Dessa Reed

Speaker * Author * Columnist



A Few of Dessa's Published Articles


I have a-once-in-a-lifetime New Year’s resolution.  (Or, maybe a-100-times-in-a-lifetime suggestion.)

Have you ever wanted to disappear and start all over again?  My husband’s company would transfer us every few years, and with it came leaving friends and familiar locations behind to start afresh in another area ~ a new house, a new school for our daughter and a changed social life for me as a “homemaker.”

After I was widowed at an early age and our daughter married, I found I missed the moves.  How lovely to leave behind the mistakes, boredom and sameness of an old life for a clean-slate one where lessons learned and different choices could be made without guilt or condemnation. 

Of course, I have an imagination that takes me to the outer realms of reality and mentally piece together an exciting new life in almost every place I visit or TV program I watch.  When I follow the people on HGTV buying a house in a new state or country ~ making their choice between three impossible possibilities, I know exactly which one I would choose.  I’d construct a life involved in local society, sit in charming cafés, explore the beaches, mountains and museums ~ or whatever that part of the world had to offer.

One of my favorite incognito trips is to get into my car, start out in any direction and see where it takes me.  Last year, I left the desert in July and headed West on Interstate 10 towards the ocean not knowing whether I would turn right or left when I got to Pacific Coast Highway.  I had no time schedule, no reservations and no plans.  It was exhilarating!  I ended up turning right, stopping in Santa Barbara at an awful ~ all that was available ~ motel because you have to expect that in California in the summer.  So it was one night of a lumpy mattress and dirty carpeting but walking just three blocks I found a fabulous restaurant where I could eat well and read my Kindle at the same time. 

When I dine alone, the servers and people around me are always friendly to a single woman.  I have met the grandest people over the years and continents by doing my favorite thing ~ talking to strangers. 

Feeling a New Year bearing down upon me once again, I got the “reinvent myself” virus that usually takes its toll on my present lifestyle.  In fact, I said to my almost-nuttier-than-I-am friend, I think I may join the “Witness Protection Program” so I can completely disappear without a trace.  She knew better than to point out that I actually had to “witness” something that was dangerous to my health, but laughed and encouraged me to pick a new name.  That took quite a while but I finally came up with Liz Holt (family names if you go back three generations.) 

The only problem with my extreme makeover plan is that since I have discovered the wonders of living in the Coachella Valley with its many nationalities and where a United Nations of cultures come to visit, leaving it for any other part of the Universe with a new identity doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as it once would.

So now I have come up with another New Year’s resolution.  Stay put, be happy and stop worrying about the past ~ or the future.  Live with the gift of a bonanza present!



By Dessa Reed

I am a convert to Modernism.  When I read the words of Richard Neutra, I fell in love with his poetic interpretation of architecture, “As an architect, my life has been governed by the goal of building environmental harmony, functional efficiency, and human enhancement into the experience of everyday living.”                                                  

As a poet, I try to observe the imagery, metaphor, originality and lyrical qualities in just about everything I see and do.  A fountain becomes an upside-down umbrella ~ architecture denotes line, light and life-style. 

My first exposure to the poetry of structural design came with the camera of “Modernism Week 2008” at the Palm Springs Art Museum.  I attended the opening for the exhibit of mid-twentieth-century architectural photographer Julius Shulman.  His photographs reflect the glamour and casual elegance of life in the desert in what could then be called the “fast track” ~ although it was a two lane road when Hollywood first discovered its new Paradise. 

It was exciting to see through the lens of a master how Palm Springs developed because of the forces operating in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Not only automobiles and movie stars but accessibility and climate came together to have the right people in the right place with the creative skills to bring about a powerful, poetically designed community. 

I adore the imagery of butterfly roofs, low-slung structures planted in sand, the restaurant with a tree literally growing through the roof and a bank building with pillars more dramatic than anything I have seen in Greece.  I also gained an appreciation for what Alan Hess, architectural historian, calls “the light pavilions of Frey, the abstractions of Neutra, the earthy shelter of Lloyd Wright, the indigenous veneers of Stewart Williams.” 

At the 2008 Shulman lecture it was announced that Richard Neutra’s iconic Kaufmann House, probably one of the best known mid-twentieth-century Modern examples, was being auctioned by Christie’s in New York as an “art piece!”  At that moment the epiphany shot through me with twenty-first century speed.  There is poetry in architecture!   

But, the crème de la crème of my special museum moment was when I turned to talk to the lovely young woman sitting beside me in the Annenberg Theater.  Out of almost a thousand people attending the lecture and reception, my seatmate was the representative from Christie’s who had come to view the Kaufmann House.   She graciously answered my questions for a piece I was writing and later sent me their elegant sale brochure that is an art piece in itself.   

My inspiration for Modernism actually took me to the auction ~ especially when my new buddy offered me a press pass.  As I stood in the lobby of Christie’s next to a wooden model of our Palm Springs icon, I felt enormously proud when I could casually mention (to anyone who would listen) that I live in Palm Springs only blocks from the original house.  Though the sale was not completed, the Mecca of Palm Springs Modernism had probably circled the globe in awareness.

Architects are poets.  Last year, I gave a talk called “The Poetry of Architecture” at the Museum in connection with John Lautner’s creative exhibit.  Printed next to just about every piece on display was a brilliant quote.  I loved his oxymoron “I am seeking something solid, yet free, alive but at rest.”

This year I closely observed the 2011Palm Springs Art Museum Exhibit displaying the visionary works of architect Donald Wexler.  Titled “Steel and Shade” his style spoke to me of power and protection ~ yet there was a coziness about his shady patios that made me want to read a book  He is recognized as the first architect to mass produce the steel house.    

My Modernism conversion has literally made me “see the light” ~ that I actually live in a poem within a poetic village ~ the Mecca of mid-century Modern architecture. 



By Dessa Reed

Since I discovered that poetry can be translated into a life-style, I see poetic living in almost everything that crosses the stratosphere and certainly expressed in an important occasion called Father’s Day.  After all, what could be more poetic than a caring and respectful father / daughter or son relationship?

I remember my own dad as a “praiser” who gave me kudos freely.  He was an example of how little it costs us, and how good it makes others feel, to give a sincere compliment when it is appropriate.  His self-esteeming gift to my growing up is a big part of who I am today. 

When our daughter was born, my husband had probably never held a baby in his life.  The first time he took his own tiny six-pound girl in his arms, the look on his face was pure terror which quickly turned to total unconditional love.  During those first days of colic, he would hold the baby to his football-player-sized-chest and rock her until she fell asleep.  It is a poetic picture I need no camera image to remember. 

I began thinking about the elegance of involved fatherhood and their off-springs when I read a letter to the editor in The Desert Sun.  It was written by a junior in high school whose English class had read The Grapes of Wrath, concerning the issue of the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  As a class project, she and her dad volunteered at Martha’s Village and the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission two weekends in a row. 

Her letter stated how she “found it troubling” that a few miles down the road from where she lives people were going hungry, while her own community was spending millions of dollars on a golf course remodel.  It was touching and well-written from an obviously insightful young woman with a supportive, values-driven father.  When I read the student’s name, I was surprised and delighted to see a surname I recognized.

For several years I sponsored poetry contests at some local high schools.  I judged the finalists, and each school had a small awards ceremony where I gave cash prizes.  The first year at one of the schools, an attorney dad (in the middle of the day) came to see his daughter win second prize.  I was so impressed by his attendance and attentiveness that I never forgot the unusual last name. 

Here it was again a few years later, this time in print!  I knew it must be a younger sister so I did some detective work and, sure enough, it was the same family.  I was witnessing another proof of poetic synchronicity and another proof of fatherhood gone right!



By Dessa Reed

She was two weeks shy of one-hundred- nine years old when she died and had lived in three centuries.  She loved the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and was their oldest fan.  We know because they sent her a pennant and red baseball cap thanking her for her loyalty and would say “hello” to her occasionally on air.  She also adored the University of Illinois basketball team and had “read” just about every book on tape that the Illinois State Library provided in later years when she was vision challenged.

That was my mother.  Remember though, for those doing the math she gave birth to me exceptionally late in life so that makes me exceptionally young to have had a mother of such advanced years.

My mother grew up on a farm where card games played in the light of a smoking kerosene lamp was their TV of the time.  Amazing changes have taken place in the five generations since she was born.  Mom moved from horse and buggy to riding in a jet airplane.  She advanced from cooking on a wood stove to entrées in a microwave.  She could milk a cow, feed livestock, make butter, and the best fudge I ever tasted.  She raised four children (really five ~ counting my Dad) and not one of them ever caused her any heartache. 

She also had an elegance and style about her that was displayed in big and little ways ~ from cutting the crusts off egg salad sandwiches to insisting that her children immediately send hand-written thank-you notes for any gift received. 

She lived alone and independently through many years of widowhood ~ managed her own affairs, was treasurer of her church and in her eighties would climb a tall ladder to clean the gutters on her house.  Once, a friend of my brother’s driving by, shocked at such a scene, called my brother and said “Will you please go over to your mother’s and get her down off the roof!”

As a poet, there is nothing more inspiring than writing about my childhood and especially about my amazing mother.  One of my poems, written when she was a young one-hundred-year-old girl is a favorite when I read my poetry to audiences of all ages.

Poetry, to be appreciated and sound authentic, needs to speak a universal truth.  What more universal and who more equipped to write our own Mother’s Day stories than we are ~ turning impressions into expressions?  

Last year, I volunteered to teach poetry to incarcerated teenagers at Juvenile Hall.  The “mother” in me was touched to the core when I saw what learning to write out their emotions and being praised for the effort did for their self-esteem.  To watch a tough “weed” blossom into a flowering poet just by finding his voice was a poem in itself.

This experience, along with many other life’s lessons, has taught me that we can initiate and appreciate “mothering” no matter who we mother, what circumstances offer the opportunity, where we do it or when mothering is the most important action in our busy lives ~ because we all know why we need a mother!



By Dessa Reed

“You’re a poet and don’t know it.”  That awful cliché, uttered to me a thousand times when someone discovers I am one of those strange poetic creatures, is actually often true.  I didn’t know it until I found “it” literally by accident ~ crashing my car into an immovable object that forced a journey from intensive care to full recovery ~ and poetry.  It was during those dark days of recuperation that the latent poet within began to blossom into the bright light of author, columnist, teacher and speaker.

Since April is National Poetry Month, it seems appropriate to give recognition to this art form that is often misunderstood and unappreciated.  In my own experience, I’ve found that being able to capture observations, insights and feelings with words is a powerful cathartic process.  The verse may be odorous but the result of improved well-being has the fragrance of magnificence. 

Encompassing big ideas into an economy of creative language is pretty heady stuff and that is why I tell both adults and students if they can learn to write poetry they can write almost anything (especially better emails!)  To me, language and communication skills are the most important talents we can acquire.  In The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is her quote, “Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it…All the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.”

One of my artistic adventures took me to China in 2005 with an international poetry group as guest of the Chinese Cultural Ministry.  Poetry has been an important element in their society for centuries so poets from around the globe were treated like celebrities.  I offered to reciprocate their kindness by giving a talk to some of their students after the conference was over.  That is how I found myself reading poems and sharing my story before 200 students at a foreign language university in Beijing as well as the International School and a private high school in Shanghai.  They all spoke English having studied it from first grade but what impressed me most was their total absorption in an American’s presentation.   

It may be surprising to many desert dwellers that along with being a visual and performing artist’s Mecca, our area also has a growing population of poets and writers.  There are critique groups meeting to improve their craft in almost every city in the Coachella Valley.  There are regular poetry readings in Palm Desert, Palm Springs and La Quinta ~ some with open mike forums, others with guest speakers.

Our student population may be leading this cultural charge into the twenty-first century.  Starting with grades three through five, Tools for Tomorrow, a free after school, on-site program integrating music, art and drama also teaches poetry.

There are numerous programs in our community high schools and at College of the Desert promoting poetry as the genre of choice.  Many dedicated teachers make the connection between reading good poetry and writing good prose.  One school’s Poet Laureate contest is in its thirteenth year and “every year gets bigger and better” according to their Friday Night Live Club advisor.

Poetry Slams seem to be a favorite format for young people.  This year, at the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Student Screening Day, 1,000 students from 7 local high schools gave a standing ovation to the documentary called “Louder than a Bomb” ~ named for the country’s largest Poetry Slam held annually in Chicago.

I recently received an email from a friend of a friend who is British.  He wrote that as a poet he feels England (at least where he lives) is becoming a cultural wilderness (oh no, not the land of Shakespeare!) and that most of his communication is from the United States “where Palm Springs and the desert communities seem to have a creative edge….”

Perhaps the silence of our desert oasis inspires creativity “louder than a bomb.”  We all may be poets waiting to explode and we just don’t know it.


Other Published Articles By Dessa Reed:

My Untraditional Thanksgiving Tradition

My China Trip

Dessa can be reached at
Dessa@DessaReed.com for information and fee schedule.


Copyright Dessa Reed.  All rights reserved.

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