Monday, January 28, 2013

New Poet for Me: Jeff Hardin

I found this poem on Verse Daily after seeing Jeff Hardin's name on the upcoming list of poets for the new online journal, The Heron Tree. The poem does an excellent job of matching form with content. As the content wanders from a mouse to a fatwa, to a grass blade; the form meanders along with short lines that move the reader down the page in a leisurely fashion. The poem moves the way a relaxed mind moves ---- from image to image, with no fanfare, no drama. But what I love most about this poem happens in the third to last line. A line I might very well have to po-jack.


Even in these hostile times,
I sort of prefer those people
others consider
Those who,
during the meeting,
doodle in the margins,
inking out long-stemmed daisies
with words rising up
out of the stamens.
Watch how they're
not really ruffled
when referred to
as loafing.
Their tenacity
at not being
too insistent—
now that's a feat.
A mouse could run off
with their crumbs
and they wouldn't flip out,
call in a search party,
order a fatwa.
I imagine they know already
that plot is simply
what it is
—mostly a distraction—
that what matters
hasn't happened yet,
the realm of the possible,
which sometimes
doesn't occur.
While others strategize,
organize coalitions,
they fiddle with a grass blade,
inspecting its shape.
When they speak up,
it's to ask
some loll-about question
already drifting
right out of the room.

---- by Jeff Hardin

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Art of Rejection (for Poets and Editors)

Has this happened to you? If so, read on! There seems a good deal of talk going round these days on how to deal with rejection poetry style. I just came across this blog post at Indiana Review on the 5 Marks of Oft-rejected Poems and found it interesting. Stale language, cliches, weak endings --- all good points to be reminded of.

A few weeks ago at the Book of Kells, Kelli Russell Agodon posted concerning the awkward situation when a journal makes a personal request to the poet for poems and then rejects her (or him) with a faded rejection slip or a mass email. Yes, it's nice to be asked. And yes, it hurts twice as much as a "normal" rejection does because the editor encouraged you. In other words, the rejection becomes much more personal.

Ten years ago I heard Naomi Shihab Nye talk about this exact issue at a workshop at Richard Hugo House. She implied that the better known a poet is, the more this will happen. And so, yes, it's a first class problem. Still, Kelli's point is worth repeating: editors need to consider what they are doing and not merely encourage poets to submit because they want to raise their submission numbers. For me, "the ask" is very much like saying: "Let's go out on a date but know that I will blow you off if someone sexier is available that night. Hope that's OK."

Once upon a time,  a famous editor wrote to me (a personal and cheerful note) asking me to submit my book manuscript to a contest her magazine was running. I wondered why she would ask such a thing as she had not taken any of my poems in the years I had been sending to her. Could it be a $25 reading fee? Were submissions down?

Here's what I try to remember so that rejection doesn't win -- and I don't curse the editor (for too long)

1. Most oftentimes an editor is just another writer -- just like you. She has her own likes and dislikes and they may or may nor include your work. They are not an ultimate judge of your work.

2. A poem may go out 1-20 times before it finds a home. I try to keep track of how many times my poems go out into the world before they find publication. On average, I send a poem somewhere between 6 - 9 times before it is accepted. If this one magazine says no, there are many others to try.

3. There's a right match for my poem out there somewhere. As with any relationship, I want my poems to find a warm and loving audience. If a journal doesn't want my poem, my poem doesn't want to hang out there.

4. Most writers are rejected most of the time. This is a fact of life. It is also true that the more you submit your work, the better your chances of acceptance.

5. You have been accepted and you will be again. So some little start-up journal says no to a poem and the same poem is accepted by a prestigious national journal a few months later (it happens).

6. Take the opportunity to look at your rejected poems when they come back and see if they need some more revision. If they do, the editor just gave you a chance to make your work stronger, if they are fine as they are, send them somewhere else that very same day.

7. Be playful. Find a way to make submitting your work a game. I've written recently on how I play the license plate game when I submit poems. This allows me to focus on something other than the nation's top 10 journals.

8. Talk to friends. I have a friend who hears about my excitement over poetry acceptances and also receives emails when some little journal decides to email out rejections early on a Sunday morning. It really helps to have a poetry submission buddy to share high highs and low lows.

9. Take a break. If you are feeling a bit raw and a poetry rejection might be too much at this point (the grey of winter, the loss of a friend, too much work stress) just take a break from submitting and concentrate on writing. Writing poetry is a better use of your time than submitting poetry any day.

10. Tell me your story. I love hearing other rejection stories from poets and from editors. When I read for Ploughshares back in the early 1990's I remember a poet who wrote me (well, not me personally) about how he was sure I was nothing but a lowly intern (i was) and that he imagined me sitting in my bedsit somewhere thinking he was just a crazy man (I did). He told me his poems were better than I would ever understand. And yes, dear reader, I rejected him ~ and was glad he did not have my address.

Poetry and Music Next Saturday: 7:00 PM, Feb 2nd with the Canadians!

An Evening of Amazing Poetry 7:00 PM, Saturday, Feb 2nd (Ground Hog Day) at Elliott Bay Books

Jen Currin, Raoul Fernandes, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Susan Rich, and Rachel Rose will read from their collections. Jefferson Rose and Tobi Stone will also accompany Rachel Rose in a collaborative experiment of music and poetry.

Please come support!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

From American Life in Poetry: A First Rate First Grader

American Life in Poetry: Column 409


It’s wonderful when a very young person discovers the pleasures of poetry and gives it a try. Here’s a poem by a first grader, Andrew Jones of Tacoma, Washington, who, if we’re lucky, will go on to write poems the rest of his life.

The Softest Word

The softest word is leaf
it zigzags
in the air and
falls on the yellow ground

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Seattle Arts and Lectures, from their most recent book of poems, Our Beautiful Robotic Hearts, Seattle Arts and Lectures, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Seattle Arts and Lectures. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"One Today" by Richard Blanco

"One Today" by Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,

peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces

of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth

across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.

One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story

told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,

each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:

pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,

fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows

begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper-

bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,

on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives-

to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did

for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,

the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:

equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,

the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,

or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain

the empty desks of twenty children marked absent

today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light

breathing color into stained glass windows,

life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth

onto the steps of our museums and park benches

as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk

of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat

and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills

in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands

digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands

as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane

so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains

mingled by one wind-our breath. Breathe. Hear it

through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,

buses launching down avenues, the symphony

of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,

the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,

or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open

for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,

buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me-in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed

their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked

their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:

weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report

for the boss on time, stitching another wound

or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,

or the last floor on the Freedom Tower

jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes

tired from work: some days guessing at the weather

of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love

that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother

who knew how to give, or forgiving a father

who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight

of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always-home,

always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon

like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop

and every window, of one country-all of us-

facing the stars

hope-a new constellation

waiting for us to map it,

waiting for us to name it-together

Friday, January 18, 2013

Meet Seattle Poet and Pie Promoter Kate Lebo

Kate Lebo: poet of cats, herbs, and chocolate cream pie

I first met Kate several years ago when she was the front desk person at Richard Hugo House. Since then she has gone on to earn her MFA in Poetry and has created Pie School at High Five Pie and other venues around the country. On hot summer days Kate has also been known to open a pie stand in front of her house and invite everyone over for chocolate chiffon pie or peach or whatever happens to be in season. Poetry and pie making, why not?

In lesser hands this poetry pie thing could be considered a simple gimmick. Not so with Kate Lebo. Reading the poem "Chocolate Cream Pie" and "Mincemeat Pie" another poem that appears at The Monarch Review I realize her work reminds me of a 21st century C.P. Cavafy --- who lived at some point in his life, next to a bakery. Her poems begin in the senses -- with ingredients from the kitchen and then oftentimes launch into the surreal with a lovely hinge such as: "She isn't lying, exactly." And suddenly the world shifts on its axis and we are left wide awake. What I love is the generosity of the poems, Lebo creates a new world --- one in which we are all invited to the table.

In October 2013, Chin Music Press will publish her first book, A Commonplace Book of Pie, based on her best-selling zine of the same name. She's currently at work on a collection of erasures called From a Tree, which repurposes Wikipedia text to create a lyric grocery of seasonal produce. For poems, classes, and other tasty treats, visit

From The Monarch Review

Here's one of Kate Lebo's poems:

Chocolate Cream Pie

People who love chocolate cream pie move through this world in a swarm of music. Their cars leak bass lines; their exhaust sings from the dark of the pipe. Periodically they experiment with the softness of their genders and find them lacking every time, wear skirts to feel the hair on their thighs and pants to bind their bodies into the clean lines of a park bench. They invite you to sit down. The chocolate pie-lover would like to convince you that her height is three inches above the crown of her head. She isn’t lying, exactly. She’s creating the truth, believer by believer, just as you would if you too had a voice as big as a church.

--- Kate Lebo

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Balance: Where Can I Find Some?

Some weeks I can only hope not to fall off the rails

There are times when I wonder: where is my life? Is it lost in a fog of paper grading?

Where are the quiet moments to watch birds out the window or curl up on the couch with a good book?

Where is my writing studio and why am I never writing in it?

This week began with a speeding ticket early Monday morning and just ended with an emergency visit to the veterinarian. In-between there was an eye infection. That kind of week.

The trouble is there are too many weeks when my life is swept up by circumstance. I know that it's my choice to drive a car, to adopt stray cats, to cook dinner. But what I don't understand is why I haven't learned to commit to my life for the joyous bits as well.

Some days are better than others. If I get out even in stormy weather and walk the beach I feel better all day. Same with writing poems. Even bad poems. I need to live my life in a way that I recognize myself.

We only get one life. One. It's not a very big number. How do we make sure we get it right?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thank you to the wonderful women, to Hedgebrook and to SAM

Thank you to the wonderful women who came out yesterday to my ekphrastic poetry workshop at the Seattle Art Museum sponsored by Hedgebrook.

I'm always utterly amazed and humbled by women who put themselves in my hands; who allow me to share what I know about poetry and art. Writing is often a solitary experience and we writers tend toward the shy side. But here were 23 women, most whom I had never met before. They came out to learn about the history of visual art and poetry and finally to share their work. We had women that were in their first poetry workshop and women who are well published. There were photographers, journalists, gallery owners and even a gospel singer!

I always work hard to provide a meaningful experience when I teach. I get nervous every time! And yet I always forget how much positive energy is returned to me by women (or men in other classes) who let me know that I've helped them to begin a poem or sometimes a new window into how they see themselves. Yesterday so many women let me know that they were wide awake after the session. Ready to go home and keep writing. I was reminded of my early years as a writer.

In 1995, after my first year of grad school,  I first was introduced to Hedgebrook and the idea of  radical hospitality. It was my summer of hell and then heaven. In the previous 16 months I had buried both my parents and moved across the country to be a student again in my late 30's. I had lost family and geography. That summer I had spent weeks cleaning out my parents home and having to put everything up for sale. To arrive at Hedgebrook in the middle of all that turmoil was a gift that changed my life.

Here is what I wrote after my first visit to Hedgebrook 18 years ago.

"The borders between midnight and dawn, between the natural world and the one that embraces the gigabyte are more fluid now. The rhythm of my writing, if I can even call it a rhythm, is to write in fragments, in excruciatingly small steps.

This summer I discovered Discovery Trail, learned the names of hemlock, cedar, mountain ash. Somehow claiming these trees for my own helped me generate new ideas. My poetry pushed further into unexplored territory. Knowing the names of things matter. Wild bouquets of yarrow, mint, and rosemary on the bookshelf actually contribute to my writing life."

What do I remember now?

I remember the hug that Denise gave me as she helped me carry my bags to Owl Cottage; I remember there was a bowl of fresh fruit on the desk and a vase of flowers from the Hedgebrook garden. I remember knowing that my world had shifted --- someone was honoring me a a writer. And in doing so, teaching me an open-hearted way to live my life. Hedgebrook pushed me to be a better person.

Thank you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Poet, Brand New - Sarah Groesbeck

Elizabeth Bishop as a young student

One of the joys of teaching is students. Okay. Not all students but I do meet a few each quarter that make all the craziness of paper grading and lack of sleep worthwhile.

Sarah Groesback was one of those students. Sarah arrived in my English 200 Creative Writing class last fall because she was curious. And she needed a second level English course in order to graduate. She did not choose my course because of her love of poetry. In fact, she told me she had not written poetry before and was somewhat terrified by the prospect. Now Sarah is a published poet and "Galileo Demands an Apology" is featured on the Washington State Poet Laureate's The Far Field - a weekly blog roll of Washington State Poets. A year into the process and Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, is still discovering new poets around the state.

Perhaps I'm bias, but "Galileo Demands an Apology" is as finely crafted a poem as what we find in today's literary journals. I can only hope that in Sarah's pursuit of a career in mathematics that she makes the time to devote to her poetry as well. I'm looking forward to reading more of her strong work.

Galileo Demands An Apology

by Sarah Groesbeck

          “Eppur si muove: and yet it moves.”

          - Galileo Galilei

How fickle and stubborn
you are. Once praising my telescope and
the celestial bodies uncovered,
now branding me a heretic
for going against God and His scripture by saying
we are not the center.
I set out only to discover the truth;
to follow the evidence
with a mind open to wherever it may lead.
You, however, carelessly dismiss my results
by thumbing through verses.
And yet it moves.
I implore you, open your eyes and look

click here to read the rest of the poem

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hedgebrook Salon @ SAM this Saturday afternoon

The Blue Room, Suzanne Valadon, 1923
How did this happen? I feel so lucky to be leading the SAM Creates ekphrastic poetry salon sponsored by Hedgebrook at the Seattle Art Museum this Saturday, January 12th  from 1:00 - 6:00 pm. The afternoon will bring together three of my favorite things: poetry, art museums, and a fantastic writing residency.

This will be my fourth time teaching this workshop in the magical halls and exhibition rooms of a museum. Creating this workshop and implementing it everywhere from the west of Ireland to the eastern United States has altered my relationship with art. I no longer feel I am an ignorant stranger when I enter an art  museum - instead I feel ready to explore a new dimension of my own imagination with the help of another artist. In this case, Elle: Women Take Over is a joint show of art work from the Pompidou in Paris as well as the work owned by SAM. The entire museum is devoted to women's painting, sculpture, and performance art for another few weeks.

Below is all the information you need to join us this Saturday. The event is open to men and women. Hope to see you there! Feel free to leave any questions in the comment space.


Salon @ SAM 
January 12, 2013
1–6 pm
Nordstrom Art Studio

Women artists have taken over SAM with the awe-inspiring exhibits Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists. Now SAM and Hedgebrook will come together so writers can give voice to the art.
For one day only, come and engage in creative writing workshops led by Seattle poet Susan Rich and Hedgebrook Executive Director and playwright Amy Wheeler.
Fueled by playful writing exercises, you'll spend the afternoon in the galleries writing in response to the dynamic artwork, then you'll have the opportunity to share your fresh work in the galleries, surrounded by the art that inspired them. At 5 pm, we'll raise a glass to celebrate women writers and artists.
Tickets are $125, with discounts for early registration and group rates. All tickets include gallery admission, writing workshops and reception. Open to men and women writers, age 14 and older. Contact Hedgebrook for tickets or more information at 206.325.6773

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Poets on the Coast: A Dream Come True for Women Writers

I love anticipating a stay by the sea with poets
One cold December evening three years ago, Kelli Russell Agodon and I chatted over a glass of wine about conferences and festivals where we had been invited to teach. More than once I was given a stairway to teach in (once it was heated, once not) and Kelli, too, had her own unusual conference stories. Our conversation soon led to this: what if we ran our own weekend writing event?

We knew right away that for our writing retreat  there would be plenty of snacks and gifts for every participant. A delicate balance of nurture and new challenges is what we imagined. Yes, there would be plenty of time to write together, to provide ideas on how to live a  life in poetry, and one on one sessions with each student. Everyone would be welcome from beginner to published author. (Some of our participants are prose writers who don't consider themselves poets but want that cross-training.) We knew there would also be built-in time for walks on the beach or to actually retreat to one's own room. From one chat over a glass of wine Poets on the Coast was born. "What if..." is a powerful phrase in the world. Or at least in my life...

Although September is 9 months away, we have only 5-6 spots left for this year's Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women. The magic of Nye Beach Oregon and the Sylvia Beach Hotel (where every room is designed in honor of a writer) add a dimension to the weekend that we could never achieve in Seattle. This is a magical place, especially in September after the tourists have gone.

And just so no one gets bored, this year we've added an optional component of a manuscript workshop on Friday afternoon. Each year we add something new based on what we learn from the women who join us. Here is more  information but if you want to register now - click here. If you would rather not use paypal just send me an email to srich18(@) and we will hold you a spot. 

Join Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich for the third Poets on the Coast Weekend Writing Retreat September 6 - 8th, 2013 at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon on historic Nye Beach. We will gather to write, read and share our work inspired by the landscape and creative energy around us.

This retreat has been designed for women writers of all levels, from beginning poets to well published. Sessions on creativity, generating work, publication, a Master Class workshop, and one-on-one mentoring are included as well as morning yoga. 

We only have a limited number of spaces available and they will be filled on a first-come basis.

With the Sylvia Beach Hotel, designed to inspire writers with its literary-themed rooms, this retreat will offer you a unique experience to explore your writing and creativity. Come spend a weekend with other women poets. Be ready to be nurtured, inspired and creative.

Also, this year we're including an OPTIONAL Manuscript Workshop on Friday, September 6th from 10 am - 1 pm for $75
(This workshop is designed to help poets put together a full or chapbook length collection. All participants will receive a free chapbook by another poet to help them after the class.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How to Enjoy the Submission Process: A Confession

License Plate Mosaic by Paul Van Scott

My family didn't travel when I was young. There wasn't much money for anything beyond the essentials or even a belief that seeing  the world had value in itself.

I think my desire for exploring beyond the known came from avid stamp collecting and an early obsession with maps. The pages of my stamp album reached from Argentina to Zanzibar; I especially loved the stamps of the Cook Islands with their gold silhouettes of the queen and miniature reproductions of Paul Gaguin's paintings. I imagined places filled with art and light.

The one exception to the Rich family travel ban was our road trip to Missouri. One summer we clamored into my dad's pontiac and drove west to see cousins in Creve Coeur and Olivette. I sat in the back seat with my sisters and watched my world expand exponentially each day. We stopped off at Holiday Inns and Howard Johnson Motor Lodges which were this small girl's idea of the Ritz.

Along the way my parents must have pulled out the AAA games that once came free with the hotel brochures and fold-up maps. I remember green pencils and special cards saved for when my parents needed some peace. The license plate game! I remember the wild and reckless joy of finding the orange and blue Alaskan plate speeding along the Canadian highway (we traveled by way of Niagara Falls).

The game is simple: the one who spots license plates from as many different states as possible wins. I don't remember the score but I do know that the joy of seeing those colorful metal plates with their odd sayings and images made the trips far more exciting. How profound it seemed (to a nine year old) to see "Live Free or Die" on the back of a car. Philosophy for the road!

So when it came time to begin sending my poems out into the world, I came up with my own version of the game. First, I began mailing poems to states where I had never been. How extraordinary to know that they could travel too. Thank you Alaska Quarterly Review and Bellingham Review for being two of the journals that first accepted my work. Journals I still believe in and send to regularly.

It is now twenty years since I first started playing my poetry version of the license plate game. Early on,  I decided that instead of focusing on sending my work to the country's top ten journals, I'd try a strategy that suited me better. Nothing wrong with sending to the New Yorker, but I wanted a lighter, more joy filled path to publication.

My goal is to have a poem published in each state in the country. States I know well and states where I have yet to travel. As of today, my poems have found publication in 41 states. Thank you to the Heron Tree and Kestrel Journal of Art and Literature for making my New Year's Day. I was able to check Arkansas and West Virginia off the list yesterday. Still elusive are the Dakotas and New Mexico, Delaware and Kansas.

I know many writers who would rather dust than sit down and send their poems out into the wide world of journals. I am not one of them.

I love imagining editors at their task. In my mind they are kind people with cups of coffee by their side. It's late at night and the poems spill onto the kitchen table, the living room rug, the cat sleeping by her side. My hope is that my poem might jolt her awake for just one moment. Or two.

The connection of poet to poem, poem to editor, seems a magical thread between lives. Like a license plate game or the tossing a message in a bottle into the sea, I hope my poems find a way to extend my world. And hopefully, if it's not too much to ask, my readers' worlds as well.

Forgive me the shutter; a woman editor is hard to find