Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Writer's Life - What You Should Know about Website Design and ...


Here are a couple of things I learned in the wake of my brand new website that I wish I had known before I began.

1. Spend hours and hours surfing the web with a focus on writers websites to see what you like and what you absolutely don't like. Look for places like Poets and Writers where there are lots of links to writers web pages.

2. The current look in websites is to simplify everything (no more music or crazy fonts) so that they are easy to navigate and handle as easily  as a  new sports car.

3. If you decide to have someone design your site, meet with them face to face so that you can work together on design. This will save a great deal of time (and money). Your designer needs to learn your likes and dislikes as soon as possible so that they create a site that you love.

4. Beg, borrow, and steal what you like from other people's sites. I focused on "borrowing" from four different sites. I let the people know that I loved their sites and the great majority (3 out of 4) told me to take whatever I wanted. They were flattered.

5. Make sure that you can easily update information on your site. People I know that have to rely on someone else for every little update end up with a static site. Daniel built my site but then connected it to wordpress where making changes is simple - even for a Luddite like me.

6. Think of your site as a 21st century calling card. When I write to literary festivals or colleges about giving a reading or a workshop, I know one of the first things a conference director will do is look at my site. I want things to look professional and up-to-date.

7. Work in stages. When I had the site almost where I wanted it, I sent it to a group of writer friends for their comments and suggestions. Their ideas helped me build a stronger site.

8. Be strategic. I actually took several things off this site so that it would not appear too cluttered. Instead of having a separate tab for every little thing, I combined my books and the reviews of the books, my poems and my recordings of the readings.

9. Work on a theme that says something about your work. All the photographs on my site are by Pacific Northwest women photographers. One of the women, Myra Albert Wiggins, is a woman who I've written about extensively. I love having these photographers on the site as they represent (for me) the region where I live and the strong innovation of women who have lived here before me.

10. Know when to stop. There are some other things I want to add to the site, but I don't want it to look as cluttered as my office. I may still add a spot for people to purchase my books directly from me or another review of my work, but not yet. For now, I want it to look  as lean and fast as a runway model, as sleek as the black cat on my lap.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review in Miniature - An Urgency of Stars - Irish Poet, Geraldine Mills

An Urgency of Stars is Geraldine Mills' third book of poems and it may well be my favorite one - although the competition is keen. I find myself returning again and again to her poems -- learning something new each time -- about music, about language, about the way the mind works. The subjects of the poems center on myth and family, love and its leaving, --- the self in the middle passage. There is a peeling away of the everyday to find some hard-won truths. Better than reading about poetry, however,  is to read the poems themselves. The double-barreled words and the images of fire and rats, tea and death, are some of the juxtapositions that I admire in her work.

What I believe Mills does better than any poet I know is write of family - especially the woman who happens to be mother and  the man who the poet knew (or didn't know) as father. Here are two of my favorite - but there are so many more: "Reading My Father's Hand," "The Beaters," and especially "Naming the Houses."Her bio and the poems follow.

Award-winning Irish poet and short story writer Geraldine Mills has published two collections of poetry, ‘Unearthing your Own’ and ‘Toil the Dark Harvest’ and two short story collections called ‘Lick of the Lizard’ and ‘The Weight of Feathers’ (2007). Her monologue ‘This is From the Woman who Does’ premiered at the Provincetown Theatre in 2004. She was the Millennium winner of the Hennessy/Tribune New Irish Writer Award, and was recently awarded a Kavanagh Fellowship.

The Things My Mother Saw in Tea Leaves

Rats stealing the potatoes,
the black-headed cow in calf
the curving line of journey
the treasure luck of a fish.

She read them like her mother did
and her mother before that again,
taking the shallow white cup from the dresser
because a china white cup was best.

First she drained it clear of any tea,
we heard the hollow sound her hand created
as she cupped it over its rim
and clapped drawn leaves into prophesy.

Then holding tomorrow within her palm
she furled her fingers like a spring fern
into a curve towards her heart
and forespoke what was to come.

She saw Maloney's shed go up in flames,
the tip of a blade that pointed to false friends.
A tortoise at the china lip
spelled triumph after trouble.

When she was left with a notion of leaves
that augured his death, she waited up
night after night with that cup in her hand
for the guards to come to the door.


The way it comes through the window
wakes me before it wakes itself.

All winter long I have left the curtains open
unwilling to heap night upon dark

or block out a possible inkling of stars.
I have been waiting for a change, a defining.

Something about this morning even though
little baskets of hail empty themselves in the corners,

it cannot hide the fact as I hurry down the drive
to leave out my blue bag for recycling

and sky filters through a filigree of branches
that there is something about the light.

A fabric that I cannot name
and a sheer garment that wraps itself

around me, touching my skin
until the animal in me long asleep, wakes

like the birds who start to sing
-- it all comes down to light.

by Geraldine Mills, from An Urgency of Stars

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Writer's Life: Photographs, Mailing List, and a Newsflash ~

Another day, another coffee shop, and I have new bells and whistles on my website. I chose to use all photographs from early 20th Century Pacific Northwest photographers such as Imogen Cunningham, Lily White, and Myra Albert Wiggins. I've written several poems inspired by Myra Albert Wiggins' work, but not these other talented photographers, not yet.

Today I am fascinated with the different technologies we use to infuse our work with extra dimensions. These photographers were experimenting with the newest gadgets, chemicals, and papers to produce their work; I can't help but think these women would be pleased to see themselves in the ether world of the worldwide web.

Other than a few photographs, a mailing list, and a newsflash! My website remains the same. If anyone is interested, I am thinking of writing out some tips on how to think about the architecture of your writing life in the world of the web. And as always, happy to have your comments on what I've done ...

Website Worth Considering: Alchemy and John Donne

Thanks to my friend Allen Braden for introducing me to the Alchemy Website which is utterly wild. Everything is included from literary references (Harry Potter and Chaucer) to Islamic alchemy and everything in between. I was drawn to this poem by John Donne (1572-1631) and how many of the lines are familiar to me through the eyes of The Beatles, T.S. Elliot and that old song about "that busy old sun" and "walking around heaven all day" - who is that? In any case, I have the sense that I could spend the day on this website - if I wasn't about to go meet with my web designer, Daniel Spendlove, to work on my own.


The Sun Rising

          Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
          Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
          Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
          Late schoolboys, and sour prentices,
    Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
    Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

        Thy beams, so reverend and strong
        Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
        If her eyes have not blinded thine,
        Look, and tomorrow late, tell me
    Whether both the'Indias of spice and mine
    Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear: "All here in one bed lay."

        She's all states, and all princes I,
        Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compar'd to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
        Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
        In that the world's contracted thus;
    Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
    To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.

John Donne

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Singing the Grant Writing Blues - And Some Application Tips ...

It's the season for grant writing, sabbatical applications, and the hefty NEA on-line application. What's a poet to do? Was it just last week that I finished applying to summer residency programs? I sometimes wonder if I would be better off using all this time to actually write poems instead of writing applications about the writing of poems. Maybe that in itself needs to be a poem? Meanwhile, I attended a meeting last night for a CityArtist Project grant I received a few months ago. It made me wonder about what information I could give to others about applying for grants.

Much of what I wrote earlier about applying for artist residencies applies to the grant writing project. In fact, everything I mentioned about the actual writing sample for the residency would be the same for a grant writing sample. However, here are a few tips to add.

1. Invest a lot of time on the web site of the grant giving institution. You can usually find out past  judges and recipients. Maybe you know one? I asked a former winner of one grant if I could see her application and it gave me a better sense of how to streamline my project.

2. Enlist your friends! Ask people not in your discipline to read your application. Very often there will be a musician or a photographer on the jury, they won't all be poets.  Do not send your most obscure work.

3. Listen to the organization's feedback. The Mayor's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs in Seattle offers the CityArtist recipients the chance to hear the comments that the judges had on their work. I jumped at this opportunity. Although I received the award, I think it would be very helpful to learn what I did right.

4. Try sitting on the other side of the table. I learned the most about how to enter writing contests or apply to residencies by judging contests and volunteering to help one artist residency choose successful candidates. If you have the opportunity to judge anything at all - even a pie eating contest, take it!

5. Ask the institution you are applying to if they have a sample successful application you can see or if they offer workshops for potential grantees. Invaluable.

6. Be generous. When someone I know asks for a copy of one of my successful applications I am happy to send it their way. I believe in good karma. It doesn't always work -- but I make sure I hold up my end of the deal.

7. Don't give up! The NEA comes every two years and I have been applying for one for many moons. Each time the judges change -- and so does my work. One day I might just win. Who knows?

8. Build on your own momentum. Last year I was lucky enough (worked hard enough?) to be granted two awards. Applying for two awards allowed me to use some of the same materials even though the projects were different. I needed an artist statement and artist cv for both.

9. Celebrate your successes! How wild that we in the United States (and Ireland and Canada and other places) can sometimes gain funding for our artistic projects when they are still just an idea.
I keep a separate bank account for my poetry money. It may be small, but it's also magical.

10. Your idea goes here. I would love to hear from other people. What tips do you have for applying for grants?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Writer's Life: The Curtain Rises on a 21st Century Website

I spent today with my wonderful friend Daniel as we worked seven hours straight on my new website. Once I finally decided on the background color and using the element of the clock from the cover art of The Alchemist's Kitchen, things started falling into place.

I think it is a fascinating project to try and make a website reflect personality. Anyone who knows me, knows blue is my favorite color -- so that part seemed easy -- in theory. But I also think of myself as relatively quiet - how to be quiet on a web page?

On the other hand, I always liked scrap books and photo albums as a kid. Remember autograph books where one could collect quotes and signatures from friends? I liked those, too. So maybe all a website really amounts to is a newfangled scrap book filled with pages of photographs, poems, resources, and a lovely shade of blue.

Daniel and I will meet again next week to add more photographs and a few other things. I would love to hear any and all comments, criticisms, praise, or questions. Let the curtain ascend!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Writer's Life - New Website Coming Soon ~

I am excited, worried, and curious about the new website that I will have up and running soon. I'm working with a former student who is also a creative writer to bring my virtual self into the 21st Century. It feels a little like throwing out an entire closet of old clothes in order to bring in a new wardrobe. This is not something I have done in my life. I'm learning that I have very specific tastes. Once the site is up and running, I will be in charge of adding events and news, but I wanted help figuring out a basic look. We are meeting this morning to hopefully get this sorted.

What have other writers done to update existing sites or is it easier to start from scratch? I love color (as is clear from the old site that needs to disappear soon) but the new trends in websites seem to be all crisp and clean as a starched tuxedo shirt. I would love to hear ideas from other writers how they handle their virtual lives.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Poet from Ireland - Geraldine Mills - Read This!

The third collection, An Urgency of Stars, by Geraldine Mills has landed on my doorstep. It's a lovely collection that I sat down to read right away. I want to spend some time with it before I review it here. I've reviewed books for the Eugene Weekly and for Library Journal and need to read them several times before I have anything especially interesting to share. In the meantime, here is one of my favorite poems from Geraldine Mills' second collection, Toil the Dark Harvest. I love this poem for its heightened language, its praise of the flawed body, its chronicle of a life lived via finger nail..


The grit that found
its way in under your nail
turned the finger septic,

you a young girl sent over
on the boat with your brothers
to toil the dark harvest,

pickers bent over like question marks,
knuckles skinned,
trawling the ridges for tubers

only fit for sleep
after bowls of what
you'd picked, boiled,

sleeping on straw in the woman's bothy
to dream of gloves
with jewel buttons, necklaces.

What happened after that
is gone with you
except that the nail abscessed,

the bed of it infected;
no oyster way to mantle it layer over layer
of nacre, reverse its taint to lustre, pearl

instead lanced and lanced again
it lost its memory
to grow straight

but ridged and beaked like abolone
grew a further eighty years
among the perfect others of your right hand

and funny how laying you out,
the undertaker painted it
mother-of-pearl, lustrous, absorbing light.
                          --- Geraldine Mills

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Few Good Thoughts on Rejection

This post is from Kelli Russell Agodon's site, Book of Kells. Kelli is the co-editor of the journal Crab Creek Review. She recently shared her ideas on editing and other things at the Whidbey Island Low Res MFA Program. I think Agodon helps any writer understand why poems / stories / essays  are rejected by a journal. As she points out, it isn't personal.

Crab Creek publishes work because the editors are utterly passionate about it. I've worked as a reader, assistant poetry editor, poetry editor, and co-editor of several different journals and I would take individual passion over poem by committee (almost) every time. And for the record, I am one of those people who enjoys sending work out into the world. I have never been to Alaska, but my poems have been published in the Alaska Quarterly Review several times. I hope someday to go all the places where my poems have traveled. Today is a good day to send your work into the world. Why not? Even though ...

Here are some reasons your work might be rejected from a literary journal (or our literary journal) --

You sent at the wrong time or didn't follow submissions guidelines.

Your story/poem/essay is too long.

Your story/poem/essay is too short.

We have realized our issue has a theme to it and your story/poem/essay doesn't fit it.

We have everything we need for the next issue.

I am tired or cranky.

Your story/poem/essay made it to the final part of the process where we talk about it, but no one stood up for it and said "I love this."

We became frustrated in choosing and decided no.

I have read your story/poem/essay right before bed and just wanted to get through my batch of work and didn't go back in the morning to give it another good read.

Your story/poem/essay is pretty wonderful, but there is one weak part.

Your story/poem/essay is very well-written, but it's just not to our taste.

Your story/poem/essay is wonderful, but we don't like it.

Your story/poem/essay is not very well written or feels as if it could use some revision.

*** As you can see, there are a lot of reasons on this list that you cannot control.

What I think is interesting about this list is that only the last 1, (Your story/poem/essay is not well written...) is really, the only thing you can control and only one reason out of many for something to be rejected, and yet, as writers when we get a rejection we might think we're rejected because 1) we're not good enough or 2) our writing is not good enough.

I tried to remind the writers/students that when your work is rejected to think "not now" instead of "not good enough."

If you have worked on writing, revised in and sent in the best possible draft you can, at some point we have to realize that editors (myself included) are human and that your work may have been rejected because of other reasons.

I know that sometimes if I read submissions at night, I reject more than I do when I read them in the morning. Knowing this about myself, I make a point to reread submissions the next day in the morning if I felt I've rejected too many the night before or didn't give the work a fair reading. I know when I am tired and want to get to bed, I am more likely to pass on a piece just for the sake of getting all my reading done and getting to go to sleep, where as if I read your work in the morning, you have a much better chance of being selected, because I am fresh and not cranky.

I hate to say this, but it's true. You may have sent me an incredible story/poem/essay and I may have passed on it because I had just had an argument with my husband, or was annoyed because something in my house just broke. I try my best not to read during these crazy times of emotions, but sometimes deadlines are approaching and we read when we're not at our best.

The positive of this is that there many other editors who will stand up for your work when one of us being a crankster.

And here's something you may not know, in Crab Creek Review, we will publish your story/poem/essay even if one of us hates it.


Yes, we do not believe in consensus between our editors. We want to publish the poems/stories/essays that any one of us love. We do not have to agree on a piece for it to be published. We decided early on that if we go that way, then we'll have a lot of bland work in our journal. So if I love a poem and another editor hates it, but I say, "This poem needs to be in our journal," we will publish it. And vice versa. I have agreed to publish poems I did not like, but another editor was in love with and fought for.

I guess in the end, this is what we want-- work we will stand up for. Work that makes us fight for you.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Diode ~ What is electropositive poetry? ~ A small indulgence

What is electropositive poetry? It’s poetry that excites and energizes. It’s poetry that uses language that crackles and sparks. We’re looking for poetry from all points on the arc, from formal to experimental. This is what Diode seeks.

Diode is a new(ish) poetry journal that I admire. I came across it last fall and fell in love with a poem by Oliver de la Paz. I was also fascinated that this is an international journal. In the editor's preface last spring, Patty Paine, spoke about needing to build community in Qatar, the somewhat isolated country in the Arabian Gulf where Diode is produced.

I have never been to Qatar, nor the Arabian Gulf; yet I feel real kinship with the work in this journal - which should be stated, is mostly American work. In this new issue it is the Romanian poet whose poem moves me the most: Mihail Galatanu.

In view of full disclosure and a little self-indulgence, I will also post my poem in the current issue of Diode here. It is a poem dedicated to my good friend, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon. The House of Sky is both a line from Anna Akhmatova and the name of my writing studio.

The 4 ‘0’ Clock News @ House of Sky

In the beginning we wanted
to cast ourselves
as opera stars, to break apart
like gorgeous women
palm reading at the piano bar ~
music stinging like salt from the sea.
We were spiraling ridges, dust-darlings
and dangerous.
We were peonies ~ cut
and arranged like astronauts
in flight. We soaked in syllables
not water; rode the Southern
drawl of the wind
over cobalt glass ~
backlit by a disc of sun.  


And in case I am not the only one who wanted to know the definition of Diode: In electronics, a diode is a two-terminal electronic component that conducts electric current in only one direction.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Poem by Elizabeth Bradfield from her new book, Approaching Ice

Polar Explorer Salomon August Andrée (1897)

O, terrible—silence over ice—
no panting dogs, no hissing runners,
no footfall to break it. Just the crack
and groan of its own awful straining
rising up.
You warm your hands at the flame
that lifts you. The balloon's silk
is a second sun, unsetting. You're always in its noon,
directly underneath its rippling light.
There's a red smear on one floe, white
bear loping away from the seal's meat.
There's a quick spout in a lead,
the whale's back there, gone.
When blizzards, no ground to fix
your boots to, just directionless swirl
and the compass' doubtful arrow.
Who else has breathed air this clear, crystals of it
hardening briefly in your lungs? Who else has so brightly
risen above the dangerous landscape?
And when you find that you are losing height,
when the earth calls you down to its own slogging,
when it's been decided that you've traveled long enough
as ghosts, silent and apart, you know
some disaster of hunger and cold awaits
                   —your bones' location to be a mystery for thirty years—
you know your limbs may no longer have the knack
of pulling, of recovery, of resistance, and you're glad anyway
to be mortal again, and stumbling.

Elizabeth Bradfield

Approaching Ice
Persea Books

Opportunity - An Invitation to Submit to Broadsided

This message came to me this week from Broadsided Press. I have a link to them under "Resources You Might Love" because I think the broadsides are gorgeous and the concept of using the internet to revive an old art is nothing short of brilliant. If you have a color printer, you can download the posters and give yourself a gallery of poetry and art for free. Even in black and white (which is what I have) they look lovely. I'll post one here for you to see. I've blogged on this once before, but this time there is an actual call out from the site.

We'd like to ask for your help:  do you know of a poet who might have work that would suit Broadsided?

We are looking for poems that are clear, smart, and not too esoteric -- and pretty short.
Please spread the word to writers whose work you admire and encourage them to submit work to us. Thanks again for being part of Broadsided.

Elizabeth Bradfield, Sean Hill, & Mark Temelko

PS: If you know anyone living in Alabama, Delaware, Hawaii, North Dakota, or Wyoming, let them know we need Vectors to post Broadsided in these states!  And heck, we can just use more Vectors anywhere.

:: <>  : :

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poet in the World - Thinking About Haiti Tonight

There is a simple phrase common in Palestine and echoed in one of my favorite films, Paradise Now when Said, the main character, asks "why us"? In the film's context, in the Middle East context, it is a philosophical question.

Tonight I think that question equally applies to the people of Haiti. In the 1990's I worked for Amnesty International and learned about the human rights nightmare of Baby Doc's regime. In Boston, where I lived at the time and where I'm from, there is a large Haitian population. One of the main issues at the time was the Haitian boat people - we worked to show that the people who risked their lives on rickety motor boats with homemade engines were refugees. I worked with a woman whose father had been killed by the government because he spoke out after his friend disappeared. The woman who I worked with had found her father's body left on the doorstep the morning of her 16th birthday. Within days, her mother had found a way to send all six children to the States because she feared for the family.

And today Haiti is in the news again. I am giving what I can (not much at this time of year) to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) because I still believe if everyone reached out, we could make a difference. MSF is an organization I believe in because I have seen their work in Africa and they have been in Haiti for a long time. Some of their staff are missing. Everyone has someone missing. It's times like this that being a poet just doesn't seem enough.

In my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue, I published a poem titled "Haiti" dedicated to my friend who lost her father. I will quote just a stanza of it here.

There are no words to remember
No beginning or end to this day.
Her mother puts them on the boat
nodding good-bye from the dock,
I will join you.
The girl wonders when they became flecks
of glass, bits of color thrown out to sea.


Think about giving a donation tonight - even if it's the equivalent of a latte or a lunch out. Not only is it the right thing to do, it feels good. Here's the link to the latest information from Doctors Without Borders.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Rock Star Photo of My Writing Space

Since I likely will not get the time to write in this space today, I thought I would send one more glamor shot of my desk - which was a 1950's tiki bar. The furniture in the space was already in the garage-as-storage-space. One good aspect of not throwing things out .

I would love to hear from others who have also made the decision to create a designated writing space. One thought - does it make a difference if the space is not in your house? Could it make you write less if you have to go somewhere other than your kitchen table?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Writer's Life - Where We Do What We Do Best

This is the view from my garage; this is the view from my House of Sky. Two summers ago, with the support of a poet friend, I renovated my one car garage into my writer's studio. It is the best decision I've made in a long while. After almost twenty (gasp!) years of writing and publishing poetry, I decided to allow myself a designated writing space. Why did it take me so long?

There are several wild and perhaps helpful aspects of the story I want to share with anyone contemplating their own writing space.

1. It changed my writing. Yes, if I was going to spend money and time to create this magical area, I needed to write better. At least that's what I think happened. The poems I write in this space are palpably different. I seem able to go deeper into my work in this place away from time and space.

2. Renovating the garage - hiring people to insulate the roof and walls, finish the window frames, paint (inside and outside) and put in a gorgeous tile floor was cheaper than getting a small part of the garden landscaped. Really. The entire renovation was under $5,000. Most of this was paid for with a writing award.

3. When I started talking to friends, I found out that many writers have a shed or a garage or some small space away from their house where they write. If we have a room especially for sleeping or eating, why not a room especially for poetry?

4. Saying yes to a writing space was a way of more deeply committing to poetry. There were so many voices in my head that said I wasn't worth such a splurge; that my writing doesn't pay the bills or make me famous. What if I gave up writing and started scuba diving next week. Then what?
The truth is that I feel like I have finally made a life-long commitment to my work. Finally.

5. I had never ever done a house renovation project before. I used Angi's List as a way to feel comfortable with hiring folks and all but one were fantastic. I made changes on how I wanted it to look as I went along. 1/4 of the space is walled off and used for storage. The lovely blue door you see leads to bicycles and garden tools, my sixth grade scrapbook. It was good to leave a little part as it was so I can see how transformation is a real thing.

6. It's still a garage. I purposefully left the gray cement along the bottom of the walls and the electric garage door opener is still in place. I didn't want to get too high and mighty about it all. This magical space is only as good as I make it - and that means writing more and aiming higher.

7. Do you have an old garage with good light? What deserves it more - your car or your writing?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Opportunity - Submit to Guest Editor's Portfolio - We Begin with the Visual

We begin with the visual. Ekphrastic poetry is a response in words to a painting, photograph, dance, building, sculpture, Ikea catalog, child’s drawing, or bumper sticker. An ekphrastic poem begins with inspiration from another piece of art and with the intuitive understanding that art begets art. In a sense, the art object becomes the rough draft of the poem. Crab Creek Review has been gracious enough to allow me the pleasure of putting together a Guest Editor's Portfolio of ekphrastic poems to be published Fall, 2010. Please be so kind as to send your 30-line (or less) poems (3-5 at the most, please) to me anytime between now and  June 1st. Crab Creek Review states that "literary alchemy is what we're after." Now that's my kind of journal.  

Please write your name and title of the submission in the subject line and then send your previously unpublished poems in the body of an email (we will worry about exact formatting later) to me, Susan Rich right here! It's going to be a blast!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Opportunity ~ Call for Submissions

Extended Deadlines on Persona Poems--

Call for Submissions

Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz are pleased to announce a call for submissions for A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry.

We are seeking poems that work within the literary tradition of persona poetry: poems written as dramatic monologues, whose speakers employ masks, or whose character and voice are different from the poet's own.

Please submit up to 5 unpublished poems. We will also consider poems whose rights have reverted back to the author.

All submissions will be accepted electronically. Please send an email to the editors at with the poet's name and "Submission for Persona Anthology" as the subject line, with the poems as an attachment.

The submission deadline has been extended to February 15th. We (they!) look forward to reading your work!

This from Kelli Russell Agodon's blog, The Book of Kells

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Photograph that Seduced Me


"Hunger is the Best Cook," by Myra Albert Wiggins, is the photograph that pulled me heart first  into ekphrasis. Wiggins was part of the Pioneer Women Photographers shown at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle several years ago. At the time, I believed I was looking at a painting and didn't understand that Wiggins had created this scene by dressing her daughter in an old Dutch costume. Even the panes on the window are merely props - a little bit of black construction paper. The table? Built by Ms. Wiggins for the shoot.

I can't explain what drew me to this image. Why did  I return to the museum three years after the show had left?  How did I manage to track down the exhibition catalogue (with the guidance of the gift shop cashier) so I could learn everything I could about this photographer? Who knew she  would turn out to be a photographer, painter, poet, and world traveler?

Today I was writing to another poet who is skeptical of ekphrais - as I was before finding this image. Since then I have written a series of poems on the photographs, paintings, and life of this artist, Myra Albert  Wiggins. Honestly, I think what has kept me interested in the project is how many different ideas become braided together in the poems. I can draw on the image itself, the photographer's perspective, and my own entirely imagined ideas about the subject, the story. One of the reasons I write, and I know I am not alone on this, is to extend my world view.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thinking of Poetry Born of Image

I am a one trick pony these days; my poetic imagination seems more and more linked to image. I like the idea of the visual as a rough draft, something that needs translation by the poet in order to be fully alive. I'm under no illusion that the painting needs a poem, only that the poem adds a new dimension, allows for a quality of understanding that the painting alone does not fully hold. I keep returning to the fact that architecture students in ancient Greece needed to write poems about the buildings they studied right alongside their sketches. Their professors knew that the students would apprehend something different in the writing about the great buildings than they could by drawing them or learning their history.

My favorite essay on ekphrasis is by Terry Blackhawk, "Ekphrastic Poetry: Entering and Giving Voice to Works of Art." It is the opening essay in the anthology, Third Mind: Creative Writing Through Visual Art edited by Tonya Foster and Kristin Prevallet. In this piece she links ideas of apprehending art to both the visual and the literal. We enter and become the poem or the painting; we change the vision by looking and looking again, each time gaining a different perspective on the poem, on the photograph.

In the past, I was wildly skeptical of ekphrastic poetry. The poems produced often seemed stuffy and wooden. Why not use your own imagination, I wondered, instead of usurping someone else's art? Maybe it's because I am more interested in a more universal, multi-dimensional art than I used to be, or maybe it's because I realize there are some images that haunt me that I am more interested in collaborating with a photographer or a sculptor from across time or countries.

If anyone has a favorite essay on this subject or a favorite exphrastic poem - I'd love to hear from you. I'm especially interested in contemporary ekphrasis that may come from a bumper sticker or a movie still.

A Favorite Ekphrastic Poem for the New Year


 Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Anna Akhmatova - My Winter Poet

I have borrowed the idea from Carolyn Forche to read one really important poet each season. The idea is to immerse oneself in the poems, life, criticism, and context of the times. My bedside table is covered in different translations of the poet's work. My winter poet, the poet of my grandparents country, the poet who I've been drawn to for  such a long time is Anna Akhmatova.  The Poems of Akhmatova translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward is my favorite book thus far. It also seems to be available on Google books.  I'm also reading two of the biographies. For now, let me just post this one poem. The poet is in her fifties at this point...

"This Cruel Age Has Deflected Me ..."

This cruel age has deflected me,
like a river from its course.
Strayed from its familiar shores,
my changeling life has flowed
into a sister channel.
How many spectacles I've missed:
the curtain rising without me ,
and falling too. How many friends
I never had the chance to meet.
Here in the only city I can claim,
where I could sleepwalk and not lose my way;
how many foreign skylines can I dream,
not to be witnessed though my tears.
And how many verses have I failed to write!
Their secret chorus stalks me
close behind.One day, perhaps,
they'll strangle me.
I know beginnings, I know endings, too,
and, life-in-death, and something else
I'd rather not recall just now.
And a certain woman
has usurped my place
and bears my rightful name,
leaving a nickname for my use,
with which I've done the best I could.
The grave I go to will not be my own.
But if I could step outside myself
and contemplate the person that I am,
I should know at last what envy is.

---- Leningrad, 1944

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review in Miniature - Forgetting English


I decided to begin 2010 doing exactly what I wanted.This morning instead of jumping out of bed to start the day, I allowed myself to indulge in a few more stories from Forgetting English, this stellar debut collection by Midge Raymond.  Each story takes place in a different location: Tonga, Japan, Tanzania, and Taiwan, to name but a few. I could stay in bed and still travel around the world. A perfect day.

Midge Raymond writes in such a way as to keep me utterly engaged. The stories are character driven in that the psychological complexities of the women (and so far, the protagonists are all women)  propel the narrative forward, but the intricacies of the plot are expertly constructed on a lyrical scaffold. One of my favorites "Rest of World" tells the story of a woman executive traveling from country to country, firing employees as she comes to terms with her husband's infidelity. In each hotel room she can slip on the identity of the last occupant or pick-up phone messages meant for another guest. It is only after I finished reading the story that I realized the woman was never named.

Do short stories operate in a way like poems? I am drawn to the metaphorical level of each of these pieces. In "The Ecstatic Cry" which takes place in Antarctica, humans and penguins are examined side by side, each somehow elevated by the comparison. Always the stories are nuanced and exist on multiple levels. I've saved one story for tonight; this is a book I don't want to finish. However, I know Forgetting English is a book that I'll be returning to again.

If you are a poet, if you are a traveler, if you are a person who loves powerful writing, treat yourself to a copy for the start of a new year. Forgetting English will not disappoint, but it will make you want to travel - or stay the day in bed.