Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year Means Happy Poets on the Coast Lowest Price!

You Don't Have To Be Alone All of the Time

This is Alexandra David-Neel, a Belgian-French writer, explorer, spiritualist and some thought, anarchist. She was best known for visiting Tibet in 1921 when it was forbidden to foreigners.  Disguised as a man, of course.

What does she have to do with Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women? The women who come to Poets on the Coast, September 8th - 10th, this year, are explorers, creative, poets at all points in their careers ---- from beginners to advanced. This weekend may be one woman's first time calling herself a poet and another poet's return visit with several books to her name. 

No matter where you are in your poetic practice, this weekend co-directed by Keli Russell Agodon (poet and publisher) and me is filled with writing workshops, optional poets yoga, walking the river path, visiting the Museum of Northwest Art, or simply connecting with other women writers is certain to inspire you.

You will return home with the starts of many poems, new poetry gifts (both literal and metaphorical), and a possible publication on the Museum of Northwest Art (MONA) website.

Now in our 7th year, we have Elizabeth Austen joining us for a workshop on Saturday afternoon. She will also be taking some one-on-one conferences --- a favorite part of the conference for many --- and included in the registration price. We accept poets on a first come basis and we are already halfway to our maximum number of women!

To read our Frequently Asked Questions and find out more details about La Conner, WA (an easy 90 minute van ride from the airport) please click here. 

Each year we have had a near perfect mix of returning poets and new poets. It keeps the group new and established all at once. Poets ranged in age last year from 21 to 80. Whatever age you are and wherever you are on your poetic path --- we would love to have you join us.

Registration fees go up on January 3rd. Register now by check or PayPal for the best prices we offer. Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sneak Preview: Remedios Varo ~ My Newest Crush in the World of Women Artists

Explorations of the Oronoco

Remedios Varo (1908-1963) was a 20th century painter who defies categorization. Her work is influenced by alchemists, other painters,  philosophers, psychologists, surrealists and for lack of a better term, free thinkers., Along with the painter, Leonora Carrrington, and the photographer, Kati Horna, Varo formed a triad of women artists whose friendship is documented and illustrated in the book, Surreal Friends. The fact that these artists are not better known in North America, amazes me. Varos has been recently described as a "post modern surrealist," and I strongly suspect we will hear more about these artists in the next decade. In Mexico and in Europe they are better known, but as with many things we in the US seem to be the last to understand.

The Star Maker

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Mother Returns from the Dead to Appear on Oprah

Thank you 101 times to the Mom Egg Review for publishing my poem, "My Mother Returns from the Dead to Appear on Oprah." Somehow I don't think she would be very amused. Well maybe a little bit about the dromedary.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Significant Women of the Sound --- Kelsey Par

This is the part of the world where I live

Last spring, a new student arrived in my Film Studies 105 class at Highline College whose writing stood out due to its sophisticated analysis of film theory and related life experience. Before I could connect the woman with the work, I knew the writer was exceptional. Slowly, I've enjoyed coming to know the woman behind the words: Kelsey Par.

Now jump forward six months and Kelsey has transformed from a quiet front row student to a news editor of the college paper, writing consultant at the writing center, and first prize winner in the Highline Film Festival. For now, I think she's found her stride in both creative and practical endeavors. Today Kelsey launches Significant Women of the Sound. The Puget Sound is where we are lucky enough to live (see image above). 

I volunteered to be Kelsey's first subject but I look forward to all the women of the Sound to come. Here's to Kelsey ---- a most significant Woman of the Sound!

"As an undergraduate, I didn't really see the point of investing in my education. How was Botany going to help me become a writer? It's ironic that in order to graduate from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst on-time, I needed to do the Honors Program. Honors meant I could skip taking Mathematics and a few other college requirements. I kept my grades up simply because I wanted to graduate early. Five years later, when I decided to apply to ....

To read the rest of my college dropout story, go to Significant Women of the Sound by Kelsey Par

Sunday, November 20, 2016

News in My Small Corner of the Poetry World

Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Caught in a Kiss

One of the better things happening in the 21st century is the proliferation of small presses. One such press is Terrapin Books, the brainchild of poet Diane Lockward. Diane's first anthology with the press is The Doll Collection which came out earlier this year. With all the craziness in the air these days, I am thrilled to be able to focus on a bit of good news. I've just been told that my poem "Potato Head" first published in The Doll Collection has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Terrapin Books.

This is a beautiful collection of poems with work from Denise Duhamel, Richard Garcia, Mary Ellen Talley, Ingrid Wendt, and Cecilia Woloch among many others. If you are looking for a holiday gift, this would be a good place to start.

Here is my contribution to the collection; I hope you enjoy. Are there still any Howard Johnson's left? The orange and blue signs were scattered across New England promising ice cream and a clean place to sleep. Sweetheart soap was a chidlhood obsession. 

Potato Head

I’ve told you where I’m coming from

so you can piece it together:

Mr. Potato Head sessions with

         Mrs. Potato Head arguing over

         the grocery bill, sex, the imminent

         shut off of the heat. Here in the basement

of grey cement and bare bulbs,

we jabbed plastic spikes deep into Idaho

spuds, added enormous eyes and ears,

       yarmulkes and long beards.

      In the coldness of that house

      I built an empire of miniature soaps

from budget inns and Howard Johnson's

for Mrs. Potato Head to drown

in dishwater: her cups and plates dripping

     Sweetheart clean. We played and played

     not knowing the lives we were inventing

     were old flimflam landscapes

of too much work for not enough pay.

Though sometimes we’d borrow an orange

from the fruit bowl and give it a small hat,

      toothpick legs, and blue magic

      marker boots. We didn’t need maps

      or mirrors to find a way out of the echo

chambers of childhood – just

a vegetable and a fruit repurposed

for two Jewish girls in a basement

      trying with spells and with death-

      defying stubbornness, so hard

     to reshape the afternoon blues.

                    Susan Rich, The Doll Collection, edited by Diane Lockward

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Morning Poetry Prompt with January O'Neil

If you read The Alchemist's Kitchen, you know that I am a huge fan of January O'Neil's poetry. She has the ability to render complex emotions in a deceivingly accessible poem --- and make you recognize yourself in the process.

In her most recent book, Misery Islands, O'Neil imagines a future where her children will write the tell all book of their childhood -- a sort of Mommy Dearest for the 21st century. Of course, O'Neil is a very different kind of mother --- a loving, if sometimes distracted, single mom. In the poem, her children turn to raisins while the speaker watches baseball or they complain that she "would rather write than speak."

When January O'Neil came to Highline College where I teach, I studied Misery Islands with my creative writing students. For many of them, it was their first time writing poems. Since only a few of them are parents, we decided to switch the title to "What My Mother Will Write About Me in Her Tell-All Future Book." These were some of the strongest pieces of they wrote all quarter. The mix of humor and pathos appealed to them --- and of course "telling" on their mother seemed to be great fun.

I also offer the option of writing about a father or grandmother or big sister --- clearly not everyone will have a mother to write about. I  use this exercise every quarter and the results are always amazing. Students are excited that they've written something about someone they care about --- and O'Neil's poem as a model keeps them from getting too syrupy.

I've also po-jacked this poem and tweaked it a little: "My Mother Returns from the Dead to Appear on Oprah." But that will wait for another posting. For now,  enjoy this poem and try a "tell-all" poem of your own. 

What My Kids Will Write about Me in Their Future Tell-All Book

They will say that no was my favorite word,
more than stop, or eat, or love.

That some mornings, I’d 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 read the rest of this poem go to the Cavaan Kerry website. This includes an interview with January O'Neil by Nin Andrews.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Poets on the Coast - Special Guest Star!

BREAKING NEWS!  We are wildly happy to announce that for our 7th year at Poets on the Coast, in La Conner, WA, Elizabeth Austen, Poet Laureate of Washington State (2014-2016) will be joining us. We will continue our traditions of one on one consultations, art museum visits, and an assortment of classes on generating new work.

On the second weekend in September, September 8th - 10th,  an intimate group of poets from around the country (and Canada) will come together to talk, write, and breathe poetry. However, what seems just as important each year is the community that we build. Poets who meet at Poets on the Coast create writing groups, build friendships, and encourage each others growth as poets.

Registration is open and this event sells out every year. We also offer the Russell - Rich Scholarship. If you are a woman who wants to deepen her poetry practice, please think about joining us! Right now are the lowest rates for the weekend; they will increase as of January 2017. Why wait? We would love to have you join us at Poets on the Coast for our 7th year celebration.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pomegranate, Radio On - for Madeline DeFrees - What Do You Think

Here's my poem for Madeline DeFrees made into a short film. I have mixed feelings about it. While I am thankful to Helen Magazine for publishing this poem set to images and music, the blatant ignoring of all line breaks feels like a kind of violence has been done to the poem. This is a poem dedicated to my most important poetry teacher, Madeline DeFrees who mentored me when I was a young poet in Massachusetts and who, a few decades later, connected with me in Seattle.

Pomegranate, Radio On

for madeline defrees

Begin with the fruit in your hands—
hold the weight of its rough skin,
its nested, cell interior.

Take your time.

Choose a lilac
blue bowl; pull your sharpest knife
from the cutlery drawer.

This has become your life, not the headlines

but the fine print
of the back pages. Read
slowly the small, good stories—

each seed another worldly

exchange. You’re here
at the sink caressing—
there’s no other word—

until the dazzling light lets go.

Until surreal tomorrows extend—
beyond sustenance, beyond juice,
stained fingers, stained news.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

My Foray into Journalism: The Seattle Review of Books

I've always harbored the fantasy of working as a private detective. I love the idea of interviewing people and fitting the pieces of a psychological puzzle together. Conducting radio interviews was my favorite task as curator for the Jack Straw Writers Program. Jack Straw invites one curator to lead a team of a dozen writers for a year. Writers learn how to give readings, create community, and at the end of the year celebrate with an anthology and a reading series around the city. Jack Straw applications are being accepted now!

So when the Seattle Review of Books asked me to write an article about the controversial requirements of the Washington Book Awards (authors born in the state are eligible even if they no longer live in the state. Authors who live in the state must have lived here for three years.) This year, three of the five poets nominated live out of state and have for several years --- if not since birth.

I loved writing this piece but what I learned in the process is that journalism (unless its interviewing poets on their work) is not for me. While I received an enormous amount of support and thanks from many people who had felt hurt and helpless in the light of this year's announcement of nominees (no winner announced until October 8th) I also received some pointed backlash. Who knew people in the literary community could be so mean?

The Seattle Review of Books asked me to write about this birth right rule and my hope is that by pointing out the injustice implicit in how we choose nominees, there might be a reexamining of such requirements in the future. Since the Washington Book Awards began nearly 50 years ago as the Governor's Awards, I suspect there was a clear bias towards Washington natives, a subtle (or not so subtle) way to keep newcomers at a disadvantage.

We aren't wearing the same fashions as 50 years ago nor do we live in the same way (think no home computers, no cell phones, no same sex marriage, no American Disabilities Act) so why not review the rules surrounding eligibility for this important prize?

If you care about this issue please consider writing a brief email to the Seattle Library Foundation.
Emails can be found at the end of the page.

Here is the opening to my article:

Why does Carl Phillips need the Washington State Book Award?

The truth is, he doesn’t. In fact, Carl Phillips is confused about the controversy his nomination is causing among Washington state poets. When I spoke with Phillips this morning he mentioned his total surprise and delight when informed by his publisher that his book Renaissance was nominated for this year’s Washington State Book Award. He went on to say that the book was submitted by his publisher, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. “It wouldn’t have occurred to me,” to send the book, he said, and followed up with how honored he felt. And why would Carl Phillips believe he was eligible? Phillips left the state a little less than a year after his birth and has returned exactly twice – once for the recent AWP in Seattle and once to board a cruise ship. He doesn’t think he will be able to attend the October 8th award ceremonies.

The real problem is not his nomination — Phillips is a lovely man and an extraordinarily gifted lyric poet, he deserves many awards. But for this year’s Washington State Book Award in Poetry, three out of the five finalists do not live in Washington State. They are residents of Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah.

 To continue reading, click here!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Thank you to the Saturday Poem - As Things Ought To Be

I studiously avoided thinking about the 15th anniversary of September 11th. 

Instead I co-lead, along with Kelli Russell Agodon, Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women. This year, my September 11th was filled up by thirty women poets writing, laughing, and learning together. 

I did such a good job focusing on women poets and not past horrors that I was surprised when "Mohamud at the Mosque" was chosen for the Saturday poem, As It Ought To Be

I began this poem 6 months after September 11th 2001 and finished it more than a year later. When I sent the poem out to magazines for publication, no one wanted it. Eventually, I was honored to have Poetry International choose to publish "Mohamud at the Mosque"  and a few years later it appeared in my second book, Cures Include Travel. 

So more than ten years after its first publication, here it is again.

By Susan Rich

          ~ for my student upon his graduation

And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –

if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.
And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –

the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker –

Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly

                    to continue reading, click here

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Who is your dead mentor poet? Mine is Elizabeth Bishop

From the Documentary, "Welcome to This House"

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is a poet I have admired for several decades, ever since I read her poem, "The Map" and then went in search of Questions of Travel and Geography III.

Here are poems of equal parts music, feeling, and meaning. Here are poems that could break your heart. "Awful but cheerful" are the words engraved on Bishop's tombstone in Worcester, Massachusetts. Bishop's childhood has been well documented as "awful" and her later life often ruled by her dual demons of drugs and alcohol. But these facts do little to explain her extraordinary genius with words. In fact, I fell in love with her poems, not her biography. She would be pleased by this. Of the Confessional poets of her generation she once said, "Sometimes, I'd rather they kept it to themselves."

But there are stories that make me feel I would have loved her and been exasperated by her as a friend. She certainly was not easy. Perhaps I loved the fact that when she began teaching at the University of Washington, she told anyone who would listen that she had taken the job just to get the funds she needed to fix the roof of her Brazilian home. Her honesty --- and her coyness. I loved that she and Marianne Moore kept a lifetime friendship going from trips to the zoo (when they were in the same area) to long letters (when they weren't).

And like any good magic--- it's the poems themselves that have lived long inside of me. The poems that first made me want to become a poet. To try and get it right. What Bishop admired most in a poem (she said -- but she said many things) was to watch the mind in motion. That is but one of the beauties of this villanelle.

One Art

The art of loosing isn't hard to master,

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent

The art of loosing isn't hard to master.

Then practice loosing farther, loosing faster:

places and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! My last, or

next-to-the last, of three loved houses went.

The art of loosing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent

I missed them but it wasn't a disaster.

Even loosing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident

the art of losing's not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, September 5, 2016

Michelle Obama - The Poem I Keep Thinking About - January O'Neil - And a Prompt

First Lady Michelle Obama lifting some intense weight

I first read this poem a few weeks ago when it appeared on the Academy of American Poets website and I've been thinking about it ever since. In this short piece, the speaker is clearly seen as "other," albeit Michelle Obama other. How can one not be charmed to be compared to the most outstanding First Lady of our lifetime?

Although it is unstated, we can assume that the compliment comes from a white man who is perhaps "interested" in the speaker ("all night he catches sight of me") and that the speaker is a black woman.

Just past the center of the poem comes the line, that for me, the entire piece pivots on: You’re working your muscles to the point of failure. The muscles of the speaker's forced smile meet the physical muscle work of the First Lady's weight training. In both cases, the work of the day is to make body and mind unassailable - to become stronger by hovering in the place of hurt and pain.

Many years ago when I first moved to the Eugene, Oregon, from Boston, Massachusetts, I met several people who wanted to tell me about the wonderful Passover Seders they once attended. I remember being genuinely confused as to why everyone wanted to discuss Passover in September? It took me a long while before I realized that this was how these well meaning Oregonians were trying to tell me they were okay with my Jewishness. That they, too, had eaten matzo.

So what is the correct response? To feel relieved that one is not with an anti-Semite (hey, it's okay that I'm not Christian -- great) or to acknowledge that for many of us, talking about cultural difference is a clumsy business. Or to immediately feel like an outcast, an other, a person whose personhood is in question.

It's a complicated and as O'Neil states, an awkward business to respond to such a "compliment". The speaker doesn't mean to insult --- quite the opposite --- and yet the sting of not being seen for who one actually is remains in high relief.

"On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year’s Eve Party 2014," allows for that negative capability to thrive in a way that I have not ever seen so deftly handled before. And in today's political climate, I can only hope that many English classes will feature this poem as we head back to school.

On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year’s Eve Party 2014

Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen,
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.

January Gill O'Neil on the poem:

“It is a flattering comparison, but I'm keenly aware that I live in a part of the country that’s less diverse. So when people say I look like Michelle Obama, I know they are trying to make a connection with me. This poem is a recognition of the awkwardness, the effort, and the patience it takes to let the moment unfold.”
—January Gill O’Neil

Poetry Prompt: 

So if you're still reading, here's the prompt: think of a time when you've been "otherized" in some way. Perhaps it was due to your religion, race, class background or simply because of the fact that you didn't know how to swim. Begin with the incident itself and try to enter it without any sense of judgement --- be more compassionate in the poem than you might have felt in real life. Feel free to invent what you don't remember. What large idea can you end with as O'Neil does with the hard won last line of her poem.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Poem For the Final Days of Summer

Perhaps I let go of summer too quickly. There are still peaches and plums to come. In my garden the heirloom tomatoes and sun gold are still giving up their fruits each day. Here is a poem that says all I cannot say about summer. Here is a poem that has accompanied me for decades and hopefully for more decades to come...

From Blossoms

Li-Young Lee, 1957

From blossoms comes 
this brown paper bag of peaches 
we bought from the boy 
at the bend in the road where we turned toward 
signs painted Peaches. 

From laden boughs, from hands, 
from sweet fellowship in the bins, 
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent 
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all, 
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat. 

O, to take what we love inside, 
to carry within us an orchard, to eat 
not only the skin, but the shade, 
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold 
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
 the round jubilance of peach. 

There are days we live 
as if death were nowhere 
in the background; from joy to 
joy to joy, from wing to wing, 
from blossom to blossom to 
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Feeling the Fall Upon Us

'Autumn' by Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,

as if orchards were dying high in space.

Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no."

And tonight the heavy earth is falling

away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one. It's in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Recommended Books I've Read This Summer - Yay!

This summer I planned to read and read and read. My suitcase to Barcelona filled with books of poetry and novels. And yet. Most of my time has been spent traveling, seeing friends, gardening, writing, and even indulging in a bit of exercise. Perhaps this is what summer is for.

I do want to let you know I'm not a complete slacker so here are a few books I've read and enjoyed. Perhaps you might like them, too.

Minding the Muse, A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers and Other Creators by Priscilla Long is hot off the press! I bought it at Seattle's poetry bookstore, Open Books, last weekend. The store hosted three nights of consecutive good-bye / hello parties as Christine Deavel and John Marshall passed the bookstore laurel to new owner, Billie Swift. But I digress. (It was fun!)

Long's book caught my attention with its focus on several creative arts. The  quotes from Jean Miro made me take a deeper look at this slim volume of wisdom and practical ideas.

Miro's Majorca studio - NYT photo credit

"I think of my studio as a vegetable garden. Here are the artichokes, over there are the potatoes. The leaves have to be cut so the vegetables can grow. At a certain moment, you must prune." JM

I am a huge fan of Miro, of gardening, and of artists' quotes but even if you're not, Minding the Muse offers guidance on how to be a literary citizen / artist in the world. The chapters are both personal and practical in nature.

It's as if Priscilla Long has sat down on the couch beside me, offering all she knows garnered from a long life as a working artist. This is the kind of book I want to put into the hands of all my poet friends and students. It's a book I believe I'll be using in my teaching and in my own contemplation about my role as an artist for a long time to come.

And since I've mentioned my students, my next book, winner of the Claudia Emerson Chapbook Award is Drought, by M.L. Brown. Mary was a stellar student in the Antioch University, Low-Residency MFA Program where I once taught.

From the letterpress cover to the gorgeous poems inside, this is a book of the highest quality. These are spare, smart poems written out of the interior world. Poems of the mind. Elizabeth Bishop said what she wanted from a poem was to see the mind in action.

Backache: A Love Song

Lie down with me on the hard wood floor for relief---
my spine a dried bone a child could split on a wish.

Discover the dust beneath the couch---
treasure of our skin and desert duff.

Stay long enough. Let the honeysuckle take
the cellar window, crawl the gap between the door

and threshold, that through-space where wind
broadcasts leaves and seeds, lizards skitter in, out.

Let the vines reclaim us
as a leaning fence or a creaking barn---

you and I on the floor reposed,
our hard-won clearing repossessed.

                   M.L. Brown

I so admire the way this poem moves from the intensity of back pain to discovery of the dirt under the couch --- all in the service to keeping the unnamed lover beside her. As one of the final poems in this chapbook, there's a sense of hard-won relationship here. The couple will remain together "let the vines reclaim us / as a leaning fence or creaking barn" as a landscape continues on, weeds and all.

The judge for this award was well known poet and essayist Sandra Beasley. Let's hope that she can bring the wide attention to this book that it so clearly deserves. I say, you want this one in your collection. Just look at that cover!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mint. Lavender. 1000 Bells.

Mint. Lavender. 100 Bells.

So this is where I've been  spending most of my summer. I love to grow flowers, herbs, and a serious amount of tomatoes --- from black heirlooms to sun golds. Like Ross Gay, I believe that my gardening makes me a better poet.

Soon I will be posting some reviews of recent poetry books and perhaps a few thoughts on compiling my 5th manuscript. For now though, you'll find me in the garden.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Scholarship Offered to Poets on the Coast: Deadline Monday at Midnight

Come Write Along the River

The Rich-Russell Scholarship grants one woman poet a free three day registration for Poets on the Coast in the river town of La Conner, Washington. Join us for the 6th annual Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women which includes workshops on generating new work, the art of revision, morning yoga and one-on-one consultations.

The deadline for the Scholarship is this Monday at midnight. The application is easy! Please 
click here for further details.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Academy of American Poets --- Thank You

Spring must really be the season of poetry. I feel like I've joined the grown-up poets --- at least for one day. My poem, Boketto, was published in the Poem-a-Day program today. I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of emails I've received from dear friends and strangers.

The word, Boketto, is Japanese for staring without purpose. I tweaked the meaning --- as translation so often does --- to stare out windows without purpose. Thanks to January O'Neil for encouraging me to send (and re-send) my poems to Alex Dimitrov who curates Poem-a-Day.

Here are the first few lines and a link to hear me read the poem as well as a few sentences on where the idea came from.


Susan Rich

Outside my window it’s never the same—
some mornings jasmine slaps the house, some mornings sorrow.

There is a word I overheard today, meaning lost
not on a career path or across a floating bridge:

Boketto—to stare out windows without purpose.
Don’t laugh; it’s been too long since we leaned

into the morning: bird friendly coffee and blueberry toast. Awhile
since I declared myself a prophet of lost cats—blind lover

of animal fur and feral appetites. Someone should tag
a word for the calm of a long marriage. Knowledge

the heat will hold, and our lights remain on— a second

--- to read the rest of the poem tap here

Sunday, June 5, 2016

This Poem Was 40 Years in the Making - Thanks to Plume It's Here

I first met Paul on a bus. I was on my way from Boston to visit my sister in New York. Along the way, the bus broke down. No cell phones, no two way radios on board.  After awhile a blurry eyed Brit in the seat directly behind me woke up and said, "Hello." In the four extra hours we had by the side of the road a friendship formed. When I studied in England, Paul was already out of the country but his mother took care of me as if I were her own child.

Fast forward 40 years.

Thanks to the magic of FaceBook we reconnected.  This poem was inspired by a quick airport visit. This summer my partner and I will travel to London to see him and meet his family. Traveling by poem I'd call it.

Here is the poem thanks to Plume for publishing it!


I look back through the window of a Greyhound Bus
stopped by the side of the road.

Before the cell phone or CB radio—

I travel back to the boy and girl wrought golden
in this-moment-before-we-grow-old.

His earth brown eyes reveal
a passion for simple rock face,
the feel of striation beneath well-trained hands.

Along the shoulder of the Massachusetts Turnpike,
in an age before water bottles or sensible snacks,

Press here for Plume and the rest of the poem

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fellowship Offered for Poets on the Coast: 3 Day Writing Retreat for Women

Join the poets Sept 9 - 11th
Kelli Russell Agodon and I are busy organizing the 6th Poets on the Coast for September 9 -11th at the Country Inn in La Conner, WA. From one good idea over a glass of wine we've created an annual gathering of poets who come to write, learn, share, and dream ourselves into the next best poem we can write.

Each poet has an individual session with Susan or Kelli to get whatever questions answered that they most need to ask. We go on a field trip to the oldest house in La Conner (Katy's Inn)  and out to the Northwest Museum of Art. What better way then to transition from summer into fall? We have two spots left!

This year we are also offering a Fellowship which allows one poet to attend the long weekend for free! (Accommodation is separate but one Fellow decided to camp last year and another shared a room at Katy's Inn.

To apply for this years POTC Fellowship you just send us three poems and a paragraph on why this Fellowship is what you need and why you need it now. Here are the details: on our website.  You can apply now until July 18th! To simply register now for one of our last two spaces go here!

We also have a Sacred Journal workshop on Friday afternoon (September 9th). If you want to just join us for the afternoon --- Contact us via the website and we will make it happen!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two Poets Meet at the Skagit River Poetry Festival

James Crews, Poet
I love when the world makes sense. When dates and geographies collide so that two poets who previously had not known of the other's existence get a chance to meet in person at the Odd Fellows Hall in La Conner, WA.

So here's the story: a poet friend in London, Kelly Davio, sent me a FB post of my poem "Different Places to Pray" which had been published 8 years ago in the Times Literary Supplement (London). Alongside the poem, someone named James Crews had written an accompanying piece explicating the poem and excerpting an essay on travel that I wrote long ago...

I wondered who this James Crews character was ---- I assumed by the London publication and his name that Crews was English and London based. After all, Sara Crewe was a favorite book of mine when I was a child and it sounds almost the same.

Instead, James Crews turns out to be an outstanding American poet. Instead, the same week that the Times Literary Supplement republishes "Different Ways to Pray," I meet James at the Skagit River Poetry Festival and have the pleasure of hearing him read his work.

Sometimes the world works with a lyric lift, a serendipitous surrender.

God Particles
Related Poem Content Details


I could almost hear their soft collisions

on the cold air today, but when I came in,

shed my layers and stood alone by the fire,

I felt them float toward me like spores

flung far from their source, having crossed

miles of oceans and fields unknown to most

just to keep my body fixed to its place

on the earth. Call them God if you must,

these messengers that bring hard evidence

of what I once was and where I have been—

filling me with bits of stardust, whaleskin,

goosedown from the pillow where Einstein

once slept, tucked in his cottage in New Jersey,

dreaming of things I know I’ll never see.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

So This Happened -- 8 Years Later!

More poems with profiteroles needed!

Several summers ago, my friend, poet Allen Braden, told me about a poetry contest that was organized by the Times Literary Supplement (London). He told me he thought I had a chance and so I sent in some poems. Amazingly, "Different Places to Pray" was declared a Finalist, and then eventually won First Prize. 

Winning this prize was a great honor and an odd one. The TLS poetry editor was dying at the time he chose my poem. After the contest, the annual competition ended. I cashed the check and the moment receded into the background.

Now eight years later, my poem is the Poem of the Week, at the Times Literary Supplement. Poet James Crews has written a cogent analysis of my work and the home page of TLS is a bowl of profiteroles. What more could a girl ask --- eight years after the fact?

Here's an excerpt of the article: 

“Different Places to Pray”, first published in the TLS in 2008, depicts a woman doing her best to locate a sense of the numinous within this world. She is prepared to “jettison everything” to find it; losing keys, socks, money and time in order to follow “the ghost of her heart”. Midway through the poem, however, she seems to accept that most of us, religious or not, must spend our days before the “clock stops”, “decoding messages” from and finding meaning mainly in those commonplace things that surround us. Although she confesses she would rather have “a compass / rose, a star chart”, some simpler set of directions or “text support messages” to follow, her final question suggests that most people, at some point, will                 to continue reading, click here

Here's the poem's first lines: 

Different Places to Pray

Everywhere, everywhere she wrote; something is falling –
a ring of keys slips out of her pocket into the ravine below;

nickels and dimes and to do lists; duck feathers from a gold pillow.
Everywhere someone is losing a favorite sock or a clock stops

circling the day; everywhere she goes she follows the ghost of her heart;
jettisons everything but the shepherd moon, the hopeless cause.

This is the way a life unfolds: decoding messages from profiteroles,
the weight of mature plums in autumn. She’d prefer a compass

rose, a star chart, text support messages delivered from the net,
even the local pet shop – as long as some god rolls away the gloss

to continue reading, click here

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How to Submit (Poems) and Arrange Manuscripts

Before National Poetry Month comes to a close for another 11 months, here is an article I wrote for Hedgebrook on sending your poems out into the world and how to order them too.  Thank you to Hedgebrook for the opportunity!

One poem, two poems, three poems, more~

I began sending my poems out to journals in an age before Submittable when a couple of postage stamps and an SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) were the well-trodden pathways to an editor’s desk. I loved each ritual, each step of the process handled with care.

First I’d choose the watermarked paper, then the poems, and finally the best looking commemorative stamps. Everything had meaning; even the anonymity of the mailbox, even the lipstick kiss with which I’d seal the envelope, wishing it good luck on its journey. Several months later, when the return envelope arrived through my front door slot, I would hold it up to the light looking for evidence of the impending acceptance or rejection.

Mailing my poems into the world was an act of faith. I imagined a stranger, just finishing...Click here to continue reading...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Big News --- Or How I've Spent the Last 25 Years

This is post number 1,000 on this blog and I've been wondering how I was going to make it count. There are so many things in life that only garner importance depending on how you treat them. One thing the number one thousand means is that I've been keeping this blog for a long time: more than six years. I seem to be someone who goes in for the long run.

So this weekend, after 26 years of sending poems out to the world, I've finally been published in all 50 States and 1 District. You might remember a few months back, in December, I thought all I needed was a publication in Kansas and then I'd be done. Suddenly,  many people I knew (or used to know) had a Kansas connection and it seemed as if a small village came out to help me secure my final state.

In fact, I have two Kansas journals that have taken work; I am now in love with Kansas.

However, on closer examination, I realized that Nevada had been ignored. Because I had published in Witness, I thought I was good but no.  Witness was located in Michigan when they published my poem --- they moved to Nevada a few years later. Since this 50 States + 1 District only matters to me, it seemed silly to cheat myself out of the sense that I'd achieved a publication in every state.

And now, thanks to the Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal out of Reno, Nevada, I have made my dream of publishing in every state. After two and a half decades, one envelope at a time, and now one email or Submittable at a time, I've published poems from Alaska (thank you Alaska Quarterly Review) to Florida (thank you Florida Review), from North Dakota (thank you North Dakota Quarterly) to Washington DC (thank you Poet Lore), from my home state of Massachusetts (thank you Massachusetts Review, Harvard Review, Salamander) to my new home of Washington State (thank you Floating Bridge Review, Poetry Northwest, and Seattle Review of Books).

And now to celebrate! I've been thinking that I might have given up on publishing my work if I hadn't had this little game to play --- a way to keep myself entertained when American Poetry Review said no again. What I did, of course, is adapt the license plate game to poetry. I began with states where I'd never been, like Alaska and then just kept going. This summer I'm planning a 50 States and 1 District party. And I'm curious --- what are the ways that you entertain yourself while sending poems out into the world? How do you make this process playful rather than pain inducing?

It's bittersweet to cross the finish line. I've loved exploring the journals that are published, uploaded, appear and disappear across this country. It's heartening that every single state has/had at least one literary journal; one space dedicated to the literary arts.

This week I will celebrate with my students --- they may not care a fig for poetry (although many of them do) but they do know what it's like to have dreams. And even if you have to give yourself the trophy when you achieve that dream, it still counts.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Poet Traveller: I'm On the Road Again - Tacoma Style

7 pm, this Friday night I will be reading at King's Books in Tacoma, WA as part of the Distinguished Writers Series sponsored by the Puget Sound Poetry Connection. Hello, Tacoma! I'm very excited to read here as it is my first time visiting King's Books --- a bookstore with a big town reputation.

After the reading there is an Open Mic so if you are coming, please bring a poem of your own to read! Then on Saturday, I head up to Port Townsend, Washington for the Port Townsend Women and Film Festival where I will moderate a panel for the Saturday night gala showing of Kirsten Johnson's  "Camera Person."

It's going to be a wild weekend! And then at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, April 12th, National Poetry Month at Highline College kicks off with a reading by the Poetry Contest Winners.

Here is a poem of mine dedicated to one of my former students. I hope you enjoy. 

Mohamud at the Mosque 

        ~for my student upon his graduation

And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –

if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.
And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –

the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somalian, Muslim, asylum seeker –

Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly

I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –

her fears unfurling beside your battered car
go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there

in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying

to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.

And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks the others –

So what seems to be the problem
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –

as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield

during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.

Happy National Poetry Month!

It's here! The time of year when poetry is invited to the party. I will be reading at 7 pm this Friday night at Kings Books in Tacoma, WA and my poem "4 'o' Clock News at the House of Sky" is featured along with many other Seattle poets in Seattle Magazine. But what I am most excited about is the six different events I'm helping to produce at Highline College where I teach.

More on all of this soon -- but for now I want to offer a poem. Denise Levertov was the second poet I ever saw read (Linda Pastan was the first). She was teaching at Brandeis University and I convinced a friend to drive me there. Levertov read in a classroom; she was dressed in jeans and sat cross-legged on the table while she read her work. Levertov lived her last years in Seattle, just a few miles from my house. This poem is from her final book, The Great Unknowing. It is one of my favorites in term of its surreal tones and springlike life force --- written at a time when she knew her life was almost gone.


When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I'll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Words in the Air: Hearing Poems Aloud

I am a great fan of reading poems out loud. I read to my students, my cats, my friends, my lover. When I am revising a poem, I need to hear it out loud many times. The air is where a poem lives. It needs the human voice for completion.

A number of years ago Nic Sebastian gave a call asking for poems to be read aloud on her very cool blog. For some reason, I am only listening to my poem, ""4 'o' Clock News @ The House of Sky" today. You can hear her read my poem right here in her beautiful, lilting voice.

When I teach poetry at Highline College, the voices of Naomi Shihab Nye, Sekou Sundiata and Rita Dove join us in the classroom. I co-curate a multi-genre series on the third Wednesday of the month: WordsWest Literary Series, where we record the visiting writers and create podcasts that anyone can download and then listen to. Kelli Russell Agodon and January O'Neil, Rick Barot and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, Oliver de la Paz and Claudia Castro Luna have been some of our poet pairings.

To me, the easy access to recordings --- from being able to record on our phones to the simple ease with which we can locate a voice recording on the internet of, say, William Butler Yeats or Sylvia Plath, make this an amazing literary concert of voices.

What are some of your favorite sites for listening to poems?

I'd suggest starting with Nic Sebastian's Very Like a Whale and the Poetry Foundation's web site.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Vermillion - A Poem on Revision

 Looking at color on the internet is like taking a hike using Google Maps. On the other hand, it is a place to start. The color Vermilion comes from the mineral cinnabar and was popular in the Middle Ages, used frequently in the colorization of illuminated manuscripts. The Chinese also favored Vermilion for their lacquerware. Vermilion was also a favorite, it seems, with the painter Pierre Bonard.

 However, this is a post about the art of revision. Linda Pastan shows us the way a poem can turn ("Just so I stopped you") one idea into another, finally bridging the gap between painter and lover. For this reader, it is the final couplet that brings us back to the work of poetry.

Pierre Bonnard would enter

the museum with a tube of paint
in his pocket and a sable brush.
Then violating the sanctity
of one of his own frames
he'd add a stroke of vermilion
to the skin of a flower.
Just so I stopped you
at the door this morning
and licking my index finger, removed
an invisible crumb
from your vermilion mouth. As if
at the ritual moment of departure
I had to show you still belonged to me.
As if revision were
the purest form of love.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Understood. Deadline Extended to Sunday, January 31st

See that mouse holding on to the minute hand of time? She will be doing that all weekend so that you can have 2 more days to send in your very brief application so that you can write for free at our winter writing retreat. Next Saturday, February 6th, Kelli Russell Agodon and I will be teaching an all day writing workshop: "Generating New Work" in the morning and "Art of Revision" in the afternoon.

We meet in a lovely space -- the many windowed party room with full kitchen of a West Lake Condo Building right by a coffee shop and Whole Foods (great for lunch).  Bus route, parking on the street, you name it -- we have it.

The Rich - Russell Scholarship costs nothing to submit to. Just send us three of your best poems and a paragraph on why you want to come write with us. Send it by by SUNDAY NIGHT at midnight to

If you just want to secure your spot in the morning or the afternoon event, you can sign-up now at our  Poets on the Coast website. Poets at all levels truly welcome from beginners to well published poets --- all ages and all genders. We're happy to have you join us.

This is our 4th year co-leading a winter retreat; it will be our only class this year in Seattle!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Once upon a time a poet and an artist got together...

Self Portrait by Carol Sawyer
Just over two years ago I found this photograph on the web. The encounter was almost that random. A year earlier, a friend of a friend had sent me Carol Sawyer's email address and told me Carol was a photo historian and might have information for me on Hannah Maynard, a Victorian photographer of the 19th century who worked in Victoria, B.C. At the time I was writing a sequence of poems on Maynard.

And Carol did know quite a bit about women photographers in British Colombia. In fact, she was also generous with her knowledge. And so a year later, when I surely was meant to be doing something else, I googled photography and Carol Sawyer. The images I found fixed me in their gaze. I felt more connected to this piece in particular than anything I had ever seen on a computer screen.

Carol is a performance artist, a singer in an avant-garde jazz band, professor, and stellar photographer.  I wrote my first fan letter to Carol asking if she would consider a collaboration with me. We wrote back and forth for a few months until we could finally clear our calendars to meet.
When Carol's husband asked her about me, their guest for the next few nights, Carol told him the truth, "I met her on the internet."

Add caption
During that visit we created a still life together and realized that collaboration was possible. A half a year later, Carol came down to Seattle and we collaborated on a show at Highline College where I work. We led a workshop together on artistic collaboration, created a show in the gallery, and played well together.
You can see the poet and the photographer in the gazing ball

We did a fair amount of asking and answering questions about what our collaboration might look like. As the writer, I wanted to make sure that the collaboration went both ways. In other words, I wanted for us both to create art inspired by the other's work. And it worked. In fact,  during my visit to Vancouver we created a still life together and realized that collaboration was possible. 

Carol took a line from my poem "Try to be Done Now with Words," a line I particularly liked:

"Double note of window and world"  and created this photograph.

Looking back over the Powerpoint we created, some of the elements we said made for a successful collaboration included: a sense of humor, willing to go into the unknown, and generosity. This week two of our collaborations were published at the wonderful resource Ekphrastic.Net and another one is coming in September from the LA Review. 

My hope is that we will continue this collaboration for a long time to come. And one of the things no one tells you about collaboration: in the best of circumstances you find a new friend. A friend that "gets" your art --- a friend that becomes your friend because of the art that you do. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hello, Kansas! But Wait, It's Complicated --- Nevada Anyone?

So this happened and it's a little bit complicated. First of all, when I wrote that Kansas was the only state left uncolored on my Poetry Map, a good deal of unexpected support came my way. One grammar school friend now lives in Kansas and she promised to do whatever she could from there. My first high school boyfriend volunteered the sleuthing abilities of his mom, now living in Kansas, to hunt down journals where I could submit poems, and finally, a fellow poet wrote to me and suggested I send poems to the undergraduate journal that he advises at a Kansas University.

Wow. All of this was so unexpected and made me really, really happy.

What I realized here was that I'd created a kind of treasure hunt and there were friends, old and new, who were happy to join in. From one random idea of sending my poems out to different states as a kind of publishing game, comes a whole community a few decades later.

So the good news? Just last week I had three poems accepted by Chiron Review published out of St. John, KS. Michael Hathaway, a local librarian,  has been publishing Chiron Review for over 30 years, his website is more welcoming than most and I am happy to have my work published in a beautiful print journal. Thank you, Michael!

And the bad news? I still need one more state. In my enthusiasm to finish the map, I used Witness as my journal publication for Nevada when they were actually located in Michigan at the time they took my work. Although Witness is now publishing out of Nevada, they weren't when they published me. A technicality? Perhaps. But since this project really only matters to me, I'd rather be honest with myself. Plus, if the Guinness Book of World Records does contact me, I want all my states (and one district) in working order.

So now I am on the lookout for my last state --- if you are associated with any publication in Nevada (any journal, newspaper, or magazine would be great) please let me know. Or if you know of a cool publication...I promise this is my last ask.

So here I go, one more time.

Hello, Nevada!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fellowship Offered for Poets On the Coast Winter Retreat, Feb 6th 2016

I am a great believer in a community of people coming together to write for an afternoon. For example, left to my own devices, I may work on one poem for a couple of hours and call it good. However, if I'm writing with a group, my energy seems to build on itself and I am happy to create new work and play with words much longer.

On Saturday, February 6th, Kelli Russell Agodon and I are teaching a one day class in Seattle in the South Lake Union neighborhood (on several bus lines and with on street parking).  In the morning there will be a three hour "Generating New Work" workshop, then a break for lunch, and then "The Art of Revision."

We will begin at 10 AM and finishing the second class at 4:00 PM. Class size is intimate and limited to 18 students for each workshop. If you are interested in learning more, please go to Winter Retreats, Poets on the Coast. We still have a few openings for the morning and/or afternoon sessions.

For the first time we are also offering a Rich-Russell Fellowship to a poet who would like to join us but whose finances are limited. To apply for the Rich-Russell Fellowship, please send us three poem (no longer than three pages of poetry in total) and a one page statement on why a one day Winter Retreat in Seattle is what you need for your writing right now. Email us with poems and statement in an email message at by Friday, January 29th. 

We hope to see you February 6th for a day devoted to your writing! Questions? Feel free to contact us at

Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Year's Resolutions Gone Awry with J.W. Marshall and Christine Deavel

I live on an isthmus west of downtown Seattle. In the summer there is beach volleyball and pirates landing their boats along the shore. In December, the Christmas Ships make a dramatic appearance. I love the quirkiness of my neighborhood: a record store, a Log Cabin Museum, and numerous characters who promenade along the beach with an assortment of dogs, parrots, and even a few cats.

What we didn't have until last year was a literary series. After living here for over a decade, it seemed time to take matters into our own hands. Along with Katy E. Ellis and Harold Taw, I co-founded WordsWest Literary Programs. Since then we have hosted events with a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, an NPR radio journalist, Washington State's Poet Laureate  and many other talented writers. In fact, we've been blown away by the diversity of talent we've hosted at the coolest coffee house in West Seattle.

7:00 pm this Wednesday night promises to be another magical evening with the themed reading of, Resolutions Gone Awry with Christine Deavel and J.W. Marshall. Christine and John are famous in Seattle and far beyond our city limits for their poems, their huge hearts and their fabulous book emporium: Open Books: A Poem Emporium.

For more information on these amazingly talented poets who also happen to be married to one another please check out: WordsWest Literary. 

See you Wednesday for poetry, snacks, and more!

Friday, January 8, 2016

In Celebration of a Life: Madeline DeFrees (1917 - 2015)

Madeline DeFrees with her chocolate birthday cake 

Tomorrow, 2 pm at Elliott Bay Books (that's Saturday, January 9th) friends and former students will gather to celebrate the life of the late, great,  Madeline DeFrees. Madeline was my first poetry teacher and perhaps my most important one. I can't believe that she's gone. I was convinced she'd live forever.

Anne McDuffie is hosting and Rick Simonson, Chris Howell, Elizabeth Austen, Susan Rich, Jennifer Maier, Gary Thompson, Candace Black, Elizabeth Weber, and others will be there to share memories of Madeline and their favorite poems.

Here's the listing on the Elliott Bay website:

And if you’d like to know more about Madeline and her work, here’s the website Anne maintains for her: