Wine, gardens, SEO & poetry

The experts will tell you that everything you post online should be “optimized for SEO” (search engine optimization–even that’s a little redundant). Every article, every blog post. And your job is to find out what your audience wants and write for them. You check your site stats and you figure it out.

That’s what the experts say. (I don’t think they mean poems, though.)

Grape clusterBased on my little bit of research, people want to read about wine. But this blog isn’t about wine–except for the recurring rituals of Cloudlift Cellars crush, fermentation, pressing, and bottling. And any way I can tie them to writing.

The sunken garden at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C.People also want to read about gardens, especially sunken gardens–and Canada! People search for that and they come here and they’re disappointed, because this blog isn’t really about sunken gardens, although sometimes it seems like it’s about sinking.

Hell, even dieting. If I told you I’ve been trying to stay thin since I was a teenager and that I weigh myself every morning and track it (something with numbers! objective! you can measure it!), and right now I’m trying this low-carb almost-no-starch diet (or say lifestyle) based on the book The Smarter Science of Slim–dieting’s a popular topic.

But in this blog, I want to write about writing–and especially writing poetry. And that means it’s about craft and working and playing with rhythm and music and sounds.

And writing’s about harvesting images, aging, and blending. It’s about digging deep, planting, pruning, feeding, and weeding–lots of weeding.

It’s all about the subjective, what’s measured differently by every person on the planet. It’s about sending parts of yourself out into the world. Sometimes, it’s about rejection. And it’s always about reading and learning.

Right now, I’ve been reading a lot of Lynda Hull in preparation for my long poem class. And I’ve been opening poetry books (Hull, Roberta Spear, Peter Gizzi, Kimiko Hahn) and looking at only the long poems.

So how long is long? Is a sestina long? Where do you want to set that bar?

It could be my long-poem diet–so filling.

Long days, long poem class at Hugo House

Big tree against an early evening summer skyEvery year as we approach the solstice I want to spend as much time as possible outside–in the light, light, light!

And then I don’t. Part of that is because the cat and the husband are generally inside, and I want to be with them. But part of it is the weather, as in cold or rain or both.

But how about translating the long light into long poems? Plenty of time to unravel an idea (plenty of time rework it, to tighten or expand).

How do you write one of those 10-pagers you can submit to The Seattle Review?

The long way home: Writing long poems

One short month after the solstice, on July 21 we’ll be writing long poems in this class at Richard Hugo House. We’ll look at examples of long poems built out of sections or fragments–making a narrative by breaking it. We’ll explore long poems that seem to follow one rabbit down the hole back up or into the next town. And we’ll look at sequences–chewy, dense poems that stack up on themselves.

We’ll look at poems by Kimiko Hahn, Lynda Hull, Charles Wright, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, and more.

And we’ll write and write and write and write and, if you want, share your new poems.

To sign up or get more information, see the class page at

To the limit!

Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S.; image from Office.comCongress looks polarized, stuck at two extremes. Our elected officials don’t appear to make any tangible, measurable progress past disagreement into some action.

People want a change, and they talk about creating a third party, supporting a third candidate. It’s appealing–just as the idea of a “coalition government” sounds appealing, but for a meaningful coalition, we’d need more than two parties. It’s dreamy, but I’m not buying it–because not even Ross Perot, who was wildly popular (for an independent candidate) thought he could win in the end.

Are you wondering what this has to do with writing? I’ll get there.

Instead of trying to change the number of parties, let’s change the format of government.

How about a one six-year term limit for everyone? Including the president? Entrances and exits would be staggered, so you’d still vote for new people every year or two–but each elected representative would have one term to serve the people.

From day one, it would all be about legacy. It would not be about being re-elected or gathering a war chest. It would be about building your resume. (If you’re feeling cynical, you might say it would be about lining up your post-term lobbying position or cushy corporation job, but I’m choosing to eschew cynicism for this moment.)

Suddenly, our elected leaders might have more incentive to work together and serve–because they’ve got just this one chance to be brilliant or fail utterly.

Are you wondering how I’m going to tie this to poetry?

The idea is that having a limit gives you something to work inside. In this scenario, the limit is time–only so much to get something done.

But in writing, we can use limits all the time. We have exercises with rules–that’s a kind of limits.

We have limits for helping us face the blank page. A time limit: free write for just five minutes. Now that we have a limit, we can start and we know that even if we have a hard time getting into it, those five minutes will end. (And, as writers, we get to start again if we want to.)

Weathered fenceAnd going back to rules, we have formal verse with its own sets of metrical limits. Or add rhyming or repetition. We also have the opportunity to break those limits, draw outside the lines. But the rules give us a starting point–some fencing to help us corral our efforts and get something done.

What kind of limits help you when you’re writing? Which limits do you like to break. How would you in your wildest dreams fix Congress?

Wading in, submissions

The walkway partly sunken into the lake

A highlight of the three-day weekend was a Monday walk with my daughter out to Foster Island. One heron flying, and a long spell of time to sit on the rocks, watch the water and the boats and the small boys ripping up the ferns and throwing pebbles, and talk. It was blissful.

Now I’ve been wading into the work week–and ever closer to June. That means two more days to submit poems to The Smoking Poet. Submissions for the next issue are accepted through May 31, EDT. Six poems maximum in the body of the email message, no attachments. For all the details, see the guidelines. (Insert the brief rant here about submissions that don’t follow the guidelines. You can imagine it, right?)

In other submission news, Off the Coast and Hunger Mountain (themed issue) have sent out submission calls.

I spent some time this weekend wading into more book promotion (does that sound better than “marketing”?). On a small scale. I finally made a Facebook page for Into the Rumored Spring. Then I felt reluctant to invite people to it, because I didn’t want to bother them–and I wanted to be sure I didn’t accidentally invite anyone twice. Some days, I don’t trust the user interface. If I missed you and you’re interested, let me know and I’ll gladly add you. If nothing else, it can be a fun experiment in “I don’t really know what I’m doing.” And now that I have this page, I need to line up some Into the Rumored Spring readings to post on it. Hmm…

The rambling rose, showing pale pink petals
The roses taking over

In the meantime, the roses are busting out all over and the calendar’s bloomingFault Lines readings in June and July, and a class at Hugo House. Plus book launch parties to attend and art shows and…I need to get my summer game on. I need to wade into these next long days (and splash around a little). And write.

Reading and unrejection

cup of caffe latteSaturday, I’m reading with Denise Calvetti Michaels and others. We’ll be reading from poems in Broken Circles–poetry about food to benefit food banks. Let’s get together, share some poems, and help feed people!

If you aren’t at the ocean or sailing the sound or hiking in the mountains, here are the details:

May 26th at 4:30 at T’Latte
37 103rd Ave NE Ste B, Bellevue (Old Bellevue!)

Rejection stinks

No-signIt’s never fun. But what’s worse? Not hearing back at all.

It’s like the zombie side of rejection–the unrejection.

Do you ever encounter this situation? (Or is it just me?)

Five places have had poems for more than a year. I’ve queried a couple, with no response.  A third replied, and suggested I resubmit using the new process (I think my poems might have been lost in the transition), so I’m starting over.

Yeah, people are busy, but…

I’ve had poems at a couple of places for more than two years. One was going to start reading again after the first year, but now the seasons have turned full circle. I queried the other but again didn’t hear back.

Yeah, this sounds like a lot of whining, but…

I could just cross them off the list and send the poems out somewhere else, but I have had people contact me after more than a year to accept a poem (and in one case, after more than two years and the poem had already been accepted by somewhere else and it was sticky).

What do you do when your poems sit in someone’s stack for more than 12 months? How do you query? Do you ever hear back?