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 (http://www.thenation.com/article/why-it-matters-women-do-most-housework/ (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: http://www.americantheatre.org/byline/joy-meads/ (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: http://jezebel.com/homme-de-plume-what-i-learned-sending-my-novel-out-und-1720637627 (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 (http://www.vidaweb.org/ (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 (http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/claiming-the-name-of-writer (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 writinghttp://woodzickwrites.wordpress.com/ (Links to an external site.) and my podcast http://theatricalmustang.podbean.com/ (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