Friday, October 2, 2015

Ideas On Writing: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou in 1986,  the year she published All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain
and goes straight to the heart. 
—Maya Angelou

Monday, September 21, 2015

What Makes a Writing Retreat Ridiculously Wonderful: Poets On the Coast Year 5

Kelli and me at the evening reception
Year 5! For five years we have led workshops, offered advice on the writing life, provided one-on-one brainstorming sessions and supplied many snacks to an amazing array of women poets ranging in age from 21 to 79. From all corners of the country and even a few internationals, women have joined us for a long weekend of writing and community.

Who could have predicted it? Not us.

We began with a simple idea over a glass of wine. What if we created the retreat that would have benefited us as we began our writing lives? What if we could focus on nurturing writers? What might happen?

One thing I've learned is that offering support and writerly love to the women that appear each year creates energy -- not just for the women but for Kelli and me as facilitators.  A good portion of the women return each September and the change in their poetry and their confidence is palpable. Some women have used the retreat as a launch pad to enter MFA programs (after raising families) and some women view Poets On the Coast as its own kind of graduate program --- one filled with gift giving and generosity.

Each year we try to expand our programs so that nothing ever feels "so last year." this year we added a public reading at the local Methodist Church where Naomi Shihab Nye and other Skagit River Poetry Festival poets have read. For the second year we've partnered with the Museum of Northwest Art for an ekphrastic session of poetry centered around their exhibits which can be viewed on the museum's website.

Poets on the Coast,  2011
Five years is a long time in my world. In this time it feels that the Poets On the Coast have grown-up together. We began with 18 women showing up for an unknown weekend and this year 30 women joined us in La Conner, WA --- many of the women returning for a 2nd, 3rd, 4, or 5th time. We celebrated with a sit down dinner in the garden of the oldest house in town, the wonderful Katy's Inn. There were toasts, singing, and celebrating well into the night.

The town of La Conner has embraced us and we are thankful. There's a river path that runs though town and from the balcony of the Channel Lodge poets can watch herons and eagles soar. It is a town made for poetry.

I've thought a good deal about why we've been successful in creating Poets On the Coast. A few things stand out: we attract amazing women with generous hearts; Kelli and I honestly love creating the best experience we can for supporting women writers; and most importantly, something magical happens when we write together. It's as if the ideas and words of each woman becomes part of a collective unconscious and we all are lifted into better poems. It sounds a bit woo-woo to my ear and yet it's true. Our collective is stronger than the sum of its parts.

I keep thinking of the movie about the guy who loves baseball and creates a beautiful diamond outside his house: "If you build it they will come." And that's what's happened here. Poets On the Coast is not just a weekend but a frame of mind. Friendships, writing groups, tips on publications and many other things continue throughout the year. And of course, we are already planning for next year. Feel free to join us if you are a woman poet -- we'd love to have you. Check it out and scroll down the page for Frequently Asked Questions.

Class of 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

Poetry On the Bus ~ Seattle Style

Yesterday was my day for Poetry On the Bus and thankfully the website keeps all of the poems up after they post. Seattle area poets sent in poems on the theme of "Writing Home" and the results are impressive. More than any individual poem I love the sense of our entire city participating in this project. Workshops were held by poets who write in Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, and Somali. The organizers reached out to different neighborhoods and poets of all ages.

I'm hoping that there is funding to continue this program. Although only a small amount of the poems appeared on actual buses, there were poems in bus stops and 365 poems were selected so that the Poetry on the Buses website could be updated for one year.

Does your city have a poetry bus? How does it work? We'd love to know.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Poetry For Fighting Fires - Washington Poet Laureate Focuses On Our State

Fires Near Lake Chelan, August 2015

Elizabeth Austen, Washington State Poet Laureate is creating an anthology of poems calling attention to the wildfires currently blazing in our state. Firefighters have come from as faraway as Australia to help with the worst fires in Washington State history. I am honored to have one of my fire poems included.

Childhood Study: Fires Late August

Awake in the middle of the night,
we listen to the grass crackle, to the new world of evacuate.

Like monkeys we screech as the trees go pop—

yellow candelabras, we see and then not.
Now danger damages our capillaries

for the first time, the ladder trucks and sirens

seem like small toys compared with
the neighbor’s fire-fangled trees.

What lit-up between us that summer—

(to continue reading, please click here)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Breaking News (In My World) - Reading at BPL

Boston Public Library Reading Room, 2010
I took this photograph of the Boston Public Library Reading Room when I visited Boston and Cambridge on a book tour in 2010. I visited the courtyard, the map cafe, and this awe inspiring reading room. I photographed the frescoes and saw original copies of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the letters of Emily Dickinson. It was a somewhat surreal experience of bringing my childhood and adulthood into one focus.

I grew up just a few miles from here and as a child, this library represented everything good and true about the world. It was also a bit intimidating. I thought of it as a museum for the mind --- a place where I attended summer programs and when I was a bit older, wandered exhibits and wondered at the people who seemed at ease inside this building --- this building which was always under construction! This space where supposed Boston Brahmins moved effortlessly alongside Boston's homeless population. Without knowing the words, I knew this was an important democratic space for all. A place I wanted to be part of in some way.

And now I will be reading my poems here on Thursday, November 12th @ 6:00 pm. There will be more details to follow once the announcement is made. For now I will just mention that this will happen in connection with the opening of the exhibit titled "Women in Cartography" curated and organized by Alice Hudson, former Chief of Map Collections at the New York Public Library.

I couldn't be happier.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cloud Pharmacy reviewed in Poetry Northwest

Cloud Pharmacy reviewed!
Thanks to Katy E. Ellis for such a thoughtful review in Poetry Northwest. A year after the collection has been released~ it's a lovely surprise. Here is a quote from Ellis:

Cloud Pharmacy pulls the reader through a satisfying storm of honest self-reflection. In the end, as fires wane and blue returns, we feel the speaker’s bravery as she faces life after the mid-point. Rich includes the reader in the hard-won declaration: Who says we can’t have it all: the house of sky and soft catcalls

To read the rest of her review, click here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tips: A New Tape Measure For Measuring Success -- In Poetry

What does success taste like?

The word success immediately evokes an image in my mind of many shiny objects: a host of silver coins spiraling along a calm ocean, dazzling, against an endless blue sky.

Okay. Let’s face it, this image is somewhat cheesy and a tad embarrassing, although I also believe it to be true. I’ve created my own concept of success. One with no sign of a genius award or photo shoot with Vogue.

Instead, I imagine a calm seascape with enough silver dollars to purchase all the saltwater taffy, mary janes, and good’n’plenty I can eat. I imagine a light jacket of contentment at the end of a long summer’s day. I imagine the happiness of the next poem. And the next.

In fact, I like to make fun of success.

I consciously work to change the stakes as I go along. For example, instead of thinking that publishing in the New Yorker is the only measure for success, I create my own definition and work to publish poems in each state in the country. I begin with Alaska, Oklahoma, and West Virginia; each state a place I have never traveled to--- or at least not yet.

And I love that my individual poems can travel and find audiences in states I’ve yet to see. 

A few decades on, I have published poems in 47 different states and 7 countries. Now Delaware, Kansas, and North Dakota are the publication trophies I most want. Publishing in these three states is an important definition of success for me.

One writer friend told me she fell into a deep depression after her book came out. All those years of writing, revising, the sweet note of acceptance, then choosing a book cover, blurbs and finally her book launched at her favorite bookseller’s. The sales were brisk! Everyone she knew was there! But she found herself wondering a few weeks later: why is it not on the New York Times Bestseller list? Where is the nomination for her Pulitzer?

The problem is we have only so much control over what happens to our books once they are born. 

When The Alchemist’s Kitchen came out, I organized a three city West Coast – East Coast tour with readings and talks at over 7 different venues in 10 days. Now, five years later, when I look back at that expenditure of time, money and heart, I am happy with the experience. Was I nominated for the National Book Award? No. Was I discovered by a big time poetry scout? No.

I see my poetry tour as a success because I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, tasted good food, created new audiences for my work and most of all—had fun. 

Finding joy is what you must you do for your book and for yourself. I can think of no better measuring tape for life.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with winning an award. However, my strong sense is that running after these prizes is a recipe for hurt. Perhaps you are a finalist for a big award but you don’t win; how to calibrate the happiness factor versus the disappointment?

One thing is for sure: you must not measure your books success by the number of book sales. Of course you should do readings when the book comes out and send announcements to your community. Working to promote your book is good citizenship but that is different than determining your worth by a ranking number. Reducing yourself to a number is exactly what you don't want to do.

What I want to say is: there are 101 different ways to feel successful. 
You choose your own adventure.

When I receive a note from a stranger to tell me they were moved by a specific poem or they are in need of a poem they heard me read years ago in a different country --- this is the biggest success. My words reached into another person’s life and took-up residence. What could be better? A trophy? A fat check? Maybe. Or maybe not.