Thursday, December 31, 2009

We'll cross that bridge

Sunday, I spent the entire day writing four rhyming poems. I wanted to get the lines short and the language and the rhymes dense. I kept thinking "chewy."

It was fun.

I felt that I needed those rhyming poems to serve as a bridge in my collection of (now 17!) prose poems, something to provide a little variety of form and format the way a bridge in a song provides an interlude.

But I'm using the bridge to separate something into two, not to bring two sections together. Hmmm...

As we hover on the cusp of a new year, a bridge seems like a good metaphor for many things not crossed yet, not burned yet, not worried over. (Although I do remember riding along in Costa Rica one lane over from a gaping hole in the bridge, with the river rushing far below.)

This year has been exhilerating and sometimes exhausting. I'm ready to bridge to a new one.

How about you? What are your bridges? And do you ever feel the need to just shake things up?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I don't smoke and I don't have a dog, but...

I do have poems in the new issue of The Smoking Poet.

And I'll be guest-editing
the spring issue.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Every word counts

At my job, we look at a lot of customer comments to find out what's working for people and what they are having trouble with. Recently, we learned that people want a word count, and they want to put that into their document.

Our response? A new Writer's Guide video.

More footage of the Montford Press studio, and maybe a helpful tip or two.

P.S. This is my first time embedding a video; not sure how to get the dimensions right.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On a happier note, new poems online

The new issue of Ekleksographia, guest-edited by my good friend Judith Skillman, is now live—and it includes two of my poems.

Monday, December 14, 2009

All this and...

You can find a cartoon, a hint, and a kick-ass poem by Marjorie Manwaring over at Blue Positive.

I also like that bit about the fog.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sound and passion

On the radio yesterday morning, I heard an interview with Chris Delaurenti of the Seattle Phonographers Union. He talked about field recordings and improvising with found sounds to record compositions.

I thought of that last night while we were watching the movie
August Rush--during the scene when Evan/August is hearing all the sounds in the city and "directing" them. It was a found-sound symphony.

Throughout the movie, I was inspired by the immense passion by the characters, their passion for music and the way they were consumed by it. I'm still thinking about that today. I'm more the kind of person who seeks equilibrium, stays far away from the deep end, but I'm always wondering what it would be like to embrace a desire that fully.

But I also realize that the main characters in the movie were also looking for something else, and were looking for it through their music, with their music. In that way, using your art as a tool for seeking, maybe we aren't so different.

How do you embrace and balance your art?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A little can go a long way

Yesterday, I received another contest form letter rejecting my manuscript. Nothing unusual in that, except that the editor wrote at the bottom:

Sorry - It's a strong & moving mss -

That's enough to keep me going for another year.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Alchemist's Kitchen cooks up 10 ways to send out your poems

Over in the Alchemist's Kitchen, Susan Rich provides 10 recipes to make poetry submissions more fun (or less daunting).

I especially like #2, and I think I'll try it. For #8, I haven't had so much luck with those journals, but I'd say Crab Creek Review. For #10, I confess my number is closer to 15 (instead of 6 or 7).

Do you have any special strategies for sending work out and then sending it out again?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy Birthday to Emily...

If you're in the Seattle area, come on out Saturday to bid Emily Dickinson happy birthday.

The quick details:

An Early Birthday Celebration in Honor of Emily Dickinson Saturday, December 5 at 2 p.m. at the Elliott Bay Book Company (free/no tickets needed)

From the official PR:

This may be jumping the gun just a bit, as Emily Dickinson's 179th birthday is not until December 10th, but it¹s nevertheless time for some observing of the beloved poet¹s life and work with a discussion of some recent Dickinson scholarship, and a reading of some of her poems and letters.

Traveling here today for the festivities are Dickinson scholar Ellen Louise Hart, a contributor to Reading Emily Dickinson¹s Letters: Critical Essays (University of Massachusetts Press, edited by Jane Donahue Eberwein and Cindy MacKenzie), and Holly Springfield, founder of the Portland chapter of the Emily Dickinson International Society.

Ellen Louise Hart is also co-editor, with Martha Nell Smith, of Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson¹s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson (Paris Press). The Elliott Bay Book Company is located at 101 S. Main Street (at the corner of 1st Avenue S. and S. Main St. in Seattle's Pioneer Square).

All are invited to read a favorite poem or letter of Dickinson's, a poem or letter of someone else's or their own in honor of her birthday!

This is extra-exciting for me, because Ellen is a longtime friend of mine from the '80s.

I have my poem picked out. Do you?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A new 'do

For a week now, I've been inspired by Martha Silano's interview with Susan Blackwell Ramsey over at the Best American Poetry Blog—especially Susan's description of "braiding my enthusiasms through poems..."

During the same week, I churned out a batch of prose poems—primarily for the entertainment of my colleagues at work. The prose poem is an unfamiliar territory for me, but I was captivated by its history in the surreal. Then I was wondering how I could take them up to the next level, and the image of braiding has resonated with me.

Now I want to go back and thread more consciously the images of corporate numbness and
Bulgakov-inspired insanity. (Witches—I need to get the witches in.)

I'd best to get work.

If you haven't had a chance yet, check out
Martha's posts at The Best American Poetry.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New blog on the block

Susan Rich is cooking up some delicious posts over at The Alchemist's Kitchen, something to help tide us over while we wait for her new book.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is my favorite holiday, a day for sharing company and food and giving thanks. Over the past few days, I've read quite a few posts of gratitude. Here is mine:

I'm thankful for my family, and for our health.

I'm thankful for the roof over our heads and food on our table. I'm also thankful that our children have learned to cook so well. We will all be preparing today.

I'm thankful for my job.

I'm thankful for my silly cat, and thankful that he hasn't eaten anything dangerous in the past three months.

I'm thankful that our friend has found a probably bone-marrow donor match. I'm very thankful about that.

I'm thankful for the hummingbird feeder and for thyme in the garden.

I'm thankful for writing and reading and inspiration, and for the community of writers that I get to share all this with.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Loading the canon, 2

While in Bowling Green, I sat in on a panel discussion of editors. The theory was that other lit mag editors would attend. But the organizers recognized that other people might come to hear what editors were looking for. And lo, we did.

Right away, someone asked whether editors still had the feeling of reading a submission and saying, "Wow! This is amazing!"; the flip side being just so much slush.

The response from the panelists was unanimous. They all felt the Wow! on a regular basis, and some editors told of going to editorial meetings and needing to fight for the work that wowed them. That gave me a more immediate picture of why I sometimes receive rejection notes that say, "Made it to the final round." Still a disappointment, but it's possible that someone went to advocate for it. Someone thought it belonged.

However, one editor said that he was looking for writers or work that might eventually become a part of the canon. (Oh, no pressure, though.)


I've just been trying to write the best poems that I can, and suddenly they're supposed to be canon fodder?

I haven't sent anything out since, feeling now more than ever that everything must be scrutinized again. As if that will help. As if I feel ready for that level.

And then again, there are plenty of other magazines. But who, when presented with a high bar, wants to lower it? William Stafford—but who else?

Back to the poetry board...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From Mid-America

Pick up a copy of the Mid-American Review, if only for "Listening to the Dead," by Karin Gottshall, or "For I Will Consider My Houseplant Magda," by Hannah Gamble.

I was reading my copy on my way home from the
Winter Wheat festival in Bowling Green, Ohio. It was a full-on adventure of sessions and readings.

Friday, I made squish art, wrote about objects and photographs, and sat in on a panel of editors, hoping to gain some insight into what editors are looking for (more on that later). After a little jaunt to the main street and dinner at the Easy Street Café, I heard Bruce Cohen and Khaled Mattawa read.

After a night of loud partying by my neighbors at the motel, I got an early start on Saturday, with a session on writing from the body (or what your gut tells you).

Then I sat in on a "poetics of place" session that was really about incorporating the syntax and rhythm and music of poetry in your prose to heighten your reader's experience, and the examples were rooted in a specific place, in conveying a specific place. This is probably the closest to a graduate-level class I'll ever get, and I was way out of my league, but it was invigorating to try to follow the conversation.

Next up, I led a session on "Writing Poems in a Series," and I learned a lot—about presenting a session and about different series that are out there. I'm still digesting it.

The last session, led by Alan Michael Parker, included some group poetry Mad-Libs and the art of the slow reveal. Mr. Parker also read on Saturday night, and provided some illumination on the true nature of prose poems.

Sunday was a driving and flying day. I'm back in my usual travel patterns between home and work and slowly integrating the weekend and its learning and writing into my now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

As promised,

a picture of the car:
My daughter: "That is so not you."

My sister: "OMG. I would give more than you could know to see you driving a cherry-red Mustang..."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Welcome to Bowling Green

It was a crisp, sunny day, so I walked around town a little before the Winter Wheat sessions started.
I liked this fancy clock tower. It's on the courthouse.

I also liked these dancing trees.

Town! I love these little towns with old buildings and wide streets and lots of light.

The cemetery right next to the campus, but the iron fence provided no visible entrance.

(When I looked at the map, I thought, "Of course, I'm going to teach my first class at a campus with its own cemetery.)

Cowgirl came to Motor City and got her a Mustang

A candy-red mustang! The woman at the rental car counter said, "I'm going to give you a free upgrade. You're going to like this car."

Like the car? I don't even like to drive that much. But it was fun, and a lot fancier than my usual ride.

And then I made it from Detroit to Bowling Green with no missed turns.

What? No pictures? It was dark last night, and this morning, it looks cold. But I'll venture out soon. Sessions begin in the afternoon today.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And then my husband said,

"Of course you're going to take your computer."

"No, I wasn't planning to."

"Well, you'll want to show everyone how you use OneNote."

Good point.

The computer's coming along. If the wi-fi works as advertised, I'll check in from Bowling Green.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Here and gone--to Ohio

Has it really been that long since I posted? I plead work deadlines and poetry readings, rather opposite ends of the spectrum.

Now, for my next adventure, I'm off tomorrow to Bowling Green, Ohio, for Winter Wheat, the Mid-American Review Festival of Writing. On Saturday, I'll be leading a session on one of my favorite subjects: writing poems in a series. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by and harvest all the goodness of Winter Wheat.

I won't bring my computer with me, but I will bring my camera (it's on the list), and I hope to have some pictures when I return west.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A clean sweep

Last month, somewhere past the exit to Bakersfield, I suddenly felt like throwing out all my poems—everything, except for the poems in the manuscript (and I'm even going to pitch one of those, to rewrite later or just plain throw away).

Recently, over on The Word Cage, Mary Biddinger asked about
throwing away old poems. In her post, she drew a distinction between "outgrowing the poems" and "no longer meaning them."

If I can make that distinction for myself, I think I'm trying to outgrow my poems. For the most part, I still mean them, but I'm trying to open the way I approach a poem, to grow. And I felt that these old (some of them embarrassingly old) poems didn't reflect that. They were keeping me in the past.

So I spent yesterday dragging almost all of them into an Old Stuff folder, even filing away my OneNote drafts. I felt cleaner, lighter.

Then I dashed out to the store, brought home a pumpkin, and carved it up quickly.

This morning is November 1, which is one of my favorite days. Now it's time for me to take the plunge and start some new work, explore where my poems might go.

Do you ever feel like starting over? Does that make you feel exhilarated or scared—or both?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Absolutely subjective

And possibly rambling.

A few days ago, someone asked what I thought of A Village Life, the new book of poems by Louis Gluck. I had taken it with me on my trip, saving it until I had time to stretch out in the sun and immerse myself in it.

After a first reading, I felt a little disappointed. Like when you eat a really good meal, but it wasn't what you were hoping for. J.W. Marshall once said that a book of poems is like a record album—you might buy an album and if one or two songs are fabulous, you're happy—even if you skip most of the rest of them. That makes sense. Still, I felt something was missing.

I figured maybe I wasn't being fair. Maybe I read it through to quickly. So I started through again.

And I realized that some of the poems really took me with them. And others didn't. I took a closer look.

To me, the poems that feel strongest, the most satisfying, speak from the strongest voices. When Gluck is writing in a persona, as in "At the River," "Walking at Night," and "A Slip of Paper," the poems feel genuine, and I can feel a part of the poem.

The poems that are written more generally, such as "Pastoral," "Tributaries," and "Earthworm," first struck me as kind of detached but without any reference to the detachment, to why the poem is written in the voice of an outsider, often with an outsider's syntax. Even those poems are fierce, but the discord between their ferocity and their detachment wasn't working for me. As the speaker is outside, it put me outside of the poem.

Yes, I'm making a hell of a lot of assumptions here. Like I said, it's subjective.

And as I'm reading them over and over, they are growing on me. I'm starting to wonder whether my initial reaction was based on just a few words.

I'll keep backpedaling: It probably isn't fair for me to expect a poet, even a favorite poet, to write the poems I want him or her to. And that might be what I'm asking for—as though I hoped for the voice from Averno and the milieu of this village. Who do I think I am?

And maybe those are the poems that I need to write.

I'll keep reading through it, and I've learned a lot more about voice—or, at least, what I'm looking for in voice. Maybe even
more about the you.

Have you read it? What do you think (about the book, about voice, about expectations, about life)?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More about You

A while back I wrote about how Linda Hull's poems invite the reader and include a "you" in a poem.

When I write my poems, I don't know who the you is. If I write in second person, the you is often a disguise for I (me), but that isn't the same as a dialogue, of telling someone a story, of sharing something. I want to explore that sharing more.

Sure, you're writing a poem. You're spilling your guts or your thoughts on the page, but that isn't the same as sharing something or confiding in someone—and hear I want to steer clear of the idea of confessional poetry, which seems to be more like the guts spilling.

But maybe not having a specific you is the most confessional poetry—a broad guts-spilling to the world. Not that that's bad, but it might be trickier, because the more people you try to talk to, the more likely you are to dilute your message. And if you (I) talk only to yourself (myself), are you excluding everyone else?

I think I write a lot of my poems with my primary reader/reviewer in mind. That might be to please her or it might be because of what I've learned from her. Is she the you, or is the you me, or the me I will be when I read the poem later? That doesn't sound like much of a conversation, and it doesn't sound specific enough to inform the writing, to strengthen it.

With the you in Hull's poems, a we grows. It's that invitation. But do all my poems need to be written this way? I also don't want this to sound formulaic. I don't think it is. At least, I don't think it needs to be, but when I talk about Hull, I worry that it's sounding like a formula, and that isn't what I mean.

I think a lot about audience. I know that some poets don't think about audience at all, and write purely for themselves. That's a choice, but it isn't mine.

Back to that question of who is the you? Is it different in each poem (even if it's currently inexplicit), and if I'm writing in a series, is it the same for each poem in the series?

If I write the same poem but with a different you—general reader, sister, daughter, husband, one friend, another friend—how will that change the poem?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At the Viceroy

Our little home away from home, in Palm Springs.
The view from the front porch.

The view from the back patio.

The back patio.

Another look at our front yard...

Visiting the neighborhood

Where we stayed in Pasadena, with wonderful people and their dogs and their cat. We threw the balls for the dog every night we had light.
Shiloh, a member of my entourage. (We don't have a dog, but we love to visit.)
Tom walking Body, the other member of the entourage, through the neighborhood.
Welcome to Pasadena!

Just another house in the neighborhood. (I tried to get a close-up, but it's hard to take a picture while holding the leash of a strong dog.)
We walked out in search of the Blacker House, and here it is.

Pictures from an exhibition in Pasadena

Here is our booth at the Pasadena Heritage Craftsman Weekend.

Here is the crush at the neighboring pottery booth. The first fifteen minutes is always a zoo, and Tom wanted me to get a picture.
We had a fun time at the show, and then we loaded all our furniture back on the truck (in two hours, which is record time!).

Congratulations to Kelli for winning the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Kelli's work inspires me, and I'm looking forward to reading her new book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Greetings from Red Bluff

Three successive Adopt-a-Highway signs:

The B'hai Faith


Part of the solution

Even before that, I saw a sign that said Jefferson State Chamber. And Tom spotted the hay barn with "The State of Jefferson" painted on the roof. I see it every trip, and was glad I didn't miss it.

What is the State of Jefferson? I'm not sure, but I love it (although earlier I kept calling it the Mythic Republic of Jefferson; I guess it's a State and not a Republic). The folks at Jefferson Public Radio probably know. It seems to straddle the Oregon-California line.

Crazy weather this trip, with blinding cloud bursts. We're both glad that I wasn't driving. But the dry patches were beautiful, especially driving through the Mount Shasta National Forest. We both remembered that last year we were driving that stretch in the dark while listening to the Presidential debates. This year, we had enough twilight to enjoy the pines and the hills and what peaks we could see amid the low-hanging clouds, the traveling mist.

Then we made a quick stop in Redding and drove that magical half hour to Red Bluff, dusk descending over grasslands and oaks, the road mostly flat and mostly straight.

I thought I'd work on poems or think about poems or read poems in the truck. I did not. Tomorrow continues to be another day.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I'm sensing a theme

Racking the Cabernet Sauvignon that we pressed yesterday into a barrel.

Getting a little more wine out of the tank, very carefully.

Topping off the barrel.

Two full barrels = heavy.

The wand in a bin of Cabernet Franc.

The pump is on, and the level is going down...

and down...

...and the tank is filling up.

This is looking a lot like yesterday.

Jamie wants to press out the last drop.

It's looking a little surreal.

Grape cake.


Yesterday, we pressed Cabernet Sauvignon. Tom had already started when I arrived with the requested additional containers for the surplus wine.

Wine making involves a lot of cleaning.

Cranking the press.

The pressed grapes glisten through the basket slats.

Pressed juice rushing into the bucket.

A beautiful grape cake. It looks almost like some richly embroidered fabric.

A good shot of the grape cake.

The next step was to dig into that cake and load it all into bags for later composting. It's fun to break off big chunks and try to load them without spilling skins all over the ground (messy). And, that mass is warm. After our second press, I was doing this in the dark, I had cold water inside my gloves, and my feet were numb. I really looked forward to getting into the warm center of that mass of grape skins.