In the summer
of 2003, I was approached by Susan Johnson, a co-founder of
She was a manager in the large aerospace company where I
worked as a design engineer. Susan had seen several articles
that I had submitted to the company newsletter and thought I
might be interested in contributing to Word Worth. In
effect, I would be replacing her because she would no longer
be able to assume an active role with the online magazine. I
was reluctant to tell her that my new-found writing ability
might not hold up in a more academic setting.
Susan arranged for me to meet
Dr. M H Perry, the publisher of Word Worth. I was
already aware of the stellar reputation of Word Worth
and of the impressive credentials of Dr. Marion Perry. I
remember driving to that meeting at a local coffee shop
feeling as if I were going to a job interview even though I
expected no monetary compensation. I recall a slight sense
of intimidation and was particularly concerned that I would
use the word hopefully too often. Some people can’t
get through a sentence without saying ya know or
basically; my Achilles’ heel was hopefully. I
should not have worried. Dr. Perry turned out to be both
charming and non-judgmental. We were soon on a first name
basis. I had brought a few samples of my work and she seemed
pleased with them.
With Marion’s editorial help, I
began a transition to a mature writer and an evolution from
a newsletter hack to a professional columnist. We met each
month at her home to discuss my current submission and
things such as the mechanics of writing, eloquence, poetry,
politics, truth, and social justice. In between face-to-face
meetings, we continued our collaboration via e-mail. I felt
as if I were a student with my own personal professor.
Nevertheless, it was not a
one-way street. I remember being greatly flattered when she
asked me to review her work. At first I served as a second
pair of eyes on the lookout for typos. Later she welcomed my
suggestions on things such as style, syntax, and the logical
flow of ideas. Although she and her website had already
received several prestigious awards, I was proud to add a
few of my own to the Word Worth collection. One was an Apex
Grand Award. The greatest honor, however, was a ceremony
that she arranged at a local upscale restaurant to recognize
me for that distinction. She invited my friends and family.
Marion was as excited for me as I was for myself.
I had started out as a columnist
and eventually earned the additional title of editor. I was
grateful to be on the front lines as Word Worth grew into a
world-class online magazine. But all good things must come
to an end, and after nearly five years I reluctantly left to
pursue other interests. I have continued to write, albeit at
a more leisurely pace, following that difficult decision.
Often when I remember my time
with Word Worth, I think of a poem commonly called
“Daffodils” by, appropriately enough, William Wordsworth.
The first time I heard it, I was a teenager in my high
school English class. The teacher had assigned a poem to
each of us to read in front of the group. One of the macho
males—a football star, in fact—was asked to read
“Daffodils.” I tried to hide my snickering and snorting as
he blushed his way through that “sissy” poem. It wasn’t
until much later in my adult life that I realized the poem
was metaphorical rather than a simple exposition on a pretty
In the first few stanzas,
Wordsworth talks about a stroll in the countryside near the
bay of a lake. He suddenly comes across a field of beautiful
daffodils. He talks of their immense numbers, their golden
color, and how they fluttered and danced in the breeze. He
describes them as sparkling in waves of glee. Then in a
couplet at the end of the third stanza he says:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought
My interpretation (and this
could be mine alone) is that he knew he had witnessed
something of profound beauty, but was unable to fully
appreciate it at the time. Perhaps there were other
stressors and distractions competing for his thoughts. That
revealing couplet is followed by the final verse:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
To me, this
stanza—beautifully and eloquently—implies that those things
recalled in tranquility are sometimes more pleasurable than
was the event itself.
And so, Marion,
I still remember our first get-together in the coffee shop,
our exchange of ideas during our monthly meetings, the
awards ceremony at the Old Orchard Inn, and so many other
interactions that cemented our friendship and helped make
Word Worth as great as it was. I can now recall those
events in tranquility. And they give me great pleasure.
The Cool Colonnade
by Susan C. Johnson
The Poplars are fell'd,
farewell to the shade
And the whispering sound of the cool colonnade…
Photo by Wayne Johnson
The first two lines of William Cowper’s “The
Poplar Field” play over and over in my mind when I think of
ending its 20-year tenure.
For some, the poem is about death.
For me, it’s about the end of an unvarying
civility - the loss of a privileged haven where reason and
logic and thoughtful consideration always prevail.
ever a person, and their intellect, could embody the welcome
refuge of a cool colonnade, it is Marion Perry, the founder
and editor of Word Worth.
I knew her first as Dr. Marion Perry, one of
my mentors at the Oxford-style Empire State College.
All of the college’s classes were one-on-one,
intimate arrangements where the professor had clear access
to a student’s comprehension, or lack therof.
There was no hiding.
During one of our early sessions together, we
discussed the poet Sylvia Plath. I was firmly opposed
to studying Plath’s work, considering it tainted by the
author’s subsequent suicide.
My bias was emotional and rigid and
It didn’t survive.
It couldn’t survive.
Marion’s gentle, but persistent, application
of logic unarmed its defenses, exposing it for its
ignorance. (Marion would probably be kinder – calling
it naïveté, but ignorance it was.)
And that was her unfailing approach to all of
our discussions, no matter the subject.
It was also her approach as the editor of
– one that made writing for her such a pleasure.
Every piece that I submitted was far better
for the changes encouraged by Marion. Sometimes it was
only a word here and there, or an awkward phrase, and other
times it was entire passages. Sometimes, it was only
one of the finer points of punctuation.
However big or small the edit, every
suggested change was an act of kindness on her part, made in
order that the best possible result would reflect on the one
whose name was on the byline.
She nurtured those of us who were her writers
and artists in a way that none of us are likely to ever
There are so few places left in this world
where a path winds through columns of aspens, existing only
to provide beauty for visitors, and a leafy respite from the
harshness of the world.
Too soon there will be one less – though
those of us who relished its refuge will remember it always.
Farewell Word Worth, and thank you….
- See Arts page for Wayne