On the road

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Joannie in Central ParkWhen do you find yourself out of your comfort zone–whether that means jumping out of a plane (I have no desire to jump out of a plane) or sitting quietly in a room? What are your favorite memories from there?

A year ago today, I flew out of Seattle to La Guardia airport and hung out with my friend Laurie in Queens for a quiet evening. It was the beginning of my East Coast book tour.

Eight days of adventure–and I’m not an adventurous person. I seek out safety and comfort, thank you.

But I look back on that week gladly, grateful for the time with friends, the readings, and the challenge of driving 799 miles on unknown roads.

I’ve been trying to write about a moment toward the end of the journey, as I approached the Whitestone Bridge–

(still rough)

and here as I slow before the tollbooth, the road a field of cars,
the fear of two boroughs in my wrists
and tight in my throat a  prayer of thanks for safe
passage through Connecticut,

the north tower rises like a monument,
cathedral in the sky’s vault
and the sun descending its marble staircase
through the day’s rose-hinged clerestory,
I nearly hear the angels singing

At the time, I was worrying about the driving and everything being new. I was sure that any supposed benefits of that newness were being offset by the stress. But that trip has served me well. When I get nervous, I often remind myself that I drove 799 miles, that I drove in Queens. I even drove for about two blocks in Manhattan. So take that, worries.

This Monday after daylight savings threw me down and kicked me. Not enough sleep. Not enough brains. But I’m enjoying the memories from last year.

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Last Thursday, we made our annual trip to Lummi Island.

View from the deck

Looking south.

This is what feeds me.

View from the deck

Looking west.

But also the island, the sights that are familiar and changing–in small increments or in giant steps. The people, although we saw fewer folks from our past excursions. It brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings about change.

I brought a package of index cards so I could jot down thoughts or images without spending a huge amount of time writing–because really it’s an anniversary trip so the point is to spend time together, right?

Now I’ll go back and see whether any the writing on those cards still resonates.

Resonance… We talked about how different places resonate with different people–like Lummi for us, and like Manzanita, which was our next stop.

We drove from the Whatcom Chief ferry to Seattle, swapped out our clothes, watered the basil, voted, and then drove out to 101 South and down to Manzanita. We traveled from 90-degree heat to a cloud bank. When we first arrived, we couldn’t see the ocean. Eerie.

Late the next morning, the sun burned through the gray and we walked down the beach. I didn’t bring any kind of camera, but it looked mostly like this.

And the rest of the trip looked like this:

<imagine a picture of people sitting around and talking, a little walking and lots of stories and laughter–good times hard to snap in a photograph>

I didn’t get any writing done–which makes me nervous, especially when I’m between poems, between projects, between lives. But it wasn’t about writing, it was about being together.

I’m so thankful for these annual journeys and gatherings–and now I’m taking a day or two to write before our next adventure begins.

Open the door. Open my heart.

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Yes, it’s just two days away! Thursday, April 19, 6:30 PM at Edmonds Bookshop:

Jack McCarthy
Holly Hughes
Victoria Ford
Joan Swift
and me

The where/when details

Thursday, April 19, 6:30 p.m.
Edmonds Bookshop
111 Fifth Avenue South, Edmonds
Tel: 425-775-2789
edmondsbookshop@msn.com
www.edmondsbookshop.com

The who details

Jack McCarthy calls himself a “standup poetry guy.” He was a member of Boston’s 1996 National Slam Poetry team. Now based near Seattle, he performs at local venues and tours nationally. His publications include Actual Grace Notes and a critically acclaimed full-length collection, Say Goodnight, Grace Notes. He has also produced two CDs, Breaking Down Outside a Gas Station and By Gift Unearned. His website is www.standupoet.net.
 
Holly Hughes teaches writing at Edmonds Community College. Her most recent poetry collection is Boxing the Compass (Floating Bridge, 2007). She edited the anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State, 2009), and The Pen & The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, her collaboration with essayist Brenda Miller, is due from Skinner House Press this May. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry Daily; Dancing With Joy: 99 Poems; and Family Matters: Poems of Our Families.
 
Victoria Ford has published two chapbooks: Following the Swan (Fireweed, 1988) and Rain Psalm (Rose Alley, 1996). Her poems have recently appeared in Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range; Many Trails to the Summit, and Petroglyph. She has taught English at Seattle Central Community College and Antioch University. She currently works as an instructional designer at an educational software firm.
 
Joan Swift has published six collections of poetry: Snow on a Crocus (2010); The Tiger Iris (1999); Intricate Moves, Poems About Rape (1997); The Dark Path of Our Names (1985); Parts of Speech (1978); and This Element (1965). The Tiger Iris and The Dark Path of Our Names received Washington State Governor’s Awards. She has received three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. Her poems have been published in many journals, including The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Northwest Review, Poetry Northwest, Ploughshares, and Yale Review.
 
Joannie Stangeland has published three poetry collections: Into the Rumored Spring (Ravenna, 2011), Weathered Steps (Rose Alley, 2002), and A Steady Longing for Flight (Floating Bridge, 1995 contest winner). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, as well as the two Rose Alley Press anthologies, Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range (2007) and Many Trails to the Summit (2010). Joannie has been a Jack Straw Writer and an instructor at Richard Hugo House.

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Standing outside Emily Dickinson's house

I'm holding a copy of Open Me Carefully, a collection of Emily Dickinson's letters to her best friend and sister-in-law Susan, compiled by Martha Nell Smith and my friend Ellen Louise Hart.

 A week ago, I was at the Emily Dickinson house. I felt a sense of wonder standing in the hallway–maybe there more than anywhere, because I could imagine people bustling through the house. The hallway, with its pale green wall paper of delicate swirls, and the stairs, truly held that sense of possibility.  And then upstairs, Emily’s room–so perfect for light.

And the white dress–because we have only the one picture of Emily (when she was 16!) and it’s very dark. But now I can imagine her managing the household or sitting at her writing table in her corner room (such a perfect room for light) in her white dress.

We took the full tour, walking across to The Evergreens, where Austin and Susan lived. Such a different house! (And shambling–and the stories of that house!). There, we  got to see the dining room and the kitchen and climb upstairs (hoping the stairs would hold) to see the nursery.

Then the moment that sears me–Emily coming across to the Evergreens, like another ghost the night her nephew Gilbert died, and collapsing beneath the trees. I come back to that image and then I return to the hallway, with it’s pale wallpaper, its flood of sunlight, and everything hasn’t happened yet.

In one of the rooms of the Dickinson homestead, the museum has set up an interactive display to show Emily’s variants. According to the tour guide, it isn’t known whether these were revisions (a process of changing) or just options to switch in and out.

But what really struck me was the poem they used to show these. Here it is in a slightly different version than in the museum:

I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer house than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest–
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–

I’ve been struggling with poemness–what makes a poem a poem and not just lines broken. What differentiates a poem from prose. The other day, I was driving to the store and hearing someone on the radio and it sounded maybe like a poem, but maybe like a story, and because it had already started I didn’t know. It was lovely–so vivid and poignant–and it turned out that it was a poem. But I couldn’t tell just by listening. I suspect that if I heard this poem on the radio, I’d know immediately that it was a poem.

Poetry has room for all kinds of voices and all kinds of writing, but in my current quest for poemness, this poem helped a lot.Now I need to get a Franklin edition so that I can read truer versions of Emily Dickinson’s poems.

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Really, it was a chance to see good friends I hadn’t seen in years–and give some readings.


Thursday night at O’Shea’s: a warm group–reading with a friend’s friends is almost like reading with friends, and it was a kick-ass open mic.

Then we listened to music.


It was so much fun to be out even though at home I van rarely be pried off my sofa.

Friday was a day off–no reading and driving only to lunch–with a lot of time to try cajoling some new poems into shape.

Saturday, Greg and I caravanned to Brockton where we read at the Brockton Public Library as guests of the Greater Brockton Poetry Society. They have quite a scene going on: a two-hour workshop, an open mic (Saturday several people read poems by Frank Miller, in his memory), and then the featured readers. And my friends Jane and Hsien-Hsin came–all the way from Amherst. I enjoyed getting to read for them.

Greg drove east and I headed west with Jane riding shotgun, which made the drive through late afternoon sunset so much fun. Dinner, wine, how can it get better?

Pancakes! Yesterday we started at the Sugar Shack for pancakes and some of the season’s last maple syrup.

We took the full tour of the Dickinson homestead and the Evergreens (more on that when I have a keyboard) and visited her grave.

You can’t quite see it, but I left a little bee.

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