Thursday, November 29, 2007

Still Life with Tombstone & Poem

While I find this article interesting that they found an old headstone with a poem on the back, I'm more amused that the name of the County Administrator they interview is Bill Collins.

How to Get Your Groove Back...

I'm taking a break from writing. Yes, that means my writing life, my circle of creativity is feeling much more on track. I *am* writing, so I actually have something to take a break from!
As many of you know, since graduating, I've been, well, how do I put this? Floaty. Not focused. Basically I feel as I've been recruited into a lifestyle of "Ladies Who Lunch." I really haven't been doing much except talking or thinking about writing, socializing with friends and family, going for walks with the dog, organizing events, trips, household chores, but not focusing on my writing like I have in the past.

Maybe a few of you are thinking I'm sort of an unreliable narrator here as I have written poems and submitted my work since graduating, but honestly, it has not been with much intent. It's been random acts of poetry. It's been hit or miss days.

I'm going to try to explain the various stages and steps that have allowed for my writing groove to return in case others have gone through, are going through, or will go through a stage like this.
Here's a few of the ways that have helped me get my groove back.

1) Accepting the void, but getting past it...

I've been trying to be kind to myself for not "unfocusedness," but I've also been trying to recreate my writing life.

I knew I wanted to give myself a break since I have worked hard in school, but I knew this break could last a short eternity if I wasn't careful and honestly, as a Capricorn, extensive break times can be hard to do.
I'm not all work and no play, but I am not really a play, play, play kind of gal either. I welcome rest and relaxation, but I also need to have some sort of "work" happening in my life to relax from--whether it's school, or focused writing, or a pt job. There needs to an "other" or I'm just too unscheduled. Like a toddler with too much room to roam, I will spend hours sticking things in the light socket, give me some boundaries though, and I will stack blocks, create the next poem.

2) Thinking about things--

or as my daughter would say when she was three "I'm finking about fings." I guess I needed to think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It sounds a silly, it sounds very 1992 when I graduated from the UW, but leaving PLU left me with a void that surprised me and this odd question-- now what? I can see why people move on from degree to degree because it does fill the empty space grad school leaves behind.

So, I've been thinking about what exactly I want to work on-- novels, essays, poems, children's books, articles-- and the overwhelming answer has been yes. Yes to all. The upcoming new years offers a nice time just allow a new game plan to come about, to write and write and see what happens.

3) The Artist Way Action Plan has reappeared--

Surprisingly, this is strange chart that you create while doing Artist's Way has been a sort of touchstone for me. It's a way to see bigger goals broken down. It doesn't just say "Publish award-winning novel," but under daily goals it can say "Write 1000 words today," (or whatever your goal is). It takes the bigger ideas and put them into babysteps, like a What About Bob way to live: Babysteps into the elevator... We move slowly, but we get there.

4) Sick and tired of feeling/sounding like a wannabe--

It's amazing what a little self-humiliation can do. Honestly, I'm so tired of hearing myself *talk* about writing instead of actually doing it, it's made me devote entire days to writing and revising. It's made me pull essays out of out thin air just to have something to submit that isn't poetry. It's made me have to get out of my comfort zone and feel a little *uncomfortable,* submitting to new genres to new venues. My tribe's unrefined motto of: If you're not going to sh*t, then get off the pot.
Do something. Do anything! Okay. I get it.

5) Listening to New Letters Podcasts on NPR--

They interview writers. No, they interview people who are writers and it reminds me that this (writing or not writing) is a choice I'm making. These people/writers do not have superpowers, they are ordinary folks who work hard and write. Dedication. Perseverance. Persistence. A little luck. A little timing. A little more dedication to their goal. Hard work and persistence. Some have degrees, some don't. Some have large vocabularies, some don't. Some are funny, some aren't. Some had fabulous childhoods, some didn't. There's a lot of everything and lot of room for others. So, I'm inspired by these people and when I hear them talk, I want to write.

So, there it is. The details of how I slid back into my writing life. I'll keep you posted on the ups and downs of it (hopefully, more ups than downs) and let you know what's working and what's not.

I think much of it is realizing that without my writing, I feel a little off-kilter, like our Christmas that despite its beauty was leaning a little heavy to the right. It eventually fell (but I caught it - as well as hung up on Jeannnine Gailey who I was talking to at the time).
I tend to catch the things that fall around me--Christmas trees, my writing, others--and I've learned that what ends on the floor can be fixed, a tree can be retrimmed, as can a writing life. And a friend can be recalled to let know that everything is okay.

From an interview with Kim Addonizio

Do you think poets get less leeway than novelists? With a novel the audience presumably knows invention is part of the equation. Too often, I’ve heard poets who write in the first person accused of being merely confessional.

Everyone expects a poem to be literally true, but of course it’s not. A poem is a work of the imagination, and the self you create on the page isn’t the same person who washes the dishes and goes to the grocery store and tries to figure out how to fix the computer. It’s a deeper self, or maybe a self you can’t actually access in your daily life.

Or maybe it’s a self you don’t, or can’t, show to anyone in your daily life. It’s a part of you, but not the factual part, if that makes any sense.

I’ve often been labeled as a “confessional poet” because I write about personal things: finding or losing love, fearing death, feeling a sense of hopelessness about the world. But those are also universal things. I try to tell my little piece of it, and maybe it connects to what someone else feels.


And it looks as if there will be a sequel to Poet's Companion. She says when asked what she is working on:

"a sort of sequel or sister to a book. I wrote with poet Dorianne Laux, The Poet’s Companion.
The new book is going to be called Ordinary Genius. It’s about writing poetry and living a writer’s life, and has a lot of advice and ideas for anyone who wants to write poetry."

****I'll be looking forward to that.

Full interview here

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oz & Frida Kahlo's Ghost

I finish my manuscript then disappear from the blogworld for 3 days. One day was Christmas shopping, one day was submitting my manuscript, and one day is today. So, I'm back.


Last night on the way to a poetry workshop, I was complaining to two of my good poet friends that I haven't been writing, but then I thought-- Wait, I've been writing. (I was bringing a new poem to our workshop!) And I've been revising (see above post, I just said I completed my mss). Not on a daily schedule or every day, but I've done a lot. I think because I haven't done it in a 9-5 way, it doesn't seem as if it happened. It's sort of as if my writing time has become Oz, a hazy place, but a place where I'm sure I've been. Now, just to get those ruby red slippers for proof.


Warning: Dream post--

Speaking of Oz, I had this dream where the word came into play...

In the dream, I was staying at a residency for poets who wanted to write novels (Peter Pereira had just been there a week before me) and Ted Kooser was coming to my studio at night to see what I had written. When I explained, I wasn't able to write anything and that I had spent the day doing research, he called in a woman writer named Cici to talk with me.

When Cici arrived she was very distracted. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was afraid of Frida Kahlo's ghost. She took off the Frida necklace she was wearing and put in around my neck. Frida is an inspiration to me and I was thrilled to have the necklace. When I turned it the pendant with Frida's photo on it, it was inscribed "Oz."

If I were to interpret this dream, I'd say that 1) it was created from my concern I've been wasting too much time lately (and the ex-Poet Laureaute is going to check up on me).
And 2) that there's nothing to be afraid of, our minds are Oz and they can be filled with flying monkeys, ruby slippers, or Frida Kahlo's ghost, it all depends on what we want to make of it.

It also tells me there's a few yellow brick roads I need to follow...


On my walk this morning, I started thinking about a children's story I wrote, submitted twice, then sort of abandoned in my computer files. I'm reconnecting with it today. I think I'm reconnecting with a lot of things today. I hope you are too.


By the way, if you need a writing prompt today, write a poem called "Frida Kahlo's ghost" or one that uses that image.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Checking in...

A friend of my mine kindly surprised me with an early Christmas gift-- Duende, poems by Tracy K. Smith. The poems are fantastic. I love this book. I read it on the ferry on the way home and I was so inspired by her writing.
Reading my favorite blogs this morning, I was shocked to see that my friend Debra's terrier was attacked by a pitbull. Charlie's sweet dog Arden was also attacked this week. I am so thankful that both dogs are healing and will be okay, but geez, what is up with all these people with aggressive dogs (and running wild in the world). Sheesh, don't get a dog you can't control.


My manuscript is done. My manuscript is done. My manuscript is done. And I am happy happy happy with it.


As for today, we're decorating our tree and covering our little world in tinsel.


And boo hoo, the Huskies lost the Cougs in the Apple Cup. Because of this, I'll have to tell my favorite WSU joke--

Q: Why did the Pullman police department take the 9-1-1 off of their cars?
A: Cougar football players kept stealing them because they thought they were Porsches.

***Congratulations Wazzu for a game well played, we'll see you again next year...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Gratitude List

1) My family & another Thanksgiving with my nana, who will turn 96 in January. During our family grace before our first Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday when asked, "What are you grateful for?" She said, "Give me a minute, you took me by surprise." Love it!

2) Thanksgiving Deja Vu: Since half of my family lives on this side of the water (rural seaside USA), and the other half lives on the Seattle side, we're having two Thanksgivings. One traditional one we had at my mum's and one today, where we will meet my sister, nieces, nephews, great-nephew (yes, I'm a great aunt!)and we'll dine out. I am thankful for the colorful stories this side of the family gives me with their holiday dramas, it would not be the holidays if someone wasn't talking about someone else. ;-)

3) The holiday season-- I know many hate it, but ignore the commercialism and listen to the underlining message-- to give, to be thoughtful, and to pay attention to the others around you.

4) I give thanks to giving thanks.

5) The Macy's Thanksgiving parade

6) You. Yes, every known, unknown, or random person who reads this blog. Whether you comment on not, email or not, you matter.

7) 4-day weekends-- Which reminds me of my friend's goal in high school: Never waste a 3-day weekend

8) The earth. As much as use and abuse it, it still keeps spinning for us.

9) Our imperfections. Imagine how dull this world would be if we were all perfect. I give thanks for our bad habits, our vices, our emotional days, and everything about ourselves we try to fix.

10) Ferryboats-- my water car.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lee Young Lee - Lunch Poems, Nov 2002 - Video

Saw this video (it's long, around 45 minutes), but thought I would share it for the Li-Young Lee fans out there.

Robert Hass gives the intro.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The "Kindle" - Will it burn out?

Some snips from it--

"...everyone has an opinion, mostly negative, about how it looks. A sample description: "like a prop from an old sci-fi horror flick."

"Kindle, which is roughly the size of a paperback and weighs about 10 ounces, is taking a beating for its appearance. "It has a sort of late-1970s Battlestar Galactica/Pong/digital watch aesthetic about it," Silicon Alley Insider's Peter Kafka wrote. "Which is fine with us -- we're function over form people, when push comes to shove. But this thing would not pass muster with Steve Jobs."
99-Cents a Blog
"Blogs, virtually all of which are free online, will cost Kindle customers either 99 cents or $1.99 a month for a subscription. (TechCrunch, Scobleizer and GigaOM are among the 300 blogs participating in Amazon's program.)

Engadget, among others, called it an odd arrangement.
In a subsequent post, author Ryan Block noted that the blogs are selected by Amazon and will share the revenue with the online retailer.
But why pay to read something that's freely available, asked the Globe and Mail's Mathew Ingram. "I'm trying to think of a blog that I would pay money to read, and nothing is really coming to mind -- not even Engadget or TechCrunch or Boing Boing," he wrote. "But that line of thinking raises the inevitable question: if a blog like Engadget is pretty much as good as a magazine (which I think it is), then why would people pay for one but not the other? That can lead you in one of two directions: charge for the blog, or don't charge for anything. We know which one Jeff has chosen -- but is it the right one?"
I kind of half-posted this yesterday and somehow deleted my own thoughts on this little item--
First, had I not recently moved up in the tech-world recently by organizing my life by PalmPilot instead of paper Daytimer, I'd be completely bashing this product. However, since I realize the easy and convenience of my PalmPilot, I could see how this product could be useful, especially on vacations or while traveling.

I lugged two bags of books down to California with me. If I could have had them in a small handheld device, it would have been easier than lugging them up to my hotel room. So, I'm open to this.

Where I think the Kindle goes wrong is that 1) It should come with some books uploaded in it. And a good selection of independent press books too, not just the big guys.
2) Blogs should be free.
3) If you purchase a REAL book through Amazon, you should get the ebook as well (or for 50 cents more)
Right now, by buying this, you're just buying an empty shelf at the library, not any words. That bothers me. For $399, you should at least get to choose 5 books to download as well.
And I don't know if poetry books will be available in eBook, I'd need to find that out as well.
I think it has possibilities and definitely for travel, but for now, it just not "the best that it could be," so I'll have to pass in favor of my sofa, my fireplace, and my stack of paper books.
(I'll be watching to see if Amazon upgrades it in the near future...)

To Get You in the Holiday Spirit- Poet Elves!

Poet Elves

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Excellent MiPOesias Issue - Now Out and Online!

What I like about MiPoesias is that visually, it's pleasing to the eyes. And this issue has poets as you haven't seen them before (sailor suit, boxing gloves). It has the feel of a Vogue layout and I mean that as a compliment.

Unlike when Fence tried to get attention with dare this sexy cover-- this was a great mix of content and photography. I'd love to see other journals follow their lead. Didi Menendez has some fantastic visual (and visionary) style and it shows in the current issue.

I might in another post discuss why I feel MiPOesias did a better job with intrigue than the Fence issue, or how why I see them succeeding in doing a so-called "hot" issue. But for now, I just wanted to let you know, it's out and available ONLINE.


Included in this issue:

Reb Livingston
Lee Herrick
Jenni Russell interviews Billy Collins

From Jenni Russell's interview with Billy Collins:

Do you have a favorite poem in The Trouble with Poetry?

I don’t have a favorite poem of mine in that or any book.
The reader, not the poet, is the one to have “favorites.”
Frankly, I have absolutely no interest in any of my
poems. They’re orphans searching for a reader to adopt
them. Or kick them out into the snow.

Note: I have fast internet service and PDF file took a bit longer to download because of all the fantastic photographs, so don't worry if it doesn't come right up. (And dial up folks, you may want to take a walk around block or make yourself a snack while you wait...)

See the new for yourself--
Visit MiPoesias here
Download the PDF File

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Week of being Thankful

I'm writing this B.C. (before coffee), before I've really even rolled from bed (so B.F.- before floor). Thanksgiving slides up on us this week. Here we were, minding our own business, just finally getting around to throwing out the rotting Jack O'Lanterns, when now it's time to return to our families--no, this year I won't have sit at the child's table--and the roles we love to hate.

So, I'm thinking about gratitude this week and what I am thankful for:

1) Family and Friends, as much as I see myself as a bit of a loner, I'm not.

2) Christmas songs (played 24 hrs a day starting this week)--I know, some of you are cringing, but it's the soundtrack to my season

3) Miracles, Coincidences, Synchronicity - and not just this time of year, any time of year

4) Peace, Love, and Understanding - Not just an Elvis Costello song and also the Elvis Costello song.

5) My pets-- they should have been mentioned earlier in the list, but my cat Eliot appeared and sat on my foot when I was on #5

6) Clean sheets - my favorite way to go to bed

7) Snow - Yes, I'm putting in my request for this holiday season.

8) Poets -known & unknown: I love to learn someone is writing poetry, or reading poetry, or going to poetry readings because s/he loves poetry. No other reason.

9) My new palm pilot-- it has taken the place of my 15 lb. daytimer and I love it!

10) Christmas shopping - while I despise shopping in general, I love buying gifts for others

11) Stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie-- while I've never been a huge turkey fan (probably from my 12 years of being a strict vegetarian), it's the trimmings on the table

12) A title for my manuscript (CHECK and DONE!)

13) Salted sunflower seeds in the shell

14) Hedgehogs

15) Faith

16) A cedar tree of cedar waxwings

17) Toys that don't require batteries

18) Each day

19) Gift bags full of girly stuff (thanks, J9!)

20) A poetry community - virtual and real life.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A New Small Town Girl

Jeannine is moving to a small town.

It's 45 minutes away from my small town. To get to where we live you have to take a ferry or drive two hours to cross a big bridge. If you live out here, you didn't just accidentially take a wrong turn at the Space Needle, you chose to find this place.

No one just "ends up" here. We are the small towns you have to hunt for. There is no freeway connecting us to the city, no freeway connecting us to anything. We are small highways and old roads winding around farms and forests.

City folk worry about people breaking into their cars, we worry about trees falling into to ours. We worry about weather, how long the power will be out. We buy generators for our homes. We deal with septic tanks and drain fields. It is not uncommon to hear coyotes at night. It is not uncommon to love your cat to a coyote or your kitten to an eagle. We know the flight patterns of birds and not airplanes.

But one thing to know about the small town life is that it gives you extra time to let your mind wander and sometimes while this leads to wonderful creative ideas and inspired thoughts, it can lead to anxiety. When I visit the city, I do not have time to worry. I am making sure I'm not hit by a Metro bus or watching the musicians on the street. There is constantly something moving my thought from one place to another--oh look, the traffic, the homeless, the street vendors, the cork tree, the Lusty Lady, the art museum, the, the, the, from one image to the next.

Out here, when the only things that changes is the shape of clouds or the color of sky, your mind can wander into anxiety. Your mind can be your best friend or that shadowy figure you run from. It's a challenge for me as I have a creative mind that likes to put different scenarios into play, not to move into the "what ifs." But that same creativity, those same thoughts many times move into a poem instead.

And I love my small town life even if I have to move past those thoughts dashed with anxiety because creatively you can thrive out here. Because the one thing people have out here more than anything else, is time. (Now, what you do with your time is your choice, but it's something we tend to have more of.)

So welcome Jeannine, you've just been awarded the gift of time (and beauty, and fresh air). Enjoy! And write!

Full Open Days

Writing Routine--

Because of different appointments and events, I haven't had my regular writing schedule of full open days available to me. Yesterday on the way to and from the dentist, I wrote on the ferry. Well technically, I revised on the ferry. Lately my writing seems to be the thing that gets stuck in between appointments and events instead of the thing that I scheduled events and appointments around.

It feels as if writing has become my second car. It's the convertible I love to drive, but I'm in the routine of the practical SUV and every day I jump in the big gashog only to realize my favorite car (the one I care about) is being neglected. It's not as if I need to drive the SUV every day, but I'm in the habit of the SUV. But we know this isn't about cars, it's about choice. Making choices to give your writing time priority (and when I say "your," I mean "my").

There's a part of me that knows that this little three month period of neglect (Sept-now) is because of the hyper-focus I had on my writing the last three years with the MFA program. I'm allowing myself to take a break, "to fill up the well" (as some say), to be the socialite I wasn't. I have been saying yes a lot more and because of that, my calendar filled up with the things I neglected--friends, appointments, vacations.

But I realized this week, after being back from my vacation, after two dentist appointments, a poetry group, a list of errands, that the old feeling, the old want/need I had about my writing is returning in a much more serious way. I want to find--no create more time for my writing. I want to put it on my calendar--I am putting it on my calendar--and working my life around it. I have to.

In other news, we got a hedgehog.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The "I" in a Poem

January over at the POET MOM blog started a good conversation on the use of "I" in a poem.

She writes:

There's No "I" in Poetry
I was listening to a recent podcast at the Poetry Foundation’s Web site on the “I” in poetry. The critic asserted that since the Confessional Poets (Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, for example) of the 1960s, “I” is the most overused word in poetry. This has lead to an abundance of “me” poetry: me to a lover, me to my parents, me to my children, something bad has happened to me. And it all wraps up in a nice little bow—my relationship to the rest of the world.

Then asks:

So I wonder: is the “I” overused? Have poets lost the ability to write detached, objective poetry? Have we lost our ability to write about the universal? Can we write a poem about things and situations but not have it relate to ourselves directly?

As one who writes in the confessional vein, I welcome the thoughts of writers but especially readers. What kinds of poetry to you gravitate to, more personal poetry (first person) or that which talks about the broader spectrum of the human condition (third person)?

Here's my response--

Critics can annoy me. Even their name is negative (critic instead of writer’s helper.)

But I've never been fond of grand-sweeping statements like this. "The I is overused." "There's too much nature poetry." Etc. etc.

No, the I isn't overused, just as the he/she/they/we/you isn't overused. Each poem is a choice of perspective, of point of view.

I definitely don't think that poets have lost the ability to write detached, objective poetry, but is that what we are seeking in the poems we read? I'm looking for connection, for insight, for showing me the world in a way I haven't noticed before. I'm not so interested in the POV.

Also, I have always had a huge issue with the term "confessional,"--what were they "confessing?" Especially as many of the "confessional poets" were women. I have always felt the term is another way to quiet the voices of people (many women in this case) from speaking what matters most to them.

Yes, childbirth is bloody and sticky. Yes, we sometimes have terrible relationships with others. We think about death. We have traumas in our life, depression. To me, there is no taboo subject in poetry and any of these can be written about in any POV. It comes down to the craft for me--is it a well-crafted poem?

A lot of my poems come from personal experience, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I write in first person about something I've never experienced, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I write in *third person* about an autobiographical event, sometimes I don't.

But is the "I" overused? How can it be? It's just a letter, another way to tell a story. Just as there can't be too many kinds of beetles, birds, or leaves, their can't be too many poems with I in them. Some will be wonderful. Others will be terrible. But to make anyone question their use of the "I" is like taking a certain ingredient out of your cupboard and asking you to make every meal it without it. You can do it, but why would any poet want to limit herself?

I gravitate to any poetry that surprises me through language or thought (not poetry that's meant to shock though- we have cable, there's not much that could shock these days) or poetry that shows me the world in a new way. I tend to go allow with whatever POV is used, the overall poem is what I feel connection with.

* * *

Also, on a side note, it's rather amusing and ironic to me how Elizabeth Bishop is being considered a "confessional" poet now given how much grief she gave Lowell about his poems.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Satisfaction in Two Parts...

So satisfied--

Last night I went to check my Verizon cellphone minutes to make sure I hadn't used more than the 700 allotted to me. When I went to check, it said 699 . I got this hugely satisfied feeling seeing how close I came with out going over (sort of like the Price is Right showcase showdown).

Anyway, I felt incredibly happy; I felt "wow, sometimes things just work out." And it's so small in this chaotic world, but 11:45 pm after a bizarre and not-so-powerful windstorm, knowing that midnight, my cellphone minutes would be cleared for a zero balance today, I felt good. I felt as if I got my fill from the cellphone buffet. I guess it's the little things that get me through sometimes.

* * *
Speaking of little things--

It's been a while since I posted a gratitude journal. Here's some other things that get me through the daze, I mean days.

1) Waking up to find hot coffee already made
2) Uwajimaya's paper dragon(s) & $7 beaded slippers
3) Lumpia made by my mother-in-law
4) My teeth after a cleaning
5) Kind strangers who smile
6) Always a hot shower
7) Lavender soap
8) The Frida Kahlo necklace a friend gave me
9) Art class
10) Other artists who make their lives creating their art

Monday, November 12, 2007


Excellent review of Ann Pancake's first novel STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN in the NY Times:

ANN PANCAKE’S fine, ambitious first novel is about something simple: what it’s like to live below a mountaintop-removal strip mine. As one family negotiates the Vesuvian landscape of their wrecked hollow, its natural defenses against flooding uprooted and trashed, readers may think of the aftermath of Katrina, another man-made disaster. But until the book dips into explicit activism, this tragedy seems less the work of greedy businessmen than of a terrible old god. The most powerful passages in “Strange as This Weather Has Been” depict the lives of children in West Virginia whose only playground seems to be desolation.

In an abandoned precursor to “The Mysterious Stranger,” Mark Twain sent Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on a visit to hell. Pancake’s 10-year-old Corey is as bright and conniving as Tom Sawyer, but his hell is no vacation spot. He lives there full time. Corey teases his little brother with an apparition called “the monkey,” an unidentified drowned thing in one of his many secret places. It’s “mostly just an open eye too big for the body, and then a kind of what must be a snout, but most of that turned away and part buried in mud.” The image of the monkey haunts the book, as alien and full of warning as the Martian skulls rolled around like snowballs by Ray Bradbury’s unthinking colonial boys.

Corey’s world is full of toxic but irresistible junk that is washed down from deluged dumping grounds; the woods are turned into a bad boy’s Wonderland. Some will be reminded of John Boorman’s film “Hope and Glory,” in which children during the London bombings of World War II played house in the fresh ruins. Pancake writes: “If you can unfocus your eyes right — and Corey can — wading the creek is like walking the aisle of a Wal-Mart made for Corey, with all the price tags saying free.”

Corey’s “unfocusing” is really a kind of wide-open perception — generously shared with the reader — in which the senses flood together and words can hardly keep up.

Elsewhere, Pancake’s various narrators share noticeable and sometimes distracting linguistic habits, like an ambivalence about the suffix “-ness.”

One character worries about “the hoarse of my breath.” A sound carries “a pleasure and a sad.” A stare isn’t blank — it has “this blank to it.”

“I could feel not only the hot wet, but also the nervous off him.” And so on.

Pancake is well aware of these quirks; she has one character reflect on the deadness of standard English words that “you must use like coins, shiny and rigid. The value of each one already fixed before you get hold of it.”

In the Corey sections, the stylistic choices don’t enter your mind. You are swept along in the escalating peril to his tough, blind innocence. Lace, Corey’s mother and the novel’s conscience, talks about the way men manage to “stay babified” their entire lives, but the truth is that every character we meet, man or woman, has an endangered child inside.

Dane, the most sensitive of the book’s many children (he is described, in the space of two sentences, as having both a “soft” and a “softness”), is given what might serve as the book’s epigraph: “I’m only 12 years old. And I’m going to see the End of the World.”

Pancake’s aim is that high. Her horrors are biblical, her compassion towering.

Her acknowledgments direct the reader to Web sites “to find out more about mountaintop-removal mining.” But aside from a few slips into frank didacticism, Pancake is true to the world she depicts, where any idea of deliverance is muted to the point of suffocation. Lace is a strong, smart but defeated woman. The Bush administration’s recent push for looser restrictions on mountaintop removal would come as no surprise to her. Lace’s battle with the mining company blurs into a kind of existential endurance: “The best way to fight them is to refuse to leave. Stay in their way — that’s the only language they can hear. ... Listen here, it says. We exist.”

Another character, who has escaped the hollow, still carries the mark of that stubborn and inconvenient existence: “In Baltimore or Detroit or Cincinnati or Cleveland or whatever city, it’s not just a matter of keeping down the dirt. ... It is a matter of you yourself being perceived as dirt.”

Pancake — she is a distant relative of the short-story writer Breece D’J Pancake — makes her point in “Strange as This Weather Has Been” in a powerful, sure-footed and haunting way: People aren’t dirt. But they know when they’re being treated like dirt, whether in the Lower Ninth Ward or the hills of West Virginia.

Review by: Jack Pendarvis’s most recent book is the story collection “Your Body Is Changing.” He is the visiting writer in residence at the University of Mississippi.

By Ann Pancake.
360 pp. Shoemaker & Hoard. Paper, $15.95.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Can't Say Enough About KIVA-- (Or who needs another scented candle this year?)

I was just over at one of my very favorite organizations, KIVA.ORG, and was so glad to see it was mentioned on Oprah, the Today Show, & in President Clinton's new book GIVING.

Since we're getting to that time of year where we randomly spend money trying to fulfill the material needs of others, or at least not come off as a heel at the family gift exchange, I wanted to recommend giving KIVA Gift Certificates for Christmas.

Here's the cool thing about this, you don't just donate in the person's name--something I've done for Christmas gifts, though it does lack the *umph* when giving it sometimes--but the person redeems the gift certificate by going to the website and choosing the person they want to give a loan to. Everyone wins as the person becomes an active part in the giving.

And if the person is a cheap I'd-rather-have-a-real-actual-gift type of guy/girl, they win too, because once the money has been paid back (6-18 months depending on who they choose), they can take the money and buy themselves a nice scarf, soap on a rope, or a half of carton of cigarettes, whatever they like.

Of course, my hope would be that the money would continually be used and reused as loans in the KIVA organization, but at least I'd know the money helped someone before Crazy Uncle Eric smoked it away.


KIVA is also a good way to your kids involved in helping others. Here's the entrepreneur my daughter chose to sponsor this morning.

Anyway, you get the idea. I'll be posting links to some of my other favorite organizations as the Christmas season approaches. I mean, who really needs another candle or tie this year?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Poetry to Participate in--

This is from Seattle poet's John Burgess' blog--

Here are the details:


Call to action! Add a verse by posting a comment to this post. Feel free to read it at open mics, gatherings, happenings, etc. Peace.--jb

Go here to add your verse.

Sharon Bryan

This is on Poetry Daily today.

I was lucky enough to hear Sharon read this poem a few times at PLU. It's probably one of favorite poems ever because not only does she use wordplay, but it moves beyond that into a more interesting place or why and how.

Bass Bass

Stringed fish thub
thub thubbing its way

downstream or wave-
grained instrument—

the words make a little
sizzle in my brain,

which twin is it, does it
rhyme with ace or ass,

my tongue trips over
itself when I come to

either one, am I at
the opera, jazz club,

bait shop, is something
keeping time or sifting it

through gills—you've
got the picture, here's

the quiz: striped bass,
stringed bass, sea bass

double bass, basswood—
what a difference a vowel

makes, this is the danger
you face, telling the story

of your life, if you fail
to enunciate perfectly

you could have yourself
all wrong, Bayzil not Basil,

married to Lisa not Liza,
writing for Poultry magazine—

how many close calls our
lives are made of, did

the palm reader say
You will have a long life

or the wrong wife, suppose
god has bad handwriting

or a lisp, and we've mis-
understood the messages:

In the begonia was the worm...
we mistook gardening advice

for the story of our lives—
god made lime, and separated

the lime from the bark, planted
seeds, they were fruitful and

vegetable, he looked at what he had
made and saw that it was food,

he was pleased, this was just
his first try, blessed were the leeks,

unheard of on earth until he
grew them, and the peas also,

he tasted them and found
that they were good, a god

could spend his life like that,
puttering in the garden, not

a care in the world beyond
watering his plants, growing

the only sweet fat tomatoes
in the universe—if only

he hadn't wanted to take a day
off to go fishing, so he created

fish and fishing line, and got
to looking at the line, thinking

what else it might be good for,
suppose he plucked it just like

that, and that, it sounded pretty
good, but by then he was tired,

he used almost the same names
for the stringed thing and the fish

that jerked his line just then,
he got himself all tangled up

in words, until he didn't know
his bass from his treble,

he was in trouble, he saw
he needed help, so he invented

Mingus and other people
to show him which way was up.

Sharon Bryan

Poetry Northwest
Fall 2007 / Winter 2008

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thoughts on a Friday--

Morning Poems--

I like it when poets wake up and write a poem first thing in the morning. This isn't me. But I like poets who do that.

Have you read EARLY MORNING: REMEMBERING MY FATHER by Kim Stafford? I enjoyed it. William Stafford awoke at 4 or 5 and wrote until 7ish. He wrote until the rest of the house woke up and then he knew he had his writing in for the day. If I awoke and went to the couch to write for 3 hours, I would find myself asleep on the couch. I'm a noctural writer myself.



Anyway, back to biographies. Of course, I love biographies of poets. If you haven't read POETS IN THEIR YOUTH by Eileen Simpson (John Berryman's wife) you should. I also recommend SAVAGE BEAUTY about Edna St. Vincent Millay until about 75% through and then it seems it is less about poetry and more about the other things that take us down.


Christmas Shopping--

Every year I try to support poets (and writers) by giving the gift of their books. I also like to give a bottle of wine & a poetry book as a host/hostess gift.

I have already purchased 3 poetry books, but I cannot say which ones in case the givee is reading this.



Yesterday I overheard three women talking about how terrible the world was--"Did you hear about the kids shooting each other in White Center? And that woman who is missing?"

I wanted to tell them, the world is not as bad as the news would want us to believe it is. I recently heard a woman say that she's not concerned that her children are going to mistake cartoons or video games for reality. She said, "I'm more concerned they are going to watch the news and think that's real."

Infotainment, I tell you. If I hear the term "Superbug" again, I'm going to have to create my own comic book where a beetle jumps out of a phone booth wearing an S on its chest. Faster than a speeding bullet...


Poem of the day by William Stafford:

"Are you Mr. William Stafford?"
"Yes, but...."

Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that's when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That's when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.

"It's for the best," my mother said—"Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good."
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray: trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.

You can't tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I'm still here writing it down
just the way it was. "You don't have to
prove anything," my mother said. "Just be ready
for what God sends." I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
It came.

—William Stafford

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Missed Connections... Part 2 & Poem of the Day

Goat Drama--
While driving by the "Found your goat" sign, I was amused to see that right below it was a "Lost Goat" sign. I do hope these folks meet up.

Animal Farm--

Animals roaming our streets is nothing new in this small town. In the ten years I've lived here, we've had a bull running through the downtown area (and no, we were not trying to recreate seaside version of the Running of the Bulls), I've seen my neighbor's sheep roaming his front yard and driveway, and once, a cockatiel landed in my backyard. My neighbor said, "I guess he flew here because you have a sign on your gate that reads 'Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary.'" Smart bird.



Poem of the Day by Martha Silano from VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW --

Visit her website at:


Across the yard, despite a fierce unrest,
I can’t help noticing the smudged chin

of an English sparrow, ululations
of cedar waxwings, robins slick

in the sloppy rain. If there were footprints,
they would be cloven. If this were an orchard,

it would smell of fingerlings, marimbas
and timpani, the polished floors

of my twenties & thirties. Not many hearts
have lifted like swallows to the cliffs

above Pomme de Terre lake, not many
have lived much closer than five doors down

from God. And yet I’m no girdle
on this galaxy’s expanding waistline,

and yet I’ve no sacred cows worth swimming
to the South China Sea and back for.

Each morning the silent coyotes
disappear behind my window’s dusty slats

just as an all-night cat in heat slips a paw
through her little cat door. My morning coffee

tastes of the earth, a cell or two of every creature
who’s padded or paddled, crept or crawled,

slithered or swam, who’s foisted a pincer
on an unsuspecting worm. Earwig. Juggler.

Jaguar. Saint. Bombardier riding shotgun
on a leaf held high by an ant.

© by Martha Silano

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Best Sign

At the top of my hill there is a sign nailed to a post that reads: FOUND YOUR GOAT (and a phone number). This made me happy today.

Lost Sylvia & Found Lorine

Things I Did Today--

I freaked out because I couldn't find any of my Plath books except The Colossus and Ariel, only to discovered I had moved them all into the living room bookshelf. I swear, I was starting sweat.

It makes me a little crazy when I can't find one of my books. I keep them alphabetized to avoid such confusion, but I've moved some larger collected works, journals, and letters to that living room bookshelf and I tend to keep forgetting that. Maybe I should put a post-it note on my bookshelf that says, Don't worry, walk towards the couch.

* * *

Have you ever read Lorine Niedecker?
You should.

Two old men--
one proposed they live together
take turns cooking, washing dishes
they were both alone.
His friend: "Our way of living
is so different:

you spit
I don't spit."

Just Thoughts

Notes from a Small Town--
This morning, the neighborhood is fogbased and active with dogs. The ferry has lost its foghorn. The sky is the color of a blank mind. I of course, am thinking about titles. I have titled the morning: Blank Page on a Wednesday. I have titled the horses: Not Interested in Fighting Windmills I have titled the sky: Virginia Woolf's Dress. I have not titled my manuscript.

* * *

The Women--

I went to see The Women, a play at the ACT Theatre with my mum last night in Seattle. It was good, of course, as I've never been to a bad play at the ACT, but it was definitely not what one may call a feminist play. In fact, the plot was two women trying to win over the husband who was an affair (the mistress & the wife each wanted him). And in the audience, we found ourselves cheering for the wife to get back with her husband and "defeat" the stereotypical blonde mistress, when we should have been cheering for the wife to find a hobby.

* * *

At the Cheesecake Factory (where I ate a huge bowl of apple crisp), there was a woman talking to herself at the table next to me and when I say talking to herself, I mean using a Bluetooth and eating dinner alone. It was sort of like sitting next to a schizophrenic holding a conversation with some personality in her head. I don't think she ever tasted her meal, but she talked a lot about "Loretta" handling things at the office. And "Loretta knows sales." I left feeling thankful I'm a writer.

Monday, November 05, 2007

From Craigslist LA

I ended up working on a poem about "Missed Connections" after writing that blog entry and in doing *research* here are my two favorite Missed Connections from the LA Craigslist today--

Hi! You were the neurotic, quiet and nerdy writer picketing outside the studio this morning! Did you write that sign yourself? That was so clever. I was the Big, Bad Studio Monster that paid you exorbitant amounts of money up front, then denied you a piece of the back end. Then I ignored all your requests to negotiate and tried to bully you into a deal!

Can we kiss and make up? Please? I think we can work some magic together if we both just put our egos aside. Who cares about the Below the Line people? We're above it for a REASON!!!

Location: Hollywood Studio


And this one:

We kept running into each other in the bedroom showrooms in ikea. We kept making eye contact.

get back to me if you find this...

Location: Ikea in burbank

Owls, Dream, & Titles

How Owl--

Last night while hanging up prayer flags on an arbor, an owl (I think a barn owl), flew directly over me as I was looking up to tie the knot. I've lived here ten years and have never seen an owl. I've heard one once (on Halloween about 7-8 years ago), but I've never seen one.

I'm one of those weird new agey people who believe that animals wander into your lives at certain times to tell you something. There's a great book about it called ANIMAL SPEAK by Ted Andrews. And maybe it's not so weird in my community because we are graced by so many Native Americans around us who share their knowledge of animal totems and the earth as a teacher.

"Owl medicine" (as a friend put it) is about replacing old with new, with getting rid of what doesn't work and replacing it with what does. It came about at an interesting time for me because I've been thinking about that lately, especially after returning from my trip, I'm working on returning to my writing life once again and getting rid of habits, thoughts, etc. that aren't working.

* * * *

Unpoetic Dreams--
Last night I had a dream I was walking through this school and all these gold and purple balloons started to fall, then confetti. I started screaming, "This means the Huskies won the Rose Bowl!" Everyone was dancing and laughing. When I woke up, I was a little disappointed as I realized that the Huskies will not win the Rose Bowl this year because nothing I've ever dreamed has come true.

* * *
Desperately Seeking Title

Missed Connection

You: Elusive but interesting, edgy with your black boots and copy of the dictionary in your manbag.

I saw you boarding the ferry. You were intellectual but not in a way that turns people off. Yes black rimmed glasses. No argyle socks.

You spoke perfectly. Said everything I haven't been able to.

Your eyes just caught mine, and I saw your smile before I lost you in a crowd.
I should have stopped and turned around.

Me: Poet seeking title. White mohair sweater, jeans, and suede boots. Blue eyes and not much edginess. I think we could work well together.

If by any chance you read this, please write back. I would love to have coffee or a drink with you. You'd be great on the cover of my book. Think about it. I think we were meant to be together.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Soundtrack to Writing

Many times when I write, I keep a certain music on in the background. Sometimes its just one song, sometimes its many.

Currently, this is the song of the hour:
Ingrid Michaelson's The Way I Am

Of course, some evil person has just made it into an Old Navy commercial and I am spitting nails about that.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Guilty of Over-Revising & Halloween, the Day After

Halloween Hangover/Hangunder--

Well, I've KitKatted and Junior Minted my way through Halloween. We are taking down the decorations and I am wishing Halloween lasted more than one night.


Revision, Revised, Rewrite--

I have been working on a poem for the last 3 weeks. I have been revising it and carrying drafts around with me. Yesterday when I went to make even more revisions (the poor poem has been arranged and rearranged numerous times), I accidentially pulled up a much earlier version of the poem and I realized that my earlier draft, in fact, the one closest to the first version was so much better than what I had revised the poem into.

My revisions had basically sucked the energy, the spark from the poem.

So what did I do? I tossed the super-revised-a-thousand-times version and went back to work on draft two. The poem is now complete and better for it. I keep thinking had I not accidentially pulled up the wrong version, I would be working on a poem that wasn't as strong and believing my revisions had made it better.

I have been guilty of over-revising many times. Sometimes I think my first thought is not necessary our best thought, but can many times be closer to the source. And while mostly my poems come out ragged around the edges, the earlier drafts still carry the most energy and that "unnamed" feeling in a poem that somehow adds a little sparkle, a little something more.
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