Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Poet Tip 101: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript

Mel's: Your Poetry Drive-In

What if you could just stop by a drive-in on your way home from work to pick-up the arrangement for your new poetry manuscript? You'd speak into the silver microphone and request a burger,  fries, and a coffee shake --- then finish the meal off with a newly ordered group of poems ready to be published to wild acclaim.

If only.

No one teaches poets how to carefully place one poem in front of the next until you have the prerequisite 48 pages of poetry that comprise a full-length manuscript. Classes abound on generating poems, revising poems, publishing poems --- but ordering a manuscript? Not so much.


In 1983, when I was working with my undergraduate thesis advisor, Madeline DeFrees, on my first poetry "collection," she took my poems and spread them across her living room floor. I remember the two of us down on our knees looking at the last words of one poem and seeing if they linked to the first lines of another. I still love using this method --- as if the poems were having a conversation together.


But this is just one of the many ways to order your poems. Here are a few things I've learned putting four of my own collections together and working with several poets as a book doctor or an editor/mentor. You may well find that your method is a hybrid of some of the ideas below.


A Favorite: Chronology: I think of Mary Jo Bang's Elegy as a perfect example of how going through the seasons of the year as a way to show how grief changes (and doesn't) over time is the perfect strategy for this intensely moving book. Sometimes, if there is a clear narrative (or you want to build a narrative structure around an event) this framework keeps the reader easily located and a story arc appears. Annette Spaulding Convy's In the Convent, We Become Clouds is another superb example of a book built around a chronology which may mimic "how it happened" or be totally constructed from the poets imagination.

Beginning / Middle / End: I know this sounds like chronology but it isn't. This is creating your own poetry collage broken into three parts. Perhaps the first section is to introduce yourself or the three themes prevalent in your poems. As the reader delves deeper into the book the pieces of the poet's obsessions (hopefully) begin to gather a 3rd or 4th dimension. The ideas behind the poems accrue. I've used this strategy in my book, Cures Include Travel, where the section titles are: Guidebook; Talking Geography, and Crossing Borders.

Sliced Like a Pizza:  theme by theme is a favorite for some poets. One section explores the poet's time in Istanbul, the next section concerns only poems on food, and the final section is devoted to sex with animals. Okay -- this is not a book I've read but you get the idea. Like with like. The problem with this is that sometimes too much of a good thing is, well,  too much. I'd rather eat one exquisite chocolate than an entire box.  The first scenario leaves the eater (or reader) wanting more and the second scenario could lead to stomach illness. However, this could easily work for some poets; there just needs to be some variety within the like subjects. For example, if one section is focused on family, perhaps place a poem about crazy Aunt Jane next to the elegy for Jane's brother.

Sumptuous Braided Challah or a French Twist: Reader, this is my book ordering bliss.  I like to have poems rub up against each other in new ways; I like the juxtaposition of the ordering to elicit surprise and disruption. In Cloud Pharmacy, the initial poem is "Blue Grapes" which introduces the speaker's odd spiritual sense --- a certainly surreal point of view where "God visits, brings me ice cream." The book is comprised of four sections with only one "Dark Room" focusing on one subject -- the photographer Hannah Maynard to act as a counterpoint to the other sections. Hannah Maynard took self portraits in the 1890's and employed trick photography often appearing in the same frame several times. My hope is that the other sections of the book refract off this central sequence.

Sunday Night Special The truth is that most books are a mix of these different approaches. There can be sections "sliced like a pizza" that also follow a chronology. For more insights on this process I recommend the collection of essays, Ordering the Storm which can be found in an e-book format on-line or you can purchase a hard copy.

And eventually your beautiful new book will be loved and admired in the world like Ada Limon's Bright Dead Things has been recently. It's a book I'm very glad Limon brought into the world. I sincerely doubt she thought it would be nominated for the National Book Award and yet here it is --- sticker and all. 

There's more to say on this subject --- much more --- but it will have to wait until 2016.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Honoring Madeline DeFrees: Saturday, January 9th at 2:00 pm, Elliott Bay Book Company

Waiting to cut the cake, Madeline DeFrees, at her 90th birthday party, Elliott Bay Book Company

Madeline DeFrees (1919-2015) was my first true poetry teacher. I was in my final year of university just returning to campus after three years away. Madeline was a visiting poet from Montana. Her one-on-one mentoring not only allowed me to complete my Honors Thesis but she taught me more about writing poetry than any other teacher --- before or since. 

It was a loving, funny, and memorable night at Elliot Bay Book Company a little more than four years ago when many of Madeline's former students, colleagues, and friends came together to celebrate with her. She was so pleased! I know I'd never seen her so happy. Many of us will be back again to honor her presence in our lives.

Here is an excerpt from my remarks that I read to Madeline at her party. It was so good to be with her and I'm sure in some way she will be with us on Friday, January 9th, as well.

In preparation for this talk, I went back through my daily journals from winter-spring 1983, curious to find what, if anything,  I had written about Madeline. And perhaps not so surprisingly – there she was. – Mixed in with huge boyfriend drama and the great penetrating angst of a young person’s life -- there was Madeline.

I thought I would share a few BRIEF entries  with you and with Madeline.

February 13th, 1983 –

My poetry life is rebuilding again. I like Madeline – she’s nothing like that Monster – Mr. M. (Mr. M - the poet from the workshop I’d just finished).

February 27th
A poem just appeared from an exercise Madeline gave me! "Scotch Nip."

March 9th
I’m learning lots of technique from Madeline – but she gives little encouragement. Maybe that’s supposed to make me work all the harder?

April 16th

Madeline is not ego-satisfying, but honest. She says my positive points are my maturity and my determination. Also, that the only thing that makes a good writer is to keep writing.

And that even if poetry is depressing, the poet wrote it in a positive moment.

May 20th  (Two days after I'd defended my thesis.)

Madeline came to the party and enjoyed herself. About 12-14 people. At times singing, playing a hand organ, and dueling guitars.

So here are a  few things that strike me about Madeline as a teacher.

1.  Madeline believed in hard work. No surprise there. She would tell me – in a poem  - when you take out the weakest link in the chain  - there will be something else to replace it. I was amazed by this and at the same time exhausted. No student wants to hear this. What do you mean?  It isn’t done yet?

 2. Madeline’s love of poetry showed itself in a true deference for even the most flawed attempts by her students. She extended to me the respect that a fledgling life in poetry deserves - but is rarely granted. We would meet once every two weeks in her office in Bartlett Hall, late in the afternoon when everyone else had gone home. I remember waiting for our meeting as being very much like anticipating a visit to the dentist  – and when she finally opened the door and invited me in, she would be ready her most exacting tool  - the red pen.  Ready to remove the weak links in the chain.

Please join us to celebrate her life at 2 pm. Friday, January 9th:

From Madeline's Executrix, Anne McDuffie

At 2 pm, in the reading room at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Friday, January 9th. Many of Madeline’s friends, colleagues and former students will be on hand to tell stories and read her poems, including Rick Simonson, Elizabeth Austen, Chris Howell, Susan Rich, Gary Thompson and Candace Black. There will be time for all those who want to share a memory or read a favorite poem, and a short reception. Please join us if you can, and help spread the word. This event is free and open to the public.Thank you! I look forward to remembering Madeline together.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Another New Crush - Surreal Friends: Remedios Varo (1908-1963)

Remedios Varo, like Leonora Carrington, was part of a group of Surrealists living in Mexico City as refugees after World War II. These best friends collaborated on plays, spent afternoons drinking tea (then tequila) and traded alchemical recipes.They also knew Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera and the many other artists living in Mexico City.

What interests me so much though about Varo and Carrington is how their friendship crossed over into the realm of art. Though they both have very distinct styles, they also use saturated color, high comedy, alchemy, memoir and otherworldly perspective in similar ways.

In interviews both women credit the other as a major artistic influence. Art critics seem to think that Varo was more skilled with the technical aspects of painting having learned draftsmanship from her mechanically minded father. Carrington's paintings may be more intuitive but I don't know if these women would have looked at their work this way.

Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Kati Horna

In my own creative world I know that having close poet friends: Kathleen Flenniken, Elizabeth Austen, and Kelli Russell Agodon (as well as many others) has made an enormous difference to me. Writing together, collaborating on different projects, and sharing in each others lives is perhaps what has allowed me to consistently live as a poet in the world. Therefore it is such a deep joy to find the book Surreal Friends about the lives of Carrington, Varo, and Horna.

Tonight, especially, I am grateful for following this creative path with friends.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Call For Submissions: Poems for The Human

The Invisible Man's Revenge
For a special issue of The Human journal we are looking for poems that explore the diversity of masculinity especially as seen in cinema or from a cinematic (strikingly visual) point of view.

The June 2016 issue will be devoted to the performance of masculinities in all of its diverse forms. What denotes the man in woman? How do we see the new masculinities across various continents? Comical or corrupted, human or more feral --- we want to read your work. Poems especially of interest from the LGBTQQ communities but everyone of any gender is welcome!

Unpublished poems that are related to the theme of this special issue – masculinities – should be submitted to the attention of our poetry editor Susan Rich at Please send no more than three poems in one document.

Reading poems on a rolling basis so the sooner you send the better your chances will be. Look forward to reading your work! Please, no more than three unpublished poems.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Poet's Life: What Happens When You're Not A MacArthur Genius (Yet)

This time of year seems ready made for contemplation. For example, is the bowl depleted or perhaps on the edge of a whole new life? And the spoon? And the artist who made them both?

In these days before the solstice, I find it impossible to escape the ever weightier question: what have I done with this one wild life? And for some reason that I cannot put into words, the beautiful vessel and spoon above make me wonder even more about my life: is my cup full?

The answer comes in fragments: traveled... written... loved... eaten delicious things ...laughed.

Tonight I'm thinking about carving out a writing life. As I hit my mid 30's and after the death of both my mother and father in the same year, I realized I needed to change my life in drastic ways. I left my rent controlled apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the wilds of the West. It was the best decision I ever made.

In Seattle, Washington where I live now, I'm part of a vibrant literary community. The opportunities I've had to read at Benaroya Hall (symphony hall) thanks to Seattle Arts and Lectures or to be interviewed on KUOW (our NPR Station) by Elizabeth Austen have been so affirming. I work to "author change" with other Hedgebrook alumni and sometimes teach at Hugo House. With poet and writer friends, I've also been able to give back to the community by starting WordsWest Literary Series in West Seattle (with Harold Taw and Katy Ellis)  and Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women (with Kelli Agodon). I teach, edit manuscripts, mentor, consult on grant applications and book marketing, give workshops --- whatever interests me at the moment. Whatever people ask me to do.

One of the things I've done regularly this year is to write with friends. These "writing dates" sustain me when my teaching responsibilities zap me. I think there's no lyrical line left in my body but when I sit down with a close friend to write for a timed exercise of 10 or 12 minutes, magic happens. Last week I actually wrote a piece with my good friend Kelli Russell Agodon that was accepted for an anthology this morning. It is through special friendships and the freedom that exists to try out any idea, any project, that I've succeeded at creating a writer's life.

This week six of my poems were accepted by four different journals and anthologies. This has never happened to me before. Never. So I may die before the New Yorker or Poetry decides my poems are worthy of their pages, I may be passed over for an NEA or a Guggenheim, but I have created a writing life. I am a writer in the world. And perhaps that's the most sustaining thing of all: a literary life. The good news? This is open to all of us --- no matter where we live or what degree we do or do not have, no matter what's in our pockets, no matter our age, religion, or race.

What do you need to be a writer in the world? Stare into the blue bowl for awhile and see if an action plan begins to emerge. After all, it's the time of year for miracles.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fun Ways to Publish Poetry Follow-Up: 50 States of Poetry Party

So this happened. Tweet Speak Poetry republished my article on fun ways to publish your poetry. The idea seems to be catching on. Tweet Speak Poetry added helpful things like a downloadable map of the United States (not this one) so that you can color in states as you go. There's also a very good list of places to publish based on how these journals treat their writers.

Now my last state is Kansas. I've sent poems to two of the three journals in the state. Last night I discovered a third one to try. Now that only one state is left (one!) I'm ready to have this chapter of my life complete. I imagine all the ways I can celebrate: a party for my friends;  a trip to a state where I've never visited for me (Hawaii, perhaps) and a possible anthology with a poem from each state. I wonder if there are other people that have done this? I'd love to hear from anyone who has done this or is in the process of trying it out.

Thanks so much  to North Dakota Quarterly and the Broadkill Review (Delaware) which both took poems of mine this Fall. It's been a very fun 18 years! And I'm not done yet...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Not Mexican Enough, Nor British Enough

Leonora Carrington in Mexico
I didn't have time to be anyone's muse... I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.  -- Leonora Carrington
The more I learn of Leonora Carrington, the more interested I become in her work. I'm also fascinated by how because she does not "fit" into a neat artistic category --- too feminist to be a surrealist, too Mexican to be a European painter, too British to be Mexican --- Carrington seems to have been left out of many arts narratives. If she has been claimed by any nation, it's Ireland. Carrington's mother was Irish and so was her nanny. Much has been made of the influence of the nanny's stories but I don't think Carrington would have agreed. She seems to have created her own universe of hybrid beasts, gender-mixed people, and shifting perspectives.

What I love about the video I posted yesterday is that we can hear Carrington in her own words as she gets annoyed with her distant relatives line of questioning. "The world is visual" Carrington insists. And yet she also wrote short stories, a novel, and a memoir. The Hearing Trumpet, categorized as "speculative fiction," is worth the read and different from anything else I've recently read -- not a great novel -- but a great read.

I shared some of her paintings with students in my "Women in the Arts" class today. A conversation on perspective, fantasy, and horses ensued. My students will also write ekphrastic poems based on her paintings. It's been a good day.

Detail from Samian

Here's a small window into her work -- much of what my students said in class today. These ideas are from The Art Story. 

Carrington shared the Surrealists' keen interest in the unconscious mind and dream imagery. To these ideas she added her own unique blend of cultural influences, including Celtic literature, Renaissance painting, Central American folk art, medieval alchemy, and Jungian psychology.

Carrington's art is populated by hybrid figures that are half-human and half-animal, or combinations of various fantastic beasts that range from fearsome to humorous. Through this signature imagery, she explored themes of transformation and identity in an ever-changing world.

Carrington's work touches on ideas of sexual identity yet avoids the frequent Surrealist stereotyping of women as objects of male desire. Instead, she drew on her life and friendships to represent women's self-perceptions, the bonds between women of all ages, and female figures within male-dominated environments and histories.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Leonora Carrington -- The Movie -- The Surrealist -- The Writer

The Giantess by Leonora Carrington
"Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) escaped a stultifying Lancashire childhood to run off with Max Ernst and hang out with Picasso and André Breton in 1930s Paris. She fled the Nazis, escaped from a psychiatric hospital in Spain and became a national treasure in Mexico. What happened to one of Britain's finest - and neglected - surrealists?" Here's a compelling video with footage of a young Carrington and an interview with the older Carrington. The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. Here's another piece I did about her that shows more of her work and a bit of biography.

Carrington painted and wrote in a way that seems unprecedented. She states that the only person in her family that painted was her mother who would decorate biscuit tins for jumble sales. A few of her paintings are in the art museum in Dublin and more at West Dean College in West Sussex, former home of Eduard James. James, Carrington's patron,  advocated strongly for her work and she was part of a 1947 surrealist show in the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.

The Inn of the Dawn of the Horse, 1939

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happy Birthday, Stephen Crane --- All This In 28 Years

In 1896, Crane (1871-1900) endured a highly publicized scandal after appearing as a witness in the trial of a suspected prostitute, an acquaintance named Dora Clark. Late that year he accepted an offer to travel to Cuba as a war correspondent. As he waited in Jacksonville, Florida, for passage, he met Cora Taylor, with whom he began a lasting relationship. En route to Cuba, Crane's vessel the SS Commodore, sank off the coast of Florida, leaving him and others adrift for 30 hours in a dinghy[1]. Crane described the ordeal in "The Open Boat". During the final years of his life, he covered conflicts in Greece (accompanied by Cora, recognized as the first woman war correspondent) and later lived inEngland with her. He was befriended by writers such as Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells. Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health, Crane died of tuberculosis in a Black Forest sanatorium in Germany at the age of 28.

Here's a poem by Stephen Crane

"A Man Said to the Universe"

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, you would be turning 84 today if you had lived but instead you remain forever young. What if you had not gone to study at Cambridge University in England? If you had not met Ted Hughes --- and then married him?

I was only 4 years old when you took your own life. You were 30. By the time I was in high school you had become the favored poet of all young women. Your intensity and intelligence, your beauty and your bold words --- no matter the subject --- made me read everything I could find of your work. I remember reading your letters --- and that while at Smith College you knew of Adrienne Rich studying at Radcliffe. You wrote that she would be your competition. What different paths you took. And yet, you were my heroes --- both poets I return to again and again.

There's no glory in taking one's own life --- just pain. Yet, I wonder if your poems kept you alive longer than if you had not possessed such verbal acuity -- such finesse?


Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.
NOTE: The third line of the third stanza has been corrected to read "Slapping its phantom laundry in my face" instead of "Gapping its phantom laundry in my face." [2/23/11]
Sylvia Plath, “Blackberrying” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Poets and Writers Highlights WordsWest Literary Series Nationwide!

Please celebrate over one year of literary programming! Our theme this month was "Words In the Air" with radio features journalist Ruby de Luna and playwright Stephanie Timm. We've also hosted Elizabeth Austen, Charles Johnson, January O'Neil, Kelli Russell Agodon, and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha.
Each month we invite two authors --- well, this interview will give you a good idea of how we do what we do --- out of empty pockets and thin air!

WordsWest Literary Series’ co-curators include poets Katy E. Ellis and Susan Rich, and novelist Harold Taw. All three live in West Seattle and came together over their parched need for a reading series in their community. Katy E. Ellis is the author of two chapbooks Urban Animal Expeditions(Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and Gravity (Yellow Flag Press, 2015). Her poetry appears in a number of literary journals and anthologies including Literary Mama, Redheaded Stepchild, MAYDAY Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Till the Tide: Mermaid Poetry, and the Canadian journals PRISM International, Grain, and Fiddlehead. Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poems including Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press, 2014); The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press, 2010), a finalist for the Washington State Book Award; Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006); and The Cartographer’s Tongue (White Pine Press, 2000), winner of the PEN USA Award. Harold Taw’s debut novel, Adventures of the Karaoke King, was published by Lake Union Publishing in 2011. His writing has been featured on NPR, in a New York Times bestselling anthology, and in the Seattle Times. Harold is currently writing a novel about a turbulent adolescence in Southeast Asia and collaborating on a musical adaption of Jane Austen’sPersuasion.
WordsWest Staff

Saturday, October 17, 2015

White Pine Press Poetry Prize is Open!

Now is the time to send your manuscript to the White Pine Poetry Prize contest. You can check out White Pine's track record over the past years. In terms of diversity, there is more gender balance than most presses and some racial diversity as well. In the interest of full disclosure, White Pine is the press that I have published with since 2000. The sustained belief in its authors is another reason to trust your work to White Pine Press. Take a look at past winners, guidelines,  and upcoming deadline. Why not? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to Publish Your Poems --- And Have Fun At the Same Time

When I was little, my family loved to take long road trips. In late summer, my sister, parents and I would load up the Pontiac and head for our cousins in St. Louis --- by way of Niagara Falls. Perhaps to buy themselves some peace, perhaps because the giant cards were free from AAA, my parents taught us to play the license plate game.

I think it was the bright colors on the different plates or the speed with which the cars raced by but somehow I fell in love. It was as if my stamp albums had taken flight. That same sense of adventure and travel. I remember the out-of-body thrill of seeing Alaska soar by --- I saw it first, not my older sister.

Many years later, when I first started sending out my poems, I needed a way to enjoy this somewhat humbling task. I started with journals in states I'd never been -- the Alaska Quarterly Review was one of the first journals to accept my work. Receiving the letter at my apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was thrilled. Since that time I've moved from the East Coast to Oregon and later, South Africa. I worked in Bosnia Herzegovina and Gaza but I' never stopped playing my own version of license plate poetry.

This version of submitting my work kept me from taking the submission process too seriously; it was just a game! Perhaps the New Yorker said no, but Roger in Rhode Island said yes -- in what looks to be their final issue. I wonder how other writers decide where to send their work? For me,  focusing on the map made sense. It was as if I were traveling my own poetic globe, playing the publishing game in my own way.

As of today, there is one more state to go. Hello, Kansas!

I'll admit to a feeling of dread when I think the game might be up. It's been 18 years since I began publishing poems across the country and I'm not sure what I'll do when the map is complete. Most likely, I'll start on a world map. I've got Canada, Ireland and Slovenia down, just a few more countries to go...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Happy International Day of the Girl

Today is the 3rd International Day of the Girl

Michelle Obama is grooving to the tunes of Beyonce, Demi Lovato and Esperanza Spalding as she celebrates the International Day of the Girl.

The White House released the first lady's music playlist on Spotify Sunday, which the U.N. has designated annually to promote awareness for gender inequality around the world.

Mrs. Obama's playlist includes pop hits like Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" and "Bang Bang" by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. The first lady notes "girl power" with songs by girl groups including TLC's "No Scrubs" and "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. The playlist also includes some soulful tunes by Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Billie Holiday.

Mrs. Obama is promoting the "Let Girls Learn" campaign to encourage girls' education around the world.
Michelle Obama on International Girls' Day

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interview with Katie Woodzick - Actor, Poet, Person Extraordinare

Katie Woodzick 

Katie Woodzick is Hedgebrook's External Relations Manager involved in all aspects of Communications and Development. Katie was kind enough to answer the questions I had for her after my Women In the Arts class at Highline College started wondering about what was going on for women artists today. It seems some students don't think the problem of gender inequity still exists.

In August 1988, Hedgebrook opened to its first session of writers. Over time, more than 1500 writers have lived and worked in Hedgebrook’s cottages, generating thousands of novels, poems, plays, screenplays, memoirs, works of non-fiction. Literally millions of people have experienced the work that has been generated in our cottages. Our Farmhouse library is full of their books, and we happily promote every new release to our community of avid readers.

We call the care and nurturing writers receive in residence “radical hospitality,” since it enables a woman writer to go to the places she needs to go, however dark or challenging, to tell her story. The impact of this gift is manifold: everyone who encounters this writer and her work is a recipient of her experience—of being recognized and valued for her work.

1. Hedgebrook is a writing retreat particularly for women. Why is the Hedgebrook experience only available for women and not men?
Nancy Nordhoff bought the 48 acres that would become Hedgebrook in the 1980s. She originally purchased it to live on herself, but found that the land spoke to her and wanted to be something else. It wanted to be a place to support women artists. I believe there was an aspect of practicality that was taken into account: visual and performance artists need more tools and space than writers do. Hedgebrook was founded with the belief that if you give a woman writer the gift of time to write away from the distractions of everyday life and let her know her voice is important and needs to be heard, she will write extraordinary things.
I am hopeful that gender roles and expectations will continue to evolve as time goes on, but for the most part, women are the caretakers in society. There are multiple studies that show that women still take on the majority of housework and childcare ( (Links to an external site.)) Hedgebrook is a space where they don't have to do any of that. This philosophy of taking care of the caretaker is called radical hospitality. 
I'm struck by the story of a writer who came to Hedgebrook last year and left her child with her husband. Her parents came to stay at their house to help her husband. (Already, look at that math, right? It took THREE people to replace the amount of housework and childcare for which she was normally responsible.) Ultimately, the husband and his in-laws couldn't get along, and the husband asked the in-laws to stay at a hotel instead. But tried not to tell his wife for as long as possible--not because he was worried about her being upset at the conflict, but because he was worried that she would come home early.
Giving women writers a cottage of their own to write in away from the responsibilities of daily life is a revolutionary act. That's the simple answer. 

2. In 2015, don't women and men have equal opportunity in the publishing business?

In my opinion, there are two answers to this question:
1: If a woman submits her work to a publication and gets a response along the lines of "this wasn't quite what we were looking for, but we'd like to see other work," she's more likely to consider that a rejection and wait a while to send more work in, or even submit at all. A male writer having that same interaction will most likely submit other work by the end of the week. I don't have a study to link for this part of the answer, but I do have anecdotal evidence from half a dozen editors. And it makes sense: in Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites a study about job searches: men will apply for a job, even though they don't have all of the qualifications, whereas most women will only apply if they feel they have a majority of the desired qualifications. 
This is all to say that sometimes women get in our own way when it comes to submitting. I have a friend who jokingly says the following to me when I'm being timid: "Now, Katie, what would a mediocre white man do?"
It goes back to the cultural expectation of girls being "sugar and spice and everything nice." From an early age, women are often socialized to be pleasant and quiet. (Have you ever been told that "it wouldn't hurt you to smile more"? I know I have...) I love the story from Tina Fey's book Bossypants, where she remembers a situation in the SNL writers room where Jimmy Fallon was taken aback by Amy Poehler swearing and said "Stop it, I don't like that!" And she whipped around and said "I don't care if you like it!" 
It's not the truth for everyone, and I am hopeful that the tides are changing--I am inspired by writers like Ijeoma Oluo and Lindy West who are fiercely authentic and unapologetic. I don't feel like I had role models like that growing up and I'm happy that the next generation has these examples of feminist firebrands. 
So, overall, it seems to me that women aren't as aggressive in submitting their work, which is part one of the problem...BUT:
2: Readers are unconsciously biased to prefer works written by men. 
Alumna Joy Meads wrote this fantastic article recently for American Theatre: (Links to an external site.) Studies show that the SAME PAPER is judged more harshly if the readers believe the writer to be female. This is further corroborated by Catherine Nichols, who sent out her novel query under both her name and a male pseudonym: (Links to an external site.) She writes: "He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book." Same manuscript. Same query letter.
I wish I had a magic wand and could tell you what the solution is. I think it's helpful to start with the numbers. Organizations like VIDA ( (Links to an external site.)) are great resources. It's hard to get mad AT numbers. But if you show an editor or publisher the numbers, they may start to examine their biases more carefully. Social media has been extremely helpful in spreading the word about publishing inequalities and it's a great megaphone for audiences to use. Express that you want to see more books, articles, plays, films written by women. Let publishers/theatres/journals/producers know that you NOTICE inequalities and expect to see positive change. 

3. In your time at Hedgebrook, can you tell us about the kinds of transformations that happen for the women? Perhaps one story of how a retreat for women created change?

The phrase I hear most often from Alumnae is "Hedgebrook was the first place where I considered myself a writer." 
By definition, a writer is anyone who writes., but it can be challenging to claim the name of writer. We're hesitant to do it until we've been published. Truthfully, I didn't consider myself a writer before I started working at Hedgebrook ( (Links to an external site.)). There's something magical about the place: the huge writing desk in the cottages and a community that keeps asking "What are you working on right now?" 
Last year, we had a writer who came to Hedgebrook and had never submitted any of her writing for publication before. Writing had been a private avocation for her. With the support of her community at Hedgebrook, she submitted to short story contest and WON. 
When a woman leaves Hedgebrook, there is no doubt in her mind that she is a WRITER.

4. Do you believe women write different books than men do?

I think that each writer's process is unique and that I haven't noticed gendered differences in the writing process itself. That being said, I believe women can have more impediments than men overall to find time and space to write. 

5. What have I forgotten to ask you? What else might you like to share about Hedgebrook? Are there opportunities for young writers?
I want to reinforce Hedgebrook serves writers working in all genres at all levels of experience. You can apply for a residency if you're 18 or older. Yes, the application process for the Writers in Residence program is competitive, but your writing has an equal chance of advancing through the selection process. You never know who will be moved by your work.
I think that's a great philosophy to keep in mind as a writer (or any artist): share your work, because it may inspire/delight/save/heal someone. With both my writing (Links to an external site.) and my podcast (Links to an external site.) I have found that weeks or months after posting something, I'll have someone reach out to say that that poem, essay, interview was something that was important for them to experience. 
We live in a world where technology allows us to be more connected than ever, and yet we still yearn for authentic connections with other humans. Making art is one of the last brave things we get to do. I'll close with a fantastic mantra introduced to me by actress Angela DiMarco: "Don't wait, create." 

Writer's Cottage at Hedgebrook

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ideas On Writing: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou in 1986,  the year she published All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain
and goes straight to the heart. 
—Maya Angelou

Monday, September 21, 2015

What Makes a Writing Retreat Ridiculously Wonderful: Poets On the Coast Year 5

Kelli and me at the evening reception
Year 5! For five years we have led workshops, offered advice on the writing life, provided one-on-one brainstorming sessions and supplied many snacks to an amazing array of women poets ranging in age from 21 to 79. From all corners of the country and even a few internationals, women have joined us for a long weekend of writing and community.

Who could have predicted it? Not us.

We began with a simple idea over a glass of wine. What if we created the retreat that would have benefited us as we began our writing lives? What if we could focus on nurturing writers? What might happen?

One thing I've learned is that offering support and poetic love to the women that appear each year creates energy -- not just for the women but for Kelli and me as facilitators.  A good portion of the women return each September and the change in their poetry and their confidence is palpable. Some women have used the retreat as a launch pad to enter MFA programs (after raising families) and some women view Poets On the Coast as its own kind of graduate program --- one filled with gift giving and generosity.

Each year we try to expand our programs so that nothing ever feels "so last year." this year we added a public reading at the local Methodist Church where Naomi Shihab Nye and other Skagit River Poetry Festival poets have read. For the second year we've partnered with the Museum of Northwest Art for an ekphrastic session of poetry centered around their exhibits which can be viewed on the museum's website.

Poets on the Coast,  2011
Five years is a long time in my world. In this time it feels that the Poets On the Coast have grown-up together. We began with 18 women showing up for an unknown weekend and this year 30 women joined us in La Conner, WA --- many of the women returning for a 2nd, 3rd, 4, or 5th time. We celebrated with a sit down dinner in the garden of the oldest house in town, the wonderful Katy's Inn. There were toasts, singing, and celebrating well into the night.

The town of La Conner has embraced us and we are thankful. There's a river path that runs though town and from the balcony of the Channel Lodge poets can watch herons and eagles soar. It is a town made for poetry.

I've thought a good deal about why we've been successful in creating Poets On the Coast. A few things stand out: we attract amazing women with generous hearts; Kelli and I honestly love creating the best experience we can for supporting women writers; and most importantly, something magical happens when we write together. It's as if the ideas and words of each woman becomes part of a collective unconscious and we all are lifted into better poems. It sounds a bit woo-woo to my ear and yet it's true. Our collective is stronger than the sum of its parts.

I keep thinking of the movie about the guy who loves baseball and creates a beautiful diamond outside his house: "If you build it they will come." And that's what's happened here. Poets On the Coast is not just a weekend but a frame of mind. Friendships, writing groups, tips on publications and many other things continue throughout the year. And of course, we are already planning for next year. Feel free to join us if you are a woman poet -- we'd love to have you. Check it out and scroll down the page for Frequently Asked Questions.

Class of 2015