Monday, January 29, 2018

What Does it Mean to be a Poet in 2018 in the International City of Literature?

The "nasty poets" of Washington are reading together on Friday at Open Books 
Dare I say that the state of poetry is quickly changing and that while much of it is for the best, there are some things that I really do miss.

I miss an afternoon at home without interruption of FB posts or tweets or even email. I miss the decades when there was no chance of the outside world coming inside on a rainy Sunday. Curling up with a book today oftentimes means curling up with a Kindle and a phone. That's why writers' residencies are especially sought after these days --- a place away from the ever encroaching distractions of the world.

And yet. We are currently in a Poetry Renaissance.

Living in Seattle, WA, means that I'm surrounded by poets and writers, visual artists and musicians. This is a city where people come off of their devices to gather face-to-face. Before I moved to Seattle I had given perhaps three poetry readings in my entire life. It just wasn't something a poet did. Now I live in a city that sustains poetry reading series in every neighborhood --- from Ballard to West Seattle. I am a proud co-founder of the WordsWest Literary series held at C & P Coffee Company.

This is all a long introduction to what I appreciate about poetry in this shiny, new year.

1. Open Books: A Poem Emporium
Not only is it an honor and a joy to have a space devoted to poetry books and therefore poetry people, in my adopted hometown; it's also my favorite place in Seattle to read because you can actually hear the audience listening. The quality of attention can be felt throughout the room.

2. Poetry Podcasts 
My commute to work allows me the luxury of hearing Don Share, Christina Pugh and others at  Poetry Magazine give a close reading of one poem a week -- or four poems a month. Even in the craziness of my day I can listen to poetry.

3. Poet Friends
Over the course of the last two decades, poetry has become my way of life. It's impossible to overestimate how important these friendships have been in terms of my identity as a poet and a person --- which is a strange thing to say, I know. Without poetry friends like Kelli Russell Agodon, Elizabeth Austen, and Kathleen Flenniken my life would be so much less than it is.

4. Poetry Journals
I used to think I had a pretty good handle on the world of lit journals --- no longer. The proliferation of on-line journals has changed the landscape for the better but also made it hard to keep up. A few journals that are new to me and that I admire include Qu Literary Journal which publishes on-line and in a perfect bound journal, Construction Literary Magazine -- an online journal that mixes architecture, fiction, and poetry, and Helen -- an on-line journal that often creates short videos of the poems showcased in the journal. The quality of the visual poems varies widely but what a cool idea!

5. Poetry Communities / Poets on the Coast

If you know me at all, you've heard me sing the praises of the women's writing community that Kelli Russell Agodon and I started almost 8 years ago. We simply wanted to create a poetry weekend for women writers --- the type that we would want to attend. So we found a beautiful small town by water, created a fun curriculum, and came armed with grocery bags of snacks. We had no idea if anyone would come or how it would all work out. Eight years later, we are thriving and some of the women that were there that first year are still coming back for more poetry and closer community. From this one weekend has spawned workshops meeting throughout Western Washington, group readings, and even one house share!

This is all to say: I'm thankkful. I'm grateful that I didn't listen to my college professors when these well meaning (?) white men who told me not to bother to write (who says that?) and I'm grateful to this city -- now an International City of Literature for providing inspiration and sustenance for all of us.

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Confession and A Poem (Not Mine)

Natalie Portman, Viola Davis, and Scarlet Johansson
I attended the Women's March last year, the largest gathering of protesters in Seattle since anyone began keeping records. It was a gorgeous day from start to finish with strangers squeezing the extra inch to let other marchers on the bus and customers bussing tables when the small restaurants along the route were overwhelmed once the day's activities ended. It was in all honesty, one of the most memorable days of my life.

Dear Reader, this year I allowed the beginning of a head cold, the light rain, and the last year's political nightmare to dissuade me from getting on the bus. I'm not proud of this. Later, I realized if I had made plans with a group of friends (who were meeting up before the march) it would have catapulted me out of my funk --- so I will remember that for next year.

Instead, I told myself I had to make really good use of the day --- beyond grading papers and doing laundry (both of which I am now behind on). I worked on poems, sent out a packet of poems for submission, and then I wrote a letter to someone whom I had been wanting to write for over a year. Something about the day gave me that "now or never" push to ask for what I really want from this world. And even if my letter remains unanswered, or isn't answered as I hope for, I've done the hard work of putting into the universe what I want. Please wish me luck and I promise to report back.

In the meantime here is a poem by the poet who has most inspired me to write and to live well.


   Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848) astronomer, sister of William; and others. 

  A woman in the shape of a monster   
  a monster in the shape of a woman   
  the skies are full of them

  a woman      ‘in the snow
  among the Clocks and instruments   
  or measuring the ground with poles’

  in her 98 years to discover   
  8 comets

  she whom the moon ruled   
  like us
  levitating into the night sky   
  riding the polished lenses

  Galaxies of women, there
  doing penance for impetuousness   
  ribs chilled   
  in those spaces    of the mind

  An eye,

          ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
          from the mad webs of Uranusborg

                                                            encountering the NOVA   

  every impulse of light exploding

  from the core
  as life flies out of us

             Tycho whispering at last
             ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

  What we see, we see   

  and seeing is changing

to continue reading this poem by Adrienne Rich

Monday, January 15, 2018

An Action Doll, a Librarian, a Fiction Writer, and a Poet - 7 pm, This Wednesday, January 17th

These two women were among the first that welcomed me to Seattle 18 years ago. A lifetime ago, for sure. How excited I am to host them at 7 pm, this Wednesday, January 17th at WordsWest housed at C & P Coffee. We are also co-sponsored by Hedgebrook this month with author, Allison Green gifting us her favorite poem.

There is so much more to say about these amazing women and this one of a kind coffeehouse come community center but for now all I ask is that you check out these links for Susan Landgraf, Nancy Pearl, and the emergency Go Fund Me Campaign to save our literary home at C & P Coffee Company. 

Please consider coming out and joining us for the new year. And just look at our theme!

WordsWest Literary Series Presents
“Broken Promises—Resolutions, Riots, and Repair”
with Nancy Pearl and Susan Landgraf
Favorite Poem by Allison Green, Hedgebrook alumna
7:00 pm, Wed., Jan. 17, 2018C & P Coffee Co.5612 California Ave. SW 98136
WEST SEATTLE—In new year’s crush of resolutions, WordsWest Literary Series welcomes “America’s librarian” and author Nancy Pearl and poet Susan Landgraf for “Broken Promises—Resolutions, Riots, and Repair,” an unearthing of the stories that lie under promises made to loved ones and to the land, promises abandoned, and the incremental mending. WordsWest Literary Series is grateful Hedgebrook’s sponsorship of this evening, as well as for grant funding from Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and Poets & Writers, Inc. that allows us to pay our writers for their time and talent.

Nancy Pearl’s life has been shaped by her love of books and reading, and with the recent publication of George and Lizzie, she now adds “novelist” to the list of her accomplishments. Inspired by her childhood librarians, Nancy became a librarian herself, working in Detroit, Tulsa, and Seattle. After retiring as Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library, Nancy wrote the “Book Lust” series, four titles filled with recommendations of good books to read. She has received many awards and honors, including being the 50th recipient of the Woman’s National Book Association Award and being named Librarian of the Year by Library Journal in 2011.

Susan Landgraf’s What We Bury Changes the Ground, a full-length poetry collection, was published by Tebot Bach in 2017. She’s published poems, essays, and articles in more than 150 journals, magazines, and newspapers, including Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, Margie, Nimrod, and Ploughshares, and given more than 150 writing workshops, including at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, Centrum, the Marine and Science Technology Center, and Kahini in Jamaica. Finishing Line Press published her chapbook Other Voices; Prentice Hall published Student Reflection Journal for Student Success. A book of writing exercises is forthcoming from Two Sylvias Press in 2018.
Every third Wednesday, 7pm, at C & P Coffee Company, WordsWest hosts literary events that range from readings by published local and national authors, to craft discussions and guided writing explorations for every experience level. Each month a community member from a local, independent business shares his or her favorite poem as part of the Favorite Poem Project. On January 17lth, we welcome a favorite poem from Allison Green, memoir writer, novelist, and an alumna of Hedgebrook, which empowers women writers to connect through residencies, master class retreats, workshops, and writing salons.
WordsWest is curated by West Seattle writers Katy E. Ellis, Susan Rich, and Harold Taw, and this season's intern/co-curator is Joannie Stangeland. Join us on FaceBook.
For more information, please contact WordsWest by email or visit our website.

C & P Coffee Co. link:
Hedgebrook link:
WordsWest by email link:
visit our website link

Thursday, January 11, 2018

After 30 Years, I Write a Poem

Dear Reader,

Now that I've practiced my literary confessions a couple of times, I think I'm getting the hang of it. So here goes something.

When I was in my twenties I joined the US Peace Corps and worked in West Africa as an English teacher at Lycee Korundaga, in Zinder, Niger. Many things happened during that time that still impact who I am now, 30 years later. The book I'm working on now goes back to that time and takes a look around.

This poem, published in Qu Literary Journal yesterday, took me 30 years to write. Qu is a Canadian journal that publishes on-line and in print. The editors have worked hard to make sure that I'm happy with how the poem looks. It feels very strange to have this poem in the world. Finally, after 30 years.

Post Abortion Questionnaire Powered By Survey Monkey

1. Do you feel reluctant to talk about the subject of abortion?
In the center of the ceiling a marigold weeps
or perhaps it’s an old chandelier.
Inside, there’s an interior glow,
shards illuminated in violet-pink 
and layers of peeling gold leaf. 
Such minds at night unfold.

2. Do you feel guilt or sorrow when discussing your own abortion?
The cabbage is a blue rose, 
an alchemical strip show. They scream 
when dragged from the earth
only to find themselves plunged into boiling water. 
The narrative unscrolls from cells
of what-ifs and hourglass hopes. 

3. Have you found yourself either avoiding relationships or becoming 
overly dependent in them since the abortion?
If I could unhinge myself from myself,
attach to bookshelves, sever
my tongue, I would watch
as it grew back, rejuvenated
and ready to speak.                               to continue reading, click here

Sunday, January 7, 2018

An Early Confession: Poetry, Art, and "Gigantic Day"

I think this is the confessional Varos had in mind

Dear Reader,

This is my second ever confession. I'm still trying to get the hang of this.

Perhaps this should be the Poetry and Art Confessional. I am not one for making New Year's Resolutions as they seem a recipe for failure (for me) but I do want to work on making changes in my life. The first one is to keep Poetry more at the center of my world. There are lots of ways to do this.

This week I spent a few hours writing poems with a good friend and neighbor. Once a month we do this armed with strong coffee and light snacks (an orange, some almonds). One of us always writes something amazing (I think it's usually her, she oftentimes thinks it's me). No matter what we write, we have fun and get to share poems together and check-in on the other's writing projects. At the end of our time together, we share drafts of poems and provide suggestions for revision.

Writing with Elizabeth often leads to my typing up the poems I've written with her and that leads to looking at what other poems I might have in the "not quite cooked" category.

Revelation of the Clockmaker, Remedios Varo
Here is a poem that Elizabeth brought this week to share. "Gigantic Day" by Michelle Boisseau captures that urban rush---when an ordinary day might seem epic --- especially if you are in a new environment. The location here  is (it seems) London but it could just as easily be Boston or Seattle. On the first read, I thought this was clearly a springtime poem but instead it may be any season at the New Covent Garden Flower Market. No matter.

What the poem captures is music and joy, "foxgloves juggling their freckled bells."

And as I head back to an overflowing work schedule this week, I want more than ever to keep poems of everyday celebration in my mind. The irony that this day is a "Gigantic Day" is perhaps what I love best.

Michelle Boisseau died of lung cancer last year and yet I am just being introduced to her with this poem. One resolution (I said I didn't make them!) is to live each day as if in its own way it is Gigantic. And of course it is for me -- how many days do any of us have left to celebrate?

Gigantic Day

We are bemoaning how the rising 
 deluxe condos will bully the river 

 when jittering toward us come irises 
 rocked in a beaming woman’s arms. 

 Then all along Millbank they come 
 hugging froths and sprays from the selloff, 

 blue dithers and nodding nasturtiums, 
 foxgloves jiggling their freckled bells, 

 from shopping bag and trolley dangle 
 panting fuchsias and apricot roses, 

 a Japanese maple whirls in a tango 
 through the taxis on Chelsea Bridge Road 

 and a warble of calla lilies opens up 
 to hit the high note that rumbles through us 

 as we all stream toward the tube stop, 
 past the humming double-decker bus 

 where every lap is plumped with bounty 
 and down we go following a crush 

 of petals onto the underground 
 platforms brimming for the rush.

                       Michelle Boisseau

Saturday, January 6, 2018

My Weekly Poem / Not My Poem: The Bridge / C.Dale Young

Dear Reader,

I think discovering a new, amazing poem (even if it is only new to you) is one of the great joys in life. The Bridge by C. Dale Young  is the poem I woke-up to this morning (you can stroll down and read it now, or wait) . And perhaps because in Seattle today, the sky is oatmeal-colored, this poem seemed even more shimmery.

It's clear from the very first line that Young is risking sentimentality with I love. Altogether love is repeated 14 times throughout  the poem --- a nod perhaps --- to a traditional love sonnet. It doesn't matter --- the pleasure of this poem, for me, comes from being able to luxuriate in the specifics: first of words (parallel and then mirror) and then quotidian objects (ice cream, fountain pens, bubbles). The poem is overflowing with pleasure.

There is a great deal of cleverness here to enjoy: the mirroring of mirror and the parallel lines in parallel, for a few examples, but I am not a fan of cleverness for cleverness sake (although it is certainly fun here). Instead what I admire here are the different declarations of love --- including love of self and other.

But what I keep returning to is the final image of the suspension bridge, the Golden Gate bridge, swinging over the bay.  I can see these two lovers holding hands, swinging their arms out the way one does --- with lovers, husbands, or small children. There is an innocence here and a desire.

C. Dale Young- Poet/Fiction Writer/Medical Doctor

As I read "The Bridge" I don't know where I am going ---Narcissus, Achilles heel, the 1950's? And yet, I'm invited along for the ride. The poem is so intimate and yet never private.

I've never met C. Dale Young (except on-line and when he was kind enough, years ago, to take some of my poems for New England Review where he was Poetry Editor for a long time) but through this poem I feel welcomed into his life --- into the joy he shares with his beloved husband (or so I imagine). I can't remember the last time I read a contemporary poem that did this and did this so deftly, so beautifully.

My hope is to discover at least one amazing poem to share with you each week. The best kind of treasure hunt. And in case you are looking for more of C. Dale's work, the Poetry Foundation website is an excellent resource.

Until soon~


The Bridge

I love. Wouldn't we all like to start

a poem with "I love . . ."? I would.

I mean, I love the fact there are parallel lines

in the word "parallel," love how

words sometimes mirror what they mean.

I love mirrors and that stupid tale

about Narcissus. I suppose

there is some Narcissism in that.

You know, Narcissism, what you

remind me to avoid almost all the time.

Yeah, I love Narcissism. I do.

But what I really love is ice cream.

Remember how I told you

no amount of ice cream can survive

a week in my freezer. You didn't believe me,

did you? No, you didn't. But you know now

how true that is. I love

that you know my Achilles heel

is none other than ice cream—

so chilly, so common.

And I love fountain pens. I mean

I just love them. Cleaning them,

filling them with ink, fills me

with a kind of joy, even if joy

is so 1950. I know, no one talks about

joy anymore. It is even more taboo

than love. And so, of course, I love joy.

I love the way joy sounds as it exits

your mouth. You know, the word joy.

How joyous is that. It makes me think

of bubbles, chandeliers, dandelions.

I love the way the mind runs

that pathway from bubbles to dandelions.

Yes, I love a lot. And right here,

walking down this street,

I love the way we make

a bridge, a suspension bridge

—almost as beautiful as the

Golden Gate Bridge—swaying

as we walk hand in hand.

C. Dale Young, "The Bridge" from Torn. Copyright © 2011 by C. Dale Young. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What I Love About Teaching Poetry Workshops

The Joy of Writing in 2018

As the world outside my control becomes crazier and crazier, I am more thankful than I've ever been for poetry. Poetry is my longest relationship --- literally I began writing poetry as a child (thank you to Miss Schiavo, my third grade teacher). I think "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carol might have been my personal change agent.

I caught the attention of my middle school teachers and my poem, "Who Am I?" (no link here!) was the text for my middle school graduation. It was a truly surreal experience to hear my words coming out of different classmates' mouthes. I don't remember being proud, just simply stunned.

College was an entirely different story. Two male professors went out of their way and take me aside to deliver the bad news: you aren't a poet --- perhaps try children's books? Had I asked them? No. Dear Reader, I believed these two pompous fools and I put poetry away for nearly  a decade.

Perhaps this is why I became a professor and community facilitator of poetry.

My favorite teaching is collaborative. When Kelli Russell Agodon and I teach together, magic happens. I love our planning sessions, filled with laughter which makes for a great incubator for new ideas. And yes, we are teaching together soon! New Writing for Surreal and Uncertain Times and 21 Ways to Get Your Poems Seen By Editors.

Here we are in bed with Elizabeth Austen giving a poetry reading in pajamas!

I love that our teaching philosophy is based on playfulness. We invite students of poetry who are experienced (many have several publications, books, and MFA's) as well as the individual just wanting to enjoy a day of writing for herself. The way we structure the class seems to work for whomever comes along --- and many of our students return again and again which is something we never expected.

Here's what I believe: writing in a supportive environment when the rules are: be playful and yes, anything goes are a great recipe for success. Unlike most other workshops, we focus on creating our own writing prompts (new ones for each class) and for each one, we have a secret mission whether it is to write image driven poems or create new forms --- everyone leaves with at least six drafts of six poems they never would have written otherwise. Kind of wonderful.

I asked Kelli what she liked about our teaching and I love her answer:

I love teaching with Susan because our friendship brings a deeper element to the class. There is a lot of fun and laughter throughout the day no matter what we're discussing. We also have different opinions on things and we are able to share two ways of seeing things while respecting each others' views. The class gets the benefit of two poets for the price of one. We just go to work!

I love that the themes of fun and laughter show up for both of us. And we share that with each student. Past participants regularly mention that having Kelli and me teach as a team is what makes the classes work so well. Friendship and poetry are a great combination. In fact, we have each written poems for each other as well. Here's one for Kelli called 4 'o' Clock News in the House of Sky published by Diode Editions (a fabulous on-line journal).

If you are in the Seattle area or want to come visit (high today is 46 degrees) whether you are old or young, inexperienced or experienced, and no matter your gender --- YOU ARE INVITED!

And here is the "snack" -- please consider joining Kelli Russell Agodon and me on Saturday, February 10th, for our Winter Retreat (it's a long weekend so a great time to come to Seattle).

All the information you need is right here to register or for more details on each class. And if you sign up with a friend, the price goes down!

It would be lovely to meet you this February 10th! Seattle has an all-poetry bookstore Open Books: A Poem Emporium and many amazing gorgeous parks, fabulous restaurants, and fine writers. Why not come visit?  Or if you already live here --- all the better! We would love to have you and you are sure to leave with a half dozen new and different poems!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My First Confession

Explorations of the Oronoco
I love the idea of confession, not poetic confession or religious confession but blogger confession --- nothing too messy; nothing too dangerous. But what do I know? The true name of this activity is the sacrament of penance. It seems to be pretty popular. I came across this article on Andrew Greely's The Poetry of Catholicism: Living Between Absurdity and Faith. And without knowing his work I recognized that this is where I like to exist best: between absurdity and faith.

Dear Reader,

This is my first confession in actually, Forever.

How does one confess anything on an open access blog? Here the idea of  confession becomes inextricably linked with exhibitionism. It cannot be otherwise.

And yet...I promise to do my best to be authentic and even a little vulnerable.

I confess this feels a bit odd. I also confess that at one point in my life I seriously considered converting to Catholicism.

Something true: my manuscript newly titled, A Spy in the Afterlife, is a terrifying book for me to have enter the world. It details a time in my life --- 30 years ago --- which I still understand as my own personal apocalypse. It's taken 30 years for me to be able to write poems about this time --- to not be able to write except about this time. 

For better or worse, one poem, Shadowbox, was published by the Academy of American Poets so I guess the secret is out.

Did I say yet that I am not a fan of confessional poetry? Elizabeth Bishop was known to respond to confessional work with, "sometimes I wish they'd kept it to themselves." I agree with her. Of course I can also confess that I've taken her as my dead mentor poet. That's another blogpost!

I am looking forward to 2018 as my year of possibility and magic. I want to move through my life like the woman in Remedios Varo's painting(see above) --- Varos --- a Spanish painter who spent most of her life in Mexico City --- I've written about right here.  I have an ekphrastic poem inspired by this painting to be published this spring. This painting, "Creation of the Birds" has haunted me for years. The poem took years as well. Dear Reader, I am a very slow writer. As I get older, this bothers me more and more.

Creation of the Birds

And so dear Reader,

So what have I revealed? A love for the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and the painting of Remedios Varo. My hope is that their work will inspire you as well. Oh yes, that I am working on a 5th book, A Spy in the Afterlife that gives a surreal retelling of a difficult time in my life.

Should you have any thoughts on Bishop, Varo, or A Spy in the Afterlife --- I would love to hear your comments. Is anyone out there? I'm hoping so. It was my first confession and I don't want to have to go it alone. Isn't that why we're here --- to be a little less alone?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Welcome to the Poets Blogosphere - The Alchemist's Kitchen Kitchen Sink Philosophy

Welcome to the newly revised Blogosphere
If you are visiting today, dear reader, you may well have just joined or rejoined the Revival Tour of Bloggers organized by Kelli Agodon and Donna Vorreyer. Welcome home!

Today marks my 9th year of blogging; I never really left the blogosphere although in the last few years it did seem the neighborhood had become a bit quieter.

I began this blog as a way to write regularly in a form that isn't as high-stakes as writing a poem can be. My plan was (and still is): be useful to other poets. I planned to offer ideas on sending out submissions, poetic revision, preparing for readings, choosing cover art, and to provide a  little overall exposure to great poems and poets.

And yes, this is also the place to announce community projects I'm involved with and readings that I may be participating in --- but these are more snacks than the main meal.

At the moment my writing (and editing) focus is on putting a book of poems together. I am "almost" finished with my fifth poetry collection now titled, A Spy in the Afterlife, which I hope to get out into the world sometime soon. Right now it lives in a flip binder in my living room. Do you like the title? Would love to know your thoughts on this. When I chose my cover for Cloud Pharmacy, readers offered ideas for art and ultimately helped me make my choice of a cover.

Cloud Pharmacy the day it arrived at my home

I learned a great deal about what makes a good cover for a book of poems and I blogged about it here. I am a fan of quick and easy lists: here is what you need to know about cover art!

Looking deeply into cover art seemed a natural progression from my focus on ekphrastic poetry -- poems inspired by visual art. You can check out the Ekphrastic Review where you will see the surreal and stunning photographs of Carol Sawyer --- a  Vancouver, BC visual artist I met through her art.

Looking at art was also a way to find which journals I wanted to submit poems to. Can we tell a journal by it's cover? Here is a blog post that I wrote about the journal Antiphon --- a British journal that I remain quite fond of. New places to send poems is a great service poets can provide to other poets.

Book arts - how I would love book art based on poems

I think of the Poets Revival Tour as a kind of Alice in Wonderland for poets. A way to connect with people who may become dear friends --- the amazing January O'Neil comes to mind right away and as a way to extend the poetry community worldwide.

Finally, one snack: along with Kelli Russell Agodon I teach poetry retreats twice a year: poetry winter retreat Come in from the Cold in Seattle is coming up for the day on Saturday, February 10th (all are welcome) and a weekend retreat Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women will be September 8th - 10th but the cheapest registration prices are happening right now only until January 3rd. Every year women who we have met virtually speaking come out to Seattle or La Conner, Washington to meet in person.

A bit of poetry advice (this week for cover art, a new journal to submit to, some new friends, and a small snack: that's a good example of what happens here at The Alchemist's Kitchen. I hope you'll drop by again soon.

Finally, I oftentimes do interviews with poets I love whose work I want to support. For this week, here is an interview that the poet/farmer/teacher, Jess Gigot, did with me for the Skagit River Poetry Foundation blog. It includes links to poems.  Thanks so much, Jess!