Monday, March 31, 2008

How to Title a Poetry Manuscript or How Not To Live in the Monkey House

Yesterday, I emailed some poet friends of mine for their thoughts, gut reaction, and feedback on some titles for my manuscript I was considered.

It's been a fascinating process for me. Immediately, 3 titles took the lead. Then later, the 2 that were behind began to catch up. Now there is one title in the lead, one in second place and a three way tie for 3rd.

I will tell you titles my manuscript won't be-- Four White Damselflies or Inky Misled Icons. These were the two titles that turned most people off (and the fastest). Four white damselflies refers to the last stanza in my poem "Notes from a Dream Psychic" --

Your lucky number is four.
Your power color is white.
Your psychic insect is the damselfly.

While "inky misled icon" is an anagram for Emily Dickinson.

The other six are still in the running, though I'm slowly ruling one out. One interesting thing is that people have liked what I originally titled it, the title I started to worry about then changed about three months ago.

It seems ridiculous to me that I've gotten so close to the titles of my manuscript that I'm no longer sure what sounds like a good title and what is a disaster. It reminds me of one of the last Project Runway shows where Chris decides his final outfits will all be adorned with human hair. Tim Gunn says to him something like, "When you first enter into the monkey house in the zoo, you think, 'Oh my god, this place stinks!' And after you're there for 20 minutes, you think, 'It's not so bad.' And after you're there for an hour, it doesn't smell at all! But anybody else coming into the monkey house freshly thinks, 'Oh my god, this stinks!' You've been living in the monkey house." Anyway, I needed a reality check to make sure I wasn't in the monkey house and this seemed to be the way.

What I hope comes from this is a better idea what works and the realization that a manuscript can have more than one *right* titles. One poet friend told me that a well-known poet used to send the same manuscript out to different places with different titles.

For me, I'm realizing how the title changes each version of the manuscript. I find that some of the poems under title 1, do not work under title 2 and have to be deleted or replaced. It helps me look at my manuscript as a whole and decide what "story" I want to share with the others. It also shows me the bigger role for the title and how it pulls a selection of poems together.

Basically, once I choose a title, I go through my manuscript poem by poem and ask myself "Does this poem work with the title?" If it doesn't, if there is no connection, then the poem is pulled.

I think the reason I find myself struggling with a book title (I struggled with the title of my first book too and naming my daughter) is that it seems too big. This is what it will always be known for. However, titles somehow become themselves. I remember when the show "Everyone Loves Raymond" comes out and I thought, well, that's awful. When you say it enough, hear it enough, it doesn't seem so bad...(sort of like living in the monkey house), but I guess the good news is everyone eventually ends up in the monkey house with you. So perhaps, the nerves about titles should just be set aside with a more meditative "There are no wrong titles" belief.

Some of my favorite titles off the top of my head?

Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nez
Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky
The Cartographer's Tongue by Susan Rich
Famous by Kathleen Flenniken
The Island of Lost Luggage by Janet McAdams
Seven Notebooks by Campbell McGrath

These books however proved themselves by being great books of poems besides just having a great title. Both J9 and I bought the same book (The Search Engine) because of the title, then found we weren't as delighted with the poems.

So it's a good reminder, that in the end, as in life, it's what inside that matters. A bad title can be made better by good content, and a good title can evaporate if there is no substance.

By the way, if you're interested in seeing the titles I'm considering for my next book email me (kelli (at) agodon . com) and I'll send you the titles so you can choose your favorite. And let me know if I'm in the monkey house, or if hopefully, I left the monkey house long ago.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Money Thang

With tax day approaching as well as National Poetry Month, I thought I'd take a look at money from a poet's perspective.

I’m reading a book called The Gift: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde that discusses the value of art and literature in our culture. As artists, sometimes our work brings us great financial rewards, sometimes it doesn’t. Money doesn’t validate one’s art, just as not making money shouldn’t diminish your art. Art is art. Poetry is poetry. Words and the act of writing make us richer as people.

It’s difficult in America when it is suggested through various outlets that rich=better. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous began airing when I was a teenager. Oh the beautiful yachts, the enormous mansions, but you can’t look inside someone’s soul to see if it’s speckled in gold. You can’t see what happens when the privacy fence is shut and if what’s going on in the house is anything you’d want to be a part of. Rich does not necessarily equal good or happier, though I do believe money can allow you more freedom if you know how to use it (both freedom and money).

I also don’t believe that rich=evil, as there are some incredible honest, good, and generous wealthy people in the world who I am quite thankful for. However money can be what holds one back—too many things to care for, too much insurance, too many worries, overspent, overinvested, overwhelmed, overworked.

I’m going to share a little about how poetry and money works for me. Occasionally, I do get a little down on myself when I see my writing life as the job that brings in the least amount of cash in the family. When this happens, I have to remind myself that riches sometimes come in other forms. Again, this goes against what our current society may want you to believe. I have to remind myself that while sometimes I lack in cash coming in, I’m rich with time. I'm rich in time with my family and time with my writing.

I remind myself that I made a choice to be a full-time writer. I chose the writing life because it feels like what I need to do. Sometimes I question the “why,” but I still write, even when it doesn’t make sense all the time (or doesn't make money all the time). I remind myself that sometimes money does come in from poetry. When that happens, I am thankful. When it doesn’t, I am hopeful. Between hope and thanks, I try to stay centered and continue on what matters which is the writing. I’m a big believer that everyone should be doing something they love to do, something you’d do even if no one paid you for it. For me, poetry and writing is that thing.

One thing I do is keep a separate writing checking account. Money I make from poetry goes into this account to fund other poetry things—this can be contest fees, subscription fees, books, or donations to small presses and poetry organizations. I try to keep the poetry money circulating around and always try to have enough so if something comes up poetry related (a workshop, a conference, a reading, a book, etc.) the money is there to pull from.

One way I generate a little income is work with other poets. I do poetry critiques and manuscript consultations. I create packets of writing exercises to send to them and when they have written their poems, they send them back to me for feedback. I like this because the act of creating a packet that will spark a new poem feels like a way to add more good into the world. It’s also satisfying to me so read the completed poems. To give back to the poetry world, I donate some of this money back into the poetry world. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s something that I believe in.

As I’ve said, I’ve never had "evil" attached to money, but I have had fear (the fear of being broke!) And I’ve misspent, misspoken, misinvested, mistrusted, misused money and still, here I am. I remind myself money comes in to my life from unexpected places and I no longer have to pin emotions onto money, but see it for what it is—a way to help others, a way to help myself, and a way to help my family. I remember being younger and making a birthday wish “to be rich,” now my wishes are for “health and happiness for myself and everyone around me.” Money is not status or security. It took me most of my twenties (of making money) to realize that while money is helpful to have, it doesn’t equal my happiness, that it seems has to be there on its own.

And while it may sound as if I have it all figured out, I don't. I have to practice. I have continually ask myself if buying X will improve the quality of my life. I have to remind myself that money doesn't equal my happiness. I look around and notice what I do have instead of rolling my eyes at what I don't.

It's still the occasional shadow looming at my office door, but I no longer run to it with open arms when it tells me it can give me what I want. I no longer say yes when it invites itself into my day. I can tell it "I've learned to value time, the value of my time." I ask it to explain itself more often and no longer take what it gives me. And I no longer call it Sir, Mister, or Miss. I say thank you, then roll it up, and slide it into the bank for when I need it most.

my 2 1/2 cents.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Confession Tuesday

Dear reader, it’s been one week and five hollow chocolate bunnies since my last confession. I must confess that the chocolate after Lent never tastes as good as the chocolate I had imagined in my mind. I must confess when I can *have* chocolate, I don’t *crave* chocolate. Have and Crave, maybe that should be my theme today or maybe not.

To the confessions –

1) I confess I always read all your comments on my blog, but I don’t always respond to them. Please know, I love to read your comments and I am thankful for them and hear you, even if I don’t say so directly. (Also, if you want to get to me directly, use my email as I don’t blog daily and only check my Facebook acct weekly if that.) I confess I prefer snailmail best, but a good email always warms my electric heart.

2) I confess I love the nightlife (and not as in the 70’s song “I’ve got to boogie.”) I love the quietness of the evening, a sleeping house, the energy of world slowing down and drifting off to sleep. A friend recently told me that she thought I wrote better at night because I’m sensitive to others’ energies and the evening is a time when I can tune into my creative self more clearly. She said it better than that, but I loved the idea that at night when the world quieted, there was a *source* we could tune into.

It reminded me of how when I was child I would take out my transistor radio when everyone was asleep and tune it to far-away stations I couldn’t get in the day.

Sometimes at night, I still plug in my 50’s tube radio just to pretend I’m somewhere else in time.

3) I confess I crave a peaceful world. I crave a world where we accept each other and focus more on what we have in common than our differences. Lately I’ve been surprised how many people prefer to be the bone in the salmon rather than part of the meal. (I guess you know what I’m having for dinner tonight.) I hope one day we make choices from compassion before anything else.

1) I confess I am thankful for the kindness and compassion of friends.

2) I confess I am thankful for the people in life who live a little more eccentricly than others—the three families in our town that have peace signs at the top of their driveways, the woman with the funky short haircut who is smiling in a sea of flowing locks, the people who choose to live their life differently, who may not always trust their own instinct or choices, but follow them anyway.

I am thankful for the people who paint murals on their homes or paint their mailboxes (I still have not painted my mailbox, I want to be that person.) I am thankful for the people who do things a little differently, who have a caboose in their backyard because they always wanted a caboose. Or a totem pole. I am thankful because their differences add a little beauty to my normal day.

3) I confess I still get excited when I see the eagle fly by my home. Or see the kingfisher on the powerlines by the mudflats or the blue heron at the edge of the shore. I still love to watch the killdeer in my neighborhood guarding their nests and observing the world from my neighbor’s roof.

I had never realized the larger effect of the small winged things on my life until I moved to a rural area. I confess I had never seen a heron until ten years ago and I didn’t even realize orcas and grey whales traveled through Puget Sound. I didn’t realize how much Batman and cormorants had in common. I confess I still have so much to learn.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Simplicity & a New Book - Slow is Beautiful

I recently recommended Cecile Andrew's book The Circle of Simplicity and it turns out she has another book called SLOW IS BEAUTIFUL.

Here's a quick description I cut and pasted if you're interested in what this book is about:

Slow is Beautiful
New Visions of Community, Leisure, and Joie de Vivre
By Cecile Andrews

We're hammered, we're slammed, we're out of control. Happiness is on the decline in the most affluent country in the world and Americans are troubled by the destructiveness of a lifestyle devoted to money and status. Yet no-one seems to have a clue how to exit from the Fast Lane...

Slow Is Beautiful analyzes the subtle consumer, political and corporate forces stamping the joy from our existence and provides a vision of a more fulfilling life through the rediscovery of caring community, unhurried leisure, and life affirming joie de vivre.

* * * *

But the reason I bring this up is that Cecile also has a blog that discusses slowing down and a more simple life you may want to check out.

What I like about Cecile and her thoughts is that she is not preachy (meaning = if you don't do this than this), she's not judgmental (she realizes there are a zillion perfectly good ways to live a life and doesn't question others for their choices, but shows other ways one may want to try to live), and she wants everyone to find the way that's best for them (there's no one size fits all).

She says in her Circle of Simplicity book something like "this is not the self-deprivation movement," which sometimes is what people think when they hear, "I'm going to live more simply." They hear, "I'm going to drag to the laundry to the creek and stop heating my house." But I've found, the more simply I live and the more choices I make for a "simplier" life (in my terms), the more fulfilled I am. I think it actually becomes the opposite of "self-deprivation" and you begin to nourish and partake in what's important to you.

I'm going to read Slow is Beautiful and I'll let you know what I discover. And I shall remind my husband that "slow is beautiful" when once again I'm the last person in the car when we're off on a family outing. Oh wait, it's "slow" is beautiful, not "tardy" is beautiful.

Poem a Day

Since St. Patty's Day I've been writing a poem a day with a group of poets. I plan to carry it over into April (NaPoWriMo - National Poetry Writing Month) where many poets write a poem a day.

What strikes me with this latest undertaking of a-poem-a-day is that I've found many more of these latest poems have been keepers. I did the poem a day in August and some of those poems went onto the revision process, but a lot of them just sort of sat looking at me asking, "Now what?" (Curious poems.)

I've been trying to determine why these poems are coming out stronger. Maybe because lately there's been more drama in my life than I'm used to and I'm channeling that, while in August I was just finishing up my MFA and spending my days at the beach. Maybe after my little writing hiatus the month after grad school, I'm "filling up" again, so to speak. I could feel nourished from the writing retrea to Sylvia Beach Hotel or maybe it's because I stopped trying to write during the day and have actually been getting out living life, having adventures, lunches with friends, writing dates, museum dates, and just good times that at night when I do sit down to write, I have something to write about.

I'm not sure why exactly, but I'm thankful for this creative jag. If I could only bottle it and save it for later. Maybe I can.

I'll be posting some writing prompts and exercises upcoming for anyone who wants to try to write a poem a day for National Poetry Month.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter Morning

When religions collide...

Easter egg hunt 2008

Before the sunrise...

How many eggs can you find?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Quincy, the Easter Bunny
Originally uploaded by jocieposse (aka skid ho)

Happy Easter from the Northwest

easter bunny
Originally uploaded by Peter "Latte Art"

Bunny latte

What My Mailbox Brings--

While my husband makes pancakes and my daughter finishes her homework, I thought I'd grab a few moments before our annual Easter hunt to share some projects that have arrived in my mailbox this week that I feel thankful to be part of.

Here's the description from Red Hen Press:

LETTERS TO THE WORLD is the first anthology of its kind—a feminist collaboration born from The Discussion of Women’s Poetry Listserv (Wom-po), a vibrant, inclusive electronic community founded in 1997 by Annie Finch. With an introduction by D’Arcy Randall and brief essays by the poets themselves reflecting on the history and spirit of the listserv, the book presents a rich array of viewpoints and poems. LETTERS TO THE WORLD is a remarkable example of how the Internet has radically rearranged associations among poets, editors, and readers.

My poem "In the 70's, I Confused Macrame and Macabre" is included in it, as well as poems from Ivy Alvarez, Judith Barrington, Barbara Crooker, Catherine Daly, Arielle Greenberg, Jilly Dybka, Susan Elbe, Julie Enszer, Annie Finch, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Kathleen Flenniken, Suzanne Frischkorn, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Kate Greenstreet, Marilyn Hacker, Anne Haines, Eloise Klein Healy, Luisa Igloria, Amy King, Amy Lemmon, Frannie Lindsay, Diane Lockward, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Alicia Ostriker, Shin Yu Pai, Molly Peacock, Cati Porter, Susan Rich, Rachel Rose, CJ Sage, Peggy Shumaker, Martha Silano, Marilyn L. Taylor, Ingrid Wendt, Rachel Zucker, and many many many more poets and my apologies if I missed anyone.

It's an incredible anthology of feminist poets and one I've enjoyed browsing through these last couple days.


Also in my mailbox this week was the finished project from Kristy Bowen's Dancing Girl Press, a box anthology of poems!

If you were a fan of the Griffin and Sabine books as I was, this project may be something you'd love to have for your own.

It's called billet-doux and what it is a box of ten poems each created originally for the reader by the poet. Some are like letters you have take out of an envelope, some you have to break the seal.

It's probably one of my favorite projects I've ever been part of. I loved the idea of it from the beginning, a box of poems. Better than a box of chocolates, (and coming from me, that means a lot).

Here's Dancing Girl Press's description of it--

This special dancing girl press limited edition collection of missives is sure to entice and delight. 15 poets. 15 love letters. Each piece written and designed by the poet themselves and collected in a lovely box. A volume sure to thrill the poetry and art lover (as well as the occasional voyeur.)

Each box includes letters, postcards, and prints by Jane Pupek, Erin Bertram, Bronwen Tate, Michaela Gabriel, Cecilia Pinto, Shawn Fawson, Diane Kendig, Christine Hamm, Jeannette Sayers, Suzanne Frischkorn, Annie Finch, Emma Bolden, Julie Enszer, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis, and Kelli Russell Agodon

You can order one here (there are only 100 of these, so if you do want one, order early so not to be disappointed), go here.

dancing girl press, 2008
$22.00 (includes S&H)
Edition of 100


So the mailbox has sung happy songs to me this week. Lovely mailbox.

By the way, this is not my real mailbox, but I think I'll be painting mine this week. Any suggestions?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Article on Naomi Shihab Nye

I got this link from Jilly's Poetry Hut blog.

This is from the article:

"I do believe that when I encounter any group anywhere, that poetry is a vital force of the lives gathered there in the room," she says. "What I can do as a visiting poet is to remind them of that or awaken them to their own (poetry) or encourage them to remember language can be very sustaining even when you feel very alone -- what ways can poetry serve us, all of us, as readers, as participants, as writers. ... I have so much enthusiasm about what poetry gives us all and has given me in my own life."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Confe$$ion Tue$day

Forgive me reader, it's been seven days and one St. Patty's day since my last confession. I confess we put green dye on everything yesterday. We ate green mac & cheese, drank Kelly green water, we added it to our vanilla pudding and made St. Patrick Day pies. We put in the water of a white daisy, if you were here, Reader, we would have dyed you green as well. And reader, I am only Irish on my father's side…and my name is Kelli with an i.

Let the confessions begin--

1) I'm worried about the US economy. I not only feel as if we're up Sh*t creek without a paddle, but we're drilling holes in our own canoe just because we’re convinced our boat will always stay afloat. And when someone says we're sinking, we laugh and drill more holes.

2) I confess that living with this administration has been the longest 8 years of my life. I can't handle another moron with a drill or a paddleless canoe rider. I pray the next president will not be the living/breathing example of the song, “If I Only Had a Brain.” I also pray the next president will either be a “she” or someone with a unique name.

3) I confess that even in all the fear and worry the television shouts out, I confess I’m thankful for what I have. And I know that if the stocks fell, I would not be the investor who jumped from a building. It’s a good reminder these days that the only things people cannot take away from us are—our character, our values, our beliefs, our voices (at least not yet) and our educations. Even our good spirit. They can try to dent it, but they can’t take it away unless we let them. The rest of it, we’re just renting here on earth. Did we actually think we *owned* that piece of land we’ve mortgaged? Nope, it’s just borrowed. We’re renters on earth and really, we don’t own anything.

BTW, if you’re feeling stressed or concerned with the economy and your money situation, check out The Circle of Simplicity by Cecile Andrews from the library. It’s a great read and will remind you what’s important and how not to suffer from Affluenza.

4) I confess that I’ve been thinking about others lately and how really, I think most of us are just trying to do our best in the world. I think about the families that have long commutes and what the gas prices are doing to their budgets. I hope you’re all doing okay out there. I hope while things feel tight or tough, we can still find things to be thankful for—friends, family, the landscape outside our windows. Maybe it’s a good reminder to think about what we really *need* in life to be happy. In the end, it’s never the material possessions that will complete us, but the interactions with others and the travels or adventures we had.

I confess I struggle with “the money thang” sometimes being a poet whose money comes from surprise occasions and irregularly. I think it's tough to be an artist in this world, but I think it's also incredible fulfilling to be an artist in this world. Sometimes I have to remind myself not to equate the importance of writing to how much I make. But right now, I’m very thankful for my family, my friends, and my time. I can welcome you into my home and make you tea or coffee and serve St. Patrick’s day pie. I am thankful I still have time to write a poem, or not. I am thankful to have opted out of a busycrazy life and I hope one day I can look back to this time and understand a little better what exactly I am here for and hope I somehow made a positive difference.

I confess this confession is very thinky.

Monday, March 17, 2008


This is from The Smart Women's Guide to the Simple Life-- newletter I receive. It's a great article about following (and trusting) own own body's clock--

Gretchen Roberts writes:

Some of you know you're night owls or morning people, but I've never had a sense of that myself. But once I figured out what was my best time--those morning hours from 8 to 12--and began using them only to write and do other difficult creative tasks, my productivity increased. I now know that I can work dedicated mornings and get more done than if I worked all afternoon and into the night, simply because I'm taking advantage of my own chronobiology.

Chronobiology is a somewhat new science that studies the rhythms of the body, its cycles and mechanisms. If you can tap into your own ideal body clock, you can use your natural rhythms to work smarter.

Marcia Conner, an author and educator, wrote a fascinating article for Fast Company that's unfortunately no longer online, but the gist is this: she divides time into three divisions: Brain, Body, and Butt. Brain time is when you make important decisions, write complicated reports, learn difficult concepts, and dazzle others with your brilliance. Most people have Brain Time in the morning.

Body Time is after lunch. You're languid, maybe tired, and your mental capacity seems to be temporarily shot. Use this time to do physical tasks--walk the dog, file papers, clean the kitchen, sort the mail.

Butt Time is time for meetings. You're not sleepy, but not brilliant either. By 4 p.m., Conner says, you'll be ramping up for some more brain time. These cycles repeat, which explains why some people say they work best at night: by midnight their brain gears are firing away again.

Of course not everyone has so much control over her daily schedule that she can reorganize the day around body rhythms, but if you do, I encourage you to try it. It's made such a difference to me: not taking calls in the morning so I can write, saving piddly tasks for afternoon, all leads to one thing: less time at the desk and more time with my family. Now that's smart.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

To Joanie

It was the Shy Giant. She had short short hair and was very cute. It could have been Celeste.

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Jerry Garcia
Originally uploaded by deco4macro

It's Sunday morning. I went to bed earlier than I normally do and slept for 10 hours. 10 hours of wacky dreams, the strangest included being at a small concert with Jerry Garcia who went on stage with a woman (a woman I swear was a poet) and sang a duet. I just remember thinking that I had a duet after them (and I don't sing) and wondering what the heck I was going to do.

This morning I woke up and my daughter said it was Parent Appreciation Day and brought me breakfast in bed. (Is there such a thing?) She also turned on the Sunday Morning Show (my favorite show that I always miss). I think what I love about having a daughter is watching how her mind works and races from parent appreciation day to "does Antarctica have wars?" Still, one of the hardest things for me as a parent is that I never realized is how vulnerable it has made my own heart in regards to her. I also never realized how it would bring out my mama bear role.

But it’s Sunday morning and it’s time to return to the fire, the couch and the books, but I thought I’d stop in since Jerry made an appearance and just as I assume there is a huge group of people who have dreamed about Bill Clinton (I think I read he was the #1 celebrity in dreams) that there are still a group of people who dream about Jerry Garcia.

Here are two of my favorite JG quotes:

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.


You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Who Are You? You're a Feeler? I'm a Feeler too.

I took the Myer-Briggs Personality Type test and learned I am a INFJ (which is code for an Introvert, Intuitive, Feeler, Judger). The "Judger" part doesn't sound so good, but actually it's not too bad. One of the jobs it recommended for me was Writer (thank god.) Oddly enough (or not oddly enough) my husband is the exact opposite (Extrovert, Sensor, Thinker, Perceiver). They ,

Basically we see the world from a completely unique space and I'm glad I married my opposite because I'm not sure I'd want to married to another INFJ person. I mean, I think it would be way too touchy-feely and we'd probably never leave our tidy house.

My favorite part of the quiz was at the end it had a "How to Love a INFJ"

Here's what they suggest--

How to Love an INFJ ((Introvert, Intuitive, Feeler, Judger)

Appreciate my unique vision and many creative ideas.
Respect my deeply held beliefs and values.
Share your feelings and express your opinions.
Give me time alone to pursue my interests and passions in depth.
Try to keep our home orderly.
Above all - trust my inspiration

***Had I known about this, I would have included it in my marriage vows as it is so spot on.

Anyway, you can take the test here:

To see what you are.

Friday, March 14, 2008

More on the Retreat--

A friend of mine asked some questions about the retreat we did at Sylvia Beach Hotel, so I thought I'd answer them here.

So, does the hotel give a group rate for groups of writers who come to the hotel to work this way?

***You know, we didn't get a discount (except for the weeknights), but I didn't ask about that (I should have!) We went during Wine & Seafood Weekend, which happens on the Oregon coast that time of year, so our timing was way off for a discount as that's one of their big weekends (of course, for one of the "busiest" times for them, you'd never know it as in February, it's such a sleepy town).

Do you each give a "workshop" or exercise idea during the trip, or does each person work completely on their own?

***We had it so people worked on their own and met for writing exercises/free writes one night. This is something though we'd do differently. For example, I thought I'd want a LOT more solitary time than I did. So, I think next retreat, we're going to make optional times/events like "Meet in the library at 2 p.m. if you want to do some writing exercises" and whoever feels like meeting can. Lots of non-required stuff.

We each came from such different places. I have lots of alone time to write in my life, but others are working full-time. I found that I could have used more group writing time, but before I left, I thought it would be like the time I went to Soapstone where I just wanted to be alone. However, when I got to Sylvia Beach, I realized I would actually like to interact more with others as their writing energy was so good. So, I'd be much more open to group writing time than I was when I first left.

Some poets/writers exchanged manuscripts before the trip as well and handed them back on the trip, which I thought was a good idea. I would have done that, but I was crazybusy before we left so it didn't work out.

One poet typed out some great writing prompts and writing exercises that she left in the library for us if we weren't inspired. Lots of these little things were helpful to me as I wandered (or paced!) through my day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Confession Tuesday

Confessional, Patzcuaro
Originally uploaded by zocalo2010

Dear reader,

It's been one week (minus an hour) since my last confession. It's still Lent and I'm still in the skinny of chocolate. I don't have much to confess today, but I'll try to amuse you with anything that comes to mind. I confess reader, you may have better things to do with your time.

To the confessions--

1) My desk is an absolute mess and I'm both sure and unsure how this happened. I am much more organized than my desk would allow you to believe.

2) I saw poet Madeline Defrees near the Lusty Lady in downtown Seattle when I was visiting the Seattle Art Museum. She was walking up the hill towards the Pike Place Market. She had on her red backpack with "M.D." stitched on the back. I think it's interesting, whenever I go to Seattle I run into a poet (last time I saw Joannie Stangeland near Westlake Center.) Well, you know what they say about the NW--throw a stick, hit a poet.

3) At the Seattle Art Museum's Roman Exhibit from the Louvre, my husband and I were continually amusing ourselves with our own interpretations of the art. There was one little statue (oh I wish I could find it on line) that looked it had a condom on his head--my husband remarked he thought it looked like Jerry Seinfeld chess game episode.

I saw another statue that looked like John Travola (see below). I know some people would have been horrified that we didn't take it all seriously, but honestly, if I can get a good laugh in during the Roman Art exhibit as well as a feeling of inspiration (which I also got as well), then it's a good day.

4) Speaking of seriousness, I'm always interested in how tight some people are wound and how they take life too seriously. I truly believe one of the best things in life is being able to laugh and find humor in all places, even in the church of art.

5) You never know how you are going to touch someone's life or who is going to touch yours. I had one of the best interactions with a woman selling yogurt at the Pike Place Market. Not only did she laugh and not put chocolate sprinkles on my yogurt because of Lent, but she explained the reason Easter is so early this year (Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. This year the first full moon just happens to be the day after the first day of spring (March 21), and the first Sunday after that is March 23 -- Also the earliest Easter can be is March 22 as it was last in 1818 and will be next in 2285 and the latest is April 25th). In the end, we settled on rainbow sprinkles and she gave me extra. It was one of those brief moments when you connect with a stranger, one I will most likely never see again.


Thoughts on a Monday


I want my hour back. And that's all I have to say about that.


In a modern day miracle, space heater has risen from the dead and is working again. I have no idea what happened, I plugged it in andwr hoped... Though of course, this says a lot about the quality of electrical gadgets in our home. My husband is a firefighter and if he knew about SH's death and rebirth would say, "Put SH in the garbage," but it's almost spring, I will let SH live out its final days in my office doing its work. SH will be monitored allowed zero alone time. I just think SH has been kicked over one to many times by our dog.


This is what my husband calls Poetry. It's from an old video when our daughter was young and Winnie the Pooh was reading poetry, or has he called it Pooh-a-tree (which doesn't sound good no matter how I try to spell it.)

Anyway, in the Poohatry category--

I watched The Belle of Amherst play on DVD yesterday and it was actually quite charming and funny. It explores the life of Emily Dickinson in a one-woman play starring Julie Harris. It's from 1976, but it really is a timeless performance. I checked my copy out through the local library, so if you need something to watch while you fold the clothes or snuggle into bed one cold night, I'd recommend this. The writer created an Emily who is bright and engaging to listen to and while I may never truly understand *who* Emily was, this was another glimpse into a possibility (and so I'll dwell there.)

Also to do with poetry, I listened to Major Jackson on my walk today in an interview on New Letters. If you are not listening to New Letters on NPR or on their podcast, I cannot tell you how much you are missing out. Here's where you need to be: which will take you to the magazine (also fantastic) and here's New Letters on the Air: the radio show.

In the interview, Major Jackson read the last section of "Letter to Brooks," which is a long poem written to Gwendolyn Brooks. It's a wonderful poem where image after image takes us a place of Popsicle stick races and water fights in the hydrants, and the very last two words in the poem I am left with "Black Lily."

The entire interview was a treat to listen to. Check it out if you have a chance.

Two Movies I Don't Recommend--

Rush Hour 3 (don't ask)
The Nanny Diaries (Jeannine had already warned me about this one)

One movie I highly recommend--

My Kid Could Paint That--

Here's the Amazon Review--

"Suitable for framing, Amir Bar-Lev's "family human interest story" indelibly captures the media maelstrom that engulfed the Olmsteads of Binghamton, N.Y. when their daughter, Marla, age 4, became the darling of the art world with her abstract paintings. As a gallery owner tells Bar-Lev, the situation is "perfect": The family is charismatic, and Marla is, indeed, "a doll" and her paintings, "unbelievable." More on that later.

Bar-Lev chronicles how a community newspaper article about Marla was picked up by the New York Times, leading to more newspaper articles, sold out gallery showings, and media throngs. Marla's paintings sold upward of $25,000 (the owner of the Houston Rockets bought one), and talk-show hosts (Conan, Dave, Oprah) wanted Marla on their shows. "You're in for a wild ride, I hope you're prepared for this," the gallery owner says he told Mark Olmstead, Marla's father, a Frito Lay factory worker who also dabbles as an artist. But no one is prepared when Charlie Rose, during a 60 Minutes Wednesday broadcast, raises questions on whether Marla is the sole artist. Was she coached? Were the paintings doctored, or even painted by someone else? Could she even be called a prodigy?

Bar-Lev's canvas expands to consider the nature of art and media culture. It also becomes something of a self-portrait as he struggles with his own growing suspicions about Marla's paintings after he has befriended the family and earned their trust. My Kid Could Paint That is not a masterpiece, but it will resonate especially for everyone who says --they don't know art, but they know what they like. It would be an excellent companion to Who the #%&% is Jackson Pollock? " --- Donald Liebenson

My favorite person in the movie, though you never really get a chance to see him until the end, was Amir Bar-Lev, the filmmaker. I thought he sincerely felt pulled in trying to produce a film that was fair, but he wasn't really sure what was fair--was Marla doing these paintings all herself or was her father helping her?--you could feel his doubts and his concerns. I could feel his struggle in this documentary as what started as a cute human interest story turns into this huge drama that the family struggles with as well as Bar-Lev has to deal with.

The movie raised a lot of questions for me in what we want to believe, how we are not necessarily buying the art, but the *story* behind it, in trying to find truth in a sea of doubts and maybe. I was impressed with what he choose to show to the world about this story and ultimately in the end, it's up to the viewer to come to his/her own decision about whether Marla's art is completely done by her or if there is a little hands on help from her dad or if it's only "coaching" from her father, does it matter?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

How I feel about My Lost Hour

Daylight Savings Begins

I am tired, the queen
of simple math: the clock reads seven,
so it must be six.
It is dark, morning-dark, but the killdeer
circle the neighborhood, their high-
pitched call waking the ones who are still
dreaming, still in winter pajamas, flannel
Forget the tulips,
the already-bloomed and dying crocuses,
any bulb that has to be first
for spring. Their fields are wasted on the early
risers, determined and prompt.
Give me the dawdlers, sunflowers
and dahlias of fall, let me have my hour
back, my down-comforter a few more
weeks. Return my frost-dipped mornings
where the only things awake are breastfed,
streetlights, a quiet sky.

-Kelli Russell Agodon

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Space Heater Chronicles

I always hurt what I love--

It seems by announcing to the world that my best friend was a space heater, I seemed to have killed it. Tonight, for no reason, space heater shut off and took its warm breath with it.

I don't understand, space heater still has working red light, but no heat. It clicks, but doesn't hiss. It has been kicked around by my dog one too many times. RIP Space Heater. Maybe tomorrow you will pull an Easter miracle and come back. Maybe space heater is just warm. Come back SH.

* * *
How to Make Friends and Influence People

I am not wearing a big hippie wool sweater with yarn flowers on it and Navaho print on the sleeves. I bought it at Bumbershoot (the Seattle arts festival) 1998. I already miss space heater. I'm sure the rest of my family will to when they see what I've dragged from the closet.

* * *

Friday, March 07, 2008

Short Takes on My Day

Black feathered birds--

When the mail lady arrives I hear the crows asking, "Did it come? Did it come? Did it come?" Not today, as I shut my mailbox and the scatter from the powerlines.


Today on a walk listening to another Poetry Foundation podcast, I heard an eagle screech between the lines of a Terrance Hayes poem.


Breakfast at the elementary school--

Cinnamon Toast Sticks, cereal, chocolate milk in plastic bags.



There is no doubt about it, if my cat were bigger, she'd eat me.


Things I did Last Night--
Freaked out over an itchy tag and cut a hole in my cashmere sweater. Brilliant.


My best friend is a space heater.

New Interview with Martha Silano in Southeast Review- Check it out!

It's a great interview and she even mentions a meal from the Sylvia Beach Hotel at the end. You can see Marty below in the Gertrude Stein room with rose lamp.

By the way, the beautiful baby on her book is her very own daughter, Ruby. How fantastic is that?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Photos from Sylvia Beach Hotel Retreat in Newport, Oregon - Feb 2008

Here are some photos from our retreat to Sylvia Beach Hotel (a hotel for writers!) on the Oregon Coast.

What I learned--

1) Relax & Settle Down-- The first day for me is used for settling in. I need to get comfortable with my room and surroundings. A lot of walking on day one just to connect with the earth and the new world around me.

2) Plan ahead on what you want to work on, but feel free to change those plans-- I felt I'd be generating a lot more new work than I did, but I realized my days were spent revising or organizing manuscript. While I didn't get a lot of new work (though I do have some new poems and quite a few "From the Emily Dickinson Room" writings), I do have a new chapbook to submit from older poems that I've been wanting to group together, but have just put off.

3) Enjoy friendships. -- You can always have alone time, but rarely do we travel as a team. Instead of feeling guilty for quitting at 5 p.m. instead of 6, I appreciated meeting up an hour early with friends or our long dinners together at night (which is usually my best writing time). I feel much more connected and appreciative of these women writers and that the trip has brought us all closer as a group.

4) Take long morning walks as a group. --This works well on a beach because you can break into smaller groups (it wouldn't work as well on a sidewalk where someone would be falling into traffic). This morning time was a great opening to the day where we discussed our projects, our writing lives, our goals and hopes.

5) Naps. -- I know, I'm napping my writing time away. But what I found was in a new place I woke earlier than normal, so these naps made it possible for me to make it through our dinners. Plus, as the mother of a younger daughter, naps were truly a luxury for me. Falling asleep in the Emily Dickinson room at 2 p.m. was a gift I rarely (if ever) get at home. I took advantage of those 40 minutes meditation periods daily.

6) Bring less books-- I probably didn't need 1/2 my library, but I brought it. I ended up having a few good books, that I kept going back to. Susan Howe's MY EMILY DICKINSON was my favorite of the bunch I brought.

7) Don't censor yourself. Allow yourself to write anything, even it if feels wrong, terrible, etc. Edit it later. It's always interesting to see what new places bring out in you.

8) Remember, you will want to stay one more night. We stayed 3 nights and next year, will stay 4. We all agreed it wasn't enough time. (Is it ever enough time?) Remember your family at home will be (and are) fine without you. No worries. No guilt. Just a room of your own to write. And enjoy it, it goes by fast!

The Welcoming Sign! We're here!

My room from the outside--look for lace window treatments...

Views from my room

Nancy Canyon in the Oscar Wilde room

My writing place in the Emily Dickinson room (note: I moved the desk in front of the window, they had it to the left in front of a wall. I think my placement is much better.)

Nancy Canyon & Jennifer Culkin in the Alice Walker Room

Martha Silano (and rose lamp) in the Gertrude Stein room

Self-Portrait with Virginia Woolf

Emily Dickinson sign on my room's door

Sign at the Front Desk

Kelli in the Emily Dickinson room

Monday, March 03, 2008

The 127 Things You Need

After writing about needing a little spiritual uplift, I received the Smart Woman's Guide to a Simple Life newsletter :

which had an interview with Donna Wilkinson, the author of The Only 127 Things You Need: A Guide to Life's Essentials-According to the Experts. You can read the full interview and information at the above list, but I liked her answer to this:

Q: Did writing this book prompt you to simplify your own life? If so, how?

A: Yes, especially after interviewing Peter Walsh, the organizational expert on TLC’s Clean Sweep. I immediately wanted to throw out everything and start from scratch. Peter said you have to look at your stuff and ask yourself this question: “What is the vision for the life I want?” Once you decide what your vision is, then ask yourself, “Does this item help me achieve that vision?” If it does, keep it; if it doesn’t, then let it go. It’s as simple as that. So I find myself using that as a guide—not only when cleaning closets but also when buying things.

* * * *

I think that question "does this achieve my vision?" helps us in all areas of our lives, not just purchasing. In making choices on how we spend our time, where our thoughts are, what we're reading or watching.

I don't think we need to go overboard and then create a series of strict rules for ourselves as I believe life is buffet and the occasional Twinkie never hurt anyone. But in a larger sense, as we move forward with our choices and experiences, it's a good thing to keep in mind.

Confession Tuesday

If you haven't made it over to offer good thoughts and prayers to Kristi at Goodnight Mom , you may want to. Her little daughter Eva had surgery on Monday for a tumor. The good news was the doctor got it all out and it looks as if she will not need chemo. All the details are on her blog, but maybe leave the parents some good words of support.

* * * *

St. Valentine (only 2 weeks late)
Patron Saint of Lovers AND Bee Keepers.

But it's that time. Confession time and I *think* it's been a week since my last confession. I'm still chocolate-free for Lent, still sweet-heavy and chocolate-free, but wanting.

Let the confessions begin--

1) I confess I've been less active in my blog and writing life than I normally am. I guess I'm in a "fill 'er up" phase. I'm in a late-night poem and rejection heavy world--4 while I was at Sylvia Beach (only Field had good words and a note that one of my poems was close.)

I no longer worry about these *dry* periods where I don't write as much I had hoped (or nothing at all). As a younger poet, I would pace and worry, sit down and stare, try to pound out my soul on the computer. My old poet self says enjoy the scenery, says "it's a journey, not a destination."

2) I heard Christian Wiman's voice (editor of Poetry) on a podcast recently and he sounds completely different than I imagined. He was actually quite enjoyable to listen to.

3) Since returning from Sylvia Beach retreat (and yes I have photos to prove it which I will post soon) I've felt disconnected a bit. Mostly on the first day back--this is my life? I thought. Now, I'm back in the flow of things ordinary, but I realize the spiritual part of my life is a little low as well. All these metaphors of my car being empty of fuel...what does this say?

While I practice Lent and a few other Catholic traditions, I see myself more as a spiritual person than a religious one. I believe very much in prayer, but I dislike church--my fear is that when humans try to interpret "the message" for me, they muck things up. There is ego involved. I think the best place for me to reconnect with a higher power is quietly, though I love Catholic rituals and the churches of Italy. Since I was little, I've just never thought I needed a middleman to get to God.

So I'm trying to center myself. Yoga is always good. Art museums are better.

4)I've started walking a new way around my neighborhood that goes by a miniature pony. I cannot feel unhappy or disconnected when I see this miniature pony. The moon makes me feel this way as well. So does nature. A starry night. A Starry Night.

5) I've been having a mid-morning snack of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, but without the milk. It's replaced my granola or Muesli snack. Because of this new routine, we have about 7 Bee Movie handbuzzers which I finally donated in with my Goodwill things.

Once at the Seattle Goodwill, I saw a huge bin of plastic items and I realized what actually happened to all those Happy Meal Toys. I wish cereal companies would just have a little note on their boxes that says - 50 cents (or whatever amount they like) has been donated to _______________ organization to help feed people in need. The world does not need another Bee Movie handbuzzer.

Dumb Women

Jilly posted a link to a Washington Post essay (I hesitate to use the term "article" as that would imply it is actually factual) by a woman named Charlotte Allen who thinks she and other women are "dumb." She a list of silly things women do--watch Gray's Anatomy, buy Celine Dion records (though I can't say I fall into that camp...), read Eat, Pray, Love. Easy shots at women, silly women with their fancy hairstyles and their cooking and cleaning and fainting at Obama rallies.

It's annoying to be judged and generalized by others. And it's so easy to put people into groups. Too easy. So I wrote this response to the article--

I'm sort of shocked to find how my women sisters and I have been generalized into the dumb category--and all because of Eat, Pray, Love, Oprah, and Gray's Anatomy? This is enough to be dumb--well, that and 5 fainting women. As for yelling "I love you Obama," given the right scenario, I could easily scream out "I love you Hillary!" or "I love you,_____ insert any democrat's name" after 7+ years of the Bush brigade. I actually think I may start every morning yelling out my window--"I love you Barack and Hillary, please run together," a sort of rooster call to my political neighbors.

But I think whenever we generalize--Women love The Notebook, gossiping, and buying shoes, while men are messy, sport and pornography addicts who do not listen--we run into problems. There's an interesting attempt in the media that I've noticed recently where the writers or journalists become a sort of cultural scientist with their "Because of this then this" theories. I've started calling it the "If/Then" essay that reaches for the general outcome. Example: If women are fainting at Obama rallies, then women are overly-emotional and obviously the weaker sex (and apparently dumb). (And who is to say these women were "swooning," maybe they were just hot, overwhelmed, or dehydrated.) But again, it's this "if/then" belief by the author that -- If women watch Gray's Anatomy, then they must only be interested in trash TV and not intellectual.

It's truly a problem when we judge each other based small actions of a bigger life experience. Buying a Celine Dion record and watching Gray's Anatomy does not determine a woman's intellect. It is a small part. I imagine a woman listening to Celine Dion as she drives downtown to volunteer at the homeless shelter, or a woman watching Gray's Anatomy as she grades papers for the college class she teaches. X does not equal Y. We are complex individuals who may have a copy of Proust on the seat of our car as we take our kids through the drive-thru of McDonalds. We may be researching Mesopotamia then leave to watch "Knocked Up" with our partners. We are more interesting for our paradoxes, for our unique, peculiar, and refreshing characteristics of loving shoes and/or loving poetry. We can be feminists, intellectuals, and just generally smart women and still wear heels or Doc Martens. There's not a dress code or a list of rules.

We are only dumb if we buy into the package that there is only one way to be smart, to be intellectual, to be a democrat, to be a feminist, to be a poet/writer, or a woman candidate.

I'm still not sure the point of this essay except that the author wants to believe she is not entitled to be called smart because she doesn't know how many shoes are in her closet (honestly, what woman or man does) or she's not strong at math. (I'm incredible at math and accounting, so I'd be happy to sit down with her one day). She's welcome to find herself a field to count the daisies one at a time (and then stopping at 4 apparently), but not to assume that we are all in that field, even the fainting women. We cannot be grouped so easily.

Thank you for listening. I promise to never judge you for your Celine Dion records, your addiction to Gray's Anatomy, or your fainting at inappropriate places.


(who has X number of shoes in her closet, one daughter, a large library, a master's degree, and who watches Gray's Anatomy on Thursdays.)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

word cloud

created at

Say this on Peter's blog. My most used words.
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