Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Quick Trip to Port Townsend -- 7 PM Reading with Kelli Russell Agodon

Well, poetry 7 PM on Thursday night is really what we mean here! What better place to read than in an art gallery? This is especially true given our two books, Cloud Pharmacy and Hourglass Museum. Kelli Russell Agodon and I are excited to spend an evening with old friends --- and meet new ones.

For each of my books I've done a reading here and so it's a kind of homecoming. Northwind Gallery now hosts an ekphrastic poetry night each year where local poets write inspired by the gallery show.

Looking forward to a beautiful night in Port Townsend

Sunday, April 6, 2014

From Around the Web: Fiction Writers Robin Black and Donna Miscolta Get Poetic

Would you like to read a  few words on being a happier writer --- and person --- not to mention learning a way to better understand writer friends and partners? Fiction writer Robin Black writes "21 Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Stared Writing," concerning everything from being true to your own aesthetic to knowing when you're asking too much of other writers (or they are asking too much of you). It's a great list and seems about to go viral --- if it hasn't already. Here are the first few and the link to her blog Beyond the Margins if you want to continue reading.

1. Publication doesn’t make you a writer. Publication makes you a published writer. Writing makes you a writer.

2. Your “writer friends” are suddenly going to seem a lot more interesting, understanding, sympatico, and just plain fun than the friends (and sometimes family) you had before you threw yourself into this pursuit. I mean, they get you! But be gentle with the ones who were there all along – and remember the support they’ve given you, and the care, and try not to hurt their feelings by making it clear how much more compelling the ones who “speak writer” now seem. (And may not always seem. . . )

3. The best you can do is the best you can do. There’s a fine line between learning from other authors, and trying to be them. Be yourself. There are more than enough different types of readers out there for us all. I can’t tell you how much time I have wasted wishing my work were more “hip”  and “edgier.” And every single moment was indeed a waste of time. I didn’t even like much of the writing I wanted to emulate. I just liked the attention heaped on the people who wrote it. Write the book you’d most like to read – not the one you think will win over the editor du jour.

4. Not everyone will love your work. Not everyone will like your work. Some people will hate your work. Don’t put energy into pursuing the fantasy of universal adoration. It has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with guaranteeing that you’ll never be satisfied.  Read More Here

I also want to thank Donna Miscolta for the review of Cloud Pharmacy that she wrote here and which I've excerpted below. Donna is a fiction writer who writes with a poetic sensibility. Check out her powerful novel, When The de la Cruz Family Danced. 

Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press) by Susan Rich

… don’t let go, let go.
                              from the poem,  The Tangible, Intangible

This last line in “The Tangible, Intangible,” one of Susan Rich’s poems inspired by the nineteenth-century photographer Hannah Maynard, captures for me the essence of Cloud Pharmacy, a collection that is intelligent and observant, and which deftly exposes one’s contradictory passions, needs, and even self-regard. Rich addresses several themes in her new book, one of which is grief.

In a section of the book called Dark Room, Rich reflects on the curious and haunting multiple-exposure self-portraits by Maynard, whose daughter died as a teenager. In Rich’s poems, Maynard is a figure that “stands neither in/nor out of the century but floats.” Or, in yet another multiple-exposure, “Hannahs stand here, sit there, bend over …” In another poem, “she overlaps the images and leaves/no line of separation.”

Even in the other poems, the ones on love and fire, there are these opposing perceptions of what is real and what we want to believe. In “There is No Substance That Does Not Carry One Inside of It,” an encroaching fire moves foreigners to politely request action from their Spanish hotelier, who observes the fire, “the little/ flames clearly flirtatious, clearly beyond belief.” Rich creates a sense of the surreal... continue reading Donna Miscolta's review right here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Few Questions for Me from Mass Poetry Festival 2014

I am so honored to be part of this festival; glad that Cloud Pharmacy will take me into the clouds to travel to Boston in May. I've planned very little so far for this book's launch and so I"m really excited to have my home state  be the first real tour (and perhaps only). On Wednesday, April 30th I read at Porter Square Books in Cambridge with Jennifer Markell. On Thursday I'm reading in Newburyport with Rhina Espalt and others. It's going to be a wild time. Please come! Please say hello!

A Look at Susan Rich: 
A Massachusetts Poetry Festival Feature Poet
April 4, 2014 by Katie McGuire Leave a Comment

Susan Rich is a prolific poet with the energy to pursue both her creative and her humanitarian impulses. But the poetry in Rich’s life, as she explains below in her own words, was almost cut short by professors who advised her to try “something else.” Rich set poetry aside for a time, but, lucky enough for all of us, she returned to her craft after twelve long years away.

Rich was educated at our own University of Massachusetts and Harvard University, as well as the University of Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. In Seattle, she teaches at Highline Community College, as well as running a reading series there, “Highline Listens: Writers Read Their Work.”

A Few Questions for Susan Rich

Who had the most impact on your writing when you were a beginning poet? In what way?
I was estranged from poetry when I discovered the beautiful work of Elizabeth Bishop, particularly her poem, “Questions of Travel.” At the time, I had just returned from two years in the Peace Corps in West Africa and felt a great deal of affinity to Ms. Bishop’s life and work. The fact that she had also grown up in Massachusetts, had traveled faraway, and then lived on another continent caught my attention. Her under-appreciated humor and cadenced lines infused with irony and heartbreak have kept me a fan for life. 
Now I live in Seattle and have visited the apartment building (The Brooklyn) where she lived during her time teaching at the University of Washington. It’s as if I am on a lifelong journey with her. Whenever I travel, Bishop’s Complete Poems accompany me. When I teach, I often encourage my students to choose a “Dead Mentor” so that they, too, can claim a poet for life.
What convinced you that you had to be a poet?
Poetry was a constant companion since I was very young. At thirteen I wrote a poem filled with teenage angst and showed it to my English teacher, Mr. Katz. From there, he brought the poem to the principal and before I knew what was happening, my poem became our class graduation performance piece. What a strange and wondrous thing!  Still, flash forward another 10 years and I had all but given up on poetry. I had been told by my university professors that I had better try something else. And for 12 years I did; their condemnation shut me down. It was a very painful period. Yet, when I began writing again, began changing my life to put poetry at the center, I knew that poetry had come back to stay.
What do you think is the most exciting development in poetry today?
New presses popping up in Detroit, Seattle, and lots of other places not traditionally known for publishing houses is one great new thing. Of course these “houses” are often basement sofas, coffee shop offices and pick-up offices. The ability to  record poems and send them over smart phones onto the internet thrills me. I love hearing poets read their own poems.  I love the strangeness of reading my poems into my phone alone in a hotel room or out for a walk and then finding then online in an interview the next day.
To read more of this interview  click here

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

First Review of Cloud Pharmacy on Goodreads

When I was in third grade my teacher, Miss Schiavo, suggested I keep a notebook of all the books I read. My father gave me one of his brown spiral cast offs with most the pages ripped out but there were just enough left to keep me happy. 

In these notebooks (volume 1 and volume 2) I reinvented myself. Here I had the power to give a five star review to Harriet the Spy and yet the Oxford Book of Children's Verse received only three. For each entry I added title, author, number of pages read (!) and a capsule review, including stars. It was my first step into the world of book reviewing. Later in life I wrote reviews for the Eugene Weekly, and then Library Journal. In other words I have a deep respect and excitement surrounding book reviews.

I am especially grateful for this review of Cloud Pharmacy because of Elbe's emphasis on the slightly surreal in my work. It feels wildly good for a reader to see what's newly intended. Thank you so much to Susan Elbe for taking the time to read Cloud Pharmacy and then praise it, I couldn't have asked for more. 

"This is a beautiful book. There's no other way to say it. Susan Rich is a deep, mindful thinker and a lover of language. Put those two things together and you have Cloud Pharmacy. Not only do I love the title, I love what's between the covers. She writes many ekphrastic poems, using art as a vehicle to write her "one blue life." There's a surreal quality here too, which for me is a delight--not your usual fare. As Rich herself says, "here the interior world opens/lightly." But it doesn't stay that way--she attaches herself "line-by-line-/break to this radiant quarrel,/this pocket-sized, revolutionary pen." Once you enter here, you won't put it down. Highly recommended."
                                                                                    Susan Elbe

And for a couple of more days --- exactly two days --- White Pine Press is hosting a giveaway of Cloud Pharmacy at the Goodreads site. You can enter here

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poetry Lovers Here: Sign-up Now for the Big Poetry Giveaway 2014 X 3

I'm happy to be participating in this year's creative event which sends poetry into the hands of the people (worldwide). Thanks to my friend, Kelli Russell Agodon for curating this year's Big Poetry Giveaway. I was the curator last year and I know how much time it takes to organize this.

One thing about me (per Poetry Giveaway request) is that I like to record poems. In a parallel life I would be a radio announcer. In this life you can hear me read "Blue Grapes" on Diane Lockward's wonderful feature the Poet on the Poem and "Mr. Saturday Night" about my former student, Khalid, right here in the Seattle Times

Since I have a new book this year I am happy to offer Cloud Pharmacy published by White Pine Press as one of my giveaways. I've just written about the book launch at Open Books (10 Tips on How to Give a Book Launch) and so it only seems right to feature it here.

At times surreal, often leavened with a wry black humor, echoing Elizabeth Bishop, these poems create an "ecstatic theology" in which ambivalence--does this passionate heady speaker want to live "jig-sawed together" or "lonely as brooms"?--is both song and argument. 
---Catherine Barnett, Game of Boxes

Of course the best way for you to see if this is a book that you'd like to own is to read one of the poems. Here is the title poem.

Cloud Pharmacy 

How many apothecary drawers 
could I fill with these deliberations? 

The pharmacist’s paper cone 
parsing out a quarter cup 

of love’s resistant drug, 
spoons measuring new prescriptions 

for my uncertainty, heartsway, gesture. 
Give me cobalt bottles 

leftover from aunt iska’s cures, 
albastrons of ointments, resins to resolve 

the double-helix of desire inside of me. 
Where is the votive, the vessel, 

the slide rule calculation— 
to know how much good love 

alchemically speaking is 
good enough? 

I want spindrift nights on swimmer’s 
thighs. I want an Egyptian 

elevator inlaid in camphor wood and ivory; 
a West African drumbeat, an eggnog, a god. 

I want waves and summer all year long. 
I want you. And I want more.

For a brief interview (5 questions) and to hear me read "Blue Grapes" you can check out Diane Lockward's blog right here. For Amazon reviews check here

Perhaps my favorite part of the Great Poetry Giveway is the project of giving away a book that I read and loved in the last year; a book that I just need to share.

This year I'm offering the new award winning collection by Madison, Wisconsin poet, Susan Elbe. I picked up a copy of A Map of What Happened at this year's AWP Conference and am falling in love poem by poem. 

The Nature of Memory

You must be a child of shadows, but not
rain, which erases everything.

You must be full of flit and vinegar, willing to
pull light from broken splinters in your palm.

You must be young and willing to be ruined,
in search of someone who will leave you.

You must love the green, sexy smell
of water, the wind of it,
blowing night across a city, no stars,

only tiles of light wavering in a black mirror,
and standing next to you someone

who knows hunger and arson, but nothing yet
about distance, heartbreak,
or the stark light which settles in the winter face.

You must be all hurry, sweat and borrowed sleep,
full of time to change your life.

You must grow old, having learned it takes stone
to break the water's dark, finally

realizing you're a northern country, full of forests
and lost ways, the moon so orange and torn
and heavy, you're not sure if it will ever rise,

the shadows with their needles and their sugar
creeping out to offer you themselves again.

                      Susan Elbe

Finally I thought I would offer a third giveaway of The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World published by White Pine Press which won the PEN USA Award and the Peace Corps Writers Award.

Here is a poem from this, my first collection.

Love in the Time of AIDS

You are afraid
of a moist toothbrush, disposable razor,
fearful of the inside
of your lover's mouth.
Too terrified to pose an inquiry in short hand
positive, negative?
You imagine your date's response
I don't know.

Remembering the scent of one man
the finger tips of another
triggers the inevitable moment
when your eyes
search this new body, stop
and check for signs ---
like a pilot before the flight
records temperature and distance
knowing even this cannot ensure a safe journey.

The lovers he's had before
are now your lovers
and yours are his
their health and habits as migratory
as your own blood.

In the morning
you telephone for the test
anonymously. No way to study or plan.
The voice at the end of the line
gives you the number you will use
as your identity, sets a time and place
where you meet a man named Manuel.

No hint of this, no mark
will mar your records.
You bargain with yourself.
You'll give up kissing ---
no more dancing
of tongues. You promise to become
a condom connoisseur. Take six month tests
for HIV as if they were multiple choice.
As if the pilot knows whether or not the plane
will crash or glide across the sky
as if the sky knows what is written underneath its skin.

                                          Susan Rich

National Poetry Month is around the corner and for those of us who love poetry, poets, and their books, it's time for us to share our favorite books (and our own books) with you.
Anyone with a blog can giveaway 2 books of poems. Anyone with an email address can enter any or all of the giveaways. Yes, poetry is that easy! You can give it away and you can also sign-up to receive it! You don't need a blog to participate, you just need to visit different participating blogs.

To enter and win one of these books you just need to leave a comment in the comment box. You don't need to have a blog nor will you get any spam mail. This is one of the ways we can connect poems with poetry lovers or soon-to-be poetry lovers. There may be no such thing as a free lunch but there is such a thing as free poetry~ If you don't do gmail, you can still leave a comment as "anonymous" but you must  put your name and email in the comment box. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top 10 List for Listening and Giving Poetry Readings

Photographer: Logan Jenott
Just one week later and the glow of my book launch for Cloud Pharmacy at Open Books: A Poem Emporium is already beginning to fade; almost disappear really. This past Sunday was the book launch for Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon and so I've had the chance to read as well as listen. Here is what I learned:

1. Plan ahead; even over prepare. The first reading for a new book is important --- like a party for a newborn --- everything needs to go right. Bringing a book into the world, your book, is no small matter and so it's worth all the extra time to get the introduction and the order of poems just right.

2. Flowers make everything better. I brought a spring bouquet of flowers to Kelli's reading and I was lucky enough to receive flowers as well. This gives a sense of the joyousness of the occasion; plus it's spring in Seattle and everyone feels better with flowers in their arms.

3. Don't be afraid to make people cry. This sounds a little strange to my ears but it's true. I think as readers we want to make people laugh when in reality it is the more intense moments that I usually remember. My reading began with the poem "Blue Grapes" which includes the line "Is it easier after you're dead?" The poem focuses on the relationship between the dead and the living. Two people close to me (and close to the front of the reading) had just lost loved ones and they both told me, in similar ways, that the poem healed something important --- even with tears. I suspect they were allowed to feel --- and isn't that what we want at readings?

4. As a reader, it's your job to provide something tangible for the audience, something that they couldn't get if they read the book alone. Of course there's hearing the poems in the poet's voice. I know after attending a reading it's easier to hear the poet's cadences in the lines and read the way (perhaps) the poet intended. But I also mean offering little pieces of information that might provide insight into the work.

5. Be sure you have a friend or two willing to take pictures. Trust me, you will remember so little of the actual day that looking at pictures afterwards is a must.

Selfie by Kelli Russell Agodon after her marvelous event
6. Let friends help out; they want to be involved. There are so many details to think about on the day of your reading (flowers, food, party favors) that it can be overwhelming. It felt so good to be the official ride to get Kelli from the bookstore to her after party. I liked being needed.

7. Have an after party! Another way to thank your friends and family is to throw a party immediately following the reading. Both Kelli and I did this by reserving a private room or a section of a local restaurant not far from the bookshop. It feels really good to extend the afternoon.

8. Give out party favors. For The Alchemist's Kitchen I wrapped pieces of lavender chocolate and left them on everyone's chairs. This year I printed out different photographic images of Hannah Maynard's work and offered them as artistic prompts to writers and artists in the audience. Kelli printed out postcards with a poem from Hourglass Museum and a personal note.

9. Remember to thank everyone! You will look out at the audience to former teachers, lovers, friends, and family. They've all helped you to become the writer that you are. Let them know that they are your community; that they matter so much.

10. Don't forget to enjoy your day! On the drive over to the bookstore, in real danger of being late for my own reading, I turned up my music and sang so loud the street lights took notice. I put on Lake Street Dive's "Bad Self Portraits" and I danced down the highway in the driver's seat. After all, the reading couldn't begin without me. A book launch is a culmination of many years of work, make sure to enjoy the sweetness as long as you can.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thank You Poetry Community ~ I Felt the Love ~

March 16, 2014 at Open Books
A day of poetry, friends, tears, laughter, and good Thai food. I can't wait to write more but for tonight I am just floating on air (and grading papers). There's so much I learned putting this reading together that I will share soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Short but Sweet at Open Books and in the Seattle Times

Another version of short and sweet for spring!

Thanks to Elizabeth Austen, Washington State Poet Laureate for alerting me to this Seattle Times capsule review of Cloud Pharmacy! I am especially happy that the Times mentions that I am reading 3:00 PM, Sunday, March 16th at Open Books in Seattle. Here is the link!