Monday, January 30, 2012

Search for Meaning Book Festival at Seattle University this Saturday

This Saturday, February 4th, is the Search for Meaning Book Festival at Seattle University. I'll be speaking and reading about "Your Own Private Walden: Poetry and Power." Other writers include Francis McCue, Deborah Jarvis, and David Gutterson. There are literally dozens and dozens of presentations to choose from. You can find out more about the event right here in this article in today's Seattle Times.

In other news, Richard Hugo House has a new director: Tree Swenson. Swenson is co-founder of Copper Canyon Press and (according to the Times) was also a friend of Richard Hugo.

If one needs to search for meaning in life, Seattle seems a very good place to conduct such research.

Friday, January 27, 2012

One Day Class at Hugo House with Elizabeth Austen - or Easy in the Islands

Creativity Center for Poets, Prose Writers, and Literary Lovers

My friend Elizabeth Austen will be teaching a one day poetry writing workshop February 4th from 1:00 -5:00 pm. You can register at Hugo House by calling (206) 322-7030. It's super easy to do.
Or on line at Richard Hugo House. Every writer I know takes classes  and/or teaches here. It's a place you want to check out and a teacher who will not disappoint. She's a master.

Poems from Poems: Call and Response
“Good poems are the best teachers. Perhaps they are the only teachers,” writes Mary Oliver in A Poetry Handbook. This workshop explores ways to let others’ poems not only teach you, but lead to new poems of your own. We’ll experiment with po-jacking, sonic translations, echo translations and other ways to use one poem as a jumping off point for another. Come prepared to write and stretch your craft – participants will leave the workshop with fresh drafts of new poems.

And if Lopez Island is more to your liking (or your location) Elizabeth will be teaching this class for free at the Lopez Public Library on February 26th from 2:00-4:00 pm.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grant Proposals - Some Random Thoughts - Hopefully Helpful

I spent my three snow days applying for the same two grants that most other poets I know are applying for --- Artists Trust (for Washington State writers) and the NEA - for poets from across our fair land. A good part of being a writer is being optimistic enough to put oneself out there --- knowing that you can't win if you don't try. Here are some things I learned that made it easier to try!

1. Ask for help when you need it. After several frustrating hours, an entire afternoon, I wrote and then called the people at the NEA. Here is what I learned: government computers don't play well with Mac computers. In fact, Google Chrome and downloads from government documents actually don't work. Why this isn't stated anywhere is a mystery -- one that took up hours of my life I can't get back. On the other hand, if I hadn't called, I would have just given up and not applied at all.

2. Take your time. Take a break. Look again. I needed to read over my writing sample several times in order to feel good about it. From my experience on the other side of the table, when I have been part of a committee of judges instead of an applicant, I've learned that a cohesive application helps weary readers remember the work. This means a delicate balance between a manuscript packet that has cohesion but is not redundant. I had about half the poems set from the start, it was the middle poems that I kept changing.

3. Don't go it alone. I was working on my two applications at the same time as my good friend Kelli Russell  Agodon. I was able to let her know that FireFox was the only way for Mac users to download the NEA application and she was able to help me create a header in the way the NEA required. More than those extremely helpful hints, we were able to urge each other on. Knowing that someone else was struggling through the same quagmire of bureaucracy as I was made for a less lonely time. A friend who is in the same boat as your are is invaluable. And whichever one of us wins takes the other one out for dinner. We are hoping for at least two dinners, one for each of our wins.

4. Find a way to stay positive. I would fluctuate wildly between thinking that I was insane to spend precious snow days grant writing instead of writing poetry, but  then I would move to the notion that I was taking myself seriously as a writer and being open to the universe of support. Somebody has to win an NEA; somebody needs to win the Artist Trust Fellowship. Why not me and all my good friends too? If nothing else, I did important revisions on poems that I had thought were done until now.

5. You will be glad you did. It feels wonderful to have finished two proposals. And the truth is, they weren't that hard to do, they just took time. Organizations are switching to new on-line programs. When I wrote Miguel at Artist Trust with a question concerning the synopsis of my project, he was thankful that I was (unknowingly) pointing out a discrepancy in the instructions. For the record. you can send in 13 pages -- 12 pages of poems and one page with an overview of the work.

If you decide to put your hat in the ring for one of these awards, best of luck! May we all win!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Praise of Snow Days - in Seattle!

My new neighbor

Trethewey Named Sate Poet Laureate - And Sexism

Wow! I love how one day I can be blogging about a favorite poet and the next day she becomes Poet Laureate of her state. This is especially sweet because of her own history with the state of Mississippi. Because Tretheway's mother was black and her father, white, they were not allowed to marry in Mississippi in the 1960's. By virtue of these laws, Tretheway herself was illegal. It's hard to get one's head around this.

Trethewey named state poet laureate - Local -

This article mentions that Tretheway received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts. Since she mentions (not by name) the institution where she received her degree in the video I posted previously, I was fascinated. My undergraduate degree is also from UMass --- and I also struggled profoundly with the male professors I had there. In fact, because two of those male professors felt they needed to single me out to tell me that I would not be a writer, I stopped writing for ten years.

In today's very small poetry world it's not polite to mention the sexism that goes on in creative writing programs --- and perhaps it's better now? I don't know. My MFA experience at the University of Oregon was not undercut by any sexist treatment -- but as an undergraduate I suffered a great deal without being able to give sexism it's rightful name.

What I meant to say -- here is one of my all time favorite books of poetry from an amazing poet.

From one photograph (the one featured here)  Tretheway imagines the life of a prostitute in New Orleans. The poems come in the form of letters that "Ophelia" writes to her girlfriend back home. Eventually the frame falls away and the poems are more of an interior dreamscape. Because Bellocq became famous due to the photographs he took of the women at rest -- smoking, daydreaming, washing clothes - there is much here on the nature of photography as well. It's so difficult to write concerning work that one loves. Best to just offer a poem.

Blue Book – June 1911

I wear my best gown for the picture—
White silk with seed pearls and ostrich feathers –
My hair in a loose chignon. Behind me,
Bellocq’s black scrim just covers the laundry –
Tea towels bleached and frayed, drying on the line.
I look away from his lens to appear
Demure, to attract those guests not wanting
The lewd sites of Emma Johnson’s circus.
Countess writes my description for the book –
“Violet,” a fair skinned beauty, recites
poetry and soliloques; nightly
she performs her tableau vivant, becomes
a living statue, an object of art –
and I fade again into someone I’m not.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Natasha Tretheway on George Orwell, Race, and "Why I Write"

Natasha Tretheway is one of my absolutely favorite poets. Her book, Bellocq's Ophelia is one I return to again and again. Poetry's ability to teach us what we have not known. "Across time and space poetry shows us how we are alike. It asks that we be more compassionate, more observant. The soul sings for justice and the song is poetry." This was her talk at Emory University -- listen and keep listening; you won't regret it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Prose Review --- The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories

The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories
Susi Wyss
Henry Holt $15
228 pages

What a pleasure to read of strong, smart, and sensitive African women.  This work of fiction is no fiction at all in the sense that these characters reflect the women I met and in some cases, became friends with during my four years in Africa. Wyss draws us into these characters with artful simplicity. How could she have passed these salon mirrors so many times a day without looking, without really seeing herself, the protagonist wonders. How can we as lovers of literature, know so little of contemporary African life?

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day +17 Minutes

Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X

"A nation that spends more money each year on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." 
                                  ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Surprise Review - Who Knew? Thank you Web del Sol and Margaret MK Hess

It's now been 20 months since The Alchemist's Kitchen arrived in the world.  I wonder if anyone has read it recently or if the door has closed on this particular kitchen. Sometimes it's easy to feel invisible. And although being invisible is a super power that six year old boys crave, it's not great news for a book.

And so the fact that Web Del Sol Review of Books has just reviewed The Alchemist's Kitchen seems very good news indeed. And not just a run of the mill review, but one where the reviewer, Margaret MK Hess (whom I do not know) really liked the work.

"She takes the whole world and makes it a small and valued place," Hass writes. And Hass also connects "Tulip Sutra" to the tulips in the hospital room of a dying woman -- and to the body. This seems the best a poet can hope for from a reviewer, Hass has showed me new ways to understand my own work.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Death to Traffic" -Travel Trumps Ethnocentricity - Rick Steves

I've just learned how to embed youtubes in this blog, so here we go! TEDx is a trove of ideas --- all talks that last 20 minutes or less. Rick Steves runs tours and writes guidebooks. His style is a bit abrasive but what he has to say is worthwhile. "Fear is for people who don't get out much." or perhaps "Death to traffic."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ashland Creek Press PSA - I Love This!

I love this youtube video. I have two typewriters and would like to have a portable. Ashland Creek Press are the same people that brought us the youtube video concerning authors watching their Amazon numbers.

In addition to creating smart and funny videos, Ashland Creek Press publishes books!

More connected to this video though, the press has started printing artful notecards that feature their beloved machines. You can order them here. Or just admire their beautiful shapes and keys below.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reviewers Wanted for Fire On Her Tongue

The first ever e-book anthology of women's poetry. It's cool and it's historical.
Someday future poets and critics will point to Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy as the first women to create an e-book anthology of women's poetry.  A book without glue or paper - without a trace of a carbon footprint. Instead of pioneers of the prairie they are pioneers of the page. Both are excellent poets and highly respected for their work -- but in this endeavor they've concentrated on other women's work.

There are over 400 pages of poetry by Jane Hirshfield, Nin Andrews, Patricia Fargnoli, Natasha Saje, Aimee Nezhumatatil, January O'Neil, Patricia Smith, Annie Finch, Alicia Ostricher,  and many many others. And because paper price was not a consideration, you can read many poems by the same poet -- not just one or two. 

I just heard tonight from a lovely man in North Carolina who bought his copy and then downloaded a  copy for the bookshop screens where he works. My sense is that this book is going to really gain momentum as readers see that it is possible to read poetry on an e-reader (Fire On Her Tongue is available for ipad, kindle, and nook.) 

And for the sake of full disclosure I should mention that I'm one of the poets represented here as well. If you buy one e-book of poetry this year, it should be this one. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Finding a New Poet: Katy Lederer

Perhaps I am the last poet on the block not to have heard of Katy Lederer. Or perhaps I heard her story of famed poker player to hedge fund executive and decided this wasn't the poet for me. Based on the two poems below (and these are the only Lederer poems I know) I was wrong. Her syntax, tone, and wonderful word patterns are reminiscent of Oleana Kalytiack Davis.  I don't know that I can point to exactly where these two poets intersect, but in my muddled poetry brain they do. 

Both women's biographies point to them as "fearless" and while I don't believe anyone is fearless - there is a brutality of truth that I admire in their work. In order to write strong poems I believe one needs to live in a certain way - either by choice or circumstance. However as I get older, I am no longer traveling to war torn countries or changing my address every 18 months --- and that's okay. But it's the bravery of these voices that I believe result in such new ways of writing. 

I've been working on an essay I'm writing for a new anthology The Poet and the World to be published jointly by the Poetry Foundation and McSweeneys . Fourteen years ago I spent 18 months on a Fulbright in Cape Town, South Africa. 

I've been returning to images of poets I met and the odd life I had as a sanctioned outsider. One of my friends summed up life as a Fulbrighter as "Peace Corps with status" and he was right. What he didn't mention was how lonely that status could be. And that's what these poems remind me of. 

by Katy Lederer

After Duras

"We go back to our house. We are lovers.
We cannot stop loving each other."

I come to confiscate your love.
What will you do?

Small shrubs grow in the blackened yard.
Sun, which is yellow, shines in through the windows, now barred.

You were watching me eat.
Put your tongue in my mouth then retract it.

We were waiting for our recompense.
But everyone knows love is bankrupt.

On the billboard in front of us: breasts.
The empty middles of the mannequins that peered out through the glass.

Reprehensibly, I mouthed the words: I love you.

That Everything's Inevitable
by Katy Lederer

That everything's inevitable. 
That fate is whatever has already happened. 
The brain, which is as elemental, as sane, as the rest of the processing universe is. 
In this world, I am the surest thing.
Scrunched-up arms, folded legs, lovely destitute eyes. 
Please insert your spare coins. 
I am filling them up. 
Please insert your spare vision, your vigor, your vim. 
But yet, I am a vatic one. 
As vatic as the Vatican.
In the temper and the tantrum, in the well-kept arboretum
I am waiting, like an animal, 
For poetry.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution Number 1 - Poets On the Coast Writing Retreat

Please consider joining us for Poets on the Coast
Last year at this time Kelli Russell Agodon and I were just beginning an exploration as concrete dreamers. If we offered women a chance at a new kind of retreat experience, would there be interested takers? What we found out: Yes, yes, and yes. Our first POETS ON THE COAST: A WRITING RETREAT FOR WOMEN took place last September and now we are ready for our second event from September 7th - 9th at the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon Coast.

What do we do differently? Each poet receives a one-on-one meeting with either Kelli or myself. We conduct the overall retreat with a focus on your needs and then structure the classes based on what you want. Last year we created a magical experience for each participant. This year we expect to do this and more.

Start the year with a gift to yourself. If you register now you will receive our lowest price of $273 for registration as well as a one year subscription to the northwest literary journal Crab Creek Review.

We focus on poets who are new to poetry and poets who are well published. The classes are structured for poets of all levels. Please feel free to read over the FAQ for Poets on the Coast or leave me a message here. I hope you can join us.