Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Depth of field

While walking to the bus this morning, I was looking for possible camera shots. Please keep in mind that I am no photographer—but just looking reminded me of a current problem in my photographs: What I see in three dimensions doesn't necessarily translate to the two dimensions of a photograph. I have deleted a lot of pictures.

This is a good metaphor for the way I often feel about poems in progress—or even poems that seem as done as I can get them. I've called them "bagatelles," but I think that I may feel that they are superficial—two dimensional instead of three dimensional or more. The trick is how to get down to—how to expose—that extra depth.

How do you get down to the depth? How do you know?

How do you reveal the whole picture?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter's poem this morning


Yesterday, we had a big family dinner to celebrate my Mom's birthday on her birthday and mine a few days early. (It's hard to get everyone together two times in less than a week.)
It was a day of cooking and an evening of revelry:
Lemon-thyme-goat cheese on crackers, marinated mushrooms, marinated fresh mozzarella
Salad with goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and migas, provided by my lovely sister
Butternut squash raviolis with browned butter, sage and toasted hazlenuts
Rack of pork with tart cherry dressing, wilted greens with garlic and oregano
Orange and rosemary olive oil cake, thyme-infused orange and honey ice cream
Now it is Monday.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Free the free write?

I haven't been free writing. Not regularly.

For years, I've worked under the assumption that I must write every day—like exercise—and that I should start by free writing. (Then again, it's not as though I exercise every day.)

But now, even with the new year and resolutions and all that inspiration, I haven't been free writing every day. And I feel like I haven't been writing. It's kind of a visceral panic reaction.

If I can step back for a moment or two, I notice that I have been writing a little. I just haven't been blah-blah-blah-ing pages of words that might come to nothing. It's different, and I'm not even sure that it's a good thing—but I do feel much more connected to what little I am writing, much more focused, and the writing is much more likely to grow into a real poem (as opposed to getting lost in a notebook, digital or paper).

What about you? Do you try to write every day? Do you try to free write every day? Do you try to free write, whenever you do, for a set number of minutes? What happens to that writing after you're done?

Many questions. Maybe some answers?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Twitter away!

I've been telling myself that I don't want to work on a series. I just want to write. And yet, I feel like I haven't been writing. Not much. I've been revising, and I've been doing a tiny bit of free writing that tends to bore me almost immediately. But it hasn't felt like writing.

At the same time, I've been thinking about the paintings and drawings of Paul Klee. While I've been telling myself that I don't want to work on a series, I've been thinking, "Wow, wouldn't it be fun to write a series on the work of Paul Klee."


One-click ordering on can be a beautiful thing, and now I have two books (one is a kids' book and it is really cool). I can spend as much time as I want getting to know this art, and in color.

Previous attempts at ekphrastic poetry, poems based on art, have centered on work by Van Gogh. And based on something I read somewhere (not too specific), the Brueghel painting "The Hunters in the Snow."

But I'm looking forward to inspiration from Klee's "The Twittering Machine" and "Where Eggs Come From…and the Juicy Joint."

How's that for a title?

What about you? Have you written poems based on paintings or photographs or pieces of music? Which ones? How did it go?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Poetry on the road

I've been trying to figure out how to combine poetry and travel. Wouldn't it be great to stop in at a reading or two while on vacation? Experience some of the local poetry scene?

Few of my journeys have a literary theme. It's either pure vacation or it's a furniture junket (my attempt to help my husband sell his work). But, because these are pretty much the only times I get out of town, I'd like to mix in a little poetry.

Sounds easy, right?

I tried searching online for local readings, but I came up empty. This leads me to think that either other places don't have nearly the poetry activity that I find in the greater Seattle area, or I'm not approaching it the right way.

I thought about checking the local papers online ahead of time. And now that seems like a totally obvious tactic.

Any other ideas? How do you connect with poetry in other places?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back to school?

The past few days have seen a flurry on Jeannine's blog regarding schools of poetry.

If we posit that there is indeed a New York School and a Deep Image School (or is that a movement?) and Surrealists and a School of Quietude, here are my own additions to the fray:

School of Shock
An abundance of images, and each image is more important than the poem as a whole.

School of Slam
Usually, less emphasis on images or metaphor, but heartily rhythmic, with attention to audience and momentum.

School of Unusual Punctuation
Marked by a use of brackets ([ ]).

I admit that, although I understand that its use may be perjorative, I have a hard time feeling bad about the phrase "School of Quietude." I think it's because of this old poem:

In the Season of Quiet

One night shy of a half, the moon hung near the top of the sky
and the last light brushed thin wisps of cloud
pink and coral, the color of salmon flesh,
the color of old roses braving October’s end.
The reflection bloomed on the flat gray face of the Skagit.
You found a cloud that looked like an arrow.
Or a plane, I said, then saw a coyote wagging its tail,
yapping at something out of sight.
Dark furrows creased a land
already canting toward winter and frost.
The fields spread out around harbors of alder and birch,
gilt leaves paled by the kneeling down of the day.
The coyote faded to lead.
Struck slow by so much space, I ached to breath it in,
suck the light through my skin, dig a fine garden.

"In the Season of Quiet" originally appeared in Arnazella.

To market, to market

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Insecurity number 9?

Several times in the past week, I've seen references to "poets in their 20s and 30s." One was in a comment on Jeannine's blog, and two were in Poets and Writers (and I'm not even very far into the issue yet).

The context is that poets in their 20s and 30s are taking poetry in glorious new places. I can argue neither for nor against that, but it sure sounds like a good thing. However, the implication (or my insecurity?) is that the rest of us are all timid and stodgy.

For the record, I think I've been timid and stodgy all along, even in my 20s and 30s. I think it's a lot more about who I am than how old I am.

But I would hate to think that being older makes me washed up, done before I've even really started.

If anything, I may be getting a little more brave as I get older. And better. I have some great role models. Right away, Ruth Stone comes to mind.

My request: Can we embrace youth and our age, even our middle or more age?

Chapbook season

It's that time again.

I know of three contests happening now:

Floating Bridge Press chapbook contest, deadline February 15.
Tupelo Press Snowbound chapbook contest, deadline February 15.
Bateau Press BOOM chapbook contest, deadline January 31.

Do you know of any others?

Winter rose

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Journal pick: Weber

Recently, I had poems published in Weber, and I really enjoyed this journal. The website isn't quite up to date (it doesn't reflect the most recent issue), but the print journal has something for everyone: poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and art in the middle!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A darker part of this winter

I haven't written, here or anywhere, about what happened and what's been happening in our neighborhood. It's hard. It is not a good story.

At 7:00 P.M. on New Year's Eve a young woman named Shannon Harps was stabbed to death in front of her apartment building. It was just a few blocks from where I get off the bus after work, and not far away from where I live.

The police released a sketch of someone who was alternately described as a "suspect" or a "person of interest." They have received about a hundred tips. They have not arrested anyone. They have not detained anyone.

I've heard women say that they're afraid now to walk in the dark, even early in the evening. I realize that I'm feeling that way, too.

The police have not provided much information about the progress, and no one knows why this tragedy, this violence occurred. Questions. No answers.

I was thinking about this as I was walking home tonight, and I was feeling angry that no one seemed to know anything, and then I wondered what it would be like to be a police department spokesperson, and to have to stand in front of a community and say, over and over again if necessary, that you had no new information at this time. I thought about what that person might say if he or she could say anything. I did what I do. I wrote this poem.

I hope it's okay.


What the Policeman Would Say

We wanted to tell you we understood,
that our own natures had changed,
the scarves of safety unraveling.

We wanted to say that we understood
the new taste of fear in your mouths,
the thousand shuttered eyes
hiding behind the bushes,
waiting fingers wrapped around the knife's grip.

We wanted to tell you we
heard her screams
when we walked after dark,
imagined the blood beneath her
a pillow, a sad bed. We, too,
now jumped at the rustle
only to find an old piece of paper,
an abandoned plastic bag
shuttled by the wind
and we started to breathe again,
waited for our hearts to gentle.

We wanted to tell you that we knew
it could have been our sisters,
our daughters. We, like you, have been trying
not to call them at three in the morning,
asking into the darkness
Are you there? Are you okay?
and beg them to stay inside
at all costs. We understood the costs.

We wanted to tell you what we knew.
We wanted to hand you results
and justice. Even vengeance.
But we had to stick to less than facts,
less than we knew, and that was so little.

UPDATE: Apparently, the police have someone in custody, although details are still few.

Learning to look in the dark

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Writing with confidence, part two

A year ago, I asked about writing with confidence. It sounds like a good idea, but what does it mean?

After twelve months, I feel more confident. Now I need to figure out how to write with that confidence.

Any ideas?

P.S. At this point, maybe any writing might be a good start, and it feels like I haven't been doing much.

Darkness could be a comfort

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Walking home

Now you are so wet
The rain no longer matters
Winter in your skin

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New year, new poems on the sofa

Maybe I've always wanted to be a novelist.

Years ago, I read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It's a famous book. It won a Pulitzer. But it left me wanting more, wanting to hear more, know more, feel more about the lives of the people Mr. Agee and Mr. Evans were in the South to meet.

One day, sitting on the bus, I thought that maybe I should try to write the story that I wanted to read. I dug into some websites, looked at a lot of photographs, read some accounts, and wrote.

I've never been a sharecropper, and I wasn't even born yet in the 1930s. But here are some poems that, I hope, tell a story.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

We did it!

More reps, more work (in a good way)

A new year, new resolutions.

I love resolutions. I make them at the solstices, the equinoxes, the beginning of the school year—but New Year's Day is the big day for trying to mend, amend, atone, and generally plan improvements.

In the coming year, I want to exercise more and ride my bike more—which requires getting on my bike (it's still dark, it's still cold out).

I also want to exercise my poetry muscles more, or more deeply.

Over the past few days, I've been trying to figure out how.

I thought about trying to take a picture every day and then write about the picture.

I thought about trying to write about food again—hey, I could take a picture of food every day and write about that.

Not bad ideas. Good ways to keep writing. But ultimately, they sound too prescriptive or restrictive—even a bit like busywork.

Then I thought about trying to get to the heart of the poem, each and every poem. How do you do that?

In the past, I've tried setting minimums, saying that each poem should go through at least five revision passes. But those were mostly my tweaky little revisions.

So I thought that maybe I should try at least Five Big Things with each poem. Big Things like taking each stanza and writing a new poem or finding the trap doors and writing from each of them or distilling the poem to its central image and writing a new poem about it every day for ten days (see, these really do sound like exercises—and is that a good thing?) or cutting the poem into separate phrases and playing around with rearranging them or … I've made it up to four.

I'm taken with that notion, and maybe Three Big Things are enough of a start. And some poems seem kind of just done without all of that. But are they?

How do you know when a poem is done? How do you know when you've reached the heart of it?