Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fellowship Deadline Approaching: Apply Now!

For a writer living in the Northwest, the Jack Straw Writers Fellowship acts as a rite of passage. I became part of a group of writers: fiction, nonfiction, and poets all comingling. Equally important is that the Jack Straw program is known for a diversity of writers in terms of experience, race, age, and styles.

Two years ago I was invited by Jack Straw Productions to curarte a group of writers. This year the curator is the wildly talented and open-hearted Stephanie Kallos who will select a group of twelve writers.

A few important things to know: there is no geographical constraint on who can apply. Past fellows include writers from Oregon and even Northern California. You would need, however, to visit Seattle on three to four different occasions during 2013. Also, fellows needn't be published; it is the quality of the work and the project proposal that matters.

The deadline is November 1st. If you are a writer looking for a push on a new project, want training in performance, or are interested in being part of a cool group --- get the application online now!

As a former curator I'm happy to answer any questions. Feel free to leave me a message here or via my website.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tonight's the Night: At the Sorrento Hotel @ 6:00 pm

I will be reading right here tonight
Another week, another hotel reading! I'm reading at the Sorrento Hotel on Madison tonight at 6:00 - 7:00 pm. I think my secret fantasy is to be a poet-in-residence at one of Seattle's gorgeous hotels. Would love to see you out tonight for LitCrawl. Start at the Sorrento and work your way across various bars until you reach the main event at Hugo House with Elizabeth Austen. Come out and begin the weekend early! This is my favorite hotel bar in town --- well worth seeing!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Superior Donuts is Actually, Superior

The best play I've seen in a long, long time
If you live in the Seattle area or have a chance to see this play, Superior Donuts, where you live, do it! This is a play for poets and writers; the writing is nuanced and sharply observed. Tracy Letts is a Pulitzer prize winning playwright who lived and worked in Chicago where the story is located. I especially loved these two characters, Arthur and Franco, men who come to believe in each other. The story is a neighborhood story but it is the mixture of comedic timing and pathos that made this especially magical for me. And any script that names off Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, and Yusef Komunyakaa scores extra points with me. There's a spot on review at The Stranger comparing it with Pullman Porter Blues. Here are my favorite lines from Brendan Kiley's review. I've never thought of a play as a sonnet before but this seems the perfect albeit unlikely description.

The storefront-sized confines of Donuts give its characters greater fluidity and freedom, and their little tics speak volumes more than any sweeping gestures. August was a pretty good epic; Donuts is an exquisite sonnet.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Congratulations to Catherine Barnett Winner of the 2012 James Laughlin Prize

Catherine Barnett

Catherine Barnett

Poet, editor, and teacher Catherine Barnett was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied at Princeton University and at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Barnett is the author of two collections of poetry: Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (Alice James Books, 2004) and The Game of Boxes(Graywolf Press, 2012), which was the recipient of the 2012 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Of Barnett's work, April Bernard has noted, "With subtle and cumulative force, The Game of Boxes builds a complex poetic structure in which fundamental questions about motherhood, trust, eroticism, and spiritual meaning are posed and then set into motion in relation to one another. The mind is delighted, the spirit enthralled, by this wonderful book."
Her awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Writers' Award. She also works as an independent editor and as Writer-in-Residence at the Children's Museum of Manhattan where she teaches writing to mothers in the shelter system.
Barnett has been the Visiting Poet at Barnard College and teaches at the New School and New York University.

A Poem for Friday - Matthew Dickman

Perhaps Far Too Pretty For This Poem


Oh fire—you burn me! Ed is singing
behind the smoke and coals, his wife near him, the rest of us
below the stars
swimming above Washington State,
burning through themselves. He's like an Appalachian Prince
Henry with his banjo
and whiskey. The court surrounding him and the deer
off in the dark hills like the French, terrified
but in love and hungry.
I'm burning all the time. My pockets full of matches
and lighters, the blue smoke
crawling out like a skinny ghost from between my lips.
My lungs on fire, the wings
of them falling from the open sky. The tops of Michelle's long hands
covered in dark spots. All the cigarettes she would light
and then smash out, her eyes
the color of hairspray, cloudy and sticky
and gone, but beautiful! She carried her hands around
like two terrible letters of introduction. I never understood
who could have opened them, read them aloud,
and still thrown her onto a bed, still walked into the street she was, still
lit what little fuse she had left. Oh fire—
you burn me. My sister and me and Southern Comfort
making us singe and spark, the family
ash all around us, the way she is beautiful in her singular blaze,
my brain lighting up, my tongue
like a monk in wartime, awash in orange silk and flames.
The first time I ever crushed a handful of codeine into its universe
of powdered pink, the last time
I felt the tangy aspirin drip of ecstasy down my throat,
the car losing control, the sound of momentum, this earth is not standing
still, oh falling elevator—
you keep me, oh graveyard—
you have been so patient, ticking away, smoldering—
you grenade. Oh fire,
the first time I ever took a drink I was doused with gasoline,
that little ember perking up inside me, flashing, beginning to glow and climb.


Mayakovsky's Revolver

W. W. Norton

Sunday, October 7, 2012

We Did It! What I Learned Doing The Improbable Places Poetry Tour

Novelist and extraordinary friend, Harold Taw, reading in his pajamas!

Wow. The inaugural event of The Improbable Places Poetry Tour + 1 surpassed my wildest dreams. We read poems (+ one short story) in our pajamas, read poems (and one short essay) bouncing on the Author Suite's bed at the Alexis Hotel, and celebrated in style. The quote of the night belonged to one attendee, "I never expected to have so much fun at a poetry reading."

So what made this a different kind of poetry event? Well, what didn't make it different?

Elizabeth Austen, Susan Rich, and Kelli Russell Agodon doing glam shots before the show

1. Everyone tells us to wear comfortable clothing when we read, but no one tells us how perfect it is to read in our pajamas. This not only made us feel very much at ease --- it interested the audience!

2. Be part of something bigger than just one night. Thanks to the sensational arts scene in the city of Seattle, I was able to write a grant to Arts Crush and be part of an entire arts month. This made it possible for the poets (and novelist) to be paid for their time --- something I whole heartedly believe in --- and for food, drink, and publicity. Thank you, Arts Crush! We couldn't have done it without you.

The after party where over half of the audience followed us into the elevator to come mingle in the Alexis Hotel, Author Suite

3. Have an after party along with the poetry! Thanks to dear friend and San Diego poet, Angie Vorhies, who offered us her bedroom, the "author suite" for the after event. Over half the audience came with us for light refreshments and an encore reading.

4. Location, location, location. I think this is a good part of the magic. We chose a well located downtown hotel that already caters to book lovers with its highly rated Library Bistro and Bookstore Bar. The Alexis Hotel was kind enough to donate The Gallery Room for part one of our reading. Thank you, Alexis Hotel!

Susan Rich and Harold Taw getting ready to start the day

5. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. I can't emphasize this enough. While I may have written the grant for this event and conceived of the idea (with great inspiration from Colleen Michaels original The Improbable Places Poetry Tour at Montserrat College in Massachusetts) --- this was truly a joint effort. It was Elizabeth Austen who secured our venue, Harold Taw who took care of all publicity including making flyers and postcards at the last minute, Kelli Russell Agodon who made sure the day was beautifully documented and Angie Vorhies who made the party happen. Thanks also to Jeff Wasserman for doing a last minute elevator tour of the hotel and assisting with a dozen last minute details. It takes a village to pull off a great event.

6. Expect the unexpected. That's what I think we did right here. From reading in our pajamas to inviting everyone up to a party to doing one last encore reading directly from the bedroom (there were French doors opening out to the large living space) audience members seemed genuinely delighted. For many people, attending poetry events is not a something they do everyday or even every year. Most of the audience were not poets. Hopefully we sent out a message that poetry readings can be filled with powerful poetry and fun --- not to mention being inclusive enough to invite a prose writer along.

Pretending she's not nervous but she is
7. Keep the momentum strong! And to that end, we have just put together a Face Book event page for The Improbable Places Poetry Tour +1 so that you can check out more photos and keep up-to-date on where our improbable poets travel to next. Here is the link -- if you have a Face Book page we'd love to have you join us!

Notice Angie's tee shirt "I'm with the Banned" just in time for Banned Books Week!

8. Build in time for celebration -- whatever feeds your soul the most. As much as I loved the event, I loved the after the after party just as much. Once the room was cleaned and the tables and chairs put back in their corporal places, six of of us sent for room service and talked well into the night about poetry, films, hotel rooms, and laughed a great deal. Bathing in the glow of what you create is crucial, at least for me. Once all the zillion details have come off without a hitch, the real fun can begin for the organizers who no longer have to organize a thing.

Kelli Russell Agodon reading from the bed - her first time reading in her pajamas in public

9. Write new work to match the venue. I almost forgot this one as it seems so obvious. Our event was called "Bedroom Suite" and we all chose pieces (some brand new, some very old) that fit with a hotel bedroom including love affairs, manservants, monsters in the mini fridge, and what books to bring on vacation.

Elizabeth Austen reads from Every Dress A Decision - Finalist for the Washington State Book Award 2012 

10. Be inclusive in every way. We asked our audience to suggest communities that we might bring The Improbable Places Poetry Tour to next and two people suggested great venues. I think for the next event it might be fun to invite people to send in poems for a sort of open mike segment. I love the idea of including as many people as possible in new and creative ways. If you have an idea, let me know by posting a comment below or sending me an email at

The sleeping poets and Harold Taw after a hard day's night