Resetting My Writing Brain via London

We took a fun excursion to London recently, and I didn’t think about writing once. I wanted a reset. No poems, no notebook, no scribbled ideas on my latest novel. Just the day-to-day joy of being in the moment. I didn’t even take as many pictures as I normally do, wanting to experience everything without a filter between my eye and the subjects.

We mostly toured museums, our passion for the past driving us. The British Museum in particular, where I could see all the mummies, statues, pottery, tools, chessmen, and hieroglyphs my heart desired. Things I’d studied in history and art history classes. Of course, to complete the art history trifecta, we hit the National Gallery and Tate Modern museums. Admiring paintings in person made my brain happy. There’s nothing like seeing the swirls of paint in a Van Gogh for yourself.

Pharoah Statue British Museum,
Horse head from Parthenon, British Museum
Horse head from Parthenon, British Museum
Lewis Chessmen, King, Bishop, Berserker
Lewis Chessmen – King, Bishop, Berserker
British Museum
Four Philosophers
The bane of studying for my Philosophy degree.
Ancient Philosophers.

Now that the trip is a couple of weeks in the past, my mind turns to exploring the sights and sounds of having been in London, looking for patterns and turning phrases around and around. Poems lurk on the periphery, waiting to be coaxed into life. I use the feelings of being a stranger in another country in my novel, guiding the character through missteps. We didn’t make that many—I think—because we read and videoed up on the place before we went.

Van Gogh, Sunflowers, National Gallery
Van Gogh, Sunflowers, National Gallery
Prime meridian
Prime Meridian, Greenwich Observatory
View from Greenwich Observatory
View from Greenwich Observatory
Clock Tower
Big Ben from one of our walk abouts

It was the small things. Standing to the right on escalators to let the impatient people go by. Waiting for others to get off the train before we got on. Saying good morning to our barista. (Who got to know us well.) Remembering politeness, something that seems to be dropping by the wayside as the century goes on. We found Londoners to be generally polite people. I was always offered a seat on the subway by random males. Perhaps due to the silver streaks in my hair? But it was appreciated. Especially after six hours walking in museums and the time spent walking from the Underground (and its numerous stairs) to the latest location.

This is not the Army’s hiking

That was another thing I enjoyed (mostly) The walking to get places. My current hometown is very car-centric, so being able to use public transportation and pop out close to my destination was a relief. I’m sure you folks in big cities know the feeling. Of course, being on vacation, there was no real rush to get places. We arrived when we arrived. We could enjoy the streets and scenery. Twice we took random walks, once in the Paddington neighborhood we stayed in, where we found a fabulous Italian restaurant, and the second time when we blew off another museum and just walked around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was beautiful, we enjoyed watching the dogs frolic on the expanses of green grass, got rained on, saw Guards on horses practicing for a parade, and generally just reveled in the pretty (long) walk.

Kensington Garden flowers
Kensington Garden flowers

Our home base for excursions was Paddington Station, and it’s funny how having a ‘center’ at the beginning and end of the day really helped. Not to mention the coffee shops in the station. Got to get our fix coming and going. The hustle and bustle in the station was a nice contrast to the slow pace of my rural hometown. My brain embraced the contrast, and now that I’ve had time to digest it all, I feel words stirring. The urge to jump back into writing and explore relationships between people and places. I’m ready.

What do you do to reset your writing brain?

Connie in front of our London flat
Some of the Places We Went

British Museum

The National Gallery

Tate Modern

Royal Observatory Greenwich

Hyde Park

The Cleveland Arms Pub


Harry Potter Studio Tour

More Essays

Five Poems That Pulled Me Into Poetry

Backwards This Language Is

Sketching Out a New Year

How Cats Help You Write

More Lessons From Printmaking

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

For more essays, search the Non-Fiction Links

Recent Printmaking

The last quarter of the year I was busy with different types of printmaking, including two prints for Baren printmaking exchanges. They usually have themes, which is fun and frustrating at the same time. Frustrating when I can’t come up with an idea, but luckily for the two exchanges I did I had ideas right away.

Our first exchange was themed “When It’s Hot, It’s Hot”. My mind immediately went to the plight of polar bears in the Arctic. After watching many nature programs on the bears lately, I could picture what’s been happening. Lack of ice. So my print developed into a polar bear stranded on a rocky coast, no sea ice in sight.


Here’s a quick walk through the 4 color reduction prints I did, at a size of 10 x 15 inches. The reduction print is also known as a ‘Suicide Print”. Once you carve each layer, there’s no going back. The first layer carved leaves what you want white, and the color you overlay is the lightest color.

Polar Bear Layer 1
Color layer 1

Then you carve away everything you want to stay that light color. That’s why it’s a suicide print. There’s no going correcting once you carve away the light color. After that, you print with a darker color, finish, and carve away that darker color, leaving the darkest color last to be printed. At least for a 4 layer color print. You can have as many layers of color as you want.

Polar Bear layer 2
Color Layer 2
Polar Bear 3rd Layer
Color layer 3
Polar Bear Print Final Layer
Color Layer 4

Right after the polar bear print, I did another exchange print, which was themed Holiday Season/Loved Ones. Continuing on with my current events interest, I titled this one “What Yellowstone Tourists See”, with an image of a bison decked out to look innocent and Holiday-ish. I’m always mystified by the continual urge for tourists to pet the fuzzy cows. And get gored.

What Yellowstone Tourists See
What Yellowstone Tourists See

And here’s what my lino block looked like after I finished carving everything away. Just the red holiday lights are left from the full image on the block. (The green is from a previous layer)

Last layer Buffalo Print

Want to see more prints and how other artists handled the themes? Click for the Baren Printmaking Exchange forum

I was having so much fun with the reduction prints, I did one on my own, no exchange. This was an owl, where I played with darker colors and making the inks more transparent on certain layers. The line marks around the owl are known as “chatter”, where the paper dips down into the carved out area and picks up some ink. If it bothered me, I’d mask out the owl but I kind of like chatter on a print.

When Owls Hoot

While all that was going on, I worked on my Whiteline Printmaking. This is a technique where you only use one block, carve around each image to generate white lines, then hand-paint each image with watercolors. So you are painting the watercolor on the sections between the whiteline cutouts. It eliminates the need for carving separate blocks or making multiple reduction prints. Each image can come out slightly different. I like House 5 the best, out of the 12 prints I’ve done so far. Carving is tedious, printing goes faster. See house examples below. (Excuse the craptastic photography. Light out in studio.)

House 1
19 High 2
House 2
19 High 3
House 3
19 High 4
House 4
19 High 5
House 5

One more Whiteline print experimentation – Hurricane print.

Hurricane print

Click for Whiteline Woodcut Examples

Lastly, I started experimenting with Gel Printing, a monoprint technique where you use a soft silicone plate to transfer the paint/ink to the paper. No printing press required. Just paint and/or stencil on the plate and rub with your hand. Each image is unique (monoprint) and you can make collages or embellish afterwards. It’s less fussy than regular printmaking. Unless you want to be fussy. Which occasionally I do. Something is soothing about repetition. You may notice I do like more graphic images, rather than realistic.

gel print 1
gel print 2
gel print 4
gel print 6

So that’s what I’ve been up to the past few months art-wise. How about you? What have you been up to?

Links to Method Descriptions

White Line Woodblock Printing – You Tube

Drypoint Printmaking

What is Relief Printmaking

History of Lino Block Printmaking

Other Posts on Printmaking and The Creative Process From This Blog

More Lessons From Printmaking

Using Weaving for Bursts of Writing Creativity

A Meditation on Walking and Writing

The Renaissance Woman Today

New Poetry Chapbook – Prayer Gardening

I’m pleased to announce the release of my newest poetry book, the chapbook Prayer Gardening, co-authored with poet Kathleen Cassen Mickelson. We’ve worked together for years, first as co-founders of Gyroscope Review poetry magazine, then exchanging poems for critiques. Our work covered similar interests and themes, and this collection grew organically out of our poetic conversations.

Prayer Gardening speaks of the way we connect to each other, nature, and the world around us. It takes a deep dive into what makes us human, and how we forge relationships. The chapbook alternates between two voices that explore connections and discover our similarities more than our differences.

Collaboration Discussion and Reading by the authors.

In this video we discuss how we came to collaborate, and the joys and pitfalls of working with another author toward a common goal.

Please enjoy the sample reading below of two of the poems from Prayer Gardening, one from me, and the other from my co-author, Kathleen Cassen Mickelson.

Morning Worship” by Constance Brewer

Night Poem # 1 by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Prayer Gardening is available from Kelsay Books:

Prayer Gardening

Prayer Gardening is also available on Amazon:

Prayer GardeningAmazon

Or available from the author

constance (dot) brewer (at) gmail (dot) com, or through this website’s contact form.

Prayer Gardening by Brewer & Mickelson

Praise for Prayer Gardening:

Constance Brewer writes in Prayer Gardening, “my eyes adjust to nuance,” and my eyes do too, as a reader of this evocative chapbook that explores daily life with fresh eyes. These are poems of gratitude, in Kathleen Cassen Mickelson’s words, for the landscape “in which I love everything/the traffic, the gas pumps/the bus bench, the library…,” while also acknowledging “the hunger beneath every song.” The interplay between the two poets immerses us in family relationships, encounters with the natural world, and most of all, a mature understanding of the contradictions in all of our lives, for “What is love but a failed picture of the moon.”

–Joanne Durham, author of To Drink from a Wider Bowl and On Shifting Shoals

The earth-toned poems in Prayer Gardening by Constance Brewer and Kathleen Cassen Mickelson burble along the riverbank, lace themselves among the trees, tease us through seasons, give us glimpses of dreams, the yeasty smell of bread rising, the moon, angels, and even origami. And, oh, the birds—glorious, full-throated, “each voice as one small part of a choir,” (KCM) “light arrowing down/ to anoint… with purpose”(CB). Though there are two distinct voices here, one cannot help but deduce they are both channeling the same dazzling earth-centric deity.

-Kari Gunter-Seymour, Ohio Poet Laureate, author of Alone in the House of My Heart

Prayer Gardening sparkles with birds, stars, and snowflakes. In these pages we feel touch “sweep my soul/back into my body” and “hear the hunger beneath every song.” Constance Brewer and Kathleen Cassen Mickelson’s words call us to “whisper thanks for this breath,” reminding us to fully inhabit our lives—as the best poetry always does.  

– Laura Grace Weldon, 2019 Ohio Poet of the Year, author of Portals  

My previous book, Piccola Poesie: A Nibble of Short Form Poems is also available on Amazon.

Piccola Poesie is a collection of different versions of short form poems, haiku, senryu, tanka, and American sentences. The book explores the possibilities of each for the modern poet.

Piccola PoesiePaperback Piccola PoesieKindle

Piccola Poesie - poems by Constance Brewer

Link to my books

Link to other poetry books from Gyroscope Press

Five Poems That Pulled Me Into Poetry

Do you remember which poems pulled you into poetry? The ones that dazzled and beguiled you? I was given a book of poems very early by my grandmother and grew fascinated by the rhythm and the words. I was lucky enough to have elementary school teachers that emphasized poetry in their literature lessons. Memorizing a poem gave me a friend to recite in my head whenever I needed. Of course, a steady diet of Shakespeare in high school helped me fall in love with poetry also. Here are the five poems, in no particular order.

First Poem

My grandfather gave me a book that had the following poem in it. Among all the others it stood out. I didn’t live near the ocean, just visited it on vacations, but the poem has such longing and romanticism in it I couldn’t help but be enraptured. I was always reading history and historical novels in school, so this one captured my imagination.

    Sea Fever
    by John Masefield

    I must go down to the seas again, to the
          lonely sea and the sky,
    And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer
          her by;
    And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and
          the white sail’s shaking,
    And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey
          dawn breaking.
    I must go down to the seas again, for the call
          of the running tide
    Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be
    And all I ask is a windy day with the white
         clouds flying,
    And the flung spray and the blown spume, and
          the sea-gulls crying.
    I must go down to the seas again, to the
          vagrant gypsy life,
    To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where
          the wind’s like a whetted knife;
    And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing
    And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the
          long trick’s over.

Second Poem

I have a very old copy of the Complete Poems of Robert Frost. I don’t know where it came from or how long I’ve had it, but this poem is bookmarked. It is very evocative and reminds me of Christopher Marlowe’s poems. Of course I love all the classic Frost poems, “The Road Not Taken”, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “Birches”, “Mending Wall”, and “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.

    A Line-storm Song
    by Robert Frost

    The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift, 
      The road is forlorn all day, 
    Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift, 
      And the hoof-prints vanish away. 
    The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
      Expend their bloom in vain. 
    Come over the hills and far with me, 
      And be my love in the rain. 

    The birds have less to say for themselves 
      In the wood-world’s torn despair
    Than now these numberless years the elves, 
      Although they are no less there: 
    All song of the woods is crushed like some 
     Wild, easily shattered rose. 
    Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
      Where the boughs rain when it blows. 

    There is the gale to urge behind 
      And bruit our singing down, 
    And the shallow waters aflutter with wind 
      From which to gather your gown.    
    What matter if we go clear to the west, 
      And come not through dry-shod? 
    For wilding brooch shall wet your breast 
      The rain-fresh goldenrod. 

    Oh, never this whelming east wind swells   
      But it seems like the sea’s return 
    To the ancient lands where it left the shells 
      Before the age of the fern; 
    And it seems like the time when after doubt 
      Our love came back amain.      
    Oh, come forth into the storm and rout 
      And be my love in the rain.

Third Poem

Then there’s Emily Dickinson. She wove in and out of my early poem reading, and I fell in love with her succinct style that said so much. She’s still one of my favorite poets. Setting Sail, as it got titled somewhere along the way, is one poem I memorized because it speaks to me as a landlubber who finally went out to sea.

    Emily Dickinson



    Exultation is the going
    Of an inland soul to sea, —
    Past the houses, past the headlands,
    Into deep eternity!

    Bred as we, among the mountains,
    Can the sailor understand
    The divine intoxication
    Of the first league out from land?

Fourth Poem

I stumbled across High Flight while reading some WWII history. Our family has close ties to aviation, my father worked in the industry. Some vacations we’d drive out to that city’s airport and watch the planes take off and land. There were pilgrimages to the Air and Space Museum. In the Army I even put in to fly helicopters. Alas, my eyesight wasn’t good enough. 

John Gillespie Magee Jr., the RAF poet, wrote very few poems during WWII but sent them to his parents in letters. He was killed in a training accident on December 11, 1941. I think of this poem whenever I hear one of my favorite songs – Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly. Both speak to pilots, astronauts, and wanna be flyers everywhere.

    High Flight
    by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
    I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air ....

    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
    And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Learning to Fly video


    Learning to Fly

    Into the distance, a ribbon of black
    Stretched to the point of no turning back
    A flight of fancy on a wind swept field
    Standing alone my senses reeled
    A fatal attraction is holding me fast
    How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

    Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
    Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything
    No navigator to find my way home
    Unladened, empty, and turned to stone

    A soul in tension that's learning to fly
    Condition grounded but determined to try
    Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Friction lock, set
    Mixtures, rich
    Propellers, fully forward
    Flaps, set - 10 degrees
    Engine gauges and suction, check

    Above the planet on a wing and a prayer
    My grubby halo, a vapor trail in the empty air
    Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
    Out of the corner of my watering eye
    A dream unthreatened by the morning light
    Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

    There's no sensation to compare with this
    Suspended animation, a state of bliss
    Can't keep my mind from the circling sky
    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I

    Songwriters: Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne
    For non-commercial use only.

Last but not least

Of course, no influence of mine would ever be complete without the main man himself, William Shakespeare. I ran into Shakespeare in high school English class, first in plays we acted out, then through the sonnets. There are many sonnets I like, sometimes it depends on the day and how I’m feeling. But if I had to choose just one, this would be it.

    William Shakespeare
    Sonnet 14: Not From The Stars Do I My Judgement Pluck

    Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
    And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
    But not to tell of good or evil luck,
    Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
    Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
    Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
    Or say with princes if it shall go well
    By oft predict that I in heaven find:
    But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
    And, constant stars, in them I read such art
    As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
    If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
    Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
    Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

You may sense a theme in all these poems. I never realized until I started keeping track of all the poems that moved me. I have a folder, My Great Big Pile O’Inspiration, for when I just need to immerse myself in words I love. How about you? Any poems that have wended their way into your heart?

Other Essays on Poetry

Poetry Submissions for the Rest of Us

Why I Don’t Write Political Poetry

What I Learned From Editing

Outside Links

The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language

Poetry Foundation


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