October events

Nothing like sneaking in at the last minute–but the October fun starts tomorrow, October 8, with the launch of Judith Skillman’s new book Broken Lines–The Art & Craft of Poetry. Stop in at The Spring Street Center to hear Judith read excerpts. Judith also included poems in the book–and some of us will be reading: Joan Swift, Anne Pitkin, Roberta Feins, Christianne Balk, Michael Spence, and me. The Spring Street Center, 1101 15th Avenue, Seattle, 7:00 p.m.

Moving right along to Thursday, October 10, in Ballard: the It’s About Time reading with Ruby Murray and Elissa Washuta and me. I’ll be reading from Into the Rumored Spring, in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month. (The NFL players wear pink, I read poems). Plus Elizabeth Austin will speak on The Writer’s Craft: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive. Ballard Public Library, 5614 22nd Ave. N.W., Seattle, 6:00 p.m.

Next Monday, October 14, at Richard Hugo House, come hear the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award Reading, featuring the award-winning Ghost House, by Hannah Faith Notess, and the runner-up Scarecrow Bride, by Arlene Nagawana. Also reading will be the finalists: Linda Malnack (21 Boxes), Kevin Miller (Smoke and Miracles), and me (Let Slip from Anchors). I’m honored to be a part of this group. Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle, 7:00 p.m.

At the end of the month, on Thursday, October 24, at Jack Straw Studios, it’s the Floating Bridge Review Gala. Many poets! An extravaganza of poems. Jack Straw Studios, 4261 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, 7:30 p.m.

Sneak peak into November

I’ll be participating in a discussion on craft at University Bookstore, November 22. More details to come.



What makes it stay? Anthems and poetry

keyboardWe were looking for a parking space at Costco the other day and the radio was playing the Hallelujah song. I don’t know who was singing it this time, although it reminded me of hearing Jordan singing it at O’Shea’s on Cape Cod, and it reminded me about anthems.

What turns a piece of music from a song into an anthem? And I’m not talking about national, which is an assigned status. I’m talking about the songs that become anthems, songs that are chosen by the people and become symbols for a generation or generations.

The Hallelujah Chorus
Imagine and Let it Be
Like a Rolling Stone (and/or Blowin’ in the Wind?)

These are off the top of my head. I thought of others and then took them off the list, and I’m probably missing the obvious–the anthem elephant in the room. What are some others?

If music makes up a soundtrack for our lives and a door to our memories, associations with when we heard a song before, an anthem gives us a common soundtrack by

Telling a shared story
Giving us hope
Giving us a really good refrain

An anthem includes us.

What poems do this? Give us this common touchstone?

The two that come to my mind first:

Casey at the Bat
The Waking

Again, I’m probably missing the obvious ones. What anthem poems do you recommend? I hope you’ll add to the list here.

Get moving–through your poems

Machines at the gymWe’re moving into the New Year and I’ve noticed more people are moving at the gym. It’s always a little more crowded as people tackle their resolutions or just want to shed some of the holiday leftovers.

But that gets me thinking about movement—in a poem. Sure, a poem can be about one thing. It might be about one thing on the surface and then add complexity in layers, revealed in careful rereading. Or a poem might move from its initial image and take you somewhere you never expected–without getting lost, without losing you. What Richard Hugo referred to as the triggering town. The town triggers the poem, but the poem isn’t about the town. It travels. Into the past. Into the future, or any unknown—what the waitress at the diner last Thursday was thinking about as she restocked the salt shakers and what that made you think of from the snow that fell after Christmas in 1996.

It might leap. It might meander.

Sometimes I find it really hard to move away from that first trigger, to take that first scary leap into thin air and trust I’ll land somewhere. Trust that if it isn’t the right place, I’ll try again. It’s so easy to stay with that initial image, milk it for what it’s worth—and then—what?

As with any writing problem to solve, I turn to reading. For example, Billy Collins moves so elegantly through his poems. Take Osso Bucco (be sure to click through to the second page). See how it moves from

I love the sound of the bone breaking against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto

to the wife talking on the phone to the man climbing the hillside and then into the night, and now you’re

below the shale and layered rock
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know .

Or the way Roberta Spear moves from her son and the man in the moon to Akhmatova in “In the Moon” and the way she moves through her poem “A Nest for Everyone.”

How do you move away from that initial image? Who are your favorite poets who move through their poems and take you somewhere new?

To do: Laundry and poetry

basket of laundry
Clean laundry waiting to be folded

Last week, I mentioned Robert Lee Brewer’s suggestion to make a list of daily activities to do in May. So far my list has a few gaps in it, but it’s mostly filled in.

But when I took another look at my list, I realized that a lot of the activities focus on to-do items–kind of my poetry version of laundry and grocery shopping. It includes things like sending out poems and picking a poem to go take to my poetry group and reading Smoking Poet submissions and writing this blog post.

Those activities help me get things done–but maybe I need a second list. I want to get things done, but I also want to focus on craft–how you open yourself up to new ideas, how you generate work, how you stretch and cut push and pull and gently nudge that work into focus, into the kind of poem you want to write.

What kind of poem do I want to write? One that grips me and leaves a note in the air–one with music and a story and knock-out imagery. One that the reader can’t put down. One that an editor wants right away!

I think about image and metaphor. The startling. The unexpected. I guess those two mean the same things.

Lately, I think about the poems that tie a personal experience to a universal experience–sometimes a personal experience of a big and terrible event, like Katrina or 9/11 or the Hanford nuclear program. I haven’t had those personal experiences–and I’m very grateful for that, as grateful as I am to the people who have and who have written those poems. So how do I write the kind of poem I want to write?

When I think about the kind of poem I want to write, I often come back to “Upon Witnessing My Mother Impossibly Blossom Above My Father’s Deathbed,” by Kevin Stein. I first encountered this poem in 2005, and I keep coming back to it.

This poem tells a very personal story–and a story that moves easily into universal experience. At the same time, to me it’s even more poignant because it’s told by an observer–a son who is at this moment the center of his mother’s and father’s lives and at the same time outside of the bond between them.

So she fluffs his pillow, adjusts the blinds,
      and blankets the word no one will say.

The interweaving of old sayings twisted and turned–words that are almost right but not quite–emphasizes both a familiarity and the sense of being in an unknown territory.

… Franklin says a word
      to the wise breaks your mother’s back.
No, a needle a day keeps the doctor away.

And the music–and the way it moves from image to image.

Creek creek, the floor says, like water through
      oak woods. Creak creak, it says, little strokes
fell great oaks. She leans to him as the red rose

I can think about craft and talk about craft (I like to do both!), but the best way for me to get closer to writing the poem I want to write is to read the kind of poems I want to write–and this is one of them.

What kind of poems do you want to write? How do you get closer to them?