Friday, October 31, 2008

All Hallows, All Saints

In moments, I am going to leave to drive over to Tieton, Washington, to attend the LitFuse 2008 poetry workshops. I signed up because Tieton is both beautiful and also the town where my mother grew up. Add poetry, and how can I refuse? Plus, Lorna Dee Cervantes is teaching a master class.

I didn't check the rest of the schedule until yesterday, when I saw that the focus of this year's workshop is Dia de los Muertos and writing about the dead.


I feel like all I've done is write about the dead. Not exactly true, but that's how I feel. Why was I going to spend a weekend focusing on it. Could I spend a weekend focusing on it?

Then I realized that most of my poems have been about death and grief and loss, the experience of the living after death. Very few poems have been about the dead, for the dead (two, though, for my grandparents who lived in Tieton).

So I'm embarking on something new after all. It's exciting.

Now, it's time to gas up and go.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Do you think

Just now musing that the more dream-like and fragmented a poem is, the more intellectual it is. Or maybe I need to be more intellectual or analytical or observant to "get" it or to "get" that I don't need to "get" it. (And I still feel like I'm missing half of it.)

I've been reading The Angel of History, by Carolyn Forche. Some heavy lifting, for me anyway. Sifting through the places, the people, the chronology, all the while reveling in the beauty of language and the human tragedy of the imagery.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Words and pictures

This afternoon, I was thinking about art—creating visual art. The train of thought rolled along something like this:

"Do artists get as many rejections as poets?"

"What if I sent art to journals instead of poems?"

"Wait, I don't do art anymore." (I did art some in high school. My grandmother thought that I was going to become an artist—but modern dance then derailed that idea.)

"But could art be my medium? Could I change?"

And I realized that words are my medium. For good or bad, better or worse, words are where I live. Changing to another medium would be like taking up pole vaulting. Or modern dance—and I tried that already.

And I also realized that I could still do art, visual art, as a means of expanding my way of seeing, expanding my voice, pushing (or leading) my understanding into new places. It probably wouldn't be "good" or sent anywhere, but it could be valuable to me.

Then again, that's time I wouldn't spend writing or trying to write or sitting on the sofa thinking about writing or wishing I were writing. Is it a good trade?

(Part of me says that doing is always better than thinking about doing—which is not the same thing as thinking about consequences, which is certainly important and, well, that conversation could go on for a long time.)

Will I dig the charcoal and pastels out from their shelf in the basement? Will I draw sketches that I can cut into blocks for printing? Will I explore papers and ways to present my poems differently—more three-dimensionally? Will I have the time or energy to do any of this (as opposed to thinking about doing it)?

I don't know.

How about you? Do you ever consider chucking it all and taking up an entirely new medium? Do you ever use a different medium to explore more of your creative territory?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Show me the colors!

I love the fall colors.

Riding up the hill today, I was seeing clouds of bright yellow leaves. But I needed to hurry and pick up my daughter, so I didn't stop to snap a picture. By the time I took these, that brilliant golden sunlight had set a little too far in the west. But it's still glorious.

This afternoon, I found myself deep into questioning mode. Again. And then I realized, "This is great!" Maybe not fun—but if those questions can lead me to some new places... For me, the trick is to follow them without feeling overwhelmed.

In the meantime, writing is always good.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Expertise needed

Any fairy tale experts out there?

I'm back in the Northwest, amid some pretty stunning colors and a seeping chill, and I've embarked on a quest of another kind.

I'm trying to find a story from a book that I had as a child. I remember the book cover distinctly. I remember that the illustrations were not very good (or maybe it's just that they were printed in black, white, and green). And I remember that the book definitely included Rapunzel and the story of the shoemaker and the elves, as well as Puss 'n Boots.

But the story I'm looking for involves three brothers who each set out to seek their fortune. First the oldest, then the next oldest, and then the youngest. As each son leaves, his mother sends him out the door with a basket of pears.

As each son saunters down the road, he encounters an old woman who asks him if he has anything to eat. I don't remember the exact details, but the two oldest brothers do not share their basket of pears and they are never heard from again. Hmmm…

But the youngest brother stops and sits down by the side of the road and shares his pears. This is where I begin to lose details. I don't remember all the events that happen next, except that they are Good Things and there is a Happy Ending.

Even though the beginning of the story is what has stayed with me, I'd still like to find out What Happened Next. Cruising online through Grimm stories did not yield any stories with brothers and pears. I'm wondering whether the tale is from Perreault, or whether it is obscure or even whether someone in the '50s just made it up for that one book.

So I'm asking: Anyone know the title of this tale?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Up in the mountains

Yesterday, we took the tram up through Chino Canyon to Mount San Jacinto State Park. Last year, the park was closed because of fire danger, but this year, we were able to hike into the Round Valley camp and then loop back.

I tried to take a movie of the tram ride up, but it was a little longer than optimal video length (and I got a little tired). If I can edit what I captured, I'll post it later. Up at the top, I had fun exploring vistas and textures, and breathing in all that high, dry air.

On the way up.

Tom on the trail.

Other women bring a daypack. I brought a purse (but my waterbottle almost fit in it).

The grass was so brilliantly gold and the sky was so blue. My camera could only attempt to capture the colors.

Tom's favorite rock.

Round Valley.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In the desert

Our little terrace, just right for beginning the morning.


Snap, crackle, pop!

I'm hoping to work on some of these new poems today. And because I don't know where to start, I thought I'd start by plying some of the tricks I've learned in classes and workshops.
  • Choose only the lines that are most important (or original, most distinctly yours and the poem's) and using those.
  • Make the lines longer, and see if anything seems extra.
  • Make the lines much shorter, and see if anything seems extra.
But I haven't started yet, and I realize it's because I'm a little afraid of losing my voice. Sure, I might write a poem that's tighter (and more mysterious and even more poetic), a poem that snaps and crackles in a publisher's hand, but will I like it as much?

Maybe I prefer a looser style. Maybe it's the secret wannabe novelist in me. But I'm wondering whether even if the poems end up "better," I'll like them as much. And who wants to write poems that they don't like?

Just a little Tuesday morning insecurity. Do you ever worry about losing your voice?

Monday, October 20, 2008

At the Huntington

Friday evening, we attended a special reception and exhibition of Greene and Greene furniture and drawings. We couldn't take pictures in the gallery, but just walking across the grounds was magical.


The Pasadena post office. The inside is gorgeous, too, but I didn't want to look suspicious snapping pictures.

The Masonic Temple, where the Craftsman Weekend took place. This is Friday afternoon load in.

And here is our booth with Tom's furniture. Ready for retail.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Detail and context at 70 miles an hour

Quick: Turn on the camera, press the zoom, roll down the window, try to see the shot before you've passed it, click, turn off the camera, roll up the window. Repeat.

This was a new experiment in travel photography for me.

Often, I just didn't have time to get the shot. Other times, I didn't even have the energy to try, especially with the requisite speed.

And even more times, I realized that the delicious image I saw would not come across in a picture, or a picture I could take. The stripes of shadow in the field rows needed to be close up enough for abstraction, or it would just be a picture of a field—and without the wider context of the mountains (still very far away), the field would be just another field. I was stuck in the middle distance, with a fair amount of blur.

This made me think about detail and context in poems—how it helps to provide a wider background to anchor the reader—but the details (images, quirks, things you might not notice but now notice in a new way) breathe life into the poem, even when they become abstractions of themselves (if they retain some of their original color or texture or taste or smell). And how do you fit both, elegantly into a poem?

That made me think of Richard Hugo and the triggering town, about getting off the initial subject as soon as possible and going somewhere else. I think that I often kind of hang out with that original subject—I like it, I wanted to write about it—and I don't travel from it, or I don't go far enough. On the one hand, I don't want to be formulaic, but on the other hand, it's looking like pretty good advice.

Now I've rambled on for a while. It's my turn to listen. What do you think about the breadth and depth of a poem? How do you jump off the triggering subject, and do you have a favorite place that you go?

Ah, the meta life

Looking for what will make a good poem.
Looking for what will make a good photograph.
Looking for what will make a good post.
Instead of just looking.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Road trip!

I began Thursday morning down at the shop, stirring the Cabernet Sauvignon must. I wanted to take pictures, but my camera batteries died. Then I read poems online while Tom loaded up the truck with furniture. A lot of furniture.

The first day, we made it to Red Bluff.

Thursday morning in Red Bluff. That truck is packed!

More in Red Bluff.

Olive trees near Corning.

A lot of landscape Hours of it.

I thought that this was my least favorite part of the trip, but an hour or two later I looked back and realized that this, in comparison, was beautiful!


Finally into the hills!

Yesterday afternoon, we arrived in Pasadena and had dinner at Celestino's, an Italian restaurant we try to enjoy each year. This morning, we loaded all the furniture into the building for the Pasadena Craftsman Weekend. More pictures soon, depending on wifi connectivity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A good day

Today, we crushed half a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

What does this have to do with writing?

Nothing, except that I was able to do a little writing beforehand, and then (after a quick trip to the gym) devote the rest of the day to crush.

What a mess!

There we were in a parking lot in Georgetown bent way down into bins and picking leaves (and bugs!) off the grapes or, after they went through the crusher and mostly destemmer, picking out the rest of the stems. For hours. (We did take a quick break for chicken, provolone, and prosciutto sandwiches with, naturally, wine.)

I was going to take pictures, but I became immediately much too sticky to touch anything. (Imagine your hands in a swamp of grape berries and juice.)

And everyone got to take a turn at pushing the button on the crusher-destemmer. (No feet were involved in the making of this wine.)

Merlot is in the barrel, Cabernet Sauvignon is cold soaking, and Cabernet Franc is still on the vine. More fun to come, and then two years to wait.

All this creativity, and the mess and the must and anticipation of fermentation surely is a metaphor for poetry—but right now, I'm too tired to dip into the details.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

On the broadside

One of my poems on a broadside typeset and illustrated and printed by Carl Montford on his Iron Hand press. Now that's publishing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What now?

I like to write in a series, and I've been amassing raw material since the beginning of September. Not writing every day, mind you (I wish and I should—but not, or not now). Even not writing daily, I have a good chunk of writing that could become poems or more poems or combine into poems.

I haven't yet gone back to look at any of it. Usually I'm noodling around a day or two later. This time, I thought it would be good to let it sit. Now, I admit I'm a little overwhelmed.

What was that about taking the plunge? It's time.

I've done this before, but I think I had a clearer idea. And maybe it's good that I don't. Maybe, if I don't wimp out, I'll explore new territory.

If you write a series, how do you approach it? One poem at a time, or as a whole?

Monday, October 6, 2008

I am the Wicked Witch of the West

I really don't like to get wet. I'll melt—or, more likely, I'll freeze.

Showers are the exception.

But swimming? Not a good sport for me, because I'll have to get in the water. Ewwww.

Never mind that after I'm in, as long as I'm not freezing, I have a great time. But it's that initial dunking. Even when you can lure me over the edge, I think, "Oh no, what am I doing?"

It's the same thing with riding my bike in the rain—and we are now in the season of rain, and it is not a short season. I look out the window at the gray and the mist and the water falling, and I think, "Oh, no," and I think, "This is going to be miserable. Mizzzerrrable."

Then I get on my bike, and I get wet, and it isn't so bad. Granted, it's only a couple of miles and I can change into dry clothes at the end, but I start to have fun. Why not ride around in the rain.

(I admit that when I'm sitting on my sofa, this sounds insane.)

While I was riding in the rain through the ravine today, I thought about this general reluctance, and I realized that it's all about taking the plunge. And isn't water a great metaphor for the unknown? I've spent decades learning how to dive in, convincing myself that it's okay, and it's worth a little rain or that initial chill when you wade into the water.

And I'll try to take the plunge in my poetry more often, both in the writing and in the sending out. While I can send magazine submissions, I approach sending out manuscripts with the same trepidation I have for swimming. But I've promised myself that I'll send this manuscript out and out and out. I will swim in it.

How about you? Any reluctance, any metaphors?

Politics can be poetry

The other day, Kelli mentioned in her blog that she's been posting a lot about politics.

It certainly has been front and center for me, lately.

Then someone on Facebook sent me this:

(And if I were cooler, I'd figure out how to embed the video—but it's definitely worth a click.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

From a previous election

In an Election Year

The heron isn’t talking.

The willows keep sorrow
to themselves.

The lake holds counsel
in a low voice.

Farther up the hill,
jack pines rise.

The sun draws a new line of light,
across the parchment sky.

In October’s press,
through low-lapping fog

and the ancient warnings
of deep water, cold

nights, we listen for the sound of ice.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Maybe it all comes down to this

***Warning: Politics, not poetry***

Red, Blue
Conservative, Liberal
Republican, Democrat

but maybe the true dividing line

is whether you
watched "The West Wing" and enjoyed it
or you didn't watch "The West Wing"
(or you watched it once and didn't enjoy it
or you watched it weekly but only
because you had to share the TV with someone
who still had a crush on Martin Sheen).

I could say Bartlett for president.
I could even say Sheen for president.
For decades, I've wanted to say Patrick Leahy for president.
But I'm saying Obama for president.

And if the people need to elect a president they feel
they can sit down and have a beer with,
get down to the taverns now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


In a recent post, Amy King (thanks, Kelli, for the link) warns about all the fame and glory a poet will never get. No sudden discovery. No overnight success. Not like the musician with his EP, or the scientist with her Eureka! moment.

What? Never? No Pushcart nomination? No Pushcart prize, no poem in Best American Poetry, no reading at the 92nd Street Y?

The title of the post is "Poetry Is to Money as Ice Cream is to Mud," and I won't argue that point.

But never is such a long time.

Okay, that cat's out of the bag. Don't ask me why, but I harbor certain hopes. Maybe it's vanity or maybe it's a thirst for validation. Should it be necessary to have that validation? Is it why I write? No on both counts. But I have my hopes just as the person who buys lottery tickets has hopes. My submissions are my lottery tickets. (The lottery probably has better odds.)

This morning, that reminded me of something my friend
Gina told me about two kinds of genius: the Mozart kind, where you're immediately obviously blindingly gifted and brilliant, and the Beethoven kind, where you just keep working hard. That was back in the '80s.

Fast forward to now, and Gina has been working hard all along. You can read more about what she's been up to in
this profile that appeared in Vanity Fair. The same goes for Pat Graney, who has always followed her own vision. And, as I've mentioned before, Ross Palmer Beecher, who has over the years kept an amazing work ethic and kept making art, which you can see here and here and here.

It is about doing it. It is, for me, about the writing--and it's about sharing that writing, reading it and publishing it, they way you perform a dance or hang a painting.

And I'm still not ready to say Never.