Saturday, June 30, 2007

On the writing life, in the writing life

"Walking, and falling."

(Remember that, from Laurie Anderson?)

I continue to be inspired by Kelli aka Leonardo's posts about the writing life. (Thank you!) I get the feeling that not only is she writing, but that she is seeing the other parts of her day and her life through the lens of being a writer and writing.

That sounds obvious. Don't we all do that—don't I do it, at least on my best days?

But to me, the distinction is more subtle, or perhaps more deep. Maybe what's coming across is a greater, more constant commitment. It doesn't feel like a life to be negotiated or taken on in baby steps. My inclination is to take the small steps (I'll try this, and then I'll try this…). I'm not sure how else to do it, but I also sense that the incremental approach may not be enough.

Instead, I get an image of walking toward the edge of a ledge—a cliff—and jumping: trusting that there is water below and that it is deep enough and blue and possibly warm.

How do you look at writing—around or at the center of all the rest of your life?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Is it all about the money?

Or publication?

Validation: How do you get that?

(Possible whine warning)

I have a habit of choosing pursuits that don't pay much, if at all: first, modern dance; then, poetry. I don't write for the money. I have a day job for that, and I just have to struggle with the fear that I'm selling out and the wish that I could write more and read more and then write even more.

Part of it's time management, but it's also hard to carve out that time or that management when there is so little in the way of lucre remuneration or recognition (another yardstick). It runs dangerously close to becoming a hobby and falling to the end of the list, after the job and the cooking and the laundry and cutting back the blackberry brambles (which I had better do soon).

Does not getting paid or prized make your work less valid? Does not getting poems or manuscripts accepted make your work less valid?

My guess, thinking from my own experience, is that we keep creating whether anyone else thinks its valid or not.

But do you ever feel like the one hand clapping or that tree in the forest falling?

Scene at the bike rack yesterday

A festive start to the morning, what with roses and fishing flies and a bag of books. Someone's story.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Problem solving

A colleague at work sent a link to an interview with Ze Frank, part of the Cecil Vortex series of Conversations about Creativity.

I took special note of this section:

"There are times when I feel like I'm craving what I call unsolvable problems, and I have the kind of energy you need to move forward into uncharted territory and brave that side of things. And then there are other times when that seems like the most difficult chore in the world. So I've also gotten pretty comfortable knowing when I need to pick up solvable problems."

For me, new poems and new work sometimes feel like unsolvable problems (irony: I can solve them, or I can try), while sending poems out feels like a solvable problem (even though I have absolutely no control over the outcome). It's a process I'm familiar with, at least.

Originally, I planned to avoid sending work out over the summer—the mostly nonreading time. Now, I'm feeling like I want solvable problems.

Last summer, I sent around a list of publications that read June-August. This year, I'm not so prepared. Any recommendations?

How about those angles?

While stopping by Peter's Virtual World, I was introduced to Bemsha Swing, starting with the post about angles of approach in poetry (6.24.2007). Especially the part about suggesting ("nioi, scent"). I'd like to have this on a poster by where I read and write (if I had a regular place where I read and write).

More reading to do...

You can bring it with you

Quote from the A.W.A.D. e-mail message:

The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.
-Madeleine L'Engle, writer (1918- )

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Spike poem

As I said before, I find it hard to write about pets—but here is one poem that I wrote some years ago for the inimitable Spike. I remember that I was a little upset with him when I started work on it.

The Hunter

Why does he leave this last
morsel, small and still,
with the splayed gray feathers
at the bottom of the stairs?

The size of a pebble
and licked clean,
the bird heart is not eaten,
although no evidence remains

of the scaled feet, curved bones
or delicate skull. Not even the beak.
Only this nexus,
dead drum, without a beat.

Such small gifts unwind me,
betrayed by true nature.
Later, he will robe my lap
with fur that glistens like night

I had a couple more lines, but I think I'll end here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ninth life

It's hard to write about pets without being precious or too sentimental. It's even harder to lose a pet.
The amazingly old cat Spike was a part of our family for nearly 18 years, and then his body was apparently picked up by animal control last week. All we have are second-hand descriptions, but the details fit.

He was my buddy. Here are some of my memories:

When we brought Spike home from the pound, he was so small that he could fit in my hand. But even then, he didn't like to be held and stuck his skinny little matchstick legs straight out.

When he got a little older, Spike would always greet me when I came home from work. As soon as I opened the car door, he would jump inside. One evening, when it was already dark, I didn't see him and just closed the door. I woke up the next morning with a feeling of dread: Where was Spike, where had he been? I went out to the curb and looked up and down, fearing what I might find. Suddenly, I heard a scratching and a frantic little voice. I looked up and saw Spike pressed against the car window—all small paws and big mouth. He'd been locked inside all night. He didn't jump into the car after that.

Once we caught him swinging from the birdcage. It wasn't enough that he looked like the cartoon cat Sylvester. He had to be Sylvester. We moved the bird into a room with a door that we could close and latch.

We used to say that Spike was a cat who thought he was a dog. He would follow us around, and once he chewed Claire's homework.

When we moved to a new house, we were determined not to lose him. We planned to keep him inside for three days so that he would become acquainted with his new home. That plan lasted until 11:00 the first night. We finally let him into the backyard, and I followed him around with a flashlight. Then he disappeared. The next morning, we went outside to look for him. We called his name and heard crashing in the laurel, meowing and thrashing. It was at least five minutes before Spike emerged from the hedge. But he didn't get lost.

He was afraid of toys with bells in them.

As he grew older, he changed. He took to meowing loudly whenever he came in through the cat door.
"Hey, guys! I'm here! Where are you?!"
It could be 4:00 in the morning.
When he decided it was time for breakfast, he would meow even more loudly. After he was fed, he would meow loudly again, maybe holding out for seconds (it worked once). One morning, Claire and I were upstairs when we heard Spike protesting to Tom.
Tom said, "Spike, be quiet!" and then we heard "Mew."

This afternoon we gathered in the backyard, where Spike liked to sit in the garden, to share our stories. We each had our own times with him. Over the years, he became everyone's buddy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Small can be beautiful

On her weblog, Kelli aka Leonardo recently posted information about an organization called KIVA that works with people to set up one-to-one microcredit loans (as small as $25, which can go pretty far in some places).

It sounds like a wonderful program, and my original plan was to click her helpfully provided links and find out more. I haven't gotten that far yet, but I want to pass along the information. Visit her site to find out more about KIVA.

More later. Or more soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

True confession

I think I'm starting to spend more time writing for this weblog than I am spending on poems. As you can tell, even that isn't very much time.

(I do tend to nag at me.)

Yesterday, for no apparent reason, I thought about a hooked rug that I started in seventh grade. Note that I said started.

My mom helped me buy the backing and skeins of yarn and the tricky little hook with the wooden handle, and I used a piece of cardboard backing from a package of rick-rack to wrap the yarn around and then cut along the edge so that I would have little pieces of equal length, and I drew my design and started to hook the yarn through the backing. When finished, the rug would have a bright orange background (think: '70s) and a yellow sun with blue eyes and a big smile.

I worked and hooked and worked and hooked and went through a lot of yarn and eventually grew tired and lost interest and that rug was not finished. Years later, my mother thought she'd take it up and get it done (she is a noble woman).

Long story, short conclusion: I do have a habit of leaving projects left undone—even in poetry. I'm thinking about my sharecropper poems, which have been languishing for a while now. And I'm concerned that my Camargue poems may reach the same fate.

That brings up the question: When is a series done?

It needs that emotional arc, and I suspect that I'm also looking for a narrative arc. Somehow, the series needs to finish the story that I'm telling. And plot has never been my strong suit.

Writing your way out of the end of a poem is one thing. But how do you write your way out of the middle of a series?

And, to bring up another subject, how do the poems in the series stand on their own? Or do they need to?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pick a color, any color

Have you ever picked one thing—for example, a number or a letter or a color—and played around with it to see how far you could go with it?

The newest issue of Cranky has a wonderful poem called "Blue," by Laurie Rosenblatt. It isn't online, and I don't want to infringe by typing it and posting it—but I really enjoyed reading it (if you have a chance, check it out).

I've also seen some wonderful poems on the number six and the letter L. All potential Sesame Street reference aside, the poems are playful and inventive. I'm amazed at the connections and allusions the poets are able to make.

Inspired by that blue poem, I thought I'd try to choose another color. Here is my early attempt at green:

Green, with Envy

Kneel in the color of grass
and softness of moss,
sharp to the smell of mold.
Pastures and olive leaves,
the nubby skin of a lime.

Newness, ingenue,
a lack of experience.
Spring, Kelly, Emerald,
Apple or algae,
Jade or Celadon:

a glint in the ocean,
the cut of a gem,
the shine in your eyes.
Lettuceor onions, as in scallions.
Avocado, as in appliances.

True green,
a wave of illness,
pallor around the gills,
if we still had our gills.

I'm sure that I'm missing a lot, but it's a starting point.

Have you tried this? Have you tried other starting points—besides colors or letters or numbers?

Friday, June 15, 2007

What it takes

A few weeks ago, someone asked me what I would tell a poet who had just published a collection for the first time—any tips or tricks for marketing the book, getting out in the world, and not getting discouraged.

(Or that's how I interpreted it.)

Today, the always-insightful Leonardo was talking about trying to publish a manuscript and not getting discouraged.

I've been toying with the idea of not even sending poems out this summer. Instead, I could let all the poems currently in circulation come back to my mailbox—as regular as rain or swallows returning to Capistrano.

I could plan for September, like the beginning of school, and send poems out again then.

Then today, I heard the story on NPR about not getting discouraged—a wonderful story about a man who worked for years to communicate his thoughts, his revelations.

How do you keep going?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's here!

Twenty-six poets! Michael Spence, Sharon Hashimoto, David Mason, and so many more (including some of my poems). See the full list on the Rose Alley Press website.

If you're in Wallingford (Seattle), the anthology is available at
Open Books: A Poem Emporium. You can also find it at the University Bookstore in Seattle and at The Elliott Bay Book Company.

Or you can send mail to for ordering details.


(Earlier in the afternoon, I was thinking about poetry as the balance between precision and exuberance. Today has been all about exuberance!)

The anthology is coming! The anthology is coming!

The anthology is here! Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range, edited by David D. Horowitz and published by his Rose Alley Press, features the work of 26 Northwest poets.

Readings at Richard Hugo House are scheduled for June 20 and July 10 (I'll be reading at that second one). For all the information, see the Rose Alley Press website.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Poems (what an idea!)

"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"

(from "Animals," by Frank O'Hara)

This morning on the bus I was reading Frank O'Hara's collected poems. How lovely, and how energetic. Ultimately, tragic and ironic at the same time. It was a good day for all of those things, and the sun was out then.

Someone asked me whether I posted my poems on my blog, and I explained that there was a potential for publication conflicts, so I had pretty much not posted many poems so far. He thought it might be nice to see more samples of what I write. Hard to quibble with that, even if Frank is a tough act to follow.

Here are a few.

This is the second poem in a series of sonnets (my informal formal verse) in Weathered Steps.

Des Moines

Heat lightning scrapes the late sky tired, dry
when the smudged glass doors of the depot close.
We huddle on the stoop, our gear piled high,
watch through the weather’s threats for an old bus
that might not come. Cabbies flock like bored crows,
peck at conversation, offer advice
with doughnuts from a pink box. Thunder grows
in my other ear. We hedge, out of place.
They say that we can ship our packs ahead
but not the dog. “I-90 isn’t far,”
a driver suggests. “You can hitch that road.”
For the cab fare, he’ll even take us there.
We hold the shoulder, watch cars leave a while,
feel days—and many miles—from Seattle.

Here is one of the poems that I read at the dance concert last weekend. It originally appeared in Heliotrope and in Tattoos on Cedar.

Somewhere in Florence

Rapunzel Considers Italy

Lone tower or second-story bedroom:
any chamber will suffice
to keep me within by charm or choice.

The witch remains elusive,
a vapor or a cure,
a pale root in the garden below.

I retreat more often into my bones,
veil time with the mystery of the carpets,
hair in lamplight, my rampion scraps.

In the dark snarl of hours,
I plait arguments, tell myself maybe this tale
should move to a house outside Siena.

Beneath a slender moon, sky seeded with stars,
perhaps a plot is sown with tomatoes and greens.
Olive leaves might turn their faces away

from the wind’s first private breath,
a breeze brimming with language
and few familiar syllables.

I remain here, far from Tuscan enchantments,
stroke the simple doubt that any home
could satisfy my quest for quiet

until solitude would lose its luster,
lead me to leave my peculiar prison,
clip my locks, walk into the daylight world.

Here is one of the Pandora poems. It originally appeared in Ascent.


Without being born, Pandora has no middle age,
only this endless procession of centuries
gone as dank as a cellar, plastered with plans
and the most familiar fictions:
What everyone wanted,
what everyone thought.

She knows there must be a stairway,
a way out, a walk through the cedars
and brambles that tumble toward open shore.
There will be wind enough
to swing her around like a horse on a roof
until she needs no sense of direction,

no ears for more voices.
She will stand at the seam between sea and sand,
feel her body fill like a sail
in the sharp gusts, slaked by sky
as it flees the horizon’s hard line,
by ocean and salt and that clean, dousing light.

Finally, here is a poem for fun. (I am on some kind of mailing lists!)

A Brief Meditation on Why I Won’t Be Renewing My Subscription to Your Esteemed Magazine


Was it nearly a year ago
your invitation came in the mail,

mentions of martinis, a picture
of a blonde clad in something
as sheer as a summer’s day, swept by wind?
(Always, there must be wind.)
My heart—and another organ or two—leapt as I
said Yes.

Then, when your thick, slick book arrived—
words, words, words.
No drinks, no dames.
Not even an olive. Not a twist
in sight (but for literary device).
Merely glib or utterly—

imagine young women clad
in tattoos and cynicism,
spending their last cents
on stamps and cigarettes
and those lonely boys hanging out of windows,
working on their verbal swagger.

You might see the glass half-full,
but when we talk about cocktails,
it will always look empty.

These days are chock-a-block
and I have sports to watch
before I sleep. I think I’ll keep
my money in my wallet
and one eye open for that girl.


Twenty years ago today

I married my first husband, Pat Kervran. My friend Laurie took photographs for us, and she asked me today whether any of them included the World Trade Center. Here's the picture.

Pat died in 1993, and now the towers are gone, too. It was nice to take a moment this afternoon and look through the images of that day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cultural crosstraining

What a weekend! It was all happening: Runners at Green Lake picking up their pink T-shirts, each with a poem on the back, and my friend Bonnie standing at the path encouraging them to participate.

"Runners, get a T-shirt. They're free. They have a poem on the back! Support your local poets."

At this point, I would chime in.

"Get a free T-shirt. It's pink!"

The morning was blustery, the wind was gusting, and we had fun.

That was my outdoor break in between reading poems on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Deborah Birrane's benefit dance performance. I was able to watch her dance during tech rehearsal on Friday night—and she danced beautifully. Each concert included mingling, complete with sparkling wine, the dance and poetry performance, a question-and-answer session, and then a reception with Italian wines paired with foods.

Feasts for everyone!

During the Q & A, in response to a question about where dance might be going in the next 30 years, Deborah talked about grass-roots efforts to bring dance to people and make it accessible—easier for people to enjoy.

I thought about that and how it relates to poetry. It seems like it's easy for us poets to feel kind of marginalized by society, or by popular culture. How do we bring poetry to everyone?

I think that Ted Kooser's poem of the week probably helped, plus poems on the bus, poems in public art, artists in the schools. I think the Running Poets of Green Lake was a fabulous and creative example of how to weave poetry into the comfortable fabric of people's lives.

Is poetry supposed to be comfortable? Not always, but I think you have to start somewhere.

What do you think?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Reading without a net

After I finished reading White Oleander, I didn't start another novel. Instead, I've focused solely on poetry—and since I made that switch, so many ideas have been rattling around in my head. It's hard not to have a fiction book in hand (maybe for me it's a crutch, or an escape, or a safety net?), especially because I suspect that my current series project is really fiction in poetry's clothes.

But reading more poetry is not only pleasurable, not only feeds me, it unlocks some creative key, opens a door just enough, just ajar, that I notice more images, that I find more fragments, experience the world in poetry.

Next challenge: Trying to remember some of it when I have a chance to write it down.

Tonight is the first performance. Trying to practice. Trying not to get nervous.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Technical difficulties

I've been having some troubles accessing my account, a bummer since I have all these little mini business cards with my web log address on them.

Just for the fun of it, I thought I'd post the photographs that I used on the cards. They're from a trip to Italy that Tom and I took in 1999. Eight years, and I'm still dreaming and writing about Italy.

Venice: The Italian Society of Authors and Editors

Florence: The Arno


Happy Friday!

10 reasons why I shouldn't go to the poetry reading

Because the bus was late.

Because my daughter needs a folding poster board
for a science project.

Because I won't get to eat dinner.

Because the poems will all be experimental.
I won't understand them.

I won't fit in.

It looks like rain.

Because I'm going out again
tomorrow night.

Because I need something to wear.

Because on the way home I saw two brown shoes
placed by a telephone pole,
but they weren't my size.


I ran out of reasons at nine,
so I went out for some poetry
and a glass of cheap wine.

Cheap Wine and Poetry at Richard Hugo House, with the launch of the latest issue of When It Rains from the Ground Up.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Staying in character?

Continuing this idea of poems in a series, I realized that I enjoy writing in character—giving each person in my made-up place his or her own voice. At least, I hope they read as different voices.

But while trying to find the voice of that character, I feel that I start to even out. I might think of a really great image—but syntactically, it doesn't fit the rest of the poem. It doesn't fit the character. Or maybe I'm expecting my people to be too ordinary?

How do you stay original and stay in character?

Monday, June 4, 2007

What is the truth?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott encourages us to "write the truth."

It's great advice. What does it mean?

I was thinking about it this afternoon, in the context of my current Camargue project. I'm enjoying working on the poems and creating this little history or myth system and a small cast of characters. But I'm nagged by the feeling, "So…?"

Would these poems stand on their own? If you received a batch of them in the mail, would you wonder what they were all about, or why?

I thought about writing the truth in my little series of poems about made-up people in a place I've never been—and I realized that the truth meant an emotional honesty. Does it have to be raw or stark or hard? It has to be passionate. But maybe tempered by something (can you have a whole book of poems that are passionate, or do they modulate between different levels of intensity?).

I realized that my poems might be lacking that emotional honesty, that resonance, and I wondered how to reach into it without slipping into melodrama. As a reader, I appreciate emotion and resonance and passion, but I don't want to feel hit over the head with a hammer.

I've suspected that my passions tend to be muted—or maybe I shy away from them. So let's set aside the idea of passion for just a second (a tiny second!) and think of emotional honesty, emotional resonance.

How do you get that into your poems? How do you open it up when you're writing in character—the voice, even though it's your voice—of someone you will never even meet?

P.S. Arrgggghhhh. Is this what they call fiction?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Hold the bus!

Last night at my book club, the subject of public transportation came up. Just for the fun it, here is a poem that I wrote last summer about public transportation—two kinds:

The Morning After You Stopped by for Dinner

for B.

Stuck inside a bus broken down
on the highway shoulder, I think of you
in Houston, or en route,
your long day of going from Tokyo,
and then the day over again
and a red-eye—not yours—
to the twin cities, so close to home.

But first you are booked to Texas, must go
alone to the Lone Star state
while the man you love flies on to Wisconsin,
makes coffee, feeds the chickens.

You are in a plastic chair
bolted by the windows,
vistas of concrete,
or sandwiched in the air,
where sunrise leaks through portholes

as passing trucks rock the coach I’m on.
That man over there
with a traveling voice is talking,
talking, and maybe today Christopher
has abandoned all voyagers
in favor of breakfast, maybe
a blessed bowl of raisin bran—

but now the tow truck
is backing up. We switch buses,
ease onto the road.

Somewhere near water,
the planes are rising,
trailing vapor across the sky.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Briefly, more music

Sandra has posted her quite fabulous list of five songs on her site. Check out the list and the site at