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.