Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poetry and visual art: do you do it?



     I have been thinking a good deal about poetry and the visual arts these last few days. I learned that the first ekphrasis were poems written about art objects that did not exist like Achille's Shield which was re-imagined by W. H. Auden in his poem The Shield of Achille's bringing the imagine into a 20th century consciousness. I had always felt that there was something a little stuffy about poets writing about paintings (or sculpture or architecture) until I found myself so enraptured by a photograph that it stayed with me for four years until I tracked it down again. I had spent an hour at the Frye Art Museum waiting for a friend when I had come across a traveling exhibit of Pioneer  Women Photographers and had fallen in love with a photograph called "Hunger is the Best Cook" by Myra Albert Wiggins who is picture above in a self portrait.

   That's a long introduction to a simple question: do you write poems inspired by visual art (which can include bumper stickers, photographs, magazine ads). Why are you drawn -- or not drawn to these poems? Are they a form like a sonnet or a pantoum that allows your work a place to begin and also offers a loose structure? I would love to hear your ideas on writing poems from art.

   And as an interesting aside - Greek architecture students were required to write poems about the buildings they were studying. Through their poems they would gain an important understanding of the building's magnificence not captured in their sketching.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Opportunity: Saturday February 13th @ the Frye Art Museum




December. This is a time of year when I want to sign-up for new experiences. I want to learn new ways of being in the world. And I don't think I am alone on this. In the past year, I challenged myself to become more comfortable with technology, hence this blog. If you are within driving distance of Seattle and would like a one day workshop bringing the visual arts and poetry together, there are a few spaces left in this workshop. The class is limited to fifteen and pre-registration is required. It's going to be fun -- and you will leave with a few drafts of new poems. What could be better? And if you can't come,  I would still love to hear what new things you intend for 2010.

Opportunity - Join Us for a Free Poetry Workshop in February

Speaking Pictures: A Poetry Workshop

Saturday, February 13, 2010
11 am - 1:30 pm
“Painting is mute poetry, and poetry a speaking picture.” —Simonides

“Look at the subject, think about it before photographing, look until it becomes alive and looks back into you.” —Edward Steichen

Poets Susan Rich and Lillias Bever lead a workshop on ekphrasis, poems written about visual art. Famous models of the form by such poets as W.H. Auden, Rilke, Mary Oliver, and Lisel Mueller will be examined as well as recent examples by local poets published in Looking Together: Writers on Art (Frye Art Museum/ University of Washington Press, 2009). Participants will sharpen their powers of observation and try their hand at writing poems on works of art in the Frye’s collection. All levels of writers are welcome.
This free workshop is sponsored in part by 4Culture. For more information and to register, e-mail ekphrasisworkshop@yahoo.com.
Art Credit: Rockwell Kent, Resurrection Bay, Alaska c. 1939 Oil on fabric board. 28 x 44 1/2 in. Frye Art Museum Purchase, 1998.  @ Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Plattsburgh, NY

About the Instructors
Susan Rich is the author of three books of poetry from White Pine Press, including The Cartographers’s Tongue, Cures Include Travels, and, forthcoming, The Alchemist’s Kitchen. She has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, PEN USA, and Artist Trust; her recent poems appear in The Antioch Review, Harvard Review and TriQuarterly. Susan teaches English and Film Studies at Highline Community College.
Lillias Bever’s book of poetry, Bellini in Istanbul, was published by Tupelo Press in 2005. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, and Gettysburg Review, among other places. She has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from Artist Trust, 4Culture, and the Seattle Arts Commission. Bellini in Istanbul was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Review in Miniature - The Darkened Temple



Mari L'Esperance's debut collection, The Darkened Temple,  winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, is a book I have returned to again and again during the past month. It is impressive both for its charged content and form. In other words, the poems work not only as individual lyrics, but the book creates a unified field ~ an extended experience of breaking apart and rebuilding an identity. This is no small thing when the unsayable is at the heart of this collection. I'm focused at the moment on the short lyric - something that seems to be disappearing from much contemporary poetry at the moment. Not only does L'Esperance provide the reader with intensely held moments, but her poem. "White Hydrangeas as a Way Back to the Self" offers an extended mediation created out of these brief intensities. It is difficult to choose just one poem to stand in for the whole. I urge anyone who cares about carefully constructed lyric poems to get herself a copy of this necessary book. I have read it three times and my inclination is to begin all over again.


White Hydrangeas as a Way Back to the Self
(final poem of the ten part sequence)

I dream of white hydrangeas
floating in a shallow bowl, enormous
and tinged with the palest green.

How deeply themselves they are --
how lushly quiet and free of the darkness
that will ultimately claim them.

They live in the whole of it, light
and shadow and all that lies between
as one holy existence.

I hold them close. I hold them close
like something I could live by.

Love and music be my keepers a while longer --

White hydrangeas, invite me to stay.

                                       -- Mari L'Esperance

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Watermelon Eaters



May your holidays be filled with your favorite fruit - and someone to share it with ...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sending Poems into the World ~ Where Exactly?




Last night I sent two packets of poems into the world. I spent far too much time trying to figure out where the poems might be happiest; which journal would provide a good home? It's humbling to admit, but I have been sending poems out into the world for almost twenty years. My first acceptance was for a poem called "Afternoon Swim" and it was accepted by Spare Rib - a London based second-wave feminist  journal. I still have the check for two and a half pounds sterling taped in an old journal. Wow.  I so believed that the acceptance phone call (!) would change everything. I was in print; I was accepted!  Little did I know ...

Today I have several strategies for sending work out into the world. I try for states (or countries) where I have not been published before; I send to magazines that have been kind to my work in the past, and I try again with an editor whom I still think might like my work eventually ....Last night I chose to send to Poet Lore because it is an impressive journal that has been kind to my work several times in the past and also to The Georgia Review because I admire the work published there. I send out new work when I really should be writing or making dinner. It is a favorite procrastination tool. I actually love the anonymous sense that my work arrives without a fancy outfit or calling card; it is what it is. Either the poem will please the editor or it won't. Yet, I know it isn't always that simple. How do other poets and writers decide where to send their work? Do you have a system? A certain inclination you follow?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Poetry of Food


 


I believe in writing poems about food. For awhile, I was convinced that writing about the joy of pastry or the taste of Russian black bread might keep me from needing to indulge. I imagined the diet book, "How to Write Food Poems and Fit into Your Size 6 Jeans." There was a time when I couldn't write a poem without mentioning bread or wine. I tend to write about different obsessions, always wondering if I am destined to write food or photography or fire poems forever. I think there is only one true food poem coming out in The Alchemist's Kitchen titled, "Food for Fallen Angels." Do you write about food? Is there a certain obsession that finds its way into your work over and over? I can't make up my mind if this is a nervous tick or a strength - can you?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Photograph of the Convent that Inspired "Blood Wedding" the Day Before the Wildfires Hit



This photograph was taken by Philipp Schumacher in front of the convent which inspired Federico Garcia Lorca's, Blood Wedding. We are in the nature reserve of Caba de Gato in the region of Almeria. This is also an area where many spaghetti westerns were filmed. And yes, you do know that really tough gal in the background. She is unarmed. This could be called "Dueling Poets." It is nominated for a European photography award. The day we did this shoot temperatures hit 106 degrees.

More Mystery - Lorca Would Have Loved It




The Guardian newspaper article gives greater depth to the mystery of Lorca's remains. The archeologists from the University of Granada have determined that no graves were ever dug in the area.

Lorca's Grave Found Empty






This summer while I was at Fundacion Valparaiso in the 100 plus degree heat trying to stay sane, I read Lorca. I found his Collected Poems in the library the first day and kept them by my bedside for all of July. On days when I couldn't write (and there were many) I would open to a poem of Lorca's for inspiration. As a result, many of my poems have "borrowed" a phrase or an image from him. We became close. Or so I imagined.  I visited his beloved city of Granada on my birthday and posed outside the convent ruins at Caba de Gato which inspired his play Blood Wedding.

Today's Telegraph announces that after a two month excavation, Lorca's remains have not been found. The article explains the background to Lorca's grave - how it's believed he was executed by the Franco Government for his leftist leanings and homosexuality. The journalist, Fiona Govan, explains that Lorca's relatives were at first reluctant to have his grave disturbed, but had then agreed to provide DNA samples to identify the poet's remains. I can't help but feel that Lorca would have appreciated the mystery. In fact, the news story seems more like an Andalusian Ballad than it does anything else.

Song of the Rider



                    Cordoba
                    Far away, and lonely.

                    Full moon, black pony,
                    olives against my saddle.
                    Though I know all the roadways
                    I’ll never get to Córdoba.

                    Through the breezes, through the valley,
                    red moon, black pony.
                    Death is looking at me
                    from the towers of Córdoba.

                    Ay, how long the road is!
                    Ay, my brave pony!
                    Ay, death is waiting for me,
                    before I get to Córdoba.

                    Córdoba.
                    Far away, and lonely.

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Opportunity - Join Us for a Free Poetry Workshop in February

Speaking Pictures: A Poetry Workshop

Saturday, February 13, 2010
11 am
“Painting is mute poetry, and poetry a speaking picture.” —Simonides

“Look at the subject, think about it before photographing, look until it becomes alive and looks back into you.” —Edward Steichen

Poets Susan Rich and Lillias Bever lead a workshop on ekphrasis, poems written about visual art. Famous models of the form by such poets as W.H. Auden, Rilke, Mary Oliver, and Lisel Mueller will be examined as well as recent examples by local poets published in Looking Together: Writers on Art (Frye Art Museum/ University of Washington Press, 2009). Participants will sharpen their powers of observation and try their hand at writing poems on works of art in the Frye’s collection. All levels of writers are welcome.
This free workshop is sponsored in part by 4Culture. For more information and to register, e-mail ekphrasisworkshop@yahoo.com.


About the Instructors
Susan Rich is the author of three books of poetry from White Pine Press, including The Cartographers’s Tongue, Cures Include Travels, and, forthcoming, The Alchemist’s Kitchen. She has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, PEN USA, and Artist Trust; her recent poems appear in The Antioch Review, Harvard Review and TriQuarterly. Susan teaches English and Film Studies at Highline Community College.
Lillias Bever’s book of poetry, Bellini in Istanbul, was published by Tupelo Press in 2005. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, and Gettysburg Review, among other places. She has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from Artist Trust, 4Culture, and the Seattle Arts Commission. Bellini in Istanbul was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

Waterfall in Snow - Hedgebrook Cottage






Where I want to be today instead of finishing grades and taking care of the details of my exterior world. I want to be at the farmhouse for supper; I want to curl into the window seat and write.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Week at Hedgebrook with Carolyn Forche




We celebrated our Lady of Guadalupe Day with oranges and chocolates, with poems and wood smoke on our clothes. For a week we were released from our outer lives in order to explore interior landscapes, our responsibilities to ourselves. I wrote seven poems in seven days. I have never done that before. Our ages ranged from 35 to 65, our geography, diverse. In March, Carolyn Forche will run another "Master Class" at Hedgebrook and if you can find your way there, you won't be sorry. She is a generous teacher, a fun person to hang out with, and of course, a stunning poet. Applying to the Master Class gets you into Hedgebrook, but it doesn't effect your ability to apply again. Do it.
(photo credit: Kelli Russell Agodon)  P.S. The March class isn't listed yet, but it is happening. Contact Amy Wheeler and she can get you the exact dates and the application. And yes, this is a retreat exclusively for women, the only one in the world.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Retreat ~ Please Write to Me!





Dear Reader,

I am leaving for a writing retreat and master class tomorrow morning. My blog is not yet a month old and I wonder if it will survive my time away  in the woods. As someone who is new to blogging and not 100% certain what she is doing here, I would love to hear any thoughts on what has been useful to you so far. I am determined that my blog needs to be much more than a self-reflection or self promotion tool. My goal is to create community. I need to hear from you how I am doing so far ...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ten Ways to Send Your Work Into the World




 


I am a fan of sending my poems into the world; I love that they can travel to countries, states, and old dusty desks where my physical body cannot go. Instead of giving editors too much power, I create games that have to do with how many different states my poems can be published in or choosing only journals that share my initials. Here are a few ideas for anyone else that needs an extended outlook on submitting work.

1. Know that editors need good poems; your good work will be welcome once it finds the right journal for its "home."

2. Create a game that gives you pleasure. Mine is the license plate game. For fifteen years I've been working on getting a poem published in each of our fifty states. More recently, I have been trying to add countries and languages as well. It makes me happy that my poems are in Slovenian even if I can't comment on the quality of the translation.

3. What journals do you love to read? That might be a good place to place your work - even if it takes several tries. I once heard the poet Robin Becker say that it took her more than a decade of sending to American Poetry Review to get published there. Every year one submission went out to them and eventually they published her. Now I see her poems there frequently.

4. Keep query letters short and sweet. Choose one or two relevant things to say and then let your poems speak for themselves. I also include a brief bio so that if the editor wants the poems, they already have it there. The whole shebang goes on a page - or 2/3 of a page.

5. Send local and global. Don't ignore the journals in your area of the country. Most poets and poetry are known regionally.

6. I would strongly advise against paying to have anyone read your poems for a journal (unless it is a contest with advertised prize money). The one exception is some journals now ask you to send on-line rather than through the mail. Meridian, for example, asks a $2.00 fee for paper, printing, etc. That makes sense to me as sending via the postal service cost close to that.

7. The number of poems you may want to send varies although 3-5 poems is a good general rule. You can always check this and other details by looking at the journal's website. If the site hasn't been updated in two or three years, I'd wonder how long it will take for you to get poems back...

8. I have my favorite journals; places, I believe that treat poets well. Starting out I had kind editors at Alaska Quarterly Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Comstock Review. I would still recommend these places to send your work.

9. Talk to other poets and see where they send work. It doesn't hurt to say, "my friend, poet XYZ, thought you might like these poems." I took a poetry class in Boston years ago where we would all pass around a list of where we had been published, then if there was a journal we wanted to send to we would mention the other student's name. In this way we developed a sort of "old boy" network of our own - "young girl network" was more like it.

10. Enjoy the process. Don't let it mean too much when a poem comes back. I think, on average, my work needs to go out about six or seven times before it finds a home - depending on the poem, where I am sending, etc. Celebrate successes and find a poetry buddy to share news with - the good, the bad, and the Ripley's Believe it or Not.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"A True War Story" ~ Read all the way to the end ...




A True War Story

My friend's uncle 
was a Marine in Korea.
His squad came to a cluster of huts,
smoke drifting up from one.
The squad leader ordered him
to go into that hut,
to kill everyone inside.
He stepped cautiously through that door
and waited for his eyes to adjust.
In the dim light he saw a terrified woman,
children huddled up against her.
He squeezed the trigger of his M-1,
emptied it into the thatched roof.
No one spoke
when he stepped back out 
through that doorway.


Back home
when he told the old people
what he had done,
they gave him a new name:
He-Who-Takes-Pity-On-His-Enemy,
and made him the Giver of Names
for new born children.


Lost Horse Press, 2009

We Lived Happily During the War - Ilya Kaminsky

 Here is a sample poem from the new anthology

I Go to the Ruined Place ~ Contemporary Poets in Defense of Global Human Rights.


 


You can order a copy of the collection from Open Books and $2.00 from each copy sold will go to supporting human rights in Idaho where Lost Horse Press is located.

 

We Lived Happily During the War

and when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun
in the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money, in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.


Ilya Kaminsky


I Go to the Ruined Place ~ Alternative Gift Idea




I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poets in Defense of Human Rights arrived on my doorstep this week.  Although the title doesn't hit  the required happy notes of the holiday season, this anthology, published by Lost Horse Press,  is the perfect gift for International Human Rights Day, December 10th.

The editors, Melissa Kwansny and M.L. Smoker give a very sobering introduction to the book, but my take on it is somewhat different.  I worked for Amnesty International for five years and it's the resilience of the human spirit that I find most compelling in this collection.  My favorite poems  here include Carolyn Forche's "Museum of Stone," Li-Young Lee's "Self-Help for Fellow Refugees" and Ilya Kaminsky's "We Lived Happily During the War."  And in the interest of full disclosure, my poem "Mohamud at the Mosque" is also reprinted here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And on the subject of Broadsides ... Madeline DeFrees



This poetry broadside was created by Joe and Marquita Green of peasandcues press (website pending) in honor of Madeline's 90th birthday party at Elliott Bay Book Company.  Madeline used this fragment to open the third section of Magpie on the Gallows, “Several Lives:”

Thin as a snail’s track
on the mind’s walk, the year
pulls back into its shell.
I skim the silver from the cracked
cement to spend it all
before winter closes down.
  

They are a limited edition - but would make great holiday gifts ...  You can contact me for more information.