Monday, August 31, 2015

Breaking News (In My World) - Reading at BPL

Boston Public Library Reading Room, 2010
I took this photograph of the Boston Public Library Reading Room when I visited Boston and Cambridge on a book tour in 2010. I visited the courtyard, the map cafe, and this awe inspiring reading room. I photographed the frescoes and saw original copies of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the letters of Emily Dickinson. It was a somewhat surreal experience of bringing my childhood and adulthood into one focus.

I grew up just a few miles from here and as a child, this library represented everything good and true about the world. It was also a bit intimidating. I thought of it as a museum for the mind --- a place where I attended summer programs and when I was a bit older, wandered exhibits and wondered at the people who seemed at ease inside this building --- this building which was always under construction! This space where supposed Boston Brahmins moved effortlessly alongside Boston's homeless population. Without knowing the words, I knew this was an important democratic space for all. A place I wanted to be part of in some way.

And now I will be reading my poems here on Thursday, November 12th @ 6:00 pm. There will be more details to follow once the announcement is made. For now I will just mention that this will happen in connection with the opening of the exhibit titled "Women in Cartography" curated and organized by Alice Hudson, former Chief of Map Collections at the New York Public Library.

I couldn't be happier.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cloud Pharmacy reviewed in Poetry Northwest

Cloud Pharmacy reviewed!
Thanks to Katy E. Ellis for such a thoughtful review in Poetry Northwest. A year after the collection has been released~ it's a lovely surprise. Here is a quote from Ellis:

Cloud Pharmacy pulls the reader through a satisfying storm of honest self-reflection. In the end, as fires wane and blue returns, we feel the speaker’s bravery as she faces life after the mid-point. Rich includes the reader in the hard-won declaration: Who says we can’t have it all: the house of sky and soft catcalls

To read the rest of her review, click here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tips: A New Tape Measure For Measuring Success -- In Poetry

What does success taste like?

The word success immediately evokes an image in my mind of many shiny objects: a host of silver coins spiraling along a calm ocean, dazzling, against an endless blue sky.

Okay. Let’s face it, this image is somewhat cheesy and a tad embarrassing, although I also believe it to be true. I’ve created my own concept of success. One with no sign of a genius award or photo shoot with Vogue.

Instead, I imagine a calm seascape with enough silver dollars to purchase all the saltwater taffy, mary janes, and good’n’plenty I can eat. I imagine a light jacket of contentment at the end of a long summer’s day. I imagine the flash of happiness generated by the next poem I will write. And the next.

In fact, I like to play with the idea of success.

I consciously work to change the stakes as I go along. For example, instead of thinking that publishing in the New Yorker is the only measure for success, I create my own definition and work to publish poems in each state in the country. I begin with Alaska, Oklahoma, and West Virginia; each state a place I have never traveled to--- or at least not yet.

And I love that my individual poems can travel and find audiences in states I’ve yet to see. 

A few decades on, I have published poems in 47 different states and 7 countries. Now Delaware, Kansas, and North Dakota are the publication trophies I most want. Publishing in these three states is an important definition of success for me.

One writer friend told me she fell into a deep depression after her book came out. All those years of writing, revising, the sweet note of acceptance, then choosing a book cover, blurbs and finally her book launched at her favorite bookseller’s. The sales were brisk! Everyone she knew was there! But she found herself wondering a few weeks later: why is it not on the New York Times Bestseller list? Where is the nomination for her Pulitzer?

The problem is we have only so much control over what happens to our books once they are born. 

When The Alchemist’s Kitchen came out, I organized a three city West Coast – East Coast tour with readings and talks at over 7 different venues in 10 days. Now, five years later, when I look back at that expenditure of time, money and heart, I am happy with the experience. Was I nominated for the National Book Award? No. Was I discovered by a big time poetry scout? No.

I see my poetry tour as a success because I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, tasted good food, created new audiences for my work and most of all—had fun. 

Finding joy is what you must you do for your book and for yourself. I can think of no better measuring tape for life.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with winning an award. However, my strong sense is that running after these prizes is a recipe for hurt. Perhaps you are a finalist for a big award but you don’t win; how to calibrate the happiness factor versus the disappointment?

One thing is for sure: you must not measure your books success by the number of book sales. Of course you should do readings when the book comes out and send announcements to your community. Working to promote your book is good citizenship but that is different than determining your worth by a ranking number.

Reducing yourself to a number is exactly what you don't want to do.

What I want to say is: there are 1001 different ways to feel successful. 
You choose your own adventure.

When I receive a note from a stranger to tell me they were moved by a specific poem or they are in need of a poem they heard me read years ago in a different country --- this is the biggest success. My words reached into another person’s life and took-up residence. What could be better? A trophy? A fat check? Maybe. Or maybe not. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

My First Video Poem - Try To Be Done Now With Words - by Carol Sawyer

Try To Be Done Now With Words from Carol Elinor Sawyer on Vimeo.

Don't let the "Sorry" fool you, you can watch "Try To Be Done Now With Words" on the vimeo site and I so hope you do --- we need your input!

Carol Sawyer and I would like to know if you think this video needs music and if it does, what kind of music would you suggest? I imagine music of the natural world -- but what kind?

Thanks for any thoughts or ideas you might have. 

It's a CRIME not to read this...

I love my job as Poetry Editor for The Human

Hot off the press is The Human journal's  Crime Writing Special Issue  including crime poetry. True confession: I have always wanted to work as a private detective. In fact, I think that the skills that one needs to be a good writer (salient details, creativity, imagination, focus) might really come in handy.

Perhaps I need a business card, The Poet's Private Detective, for uncovering metaphors and searching out lost hyphens. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this amazing special issue edited by Rebecca Martin (everything but the poetry).

And to whet your appetite, here is the beginning of the poem "Theft" by Cindy Veach.


How I came down from Quebec to work in the mills—
How I never imagined it would be such hell.
How industry. How factory bell. How many miles
of cloth I conjured from the bloody cotton.
How my eyes couldn’t get enough
of the one window—the Great Out There. How I lied—
about a cloudless sky; there was one solitary cloud
far up in the cerulean vault. How I schemed to leave—
steal my wages instead of sending them back home

for the rest of the poem, click here

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Naomi Shihab Nye on The Art of Revision

I love this short talk by Naomi Shihab Nye on the Art of Revision. Find out what Richard Blanco did right before taking the stage at President Obama's inauguration...