reading

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How cool is that?

How wonderful? How unexpected? I’m still a bit dizzy, giddy.

This evening, I read at the It’s About Time series in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. It was a festive evening, with a lot of open mike readers and a writer’s craft talk. And the other featured reader was Joan Swift, with whom I read in 1995. So that was a kind of reunion.

But…

Before the reading began, I saw a really familiar woman arrive. She sat in front of me. I heard her first name. I wondered about her last name. When she stood up for open mike and introduced herself, I knew.

We hadn’t seen each other in more than 25 years, and she was here. I met Pat Hurshell the first night of my first Nelson Bentley poetry workshop. It was my first venture into a poetry class since the workshop disaster of the previous fall. She was working on her doctorate. A few months later, she brought a poem to class that enchanted me. I used it as the inspiration to choreograph my modern dance senior project, and she came to a performance.

Over the years, I often thought about Pat and about the dance, and I wondered what she was doing.

But I had moved to New York for a few years, and I lost contact with a lot of people, including Pat.

Until tonight. It was about time. And I got to hear her read a poem.

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As a reader, I am not easy to please.

After reading a poem on the page, my reaction may be a bit tepid: “Doesn’t really do anything for me.” Instead of hooking me, taking me along, inviting me to an adventure, it’s more like the poem opened the back door and went back to washing the dishes.

The next reaction is, “That’s okay” (“nice”).

Or the obsessive editor in me might wonder, “Why in the heck end the line with ‘the’? Isn’t there a better word for that place of power?” or “It doesn’t have momentum, it doesn’t have music.” I do like music in the poems I read.

It might be a powerful story, but the language doesn’t seem to be chosen. Or I can’t find a metaphor anywhere. Not even a simile.

Or I might really like the poem. As picky as I am, I really like a lot of poems.

Then, there’s “Wow, I wish I’d written that.”

A delirious duality—I feel a little saddened by the realization that I did not write that poem and it’s been written by someone else, and I feel a glorious exhilaration that someone did write that poem. Thank you! One example is “Upon Witnessing My Mother Impossibly Blossom Above My Father’s Deathbed,” by Kevin Stein.

But imagine it: In the new issue of The Missouri Review, I found seven of these poems! Seven!

Reading the elegies by Frannie Lindsay, I felt that they held and carried and invited me into everything I’ve looked for in a poem.

They are elegies, and they come from deep loss. After my own brush with grief-born poems, I felt I’d rather never write a poem again than lose someone I loved so much. Maybe Ms. Lindsay feels the same way. But what she’s done with that absence and mourning is such a gift—immediate and poignant and detailed, exactly.

Take these lines from “Enough”:

I can almost be happy
remembering my sister’s cello
filling our dread-laden house

those November school nights

I’m there instantly, and nervously.

Or in “The Music Is Going Great in Both Directions”:

…her ravaged voice
pleased as a housewife
pulling her first rhubarb pie from the oven

A delicious image, a wry wound.

And then these lines from “The Good Day”:

…your sparse streamers of hair
fly behind you, your shadow

ravels, your legs rise and float like hawk wings
over the pedals, your fists slacken and lift
from the gears and brakes.

Legs rising and floating like hawk wings? What an image–visual, kinetic, unexpected. Really, the whole poem… read it!

Every once in a while the debate over whether to read or not read (not read?) other people’s work rears its snake-laden head. For me, reading teaches me about writing—and reading poems that make me sit up or jump up nourishes me and inspires me to work harder, open more fully, listen more closely, and write.

What do you look for in the poems you read? What makes you sit up and listen, or sit up and write?

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or pots on the burner, or cooks in the kitchen…

I’m feeling much better than when I made my (ahem) highly dramatic post on Sunday. I’m still haunted by images in the book, but I’m able to revisit them, carefully.

Now, I’m reading poems by Yehuda Amichai, and they are leading me on a richly textured journey.

Next, I’m ready to get to some of my own work. I’ve spent so much focus on revising the poems in my manuscript again that I haven’t turned to anything newer. And I have quite a few things going, including a whole series based on that fairy tale that I can’t find and can’t remember and some place poems I wrote in Tieton and a poem about Lipomas and many, many things to revise. Tonight, I think it’s time to give those poems a turn.

And hey—I could even think about sending out some work. (Do editors really have the time and inclination to read submissions this time of year?)

Finally, I’m trying to cook an artichoke. With the choke and the sauce and the rice, that’s three burners.

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Aack! What to pack?

I’m getting ready to head to Santa Fe. In addition to worrying about to wear (and what not to wear), I’m worrying about what to read—on the plane, at least.

I’m still nibbling my way through Secret Ingredients, and my copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus came in the mail. But what about poetry?

It quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Open Books before I left. I didn’t even make it to Bailey Coy or the public library. That leaves my own library. That’s the reason I save all these books, right?

I have my copy of the new issue of The Cape Rock, but I also have hours of flying and layovers. I may need to spend some time staring at the shelves.

P.S. If I did have time to get to Open Books, I’d pick up a copy of Shadow Architect, the new book by Emily Warn.

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Snow on the road in April
The lovely Scandinavian enclave of Poulsbo

Vikings everywhere!

All in all, a fun reading, and a good day.

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