Friday, December 29, 2006

A Writer's Life. . .


I saw this list on another writer's blog and wanted to share it. I included the link to his blog in the title above--

Here are some questions to ponder for 2007, building on the questions we answered in 2005 and 2006:

Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions 2007

1. Take a few minutes to reflect on the previous year. What are you happy with?

2. What are you unhappy with?

3. What unexpected joys did you discover during the year?

4. What were some of the unexpected obstacles that came up, and how did you deal with them? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

5. What expectations did you find you needed to let go of?

6. Looking ahead, how do you want to structure next year to support your writing?

7. How does the rest of your life support your writing?

8. How can you change/compromise on the non-supportive elements?

9. What new aspect of the writing life do you want to try next year?

10. Where do you need to be more disciplined?

11. Where do you need to ease up on yourself?

12. List your goals for the coming year.

13. List three positive, active steps to take on each goal to get it going.

14. List your dreams for the coming year.

15. List three positive, active steps to transform each dream into a goal.

16. List your resolutions for the coming year.

17. List three positive, active steps to help you stick to them.

New Year's Resolutions...

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

Here are mine--

1) Publish Second Book of Poems
2) Continue to work on (and submit) children's book
3) Follow intuition
4) Continue to write daily

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Passengers get $50 bills from bus Santa

Stranger’s generosity brings some in Wash. city to tears

SPOKANE, Wash. - A woman hopped aboard buses, greeted passengers with “Merry Christmas” and handed each an envelope containing a card and a $50 bill before stepping off and repeating the process on another bus.

She did it so quickly that descriptions of the woman varied among surprised Spokane Transit Authority passengers on several routes Thursday, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Friday.

“She kind of kept her head down. I don’t remember ever seeing this lady before,” said bus driver Max Clemons.

“I had a young man in the back of the bus. He looked like he was going to start crying. He said in broken English, ‘She don’t know how much this will mean to me at Christmas,”’ Clemons said.

Transit authority spokesman Dan Kolbet said efforts to identify the gift-giver were unsuccessful. Her generosity didn’t appear to be part of a marketing gimmick, he said.

The woman gave envelopes to about 20 passengers, he said. Each was sealed with a sticker that said: “To a friend from a friend.”

The woman, accompanied by one or two young boys, pulled the envelopes out of a cloth satchel. The buses were pulling away from stops before riders even knew what happened.

“There was a lot of excitement. People were making calls on their cell phones,” said driver Terry Dobson, who had two of his trips visited by the mystery woman. “The people on those buses really needed the money.”

Hours after the impromptu gift-giving, Dobson was still giddy.

“It was just a neat thing,” he said. “It makes you tingle all over.”

New Year's Resolution

Practice Random Acts of Kindness

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Lot of Everything

I wish I had some interesting poetry things to share. Let's see. A friend bought me Barbara Hamby's book "Babel," which I've started reading and loving. What a poet, she is. You can get lost--in the very best way--inside her poems. They are so thick with living in Paris, with black-jacketed girls. Every line is treat for the reader.

Oh, here's something. I was at the Poetry on Wheels, bus poem anthology reading on Sunday in Seattle. The room was full and great poets. Madeline DeFrees read as did Joan Swift. My friend, Martha Silano read, as did friends Ronda Broatch, Ann Hursey, Paula Gardiner. Oh, there were more, more, more.

I purchased Nancy Pagh's new book, No Sweeter Fat. I highly recommend this book. In the beginning of the book are a series of "fat lady" poems which are both funny and poignant.

Here's part of one from "Fat Lady Reads"

A fat lady reads a book
she reads a book all day
and all day
she is not a fat lady

unless she reads a diet book
or Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone
and there's a good chance she reads
one of those.

A fat lady reads a book
and enters a world
where there really are no fat people
of consequence

except old Mrs. Manson Mingott
in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence
whose "immense accretion of flesh
descended on her in middle life
like a flood of lava on a doomed city"

. . .

Truly, she is a poet to watch. I can't believe this is her first book--incredible.

Happy Feet--
I saw Happy Feet yesterday and well, I loved it. Maybe it's too easy, how can you not like a dancing penguin? But really, I liked that it was Footloose meets An Inconvenient Truth for children.

Not your parent's Christmas music--
Best streaming Christmas songs-- The Mountain KMTT FM Seattle

Friday, December 08, 2006

For those of you in the Seattle area--

THIS SUNDAY, December 10th

POETRY ON WHEELS Floating Bridge Press with support from 4Culture andWashington Center for the Book will host a reading to celebrate "Poetry onWheels: an Anthology of King County's Poetry on Buses Program"

2pm Sunday,at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Microsoft Auditorium, Level 1.

Local poets Madeline DeFrees, Martha Silano, Dana Elkun, Paul Hunter, Joan Swift, Kelli Russell Agodon, Jeff Crandall, Susan Rich and others will readselected poems. This event is free and open to the public.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What To Do Before You Publish Your Book & Dirty Windows or Perfect View

I finished reading ORDERING THE STORM: How To Put Together a Book of Poems edited by Susan Grimm. It was definitely interesting, I mean, I'm also the one who has the book WRITERS DREAMING, so it's in my DNA to like to listen to other writers talk. But did I learn anything new? Anything I didn't know?

Well, I learned a lot about personalities. One poet in her essay kept moving off subject and returning to what went wrong with her books. Her first book was not enough pages (she thought it was a first book, but it was under 48 pages, so technically it was a chapbook). Her second book had problems with the printer, then the judge suggested she should remove the note section in the back and she said the reviewers/critics were confused with her book and wanted more notes, etc. etc.

Occasionally, she'd talk about ordering. The essay was probably my least favorite in far as suggestions for ordering a book because it was so intensely focused on her own personal problems. The thing is, I did learn from her. I learned that with ever press, ever experience, every book, it's not going to be perfect and things are going to happen that you don't like. In the last year, I've known quite a few poets who have published book, good books, and each of them has a couple things they either don't like about their book, the printer, or the press that published them. It's common. It happens. But the best poets highlight what went right and don't take out a list of sins every time someone asks them about their book. I'm not saying hide that information from others, esp. if you feel it's something important they should know if their considering publishing with the same press, but don't dwell on it. Don't dwell on the page where there's a misspelling of your college or a comma instead of a semi-colon.

I look back at my book and can see how things could have been better, how I could have done things differently. But I also realize, publishing is learning. It's learning to understand how things work and also, what you like. I think a good exercise for poets getting ready to publish their first book is to create your first book in house (and when I say "in-house" I mean, in your house). Set it up, table of contents, acknowledgment page, dedications, note to friends, and then your book. Now put it in a manuscript binder, also called a spring binder (I have to thank Peter for introducing me to these little things, in our town they are available in the UW bookstore) and live with it for awhile. Proof it with red pen. Pretend that this is your book because it is. Learn what you don't like about it-- you never noticed how the chronological order flip-flops halfway through, or you have a misspelling, or more likely, a forgotten word like "a, for, an, to."

This exercise also helps you really visualize your book being published. Plus, it gives you the time just to experience your book deciding for yourself what you like and don't like about it. Make notes. Make your own cover with artwork for it. It allows you appreciate its themes and to strengthen them if you wish. It gives you the gift of time with your book that once accepted, you won't have. You'll receive your proofs and have X number of days to get them back with any changes or mistakes you've found.

I have my second manuscript in this binder and I've created a faux book cover for it because I'm someone who needs a complete idea or picture of what I'm trying to create. The book has taken many forms, but I finally think I have it where I want it (I say *think* because I, like Whitman, could revise a book all my life...) But it feels complete and if one of my favorite presses said, "I'd like to publish this," I'd be happy where it's at.

Of course, the best experience I've ever had publishing a book was with Floating Bridge Press when they published my chapbook. Starting out with "the best" raises one's expectations a bit. But I also realize, they publish one book a year, so the poet and the book is the focus. There are no others taking away from that. It made a difference. But I also think the attitude one brings makes a difference as well. I think if I had the personality of the poet who wrote the essay, I could found problems. But that's life, all around us there is ripped wallpaper and dirty windows. We can see that or we can realize that we're warm inside and enjoy the view of the evergreens and the snow melting from its branches.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Questions about Poetry

I was "tagged" by Michael Wells to answer this series of question. If you start to nod off, don't hit your head on your keyboard, you could damage it.

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was....
when my mother read me nursery rhymes. I knew them all. I remember being concerned about how Peter put his wife in a pumpkin shell and the Old Woman in the Shoe-- "who whipped them all soundly and put them to bed." The newer nursery rhymes have been updated so child abuse is kept to a minimum. But I remember how much I loved to repeat the rhymes to my family. Of course, I'd end each recital with a request for them to "clap! clap!"

The first poem I taped above desk in college was by Thomas Hardy as I thought it was so surprising the first time a professor read it in class:

Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?

"Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? -- planting rue?"
-- "No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
'It cannot hurt her now,' he said,
'That I should not be true.'"

"Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?"
-- "Ah, no: they sit and think, 'What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death's gin.'"

"But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? -- prodding sly?"
-- "Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.

"Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say -- since I have not guessed!"
-- "O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?"

"Ah yes! You dig upon my grave...
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog's fidelity!"

"Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place."

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and...
I went to public school and all I was forced to memorize was my name and address in case I became lost or was kidnapped and needed a ride home.

However, in college I took it upon myself to memorize "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Two years ago, I almost *accidentally* memorized "The Waste Land" (Eliot) because I was listening to it on tape. Shakespeare's sonnets, which I also have on CD, are also quite similar in the accidental memorization. I learn much more through listening than reading; I always have.

3. I read/don't read poetry because....
I'm looking to somehow be changed emotionally. I want that gut-feeling that something has happened because of what I've read. I read it because I want to be taken somewhere else not just through story, but language.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is .......

Here are two I always return to:

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.

--Tess Gallagher


A New Poet

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy dayƂ—the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

Linda Pastan
Heroes In Disguise
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

5. I write/don't write poetry, but...
I'm not a poet in real life. In real life, I am everything but a poet. I'm a wife, a student, a mother, a pet owner, a daughter. This is what I am to everyone else, I'm only a poet to myself.

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature.....
because I am more thankful and appreciative for what has been written because I am on that same path. Though I write in other genres, I feel a deeper connection with poets because I know if you're writing poetry, it's because you have to. It's not for the money or fame, but you have that switch inside you that has been turned on. I tend not to question the motivation of poets, but trust that like myself, they too are writing poetry because they cannot not write poetry. Of course, I may have had a few imaginary friends as a child, so I do tend to project.

7. I find poetry......
while I'm folding the laundry, in the shower, or digging beneath the clematis vines. When I've been away, I find poetry in my postcards, on my desk waiting, in my purse, and on scraps of paper in my jeans. I find poetry in most places, except on tv.

8. The last time I heard poetry....
I was sitting in a theatre behind four of my poetry friends, three of them have naturally curly hair. It was the first time I really noticed it.

9. I think poetry is like...
the odd but friendly cat that keeps returning to my back door.

Poets I'll tag: Peter Pereira, Jeannine Gailey, and Paul Guest

Poem of the Day: Security by William Stafford

Given what's been on my mind and the last month of 2006, I thought I'd share this poem. There's been a lot of synchronicity in the air today, watch for it in your neighborhood.


Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

William Stafford

Someone Who Knows A Lot About You...

Someone recently asked me about the role of the "speaker" in poems. Many times, people begin reading poetry and assume the voice in the poem (also known as the "speaker") is the poet. This is an assumption that shouldn't be made. The best quote I've heard about this topic is from Marvin Bell who said, "The speaker in my poems is not me, but someone who knows a lot about me."

Writing from autobiography is natural and normal, but it can limit your poems if you believe you must stick to the facts. So your grandmother's sweater was red, but blue sounds more sad and better for the poem. You always do what's best for the poem. Poetry is not about honesty, but truth.

Poetry is creative writing and not memoir. We draw from our experiences because we are human and we write about our obsessions, passions, and what is interesting to us. We write what we know, but we also write about what we don't know...and if we do it well enough, the poem is successful.

I don't think poets should pretend to be something they are not, like creating a whole false backstory to their lives to make themselves more marketable (and if you want to be more "marketable," you should be writing fiction, or memoir, or something else besides poetry because this is not the table where the money is being handed out. . .)

I write poetry because I cannot not write poetry. Being a Capricorn and a poet who likes nice things, sometimes I have to laugh at the path I've chosen. But I realize, this path though rarely with a secure paycheck, is the path where I want to be.

Yesterday in the mail, I received "Your Social Security Statement," that report that has your life's work in dollars documented for all to see. I went back to the time in my life when I was making the most money at my corporate job: 1995. If money=happiness than I should have been delirious that year, but actually, that was the year I started planning my escape from corporate America. That was the year where I wanted to run away. That was the year I had no idea what was going on in the world because I was underwater in reports and budgets.

Yes, 1995-- the year when I felt the least happiest because I had no time to write and I knew I was on the wrong path. I was becoming my father. I worked long hours and my husband would call me at work to ask when I was coming home. That year I planned a trip to London to get perspective on things, to retrace the steps of T.S. Eliot and the Bloomsbury Group, to visit the Manuscript Room in the British Museum, to take remember who I wanted to be and how far I was walking away from that person.

This year, according to the SS report, I actually made some money writing, however, it was a little less than the money I earned at a part time job my senior year in high school when I was saving for my graduation trip to Hawaii. Still, this last year as an MFA student, making the least amount I've ever made, not working (for the first time in my life since 1986) was probably one of the happiest in my life.

Today in the shower I couldn't get that Beatle's song out of my head, "Can't Buy Me Love." And I couldn't figure out where in the world that song arrived from, but maybe it was part in me that knows that, the "speaker" in myself who steers me back on track when I start making decisions not from my heart, but from my head. I know (though I have to remind myself this again and again) that I need to live from that place of trust and not of fear. If someone were to ask me what I am here to learn on this earth, this would be answer.
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