Monday, July 28, 2014


Gather 'round, kids, as today we are throwing a surprise party for our friend Jamztoma! Today happens to be his birthday, so what better gift than a chance for all of us to let him know how much we appreciate his sunshiney, happy, cheerful spirit in the blogosphere! James Toma writes at THE PSALMS OF JAMZTOMA, so let's swoop down on him with our balloons and birthday cake, and wish him many happy returns of the day!

SHERRY: James! Happy Birthday! There is a glittering tree in this photo, but I thought it looked festive, so we'll just call it your birthday tree!

Tell us about your childhood in Pago Pago, James. It looks like such an amazingly beautiful place. Is there someone from those days you feel had a significant impact on who you are today?

Pago Pago

Pago Pago Harbor

James: My childhood in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, was magical.  It was magical in the sense that there were forests and beaches, mountains and myths, cultural arts festivals and entertainment, plus my own maternal grandparents had been Catholic catechists, so I was exposed to Catholic books a lot.  

Pago Pago-American Samoa

In addition to that, I sought refuge in my brother Johnny’s numerous middle grade level books that he would order from Scholastic book clubs in the 80’s.  There were the Encyclopedia Brown books, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and Troll-at-home books, just to name a few. 

James as a child

I guess these are the reasons why I write island and spiritual-themed poems in a childlike and colorful way.  Oh!  And then there was the music!  My father, before he divorced my mom, would play lots of ABBA, Michael Jackson, BeeGees, and Madonna music in the house.  He was the reason why I got interested in Michael and Madonna’s music.  It was the early 80s, and I still remember the first time I had watched the Thriller video and heard the song, “Material Girl” being played on his loud speakers.  

I want to acknowledge my maternal grandparents, Nikolao and Kolotita Filipo, for their words of wisdom and their hard work in aiding me and my siblings spiritually and financially.  They would stress to us the importance of having faith in the Lord, hard work, and the value of education. 

My grandparents and my parents

Sherry: It sounds like a wonderful childhood, James. You were blessed. Tell us about your life today. What do you love about where you live, and about your work? Your positive demeanor must be so appreciated in the workplace.

James: My life at the moment is meditative, quiet, and spent mostly at home.  It is due to my blog’s current themes of self-introspection, spirituality  and inner peace that this has come about.  I am currently a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland (USA).  I am pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature from Southern New Hampshire University online.  Also, I am a File Clerk intern at my county’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Pre-trial division. 

I just love the multicultural aspect of the whole Washington, DC metropolitan area.  There are various, different ethnicities here and each of them has something beautiful and unique to bring to the table.  There are lots of festivals, events, restaurants, churches, and museums to take part in.  It’s just a melting pot of Americans, Europeans, Caribbean, Asians, Hispanics, and Africans. 

My job duties are administrative, but before this internship, I had been a newspaper reporter, a fast food worker, and a thrift store team member. And you’re right, my positive demeanor has been my talent in the workforce  for always.  That’s the main reason I get hired by all my past and current employers; it is because of my positivity. During one of my interviews for a job, the manager of that institution commented on my constant smiling as a way to welcome and invite customers to buy their products and merchandise.

Sherry: I have no doubt of that! You shine! How long have you lived in the USA, and are you happily at home here now?

James: Well, I have lived in the continental USA for 11 and a half years now and I guess I can say that I have had my high and my low moments through it all.  I, however, miss American Samoa so much and hopefully will get to visit her in the near future. 

Sherry: I hope you do, James. There’s no place like home! Have you always been a poet? What made you choose poetry as your means of creative expression?

James: Sherry, I have always been a poet, ever since my senior year in high school.  I was chosen by a classmate (who was the editor) to be her secretary for the yearbook staff, and it was then that I developed my forte for writing lyrical poetry.  I wanted to establish my writing career but I did not know what form of writing that I should jump-start it with.  So being chosen to be a part of the yearbook made my creative juices flow, resulting in my decision to write a song for my graduating class and to publish its lyrics and make it the theme of that school year’s yearbook.   The song/poem was called, “Legends of the Sea,” and it became my second published piece of writing in my whole writing career. 

Just to mention, my first published piece was an essay inspired by the Madonna song, “Secret Garden”, in my elementary years.  I never knew the symbolism of that song, as I thought it was an innocent song about “gardens.” 

Sherry: You published very young! What do you love about poetry? What keeps you writing it?

James: Poetry is like music.  It is an outlet for my inner muse to fulfill its greatest passions, to be expressive and to be multi-faceted.  You would see this in my works because most of their narrators are not me but of alter egos and personalities hidden within that cannot be released through action and behavior.  Also, when I feel like crying from frustration, or just acting out on issues that need to be voiced, I just simply pick up a pen or, more recently, start Microsoft Word and let myself go.  I love poetry, and my favorites are from Langston Hughes, Anne Sexton, Mariah Carey’s song lyrics, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson.  I also enjoy the Biblical book of Psalms.

Sherry: An eclectic mix! Yay! How did you come to blogging? How has it impacted your work?

James: I got into blogging because it was the trend of the moment with my friends who were already running successful blogs about their nail polish and Etsy jewelry personal businesses.  I researched it and found out that was the ideal website out there for me so I signed up and boom!  Here I am, the poet Jamztoma, with a published book of poems about the Pacific islands (The Pasefika Beat) and, more recently, poems that are confessional, meditative, and spiritual.  Therefore, I am always thankful to for enabling me to share my talent with the world, absolutely free of charge.

Sherry: I feel the same way, James. I love your poem Every Summer, and would like to include it here. 

Every summer
when the sun rules the days
I'd wake up from my slumber
to go outside and play
And it all feels like
I'm a moth
attracted to this light
from my lord God
And I'm airborne
in faith and spirit
no longer forlorn
and desolate
Every nighttime
I'd ponder on the moon
wishing for a good life
and a miracle soon
And it all seems like
I'm a moth
in love with the moonlight
for I'm on top
And I am inspired
to tell the world
of my desire
to spread God's word
on Humility
on Harmony
on Love and Peace
on Integrity.
I'm happy.

Sherry: I can see the beauty of your childhood in Pago Pago in this poem, James. Do you have another poem you are especially pleased with that you would like to include? Or one that you feel best expresses who you are?

James: Yes, Sherry, I have a couple that I would love to share with Poets United.  Aside from Every Summer, there’s this piece called Magical, which won me an Editor’s Award from the society.  I wrote it inspired by my mom, Pacific Island women, and get this—Mariah Carey’s image at her Butterfly concert that was held in Hawaii in the late 90s.  

I had just become fond of her, by then, and was impressed with her wearing a flower in her ear, as that is what my mom and all Pacific island women would do to make themselves look presentable for occasions like weddings, church, funerals, etc.  

My Mom

Magical -- first written in 2001, it won the Editor's Award from and was published in their anthology: By the Light of the Moon.  Later in 2012, I revisited it and added the 5th stanza that begins with "Are you a Venus from beyond." The version below is published in my “The PASEFIKA Beat: Poems and Art From the Island of Jamztoma” book.

Are you as magical as you seem?
A princess from my dreams
Must you keep me enchanted?
And take my true love for granted

Magical is how you got me spellbound
nowhere else can your beauty be found

Are you a chime like you sound?
a dame on a throne wearing a crown
Do you have to freeze me in place?
and shy away from my embrace

Magical is how you got me weak in the knees
with your beauty invading my dreams

Are you a Venus from beyond?
a product of God's wand
do you believe in you and me?
to be one for eternity

Magical is how you got me saying 'I do'
with my love so perfect as well as true

And all the lads and lasses dance
and the mer people in a trance
as they celebrate our fairy-tale romance:

You are magical when you have natural beauty.

Sherry: Natural is true beauty, for sure, James.

James: I also have these three poems that have not been published yet that I feel would best convey my writing style and my personality when I am truly happy:

Nod Your Heads  -- this one shows my love for songs of praise and Gospel music.  My favorite gospel album of all time is Whitney Houston’s The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack.  That album made a huge impact in my life back in 1997.  It helped me cope with teenage and domestic issues which resulted with me pursuing greater opportunities in academia.  Two of these blessings were: 1) being inducted into Samoana High school’s National Honor society and 2) attending Junior Statesmen of America summer school at Stanford University in Stanford, CA. The latter was my first time ever to ride an airplane.

Mr. Preacher, in his lecture
said a prayer to the Savior
then told the people
to stay away from evil:

All you believers
Know your Redeemer
Nod your heads
Cause you are blessed!

Miss Penitent, she confessed
She was a heathen, she was a mess
Then told the people
To sing the recital:

All you sinners
Prove you’re winners
Nod your heads
You’ve passed the test!

Young children hug their parents
While cherubs sing joyous hymns
And God who loves the world
says to each boy, girl, and angel

All my children
On Earth and in heaven
Nod your heads
My love for you never ends.

Sherry: I love the message in this poem, James. A strong message of faith and love - and of being comfortable in who you are, with your faith.

My mom and her siblings

Uncle Paletasala

James: The Sunshine Attitude   was influenced by my happy moments while living in Lakewood, WA.  The blessings at that time were being awarded with a grant from Pierce College-Fort Steilacoom to finance my education for two more terms, and my spiritual relationship with the deceased Father Oliver Lee Hightower of St. John Bosco Church in Lakewood, WA. Also, I wish to acknowledge Karen and Morcia Brotherton, for their kindness and support.

Smile my child
Live the life you were born to live
Whether it be soft or to be wild
You are quite impressive

Share your love, my dear
Share it with those who need it
Show them the beauty of kindness
And make them feel bliss

Walk tall, love
All the world celebrates you
You’re unique as an island
You’re a flower necklace
And you’re never in gloom

You got sunshine attitude baby
You glow ever so brightly
You don’t have a care for negatives
Your greatness is your personality

Like a luminous mystery
You are a jeweled presence
Your good deeds are contagious
And they have made you famous

You know the sunshine attitude
It’s in your blood, your name
You’re the pearl of the Atlantic
And loving is your game

That’s why the spotlight’s on you
Cause you have the sunshine attitude
You’re humble that’s true
God bless you.

Sherry: This poem is very moving, James. It seems, to me, to be your mentor, Father Hightower, speaking to you, encouraging you to let your light shine. You do shine brightly, my friend! You stand out, as positive people always do.

James:  My blessings right now are your sense of reciprocity and hospitality.  Thank you.  Eyes of Knowing  was written initially for my THE PSALMS OF JAMZTOMA blog, but I decided to share it with you all on here instead.  It is a mix of secular and spiritual thoughts and was inspired by a Coke ad I saw on  

You look at me with eyes of loving
That strips me of my clothes
And go right into my soul
I am touched by their glowing

I look at you with eyes of knowing
But my collar stops the magic
And you’re making a mistake
You’re so sad by this happening

So you move on hoping
To find someone unattached
Your best match
Good luck searching

And I move on praying
To find peace and love
From my Lord above
My joy everlasting

Sherry: James, this is a lovely poem. I especially like “I look at you with eyes of knowing”. Sometimes people are not ready for that level of trust and knowing, and they walk on. This is a meaningful poem, and also a commentary on our society as filtered through the advertising industry (smiles).

You are an artist as well. Tell us about your art, James.


James: Oh my art, haha.  Well, I do digital drawings through MS Paint.  I consider myself an amateur but throughout my whole life I’ve won just one award for my visual art talent, and it was placing third at American Samoa’s Island-wide Art Contest back in 1994.  

Queen Salote

Then just recently, I was given a chance to showcase two of my artworks at a museum here in Bethesda, called the Dennis and Philip Ratner museum


Like I said, I’m just a beginner, not a professional.  Above are the two: Queen Salote and Successful.  And I want to include these other two drawings from my book, The PASEFIKA Beat: Poems and Art From the Island of Jamztoma called “Tausala” and “Rata.”


Sherry: Colorful and striking art, James. I love the cultural context. What does music mean to you?

James: Music.  I love all sorts of music that have a pleasant beat and especially the ones that make the Itunes Top 100 chart. (I’m very sorry to all musicians who don’t break the Top 100, I just go with what sells and what’s popular in America.) Randomly naming some of themKaty Perry, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Sam Smith, and Bruno Mars.

Sherry: Cool, James. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself that I don’t know you well enough to ask?

James: Certainly.  I am a children’s series book collector.  I collect Fear Street books, Sweet Valley High books, Nancy Drew Files books, Hardy Boys Casefiles books, Goosebumps books, and The Baby-sitters Club books.  If you ever wonder why?  It has always been my dream as a child back in Pago Pago to read all of the books in those series, but I had no access to them because they were not carried by bookstores and libraries down there. 

Sherry: I am also a gatherer of books, always have been.

James:  And I guess this is the best way to get the word out there about my book of Pacific Island/Spiritual/Personal-themed poems called The PASEFIKA Beat: Poems and Art From the Island of Jamztoma, being sold everywhere online.  I have a facebook page created especially to promote it at:

Sherry: That is wonderful, James. Good luck with your book. May it sell widely, to help spread your sunshine. Anything you would like to say to Poets United?

James: The usuals.  Keep writing and keep aiming high.  If you are writing for the fun of it then don’t ever stop.  If you are looking to be noticed or to be published, well, there’s nothing holding you back but yourself.  Do your homework and research the Poetry market, go to poetry readings, and take a class in Creative Writing.   

If you need inspiration, try listening to all sorts of music and pay attention to their lyrics.  And thank you so much for the warm and welcoming atmosphere you have on here.  I have come home.

Sherry: And we are happy to have you here, James. You brighten up the blogosphere.  Thank you for shining your warmth, kindness, faith and happiness our way.

Now, blow the candles out, and you get the first big piece of cake!

I enjoyed this birthday party for Mr. Sunshine, didn't you, kids? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Poetry Pantry #211

Greetings, Poets!

How are things in your part of the world?  What is summer (winter) like where you are?  I spent a day in my state capitol last week.  Madison is a beautiful city really.  The Capitol Building.  The University.  Lake Mendota.  Etc.  Now I know why so many people really choose this city to live in.   We are in the middle of festival season here at our lakefront and downtown.  We have already had our large 10-day-long Summerfest, Pride Festival, Bastille Days, and this weekend is German Fest, followed by Irish Fest next week, Mexican Fest, Indian Summer, and so it goes.  And I must not forget our State Fair which begins next weekend.  I think I like State Fair better than any of the festivals.

Glad to see each of you here this week for Poetry Pantry.  It is always enjoyable for me to get to know you through your poetry; and I hope you feel the same.  Admittedly, I personally appreciate those with whom there is a feeling of reciprocity, which makes for a feeling of community.  I think we ALL tend to visit (after a while) people with whom we reciprocate.  I just don't GET people who link and enjoy visits, yet don't bother to visit others -- even those who spent time making comments on their poetry.

This week I am sharing a photo of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building, taken on Thursday when I was there.  Quite beautiful, I think.  

Be sure to visit Poets United Monday to see what Sherry Blue Sky  has planned to share.  Will it be a featured poet?  A featured blog?  Or a featured poem?

Glad to see there is always a  great turn-out for Midweek Motif.  We hope to see you this coming week for another challenging prompt by Susan Chast!  (And, ha, perhaps many of you have noticed that if you look at one week's prompt Susan gives  a clue about the following week's prompt as well, so you can get a head start.)

And on Friday, remember to see who Rosemary Nissen-Wade features on "I Wish I Had Written This" or  "The Living Dead."

I issue an invitation here to those of you who participate in Poetry Pantry.  If YOU have special photos that you would like me to feature some week, let me know what kind of photos you have.  There are participants here from many different cities, many different countries.  I think it is great fun to see different areas featured. I am especially interested in scenic views of your area or an area you have visited.  Send inquiries first to letting me know what you have.  I am interested in city or country views - in your home area or places you have traveled.

Link your ONE poem.   Then leave a comment below. Then visit other poets.  And I will too.  (If I miss your poem, visit me, and I will visit you... I am like anyone else, appreciating reciprocity.) We ALL like comments, so if you link please DO spend time visiting others.  That is part of the fun as well.  We really like it if you link back to Poets United too, so we spread the Poetry Pantry word in the blogosphere.

Come back a few times on Sunday and Monday to see what's new.  Visit some strangers, and they will become new friends!  Making new friends and reading new poetry, what more could one want?

If you are on Facebook, look for us there as well. Join our site.  It is one more way to stay in touch!

And is the procedure, for those who are new here:  Each Sunday we start a new post with a New Mr. Linky for you. This is so that you can post a link to a poem in your blog. The link will close Monday at 12:00 p.m. (CDT), but you can still visit the links of those who have posted them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors

The Looking Glass
By Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

The Queen was in her chamber, and she was middling old,
Her petticoat was satin and her stomacher was gold.
Backwards and forwards and sideways did she pass,
Making up her mind to face the cruel looking-glass.
The cruel looking-glass that will never show a lass
As comely or as kindly or as young as once she was!

The Queen was in her chamber, a-combing of her hair,
There came Queen Mary's spirit and it stood behind her chair,
Singing, “Backwards and forwards and sideways may you pass,
But I will stand behind you till you face the looking-glass.
The cruel looking-glass that will never show a lass
As lovely or unlucky or as lonely as I was!”

The Queen was in her chamber, a-weeping very sore,
There came Lord Leicester's spirit and it scratched upon the door,
Singing, “Backwards and forwards and sideways may you pass,
But I will walk beside you till you face the looking-glass.
The cruel looking-glass that will never show a lass
As hard and unforgiving or as wicked as you was!”

The Queen was in her chamber; her sins were on her head;
She looked the spirits up and down and statelily she said:
“Backwards and forwards and sideways though I've been,
Yet I am Harry's daughter and I am England's Queen!”
And she faced the looking-glass (and whatever else there was),
And she saw her day was over and she saw her beauty pass
In the cruel looking-glass that can always hurt a lass
More hard than any ghost there is or any man there was!

Yes, well, I guess you have to know your English history, which I suppose not everyone in this international audience will. But maybe the palpable emotion of it carries you past the need for factual detail. I hope so! It's one of my favourite things, largely for that emotion ... but enhanced, I confess, by having been brought up on romanticised stories of English kings and queens. Back then, when I was growing up, Australians called England "the mother country" — and to this day Elizabeth II is Queen of Australia as well as Britain.

The poem is about Queen Elizabeth I, whom I've admired since my childhood. But although she was a great leader of her country, she was not perfect, and they were difficult times. She imprisoned and eventually executed her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots who sought refuge in England. She allowed Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to believe for many years that she might marry him one day, and was very jealous and possessive towards him, yet ultimately decided to remain single. Both these decisions could be seen as matters of political expediency — and/or they could be viewed as being in the best interests of the kingdom. In any case both Mary and Leicester had cause to reproach her, and the memory of what transpired might well have played on the mind of the Queen as she aged. 

That's by way of background. Poetically I find it quite moving, and at the end very stirring —thrilling in its defiance. I want to cheer her on! And then the poem falls away on a melancholy, yet philosophical note. We get old, our day passes. There's an inevitability about it when all's said and done.

Kipling's one of my favourite writers, for his fiction as well as his poems. In this poem his use of rhyme, metre and other devices is masterly in creating the moods and effects he wants. (It comes from Rewards and Fairies, stories for children.) 

He was a prolific writer for adults and children, in various genres, and was much admired by the likes of Henry James and T. S. Eliot, who nowadays I think are considered greater writers than Kipling. There was no-one quite like him, and among other things I think he was a great entertainer. Read all about his many writings and his interesting life at the Wikipedia link on his name, above. And here is a site where you can read many of his works online. One that is not there, his novel Kim, is available here as a free ebook. (Hang on a minute while I grab my copy. Oh, how I loved that book in my youth.) He also has a number of pages on Amazon.

There's so much to say about Kipling, it's hard to stop. But above all, I hope you enjoy the poem.

P.S. And then there's a little more to say — in Susan's and my comments below.