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)

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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...


  1. That's terrific! Nice photos. Susan looks so happy. What a great day of poetry. Thanks for sharing your pespective on the event.

  2. Aw, it doesn't seem right that all my friends were there and I wasn't! Thanks for capturing everything via photograph. Love Kathleen's new long hair and Peter's new moustache-free look! Can't wait to get up there and visit.

  3. What a crowd! Nice pics too. N.W. poets rock. Susan has a magic touch when it comes to organizing a reading. So much personal input even before the people arrive. Wow~

  4. Kelli, you are amazing, wonderful, generous, and a great photographer on top of all that ...I can't thank you enough for all these beautiful photographs and words. I'm so lucky to have you in my life. Please know I am anxiously awaiting your Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room so I can start returning some of this powerful karma. Thank you, dear, dear, friend.

  5. What a divine evening of poetry and lavender chocolate! I'm so wishing I could've been there, too...

    PS: I'm hosting a poetry contest over at my blog this week. Maybe you'd be interested...

  6. Thanks so much for this, Kelli--

  7. that's wonderful! makes me want to try and branch out a bit with my readings. then again i don't think i've ever had such a large crowd :)


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