Friday, April 30, 2010

What You Don't See Behind the Poem...

So I've been thinking about Fuzzmail ( a site that records everything you write, your first thought and what you delete or change.

Here's a visual poem for you, based on revision vs. first thought.  It plays with that idea on how wording things differently can create certain images of people or events.  I am always interested in "appearances" vs. "real life" or "real people/real families."

So here's a look at a love letter on what was thought, and what was actually said....

I must say, this was pretty fun to do...

A Poem Being Born

So I've always wanted to do this, record a new poem being typed out from my mind to paper--well, in this case, from mind to computer.

I found this website called Fuzzmail that does just that, it records whatever you type in the message and when you send it to someone they can see your entire message from start to finish---including typos you fixed, what you deleted, what you changed, what you moved around.

I decided to do this for you for the last day of National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo.

Let me set the scene, it's 7:45 am when I begin. I put on one of my favorite bands to have playing in the background while I write (The Fray), and I decide to use one of Susan Rich's opening lines from The Alchemist's Kitchen for a starting prompt.

I used the line, "She will be known as the Michelangelo" from her poem, "Tender."

To see the results and the poem being typed out on the page in real time (though thankfully, you can speed it up - just press the "faster" button), follow this link to Fuzzmail.

Some things to note-- This ended up being a longer poem than I thought, so near the end you will have to use the scroll on the right to scroll down to see what I'm writing.  Sorry about that.

I write out the poem then return to quickly to the top of the page to revise and add/fix stanza and line breaks.

Also, much of this poem is stream-of-consciousness.  In other poems, I go back and revise while writing, but this poem has a lot of moving forwardness that may not true of all my poems.

Let me know what you think.  I might try this again setting the timer to exactly 5 minutes and stopping right when it goes off.

P.S.  I don't consider this poem as done or finished, but just as a first draft I can now revise in my own time.

Welcome to the Last Day of National Grilled Cheese Month! (Also, National Poetry Month too, incase you missed it.)

If you're a Lunatic on Bulbs:

If you live in NY & you love (or like) Emily Dickinson and/or gardening I just read about this--

Emily Dickinson once called herself a “a Lunatic on Bulbs,” referring to her passion for daffodils, hyacinth and other spring perennials, which she raised indoors in winter in her family home in Amherst, Mass. And a lunatic she probably seemed to neighbors who spied her gardening by moonlight on summer evenings in the flower beds behind the house. . .

“Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers” continues through June 13 at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx River Parkway and Fordham Road (Exit 7W), Bedford Park, the Bronx; (718) 817-8700,

* * *

Play Freebird!

Things that have been said to me this poetry month--

"You're rather clean for a poet."  

"Do you get paid for this?"

"I remember seeing your poem..."  (note:  this is probably one of my favorite things people say to me)

"I like that I can understand your words."

"Hey. You're a beautiful poet."

"Do you always ride the ferry to poetry readings?"

"So you're a professional poet?"

"Do you do requests?"

* * *
Happy Final Day of Poetry Month (we made it!)

And just a reminder that today is the very very last day of the GREAT Poetry Giveaway, so if you want to get your name in the hats, go to these incredible blogs and leave a comment as the deadline to enter is today! --

National Poetry Month - It Came from the 80's...

Now that's it's the end of NaPoWriMo:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writing Day with Marty

Martha Silano took the ferry over yesterday for some quality writing time in the poetry barn (aka my writing shed).

5+ hours just FLEW by.  I could not believe when it was time for her to take the ferry back home.

The hardest writing exercise we did was a sonnet exercise.  Marty's was really coming along, mine included Cher and was a little funky.

What we looked like when we began...

What we looked like after 5 hours of poetry writing and talk!

(Oh the book I'm holding up, Adrian Blevin's The Brass Girl Brouhaha, the book we used for the prompt line for our final exercise:  "All the notable things that ever happened to  me happened because..." from the poem "Generally Speaking."  Try it, it's a good opening line--no wonder she used it.  

And most important, here's some of what we ate--

We did go inside for a healthy lunch of chicken sandwiches with Trader Joe's mango chutney.  Yum!   

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Susan Rich's The Alchemist's Kitchen Reading at Open Book: April 25, 2010

(The Crowd Shot:  Where's Waldo?  - In this photo are poets Madeline DeFrees, Martha Silano, Kathleen Flenniken, Molly Tenenbaum, and Allen Braden - can you find them?  No one is wearing a Waldo hat, so it's a bit harder)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
April 25, 2010:

On Sunday, my friend (and co-editor of the Crab Creek Review) Annette and I took the ferry over the Seattle to hear Susan Rich read from her new book, The Alchemist's Kitchen.  

It was a beautiful day, not something you want in the Northwest for a poetry reading because folks sometimes drop any scheduled plans to sit in the surprise sun, but nope, not today, today everyone showed up.  The poetry reading was a full house with standing room only.  The age of audience members ranged from 4 weeks old (our friend and non-fiction writer, Monica LeMoine's new baby) to 90 years old (Madeline DeFrees)

Susan had asked me to be her photographer, something I love to do.  I'd much rather be taking the photos than be in the photos.  Plus, it gives me a way to talk with people I don't know and watch the day from a more observational place.  Though there were times when I did allow myself just to be part of the moment and not just the documenter (though I do feel documenting such dates are important in our lives.)  I wanted to experience the day as well as make sure Susan, who was in the glow of it all, had proof it happened!

When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was that Susan had made copies of her broadsided poem on bright paper and placed them on all of the chairs.  As we sat down, a young man handed out mint leaves to the audience from her garden--we knew this was going to be no ordinary poetry reading!  

We began the reading by standing and holding the broadsides up while Susan took a few photos.  The image of everyone holding a poem and smiling was absolutely lovely.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

This is one of my very favorite photos of Susan from the reading. 


Susan was poised and charming at the podium.  She said how much she had been thinking about the reading.  The audience was completely with her and with what she said.

She was thoughtful and humorous (a very nice mix when you're in the audience!)  In telling us the history of alchemy and the many ways to say tomato, she said one of the funniest lines I've heard, "I think when I get nervous, I google."   

She described the poems in The Alchemist's Kitchen as "Taking our ordinary lives and transforming them beyond the ordinary."  I thought this was also a great description of what poetry is at its best.

 She read some of my favorite poems: "Food for Fallen Angels" and "Tulip Sutra."  She read from each section of the book, which I appreciated.  When she read from the second section, she handed out postcards with an image from photographer Myra Albert Wiggins that inspired a poem.

For the final section, a basket spilling over with lavender chocolate was passed through the audience.  Susan joked on my Facebook page that I didn't get any photos of people eating the chocolate (hmm, I wonder why?)   It was because at that point, I was so into the reading (and the lavender chocolate) that I had forgotten to take photos.  I was lost in the words and poetry around me.

The lavender chocolate & Susan's broadside plus my notebook.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The reading ended with Susan throwing a soft ball into the audience--an image from one of her poems--and whoever caught it won a prize.  (The winner was Martha Silano and the prize was one of Susan's limited edition broadsides.)  Susan writes about all the things she did to make her poetry reading different here.

I must say it was very refreshing to go to a poetry reading and not know what was going to happen next.  It kept the entire reading fresh and exciting.  And yes, the poems stood on their own and there was definitely enough time where we were focused only on the poems, but it was obvious that Susan had crafted the reading for her audience.  It was about sharing her work with others in a way that would be fun for everyone.

I'm good friends with Susan and know her generosity and her playfulness through our friendship and I thought her reading really showcased these traits in her and really allowed people to enjoy their day.  It was truly a celebration for both the poet and the people who came to support her.

~ ~ ~ 

After the reading, there was a party at Kathleen Flenniken's home.  Susan had brought a delicious chocolate and raspberry cake which was incredible and there, of course, was a table of delicious food and wine.

I had a chance to talk with the wonderful Peter Pereira who is now mustache-less (you look very handsome, Peter!)  Poet Elizabeth Austen was there (she has a new book coming out with Floating Bridge Press in June!) as was beautiful Joannie Stangeland (in the softest lavender cashmere sweater ever).

It was truly a celebration of poetry throughout the entire day.  Below are a few more photos from the event for you to enjoy.

And I want to end from the very first line of poetry Susan read from the poem on the broadside "Ghazal for the Woman from Vitez" --

The real story is that she is a piece of light..

as I think that line represents the day for Susan and what she gave the listeners who attended her reading.  I think we all left with a little more glow, a little more light in our lives.


Susan signing books after the reading.

The Cake, The Book, The Lavender Chocolate

Peter Pereira & Kathleen Flenniken 

Basket of Chocolate             Joannie Stangeland          Susan's Broadside Poem

Poets Joan Swift, Allen Braden & Annette Spaulding-Convy

Allen Braden telling us to have a nice day in white & red.

Back row:  Kathleen Flenniken, Elizabeth Austen, Me.
Front row:  Esther Helfgott, Susan Rich, Madeline DeFrees and Anne McDuffie

(Note:  This photo makes me laugh because it's actually not a photo, it's a movie still.  What? you ask.  I had my friend's husband take this photo on both my iPhone & regular camera and he somehow managed to flip the switch on both of them to video.  So instead of a group photo, I actually have about 8 short video clips of us standing together.)

Susan Rich
The Belle of the Ball afterwards, existing in the afterglow...

Confession Tuesday - The I've Been Good! Edition

Dear Reader,

As I begin this I feel that I have little to confess this week. I've been pretty good. But this is the joy of the confessional (and being Catholic), you have to confess even if you've been good.

When I was little, my friend Lisa used to the tell the priest every week in confession that she hit her sister even though she didn't. I asked her why and she said it was because she had nothing to confess, so she would just make stuff up. I told her she could now add, "And I lied to a priest" to her confessions.

So, I'm not sure what I will confess today, so there won't be anything juicy for you (um, is there *ever* anything juicy? I am so square). But it's Tuesday and time to begin.

To the confessional--

I confess today is a work day for me, so if you see random blog posts today, you will know I am not working, but avoiding work.


I confess there will be a blog post today about Susan Rich's poetry reading at Open Books for The Alchemist's Kitchen, which happened Sunday at Open Books. I can tell you it was wonderful and she had many fun ways to involve the audience (which I will mention in my upcoming post).

I confess whenever I have time, I love to go mountain biking.  Yesterday I was out for 3 hours in backhills of our community, this huge area of logging roads and trails open to the public for hikes, biking, and horseback riding.

My bike actually gives me that happy-feeling in my stomach when I see it or think about it.  This is similar to how I feel about books.

My Bike-- (it's a Norco Storm if you're interested...)

I confess I'm stretching my confessions here because really, honestly, I do not have too much to confess.  Maybe I should confess what I didn't do--

 I did not get into a bidding war with my nemesis at this year's elementary school.  I did not drink too much champagne.  I did not go into the Erotic Bakery and I did not find Dave Matthew's house before the Open Books reading.

So maybe next week I can add a little spice to my life and yours.  Maybe, but probably not.  I'm off to blog about Susan's reading now and then a work day.

May it also be a square week for you with a little spice, enough to keep things interesting.

Poetry Book Giveaway 2010: Updated List

3 More days to be part of the biggest poetry giveaway in the blogworld!  (Okay, I have no idea if that's true, but it sounds good...)

Here's the new updated list of poetry books that will fly through the mail soon.  To enter these, just follow the links and leave a comment on the blog of the generous blogger giving them away!  Good luck, Baby!

List of Bloggers Participating in the Poetry Book Giveaway 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Constitutes a Good Poem?

On Tuesday night, I gave a talk at the Bainbridge Island Library on What Constitutes a Good Poem.

Here are some notes from that talk--

I wrote my first poem in second grade.  Was it a good poem?  My mother thought so, and so much she framed it and put it on her bedroom wall.  But would others think so?  That is the great thing about poetry, there is no right or wrong.  My mother’s poem might not be anyone else’s good poem, but that’s okay.  We each get to choose our own good poem.

So before I can begin, I first have to tell you that my “good poem” may not be your “good poem.”

But we need some poems as examples to discuss what makes a good a poem, so tonight I will share some poems to open up the conversation.  They will be our examples of some things that make a good poem.  They may also be your good poem.  Or maybe your “okay poem,” but they are here for our conversation for What Constitutes a Good Poem.


I’ve spent the last couple months asking myself, What Constitutes a Good Poem?  I realize there are so many answers to that questions.  Sometimes a good poem is funny and sometimes a good poem is tragic.  Sometimes a good poem is three pages long and other times it’s three lines long.  The more I asked myself this question, the more I thought that there was no way I could discuss what makes a good poem in the time allotted, I’d need weeks!

So I’ve thrown everything into the pot and placed it on boil.  Once everything was bubbling and spilling over, I reduced what constitutes a good poem down to three ideas, the 3M’s I’ve come to call them--

and Meaning   

These are three things each *good poem* needs.

1)  MUSIC--

Music in a poem is a little different than music in song.  In a song there are instruments to keep the tune, rhythm, and beat.  There is a melody and sometimes background singers.  In a poem, the words are the instruments.  The words set the rhythm and pace, the words build the music as well as the form of the poem, the line breaks, the spaces.

Let’s look at two poems that while do not literally have instruments to help them, are full of music.

1)    The Pool Players by Gwendolyn Brooks
2)    Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

What is happening in these two poems are creating the music?

1)    line breaks
2)    repetition
3)    intentional rhymes
4)    alliteration
5)    assonance
6)    meter/rhythm


For a poem to be a good poem, you have to remember that poem, otherwise it just floats into the abyss of what we’ve read. Even if you can’t remember the whole poem, but there’s an image that still remains with you, the poem continues on because of that.

Before we continue on, I must clarify one thing, when I say, “A poem should be memorable,” that does not mean a poem should be shocking.  Or that a shocking/memoriable poem equals a good poem.

Stephen Knight said it best when he said, “Not all memorable poems are good, but all good poems are memorable.”
— Independent on Sunday, 14 December 2003

So what makes a poem memorable? 

1)    Images
2)    Subject
3)    A surprising element (this could be a metaphor, simile, juxtaposition)
4)    The words the poet used
5)    The shape or form of a poem
6)  A specific or detailed image or moment
7)  The title and a poem well-crafted enough to live up to it

3)    MEANING—

So you’ve written or read a poem and it has music in it and it’s also memorable.  But is it a good poem?  Well, it might be, but it might also need one more thing to make you connect with the poem—meaning.

When I say “meaning” I’m not saying you had to have understood everything about the poem because I have some favorite poems, "The Waste Land" by TS Eliot being one of them, there are times in that poem when I’m not exactly sure what’s happening, but the overall feel of the poem has meaning to me on a level that’s hard to explain. 

When I look at the word “meaning” – the first word I see inside that word is “me.” – You will each put yourself in the meaning.  It’s what the poem means to you—not anyone else.  Even if you are interpreting it completely differently than the poet intended (and believe me, this happens a lot with poetry),  it is still correct.  We each take our own experiences and bring them to a poem. 

We each find our own meaning in poems.  We put the “me” in the “meaning.”  We decide what poems mean to each of us. 

What are some ways a poet might add meaning to a poem  (and let me add a note here that many times, the poet is unaware of the meaning in his/her poem, many times the poet is discovering that for his or herself as s/he writes the poem.)

But meaning can come out a few ways—

1)    Through the narrative
2)    Through irony or discovery
3)    Through images
4)    Through actually quotes or speech in a poem
5)    By what the poem doesn’t say or what it leaves out
6)    Through the poems’ ability to start in one place and end in another
7)    By the way the poem transforms from beginning to end
8)    In the tension created in the poem or by the title and poem
9)    By the voice of the poem and what is said
10) By being multi-leveled, you can’t just read it once and as you read it more, you discover more
11) By taking a regular experience and making it special
12) By looking closely at the details of something (an event, an item – manmade or natural)
13) By allowing images to move the poem (the show don’t tell)
14) By allowing the reader to bring her own experiences into the poem

This list can go on, but mostly what happens is the reader adds meaning to what you've written.  You may write with the best intentions to what you want to say, but it will mean different things to different people.

Meaning is what we each individually take from a poem.

The poem is one half of a handshake, by writing the poem, you have outstretched your hand, the reader reaches out and (hopefully!) grabs on.  This is the connection, the meaning, this where the letters on the page move from just being words to being something greater, this become the poem.


It was hard to focus down on what makes a poem good.  I once read that "defining poetry is like grasping at the wind - once you catch it, it's no longer wind."  And it felt that way as I tried to catch it here, but hopefully there will be something you can take away, always knowing in the words of Dylan Thomas:  "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing."    


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