Friday, April 29, 2011

Free Poetry Books For Everyone! Have a Seat...

The odds are with you. There are over 120 poetry books being given away by poets and poetry lovers across the country. Kelli Russell Agodon's Big Poetry Giveaway is listed here for you to browse. And honestly, you don't pay postage, you don't get your name on any lists, you merely get a free gift from the poetry universe. Why not treat yourself?

If you are interested in The Cartographer's Tongue by me (Susan Rich) or Ejo by Derek Burleson, you can click here. Happy Weekend! You have until midnight Saturday -- and then we kiss National Poetry Month good-bye until next year...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who is the Karaoke King? Come Find Out Tonight at Elliott Bay Book Company

If you know me at all, you know I am not the type of woman who talks to strange men. Certainly I don't meet men in coffeeshops and invite them home with me. However, there's one exception: Harold Taw.

About three years ago, I was minding my own business at the C and P Coffee Company in West Seattle. Out of the blue I hear this guy on his cell phone talking about his novel. Those novelists! Always talking to their agents! Harold was on the phone with a potential agent and so I listened in. How could I not? Actually, I think the whole coffeeshop was listening. Harold went on to say he had just won a GAP Award from Artist Trust and was going to use the award to fund research in Thailand. Now I really was interested.

I had just won a GAP Award for a return trip to Bosnia and the idea that Harold and I were meeting days after our grants were announced seemed as good a reason as any to say hello. And besides, he has a black lab. Anyone who takes his dog to a coffeeshop is ok with me and so I said hello. It turned out that the agent Harold was talking to that day ultimately decided not to take him on, but here he is only a few years later with a brand new novel that I was lucky enough to read in manuscript form. It's simply superb.

Here's Harold Taw whose book, Adventures of the Karaoke King launches tonight at Elliott Bay Book Company. I promise this will be a night to remember -- please come!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thanks to Kathy Whitcomb and Central Washington University

Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series 2010-2011

The Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series schedules readings every quarter and features nationally known writers reading their own work. We have hosted two winners of the MacArthur Genius Award, as well as the WA State Poet Laureate, and recipients of NEA Fellowships and other major prizes. Each spring, students enrolled in ENG 468: Contemporary Writers Colloquium (an upper level multi-genre writing workshop), meet with three visiting writers from the Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series. We also sponsor talks by professional editors and publishers, readings by faculty and students, including open mics, and an annual reading for students who have their work published in CWU's literary magazine, Manastash. Past readers in the Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series include Lucia Perillo, Anthony Doerr, Major Jackson, Kim Barnes, Linda Bierds, David Guterson, David Wojahn, Prageeta Sharma and Sam Green.

Upcoming Readings:

Image of Susan Rich

Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 7:30 pm    ♦   SURC Ballroom, Section A

Susan Rich

Susan Rich is the author of three collections of poetry, The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World, Cures Include Travel, and The Alchemist's Kitchen. She has received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers. Her fellowships include an Artists Trust Fellowship from Washington State and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa. She lives in Seattle.
Image of Allen Braden

Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 7:30 pm    ♦   SURC Ballroom, Section A

Allen Braden

Poet Allen Braden is author of A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood and a fine letterpress accordion bookDetail of the Four Chambers to the Horse's Heart. Braden's recent work appears in Orion MagazineSubtropics,Poetry InternationalWater-Stone Review and three textbooks. He lives in Tacoma.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Coming Attraction: The Massachusetts Poetry Festival

It's almost here! I am excited to announce that I will be part of this year's Massachusetts Poetry Festival the weekend of May 13-14. Thanks to the festival for featuring an article about my participation here.

Here is the beginning of the piece by Jacquelin Malone - you can read the rest right here

Susan Rich takes inspiration in events and things that require her to—as she says— “leap out of myself,” which, perhaps, explains the diversity of her work. Rich, who will appear in two events on Saturday at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, has traveled to places that require her to “get out of my comfort zone.” Human rights issues, springing from those places, are the subjects of many of her poems. But so are paintings.

Celebrating Earth Day with Poetry Books - Great Giveaway

Happy Earth Day to All!
In honor of Earth Day it seems time to mention that the Great Poetry Giveaway continues until the end of this month. If you haven't already signed up for a chance at receiving ejo by Derrick Burleson or The Cartographer's Tongue by yours truly - simply click here to enter. If you want to check out the chance to enter another 60+ giveaways for 120+ books you can click on Kelli Russell Agodon's Great Poetry Giveaway list. Either way -- it's clear that poetry is part of our world and we are better for it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Celebration of a Life: Jeanne Leiby, Editor, The Southern Review

Jeanne Leiby 1964 - 2011
I never met Jeanne Leiby, but I spoke to her on the phone for over an hour one lovely afternoon. Initially, Jeanne called to let me know that she was accepting two of my poems for The Southern Review. I think it was her habit to deliver good news personally. When she called and I wasn't home,  she left a message. Again, she didn't need to make that extra effort that I should re-contact her. When we finally did find a mutual time to chat, it was memorable.

Jeanne let me know what her staff had thought of my two poems and how they had debated different issues at their meeting. She went on to give me a goldmine of advice on how to be a poet in the world. "The hand written note is the new technology," she stated. She told me of her success sending TSR out for reviews with a small note and the resulting rise in reviews.

We discussed how she could encourage more women poets to submit their work to The Southern Review. She was adamant about her new vision for the journal. I told her about a small pr group I'd started to help women writers get their books launched. We shared ideas.

When the issue of TSR arrived I was spellbound by the cover art and the artist's portfolio inside.

I wrote Jeanne to thank her for including my poems in such a stellar issue and told her of my adoration of the cover. Her response was to pass my comments on to Edward Pramuk -- making sure my praise made it all the way to the artist. Again, she made that extra effort to connect people.

She had just posted to her FaceBook page early yesterday. I had read her posting in the morning so the messages that were adding up last night referring to her in the past tense, just didn't make any sense.

No, I didn't know Jeanne Leiby, but I felt like I did. I was looking forward to meeting her at the next AWP, I was planning on seeing what she thought of some new poems, I thought we had all the time in the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lovely Evening for a Ferry Ride to Bainbridge Island's Fields' End

You are most welcome! Roundtables are held on the third Tuesday of the month from 7:00 – 8:30 pm in the Bainbridge Public Library Meeting Room. For questions, contact

April 19, 2011
Speaker: Susan Rich
Title: Ecstatic Poetry: Non-Religious Poems Lifting Us Beyond the Everyday
Poetry is the sushi and sashimi, the sweet potato pie and sugar snap peas, the burger and fries of many people's daily experience. Come listen to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, Linda Pastan, and Rainier Maria Rilke; learn of new ways to incorporate poetry into our everyday lives. How do we lift ourselves into the world of poetry? Come see.
Susan Rich is the author of three collections of poetry: The Alchemist's Kitchen, Cures Include Travel,and The Cartographer's Tongue. She has received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers. Her honors include an Artist Trust Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa. She has worked as a staff person for Amnesty International, an electoral supervisor in Bosnia Herzegovina, and a human rights trainer in Gaza and the West Bank. She lived in the Republic of Niger as a Peace Corps volunteer, later moving to South Africa to teach at the University of Cape Town.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Basking in the Afterglow and 10 Tips for What Makes a Reading Work

I am thrilled to be on the other side of my Seattle Arts and Lectures Thursday night reading and to have survived intact. Thank you to Rebecca Hoogs, superb poet and organizer, for providing me this opportunity and assuring that the evening came off without a hitch.

What an intense experience -- in a good way. I thought it might be helpful to others (or humorous) to go over what I learned preparing for this reading.

Practice really helps. Somehow I need to learn this again and again.

I wrote out all my introductions to the poems and my thank yous although I didn’t read any of them verbatim – except the opening remarks. The notes provided confidence and made sure I didn't come up with weird off the cuff remarks.

I read the poems out loud for quite awhile until my mouth knew the words by heart.

I wrote my own notations to stress a certain word or highlight words I might trip over.

I printed everything out onto one paper document rather than moving back and forth between my books. This way I could enlarge the font so the reading was easy for (ahem) middle age eyes. I also didn’t get nervous as to what book to pull from next.

I remembered Terrance Hayes’ advice to himself at the Skagit Poetry Festival: Know your start point and your end point. I wanted everything to go well — but I knew that I needed a strong opening and closing poem.

Get by with a little help from your friends. Before the reading I asked about six friends for suggestions on what I should read. They gave good (and often opposing) advice on individual poems but reminded me that humor is really important -- as is gravitas.

Boots make the woman. Yes, I went out hours before I had my sound check and purchased a pair of purple and black boots: zipper on one side, laces on the other. They were boots made to perform in and I didn't want to disappoint them.

Try to read something for a dear friend or a lover. I read poems to both because these are people in my life whom I love. The poems make me happy. I also knew that two people would be happy to hear their dedications. Audiences also like something real.

I started with “harder” subjects and ended with love.

What are your favorite reading tips? It's good to try new things...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I'd Like to Thank Our Other Sponsor: The Poetry Society of America and Alice Quinn

Alice Quinn has been a personal goddess of mine since she wrote to me seventeen years ago telling me that my poem "Haiti" had caught her attention. I was a new poet and had no idea that this was a big deal - to get a letter from an editor, the editor of The New Yorker, no less. I still have that letter and tonight I get to meet the woman who gave me confidence to keep going. Thank you, Alice! Alice Quinn is also the author of Elizabeth Bishop: Edgar Allen Poe and the Juke Box. Here she is on Charlie Rose talking about my all time favorite poet, Elizabeth Bishop. Ms. Quinn is now President of the Poetry Society of America.
Come see her in Seattle tonight! Doors open at 7:00pm.

Tonight's the Night: 7:30 pm with Major Jackson and Brian Turner

Have you heard? I'm reading tonight at 7:30 pm at Benaroya Hall as part of the Seattle Arts and Lectures Poetry Series. My old graduate school buddies Major Jackson and Brian Turner are jet setting into town. Whoever would have predicted all those years ago that we'd be having an on-stage reunion? Would love to have your support for this one night only event. See you there! Doors open at 7:00 pm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Writer Midge Raymond on Writing About Place: Tips for You

Midge Raymond

Today I'm starting a new chapter in the life of The Alchemist's Kitchen (the blog, not the book) by introducing Midge Raymond, author of Forgetting English as my very first guest blogger. I love Midge's work where the borders of poetry and fiction seem to break down. Her stories are intensely lyrical and always take me traveling to other countries, other worlds. What could be better? Midge's book, Forgetting English has just been released this week from press 53. Press 53 is a small independent publisher that produces high quality books of poetry, fiction, and memoir.

Writing about place can be a tricky thing. There’s always the temptation—for me, anyhow—to let the exotic take precedent over the story. When I wrote the stories in Forgetting English, I worked hard to find that perfect balance: to let the setting—whether it was Antarctica or Africa—bring the story into sharp relief, to let the place enhance the story rather than overpower it.

Of course, this is probably why the collection took more than five years to put together.

Yet I didn’t start out with a collection in mind when I began writing these stories; I simply wrote them, and only later did I begin to see how they were coming together. During the years in which I wrote these stories, I wrote many others as well, stories for which place didn’t play as central a role. While setting is always important, I found that with these travel stories, the places in the book became almost like secondary characters, with traits of their own: Antarctica with its icy loneliness; Africa’s Serengeti with its lurking dangers under a veneer of breathtaking beauty.

Yet even as place becomes more central, I’ve learned that we mustn’t neglect the story. So I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way about how we can best write about place.

-       Stories are about emotional journeys even more than literal ones—and readers need to connect to both. Place will serve as a backdrop in your writing, a very important one, but you don’t want to neglect the characters within the place. For example, in “The Ecstatic Cry,” which is about a biologist living in Antarctica, I created a character that is at home at the ends of the earth (literally)—and this required not only researching about life in Antarctica but a lot of exploration as to what sort of person would feel at home there and choose to live there above anyplace else.

-       Always do your research, and don’t skimp on details. These details are what bring a place, and a story, to life. I remember a reader telling me how one of the tiniest details in “Translation Memory” stuck with her—the fact that one of the Japanese toys in the story is called a Gloomy Bear. I used that detail in part because my research revealed that it was one of the most popular toys in Japan at the time—and yet, as readers of the story often notice, it resonates thematically as well.

-       Don’t let setting take over completely. I often had to pull back on my descriptions, reminding myself that not every single minute detail was necessary to get across a sense of place. Rather than use lengthy paragraphs to describe a place, sprinkle your descriptions throughout a piece, giving readers a sense of the setting through a character’s lens rather than offering long passages of description. In this short paragraph, for example, my intention was to show a little bit about what it’s like to live on a remote island in the South Pacific through one of the story’s characters who has made her home there:

I look around, as if for clues that would make [my sister] less of a stranger. But her house is empty, except for the animals and her few spindly pieces of furniture. She’s always lived sparely because she likes to be mobile. She doesn’t believe in getting good at one thing and taking herself to the top; she sees jobs and homes as projects, as things she’ll finish and then move on. Here, she has no job anymore; she lives off her garden of vegetables and off occasional tasks she can do for money or supplies. And this dim, stuffy little house has been home for twice the time she usually spends in any one place.

-       Offer the unexpected. One writing exercise I use frequently in workshops is this: Think of the most beautiful place imaginable, then write about something tragic happening there—or, conversely: Conjure one of the most horrific places you can think of and write about something lovely happening there. I set the story “The Road to Hana” in Hawaii specifically because it’s a place for lovers and honeymooners—and yet it’s about a couple struggling with issues in their marriage. Always try to play with perceptions, to turn them around and upside down.

And finally, always remember that you needn’t go far to write about place. I always enjoy traveling new places because it takes me out of my normal routine, my usual way of seeing things. But I’ve also found that all it takes is a little focus to do the very same in the cafĂ© down the street. Good stories, and interesting settings, are everywhere—we just have to open our eyes to them.

To find out more about Midge or to get more ideas on writing prompts, writing advice, and the writing life you can visit her blog - a great resource.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Major Jackson: Coming Attraction for Thursday 4/14 at SAL

I hope Major reads this poem Thursday night. How could he not? An empire of handholding and park benches? I find really good love poems to be a rare breed. "Leave it All Up to Me" holds the electricity of new love -- the language pushes forward with a driving force that brings me to the finish line only to begin the marathon of that single kiss again and again. Hearing Major Jackson read this and other poems  in Seattle is a rare treat. I think there are some tickets left --  $20 for general seating, but free to students the night of the show. Just bring a student I.D. Hope to see you there. Click here to purchase tickets now!

Leave It All Up to Me

All we want is to succumb to a single kiss
that will contain us like a marathon
with no finish line, and if so, that we land
like newspapers before sunrise, halcyon
mornings arrived like blue martinis. I am
learning the steps to a foreign song: her mind
was torpedo, and her body was storm,
a kind of Wow. All we want is a metropolis
of Sundays, an empire of hand-holding
and park benches? She says, “Leave it all up to me.”

And here is a whiteboard animation piece that does a wonderful job of joining images to words - especially mornings arrived like blue martinis.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Advice for the Writer Just Starting Out and the Writer Who Wants to Keep Going

It's National Poetry Month and that means lots of poetry reading and hopefully, poetry writing. Recently, Elizabeth Corcoran asked me to answer some questions designed to help a beginning writer find her way in the literary world. I hope something I've written here might be useful to you or to a student you know...

Susan Rich explored the world before settling down to poetry. With a degree in International affairs from Harvard, Susan worked with Amnesty International, the Peace Corps, and as a human rights trainer in Gaza and the West Bank. She has written three poetry books, including her recent, The Alchemists Kitchen. With poems published in magazines from the Christian Science Monitor to the Alaska Quarterly, she has been awarded the Times Literary Supplement Award, a residency at Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain, an Artist Trust Fellowship, and a Seattle City Artist Project Award, as well as participation in the Cuirt Literary Festival in Galway, Ireland. 

Like so many writers, your passion for writing was once almost crushed. After a decade of world travel and human rights work, you returned to writing. What advice would you give to a person who once loved to write, but put it aside because they were discouraged?

When I was a college student several of my male professors told me in subtle and not so subtle ways: you don't have what it takes to be a writer. I was young, fairly innocent, and believed too much in their authority as "professors." It took ten years of living in order for me to return to what I loved - creating music out of my imagination, creating a word order, structure, a line break that no one had quite done this way before.

So to answer your question simply - and yet the answer is far from simple - as a writer, don't ever give your power away. Don't let anyone else be the final judge of your work. This is tricky because a young writer, any writer, must open themselves to learning new literary tools - new ways of putting the words on paper.

What saved me as a poet and allowed me to return to the open field of the blank page was to check my ego at the door. I returned to writing poetry, for me and not for anyone else. I gave up my romanticized idea of the poet and wrote because it's (you've heard this before) what I needed to do. Mark Doty says in an interview with Bill Moyers that until he writes about an experience it seems incomplete - that the poem becomes a kind of varnish allowing his life (any life) to shine.

In the end, I have no recourse but to write to please myself.
Do you have suggestions of where a "want to be" writer or poet might begin? For example, you've said you don't get up two hours before breakfast every day.

Of course everyone is different; for me, I required the structure of a writing class - even if it was conducted around a dining room table. I wanted to learn. What led me back to a life of writing was a Tuesday evening poetry class conducted out of my teacher's home.

The teacher, because she herself felt snubbed by the Boston literary life, was emphatic that no one social class or gender owned the life of poetry. Three years flew by as I took weekly classes from various poets in the Boston / Cambridge area. Slowly, I started sending my poems into the world and, to my utter surprise, different journals began to accept them.

But here's the key: before I could send my work out, I needed to really accept that my poetry was my own and not up for final evaluation by others."Writing well is the best revenge," Zelda Fitzgerald explained in her novel. As the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, we can only assume how difficult it was for her to be viewed as a serious writer. I came across that quote when I was a teenager and it has served me well.

To continue reading this interview click here on The Writer's Connection.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SAL Coming Attraction - Brian Turner, 7:30 pm, Thursday, April 15

Brian Turner has lived a most unconventional poet's life -- that of an infantry team leader in the US Army. HIs first book, Here, Bullet was in great part written while Brian was stationed in Iraq. In 2010, Turner published his second book, Phantom Noise which largely deals with the challenges of returning veterans. However, as Chris Abani said this morning on NPR/KUOW - our writing is never about our subject. Or I would add - the subject is just the beginning. Here's one poem so you can judge for yourself. Better yet, come out to Seattle Arts and Lectures at 7:30 next Thursday. Tickets still available here but "going quickly."

Here, Bullet
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.
BRIAN TURNER earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the l0th Mountain Division (1999-2000). His poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, American War Poems: An Anthology, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Writing Prompt and a Sweet Review of The Alchemist's Kitchen

Thank you to Midge Raymond for inviting me to guest blog at her dynamite blog: Remembering English. Recently, Midge invited many poets and fiction writers to provide a writing prompt complete with a who, what, why, and how. You can find prompts at Remembering English by Kelli Russell Agodon, Elizabeth Austen, and Wendy Call. Midge Raymond also has a new collection of short stories about to be published: Forgetting English. More on that soon!

Here is a preview of Midge's introduction to my writing prompt: Approaching Creative Research.

I love that Susan has chosen an exercise on interviewing — one of a writer’s greatest skills, right along with listening. Susan’s exercise is inspired in part by her interviews with new Somali citizens for the Somali Voices project (these poems appear in her second book, Cures Include Travel).
Enjoy — and don’t miss Susan’s lovely poem “Interview,” which appears after the exercise.
To read (and hopefully try) the writing prompt, Approaching Creative Research, click here

I think I'm writing my Thankful Thursday early because here is another thing I am thankful for. Thank you to Valparaiso Poetry Review  and poet reviewer  Rachel Dacus for a really thoughtful piece on The Alchemist's Kitchen. You can read the review here, but here's my favorite paragraph.

 Susan Rich is singing in a key of tenderness, humor, and indignation. Only a poet of skill and understanding can manage this diversity of topics with an artistic transcendence that weaves through daily life and history, whether touched by the terrible, the sublime, or the simply routine. These poems serve as invocations, conjurings, and ultimately as eloquent prayers, as the opening poem, “Different Places to Pray,” demonstrates -

And if you are still reading here is the web cam of the day -- I heard an NPR story about this eagle's nest at a raptor center in Iowa. The Decorah Eagle Cam provides an excellent view of the eagle and her babies. When I watched they were sleeping, but take a look here and see what's shaking in the nest. I feel sure this is a sign of spring. May it come soon to Seattle.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poetry Friends and Seattle Arts and Lectures: Thursday, April 14 @ 7:30pm

Photograph thanks to SAL
Almost one year ago I attended a SAL event where Rebecca Hoogs introduced Sharon Olds with the most artful and engaging introduction I have ever heard. At the end of the evening I caught up with Rebecca and told her "Before I die, I hope that you'll introduce me for something - " I would have been fine with Rebecca introducing me to a strong cup of coffee or a new variety of blueberry plant. Instead, within a week, she sent me an email, "do you like your introductions funny" and invited me to read for National Poetry Month with my former University of Oregon MFA friends Brian Turner and Major Jackson. The evening will be sponsored by the Poetry Society of America and Alice Quinn, former poetry of the New Yorker, will be interviewing the three of us on stage.

"Nervous as hell" I told a friend recently and she replied, "it would make anyone with a pulse nervous." My plan is to get all of my nervousness out far before I actually walk on stage. I'm already putting together my play list and if you have any favorites you'd like to hear next Thursday, April 14th, please don't be shy but leave me a comment here. If you want to purchase tickets, there are still some available here. And even if you've seen me read before, you don't want to miss Brian and Major. I've seen them both read and they are utterly engaging. Guaranteed. Poetry, Benaroya Hall, and Wild Ginger next door - it's an evening not to be missed.

Brian Turner, Major Jackson & Susan RichTHU, APR 14, 2011, 7:30 PMBenaroya Hall \ Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital HallCo-Presented by Poetry Society of America  
This Poetry Series Special Event features an introduction and moderated Q&A from Alice Quinn, former poetry editor at the New Yorkerand now Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America.