Friday, August 29, 2014

Preparing for Poets on the Coast (or the Channel) in La Conner

One week out and we're still having fun 
This is the fourth year that my magical friend,  poet Kelli Russell Agodon and I are bringing together a community of women for a long weekend of writing, laughing, rewriting, and learning from each other. It's almost midnight and this is the third day in a row I have been writing new poetry prompts, organizing lists, talking with the hotel's special events manager and generally getting ready for another weekend of creative energy, craft, and fun.

Kelli and I work on Poets on the Coast for nine months of the year --- dreaming, planning, organizing. It's hard to believe that the ideas we hatch over coffee and chocolate are (hopefully) about to come true.

It's a very liberating, almost ecstatic, feeling to dream something up and then have it unfold before you. The first year Kelli and I brought together a group of 18 women in Nye Beach, Oregon was utterly surreal. As we detoured around the interstate closed due to a prairie fire (in Oregon!) I realized we had planned an opening wine and cheese reception for the poets without knowing where it would be held. We arrived at the hotel with 40 minutes to organize a party (and find the right party room).

We've learned a bit over the last four years beginning with: always arrive the day before events begin.

Each year there is a break through or celebration for one of the women that stays with me, that makes me feel Kelli and I are doing something good in the world: it might be one woman's first time doing yoga or another woman writing a heart wrenching poem that had the group in tears --- her first poem ever --- as she had considered herself a fiction writer. "

Over the years friendships have solidified and other poetry events have been started from this group.

Sure, some women move on to begin graduate school or for other activities. And yet each year the women who are meant to be with us come together in one last gasp of summer. Over half of this year's group are women who are returning poets. Radical hospitality' is a phrase coined by Amy Wheeler, director of Hedgebrook but I believe it applies to Poets on the Coast as well. We do our best to shower the group with inspiration, support, and try to focus on what each woman most needs in a quick one on one session.

As usual, I'll bring the homegrown sungold tomatoes and Kelli will make her blackberry cobbler. Food is a central part of the hospitality and thus the poetry of the weekend. From age twenty-something to seventy-something, from different backgrounds and points across the country, we come together.

I suppose the takeaway is if there is something in your life that you're dreaming about doing --- just do it. And if you can, it's great to do it with a friend.

We're thrilled for this year and already looking forward to our fifth anniversary in 2015.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop on the Beach

Brazil? Cape Cod? Key West? Two friends emerging from the sea or tumbled down from the sky. Why? Because it's summer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Love Poems on the Radio - Thank You Elizabeth Austen and KUOW

The Wall or Al Baraq - to the left is the Dome of The Rock
Last night I arrived back in town and this morning my poem, "The Wall" was featured on Morning Edition on our NPR Seattle affiliate, KUOW. Within minutes, three friends emailed me to tell me they had heard the poem while driving to work or making their morning coffee.

Here in Western Washington we are extremely lucky to have Washington State Poet Laureate  Elizabeth Austen producing interviews and readings with local poets for different news and art-based shows.

Maybe it's just me but the idea that an award winning news show is willing to include poetry seems a testament to Elizabeth's consistent ability to match serious poets with news headlines. I love that my poem becomes part of the conversation on what is happening in Israel and Gaza --- a poem I wrote long before this current crisis. A poem which gives a brief historical window into what is happening now.

A little background. The Wall or Al Buraq is a sacred space for people of both Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is the outside wall of the Temple Mount. The area was "won" by Israel from Jordan (who for 19 years had control) in the Six Day War in 1967. Within three days Israel had bulldozed the 770 year old Moroccan quarter --- all mosques and homes destroyed. I hope the poem makes sense without that information but I always like having some context.


Of all the ways that poems come to me: in books, at readings, through the voice of a friend, it is via radio that I love best. I still remember being in graduate school and buying a book of Adrienne Rich's poetry - Midnight Salvage - which was packaged with a cassette tape (!) that included Rich's reading of the poems. I drove around Eugene, Oregon listening to the poet as I drove down Alder and 13th. The interior of my Toyota became a chapel for poetry and Adrienne Rich, my close friend as she spoke to me through the speakers. We traveled together frequently.

Twelve or more years ago when Elizabeth started producing poetry segments for KUOW, I was thrilled. I can still remember hearing poems by Kathleen Flenniken and John Marshall on a weekday afternoon, joining me as I left work.

I am so thankful that she is still committed to bringing poetry to the airwaves.

The Wall

                   What superstition and fanaticism on every side.

                                             ~Theodore Herzl

We Jews slip secrets inside cracked mortar
the flap of an envelope
half a postcard from home.

Call them prayers or wishes,
reasons why one must travel continents
to ask in-person
for advice or apology.

Here is the mailbox of God
where a woman walks backwards
after praying, never turning
her back to the wall.

Above her head tiny airplanes
originate explosions
scuttle across orchid blue sky
intent on their military exercise.

A hard light binds weathered stone
bleaches the guard-studded square
where a neighborhood was razed in a night.
Mosques and homes. Mosques and homes.