Friday, April 30, 2010

Poet in the World: Tonight at Village Books, Bellingham, WA

I am reading tonight at Village Books in Bellingham, WA Are you in driving distance to this lovely bookshop? If yes, then come see me try to pull off something totally new -- a poetry reading by powerpoint. I was asked by the book savvy Nan Macey to supply the art work of Myra Albert Wiggins to accompany the poems I have written about her photography, paintings and life ... The thing is, this is only my third powerpoint -- and my first poetry reading with visuals. Wish me luck -- or better yet -- come join us tonight @ 7:00 PM, 1200 Eleventh Street, Bellingham.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Favorite Poem for Thursday


In and out, behind, across
The formal gesture binds the cloth.
The sitchery's a surgeon's rhyme,
a Chinese stamp, a pantomine

of print. Then spoor. Then trail of red.
Scabs rise, stigmata from the thread.
A cotton chronicle congealed.
A historgram of welts and weals.

The woman plies her ancient part.
Her needle sutures as it darts,
scoring, scripting, scarring, stitching
the invisible mending of the heart.

Ingrid de Kok

I discovered the poems of Ingrid de Kok when I was planning a Fulbright to South Africa in 1996. Ingrid's work and her friendship became the core of my work in South Africa. This poem, "Mending," is perhaps my favorite. The echoes of Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" seem present here as well as the blending of a personal history with a national fabric that had been torn. More than anything else, it is the music of the piece I love, the "feminine" rhymes of "across" and "cloth." And the final line -- assaults me every time. Ingrid's work is now available in the United States in a collection entitled, Seasonal Fires.

This Week's Poem: LineBreak

How to create the visual image of a line break? My blogging skills are such that I couldn't figure out how to capture the logo of the weekly journal LineBreak where my poem Letter to M is featured this week. Instead, I opted for the curve of a wave, the veins on a leaf, and a wing span across the sky --- and a microscope? To show the lines ever more clearly to the viewer.

I've had a crush on the on-line journal / email LineBreak for awhile --- for its simple idea, auditory addition, and clear visuals. What I didn't realize was how many friends would email me this morning that my poem appeared in their in-boxes. LineBreak gets around -- from Seattle to Little Rock. My favorite feature is hearing my poem read in another person's voice. I don't know David Shattuck, but I like his voice -- and I like the way he honors the poem by reading it as I'd hoped it would be read.

Thank you, LineBreak!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writer in the World: Cultivate Poet Friends as in the Amazing Kelly Agodon

My dear friend, the stellar poet Kelli Russell Agodon (whose new book Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room won the White Pine Press Prize and will be out in October) took photographs of the lauch and the party so you can participate virtually in the day. Kelli also created a photo essay of the event over at her blog, Book of Kells - if you want to see more photos.

The top photo is my favorite one -- signing books in a sunny window. What could be better? The one with the quote from Charles Olson is at the reading itself at Open Books: A Poem Emporium. Kelli is one of the most generous and amazing poets I know. She encourages me to push for new experiences (like throwing balls at poetry readings -- my pitch only made it to about the fourth row) and she's genuinely excited to share in my good news. It is a karmic blessing that we have books coming out within six months of each other and that soon I can turn my attention to photographing her event. I only hope I can be as strong a poet friend for her as she continually is for me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

10 Things I Learned About Giving Poetry Readings ...

I am still flying high from yesterday's book launch. Thank you to everyone who came out and filled Open Books with laughter, excitement, and good will. I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful day. Although every moment felt other worldly and magical, I know that a great deal of planning went into each aspect of the afternoon. Here, in no particular order, is what I learned.

1. People like to laugh. I wanted my friends and family to have a good time. Since many of my poems deal with heartbreak and aging, this is not a simple task. How to strike the balance between play and profundity? I made sure to include a few lighter poems. I spaced them in-between more somber ones.

2. Make it inter-active. This was my first reading for The Alchemist's Kitchen so I wanted a party-like atmosphere. Since this was also the Broadsided Post-a-Thon weekend, I printed up broadsides of one of my poems and before I began my reading I had everyone hold up their colorful copy. This brought everyone together in a communal effort. I took a photo of the group and have submitted it to the contest. I promised to let everyone know if I won.

3. Read at a pace slower than you are used to reading. I re-learned this listening to Katherine Whitcomb's reading last week. Poetry lives in the air; let it linger there so others can take it in, apprehend it. Nerves will push you to speed up, practice reading slowly and clearly. Listening to poetry takes effort by your audience; you can help them by slowing down the lines.

4. Pay tribute to your community. I spent the first few minutes thanking my sisters for flying in from San Fransisco for the day, John and Christine - the awesome owners of Open Books, my South Grand Street Poets, COPR's (Community of Poetry Readers) and fellow BooklLift members for supporting me. I am deeply thankful for my poetry community.

5. Give prizes! Okay, I only really gave one prize. My final poem, "Letter to the End of  the Year"  has a line about throwing a ball and so I warned everyone beforehand that I would be throwing a ball into the audience and that the recipient of the ball should see me afterwords . The prize: a limited edition broadside produced by Joe Green of peasandcuespress went to Martha Solano. A lovely final moment to the reading.

6. Lavender chocolate. Yes, that's right. Everyone received a piece of lavender chocolate (again, associated with a particular poem "Curating My Death") to eat, on cue, when lavender chocolate appeared in the poem. The backstory: three days before my reading, I'd emailed Christine to ask her about creative ideas for my reading. She gave me a lovely list of what other poets had done (sung songs, showed movies, played tapes) and ended her email with "anything but chocolate." And in that moment, handing out chocolate became the thing I most wanted to do.

7. Practice, practice, practice. I spent hours deciding on which poems to read and in what order. I read the work aloud over  and over so my mouth would know what to do. I wrote out page numbers and marked pages in the book so I would be able to move with some fluidity through the pages. I was so nervous that often I had to read my notes 2 or 3 times to find the page numbers. I had confidence that everything I needed was in those pages because I had gone over it so many times.

8. Provide visuals. Since the middle section of my book is based on the photographs, paintings, and imagined life of Myra Albert Wiggins, I wanted the audience to be able to visualize some of her work. I don't own a projector so instead I downloaded an image off the internet, printed up 40 copies, and glued each copy to a postcard. A number of people told me it was really helpful to have the image in front of them when I read the poem.

9. Make the event your own. I know giving out chocolate and prizes isn't right for everyone or for every book, but it worked for me, for this book. Doing something outside the box, something that people would enjoy and perhaps remember, was important to me. It took extra work but it was well worth it to make the day my own.

10. Your cool idea goes here. I went to many events to study what other poets and writers do to make their events successful. One other thing I learned: bookend your reading by starting and ending with strong, clear, powerful work. And share ideas: let me know what you've done that's succeeded or what reading you attended that stays in your mind as a great one.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

See you there ...

Ready or not ... I will be here @ 3:00 PM for the book launch of The Alchemist's Kitchen. I've chosen poems, read them out loud, written out notes, bought a cake ... now all that's missing is you. See you there!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Writer in the World: Broadsided Post-a-Thon This Weekend

I love the folks at Broadsided: Elizabeth Bradfield and Sean Hill -- among others. This weekend is their first ever Broadsided Post-a-Thon. To encourage you to download a broadside (there are over 50 to choose from) they are offering prizes in a number of cool categories. My favorite is -- a photo of someone reading a broadside or maybe "Editor's Choice" for a photo that defies categorization. This photo above seems destined only for the postman - unless the vector (that's the name for a person that posts broadsides in their town) entertains  a lot of daytime visitors.  It's such a San Francisco postbox isn't it? I'll be doing my own creative "vectorization" this weekend. Won't you join me?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Writer's Life: Counting Down to the Book Launch - 2 Days!

There is so much to do! Today I started to panic because I have yet to plan my reading. Note to self: plan your reading as soon as you wake up so that you can stop stressing about not having done it. However;  late this afternoon I did manage to figure out a cool "outside the box" "thing" to do at my reading. No dancing on tables, no baying like a lone wolf, but something a little out of the ordinary.

I asked the wonderful Christine and John, owners of Open Books for different ways other poets have made their time at the podium a day to remember. Christine wrote that one poet sang his poems (you don't want me to try that - I promise) and someone else showed short movies, another poet played recordings of Pablo Neruda and Paul Celan. Then Christine wrote "I would draw the line at X" and that is of course what I immediately needed to incorporate into my reading: X!

All I can say at this point is that X is not X-rated. Doing this involved airplanes and overnight service. Have I teased you enough? All I can say now is: See you at Open Books, Sunday @ 3:00 pm.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Requesting the Pleasure of Your Company - This Sunday @ 3:00 PM

Okay, it's no longer 1879 and I am not Mr. Cyrus Field of the cable company. However, I do want to invite you --- in a tasteful style -- to join me for the first reading of The Alchemist's Kitchen, this Sunday, 3:00 PM, at Open Books in Seattle. It's a long walk to publication - and I'm still in a little denial that the book is really here on the desk next to me, by my sofa in the living room, and available on the bedside table. It just doesn't seem real yet. I'm hoping that if you come celebrate with me (cake and ice cream directly following the reading!) then it will all somehow become true. It's been ten years since I moved to Seattle and published my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World. Ten years in the same neighborhood, the same job. and the same cats has allowed my imagination to fly. Seattle has one of the most positive and welcoming literary communities in the country. Thank you for taking me in when I was brand new to the city; thank you John and Christine; Peter, Rick, and Karen for all that you do. Thank you to South Grand Poets, Booklifters, and COPR's. Thank you 4 Culture, Artists Trust, and CityArtists. Thank you White Pine Press. And thank you in advance to all of you who come out Sunday to celebrate!

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 Star Citizen-Poet: Kathleen Flenniken

This week's 5 Star Citizen Award goes to Seattle's own Kathleen Flenniken. Kathleen is the author of Famous, winner of the Prairie Schooner Award. In addition to being a stellar poet, Kathleen is also involved in teaching, editing, and nurturing the Washington State poetry scene. As president of Floating Bridge Press, Kathleen works with three other dedicated editors to produce an archival quality chapbook each year along with the Floating Bridge Review. A long time poet in the school, Kathleen works with 3rd through 5th graders, opening them up to a world of poetry. However, it is for her new manuscript, Atomic City, that Kathleen receives this prize. The poems in Atomic City tell the story of Kathleen growing up in Eastern Washington where her father worked at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Later, as a trained engineer, Kathleen also worked here. The collection is superb in its multifaceted approach to the complexities of growing up among tales of patriotism and deceit - both in mythic proportion. Flenniken has spent years researching the history (and present day) of Hanford. Atomic City has been called "a lover's quarrel with her country." Kathleen reads Thursday at Ballard Library, May 13th @ 6:00 PM.


Tonight blame Kiri Te Kanawa
infusing the kitchen with her aria,
blame the mixed bouquet of basil
and flayed tomatoes and onions
and one expansive high note blooming
like a rose in fast-frame.
Here in the audience,
even in middle age, a little voice sings
from the back of the auditorium
of my throat. Aren’t all of us
waiting to be discovered?
Men and women enter the grand halls
of regional sales meetings
pressing nametags to dresses and ties.
I have been one of those
entering hopefully, conducting
delicate exchanges in hotel rooms.
I have called those pale disclosures
my life. Blame the cheap seats
we bought in the balcony.
We barely hear the little cogs
in our own hearts. Mozart, they say,
heard entire operas in a moment--
second violins, a glaze of harp,
heroic voices in the chorus all
clamoring to be realized
at once. My genius may be small,
but sometimes truth rolls right at me
like a hard head of cabbage
and I see myself that suddenly,
draining the pasta.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thank you Jama Rattigan @ Alphabet Soup

Awhile ago, by accident,  I came across a website that had posted my poem, "A Poem for Will Baking." I loved the site immediately! Jama Ratigan's blog brings together two of my passions: good poetry and good food. I thanked Jana for posting my poem and before I knew it, she had decided to participate in the Poetry Book Giveaway. Each week she posts guest poets and at the end of the month she will give away a copy of The Alchemist's Kitchen and a copy of an anthology of poems and recipes combined. This week, Jana featured my poem "Chanterelle" and my favorite recipe using chanterelles. How cool is that? Jana also has a wonderful eye for gorgeous photographs of food. If like me, you are as fond of food as of poetry, I suggest a visit to Alphabet Soup. Thank you, Jama!

The Writer's Life: Spokane's GetLit! Festival

How not to love Spokane, a city where the garbage eating goat is a main tourist attraction? Gifted to the city by the Women's Association of Realtors in 1974, this goat sucks ice cream wrappers and greasy paper plates from children's hands: an object lesson in trash disposal. But this is only one of the odd and lovely gifts this city has to offer. More key to my weekend here has been the GetLit Festival organized by the amazing Dani Ringwald. I've thoroughly enjoyed the different writers I've heard such as Greg Dunne, Timothy Kelly, and Jesse Walters. I'll miss breakfasts relaxing in the opulence of the Davenport Hotel Lobby and evening events at the Bing Crosby Theater (Spokane is the birthplace of Bing Crosby). Most of all, I'll miss the sense that I am here as my best self: a writer in the world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Alchemist's Kitchen Travels Over to The Love of Place

Thank you to my friend Sharman Apt Russell who has posted two poems from The Alchemist's Kitchen at her blog, the Love of Place. Sharman and I met when I taught in the Antioch MFA program in LA. Sharman lives in New Mexico and is the author of Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist. Other books of hers that I love are Anatomy of a Rose and Hunger: An Unnatural History. Thank you Sharman for posting (and typing up) two poems from The Alchemist's Kitchen that are for the first time on the internet.    P.S. The photograph was listed under "Kitchen Alchemy."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Writers Life: Doing the Author Interview

Over the last three nights since returning from AWP, I've been working on interview questions sent to me by the fiction writer, Midge Raymond, for her blog Living the Writer's Life, at the Seattle PI. Tonight, minutes after I finished the last question and emailed it to Midge, she posted it and the interview is now live - right here if you want to take a look.

The new sense of time - internet style -- still leaves me in awe. If I were to write something for a print journal, the time from my desk to publication could easily be six months to a year. Maybe longer. And for me, this has been the year when I realize I'm now part of this new time zone. A few months ago an editor emailed me asking for poems. I was on-line so I sent some poems his way. Ten minutes later, I got an acceptance. My point is that even in the world of poetry, events are speeding up. I wonder, with some trepidation, what it means for the writing of poetry -- something that I don't believe should be hurried. But I digress ...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

5 Star Citizen-Poet: Elizabeth Bradfield

I was happy to see this 5 Star Citizen-Poet at AWP this year. In fact, it was two years ago at AWP in New York that I met Elizabeth Bradfield by the Red Hen Press table. Eloise introduced us and in the throngs of the book fair we smiled and shook hands. Since then I have become a huge fan of Liz's poetry and her approach to the poetry community . Founder of Broadsided Press, Liz came up with the idea and created the web site while she was living in Alaska and craved an extended life of poetry. The marrying of the internet with the old "technology" of broadsides that traditionally hung in the village square is nothing short of brilliant.

Pelagic poetry is another of Liz's projects where she or anyone with a yahoo address can post a knockout poem. The idea here being that poets want to share great poems and appreciate something lyrical in their in-box. Finally, it is Liz's generosity of spirit that earns her 5 Star Poet Citizen status. At a reading in Seattle last summer (Liz makes her home in Massachusetts, although she is originally from Washington State) Liz shared the stage at Elliott Bay Book Company with poet Sean Hill. The two poets began by introducing each other, mentioning (with prepared statements)  what they admired about each others' work. Each then read a favorite poem of their friend's. Immediately, we as audience members, were welcomed into their friendship and the room filled with the positive energy that arises when close friends come together.

What are the elements that provide someone with 5 Star Citizen-Poet status? 

She or he must nurture the poetry community and extend their energy beyond their own career.

They possess a generosity of spirit that infuses their activism with creativity and risk.

Their poems move beyond the limits of the lone individual and indirectly change the world.

Here is one of my favorite of  Bradfield's from her newest collection, Approaching Ice, Persea Books

The Third Reich Claims Neu Schwabenland — 1939

Ice is not land, so how to claim it? How to mark it owned
without thatched roofs, artifacts from conquered tribes, quaint
yeomen tilling non-native crops on the annexed shore?
The planes Passat and Boreas were catapulted
from the chill deck of the Schwabenland
into the frigid, uncharted air
to fly across the ice (one-fifth
of the continent) and photograph it (11,000 pictures),
to drop their aluminum darts
tattooed with a crooked cross
every twenty miles into what they saw
as if they could fix it, as if
they could pin it fast
and point to it as theirs
here here
anchorages rich with whale oil,
space on the map of the world
now called Neu Schwabenland.
On the shelf: skull of a fox, abalone shell,
bundle of porcupine quills—my mnemonics
of travel, of what I have discovered.
I buy star BD-03-5750 online
and name it Incognita. There’s a certificate
that comes in the mail, a mythology, a map.
Is this dog mine? She has begun,
some nights, to growl, low and defiant,
when I move her from the couch, hers.
If my lover leaves me, what will become
of our photographs and stories,
who will keep the dog?
I claim the lips of Barb Burzynski
that night in the woods on Vashon before
I knew that she was married.

Ice is not land. Is restless. And what was claimed
has moved, is inching toward sea,
has maybe broken off,
calved from the frozen edge, and now trails
its dust and shit and egg shards and abandoned fuel tins,
trails what stories it held
through the ocean’s haloclines
and thermoclines, its pelagic and benthic layers,
scattering them across its sea floor.
Maybe by now one of the marked aluminum darts
tall as an emperor penguin and
dropped dropped dropped
let loose in calculated transects then
stumbled over, perched on, nested under, scoured
by wind, maybe scoured of its markings,
thin and pocked, maybe it is settling
beneath miles of water, is crumpling,
declarative not of claim, but of time.

Elizabeth Bradfield
"The Third Reich Claims Neu Schwabenland — 1939" first appeared in Field, Fall 2004, No. 71.

The Writer's Life: A Few of My Favorite Things at AWP; Briefly

This was my fifth time attending AWP and the first time I can honestly say  I loved it. Here, in no particular order are some of my favorite moments:

1. Poets on TV. My first night in Denver I arrived at the hotel around 9 pm - a tad too late and too tired to meet up with friends. Instead I retreated to my wonderful room and leafed through my roommate, Lana's AWP schedule. I clicked on the TV only to find a Hyett poetry only channel. I watched Mark Doty, Linda Pastan, and Naomi Shihab Nye perform favorites at the Dodge Festival; I watched Emily Dickinson's poetry in newly made animation, and Marie Howe read from her New York City apartment. What an amazing world it would be if we could click on the TV and find poets there to entertain us. Thank you who ever decided to run an hour long loop of poets for the conference. This started everything off on the right note: poetry matters.

2. Shameless Self Promotion. No, this is not what I engaged in -- at least I really hope not! It is the name of a fantastic panel conducted by Margaret Hasse, Todd Boss and two other Minneapolis area writers. Their session deserves a whole post of its own -- but for now let me just say two things I learned that have stayed inside my head. "If you gauge the success of your effort by book sales you are bound to be disappointed" (the panel included fiction and non-fiction writers, too). And the corollary to that statement, "Do what feeds you." I also loved that Todd Boss went to his favorite independent coffee shop and spoke to the owner "You have great coffee. Can I be the Poet Laureate of the coffee shop?" The takeaway idea: find your constituency.

3. Leaving a lipstick kiss on Oliver's cheek.  Catching up with some friends and making new ones is the point here. I ran into Stacey Brown, Brian Turner, and Oliver de la Paz in the book fair on Friday morning. In the course of five minutes we bumped into each other by chance. This may be my absolutely favorite part of AWP - happy accidents. I got to see Stacey's face as she hugged Brian tight - having not seen him in some time. I got to meet many people that I only knew from their blogs and from Facebook. I got to feel more connected to the world and proud of the tribe of poets that I claim as my own. They are generous, they are talented, and their spirit is alive and well.

4. White Pine Press book signing. Honestly, I'd been dreading this part. Would anyone come by? Last week, Dennis gently told me to tell my friends about the signing and he hinted (very kindly) that I should not expect long lines. There are literally half a dozen things going on at AWP at one time that I want to be at -- and I know that holds true for others. Seattle friends see me all the time, I knew they wouldn't be by and I understood. And yet, people did come! Mary Brown, my old student from Antioch, Tim Mayo a poet from Vermont that I'd never met, and Susan Elbe and Sandy Longhorn from the blogosphere all came by and bought books, too! By the end of the conference, Dennis had sold out of The Alchemist's Kitchen! Okay -- he was wise enough to not ship a container full -- but still!

So what did I learn? Why was this time so much better than past years? My great roommate the poet Lana Ayers and I could debrief each night about our day (have a roommate!), set a schedule of the sessions you want to go to before the conference begins, and leave yourself open to happy accidents. Most of all, I relaxed and was more comfortable in my skin this time. This is my tribe and I am glad to be here at this moment in time - poetry is alive and well -- at least in Denver!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Homeward Bound: Happy, Tired, Thoughtful

I love this image. This sense of what the world above Denver - Seattle looks like. It's early morning and I am not really awake. Somehow I've found B29 and am ready to board the plane and start reading some of the books I've bought at the conference. This is my fifth time attending AWP and by far the best experience. Everything from great panels, old friends, new books, and a wonderful roommate contributed to this confluence of grace and ease. There are several things I've learned about what makes a healthy AWP experience -- some of it to do with April sunlight and other issues that I had more control over. One thing I know: I will be back next year!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A New Kind of Travel - AWP in Denver

Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? I'm off to the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Denver, Colorado where there are stories of snow storms expected and hail storms that recently  happened. I think all will be well once I arrive and see old friends, meet up with White Pine Press, listen to some smart people talk about poetry, and sign books Thursday, @ 3:00 PM in Hall A, Row L. And if it's not too much to ask: I hope to meet some new people, to not  eat meals alone, and perhaps get to see a little bit of Denver. My friends Allen Braden and Lana Ayers are reading Wednesday night at the Mercury Cafe. Perhaps I will see you there!

And that first line? It's from Elizabeth Bishop's "Questions of Travel," one of my favorite poems.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

5 Star Citizen-Poet: Ilya Kaminsky

A few years ago I heard a rumor about this amazing Russian poet that was driving up the west coast through the Pacific Northwest looking for coffee houses to read in and staying wherever he could find a couch. This kid, twenty-seven at the time, turned out to be Ilya Kaminsky -- now a renowned international poet and Lannan Foundation fellowship winner. His book Dancing in Odessa won the Dorset Prize, chosen by Eleanor Wilner. There's much more to say about his gorgeous poems, but that's not what makes him a 5 Star Citizen-Poet. Here are a few of the things that make him so deserving: Ilya co-founded Poets for Peace in response to the Bosnian war setting up poetry readings around the Bay Area. In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, Ilya worked with poets across the country to organize benefit readings for the families of those affected. For many years, Ilya worked as a lawyer defending the rights of migrant workers until the Bush administration pulled the funding on his office. Today Ilya teaches at San Diego State and is editor-in-chief and poetry editor of Poetry International.

And as with the other 5 Stat Citizen-Poets, it's not about the bio. Ilya eats and drinks poetry and that includes creating an ever growing and flourishing poetry tribe around him. His generosity towards his students and towards his friends is all accomplished with an easygoing attitude that belies his kindness. One poet has called Ilya Kaminsky a "gentle genius" but I prefer 5 Star Citizen-Poet and dear friend.

That Map of Bone and Opened Valves

For B. T.
That was the summer we damned only the earth.
That was the summer strange helicopters circled.
We examined each others ears, we spoke with our hands in the air—
It is the air. Something in the air wants us too much.
On the second day
helicopters circle and our legs run
in the fever-milk of their own separate silences.
A sound we do not hear lifts the birds off the water where a woman
takes iron and fire in her mouth.
Her husband is trying to make
sense of her face, that map of bone and opened valves.
The earth is still.
The tower guards eat sandwiches.
On the third day
the soldiers examine ears
of bartenders, of accountants, of soldiers, you wouldn't know
the wicked things silence does to soldiers.
They tear Pasha's wife from her bed like a door off a bus.
On the sixth day, we damn only the earth.
My soul runs on two naked feet to hear Vasenka.
I no longer have words to complain
my God and I see nothing in the sky and stare up and
clearly I do not know why I am alive.
And we enter the city that used to be ours
past the theaters and gardens past wooden staircases and wrought
              iron gates
in the morning that puts ringing in our ears.
Be courageous, we say
but no one is courageous
As a sound we do not hear lifts the birds off the water.

From The Kenyon Review • Winter 2009 • Vol. XXXI • No. 1

Saturday, April 3, 2010

5 Star Citizen-Poet: Eloise Klein Healy

Eloise Klein Healy gets my first 5 Star rating as a citizen-poet. She has been my boss, my friend, my role model for the last fifteen years, but her work in the writing community goes back further than that. I first met Eloise at AWP in Atlanta in 1996. I was a graduate student presenting on the politics of the graduate MFA workshop. At the end of my presentation a woman in a black leather jacket approached me and gave me her card. "Keep in touch. " Eloise introduced herself and  said she was starting an MFA program. Starting a graduate program? Who did things like that? Who publishes six books of poetry, wins the Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Poetry Festival Competition, teaches in the Women's Building AND starts one of the first low residency MFA programs in the country? One where a translation seminar and internship are mandatory? Four years after I met Eloise in Atlanta we were on a panel together on the Women's Political Lyric in Kansas City and two years later she hired me to teach in her new MFA program. Today, Eloise is involved in two new ventures: Arktoi Books is her imprint at Red Hen Books specializing in the work of lesbian authors. She is also co-founder of ECO-ARTS, an ecotourism arts organization.


These are the days that must happen
to you, Mr. Whitman says.

And the nights passing in succession
like images on film --

old movie star moon
filling up each frame and then going into hiding.

People don't live long enough
to see the end

of their experiments.
At 24 frames a second it's soon over --

fireflies in the meadow,
games of children flickering in the park.

by Eloise Klein Healy, Passing,Red Hen Press, 2002

Over the next few weeks I will be featuring different 5 Star Citizen Poets - Poets who are talented in their own right but go out of their way to create opportunities for others. In honor of National Poetry Month I want to honor the people who extend the poetic community in innovative ways. Poets who understand that the word exists in an interconnected world.

A Poem for Saturday: "What You Want Most ..."

The Rules of Evidence

What you want to say most
is inadmissible.
Say it anyway.
Say it again.
What they tell you is irrelevant
can't be denied and will
eventually be heard.
Every question
is a leading question.
Ask it anyway, then expect
what you won't get.
There is no such thing
as the original
so you'll have to make do
with a reasonable facsimile.

The history of the world
is hearsay. Hear it.
The whole truth
is unspeakable
and nothing but the truth
is a lie.
I swear this.
My oath is a kiss
I swear
by everything

by Lee Robinson, from Hearsay, Fordham University Press, New York, 2004.

I just found this poem on my computer. It's in a file I keep called "Poems Not My Own" which often turn out to be poems to teach. I don't remember where I collected this poem from and I don't know who Lee Robinson is. Sometimes the magic of poetry is the unexpected. What I admire about this poem is the confident voice, the humor. My favorite line: "The history of the world / is hearsay." And how these seven words encompass an idea both playful and wise. Like all my favorite ideas.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Food Poem for Friday: Linda Pastan ~ Dedicated to Mary and Ruby

I've always wanted to write a poem about my regular weekend visits to the Haymarket in Boston with my father. For some reason I don't remember, it was a ritual for just the two of us. I'm old enough to remember a Boston that was depressed from the end of shipbuilding and not yet a technology mecca. Instinctively, I knew the two of us were visiting a magical world of the past. Fresh produce markets all but disappeared before they made their fashionable comeback -- at least in Boston. Here's Linda Pastan's poem Market Day. Pastan was the first poet I ever heard read her work. Sometime in the mid 1970's she visited Brookline High School and I've been an ardent fan of her work ever since.

Market Day

We have traveled all this way
to see the real France:
these trays of apricots and grapes spilled out
like semi-precious stones
for us to choose; a milky way
of cheeses whose name like planets
I forget; heraldic sole
displayed on ice, as if the fish
themselves had just escaped,
leaving their scaled armor behind.
There's nothing like this
anywhere, you say. And I see
Burnside Avenue in the Bronx, my mother

sending me for farmer cheese and lox:
the rounds of cheese grainy and white, pocked
like the surface of the moon;
the silken slices of smoked fish
lying in careful pleats; and always,
as here, sawdust under our feet
the color of sand brought in on our pants cuffs
from Sunday at the beach.
Across the street on benches,
my grandparents lifted their faces
to the sun the way the blind turn
towards a familiar sound, speaking
another language I almost understand.

~ Linda Pastan, Carnival Evening

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Writer's Life: Cool Quote, Great Photograph


                     The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.
                                                                              - Edwin Schlossberg

I found this quote tonight on Julie Lario's blog, Drift Record.  I just had to share it. This one sentence is what I try to teach my students to do in their essays and what I try to do in my poems, but I have never thought of it in just this way before. It's perfect.

Happy Month of Poetry - A Whirlwind Begins

The fun officially begins today. I will be doing many readings and workshops this month, but mostly I want to be reading new poems, meeting new poets, and celebrating the community that we are all part of. If you are reading The Alchemist's Kitchen Blog then you are part of the community! For this morning, I want to send out a reminder that there is a poetry book giveaway all over the internet. If you click on the image above you will go to Kelli Agodon's blog and you can see on the upper left corner a list of all participating blogs. If you are interested in Natasha Tretheway's Belloqs Ophelia (Graywolf Press) or The Alchemist's Kitchen (White Pine Press) then you are in the right spot and can click here to leave a posting and be entered. You do not need to have a blog to enter -- just an email address! Happy Poetry Month!