Friday, July 18, 2014

Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela -- Day of Action and Tears

Today Nelson Mandela would have been 96 years old. The United Nations declared July 18th an international holiday in 2010 but I am just learning of this today. Nelson Mandela remains my only political hero. He managed the impossible with a huge heart, a keen intellect, and 27 years in jail so that he came out of the anti-apartheid struggle with his hands clean.

Mandela also believed that non-violence had not been effective against the South African Apartheid government although the ANC had tried this path for more than two decades.

According to friends in the ant-apartheid movement, what finally worked was when the ANC presented maps to De Clerk of all the nuclear sites in the country and told him they were prepared to start bombing them which would leave no South African for whites or blacks. I can't verify its veracity but since living there in the 1990's, it seems highly plausible to me.

Today we in the global community celebrate South Africa as a model of reconciliation. We love the messages of love that Madiba and Archbishop Tutu provide. We forget the war that was fought with blood and abuses on both sides --- but clearly one side -- the Afrikaans government -- perpetrating over 85% of the crimes.

The news today is filled with the invasion of Gaza by Israel. I have spent time in both Israel and Gaza --- working for Amnesty International and as a visitor. My heart is breaking. And I am angry that my government is funding this war. But today is Mandela's birthday and in his honor I am posting a poem of my time in Gaza. A peaceful and hopeful time just after the Oslo Peace Accords in 1995. During my ten days in Gaza and Ramallah I was treated with an enormous amount of hospitality and respect. I can't help but think of the women and men I met in the market, in the classroom, and at a wedding I was invited to. Where are they now? Are any of them still alive?

What would Mandela do today? What can we do? All I have is a poem that tells something of my stay in Gaza City and it's connection to my home. The poem seems incredibly naive given today's world but in that moment I was just one Amnesty International trainer working with other Amnesty International supporters --- men, women, young and old. When I see the footage on TV, I look for their faces.

The Filigree of the Familiar

                        Gaza City, Gaza

Here, all the men wear mustaches
which decorate their faces
in soft curved designs.
Mornings they bring me tangerines,
faux French bread,
and the daily day-old news.

The mustaches shift in color, shape, and size
depending on the wishes of each man
to expose his better self; to project his own
combed landscape: a miniature scissors,
a mirror in his hand.
So many mustaches! Such strange lands!
Some thick as kitchen brooms,
smooth as the Negev sands; Ibrahim's
opaque as winter light
brushed from the rim of the moon.

In laundry rooms, in stairwells,
in cities, on continents, there are periscopes
and clocks, garbage cans and front door lights
that whisper shyly if we just stand still
a warrantee will be provided
with instructions for our lives:
how to settle for less, how not to grow old.

Do I leave to take a stand?
Or circle around the globe,
passport in-hand to get away from the incessant
no-win scenes, the frantic filigree of the familiar
pressing like dead dreams inside my head?

And is it right that I speak of the women of Gaza
in their hijabs and long sleeves,
to imagine stories of their domestic breathing?
Must I turn away from Ramallah, Hebron,
the East Gate entry way? Decline sweet offers
from Yusef and Samir ---
not dance at Omar's wedding
but keep my body alone?

But then, if I describe only what is already inscribed,
I'd never see the black man on my street
who sweeps with an imaginary broom,
never see the Indian Ocean
assert itself, then recede. We move about the world
watching for signs of what we  already know
is best;  a parentheses of photographs to pause in,
an isolated palm lined beach to rest.
And at what point do I become the souvenir?
A faceless history set in amber?

Must  I write only of home town corners
swan boats, street cars, Boston Harbor ---
to stay in the odd intersections
New Englanders call Squares?
And which house is the home where I remain?
Juggler Meadow Road or Edinburgh?
Devon Street or Chelsea?
Home or travel, and which is which
and whose choice is it to say?

And if home might be any dot on the map ---
maybe the one which is furthest away,
then I'll find mine only with a telescope.
Somewhere there's a life with tethered satellite
linking the outbound voyage to the every day.

Susan Rich / The Cartographer’s Tongue ~ Poems of the World

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Literary Magazine for the Ear - Drum Magazine

I rarely feel comfortable with the sound of my own voice. Perhaps I write because in conversation I never get it right. And yet, my interview with Kirun Kapur for Drum: A Literary Magazine for Your Ears makes me happy. Like many interviews these days, I pushed record and answered the questions speaking into my iphone. Kirun asked smart questions and I had time to think about them before responding. As someone who has sat on both sides of the microphone, I know the best interviews happen when the interviewee surprises herself with an answer, discovers some new aspect of (in this case) her own writing practice. I hope you enjoy. I know I did!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Giving Thanks in Blue ~ Mongolian Style

Watson attempts to claim my surprise gift as his own
Today I received an incredible gift in the mail.

A gold envelope (you know the type) big enough to house a small dog was folded into my mailbox -- the top of it sticking straight out. I love that moment between looking and touching --- knowing that a mysterious package awaits. How awe inspiring that six days a week the mailman visits my door delivering missives from faraway. Okay, sometimes it's electric bills and advertisements, but not today.

Today a beautiful blue scarf, still in its original package arrived. And with it a brief letter which I'll copy (in part) below:

                         The blue scarf was purchased in Mongolia some ten years ago (I have two others ---                           one to wear and one in my studio) and is similar to white ones from Nepal and Tibet.                            When you refer to blue in your poetry, this is the color blue that I see. Enjoy!

This gift from a woman I greatly admire but do not know well.  She is a painter. Several years ago when I first moved to Seattle she was very kind to me. Although she lives far up north on an island, she comes to town for each of my book launches.

And now this is the color blue I see in my Cloud Pharmacy as well -- although the color in my mind might be slightly lighter, or darker. This scarf comes as close as any real color can.

Along with the scarf were very kind words about what this recent book of poems meant to her. Most of all I was touched that she took the time to write me, to collect the scarf, padded envelope and stamps. How often do I think about writing someone whose work moves me, how often I fail to finish the task.

This scarf will go out with me in the morning to my writing studio. A reminder of Diane's generosity and spirit. Send someone a surprise that let's them know their work matters. I know I am planning to.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Caroline Kennedy Walks Ahead

Caroline Kennedy walks ahead, while her father, the most powerful man in the world, holds her doll.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Few Thoughts on My Book Tour-in-Progress - Delight or Dread?

The words Book Tour conjure up the Author Suite at the Alexis Hotel or at least a large cocktail by the beach. Sadly, this is not the Cloud Pharmacy poetry book tour that I've grown to love and dread in equal measure.  Maybe Billy Collins sleeps on 700 count sheets when he's on the road but not me.

What I do know is that I love using a book tour to see good friends and push myself out of my introverted shell. This May I spent 5 days in Massachusetts and did just as many events including readings, workshops, and a museum takeover at the Peabody Essex Museum.  My first rule of thumb: do as many events in one place as you can handle (and no more).

In Cambridge, Salem, and Newburyport I got to visit with old friends, including the poet Jennifer Markell who I first met in 4th grade and poet Kirun Kapur who I first met at Mass Poetry a few years ago. These two women are wonderful poets as well as being good friends. It's my favorite combination: to spend time talking about poetry and life --- eating good food --- and then giving a reading or workshop. Reading with friends who live in the place you read helps tremendously with creating an audience for the night. It also helps me to stay the night with friends rather than in a hotel. We go on the road to connect with readers; we crave connection for our work and for ourselves through our work.

Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press) has also taken me to the Skagit River Poetry Festival where I met wonderful poet Emily Warn when we were paired together for two panels on "Poetry and Technology" which I wrote about in a previous blog on Poet Technology. For this event I needed to push myself into new territory. Yes, Cloud Pharmacy is available as an e-book from TwoSylvias Press and I am the poetry editor of the (on-line) Human Journal out of Istanbul, Turkey. I publish this blog and I teach hybrid courses but I am no expert on technology.

I'm still on the road, looking to visit more museums, more bookstores, more colleges come next fall and winter. Certainly, wherever I go I plan to connect with good friends and also meet new people. Kirun was a new person when she met me at the airport in 2012, now she's a good friend. So what is the "dread" part I referenced earlier? It happens before I leave home. Will I remember all my handouts? Will people come to my event? Will I be my best self?

So far the answer has been yes! People do come, they write me emails and keep in touch, they become friends. And because I don't want to disappoint an organization that's paid my way, I am completely prepared, present, and in the moment. It's a good way to be -- on or off book tour.

Cloud Pharmacy, White Pine Press, 2014

Friday, June 6, 2014

Readers' Guide to The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World

The Mapparium in Boston, Massachusetts. Also, the title of a poem in The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World

When The Cartographer's Tongue was published, nearly fifteen years ago, no one I knew had a web site and blogs were not yet invented. No wonder the Reader's Guide for The Cartographer's Tongue received very little attention. And yet, the intern working at Just Buffalo did a superb job. 

This summer I hope to create a Reader's Guide for Cloud Pharmacy that includes photographs by Hannah Maynard and other artists included in the book. I'll also have a Q and A with the author. 

If you've done a Reader's Guide for a poetry book I'd love to hear your ideas. I know it's very useful to include a recipe if there are any delicious foods (or drinks) mentioned in the book. Can't wait to think about something other than finishing the academic year. Soon. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

10 Poetry and Technology Ideas from the Web --- Post Panel

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be a featured poet at the Skagit River Poetry Festival in La Conner, WA. If you ever have the chance to come out north of Seattle for a beautiful May weekend, do it. The festival is a sister festival to the Geraldine Dodge Festival as it was literally co-founded by the sister of one of Dodge's founders.

Oddly enough, I was placed on two panels called "Poetry and Technology" alongside Emily Warn, a wonderful poet in her own right and the creator of the Poetry Foundation website. My first reaction was to ask to be switched to another panel. What did I know of technology?

And yet. I blog fairly regularly, I teach hybrid courses, and serve as an editor of an on-line journal. My skills are limited but I represent a certain kind of poet who participates in social media and who wants to make use of the amazing poetry resources found on the web.

At the Mass Poetry Festival this May (perhaps my favorite festival as it takes place in my home state and gets more inclusive each year) I heard Don Share speak of how T.S. Elliott's "The Wasteland" appeared in Poetry magazine at a time when the journal had only 200 subscribers. If everyone shared their journal with a friend, that means a 400 person readership for Elliott. Compare that to a poem on the Poetry Foundation web site which received 8,000 hits and counting just last month by Franny Choi, "To the Man Who Shouted ''I Like Pork Fried Rice' at Me on the Street."

The participants at  our panel were a bit suspicious of all this blogging and Facebooking, rightly so. What's the point? one woman asked. What is the point of chatting with friends over coffee or staring out at the garden each morning? We want to connect with each other, to learn something new, to participate in this thing called life. As a fifty-something woman I've made peace with technology. Like any new invention, what matters is how we use it.

My first e-book has just been published by Two Sylvias Press and so Cloud Pharmacy now rightly exists in The Cloud. You can read it for free for a few minutes and then, poof! Or you can buy it along side the paperback for a couple of dollars. The world is changing so quickly and although I will never catch up, I do hope to follow slowly along. If you want to add links to this -- just leave me a comment!

Diverse, Cool Websites for Poet Types

1. Poetry Daily --- a poem every day; diverse poems.

2. Poetry Foundation --- most comprehensive poetry resource on the web.

3. Poets.Org relaunched site -- looks good and very new

4. Favorite Poem Project – Anybody sends in their favorite poem – and why.

5. The Human Journal  – based in Istanbul, I am the poetry editor

6. The Poet Speaks of Art --- site on ekphrastic art (poems and visual art)

7.  Linebreak  - online “journal” where the poem includes a recording

8.  “Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins  - Animated Poetry (528,372)

9. Women’s Poetry Listserv – Contemporary Women’s Poetry

10. Motion Poems --- poems turned into short films.