Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's the Night Before School Begins: Spring Quarter

So this is not what happens in my classroom. I tend to like a bit of chaos where students talk in small groups and present on projects of their own making. The quarter begins tomorrow and I am nervous and not yet fully prepared. I wish I had new shoes to wear or at least a new scarf. I like scarves.

There is so much potential in the first week of a new quarter --- and so much fear. Students are doing their best to find new rooms, new books, and forge new identities. Professors are trying to send clear signals that they mean business --- and yet are also approachable, fun, and even human.

We are strangers setting off on a cruise together. My job is to steer the craft and keep my eye out for storms. I also need to enstill confidence in the crew --- they have to know that they have what it takes to stay afloat. Every quarter I hope to be the best writing (and film) instructor I can be; each quarter there are days when I succeed and days when I fail.

If there is one thing that I want my students to learn this quarter it's that writing is a way to better understand oneself and the world; that it is truly magical to construct a scaffold of words to live within.  

How can I relay that writing is a skill that can change their lives? That good writing allows them to leap far beyond self-imposed boundaries or the socio-economic limitations they feel acutely?

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hedgebrook is Celebrating 25 Years!

Hedgebrook is celebrating its 25th Anniversary and its alumnae community with an amazing performance event at Town Hall Seattle (yes, upstairs!) on April 9 at 7pm.  Poet and human rights advocate Carolyn Forche <>  leads a line-up that includes  poets Elizabeth Austen, Karen Finneyfrock, Tara Hardy, Rose McAleese, Storme Webber, me, and musicians Choklate Moore and Mary Lambert.  Tickets are $15 general admission, with an early bird special: 2 tickets for $20 before April 5. <>  

It's been a few years since Carolyn has read in Seattle—she's a phenomenal presence and a tremendously moving writer, so I hope you'll be able to come!

It's Not Me, It's Blogger Problems ...

Waiting for Blogger to Fix Gadgets

Dear Poetry Lovers,

I am impatiently waiting for blogger to fix the current problem with adding links to their gadget lists. I am working on a work around as well. Meanwhile, if you have left me a comment to add your Big Poetry Giveaway, I am working on finding a fix. Meanwhile, if you are looking for poetry books, you can simply use the list to the left of this message and then go to comment section of this post for more options.  Blogger knows about the problem so I expect a fix is on the way. Sincere thanks for your patience.

Update!!! I've created a blog roll that shows all the most recent Big Poetry Giveaways. This gives you all the most recent participating blogs -- you'll just need to peruse them a bit to get to the Big Poetry Giveaway posting. Enjoy! PS Blogger is still working on the links gadget fix...

Monday, March 25, 2013

In Perpetual Spring - Amy Gerstler

Spring debuting at the University of Washington, Seattle

In Perpetual Spring


Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spencer Reece Comes to Seattle for One Night - Event Includes Screening of "The Clerks Tale;" a short film by James Franco

James Franco Filmed a Spencer Reece Poem?
Monday, March 25, 2013 - 7:00pm - 10:00pm

Yes, James Franco turned Reece's poem "A Clerk's Tale" into a short film, which will be screened following a reading by Spencer Reece on Monday, March 25 at 7:00 p.m. Reece, who is a priest working with girls in Honduras, will read from his new collection of poetry,The Road to Emmaus, introduced by Tree Swenson. And by the way, Reece's poem "The Clerk's Tale," was based on his experiences working at Brooks Brothers in the Minnesota's Mall of America.

The reading is free, and the bar will be open.

This event is supported by Poets & Writers, Humanities WA, and ArtsWA.

Connect to the event on Facebook.

About Spencer Reece

Spencer Reece was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1963. He has a BA from Wesleyan University, MTS from Harvard, and a MDiv from Berkeley Divinity School, Yale. His first book of poems, The Clerk’s Tale, won the Bakeless Prize, selected by Louise Gluck, in 2003. James Franco made a short film from the title poem. His second book of poems The Road to Emmaus will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2014. Currently, he is completing a book of prose, The Little Entrance, about his decision to become a priest in middle age. Reece has won the NEA grant, a Guggenheim grant, the Wytter Bynner Prize from the Library Congress, the Whiting Writers Award, and the Amy Lowell Traveling Grant. His poems have been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Scholar, and The New Republic.
Last year, Reece served as the chaplain to the Bishop of Spain for the Reformed Episcopal Church, Iglesia Español Reformada Episcopal. He recently won the Fulbright grant to return to Honduras, for 2012-2013. The project is for the abandoned and abused girls of the orphanage of Our Little Roses ( to write poems in Spanish and English along with watercolors they will do on the theme of home. The book will be co-edited by Richard Blanco. Proceeds for the book will return to the orphanage. Film director, Brad Coley, is directing a feature documentary of the project for wide release. James Franco and Cassidy Friedman are executive producers. Dar Williams is composing the soundtrack.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Want to Travel Around the World...In Poetry

The Big Poetry Giveaway has just become international with Moira Richards, a Red Room blogger from South Africa! And in honor of my time living in Africa (I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa) I've added another giveaway: Cures Include Travel. We have our first ten bloggers giving away books and journals --- and April is still a few weeks away. If you want to participate with your blog, remember the cut off date for adding new blogs is midnight April 10th -- but the free giveaways last all of April. Happy National Poetry Month to you and yours! See the blog post below for how you can leave your name to win.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2013 from Me to You

I thought I would follow Kelli's lead and just put a few things about myself here as a way to bring the blogosphere a bit closer to home.

A few things about me:

1. I have a new tuxedo kitten named Mr. Watson, or Waston for short.

2. My fourth book of poems, Cloud Pharmacy, will be published by White Pine Press in 2014.

3. Smoothies are my favorite food --- this may have something to do with liking to mix magical potions.

4. I have lived on three continents but now call Seattle, Washington my home.

5. One of my dreams is to visit India, another is to visit Portugal.

6. My religion is a combination of travel and poetry with visual art tossed in as well.

7. I believe in the number 7.

Now that the giveaway is underway, here is what you can win from here. One book from me, The Alchemist's Kitchen  and one from the fabulous poet, Catherine Barnett, whose book, the game of boxes, won the James Laughlin Award this year. And finally, with the travel season starting, I'm adding a copy of Cures Include Travel.

I thought I would display one poem from each book here. I hope you enjoy one or the other, or both!

Different Places to Pray

Everywhere, everywhere she wrote; something is falling –

a ring of keys slips out of her pocket into the ravine below;

nickels and dimes and to do lists; duck feathers from a gold pillow.

Everywhere someone is losing a favorite sock or a clock stops

circling the day; everywhere she goes she follows the ghost

of her heart; jettisons everything but the shepherd moon, the hopeless cause.

This is the way a life unfolds: decoding messages from profiteroles,

the weight of mature plums in late autumn. She’d prefer a compass

rose, a star chart, text support messages delivered from the net,

even the local pet shop – as long as some god rolls away the gloss

and grime of our gutted days, our global positioning crimes.

Tell me, where do you go to pray – a river valley, a pastry tray?
                                                                ~ Susan Rich, White Pine Press, 2010


I had the pleasure of hearing Catherine read from her new poems at Open Books this past December. She takes the familiar and makes it unfamiliar and yet utterly recognizable. Her poems hold me in a trance like state --- they are lyric missives in the way that Rilke or Cavafy write lyric poems.

  This is what Ilya Kaminsky writes of Barnett's work: "This collection is utterly modern, particular, and strange-- strange as in not previously visited, strange as in deeply original."

Here's a poem called "Chorus," of which there are several throughout the book -- like a Greek tragedy.


So who mothers the mothers who tend the hallways of mothers, 
the spill of mothers, the smell of mothers, 
who mend the eyes of mothers, 
the lies of mothers scared to turn on lights in basements 
filled with mothers called by mothers in the dark, 
the kin of mothers, the gin of mothers, 
mothers out on bail, 
who mothers the hail-mary mothers 
asleep in their stockings 
while the crows sing heigh ho carrion crow, 
fol de riddle, lol de riddle, 
carry on, carry on—

~Catherine Barnett, game of boxes, Graywolf Press, 2013

Cures Include Travel navigates the space between exploring the world and needing to find a landscape of home. The locations move between Sarajevo, Bosnia where I worked as a human rights supervisor just after the war to Seattle, WA where I began teaching at a local community college and working with  many Somali-American students.

Mohamud at the Mosque 

            - for my student upon his graduation

And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –

if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.
And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –

the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somalian, Muslim, asylum seeker –

Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly

I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –

her fears unfurling beside your battered car
go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there

in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying

to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.

And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks the others –

So what seems to be the problem
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –

as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield

during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.

       --- Susan Rich

Leave a comment here and you will be automatically entered in the Big Poetry Giveaway. I'll draw two names on May 1st and announce the winners shortly after that. No blog needed to enter, just an email and a note!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sign-up Now to Participate in The Big Poetry Giveaway 2013

Celebrate Poetry by Giving It Away and by Receiving New Books

This year Kelli Russell Agodon has invited me to guest curate the Big Poetry Giveaway.  I am honored to be announcing the fourth year of this creative project which aims to put poetry books into the hands of poetry lovers and poetry lovers-to-be.

National Poetry Month is around the corner and for those of us who love poetry, poets, and their books, it's time for us to share our favorite books (and our own books) with you.

Anyone with a blog can giveaway 2 books of poems. Anyone with an email address can enter any or all of the giveaways. Yes, poetry is that easy! You can give it away and you can also sign-up to receive it! You don't need a blog to participate, you just need to visit different participating blogs.


Bloggers give away 2 books of poems-- the first can be your own & the second book must be of another favorite poet of yours.

The goal is to share our favorite poets with others as well as to visit different blogs and see who others are reading. There is also a benefit for those who participate as it will bring people to your blog and share your work and/or the work of a favorite poet with them.

I'll keep a list of all the blogs participating on this post and to the left side of my blog.

If you're interested in participating here are the GIVEAWAY GUIDELINES--

The Poetry Book Giveaway is officially started and the giveaway will run through April 30th (all of National Poetry Month). The earlier you contact me, the closer you name is to the top of the list!

If you want to have your blog be part of this giveaway, here's what you need to do by APRIL 10, 2013 --

1) Create a blog post that includes the above image (so we know you're participating) that announces the two poetry books you are giving away.

(You are welcome to include a little note about yourself, your own book you're giving away (if you have one) and the poetry book(s) you choose and why you love them. Also, feel free to share a few other blogs you read and if you'd like, something about your writing process, where you write, or what you're working on.)

Somewhere in your blog post, you can include a link to this page, in case others have questions or want to participate. I will keep a running list on the side of my blog as well as on this post (note: the side list will be the most up-to-date, I'll update this list every few days).

2) Once you have your blog post up, leave me a comment below with --

a) the name of your blog
b) your full name
c) a link to your giveaway blog post

I will be keeping a complete list of bloggers who will be giving away poetry books for National Poetry Month and will add you to it. (I'll update this page every few days with the complete list.)

Then sometime in the week of May 1st, 2013, choose 2 winners for your giveaway.

--You can do this buy putting everyone's name who commented on the giveaway in a bowl and choosing one. Or you can use the random number generator and then count down the comments until you get to the winner. (Make sure to email them so they know they won...)

**** If you are participating in this giveaway, you must be willing to mail 2 separate books of poems to ANYWHERE in the world. You pay for the postage, the winner DOES NOT.

Questions you may still have about the giveaway--

1) Can I enter the drawing if I don't participate in the giveaway?
Yes, the drawings are open to anyone.

2) Can I enter the drawings if I am a blogger giving away two books?
Yes, again, the drawings are open to anyone.

3) Can the two books I give away both by written by me?
No. One book in your giveaway must be by another poet, specifically one of your favorite poets.

4) Can I give away two books that I wrote and one book from someone else?
Yes! You can give away as many of your own books as you like as long as you make sure to give away a book by someone else. You are also welcome to give away a subscription to a favorite literary journal as an extra prize if you like, but again, you cover the cost.

5) I'm not a blogger, but can I participate?
No & Yes. You cannot participate in giving away 2 books of poems, but you can enter to win books in the giveaways.

6) Do the books I give away have to be new?
No. But only give away gently-used books. They should look newish (and smell newish).

7) I'm not a poet, but I love poetry can I participate in the giveaway?
Yes! Just give away books by two of your favorite poets.

8) I'm a poet, but only have a chapbook, does that count as a book?
Yes! Chapbooks are books! Feel free to give away your chapbook and then another collection by a favorite poet.

9) I don't want to pay postage if someone wins. Can I still participate?
No. You must be willing to mail the books to the winner anywhere in the world at your cost. That's what makes it a giveaway (not a pay-me-for-postage-to-send-you-your-winning-book-away.)

10) Do I need to have a blog to enter for the drawings?
This is completely up to the blogger who hosts the drawing you sign up for. When I did it for last year, I allowed readers without blogs to sign up but only if they include their email so I could get ahold of them if they won.

11) If I don't have a blog and I sign up for a drawing, how will the blogger contact me?
Make sure to leave your name and email address!

12) How long will you be accepting posts/links for the giveaway?
All emails with your blog name, your full name & a link to your blog giveaway MUST be emailed to me by midnight PST, April 10, 2013, if you want to participate.

13) What are the exact dates of this giveaway?
The giveaway begins immediately. And you can enter someone's contest as SOON as a blogger posts their giveaway.

The giveaway ends April 30th, 2013 at midnight (PST or Hawaii-time, not sooner).

The winners will be chosen the week of May 1st, depending on the blogger's schedule.

14) How will I know if I've won?
A blogger will contact you probably by email to let you know and will then ask for your mailing address to mail the book out to you.

15) Where's THE LIST of all the blogs giving away books of poems?
On the left side of this blog.
16) This is becoming an annual thing, why do you do this each year?

Because we want to introduce people to poets they may not have heard of.
Because we want more people to read poetry.
Because we love the idea of poetry books being mailed off to new readers.
Because we like learning about new blogs and bloggers.
Because it's National Poetry Month and we want to bring more attention to poets and poetry.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Carolyn Forche Comes to Seattle with Other Poets

I remember the first time I heard of Carolyn Forche. I was a senior in college and my poetry mentor, Madeline DeFrees, was suggesting I read The Country Between Us. I remember feeling amazed that a woman, a fairly young woman, had written a book of poems focused on her experiences in another country. The poems were personal, political, beautiful, and like nothing I had read before.

I feel certain that without reading Forche that spring, I would not have kept writing. That spring, I had just returned from two years living outside the country. Poetry had been my constant companion since I was very young, but my male college professors did their best to squelch my creativity. Two professors went out of their way to tell me I should give up poetry. Seriously. Why would a professor ever do that?

In the past few years through taking workshops at Centrum and Hedgebrook, I've had the honor of working with Carolyn Forche. This April 9th, I will have the honor of sharing the stage with her and five other Hedgebrook alumna at Town Hall. Elizabeth Austen, Karen Finneyfrock, and Tara Hardy will also be performing. The night is a celebration of 25 years of writing residencies for women at Hedgebrook. I feel like it is also my own personal celebration of survival.

Tickets are only $10 in advance and they go to support a great cause: women writers. Please come!

Monday, March 11, 2013

New Book at AWP - First Night on No Sleep!

Photo credit: Angie Vorhies
Just a short note to show off the actual, physical book The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders on its first day in the world.

A joint project of the Poetry Foundation and McSweeney's,
The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders is published in hard cover, paperback, and a pdf format. The pdf format is/will be free from the Poetry Foundation website.

I want to thank all of my partners on this --- but there are too many to mention! I will say working with my fellow editors: Catherine Barnett, Jared Hawkley, Ilya Kaminsky, and Brian Turner, was a true honor.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Berndnaut Smilde - Thank you, Susan Gilbert

Berndnaut Smilde, Dutch Photographer

I believe I have found the one. This is my book cover if the artist will have me. Here's a BBC video on the man who makes clouds...He's an artist from Holland  named Berndnaut Smilde. The video portrays the work as a collective memory - a group of people watch from the edge of the gallery as Smilde forms clouds out of smoke and magic water. Watch it here!

Another take on cloud gazing

I remember seeing this on Facebook last summer and loving it. I love the suspension of the cloud and the strangeness of seeing it indoors. This could be the one! Actually, I think I need to take a few days off and see which images stay with me. Choosing a cover is a bit like choosing a lover, you want to get it right. And thank you, once again, for the many people that are sending me images. I am profoundly grateful and many are ones I'm considering!

Monday, March 4, 2013

I Am Obsessed! Last One?

Photography by Anti-Pati-Ya

Thank you to Maria for sending me more gorgeous images to choose from. This is powerful in terms of bold colors, balls of light, and some otherworldly presence. In two weeks I have a break from teaching and that may be the soonest I can sit down with the manuscript of Cloud Pharmacy and see what comes closest to my heart. The good news is that there are some amazing choices. Thanks to everyone who has been sending me suggestions. I never knew there were so many different sites to look at!

Congratulations to my sister, B.Ruby Rich!

Order it now from your local bookstore or online!
I'm so happy for my big sister B. Ruby Rich as she launches her new book, New Queer Cinema - The Director's Cut, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Toronto! Check back for exact dates and time. However, it is already selling fast at Amazon --- really impressive as it has yet to hit the stores. And don't you agree, it's a totally cool cover!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nicola Slattery - English painter with Irish roots

Artist Credit: Nicola Slattery
Last summer while in West Cork, I came across the paintings of Nicola Slattery at Mill Cove Gallery. Her work is hauntingly beautiful. I was immediately drawn to how  her sense of the surreal mingles with the natural world. We were in the gallery to find images for writing ekphrastic poems. The majority of my students chose work by Nicola Slattery for their poems. The work is playful and at the same time hints at something more profound.

I've spent much of the afternoon looking at art and actually feel more confused than clear. There are so many different ways to approach Cloud Pharmacy. How will I ever decide?

Thank you, Kelli, for showing me this trick!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Perhaps jars that contain elements of clouds?

Photographer and artist Leslie Keating

I know I'm drawn to book covers that seem energetic and have motion combined with cool textures. This may need a more blue background color for me to be serious about it but I love the whimsey here. Just trying to find different ways to express Cloud Pharmacy in an indirect manner. Thank you for all the comments. I'm following every lead you are kind enough to send to me.

Friday, March 1, 2013

And then I found this one

I seem to be a tad obsessive. All I want to do is stare into doorframes, bottles, and clouds. I'm also trying to expand ideas of what Cloud Pharmacy can mean. If you have images that intrigue you, I'd love to see them.

Really what I should be doing right now is working on my AWP talk on "Massholes" or how I came to be a writer living outside my home state. It's a talk that needs much levity and good timing. And I need to stop saying to myself -- does anyone actually care?

Instead, maybe I can write a piece called "Looking for Cover Art to Love."

Today's possible book cover image

Did you see the movie the King's Speech last year?  My favorite part was the wall in the speech therapist's office behind the sofa. The peeling paint and parched colors exposed an entire world. In fact, I think it is a type of abstract art form of which I have long ago lost the exact name.

In any case, here is a wall of shifting clouds, a curtain folded with wonder. There are clocks that have lost their time and a tall glass jar of something partially unseen. Is it too dark for a book cover? Too odd? I'm still looking as you can tell --- still drawn towards something haunting, something blue.