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
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

                    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.

                    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

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:
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

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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Opportunity ~ Submit to Broadsided Press

Broadsided: Putting Literature and Art on the Streets is one of coolest websites around. This press/ journal/art gallery / travel site is a one of a kind project. Superb poet and inventor, Elizabeth Bradfield is the founder of this project which aims to deliver poetry and art around the world. Each month, a collaboration of poet and artist is "published" on the site and then downloaded and printed and posted around the world. This month's broadside is posted on a bus stop in Tasmania. I loved being part of this project. You will, too.

Community of Poetry Readers = COP'Rs

Eight of us gathered yesterday afternoon for the second meeting of our new poetry reading group. And like the first time, it was energizing. Once a month we come together -- from all over Washington State -- to talk about poetry and read poems aloud to each other. Here is Deborah Digges reading "Telling the Bees," a poem we talked about for a long time. I learned that there is a tradition to actually tell the bees when the beekeeper has died. In addition, there is a sense that bees are positive insects. They are messengers to the other world and nectar literally means "that which surpasses death." What a smart group of people I get to hang out with. We talked a long time on the recurring images of the poems: bridges, lifting, boats, Persephone and the sense of hanging in the balance between life and death. It's hard  to read these poems as "only" poems knowing that Digges did (or didn't) jump from a stadium last spring.

This coming May, Random House publishes her collected poems, The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart, which is also the title of her poem published posthumously in The New Yorker. It's a stunning poem - a fugue of sorts - right here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Opportunity ~ Submit to this anthology on social justice!

Here is a call for submissions that I came across today. I love the film analogy. The press looks very new, but it is in Minnesota - and that makes me think well of them. Really, I know nothing except what's here. I did send  some poems today; I hope you do, too.

Benu Press Editors Steve Fellner and Phil Young are in the process of creating an anthology about social justice. These are the requirements for the poems:

1.) The poem deals with social justice, not simply a social issue. In other words there has to be some action or suggestion of resistance or dealing with a social issue, not just having a social issue somewhere in the background.

2.) The poem offers an element of hope. This hope can be somewhat ambiguous, but at least some level of hope has to be detectable to the average reader. Think “Daybreak in Alabama” by Langston Hughes.

3.) The poem is an “accessible narrative or lyric that contains elements of genuine drama or comedy.”

4.) If the poem were a movie, it would have to receive somewhere between a G and PG-13 rating.

They would really like to include a poem of yours in Love Rise Up. If interested, please send them a poem(s) for them to look at as a Word document. They would like it emailed it to

or (replace (at) with @).

They would happily look at new work or previously published. They are responsible for paying all fees, so they would appreciate a waiver.

Contributorswill include D.A. Powell, Martin Espada, Denise Duhamel, Rigoberto Gonzalez,David Kirby, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Barbara Hamby, Cheryl Dumesnil, FadyJoudah, Rebecca Livingston, Alison Joseph, Laura Kasischke, Idra Novey, EliotKhalil Wilson, Martha Collins, David Baker, Jason Schneiderman, Minnie BrucePratt, among others.

When the anthology appears (in Fall 2010, tentatively), all contributors will receive one copy. Please call 585-637-4607 or e-mail if you have any questions.

The deadline is January 15. Tell anyone who might be interested.

The Alchemist's Kitchen - Back Story to the Photograph

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but ...I have wanted to tell the story behind this cover for a while. I met Philipp Schumacher this summer at the Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain. Philipp is a very up and coming photographer from Germany and I fell in love with the other worldly quality of his work. He creates all sorts of work - photographing fast cars and beauty salons, but its his art portfolio that appeals most to me.

So one afternoon, in 110 degree heat, we went through his work with an eye towards my book. I really hadn't wanted a literal representation of an alchemist's kitchen, but the glow of these pots, the shadows across the floor, and the ominous clock face all intrigued me. Philipp mentioned that the image was shot in a villa in Germany. The Villa Hugel had been the home of the Krupp family. Alfred Krupp, to be exact. Philipp had mentioned the family were major industrialists, but I didn't know until today what that meant.

Now, with my book in production, I realize that the cover shows the kitchen of a Nazi war criminal. Krupps was convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg and in addition to serving twelve years in prison,  forfeited his property, businesses and family wealth to the state. Two years later, an amnesty restored much of his wealth back to him. Since 1953, the Villa Hugel has been open to the public and seems a place for picnicers and families. There are art exhibitions, greenhouses, and beautiful gardens. To quote the site, "it serves as witness to the lavish way of life enjoyed by the aristocracy at the time." Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors pour through the doors. So is it a museum marking a man's downfall? Is the alchemy at work here as well? Aristocracy to pleasure park for the masses? I don't know if I would have chosen this image if I had been aware of all its baggage, but at the same time, I like the layers of meaning implicit in this cover. Hopefully, the poems are multi--layered as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Those Winter Sundays - Robert Hayden - Video Fun

Happy Thanksgiving to you who celebrate this strangest of holidays. I am happy to be with good friends, eat amazing food, and take time off from the workaday world. But the holiday makes me uneasy all the same. I went looking for poetry tonight and found this dramatization of "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden. Something struck me as being just right for this time of year. The whole shebang is just 90 seconds long. It's part of a series done by the Poetry Foundation - a great resource for all things poetry. I'm just learning about the world of video poems. Those of you with more information on this, feel free to comment here ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Brief Note on Rejection

It seems a little early in the life of this blog to complain, but I will try to keep it brief and informative. In the last week I have received two "creative" rejections. One came from an anthology project that had already accepted my work almost a year ago. Imagine my surprise to find out that eight months later, I was no longer in favor. I wrote the editor (in a fit of passion) saying he could not reject me and supplying the email in which he had accepted me. Yes, it was a mistake and all ended happily. As a former editor, I know how easily letters can go out to the wrong people. However; today's encounter seems more problematic. I received a rejection from a journal that published my work two years ago. You read that correctly. In an SASE I received a rejection slip and a cover letter belonging to another writer whose name is similar to mine. Not the same, but similar. I guess the good news is that neither of the rejection letters were really meant for me. Have you had weird and sundry non-rejection rejection letters? I'd love to hear others experiences. I have to say these two faux rejections right before the holidays have left me a bit bewildered. What will I find in my  mailbox tomorrow?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poetry Book Club & Trapeze by Deborah Digges

Don't the best ideas always happen over lunch? On a warm August day, at Cafe Flora,  two friends and I were sharing new poetry finds. We lamented how hard it is to discover new poets (new to us) since our MFA days were over. Wouldn't it be great to get together and read poetry once in awhile? People formed book clubs around novels and non-fiction books, why not around poetry books? And so, COP'Rs was born. Community of Poetry Readers or COP''Rs. Here is our mandate:

As a group, we want to be exposed to new 
poets, to read poetry deeply, and to create 
community around the pleasure of poems.

It's that simple. We've met once already and the energy in the room was palpable. We were not the only ones hungry for such a group. Each month we meet and share individual poems that everyone brings in our "Poetry Presents" section and then move on to the full collection we've agreed to read. This month it is Deborah Digges' poetry collection  Trapeze. The Trapeze link takes you to where you can hear Deborah read the title poem. Feel free to read along. I promise to report back after our meeting next week. This is my first time reading her and I'm amazed by her work.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Madeline DeFrees Celebration - Poetry and Grace @ 90


I love looking at these photographs as they remind me what a perfect evening we all had. Since I almost never take photographs, Tim Woods' images seem very magical to me. I love that Madeline's corsage (from two of her admirers) figures prominently, that the age range of attendees was vast and wide - as seen here, that Madeline looked happier and more relaxed than I'd ever seen her before. Notice on the podium, the photographs of a younger Madeline, the one to the left in her Elizabeth Bishop pose.

The evening began with food for all from the new Elliott Bay Cafe. When Madeline arrived, a spontaneous round of Happy Birthday rang out and she was presented with her corsage. Joe Green was there with the broadside he and  Marquita Green created for the occasion. More and more people kept arriving, and soon the room was overflowing with people who had traveled over water and mountains to wish Madeline well and celebrate her. Writer Anne McDuffie began by thanking everyone  for their part in the evening - although most of us knew she was the true organizer of the night. The poet Tom Aslin spoke of working with Madeline in Montana and the friendship that developed out of that time; Christopher Howell told of publishing Madeline's work when she taught at Holy Names in Spokane and the typo Madeline found on the back cover - that did not ruin their friendship. I also spoke. Madeline was my thesis directer when I was an undergraduate. I told of how terrified I was of her (it was a one on one tutorial) but how those sessions are what laid the groundwork for my life in poetry. I could not have become a poet without her influence. The evening concluded with a three tiered chocolate cake thanks to Copper Canyon Press and a champagne toast. Copper Canyon has published her last three books. Madeline makes 90 look like a great time - she handles age as she does poetry, with humor and grace. It's an evening that will live on.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Favorite Photos of Madeline DeFrees Turning 90! Thanks, Anne!

Artist Residencies - What You Should Know

While I am waiting for photographs from Madeline DeFree's 90th Birthday Celebration at Elliott Bay Book Company, I thought I would post my 10 Tips on Applying to Artist Colonies. I gave this talk as part of a panel at the Panama Hotel in Seattle, last week. The hotel is a historic building in the International District and really deserves a post of its own. Later. In the years since I started writing, it seems I have traveled to over ten different residencies, retreats, and foundations in search of a quiet space to write and to meet other artists.

Here are a few things I've learned about the application process.

1. Be a dreamer and a realist. Which artist residency would you most like to visit? Apply. But don't pack your bags quite yet. An analogous process might be applying to colleges. Aim high, medium, and outside the box.

2.Create cohesion in your application. You need a narrative line to be remembered. It is not true what many residencies state about "send your best work." Send a writing sample that allows for easy identification in terns of content or style. You might be "the Spanish fire survivor" or "the sonneteer."

3. Timing Matters. If you apply during the fall and winter months, you will have a much higher chance of being accepted to the residency of your choice. Residencies receive the brunt of their applications for the summer months. Apply in winter and your chances of acceptance will sky rocket!

4. Keep It Organized. Start a computer file of which residencies you are considering and a list of application dates. Many residencies have two deadlines a year when you can apply - some, like Hedgebrook, just one.  A place on your computer that has your applications, work sample, and deadline dates will allow you to track what works and what needs tweaking.

5. Keep It Fun. Remember the license plate game from childhood? Why not try for residencies in states you've never been? My residency at the Ucross Foundation was my first time meeting cowboys and seeing tumbleweed. New landscapes = new writing.

6. Talk, talk, talk. Seek out people who are former residents. Ask lots of questions. For example: Is there an evacuation plan in case of fire? (I was at a residency in Spain that burned in the wildfires while I was there). Once you've been accepted, most residencies are happy to put you in touch with former residents.

7. And a Zillion Internet Resources at your fingertips. I've mentioned Mira's List here already.. The organization of artist residencies has a book and an internet site. You may have to pay a little for using the site with ease; I am a fan of the physical book, myself.

8. All residencies are not created equal. Do you work better with others or in total isolation. Will you flourish in the country or the city? Is a separate space to write in necessary (sometimes only the visual artists get studios - best to check)? How flexible are you with what you eat? Are you able to deal with community living? How about the daily practice of an off-key saxophonist? Know thyself! A good article on this subject is at Artist Communities.

9. Don't get discouraged. Juried panels tend to change every year or two. This means that prior rejection has little to do with what next season's judges will choose. Many writers apply one, two, or three times to the same residency.

10. More questions? Feel free to leave a comment here and I will do my best to respond!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Perfect Night at Elliott Bay Books for Madeline DeFrees' 90th!

Last night hit every high note. It's not often we are given the opportunity to participate in something as amazing as a perfect 90th birthday party. Tributes by Tom Aslin, Chris Howell, Rick Simonsen (and me) were just a small part of the night. I will add photographs and a fuller story later today. For now, I just wanted to say, sometimes the universe gets it right - with a  lot of help from Anne MacDuffie who organized the event.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poetry and Fiction Submission Tip for Women: The Southern Review

It's been a year or more, but I just discovered this: The Southern Review now has a woman editor-in-chief. Jeanne Leiby, who is a fiction writer and  the first woman editor of the journal in its 75 year history. She asked me to pass along the word that she is looking for good poetry by women. And this fall, after sending poems to The Southern Review on and off for years, Ms. Leiby has chosen two of mine for the upcoming anniversary issue. Jeanne is also a big fan of hand-written notes, so you may want to send one along!

Mentors, Poets, Students. Teachers: Guides Along the Way

"A master can tell you what she expects of you. A teacher awakens your own expectations."

                        Patricia Neal

OK, Ms. Neal, did say "he," but since I'm thinking about Madeline DeFrees and my talk tomorrow at Elliott Bay, I thought "she" was more appropriate. I've been in touch with other former students of Madeline's and there are some similar threads to our stories. No one describes Madeline as warm or fun. "no nonsense" comes up a good deal as does "intelligent." A few of us have commented on the fact that we didn't really appreciate Madeline until years later, sometimes decades later.

Here's something I wrote in my journal about Madeline when she was my Honors Thesis director in 1983.
"Madeline is not ego satisfying, but honest. I'm learning  lots of technique from Madeline -- but she gives little encouragement. Maybe that's supposed to make me work harder?"

I know with my students at Highline,  I am constantly trying to give encouragement and be honest at the same time. I want them to "get it" now -- not 20+ years from now. There is so much emphasis today in being warm and fuzzy -- not traits I am known for. Instead, the mentors that have taught me the most are the ones that I needed to think about after the time in the classroom was over. What I learned from Madeline and one or two others, stays with me today. It's present in the way I think about poetry, how I approach the writing, and the respect -- even love -- I try to extend to those who are also claiming a poet's life for their own.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Poet Madeline DeFrees Turns 90 -- Elliott Bay Book Store - 11/18

I have been reading and re-reading the poems of Madeline DeFrees in anticipation of her birthday bash at Elliott Bay Book Company this Wednesday @ 7:00 PM complete with chocolate cake and wine.

Madeline was my poetry professor when I was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst 26 years ago. I've just done the math tonight to discover that Madeline was born in 1919 and Elizabeth Bishop was born in 1929, making them more or less contemporaries. I think there is an acute sense of loss in their work and a strong masking of that loss with humor.

I thought I would post a Madeline DeFrees poem here so that her words might entice you to come down to Elliott Bay on Wednesday - while Elliot Bay Book Company is still here.

From the Darkroom

The image comes up slowly where light fell,
Pure positive from what was only lack.
The figure in focus stamps the pale
Surrender of the broken seal.
Knowing the light, it gives light back,
Shadow and nuance till the vision's whole,
Shadow and substance from the quick
Delight in its reciprocal.

Deeper than death the image burns
Its counterclaim unneutralized,
Renders detail in bold display
And will not, will not wash away
Or fix itself -- the instant prized --
Against the lesson all love spurns.
Madeline DeFrees

I love how the language doubles back on itself and that the process of developing an image and of capturing the light in, I want to say, in a lover, become one and the same. "And will not, will not wash away." Is my favorite line. I could go on, but would love to hear other impressions of this piece. And yes, it is a sonnet - although the language feels so relaxed, it's a bit deceiving.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jane Hirshfield and the Skagit River Poetry Festival - May 22nd...

“Good poetry begins with seeing increasingly clearly, in increasingly various ways; but another part of poetry’s true perception is found only in relinquishing more and more of the self to more and more of the world.”
~ -Jane Hirshfield
I came across this quote today and it states so succinctly what  I believe about poetry - and about living a creative life. And what I want this blog to encompass. I've started to expound on this, but I think the quote works best if I just say a big YES. Yes,  to being in the world and letting those perceptions: images, ideas, songs, bits of cut glass come through me into the poem. Yes, to use a kitchen metaphor: Let poets be the sifters of the world. What's a better word for sifter? Flour, sugar, image, and imagination.

My favorite place in the world for poetry is the Skagit River Poetry Festival. This May 21 -22, it's where you want to be. Every other year, on the third weekend in May, the little town of La Conner, WA transforms into a truly magical poetry venue. I've seen Naomi Shihab Nye read morning poems at 8 AM in a local church (no church service except her words); I've heard Elizabeth Austen perform her work in the Northwest Art Museum and listened to Rachel Rose  in the town's community hall. The Skagit Festival is where poetry matters as much as the air we breathe. This year the line-up includes Sherman Alexie, Terrance Hayes, Ted Kooser, and Valzhyna Mort. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Contest @ Crab Creek Review

I want to focus on fostering community on this blog. To that end, here is a contest deadline coming up at Crab Creek Review. A postmark by Sunday will assure that your fiction entry is read. The judge is Seattle writer Kathleen Alcala!

The Art of the Blog

I can't believe it. Here I am on my first serious foray into the blog world. Nine years ago, my friend and true visionary, Stephanie, asked me what I thought of the idea of an on-line journal. She knew I was a writer and wondered what I thought of this new concept. Blogging? Really dumb, I told her. Why write private thoughts for the world to read? Private writing, I am all for it. A public presence on a web page, a good idea so people can find you, but why mix the two together?

What can I say? The world proved me wrong. The question I now ask myself is: does the planet need another poet-blogger? What is my reason for being here when I could be writing poems or planning a trip to Tahiti? Writer friends who blog, Kelli, Midge, Diane, and Peter, tell me they appreciate the community, the exchange of ideas, and use blogging as a way to express ideas - without pressure.

So here goes. And one confession. I have been practicing the art of the blog over at Red Room - a community of writers. You can check out my post on the Elliot Bay Book Company by clicking here. The Bookstore that Changed My Life ~ Elliott Bay Book Company actually won the weekly blogger award. And so begins my tale ...