Saturday, July 31, 2010

Traveling the Web - Letters of Note - To Andy Warhol

I am a great fan of the eccentric and the odd. The web site Letters of Note shares my interest in the strange and the off beat. Each week they post a letter that they say "deserves a wider audience." I've read letters from Elvis Presley and from J.D. Salinger. David Bowie's answer to an American fan was especially sweet. And the idea that letters are now a memento mori of a distant past constantly surprises me. How many of us still write letters of the pen and paper variety? The printer and paper style? Letters of Note are sometimes hand written and sometimes not, but the original letter is always scanned into the site.

What is in your personal Letters of Note archive? I have lived in West Africa and Eastern Europe but I don't think I have the letters to show for it. There are shoe boxes of letters I received from my cousin in St. Louis when we were both teenagers. Some are written in circles on pie shaped stationary, others are penned in lime green or flaming pink. As many times as I start to toss them out, I can't get rid of them. My cousin was a rather dull recorder of dinners out and nights at the skating rink, but I remember the unmitigated joy with which I would retrieve each envelope from the box. This was news of the world. News beyond the confines of my town, my state, my region. Today an email comes to me from Turkey and although I am excited to hear from my friend,  I do not feel the same excitement as those messages from Missouri provided me with --- all those years past. Thank you, Letters of Note, for keeping the letter alive.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Poem Friday - One Art - Elizabeth Bishop

It's a grey morning and I need to get writing before the morning is gone. I've just found out that my AWP panel was not accepted. Bummer. The good news is that 2011 would have Elizabeth Bishop's 100th birthday and so there will be a birthday party for her in Washington DC. She is my touchstone poet, my travel poet, my poet who gave me permission to explore the world. I have taught her work in Seattle and in Cape Town, read her in odd airport hotels and in the House of Sky. Today I am in need of her company once again.

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Re-post from Kelli Russell Agodon's - Book of Kells - Literary Salon

Thank you, Kelli, for once again being the best photographer and best poetry friend a girl could have. Thank you Jan for sharing your home and your friends for a memorable evening of poetry. The following  is directly from Book of Kells.

The Beauty of Poetry Salons - Susan Rich reads in Port Townsend

Last Wednesday, I was invited to a Poetry Salon with Susan Rich. 

If you don't know what a poetry salon is, it's the new in-thing for poets.


Because poetry salons don't just offer poetry, but all the other things good things in life--good food, people who are interested in the arts, wine, a warm cozy environment (usually someone's home) and to me what feels like an up-close-and-personal evening with not just poems, but the poet as well.

What I like about poetry salons is that they invite a whole new group of people who wouldn't necessarily attend a poetry reading in a bookstore, but mixed with wine and food and a comfy place to sit, they are non-threatening to people who do not read poetry.

What I like about them is--

1)  The poet is around to talk with before and after the reading.

**** Susan chatted with guests before the reading for about an hour then read at 7:30 pm for about 30-35 minutes.

2)  They feel more intimate than a reading at a bookstore because it's in a home.

****I sat with friends on the sofa and snacked on Trader Joe's sesame-covered almonds.  That alone is worth having a reading outside a bookstore!

3)  They expand of the audience for poetry

****The host of the poetry salon invites his/her friends to this gathering.  It is a wonderful way to introduce poetry to people who aren't in the poetry community or who never buy books of poems.

4)  You can arrive with friends, but meet new people.

5)  The food, drink, and atmosphere.

****Really, poetry on this level, having it read to you while you are in someone's home makes it feel as if it's part of your essence and your life on another level.  It's sort of like hearing live music at a party, it brings you to a more inspired place.

Susan's reading was one of the best I heard.  People who have never heard poetry were responding to her poems--a huge compliment--and those of us who do read poetry recognized that this was one of those evenings that we could keep with us for a while.  This would be an evening we could return to when the washing machine broke, when we were stuck in traffic, when we felt disconnected from the artistic life, we could still say-- Remember that night, the vase of hydrangeas, the ginger cookies, and the poems filling the room?

Ah yes, we do.

It takes us back to a moment and ultimately, I believe that is what poetry is supposed to do.  The salons just get us in the mood a little more quickly and allow us to see poetry for the joy it is--not the job, career, work--but the joy of the spoken word and a group of strangers who gathered to listen.

Thank you Susan for a lovely evening.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading-in-Progress: A Little Party Dress

I am in love with this man --- or rather --- his words. We have never met. And yet, through his book A Little Party Dress, lyric essays by Christian Bobin, I feel I know him intimately -- the workings of his imagination as one pathway into his soul. All this from only the first 13 pages. I thought I would spend the afternoon devouring him, but now I am fearful that this slim volume will end.  How can such a regular looking man have written words such as these? (Know in advance that excerpts do not do justice to his stream-of-consciousness pulsing of language; the essays are continuous like a dream sequence and sound odd without all their fragments together.)

"Then you open the manuscript to the first page, absently you begin to read. When you look up again, the afternoon has vanished, there's no more daylight but night has not yet fallen, there's nothing left but this long expanse of calm -- like the slow risings of still water, an endless and luminous tide. Your thoughts stay in this calm space as if this were the best space to be, a place of freshness and light: your thoughts no longer impatient or troubled, they merely rest and mingle with what is there, seeking to go no farther. How can one describe this lightness?"    from A Story Nobody Wanted in the collection A Little Party Dress.

Thank you, Amy, reviewer extraordinaire, of The Black Sheep Dances for this tip. I am besotted.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Poems for a Quiet Morning - - - Finding the Way Home

Here are two poems from the anthology Finding the Way Home: Poems of Awakening and Transformation edited by Dennis Maloney of White Pine Press. The book is large in ideas, but small in physical size. Perfect for a summer trip. The collection includes poems from China, from Japan, and the United States. It spans a few centuries. In copying these poems out, I found wonderful information on Rengestu. A poet that (dare I admit) is new to me. Enjoy!

Mountains Falling Flowers

We accept the graceful falling
Of mountain cherry blossoms,
But it is much harder for us
To fall away from our own
Attachment to the world.

       -- Rengestu (translated by John Stevens)

Storm Deep in the Mountains

The roar awakens me from
A peaceful slumber
But then the fierce
Mountain wind blows away
All the dust in my heart.

     -- Rengestu (J.S.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Poet You Want to Know - Elizabeth Austen

Today marks a new project for this toddler blog. I want to start introducing poets whose work I admire and who I think deserve a larger audience. Elizabeth Austen is a Seattle-based poet who has just published her first chapbook, The Girl Who Goes Alone, with Floating Bridge Press. I first met Elizabeth when I moved to Seattle eleven years ago this summer and have been a fan of her work ever since. In addition to her own powerful poetry, Elizabeth also interviews poets for the Seattle NPR affiliate, KUOW. Recent interviews include Mark Doty, W.S. Merwin, and Elizabeth Bradfield. But this is a blog post dedicated to Elizabeth's work - my absolute favorite of her poems follows - and then a brief interview. I hope you enjoy. How could you not?

This Morning
                                    “Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?”
                                    – Roethke
It’s time. It’s almost too late.
Did you see the magnolia light its pink fires?
You could be your own, unknown self.
No one is keeping it from you.
The magnolia lights its pink fires
daffodils shed papery sheaths.
No one is keeping you from it—
your church of window, pen and morning.
Daffodils undress, shed papery sheaths—
gestures invisible to the eye.
In the church of window, pen and morning
what unfolds at frequencies we can’t see?
Gestures invisible to naked eye
the garden opens, an untranslatable book
written at a frequency we can’t see.
Not a psalm, exactly, but a segue.
The garden opens, an untranslatable book.
You can be your own unknown self—
not a psalm, but a segue.
It’s time.
Originally published in Pontoon 7: an anthology of Washington State Poets

~ ~ ~                            

SR  Many writers seem to collect quotes on writing. What is one of your favorite quotes on poetry or on the poet? Can you say a little about why these words speak to you?

EA  Stanley Kunitz said, “Out of our contradictions we build our harmonies.”  This statement is so packed with resonance. First, in its frank acknowledgement that we ARE full of contradictions, and second, in its assertion that these contradictions – which can cause friction in our personal lives, both internally and socially – are actually the crucial stuff out of which we make our songs. Our job is not to smooth them over, but to make something with them that is wholly our own.

I’ve been interested in opposites as a creative spur for a long time – they help me burrow deeper into subjects by pushing me beyond my initial (often safe) impulses. When I teach revision, I encourage writers to consider opposites, whether it be letting an oppositional voice enter the poem, writing a new poem to contradict the impulse of the first, or turning images inside out to find another, perhaps subconscious, dimension.

SR  I’m always intrigued how other poets balance making money with making poetry. How have you been able to lead an artists life and still pay the bills? Do you see ways in which the two sides of what you do are complimentary?  

EA I am extremely fortunate to have a part-time job in the Marketing and Communications Department at Seattle Children’s Hospital. I’ve worked there three days a week for more than a decade, and it gives me those essential luxuries like health insurance and a steady paycheck. But more importantly (from a soul perspective), the work I do there (writing feature stories for the donor magazine and Web content about subjects ranging from neonatology to pediatric cancer to biofeedback for migraine treatment) puts me in touch with smart, passionately committed people who are doing very tangible work to care for sick children. In the last couple of years, the separation between my life as a poet and my role at Children’s has blurred in a very positive way. I’ve always given colleagues poems and posted them on my cube, but a couple of years ago I started co-leading staff/faculty retreats with Mark Power, a Buddhist chaplain at Children’s. I also lead monthly “miniretreats” for the staff, where I choose a poet, read a few poems aloud, and then lead the group in a short journaling exercise in response to the poems. It feels great to offer these people who care for kids something nourishing and sustaining. In turn, hearing their stories connects me to our common human impulse to heal, to offer compassion.

SR The poet Stanley Kunitz wrote, “The first task of the poet is to create the person who will write the poems.” I love that quote because it declares that the poet must work on herself at the same time she works on the page. Over the years you’ve been writing, do you think that there’s been any discernable relationship between your development as a person and the development of your work?

EA That’s one of my favorite quotes, too; Kunitz has been a touchstone and mentor since I first read his work about a dozen years ago. That said, I find this an incredibly difficult question to answer. I think there’s a very clear relationship, but then, how can I have enough perspective to really tell?  

What I can tell you is that, as with most poets, my poems reflect my obsessions – the things I wrestle with in my poems matter to me in ways that I don’t really understand until I write the poem, and those things are evolving as I grow and change. The beginning of what I consider my writing life coincided, in 1997, with the sudden death of my oldest brother, Michael, and, not long after that, with meeting my husband, Eric. Looking back, I can see in my poems the evolution of my understanding of that loss and of what it means to be married – I’ve been working those things out, day by day and poem by poem.

SR  Your new book, The Girl Who Goes Alone, from Floating Bridge Press is absolutely lovely. Can you talk about the process of putting this book together? What is the backstory to the book?

EA For someone who considers herself a very slow writer (and perhaps even slower at getting poems into the world), that book came together astonishingly quickly. When I was asked to be one of the poets featured at the 2010 Skagit River Poetry Festival, excitement at being invited back (for the fourth time) was immediately followed by a sense of shame that I still did not have a book. (I self-produced my audio CD, skin prayers, in 2006 in order to have something to take to that year’s Skagit festival.) I had a chapbook and a full-length book ms. making their way through the contest circus (er, circuit), but knew that even if I miraculously got both accepted, neither would be ready for the May festival. So, I decided to self-publish a new chapbook incorporating several threads from the full-length book and some brand-new work I had written as part of a commission for the Richard Hugo House Literary Series.

I was talking with poet Peter Pereira about it one evening as we carpooled home after a writers’ group meeting, and he suggested I submit it to Floating Bridge Press as a special project. So, that’s what I did – fortunately, the FB editorial board accepted it and was able to complete it in time for the May 2010 festival. FB’s designer, Joel Panchot, drew the cover art based on an image from the poem “What We Would Forget,” which I consider the emotional lynchpin of the collection. Kathleen Flenniken, Jeff Crandall, John Pierce and the other FB editors helped shape the order and make some necessary edits. I should also mention that Paul Hunter (editor at Woodworks Press and an accomplished poet) read an early version of the manuscript and helped me see the arc of the chapbook much more clearly – I made substantial edits to the version that eventually went to Floating Bridge based on his recommendations.

SR  When you read – or is it more accurate to say - perform the title poem from your new collection, “The Girl Who Goes Alone,” I have the sensation that I am at an award-winning, one-woman play. Your presence adds a great deal to the apprehension of the poem. Is it true that you trained as an actor? Can you say how you see the two connecting — poetry reading and acting. Is that something you’re conscious of?

EA Thank you – I’m glad you experience it that way. Yes, I trained as a classical actor as a teenager and into my twenties – I wanted to play Shakespeare, which the director Jack O’Brien describes as the “Olympics” of acting. So I had years of vocal and acting training, all of which is focused on equipping one to think, feel and speak simultaneously, and to handle heightened language believably. That training also instilled in me a very physical sense of delight and pleasure in language aloud. For various reasons, I couldn’t manage to put a successful theatre career together, but I do carry that training into reading poetry for an audience. Every time I read a poem, I want to embody the language, to make it feel fresh, vital, necessary.

The reason why it’s important to me to do this is that something magical is possible in a performance that doesn’t happen anywhere else – something electric, immediate and entirely ephemeral. You can feel it in a really good theatrical or musical performance – an exchange between performer and audience that is fluid and a little bit dangerous, in the sense that we don’t know what will happen next. I don’t want to “report” my poems in a reading – I want to bring them fully alive, so that whatever music I’ve managed to make, whatever emotional or intellectual surprises the poems contain, come alive for the audience in hearing me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crab Creek Review at Centrum Creates a Stir

Last night Crab Creek Review and Willow Springs combined forces and produced a superb reading with poets that included Peter Munro, Kathleen Flenniken, Kate Lebo and Molly Tenenbaum. And like any good reading, the evening culminated with a trip for ice cream. Elevated Ice Cream. What could be better? Thank you Crab Creek Review --- which I am a proud to be part of - as a literary advisory board member. Ekphrastic portfolio coming in October!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Poetry's Small Planet" is a Universe to Me

Today's New York Times reviews a selection of poetry from the country's small presses. It's wonderful to see friends Brian Turner and Ilya Kaminsky featured (Ilya is the editor and translator for a Russian poet  published by Tupelo). What is even more wonderful is to be introduced to new poets. This article features many poets in translation and a few first books as well. I look forward to reading Lleshanaku and quite a few others. How marvelous to find new poets!

In his introduction to the capsule reviews, Dana Jennings laments that the mass media ignores poetry. Yet, as a New York Times editor, surely he has some power to change that.  A quick google search finds that Mr. Jennings has recently blogged about his bout with prostrate cancer: "Bidding Farewell to Ghosts of Pain". His prose style is lyrical; he leans toward poetry, even if he has not been brave enough (or foolish enough) to publish poetry himself.

Here is the beginning of the article --- congratulations to these fine poets. 

The women and men who run small independent presses, often on a frayed shoestring, know in their bones that poetry is necessary if underappreciated cultural work — that poetry, even when it’s snubbed by the broader culture, has no expiration date. Here are reviews of several recent collections that demonstrate how poetry survives, even thrives, in the high-def seas of the mass media.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times


By Luljeta Lleshanaku
Translated by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi
93 pages; New Directions; $13.95.
Luljeta Lleshanaku grew up under house arrest in totalitarian Albania. Born in 1968, she wasn’t allowed to go to college or publish her poetry until the early 1990s, after the Communist government fell. But her gentle poems are subtle and rarely polemical, as they dwell on her past.
Twilit melancholy suffuses her Albania, where “Soft rain falls like apostrophes in a conversation between two worlds,” family trees are “struck down by a bolt of lightning,” and most days echo with “a gray metallic loneliness.” These details coalesce to paint the Albania of her internal exile and, in the end, we feel blessed that Ms. Lleshanaku has invited us to “the takeoffs and landings/on the runway of her soul.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Babies are born with 300 bones, but by adulthood we have only 206 in our bodies.

Isn't this an amazing "true" fact about the body? I learned this yesterday in a great workshop given by the poet Susan Landgraf at the Port Townsend Writers Conference. Where do the 94 missing bones go? A woman in the workshop wrote a gorgeous poem to her missing bones --- just beautiful. I'm always amazed at writers who can create something gorgeous during a 20 minute exercise ... my mind rarely works that fast. Instead, I will mull over this fact -- the magic of which overwhelmed me in the moment. How can an infant have more bones than a full grown adult? I want to know. No, I want to imagine.

If you ever get a chance to take a workshop from Susan Landgraf -- you must. She is wise, creative, and always makes me strive to try new ideas, new workshops, new ways of thinking. She is teaching this Friday --- a workshop on food and poetry. See you there!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creating a Poetry Manuscript

I love that Port Townsend has its very own castle -- and that they serve Blue Hawaiians --- a drink that seems oh so 1950's. The last five years or so I've sojourned in Port Townsend for the Writers Conference. Mostly, I am incognito, attending readings in the evening - visiting with poet friends who come to town. This year, I am teaching two classes and it is fun to feel more involved in the festivities. Yesterday was "Documenting the Lyric: How to Create a Book." It was my first time teaching this particular class, but I think it was helpful. I shared on-line resources such as Ordering the Storm edited by Susan Grimm, a book of essays on ordering poems which is now available on line. There is also the useful essay, "13 Ways of Looking at a Manuscript," by Jeffery Levine of Tupelo Press on his view of the manuscript.

What I wish I had shared more of was my own struggle to put a manuscript together. I'm often shy about talking of my own work in a workshop as if students will think I am doing self-promotion. Ironically, when I take workshops I want to hear my teacher's experience. I struggle with how to put books together which is why I wanted to share the information I've gleaned with others. If you know of good resources for creating a poetry manuscript, I'd love to hear about them. Another resource I find useful is Not Feathers Yet by Lola Haskins. She recommends using notecards, write the title of each poem on a separate card -- and perhaps the first line of the poem and the last line of the poem, too. This is a more compact version of the putting all the poems on the dining room floor to see what you have (also very good if you don't have cats who like new games.) My addition to this is to use colored note cards so you can have a visual for each section of your book. It's like creating a puzzle and the ordering of your book can become exciting rather than onerous. Do let me know your ideas as well!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Documenting the Lyric" and "Speaking in Pictures" ~ This Week!

I will be visiting the Port Townsend Writers Conference sponsored by Centrum this week. It's a gorgeous place and the conference allows for you to choose a plan from a week-long stay to just one afternoon. All of the readings and craft talks are free to the public. Workshops, I believe, are $50 each. It would be lovely to see a familiar face -- or blog address. I'll be teaching two workshops "Documenting the Lyric" - how to put a manuscript together creatively and "Speaking in Pictures: Ekphrastic Poetry." Come on by!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Guest Editorship - What I Learned at Crab Creek Review

My experience as a guest editor at Crab Creek Review taught me many things, not the least of which was: many poets like to write about art. Although the issue with the ekphrastic portfolio isn't due out until October, I am done with the hardest part of my job: choosing poems. Here is what I have learned so far in a very random order:

1. Many poets like to write about visual art. I ended up reading close to 2,000 poems. Never in my craziest dreams did I expect so many submissions. Poetry and painting are considered "sister arts." Clearly this remains true.

2. People across the country and throughout the world submit to Crab Creek Review. I had entries from Zimbabwe and England --- and other countries as well. The internet allows for poets to communicate with each other -- no need for a north / south divide. Access to the internet has revolutionized journals. (Okay, so everyone else has realized this for at least a decade.)

3. Sending an acceptance note is almost as great as receiving one - really. I loved making people happy. Good news from an unknown source is like magic.

4. Editors work really, really hard. I have a new-found appreciation for every person who does this work. There is little  money or fame. Editing a journal is the work of gods -- or goddesses.

5. Only the poem counts. Names and bios meant nothing to me in the selection process. A well-known poet can have an off day. Even Rilke wrote badly. All I wanted were wonderful poems - wherever they came from. One poet is publishing for the first time in the ekphrastic portfolio.

6. Poets are generous and kind. Amazing to me was that many poets wrote to thank me for reading their poems after I let them know we couldn't take their work. This did not happen once, but more than a dozen times. I have never written a thank you for a rejection note. Maybe now I will.

7. Editing isn't a perfect science. I am sure I missed some great poems. I apologize to you in advance if they were yours. I chose thirteen poems out of two thousand. Please forgive me; please take a look at this portfolio in October. It's the best I could do -- and I'm proud of it. But the test comes from you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Sea (from Isla Negra)

The Sea

The Pacific Ocean was overflowing the borders of the map.
There was no place to put it. It was so large, wild, and blue that it
didn't fit anywhere. That's why it was left in front of my window.
   The humanists worry about the little men it devoured over the years.
   They do not count.
   Not even the galleon, laden with cinnamon and pepper that perfumed it as it went down.
   Not even the explorer's ship --- fragile as a cradle dashed to
pieces in the abyss -- which keeled over with its starving men.
  In the ocean, a man dissolves like a bar of salt. And the water
doesn't know it.

from Isla Negra, edited and translated by Dennis Maloney, White Pine Press

Monday, July 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Pablo Neruda - "Tonight I can write the saddest of lines ..."

I love this photo of Pablo Neruda because he looks both happy and regular. A nice guy enjoying his life. A few years ago I had a birthday party for him and we all drank Chilean drinks and brought a Neruda poem to read. One of my friends even brought a tape recorder (!) and a tape of him reading his work. This was pre-youtube. His birthday is close to mine so I got to celebrate vicariously. One day I would like to make the pilgrimage to Isla Negra. In the meantime, here is one of my favorite poems.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

Pablo Neruda (W.S. Merwin, translation)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Flowers in the Garden - July is the most generous month...

Today I've adapted to the summer season. Yoga in the morning, a walk along the beach this evening --- and flowers from the garden in-between. I'm hoping to translate this peace to poetry --- tomorrow...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Birthday Poems ~ "To the Book"

"They say it's your birthday ..." by The Beatles is my favorite birthday song -- which I did not sing today. Instead, I invited a small handful of  very close women friends over for an afternoon of poetry, wine, food and cake ~ what could be better? Even though some of my closest friends aren't poets (and many are) everyone agreed to bring a poem or a favorite saying to share. I also created a set of questions for the day --- some funny and some serious. I loved it -- and I think the others enjoyed themselves, too. I thought I would share a few of the poems with you over the next few days -- and of course offer up some birthday cake. This poem was offered up by fiction writer Midge Raymond and she shared with us that she often reads it after finishing a writing project; I think you will see why.

To the Book

Go one then
in your own time
this is as far
as I will take you
I am leaving your words with you
as though they had been yours
all the time

of course you are not finished
how can you be finished
when the morning begins again
or the moon cries
even the words are not finished
though they may claim to be

never mind
I will not be
listening when they say
how you should be
different in some way
you will be able to tell them
that the fault was all mine

whoever I was
when I made you up

--- W.S. Merwin

I didn't know this Merwin poem and I immediately fell in love with it.  I also identify strongly with the sense of sending the poems out into the world --- finishing the book and knowing that there is no such thing as finished. And I adore the humor of, "even the words are not finished / though they may claim to be." Those pesky words. Where would we be without them?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thank you, Sandy Longhorn - The Alchemist's Kitchen - Reviewed!

I woke up to a lovely present this morning - quite unexpected, too. Sandy Longhorn, 
fellow poet - author of Blood Almanac (winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry) and blogger and all around kind person has posted a review of The Alchemist's Kitchen at her website. You can read the review here. I would write more but am hoping to get to Midge Raymond's workshop on travel writing tonight. See posting just below. And stay cool ...90's in Seattle. And yes, intense sunlight.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

For the Seattlite in You ~ Free Workshop Tomorrow Night

I spent New Year's Day happily ensconced with Midge's book of short stories. Now I get to learn from her in a free workshop at Pilot Books on Capital Hill -- tomorrow night. Hope to see you!

Thursday, July 8, 2010, at 7 p.m. (That's tomorrow night)!

Join Midge at Seattle's all-indie Pilot Books for a free travel-writing workshop
and reading. In this hour-long workshop, you'll learn how to turn your
adventures into compelling fictional stories or memoir. Learn how to portray
character (even if the character is you), develop a storyline, and make your
memories jump off the page through vivid description and detail. The workshop
will be followed by a reading from Forgetting English. The event starts at 7
p.m. and is free and open to all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On-Line Literary Salon for The Alchemist over at Blogalicious

Diane Lockward author of the newly released Temptation by Water is hosting a party for me today. The thing is, she lives in New Jersey and I am in Washington State. It's a bit of an issue unless we have all the festivities on-line. Diane will be doing a series of literary salons and I am honored that she chose The Alchemist's Kitchen to be her first. Included is a brief interview, a reading of "At Middle Life: A Romance" complete with Sarajevo in the background. Most importantly, there is food! Diane asked me what I wanted to serve and somehow this was one of the hardest parts of the preparation. You can tell I am a slave to desserts...

An added feature is that I have promised to respond to any comments that "guests" put in the comment box this week. So far there are no questions. Does that mean Diane gave a party for me and no one came? Isn't that every writer's (person's?) fear. Please do drop by, at least to nibble on a madeline.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Translation Matters: The Panther

I should admit first thing that I don't speak German, but I do have a new bilingual collection of Snow's The Poetry of Rilke and its clear that Rilke did use an "abab" rhyme scheme in these quatrains. Since German and English employ a completely different word order, Snow has not kept to the rhyme scheme in his translation; yet, I can't help but know that his version is closer to the original. Why? Because Snow's translation is by far the better poem. Or is something else at work here? Is Snow's translation best suited an American 21st Century reader? Whichever the case, I feel sure that Rilke would approve.

The Panther

His gaze has from the passing of the bars
become so tired that it holds nothing anymore.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars
and behind a thousand bars no world.

The supple pace of powerful soft strides,
turning in the very smallest circle,
is like a dance of strength around a center
in which a mighty will stands numbed.

Only at times the curtain of the pupils
soundlessly slides open ---. Then an image enters,
glides through the limbs' taut stillness ---
dives into the heart and dies.
                                                            RMK (ES trans)

Der Panther
Jarin des Plantes, Paris

His gaze, going past those bars, has got so misted
with tiredness, it can take in nothing more.
He feels as though a thousand bars existed,
and no more world beyond them than before.

Those supply powerful paddings, turning there
in tiniest of circles, well might be
the dance of forces round a centre where
some mighty will stands paralyticly.

Just now and then the pupils' noiseless shutter
if lifted. - Then an image with indart,
down throught the limbs' intensive stillness flutter,
and end its being in the heart.

Rainer Maria Rilke   Paris, 1903
(unidentified web translation)

Dead Mentor Poet: A Dozen Things I've Learned about Rainer Rilke

1. As a teenager, Rene (as he was called as a boy) had horrible acne.

2. Throughout his life he was plagued by profound headaches.

3. At age 17, he ran off with Olga Blumauer to an "obscure" hotel in Vienna. It was three days before they were found and brought back. The relationship was over - as was his career in business.

4. Rilke's mother dressed him as a girl complete with long gowns and braids until he entered pre-school. This was not the custom of the day.

5. He wrote many plays. Many bad plays.

6. Rilke needed to pay a "subvention" to publish  his first four books.

7. His early books were always published right before Christmas - the perfect holiday gift.

8. He founded and edited a small journal while still in Prague. After a few issues it went under.

9. The first 1, 2, 3, 4+ books of poems Rilke wrote were unimpressive --

10. He wanted to live a life as both a poet and a military man.

11. There were no signs of greatness for a very long time ...

12. Even Rilke wrote badly.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"At Middle Life: A Romance" Many Thanks to Diane Lockward

Thanks to Diane Lockward I now have my very own pied-a-terre on youtube! Diane Lockward, as many of you know, is a poet with a brand new book, Temptation by Water which has just been published. She is also one of my internet wizards, learning new technologies and sharing her expertise with me --- I'm the last kid on the block to get a computer, a cell phone ... you get the --- paper-based --- picture.

And yes, you do hear a cat crying in the background. That's Sarajevo. I think she hates everything I write, but she might also just want to sing along. It's hard to know.

Happy Independence Day -- May you be independent of fear and false prophets. And, yes, have a few good things to eat.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

From the Uncollected Poems ~

Forget, forget, and let us live now
only this: how the stars pierce the cleared
nocturnal sky; how the moon's full disk
surmounts the gardens. We've sensed so long
how the darkness breeds many mirrors; how a gleam
takes shape, a white shadow in the radiance
of night. But now let us cross over
and invest this world where
everything is lunar ---

Rilke (trans. E.S.)
Paris, early summer 1909

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reading Rilke (again)

I've decided to spend the summer with Rilke. It's complicated. I have his new collected poems translated by the superb Edward Snow, The Poetry of Rilke, the biography, Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke  by Ralph Freedman, and some of the letters. It's been ten years since I've spent much time with him. I am curious to see how my sense of what he can teach me has changed. One thing that hasn't changed: how much I love this poem. Of course I know that I'm not alone.


Slowly the evening puts on the clothes
held for it by a ridge of ancient trees;
you watch: and the land divides from you,
one going heavenward, one sinking down;

and leave you, not quite belonging to either,
not quite so dark as the house cloaked in silence,
not quite so surely pledging the eternal
as that which becomes the star each night and climbs --

and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life, immense and ripening and fearful,
so that now closed in, now reaching everywhere,
it grows alternately stone and star in you.

Rilke (trans. E. Snow)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Long Weekend from Seattle ~

So this is listed as a 4th of July photo, but Seattlites and others can easily tell that that's not true. Whatever holiday we're celebrating this weekend -- happy travels and be safe.