Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the barrel room

Yesterday, on our way to wine tastings a couple of wineries in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, we stopped by the shop to check on the wine. When Tom pulled out the bungs, we could hear the wine crackling with malolactic fermentation.

I've spent the most part of four glorious days working on poems. I started by going through every poem in my manuscript (the one I wasn't going to revise for a while). Then I went through my most recent copy of Poets & Writers and some of the submission call information on Facebook and gathered all the links.

Now, I'm going through the poems in my "list of poems that are available to send," and some of them I'm sending to the barrel room. Looking at them through my time-has-passed and post-Lorna-Dee-Cervantes-workshop lenses, I can tell that they need work—and if I don't know quite what that work is, if I try a few or a lot of things and the poem still isn't working, it just needs more time to age. (It might be a lot more time. Some of those poems might never get bottled—but that's okay, and I'll probably learn something along the way.)

And now, for your submitting pleasure, here is my list:

Bryant Literary Review

Hanging Moss Journal

Mary Magazine

Natural Bridge

The Normal School


The Pedestal Magazine

Third Wednesday

And the wineries we visited?

Nota Bene


Friday, November 28, 2008

I was out walking this morning past the cemetery of the Grand Army of the Republic and thinking about my inauguration poem when I saw this memorial. It's across the lane from the cemetery, which might be why I don't remember seeing it.

The walk was good, and I decided that my poem needed to have a refrain. Then I thought that it could be a sestina! That would give it some form, and the refrain would take care of one line in every stanza. When I came home I began to write.

And then I checked Martha's helpful blog post again and found a few more rules. The poem needs to be an ode and it needs to be in four quatrains. Rats! No sestina. It also needs to include three of the following words: honor, integrity, faith, hope, change, power. I'd had honor covered in a line and hope as an end word, but my other end words were light, morning, go, turning, and far.

(Power? My poem will not include the word power.)

Back to the writing board.

How about you? Are you working on an inauguration ode?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Yesterday afternoon, while I waited for the bus, I was able take a moment and appreciate a week of leaving for work at sunrise and leaving for home at sunset. So much glorious color right in front of me.

This morning, I'm able to take a quiet moment and be thankful for family and friends and a job and a home and good food and good company and good poems and our new president-elect and each day that brings its own measure of hope and beauty. For me, it's a day to focus on the good things. The sadness and horror and hurt are still out there, but for this one day, let them not take center stage.

Thank you, everyone, for what you bring to the world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who's your favorite?

I was just picking up a second cup of coffee when a colleague asked me, "Who's your favorite poet?"

Imagine the sound of screaming inside my head. AAAAaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!

He tempered his query by adding, "I know that's like asking, 'What's your favorite air molecule.' "

Oxygen in my lungs, carbon dioxide in the Champagne.

I asked him if I could get back to him.

Why is this so hard? Because there are so many! And because I am a fickle reader, shifting attention to whomever I'm reading, if I'm liking the reading, at any one time.

I'll admit that I've been reading Best American Poetry on the bus. So many poets, so many names. And a lot of them just don't do it for me. I'm sure they're brilliant, but they do not speak to me. At least, not this morning.

I could look at which poets I come back to again and again—but often it's not the poet's whole body of work. Rather, a specific collection has drawn me to their poems. By the time the next volume is in print, they may have moved on into artistic terrain that is too rugged or strange for me. Or I may have changed my way of looking at the landscape. We have parted ways. And that's okay.

For example, I love James Galvin's book God's Mistress. That one.

This is the long way of avoiding an answer to the question. Another sip of coffee…

I am horribly underread in the classics, the canon, so those names aren't going to show up.

But over the years, I return most often and joyously to these:

Frank O'Hara, Roberta Spear, and Louise Gluck.

I can't tell you why. I know I certainly don't write like O'Hara or Gluck. Or maybe that is why—they give me something that I cannot give myself: O'Hara, the music and exuberance; Gluck, the unflinching precision.

If I have to choose just one, it's Gluck.

(But wait--I'm at work, and it's the day before Thanksgiving, and I could be forgetting someone, the most obvious someone. It's almost inevitable!)

Who is your favorite? And can you pick just one?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And I quote

"It was dark, and I was surrounded by ponies."

Daniel, on trying to ride his bike from Olympia to Yelm and realizing that he was kind of lost.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Someone's having fun

Still waiting...

The son is home now
His gear spread out on the floor
All of him we've seen

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fun, and more fun

Tonight, I had a fun time—a marvelous time—reading with Jack McCarthy and Martha Silano.

And I had a chance to ask Martha about the inaugural poem contest (?), which I first read about on her blog, more than a week ago already. You can get the full details on her blog—but the basic idea is to write an inaugural poem that uses one line from any poem in this year's Best American Poetry by December 5. Yes, very soon. Start writing now. Were you wondering what to do on that Friday after Thanksgiving?

I am so, so embarrassed to admit that I do not yet have a copy of Best American Poetry 2008. If I can find one this weekend, I'll give this a try.

Think of it as one more way to celebrate the election.

(I remember reading Maya Angelou's poem for Bill Clinton's 1992 inauguration: I was hunkered over my big pregnant belly reading the poem by flashlight the day after our wild Inauguration Day wind storm.)

For the many details, see Martha's blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Irons in the fire, or burners on the stove

or pots on the burner, or cooks in the kitchen…

I'm feeling much better than when I made my (ahem) highly dramatic post on Sunday. I'm still haunted by images in the book, but I'm able to revisit them, carefully.

Now, I'm reading poems by Yehuda Amichai, and they are leading me on a richly textured journey.

Next, I'm ready to get to some of my own work. I've spent so much focus on revising the poems in my manuscript again that I haven't turned to anything newer. And I have quite a few things going, including a whole series based on that fairy tale that I can't find and can't remember and some place poems I wrote in Tieton and a poem about Lipomas and many, many things to revise. Tonight, I think it's time to give those poems a turn.

And hey—I could even think about sending out some work. (Do editors really have the time and inclination to read submissions this time of year?)

Finally, I'm trying to cook an artichoke. With the choke and the sauce and the rice, that's three burners.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trip to Portland

The Portland train station

Seen on our walk through the woods this morning

Playing with Max the dog

Outside the Chinese Garden

Inside the Chinese Garden

Enough with the sad, sad, sad endings, already

I hereby admit that I am not good at the bleak, desolate endings. Even in books. Even in fiction.

I can appreciate complexity, a mix of trauma or tragedy in layers and textures. But throw me a little hope. Give me a sliver I can hang onto.

To the Novelist, I give you my time and, if you write well, my full attention for hundreds of pages. I enter your world, trusting you to take me through it and leave me with something, besides despair.

This morning, I finished a beautifully written book that was, in the end, so completely depressing and sad that I wondered if I should really be reading novels. Maybe I can't handle it. I have a hard time pulling a way from that world, removing myself from the reality I've agreed to follow. I feel robbed. Yes, I'm whining (sorry) and probably pathetic.)

I feel like a wimp. I feel naive. I feel like I may not have the heart or the stomach, the intestinal fortitude, to appreciate literature or the Apocalypse. Living can be scary enough.

Should everything be sugar-coated, all the loose ends tied up? Certainly not. But must it all end badly? Does art require that much suffering? (Or, could I possibly not obsess this much?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Insert story here

I saw this in the grocery story. I didn't even have time to look for the label to find out what it was. (Can you imagine? It was that kind of a day.)

But it looked like something my middle kid would love. He might even launch into a whole story about what it looked like, what it might be, what it might taste like. So I snapped this picture for him.

Now I'm back to trying to revise the poems in my manuscript again... and again... and again...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Left, left

"I left my wife
and 49 kids
on the verge of starvation
without any gingerbread left
left, left, right left."

Remember that one?

Thanks to my recurring reluctance to repeat a word in a poem, unless it's really intentional in a them kind of way, I am today trying to find another word for "left" (in the wife and gingerbread sense).

Preferably also monosyllabic. "Abandoned" feels a little too long and too strong.

I have several hours left.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The work of writing

Last night, our poetry group met. I took a couple of poems, and one of them fell flat—completely flat. It was a really good opportunity to take a close, detached look and try to see why.

The feedback from my fellow poets centered on the last two stanzas, but I think that the problem starts much earlier. The poem is recapping a story, and there are undertones of personal experience, but they aren't revealed at all, and so the emotional investment on the page is low.

Does every poem have to be emotional? Would that make them all the same?

I don't know, but I do now believe that every poem has to risk something. That belief was reinforced at last weekend's LitFuse workshop.

At the workshop, I also realized that revision isn't just editing or tweaking or even moving things around. A couple of people referred to it as Re-Vision, which sounded perfectly sane and also daunting to me. Then I realized that revision is really just writing. It's the work of writing, just as much as free writing or the euphoria of scrawling out that first inspired draft. It's iterative, a constant starting over, an act of discovery and an act of letting go.

I admit that I'm lazy, or eager to be done, to have something finished. I don't like to start over. But I think that if I can approach it as more writing—approach that first draft as a bundle of notes and clues—I'll be able to go further in my poems.

How do you approach revision? Do you have a checklist? Do you have a set of rules or steps? Do you start over every time, or do you prefer to treat the first draft as a scaffold on which you build? Do you dread or revel in it?

It's official

The season of rain has arrived here.

I wanted to take a picture of the fallen leaves in the rain-dappled puddles.

But there wasn't enough light.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A sigh of relief

A whoop of joy.

A need to roll up sleeves.

So much work to be done.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Remembering the dead

After a weekend of poetry and Day of the Dead remembrances, I returned to town and found out that a kid from my daughter's school was shot and killed on Halloween.

This is a kid who rode my daughter's school bus last year. This is a kid who was good friends with a boy my son used to play soccer with. This isn't just in the neighborhood. This is close to home.

The media isn't releasing much information. Maybe that's the family's wish, or maybe that's a prevailing attitude. The paper even says that this kid, and the other young man who was shot, were not associated with the high school.

But my daughter tells me this is a guy who was funny and liked—well liked. Students wore mourning black to school today. Counselors were on hand for students who had lost their friend.

The media's message is, I guess, that if you're associated with a gang, your life—and who you are—does not count. And if you cancel out all the young men who are in gangs right now, that forgetting, that dismissal, is another kind of genocide.

I don't think that being in a gang is a good thing. I don't think that smoking a blunt or flashing cash is a good move for a young man. But I don't think that it should cancel out his death or his life. Here was a boy, and he's gone, and his family and friends mourn him and miss him.

Here's a video remembrance that was posted on YouTube.

The day of the dead is every day. And we must keep remembering.

Mighty Tieton: A whole lotta LitFuse

I had an amazing time at LitFuse this year. At the Friday master class taught by Lorna Dee Cervantes, I learned so much. I'm ready to revisit and, yes, re-vision just about everything I've written.

And the weekend just kept going, with good poet company and breakout sessions on ekphrastic art and guerilla poetry and revision and writing the dead and a Day of the Dead ceremony and a keynote by Lorna Dee. I even managed to scratch out a few pieces that could become poems.

I came home exhausted and all charged up. Ready to write.

Art: A barn hanging from the ceiling.

The shrine for El Dia de los Muertos.

A picture of my grandmother on her back porch in Tieton and a poem I wrote for her.

Outside the door where I stayed.

A.K. "Mimi" Allin's Spoon River guerilla poetry installation.

A dry creekbed in a special refuge.

Vicki's cafe, Tieton, as I was leaving town.