Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poets in Port Townsend, Poets in Seattle, Poets in La Conner--- Poets Everywhere!

Notice the Man Behind the Curtain; He Can Join Us in Port Townsend, Too~

A new year, a new blank page, a new poem. I'm hoping 2014 is the Year of the Poem. I know that I need to work in community with poet friends, with my monthly poetry group, and with my students in order to garner creative energy to keep my writing new. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a B.A. in creative writing, I didn't write again for nearly a decade. That's so many poems not written, not learned from, not revised. 

Maybe it's a little irrational but I still live in fear that someday the poem well will run dry. What if I've written all the images, words, and (!) wisdom that I possess. There are days when this feels true. 

One of the best ways I know to jumpstart my work is creating poetry dates with others. Sometimes these happen with a friend but sometimes they happen creating classes for others such as Poets on the Coast and one day poetry workshops. 

There are three different kinds of events that I am working on right now with Kelli Russell Agodon - Here is information on the first two. There is a one day class planned for Seattle on Saturday, February 15th. We can hold a space for that, too. 

Saturday, January 18th, One Day Poetry Retreat in Port Townsend

CLASS 1:  (3 spots left!)

Generating New Poems / Sending Polished Poems into the World:
9 am – 12 pm

For poets who want to write new poems as well as submit their work to literary journals, this is the class for you! We will try a wide array of writing exercises and spend the last half hour discussing the submission process. Hand-outs on submission letters and suggested journals.

Susan & Kelli will also put together a submission packet of your poems to send out for you. $98

CLASS 2: (4 spots left!)
From Manuscript into Book: The Process Demystified:
1 pm – 4 pm

This workshop is designed to help poets put together a full or chapbook length collection. We’ll look at several different options regarding how to structure and order your poems. Finally, you’ll have a chance to begin visualizing your work as part of a larger project. Everyone will leave with an action plan and a handout of resources leading you closer to the goal of a competed book. $98

Or spend the day and take both classes for $189

Number of participants limited to 18. (4 spaces currently remaining)


Click Here for Registration Form

Friday, September 5 to Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Poets on the Coast:
A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women
Sept 5-7, 2014
Country Inn, La Conner, WA


Join Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich for the fourth Poets on the Coast Weekend Writing Retreat September 5-7, 2014 at our new location in La Conner! We will gather to write, read and share our work inspired by the art, 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.

The relaxing, warm Country Inn of La Conner is designed to nurture your writing self. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Poets On The Coast Writing Retreat

If you're interested in registering click here for the Poets on the Coast Registration Form
and print out the above registration form and mail us your check (made out to Kelli Agodon) to:

Poets on the Coast
Kelli Agodon
PO Box 1524
Kingston, WA 98346

$339 until January 2, 2014 - includes the Anniversary Issue of Crab Creek Review
$359 until February 15, 2014
$369 until May 30, 2014
$389 until July 31, 2014

This year we're including an OPTIONAL Ekphrastic Workshop
Friday, September 5th from 10 am - 1 pm for $95 (plus a $10 materials fee)

***Prices above are if you're paying by check.
If you pay by Paypal the price will be slightly higher due to the company’s surcharge and taxes.

Love that small blue dot; Happy 2014!

Pale Blue Dot - Animation from Ehdubya on Vimeo.

Here is the video so that you don't have to scroll or click again. It makes me feel smaller and larger all at once. Both are wonderful gifts as this year comes to an end.

Thank You Carl Sagan and Friends as 2013 Comes to an End

"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam. "
Dr. Carl  Sagan

This comes from an awe inspiring video that's making the rounds today. I don't usually feel inspired by videos that are supposed to inspire you but this one caught me full force. In order to see the video --- and you must --- click on the link below and scroll down. You will see it!

Written and Narrated: Carl Sagan
Music: Hans Zimmer "You're So Cool"
Art and Animation: Adam Winnik

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Poet Is A Poet Because of Other People

Prospero Book Store, Kansas City, The Longest Poetry Reading

As part of the "poetries in community project" Chris Tanasescu also known as Margento (his band and stage name) commissioned this essay from me awhile back. What a lovely surprise to find that it is now on-line at the University of Ottawa website. "A Poet Is A Poet Because Of Other People" references a poem titled "A Person Is A Person Because Of Other People,"  by the South African poet, Jeremy Cronin.

From my essay referenced above:

I think if we look close enough, we’ll find that every serious poet who produces work over a lifetime has poets whom she can rely on. We need poets to drink coffee with, to talk craft with and finally (when it’s almost too late) to retell favorite stories of past and future dreams. Maybe because poetry is so far from the mainstream of American life, we need reminders that our hours, days, weeks, lifetimes spent in seclusion are okay. More than okay.

I know that without my dearest poetry friends: Kelli Russell Agodon and Katherine Flenniken I would not be as brave as a poet. Without my dearest poetry teachers: Madeline DeFrees, Pamela Alexander, Linda Pastan, and Garrett Hongo, I would not be as well trained in the craft (yes, there is much room for improvement). Without my dead mentors: Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton, I would not have begun writing at all.


To read the rest of the essay go to the University of Ottawa right here. In this piece I reflected on five intersecting rings that have been important to me as a poet. Five golden rings in time for the holidays!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Few Poetry Books I've Loved This Year ~ 2013

So much to reread; so little time...
It's true that most of the poetry books I read this year were written by people who are dead. I go back to Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, and Adrienne Rich more than any other poets. I re-read Rilke, and Roethke, Lorca and Heaney. None of these poets have come out with a new book this year although it seems Levertov actually will release a collected works in early 2014, boasting (?) over 600 pages of poems. As far as I know, she did not write them recently.

And yet. I often find myself desperate to discover a new poet. "Who are you reading?" ranks among the most common question poets ask of each other. We all want to embrace the new -- if the new will inspire us to write better poems.

So here is a short and very powerful list of the three new poets (or books) I discovered this year.

Mary Szybist's,  Incarnadine.

I will admit that this collection did not call to me right away. Call me a non-Christian but the Annunciation just isn't my thing. In any case, this book did win me over and in an enormous way. I think my initial resistance only increased my pleasure in the reading. I was wrong! The mix of iconic imagery mashed up with the mess of the everyday shines through. My favorite pieces are "The Troubadours, Etc." "Holy," and "Night Shifts at the Group Home." There are more but these are the poems I come back to again and again, the poems that I can learn from, the honest desire to communicate something more...

Then there's The Exchange by Sophie Cabot Black

Again, I was not immediately a fan of this book -- perhaps it was the cover art. Or perhaps as I get older the books that I admire the most are the ones I need to spend some time with. I am not interested in poetry pyrotechnics but rather something more hard won: honesty, intelligence, love.

Critiqued this way, I am in awe of many of these poems. "What You Have to Tell," "Love Poem" and "Pay Attention" are examples of the acutely observed life as we experience it in extremity. These poems are prayers. Prayers to the self, the loved one, the energy in the seeds in the pasture. I am drawn to this voice which seems both elevated and brought to basics. The language of finance, of nature, and of the beloved mixed together in a totally unpretentious voice.

Finally, I want to urge again the reading of the game of boxes by Catherine Barnett

This is a book I keep coming back to and I've written about it here before. The voice in these poems is haunting, clear, and wholly original. It is as if Rilke was reborn a single woman in New York. I cannot describe what makes these poems work on an almost subconscious level. Dear reader, get thee to a bookstore!

I"m sure there are more I could add --- and may do tomorrow. However, I believe in the short list of superb quality. The books that will not be forgotten in 2014 but will become even more powerful with time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

10 Best Poetry Magazines in Ireland --- Time to Send Out Your Work

Eyeries, West Cork

Here is one man's pick of the ten best poetry magazines in Ireland including Poetry Ireland and The Moth -- two of my favorite. I love sending my poems to different corners of the globe and Ireland holds an especially dear place in my poetry life. Many years ago I was invited to read at the Cuirt Literary Festival in Galway and more recently I taught a week long workshop at the Anam Cara Artist's Residency. Irish taxi drivers recite Patrick Kavanagh and even in the Ayran Islands baristas know world politics. If I were to live anywhere other than Seattle, WA it would be Ireland. Here are the magazines I send to just to open the doorway to that 'one day' other life.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fantastic MFA Program with Brian Turner and Colum McCann - Too Cool for School, But It's Poetry / Prose School

Poets Brian Turner and Patricia Smith; Novelist Colum McCann for prose!
Sometimes I wish I could turn the hourglass back a few decades and become a student again. Life as a writer means there's always more to learn, to play with, and to be inspired by.

I know from my teaching at the Antioch MFA Creative Writing Program a few years ago that on-line MFA programs offer the adult learner (or the young person who needs to work) a wonderful way to work and be in school full-time all at once. I taught at Antioch during the "glory years" right after Eloise Klein Healey had created and then directed the program, the residencies had a wonderful energy back then; the kind of magic that comes from a brand new endeavor. Because of Eloise, the Low Residency program (the first on the West coast, I believe) was, for a few years, an exceptionally vibrant program.

Now there's another new program on the block -- just entering its early adolescence --- the low-residency MFA at Sierra Nevada College would be my program of choice today. Why, you might ask? First, because it's one of the only MFA low residency programs that actually offer fellowships; because there is a focus on joining poets with the world around them, and because  my good friend and former MFA classmate (we studied at the University of Oregon together) poet Brian Turner is the founding director of the program. If you don't know his books, Here Bullet and Phantom Noise, find them immediately and delve in.

This year the writer-in-residence at Sierra College is my absolutely favorite novelist, Colum McCann. He is best known for the brilliant Let the Great World Spin but I think my favorite is his newest novel, Transatlantic, that includes a wonderful investigation into Frederick Douglas's visit to Ireland as well as insights into Senator George Mitchell's important work negotiating peace for Northern Ireland. I love the way McCann wields a sentence and stretches an idea from history into the present moment. For an earlier novel, McCann went and lived in the New York underground tunnels (it is rumored) and thus wrote a compelling (and perhaps this is actually my favorite) book, This Side of Brightness.

I can think of no better poets and writers to work with than the ones gathered together in this poetry community. Not only are these writers among the most brilliant working today, they are also among the most generous people I know.

I have not even mentioned the poets Patricia Smith, Nathalie Handel, and Lee Herrick who are also on faculty. No small change here.

If you are even remotely thinking about doing an MFA --- and if you are interested in fellowship money for the 2014 year. Now is the time to check out this global, generous, and glorious (so many g's) program. Here's the information you need -- click here!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

President Nelson Mandela and the Madiba Dance

Mandela doing his signature dance
Today it rained beyond reason in South Africa. The tens of thousands of people at the soccer stadium in Soweto did not complain. "27 years!" one woman exclaimed --- "we can stand a few hours of getting wet."

From January 1997 to June 1998 I worked at the University of Cape Town as a Fulbright Fellow. My flat in Festival Court (think 12 apartments in a parking lot with sheds where the "help" once lived) was not far from the official presidential residence in Rondebosh.

The story was that Mandela (or Madiba as he is called) would take long walks in the neighborhood early in the morning, his security entourage following behind. I wanted to see him coming down the street at dawn but instead I needed to settle for the smiling replicas of Madiba that greeted me as throw pillows on the couches of friends I visited or as refrigerator magnet dolls complete with polka dotted boxers and Hawaiian shirts.

Presidential kitsch intrigued me. Here was a man that many believed to be the greatest leader of the 20th century and yet he'd been turned into a decorative pillow.

But here's the thing: people completely adored him. They wanted his likeness in their homes, within easy access. The people had voted him into office sometimes traveling for days to reach a polling station. There were stories upon stories of families taking their elderly relatives to vote tucked inside wheel barrows. In the mid-90's when Mandela was President Mandela, people felt connected to the man, the man they had fought for and the man they had elected. And yet.

The news often brought stories of Madiba's flash of temper if another official kept him waiting; he endured the public's displeasure when he took his "companion" on official state visits. What kind of role model traveled with a "foreign" woman ---Graca Machel--- he was not married to? "I've asked her and she has turned me down," Mandela told everyone. Mandela and Machel married on Mandela's 80th birthday. She is the only woman in the world to take the role of  First Lady in two different nations. Her first husband who died in a plane crash was Samora Machel, President of Mozambique.

Like President Obama, my very first political action was attending a Free Nelson Mandela event. During my lunch hour I walked over to Boston Common with some Oxfam America colleagues. A very small group of impassioned people were demanding Nelson Mandela's release and justice for the Sharpeville Six. It was 1987. No one could have guessed that Mandela would be free within three years. That protest began my interest in South Africa and a decade later I was living there.

These last few days have been hard. I find myself mourning not only the incredible man but also the era. I remember setting my alarm and waking up at 5 AM to watch Mandela walk out of prison on February 11, 1990. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched his slow and steady walk out of the prison gates and into the street where thousands of people had gathered. Later it came out that Mandela had insisted on this --- on walking out of the prison gates and into the street by himself. He said the people that had worked for his release deserved to see this --- but perhaps he also wanted to claim that moment his own way.

I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts --- a city the South African apartheid regime often cited as an example of free segregation. And the only time I remember ever being in a fully integrated crowd in Boston was the day Mandela spoke at the Hatch Shell along the Charles River. Hearing Mandela, seeing him way ahead of us, sharing a footstool that someone near us was sharing so we could get a better look, and gossiping about Winnie --- it's all part of that magical day. A day that perhaps changed my life forever. To feel such energy, to feel love in a crowd of thousands. To greet a man that we never really believed would walk free. It changes the impossible into the possible for each person in that crowd.

Today in my office at Highline Community College where I teach I keep my eye on two pictures of Mandela on the wall. One was given to me by a student and shows an extreme close-up of Madiba's smile --- it's hard to look at that face and not smile back. The other image is a black and white postcard with Madiba speaking on a cell phone just a few days after his release. He doesn't look entirely comfortable with the phone or perhaps its with the person at the other end of the line but this is the picture I go to again and again. The juxtaposition of the man --- freed from prison --- and the phone, just beginning to be omnipresent ---seems to hint at something larger: the old with a bridge to the new.

In South Africa there is much rejoicing for the life that Mandela lived; people gather to sing and celebrate his legacy. That is the way to pay respect. Perhaps what I need to do now is turn on some Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. To reclaim the Madiba dance.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers --- and Karma

So last summer somewhere in the Cleveland Airport I lost my traveling jacket. A sky blue wind breaker with two silver glow-in-the-dark stripes across the back. This jacket with deep, zip-up pockets made out of rain repellant material has visited Ireland twice and the San Juan Islands more winters than I can count. For fall walks along Alki Beach there is nothing better. So when I arrived in transit in San Francisco and prepared myself for the last flight home, I simply couldn't believe the jacket was gone.

And not only my jacket. There was the matter of those deep pockets (see above). In one I had my keys --- house, work, and post office box. In the other, a blue Chinese bag with my favorite earrings tucked inside. It's not hyperbole to say, I couldn't imagine my life without these things. Especially the keys. Arriving home after midnight, I ended up digging in the ground for the emergency key.

The next day I called everyone I could think of -- from United Airlines to TSA to the coffee shop in the airport. Amazingly, each place I called, a person answered on the first ring. But the answers were all the same. No jacket. Several months passed and in that time I replaced the keys, the jacket, and I bought some new earrings. And yet. How to replace things that were not exactly replaceable? I even mourned the key ring. 

Until one day late in August I checked my post office box. When I opened the brass door,  a  package awaited me from an unknown address. It's not unusual for me to receive books for review but this package was larger than a book. In fact, I opened it to discover my long lost jacket, nearly three months after I'd lost it. 

The return address was a small town in central California which I'd never heard of  --- and the name was only a first initial followed by a generic last name. Extensive Google searching turned up a photo of the house where my hero lived and how much s/he paid for said house --- but nothing more. 

There were two Alchemist Kitchen business cards in the pocket of the jacket and that must've tipped her (or him) off as to where the blue jacket belonged. But how did it get to California from Cleveland? Why did the do-gooder not include a note? I've made up at least half a dozen stories to amuse myself -- but the answer is clear: there are good people in the world who come forward and want nothing in return.

So to that dear person in central California, you know who you are, a thousand and one thank yous.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Honey, Lemon, Ginger, and More...

Garlic for example, and chamomile too. For the last few weeks I've been waging war against the cold that has encompassed everyone I know. Some friends have advised zinc and others swear by vitamin C. I just want my head to stop feeling as if a rave is going on -- complete with bass line and mosh pit.

How can it be that there is Ziacam and Counter Attack, Tylenol and Aleve and still no end in sight. Maybe I need a 'get better soon' poem. If you know of one -- do post it below. Perhaps I need to write one. "A Spell on Good Health" would be its title.