Tuesday, May 17, 2016

So This Happened -- 8 Years Later!

More poems with profiteroles needed!

Several summers ago, my friend, poet Allen Braden, told me about a poetry contest that was organized by the Times Literary Supplement (London). He told me he thought I had a chance and so I sent in some poems. Amazingly, "Different Places to Pray" was declared a Finalist, and then eventually won First Prize. 

Winning this prize was a great honor and an odd one. The TLS poetry editor was dying at the time he chose my poem. After the contest, the annual competition ended. I cashed the check and the moment receded into the background.

Now eight years later, my poem is the Poem of the Week, at the Times Literary Supplement. Poet James Crews has written a cogent analysis of my work and the home page of TLS is a bowl of profiteroles. What more could a girl ask --- eight years after the fact?

Here's an excerpt of the article: 

“Different Places to Pray”, first published in the TLS in 2008, depicts a woman doing her best to locate a sense of the numinous within this world. She is prepared to “jettison everything” to find it; losing keys, socks, money and time in order to follow “the ghost of her heart”. Midway through the poem, however, she seems to accept that most of us, religious or not, must spend our days before the “clock stops”, “decoding messages” from and finding meaning mainly in those commonplace things that surround us. Although she confesses she would rather have “a compass / rose, a star chart”, some simpler set of directions or “text support messages” to follow, her final question suggests that most people, at some point, will                 to continue reading, click here

Here's the poem's first lines: 

Different Places to Pray

Everywhere, everywhere she wrote; something is falling –
a ring of keys slips out of her pocket into the ravine below;

nickels and dimes and to do lists; duck feathers from a gold pillow.
Everywhere someone is losing a favorite sock or a clock stops

circling the day; everywhere she goes she follows the ghost of her heart;
jettisons everything but the shepherd moon, the hopeless cause.

This is the way a life unfolds: decoding messages from profiteroles,
the weight of mature plums in autumn. She’d prefer a compass

rose, a star chart, text support messages delivered from the net,
even the local pet shop – as long as some god rolls away the gloss

to continue reading, click here

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How to Submit (Poems) and Arrange Manuscripts

Before National Poetry Month comes to a close for another 11 months, here is an article I wrote for Hedgebrook on sending your poems out into the world and how to order them too.  Thank you to Hedgebrook for the opportunity!

One poem, two poems, three poems, more~

I began sending my poems out to journals in an age before Submittable when a couple of postage stamps and an SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) were the well-trodden pathways to an editor’s desk. I loved each ritual, each step of the process handled with care.

First I’d choose the watermarked paper, then the poems, and finally the best looking commemorative stamps. Everything had meaning; even the anonymity of the mailbox, even the lipstick kiss with which I’d seal the envelope, wishing it good luck on its journey. Several months later, when the return envelope arrived through my front door slot, I would hold it up to the light looking for evidence of the impending acceptance or rejection.

Mailing my poems into the world was an act of faith. I imagined a stranger, just finishing...Click here to continue reading...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Big News --- Or How I've Spent the Last 25 Years

This is post number 1,000 on this blog and I've been wondering how I was going to make it count. There are so many things in life that only garner importance depending on how you treat them. One thing the number one thousand means is that I've been keeping this blog for a long time: more than six years. I seem to be someone who goes in for the long run.

So this weekend, after 26 years of sending poems out to the world, I've finally been published in all 50 States and 1 District. You might remember a few months back, in December, I thought all I needed was a publication in Kansas and then I'd be done. Suddenly,  many people I knew (or used to know) had a Kansas connection and it seemed as if a small village came out to help me secure my final state.

In fact, I have two Kansas journals that have taken work; I am now in love with Kansas.

However, on closer examination, I realized that Nevada had been ignored. Because I had published in Witness, I thought I was good but no.  Witness was located in Michigan when they published my poem --- they moved to Nevada a few years later. Since this 50 States + 1 District only matters to me, it seemed silly to cheat myself out of the sense that I'd achieved a publication in every state.

And now, thanks to the Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal out of Reno, Nevada, I have made my dream of publishing in every state. After two and a half decades, one envelope at a time, and now one email or Submittable at a time, I've published poems from Alaska (thank you Alaska Quarterly Review) to Florida (thank you Florida Review), from North Dakota (thank you North Dakota Quarterly) to Washington DC (thank you Poet Lore), from my home state of Massachusetts (thank you Massachusetts Review, Harvard Review, Salamander) to my new home of Washington State (thank you Floating Bridge Review, Poetry Northwest, and Seattle Review of Books).

And now to celebrate! I've been thinking that I might have given up on publishing my work if I hadn't had this little game to play --- a way to keep myself entertained when American Poetry Review said no again. What I did, of course, is adapt the license plate game to poetry. I began with states where I'd never been, like Alaska and then just kept going. This summer I'm planning a 50 States and 1 District party. And I'm curious --- what are the ways that you entertain yourself while sending poems out into the world? How do you make this process playful rather than pain inducing?

It's bittersweet to cross the finish line. I've loved exploring the journals that are published, uploaded, appear and disappear across this country. It's heartening that every single state has/had at least one literary journal; one space dedicated to the literary arts.

This week I will celebrate with my students --- they may not care a fig for poetry (although many of them do) but they do know what it's like to have dreams. And even if you have to give yourself the trophy when you achieve that dream, it still counts.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Poet Traveller: I'm On the Road Again - Tacoma Style

7 pm, this Friday night I will be reading at King's Books in Tacoma, WA as part of the Distinguished Writers Series sponsored by the Puget Sound Poetry Connection. Hello, Tacoma! I'm very excited to read here as it is my first time visiting King's Books --- a bookstore with a big town reputation.

After the reading there is an Open Mic so if you are coming, please bring a poem of your own to read! Then on Saturday, I head up to Port Townsend, Washington for the Port Townsend Women and Film Festival where I will moderate a panel for the Saturday night gala showing of Kirsten Johnson's  "Camera Person."

It's going to be a wild weekend! And then at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, April 12th, National Poetry Month at Highline College kicks off with a reading by the Poetry Contest Winners.

Here is a poem of mine dedicated to one of my former students. I hope you enjoy. 

Mohamud at the Mosque 

        ~for my student upon his graduation

And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –

if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.
And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –

the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somalian, Muslim, asylum seeker –

Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly

I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –

her fears unfurling beside your battered car
go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there

in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying

to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.

And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks the others –

So what seems to be the problem
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –

as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield

during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.

Happy National Poetry Month!

It's here! The time of year when poetry is invited to the party. I will be reading at 7 pm this Friday night at Kings Books in Tacoma, WA and my poem "4 'o' Clock News at the House of Sky" is featured along with many other Seattle poets in Seattle Magazine. But what I am most excited about is the six different events I'm helping to produce at Highline College where I teach.

More on all of this soon -- but for now I want to offer a poem. Denise Levertov was the second poet I ever saw read (Linda Pastan was the first). She was teaching at Brandeis University and I convinced a friend to drive me there. Levertov read in a classroom; she was dressed in jeans and sat cross-legged on the table while she read her work. Levertov lived her last years in Seattle, just a few miles from my house. This poem is from her final book, The Great Unknowing. It is one of my favorites in term of its surreal tones and springlike life force --- written at a time when she knew her life was almost gone.


When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I'll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Words in the Air: Hearing Poems Aloud

I am a great fan of reading poems out loud. I read to my students, my cats, my friends, my lover. When I am revising a poem, I need to hear it out loud many times. The air is where a poem lives. It needs the human voice for completion.

A number of years ago Nic Sebastian gave a call asking for poems to be read aloud on her very cool blog. For some reason, I am only listening to my poem, ""4 'o' Clock News @ The House of Sky" today. You can hear her read my poem right here in her beautiful, lilting voice.

When I teach poetry at Highline College, the voices of Naomi Shihab Nye, Sekou Sundiata and Rita Dove join us in the classroom. I co-curate a multi-genre series on the third Wednesday of the month: WordsWest Literary Series, where we record the visiting writers and create podcasts that anyone can download and then listen to. Kelli Russell Agodon and January O'Neil, Rick Barot and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, Oliver de la Paz and Claudia Castro Luna have been some of our poet pairings.

To me, the easy access to recordings --- from being able to record on our phones to the simple ease with which we can locate a voice recording on the internet of, say, William Butler Yeats or Sylvia Plath, make this an amazing literary concert of voices.

What are some of your favorite sites for listening to poems?

I'd suggest starting with Nic Sebastian's Very Like a Whale and the Poetry Foundation's web site.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Vermillion - A Poem on Revision

 Looking at color on the internet is like taking a hike using Google Maps. On the other hand, it is a place to start. The color Vermilion comes from the mineral cinnabar and was popular in the Middle Ages, used frequently in the colorization of illuminated manuscripts. The Chinese also favored Vermilion for their lacquerware. Vermilion was also a favorite, it seems, with the painter Pierre Bonard.

 However, this is a post about the art of revision. Linda Pastan shows us the way a poem can turn ("Just so I stopped you") one idea into another, finally bridging the gap between painter and lover. For this reader, it is the final couplet that brings us back to the work of poetry.

Pierre Bonnard would enter

the museum with a tube of paint
in his pocket and a sable brush.
Then violating the sanctity
of one of his own frames
he'd add a stroke of vermilion
to the skin of a flower.
Just so I stopped you
at the door this morning
and licking my index finger, removed
an invisible crumb
from your vermilion mouth. As if
at the ritual moment of departure
I had to show you still belonged to me.
As if revision were
the purest form of love.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Understood. Deadline Extended to Sunday, January 31st

See that mouse holding on to the minute hand of time? She will be doing that all weekend so that you can have 2 more days to send in your very brief application so that you can write for free at our winter writing retreat. Next Saturday, February 6th, Kelli Russell Agodon and I will be teaching an all day writing workshop: "Generating New Work" in the morning and "Art of Revision" in the afternoon.

We meet in a lovely space -- the many windowed party room with full kitchen of a West Lake Condo Building right by a coffee shop and Whole Foods (great for lunch).  Bus route, parking on the street, you name it -- we have it.

The Rich - Russell Scholarship costs nothing to submit to. Just send us three of your best poems and a paragraph on why you want to come write with us. Send it by by SUNDAY NIGHT at midnight to poetsonthecoast@gmail.com

If you just want to secure your spot in the morning or the afternoon event, you can sign-up now at our  Poets on the Coast website. Poets at all levels truly welcome from beginners to well published poets --- all ages and all genders. We're happy to have you join us.

This is our 4th year co-leading a winter retreat; it will be our only class this year in Seattle!