. Peterson: pp. 155-159

-Why do you think the narrator refuses reconciliation specifically with regards to food items she enjoyed as a child?

-Why do you think she wrote this in a retrospective voice?

-Discuss the theme of loss of innocence in this piece.


Hearing My Prayers – by Jeff Poniewaz: p. 160

-Discuss the image of the “eyeless wren.” Why do you think this was included?

-Discuss the theme of listening and, similarly, being a listener.


Jardim Zoologico – by Arthur Powers: p. 161

-The narrator uses very pointed language throughout: adults are referred to as “the old people,” whereas their children have “soft, malleable flesh.” What did you take from these phrases and others?

-Answer the question that is asked in this poem: Why put cows in a zoo?


Last Trip Together – by Pat Rahmann: pp. 162-163

-Why do you think the poet chose such harrowing images to describe a typically light-hearted activity?

-Consider the vague tone at work here. For example, the family goes to “some lush summered place,” and the type of fruit that they are picking is never mentioned. Why?


Seeking Solace for Depression and Fever of Unknown Origin – by Jenna Rindo: pp. 164-165

-Why do you think the narrator chose a bulleted format for this piece? How did you feel about the use of second person?

-Consider the idea of begging forgiveness for sins “left undone.” What do you think she means?


Addicted – by Laura Rodley: p. 166

-How did you feel about the format of this piece?

-Given that most of the focus is on the horses, why do you think the author chose to write about addiction to other animals as well? Did this contribute or detract from the piece?


The Negative Confession of the Scribe – by Dennis Saleh: pp. 167-168

-What do you think of the idea of an underworld in which one gains passage by focusing on the transgressions not committed, rather than those committed?

-Further, how does that come across in this poem?


Music Lesson – by Barry Silesky: p. 169

-Discuss the coupling of the music student and the pigeons as images.

-What is the narrator experiencing anew by listening to the student, rather than a performance? He says, “All this time and I haven’t/understood;” has his comprehension changed by the end of the poem?


The New Animal – by Barry Silesky: p. 170

-What did you think of the stream-of-consciousness format that Silesky employed here? Did it work for you?

-What did you learn about the narrator after reading this piece? What did the voice tell you? What did the language tell you?


The Paperboy – by Dan Sklar: pp, 171-176

-What solace does the paper route provide Danny?

-Discuss the theme of music and musicians present in this essay.

-Discuss the themes of solitude and loneliness.


Backyard Burial – by Noel Sloboda: p. 177

-In a poem that is about a death and respecting a past life, why do you think the narrator has chosen to also address the future?


Heartbeat – by J. Scott Smith: pp. 178-186

-Why does Buck decide not to report Terry Dale’s actions to his parents?

-What forces drive Buck Odom to heal after his daughter’s death? What forces inhibit his healing process?

-Discuss the theme of responsibility in this story.


April – by Laurence Snydal: p. 187

-Consider the last two lines of this poem. What do you think about a view of the spring noting death and burial?

-Why do you think the poet chose to include alliteration in this work?


The Captive – by Laurence Snydal: p. 188

-Discuss the “secret bulb.”

-Who is the captive in this poem? Are there several?


Starting to Breathe – by Patty Somlo: pp. 189-193

-Consider the narrator’s statement: “I am an egg.” What do you take from this?

-Why does Barbara direct so much focus towards teaching the narrator to breathe?

-Discuss the theme of sensation/numbness in this piece.


March Wind – by Wally Swist: p. 194

-Discuss the ways that the March wind is portrayed in this poem. What traits might you give it within the context of the poem? What traits might you give it on your own terms?

-Why do you think that the narrator chose to write this poem in the second person?


Nothing Lasts, Nothing Is Lost – by Sheila Mullen Twyman: pp. 195-196

-Discuss the juxtaposition of the old and the young in this poem.

-What is the narrator’s reaction to the felling of the cherry tree?

-Consider the title of this poem. What do you think the poet is trying to say?


Breathe – by Patti Wojcik Wahlberg: p. 197

-Consider the mother’s and the daughter’s fears. How are they similar? How are they different?

-Discuss the theme of control in this poem.


Comfort – by Patti Wojcik Wahlberg: p. 198

-What about the three o’clock hour do you think provides such comfort for the poet? Does the hour provide significant comfort for you? What images do you associate with that hour?

-The narrator uses words like “safe” and “survive” to describe the day. Why do you think she associates those words with the images used?


Attack on America, 9/11/01 – by Sarah Brown Weitzman: pp. 199-200

-Why do you think that the poet concluded her poem with a quote from a “doomed man?” What do you take from this?

-Why do you think that the poet chose to write part of the poem in the present tense? How would it have read differently, had all of it been written in the past tense (or all in the present)?

-Discuss the comparison of the Towers to Babble. How is this theme present throughout the poem?


Some questions were suggested by the contributors, others were written by Yana Passater, and the whole project was finalized by Laura Briskman.  THANKS!