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Exquisite Fifty

by Kim Baker

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver

Fifty. Fifty states. Fifty-fifty. Fifty Gates of Wisdom.

Well, with all due respect to the Kaballah and the good ole U.S.A., the best thing about the number 50? The age I started writing poetry.

And six years later, my first book of poetry is being published by Finishing Line Press, a small, award-winning publisher in Kentucky, released in March 2013. Yay!

Writing poetry is one thing. Artistic. Life-giving. Magical. But trying to publish poetry? Not for the faint of heart.

The best part about becoming an artist at 50 is not worrying about the inevitable rejection. Those exponentially thin, white envelopes saying, "Nice work, but not quite right for us," do not throw me. Much.

I surely would have started writing poetry sooner. I wouldn't have cared about, or even been aware of, the rejections to come. But life started out in a troubled childhood, and when I escaped at 18, all I could do was work, work, work to live, eat, survive.

I fancied myself an artist. But doing a mean sink full of dishes with panache was the most creative I could be.

Turning 50 is sobering. And freeing. I spent my birthday on a beach in Sandwich, reading and contemplating the words of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Cliché now to some, these words are moving with those two exquisite adjectives: wild and precious. I could no longer admire them from afar but had to embrace their meaning for me now.

So I signed up for a poetry workshop. Fell in love. With possibility. And the courage of other middle-aged humans also longing to be poets. And I remember the day, after some publication and much angst and joy in revision and rejection, that I called myself POET. And the artist was born. In my fifties.

The poetry book publishing story is wild. Two years ago, I entered a contest at Finishing Line Press. And did not win. So I had my momentary disappointment, then dutifully wrote NO in the response space on my very carefully constructed pencil-and-ruler dinosaur of a spreadsheet for submissions and forgot about it for a while.

Eighteen months later, I received an email that Finishing Line Press wanted to publish the manuscript anyway. I was at the office. I felt myself melting into the carpet, so I got up silently screaming, closed my office door, and had a major meltdown. It was exquisite.

Under the Influence: Musings on Poems and Paintings contains poems mostly about paintings, called ekphrasis, and some poems in the style of other poems.

I specialize in writing poems about art, and a number of poems in the book are about paintings by Cape Cod artists. In fact, the cover of the book is a painting by Mary Moquin, and I have a poem written to this painting in the book. Meeting Mary was serendipitous.

I was at work on a Friday, and I felt this insatiable need to go to the Cotuit Art Center, to which I had never been. I was able to leave early enough and arrive at Cotuit before it closed.

Mary had a one-woman show and was inside painting alone in front of her work. I went in, and when I walked in front of the Year of the Crow, I sat instantly on the gallery floor and started writing. Mary, whom I did not know at the time, finally came over and said, "A penny for your thoughts."

I explained what I was doing told and her if I liked how the poem turned out, I would email it to her. The rest is history. Mary is a magical artist and person.

My poems are very musical. I like lush. And I revise until my brain bleeds. So these poems are very dear to me because I have worked on them so much. If you like art, you will enjoy joining the conversation by reading the poems and then maybe even viewing the art that inspired them and having your own reaction.

You can find my book here.

And I have started a website at where you'll find information about the book, testimonials, info about me, and samples of poems from the book. Soon, I'll have reading dates there also.

This book is a dream come true. From humble and tragic beginnings, I have become my true self, and I am an artist.

Mary Oliver asks: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? I would add: What are you waiting for?

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Kim Baker

When she isn't teaching the abundant virtues of the comma at Roger Williams University School of Law, writing poetry about big hair and Elvis, and doing the Cha Cha, Kim Baker works to end violence against women.

Kim's poems have been published online and in print and essays broadcast on NPR. Three short plays have been stage-read at Culture*Park in New Bedford.

Kim's first chapbook of poetry, Under the Influence: Musings about Poems and Paintings, is now available from Finishing Line Press.

Kim is currently working on a book of ekphrasis poems about the stories and portrayals of women in the paintings of female artists. Kim can be reached at