Peninsula Poetry: Carrie Sherrill

Carrie Sherrill has been writing since grade school – sometimes on paper, and always in her mind. She finds images in her garden, in snippets of eavesdropped conversations and through the eyes of her grandchildren.

Sherrill, a retired registered nurse and former caterer, has lived in Door County for more than 30 years. In addition to her nursing education, she earned a B.A. with an emphasis in creative writing and has attended the Summer Writing Workshop in Iowa City. Her poems have appeared in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets’ calendar and other regional publications. 

Ellen Kort, Wisconsin’s first poet laureate, had the biggest influence on Sherrill’s writing because she belonged to a writers’ group that included Kort, Laurel Mills, Bruce Dethlefsen and others who provided critiques and encouragement. Sherrill’s husband, Peter, is also a published poet who provides support and advice.

Her Catholic upbringing, experience with both good and bad relationships, and long nursing career provide plenty of groundwork for Sherrill’s poems. She is intrigued by colors and the surprising places where they can be found. She is always observing and storing words and images.

What is your writing routine?

I need a fast-writing pen and a blank spiral notebook. Sometimes I write from prompts: perhaps a line from another poem, a newspaper headline, a photograph or a crayon color. I free-write (write without stopping) for at least 10 minutes; then I close the notebook and walk away. Sometimes for an hour, other times for years. When I go back, I glean words, images and phrases. I begin arranging, rearranging, adding, removing until the poem finds its way on the page. I leave the poem rest awhile, then revise, revise, revise until it feels right.

What do most poorly written poems have in common?

Poems that are too academic, either in form or language, are off-putting to me. Some poems require more revision. Every word needs to be essential. Sometimes trying to fit a poem into a form or rhyme scheme sacrifices the meaning and draws attention away from the words themselves. When I read a wonderful poem and realize later that it is written in a specific form, it can be very satisfying, but the form itself should not be the impetus for the piece.

What do most well-written poems have in common?

I like poems that have interesting words and phrases. Poems that provide a connection to the reader via memories or use of the senses are my favorites. Well-written poems have clean images and sometimes layers of meaning. They may need to be read more than once and then pondered. Parts of them stay with you, and call you back.

Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to “solve” it?

I think it is important for the reader to find meaning in the poem, but not necessarily to understand the meaning. We may never understand completely the writer’s intention, or the levels of meaning in a poem, but as long as there is something to identify with, I think that is fine. 

What book are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It is a beautifully written blend of science, Native American teachings and care (or lack of care) for the environment. I am always working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It is a guide to becoming the best “artist” you can, and each time through, I learn more about myself and my writing.

Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry in 2015 and continues to meet.

Emergency Room, 4 a.m.

Impending doom. You feel it in your gut, hear
it in pauses of the paramedic’s radio report,
see it reflected in the doctor’s glasses.

Doom. The tin-like blood scent that is there
before the actual hemorrhage. A rhythm 
you can’t correct, no matter how 
fast you arrive, how 
much you give, how 
long you work.

Doom. The bedazzled look in the patient’s eyes,
clouded questioning, the fear, pleading, 
and finally realization
resignation. The turn-around

When it’s you 
that they pity
feeling sorry that no matter what 
you will feel failure,

Their eyes follow your hurried motions, try to catch
your attention, to tell you it’s OK, you’ve done your best
but it’s too late, and they fade
color softens, something draws them up and out
looking, searching the corner of the room, above the cot.

And then calm. The lengthening pauses between
breaths, first theirs and then yours.
Your hesitant hand 
checks for a pulse 
closes the muted eyes
the parched mouths
first theirs, and then your own.


“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days …”
 James Russell Lowell, 1848

I want June freckles to appear
across the bridge of my nose 
I want to smell like rain-kissed
lilacs, splash in tepid puddles,
sink my toes deep in cool sand
I want to become June-like

feel the hum of a buzzing bee
see its path inside 
a succulent blossom
I want to carry my words
like pollen, share bits 
along the way. Save some
in my mind’s hive
let them settle in


retrieve them later
to run like honey
across the bleak winter page

Night Shift, Labor and Delivery
 A memory in color

Blue veins of mother’s neck
stand out through urgent pushes
I watch, breathless and wide-eyed

as blue scalp, pacific blue
no, purple-
appears and recedes with each contraction


blue gloved doctor hands
bloodstained now
scissor the long, straight cut

the whole head erupts
blue, grimaced face
silent mouthed cry

twisted red-violet and pacific blue
undulating umbilical cord
wrapped tight
around newborn neck

limp body slithers out
downy skin, closed eyes
all so blue

Mother’s panic evident
her bloodshot blue eyes
search the quiet room

doctor works fast, loosens
then unwinds the cord
immediate flush of pink
loud, red squeal

Mother cries ocean blue tears
her red-violet lips kiss this new life
and blue waves of relief wash the room

She is lovely
She is here.
One Nation Indivisible, 2019

Cities are spattered with red blood
of the black and the white and the brown
people of our country
Guns know no color

Borders are bursting
children separated from mothers
search for food, for water, for a better life
We build our wall
Ice caps melt, rivers rise
air pollutes lungs, water unsafe to drink
forests slaughtered
We count our dollars

We are far beyond Ginsberg’s Howl
A constant white noise pervades
politicians spew fetid lies
repeating   rephrasing   repeating

Until they believe
we believe

We don’t know 
what to believe

The chasm is wide
Black versus white 
man versus woman
American versus immigrant
Democrat versus Republican

We must come together
gather our strengths
state our truths
open our hearts 
silence the wail of our nation

Can poetry save the world?

Write about wind in trees
green waves of needles, soft and blowing
Write about bare, gray branches waiting
for bud burst, thinking chartreuse
Write about how apple blossoms 
perfume spring air, their white flush
in rows of the orchard
See tinted pink blooms, bees flitting
blossom   to blossom   to blossom
Bees perpetually taking care of us 
Think golden honey 
clear and sweet
in the comb, in the jar, in our tea

Make connections:

Work.  Hard work of writing
thinking and not thinking
letting ink write on its own
writing wild and fast

See the words, smell them
taste them, devour them
hear their shouts as they vie 
for a place on the page

Try them in different positions:
end rhymes, alliteration,
nouns, verbs, adjectives
Use a lot of them, then
pare them down 
Each word an essential purpose

Let them speak for themselves
Titles. Beginnings. Endings.
Scrap the first six stanzas
keep the haiku
leave interpretation to the reader
Walk away.