Friday, November 30, 2012

Last Day on Earth and Poetry Daily

It's rare that I read a poem these days that moves me as "Last Day on Earth" does. The poem doesn't do any wild gymnastics or surprise me much in its form, but the slow unwinding of the evening, the northwest feel (although I suspect it's Maine), and the reference to death all hold my attention.

Of course the hypothetical movie reference captures my interest right away.

I need to remind myself that there's still a place for honest, old fashioned, narrative poems. This is especially so for poems that acknowledge our limited time on this planet and do so with humor (the dog no longer limps) and beauty "the cold towers of clouds."

Poetry Daily is a site that posts a poem a day picked from current journals and poetry collections. If you haven't yet discovered it, you're in for a treat. Every Sunday night I receive a posting that tells me the poems for the week. I think its been going since the beginning of the internet --- or close to it! I hope you enjoy.

Last Day on Earth

If it's the title of a movie, you expect
everything to become important—a kiss,
a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog.
But if the day is real, life is only
as significant as yesterday—the kiss
hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now,
on the path by the river, you don't notice
the sky darkening beyond the pines because
you're imagining what you'll say at dinner,
swirling the silky wine in your glass.
You don't notice the birds growing silent
or the cold towers of clouds moving in
because you're explaining how lovely
and cool it was in the woods. And the dog
had stopped limping!—she seemed
her old self again, sniffing the air and alert,
the way dogs are to whatever we can't see.
And I was happy, you hear yourself saying,
because it felt as if I'd been allowed
to choose my last day on earth,
and this was the one I chose.

River Styx 
Number 88 / 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Do You Identify as Bigenre? Call For Submissions

Submissions MUST be made online using the service Submittable; click here to upload a submission.
Additional questions? Check out our FAQ.
Call for Submissions: Anthology

Ashland Creek Press is currently accepting short story submissions for a book-length anthology focused on animals.

We’re looking for stories of how the lives of animals and humans intersect, particularly in regards to the conservation and protection of animals. We are not seeking stories about hunting, fishing, or eating animals—unless they are analogous to a good anti-war novel being all about war. Under these basic guidelines, however, we’re open to reading a wide range of short fiction with animal themes.

Stories should be from 2,500 to 7,500 words in length. Previously published stories are fine, as long as you have retained the rights to reprint your story in an anthology. Along with your story, please include with your submission a brief cover letter, including an author bio and acknowledgment(s) if the story has been previously published.

Anthology submissions MUST be made online using the service Submittable; click here to upload a submission.

We look forward to reading your work!
The Fine Print

Ashland Creek Press accepts no responsibility for lost or misplaced submissions. We will get back to you with a reply as soon as possible, but please know that it can take many weeks.

Ashland Creek Press is a boutique press with the goal of publishing books of high quality that often have trouble finding homes in traditional markets. We work with authors who are passionate about their work and about getting it out into the world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Student, An Interview, and Other Random Giving of Thanks

After waiting close to 90 minutes for Toyota Care to come today this represents the wheel of happiness

Let me just say this was not a good day. And yet. And yet here I am alive and warm, safe on a stormy night. I am doing my best (and it's working!) to find things to be thankful for. As I waited on the interstate this morning for someone from Toyota Care to come help fix a tire that had blown out, I watched out the rearview mirror as truck after truck swerved to keep from hitting me. Two different tow guys mysteriously got lost on their way to give aid. In the end, it was a kind state trooper who put on my spare in the rain, warning me to be careful as I got back on the roadway.

I am thankful for this state trooper who was good enough to offer help when he heard I'd been waiting over an hour for someone to arrive. Clearly, this is not in his job description; he went way beyond what he needed to do. I'm only sorry I didn't get his name so I could thank him more personally.

This all meant that instead of getting to campus 90 minutes early to  prep my classes, I got to my office just in time to grab my things and teach. Somehow, my students and I worked together and perhaps had more of a spontaneous class than if I'd had all that time to prepare. And when at the end of class, one student came up to tell me she had just signed up to take two more classes with me next quarter, I was pretty thankful. If this bright young woman thinks I'm teaching her something, all is not lost. Thank you, Scarlett.

In the last few days along with being sick, I've had the sickening experience of realizing that a poem that has already been published was still out at a few journals. So when the same poem gets taken three times but can only be published once, it's a first class problem to have. No other poem will do. All three places want only this one poem. Okay, I know this is not going to elicit any sympathy, but these acceptances ended up feeling more like rejections. After all, the journals had four other poems that were available but they only wanted poem X. I am thankful to have such first class problems.

FInally, t
hanks to Norelle Done for interviewing me for Seattle Wrote just in time for your Thanksgiving quick read. I am especially thankful that the article was just posted today.

Here's the beginning of the interview:

Q: How did you get your first collection of poetry published?

A: Thank you for asking me this question, Norelle. I like to tell how my first collection was published to poets and writers just starting out because it breaks expectation. I first contacted my publisher, White Pine Press, on behalf of Ingrid de Kok, a South African poet who I was researching while on a Fulbright to Africa. I asked Dennis Maloney, the editor, to consider her work for the press as she was highly regarded in South Africa but at the time, unpublished in the United States. When I met Dennis some six years later he told me I was the only poet who ever wrote to him on behalf of another poet. He was intrigued. Later, when my South African press contacted him to co-publish my book, he remembered my initial letter and our collaboration began.   Click here to continue reading

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy Birthday to Poet Terrance Hayes

I first discovered Terrance Hayes over dinner in a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. Terrance was speaking at the Antioch University graduation and since I was teaching there at the time, we were having dinner with the wonderful director, Eloise Klein Healey, beforehand. It seems hard to believe I didn't know his work --- but this was ten years ago. Now the world knows the work of Terrance Hayes. He's had a good ten years. And very well deserved. Check out his latest book Light Head or just learn more about him right here.

At Pegasus

They are like those crazy women
    who tore Orpheus
            when he refused to sing,

these men grinding
    in the strobe & black lights
            of Pegasus. All shadow & sound.

“I’m just here for the music,”
    I tell the man who asks me
            to the floor. But I have held

a boy on my back before.
    Curtis & I used to leap
            barefoot into the creek; dance

among maggots & piss,
    beer bottles & tadpoles
            slippery as sperm;

we used to pull off our shirts
    & slap music into our skin.
            He wouldn’t know me now

at the edge of these lovers’ gyre,
    glitter & steam, fire,
            bodies blurred sexless

by the music’s spinning light.
    A young man slips his thumb
            into the mouth of an old one,

& I am not that far away.
    The whole scene raw & delicate
            as Curtis’s foot gashed

on a sunken bottle shard.
    They press hip to hip,
            each breathless as a boy

carrying a friend on his back.
    The foot swelling green
            as the sewage in that creek.

We never went back.
    But I remember his weight
            better than I remember

my first kiss.
    These men know something
            I used to know.

How could I not find them
    beautiful, the way they dive & spill
            into each other,

the way the dance floor
    takes them,
            wet & holy in its mouth.
Terrance Hayes, “At Pegasus” from Muscular Music (2005 CMU Classics, 1999 Tia Chucha).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Harold and Maude at Highline Community College 40+ Years On

Harold Breaking the 4th Wall (with mom)
What a knowing glance; a look that jumps off the screen and into this moviegoer's mind forever. I first attended this film when I was fourteen years old. It played at the Allston Cinema on Harvard Avenue in Brookline, Massachusetts for most of my childhood. Harold and Maude directed by Hal Ashby is the movie that defined my adolescence. 

A Motorcycle with Sunflowers for Wheels

I watched this film more times than any single individual rightly should. When I was a teenager I related to Harold more than I care to admit. I wondered why the adults around me seemed so dull and why the books in the children's room of the library were far more exciting than those in the adult section. Whenever I made a new friend I would find out if they had seen "Harold and Maude" and if they hadn't, I insisted we go. For a while, I had a boyfriend who worked at the theater so I didn't have to pay for all 20+ times I sat in the theater listening to Cat Stevens and crushing out on Bud Cort.

The film spoke to me on a level beyond my comprehension, beyond reason. I wanted to live life fully. Amusement parks, forests, and odorifics all held great allure. No, I wasn't looking for my own version of Maude except in that I was desperate to find someone that could pull me out of myself and show me a less conventional way to live. 

Now showing this picture to my Film Studies students, I watch closely as some of them adore the film and others seem repelled. Instead of identifying with Harold, I now find myself drawn more to Maude. It is Maude who has survived the Holocaust, survived her eighty years with a sense of wonder still intact, and lived life on her own terms. Perhaps it's together that Harold and Maude connect as one complete person. Perhaps that's the meaning of their bond.

The Morning After...

How to explain love? Poet Rita Dove says if you can explain everything that a poem means then the poem isn't doing its job. I'd like to add, ditto for film. Collin Higgins was just finishing graduate school when he wrote this script and Hal Ashby, the director had yet to make his mark in Hollywood. I can't argue that this is a landmark film except that it is a landmark in my life. And perhaps yours, too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Poem in The Southern Review and the Story Behind the Poem

Mr. Otis Travnic 2000-2010

One of the hardest poems I've written in recent times is about my cat Otis. He came into my life within a few months of my moving to a new city alone. Emphasis on alone. Otis was a one woman cat. He rarely allowed anyone other than me to see him, never mind touch him. He was my pet of a lifetime. 

After Otis died, I knew I needed to honor him in the best way I know how. And yet. And yet I knew writing about cats was no easy task. I told myself not to mention whiskers or tails or adorable ears.I needed to avoid even the hint of nostalgia or cliche. I read The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin which contains several eulogies to Merwin's dog. The fact of these poems inspired me.

If Merwin could write about his dog, then I could write about my cat. The poem took me over a year to begin. When I did, I found a fragment of a journal entry that I'd written and abandoned during the last three weeks of Otis's life. In those final weeks  I took care of him close to twenty-four hours a day. Now two and a half years later, this poem appears in The Southern Review. I don't know that I've ever been happier about any journal publication. This one's for you, Otis. 


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.”— Anatole France

I photograph you every morning
In a cruel attempt to capture
A formal souvenir of what I love
After breakfast, and then
Each day a little less
You take a stand, examine finches
Windowpanes knocking

(to read the rest of  "Going—" you'll need to get a copy of The Southern Review, Fall 20012)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What is it about birds?

Varied Thrush Visits Back Deck in West Seattle
What is it about watching birds? On Saturday as I sat staring out the window, a host of unusual birds: a varied thrush, a northern flicker, and several junkos all came by. This all happened within a few minutes at about noon. I've lived here for almost thirteen years and never before have I seen so many different birds at one time.

The older I get the more birds astonish me. They're a gentle reminder of what is all around us. They help me practice the art of paying attention. If only I was better at remembering it. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I write. To remember astonishment.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Do You Have a Book of Poems Ready for Publication? It's time for the White Pine Press Competition

Photo Credit: Darren Hester

White Pine Press is my publisher and has been for the last twelve years. That's a long relationship in the poetry world; and I sincerely hope to publish with them for at least another twelve. I know Dennis Maloney, having met him only after the publication of my first book. I believe Dennis has been in this business for over thirty years because he believes in bringing poetry into the world.

Dennis chose my first book The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World when I was just beginning my life as a poet. He took a chance on me. In this age of cynicism I love to tell my students that I had absolutely no connections or fancy awards; I can only assume that Dennis believed in the poems. And so if you have a book of poems that you are hoping to publish, I can wholeheartedly recommend White Pine Press to you. Submit your manuscript, I know it will get the attention it deserves. This was the advice I gave to my friend Kelli Russell Agodon and her book Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize for 2009. You'll never know unless you try!

Here is the information from the White Pine Press website

Manuscripts must be between 60 and 80 pages in length. Poems must be original, but may have appeared in magazines, anthologies, or chapbooks. Translations are not eligible.

Manuscripts must be postmarked by November 30th. They must be typed and should include a table of contents. The author’s name, address, email address, and telephone number should appear on the cover sheet only. Manuscripts will be recycled at the end of the competition. Please include a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope with your submission if you wish to be notified of the results. 

Manuscripts must include a $20 entry, reading, and processing fee. Checks should be made out to White Pine Press. The manuscript, along with a self-addressed, stamped postcard for notification that it has been received, if so desired, should be sent to: 

White Pine Press Poetry Prize
P.O. Box 236
Buffalo, New York 14201 

If you send the manuscript via express mail services, the manuscript should be sent to: 

White Pine Press Poetry Prize
5783 Pinehurst Court
Lake View, NY 14085 

Manuscripts are screened by the editorial staff, and a poet of national reputation makes the final selection. The name of the final judge is not revealed until the end of the competition. We alternate between a male and a female poet each year as final judge. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

President Barack Obama at Poetry Night at the White House

Poetry Night at the White House seems a regular event including Billy Collins, Rita Dove, and a host of young poets. My dream is to perform there one day. Well, one day in the next four years...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Brian Turner , A New Journal (for me) and A New MFA Program Well Worth Checking Out

Thinking about MFA programs in Creative Writing? I know that my time teaching in the Antioch University MFA program taught me a great deal about the merits of low residency MFA programs. Since poet Eloise Klein Healey started the Antioch MFA program more than ten years ago, low residency programs have sprung up all over the United States. One of the newest programs, and perhaps the most interesting is the MFA at Sierra Nevada College directed by the wonderful poet (and human) Brian Turner. Click here to view a short video with Brian.

I asked Brian Turner about the program. Why would someone choose Sierra Nevada College over the other available MFA programs. Here is what he said:

 "In terms of the low-res MFA at Sierra Nevada College...not only does the program hold its residencies in a place of breathtaking beauty (the north shore of Lake Tahoe) but we also offer something that no other program does (as far as I know): our students study with working editors in the field for their entire last semester, honing their thesis manuscript. I wanted our students to experience something like I did when April Ossmann (who was the editor at Alice James Books when Here, Bullet was accepted for publication) worked with me on my own book. So, April graciously agreed to join us up at Lake Tahoe and she's the editor that our poets will work with during their final semester.

We have a warm, friendly atmosphere in our writing community and I'm sure you'll enjoy your time when you come to visit us in the future.
Many thanks for spreading the good word with the writers and lovers of writing that you know--


I also checked out the journal that Sierra Nevada College publishes and it looks like somewhere I would like to publish. You can take a look at the  Sierra Nevada Review right here.

The opportunity to work with an editor from Alice James, study poetry with Brian Turner, and to kayak on my down time seems too good to be true. If you are going to AWP in Boston this spring, this would be a great time to meet with faculty and staff. If you're not going to Boston, you can simply contact the program right now. Here's the link to ask a question or take a look at the admissions process.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

One Extra Hour of Weekend ;-)

I have to say I'm fond of retro as a style of kitchen or bathroom floor tile; I'd rather keep it at that.
There are many new projects in poetry that I've heard of recently, along with some new books.

Stay tuned to this blog station!