Sunday, November 28, 2010

Entering the Picture: Myra Albert Wiggins and Me



Finally. My article in the Oregon Quarterly is here! I love that these are the best produced images of Wiggins' photographs that I have ever seen. Guy Maynard, Editor-in-Chief of Oregon Quarterly and the author of the novel, The Risk of Being Ridiculous, was a complete joy to work with. The article tries to examine the nature of art and poetry - which is no small task. In addition, Guy asked me to look at three of my own poems and offer insight into the process of writing ekphrastic poems. This was a challenge for me. And I like challenges.

Writing prose is so different than writing poetry. Instead of soaring through sound and disjuncture, I'm stumbling around lost, looking for a narrative line.  Instead of singing in a new key, I'm slipping into quick sand. Yes, this is an exaggeration. The more I write, the more I see that these dichotomies only really exist in my head. My newest example of poet disguised as a fiction writer is Nicole Krauss author of History of Love and The Great House. More on this later.

For now, I hope you'll take a look at Entering the Picture and tell me what you think. I would like that.

It Began Innocently Enough ~ The Best Book(s) Trailer Ever

This dual purpose book trailer is a joy to watch whether you are interested in book trailers or not. My good friend Midge Raymond is here with her author husband lamenting the meaning(s) of Amazon rankings. It plays to me like a short story by Saki. Since Midge is an excellent short story author, it seems a fair comparison. I hope you enjoy it.

I have yet to enter the world of book trailers, but this one makes me curious about what works and what doesn't. My sense is: this is just plain funny and entertaining no matter whether you decide to buy Forgetting English or  The Tourist Trail or not. It resembles a good comedy sketch -- I can imagine it on the old SNL and that it's worth aside from book promotion is what makes it successful.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

If it's Thursday ... it must be Boston

Susan and January last night after our reading at Porter Square Books; photograph thanks to Avivah
It was a fabulous reading!

Coming attractions: January and I read at the Miami Book Festival Sunday at 2:30 pm @ Miami Dade College

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Porter Square Books in Porter Square @ 7 PM Wednesday night with January O'Neil


Yes, I know this is Harvard Square, not Porter Square -- I haven't been gone that long! It's true when the taxi driver asked me if he should take exit 19 or exit 28 -- I had no idea what he was talking about. I think he knew that, too. In any case, I am happy to be back "home" even if home is now Seattle and not Boston. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends, some from elementary school tomorrow night and meeting new folks. It's been five years since my last visit and so reading tomorrow night at 7 pm with January O'Neil is just one of the pleasures these next three days hold.

I'm sill mentally back in San Diego where I had a superb time. Maybe I should travel more often ...

There is much more to say about notions of home and travel, but not tonight. For now, glad to be satiated with lentil soup, red wine, and tea. I am thankful for the most wonderful of friends.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Saturday afternoon "Speaking Pictures Workshop" and Saturday night reading with Ilya Kaminsky at the Ink Spot


I've never been to San Diego, but I'm on the road there today! If you are in driving or walking distance of San Diego's center for writers, the Ink Spot, I would love to see you on Saturday (tomorrow) for an afternoon workshop on poetry and the visual arts @ 1:00 pm or at a reading with Ilya Kaminsky @ 7:00 pm. I will also be reading at San Diego State University on Monday night. Since I am brand new to Southern California, it would be great to meet you. And if not in San Diego, perhaps in Boston at the Porter Square Books in Cambridge with January O'Neil this Wednesday, November 17th or at the Miami Book Festival, Sunday the 21st. I am on my first ever "couch tour" for a book. I am both extremely excited and very nervous. Yes, at the same time.

Ilya Kaminsky reads at The Ink Spot with me, this Saturday @ 7 pm

January O'Neil reads at Porter Square Books with me this Wednesday @ 7 pm

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Literary Fires at C & P Coffee: Tonight's the Night @ 7:00pm


Literary fires of poetry and prose are igniting tonight. I cringe to use fire as a metaphor after being in a real fire last summer in Spain. While at an artist's retreat, Fundacion Valparaiso, the town of Mojacar and surrounding towns caught fire. It was the hottest summer in Southern Europe for 100 years and the fires outside of Barcelona had used up much needed resources. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life - and that's coming from a woman who worked in Gaza and in Sarajevo in 1996.

The illustrious West Seattle Blog has covered our reading and we are a starred event in The Stranger so I'm hoping for a good crowd at C & P. Along with the fabulously talented Elizabeth Austen and Harold Taw, we have also been in touch with the Seattle Fire Marshall who has sent some interesting tips along.

The night is co-sponsored by the Mayor's Office of Arts and Culture in the form of a CityArtist grant.

I hope you can make it !

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Deep Travel - Contemporary American Poets Abroad


I love re-reading books that only get better with more reflection. Deep Travel fits the bill. The premise of this anthology is to bring together the best writing by American poets who have lived abroad. The poets range from luminaries such as Charles Wright, Garrett Hongo, Marilyn Hacker, Afaa Michael Weaver,  to the rising stars of Brain Turner, Derick Burleson, Diane Thiel. The collection includes four poems and an essay by each poet. Lived experience from Antarctica to Vietnam, Estonia to Rwanda is included. I know of no other collection like it.

Here's a poem from Brian Turner, originally published in Here, Bullet about his year serving in the military in Iraq.

In the Leupald Scope

With a 40x60mm spotting scope
I traverse the Halabjah skyline,
scanning rooftops two thousand meters out
to find a woman in sparkling green, standing
among antennas and satellite dishes,
hanging laundry on an invisible line.

She is dressing the dead, clothing them
as they wait in silence, the pigeons circling
as fumestacks billow a noxious black smoke.
She is welcoming them back to the dry earth,
giving them dresses in tangerine and teal,
woven cotton shirts dyed blue.

She waits for them to lean forward
into the breeze, for the wind's breath
to return the bodies they once had,
women with breasts swollen by milk,
men with shepherd-thin bodies, children
running hard into the horizon's curving lens.

Monday, November 8, 2010

And Now for Something New: A Free Workshop @ Wide World of Books and Travel


Here is where I will be tomorrow night @ 7:00 pm in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. This travel bookstore, Wide World of Books and Travel, is on my top ten list of favorite bookstores ever. The evening is part writing workshop and part reading.

The Poetry of Travel: A Workshop on How to Write Poems of the Faraway and the Foreign
4411 Wallingford Ave North
Seattle, WA

7:00 - 8:00 PM


This hour-long workshop will look at several approaches to transforming lived experience into poetry. Learn how to write of travel, not tourism. Bring paper and pen and be ready to write

Festivities at the Frye: A Success (I think)


Kelli and I at the Frye


Allen Braden, me, Kelli Agodon, and Oliver de la Paz



I am happy that our event went well yesterday. Over 50 people came out to the Frye Art Museum to celebrate the collaboration of poetry and painting. Our audience seemed to enjoy the event -- many people (whom I didn't know!) came up to talk with me afterwards and thank me for putting the day together. The art pieces were set on a loop for people to look at as they came into the auditorium and each poet spoke about their connection to their piece. Best of all, thanks to a GAP grant from Artist Trust, each poet was paid for her or his commission and every audience member could enjoy refreshments and poetry swag. With gracious permission from the museum, two of the poems were produced on postcards along with their paintings. We even had gorgeous flower arrangements.

I can't say enough good things about working with the Frye Art Museum --- or with these wonderful poets. I'm tired today, but happy with how things turned out.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dutch Courtyard, The Botanists, and more at the Frye, Sunday





SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2010
2 PM

Poetry and painting have long been called the “sister arts,” but what exactly does the phrase mean? Join four local poets, Kelli Russell Agodon, Allen Braden, Oliver de la Paz, and Susan Rich, as they explore the connection between poetry and art. New poems, inspired by the Frye’s Founding Collection, will be read by each of the poets.
Free admission and free parking. This event is co-presented by Artist Trust.

The idea for this event began on an airplane from Denver to Seattle. I had already asked the Frye to consider doing a poetry event, but I knew that I needed to move beyond the "let's just get some poets together" in order to pitch a successful program to this prestigious art museum.

I was inspired by the session "Shameless Self-Promotion" by a group of Minneapolis writers at the AWP conference who were not shameless at all. Instead, they encouraged us to be creative in our author events. I wanted to create a program that needed the context of an art museum to work; I wanted something fun and celebratory of painting and poetry. 


The museum program person that I worked with was superb. She let me know what was and wasn't possible. Although there was no budget for this event, she helped me brainstorm a budget so I could apply for an Artist Trust grant to cover costs like food, publicity, and one to-be-told-later surprise. 


The only thing we can't control for a program like this is how many people will come. When I gave a free workshop at the Frye last winter, we registered participants and that let us know that we were over-booked! A great feeling. Since this auditorium holds over 150 people, I'm just hoping we get a respectable crowd. Otherwise, there will be a whole lot of cookies to eat. Please come!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Poetry v. Prose: Lovers or Fighters?



Yesterday I got a message that a travel essay I wrote is being considered for a lovely publication. I was really thrilled as my non-fiction pieces are rarely written. The truth is, I've not been nearly as interested in writing prose as I am in writing poetry. If a poem I write does not get published, I don't associate that with a failure or waste of time. Instead, I think the right publication hasn't come along yet -- that poem's own prince charming is out of town for the moment. But even that's not right. A poem that stays on my computer I can still love, has taught me something, can still be relevant to my writing life. However, an essay that stays on my computer waiting for her dance card to be filled feels entirely different.

When I write prose I've been focused on an end result. I pitched a story about the coming of the railroad to the northwest, and the story was bought and then later, anthologized. This month, I have a piece coming out about Myra Albert Wiggins and my relationship with her work. I've loved writing these pieces and I'm grateful to see them in print. So what is the difference, for me, between poetry and prose? I don't have set answers, but I do want to explore this a bit.

1. Poetry is the way I understand the world. I go to poetry, yes, I admit it, for a way to live my life. I go to poetry for sustenance. I require it as a touchstone for healthy living. It's my vitamins and my prayer book all in one.

2. I write poetry because I have to. At this point, after writing poetry for more than half my life, and publishing three books, I am addicted. I love that stanzas are Italian rooms and that the human heart has an iambic beat. I can't imagine my life without the profound struggle and ecstasy of poetry.

3. Prose is a stranger to me and a little aloof. Prose is what I was graded on at school and what I have to grade in my working life. Prose can often take too many words to say something best left half-said. Prose is so much easier to get tangled up inside of.

4. Prose is perhaps more the literary currency of our time. I say "perhaps" but I know that's just the poet in me hoping. The readership for prose, especially for the non-fiction articles I write, is easily double the audience for poetry. If I want people to read my words, shouldn't I write non-fiction a little more often?

5. Poetry and prose can be the best of friends. At the Centrum Writers Conference in Port Townsend, WA a few years ago, I heard a prose writer and a poet on a double bill. The poet was entirely prosaic in his conversational style, rambling lines, and dare I say, uninspired delivery. The prose writer, on the other hand, nearly sang her chapter -- and the sound, details, and syntax were wildly poetic. Although I knew the lesson that prose can be poetic before that evening, that experience allowed me to live it.

In this time of hybrid forms and all sorts of experimental work, I think it's pointless for me to worry this distinction at all.  I realize this blog is prose and that I've become used to this as an exchange of ideas and on a good day, perhaps some inspiration. In other words, I want to try and do away with the hierarchy of language that I carry within me. The idea that poetry is more connected to the muse may well be true for me, but why not let the muse toss off her old habits and try something new. Here's to poets writing prose and prose writers trying poetry. Perhaps we need a name for that to entice people or even a national holiday. I'd even start with a postage stamp that says "Celebrate Language." Why not?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Kelli Russell Agodon on Blue Positive -

Poet Martha Silano interviews Kelli Russell Agodon today at Blue Positive.

Here is a taste:


Some of my favorite poems in the book, including "What the Universe Thinks of Lingerie" and "Universe Viewing from Home" reference astronomical terms. Did you conduct research to write these poems? If so, do you research to get inspired to write a poem, or do you research after you've begun writing and want to add in specific details about the planets, stars, etc?

Both. The "What the Universe Thinks of Lingerie" poem was inspired because I was reading an article about black holes and had a Victoria's Secret catalog on my desk and wondered what would happen if I put the two together. I had all my black hole facts first and went from there.

"Universe Viewing from Home" came about after trying to see the Hale-Bopp comet and being completely underwhelmed, as well as constantly missing scheduled meteors showers. Writing that poem, I tried to discover how poetry and space were connected and started doing research. This was how I discovered the minor planet named Neruda as well as the crater on Mercury, which at the time when I wrote the poem still wasn't official. I believe Pablo Neruda’s crater was finally approved in 2008.

To read the entire interview go to Blue Positive.