Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kitchen Envy on Linebreak

I've just recently understood that "kitchen remodel" is like crack to a middle-aged, middle income woman. It's as if a kitchen island --- or at least a peninsula --- could equal happiness. I've heard that men buy leather jackets and motorcycles and women go for a new stove and countertops. I think there's more to it. A remodel is a way to open a space for dreaming; to imagine a life where every pie wins a gold ribbon --- where pies are actually baked in kitchens and there is ample space to roll out the dough.

Thanks to Linebreak for publishing my poem "Kitchen Envy" today. I love the format of the journal where one poem comes to subscribers each week and you have the option to read the poem as well as to listen to it read by another poet. Interestingly, the pairing is usual man/woman so in this case I get to hear a soft Southern male accent read about a "mint green ice cream scoop."

Here's the beginning:

Kitchen Envy

I slide open vast extending drawers,
admire a butter curler,
crab cracker, wine corks

scattered like stars above the salad spinner.

In my sister’s kitchen I finger the miniature nutmeg grater,
the pizza wheel, the whisk—

spread out the French spoons—
used to baste Moroccan chicken, stir the melon bisque.

O to be an instrument of the culinary arts.

To live among them as mandolin,
as mint-green ice cream scoop—

Monday, December 29, 2014

Could Everyone Please Stop Dying - Tomaz Salamun and Poetry and Charm

Poet Tomaz Salamun 
Almost five years ago I met Tomaz Salamun backstage in the Art Zone of Ljujbljana. It was an evening I will never forget. Salamun was exceptionally kind to me and the word that comes to mind is really --- gallant. He wanted me to be the last reader as I was an "international guest." I managed to politely but firmly decline. To read on the same stage was quite enough of an honor. It was a full house. I read in English and another poet who had translated my work read it in Slovenian. Behind us, a pianist played. The stage was candle lit.

A couple of days later I was in a popular coffee house when I saw Tomaz again. He was sitting at a table surrounded by young poets. When he noticed me sitting alone he came over and insisted that I join them. We talked about the role of translation in American poetry and he let me know that the United States --- and Iowa in particular --- had been very good to him. He commended American poets for embracing a variety of poetics. "Not like the French," he said.

A little later when Tomaz got up from the table another poet told me how generous he'd been to the new generation of Slovenian poets. He'd created a writing residency in New York City for younger poets that provided Slovenian poets three months in New York to write.

While these are just fragments of our time together what I want to convey is that Salamun was a man who loved poetry and believed in helping other poets --- even if that poet was a young woman from the Pacific Northwest --- wherever that may be.

I am honored to have known him however briefly. Years later when I worked for Library Journal writing reviews I was happy to offer this piece on Wood and Chalices, Harcourt Inc.

Salamun, Tomaz; Wood and Chalices; Harcourt, Inc; 96 pages; 978-0-15-101425-5

What we desire from poetry largely determines how we experience these finely sculpted poems. The collection abounds with a lyricism of myth and travel, mischief making and Italian art. Instead of employing the straight jacket of narration, Tomaz Salamun is far more interested in the juxtapositions of high and low culture, personal observations and natural sink holes. Does grief shout in the valley? Does it rebound off radiators? Salamun asks us in the final poem of this heartfelt collection. But do not expect him to provide any answers. The poems here pose more questions and play more games than the average reader may at first comfortably comprehend. Yet, the work is not hermetically sealed. Salamun is considered the preeminent poet of Slovenia having published over thirty-five books in Slovenia / Yugoslavia and now ten books published in the United States. It maybe helpful to know that the linden trees, rivers, and names of his native country appear hand in hand with fragments of a fertile imagination. A self-excavation unfolds as motifs of animals, woods, and the porous earth itself circle back in frequent imagistic appearances. Though to apprehend the music and spirit of the work is perhaps more important than to codify it. Be ready: To step into the splash. Happily recommended for those readers open to the surreal and the non-linear.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Such Pleasure in Small Hours by Ilyse Kusnetz

Ilyse Kusnetz's beautiful debut collection 
I've had this book on my desk for several weeks. It makes me happy to see it there. I've reread the poems several times learning bits of history and art, geography and life. I'm also in love with the cover -- the artwork, Papilla Estelar,  by the Spanish-Mexican artist, Remedios Varo. Varo was a close friend of Leonora Carrington, a British-Mexican artist whom I'm very interested in and whom I've posted about recently.

Papilla Estelar by Remedios Varo
But it's the poems we come to a book for, the art is a lovely extra. And perhaps the best of both worlds is the combination of poems about art -- ekphrastic poems. Small Hours includes many -- here is one that I fell in love with --- I'm a sucker for blue.


                    (Fredrick Carl Frieseke)

Frieseke paints her sun-dappled,
dissolving into a world of blue--
French, cobalt, periwinkle, cerulean,
the lapis of afternoon dreams,
a violet of the mind.
Even her pink face is blue.
Tea things laid, silver-blue vapor
curled like an orchid in her cup,
the ashen-blue shadows of roses
rising on the porcelain teapot.
Blue, the straw-hatted nanny
clutching her mistresses infant, who plucks
at the edge of his blanket,
spread like a lavender cloud
across the hammock where
his mother lies, a sheen of blue
like a wintry mask, glazing her cheeks.
Bluest of all, an indigo fan
she holds in her hand
too heavy with blue to move.
Beyond the garden wall
the world ignites in shades of red---
ruby, crimson, scarlet, poppy.

Woman in a Hammock, 1916 by Frederick Carl Frieseke

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Poems for the Holidays: Misery Islands

January Gill O'Neil's Newest Collection Rocks
This is the time of year when buying books for friends and for ourselves just feels right. On the day after the longest day of the year, what better way to spend time than with new poems? And especially these poems. It's a supreme pleasure to hold Misery Islands in my hands. I've been a fan of January O'Neil's work since her first book, Underlife. 

It's difficult, near impossible, to choose just one poem from this collection to share. The words are distilled and emerge from the page pitch perfect. The narrative of a woman after her divorce is not a description of the book, it is merely a layer of what is found here.

Here  is the beginning of one poem that should whet your appetite for more:


They will say that no was my favorite word,
more than stop or eat or love.

That some mornings I would rather stay in bed,
laptop on lap, instead of making breakfast,
that I'd rather write than speak.

They will say they have seen me naked.
Front side --- back side---
none of which were my good side.

(to continue reading click here for Misery Islands which are real islands off the north shore of Massachusetts -- near Salem.)

And in case you're still not convinced: I'm neither a mother nor divorced, yet I find this book essential reading. I believe you will, too.

Monday, December 22, 2014

It Could Happen... Happens This Month in Plume

Thank you to Daniel Lawless for including my poem, "This Could Happen," in Plume magazine. I have loved this journal for a long time and am happy to be included in its pages. Here is the opening of my poem"

This Could Happen

If you kept walking you would eventually step out of yourself.
You would leave the bones of your body,

the bloodlines to all that you loved.

You would be free of breasts and legs, liberated
from the eyes of body admirers—

To travel this earth again like star lily or skunk flower

with the forbearance of golden bees. 

(click to continue)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Congratulations to Boston's New Poet Laureate -- And a Poem

Congratulations to Danielle Legros Georges

Poem for the Poorest Country In the Western Hemisphere

Oh poorest country, this is not your name.

You should be called beacon, and flame,

almond and bougainvillea, garden

and green mountain, villa and hut,

little girl with red ribbons in her hair,

books-under-arm, charmed by the light

of morning, charcoal seller in black skirt,

encircled by dead trees.

You, country, are the businessman

and the eager young man, the grandfather

at the gate, at the crossroads

with the flashlight, with the light,

with the light.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Poet Inducted Into the Hall of Achievement. Yay, Madeline!

Madeline Defrees celebrates her 90th birthday at Elliott Bay with chocolate cake
I remember this special event very well. Many of her friends, fans,  former students, and an early publisher of hers all came out to speak about what an important influence Madeline had been on them---both as a hard-working dedicated poet and a woman ahead of her time.

This morning I found a video made last year when Madeline Defrees was inducted into the University of Oregon's Hall of Achievement. The video is yet to be published publicly though you can watch it here. The photographs of Defrees as a child, a habited nun, and a smiling woman on the beach hold me captive.
This new web site set-up by Madeline's literary executor, Anne McDuffie, is a great gift to lovers of Defrees' work near and far.

Here is one of my favorite poems. One that shows that her work is deserving of a wider audience.

Still Life

The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Robert Frost, “The Oven Bird”

After your letter arrived I left the oven on
all night and never once 

put my head in it. After your letter arrived 

I let one foot follow the other 

through the better part of the day. 

Your letter lay on the kitchen table by the paring
knife on the stoneware plate with the apple core 

like a Dutch still life restored to its muted color. 

To contiue reading this poem click here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Carol Sawyer - Photographer, Filmmaker, Performance Artist, Singer and Impressive All Around Person

Natalie Brettschneider leaves for Paris, 1913
I am both excited and a bit apprehensive about sharing the work of Carol Sawyer here. She is my very new and first "live" collaborator. Our relationship began on the internet when I searched for information on Hannah Maynard and 19th century photography in Canada. Her intelligence and generosity were easily apparent. I thanked her for her help with the Victorians and moved on.

A year later while cleaning out old emails, I read again Carol's take on 19th century woman artists and decided to see if she was an academic or museum curator. Her expertise and attention to my questions had lead me to that incorrect assumption. She never mentioned that she was an award winning photographer in her own right. More information this spring on our collaboration.

Here is an artist we are certain to see more of. If you are in the Vancouver area, see Sawyers upcoming exhibit, Study for Shadow Puppet, at Republic Gallery. Note: the photographs here of Natalie Brettschneider are a construction from Sawyer's own imagination, painstakingly researched and presented in a gallery show as a kind of cultural anthropology and critique.

From Carol Sawyer's upcoming show at Republic Gallery

This performance was before Natalie's scholarship to study in Paris 

In a later photograph, "Natalie Brettschneider Performs Feather Hat."

"Natalie Brettschneider Performs African Mask"

               And this image, "Natalie Brettschneider Performs Foxglove;" look at her fingers!

Finally, "The Last Known Photograph of Natalie Brettschneider"

I would love to rename this one "Natalie Brettschneider  Performs Rhubarb Mask."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Birthday to Ms. Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility – (466)


I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Imaginative Past (Walter Cronkite and Iguanas)

Is she really that old?
I'm pretty sure I was born in the wrong era although I whole-heartedly believe in spell check and on-line research so maybe our era is actually the best of many worlds. Last week, I wrote a preview for my essay on nostalgia and today it was published by the Tahoma Literary Review.

I'm amazed at how much thinking it took to write. Does that make sense?

The concept of nostalgia often gets a bad wrap. It's reputation suffers from images of overstuffed curio shops and elderly men with antique cars that only drive them on Sunday afternoons. Nothing wrong with these things but I wanted to look into the nature of nostalgia. I hope you like it.

The Imaginative Past, by Susan Rich

I love the word nostalgia for its host of vowels; it’s formal lingering on the tongue that enacts a kind of longing. I love the concept of a simpler time although I can hardly believe in it.

My poem “Sunday Afternoon Retrospect” is an ode to an idealized past filled with pickle barrels, typewriter bells, and milkmen. A time of Sunday afternoons when my father and I walked along Haymarket Square for Italian ices – blue – our favorite. It was a time when I could still explore my neighborhood streets any hour of the day or night and feel brave, rather than afraid.

Adolescence seemed as if it would last forever. And then, suddenly,

click here to continue reading...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tonight I Am in Love With Glass

What is it about wine glasses  - or - three vessels for verses

This could go on all night...

Egyptian perfume bottles

Something in the way that they are photographed

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Another New Art Girl Crush: Claude Cahoun and Marcel Moore

These women's lives were too wild and too intricate for me to yet fathom. They were step-sisters, photographers, poets, painters, political artists and lovers. And that really doesn't begin to cover it. Again, why don't we know their work in the United States? Or perhaps I'm the only one left out.

Here's one piece of their story. They lived on Jersey in the Chanel Islands and photographed the Nazi soldiers landing on the beach. They then spent four years (until they were caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to death) creating anti-Hitler propaganda and distributing it to the soldiers. Their death sentence was eventually pardoned and they were released on May 9, 1945 during the liberation of the island.

Andre and Jacqueline Breton photographed by Claude Cahoun

Friday, December 5, 2014

Leonora Carrington ~ My New Crush

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) is fascinating not only for her masterful art work but for her crazy life history (including escaping Nazis and her parents plan for an insane asylum).  A powerful figure in the Surrealist movement, she was also an early Feminist. Most of all, she was her own person.

This painting shows hectic wallpaper with images of black and white people joined together. The chair sports a black tail and blue monarch butterflies are flying from the tablecloth. I love the golden orb in the center of the painting as well as the white rose crying from the ceiling. There is bread and fruit;  two glasses full of wine. It is a still life that is anything but still.

True, this isn't the type of painting I'm usually drawn to (whatever that is) but what attracts me here is the highly energetic mix of humor and serious mystical study. I believe in this artist; the visions that Carrington show here are somehow "proven" by the intense level of work. I can't pretend to understand her but I do know that I am moved by these images.

Many years ago I came across Leonora Carrington's paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland. There was a show there that claimed her as "the Celtic Surrealist" as her mother was Irish and she used Catholic and Celtic imagery in her paintings. I wondered then, as now, why she is not better known in the United States --- she lived a short time both in NYC and Chicago.

Somehow I think this is about to change.

Mrs. Moorehead's Alchemical Kitchen

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nostalgia and Sunday Afternoon Retrospect

I've just completed a short lyric essay on nostalgia, "The Imaginative Past,"  for the Tahoma Literary Review. It should be out next week and I hope you'll like it. For now I want to capture the feeling of being done with a project that was hard and long. (Actually the essay is very short but not the time it took to write it.) Thank you Kelly Davio for the opportunity!

When I finish a poem I have a good sense of whether it's strong or not --- not so with prose. This essay takes my poem "Sunday Afternoon Retrospect" as a jumping off point and then moves into a mediation on the nature of nostalgia. There's a double-edged sword when it comes to describing the past. I tried to be honest about both sides of memory --- the part where we want to lick the bowl of homemade cookie batter and the other --- where perhaps there is a fist or a hand licking us.

I'll post the piece here as soon as TLR publishes the link. But for now I want to celebrate a bit.

Let's celebrate!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Poets in the House 7pm Saturday, December 6th

Elizabeth Austen and Susan Rich read Saturday night

I am a lover of bookstores; an addict really. Independent bookstores are my favorite. Add the location of a small island in the northwest and it's a recipe for real pleasure.

One thing that happens in a small shop is that shelf space is premium which means that every book in the store needs to be there for a reason. Sometimes the reason is the beauty of the cover or the lyric title --- at least that's what I imagine.

This Saturday night Elizabeth Austen and I will do a "braided" reading at 7 pm at Griffin Bay Bookstore. If you happen to be passing through Friday Harbor, we'd love to see you.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving with Tony Morrison and the Colbert Report

My Ideal American Writer
I just spent a goodly amount of time trying to find the Thanksgiving image that I wanted to share. One of my favorite parts of having a blog is sharing images. It answers something of the frustrated visual artist in me. And yet as I looked for something all I could find were odd turkey images or ivory white families or hunters. None of these represent my reality or any image I want to perpetuate. Instead, let me offer Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. If you haven't read her work, you're in for a huge treat. For today, you can begin with her appearance on The Colbert Report. 

And while I am super thankful for my lover, friends, cats, and writer's life --- I am not thankful to live in a world where black boys in Cleveland, in Ferguson, in places across our country, are being killed by police. "Race is a social construct" to quote Morrison. It is not scientific or anthropological. Her words need to be understood by us all.

Meanwhile, my hunt through "picture perfect" cherubs and mom's in the kitchen finally turned up something I could post. Here's one I'll title "Thanksgiving Femme Fatale."

Wishing You a Film Noir Thanksgiving
The only way we are going to do anything to change this social construct called race in this country is to talk about it. May you be brave around the Thanksgiving table today. And everyday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wishing you delicious pies and peace this Thanksgiving

Raspberry Pear and Honey Apple -- both gluten free for all
Two pies done. Both made from scratch with an almond flour crust and it's not yet midnight. Next is a kale salad with persimmons and pomegranate and pecans. Perhaps I should call it the Triple P?

This year having just hosted Kate Lebo and Molly Wizenberg at WordsWest, I am keeping their voices in my head as I prepare my offerings for tomorrow. Perhaps these pies will never win a beauty contest --- gluten free pies tend not to have top crusts --- but they were made with organic fruit and local honey, they were baked with love. My guess is that that's not a bad start.

On the eve of this holiday I am thinking about Ferguson, I am thinking about my friend's two adorable sons who have not yet learned that as young black boys (no longer toddlers) the world will view them with suspicion. They are as sweet as these pies and smart and loving but the world will not see that. My friend will have to someday soon talk with them about not running through neighbors/ yards (a great thrill for me as a child) or carrying anything that might be mistaken for weapon? Does this mean no water guns? How do black boys grow up safe in our communities? What can we do to help change the racism so rampant in our country?

So tonight I bake pies. I cut persimmons and take great pleasure in a jewel-red pomegranate.

Wishing you peace and pie this holiday season.

Monday, November 24, 2014

They Sell You What Disappears

I love this poem They Sell You What Disappears -- the craft, the content, the way it commands the white space of the page. The poet Hoa Nguyen is new to me although she has published several books. Here's a teaser:

They Sell You What Disappears
Why does this garlic come from China?
It’s vague to me               shipping bulbous netted bulbs
Cargo doused with fungicide and growth inhibitor
What disappears is vague           I can’t trade for much
I can cook           teach you cooking         ferment
bread or poetry                 I can sell my plasma

-- to read the poem in its gorgeous entirety -- click here

Friday, November 21, 2014

Flying High on the Words of Hannah Stephenson @ Huffington Post

Hannah Maynard and Happiness 

On a rainy Friday night, home with a cold, I received a message from Hannah Stephenson with the subject line Guess What's Up. Hannah had just sent an email this morning saying that she'd sent the article on the the Huffington Post but that it might take quite awhile before the piece was live.

I can't thank this 21st century Hannah (whom I've never met) enough for giving 19th century Hannah Maynard a place at the table. The symmetry is not lost on me. How could it be? What follows is a little bit of Hannah Stephenson's introduction to Cloud Pharmacy followed by a little of my response to a smart question on my use of borders, railroad tracks, bridges, etc.

HS  The condition of looking creates longing--or maybe it's the other way around. Art always finds a way to dance between desire and distance. Whether that distance is located in geography or time, art allows an artist to speak to a viewer located in the future.

In her newest book, Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press, 2014), poet Susan Rich communicates with painters, photographers, and past selves. What I appreciate most in her work is how keenly aware of her reader she is. Yes, she's talking to a photo, and to the photographer, but she's also speaking to the reader. Wistful, vulnerable, and unapologetic, Cloud Pharmacy's poems prescribe mirrors, light, lust, love. Rich offers back to us "our art/ imperfect and striving." To continue

And a little bit from my part:

SR So yes my art does "travel in by window." Art--whether we're talking about visual art or poetry amplifies our own range of experiences. And not only the actual objects which drew me to them as remnants of my own thoughts, but the human lives behind them, too. What choices were open to Hannah Maynard, a 19th century woman? Did she recognize her own artistic genius? What happened to Max Liebermann's imagination as he watched the Nazis' slow climb to power? Will any of our art be remembered by those who inhabit the earth after we're gone?

The window into art is the window into our own obsessions, our own pulsing of the blood.

You can continue here

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Alchemy of Pie and Poetry and Travel

Thanksgiving Pies of Holidays Past
I still remember how insanely proud of these pies I was when I took this picture three Thanksgivings ago. One was apple and the other raspberry pear. I'd just learned that using cookie cutter leaves and stars could stand in for a top crust if one's skill level was that of a beginner. Mine was. These were my first pies completely from scratch.

My friend Wendy coached me on the facts of pie crust for two weeks. Each morning, we would drive to work together and she would impart pie wisdom to me:  the use of vodka in the crust for an essential flakiness or how not to burn the edges of the crust by covering them with aluminum foil in the final hour of baking. Each day I would find yet another ingredient --- a half bottle of vodka --- before grocery stores were allowed to sell hard liquor  --- a decent pie pan (one borrowed from Wendy) and the aforementioned cookie cutters. For me, the hardest part of baking is often collecting all the needed materials so I can actually begin.

This year I will once again create homemade pie for Thanksgiving -- this time it needs to be gluten free. I'd like to think that after enrolling in Kate Lebo's Pie School last summer and "graduating" from the class with a golden pie of blueberries, butter, and other delicious ingredients, I can handle this. However, doubt has already snuck in. At least until last night.

Last night I had the great pleasure of listening to Kate Lebo and Molly Wizenberg read their literary and culinary work at WordsWest #3. Molly is the gorgeous voice behind the blog Orangette which she has been writing for ten years. This makes her an elder in the blogosphere. Kate's new book is Pie School: Tales in Fruit, Flour and Butter. I suspect my Thanksgiving pie recipe will come from this amazingly tasteful book.

All day I've let myself dip in and out of Molly's book Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table. As she mentioned last night at the reading,  Molly isn't as interested in food writing as she is in people's relationships to food. I get that. 

As I read the brief chapters -- almost like poems --- almost like blog posts, I feel as if Molly is my new best friend. It's not just that we both lost our fathers at a young age or that we fell in love (and fell hard) for Frenchmen, it's that Molly welcomes you into her world. I've now met her mother and her father, know about her sister's scones and the fore mentioned Frenchman. More than that, I know that Molly enjoys cooking the occasional meal alone and that the recipes in this book came out of hard work, focused attention, and a little experimentation. This is a woman who is a bit of a perfectionist but can also laugh at herself. I've never read any type of cookbook where I learned so much.

Both Molly and Kate are combining love of words with a love of creating food. It's like they are collaborating with different parts of their brains bringing together the intellectual and the sensual in very tangible ways. I'm intrigued with how the writing feeds the cooking and how the cooking -- or baking -- fuels the words. 

Several years ago when I was working on the book, The Alchemist's Kitchen, I went through a very long period when every poem I wrote --- or at least almost every poem --- had some type of food named within it. There were French pastries and cereal boxes, lobsters and summer picnics. They just kept appearing on the page. I don't have a good explanation for what was happening except that I was falling in love with the sounds of words and I was also looking for a new way to write. 

Food allowed me to move more deeply into image and sound, into texture, color, and taste. Because food is also very much linked to place, I also could return to Parisian bakeries and West African markets. In Bosnian, the word for tomato is "paradise." In South Africa I first tasted patty pan squash, my first oyster was in Seattle -- or at least the first oyster that I enjoyed -- I think I can remember the exact table at Ray's --- but that's another story.

Here is "Food For Fallen Angels," a poem from The Alchemist's Kitchen.

Food for Fallen Angels

If food be the music of love, play on

Twelfth Night, misremembered

If they can remember living at all, it is the food they miss:
a plate of goji berries, pickled ginger, gorgonzola prawns
dressed on a bed of miniature thyme, a spoon

glistening with pomegranate seeds, Russian black bread

lavished with July cherries so sweet, it was dangerous to revive;
to slide slowly above the lips, flick and swallow – almost.

Perhaps more like this summer night: lobsters in the lemon grove

a picnicker’s trick of moonlight and platters; the table dressed
in gold kissed glass, napkins spread smooth as dark chocolate.

If they sample a pastry ~ glazed Florentine, praline hearts ~

heaven is lost. It’s the cinnamon and salt our souls return for ~
rocket on the tongue, the clove of garlic: fresh and flirtatious.

Published in The Alchemist’s Kitchen, White Pine Press, 2010

Monday, November 17, 2014

Are You Interested in Crime? Call for Submissions in Poetry and Prose

Special Issue on "Crime Writing"

The Human is now inviting submissions for a special issue to be published in June 2015. The special issue will be devoted to crime writing (fiction and non-fiction) in all of its diverse forms and multiplicity of cultural situations. The topic, for instance, may cover journalistic reportage, online fansites for aficionados of crime, detective fiction broadly construed, crime writing for children and young adults, hacking, true crime writing, historical crime writing, and other subjects. Interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged, as are treatments that deal with global (non-Western) writing or that bridge East and West. Less-covered subjects are most welcome. To check out the recent issue and submit by February 28th to

Saturday, November 15, 2014

W.S. Merwin: The Thanksgiving Poem Made New

Bill Merwin described by the NYT as "fabulously handsome" 
I'd say fabulous poet is just as apt. Once upon a time in a life faraway,  I crashed a party held in honor of Merwin's visit to Harvard. My friend needed to meet him; he was her poet god. I went along for moral support. His generosity and kindness to us --- we were clearly not "the" guests who could woo him in any way except for our love for his work. And then: my friend's awkward declaration of love for the poems was met with a pause, a long smile, and a "thank you; that makes me feel useful." Thank you, Mr. Merwin for a lifetime model of how a poet can write and how a poet can live in this world.


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W. S. Merwin from his collection Migrations: New and Selected Poems, 
Copper Canyon Press, 2005

Friday, November 14, 2014

Denise Levertov: Poet, Poem, Memory

Denise Levertov with lilies 
I saw Denise Levertov read at Brandeis University when I was a senior in high school. She was only the second poet I ever heard read, the first was Linda Pastan. Levertov wore a simple shirt, blue jeans, and read to us from the brown classroom desk --- cross-legged. Cross-legged!

No adult had ever dressed or draped herself across a desk like this before. At least not in my presence. More than that, Levertov was having fun with us. She laughed and chatted in her New York-British accent. There were perhaps 30 people in the room. 

Hearing Denise Levertov while still in my teens left a lifelong impression. Her essays The Poet in the World were the first critical essays I ever read on poetry and I still refer to them today. Most of all, her pleasure in the word and in conveying that pleasure to her audience is a constant model for me. 

The complexity of her religious background --- her German father was born into a highly honored rabbinical family but converted to the Anglican Church when he moved to England.  Levertov took up her own Christianity as subject midway through her life --- and it did not speak to me -- but her earlier and her later poetry did.

Here is a remembrance of Levertov found on the Image Journal blog by Murray Bodo -- this is a small part of the article but the one that I loved.

"One wonders how Levertov’s Welsh/Jewish heritage influenced her ear for language. Celtic traditions believe that the original harmony of the world is still to be found in the sounds of nature. The language imitates the sounds of the river, the waves, the seabirds, the wind. Kabalistic mysticism which influenced her father, is a repetitive re-weaving of primordial sounds in an attempt to heal a broken cadence. The Kabalists believed that every letter and sound of the Torah reveals God, and one of their mantric practices consisted of repeating the sound of a sacred word, much like the Buddhist sounding of “Om.” The Jewish mystics also believe that there are sacred tones, sounds and rhythms that are part of fundamental harmony. They seek to attain harmony with these sounds and rhythms as a way of re-establishing the disharmony or broken cadence between the human and the Divine."

Denise Levertov lived her last years in Seattle. I've learned from local musicians that she was "demanding" to work with as no instrument could be made to match the music in her head. And yet she continually allowed her poems to be set to music. The sense of sound and harmony was paramount to her. The Jewish traditions still alive.

Here is an early villanelle:


Maybe it is true we have to return

to the black air of ashcan city

because it is there the most life was burned,

as ghosts or criminals return?

But no, the city has no monopoly

of intense life. The dust burned

golden or violet in the wide land

to which we ran away, images

of passion sprang out of the land

as whirlwinds or red flowers, your hands

opened in anguish or clenched in violence

under that sun, and clasped my hands

in that place to which we will not return

where so much happened that no one else noticed,

where the city's ashes that we brought with us

flew into the intense sky still burning.

Denise Levertov, 1958 from "Collected Earlier Poems:1940-1960" New Directions Publishing Company

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lovers Combined: Paintings that Change Names and Poems on Sound Cloud

Courtyard by Max Lieberman part of the Frye Art Museum's #Social Medium Show 

This has been the Fall of voices --- a variety of poems and interviews on radio KUOW, KPTZ, and WICN. This week my poem Dutch Courtyard is included in the Frye Art Museum's show curated by museum goers worldwide. Here's the article that explains this bold public curated show. This is also how I found out that "my" painting has changed names! This is now Courtyard, 1882, by Max Lieberman. Two years after I wrote the poem as part of a grant project where I worked with Kelli Russell Agodon, Allen Braden, and Oliver de la Paz, researchers at the Frye found that they had had the name wrong all these years. Somehow the new name seems right. Also, more contemporary.

I love that a painting "Dutch Courtyard" can go from it's tiny spot on the wall (barely off the floor) onto a projected screen at the Frye, to a postcard gift for visitors, to worldwide internet curation, to a new name. I once heard that radio waves (do internet waves count?) will outlast any printed material on the planet. What will future inhabitants of earth or our galaxy think when they hear our poems read aloud?

There's a poem prompt right there. Or at least a thought for dreaming towards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poems for Veterans Day - Kevin Powers, Brian Turner, and Yusef Komunyakaa

I know Kevin Power's work from his brilliant novel The Yellow Birds. The book was indeed written by a poet as his new collection of poetry attests. Here is one which begins and ends in love.

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.

I tell her how Pvt. Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.

             Kevin Powers

Brian Turner is an Iraq war veteran who is both a stellar poet (Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise) and recent memoirist (My  Life As A Foreign Country). Brian is also a friend whom I have known since our graduate school days in Oregon. I say this only to underscore that this man is a poet who I know to be up to the task he's set himself: to chronicle the war that will define our generation. 

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

                                          Brian Turner

From Komunyakaa's collection War Horses, I've included this prose poem which the he states was the initial one that sparked his collection. You can listen to him talk with KUOW's Elizabeth Austen about this poem and others. He also mentions how today's war machine resembles something of a car dealership. You can to his wisdom and strong voice here.


There's no rehearsal to turn flesh into dust so quickly. A hair-trigger, a cocked hammer in the brain, a split second between a man & infamy. It lands on the ground—a few soldiers duck & the others are caught in a half-run—& one throws himself down on the grenade. All the watches stop. A flash. Smoke. Silence. The sound fills the whole day. Flesh & earth fall into the eyes & mouths of the men. A scream trapped in midair. They touch their legs & arms, their groins, ears & noses, saying, What happened? Some are crying. Others are laughing. Some are almost dancing. Someone tries to put the dead man back together: "He just dove on the damn thing, Sir!" A flash. Smoke. Silence. The day blown apart. For those who can walk away, what is their burden? Shreds of flesh & bloody rags gathered up & stuffed into a bag. Each breath belongs to him. Each song. Each curse. Every prayer is his. Your body doesn't belong to your mind & soul. Who are you? Do you remember the man left in the jungle? The others who owe their lives to this phantom, do they feel like you? Would his loved ones remember him if that little park or statue erected in his name didn't exist, & does it enlarge their lives? You wish he'd lie down in that closed coffin, & not wander the streets or enter your bedroom at midnight. The woman you love, she'll never understand. Who would? You remember what he used to say: "If you give a kite too much string, it'll break free." That unselfish certainty. But you can't remember when you began to live his unspoken dreams.

                                                                                             Yusef Komunyakaa

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writers Who Read ~ Thank You!

Thanks to GG Andrews for inviting me to be at guest at her blog Writers Who Read today.

 Here is an excerpt for your reading pleasure:

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with poet Susan Rich.

Who are you?  I am a word addict. I’m into confetti and aquamarine; I love double-barreled words like “doorknob” and “backstabber,” “watermelon” and “windowpane” where I can grab two images for the price of one. Mostly, I answer to “poet” with a new book, CLOUD PHARMACY, still fresh from White Pine Press and “literary activist” because I’ve co-founded several organizations including Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women.

If you’d like to know more about me there are a 101 links at my website and a “Top 10 Things to Consider When Sending Your Work to a Contest or Residency” at my blog.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?

Half Magic by Edward Eager concerning a mysterious coin that can take you back in time.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster where we enter a new world with a dog named Tock for company and try not to get trapped forever in the land of Doldrums.

Wet Magic by Edith Nesbit (everything by E. Nesbit) where a gaggle of children find an underwater city where I so wanted to live that I read this book multiple times. Three times. 500 pages each time.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?

To continue reading on GG Andrews blog, Writers Who Read go here.

My New Life ... In Radio?

So I'm afraid this beautiful young woman is not me. What the two of us have in common though is a love of the microphone. Who knew?

A couple of years ago when I was hired to curate the Jack Straw Writers Program, one of my tasks was to interview each of the writers for a half hour podcast. After the initial terror wore off, I found that I loved interviewing writers, loved the intimacy of the one on one conversation amplified over radio waves. In a parallel universe I am Terry Gross interviewing artists, philosophers, and authors for NPR.

This week I had the privilege of reading the poem "The Woods" by Michael Bassett for Linebreak. If you don't know Linebreak, you are missing out on one of my favorite poetry "journals" although I use the world loosely here. Linebreak is such a simple and beautiful concept that I don't have a word for it.

Sign-up for Linebreak and once a week you will receive a really superb poem in your in-box. You can read the poem right then and there or you can choose to hear the poem read to you not by the author but rather an impartial poet. Years ago my poem "Letter to M" was published by Linebreak and read by the poet David Shattuck. It seems that a poem by a man will oftentimes be read by a woman and vice versa.

Perhaps I will never make my living reading books on tape or interviewing the brilliant and famous but I do get to fantasize with the help of Linebreak and Jack Straw Writers.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Calling All Writers: On How to Read a Poem and the Inevitable Art of Rejection

The Time Has Come by Joel Rea

Two articles of interest to poets this week. The first is an Atlantic Monthly piece listing 20 Ways to Read Poetry: A Step by Step Guide by Mark Yakich.  I'm especially fond of numbers 19 and 20. I'm less fond of the idea that getting drunk will help you understand a poem but that's just me. Here's a few steps to whet your appetite for the whole list.

3. Try to meet a poem on its terms not yours. If you have to “relate” to a poem in order to understand it, you aren’t reading it sufficiently. In other words, don’t try to fit the poem into your life. Try to see what world the poem creates. Then, if you are lucky, its world will help you re-see your own.

4. Whether or not you are conscious of it, you are always looking for an excuse to stop reading a poem and move on to another poem or to do something else entirely. Resist this urge as much as possible. Think of it as a Buddhist regards a pesky mosquito. The mosquito, like the poem, may be irritating, but it’s not going to kill you to brave it for a little while longer.

There's also a piece by Graywolf  editor Jeff Shotts, on the Art of Rejection. The sobering, humorous, and stunning truth is that we writers who send our work our into the world will be rejected. We will be rejected again and again. The statistics on how many manuscripts Graywolf accepts out of what they receive sent chills down this writer's spine. The essay includes sassy poems on rejection. It also includes the fear editors have of missing the next great writer. How many publishers rejected The Clerk's Tale before it won the Bread Load Prize, for example. Over 200 times -- that's a lot of stamps. These two articles together comprise a sort of instruction manuel into the world of poetry.

I wish one of these articles had made the point that creating a literary community in your town: starting a writing series or a literary festival or a poetry reading group can also help a writer create the kind of writing life she wants to live. But that's another article. One I will be writing soon.