Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A New Poem from Sweet: A Literary Confection

I'm very thankful to have a new poem "Not Monet's Giverny" up at Sweet: A Literary Confection. Some poems cost us more than the sum of their parts. We needed to live through the experience in order to make art of it in some future decade.

I've no idea if this is a "good" poem or not. I've no ability to see it clearly, not yet. But I do know that the experience that the poem grew out of, twenty-nine years ago is just as vivid to me as what I see out the window right now. Twenty-nine years is a long time and no time at all. But you knew this already.

A huge thanks go to Katherine Reigel, editor of Sweet: A Literary Confection. Happy, too, to be in the same issue with Brenda Miller and Lee Gulyas.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist with Kirun Kapur

An exceptional first book by Kirun Kapur
Certainly this cover grabbed my full attention even before I was treated to the poems inside."Heart is Not Ten or Twenty" is the title and the artist,  S. H. Raza is a fascinating Indian painter who lived much of his life in France and then went back to India consciously ready to reinvent his art.

In Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist the reader understands the importance of (re)invention.  In Kirun Kapur's debut collection, family stories of emigration and war shake hands with Chips Ahoy and the afterlife. There is much to admire in this heady mix of three generations moving across the page. A sense of (dis)location helps to create Kapur's surreal voice that this reader finds very appealing.

I want to look at two poems that will provide a sort of sliding scale for this book; poems that vary stylistically both in form and register. "My Father's Hopscotch" moves back and forth from literal geography: "Five rooftops---wide and flat ...Five rivers in the Punjab" to the hopscotch of global politics and pending war which comes together in the final stanza:

The infantry is restless. Rumors in the street.
Some rumbling, a mutiny: the East is lost,
turn back, return to Greece. Roof to roof,
he leaps, he presses across the map.

Clearly Elizabeth Bishop's "The Map" and "Geography III" are also pressing on this poem --- in a very good way. The poem is filled with internal rhyme "street / mutiny / Greece" and there's an iambic ghost throughout much of the poem. I admit that the poems looking back on the speaker's father are among my favorite. The intermingling of history and family, father and daughter is a personal preference. Having admitted that, I almost want to take it back because what I love about these poems is how well they're written. No sentimentality; no easy escapes.

The poem "Nobody Nation" is written in flash points of an extended compass: west, east, north, south, and pacific. The notes at the back of the collection offer that Kapur's poem was inspired by Derek Walcott's famous line, "I'm nobody or I'm a nation" in his amazing poem, Schooner Flight. In Kapur's five sections we watch as a child learns the ugly indignities of racism along an Arizona highway, in a history book, and while working for a wealthy couple. Yet, in the last section the father is sworn in as (we assume) a US citizen. And he has the last word: I keep the good lines for myself. 

From the independence of a nation as India breaks away from Great Britain, to the growth of an educated family living in exile, this book offers me (and I suspect many American citizens) a new window into the world. These are complex poems that I've returned to several times over the last few months. Poems that I believe will stay with me for a long time to come.

Kirun Kapur is a multi-talented poet able to write well in many different forms. This will benefit her (and us as readers) as she continues her career. This is a poet we are sure to hear more from. The poems are necessary --- smart and funny. And very clearly poems for these times.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Katie Woodzick Interviews Me at the House of Sky

Sweet Peas from the House of Sky's garden
              An old postcard of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova appears in the left foreground of the frame, just in front of a souvenir print of a trip to the Aran Islands. Yet, these days, I seem pretty content in my own backyard --- in a converted garage-now-writing studio called House of Sky. (My friend Kelli Russell Agodon writes in her backyard at House of Sea.) This past weekend, Katie Woodzick, podcast host extraordinaire (and actor, director, poet) came out to West Seattle to interview me in my natural habitat. Feel free to listen as you cook dinner or pet your cat. Great background sound. You can listen here.

           Some of the things we talk about include:

          Kelli Russell Agodon as Harriet the Spy
          Poetry as a lover
          United States Peace Corps
          Poets on the Coast
          House of Sky (how to build a writing studio)
          South Africa
          The Improbable Places Poetry + 1 Tour
          Madeline DeFrees
          My third grade teacher, Miss Schiavo
          My eighth grade teacher, Mr. Katz
          Elizabeth Austen
          Prairie fires
          Linda Pastan
          Robert Lamirande
          Kathleen Flenniken

         Thank you to Katie for being such a great interviewer. Such a pleasure to talk with you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Announcing the Russell - Rich Scholarship

Open the door to your creative life

Once upon a time, two women had an idea. What if they could create the perfect writing retreat? Of course there would be chocolate and good things to eat; there would also be a profound respect for each and every participant who chose to join us. We'd give gifts to everyone and include a one-on-one session so that each woman had time alone to ask her questions. And somehow, we did it. Through prairie fires and lightening storms, through lots of laughter and growth, we have manifested the retreat weekend we'd dreamed of creating. There is even now an additional day for those who want a longer experience.

This year we are making public something that we've done privately from time to time: we're offering one woman a full scholarship (worth around $400) to join us. Over the years we've seen what a weekend of creative work and community can do for a woman's spirit / sense of self. We'd love to offer this opportunity to you. Here are the details: send three poems along with a paragraph of "Why Poets on the Coast? Why Now? to us by July 3rd. Here are all the details at our website.  If your writing needs a kickstart or the promise of a weekend of poetry sounds delightful, why not write us?