Thursday, August 30, 2012

Catherine Barnett's Second Book: Worth Waiting For!

Catherine Barnett is a poet you need to read if you are of this century but also a little bit lost in the past. This is a beautiful book that invites the reader into a crystalized world --- written --- I can only suspect --- long past midnight. The poems are meditations on urban life told with perfect pitch of high and low culture. the game of boxes ( starred review in Publisher's Weekly)is my pick this week.


Down at the grocery store, tacked to the board
flapping in the wind,
the business card says
"Husband 4 a Day."
She takes a few,
tucks them into May, then June,

but now it's August
and she says the boy can use them
as bookmarks, placeholders,
kindling. She's still like a husband,
or at least a keepsake,
a light switches on

when anyone comes near.
She'd like more books, fewer rocks,
a path in the woods.
At night she hears knocking
from the fields, something
undoes in the wind.

In the morning, the floors creak
and hum because what's gone
is also there, singing
inside the clutch of stones
the boy slingshots into air.

Catherine Barnett, the game of boxes

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

List of Favorite Poetry Resources on the Web

I am continually amazed by the cool poetry resources available on the web. Thanks to my former professor Garrett Hongo for turning me on to the Bread Load Writers Conference web site where you can hear poets like Jane Hirshfield, Michael Collier, Eavaan Boland, and Garrett Hongo read at the year's conference. You can also hear writers from previous years and download them through itunes. How cool is that?

Here are a few sites that I thought you might want to know about. If you have other favorite poetry sites please feel free to leave me a comment below. In no particular order (that I am aware of) here are a few of my favorite things.

1. Bread Load Writers Conference podcasts for free via the iTunes store.

2. The Poetry Foundation web site for information on poets, poems, and 1001 different ways to search for poems on visual art, poems on cats, poems on dogs, the best poems on any subject you want. The podcasts that link with the poems in Poetry magazine are also superbly done.

3. Poetry International for information on poets beyond the borders of any one country. I always learn of a new important poet from Portugal or Peru. This site is part of the Poetry International festival that happens in Rotterdam each year. It is my secret fantasy to be invited here one year before I die.

4. Poetry Daily is just what it says. You can have a poem delivered to your mailbox everyday or you can use the poetry daily site as your home page. I'm always interested to see what's here.

5. Poets and Writers is a compilation of the most popular articles in the magazine such as The Top MFA Programs in the Country (this month)  and a selection of book contests and calls for submission.

6. The Far Field is the brainchild of Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken. About 3-5 times a week, Flenniken posts another poem by a poet in Washington State. Sometimes it's well known poets like Kelli Russell Agodon and Peter Pereira, but other times it might be a student poet or a poet I've never heard of. A great selection and you can search by name.

7. Then there is New Pages for everything you need to know about different literary magazines and where to submit your work. The site is easy to navigate and many of the reviews of poetry and fiction journals are thoughtful and even useful to read before sending your work.

8. Academy of American Poets runs Poets.Org with special features on good poems to teach and a spotlight on Stanley Kunitz. Great general site to keep your eye on.

9. Verse Daily is another cool site to get your poem-a-day fix. Always fun to compare the choices from this  site with those of Poetry Daily.

10. And for something completely different you can Dial-a-Poem (or listen from your computer) to a diverse array of poets including David Byrne and Patti Smith. (Thanks to January O'Neil for this one.)

11. If you are on Facebook you can click here and "like" my Susan Rich - writer page for information on upcoming contests, poets, and all things literary.

Please feel free to add your favorites below -- there are so many more than the ones listed here. I hope this list serves as a jumping off point. What have I left out?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Smart Travel Advice from the New York Times

ADVENTUROUS travelers are often in a quandary: how do they pack lightly and still be prepared for the unexpected?

Readers’ Comments

Travel-savvy physicians, pharmacists and scientists suggest that some grocery items available almost anywhere can do double duty for on-the-road ailments. “You don’t need to pack a medicine chest on holiday,” said Dave Harcombe, a pharmacist in Doncaster, England. “I rely on traditional medicine to pay my mortgage,” he added. “But in certain cases, home remedies are as good as drugs. There’s a place in the world for both of them.”
Mr. Harcombe used his travel experience and that of his customers to create a list of items that he posted on the Web site Debbie Marshall, editor of the site, said the response has been enthusiastic. “It is well worth knowing some of the healing properties of common foods when traveling,” she said, noting that acquiring and using conventional medicines in certain countries can be complicated. “Pharmaceutical labels may be written in an unfamiliar language, quantities can be ambiguous and quite often nature has a remedy that will bridge the gap until more conventional aid can be found.”

“My slant is there’s nothing wrong with old wives’ tales in the kitchen or in the medicine cabinet as long as there is validity to them,” said Kent Kirshenbaum, a pharmaceutical chemist and an associate professor of chemistry at New York University.

To read the rest of this article just click here---

Sunday, August 26, 2012

AWP in Boston: Massholes Accepted - Please Come!

If I lived on this street in Brookline I don't think I would have left. 

Massholes: Writer Rage, the Pike, and the 
Beauty of a Rotary.

(Rebecca Hoogs, Jonathan Crimmins, Andrew C. Gottlieb, 
Julie Kane, and Susan Rich)

Five Bay State exiles will muse upon the 
pleasures and perils of growing up Massholes, 
and how that youth—whether spent in 
Boston or the boondocks—influenced their 
poetry and prose. The driving metaphor for 
the panel will be driving—and panelists will 
wax irreverent (and entertainingly) on the 
rage, u-turns, rotaries and other poetic 
devices. Some thick accents to be heard while 
others will have been Eliza Doolittled away 
through years at the other end of I-90. 

Really, grid lock is not a pretty thing

I am amazed and so pleased that this panel has been accepted for AWP in Boston this winter. I am convinced that if I had stayed in Boston it would have been impossible for me to write poetry or to claim a legitimate writing life (without being approved of by the poetry elite). Leaving the city of Lowell and Plath, Bishop and Longfellow  was not just useful but necessary to my poems. 

There has been a fair bit of talk about which panels got accepted this year and which did not. As my friend January O'Neil said in jest, "it's all about the name." Look at her accepted panels here

I'll also say that my name was put forward on three different panels and only one made it. AWP let everyone know that they had more proposals this year than ever before -- over 1300 proposals for about 500 spots. It always seems a bit of a flip of the coin whose panel gets chosen and whose does not. My sense is to just go and enjoy what's on offer. I go every second or third year if I can make it work financially. It's an intense experience that I find both exciting and utterly exhausting. Since Boston (Brookline) is my hometown, I'm happy to have a reason to visit.

See you there?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I just discovered a new poet that I love: Ryan Teitman

Litany for the City by Ryan Teitman
I love this book. Discovering Litany for the City by Ryan Teitman is an unexpected joy. And I love the fact that I found this collection at my favorite full service bookstore the Elliot Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill (Seattle) by just browsing the books. Of course the evocative cover art helped lead me to the opening poems as did the forward by Jane Hirshfield. I was primed.

                       I want to find the line

                       where the city becomes the city,
                       where invention becomes instrument.

These are some of my favorite lines but this is a book full of favorite lines. So what if it is a slender volume; each idea is so smart and lovingly played with that I started the book a second time as soon as I finished my first reading. This is the voice of a poet that feels so familiar and utterly fresh at the same time. I wonder how these words could not have been ordered like this before -- but they have not.

There are no lurid secrets lurking in this book nor fancy geographies --- the first section of the book is a series of poems dedicated to the poet's (i presume) hometown of Philadelphia mixed with other European and imagined cities. Yes, perhaps that has been done before but not like this. There are epistolary poems to Dr. Franklin (3 of them) which I love and other prose poems that draw me in although I am not a fan of the genre. Teitman also has a three poem section on "Foreign Films"which are also wonderful. I'm hesitating to type out one poem here because the book asks to be read in units and it feels as if I ruin the poet's intention to excerpt one poem -- perhaps the sign of a really good ordering of poems --- no easy task for any poet. Here is the poem I quoted from above.

Dear Doctor Franklin
                                    Ryan Teitman

Everything is an invention,
I’ve come to learn. The way we press

into each other on the morning train—
that brush of cloth and wool

that seeps into us like a benediction,
or how the old woman

waiting for the bus folds her newspaper
into quarters, and presses it

to her face when she thinks no one
is watching—how the smell of ink

and newsprint reminds her of her
night shifts at the printing plant,

how she crawled into bed
still in boots and a work shirt,

and ran dye-purpled hands
down her neck. I see eyeglasses

on everyone nowadays—
It comforts me to know that light

visits us all differently,
that the imprecisions of our bodies

can work on us the way a cabinet maker
tends panel after panel

of soft wood. The city rouses slowly
these mornings—I watch it rattle

in the handprinted windows
of the train. I want to find the line

where the city becomes the city,
where invention becomes instrument.

Some days I see it in the moment
the graffiti thickens near the tunnels,

or when the train stumbles
into the city’s shadow—when the light

we knew becomes delicate and cruel—
and I see how fragile our eyes will become.

How lovely to find a new voice in American poetry that lifts up our lives (even when understanding life's cruelties). I look forward to Teitman's next book --- he is a poet I will be sure to keep an eye on. I can't recommend Litany for the City published by BOA Editons enough. Please, go buy it and then spend the afternoon inspired to write better poems. That's my plan.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Makes Art Beautiful?

Skipping Star Productions
I've just returned from teaching a week long class on "Speaking Pictures: A Poetry Workshop Considering Visual Art" at Anam Cara Writers and Artists Retreat on the Beara Peninsula in the west of Ireland. One of the assignments we did together was to choose a piece of art somewhere in the retreat that was puzzling to us and write from that uncertainty. I think it worked well for most of the poets and it made me realize that writing from a question is much more natural for me than trying to write of "a thing called beauty." Why is that?

On another day, our group took a field trip to two local galleries looking for art that moved us. We had a line of a poem to get us started and a few ideas on how to braid the artwork into our own lives. For me, this exercise was much more of a struggle. I adored the different images of Nicola Slattery's work that we saw at Mill Cove Gallery. In fact, I think four out of five us wrote on a painting done by Slattery -- and yet because I loved her images so much, it was more difficult to write from the work.

Perhaps, however, I've found a cover artist for my next book?

Artist: Nicola Slattery

Friday, August 17, 2012

Woman of Many Talents: Mary Maddison

Mary Maddison at home in Eyeries
One of the experiences I will remember from my trip to West Cork is my afternoon visit with Mary Maddison. Most of the poets I was with decided to visit and --- how do I explain this --- have their stones read. 

Actually, I can't explain. Mary Maddison can be described as a storyteller, singer, healer, painter, and village seer. For me, Mary Maddison appeared as a fully realized woman who at 70-something had been out dancing three nights in a row until 2 AM when we met. 

Or more exactly: when we re-met. I had visited her last year and wanted to come again. This is a good place to mention that I am not in the habit of visiting seers. However, what I found with my afternoon visit with Mary is that she affirms the truths that you already know. That's simplifying quite a bit --- but as with interpreting dreams, what is important is what understanding you bring to the experience. How do you see your own life?

In addition to reading stones, Maddison also has entry into other worlds. Relatives  "well stretched"  one may or may not know hover in the atmosphere around us. Perhaps because this all takes place in a tiny village on the coast of Ireland, it seems as natural as breathing to be in touch with the future and the past. 

After the reading, Mary Maddison sat down at the kitchen table with me and my friend Angie. She told us about her regular drumming gig, her miniature horses (Misty and Weather)  and her storytelling evenings on Wednesday nights. She told us about growing up on a tiny island off of Scull and that as a teenager she was sent to England to learn the hotel trade. What she did instead was take to the sea on a merchant marine ship.But that's another story...

From an interview with Mary Maddison:

Mary is not a woman who will ever be idle. She has a constant stream of visitors, coming to have their stones read or to simply listen to her soothing sing-song voice. She sometimes goes out to sea in her boat; she took up sailing on the Isle of Wight as part of a successful ‘life begins at 40’ drive.[xiv] On other days, she sits in a small bay window on the first floor of her house and paints the sea and the Skelligs beyond. She studies art in Kenmare twice a week and regularly contributes to the annual Eyeries Newsletter .[xv] She’s also writing her life history for her grandchildren. And of course she hosts her story-telling sessions on the last Saturday of every month. ‘When I started, it was just me telling tales. Now we have people from all over coming - Germans, Dutch, French, Polish - and telling stories from their native lands. It’s magical really. I have a great life’.[xvii]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Travel Tips of Things I Lucked Into and Things I Learned the Hard Way

These are a few random ideas on travel and how to make it more pleasurable instead of painful.

1. Always travel with just carry-on bags no matter how long and how far you are travelling. This way you save years of your life free from long baggage lines. You save your back from lifting a monster bag. You live simply with just a few changes of clothes and the books that are most precious to you. Every seasoned traveler I talk to agrees: send dirty underwear home by post in order to accomodate gifts you buy along the way.

2. Book your accommodation ahead of time so that you can relax into the rhythm of your trip and not worry about where you'll sleep. It's easy enough to cancel bookings (as long as you do it a couple of days ahead) if you decide on a change of plans. I loved Cork city so much that I decided to cancel my three nights in Dublin in order to enjoy the place where my trip began. Symmetry also feels like a good travel goal. To begin and end in the same place but not be the same person.

3. Choose your travel companion(s) carefully. My time in Ireland was made richer by the people I traveled with. I began the journey with the poet Geraldine Mills and her husband, Peter. We explored Cork together and read poems in the bell tower at the Church of St. Anne. A few days later I met up with the poet and photographer Angie Vorhies and her daughters for a few days. Another couple of days and we said good-bye to her girls and headed off on a road trip through county Cork which included a ferry ride to Cape Clear. Finally we arrived at Anam Cara, where I taught a week long workshop. For the last few days, I'm on my own. The diversity of places and people worked better than I could have foreseen.

4. Know what makes you happy. This is good advice in life as well. I knew I didn't want to rush round the island trying to see every 'must see' spot. Most of my trip was exploring places tourists never get to see and the beauty of the Bera Peninsula is as magic as anywhere I've ever been. Someday I will go to Dingle and travel the Ring of Kerry, but I've been to Ireland four times and so it doesn't seem to be a top priority. I'm a backroads kind of person. Glad to have finally figured that out!

5. Try to relax and enjoy. It will all be over before you know it. Have that extra scone, buy that book of poetry, talk to the stranger on the street. This is your time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Both Here and There: Cork, Seattle, and The Butter Museum

The Butter Museum, Cork
The phone just rang and it was my friend the poet Geraldine Mills calling just to say hello. Since we are in the same country at the moment and in the same time zone, it's a great treat. Tomorrow I hope to see friends in Dublin before heading home. If only Seattle wasn't a 12 hour plane ride away.

My friend the Canadian poet Kimberly Fahner has been chronicling our time at Anam Cara with far more detail than I've managed this week. If you are interested in Irish folklore told with humor and intelligence you might want to check out The Republic of Poetry. Kim's second full length collection comes out this year and I for one can't wait!

This is my 4th time in Ireland and that's perhaps more times than I've ever been to any other country. It makes me think that there is a real energy for me here. I feel alive in my own skin and connected to the rain and the preponderance of bookshops and poets, woolen sweaters and frequent cups of tea. And did I mention the best butter in the world? (Well the world as I know it.)

Here's to travel which wakes me up and makes me glad to be alive.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The best writing retreat ever - such fabulous women

This is one happy group of women on our last day at Anam Cara. Not only did we workshop poems but we walked six miles, drank Guinness at the village pub, gave a poetry reading, saw the oldest Ogham stone in Europe, visited the Hag of Beara and laughed like crazy. I've taught in dozens of different workshops but I have never had a group as wonderful as these women who come from different continents, backgrounds, and poetry worlds.
Photo credit: Angie Vorhies
Exactly one week ago tonight I met these amazing women as the Harrington bus left them off at Anam Cara. They were tired and bedraggled after three hours in a mini van from Cork city. Kim had "monster" her trusty black bag trailing behind her, Pippa seemed ready to get off the bus, and Kathryn looked ready to investigate any open road she could find --- but just as they got out of the van an honest to god rainbow appeared across the road in the direction from which they'd come. It was a good omen. Perhaps it's cliche, but I honestly didn't know that a group could become so close so quickly.

Cemetery at Kilcatherine
Our last day in West Cork the weather finally turned warm and clear. Angie and I were chatting in the village when Sue, Kim, and Pippa came along on their way to Kilcatherine. Sue dropped us off and we walked the 6 miles back to Eyeries. 

A family plot

I don't want to let go of the magic we created this week. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anam Cara: Day 4 - What 's Going On Here Anyway

The view outside my window

So what does a six day course in ekphrastic poetry consist of anyway? Well, today was our field trip to Castletownbere to visit two art galleries --- the Sarah Walker Art Gallery and the Mill Cove Gallery. We picked art work that was puzzling --- tried to let the image choose us. It was fun to be with such a willing group --- everyone writing intently on the assignments that I gave. This is a dream group of poets.

Yesterday the focus was on collaboration and we examined different ways poets and prose writers go about their collaboration. Writers Diane Aprile, Anne McDuffie, and Geraldine Mills  were kind enough to fill out a questionnaire I created (desperate that I needed some help leading a session with which I had limited experience) and share the wisdom they'd gleaned from some very different projects. By the end of the session we all had written action plans with some very exciting and realistic projects. 

The only problem is that I seem to be pulling much of the classes together the night before I teach. I came here with a general plan for the week and the first few days well delineated. For the next two days it will be a bit more free style. The important thing is that we've really become a group with a lot of good feeling and a wild amount of laughter.

Anam Cara: Day 3

Pippa Little reads her award winning poem in the Anam Cara conservatory

Monday, August 6, 2012

Anam Cara Day #2

Clouds with character

Kelli Agodon, this one's for you

Light from the first night
The days have their own rhythm and it seems we've all lived here together forever. The first night as Pippa, Kim, and Kathryn came off of the local bus and crossed the cow path, their monster suitcases trailing behind them, a rainbow appeared in the sky above their heads. That was the first omen that this workshop would work well. And so far it has. We're reading poems to each other, writing poems, and pushing ourselves in new ways. And yes, there is also an enormous amount of laughter. I feel blessed.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Anam Cara Writing Retreat - Day 1

What is it about teaching that makes me so nervous? After all, I've taught fulltime for more than a decade. Perhaps it's that I'm teaching poetry in Ireland --- Ireland --- the land of poets. Perhaps it's because poetry is the mainstay of my life and so I must find a way to be my best self and smarter than I believe myself to be. Perhaps I care very much that my students benefit from their experience.

I feel so lucky to have a group of incredibly interesting and talented women to work with from different countries, continents, and representing varied life experiences. One thing I've learned from teaching here at Anam Cara Artists Retreat and at Poets on the Coast is that place trumps person. Here's what I mean: I will do my best to provide interesting classes but more than half the experience happens due to place: the cows bellowing in the fields, the crocosmia wild along the edge of the road, the ever changing theater of the sky.

Now that I've taught one full day, done my first one-on-one consultation and prepped for tomorrow's three hour class, I can breathe more easily. I'm no longer the lone cow standing on the beach but instead part of a vibrant community of writers. All I need to do is offer some guidance and then get out of the way. I am finally in the moment, comfortable with the routine of sharing poems, reading poems in order to get at craft questions, and writing together. All sorts of other questions come up in conversation and we find ourselves talking about favorite novels or where a poem comes from. Instead of being nervous about whether I'm up to the job, I am wondering which place in Ireland, or Italy, or India I might teach in next.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

An Abbey, A Fish, A Poetry Cafe

And this was just the beginning! Each day has contained another piece of magic. And tonight we've arrived at Anam Cara -- the artist retreat where I will be teaching for the next week. Wish me luck!

Abbey ruins at Timoleague

Lunch at Fishy Fish in Kinsdale

Where else but Ireland do poets have their own cafes?