Monday, December 31, 2007

Early, late in December



Moon hangs in the sky
half a pearl this cold morning
close to the New Year

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Three women, plus

Three poets this year

During 2007, I've been introduced to the work of Lynda Hull. I've been reintroduced to the poems of Roberta Spear. And I've continued my exploration of Louise Glück's poems.

These three women have inspired me, and I'd like to be able to say what I think I've learned from each one of them.

Glück's work has shown me how intellect can work in a poem and how spare writing can increase emotional tension.

In her poems, Spear has shown how to tell stories—how in a few lines a poem can take the reader immediately to a place and the lives of the people who live there.

Lynda Hull's poems pull no punches. They pierce right to the heart—with empathy and compassion but no pity. Her work has shown me how the poet can begin a poem as an observer, instead of the star, and let images lead into memory, let times and places lead into any sorrow, loss, or joy.

I've seen them do it. Now, can I?

Who did you read in 2007? What stopped you in your tracks? What did you learn?

Plus

Other people have inspired me this year, and some of these women have inspired me for many years.

Ellen, for her energy, her activism, and her scholarship of
Emily Dickinson
Eliza, for continuing to follow her dream
Alix, who has found a job she loves
Nancy, who has found a job that takes her to exotic places like Oslo and Shanghai
Laurie, whose comfort zone is traveling outside of her comfort zone, and her gift for seeing life and recording it on film
T, for her love of food and feeding others well
Judy, who writes and publishes and gets rejected and writes more
Ross Palmer and Gina and Kristina, who work hard and remain dedicated to their craft (and Kristina has found a way to take her work to Italy—twice!)
Bonnie, for her courage, her energy, and her fabulous sense of humor

When I look at this list, the theme is perseverance. My big thank you to you all.


Update: I knew the list wasn't complete. It still isn't, and it may continue to grow.

The language of light

(Not to be confused with Thomas Kinkade, painter of light)


I love light—its colors and textures. I love the paintings of the impressionists and the photographs of Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans.

I love to write about light, to try to paint it in words.

Now, I have a camera, and so I'm trying to learn a new language. Technology: many settings to read and remember (and I'm more of a point-and-click kind of gal).

Friday, on my walk home from the bus, I took several pictures. It was too dark. They were all dark.

Yesterday afternoon, I was able to get a few images of the tree at the end of our alley.






Spokes of many wheels
Branches travel to the sky
Anchored in winter

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Seven things

Kelli posted this on her blog:

Aaron McCollough told a Michigan Daily reporter "7 things you should know about being a poet." Deborah Ager has challenged other poets to come up with their own "7 things" lists.

and she provided a very good list of seven things. She made some very good points about not doing it for the money (now I'll wait for you to stop laughing and catch your breath), about not having to be neurotic, drunk, or a train wreck all the time, and about writing because you can't not write. See her complete list
here.

Not wanting to simply repeat her excellent points, I came up with some others:


  1. It's good to read, and it's especially good to read poetry.

  2. You'll probably write some bad poems and a lot of poems that are okay, but just okay, and for every great poem that you write, you'll have written x number of those other poems. But, if you want to write that great poem, you'll have read about 5x or 10x of other people's poems.

  3. It's good to read a lot of different kinds of poetry, including work that doesn't sound like the way you write. Move out of your comfort zone. You can always go back.

  4. Don't worry about reading out loud, but get to know your poems as well as you can. You'll learn new things about them as well new ways to read them.

  5. Listening is good.

  6. Rejections are a fact of poetry.

  7. Enjoy writing. Enjoy reading. Enjoy it all.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Another reply poem

I had that feeling again, today, when I read a poem and I wanted to answer. Today's poem on the Verse Daily website is "Saint Anthony Falls" by William Waltz.

Here is my response:


Paterson Falls

You bring me here to show me
that you have nature even in North Jersey,
where water thunders pale over the falls.
A rickety iron catwalk's closed.
Warnings tinge the air,
the river where garbage bobbles
by the edges, and cream-colored scum
that could have looked like lace
heaves up along the dark rocks.
On the far side, summer trees rise,
leaves an old green, lush summer stained
by living. The Passaic runs as though
she could still be wild, instead
of dressed in clothes the mills made.
This was a factory town, famous for its silk.
She was a working girl.
We watch the water, listen,
drift away across the road
drawn by the diner's lights.


(Laurie, does this sound right? Did the diner have some famous specialty? Probably hot dogs, back in those days when I didn't eat meat.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Forecast

Watching for the snow
A day looking through windows
Always wanting more

More Gilbert



Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yesterday, in Seattle


In the park, just before...


Up in the water tower...



It's snowing, even if you can't see it...



Our white Christmas...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Joy

Whether you're writing or painting or dancing or singing or cooking (as I will be) or walking in the rain, may you find that creative spark and a good measure of peace in each moment.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Solstice

Light one more candle
This longest night of the year
Darkness will not stay

Friday, December 21, 2007

Late in the season

Planting crocus bulbs
Visions of gold and violet
Waiting for the spring

Thinking ahead

Today, I planted some 360 crocus bulbs and any of the grape hyacinths that hadn't gone moldy.

My vision is to have a little meadow of crocus blooms in my parking strip. More likely, the squirrels will come tonight and dig them all up, or they will be planted too shallow and won't survive.

At one point, I saw the chopped end of a daffodil shoot. What? I stopped jabbing my trowel into the damp ground and noticed that yes, the daffodils are already arriving even though it's December, even though winter doesn't start until tomorrow.

Whenever I work in the yard, or the garden—and it isn't nearly often enough—I think about Stanley Kunitz, who made time for both passions, planting and poetry. Sometimes when I garden, poems begin to grow in my thoughts. Today, I just got muddy, cold, wet hands. But, bulbs are in the ground.

Spring will tell its own stories.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A tisket, a tasket, a kitten in a basket


Gilbert's new favorite place
(Thanks to a Harry & David gift basket)

Three for the 19th

Today, I haven't been able to fit everything into one haiku:


After that morning
I write this poem many times
It's never finished

On that other hill
We left you when you left us
Fourteen winters pass

The years don't erase
Imprints of death and then grief
Slowly, writing fades



For a little history, here is an older poem, from A Steady Longing for Flight:

December 19


Rain soaks the spare grass without mercy.
I come here less and less,
wait for the stone chosen last summer.
A slab of granite, an odd comfort.

You left behind anniversaries
like so many crumbs of bread:
the night we met,
the morning we married
and now this holy day
I observe on my own.
I can get to the cemetery myself.
Beyond that, I have no maps, no rules,
no way to call up and ask
if I'm doing this right.



I see a little sun right now, and feel thankful to be alive.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Still no sign of snow

I wanted a little line of poetry, and I wanted it to be about snow. I looked high. I looked low. I looked at the Poetry Foundation website and at bartleby.com, and then I realized that I could use one of my Decemer haikus. I could even write just the one that would say what I wanted to say.

Isn't that the point?

After a little work, I came up with:

Waiting for the snow
To change December landscapes
The world looking new

Then today, I sent it to Michael Dylan Welch, who knows much more about haiku than I do or ever will. He had a suggestion, so my latest version is:

Waiting for the snow
To change rain-blackened branches
The world looking new

Is it better? I don't know. Does it say what I need it to say? I'm not sure. I think the first version says what I want it to say. But Michael's comment opens up the possibility for change, and I can keep exploring it.

Three lines, Seventeen syllables or so. And still a wealth of possibility.

Now, time to check the weather forecast.

The un-blog blog event

Last night, the Capitol Hill Seattle blog hosted an event in the neighborhood. The Internet, or some of it, sat around a table and met each other.

In a cool retro twist, we also traded books. Real non-e, old-fashioned books. Made of paper, and already read. I walked away with a copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Well, it has a season word...

Knees ache with winter.
Cat sleeps on my lap. I watch.
That's all I can do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Waiting

No snow. Little wind.
Winter hovers on the stoop
Gives nothing away.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Money plants

Thin thickets of coins
pale as the December sky
next year's seeds ready

Shock or awe?

At the Mighty Tieton LitFuse workshop, Kathleen Flenniken talked about how each line of a poem could (or should) contain a surprise—so that if you looked at that line on your own, even out of context, you would find something new or disturbing or delicious. At least, that's how I interpreted.

But when does the surprising become the startling, and when does the startling become vague or even a little monotonous?

Last week, I read a few poems from Black Warrior Review on the
Verse Daily website. They worked very hard at juxtaposing disparate images for surprise or shock or even glee. But at the end of each poem, I felt left without a coherent whole.

Maybe a poem doesn't need a coherent whole. Maybe that's a crutch I rely on. Still: How do you surprise the senses without dulling them? How does your work avoid becoming a cliché of itself?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Written in a fit of insomnia

Duck tucks its head back
Nestles beak under warm wing
To sleep on water

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One year

I started this blog one year ago today with the goals of keeping it up for one year and, in the spirit of inquiry, asking questions that might start a conversation about poetry and writing poetry—questions of craft and general perseverance.

I hope that you've enjoyed some of the posts, and that you have found some of the questions useful or at least intriguing. That said, I'd like to keep it going (even when I have to type with one hand because the kitten is chewing on my other thumb).

If there's anything you'd like to see more or less of—for example, more pictures and less whining—let me know. As noted, one goal was for this little weblog to be a place for conversation.

On to the next year!

More about haiku

Most of us learned, probably in school, that a haiku is a Japanese poetry form in three lines 5, 7, and 5 syllables. This, it turns out, is a simplification and not necessarily true. It's a good firm guideline, a rule you can hang your hat on, but it overpowers the inherent subtleties of the form.

Recently,
Peter Pereira pointed to a post about Haiku Blogging and offered that as a way to create short, compressed blog posts. Michael Dylan Welch then weighed in (yes, I'm kind of giving you the play-by-play) with some comments.

Michael knows a lot about haiku, and in his comments he explains that other factors are usually considered more important than a syllabic structure (Japanese doesn't parse by syllables anyway, but by sounds, or mora). These factors, he continues, are "kigo (season word), kireji (cutting word that usually divides the poem into two juxtaposed parts), and objective imagery (no concepts, judgments, conclusions, or analysis)." He adds that you can find a different haiku every day at
tinywords.com.

For more information about haiku, you can read
Becoming a haiku poet or Michael's ten tips, or you can visit his collection of haiku and photographs, Open Window.

No sign of snow

The clear sky a bowl
Robin's egg blue in winter
A day to begin

Friday, December 7, 2007

Today's

Winter comes to rest
The darkest nights of the year
A few clouds, few stars

Yesterday's haiku

Dark as an old hat
Morning hides inside of it
Winter sleeps late


***

Bottle of roses
Bright red beneath a gray sky
Man on his way home

***

These holiday lights
Like moons floating in pastels
Unexpected Spring

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Stunning

Yesterday's poem on Poetry Daily.

Mmmm...

Whoa, Nellie

How did it get to be December already?

What about a poem to memorize?

What about an exercise?

Given the flurry of plans, it isn't such a good time to memorize anything. It is a good time to sing.

For an exercise, something simple. This comes from One Continuous Mistake, by Gail Sher: Write a haiku every day. Take a little moment. Breathe. Write your haiku.

You can get One Continuous Mistake from Amazon or you can probably order it from Open Books.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Yes...Really...Here...Now

The season's first snow.
Here, the first snow might be the only snow, so we enjoy it while we can.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Poetry pick: A Sweetness Rising

Please allow me to introduce you to Roberta Spear. It's possible that you have already met her work in the pages of Poetry and other publications or in the three volumes that she previously published. If you haven't encountered Ms. Spear's poetry before, A Sweetness Rising: New and Selected Poems offers an introduction, an invitation to her work.

In his introduction, Philip Levine mentions that "she never pushed her own work…If this meant she would publish less and sell fewer copies of those books she published, so be it." Reading her books, including this new volume, I'm left wanting more.

In addition to the new work, A Sweetness Rising includes a few poems from Silks, Taking to Water, and A Pilgrim Among Us. The book begins with the new poems, and then the sections are arranged chronologically, so it's possible to follow her work, conceivably, in the timeline that it was written. As a "new and selected" collection, it's very selected, and the previous books contain many more poems.

Roberta Spear's poems extend an invitation into a place and in the people who live in that place. They offer you a moment in a life, whether it's the end of a day for a young girl and her father, as in "Paleta" or the mother and her son in "Dust," on their way through the wind and dust to pick out a birthday cake.

Take these passages from "A Nest for Everyone"

the shoulders of workers crouched
between vines. They lower
their knives, the bronzed
leaves fall to the mud...

Or in "Quinceañera":

two maracas stir up the wine,
the wafer, the sacred words
like spoons in an old metal pot.

Then she goes a step further, into the magical, as when she describes the aunts who have traveled

in gray shawls tatted by spiders,

And although the poems are grounded in the daily experience of her home, Spear reaches out—to Akhmatova in "In the Moon," or to Stradivari in "The Fiddler's Wife," which continues

…at sunrise
he returned to his bed
remembering the delicate slits,
the dark veneer of a mouth
that never closes…

It's luscious and restrained—the best kind of poetry to read with all of one's senses. But, in addition to its open nature—its invitation—Ms. Spear's work impresses with its generosity, its sense of humor grounded in empathy, as in "In Just One Day":

Smack! The woman laughs for God
and all the others as she slaps
the wake with her fat, brown palm…

…She laughs here, but she'll be the first
to kneel down on the cold slate steps…


Or in "Contraband," a poem about her son purchasing cigars in Rome:

…He wants to press
his shoulders into the warmth of a stucco wall,
waiting in baseball cap and shades for
that moment when the girls on their lunchbreak
gather at the fountain…


I especially enjoy the poems about Italy, and in the introduction, Mr. Levine notes, "If she couldn't live in the Italy she loved she was determined to find a way of bringing the country of her devotion to the Valley, and she did exactly that with her poetry." In "Contraband," in "Escaping Savonarola" or "Chestnuts for Verdi" she brings Italy into her poems—but it's her love of place and empathy for the people who live there that bring all of her poems closer to the country where you want to stay.

That is the secret and the power of poetry—the possibility to transform, the invitation to experience the world you haven't been to, a world that's a pleasure to discover. I invite you to visit A Sweetness Rising.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You can see it with your own eyes!

It's vintage video.

Finally, the sofa has poetry (and dance) that you can watch. It was originally shot in 1986, so it's practically an antique.

You can also read the poem, which I wrote in 1983 after seeing "Ghandi" and a British made-for-TV movie called "The Day After."

It's all at poetryonthesofa.com.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Anybody out there?

This morning, I was reading Dana Gioia's essay "The Poet in an Age of Prose."

In this essay, Mr. Gioia asserted that good poetry seeks its readers' "imaginative and intellectual collaboration by assuming and exploiting a common frame of reference." He goes on to say that judging "what constitutes that common framework at any given moment is part of the poet's task" and that the poet must start by assuming what the reader knows in order to form a foundation of shared knowledge on which to build a poem.

Read the essay. It's much more articulate than I am.

Gioia continues the discussion of an audience and the way that "the author's idea of his audience helps shape the poems he creates." He notes that, in earlier times, cultures were smaller and shared more experiences and perspectives, so a poet—or any artist—could know the audience, could be confident they would pick up on the references. His idea is that modern culture has fragmented the audiences so that there is no shared frame of reference.

Right now: apologies if I'm boring you.

But here's where it got interesting to me. Do you have to appeal to everyone? If today's culture is so huge, even a part of it could make a pretty big audience.

The Gioia says, "The situation is further aggravated by the culture's shift away from the printed word as its primary source of information and entertainment…How does an intertextual art like poetry sustain its force in a culture that no longer studies and esteems the written text?"

Whoa! The questions start: What about the great oral traditions of poetry? What about the cultures that sustain those oral traditions? I'm thinking Irish and Arabic cultures. What are some others?

And as far as audience and relevance go, what about slam? What about hip hop?

I'm not convinced that poetry must be written and must rely on a text reference base. I love references, but I'm not sure they are required for everyone. I like poems that work on a basic level, a first-reading level, and can also reveal references in layers. (Twenty years later, I learn something new, and I say, "Hey—that's what that meant!")

Getting back to that essay, where is the prose in "an Age of Prose"?

It turns out that the essay, originally printed in 1992 (or earlier), is about New Formalism, and the movement's melding of traditional forms—including narrative poetry—with popular culture. The prose does not refer to prose at all but to people who read prose. Who are these people? Apparently, they also listen to jazz and go to the theatre. I'm taking notes (as though relatively educated people who read prose do not watch TV or listen to NPR).

I like the idea of knowing your audience—even writing to an audience, with generosity, keeping the reader in mind. But I want to write for the person watching "Studio 60" reruns (even if I include not even one Matthew Perry reference) and the person reading Austen and the person reading Chabon and the person reading Dickinson or Sexton.

That's just me. What about you? Who's your audience?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Word power

This weekend, we traveled up north and took the ferry to Lummi Island. The cottage we rented was well stocked with books and magazines, and in an issue of Smithsonian, I found a book excerpt that was adapted from Ronald C. White, Jr.'s book about Lincoln's speech at his second inauguration. The introduction to that excerpt included the following:

"He was the average American, with only one year of education, a man who was really quite ugly in a certain sense—could he ever have campaigned today?—tall, awkward, gawky, clothes ill-fitting, with a tenor voice, almost a falsetto, and yet he was a huge man for his day, 6 feet 4 inches tall.Everything about him was against his being a powerful speaker. But once he began to speak, what people sensed was his integrity. He was not playing a role. And the audience of that day picked it up… He had the knack of asking these simple but very profound questions. In every crisis, whether it's September 11 or World War II, it is amazing how people return to Lincoln."


and then:

"…America had been flayed by four years of a war that had lasted longer than anyone thought it would."


Four years. I did the math, and then I flipped back to look at the date on the cover: April 2002, nearly a year before troops invaded Iraq.

I don't know whether these words of Lincoln can stir us now to listen, speak, and act.

What words inspire you? What words offer you solace?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

That next step

As poets, as writers, we can spend a lot of time thinking about publication, spend a lot of work (plus stamps) trying to get published. There are the magazines and journals, and then there are books.

After you get that book published, the next step is to sell it. Sure, this sounds mercenary. (Sorry.) But I'm wondering: How do you sell the book that you've waited so long to see published?

While I'd love to think that the work will sell itself (in a perfect world), chances are that the book won't just grow legs and walk out the door in its own fancy shoes.

Readings are one way. But can you read too much (in less literary terms, can you saturate your market)?


What about other ideas? How about ads? How about fliers? Do you think reviews help?

Partly, I think we want to get our work out there. Partly, I know that I want it to have been a good experience for those who published the work.

I'm just wondering whether you have any different ideas, any special tricks up your metaphorical sleeves.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reduce, reuse, recycle … lines?

Do you ever read something that sparks a riff, starts a raft of writing? A poem that makes you yearn to write your own poem? Or maybe it's just a line.

A few weeks ago,
in a poem on Poetry Daily, I read

heralding news from within the capital

and it started me off down a new path. That line took me to the idea of "news from the capital" (pretty pedestrian, yes) and "outside the capital."

Sometimes, I wonder whether I need to credit the original poem. In this case, I think the work is different enough that I'm okay--but I am grateful for the inspiration.

In other RRR news, I started a new little weblog,
Diary of a polluter, 2.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Happy Reviser?

Kathleen Flenniken asked this question at one of her LitFuse sessions. At the time, I said, "Yes."

I'm having second thoughts.

As an editor, I like tightening text and playing with words. It's the line-editing aspect. I'm not so good at being a developmental editor, recasting and rethinking and shifting around and trying things from a totally new perspective. I chalk it up to laziness.

In my current project, I realized that the minute I started editing, I stopped writing. I no longer created new work. I didn't have ideas for new work. I didn't receive that rush and pull to put something down. Euphoria gone.

I needed to start the revisions so that I would have samples to send in with a proposal (the deadline is Friday), but now I'm trying to figure out how to flip the switch again and get back into writing mode.

How about you? Are you a happy reviser?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

People

who feed people.

And people who love words.

http://freerice.com/index.php

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Poetry pick: One Hundred Steps from Shore

Jenifer Browne Lawrence knows how to tell a story. In One Hundred Steps from Shore (Blue Begonia Press), she writes searing emotional poems with a depth of precision. It's a difficult balance, but here the craft doesn't call attention to itself, doesn't distract from the language or the story. It's just there.

Through her narrative poems, Ms. Lawrence speaks of family history—death and grief, innocence and the reflection that follows its loss. Her voice encompasses childhood and the depth that memory—years later—brings, without the two experiences fighting each other. She plumbs death, terror, guilt, and regret in the everyday way that people do, the way that they cope:

My sister dumps a puzzle on the table.
We don't follow the usual rule
of not looking at the picture on the box.
Wheat bends toward the red siding of a farmhouse.



We work the puzzle, find the edges first.
We form the frame before we begin the middle.
Mom and Dad go in and out of the waiting room.
They bring paper bowls of chocolate pudding
and little wooden paddles.

Through childhood and living, Ms. Lawrence reminds us that grief is like the tide and returns, as in "Porcupine Child":

how did I come to be
the ferryman burying over
and over the same stick in the water

taking babies across
the black river rubbing
their stains into my belly

While inviting the reader into worlds in Santa Cruz, California or Valdez, Alaska, the poems explore relationships between fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers, the conversations they start, the secrets they keep from each other.

Opening Day. Only he and my brother go,
and it is thirty years before
I learn what happened there—

In other poems, Ms. Lawrence speaks in a slower, more meditative tone, as in
"Keeping Our Heads Underwater":

we are motionless
as the river we swim
under the glacier to see
what blue means the ice keeps
its secret we could burn

In all, One Hundred Steps from Shore offers readers a window into the pain of survival and the undeniable pleasure of good work.

Martinis with a twist

Last night, we went to Deborah and Jerry's martini party. In addition to cocktails and conversation, the evening feature gruyere and pepper biscuits, grapes rolled in goat cheese and toasted almonds, a silky cream cheese flan, and limericks.

Yes, limericks!

Optional: Haiku or riddles.

My contribution:

There once was a beauty named Mae
Who charmed every gent in her day.
"Is that a cucumber?
Banana—or lumber?
Or are you just happy?" Touché.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Poetry in the city

A new crop of poetry is on the Seattle buses. It's enough to make me store my bike and ride more. I want to see new poems!

I especially liked the story about The Learning Tree preschoolers. Karen Campbell, their teacher who sent in their poem, used to coach my daughter's soccer team.

Here is the poem that I sent in, a poem that I wrote as a follow-up to This Hard April.

The Half Awake


Late blossoms fly in a gust, a swirl
of days we dreamed,

our snow without winter.
One year. Still a shock

when half the bed is bare.
Again the wind blows cherry blooms

into the street, ornamental branches left
with only leaves that grow large

and green without mercy.

And now, it's time to ride. After all, we have places to go and poems to read!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Neighborhood news, in 17 syllables

The Capitol Hill Seattle weblog introduced me to Hillku.

It isn't for haiku purists, but it provides fun notes on the neighborhood in 5-7-5 form.

And it has pictures!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Older ... but not wiser


Gilbert the kitten, in a rare moment of calm.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The political, the personal

At the LitFuse workshop in Tieton this past weekend, during a panel on the poet's role in the American Empire, the subject of political poetry became the focus. This makes sense.

The conversation included discussions of good versus bad political poetry, protest versus subversion, whether poets and other artists have an obligation to speak politically, preaching to the choir, and the use of language as a club (this came up in the context of the government and the strangely collusive mainstream media; however, political poetry can also use language as a club).

I didn't ask any questions then. I wanted to hear what other people asked. Since then, I've come up with some questions.

  1. Why no mention of Naomi Shihab Nye?

  2. Can poetry expand beyond its "choir" by avoiding guilt?

  3. Could the role of poetry, even political poetry, be to bring someone to think of a situation in a new way? Could that expand its audience beyond the choir?

  4. Can political poetry work even when cloaked in metaphor? I wanted to provide this wonderful example from the special translations edition of POETRY in 2006, but I was unable to find the poem online. In it, the poet uses the metaphor of a woman to describe his city (possibly "Twilight in Delhi," but I couldn't confirm it). If you know of it or remember it, please let me know.


This is just a start. I'm sure there are many more questions. If you have some—or if you have some thoughts or answers—please add them.

In the meantime, I have a couple of political poems in Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range. But they are very subtle. If I didn't mention it, you might want to know.

When do you speak up—strongly enough to be heard? How can you speak up in a positive and inclusive way?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mighty Tieton: The LitFuse report

This past weekend, I traveled to Tieton, Washington with the intrepid Kathleen Flenniken (who drove) and Susan Rich. There, in a small town amid orchards growing gold in late autumn, we met up with poets from all over the state and even Pennsylvania.

I was staying at my aunt and uncle's house, and my uncle pointed out that I really needed a vehicle instead of walking into town.

On Saturday, I drove my borrowed silver pickup truck toward town, turned on Sharp Road (wasn't the route on the map, but I love Sharp Road), and got lost. Or, shall we say, took a very circuitous route. It was sunny and gold and Mount Clemens rose over the valley and I made it to the workshop in time for coffee. Goodness.

After the opening group meditation, I took a morning class with Kathleen on "Taking the Dross Out"—how to figure out what really needs to be in your poem.

At lunch, we dragged chairs out into the parking area and soaked up the sun. It was warm and the sky stayed blue both days.

In the afternoon, I had my first taste of typesetting in the letterpress section. I was instantly enthralled. Something tactile that even I could do.

Then we attended a panel on (and I paraphrase) the role of the poet in the American Empire.

At dinner's end, Susan spoke of her experiences and read poems. That sounds very light. It wasn't light. It was moving.

We strolled back to the warehouse under a sky of many stars and watched the movie "Voices in Wartime," which discusses the role that poetry holds in conflict.

By then, it was late—and dark. So dark. So dark that I took another circuitous route home. Clearly, I am not a cartographer and certainly not a navigator.

On Sunday morning (after another long road into town), we printed our set type. We stepped on the pedal, placed the paper, and then rolled it over the printer bed. Awesome! I dubbed myself "the printer pig," mostly because everyone else was busy chatting.

Later, I sat in on Cody Walker's session on synesthesia in poetry. We dragged our chairs out to the deck to bask in the sun and discussed Dickinson and Baudelaire and some very astute middle school students.

The weekend wrapped up with an open mike and a closing meditation. After that, we watched the sun drift down as we drove west toward Seattle.

A fine weekend, indeed. If LitFuse is lit next year, be sure to be there.

Poetry reps

It's time for November's exercise.

Did you try writing new poems from a first line? I had fun with it—although, true to form, I kept writing mostly the same poem, just with different line lengths and some small changes. I still need to bust out.

Over the weekend, I took a workshop session on poetry and synesthesia—a joined perception of the senses in which someone might hear in colors or read in tastes. Then we experimented writing poems using the idea of synesthesia—finding ways to describe how the sun tastes or the color of boredom.

For November, I'd like to try writing a poem about thanksgiving or gratitude using synesthesia. What does gratitude sound like or taste like or look like?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A poem for November

I always try to read this Richard Hugo poem on the first of November. It seemed like a good poem to memorize this month.

Skykomish River Running


Aware that summer baked the water clear,
today I came to see a fleet of trout.
But as I wade the salmon limp away,
their dorsal fins like gravestones in the air,
on their sides the red that kills the leaves.
Only sun can beat a stream this thin.
The river Sky is humming in my ear.

Where this river empties in the sea,
trout are waiting for September rain
to sting their thirst alive. If they speed
upstream behind the kings and eat the eggs
the silvers lay, I’ll pound the drum for rain.
But sunlight drums, the river is the same,
running like old water in my ear.

I will cultivate the trout, teach their fins
to wave in water like the legs of girls
tormented black in pools. I will swim a
week to be a witness to the spawning,
be a trout, eat the eggs of salmon—
anything to live until the trout and rain
are running in the river in my ear.

The river Sky is running in my hair.
I am floating past the troutless pools
learning water is the easy way to go.
I will reach the sea before December
when the Sky is turning gray and wild
and rolling heavy from the east to say
late autumn was an Oriental child.


—Richard Hugo

Monday, October 29, 2007

Still no video

I admit that I associate a sofa with TV. At least, these days. So I really wanted to polish up my funny little video from the '80s. Coming soon.

In the meantime, I'm featuring another one of the horse proverb poems
on the sofa.

That, and getting ready for
LitFuse in Tieton.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Recent comments on my recent whining have brought to mind a passage from Life Work, by Donald Hall, in which he quotes the sculptor Henry Moore:

"The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to,
something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life.
And the most important thing is—it must be something you cannot possibly
do."

No matter what we write or how it's received—or not received—I think we are all engaged in that elusive pursuit of our best work. It's an evolution, and it's our life works.

That said, I've been reading Can Poetry Matter, by Dana Gioia—and so far I've been struck by two ideas regarding my own work (I'm speaking only for myself here and not for anyone else):

One: I'm too much invested in my ego (I want to succeed; I want the approval). I'd be a liar if I said otherwise. True, it's the writing and the writing life that's important and if I were shut in a dark box I would scratch the walls or go crazy trying to memorize what I wanted to write. But when one watches one's peers or people one knows or people one has heard of before get books published or national awards or coveted readings, it's hard not to measure oneself on that yardstick.

Two: This could encompass about 20 things, really: Not having found my own personal voice, formal poetry is too sloppy, other poetry is too mundane. What am I saying, really?

I'm not sure.

That's the problem, I think.

How to write poetry that is relevant, that resonates. The urge to create is matched with an urge to communicate. We write what we write—but is there a way, is there a lens we can look through, to bring added depth or reach to our work?

Or is it a crapshoot and we practice and hope that helps?

Now it's time for the first game of this year's World Series. (I think Mr. Hall would approve—after all, Boston's in it.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All in one

I like to work on poems in a series.

The other day, I started a free write and I immediately thought about how cool it would be to write a series.

Then I wondered whether that would be diluting my efforts, diluting the poem. If I set out to write six or twelve or forty poems about a subject, am I spreading my idea too thin? What if, instead, I put all the energy and effort and time that I would give to a series on this one poem?

The anxiety is that I will have a whole lot of poems that are completely unrelated to one another and I will never be able to pull them together into a book manuscript. That would be a bummer. But there's a chance that they would be stronger poems. (They might even get published.) That seems like a fair trade. Who knows? Maybe some of those poems will still grow into a series. The point, for me, is not to plan it that way.

So I'll try to stop working so far into the future.

How about you? How do you think about a poem when you begin? How do you think about a project?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Memorize: Uncle

Live and learn.

I had a grand plan of memorizing a poem a week. It wasn't a bad idea, but maybe it was a little too ambitious. Now, I say, "Uncle!"

I still think that memorization is a great tool for understanding work—my own or anyone else's. But one poem a week, I've found, is too much. I'm not giving the poem its due, and I'm forgetting them as soon as I move on to the next poem. That was not the point.

So I'm revising my ambitions to better achieve them: a poem a month. I want to stick with the Frost poem for all of October and really give myself time to internalize it.

Allowing enough time for that poem will give me some time to write and revise some of my own poems—oh, and update the website.

After a brief hiatus, during which I was trying to edit a little video (it isn't done yet), I'm featuring one of the proverb poems on the sofa. So plump up the pillows, bolster the bolsters, and take five, take a nap, or read a poem.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Another abundance

of clarity, perhaps, abandoned?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lean to the left, brain leans to the right

I saw this on Kelli's webblog, and I had to check it out. Now I know.


You Are 40% Left Brained, 60% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Notice how the right side of the brain is all about creativity, but the left side of the brain controls verbal ability. Hmmmm...

This is a test

I'm struggling with the disappointment of not getting outside recognition and not selling more books and… and…

In some ways I feel like this year is a test. I'm being asked to, or forced to, examine and own my motivations for writing. In some cases, I need to nudge myself toward some adjustments. (I find it's always easier to adjust when I can own and understand where I'm coming from in the first place.)

I'm not getting acceptances, so that's a low. But if I look at the high points during the year, they were the writing—the two manuscript projects that just swept me along. My task now, my challenge, is to focus on the writing and the craft and—most important to me—the deepening and the release, and to let go, let go, let go of all the longings for acceptance, recognition, validation.

It makes so much sense when I say it or write it down, but I find that doing it on a day-to-day, ongoing basis is much harder. I slip in and out. As I said, it's a test—like a fitness test, more muscles (metaphorical) that I need to exercise.

I'm pretty sure I've asked this before, but because I am slipping in and out, I'll ask again: How do you find encouragement or validation? How do you measure "success" (on your own, in your writing community)? How do you keep in the top of your mind the real why you write poetry? How do you keep on keepin' on?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Snippets

How do you free write? Do you free write?

My goal is to free write every day, even if I don't fit any other writing into the hours. Beyond that, my goal is to free write for at least five minutes.


Doesn't sound like a lot, does it? But I find I can make it until my idea runs out of steam (around the two minute mark, perhaps) and then I stop. I run out of ideas.

If I could just keep going, push through that stall, that inertia, maybe I'd get to the really interesting stuff.

How do you keep going?

This morning's (short) write:

She revisits the places of her dreams, the different houses
and their rooms of varying light, the large gardens,
the stairways and harbors, destinations she comes
to willingly as the clock ascends toward midnight
and she is ready to climb the stairs to her own room,
descend into sleep, the familiar strangeness,
and yet how often the houses become her mother's,
filled with preparations for food, with packing and waiting
for journeys to begin, with round puppies that she
in real life would never find there as though she is growing
as she sleeps a new life, building it backwards,
one step at a time.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Boo! or boo-hoo

It's that kind of a day, gray now after a bout of blue, and I've been trying to deal with technical difficulties of the computer kind since Sunday morning. Not so much fun, and I'm finding that I have little creative drive or even intellectual curiosity. Instead, I am consumed by the tasks at hand, with a mixture of incompetence, frustration, and obsession.

This leaves a lot of time for wallowing—oh woe is me, no acceptances in the mail, no mail today, but there probably wouldn't be anything other than junk anyway. Ah, kid, snap out it.

In the meantime, it's Monday, and time for another memorization poem. I admit that I struggled this week with what to suggest, and then today I was inspired by
Jeanine Hall Gailey's blog to try this e.e. cummings poem.

anyone lived in a pretty how town...


anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.


Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain


children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more


when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her


someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream


stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)


one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was


all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.


Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

—e.e. cummings

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Monday, October 1, 2007

Lift that simile (October's exercise)

If September's any indication, this is going to be a terrible year for my poetical fitness.

Did you try the sonnet exercise? Did you have success? I did not do too well, and if my previous pressure's-on sonnet is any indication, this one may take me another 11 months.

Meanwhile, it's October and time for a new exercise. My suggestion:

Take one poem that you've been struggling with and use just the first line to start another poem.

I think I might even start with September's poem again. Something will work.

A poem a day, or not

At the beginning of September, I decided that I should write about food and that I should write a poem every day—hence, a poem a day about food. I also decided that I should do a free write for my next direction every day.

Success was marginal.

I found that my "poems" were more like free writes and mostly didn't even have titles. And I found that my free writes were more restricted than I want, as though they were trying to be poems right away.

And I missed a day, but only one.

So I think I'll take the whole batch, or both batches, and hide them away for a few months.

In the meantime, in this year's Poet's Market (I am so old fashioned) I found a magazine that publishes poems about food: Alimentum, the Literature of Food.


P.S. Last week I mentioned writing response poems. My earlier effort at this is posted this week on the sofa.

Happy Monday

Did you try memorizing the Frank O'Hara poem?

For me, I'm realizing that I probably won't be able to recite each of these poems by memory whenever I want to, but the value of the exercise is in gaining that greater intimacy with the poem.

This week's memorization adventure is brought to you by Emily Dickinson:


He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys
Before they drop full Music on –
He stuns you by degrees –
Prepares your brittle Nature
For the Ethereal Blow
By fainter Hammers – further heard –
Then nearer – Then so slow
Your Breath has time to straighten –
Your Brain – to bubble Cool –
Deals – One – imperial – Thunderbolt –
That scalps your naked Soul –

When Winds take Forests in their Paws –
The Universe – is still

— Emily Dickinson

Friday, September 28, 2007

Quickly

Do you ever read a poem and then, while you're appreciating its resonance, realize that it's not quite hitting the spot—for you? Do you ever want to reply?

A couple of years I had this reaction and wrote a poem. Yesterday, I read a beautiful poem on the Poetry Daily website, "The Continuous Life" by Mark Strand, and I had the same experience.

Here, for what it's worth, is the draft I came up with.

After the Blackberry Season


In the purple light of dusk, where children hide
under lilacs long gone to seed
and watch the grown men and women
on the porch, or in the yellow kitchen, slowly
surrender themselves to the end of the day,
the sound of ice in a glass of tea or gin
and maybe guitars on someone's radio.
Teach your children that lives
wind long, and as much as you don't want to leave
the house, the yard, as much as you've grown to love home,
some days are too short for chores, that the sun will set
a little later each evening and then a little earlier,
that this darkness is only
one of many small leaps and leanings
until night comes finally. Let the mop and the broom
rest in their corner. The cooking and cleaning can wait
at least for this just now, when a rustle of leaves
means it might be time to come in, when conversation
hums with the pleasure of settling still
and watching the shadows deepen
until they can't be seen anymore
and the stars, and the stars

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A trip to the Japanese Garden









Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go on a guided tour of the Japanese garden in the Arboretum. It wasn't so much about what I tend to think of as gardening (soil, water, and light requirements), but more about the history Japanese gardens, the convergence of Shinto and Zen philosophies. Fascinating.

During the tour, we learned that the elements of a Japanese garden are supposed to teach you and remind you how to live your life. Here is what we found out about the elements and the qualities that they signify.

Bamboo: Long-lived, flexible, and hollow (an empty heart)
Rocks: Persistent
Pine: Evergreen (not fleeting) and patient
Japanese Maple: Graceful
Moss: Primitive, rootless (not too attached), and able to survive wherever the wind blows it.

These are the ways you need to live to live a long life.

My question: Which plant signifies a sense of humor?

Photos by Traci Tabordon. Thanks, Traci!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Memorizing Frank

Did you try memorizing the poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay?

I found it to be the easiest of the three poems so far, maybe because the voice is more contemporary. Or maybe because I was so taken by the use of "prank" as a verb in the first line.

What I'm finding difficult: retaining my memory of the previous weeks' poems. They seem to slip away as soon as I start a new one.

This week's poem is by Frank O'Hara, chosen especially for its last three lines. You can find more work by Frank O'Hara at
frankohara.org.

ANIMALS

Have you forgotten what we were like then

when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days


—Frank O'Hara

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sound on the sofa

It has taken three computers (one of which no longer has sound) and two microphones, but I've added a few readings to poetryonthesofa.com.

Only four so far, and the files are huge. Seriously: After you click the link, feel free to go get a cup of coffee. The recordings are—let's just say they are clearly not professional. But it's an experiment. I hope to learn more and get better.

Someone had suggested creating podcasts, but I decided that I wasn't quite there yet. Maybe when I get a better idea of what a podcast is. That would help.

Now I need to get back to work on my sonnet, which needs a lot of work.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

P.P.S.

My daughter has an assignment to find song lyrics that describe who she is, so we are now listening to as much of her iPod as will fit in one evening. The assignment reminded me of a poem that I wrote for her years ago. I read it to her tonight.

A Love Poem


She, my soliloquy,
anomaly, chips at packed earth
with a dull trowel discovered
in the emerald surf of unclipped grass
that has swallowed her ankles.
She is three and harbors visions
of princesses in the forest,
gowns resplendent with jewels,
fingers gladdened
by dime-store finery.
She would live in a tree,
bathe in the rain
and eat apples with honey.
She would knock down leaves
to carpet the drab duff,
then pirouette past the peeling limbs,
the ripening fruit,
the other princess trees.
Royalty knows its desires
and she shuns the queens' lapis lazuli,
digs instead for marbles
the color of tropical frogs,
for sharks under the garden.
We can find them, she says,
if we go far enough.
An ocean swells beneath the hellebore,
a sea of shimmering silver and green
for my glimmery fish,
my under-the-surface girl.

"A Love Poem" previously appeared in Pontoon Number One.

Two, two, two thoughts in one

Recently, a couple of weblogs from Kelli aka Leonardo and Jeannine Hall Gailey have been discussing the concept of persona and persona poems and are poems necessarily assumed to be autobiographical so that if you write outside your own exact experience you are somehow lying. That probably reveals my own bias in this conversation.

Where did this assumption come from in poetry? I'd bet that people did not think that Coleridge was an ancient mariner. Did it start with the confessional poetry? Did people come to think of poems as a literal metaphor into the soul as well as a literal one?

This led me to think of that divide between poetry and fiction. When you read a novel—even if it's in the first person—you don't assume that it's absolutely autobiographical (or, you don't unless the author is marketing it as a memoir). Example: I've been reading Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer. And even though the "hero," as he is referred to by the narrator, is named "Jonathan Safran Foer," I do not assume that this novel is autobiographical. Tiny parts, maybe larger parts—but no, not in its entirety. That is not fiction.

This idea of persona poetry also brought to mind an earlier conversation on Bemsha Swing about reading styles, and the question of prose readers being more interesting to hear than some poetry readers. (The complaint in that debate being primarily that readers of poetry tend to flatten the tone in an effort to remove inflection so that the words will stand on their own—and that's my interpretation of it and not everyone reads that way anyway.)

These two thoughts jammed up inside my head, and I realized that prose readers, when they are reading fiction, have characters! They have personas all over the place, and so they can read in the voice of that character, that persona. Hello inflection, tone, emotion—all that good stuff.

And perhaps every poem has a persona, has a character—maybe the poet, maybe partly the poet, maybe someone else entirely—and getting to know the poem really well is getting to know that character, and then the reading out loud is a way to share that person, and maybe a really good way to share the poem.

Just a thought.


P.S. I will not suggest memorizing "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" next week. Promise.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Poem for this week, from Edna

Did you try the Donne poem? I found it hard--not because of the language, but because I was intimidated by the length and so I kind of put it off.

Yet, it's always fun to be able to say, "Saucy, pedantic wench." How often do you get to do that?

As promised, here is a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I first became acquainted with this poem through the Rising Tides anthology, when I fell in love with the line "Your laughter pelts my skin with small delicious blows."


(Note: The lines in this poem are sometimes very long, and the blogger UI is not so great at line breaks and indentation, so please excuse whatever weirdness.)


Rendezvous

Not for these lovely blooms that prank your chambers did I come. Indeed,

I could have loved you better in the dark;
That is to say, in rooms less bright with roses, rooms more casual, less aware
Of History in the wings about to enter with benevolent air
On ponderous tiptoe, at the cue, "Proceed."
Not that I like the ash-trays over-crowded and the place in a mess,
Or the monastic cubicle too unctuously austere and stark,
But partly that these formal garlands for our Eighth Street Aphrodite are a bit too Greek,
And partly that to make the poor walls rich with our unaided loveliness
Would have been more chic.
Yet here I am, having told you of my quarrel with the taxi-driver over a line of Milton, and you laugh; and you are you, none other.
Your laughter pelts my skin with small delicious blows.
But I am perverse: I wish you had not scrubbed—with pumice, I suppose—
The tobacco stains from your beautiful fingers. And I wish I did not feel like your mother.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall poems on the sofa

poetryonthesofa.com

It's been that kind of a day.

Just for fun

Everything in this poem really happened:


The Vegetarian


A man with red hair said
Coney Island. Birthday. Every year.
I heard Rollercoaster, shook my head

No

(No thank you)

and stayed in the dark party
of dancers, lithe and splendid bodies
crowding the SoHo studio.
I watched the choreographer cook,
forgot about the guy on the subway going south.

I saw him again
when dinner was served.
It was great, he said.

I hadn't tasted meat in years,
but I ate chicken.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Three by Roberta Spear

This morning I was reading A Sweetness Rising, the volume of new and selected poems by Roberta Spear, and I reached the section of poetry taken from The Pilgrim Among Us. It's her third book, and I hadn't read it before.

I was especially touched by this poem:

In the Moon


1
There are lots of men in the moon,
my son claims, and they all
have dirty feet. Sometimes they march
and the light swells.
Sometimes they lie down
and their mud-caked soles
nearly touch the earth like his
as he races toward the clear
winter sky where earlier
the moon rose between two palms.

2
On a night even colder than this,
she must have been listening
for those soiled boots
moving slowly in her direction.
Anna Akhmatova barely breathed each time
the wind slapped the shutters.
Resting her arms on the crude
wooden table, she pulled
each piece of shell
from the egg she held in her fingers.
"It's like peeling the moon,"
she said. She had brought
this, the first egg of their winter,
to the house of her friends
who watched in silence
as she sliced into thirds
the white, the yolk bruised,
like a sun gone out,
then pushed the plate
in their direction.

3
A single egg all winter—
life being what it was
fifty years before my son's birth.
We must still learn to share
what was never ours.
Whether that rubbery light
which bends to our fancy
or the third translucent slice
of cucumber he sneaks
from the salad. Or the smaller
half-moons of his nails
as he yawns and slips his hand
into mine and we finally
walk side by side,
the dark ring of his lips
making a night all its own.

4
The moonlight is as helpless
as those who tried to gather it
for warmth, like something
you could live by if you had to.
And when those men came down
from there and kicked in
the door to that small room
where the three sat
kicked over the table and chairs,
the bits of shell scattered,
like a dream, and could
never be found again.

5
In his dreams, he calls out
though he does not wake
or know me. I think
of the crows he heckled today,
the black knives of their wings
cutting the air above us.
Of children's fists thrown up
in play, like stones
at the promise of heaven.
And of that pile
left to darken and crumble,
suddenly let loose so that
the leaves cross the light and
in falling back to earth,
step toward him.
I think of my own fears
and my love which is greater,
and how I will tell them
as I tell the others
they must take off their shoes
before they enter.

— Roberta Spear


And here, inspired, by Peter's post of a nest poem, is a nest poem by Roberta Spear, again from The Pilgrim Among Us:

The Nest


The mockingbird throws open
her wings, and storms off
into the night. Soon
stars fill her empty nest.
The others come to look:
one to snitch a tuft of milkweed,
another to inspect the ragged seams.
Lastly, some stranger
in a black shirt, red cravat,
a mobster by daylight,
claims this hideout for himself
and his honey, the phoebe,
for the sweetness of night
has stunned them both.

Is it possible, all that
spit and polish come to nothing?
Or to those who never knew us,
never felt the ache of mud
and grass, these walls
through which we too will enter,
brushing the last fingers of air?
Already, my daughter
blows bubbles at me, flushes
and stares off at the light
spilling over the edges.

When she leaves, I'll lift
the windows and let them in—
the sparrow will rest on my pillow,
the wind will fill my favorite dress.
Even the mockingbird will
pluck the mold and dust
from her feathers, and study
the mirror where I lift my child
to meet herself, and we laugh
at that other nest, shining,
filled with its endless rooms.

— Roberta Spear


And then, because A Sweetness Rising includes poems from all Roberta Spear's books, I went back and found this poem:

A Nest for Everyone


The possum with four crazed paws
and a mouthful of broken teeth
is too old to brave the highway
again for a chase that blurs
into flight. The cold morning sun
grazes the husks of November,
the shoulders of workers crouched
between vines They lower
their knives, the bronzed
leaves fall to the mud, and
the fluttering stops for a moment.
Then a wave of crows ascends
from a furrow, each bearing in
its beak a token of the season—
a flailing worm, a wisp of straw,
the strip of an old sleeve
that once bound an arm or
a shattered brow and still has
the fiery stain to show for it.

Last night, this side of a steamy,
blackened window, my children
wanted to believe that there
must be a nest for everyone.
As my son struck a match, the soft
wick of the candle flared into
a prayer for our survival.
It is the dead of winter and
vines are fluted with darkness,
wired to wooden stakes. It will
take all eight candles to cast
the light of their small faces
on the glass. And many more
than that to warm all the cupped
hands waiting not far beyond.

This month, the man who holds
the deed to this gnarly orchard and
that parcel of sleeping grass
is moving slower. Hours pass,
the rows of numbers won't bear fruit.
He leans back on his chair and
stares up at the empty sky of
his kitchen ceiling. Whatever
fluttered into the fields will
go back the way it came:
birds, leaves, the endless
bleating of the neighbor's bull,
even the workers themselves
quickly dividing limb from sky,
and the stars that will rise soon
over this valley. They will all
go back to the schemes of earth
and air, like those wild nests
left vacant in winter, embracing
the light, letting some of it go.

— Roberta Spear

Monday, September 10, 2007

Yum!

One of the things I enjoy on the Virtual World: Peter's details about the fabulous dinners that he and Dean make and serve. They always sound perfectly leisurely and scrumptious.

Yesterday morning, I rode my bike over to the neighborhood farmers' market, and later we had a big Sunday dinner for six: salad made of shaved fennel, mushrooms and parmesan with lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper, then bell pepper ravioli from the farmers' market in a sauce made of garlic, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil, with a dash of cream, and then halibut with a lemon and caper sauce, baby bok choy, and mashed potatoes. Just add water, wine, and much laughter—a nice way to end the weekend and start the week.

In that spirit, I've added a few food poems to the sofa.

Memorizing Donne

Did you try memorizing Blake's "The Tiger"? How did it go?

I found myself struggling a bit with the repetition—dare and dread, especially. But I learned a lot more about the poem through the process.

This week, I'd like to try "The Sun Rising," by John Donne. With apologies to Mr. Donne, please excuse the lack of indentation. I tried inserting nonbreaking spaces, but they've all been stripped out. To see the correct indentation, check out the Poetry Foundation website.


The Sun Rising


Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She's all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

—John Donne

(Next week, it will be time for some Edna.)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sports + Art (not at the same time)

It's football season, and yesterday we went to the Husky-Bronco (Boise) game. It was very hot up in the stands, and the Huskies won.

Then we hopped a bus up the hill, took a break, and hit the art opening scene.

Our first stop was Ballard, where we saw some beautiful life drawings and then wandered around the new Old Ballard, with a stop at O.K. O.K. and some sofa testing (yes—sofa!) at the new Skarbos.

Then we went to Art/Not Terminal to see black and white photographs by Kim Hood. Pictures from all seven continents, including some eerie images of Antarctica. Visit his website—and if you're in Seattle, stop by and see the show.

Now, it's back to poetry.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Oh, Mighty Tieton

In the most recent PoetsWest special announcements message, I saw this:

POETS OF WASHINGTON, UNITE! Tieton Arts & Humanities announces LitFuse 2007: A Poet's Workshop. This 2-day workshop to be held November 3-4 in Tieton, WA (15 minutes west of Yakima), features hands-on letterpress printing opportunities, Susan Rich (winner of the PEN/USA Poetry Award and Peace Corps Writers' Award, among others), Kathleen Flenniken (winner of the Prairie Schooner Book award), a special narrated screening of Voices in Wartime, which looks at the experience of war through poetry, walking meditation, open mike reading, Cody Walker & Paul Nelson's astonishing teaching, and a murder of your fellow poets itching to channel the MUSE. All in a hilltop rural setting guaranteed to inspire. Check it out at www.mightytieton.com to register, or email litfuse@mightytieton.com for more information.

I was downright giddy—a poetry workshop in Tieton?

My mom grew up in Tieton, which is about 12 miles west of Yakima, and my grandfather was born there. I've been traveling across the mountains to visit my grandparents there since I was about six months old.

That direction I mentioned the other day is all about Tieton!

I promptly sent in my check. I am so excited!

In the meantime, here is a Tieton poem:

Over the Umptanum


Always the dawn wind rustles the largeness
awake and fidgets in the chimes.

Dry hills dust an old woman’s blood
the way sap sweetens apples,
gray barns house the devils of starlings
and barbwire blends in the hardpan.
Rusty steel laces the desert tight as water
the years it didn’t come.

She has learned the deeper needs of thirst,
sent roots in search of sustenance
and watched the gruff limbs of apples
grow up around her
through seasons of frost
and blood-orange harvest moon.
She has stayed here,
steady as the skins a snake will shed each summer.

The road sidles toward Naches,
slides through the valley
and up over the Umptanum.
Ridges sweep, sharp against the sky.
She feels the wide light on her shoulders,
smells sagebrush when she closes her eyes.

Reprinted from Weathered Steps.

Back to school

Two of my kids and my husband are all going back to school today. Even though I'm not, I continue to enjoy the rhythm of September. It's a good time to start new endeavors.

To that end, I'd like to kick off a monthly exercise program (poetry, as opposed to situps).

September's exercise:

Take one poem that you've been wrestling with and try writing it as a sonnet. If you feel that you need more than 14 lines, try turning it into multiple sonnets (maybe even linking them).

I'll start with the poem that I posted the other day. If I can pull it off, I'll post the sonnet version toward the end of the month (it will probably take me that long).