Real Poets


I mentioned one of my favorite InstaPoets, Atticus, to a fellow poet the other day and I promptly got a HuffPost link to an article questioning his authenticity. The article stirred up some strong emotions I have on the subject.

In a nutshell, anything that gets people interested in poetry gets a nod from me! Who can judge what is “real” poetry? One of my biggest pet peeves in the writing world is the air of superiority that demands scholarly stanzas marching in line like broken men molded into saluting soldiers.

As you may infer from my seething alliterations, I was once wounded in the battlefield of “real” poets. I was barely out of my teens and decided to join a local writers group for what I thought would be a great place for encouragement and support of my budding art.

My grandmother died not long after I joined and I wrote a poem about her which included her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. It was difficult to express the loss and pain I felt from losing the most gentle and loving person I had known in my life. I wrote something about a storm and lost tiger cubs… I was so nervous to share my poem with the group, but I worked up the courage to read it aloud.

A seasoned writer and published poet, proceeded to rip my poem to shreds, saying it was full of cliches. A few other “real” poets nodded in agreement and suggested I rewrite the poem. Their criticism was all it took for my ever-present inner critic to rapid-fire a stream of negative comments like, “I told you so!” “You’re not a writer. You will never be a real poet.” “Don’t quit your day job!” I believed those “real” poets and I listened to my crippling critic. I never went back to that writers’ group and I didn’t attempt to write poetry again for several years.

I shake my head in disbelief when I think of all the wasted years that I could have done what turned out to be my greatest passion.

Fortunately, my interest in writing and poetry continued even though my confidence was shattered. I never stopped learning. I took college English and writing classes, attended writing workshops and conferences, read several books on writing including two perennial favorites: Stephen King on Writing and Bird by Bird.

When I finally decided to write and share poetry again, I made a promise to myself that I would never again let anyone’s opinion (including my own) stop me. So, when I see criticism of a poet’s work, it brings those memories flooding back and makes me feel a little defensive.

Who cares if it’s cliche? Seriously! If you don’t like a poet’s writing, move along to the next one. Now, that I’m a grandmother, I have earned the right to share what grandmothers say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

We all have different styles of writing we like. For example, I don’t like horror, (sorry Stephen King, I do love your book on writing) but I don’t criticize it, I just focus on reading and writing what I do like, which is mostly romance. Yes, I admit it, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. Thank you Nicholas Sparks (another writer who has been criticized for creating formulaic, commercialized art.)

I also enjoy uplifting writing and quotes. Atticus covers all those bases! He has over a million followers, proof that a lot of readers like his style. To each their own. The important thing is people are getting interested in poetry again, which not long ago was considered a dying art.

I’m excited about the influx of newcomers into the poetry world joining those who have been inspired to start writing again. Bravo to platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube for providing creative ways to share our art.

Write on!

Write Any Way
by Vautaw

So it’s cliche,

write anyway.

So it’s not grammatically correct,

write anyway.

So it doesn’t rhyme,

write anyway.

Don’t let judgmental “experts”

distort your perception of poetry

or silence the part of your soul

that longs to make sense of life.

Just write

any way!


Mother Teresa

I am honored to have a few of my poems included in the latest Bards Against Hunger anthology. I love to write poems for good causes and eradicating hunger is one of the best causes I can think of. Proceeds from the sell of this book will go to The Homeless Advocacy Center of Anderson and Madison County.

YOU are invited to join us for the book launch which will be November 17, 2018 from 1-3 p.m. at the Elwood Public Library. The launch will also serve as a food drive for the Anderson Preparatory Food bank. Suggested items for donation includes: Any non-perishable food items that are not past the expiration date. Cans of fruit, vegetables, spaghetti-o’s, cereal, peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal, fruit snacks, granola bars, etc.

The poem below titled, “Hunger” is one I submitted for this project. It was inspired by someone I have admired as long as I can remember. Someone who gave tirelessly to help the poorest and sickest among us… The one and only Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

One of Mother Teresa’s quotes in particular made me think about hunger in a different light, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Yes, we must feed the hungry, eradicate hunger from the face of our planet. But, we must go beyond bread by showing kindness and love for each other. Then, the healing of our world will begin.

Mother Teresa also said, “If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” and “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” It is wonderful to help our community and is much needed, but let us also lift up those in our own family who may be hungry and feel alone, especially during the holidays. Who do you know that is hungry for love? Tell them. Show them. Feed them.

Write On!


I hunger for
more than bread.

I hunger for

I hunger for

I hunger for

I hunger for

I hunger for
tender touch.

I hunger for

I hunger for


Passion and Paper Tigers


Fear preys on passion, but it is a paper tiger. ~Vautaw

I received a check for $25 today from the Poetry Society of Indiana for winning 1st place in the Linda Bannon Memorial Category with a poem I wrote specifically for the contest called, “Overflow“.

In my mind, I wielded the check like a sword to shred the paper tiger that has pursued me since the day I dared to publish my first word. Apparently, it worked, but I know a legion of paper tigers exist for every word I dare to share.

I am taking advantage of this momentary victory and boost of confidence by dreaming big, writing like I am already famous, and visualizing my name among the greatest writers of all time: Hemingway, Vonnegut, Faulkner, Joyce, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Eliot, Bronte, Woolf, Plath, Atwood, Angelou, Christie, Cartland, Steel, Vautaw…

That last one is me, one of my pseudonyms, fits right in doesn’t it?!

Whew, I got that out before the next paper tiger spotted me and fueled my inner critic with enough adrenaline to make me want to escape through the open tab to check my email or scroll social media… anything to avoid the thoughts of inadequacy, of not being good enough to even think of being in the same sentence as the “greats” or “real” writers, of dramatic despair of dying with my words and stories left unsaid…

But, wait, I have my sword. I may not even cash the check. I may post it on my vision board as a reminder of an Amelia Earhart quote, “Fears are just paper tigers“. So, write to your heart’s content. Write the words that you want to share with the world. Write the stories that make your soul shine.

En Garde!



Meet Me in Montreal

I'm in the write mood! (7)

I followed an email link from Leonard Cohen’s family that led to a star-crossed love song the legendary song writer recorded called Traveling Light. I sometimes feel a pang of jealousy of songs and poems written for a poet’s love interest. I don’t know why it matters, but for some odd reason it does. Perhaps it’s lust to be a writer’s muse or maybe it’s immortality I seek?

Leonard Cohen’s songs get to me. His words and poetic rhythm unlocks a door in my soul where heartbreak, loneliness, and regret reside. His music wafts in and waltzes toxic emotions to the surface so they dissipate rather than destroy me. What a cathartic gift and legacy.

My late spinster aunt loved to listen to Gordon Lightfoot. She had all his CDs and would go to his concerts whenever he was within four hours driving distance. I never understood her fascination with him until now. He must have been her lyrical soul doctor like Leonard Cohen has been for me. God bless the music makers for they set our spirit free.

Hopefully, the stars will align for me to make it to Montreal in November. For someone with no stamps on their passport, like me, what an adventure that would be! What is life if not a daring adventure and celebration of using your gifts to the fullest as Leonard has shown us can be done with style and grace.

What follows is the email I received regarding the upcoming Memorial Tribute for Leonard Cohen. Meet me in Montreal to celebrate the life and music of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation!

The Cohen Family presents



The family of Leonard Cohen invites fans from around the world to join them, along with renowned musicians, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of Quebec in celebrating Cohen’s legacy for Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Nov. 6, 2017.

“My father left me with a list of instructions before he passed: ‘Put me in a pine box next to my mother and father. Have a small memorial for close friends and family in Los Angeles…and if you want a public event do it in Montreal,’” said singer-songwriter Adam Cohen “I see this concert as a fulfillment of my duties to my father that we gather in Montreal to ring the bells that still can ring.”

The event will benefit the Canada Council for the Arts, the Council of Arts and Letters of Quebec, and the Montreal Arts Council.

Tower of Song will mark the first anniversary of Leonard’s passing and commence a week of celebrations honouring Cohen in Montreal. As previously announced, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s new exhibit, “Leonard Cohen: Une brèche en toute chose / A Crack in Everything,” will open to the public November 9. The exhibit was approved by the late songwriter before his passing and will celebrate Cohen’s life and work. Select media and top tier Tower of Song ticket holders will be invited to a preview of the exhibit on November 7.


Nature and Poetry

I'm in the write mood! (1)

“Nature brings out the poet in me.” ~ Kathy Chaffin Gerstorff

My favorite park on the planet is Mounds State Park in Anderson, Indiana, which happens to be my hometown. I have always felt drawn to Mounds for reasons I don’t completely understand. I think it has to do with the rich history of the Mounds. I’ve had a story in my head for nearly 20 years that I do hope to get out into the world someday. In the meantime, I’m content to enter their annual poetry contest. This year I nearly forgot about it. Fortunately, a reminder popped up in my Facebook timeline. They added a Poetry/Photo “hybrid” category this year which is cool. I love photography almost as much as poetry, they make perfect mates.

To prepare for the hybrid entry, I ordered a couple prints of photos I snapped of my family at Mounds a few months ago. When I see a photo sometimes the words come to me, but sometimes they don’t. When a deadline hangs in the air like stale cigarette smoke, my muse chokes!

I knew what I had to do. I had to go straight to the source and get some fresh air. I talked my husband into driving me to Mounds so I could knock out the poem on the way. Yeah right. Nothing! Once we got to Mounds I went straight to their nature room where I presumed it would be quiet and I could write. Wrong again. Someone was already in “my” room with their head buried in their cell phone listening randomly to news, music, whatever. It was noise to me and oh so annoying. Why bother coming to a nature center if you’re going to be on your phone? At least put in some earbuds!

I then went outside and sat at a picnic table. The sun was shining from a clear blue sky. Birds were singing. My muse blew in on a slight breeze and took a seat beside me. Magic. I love when that happens. I looked at the photo of my youngest granddaughter sitting on one of the beautiful native benches that makes a wonderful addition to the park. I wondered what someone who didn’t know my awesome little angel would see if they looked at the photo. Would they see all the generations that have visited the park before her and the generations that she will introduce to our special place. That’s what I see.

I finished the poem and took it directly to the manager’s office. So they have the original poem if I ever become postmortem famous! I doubt it, but you never know.  I don’t do it for the money or the fame. I write because it is who I am. Writing is as much a part of me as my flesh, more so I believe. Spiritual. When I write poetry I feel connected to heaven and earth in a way nothing outside of prayer has ever made me feel. Sometimes the words do not convey the depth of my emotion, but that’s okay. I’ve made peace with not being a flowery prose writer that creates a symphony with the flick of her pen, even though I still appreciate hearing a concerto of words by the masters. My words are more like a street musician strumming a guitar. Simple, raw, surprising. Entertaining to me and sometimes the audience that stops to listen in.

Happy National Poetry Month. I hope you take note of what inspires you!


Photo I took of my granddaughter that inspired my poem, “What Do You See?”

What Do You See?
Kathy Chaffin Gerstorff

What do you see?
An adorable blonde-hair,
blue-eyed little girl
sitting on a park bench?

I see the fourth generation
to create happy memories
of time spent with her family
at Mounds State Park.

Storing up smiles
and happy thoughts
to see her through
the hard times that
life sometimes brings.

I see a link to a
love of nature
that lives on
in the heart
of a child.

If You Really Knew Me


I attended a writing workshop yesterday led by three fantastic facilitators (Lorraine Marshall-Rey, Michael Brockley, and Jeffrey Owen Pearson). The workshop title was “Writing the Lonely Life” and the topic was loneliness, being alone, and writing. I will attend a writing workshop on any topic. I like to keep my claws sharp. Plus, I meet the most fascinating people at writing workshops. There seems to be an automatic trust among kindred spirits. After a few minutes getting to know each other, we put our vulnerabilities on the table like scalpels during open heart surgery.

One of the ice breakers the fantastic facilitators used was an exercise called “If You Really Knew Me”. We went around the room telling each other what they would know about us if they really knew us. We discovered that one of the facilitators (Mike Brockley) has over 700 “conversational” ties, each one with a theme or story. We learned that a couple writers struggle with depression, one writer just graduated and feels lost, another one used to be in a cult. I shared about overcoming a phobia of escalators and using that same fear-facing strategy to publish my writings that I had spent years putting in a box or throwing away.

After I left the workshop and thought more about the exercise, I thought about some other things I could have shared, like how I have a touch of OCD that prevents me from letting any canned goods be upside down in my cabinets or how I would rather read and listen to the rain than watch TV or how I redirected negative emotions of an abused childhood to write and publish books to help others that have gone through the same thing.

But then, if you really knew me, you would know I wouldn’t want to mention anything that seemed like bragging. It is a fine line we walk between sharing our stories to get to know each other better and staying silent to avoid sideways glances and shoulder shrugs.

Of course withdrawal is where loneliness begins and thus the need for workshops such as this one where we learn about anaphoras and ghazals, pair up to create couplets, dance, laugh, birth poems, and make new friends that helps fill the abyss of loneliness with the connection we all crave.

Write on.


Below is a poem my new friend Helen Townsend and I created at the workshop. We both created couplets separately, then when we paired up to put the poem together, we were in awe of how one line seemed to be responding to the other, almost as if the inner voice of strength was talking one through the fear (which was a word we both came up with when asked to list the cost of loneliness). It was a fun exercise. 


I want to step out into light

but loneliness keeps me in a shroud of fear.

    Take off your eye glasses

    De-focus your fear.

I am a fist

of pain and fear.

    Twirl your precious stones

    let your fingers forget fear.

My face hides a

self-imposed prison of fear.

    Walk outside in inside-out-socks

    Your feet splash puddles of fear.

My strength is here

I don’t feel fear.



Breaking The Cycle


Break The Cycle Volume III – RECOVERY

Writing gave me an outlet that released me from the prison of my past and enabled me to make the journey from victim to victor. ~ Kathy Chaffin Gerstorff

Before I published the first Break the Cycle book I just wanted to write my “secrets” down to get them out of my head because keeping it inside ate away at my psyche like Pacman. Writing turned out to be very cathartic for me. It was like a dam of pent up emotions broke free as the words poured onto the page. I cursed and cried, but kept writing as I processed my feelings. Writing paved the way for me to forgive and move on from the past which up to that point was easily triggered in my memory and led to a tidal wave of emotion which often included irritability, uncontrollable crying, withdrawal or binge eating – sometimes all at once. It felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster that would last for a few hours to a couple weeks. Writing in my journal released the pressure valve and let off steam which gave me a way to control my emotions instead of my emotions controlling me.

After a few years of writing, I had enough poems and stories to fill a book. At first I didn’t dare think of publishing what I wrote. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt my mother who was a victim of abuse too. But, somewhere along the way writing became bigger than me. I felt called and compelled to my core to share my poems and short stories with the world even though I knew only a few people would read them. If it helped even one person break free from mental torment and enabled them to get control of their life instead of continuing to be a victim, then that would mean my suffering was not in vain, a greater good could come of it. From that thought and hope, Break The Cycle Books was born.

I invited other child abuse survivors to share their stories too because I wanted them to feel the same freedom that writing gave me. I also wanted to give back to the people who helped me but I didn’t know how to do that. How do you repay the people who saved your life? No amount of money or thank yous can cover that. And they didn’t expected anything in return for helping me. The best way I could think to repay them was to pay it forward. So I decided to donate the books proceeds to organizations that help abused, neglected and at-risk kids.

Books sales have been slow, but sales are not the most important thing. It would be wonderful to help more organizations, but my main goal with publishing Break The Cycle books is to help child abuse survivors know they are not alone and that writing may help provide a release valve on the pain of their past so they too can make the journey from victim to victor.

Write on.

Kathy G

ROCKY The Junk Yard Dog BALBOA


Rocky “The Junk Yard Dog” Balboa

Stacy Savage, a poet and friend, loves to write what I call CAUSE POETRY which is writing that in addition to entertaining and/or inspiring the reader, benefits charities. I also love Cause Poetry. It is my favorite writing to do. Stacy and I collaborated on a nature (another passion we have in common) writing project a few years ago Naturally Yours that benefited a fund that enables elementary kids to visit state parks to learn about nature and wildlife.

Stacy has created a Facebook page where she hosts POETRY CONTESTS FOR A CAUSE. Her latest EARTH DAY writing project is near and dear to my heart. The cause she is helping with this contest is Wildlife In Need. This organization had a devastating fire in January that resulted in loss of wildlife, structures and supplies. They started a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild their sanctuary.

I know how it feels to lose precious animals in a fire. In August 2014 we lost our two dogs and angelfish in a fire that made national news and left us with only the clothes on our back. So, when Stacy mentioned this project, I was all in. I made a donation and wrote the poem below in honor of Rocky, our “junk yard dog” that we miss everyday.

If you like to write poetry, I encourage you to enter the Earth Day writing contest and check out Stacy’s Poetry for a Cause page.

Write on.

Kathy G


Rocky “The Junk Yard Dog” Balboa

I loved to watch our miniature
American Eskimo Spitz
with his flowing white cape
play with kids and chase snakes
through the field.

We called him our junk yard dog
because as soon as he got home
from being groomed,
he would roll around
in the dirt like a pig.

He liked to hang out
at our automotive parts shop
and would jump in any car
with an open window. Then hide,
hoping to go for a ride
before he was noticed.

He was small, but acted
which is why we named him
after the fictional fighter
Rocky Balboa.

Tragically, Rocky died
in a devastating fire,
but his spirit lives on.

I think of him often
running wild and free.

He was the kind of dog
humans should aspire to be…

Caring, protective, devoted,
fun-loving, adventurous,
magic moment maker.

I miss you my furry friend.
Someday I will see you again.

National Poetry Month Kickoff


Break The Cycle Volume III coming soon!

April is my favorite month of the year. It is SPRING which is my favorite season. Everything is coming back to life, earth turns green, the sun shines bright in a clear blue sky with storybook clouds that occasionally float by… it is a time of renewal. April is also host to two causes near and dear to my heart: National Poetry Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. I plan to honor both of those events every day during the month of April with a poem a day and that’s no joke! 🙂

The first feature combines both events. It is the third anthology in my Break the Cycle book series. I wanted the focus of Break the Cycle Volume III to be Recovery. While there are several poems and stories that do address moving forward after the trauma of child abuse, this Volume also includes some cautionary tales that shows the fallout of neglected and abused children.

Some of the stories are tough to read and early feedback is that a few of the poems and stories make readers cry. I have also heard from people who think it is sad to publish a book that may open old wounds and that they could never read such a book. That’s okay.

The book is for people who need to confront their childhood demons and these stories help them find their own voice. Those are the people I am hoping to reach with the Break the Cycle series. Because I have been there. I am aware of the painful emotions reading stories about abuse can dredge up, but it is freeing too because you see people sharing their stories, letting the secrets out that they have kept bottled up for years, and taking steps forward away from the past that threatens to keep them bound.

Reading empowering books and writing from the heart helps heal your soul, at least it has helped me and others who have told me that it has helped them too. So, I publish Break the Cycle books with no apology and with the hope that springs eternal from one survivor to another.

The proceeds from this book and all the Break the Cycle books are donated to organizations that help neglected and abused children. The next volume will be published in 2018 and the final volume in 2020 – that is my goal. There is something magic about the number five! My prayer is that the people who need to read it will find it and it will inspire them to share their truths and lead to a healthier, happier life. That and helping kids is what it is all about for me.

In the books, I write under three pen names. Why? I have used the names for years and write many poems anonymously because it frees me to write without self-imposed limitations. I also like the pen names. I sometimes pretend those names will be added to the list of famous writers. Of course insecurities that often plague writers kick those thoughts to the curb, but I have fun with the visions of grandeur.

Below is a poem from I wrote under a pseudonym in Break the Volume III. If you read the book, you will know one of my pen names! I wrote this poem to honor my Aunt Judy who took me in after I was removed from my family due to years of abuse from my step-father. When I first moved in with my aunt, I was hurt and angry that I had to be the one to leave. I didn’t understand why my step-father wasn’t the one taken away so I could stay with my mother and brothers.

My aunt was very kind to me and treated my like her own child. She taught me so many things but the most important was forgiveness. Working through my issues took a lot of patience on my aunt’s part. She could have left it alone, but I am sure my bitterness would have festered to the point that it would eclipse my soul and I would have no desire to have a relationship with anyone opting instead to stay in my shell. I am so grateful for what my aunt (and uncle) did for me.

After I grew up and had kids of my own, I understood her sacrifice on a different level and told her several times how much I appreciated her help. I still don’t think she understood the depth of my gratitude. On her deathbed just a few weeks ago, I told her that I was paying her kindness forward by taking two of my nieces in to raise who are the same age I was when I moved in with her. I told her that her legacy lives on. To be a foster parent, what a tough, but beautiful legacy to leave. It is not a life I would have chosen had she not paved the way for me to turn a bitter heart into a beautiful soul.


I was furious.
You taught me forgiveness.

I was scared.
You taught me strength.

I was sad.
You taught me smiles.

I was lost.
You taught me love.

Write on.

Kathy G