Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quote of the Day...

"Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me."

        Sigmund Freud

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I owe you a Ted Kooser story...

On Saturday, Ted Kooser read with Dan Gerber in Port Townsend, Washington's Fort Warden Park (for the non-locals, this is the place they filmed An Officer and a Gentleman).  We arrived late thinking that this would be like most every poetry reading-- poorly attended and running late.  Wrong on both counts.  The theatre was jammed packed.  I sat in the last row with the other late arrivers, but luckily, it's a smaller theatre so all the seats had pretty good views.

Sitting in two chairs with a small table between them, Ted would read a poem then Dan would respond by reading a poem with a similar theme.  My husband said that they looked like two men at Denny's--Ted in his tan suit and Dan leaning back in his chair as if ready to tell you a story.  They read for fifty minutes.  Afterwards, there was a short Q&A.  I felt a  bad for Dan during this part.  Most of the questions were for Ted.  Dan was sort of the consolation prize, like on the Wheel of Fortune, after the winner has spent all her money on the trip to Tahiti and the new car, she still has $125 left over which is just enough to buy the ceramic Dalmatian.  Dan was sort of the ceramic Dalmatian of the evening, after all the questions to Ted on becoming the Poet Laureate, a woman finally asked them both a question and Ted graciously let Dan answer first.
I was impressed with Mr. Kooser when he said that he know longer submits to literary journals because right now he can get anything published.  He said they publish his poems because his name is attached to them and not on whether they think they are good, well-written poems.  So he's pulled himself out of that arena.  I'm guessing some other poets would take advantage of such a situation and publish everywhere, so I could appreciate his actions here.  He also told a very funny story about getting the call from the Library of Congress to become the new Poet Laureate and then deciding to take a drive and return some DVDs to think about it.  He said as he backed out, he slammed his side-view mirror into the garage and it dangled all the way to town by a cord against his passenger door.  He said he never did return those DVDs that day. 
Afterwards it was time to have our books signed (Delights & Shadows, and a beautiful letterpress book of his valentines, which I love).  If you know me, you know that when I get around poets I admire I tend to turn into a Neanderthal muttering things like, "Me, Kelli.  Me likey your book."  Because I am a big fan of Ted Kooser I tried to pull it together and come up with a few normal things to say.  I learned he knew the directors of my MFA program, so I thought I'd mention that.  I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his book of valentines.  I also considered letting him know that he chose my poem as an honorable mention in NAR's James Hearst Poetry Prize.  But what did I do when it finally my turn to speak to him, to kindly hand him my books to sign?  I dropped all my books on Mr. Kooser's feet like the cave woman I am.  Yes, this was my meeting with Ted Kooser, the ex-Poet Laureate, I was the person hitting his feet with books.  As I tried to pick up the books in my nervousness, I became a chaotic juggler, everything was slipping out of my hands.  So to make things "better" (and I have that in quotes because we all know in a situation like this, rarely do things get better) I tried to speak.   And what did I rapidly mumble to Mr. Kooser?  Something awkward and stalker-like: "I know people you know" and "I like your book" (book--not plural, but as if he has only one book I like). Nice. 
Mr. Kooser sweetly accepted my books to sign and I spelled out my name for him like a child.  When I told a friend about how I acted she said kindly, "It sounds as if you were charming," well, if clumsy and confused have become a synonym for charming, then charming I was. Still afterwards, even with all the nuttiness of the moment, I was giddy for having finally met him.  I drove home thinking about the evening and feeling thankful and lucky for where I live.  It was dusk and poetry was in the letters of everyone's license plate.  The Canadian geese were spelling out Mary Oliver name and the wheat fields where the llama wander seemed to be a cover of a book.  When I returned home I opened my notebook to read my notes from the evening.  I had only written two things:  "I slit my wrists but I was empty" and "To write good poems, learn everything about the craft of poetry, then forget about it." 
From Local Wonders by Ted Kooser:
They Had Torn Off My Face at the Office

They had torn off my face at the office.
The night that I finally noticed
that it was not growing back, I decided
to slit my wrists. Nothing ran out;
I was empty. Both of my hands fell off
shortly thereafter. Now at my job
they allow me to type with the stumps.
It pleases them to have helped me,
and I gain in speed and confidence.
* * * * *

Monday, May 28, 2007

Goal in Life: Never to Waste a Three Day Weekend--

It's been fifteen years since I've been to a graduation. Back then I could barely concentrate on Tom Foley, our keynote speaker, as I was thinking about leaving for Europe the next day with my best friend. The ceremony came and went while I imagined flying into Paris, thought about what I still needed to pack, and carrying too much sense of responsibility for a twenty-something, but just enough hope. That day, I walked away from the University of Washington amazed I was actually through with school and in disbelief that there would be no more homework, thrilled that I would now get a chance to finally experience "the real world."

If I ever write a graduation address, my theme will be "the real world" and the fact that there isn't a real world out there waiting for you, but that "the real world" begins the moment you take your first breath on this earth. A corporate job, a steady paycheck, someone to check in with daily or someone to sign your timecard--this is not what makes "the real world," these are just things we may get stuck doing as adults. The real world is not built out of nice cars and Jimmy Choo shoes, despite the makings of a very fine appearance, almost enough to make one think that she could truly *find* the real world just by glancing into a department store window and choosing the correct outfit.

But the real world is what is created out of passion. Out of the moments you listen to that inner voice and trust it, even when it's telling you to step out of line from what the rest of your world, country, community, friends, or tribe is doing. It's trusting the very idea of a desire. It's putting all your eggs in one basket, running down a bumpy hill, and realizing it was the delicate eggs that helped you keep your balance.

Yesterday, as I sat in a graduation again and tried to keep my mind on the names of other students who were being called, I thought about our individual journeys on earth. Even when my heart was pounding as someone placed my brown graduate hood over my head and pushed me towards the stage. Even as I walked up the stairs holding the yellow index card that read: Master of Fine Arts and I realized I was the first graduate to walk across the stage for PLU's new MFA program. I tried to stay in the moment and yet I wanted to remember all I've gone through to find myself here.

And after I crossed the stage, face forward, saying, Thank you, and returning to my chair, I knew the basket of eggs I had carried these last three years could be set down and that passion was more than the name of the toenail polish I chose the day and the lipstick shade I purchased three hours before the ceremony. Passion was what I needed to carry from this point on, not delicate dreams or the sense of direction of anyone else. Not a sweet disposition or anything else they can teach in charm school, what I needed to be in my real world was a passionate life. And it has always been found in three things for me: family, friends, and writing. So, I will continue to run down hills (barefoot) with the faith that if I fall, I will get up again and if I arrive with pockets of wildflowers, an open hand, and a poem, it will be then I will know I've succeeded.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Motherhood Anthology - Call for submissions: Poetry

***Please note the correct email is motherhoodanthology (at)

I'm joining together with a photographer to create an anthology on motherhood. Our vision for this project is a coffeetable book that combines her images of women/motherhood with poems exploring that theme.

You are welcome to submit previously published poems as long as you hold the rights to them (just mention that they've been previously published in your email and where, so we're aware of it).

Here's the information and where to send your poems. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. Elisha's website is also included in the call for submissions if you'd like to get an idea of what kind of photos will be featured with the poems.


What: Motherhood Anthology (Poetry/Photography)

Photographer Elisha Rain & poet/writer Kelli Russell Agodon are joining together to create an anthology that speaks to being a mother in this current world. We are looking for poems exploring all areas of pregnancy, birth, and any aspects of being a mother. We are very open to all motherhood content and themes, but want poems that are powerful, truthful, thought-provoking, and/or thoughtful.

Send no more than 4 poems cut & pasted into the text of the email to:

motherhoodanthology (at) -- replace (at) with @

Or you may mail your poems with an SASE to: Motherhood Anthology, PO Box 1524, Kingston, WA 98346

Please include bio, contact information, and a brief paragraph about your experience or thoughts on motherhood, your relationship to motherhood and how it's changed you (maybe you have chosen not to be a mother), how you balance your life as a poet and a mother, or some insight you've learned as a mother.

Previously published poems are welcome as long as you hold the rights to the poems.

We are currently querying publishers, so we are unsure what compensation will be, however our goal is monetary payment as well as a copy of the anthology.

For more information about the editors of this anthology, please feel free to visit their websites:

Elisha Rain, Photographer

Kelli Russell Agodon, Poetry Editor

Postmark deadline: October 31, 2007

Thank you for your interest in this project. Any questions or inquiries may also be addressed to the above email address.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Writer's Block...

I'm teaching a class on Saturday called "Finding the Off Switch to Your Internal Editor," which focus on writer's block and how to keep writing and moving forward when you come to the end of a line.  While I was researching "writer's block," (Research?  I don't need no stinkin' research, I'm fully accredited in writer's block...) but as I was saying, while I was "researching" writer's block, I found these quotes that you may enjoy, understand, and/or appreciate--
(link to the full story above)

Following are some thoughts on the subject, and even a few tricks for unblocking.

Louise GlΓΌck (Descending Figure, Ecco Press 1981): "I question the assumption behind writer's block, which is that one should be writing all the time, that at any given time there is something worthwhile to be made into a poem. We become obsessed with silence then, and fail to cultivate patience. Of course I've experienced that anxious silence we call writer's block, but at times we simply have nothing to say. Then we need to get back in the world and put more life into ourselves —and hope we'll be vouchsafed some more poems. In fact, there aren't that many "real poems" to be written in any given year. Nevertheless we set up a schedulea set of habits that minimize the anxiety. But I find it scarier to sit down and write garbage. Then I do better not to write poetry at all— I write letters and cook."

Francine du Plessix Gray (World Without End, Simon & Schuster 1981): "There are two kinds of writer's block. One is when you can't write anything, and another is when you can't solve a technical problem in a novel or short story. I don't believe in the overall writer's blockyou can always write something else: book reviews, or another genre. Then the pain of ceasing to write is not so present. I seek refuge in nonfiction. In the past—when I had longer spells between books and was less in demand for book reviews—I wrote letters."

Stanley Kunitz (Poems of Stanley Kunitz 1928-1978, Atlantic Monthly Press 1979): "Writer's block is a natural affliction. Writers who have never experienced it have something wrong with them. It means there isn't enough friction—that they aren't making enough of an effort to reconcile the contradictions of life. All you get is a sweet, monotonous flow. Writer's block is nothing to commit suicide over—it simply indicates some imbalance between your experience and your art, and I think that's constructive. You have to get in mesh again—better sit and think about it."

James Merrill (Scripts For The Pageant, Atheneum 1980): There's no such thing as a simple writer's blockyou're usually in some other troubling predicament, whether you know it or not. Writer's block exists as an overt symptom of something else, not as its cause. The answer is to get away from your desk. You usually just weather it, wait for it to pass, go about your life—do anything to refresh you."

Tim O'Brien (Going After Cacciato, Delacorte 1978): "I've never had it—I'm not sure what it is. The only solution is to write and write and write. When I talk to students or others who'd been blocked, I often find it was just an absence of thought—they didn't know what to write about. If you know what it is you care about it's easy to write. Those who can't rite probably shouldn't."

Lynne Sharon Schwartz (Balancing Acts, Harper & Row 1981): "I don't believe in any such thing. I'm very puritanical -you just have to sit down and do it. I haven't had writer's lock since I began to write seriously—which was ten years go. Before that, it wasn't that I sat down and tried to write and couldn't, I just didn't sit down. Now it is vital that I write, and I do it like a job. I can't afford writer's block—I started very late, and hear time's winged chariot."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day...

What have I learned as a mother?

I've learned that if there's a nice vase, it will be broken usually by a large pink ball and that the future comes at you in full gallop whether you have planned for it or not. If there are shoes, they will be scattered by the door. If there are small toys they will be sucked up by the vacuum or swept away. I've learned there's no such thing as the perfect anything, that perfection comes with flaws and rough edges. I realize how much my own mum has sacrificed and given me and I now understand where her worry comes from. I've also learned that I must also keep my own life as it's important for my daughter to see that it's okay for her explore passions even when life is full. I realize that when I am older I will look back at this time as the happiest time of my life and that that while trying to help this little person grow into a kind, compassionate person, my biggest challenge will be to stay out of the way and let her find and experience her own authentic life.

So, to all the mother and mother poets out there, Happy Mother’s Day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Check In

Nothing but Net...well not quite--
So, the submission day was not a swoosh, but an off the backboard shot.  2 points.  In the entire day, I only submitted to two places.  It seems I would much rather write poetry than submit it.   I found myself revising a lot and finding poems I hadn't worked on in awhile.  Perhaps my secret to writing is to tell myself I'm going to spend the day submitting as I mostly wrote.
Summer is breaking through that decomposing ozone--
With the nice weather, I'm realizing my blog will be the billboard you drive by for a show that played last week.  I've been out a lot more and as the summer months come in, I realize I'll be checking in here much less frequently.  If you see the sign "Closed for the Summer," you'll know I'm in my own little world that doesn't include poetry, but mostly sun, air, and the thought of September when the writing begins again.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Since Summer is coming, something to think about...

From KOMO 4 News, Seattle, by Herb Weisbaum

62 reasons to be aware of this hidden danger

It's being called a nationwide epidemic -- kids being run over in their own driveway. Bigger cars with bigger blind spots are taking a tragic toll.

These slow motion rollover accidents are happening at an alarming rate, killing about 100 kids each year and injuring several thousand more. In most cases, the driver is a parent or relative, making this a tragedy within a tragedy.

And the sad fact is, there are simple ways to reduce this driveway danger.

We all do it: get in the car, start the engine, check the mirrors, then put the vehicle in gear. If that's all you do before pulling out of the driveway you've made a potentially fatal mistake.

"I don't want this happening again," said Kari Vastbinder, who was backing out of her driveway last July when it happened. "I don't want this happening to anyone."

She accidentally hit her then 2-year-old son, Aiden.

"I actually ran over him, went over his back and came close to going over his head," she said. "My neighbor stopped me. I pulled forward and my son was all bloody."

Her husband saw the whole thing happen. "I thought he was dead," said James Vastbinder.

James said Aiden was playing outside with a toy fire truck when Kari started the car. "I think when she started the car he decided he wanted to join her."

In less than five seconds, Aiden ran 30 feet across the lawn.

"He'd made his way over to the vehicle. He was caught under the right tire," said James.

Kari had absolutely know idea her son was there.

"He was in my blind spot," she said. He was little. I couldn't see him out of the side."

It's no exaggeration to say little Aiden is lucky to be alive. The 3-year-old boy carries the scars of that night on his arms, back, and forehead.

The consumer group Kids and Cars says at least 50 children are run over each week in this country because they're in a blind spot. Each week two of them will die.

Safety experts say the move to bigger vehicles is making the problem worse.

"The larger, the wider, the longer the vehicle, the larger the blind zone," said Janette Fennell, of Kids And Cars.

Testing Blind Spots

And, as we discovered, that blind zone can be huge. Consumer Reports helped me check a couple of vehicles in my neighborhood.

We used a road cone to simulate a child on a tricycle.

First, I got inside and adjusted the mirrors. Then Mike Quincy, an automotive expert with the magazine, started moving the cone away from the bumper, farther and farther back until I could see it in one of my mirrors.

The blind zone behind the Toyota Sequioa was 21 feet, 7 inches.

The Chevy Astro minivan was even worse: 27 feet, 9 inches.

To put this in perspective, ask yourself this question: How many children do you suppose can sit down behind an SUV without the driver seeing them in the rear view mirror?

According to Kids and Cars, the answer is 62. That's right, 62 kids could be there and you'd never see them, and that's a problem.

But what about sedans? I figured my car, an Acura sedan, would have a small blind spot. I was wrong. The tape measure showed a blind spot of 23 feet, 9 inches.

"Who would have thought that a sedan or coupe like yours is gonna have near the backup distance of a big SUV?" said Quincy. The spoiler at the back of the car really obstructs the rear-view vision.

Consumer Reports tested the blind spots of hundreds of vehicles. The Jeep Commander had the biggest blind spot, up to 70 feet with a short driver. Seventy feet is longer than my driveway!

Dangers in Front

Big vehicles can also have big blind spots in front. Unfortunately, backing them into the driveway as some people do, does not eliminate the danger.

"Some of the vehicles are so large and you're so high off the ground that you can't see little ones in front of the vehicle," Fennell said.

According to Kids and Cars, 60 children were killed last year in front-over accidents. That's more than one child every week.

Eight-year old Douglas Branson was one of them.

"Douglas was the cautious one," said his father, Phil Branson. "He would always ask if he could cross the street."

Last May, Douglas was walking home on the sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in West Linn, Oregon, just outside Portland.

Phil Branson thinks his son dropped a toy and bent down to pick it up, just as a neighbor a few houses down the block was moving his SUV forward.

"He was hit immediately and carried into the street," Phil said.

West Linn Police Department Sgt. Neil Hennelly said the driver will likely suffer for the rest of his life. "I can't imagine this not affecting you every day," he said.

Janette Fennell, the Kansas City mom who founded Kids and Cars, drives an SUV with a built-in back-up camera. She thinks every vehicle should have one.

"As soon as that car is in reverse, the camera comes on automatically and look at that view," she said. "I can see all the way down the street and it's very clear to me where everything is. I'd never drive a car that doesn't have it again."

A number of manufacturers now have backup cameras in some of their vehicles, either standard or as an option. With that camera the big blind spot in the rear disappears.

But Douglas Branson's dad says technology alone won't solve this problem.

"Just take the time to slow down. Take time to think about your child being in or around the car," he said. "Think of other families' children."

This may surprise you, but there is no federal standard for rear visibility.

Congress is now considering the Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2007, a bill that, if passed, would establish a rear visibility performance standard so that drivers would be able to detect a person behind the vehicle.

A Poem a Day...

It's been interesting to return to the 30 poems I wrote over National Poetry Month.  I feel like an outsider hired to edit someone else's work--some of these poems I hardly remember writing as that ticking clock, that deadline, made me pound something out and save it just to meet my goal of a poem a day. 

The one bonus this exercise had is that I've sort of continued with a "poem a day" into May.  I find that now when sit down to write, I'm less hesitant.  I start writing immediately and just see what happens.  I think the poem-a-day exercise reminded me not to take poetry or writing poems so seriously.  *Serious* can kill a poem.  I think it was Marvin Bell who said that the goal is to fool your mind into writing, or was it William Stafford.  I can't remember, but the message is just the same-- to distract yourself from the idea of "the poem" so your mind can be a little more free.
I've decided to take a day off from "the office" (aka the coffeeshop where I write) and stay home to submit some poems.  Now, I won't be submitting the poems from National Poetry Month, well, there's one or two I finished, but those poems will be in poetry purgatory until they've been cleaned up, ironed out, and dusted off.  But I realize I don't have a lot poems out there and well, I like to get mail.  Even a rejection is better than an empty mailbox. 
So, this is my poetry life today.  I will walk the dog, make a fresh pot of coffee or treat myself with a Chai tea, then sit down in my now-clean-office-with-the-disheveled-bookcase to send some things out into the world.  Summer is coming.  I can see it in the wingtips of swallows and I know poetry will be folded up and set a side for a few months.  Today my poems shall be paper airplanes flying out into the world.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

13 Poets

In answer to the question--

Say someone asked me, "I kind of like poetry, but I don't know anything about contemporary poetry. Who should I read?"

No blog friends
No real-life friends
No real-life mentors
Alive as of this writing

In no particular order...

1. Li-Young Lee
2. Dorothy Barresi
3. Julianna Baggott
4. Bob Hicok
5. Beth Ann Fennelly
6. Denise Duhamel
7. Marie Howe
8. Ted Kooser
9. Tony Hoagland
10. Dorianne Laux
11. David Lehman
12. Heather McHugh
13. Someone I haven't read yet

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Welcome to the Thunderdome & The Last Stanza

Two poets enter.  One poet leaves.
* * *
It's another rainy day here in the wet Northwest.  Though I'm not complaining, I was hoping for rain so I don't feel guilty for staying inside and writing.  I'm off to the office in a bit--today, it's the library.  I am writing so much more by leaving the house.  Even if I'm alone at home, I write more diligently, in a more focused way somewhere else.  Maybe because I get hungry or the chairs are too hard.  Maybe something wants to leave and return home and to do so, I must have written.  So I write.

I'm starting some longer projects, but mostly to be honest, right now my head is in the clouds.  We just received word that everyone in our class finished their thesis on time and we will all be graduating.  I can't believe it.  I was planning to return for my MFA in 1998 or 1999, but instead my body worked on something else that year--a baby.  I cannot tell you how thankful I am for low-residency programs.  It would have been incredibly difficult to have completed my MFA in a traditional program on campus.  Honestly, for us, we would have had to sell our blue house by the sea and move back to the city.  Yes, it could have been done, but with a lot disturbances to regular life and the disheveling of a family.
So, here I am.  I feel as if right now I'm just sort of standing a field and around me are unlimited directions.  I've always said that all of my best decisions have been made by listening to my heart--I know that sounds precious, but it's true.  And maybe heart isn't the right word, maybe it's instinct, or desire, or that feeling I get inside when I know something is right. 
My worst decisions have all been made with my head--they've been thought out and planned (sometimes well-planned).  Every decision that has gone wrong was a decision I made because I *thought* it was the right thing to do.  I've come to realize my best decisions are made by a more visceral process--if something *feels* right.  I know, it sounds so new-agey, so touchy-feeling, you'd think that after I make my decision I'm going to sit down on my yoga mat with some green tea and light candles.  
So where will I walk to from the center of this open field?  I'm not sure.
Someone asked if I wanted to teach and my response was -- only at a low-residency program.  My goal is to make my life as a writer with as many subtitles as needed--poet, freelance journalist, novelist, you name it.  
Why is all this coming up now?  Well, I just received an email from my college with all the details on when to be at graduation, where to go, *you will not walk without a cap and gown* and so on.  And it gave me that nervous feeling, that omg, I'm done, I did this.  It's really truly over (officially in August after my last residency), but yes, I'm graduating.  Holy poetry, Batman.  We've reached the last stanza.
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