Friday, March 30, 2012

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2012 has begun!

I'm taking part in the Book of Kells  2012 Big Poetry Giveaway created by the fabulous poet Kelli Russell Agodon for National Poetry Month. I'm giving away a copy of my book The Alchemist's Kitchen, published by White Pine Press as well as a copy of Catherine Barnett's heartbreakingly gorgeous collection Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced published by Alice James Press . Want to win? Just leave a comment on this post now through April 30 and I'll pick winners for each book during the week of May 1. To see the full list of poet bloggers taking part in the giveaway, visit Kelli's blog, Book of Kells.

Here's a little bit about the books:

Alchemist's studied revelation in ordinary matter; they conceived their purpose as transformation -- not of ordinary metals into gold, rather they were experimenting to save their souls. These poems take ordinary life --- the life of a 19th century woman photographer and a 21st century traveler and try to understand them in new ways. Tulips, Bosnia, and sailing ships are also included. Here's one brief poem:

The 4 ‘0’ Clock News @ House of Sky
In the beginning we wanted

to cast ourselves
as opera stars, to break apart

like gorgeous women
palm reading at the piano bar ~

music stinging like salt from the sea.

We were spiraling ridges, dust-darlings
and dangerous.

We were peonies ~ cut
and arranged like astronauts

in flight. We soaked in syllables

not water; rode the Southern
drawl of the wind

over cobalt glass ~
backlit by a disc of sun.                                          first  published in Diode Journal

The Alchemist's Kitchen was a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Prize in Poetry and the Washington State Poetry Award. It has one shiny sticker -and I will happily sign it for you.

(If that's what you want.)

Book 2

Catherine Barnett's book will leave you breathless. Here is praise from Linda Gregerson:

If death could be undone by love ---that deathless human wish -- if death could be undone by formidable mindfulness and immaculate craft, these poems would revive the dead. The miracle they do work is nearly of that scale: they forget, and forge on our behalf, a model of the soul.


Irregular song, irregular heartbeat,

stutter that neither
warns nor comforts:

I thought it was a man’s voice
all this time, calling for help.

I thought it was a man
calling scared from the ditch.

Hopeless barking it was, a dog trapped
somewhere, and lonely—

then suddenly quiet.
Someone must have hitched her collar up,

stitched her mouth down,
or shot her dead—

how else break such pitch.

                                           Catherine Barnett

Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced won the Beatrice Hawley Prize from Alice James Books. Barnett's second book, The Game of Boxes: Poems, will be released from Greywolf Press in August.

The Alchemist's Kitchen drawing is open from now through ALL OF APRIL, National Poetry Month!

If you'd like to be entered, please leave your name and email address by midnight, APRIL 30th, 2012 in the comment section of this post and I'll be randomly choosing 2 lucky winners for the books during the week of May 1st, 2012.

Good luck & Good Reading!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No poet was more important to women poets coming of age in the 1970's

Adrienne Rich 1929-2012
Adrienne Rich was the most important poet to women of my generation. This isn't the first time I've thought about this, but it is the first time I've felt it so indelibly on my skin, marked as if with a branding iron. All this afternoon and evening the internet has been jumping with women writing of how vital Rich was to their lives --- not just their development as a poet, but the influence she had on who they'd become as people. I'm no different.

Diving Into the Wreck was the first book of poems I read that took my head off. I was still in high school, and had no idea how these words could engage my entire self like a hurricane, a storm of wisdom. I didn't just ingest her work, I wanted to be Adrienne Rich. I knew nothing about her life, I just knew that here was a voice (and I believed, a soul) that knew me better than I knew myself.

It wasn't until I was in college that I had the privilege of hearing her read for the first time. I remember the evening although it was thirty years ago; Rich read in a small church in Leverett, Massachusetts where she lived for a short time.

4 Montague Road, Leverett, MA
Part way through the event some of us noticed that Rich had her eyes lifted up to the balcony of the church as if she were reading her poems to the empty pews -- only they weren't empty. I turned my head and saw Michelle Cliff standing alone in the center of the seats meeting her lover's gaze. It was 1972 and their 30+ year relationship was just beginning.

After the reading I summoned all my courage and with the direct prodding of my roommate, I stood in line waiting to talk to the poet (something I had never been confident enough to do before). When it was my turn I mumbled something about being Ruby Rich's sister (my sister had just interviewed Adrienne for a piece in a woman's magazine). Maybe because of this or maybe because she could tell how painfully nervous I was, Adrienne clasped my right hand in both her hands and smiled so warmly that I can still conjure that moment now. Honestly.

Adrienne Rich was my rock star and I went home that evening ecstatic that I had met my favorite person on the planet. It took me four days before I washed my hand. I perfected the art of showering with one hand outside the curtain.

Since that time I've seen Rich read in Portland and Seattle; I've taught her poems in Cape Town, South Africa and  bought every book she's written. But here's the real secret: Adrienne Rich was a generous poet; a poet who made opportunities for other women poets, who wrote so compellingly of Muriel Rukeyser that she was able to bring her back into print.

Adrienne Rich's presence on the page and in person made me want to be a better person. She taught me that being a poet in the world was a position to take seriously. I remember her writing back to me when Kate lyn Hibbard and I invited her to come read at the University of Oregon. By then Rich was living in Santa Cruz, California. Although she turned down our invitation, she did so in such a way that we adored her all the same. This was 1995 and Rich was still answering every letter she received herself.

When I think of poems that have been crucial in my life, poems that are sustenance -- that allow me to breathe in a world I need to believe in -- it's Adrienne Rich's work that I return to. Her passing has made me already recommit to my poems, to remember that living in a certain way is necessary.

From an Atlas of the Difficult World

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are. 

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

Tonight there is a shared grief for the poet we have lost; may this outpouring culminate in some way that keeps her ideals and her obsessions in our lives. The New York Times obituary ended with this: What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this: “the creation of a society without domination.”

From 21 Love Poems - Adrienne Rich

from 21 Love Poems


Wherever in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,
victimized hirelings bending to the lash,
we also have to walk . . . if simply as we walk
through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties
of our own neighborhoods.
We need to grasp our lives inseperable
from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,
and the red begonia perilously flashing
from a tenement sill six stories high,
or the long-legged young girls playing ball
in the junior highschool playground.
No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.

                                --- Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich dies at 82 - No Words

1929 - 2012
Adrienne Rich, one of America's foremost poets and essayists, died in her Santa Cruz home Tuesday after complications from rheumatoid arthritis. She was 82. Rich was among the first contemporary poets on the early feminist scene to imagine "the personal as political." In 1997, Rich declined the National Medal of Arts to protest the House's vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts. She published 30 books; 19 in poetry and seven in prose.Read more:

Read more:

Monday, March 26, 2012

There's More to the Story~ Book of Kells: The Art of Being Rejected...

~ Book of Kells: The Art of Being Rejected... is where it's at today. Read Kelli Russell Agodon's poignant blog post on The Art of Rejection. But what my dear friend and successful poet doesn't know is how many months of rejections I endured before those two lovely acceptances appeared within the same week. What I've learned over the years is that if I send out poems to four or five publications a month, I may on average find myself with one acceptance to every 4-5 rejections. This number increases significantly  if I mix in top magazines like The New Yorker or The Atlantic (and by the way, check out Kelli's poem "How Killer Blue Irises Spread" in The Atlantic here).

We all tell ourselves rejection is part of being a writer --- and it is --- but sometimes it is a bigger part of the game than others. I've learned that there is an internal clock in me that goes off if say six weeks go by and I have no work accepted. The problem is, this alarm doesn't pay any attention to how many poems I've written or sent out --- and that number varies widely depending on what else is happening in my life.

I try to recapture the joy of sending my poems into the world that I had as a beginning poet. I remember feeling elated as I placed each envelope separately into the corner mailbox and imagined an editor on the other side of the country (or the world) opening that same envelope and reading the work with no idea who I was, no need to spare my feelings or flatter me. The poem judged by the words on the page. That's it.

I used to only send my work to journals in states I'd never visited; I loved the concept that my poems travelled to places I had not. Hello Alaska Quarterly Review and the Hawai'i Review. And if the work came back with a "sorry, but ..." that was okay too. I want my poems to find a home where they are appreciated. If it's not a good fit, then I know of plenty more journals to try.

A confession: If nobody is watching, I  like to give the poems I send out a quick kiss on the back of the envelope before they go in the post. Off into the world they go with light lipstick kisses.

Another confession: It's been over twenty years that I've been folding SASE's (self addressed stamped envelopes) into other envelopes along with my work. For much of that time, I've entertained myself with the License Plate Game and tried to have at least one poem published in every state. As of this evening I have succeeded with 39 states and have 11 more to go. North and South Dakota have proven most difficult - with no poems to date accepted. My goal is to remain playful and know that the real focus remains on writing poems. I've also published in 7 countries, with many more left to explore...

As I get older (!) I know that what matters most is writing the best poem I can write. This means pleasing myself above any editor. More often times than not what pleases me also (eventually) pleases him or her.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Face to Meet the Faces - Hugo House Party, April 4th - Free!

Photo by Oliver de la Paz

Please join me and a host of award winning poets including Kathleen Flenniken, Peter Pereira, Martha Silano, Marge Manwaring, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Oliver de la Paz, and Stacey Lyn Brown to welcome this amazing anthology into the world. This will be a reading and celebration on Wednesday night, April 4th. You are invited! 7 pm Richard Hugo House. 

Three or Four Hills and a Cloud - a Wallace Stevens Sunday

By KE Chambers

Today's poem from Poetry Daily. Happy Sunday.

Of the Surface of Things
by Wallace Stevens


In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
        hills and a cloud.


From my balcony, I survey the yellow air,
Reading where I have written,
"The spring is like a belle undressing."


The gold tree is blue,
The singer has pulled his cloak over his head.
The moon is in the folds of the cloak.

Monday, March 19, 2012

If you are working on your own book at the moment - W.S. Merwin

Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde creates clouds in a room, playing on the idea of a transitional sculpture.
This image seems perfect for describing the process of book making as does the following poem by W.S. Merwin. My friend the short story writer Midge Raymond first introduced me to this poem when I asked a few friends to my house for a birthday celebration that was to include poetry. Each friend brought a poem with copies to share for everyone and a present that was metaphorical rather than material. One of the best birthday parties ever. I was reminded of this poem over the weekend when I spoke to a group of Edge Writers from Artists Trust. May this bring solace that no book is ever finished -- even one by Merwin.

To the Book

Go on 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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A New Kind of Reading - The Writer's Life

Okay. Perhaps Geraldine Mills and I were not quite as cute as these twins - but our new reading style might at least be worth considering the next time you do a reading with someone you know (and whose work you admire). As you may know, the Irish poet and short story writer, Geraldine Mills, was visiting me last week from Galway, Ireland. Geraldine and I met ten years ago while in residence together at the Tyrone Guthrie Center. Since that time we've met up twice when I returned to Ireland and also kept in touch via email and the occasional phone call.

In other words, we know each other but not that well. When we first met we did a reading together at the Guthrie Center and decided to do a sort of call and response. Geraldine read one poem and I followed with a poem on a similar theme. It was a bit too choppy. This time we decided to create a twinned reading: to have one poet read two poems and then switch over to the second poet. At our reading on Bainbridge Island we did this together, both standing side by side at the podium while the other read. We themed our poems to be about mothers, fathers, art, and Ireland / America. It worked fine, but I wanted it to be better than fine.

So for our reading at Elliott Bay Book Company, we decided to change it up a bit. We began by introducing each other and explaining that we would be reading together. Geraldine began with poems of the United States starting with "Conquistadores" about receiving the American package as a little girl. I followed with poems of my time in Ireland at Anam Cara and the Tyrone Guthrie Center. We then moved on to poems drawn from our mutual interest in the visual arts. As a kind of intermission we read a "Wild Card" poem about anything we wanted. From there we transitioned to reading each other's work. What fun it was to read my favorite poems of Geraldine's and to hear my poems in her lovely voice. We ended with two of our own poems -- our favorite poems from our own work.

Many folks in the audience commented that the reading was complimented by the fact that they enjoyed listening to two poets who were clearly friends and admiring of each other's work. Two poets communicating back and forth, making jokes and chatting a little, creates a more dynamic atmosphere than one poet up on stage and then the other. Instead of a competition we offered a collaboration. All I know for sure is that it felt very different -- in a great way -- then just following one another. Geraldine and I have styles that I believe are complimentary and so the transitons were easy. Of course someone who was actually listening to us would know better if it worked. I just know that it's a format I hope to do again.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Wonderful Week with Geraldine Mills - The Life of a Writer

Geraldine Mills at Elliott Bay Book Company before her reading
It's been a wonderful week with my dear friend Irish writer Geraldine Mills. Geraldine and I have each done six events in the past week - four of them together. We've taught classes at Richard Hugo House, read at Hyla Middle School on Bainbridge Island, and done a reading together at Elliott Bay Book Company. The week has flown by. And although I first met Geraldine at the Tyrone Guthrie Center ten years ago, it is in this last year that we've been able to spend time together. We've so enjoyed our time that we are already dreaming of teaching classes together again (but where?) and doing more twinned readings. What is a twinned reading? Glad you asked! More to come on this tomorrow. Until then, check out Geradline's new blog titled Blog with a small b.