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Last Friday I had the pleasure of reading poetry at the monthly RASP series at VALA Arts in Redmond. It was great to be in a gallery surrounded by art both finished and in progress. People’s creative spaces stood in various states of interruption–brushes, canvases, a pair of shoes on the floor (were they to be worn or drawn?). Plus, I was pouring wine for Cloudlift Cellars, which gave introverted me a way to talk to people before I read for them.

After the reading, during the Q&A, emcee Michael Dylan Welch asked me about my reading habits and how they influence my writing. The next day, I started to remember what I forgot to mention, and I thought that I would return to the topic here.

I started with the easy stuff—Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, Cascadia Review, the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day, and The Writer’s Almanac, which now comes to me in email. What I like about those last two is that they aren’t tied to what’s new—they feature works across a long span of writing and reading time.

Another great resource also comes to me in email: Dennis Caswell’s mailing list. I appreciate the range of poems that Dennis selects—across time, across styles and subjects. Every weekday I have a gift waiting for me. Sometimes it challenges me. Sometimes I don’t get it. I like that—it’s an opportunity for me to expand my understanding. Then, Monday morning also brings the American Life in Poetry poem. And recently I signed up for the daily poem from Rattle.

The websites and emails often introduce me to poets I haven’t read before—and sometimes I’m smitten enough to pick up copies of their books. That’s one influence.

Books! Last Friday, I didn’t really talk about books, but I appreciate getting to explore a collection of someone’s poems, to see how they structured the collection, to hear the conversations in the poems and between the poems, books that I can return to, read over and over again, books that when I’m feel like I’m lost or flailing help me get into the poetry zone.

I also look at the poems that I really like and try to figure out why—specifically. What can I learn from this poem, what is it doing?

But Michael’s question has stayed with me. How could I extend that influence? I could use the first line of a poem that I like as a jumping off point. Or I could write in the style of that poem. In a Dorianne Laux workshop, we wrote in the exact rhythm of a poem. It was not easy (I did not get very far) but it’s a way to open up new routes in the brain.

What are other ways that you learn from a poem? What are your favorite reads?

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This week, I read The Fault in Our Stars, which had been sitting in my stack for nearly a year and a half. I put off reading the book because I was avoiding sadness. I’d heard an NPR interview with the author, John Green, and read an article about him in The New Yorker, but I kept starting other books instead. Part of it might have been a wrenching experience with a different novel. Part of it might have been my earlier experiences working with terminally ill kids at a hospital. Or maybe having been widowed. Or maybe just being a chicken shit. Whatever the reason, now, it was time.

By the end of the first page, I was hooked. I knew it was going to be a hard story–but the voice, the characters, the writing–the way he handled exposition! Setting all that aside, the humanity. It was simultaneously a lesson in craft and a lesson in being human–joys, flaws, foibles, death. As read the last few chapters, tears streaming down my face, I realized it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

Over at A Writer’s Alchemy, Bethany Reid has posted about how we write to feel. If I’m avoiding feeling, that’s a hazard–my biggest creativity block and my biggest personal block. Or maybe that’s why I write poetry–to let down that guard one poem at a time.

How does feeling help your writing. Or, like me, do you tend to run from it?

Finally, Happy Friday, and as I remember from those interviews, DFTBA!
(Don’t forget to be awesome)

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When I pick up a book, I’m looking for a long-term relationship.

How wonderful to find an author whose writing you love–to read the first few pages and feel like you want to read everything they’ve written. But what a commitment!

In life, I am monogamous. In reading, I am not.

Given the shortage of time, how do you sit down and read everything an author has written?

Too often, I’ll go out on that first date and then, as much as I felt swept off my feet, I won’t call back. Like when I read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I’d still like to read more by him, but I haven’t yet. I’ve had the same feeling reading Jess Walters’s Beautiful Ruins. And I love starting a Margaret Atwood novel, knowing again I’ll be well care for from a writing standpoint–terrified, yes–but with such stunning and confident skill.

Or sometimes, an author or an author’s work is like that cool person at the party–you’re shy about walking up and introducing yourself. What if you can’t understand what they’re saying? What if you aren’t smart enough? For me, that’s James Joyce. For years, I’ve imagined taking a summer off and reading Joyce, but it’s a fantasy–I’m not taking a summer off and I haven’t bought a single book yet.

Then, there’s the commitment of the trilogy or the series. I read Sea of Poppies and I want to find out what happens next, but I haven’t been able to go on that second date. I did show up for every single Harry Potter book and for the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Poets are easier to fall in love with, although maybe that meaningful relationship takes more attention. I have several, but not all, of Cole Swensen’s books (some of which I’ve returned to often), a shelf of Louise Gluck’s work (ditto). Plus Sarah Gridley, Sarah Vap, Oliver de la Paz, Nicole Cooley. And the delight of finding a poet’s work and then they bring out a new book!

This past weekend, I was in Manzanita, OR–which meant a trip to Cloud and Leaf Bookstore and picking up (among other books) Katrina Roberts‘s new collection, Underdog. On an earlier trip, I’d purchased her first three books there, so it felt kind of like a ritual. Then I took my new books home and sat out on the deck and read and got a little sun burned.

I returned home to a new issue of The Writer’s Chronicle and a new BPJ. So much to read!

Who are your go-to writers–poetry or prose? Who do you fall in love with? Who do you call back?

(And now that I’ve mentioned all these names, go read Kelli’s really fabulous no-list post.)

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