Friday, August 29, 2008

Fake bio!

After posting tips about writing bios on his Poetic Asides blog, Robert Lee Brewer is hosting a fake bio contest. Too much fun! Wait, how can you have too much fun?

Start scribbling, because the deadline is September 1.

Here's what I wrote.

My poems are inspired by the tea leaves in the bottom of my cup or the steam that swirls up from stream water that I heat over an open flame. To connect most closely with my muse, I hand harvest the mint leaves and dry them in a hollow cedar log. I then write each poem on paper that I have made carefully harvested and chewed into pulp. For ink, I pound berries that I harvest on the seventh night after each new moon. My poems, sent in small scrolls or tied with silk threads to the legs of doves, have appeared in Up the Downspout, Empty Kettle, and When It Isn’t Raining Review, among other publications. I am the author of 17 books of poems and two books of essays. My 18th volume, Wraiths in the Wrack, is forthcoming from Palimpsest Press. I live above sea level. The kitchen is very small.

Okay, already I'm tempted to rewrite it, to clean it up. However, I'd be better off turning my editing attention back to poems.

Monday, August 25, 2008

In the moment

A weekend of no poetry. No reading poetry. No writing poetry. Almost no thinking about poetry (except for my August postcards).

It was great.

As a poet or a writer or an artist of any kind (even a really inept photographer), I often find myself thinking about how I can transform an experience into a poem or a picture, into something else.

For me, it becomes a meta experience. My attention is divided between the moment and what I hope the moment will become.

On the other hand, if I can trust my senses and memory, if I can be the sponge and trust that the writing will come when it comes, I can immerse myself more in each moment. With much less anxiety. It's all going into one big warehouse, and it will appear when I need it, the same way we found the old travel chest and the Get-Smart-Sixties chair.

Last summer, I talked about living the writer's life. At the time, that meant viewing everything through the lens of writing (consciously or even subconsciously).

Now, I think it means living everything so fully, certain that the words will surface when...

How do you find the balance between the here and now and the poem?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Family reunion, 2008

The view...

A friendly game...

Walking down the road to see the neighbors' baby horses...

It was wonderful to visit my aunt and uncle and all the cousins and all their kids and to spend some not-so-frenzied time with my mom and sister and sister-in-law.

Some corn-shucking in the orchard, a little tent-pitching consultation, and peach ice cream made by my cousin Jan. Her daughter explained that sleeping in a tent was "camping," but sleeping out in the open was "starring." And we starred.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

30 years & a lifetime

Last night, I went to my high school reunion. I'll admit that I was a little anxious (more anxious as the afternoon progressed). But I had a fun time. I didn't take a camera, because it wouldn't fit in my tiny little purse (lame, I know).

But it was amazing, in a wonderful way, to see how people had changed. And who knows, maybe I'll get to see some of them before the next 10 years has passed.

And what does high school have to do with poetry? I asked myself that, and then I remembered I wrote a lot of poetry during those four years (I think that's a pretty common coping strategy for high school).

Next stop, Tieton, Washington for the family reunion. This time, I'll take a camera. And four loaves of homebaked bread and some morning beans (baked beans, named such by Claire, because I would always start them in the morning).

Final stop, poetry reading north of the Pike Place market at 4:00 PM on Sunday.

Now it's time to throw some clothes and some poems in a bag and hit the road.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Who needs what to write, to meet?

Over at the Poetic Asides blog, Robert Lee Brewer posted a question about writing and critique groups: How many exist?

Here is the backstory from his blog:

This morning, Jane Friedman (editorial director of Writer's Digest Books) asked me to pass along the following message that she also posted on her blog ( Please feel free to comment below if you have any feedback to share on this topic. Thanks!

In the original message, Jane explains that the project of a book about writing and critique groups was tabled by the sales people because they want to see hard evidence that enough people are in writing groups (enough to buy the book) and whether those people would spend money on a book about writing groups. So she wants to gather information on how many people participate in writing groups.

You can go to the Poetic Asides blog post or to her blog to answer the question.

Here is the answer that I posted on PA:

I've been a part of a writing group since 1992 (we did have a five year gap around the turn of the century).

But I don't think that's the right question. It isn't how many people are in writing groups, but what do they need that a book could give them? My group meets to critique poems, and while I'd be interested in hearing about what might compel me to buy a book, I don't know what that would be.

Some groups meet to write, so a book of prompts might be helpful, but I think there are quite a few out there already (not to mention prompts on poets' blogs and websites).

Are people in groups your audience for this project, or is your audience really the people who would like to be in a writing group but haven't been able to find one or start one locally or online? In that case, you want to find out how many people share that need and what you can provide in a book that will fill that need.

(Maybe the best way to connect with your audience isn't through a book, or maybe it's a combination of a book plus other things, like an online directory, a sort of for poets.)

Just my thoughts.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My journey to the high plains

I was told that it is not the desert. It is the high plains.

I had a wonderful time in Santa Fe. Big skies with any kind of cloud you can think of and thunder and lightning. Mountains and mesas. Ruins with ladders to climb. Galleries and the Georgia O'Keefe museum. (I saw so much art!) Good food. And best of all, great company. It took me 20 years to get there, and now I'm planning how to get back.

Right outside my door...

Right inside my door. I know it's a drawing table, but doesn't it make you want to sit down and start writing?

The Cereus became my buddy.

I love a good door, and when it's in a good wall...

How green everything is!

Four o'clocks that bloom in the morning.

At Bandelier National Monument.

A morning visitor.

In town, at Jackalope (for the kids!). Other malls have a play structure. This market has a prairie dog community. Endless entertainment!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

(my) Rules to write by

Over on Blogalicious, Diane Lockward posted her list of rules for writing poems. I started to add my list, but I knew I'd need a little more time to think about it (and I also realized that my list might be long or kind of uptight in an embarrassing way).

I guess that seven isn't a terribly long number, or it's a start:

  1. Never repeat a word unless you intend to.

    (see what I mean?)

  2. Don't throw in just a couple of random end rhymes (even slant end rhymes). If you're going to rhyme, follow some kind of rhyme scheme—even if it's your own. Otherwise, find new words.

  3. Don't call a poem "Untitled." (For me, this applies to other art forms, too.)

  4. This one I learned recently during a class taught by Nance Van Winkle: When first writing out a poem, try not to know what it's about for as long as possible. More of a tip than a rule, but I try to keep it in mind and use it.

  5. Make the end words count, because they do—being at the end of the line lends the weight. That's my nice way of saying not to end a line with of or the or and. Caveat: Sometimes, for the sake of phrasing, of might work at the end of the line; even so, is that the word you want to emphasize?

  6. Keep the music in mind. Granted, not ever poem is meant to elevate the music—but for me, I want to keep rhythm and internal rhymes and assonance and alliteration in my ear.

  7. Punctuate with pride and precision. Another caveat: People write brilliant poems with no punctuation at all—and they're brilliant poems. But if you're going to use commas and full stops and em dashes (my personal favorite), do it up right.

Technical details, I know—but they're the rules I use.

La festa della cipolla

Oh, my (oniony) goodness!

You don't need to know Italian to enjoy these pictures from the Cuoche dell'altro mondo blog.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Software: Can it soften the work?

Robert Lee Brewer has a new post on his Poetic Asides blog regarding software for writing poetry.

The post builds on previous information about software for writing (prose?) and the question is asked: Isn't poetry writing? Do poets need separate software from other writers?

The post also includes my contribution: OneNote. After dragging around heavy folders of paper drafts, I switched to saving all my drafts in OneNote. It's easier on my back.

That said, last class of wine tasting (official name: Sensory Experience, and doesn't that sound fun?). The final made me realize that I am just not ready to go back to school in any major way now, maybe not ever.

Good to know.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Aack! What to pack?

I'm getting ready to head to Santa Fe. In addition to worrying about to wear (and what not to wear), I'm worrying about what to read—on the plane, at least.

I'm still nibbling my way through Secret Ingredients, and my copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus came in the mail. But what about poetry?

It quickly became apparent that I wouldn't be able to make it to Open Books before I left. I didn't even make it to Bailey Coy or the public library. That leaves my own library. That's the reason I save all these books, right?

I have my copy of the new issue of The Cape Rock, but I also have hours of flying and layovers. I may need to spend some time staring at the shelves.

P.S. If I did have time to get to Open Books, I'd pick up a copy of Shadow Architect, the new book by Emily Warn.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What's for dinner?

A Sunday dinner that began here and ended with Pavlova—pistachio and lavender meringue topped with lavender-infused whipped cream, berries, and peaches.

Yesterday, in Secret Ingredients, I read a delicious essay by Jane Kramer. In "The Reporter's Kitchen," she explores the link between cooking and writing. Comfort food—she describes running to her stove when she is trying to untangle a troublesome sentence, the meals she makes when she's trying to find the right ending.

I was completely and doubly inspired, both in writing and in cooking—and maybe because she showed me the way that cooking can feed my writing.

I've noticed that I approach food preparation in two ways: the expansive, excited, take-on-anything delight in cooking for people I love (and getting to make anything I want) and the nightly requirement of fixing dinner for people I love. I refer to the latter as slinging hash. The first is a pleasure, and it feels creative. The second is a must, a should, an obligation—and I'm kicking against that, not the cooking.

I'm also kicking against the shopping and the cleaning. I have tried to tell myself that the cleaning can be a fabulous Zen occupation, or at least it can be after-dinner exercise. And I harbor a fantasy that I would not loathe shopping if I lived in Paris and could stop at two or three little shops (the Boulangerie, the Charcouterie, and some little spot for vegetables) on my way home from the Metro. Somehow, stopping at the neighborhood QFC doesn't have quite the same cache.

But I retain hope. If I can take Ms. Kramer's experiences to heart, perhaps I can look at each onion chop and garlic smash as an opportunity, and maybe I can make each meal, even Thursday's, an opportunity to enjoy.

I'll let you know how it goes, but what about you? Any household routines or requirements that actually get you into the zone? (I've heard other people mention ironing, and that is definitely not me.) Any way to make the routines feel less routine?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Summer ghost?

Or anxious doldrums?

Last night, and again this morning, I've been haunted by a nagging disappointment, a sense of expectations not met.

After I returned home from class and helped fix a light supper, I sat down at my computer—and I was surprised when nothing happened. I couldn't get purchase on any ideas, couldn't find a way to dig in and start.

That isn't unusual. I often start with great hopes for great inspiration—and I don't often get it. I go on. I noodle around. I shift words in poems I've been worrying over lately. Why was last night different?

And why again this morning? It's an odd feeling, being on the cusp of something, not knowing what. Is it a block? Or is it just a lull as the momentum for a project slows? Maybe I just think it's writing, when actually it's the reading this Saturday and the trip to Santa Fe next weekend.

But I wish I could put my finger on it, figure it out, start.

What gets you going when you feel you really need to be going?

Monday, August 4, 2008

The perfect New Yorker

I've been reading Secret Ingredients, a collection of food writing from the New Yorker. It's delicious. It spans decades.

So far, I've been to a beefsteak in 1930s New York, I've dined in Paris, and I've spent a lovely time with Julia Child, courtesy of Calvin Tomkins.

The best part is that it's all in a book, and I can taste and sample at my leisure without worrying that another magazine is going to arrive in a week. Ahh... savor it!

Some pics from our island weekend