Thursday, May 31, 2012

One day shootings, the next day a prize

OK, so maybe my prize isn't this big, but it's still a wonderful surprise to come home to on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Yesterday, a man came to my neighborhood after shooting five people and then when the police surrounded him, he put the gun to his head and shot himself. Schools were in lockdown and roads blocked. Yesterday, I didn't feel safe in my own back garden but today I'm a prize winner. How quickly life can change.

I need to wait a couple of weeks to announce the prize and I'm not trying to be coy -- but I so wanted to celebrate the opening of the envelope and that first word of the sentence: Congratulations ...

Last week I found the other kind of letter in my mailbox: I'm sorry to inform you that ...

One week a loser and the next a winner. I try to remember that these labels are external and have little to do with my poems and even less to do with who I am as a person. True that it's easier for me to remember this tonight than it was last week.

Maybe the real message here is that things change constantly. On bad days I tell myself that I just need to make it to the next morning, on good days I never want to go to sleep. Why do prizes matter? Because they make us (read me) feel honored. Because poets rarely receive much notice in the world (let alone prizes). Because a poetry prize gives me reason to keep pushing on even when my poems seem to be getting harder and harder to write. Because it feels like receiving a gold star from a favorite teacher. Because who doesn't want to feel appreciated?

Today in my English 101 class I asked my students how they would use their newly honed writing skills when our class finishes next week. Some said they would feel more confident posting on blogs, some said for their future nursing work, some said for Psych 100. But one young woman shyly said she wanted to someday write her first book. Yes, it all starts with recognition. I told her that first books are published everyday. Why not hers? Why not yours?

Millay Colony for the Arts

My very first awarded artist residency was the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, New York. It was for the month of February (an easier month to win a residency for sure) and I was called at the last minute as an alternate. And yet. A jury had deemed my work worthwhile (barely!) and I took that nod of recognition seriously. The poems I wrote here are collected in my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue - Poems of the World. But here's the thing: I had not yet even thought about publishing a book. I needed recognition first before my dreams could become more ambitious.

We're only human. Someone needs to care about our work in order for us to forge through dry spells and other barriers. I write my poems to please myself - but that includes wanting to please other readers - to play, to philosophize, to try and be wise. What better way to live a life than this?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Poets are lucky." from Tracy K. Smith

Joy is a part of my process. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that poetry, as a practice, necessitates a sense of joy. It’s exhilarating to come into contact with the things we write into being. And a real sense of play and abandon – even when we are relying on hard-won technique, and even when the aim is deadly serious. How often do we get the excuse to stop, think, and then stop thinking altogether and try to listen to what sits behind our outside of our thoughts? Poets are lucky.

To read the full interview at Ploughshares' blog; click here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

22 Hours and Counting: Enter Ekphrastic Contest Now!

Ireland and Poetry -- What's Not to Love? 

Poetry Competition 2012

Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat Poetry Competition 2012
chagall_iandthevillageAnam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat and are once again joining forces to sponsor a writing competition, this time for poets.  The winning poet will receive a place in the one-week residential retreat Speaking in Pictures: A Poetry Writing Workshop Concerning Visual Art, conducted by Susan Rich.

For a description of the workshop click here, to learn more about Susan Rich, go to: or read her article on revealing exactly how your poetry can benefit from revision in It's Not What You Write, It's How You Re-write.

This competition is for previously unpublished poems, no longer than 14 lines, inspired by "I and the Village" a 1911 painting by the Russian-French artist Marc Chagall, currently exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
To submit, email you poem, including your name, postal address, and telephone number to Sue Booth

The deadline is Midnight in Ireland, 29 May 2012 (GMT)

The winner will be announced for Bloomsday, 16 June 2012.  An all-poet panel of judges will select the short list, from which Susan Rich will select the winning poem.

The short list and the winning poem will be posted on and Anam Cara's website.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Celebrate with free pie and free poetry - Lost Horse Press turns 14.3

I am happy to be part of this Lost Horse Press anniversary celebration 7:00 pm, Thursday, at Richard Hugo House. Lost Horse Press publishes beautiful and important books. Great poets published by Lost Horse include Christopher Howell, Katrina Roberts, Phil Memmer and Melissa Kwansey. 

Poetry, Pie & Horses! Come celebrate our Anniversary with the poets and friends of Lost Horse Press as it turns 14.3 years old with a Reading— and eating Kate Lebo’s incredibly yummy home-made pies while we listen to poetry—at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House! The Reading (and eating) will happen on 24 May 2012 at 7 pm at Hugo House (1634 11th Avenue, Seattle, WA), and will feature Lost Horse Press-published poets and friends of the press, including Susan Rich, Lois Red Elk, Jeremy Halinen, Carolyne Wright, Eugenia Toledo, Tiffany Midge, Libby Wagner, Carlos Reyes, and Tom Aslin. Admission is free and all are welcome to celebrate! The pie is free too!

Established in 1998, Lost Horse Press—a nonprofit independent press—publishes poetry titles of high literary merit, and makes available other fine contemporary literature through cultural, educational and publishing programs and activities. The Lost Horse New Poets, Short Books Series, edited by Marvin Bell, is dedicated to works—often ignored by conglomerate publishers—which are so much in danger of vanishing into obscurity in what has become the age of chain stores and mass appeal food, movies, art and books.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Midge Raymond's new book, Everyday Writing, is here!

Everyday Writing

May 2012

Everyday Writing
How to be a writer even when you can't write every Midge Raymond
Writers are often told that in order to succeed, they must write every day—yet this isn’t realistic or feasible for writers with families, day jobs, and other responsibilities that preclude a daily writing practice.

Everyday Writing is about how to be a writer every day, even if you’re unable to sit down to write every day.

This book provides dozens of tips for busy writers, including how to create your ideal writing space, how to develop habits that work for you, and how to keep your projects moving forward even when you’re short on time. Everyday Writing also offers more than 150 prompts to fit into any writer’s life, from five-minute prompts you can do in a grocery store line to lengthy prompts that are perfect for a writing retreat. Whether you’d like to generate new material, free yourself from writer’s block, or start a revision, these writing exercises provide a way to engage immediately with your work. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Poems for Weddings - In Honor of Barak Obama's Historical Comments

This was found under "simple outdoor wedding"

Tis the season! Last week a friend asked me for poem ideas to read at weddings. Jane Hirshfield's poem "For What Binds Us" is my favorite poem for such an occasion. However, there are other poems that might be more uplifting. When my friends Stephanie and Gavin married almost ten years ago, I wrote a poem for their ceremony --- my first commissioned poem! I should also mention that writing that poem took months of work. 

In recent years several anthologies have been published featuring poems on weddings, love, marriage and the like. The two on my bookshelf are Into the Garden: A Wedding Anthology edited by Robert Hass and Stephen Mitchell (1994) and To Woo and To Wed edited by Michael Blumenthal (1992). Interestingly, neither feature the Hirshfield poem. 

My instinct is always to cull my own poetry shelves for poems I have loved as these poems will be most meaningful to me -- and hopefully for the wedding couple. Of the two books I've mentioned here, my sense is that the Hass is of more use. If you know of a more recent anthology of wedding poems, please share it in the comment line.

Meanwhile here is the poem I read at Michael and Anu's wedding --- and 12+ years later, they are still married. I'd like to dedicate this poem (although it's Jane Hirshfield's and not mine) to Becky and Carlos who will celebrate their union this Saturday.

For What Binds Us

There are names for what bind us:

strong forces, weak forces.

Look around, you can see them:

the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,

nails rusting into the places they join,

joints dovetailed on their own weight.

The way things stay so solidly

wherever they’ve been set down ---

and gravity, scientists say is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back

across a wound, with a great vehemence,

more strong

than the simple, untested surface before.

There’s a name for it on horses,

when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh

is proud of its wounds, wears them

as honors given out after battle,

small triumphs pinned to the chest ---

And when two people have loved each other

see how it is like a

scar between their bodies,

stronger, darker, and proud;

how the black chord makes of them a single fabric

that nothing can tear or mend.

Jane Hirshfield

Of Gravity and Angels

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hot Off the Press! From Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes

The Pen and the Bell Mindful Writing in a Busy World giveaway at the end of this posting
Two wonderful Washington State writers, Holly Hughes and Brenda Miller have just published a new book, their first collaboration. The book, The Pen and the Bell, Mindful Writing in a Busy World is one that everyone I know wants to get their hands on right away as it purports to give ideas on how to live and more specifically, to write,  mindfully in a crazy busy world. As I spend this evening grading and preparing classes, I know that I need to read this book as soon as possible. If you are interested in finding out more about this book and how to get a free copy, read on!

The Pen and The Bell

Excerpts from the Preface

“A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me—a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic—or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.”

—Denise Levertov, “Variation on a Theme by Rilke”

Denise Levertov’s poem describes a state of mind many of us would love to achieve in our daily lives.Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel that each day we’re granted an “honor and a task,” and each day to know that we can easily do this work—with pleasure, focus, and joy?

This book is about how to carve out space for writing in a world crowded with so many distractions. It’s about how many of us long to be “a bell awakened,” and yet how difficult that state can be to achieve in the face of our massive to-do lists. It’s about being able to gain access to our deeper selves in the work-a-day world, and to bring forth this authentic self in our writing.

Brenda Miller is the author of several books of creative non-fiction including Listening Against Stone and Blessing the Animals; she teachers at Western Washington University. Holly Hughes is the author of Boxing the Compass, which won the Floating Bridge Chapbook Award and she is also editor of the anthology Beyond Forgetting - poems concerning patients with Alzheimers and their caregivers.

For your chance to enter a free copy of The Pen and the Bell, just click here!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Poet from Liverpool (new to me, anyway)

The carousel at Nantasket Beach now on the National Register

         I don't know anything about Paul Farley other than what I read here at Poetry Daily. I do know that I admire this poem and that he makes a convincing argument on the power of the imagination. My mind went straight back to Paragon Park which was located in Hull, Massachusetts. I'm really happy to learn that the carousel ride is still in existence and has been preserved for the future imaginations of children like me who believed those horses had minds of their own. Thank you, Paul Farley for this interlude on a Sunday night with the press of the college week weighing upon me. Thank you!

The Power

Forget all of that end-of-the-pier
palm-reading stuff. Picture a seaside town
in your head. Start from its salt-wrack-rotten smells
and raise the lid of the world to change the light,
then go as far as you want: the ornament
of a promenade, the brilliant greys of gulls,
the weak grip of a crane in the arcades
you've built, ballrooms to come alive at night,
then a million-starling roost, an opulent
crumbling like cake icing ...
Now, bring it down
in the kind of fire that flows along ceilings,
that knows the spectral blues; that always starts
in donut fryers or boardwalk kindling
in the dead hour before dawn, that leaves pilings
marooned by mindless tides, that sends a plume
of black smoke high enough to stain the halls
of clouds. Now look around your tiny room
and tell me that you haven't got the power.


The Dark Film

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thoughts on National Poetry Month

Is this marathon of events really over? This April was a whirlwind of trips and challenges. I've lost count of how many different presentations and readings I've done but I know the number of poems I wrote: 0.

I'm typical of many poets I know in that I am happiest at home surrounded by books and paper. I love people but mostly one on one or in small groups. Presenting my work to large groups doesn't come easily to me, but I've learned to enjoy the adrenalin rush of performing on a large stage or teaching in an art museum. The liberation that comes from moving beyond my own limits seems worth all the nervousness I suffer before the event. Now that the month is over, I only remember the fun times.

Here is an incomplete list of where I spend my National Poetry Month.

At Richard Hugo House in Seattle (where I live) as a reader for A Face to Meet the Faces, a new anthology out on persona poetry. Hearing all those voices come together -- the mask of the pop star mixing with the mask of the Biblical matriarch was great fun. Thank you Stacy lyn Brown and Oliver de la Paz for creating such a lovely book.

In Portland, Oregon where I read with Kelli Russell Agodon at the bookstore made famous in the hit show Portlandia and stayed at the wonderful Hotel Deluxe. Road trip!

At the incredible Massachusetts Poetry Festival where I somehow did five events in one day including a superb and moving Favorite Poem Project reading. I will never forget hearing politicians, restaurateurs, and poets share poems that had impacted their lives in major ways. I also adored the Improbable Places Poetry tour with poems on shower curtains, menus, knitting shops and storefront windows all through the town of Salem. Thank you January O'Neil, Colleen Michaels,  and crew for making this such a far reaching and important event.

And while in Salem, Massachusetts I was thrilled to also work with the docents at the Peabody Essex Museum. Before the festival started we spent a fantastic afternoon writing poems from visual art. Where better to teach about ekphrastic poetry than in an art museum? This was my third time working with art museums and I hope to continue this work. Simply put: I love it. I'm in love with the Peabody Essex Museum and I need to go back and wander through the galleries. It's a world class museum so if you are in the area, you must go.

I know I am forgetting entire conferences (Fields End!, readings, and another trip I took; it's late.

A friend asked me if I would feel better if I wasn't crazy busy during poetry month and I knew the answer immediately. I want to be a poet in the world; I just want to find a way to enter with an easier "face to meet the faces" to quote Elliot -- and a certain cool anthology.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

And the winning number is ...

Congratulations Katie Capello winner of The Alchemist's Kitchen!

Instead of a spin of the wheel or names in  a fedora hat, I used the random number  generator and the number  that clicked in was 31. Given the current poetry contest going on for a week's residency with me at Anam Cara Artists Retreat in Ireland, this seemed the perfect method as the random number generator was created at Trinity College, Dublin.

Congratulations, Katie! Please get in touch so I know where to mail your copy of The Alchemist's Kitchen!