About Tamra

Born in South Dakota and raised in Iowa, Tamra J. Higgins went on to attend the University of Kansas, the University of Bordeaux III in Talence, France, and earned a B.A. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Modern Languages and Linguistics. After marrying, moving to Vermont, and while raising two daughters, she continued her education at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont where she earned an M.Ed. In 1993, she started her own business, a private after-school program which was among the first in the state, and which she then turned into a non-profit agency that is still in operation today. Tamra taught in the public schools of Lamoille County for 19 years, first at the elementary level and then twelve years at the middle school level as English teacher and Literacy Specialist. In July, 2012, Tamra completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Stonecoast, University of Southern Maine. She has since founded Sundog Poetry Center, LLC and has been elected President of the Poetry Society of Vermont. Tamra's work has appeared in Vermont Magazine, Avocet, The Aurorean, The Mountain Troubadour, Haiku Society of America Member Anthology, Prairie Schooner, Passager, and is forth coming in bottle rockets.

Your Daily Breath

Today I had the honor of sharing a new poem during a concert preview given by the Green Mountain Youth Symphony‘s youngest orchestra at Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre, Vermont. When Conductor Paul Perley and cellist Melissa Perley reached out to me last April to partner with them, I was thrilled. A new idea for a poem had been circling around my head and I was excited to begin getting it down on paper. A few months later I sent off the first draft to Paul and Melissa who found the perfect music to go with it (that the young orchestra could play), titled A Starlit Night. 

The poem has to do with the preciousness of each of our breaths. As you will read it you will find the influence of my parents’ passing (in particular my mother’s), both of which occurred last year.

I thank Julia Shipley and Mary Jane Dickerson for their extremely helpful feedback in the crafting of this poem.

I hope you can join us next Sunday, Dec 10, 2017, at 2:00 for the full concert at the Barre Opera House, Barre, Vermont.

Your Daily Breath


Your breath escapes to kiss
an infant’s downy crown –
the air is filled with origins
and innocence, and with your next
intake: a new mindscape,
forever-altered state, no matter
the newborn is of your flesh,
the lamb in the barn,
the pup on the mat, the delicate,

delicate yellow chick in hand—
another breath, surprise of fear
stirs to catch in lungs, rises stung,
between heart and mouth –
hiccup of alarm –
before its slow release, relief
in holding life.

In the river valley, mist swells
where the cold has settled. You breathe
the vapor later, on a hill, alone,
despite the life that swarms.
Trees so thick they’re a curtain
you don’t dare walk behind.
Your breath disturbs all else that lives.

As witness, you watch the dog
come up from the pond; she wears
the smell of the fish she’s killed,
doing only what dogs do.

and you…

Do you remember holding your breath
as a kid with friends, defying each other,
denying yourself a gulp of air? Now you watch
a drowning man on the movie screen,
and let your chest expand, breathing
safely in your seat. You will the actor
return to air that birds’ wings
and birthday candles depend upon.

Today you take your daily breath.
Take it as you wish, or more likely,
as you can: as cough, as challenge,
as whisper, as song. Inhale a prayer,
exhale a hymn.


The clouds’ shadows wave across
a sunlit hill. My mother told me
she’d become the wind. I feel
her every day, sometimes as storm,
sometimes as an unexpected winter
zephyr twirling snowflakes round
to tinker with my vision. How free
she is to use her breath as dervish
dance or as a summer taunt
that breaks its promise: rain.

It’s after Independence Day; I’m deep
in the woods in early morning. The sun
finds a path through leaves that still
rain though the storm’s long past.
A stream weaves through, bursting
with the universe. I open my mouth
to gulp the air and steam escapes my lips –
December’s mirror. I vow to find
July when the snow is deep
and branches bare.

The dog buries the bone as if to share
proves submission, a giving away of breath
in the gnawing of its marrow. As if
hiding proves protection from another’s living.

And grief becomes the loudest breath of all –
with refrain and recoil; unbearable
crescendo falling into silent sob. With this
most difficult of breaths, we’re forced
to re-emerge from empty depths.

The wind comes up across the pond.
Birds hush in a slanted light
and the lid of night closes us in
to face each other. We try
in darkness to remain apart,
separate within ourselves. But the wind,
– don’t you remember who she is? –
the wind slices in through impossible slits
to lash our breaths together.

British Columbia

I am about to wrap up a hiking trip in British Columbia where I’ve had the opportunity to reach several mountain lakes including Cheakamus Lake:

Cheakamus Lake, British Columbia, June 2016

Cheakamus Lake, British Columbia, June 2016


Lake Garibaldi:

Lake Garibaldi, British Columbia, June 2016

Lake Garibaldi, British Columbia, June 2016

and Screaming Cat Lake:

Screaming Cat Lake, June 21, 2016

Screaming Cat Lake, June 21, 2016

The hikes to these places have been multi-hour treks, taking me into the woods and wilds where snow is still found on the summer solstice. While I haven’t encountered any bear (yet), their presence is seen along the trail in droppings so large that I would as readily believe they were those of Sasquatch. Bears just don’t grow to this size out east.

I have not had the time to reflect too deeply on all this beauty and go deep into the space from where poems are created, mainly because after each hike – and a couple of cold Grizzly beers (that’s beers, not bears), and a hearty dinner –  I’ve fallen into bed.

But I did discover a British Columbian poet, Shane Koyczan, who has written and spoken his poem about this place, and that you can listen to and watch here:

Other poetry discoveries I’ve made during my visit are two anthologies:

The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2016, which I’ve almost finished in one sitting, and

ForceField, an anthology of 77 women poets of British Columbia, that unfortunately the local Whistler bookstore didn’t carry and I had to order on-line. But, perhaps that’s for the best. I look forward to returning to BC when I open it up to read, 3,000 miles away.



I hope you don’t think this is another sheep poem. Of course, it is. Of course, it isn’t.


And here are my arms,
testaments to chores of childhood
in Midwest sun
and chosen duties of today.
They are brown
against my white thigh at night.
In the morning, I face the mirror
and raise them
to bracket my face and flex.
Lifting bales of hay
have bolstered my shoulders.
My upper arms are loaves of hardened bread.
A healing bruise from a sheep’s head
crowding in too close tattoos a bicep’s flesh.
Nicks from working fence-wire
decorate my forearm skin.
I release my pose, study my hands.
They’ve have gone to hell. A great callus
from the rake that mucks the barn
resides between forefinger and thumb.
My fingertips reek of musky lanolin.
With palms up, weight-lifter’s veins
run from wrist to elbow to armpit
near my breast. I don’t care
I’m woman. I like it like this.




No matter who you are or what you do, you have people who have influenced you. You might not have been directly mentored by or taught by or have even talked to these people, but you base your work on their ideas in one way or another. It may be through a shared interest in a particular content, or if you’re a writer, through a propensity for a particular style or through diction selection.

Often as a writer, you are asked who your influences are. It’s a good thing to know. These people can provide guidance through studying and reflecting on their work. They are who we return to when we’re stymied about what to write or even why we’re writing at all. One of my major influences is Maxine Kumin. Maxine gives me permission to write about sheep. Why? Because she wrote about horses. And hogs. In fact, she wrote about the meat packing plant in a town, Storm Lake, Iowa, where I lived from age 10 to 18. The poem is called “The Whole Hog.” If you like pork and buy it from the grocery store where the source of it is unknown, I suggest you don’t read it.

Maxine Kumin accomplishes what the interviewer, Peter Orr, states in his interview with Sylvia Plath (see below). Orr shares that “behind the primitive, emotional reaction there must be an intellectual discipline” in creating poetry. Kumin accomplishes this. It is what I strive for, too.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):

An Interview with Sylvia Plath about her writing influences.
An Interview with Maxine Kumin about her writing influences.