Saturday, December 15, 2018

Celebrating Groundhog Day with Poetry~South Lake Union

Groundhogs listening to poetry in February
Groundhog Day is a holiday that I love to celebrate. My only question used to be how? Now there's an answer. This year Kelli Russell Agodon and I will be leading a one-day poetry Mini Retreat in Seattle whether these critters see their shadows or not.

One of the wonderful things about Seattle winters is that by February, they are almost over. The Daphne in my garden will be in full bloom as will the early blossoming cherry trees one yard over. If you want a weekend getaway in February, Seattle might be just the place!

This is our 7th year offering a generative workshop in the morning and a special topics salon in the afternoon. These workshops are organized for everyone from the beginning writer to the well published poet. Each year the mix is diverse and energizing.

For 5 Interesting Facts on Ground Hog Day, click here.

Saturday, February 2, 2019
South Lake Union, Seattle

NEW! ​  Generating New Poems:
10 am – 1  pm

The Seattle Renaissance: Generating Poems in the New Poetic Climate  10 - 1 pm  
Seattle is experiencing an incredible poetry renaissance; let’s be part of the new surge of energy! We will spend the morning drafting pieces from a variety of new prompts. You will leave with the start of 5-7 new poems. Creativity and generosity abound!

NEW!    Thinking About the Next Book

Demystifying the Manuscript: Some Assembly Required 
 2 – 4 pm. This hands-on class includes several new strategies for organizing a book of poems based on the initial chapters of our new craft book! You will leave with new ideas for your title, section ordering (or not) and a free prepublication chapter to take-home. Book salon with your concerns answered also included. 

Or let's spend the day together, you can take both classes for a discounted
​$196 total

Number of participants limited 

NOTE: Once you are registered, you will receive an email within 48 hours of confirmation of your payment as well as a note of what to bring and directions to the retreat (which is served by public transportation and lots of parking) in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Hope to see you there!


Send a check for $112 or $196 to:
Kelli Agodon / Mini Retreat
PO Box 1524
Kingston, WA 98346

To pay with PayPal and for more information please checkout our website

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Best Holiday Present for Poets: Rewilding by January Gill O'Neil

January Gil O'Neil reading at the Old South Church, Boston
Two years ago, I wrote a post overflowing with admiration for a January Gil O'Neil poem and then added a prompt to go with it on this site.  What unmitigated joy to see this same poem in the brand new pages of Rewilding, just out from Cavaan Kerry Press.

If Sharon Olds and Robert Hayden had a love child, I think it would be January O'Neil. She employs the smooth, shiny surface of a Sharon Olds poem with the more emotionally nuanced and extended outlook of poet Robert Hayden (think "Water Lillies" and "Those Winter Sundays"). Here are two poems so you can decide for yourself.

Now on sale at Cavaan Kerry Press

On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year's Eve Party 2016

Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen,
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.


A gray hoodie will not protect my son
from rain, from the New England cold. 

I see the partial eclipse of his face 
as his head sinks into the half-dark 

and shades his eyes. Even in our
quiet suburb with its unlocked doors, 

I fear for his safety—the darkest child 
on our street in the empire of blocks. 

Sometimes I don’t know who he is anymore 
traveling the back roads between boy and man. 

He strides a deep stride, pounds a basketball 
into wet pavement. Will he take his shot 

or is he waiting for the open-mouthed 
orange rim to take a chance on him? 

I sing his name to the night, ask for safe passage 
from this borrowed body into the next 

and wonder who could mistake him 
for anything but good.

Rewilding is on sale this week at Cavaan Kerry Press. It's the best present of the season.

January Gill O’Neil
is the author of Misery Islands and Underlife, published by CavanKerry Press. She is the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, an assistant professor of English at Salem State University, and a board of trustees’ member with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Montserrat College of Art. A Cave Canem fellow, January’s poems and articles have appeared in the Academy of American Poet’s Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, and Ploughshares, among others. In 2018, January was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and is the John and RenĂ©e Grisham Writer in Residence for 2019-2020 at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. She lives with her two children in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Joy of a Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

Fresh tulips is a favorite way to treat myself 
A friend just texted me that she is on her way to her own do-it-herself writing retreat. She rented an air b & b by the water and was happily anticipating writing for the next week. So is a self-generated retreat as good as one those that some organization awards you?

Yes, maybe better.

I have been "awarded" several lovely writing retreats across the country and even internationally (Ireland, Spain) and I have "awarded" myself many self-generated retreats as well. In recent years I have chosen the do-it-yourself type. Here's why:

1. At my own writing retreat there's no social pressure to have dinner with the group at 6:00 pm. I am my own group. If I am really working than I can simply keep going. I am not tied to a schedule. At one writing retreat I attended we were expected to show-up at the same time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It didn't leave much time for deep contemplation.

2. At my retreat, I claim the best room! Place is important to me. I love a room with a view, most preferably, of water. I can choose the exact location of where I want to be. Usually, I choose a place that's an easy day's drive from my house. I can throw everything I might need into my car (favorite pillow, coffee cup, yoga mat...) and not have to worry about airports or luggage constraints.

3. My retreat allows for no awkward social interactions. I don't have to worry about the resident on the verge of a nervous break down or listen to the resident at dinner who never stops talking (or singing or crying). This might sound a little harsh but at a residency, my only job is to write and to read and to dream. When I am on retreat by myself I usually can spare myself a good deal of drama.

4. Here I am the only one responsible for my happiness. I'll be honest, some days the writing sucks and I really just want to go back to bed. Am I wasting my day trying to get words down on paper? For every three words that I write, I cross out at least two. But there are other days when something magical happens --- and most times --- I get one day of struggle to one day of magic. I have to show-up and be present for both. It's up to me to find my own rhythm. No distractions.

5. The false gods are gone! Too many times I've heard dear writer friends lament not getting into a residency that they've set their hearts on. And the not getting in becomes symbolic of something much larger in their minds.

Yikes---that's so many different kinds of wrong. I've been part of several editorial boards for residency programs, book awards, etc. And here is the truth: The "winning" writers are luckier --- that's all! Their work matches the tastes of the readers / evaluators. I once worked with another judge who discounted all applicants that were academics (why do they need more time off for a residency was her view). The writer could have been the next Sylvia Plath but if she was an academic, nothing else mattered.

Now in my 50's I've learned that life is so horribly short. I don't want to give anyone else the power to decide if I am going to take the time and space to do my writing. No one should have that much power. My advice to you is rent a cheap hotel room in Vegas (yes, writers do this!) or find a modest beach house --- but give yourself this time out of time. A writing retreat is not a privilege as much as it is a necessity for getting deep work done.

And with winter coming, the off-season rates are here. Take a look. Right now.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Simples: The Joy of Reading KateLynn Hibbard's New Book

Kate lyn Hibbard, Poet and Professor
I have been a huge fan of Kate lyn Hibbard's work since her first book, Sleeping Upside Down, was published in 2006. She followed this up with her luscious collection, Sweet Weight. And now, after way too many years, her third full length collection, Simples,  published by Howling Bird Press has just been released --- a haunting collection of historical poetry inspired by women’s experiences living on the Great Plains frontier. 

This is a book you do not want to miss. And while the music of the lines allows you to feel you are floating across the page, there is also true pathos in the work. Hibbard time travels through the Great Plains employing a variety of personas: healer, teacher, locust swarm and Jewish bride-to-be. In a lesser poet's hands these characters might seem contrived but not in Hibbard's.

Trees bowed over with the weight of them and they ate---
the tall grass the wheat the corn the sunflowers
the oats the barley the buckwheat the bark      
                                                                (from Swarm) 

The poems accrue and create a dreamscape of life where the work is unrelenting and the landscape both awe inspiring and cruel. Hibbard's background in Women's Studies (both as a poet and a scholar) is integral to this project. The End Notes allow the reader to understand a time period and landscape that some of us, myself included, may have little experience with and yet the poems transport us:

White cambric petticoat torn from a gown,
White lace refinement on tarpaper walls,
Fashioned from newspaper, cheesecloth, and sheets,
Cut out from calico, brightened with ribbon,
                                                               (from Curtains)

A variety of traditional and received forms create a collage effect that keeps the collection constantly surprising in the best way. Hibbard is a lyrical private detective conjuring the lives of women whose struggles and joys are largely unknown (at least to this reader).

And because many of the poems work in sequences and I dislike excerpting poems so, here is one poem in its entirety.

Orthography, 1895

Before we came to Kansas girls like me
had to fein being vain. I spend all day
on the claim, drive horses like a teamster.
Miss Sims says my prospects have been razed, but
this place is in my veins. I'm up before 
the sun's rays pass the weather vane, feign to beat
any man at my trade. When harvest
keeps me from Sabbath, the fields are my fane.

I love this poem, maybe more importantly, I believe this poem. 

Simples opens up and complicates the lives of these women with new narratives focused on the female body and delivered in voices that are strong, varied, and nuanced.

And because we notice these things but often they go unsaid, Simples also has a gorgeous cover. 
Treat the poet in your life, treat yourself.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Poem For the Ages, Especially Today

Ice Bubble Hotel in Iceland

I love how this poem shifts from awe, to what is awful, to what is benign, to what is all around us. Somehow, in magical Merwin fashion, this poem feels as if it were written right here, right now.

You can read more about W.S. Merwin and his poem "Thanks" by going to the Poetry Foundation website or you can simply read his poem here, now.



with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water thanking it

standing by the windows looking out

in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the door

and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks we are saying thank you

in the faces of the officials and the rich

and of all who will never change

we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us

taking our feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

thank you we are saying and waving

dark though it is

Monday, November 19, 2018

Auberge Ayouze Near Asfalou in the High Atlas, Morocco

There are several more appropriate places to begin a story of beauty than in the bathroom but this isn't just any bathroom! This rose-colored space has a view of the Atlas Mountains which you can see as you shower. The photograph looks more like a still life painting than it does a literal place to wash the body. For me, this image also calls up a sense of wonder and re-seeing of the simple life which is what Auberge Ayouze is all about. "Enjoy your life" is the phrase that Idriss, the innkeeper, repeats to me often. He suggests watching the sunrise over the mountains from my terrace. And so the next morning, wrapped in a blanket, I do.

Watching the sun is a slow, meditative process. At first I am checking my watch, hurry up sunrise! And finally I relax into the morning. The star studded night sky gives way ever so slowly to the light. I watch groups of women make their way down to the olive groves.

This is the region where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and more recently, three episodes of Game of Thrones. Take away the satellite dishes and cell towers, the world here has not changed much in centuries. I know that's a simplification of the life I saw only peripherally --- the marketplaces, the kasbah, the public baths.

I listen to the women sing as they work together harvesting the olives in the olive groves. You can hear then shaking the tree branches. Across the road from the auberge, I walk down the path to the river. When we return, breakfast is served on the upper terrace. Fresh squeezed orange juice and strong espresso, local dates and warm crepes, a selection of jams and cheese.

Before we leave, we drive to Teleouet with Jasmine and Idriss. We see the palace of the pasha and outside of it, the Jewish village which is now a ghost town. The royal movie theater is now closed but Mohamed, our guide, tells us Charlie Chaplin visited here and played golf with the pasha.

While in Morocco we have practiced yoga daily, we have met spice merchants and woodworkers in the souks of Marrakesh and strolled the Marjorelle gardens but nothing compares to our time in the High Atlas at Auberge Ayouze where Berber lives and American lives so easily intertwined. You will find the Auberge in a bend in the road halfway between Assfalou and Ait Benhaddou. Climb the stairs to the terrace and there a new way of life awaits you.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

It Took Too Long To Write This Experience In a Poem

Young Woman with Mandolin by Harrington Mann

It has taken too long. Too long for so many things to come to light. Here is a recent poem that takes "inspiration" from a core event that happened over thirty years ago. Thank you so much to Jordan Hart and Kahini Magazine for publishing this in their November issue. And for the writers among us,
Kahini Magazine is a paying market for both poetry and fiction.

Arborist / Abortionist

by Susan Rich

Procured by anxious relatives
who demanded

a disappearing trick—

prepaid like a surcharge
for yard work done in the off-season:

his steel tool severing

a quirk of a tree limb,
attached to the nub of a stubborn bud;

he didn’t question
how I appeared,

transplanted into his waiting room—

never inquired as to the coauthor
of my infinitesimal text—

although he’d memorized its map;

extracted the troublesome little branch
that obscured the golden overlook,

and restored the river view.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Joy of Poetry (That Swings Both Ways) Academy of American Poets, Practicing Poet, and the Southern Review

Reading Woman in Violet Dress - Matisse, 1892
I wonder if Henri Matisse ever imagined that his paintings would travel around the world with the choice click of a few keys? The internet is known for many things --- but access to the arts is not one I hear of very often.

This summer I was wildly honored to have my poem "To The New Journal" published in the Summer 2018 Issue of the Southern Review. This is the third time I've been published in SR and I am a true fan of both the words and the visual art that they publish. Their editors are professional, kind, and smart. But there's one thing.

The Southern Review doesn't feature much work on their website and so once the physical object of the journal is read and put on the shelf (and maybe tossed from libraries at a later date) most of the poems and prose are gone. Enter the Academy of American Poets with a new project: to showcase more poems on their website. Through an agreement with the Southern Review and Tin House, poems that were published in these print journals may now have a forever home as part of the Academy's curated collection. This is the reason I can share "To the New Journal" with you.
Much like the Poetry Foundation website, the Academy of American Poets website seeks to provide an essential resources of poems, essays on poetry, poet bios, and lesson plans to anyone who is interested. Need a poem to read for a wedding or for a divorce? These websites can help! Teaching a poet and want to bring their voice into the classroom? These are great sites to access.

However, sometimes poems swing the other way: from the worldwide ether onto the printed pages of a book. My poem, "Boketto" based on the Japanese word which loosely translates to, to stare into space with no purpose, appeared on the Academy of American Poets site two years ago. This month, "Boketto" stars in the new "must have" craft book, The Practicing Poet, Writing Beyond the Basics, by editor, poet, and publisher extraordinaire,  Diane Lockward.

Diane contacted me and asked for permission to reprint "Boketto" in her newest anthology / craft book (this is her third and each one is worth owning) and I happily agreed. In The Practicing Poet, Diane has created a prompt for a "weird word poem" based on my work. She has also done an explication of the poem that showed she had read the work carefully noticing the focus on double-barreled words and chiasmus (and no, I didn't know the word chiasmus before yesterday) but I like it and it describes a key strategy of the poem.

So this month I get to swing both ways: page poems onto the web and web poems onto new pages. I'm feeling very lucky indeed.