Monday, January 31, 2011

Wherever We Travel by Linda Pastan

Wherever We Travel
Wherever we travel
it seems to take the same
few hours to get there.
The plane rises over clouds
into an unmarked sky,
comes down through clouds
to what we have to believe
is a different place. But here
are the same green road signs
the numbered highways
of home, with cars going
back and forth to houses
with chimneys and windows
identical to the ones we thought
we had left behind.
The radio blares familiar
radio music. Soon we will knock
on a door and someone will greet us,
will pull us into a room
we have never seen
but already know by heart.

"Wherever We Travel," by Linda Pastan from The Last Uncle(W.W. Norton).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Awaiting the Tulip Fields on a Grey Friday: Where I Live

I am in need of tulips this morning. Or more honestly, I am in need of spring. The first crocus has appeared along the front walk, the iris greens are in attendance, but this morning, I want more. May the Tulip Festival and April come soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What a Great Day for a Ferry Ride and Some Poems: Come Out Today

It's a warm and soon-to-be sunny Sunday! Please join me on a relaxing boat ride to Eagle Harbor, home of the famous Eagle Harbor Books where Lana Hechtman Ayers, Kelli Russell Agodon, and I will be reading from our new books this afternoon! The reading is at 3:00 PM so you can walk on the 2:00 PM ferry and walk up to town in the nick of time. See you there -

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Crab Creek Review: Beyond Ekphrasis Reviewed in New Pages!

Crab Creek Review

Volume 23 Number 2, 2010

Review by David Morck
After winning a year’s subscription during last year’s National Poetry Day, I discovered the joy of the Crab Creek Review.What had drawn me into past issues was the range of voices, both from experienced writers and fresh, emerging writers. There has always been a certain charm to the pieces selected, whether their tone leans towards the more serious or whimsical, and this issue is no exception.
The biggest standout in the second issue for 2010 is the section entitled Beyond Ekphrasis: Poems of the Musical, Mathematical, and Visual in which Crab Creek Review’s first guest editor Susan Rich pulled from “over fifteen hundred poems submitted by more than four hundred poets from three different continents,” “work inspired by photography, sculpture, music, film and even a mathematical equation.” One of the exceptional pieces inspired by art in this section is a poem called “The Plague Doctor” by Peter Pereira based on a 1656 engraving entitled “Doktor Schabel von Rom” by Paul Fürst. The engraving is included above the poem and lends itself to the poem’s dark and mystical force. The poem begins:
Brow shadowed by a black
wide-brimmed hat, he swings
his wooden cane to part the swarm
of flies crawling your motionless body,
prods you with the cane’s tip
to measure your response.
The word choice in the poem is exquisitely brutal, offering images of “erupting pustules”, “flea-infested straw”, “pungence repelling pungence,” and the pitch-perfect ending leaves an enduring image of:
Its two oval sockets lensed in red glass
as if to warn you—how scavenger birds
always begin with the eyes.
Other poems that are worthy of mention within the section on ekphrasis are “Prelude” by Valerie Nieman, based on a photograph of Rosa Parks getting her fingerprints taken, and a heart-rending look at youth and strength in “Patrick Swayze” by Casey Fuller, highlighting the promise of Hollywood vigor, about the actor, who unfortunately fell victim to cancer last year.

It's Official: The Massachusetts Poetry Festival and Me

I just got confirmation that I'll be part of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival this coming Saturday, May 14th, in Salem, Mass. I don't know whether I'll get to read in this gorgeous space, but I hope so.

Massachusetts is where I am from - I was born in Boston, as were both my parents. Boston is where my grandparents settled after leaving the villages of Lithuania and Russia. My father grew up in Chelsea -- a city famous for its multiple bankruptcies, my mother's childhood was spent in Roxbury. Until I was 20 years old, Massachusetts was the only place I had lived.

To be honest, I have a love - hate relationship with my home state. I'm convinced that there's nowhere in the United States more conscious of class and race, of where you went to school or what your parents do (or did). Maybe that's changed since I left seventeen years ago. In other words, it was a hard place to grow-up if you were not a Boston Brahmin -- and I wasn't.

This November, I visited old friends in Cambridge and Somerville, where I lived before moving to the Northwest. I took the Red Line and wandered through the Commons and Public Gardens, walked to the Public Library and took in Newbury Street galleries. I fell in love with my city again.

But what makes me most excited about being invited to this festival (thank you, January!) is that Massachusetts is where I first began writing poems. I took classes in the living rooms of poets like Pamela Alexander and lived around the corner from the famous Grolier Poetry Bookshop. My first published poems were in The Massachusetts Review, Salamander, and The Christian Science Monitor. And yet, I feel certain that I never could have continued writing if I didn't move away from the influences of Plath and Sexton, Lowell and even Bishop. I needed a new landscape to claim as my own.

And yet, as Dorothy famously said, "there's no place like home." To be invited back home to read my poems and to teach a workshop, feels downright heavenly. I can't wait until spring.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Travelling Around the World with His Table - Hebb at TEDxRainier

I am not a great fan of watching live speeches, but as you may already know, TEDx Rainier is an entirely different kind of production. The focus, as I understand it, is on ideas, entertainment, and technology all in service to making the world a better and more interesting place to live. I first met Michael Hebb when he invited me speak at an Underground Dinner. The dinner, housed in the penthouse at the Sorrento Hotel, focused on Alan Khazai, co-founder of CityYear and the concept of service. A few weeks later,  I had a second opportunity to be part of a panel of women writers, organized by the amazing writer, doctor, activist, Nassim Assefi for Seattle's first CityArts Festival.

This is a  long explanation of: watch this YouTube - you'll be glad you did. It makes me want to go to a dinner party - and explains why a good dinner party feels just a little bit magical, like a good poem. There is inspiration, an awakening of the senses, and the seeds of new ideas --- perhaps a new outlook on life. When I gave a dinner party a few weeks ago for two former students, their partners, and some other friends, it was exciting. But Hebb also mentions that cooking for people may be the second most anxiety-provoking activity one can do, after public speaking. Hebb takes the idea of the table far beyond a fun night out - listen to him explain it much better than I can. Enjoy ~ and then invite a few people over for dinner -- some that know each other and some who don't ...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eagle Harbor Books - Bainbridge Island - This Sunday, January 23rd

This Sunday I am going to the islands, well, one island, to read with Kelli Russell Agodon and Lana Hechtman Ayers at 3:00 PM at the Eagle Harbor Book Company. I have not done any readings since my three city couch tour in November, but now it all begins again. I look forward to reading with my two good friends. If you are in the mood for a Sunday afternoon ferry ride - why not join us?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Angels in America: Thinking About Greatness

How did I miss this? Emma Thompson as an angel replete with gorgeous wings? Al Pacino in a blood chilling performance of a man consumed by self-hatred? I watched Angels in America this weekend for the very first time. And yes, I am a decade or so behind everyone else. Actually, the play is now twenty years old with the 20th Anniversary Edition coming out this year. The movie was first aired on HBO and I suppose I didn't think it was a "real" movie as it wasn't released in the theaters. How could it be? It's over five hours long -- and yet I didn't want it to end.

I think this is the first time that I have seen any piece of art that so expertly combined so many realms of life in one work. There is surrealism, history, politics, and romance to name but a few elements --- I suppose it is the writing that elevates this so -- along with superb cinematography and world class acting - but that's not the point either. I mean, that goes without saying and is meaningless until you see the film.

What I really keep thinking about is the scope of Tony Kushner's ambition: to create a piece of theater that so completely speaks to its time (the 1980's including the Reagan years and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic) and in the same piece, go far beyond its particulars to something universal. There are references to the films of Cocteau and to The Wizard of Oz.

I confess when I am writing I rarely (well, never) create on such a large canvas. Mixing so many different themes and concerns together often ends up in disaster, but not here. I'm inspired to try and do more with my work - maybe not the equivalent to a five hour film that's operatic in its structure - but at least be more aware of the larger world around me. I'm in the stage of working on a new book when nothing is clear,  I'm floating or sinking depending on the day. What seeing "Angels in America" did for me over the weekend was to remind me how much is possible. How far from the everyday art can take us. We soar out of our lives and through to another world where things make sense and are imbued with an imperfect beauty. What does it take to make art like that?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Poem for Friday: Dirge Without Music "I am not resigned"

She is the first poet I ever remember loving. Before Bishop, before Dickinson, before Levertov or Plath. "Think Madonna" an elderly woman told me in the 1980's, at the height of Madonna's fame. "Comparing Vincent to a poet of today misses the point; she was a rock star."

I've always loved much of Millay's work and yet it seems indelicate to say so. Her sonnets are (as Richard Wilbur says) some of the best written in the 20th Century. I loved them as a teenager and love them now, too. 

Perhaps what I appreciate more today is the figure of Millay as a political poet as she matured. She wrote against the death penalty, against the guilty verdict of the Sacco and Vanzetti case, against the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. 

In fact, her "unpatriotic" stance cost her in terms of her reputation. She used her fame to speak out against World War I and it cost her. Here are some of her poems. I hope there are other closet Millay fans or perhaps, some that are about to come into being. The Millay Colony was also the first residency that I was ever accepted at and although the writers and artists sleep and work in what was her barn, we did get a tour of her homestead. This was the first time I saw a writer's "shed" as a separate space from the main house. Her writing studio was a tiny house in the woods, just a few minutes from the main house. Millay also had an incredible gun collection, including one with a mother of pearl handle. Here's to Vincent (as she was called).

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

"I shall forget you presently, my dear" 

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Floating Bridge Press Wants YOU: If You Are a Poet in Washington State

If you are a poet in Washington State, you need to enter the Floating Bridge Press Poetry Chapbook Competition. I'm serious. I know of no press that consistently produces such beautiful poems in such stunning forms. Comparing Floating Bridge Press chapbooks to other chapbooks produced in the United States is like comparing apples and oranges.

Not only are the books incredibly high quality, but the editors are the most dedicated and professional that you are likely to find. Again and again, poets told us that they had their best publishing experience with us. In other words, we kept our word on dates, quality, and distribution. I say "we" because I was a Floating Bridge Editor for five years before joining the advisory board.

Publishing poetry is an act of love. I promise you will love being part of this press. And if by chance your book doesn't win the competition this year, you may still find your poems within the pages of the Floating Bridge Review where you will be paid for your work and invited to give a reading in Seattle. $12 gets you this and a copy of the winning chapbook. Why not enter? I wish I could!

Floating Bridge Press Poetry Chapbook Competition is open for submissions until February 16, 2011. If you are a current resident of Washington State, you may submit a chapbook manuscript of up to 24 pages of poetry with a $12 entry fee.  The winner receives $500, a Seattle reading in September, and 15 copies of the prize-winning chapbook.  Our books are beautiful, archival-quality, perfect-bound, and collectable.

Previous winners include Joannie Kervran Stangeland, Nance Van Winckel, Donna Waidtlow, Molly Tenenbaum, Bart  Baxter, Chris Forhan, Joseph Green, Kelli Russell Agodon, Michael Bonacci, Timothy Kelly, Annette Spaulding-Convy, Holly J. Hughes,  Nancy Pagh, Katharine Whitcomb, and Laura Read.

Floating Bridge Press considers all individual poems for inclusion in our annual journal.

For complete guidelines and a look at our titles, please visit Floating Bridge Press.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thinking about Teaching: Week Two of the Quarter

Last Friday night I hosted three of my former students at my house for dinner. It was a great way to begin the quarter because it reminded me how amazing the teacher - student relationship can be. The students who came to my house for dinner have now graduated from the community college where I teach and are off on their own pursuits; they are in every sense of the word, amazing. Sometimes, at the beginning of the quarter (we are at the beginning of week two) it is tricky to remember how far people can come in ten weeks. And perhaps, how far I can travel as well.

Here are some things I try to remember as I begin Winter Quarter.

1. Trust that everyone is  trying to do their best. 

2. Let students know that I want them to succeed.

3. When a student is rude, don't take it personally; he (or she) is having a bad day.

4. Be  pleasant even when explaining the same directions for the fourth time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Poem for Monday: Farsickness

        rough translation of fernweh (Ger):
        the opposite of homesickness.

Imagine a love turned out
as bread best cast

to the rivers, feedings
for smaller, far-flung things—

fire-flights of stillness,
forms alighting, then airborne,

until the breeze begins
to feel like hunger,

the wayward sweep of desire—
for the holy wheel

rotating foot, breath, and earth,
the pilgrim's chaff,

frayed and heliocentric,
in need of distance

as a horizon of prayer
to both call and receive.

Meghan Harlan

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Megan Snyder Camp and Kelli Russell Agodon this Tuesday at 7 pm

Seattle Poetry Reading: Megan Snyder-Camp & Kelli Russell Agodon at Ravenna Third Place Books January 11th

If you're around Seattle on Tuesday, January 11th, drop by Ravenna Third Place
books at 7 pm as poets Megan Snyder-Camp and Kelli Russell Agodon will
be reading from their new books.

I know that after I hear a poet read their work aloud, I am more able to
understand their intent and to hear the rhythms of their work when I read
the poems on my own. I first met Megan last year when she attended my
ekphrastic workshop at the Frye Art Museum. I am excited to have the
chance to hear her read. Kelli, I've clearly heard before and so I look
forward to the joy of hearing poems I know well in the voice of the poet.

In this age of youtube and garage band where poets can be seen and
heard on the internet, there is still something magical about a live reading.
I hope to see you there.

She's reading from her incredible book, The Forest of Sure Things
The Forest of Sure Things

Here's the Seattle Weekly's listing of it if you need more info or a map of where Ravenna Third Place books is in Seattle.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Have a Lovely Friday ~ And a Poetic Saturday and Sunday, Too!

I will be back after a bit of sleep and some class prep. This working full-time is a challenge.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Literary Friendship: A July Writers' Event

Now literary correspondance happens over the ether. No more onion skin envelopes and aerograms.
Kelli Russell Agodon and I were asked by Jordan Hartt of Centrum to write on any subject we wanted. Here is what we chose.

" Friendship": A Literary Correspondence Between Two Poets

A few months ago we asked two of the most popular writing teachers at the Port Townsend Writers' Conference--Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich--to let us "eavesdrop" on their musings of their friendship, their poetic passions, and their lives as writers in the Pacific Northwest. What follows is a conversation held over email on the nature of their friendship and what it has come to mean to them--and to their work--over the past ten years.
Dear Kelli,
Here is the secret nobody knows: poets need friends. OK. You know it, I know it, and so did Elizabeth Bishop. From Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge this fine morning please come flying. In “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore,” Elizabeth Bishop celebrates her deep friendship with another woman poet: her mentor and lifelong friend, Marianne Moore.
I know that Bishop and Moore shared poems, went on outings to the zoo together, and when Bishop moved to Brazil in 1951, wrote long letters. Our friendship, now almost a decade old, impacts my writing life in important and magical ways. Do you remember when we first met? We both had poems for the Poetry on the Busses anthology and were reading at the Seattle Art Museum. Your daughter, an infant at the time, let out an enormous cry when you took the podium. “That’s my daughter,” you said without missing a beat.

You can read the full article here. As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Portrait of Having a Portrait Taken: Rosanne Olson

Rosanne Olson

“To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surface and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live in all things.” ––Ansel Adams

In 2010, which already seems so long ago, I was lucky enough to have my portrait taken by Rosanne Olson. Rosanne is a talented photographer from Seattle, Washington, whose work is often stunning and always impressive. She has worked as a journalist, a teacher, and a worldwide photographer.  For more information on Rosanne, you can check out her website and her "Knowing Portraits" gallery.

What I want to focus on is the experience of having a professional photograph created --- and it is a creation. In an age where every cell phone is a camera, it has to be said that a professional photograph resembles an iPhone photo the way a pair of blue jeans resembles a silk skirt. Both cover one's body, but that's where the comparison ends.

Rosanne asked me to bring a half dozen of my favorite shirts or sweaters to her studio so that we could choose a style together. She taught me that it's best to wear a color that is darker than your skin tone so that the viewer's eyes stays on your face, not your shirt. She helped me with my make-up, adjusting for what the camera would accentuate.

Like many people I know, I am terrified of having my picture taken. I'm convinced that my features are not compatible with the camera lens. Really. The camera is not my friend. Rosanne listened to my chatter, but assured me that she didn't see a problem. She allowed me to feel that we were making the photograph together. And in fact, the way my chin rests against my chin here is something I often do when thinking.  In another photograph, Rosanne gave me a pen and told me to play around with it. And "play" was the operative word -- we had an afternoon of play --- so that by the time the two hours were over,  the meeting had transformed into entertainment rather than the excruciating event I'd expected.

this is me

When I see the portraits that Rosanne has photographed of friends, I see that there's something of the actual person, something below the surface that she has captured. There's a reason that Rosanne calls these "Knowing Portraits." In the time we spent together, especially the last 20 minutes or so, my nervousness lifted and I could look directly in the camera without fear. I finally relaxed enough to let Rosanne do her work. I felt seen. I felt, dare I say, at peace --- and I think that shows here.

Jeff Crandall, poet 

Rosanne is also developing a project of photographing poets and creating an interactive program that would allow students -- and anyone else interested -- to see the poet and link to their work and perhaps even their voice. If you are interested in a poet portrait -- or even an artful portrait of you and your child (or your bird),  I can't recommend highly enough checking out Rosanne's studio.

To read an interview I did with Rosanne this past December, click here!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Back to School Night

Finally, I'm packing up papers and getting ready for tomorrow morning when I will be back in the classroom. For the last six months I've been a writer, a traveler, and a woman who loved to sleep in. And while all three things are still a part of my life, they won't happen with the same frequency as before.

Part of me is looking forward to meeting my students, turning some of them on to films, and teaching them the power of their own words. I really do believe that "writing well is the best revenge," as Zelda Fitzgerald once said. Revenge has a negative connotation, but the sense of showing the world that one counts, that's power. When Nelson Mandela came to Boston after he was released from prison in 1990, he told high school students, "education is the best weapon."

The truth is, I can only reach students who are at least a tiny bit open to being reached. Education is a dance we do together. Let's get this party started.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

In with the New - Poets on the Coast this Year!

I am excited to announce that Kelli Russell Agodon and I are embarking on a new project this year, Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women, September  9 -11, 2011,  in Newport, OR. Please think about joining us.

Although we have both taught at many other conferences, festivals, and colleges throughout the country --- this is our first time designing a retreat of our own. We believe in creating community and in providing for the needs of all participants. We believe that geography influences our writing lives. We believe in sharing what we've learned during almost twenty years of publishing, writing, and teaching. Most of all, we believe in having fun as we learn.

One New Year's resolution I have is to make Poets on the Coast the best writing retreat ever. But in order to do that, we need you to come, too! Kelli's book Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room was born at this hotel on a writing retreat a few years ago. We also like the idea of marking the 10th anniversary of September 11th inhabiting a positive and peaceful place, doing what we love best.

Announcing Poets on the Coast on the first of the year seems just right to me. I want 2011 to be filled with new experiences, giving back to others, and continuing to challenge myself. What would be really beautiful would be to have others decide to join Kelli and me in this pursuit. 

Here's to new places and people, new geographies for 2011. 

Here is what we are saying:

Dwell in Possibility                                                         
       ~  Emily Dickinson 

Join Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich for the first Poets on the Coast Weekend Writing Retreat September 9-11th, 2011 at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon on historic Nye Beach. We will gather to write, read and share our work inspired by the landscape and creative energy around us.
This retreat has been designed for women writers of all levels, from beginning poets to well published. Sessions on creativity, generating work, publication and one-on-one mentoring are included. 
We only have a limited number of spaces available and they will be filled on a first-come basis.

With the Sylvia Beach Hotel, designed to inspire writers with its literary-themed rooms, this retreat will offer you a unique experience to explore your writing and creativity. Come spend a weekend with other women poets. Be ready to be nurtured, inspired and creative.