Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Improbable Poets Have Their Pajamas Ready

We'd love to see you at the Alexis Hotel this Saturday at 5 PM

5 PM Saturday, October 6th Kelli Russell Agodon, Elizabeth Austen, Harold Taw and myself will be reading poetry (and one short story) in our pajamas in the Gallery Room at the Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle as part of ArtsCrush. What are we thinking you might ask. Fun? A sense of the absurd? A way to get folks who aren't usually exposed to poetry (hotel guests) to come hear something new? Yes to all of the above! 

Here's what you'll hear if you come on out (pajamas optional for listeners).

Book Lift launches "The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1" tonight with “Bedroom Suite” a literary extravaganza in the Gallery Room at the Alexis Hotel. Original pieces concerned with love on the sly, fantasy vacations, and a hotel ghost make this an improbable night of poem and story. Join award winning writers Elizabeth Austen, Kelli Russell Agodon, Harold Taw and Susan Rich.

When Harold Taw emailed me one bright June day to say that ArtsCrush was looking for events, I decided to write out a proposal for a dream project I had been thinking about for more than a year. As I sat sequestered in a jury room, it seemed not so far fetched to put a reading together at a local hotel. My dear friend Colleen Michaels dreamed up The Improbable Places Poetry Tour in Massachusetts a few years ago. Her tour also has a stop this week so if you are closer to Beverly Massachusetts than you are to Seattle, check out Wayne's World Automotive.

A garage, huh? That’s right, folks. The cars might be up on the lift, but the humming engine will come from the poets. A Pinto persona poem, an ode to an mechanic, hydraulic suspension or safety child locks – all makes and models welcome. Think of words as vehicles and poems as spark plugs.

I don’t write poetry, but I sure am interested in this tour. Can I still attend the event? Absolutely! Come listen and cheer on the readers and get a poetry tune up at Wayne’s World!

We hope to see you at one of these events this week! And if it is too far to come, consider starting your own event in your community. It's the right time to bring poetry to the people!

Friday, September 28, 2012

100K Poets for Change and "Cloud Pharmacy" Poem

Clouds from the "Cloud Pharmacy"
I hope you'll stay with me for a little bit of blatant self-promotion for my city's dedication to poetry. This month Seattle's city arts magazine City Arts features my poem "Cloud Pharmacy." Each month CityArts features a poem by a Seattle poet and this has included Sherman Alexie, Kathleen Flenniken, and Heather McHugh. I'm honored to be included as Ms. October.

While October is arts month in this city --- see more on this at ArtsCrush --- there is a global event, 100 K Poets for Change happening from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm this Saturday, September 29th, at Richard Hugo House. 115 Countries and 800 different events are scheduled around the globe! I'm thrilled to be participating in this worldwide event that's happening right here in my city.

I will be reading two poems from 3:15 - 3:20 which will also be live streaming on local cable. Other poets who you won't want to miss include Kelli Russell Agodon, Elizabeth Austen, Jourdan Keith, Jeanine Hall Gailey, and Annette Spaulding-Convy.For the complete schedule of poets click here.
A dear friend of mine in Northern Ontario will also be reading in her local community on Saturday -- I love that this event even has it's own song --- written for the event!

More excitement happening next week with The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1 and poets performing in their pajamas (and special guest). Later in the month there's a literary pub crawl. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Free Copy: Behind Us the Way Grows Wider by Sheila Bender

Sheila Bender's New and Collected Poems
Sheila Bender's new collection Behind Us the Way Grows Wider considers the full spectrum of a life well lived. This book brings together a selection of Bender's work from nearly thirty years. Poems like "First Sex After the Loss of Our Son" and "Six Months After My Son's Death, I Chant to Sing For Him" are beautiful pieces that manage to express grief in compelling and fresh ways. However, this is not a book focused on loss as much as it is a celebration of the resiliency of those of us who find a way to travel on past catastrophe.

The final section of the book, my favorite, is called How It Is Now: New and Uncollected. This section takes a few lines from Hafiz as its epigraph.

Of a great need
We are holding hands
                      And climbing.

I love the generosity of this quote and believe its message is at the heart of this strong collection.

Two of my favorite poems in the collection --- but there are many more to love: "In February" is from the first section of the book and "A New Theology" from the final one.

In February

Today the cherry tree is grey
as fossil. On its bare boughs
raindrops are winter pearls.

Yesterday a brief change in the weather.
High in the branches a robin,
the fat warrior of spring,
held its breast to the early sun.

Suppose when my letter reaches you,
I have fallen from your memory
like ripe fruit. That would be
most perfect, to remain the pull
of something finished.

Or perhaps my name still slips
to your tongue as words
sometimes slip. For cabbages and sunlight
you’d say my name, for canoe, laurel,
minnow and finch. The wind is old
and carries many words.

I loved you. I loved you.

A New Theology

For Seth Bender, 1975-2000

Who has no likeness of a body and has no body
is my son, now five months dead
but in my dreams, my dreams he brings the peace in gardens.

And I see him in his smile and he is hardy
in the rolled up sleeves of his new shirt, well-fed
when he has no likeness of a body and has no body.

I see him next to me in conversation at a party
and I believe that he is fine because this is what he said,
because in my dreams, my dreams I sit with him in gardens.

The nights he comes, the cats moan long and sorry.
I believe they see his spirit entering my head,
he who has no likeness of a body and has no body.

In my life, accepting death comes slowly,
but the midwifery of sadness and of shock bleeds
afterbirth, dreams that bring the peace in gardens.

I know that he is far and he is here and he is holy.
Under sun, I feel the energy it takes to come away from God
who has no likeness of a body and has no body
who is in my dreams, the dreams that bring me gardens.

If you would like a free copy of Behind Us the Way Grows Wider, please leave me a comment and you will be entered in a drawing. If you win, Sheila will send you a signed book. Just leave your comment anytime between now and September 30th at midnight Pacific time. It's that quick and easy.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Back to School Thoughts - Last Night of Summer

So tonight is the night. Why is it that every year the summer seems to get shorter? There is so much I still need to do --- like finish painting the deck that I began scrubbing in June. Or even more pressing, finishing my fourth poetry manuscript that should be mailed out tonight. But I digress.

This was a summer of facing my fears - and perhaps overcoming them for a moment. I taught a week long class at Anam Cara in Ireland, rode my first Farris Wheel, and suspended my fear of water enough to paddle board for an hour -- standing up (thanks, Kelli). No wonder I'm so exhausted.

Kelli Agodon and I have also recently returned from Poets on the Coast. What an amazing group of women we worked with --- and it looks like we are scheduled to do it again next year. As of November  1st we will open registration for September 6 - 8, 2013 Poets on the Coast in Nye Beach, Oregon.

In the coming weeks I will be reading at Richard Hugo House (September 29th), on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1 at the Alexis Hotel (October 6th) and speaking at a Hedgebrook event later in the fall. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and read for a day or two; sometimes I feel very lucky to have such a full life.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poets on the Coast --- What I Learned in 2012 about Creating a Retreat

Three happy poets
I am still thinking about this year's Poets on the Coast weekend retreat and marveling at the magic created on the Oregon Coast. We were 24 women in total --- from our late twenties to early seventies --- from two different countries and many walks of life. And yet. And yet we came together as a group of poets and nurtured each other in community. Maybe it's just me, but it seemed each poet treated the others with real kindness --- no matter what our personal stories. A democracy of poets! I'm wondering what made for such an amazing confluence of feeling. Here are some ideas:

1. Start with a party. On Friday afternoon most of us had never met each other before and yet by the end of the evening, women reported that they felt comfortable with the group. A few snacks, some homemade apple sauce and blackberry crumble worked wonders. Also an ice breaker we planned ensured that everyone would speak to as many others as possible.

2. Offer gifts. Like happy dwarves, Kelli and I raced around the hotel leaving a gift outside each poet's door the first night. Local presses were extremely generous and each poet left with a few new books and journals to read. Most poets mentioned how cared for they felt finding surprise "poetry swag."

3. Location. Location. Location. The facilitators of a group are just one part of the overall weekend. Where we stay, the ocean is just outside the door. Walks on the beach and meals in a local pub make this location top notch in a windy ragtag kind of way.

4. Listen to your audience. After our first year doing Poets on the Coast we asked the poets what they would like to see more of and less of the next time. There was an overwhelming desire to have critique groups and so this year we made sure to include this.

5. Yoga! Thanks to our dear colleague Kay we are able to offer optional yoga classes each morning before breakfast. One amazing woman did yoga for her first time with us. My sense is that the supportive atmosphere (and superb teacher) allowed her to take more risks --- physical as well as creative.

6. Snacks. This one's self explanatory.

7. Attract amazing women. This seems the real key to the success of the weekend. We had an amazing group of women from across the United States (and one Canadian).

8. Nurture above all. It was easy with these women to find ways to lend support or point out the strengths of their work. Amazing what happens to us all when we feel safe and cared for.

9. A resident cat is good. I believe that Shelley (as in percy bysshe shelley) as the hotel cat gave us a sense of being at home away from home (for the cat lovers) and helped with number 8 above.

10. Be your most genuine and open-hearted self. It seemed everyone was doing this --- and reaping the results. Three women told me that the retreat had been life changing for them. And in a different way it had been for me as well. To nurture others is a way to nurture oneself. In fact, I'm addicted.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Poets in Pajamas on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour

Hopefully we will look as cool as these women do
When I first conceived of The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1 it never occurred to me that I would agree to a reading in pajamas --- but that's what has happened. Poet Elizabeth Austen took the idea of an "improbable" reading to heart and now she, Harold Taw, Kelli Russell Agodon, and I are all pajama shopping. What could be more improbable than poets reading poems in their pajamas? Well, maybe if the audience shows up in their pajamas too.

Consider yourself invited. It's 5 pm, October 6th, at the Alexis Hotel. We are sending out more formal invitations which you can access right here. Now if we could figure out a way to have hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Bring your cane and top hat too!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

From Stanley Kunitz

From The Poetry Garden, Seattle Center
An intimate gathering tonight at The Poetry Garden, Seattle Center. Glad to find this place of carved stones with lines from Stanley Kunitz, Pablo Neruda, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Marge Piercy and others. This is a city alive with poetry --- even in its carved stones.

Here is "The Layers" --- the poem these lines are taken from. This is one of my all time favorites.

The Layers

by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tonight at 6:00 PM - Two Poets At Your Table Perform at Seattle Center

It's a beautiful day in Seattle. Some say we have the bluest skies you've ever seen ...

In celebration of the Seattle Center, built in 1963 for the Seattle Worlds Fair, Unexpected Arts have been going on all summer. I love the idea of poets going outdoors and being part of the pathways and fountains, the actual fabric of our city. Jack Straw Productions --- another Seattle institution --- one that is very dear to me as I've been a Jack Straw Fellow and last year, a Jack Straw Curator for the Writing Program is also celebrating 50 years. Why not collaborate?

Please feel free to join me and poet (and KUOW poetry producer) Elizabeth Austen at 6 pm tonight at Seattle Center in the Poetry Garden which is by Center House -- we'll see you there under the bluest skies.

Monday, September 3, 2012


This table just needs A POET AT YOUR TABLE and some poetry lovers...
I love the serendipity that led to the launching of this new program. For me, it's a sense that good ideas often generate more good ideas. Three years ago this month, I contacted a handful of women writers I knew to see if they would like to meet and share ideas on book promotion. The Alchemist's Kitchen was about to come out and I knew I needed to somehow make book marketing fun this time around. Today, our small and intimate group is comprised of poets, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, and photographers. We meet once every other month and offer support to each other in whatever way we can. And then we drink wine (or hot water with lemon) and laugh a great deal. This is how Booklift was born and how today, it is still thriving.

Last June I listened as novelists and memoir writers in our group waxed poetic (!) about how much fun they had visiting local book groups. The writers spoke of smart women (and men) who "got" their books and in turn offered a new understanding of the work for the writers themselves. The women  also mentioned  good food and laughter. I wanted to join in. 

Today, I'm delighted to announce a brand-new program to connect book groups with poets. It’s called “A Poet at Your Table” (a sub group of Booklift) and is offered in cooperation with the Seattle Arts and Lectures Poetry Series and Crab Creek Review.

A Poet at Your Table

Join our first annual 
A Poet at Your Table season and receive an evening with an award-winning Pacific NW poet each time your book group chooses to read a book by one of our writers. A poet will visit your book group to discuss the process of creating her book, read poems, answer questions. We will design a presentation that best fits your needs. In addition, your group can receive a 15% discount on subscriptions to the Seattle Arts and Lectures Poetry Series.It’s one thing to enjoy an evening out to hear a poet perform in a large auditorium, but what if you could listen to a poet talk about her work in the comfort of your own home?  Washington state boasts an impressive group of poets who want to connect with readers and book groups.
Featured Poets:

For more information please contact: PoetAtYourTable(at)gmail(dotcom)

1) What do we have to do to prepare for A Poet at Your Table ?
~  Besides reading the chosen poetry book, no other preparation needed.  Whatever your book group usually does is fine. Just let us know what works for you.
 2) How far in advance do we need to book our poet?
~ A month in advance would be great but you can contact us on shorter notice and we’ll try! We travel, we teach, we write, so give us your top three choices of poets, and we’ll do our best to accomodate your schedule.
3) Do you have a web site where we can review the books and learn about the poets?
~ We encourage you to check out the websites of our eight poets and see which of us seems the best match for you. The links are "live" for the poets just above these these questions.
 4) Our book group is in Kitsap County — is that too far for A Poet at Your Table?
~  We have poets throughout Washington! We will do our best to match a poet with your location.
 5) Can we choose more than one poet to visit?
~   Absolutely! You could invite two poets to come on the same evening or one poet per month.

6) What if the poet we want is busy?
 It is true; we  teach, we travel, and we write.  We ask that you give us your first, second, and third choices. This way we have a better chance of finding the right poet for you on the night of your group.

Announcing: The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1

The Alexis Hotel: First Stop on the Improbable Places Tour
I am fired up and ready to launch The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1 --- a featured event in this year's Arts Crush month long celebration. "Bedroom Suite" will be the theme of readings by Kelli Russell Agodon, Elizabeth Austen, Harold Taw, and Susan Rich. The concept and title of the tour are inspired by Colleen Michaels who has run The Improbable Places Poetry Tour north of Boston for the past two years. (Read an interview I conducted with Colleen right here.)

The backstory to this event is that I've been looking for a way to begin this tour for the last year or more. So when Harold Taw sent me the Arts Crush announcement looking for featured events -- this seemed the perfect place to launch our tour.

Since Harold Taw is a prose writer, author of Adventures of the Karaoke King, we've added "+1" to the original idea. Each stop on the tour will feature poets as well as a "+1" guest.  Our next venue is still under consideration. If you have an "improbable place" to tell us about --- please comment below.

For now, we'd  love to have you save the date. Be part of the tour at  5 pm. Saturday, October 5th in the Gallery Room at the Alexis Hotel. Admission is free. We'd love to have you be part of this Pacific Northwest launch.

For more information go to the Arts Crush site by clicking here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Poetry Garden with Elizabeth Austen on Wednesday and Jack Straw Productions

Here's one of the poems in the Poetry Garden Seattle Center

I love readings that happen in improbable places taking bystanders by surprise and providing an unexpected context. Later this fall I will be launching The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1 as part of Arts Crush --- a movement in Seattle to make October overflow with music, visual art, performance and poetry.

However, for right now, I want to let you know that I will be reading with wonderful poet Elizabeth Austen 6 pm, Wednesday, September 5th in the Poetry Garden at the Seattle Center in celebration of Seattle Center's 50th Anniversary and Jack Straw Production's 50th Anniversary. 1962 was a magical year in this town.

The Jack Straw Writer's Fellowship Program is now online and you can access it right here. Note: you do not have to be a Washington State Writer to be a Jack Straw Fellow. You do, however, have to be willing to come to Seattle for 3-4 meetings from January to June. If you like Seattle and maybe think this is a city you would like to live in --- being a Jack Straw Fellow would be a great way to get a sense of the literary scene. Each year there is a different curator who chooses a total of 12 writers --- poets, fiction writers, an non-fiction writers to participate in readings, radio programs, and creating new work. It could be you. No publications or fancy degrees required.