Monday, July 26, 2010

Sunday Gratitude Journal, on Monday

Yesterday was Tom's birthday, and so we packed in much revelry and celebration, starting with lunch at Place Pigalle. This is what we saw through the windows.

I'm thankful for such a lovely, romantic place. I felt like I was in Europe, a good feeling.

I'm thankful for my husband and my children, and for the fun times we have together.

I'm thankful I was able to find a chocolate cake at the neighborhood bakery.

I'm thankful we have water for the garden. Some years, it's much more scarce, and I thought it would be this year, too.

I'm thankful for the poem acceptance I received on Saturday.

Now, it's time to write.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is a good thing

After an hour reading Little Bee, I think about my efforts to publish my manuscript and choke on perspective.

It's an important reminder for me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Little Bee

I love that feeling when I open a book and know before the end of the first page that I'm in good hands. The hands of a storyteller, with life lines and heart lines. The hands that shape the air. The hands that speak with confidence. The hands and voice of someone who knows how to pull the poetry out of the language—without it all falling in a heap on the ground.

I get that feeling when I begin to read a novel by Margaret Atwood. She might frighten me for decades, but she will write a good story well. I trust her.

This week, I've had that same feeling reading Little Bee, by Chris Cleave.

I know right away the story will have sharp edges and horror. Say Nigerian girl refugee and it's easy to know that dots will be connected. But Mr. Cleave opens the story with a narrator and a voice that tell me clearly I don't know how those dots will touch.

The voice—so important—sounds like a real person. I can hear her speaking. And when he changes the point of view (No! Don't change the point of view), this new narrator sounds just as authentic in her very different person.

Then we have the poetry—striking images that make the language bloom without turning purple, without suffocating either story or voice.

Here is one I can't get out of my head, in which the narrator describes an Indian woman trying to make a telephone call from a detention center outside of London:

"She was whispering into it some language that sounded like butterflies drowning in honey."

Like butterflies drowning in honey.

When I read that, I want to write like that. When I read prose like that, I want to write poetry.

It's such a gift to be able to write like that, and I feel lucky for the gift of reading it.

What books send you to writing?

Monday, July 19, 2010

What it could look like: Mr. Jules

I just finished Jules Feiffer's memoir Backing into Forward, a gift from my sister (autographed copy!). It immediately brought back a lot of my memories from the mid-eighties, when I lived in New York and would buy my copy of the Village Voice. Among other things, I'd look for the Feiffer cartoon. Sometimes, it featured a dancer—a modern dancer, which is what I was trying to be.

Reading the book is like listening to an uncle ramble on, telling stories of his life and all the people he knew. Mr. Feiffer drops names in sixes and sevens—some of them I recognized and some of them I didn't. Comic strip artists and literati—Will Eisner and Philip Roth, for starters. (Starters!) It's a trip to NYC and a trip back in time.

Mr. Feiffer talks of the Great Depression, the Bronx, and escape through comic books, movies, and radio shows. He talks of having a dream—to be a comic book artist and to be famous. Mr. Feiffer will tell you that he achieved all of his success by backing up so far away from something dreaded that his position ultimately propelled him forward.

He talks about worrying and neuroses (so enduring to me! because I know those both so well), but he also made a couple of bold moves. Read the book to find out. (His reason for joining the Voice was especially brilliant—and it worked.)

Mr. Feiffer tells of living in the McCarthy era and the post-McCarthy era and the general 1950s (which I still see through the lens of "Leave it to Beaver," and the omnipresent repression of that era. He speaks of speaking out against the Vietnam War. He also speaks often of drinks and parties and dinner with any number of famous people you could name. Yaddo. Martha's Vineyard. The literati high life.

Oooh, my envy is showing. In some ways, it's hard.

Wait wasn't that supposed to be my life? He even finally—after many years of working for free—gets health insurance. But Mr. Feiffer's recount shows the possible. And he recounts a long, productive, agile life in which artistic creativity pairs with creative solutions for staying afloat and, um, creative.

And the photographs and cartoons are wonderful.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Gratitude Journal

Over on the Book of Kells, Kelli confesses every Tuesday and sometimes posts a gratitude journal. I think gratitude is wonderful. And because I sometimes get stressed or morose on Sundays, I'd like to take a page from Kelli's book and start a Sunday Gratitude Journal.

Today I am grateful that the scarlet runner beans are growing. They are my sign of hope.

I'm grateful for my family, both here and far away. I'm grateful that my daughter has the opportunity to adventure in Arizona this summer, and I'm looking forward to her return. Two months is a long time!

I'm grateful for the support from my friends—with writing and with life. And I'm grateful that sometimes I'm able to support my friends.

I'm grateful for the poems that have been coming to me this spring and summer, especially the poems that I write for others and can share with them.

I'm grateful for a sunny afternoon and my patchwork, jumbled garden, and the lessons that my garden teaches me over and over again. Work is never done.

I'm grateful for quiet—just enough quiet.

Thanks for listening. I'm grateful.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Painted Bride Quarterly's new issue

Painted Bride Quarterly's new issue is online, including one of my poems.

This is very exciting for me. And it's partly because the name "Painted Bride" always reminds me of Painted Bride Art Center, which helped fund Llory Wilson's amazing dance piece "This Chordate Carcass," based on the life and work of Frida Kahlo. I saw that piece in 1989. The dance, my introduction to Kahlo's work, and the name Painted Bride have stayed with me ever since.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Video is bad for my diet

Penelope Trunk posted a piece about how people trying to do harder tasks--such as memorizing a long number--will, given the option, choose to snack on cake instead of fruit.

I don't know who these people are, but I have a feeling that I would always choose the cake.

Yesterday, I spent the morning working on this little video--recording sound, editing sound, trying to match it all up with the video. By noon, I needed sustenance.

"Salad? I don't think so."

I wanted some sort of physical ballast to provide me with some mental ballast, or agility, or at least a little more stamina. I went for the eggplant tofu with noodles--still pretty damn sweet.

Now, if we're to believe that sugar makes you more creative or is the new will-power or something like that, my reward was also my fuel.

But these small weekly videos may lead to a new and larger wardrobe. (I hope not.)

Or maybe I'll just get better at making them, so that videos become more like a shorter number.

Do you ever eat to create?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This is how it's done

In the '80s, I moved to New York to be a modern dancer, and (almost) every morning, I took a ballet class from Jocelyn Lorenz. While I stood at the barre next to Gina Gibney or floundered across the floor, I was surrounded by people who danced for Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, and others.

As much as Jocelyn taught me—and that was a lot—I realized that I could also learn a lot just by watching these other dancers. Translating what I saw into my body was rarely accomplished, but at least I could see, up close, how dance was done when it was done really well.

Last night, I went to the Floating Bridge Review gala launch reading—what a wonderful night! Many poets read--two poems each, one from the Review and one free choice. The result was an evening packed with powerful poetry—and a lot of humor. I was in awe—inspired, but also increasingly filled with doubt when surrounded by so much poetry prowess.

I walked out feeling—yes, still inspired—but also kind of like a hack, like I didn't even know where to start. Then I remembered watching Rob Besserer in Jocelyn's class. At the reading, I'd seen and heard how it's done. I can learn and grow from that. Now, to write.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reading + inspiration

Tonight, I'm attending and reading at the launch of Floating Bridge Review 3, over at Jack Straw Studios, 7:00 PM.

Hearing and reading poetry is always exciting, but tonight I'm going to read a poem or two inspired by work, my day job. Imagine Dilbert plus a prose poem in a Russian novel. Yes, my work inspired that.

What else is inspiring?

I'll admit that I'm an absolute sucker for this, the kind of marketing videos that tell someone's story. Yes, they're marketing, but I love the stories. (And in this case, I love the fact that Microsoft made a video that includes poetry!)

Check it out, and if you're in Seattle tonight, swing by Jack Straw and hear lots of poetry.

And let me know: What inspires you?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My kind of Italy

Yesterday, after a hiatus of several years, we finally found a new outdoor table.

I've been steadfastly obssessed and in love with Italy. The food. The language. But most of all the romance of sitting at a table under the trees with some wine and bread and cheese and olives. Time to talk and sit and listen to the birds, watch the light move across the evening.

And now I can have that romantic bit right in my own backyard.

After we snapped this picture, we sat down and told each other about our day.

Little dreams coming true.

How do you bring your dreams into your life?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Word! (A new blog)

Today, I launched the new Microsoft Word blog, for which I'm technically the curator, or the content strategist, or the...something like that.

Weighing in at one post, it's a bit of a baby, but it's packed with links to help you get started using Word 2010.

People often refer to passion, and that your work should reflect your passion, or be rooted in it. And I often scratch my head and wonder, "What's my passion?" or "My passion is poetry, but how can I get paid for it?"

But I also have a passion for helping people to do good work, and helping them to do the grunt work or administrative work (think page numbers and tables of contents) quickly and easily so that they can use their fabulous creative energy to create.

What do you think?

What's your passion? (And how do you live it in the world?)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Flags for you

The front page of the Seattle Times today highlights the work of Ross Palmer Beecher, who is one of my favorite artists. She has put in decades of persistent work at her art, an inspiration! It's always good to see her get some recognition.

Here's a picture of one of her flags, from the Greg Kucera Gallery website.

What's another word for…


I try really hard to avoid repeating words in a poem unless I'm purposely trying to make a point or set up a particular rhythm. I admit that I'm a little obsessive about it.

So I wanted another word for smoke, as in the noun, as in smoke rising from a campfire, as in follows beauty or gets in your eyes.

The online thesaurus associated with Microsoft Office offered only three paltry synonyms for the verb and not a noun anywhere.

I trundled downstairs and lugged up the big, swanky, hardcover Roget's. No smoke anywhere.

So far, online sites are yielding synonyms for pot and baseball pitches. I could work on this all day. I'd rather not, though.

Any ideas?

Where do you look for words? When do you give up and either keep the repetition or write something completely different?

And tonight, the air will thicken when fires color the sky.

Happy Fourth of July.

Friday, July 2, 2010

More [frag] ments

I've been finding this approach helpful.

Taking old poems that weren't quite working,
deconstructing them,
using images,
writing in the margins

writing more
in the margins

over several days,

pulling it all together then,
looking at what fits,
paring and pruning

not just for fragment poems
but for regular poems, too
(I need a name for those…).

What works: I write over days.

I don't require a 20-minute continuous effort.
I don't require the zone.

But I keep looking at images,
looking at everything from the days before,
and images come,
images fly out of the darkness,
then quiet

another image, maybe
while I'm walking from the bus (maybe
in the middle of the night).

Also, because I know
I'll be gathering this poem
over time, I feel less pressure
to write something good

to choose whether it works now
or discard it.

I just keep writing
in the margins

and loving it.

Have you tried this?

What ways do you push
or stretch
your edges, your known?