Monday, October 13, 2014

Elegy in the Passive Voice by Allen Braden --- Hearsay

Allen Braden's newest is a book not to be missed


Sometimes it takes me awhile to fall in love with a book of poems. In fact, the poems that come to mean something to me, always take their time insinuating themselves into my life. Allen Braden's Elegy in the Passive Voice, University of Alaska Press, is filled with these "slow-burn" poems that are so artfully crafted, so plainspoken and honest, that they seem to emerge from rural life with an unstudied ease. Of course that's one mark of the master poet: to make the task look effortless. And yes, Braden is a master poet as evidenced here in "Hearsay."


HEARSAY


So few are left that know your story
we’ve no choice but to dish out the details.
Some swear you spent your days alone or sweating
alongside hired hands at Regan’s sheep camp.

For proof they point out a pair of shears,
a hooded lantern from the Depression,
but around here everything’s slurred
by malt liquor and years of indifference.

I heard there was no funeral,
your ashes spread out over the snow
on the graves of those rumored as kin.
Hearsay is history in this town.

One neighbor claims you handed him a tobacco tin,
chock-full of crumpled twenties and fifties
for the daughters, only two days beforehand.
I heard your sheep auctioned off for cheap.

A winter so cold the eggs froze under your hens....
Who found you anyway, stiff as a brace post
and propped up by the pot-bellied stove?
More than a dozen take the credit.


                                                   ~Allen Braden

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Journey to the Literary Outskirts: WordsWest

Poetry and Prose at C and P Coffee House This Wednesday
The organizers of WordsWest met this morning at C and P Coffee Company to plan for Wednesday night's reading with Rick Barot and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha --- we are thrilled to be hosting this reading and discussion group. We are also thrilled to have received this article from writer Lilly Wasserman about her experience at our inaugural event. It's nice being newsworthy.

A Journey to the Literary Outskirts: WordsWest

As a Wallingford resident with a penchant for domesticity and daylong naps, I rarely find myself too far from home. Venturing beyond a 3-mile radius of my apartment requires a strong cup of coffee and the promise of greatness. It wasn’t until last Wednesday that incentive to shed my bathrobe and hitch a ride cross-town, came in the form of a far-flung poetry reading. I wrangled some fellow lit-lovers and we flocked to C and P Coffee Company in West Seattle for the debut of WordsWest, a monthly literary series that features an impressive lineup of local and international talent. It was well worth the extra mileage. The small venue was filled nearly to capacity as we arrived, with a sizeable crowd mingling in the warmly lit foyer. The buzz of expectant chatter dwindled to a hush as Susan Rich, a local poet and co-curator of WordsWest took to the stage for an overview of the evening’s festivities.

The reading that followed was structurally unexpected. Rich introduced the program as a “living anthology”-- a dynamic interplay between two featured writers, poet and young adult author, Karen Finneyfrock and memoirist, Elissa Washuta. Instead of one following the other in a pattern typical of most readings, they went back and forth, returning to the podium multiple times to share excerpts and poems from their respective bodies of work. The way the readings were intertwined formed a call and response that bolstered the individual narratives without feeling fragmented or forced. The result was an intimate melding of strong female voices. One audience member was particularly impressed by the night’s progression, explaining that it created a casual atmosphere for work that was otherwise “poignant, personal, and exposing.” Karen Finneyfrock is a published poet and the author of two young adult novels, The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside. She graced us with a combination of poetry and fiction while her fellow presenter, Elissa Washuta, opted for personal narrative, reading exclusively from her recently released memoir, My Body is a Book of Rules.

Throughout the presentation, Finneyfrock and Washuta took turns populating the space with their stories. Collectively, they touched on themes of religion and history, womanhood and young love. I was particularly moved by Finneyfrock’s whimsical articulation of real and imagined settings. We travelled from a 1960’s rural commune to a summer camp art-barn on Whidbey Island. Finneyfrock also read a passage from her most recent novel, Starbird Murphy and the World Outside, capturing the woozy thrill of a first-kiss, and sending pinpricks of rapture through the caffeinated crowd. Washuta’s words contained a feminist bent. She spent her stage-time critically examining the gaps in her Catholic education. On behalf of biblical women, she reclaimed the twisted histories of patron saints and railed against the doctrine of sexual restraint spoon-fed by her childhood church. Like others in the audience, I was blown away by the wide range of written material and the unconventional way it was a pieced together. In reflecting on the presentation, Washuta herself said, “It truly felt not only flawless, but all its own, quite special, and necessary.”

WordsWest is the brainchild of three established writers: Katy Ellis, Susan Rich, and Harold Taw. All three are published authors with a desire to usher West Seattle into the downtown literary fold. Rich and Ellis met at a poetry reading at Elliot Bay Books this past July. After a ten-minute mind-meld during intermission they produced the idea for a new “writer-centric” series, one that supports its readers and the surrounding community in equal measure. As a fellow West Seattle writer and technology master, Taw was the perfect person to round out their curatorial trio. C and P Coffee Company, besides being a neighborhood mainstay, is by no means an accidental venue. Taw has been a loyal customer at C&P for many years. It is the conceptual breeding grounds for his first book and the place where he and Susan first met eight years ago. A self-proclaimed point of convergence for artists, musicians and performers alike, the cafĂ© seemed a symbolic choice.

So why all the hype about WordsWest? Not only is this the first series of its kind based out of West Seattle but its emphasis on bridging cultural gaps through literary engagement is also highly unique. The project attempts to bring world-class writers to a relatively underserved faction of greater Seattle. The series’ primary goal, as Katy Ellis explains it, is to get “poetry, fiction and nonfiction into the hands, hearts and minds of the community.” To further satisfy this mission, WordsWest came up with the Favorite Poem Project. Each event includes a reading by a local business owner, offering a chance for them to engage with potential customers using poetry as a point of connection. This month’s guest presenter was Emma Epps from Pegasus Book Exchange; a family-owned bookstore located down the street from C and P Coffee Company. In addition to community outreach, WordsWest seeks to support its readers in financially tangible ways, offering tools for self-promotion and professional success. On top of a live presentation, audience members can look forward to on-site book sales and signings, as well as an archive of accompanying podcasts available through the WordsWest website: http://wordswestliterary.weebly.com/past-events. This provides presenters like Finneyfrock and Washuta the opportunity to reach more people with multiple platforms for public exposure.

The line up of events in the coming months is no less enticing. Next Wednesday brings Rick Barot, poetry editor for the New England Review and author of three books of poetry including The Darker Fall, Want, and Chord (still in the works for 2015). Accompanying him is Palestinian American writer Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, whose poem “Running Orders” went viral this year and received widespread attention for its highly personal glimpse of the conflict in Gaza. Later this fall on November 15th in time for the holidays Kate Lebo, poet and pie connoisseur shares the stage with food writer Molly Wizenburg. The pair is sure to offer some mouth-watering prose. Winter and spring promise an ever-changing roster of writers of all genres, including an appearance by Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen, Francis McCue, and Erica Bauermeister, among others. As I left the coffee house that night, favorite passages still sifting through my mind, I couldn’t help but feel exceptionally lucky. Being a fledgling writer, it helps to know that projects like WordsWest exist and can thrive with enough positive attention. Seattle writers would do well check out this new literary series that ultimately, supports us all.

Lilly Wasserman is a poet, writer, and freelance journalist. To find more of Lilly's work check out The Far Field sponsored by Humanities Washington. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Not Show Some Love? In Your Pajamas ...

A present for you? For a friend?
Want to know more about the fires in Spain? More on feminist photography? Okay. I admit it. I'd love for this Next Best Book Blog to thrive. 10 free copies are ready for anyone who leaves a one sentence note and is willing to chat about the book with me for a week (the site had incorrectly said 3 months -- not true)! Let's show this site that people care about poetry. They only do 1-2 books of poetry a year because of less interest. Click here and get a free book and show that poetry matters. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Free Book; Free Movie - Warning: Shameless Self-Promotion



I just found out that I am on The Next Best Book Blog until midnight tomorrow night -- that's not a long time to find a group of people interested in a free copy of Cloud Pharmacy. Of course, it doesn't take long to click over on The Next Best Book Blog and give one sentence on whether you would prefer a hard copy (US only) or an e-book (international). Then you get a month to read the book and then ask a few questions of me. I hope you'll consider it!



Point two in the shameless self-promotion blog post -- I promise no more until at least 2015 -- is the short movie of a reading I did on Friday. The event was for the Southwest Historical Society which runs the Log House Museum in my neighborhood. The reading series is run by dedicated volunteers and raises money for the Historical Society. Here's 10+ minutes that includes a Q & A on why I write poetry. Funny what one says when put on the spot. Here is the Vimeo Video. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

10 Things to Consider When Conducting Creative Research and Hannah Maynard

Frieda Kahlo: a lucky artist time has not forgotten

What is creative research? This topic takes a little explaining. For my last two books Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist's Kitchen, I wrote poems based on the art work and the lives of two obscure women photographers: Myra Albert Wiggins and Hannah Maynard. This was a great surprise, at least to me. My experience with photography and historical sources was "elementary" to put it nicely.

Hannah Maynard, trick photograph, multiple exposure, c. 1893 Courtesy of the Royal British Columbian Museum 

As a poet who has been writing and publishing for something like 20 years (how did that happen?) I am rather tired of my own life --- even though it has been lived on three continents and in several professions --- I'm much more interested in the not me. And in this way, conducting creative research on women artists makes complete sense.

Five poems based on Maynard's photographs are in the recent issue of  Common-Place. There's also an accompanying essay on writing this sequence of poems. Common-Place is an on-line journal that describes itself this way:

Common-place is a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks--and listens--to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900.

Here are a few things I've learned along the way about conducting historical research for poems:

1. Women artists need us. There are many women artists that produced incredible bodies of work; yet today they are almost completely forgotten. Even more surprisingly, the work reads as radical even in 2014. Lenora Carrington, Baroness Elsa, and Hannah Maynard to name a few.

2. History and poetry share certain elements. Like poetry, history needs to be concise. It leaves out more than it says. For both the poet and the historian, questions are what compel us.

3. Learning about photography, or oil painting or sculpture, or old cars --- it all leads into new language. The language of photography deals with light and time. Sounds like poetry to me: shadows, reflection, aperture, lens. And so much more.

4. You can make things up. Yes, I know historians will squirm as I say this but as poets we go beyond dates and verifiable facts. Someone recently wrote to me and said she had lost a daughter in the last year. The Hannah Maynard poems spoke to her. This is the kind of truth that matters to me far more than a verifiable time line of events.

5. Best not to read too much before you start writing. See above. I'm happiest when I know just a few facts and can write into the open spaces. Mark Doty says ekphrastic poetry comes out of our own longings. The visual image is an anchor for our own interior lives.

6. Go slowly.  With each of my ekphrastic projects I took a few years before I could write the poems that made it into the books. Writing from historical images and documents is challenging.

7. Yes, you get to time travel. As a child I loved all books by Edward Eager and Edith Nesbit. Books that allowed you to walk through a garden or rub a small coin and be transported. Studying women artists has done this for me. I now feel that the late 19th century with the advent of train travel and the telegraph was similar to the times we live in.

8. Be open to different ways of writing. This was crucial for my work on Hannah Maynard. I needed a syntax and attitude different than what I had had available before this project.

9. Writing a sequence is different than writing a single poem. Forgive me for stating the obvious. This means that using epigraphs will help in bringing readers if you want to publish these poems individually. Remember the reader does not know all that resides inside your head.

10. Persona poems, ekphrastic poems, list poems: all of these forms and many others lend themselves to historical work. In other words, you get to recreate an entire world. And then enter it. 



Monday, September 29, 2014

Meet Editor and Poet Kelly Davio: Co-founder of the Tahoma Literary Review

Poet, Editor, and Co-founder of TLR
I first met Kelly Davio through a women's promotional book group -- BookLift -- that I founded five years ago. Kelly was new to the area and it was immediately apparent that she was full of energy and intelligence when it came to the world of books, journals, and the publishing world. It was also apparent that she was generous and had an open heart. The Tahoma Literary Review has just released its first issue --- and you can download it for free or better yet, for a small donation. In view of full disclosure, my poem, "Sunday Evening Retrospect" is included in this issue. You can see what Kelly writes about publishing people she knows -- it may surprise you. In a good way.

Kelly Davio is the Poetry Editor and Co-Founder of Tahoma Literary Review. She is the author of the poetry collection Burn This House (Red Hen Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Verse Daily, The Rumpus, and others. She earned her MFA in poetry from Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and teaches English as a Second Language in the Seattle area.

1. What was your impetus for beginning TLR — is there an inception story? 

       My cofounder, Joe Ponepinto, and I worked together for some years on another journal, I as managing editor and Joe as book reviews editor. When we both moved on from that project, we knew we wanted to continue to work together in some capacity, and we kicked around a number of ideas for what our next venture could be. We had no desire to simply add another literary journal to a world that's already teeming with magazines. Instead, we wanted to address what we see as a hole in the literary marketplace; when we took the time to really listen to writers' wants, we heard that people were looking for publications that pay writers, and for more fair and transparent editorial policies.

2. Now that the first issue has hit the net and the physical book shelves, what have you learned about this endeavor that surprised you? 

When Joe and I began to work on a business plan for the journal last fall, we kept transparency and payment at the forefront of our priorities, and we spent a few months working through a variety of different financial scenarios in order to arrive at our current business model. Rather than simply plunging ahead with a concept, we spent quite a bit of time developing solid answers to tricky questions: how could we ensure payment for our writers in every issue, every time? Where could we eliminate typical costs inherent in running a literary journal? How would we make our processes as open and clear to our submitters as possible? We're pretty pleased to be literary people who've managed to also be businesspeople enough to create a sustainable journal without institutional funding.

But we've had some great surprises, too. We've been overwhelmed by the positive response writers and readers have had to our journal. The number of submissions we received for our first issue exceeded our expectations, and we've been equally surprised by the number of readers we've garnered for this issue. We so often hear that "nobody reads journals these days," but in the one month following the issue's release, about one thousand people have downloaded or ordered a copy of the journal. That tells us that, yes, there is a readership for great literary writing!


3. I love that you’ve set-up a structure that includes paper and on-line formats. What was your thinking on this? 

Our goal is to get as many people as possible to read the great work in our pages. Some people will only read books in print, and have a devotion to the physical book. Other people want to have the portability and accessibility inherent in the digital text. So often, the choice between print and e-reader formats feels like picking sides in an ideological battle, and we didn't like that. Instead of choosing a single method of presenting work to readers, we wanted to give people as many opportunities to enjoy the journal as possible. Luckily for us, we have great in-house knowledge of both traditional and e-reader book production and formatting, so we were able to start distributing the journal in both formats from the get-go.

4. The transparency with which you’ve set-up your journal is impressive. Has that caused problems with writer friends that you do no solicitations? How have you handled that? 

You know, I've always avoided soliciting friends for work, even when working on journals that openly solicited! I never wanted to give anyone the slightest reason to feel that his or her work would only be published if he or she had an "in." (That probably says more about my own self-doubt as a writer than it does about other people's mindsets.) So not receiving solicitations from me is nothing new to my writer friends! I like to think that my literary friends can see the enthusiasm I have for a policy of fairness, and that they'll be on board with the idea.

5. I’m assuming TLR is a labor of love and the funds you receive go out to the writers. You are volunteering hours of your time that you could be writing or sleeping or hanging out with a friend. What motivates you to do this work?

TLR is definitely a labor of love. We hope that one day, each of our editors will receive some a monetary compensation, but for now, we're happy to put the publishers' share of TLR's earnings right back into payment for writers. Even though we are a journal that is dedicated to paying our writers--not because we're setting a monetary value on art, but because we believe art should be valued in our culture--Joe, Yi Shun and I don't do this for the money. We simply love good writing, and we love writers. We want to showcase great work from a genuinely diverse range of writers, and we want to help artists to grow their careers. Making connections with writers and helping their work find an audience is tremendously rewarding, and we hope to be doing this work for years to come.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Road Trips, Revelations, and Poetry Readings

Oliver de la Paz and I @ Village Books Oct 2nd

I think the point of poetry readings is to bring people together. I like to hear the stories behind the poems and to listen to the voice of the poet. Oftentimes I need that pattern of tones and syllables in order to understand how to read a writer's work. As a poet who is reading out a goodly amount this fall, I like to think about what makes a good poetry reading.

Next Thursday, October 2nd I will read with the wonderful Olive de la Paz at Village Books in Bellingham, WA. The following night, Friday, October 3rd, I'm reading for the Words, Writers, West Seattle Series, a program of the Southwest Historical Society, and talking about how to conduct historical research for creative purposes.

But what I am most excited about is the new WordsWest Series that I'm curating with Katy Ellis and Harold Taw at C & P Coffee Company. Each month we invite the West Seattle community to come hear world class writers and help us nurture the West Seattle literary community. As new curators, all well published, we want to do something different with this series --- and so far --- we are. Next up is "Politics and Poetics: Rick Barot and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha."

What if someone telephoned to say you had 3 minutes to run for your life? What if a bomb was about to be dropped on your family’s home? Can words ever do justice to the shock, bewilderment, and fear that such wartime “courtesy” calls provoked during this past summer in Gaza?

                                  *******

For the October 15, 2014 edition of WordsWest Literary Series, poets Rick Barot and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha will read their work and explore with the audience how poetry confronts what is painful, confounding, and divisive in our human experience. Can we draw closer together by delving more deeply into our complicated cultural heritages, lost histories, and political struggles?

Rick Barot is the author of three poetry collections with Sarabande Books: The Darker Fall (2002); Want (2008); and Chord (forthcoming 2015). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and Stanford University. His poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry, The Paris Review, and The New Republic. Rick is the poetry editor of New England Review. He lives in Tacoma and teaches at Pacific Lutheran University. He is also the director of The Rainier Writing Workshop, the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at PLU.

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha has lived the experiences of first-generation American, immigrant, and expatriate. In the summer of 2014, her poem “Running Orders”—written from the voice of a Palestinian evacuee in Gaza—went viral online. Her heritage is Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian and she is fluent in Arabic. She has lived in and travelled across the Arab world, and many of her poems are inspired by the experience of crossing borders: cultural, geographic, political, borders between the present and the living past. She translated the screenplay for the award-winning film “When I Saw You”, written and directed by Annemarie Jacir in 2011. She has poems in Floating Bridge Review, Taos International Journal of Poetry and Art, and in the print anthology Being Palestinian, to be published by Oxford Press in 2015.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Top 10 Things to Consider When Sending Your Work for a Contest or Residency

Rule #1 - Stand Out
This week I have judged two poetry contests and reviewed residency applications back to back. It's a perfect time to consider what makes a judge put your work into the "read again" pile rather than the "no thank you" pile. As a poet who has been on both sides of the desk, here's what I've learned.

1. Subject matters. The poems I'm reading for this contest are almost exclusively: natural world is transformative, loss of a loved one, a childhood memory. Any poem that goes outside that triad I put in the "read again" file.

2. Humor is great when it works... Oftentimes it doesn't. Maybe check-in with writer and non writer friends to see if what you think is funny resonates.

3. "Poetry" words (such as dance, twirl, illuminate, or any gemstones) need to go. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard.

4. As a general rule, poems shouldn't go beyond one page. This was my feeling as I read hundreds of entries.

5. One line that's off, one word that's off, can make a difference.

6. Endings need all your attention. So many poems begin strong and then falter as they move towards the middle of the poem. The end of the piece is what leaves a lasting impression.

7. Judges are fickle. What I am telling you as a judge of chapbook prizes and residency programs might be very different than what another judge would say. Each year judges change and so your chances for the same contest will be fresh each year.

8. Winning is, in part, a numbers game. The poets I know who seem to be winning everything apply for at least 5 times more than they win. They are actually terrific losers. They just aren't afraid to play.

9. Persistence pays off. The poet Spenser Reece who this year is up for a National Book Award had his first manuscript rejected over 200 times. 200 times.

10. Believe in your work; send wild cards. Every time you send your work into the world you are saying Yes! to possibility. Yes to mystery. Yes to deserving an audience. My poems that have won contests were never the ones  I thought were contest worthy. Always it has been a surprise poem that I sent as a wild card.

If you have added tips and suggestions, please add them in the comments box. A community of helpful writers is beneficial to us all. Get your poems out now --- contests are waiting for you.