Monday, July 30, 2012

Today's Theme: The Walls of Cork Old and New

Detail of wall, Cork gaol

Now I know where the set designer for King's Speech got his inspiration

Graffiti tag in Shandon neighborhood of Cork

Bottles along a gaol wall, Cork

Cork City - Day Two

At Garnish House breakfast ends with a pancake; just a small indication of a glorious breakfast

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Irish Writers and Others in the White Pine Press Sale

You can support White Pine Press and extend your library of first editions and signed books by taking a look at the White Pine Press sale happening now. For more information check out the details here. Dennis Maloney is selling off his personal collection of rare books to support White Pine Press. Full disclosure: White Pine Press has published my last three books. Super full disclosure: Dennis and his wife run a superb press that I am proud to be part of. Why not take a look at what they have? Check it out.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Photos from Cork City -- Day 1

Cork City is my kind of place. The food, the art, the overall "vibe" of the streets feels like a city that would be easy to call home. The University of Cork is a mix of weeping willows and a winding river a la Cambridge University, but it is also has modern architecture that somehow fits in. We visited the Butter Museum, rang the bells at Saint Anne's Shandon, and read poems out to the rooftops of the city.

Breakfast at Garnish House

If you are thinking about a visit to Cork and like to eat, this Bed & Breakfast is a dreamscape. People from town come here just to eat. Someone counted and there are over 40 different breakfasts to choose from. Sinful, yes. Fresh, innovative, and the top rated in the city. Check all of the above.

Mustard Jars at the English Market
There is a theme developing: amazing food. More on this later.

Wildflowers along the banks of the River Lee

This is my fourth time in Ireland and it now seems a place that lives under my skin ---in a good way. I've known my friends Geraldine and Peter for 10 years since my first visit here. This is a land that honors poets. In fact, there's is an actual "poet's rate" set by the government on how much poets are paid for services --- and it's a living wage. Taxicab drivers in Dublin and Galway break into verses of Patrick Kavanaugh or Seamus Heaney when I tell them I'm a writer. Bookstores don't hide their poetry sections. What more could a girl want? (Insert warmer weather here.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Do you want to publish your poetry manuscript?

I know it was almost a  decade of hard work from the time I first committed myself to poetry to the publication of my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World. There was so much about book publishing that I didn't know and no one I could ask.

How times have changed --- and for the better on this one. Now there are books, websites, conferences, consultants, and even blogs that provide first rate information.

This morning I discovered this blog post from one of the editors of CavanKerry. Not only does Florenz Eisman offer good information, she does so with bucket loads of kindness and grace. How I wish I had read her twelve years ago.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

I was asked by a CavanKerry colleague a while ago to blog about submissions. My reaction? Give me a break. Is there anything less necessary to write about?  After all, CKP’s website has a submissions page with guidelines. Won’t newbies find everything they need on the screen?

My colleague reminded me that when she sat on a panel for soon-to-graduate MFAs, several asked her how to submit a manuscript. They didn’t have a clue how to go about it. Nada. Nothing. That gave me pause.  MFA students who don’t know how to maneuver through the submission process? 

Click here to continue reading...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prompts: Finding Room to Write This Summer: Look Around

The multi-talented Midge Raymond is an amazing short story writer, editor, and  independent publisher at Ashland Creek Press. And on top of all this, she's a wonderful person that I feel honored to call my friend. Now Midge has added another talent (with a large dose of hard work) to her life - Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Everyday Life. I saw Midge Raymond in Port Townsend, Washington last week and asked her if she would be willing to share her expertise here at The Alchemist's Kitchen. Welcome, Midge!

Finding Room to Write This Summer

By Midge Raymond

Sun, beaches, long nights: As if finding the time to write weren’t challenging enough, adding summer to the mix makes the challenge even greater. If you have kids, they’re out of school; if you’re lucky, the weather’s beautiful; and whether you’re a teacher or have a nine-to-five day job, it’s likely that those around you have adjusted their lives to some sort of vacation setting.

So how does a writer reconcile the allure of summer and all its outdoorsy temptations with the notion that she must write every day?

As an author with a fairly crazy year-round schedule, I’m learning to embrace not writing every single day. Instead, I’m learning to think like a writer every day. This means opening my eyes and ears a little wider than usual: taking in everything happening around me, including what’s going on in my own inner world. What I’m finding is that there is absolutely no shortage of material out there—and once I discover this new material, I’m newly inspired to find a way to get it on the page.

So I wanted to share a few tips and writing exercises that I hope will help you find writing opportunities in your everyday life this summer.

1.     Look around. Whether I’m in a grocery store line or waiting for the bus, when I’m out and about with a few moments to spare, I tend to occupy myself with my cell phone, checking email, texting people, whatever. Yet now I’m trying to keep the cell phone tucked away in favor of looking around instead: There’s a lot more going on than you might think, and taking it all can offer great inspiration.

PROMPT: Next time you’re at the beach, on the ferry, waiting for friends at happy hour, don’t reach for the phone. Instead, take a look around. Choose two people near you and take mental (or, if you’re able, actual) notes: What are they wearing, saying, doing? Write down your observations and see where it leads you.

2.     Listen up. With all the chatter in the world—from online chatter to literal noise—growing louder and louder, I usually opt for tuning out whenever I can. Yet in doing so, I find that I risk missing some of life’s most interesting tidbits. So, make a point to listen to what’s going on around you—and use it to launch a new piece of writing.

PROMPT: Make a point of listening the next time you want to tune out. Eavesdrop a bit the next time you’re in a restaurant; jot down a few overheard snippets of dialogue when you’re at the beach, in the park, waiting for a spin on the Ferris wheel. Then, take what you’ve gathered and write a poem based on what you heard, or write a scene, or write down a memory the conversation may have evoked for you.

3.     Make every moment count. When it comes to fitting writing into a busy life, the small moments can lead to breakthroughs as well as the extended retreats can—and when we don’t have time for extended writing sessions, the small moments become all the more vital. Remember: Always carry a notebook, always write down anything and everything you find interesting, and always revisit it to see if there’s anything there that will take you somewhere new in your writing.

PROMPT: Try these five “quickies.” These summery writing exercises are designed to be done in five minutes or fewer—but feel free to let yourself get carried away.

-       Describe the first time you saw the ocean.

-       Write for one minute about each of the following: firefly, watermelon, lake, sand, ice.

-       Describe your first sunburn.

-       Write about a summer night.

-       Describe your favorite summer food/drink.

Wishing you a wonderful midsummer of writing!


Midge Raymond is the author of Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life and the story collection Forgetting English, which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Visit for more information and to subscribe to her free email newsletter for writers. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Contest Where Everyone is a Winner - Sort Of

My friend Sheila Bender of Writing It Real is running a contest at the moment where everyone is a winner. OK - so how can that be true? Do you enter and walk away with a new car, new home, vacation for two to Tahiti?

Sorry, no.

However, what you do get is a chance to win cash prizes.

Okay, it's not enough for the car, the home, the vacation. But everyone that enters gets a critique from Sheila on what is working in the piece and how to perhaps revise it.

I've taught with Sheila and I know she gives excellent critique in a way that is easy to hear.

Check out this contest now. Deadline is July 30th. Here are the details.
And here is more information on all the cool on-line classes, quotes, and conferences that comprise Writing It Real.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Amber - by Eavan Boland

It never mattered that there was once a vast grieving:

trees on their hillsides, in their groves, weeping—
a plastic gold dropping

through seasons and centuries to the ground—
until now.

On this fine September afternoon from which you are absent
I am holding, as if my hand could store it,
an ornament of amber

you once gave me.

Reason says this:
The dead cannot see the living.
The living will never see the dead again.

The clear air we need to find each other in is
gone forever, yet

this resin once
collected seeds, leaves and even small feathers as it fell
and fell

which now in a sunny atmosphere seem as alive as
they ever were

as though the past could be present and memory itself
a Baltic honey—

a chafing at the edges of the seen, a showing off of just how much
can be kept safe

inside a flawed translucence.

Eavan Boland

This remains one of my favorite of Boland's poems. Perhaps there is an urgency to explain grieving that I believe in. Perhaps it is that I am a lover of amber.

Is this an ekphrastic poem? It takes its inspiration from an object of the natural world and transforms that object into something beyond itself. I think of amber as a work of art created by water and earth's debris. At the moment I am preparing for a class on ekphrastic poetry and so examining what I mean when I use this term. More poems to come...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Poem by the Czarina of The Improbable Places Poetry Tour

 Read on to the end for a perfect image of --- well --- I don't want to spoil it for you. Read on!

To Accompany a Poem by Colleen Michaels


This might be the last bath we will take together,
so of course I say yes
after shoveling and traveling
from your north to south pole,
a trudge between the mounds
made from the porch to the car.

Anyway, if I keep you out any longer
you’ll get too cold and we might dig too deep,
reveal the grit of gravel
that embarrasses our perfect journey
like something caught in between a tooth.
A spoiler.

We leave the snow to its clean perfection,
let nature and traffic be the ones to muck it up
It won’t always be this smooth,
so we take that bath.

The house is warm
the door so strong between climates.
We take off all our layers
and there are many
probably more than you need.

In the hallway I ask you to stay  
near me and remarkably you do.
We unroll our cuffs and let the matted
snow, pats of chilled butter, give up on the carpet.

Your pants are a thick wet
under that your PJs are sopped too.
Your little red thighs cold to the touch.

You delight in the red tinge of my skin,
knowing that you are of me.
We run up the stairs in just our undies
and you love this part, think it’s better than toast.
You ask if we can hold hands. Of course we can hold hands,
laughing as we try to fit our cold compressed
bodies on the same bare step
your happiness is in your mouth,
the way all your square
first teeth line up.

Do you know too
that this might be the last time
with me in the bath?
You give yourself over to your little girl life.
We sing about riding in the car. I’m the driver.
I suspect you give this one to me.
Our knees sink under the water. A tight fit,
our different displacements.

You don’t reach out for me with a baby’s need,
but you let me mother you.
I wash your hair
letting the water
swerve around your perfect ear
as if you are snow that I don’t want to melt.
                                 ~ Colleen Michaels

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Improbable Places Poetry Czarina: Colleen Micheals

Colleen Michaels is a woman I admire on many fronts. She is a poet, essayist, cook, and creative force behind The Improbable Places Poetry Tour. I've had the pleasure to meet Colleen at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and this year, my poems were included as part of the tour. It is difficult to explain the magic of seeing a poem in the window of a yarn shop or between the pages of a menu at a local restaurant. I can only imagine the joy and surprise of encountering poetry readings at banks, second hand shops and the other events Colleen has produced. This fall I hope to bring a bit of this magic to Seattle. However, it's Colleen Michaels who makes this magic happen. Read on!

1. Where did the idea for the Improbable Places Poetry Tour come from?

CM:  The idea came from a selfish desire - I love my city, Beverly, Massachusetts, with its friendly community and great main street; I love the school where I work, Montserrat College of Art; and I love poetry.  I wanted my three loves to spend more time together.  I was walking from class one day, I passed the friendly bike shop, and asked if they might host a poetry reading. Sixty people showed up, some serious cyclists, to hear poems about bicycles.  Do you remember that scene from The Fisher King where everyone is going about their business and suddenly begins ballroom dancing in the train station?  For me, the readings feel like my whole neighborhood is dancing with me.

2. How long have you been producing the tour? 

CM: The third season begins this fall.

3. Can you talk about some of your most intriguing events? I know you've had readings in banks, flower shops, swimming pools and laundromats.

CM: I think the tattoo parlor, Good Mojo, with the theme of ink, was the most beautiful.  The stage looked like a jewel box. We had poets read from the front window with their voices amplified onto the street while someone was being tattooed in the back window. The police had to come and block the street because the crowd of 100 was flowing out into traffic.  

Recently I used Emerson’s quote that “poetry is a type of skating” as the call for work, and the reading was held at the Beverly Roller Palace. The podium was set up under the disco ball, and skaters circled the readers. You should know that January Gill O’Neil, a fine poet and the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, is also a very good roller skater. 

4. How do people react to poetry in flower shops or in massage parlors? Any reactions that stay with you?

CM: Massage Parlor?  I haven’t tried that one yet; thanks for the tip! The Laundromat crowd’s reaction was one of my favorites.  I think they were the most surprised crowd, as many were just there to do laundry and had no idea that a poetry reading was about to begin. The sound of the coins going into washers added to the atmosphere and many stayed well after the final spin.  One family brought in a pizza, folded their clothes, and listened intently.  It’s a small moment, but one that reminds me that poetry can and should be accessible.   

5. I know you direct the writing center at an art college — what is the students' participation?

CM: The Tour wouldn’t work without the students’ participation.  They’ve come to think of it as professional practice. Painters and sculptors show in galleries; writers go to readings. This is a way for them to share their work with the community.

6. Plans for the future? What’s next?

CM: I’ve got my eye on a local beauty salon and an auto parts store.

7. I know you recently participated in the Mass Poetry Festival with poetry coasters and window displays – how did that work?

CM: I was honored that the Massachusetts Poetry Festival had invited the Tour to participate, but I knew I had to change it up. A poetry reading at a poetry festival is just, well, too probable. I also wanted a way to feature some of the Montserrat artists who have found ways to add new layers to the Improbable Places Poetry Tour. We have letterpress artists, installation artists, graphic designers, filmmakers who all make the poetry tour better – I needed their talent to make it special, “improbable” in a new way. I decided that it had to be an installation piece, sort of a treasure hunt. The Tour is always about place; once I had the place in mind I thought about poems (especially your wonderful poem “Mapparium”) that might connect, or even push back a little.

8. An idea as superb as this should be replicated in different places. Any plans for other cites to follow your good lead?

CM: I’m hoping you will start a West Coast chapter! I’ve also been talking with Ariella Ruth, a poet from Naropa, who’s interested in starting it in Colorado.

9. Is it true that you usually sew a new dress to coordinate with each venue?

CM: You betcha! It’s hard to find bicycle-print and laundry-themed frocks off the rack.

Colleen Michaels directs the Writing Studio at Montserrat College of Art. Her poems and essays have appeared in print and in online literary journals, including The Paterson Literary Review, Blue Collar Review, The Mom Egg, Bread and Circus Magazine, Literary Mama, and the anthology, Here Come the Brides!: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage. She was a 2010 finalist for the Split This Rock Poetry Competition and was the recipient of an honorable mention in the 2011 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. She lives with her family in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy July 5th -

I'm the type that likes the day after the big holiday even better than the holiday itself --- once everyone's home safe and sound. Once the neighbor boys and their bottle rockets have not blown up the road we share.

I was thinking that this holiday is more about fireworks and barbecue than consumerism or any one religion. Instead, parades and ice cream sundaes are what happens around here. And although I wore wool socks and (no lie) my boyfriend's cashmere scarf as we watched the fireworks display over Lake Union, I know that summer is finally here.