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Friday, December 31, 2010

Oh No, Time to Take Stock

December 31: can it really be true? I began the year with an alphabet of resolutions, including eating more beans and collards and writing a pantoum. How did I fair? Well, I didn't accomplish all 26 to-dos, but I did eat more locally, spend a teeny bit more time with friends, blogged a little more (70 posts as opposed to 56), wrote ONE review of a poetry book (Goldbarth's To Be Read in 500 Years), one more than I wrote in 2009, and I did definitely attend more poetry readings (Kim Addonizio, Martin Espada, Linda Gregg, Mark Doty, Matthew Dickman, Jenny Browne, Susan Rich, Kelli Agodon, Oliver de la Paz, Stacey Waite, Joanie Mackowski, Dorianne Laux, Sarah Vap, and many more). I x-country skied twice (both times out of my front door), and I definitely decluttered and prayed more. I doubt I spent less time online, though I did take better care of myself. As for teaching that course at Richard Hugo House? Nyet, though I did take a very worthwhile course with Martin Espada there. And did I ever buy poetry books and subscribe/give to lit mags: Georgia Review, APR, Beloit Poetry Journal, 32 Poems, Smartish Pace, River Styx, etc. And thanks to that Espada workshop I discovered the poetry of Sean Thomas Dougherty, definitely a 2010 highlight.

So, what's in store for 2011?

I could, like 2/3 of Americans, bow out completely and not make any resolutions at all, but how lame would that be?

But really all I want to do is more of the same (see January 1, 2010 post), plus brush up on my French, volunteer more at my kids' elementary schools (public, underfunded, short on staff, overflowing class sizes), and be more present with my kids.

I probably won't be writing more letters by hand, and I doubt I'll ski more than it snows in Seattle (quite rare), but I know I can make a small positive difference if I help even one child struggle and succeed through a sentence or turn him/her onto Basho and Issa. I also know I will continue to support poetry and the arts in my community, including memberships to Seattle Arts & Lectures, Seattle Art Museum, and by attending readings at and supporting my favorite local booksellers, Elliott Bay Books and Open Books: A Poem Emporium.

Maybe I will not find time to volunteer in a soup kitchen, but I will step up the amount of canned goods I donate to our local food bank.

What will you resolve for 2011? Whatever it is, or whether it's nothing at all, I wish you a healthy and happy 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's All Gravy

It's December 24 on the east coast right now, which means my poem "It's All Gravy" is featured today on Poetry Daily.

I began "It's All Gravy" a little over two years ago while on a writing retreat on an undisclosed island in the Pacific Northwest. It was cold and foggy most of my stay, and there were inky cap mushrooms sprouting near my doorstep.

I was in residence to study the cosmos and write poems about it; I was also channeling Pablo Neruda.
I was also reading Simon Singh's The Big Bang and perusing the NASA website.
I wrote the title of the poem I would write at the top of a piece of paper (I knew the title before I'd written a word), and then I started the first draft.

When I went to look for that first draft, though, I came up empty-handed. I know I did some amount of revising over the next few months, but much less than is customary for me; this poem was a relative gift, which is why it seems fitting that it's making its web debut on Christmas Eve.

Seasons greetings to one and all. I hope your gravy boats are full to the brim this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PSA Membership Deal & KR Subscription Steal: Why Not?

If you join PSA, you are entitled to receive a 20% discount on a subscription to Gulf Coast, The Times Literary Supplement, jubilat, a Public Space, or Tin House. I love offers like this, mainly because I was pining away for a subscription to Tin House but feeling a little reluctant to pony up the full cost; now I don't have to, plus a PSA membership affords me a whole year crammed with free-contest submission opportunities. Whoa, I am stoked!

But there's more! The Kenyon Review is offering a 4-issue subscription for just $19.95, a steal for receiving, in the comfort of your home, one of America's premier literary magazines. How can you turn this one down!?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Help Keep Seattle's Richard Hugo House Solvent

This just in from Brian McGuigan, one of my favorite supporters and promoters of cool venues for poets and writers, including the best poetry reading series in town (Cheap Wine and Poetry!). The key thing you need to know (if you don't have time to read his entire letter, posted below) is that it doesn't matter how much you give but that you give something, even if it's only $5 or $10. They need your small bills!! So think hard about what RHH has given you over the years, and donate what you can.

Dear Writer I Know and Love:

As you know, I work at Richard Hugo House, and we’re in the midst of our end-of-year fundraising campaign where we are trying to raise $92,000 by December 31, which, if you haven’t noticed the eggnog lattes at your local coffee shop and Christmas Muzak in damn near every office building, is in just a few days.

I’m writing you now because I hope you can make a donation to help us meet our goal because, well, I need to continue having a job, which, I will point out, serves YOU in some way, great or small, since I like you and your work and I’m a firm believer in coattails—at some point you’ve had a grip on my coat, and I on yours.

Our development manager Rebecca wrote up a handy-dandy set of statistics and percentages, which you can read below in the p.s. line, but I’m going to give it to you straight since you’re a writer and most likely A) you don’t have a lot of money to give and/or B) numbers make your brain hurt. For the record, I fall into both camps.

Hugo House had wealthy founders who supported us through good times (our opening in 1997, the launch of our Literary Series, the renovation of our building, the expansion of staff) and bad times (two executive director transitions, a few years of finishing in the hole, etc.), and now these founders have told us they’d like to become “normal” donors—ones whose checks don’t have multiple zeroes and commas on them. So that means we need to find new people to support us—to support YOU—and hopefully far more people with far less zeroes and commas individually that equal the same zeroes and commas collectively. Stay with me here.

Since you’re a writer, I know you probably aren’t flush with cash, but I also know you believe in what we—what I—do here. I know you’ve taken a class and written something that still impresses you—and I’m sure a bunch of stuff you hate, too. (Self-loathing is part of the writing game, after all.) Or I know you’ve attended an event here and shuddered at a juicy line of poetry or prose that made the hair on your neck perk up. Or I know you may have read here, or want to read here, or will read here, or have organized your own events here, and will write and read and organize here, if, that is, we continue receiving your support.

Don’t worry if you can’t muster up the zeroes and commas that our founding donors have—we’ll take a zero, as long as there’s a number before that zero (and it better not be another 0, buster!), or even just single digit above zero. I won’t dare ask for a single comma, but if you have some zeroes and commas to offer, we won’t say no. We’ll take the change under your couch cushions. Hell, we’ll take the couch, too, as long as it doesn’t have bed bugs.

So I hope you’ll consider making a donation to Hugo House this year. We need your support, big or small, comma or no comma, couch or no couch. A part of your gift will keep me employed, and honestly, not only is there nothing else in this world I’d rather be doing than working here, there’s nothing else I’m all that great at. So…

Thanks, in advance, for whatever you can offer. And if you’ve already replied to one of our “more official” asks this year, I’m sorry to pester you. At least, this email gave you a chuckle. I hope.

Happy holidays! I look forward to working with and/or reading each of you in the New Year.


P.S. Here are those percentages courtesy of Rebecca:

“A gift to Hugo House now will help us meet our 2010 budget and set us up for a strong start in 2011. We’re efficient with our resources—we put 72% of the money we spend directly into programming (as opposed to overhead)—but we’re a nonprofit and only 28% of our expenses are covered by earned income (like ticket sales and class tuition). Writing and reading classes for youth and adults, events like our Literary Series and resources like ZAPP (our zine archive) and our writers-in-residence make Hugo House one of the best places in the region for new literary work to be created and supported.”

P.P.S. Does your brain hurt yet? Mine does. So, yeah, just make a donation! And, again, truly, thank you for a great year. I respect each of you and your work and hope 2011 brings you many more words and ideas. :) -B

Brian McGuigan

Marketing and Events Director

Richard Hugo House

1634 11th Ave.

Seattle, WA 98122

(p): (206) 322-7030 ext. 112

(f): (206) 320-8767

(w): | |

Become a member of Richard Hugo House.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Come All Ye Gorgeous Online Poetry Websites

Last week was one of those weeks o wonder, when the good news of publication just keeps coming. It was sugar-plums, candy-canes, and goody-gum drops from M to F, the fruits of over twelve years of writing and editing toil in the soil having come to a blushed ripening.

I'd rather not be the one to shout the clarion call, but I must sound my horn to Snakeskin editor George Simmer (with special mention to David Graham, guest editor for the Portraits & Self-Portraits issue), Escape into Life editor Kathleen Kirk, and Cati Porter, Tom Hunley (and Judy, Maureen, and Ren) for putting my poems on CBS for the Poemeleon Prime-Time Issue. Thanks so much to all of you for working hard to put so many great poems into your fine magazines. Without your toil, the poetry world would not shine half as brightly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Get Those Food Poems Polished up!

The online magazine Snakeskin has a call out until midnight December 15, 2010, for poems having to do with FOOD. The issue will be guest-edited by Jessy Randall. Here are the details:

Please send up to six poems on the topic to No previously-published poems. Simultaneous submissions are allowed. No attachments – poems should be in the body of the email.

The deadline is December 15.

Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might be interested.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sarah Vap: Following Rukeyser's Dictum

Back in the early 1960s, poet Muriel Rukeyser asked a question that many of today's female poets, including Sarah Vap, feel a great urge to answer: What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? Rukeyser's answer, the world would split open, comes the closest to preparing readers for Vap's work as I can muster.

In preparing for my upcoming interview with Sarah Vap, I read with rapt intent her new book, Faulkner's Rosary, and attended her recent reading Seattle's Open Books. What helped me even more to get myself in gear was going online and watching an amazing video of her November 2, 2010, reading at Arizona State University's Virginia Piper Center (If you missed her reading there, or in Seattle, or anywhere else she's recently read, I strongly suggest that you go online and treat yourself to one of the best poetry readings I've come across in years. )

I was already a fan of Sarah's work, having enjoyed her two earlier books (Dummy Fire and American Spikenard), but this new book, with its intensely religious iconography and rigorous refusal to keep mum about the dailiness of being "with child," grabbed my immediate and rapt attention.

Sarah was raised Catholic. During her ASU reading she shares that she attended church 3x a week as a girl growing up in Missoula, MT. Echoes of a catechism-ed girlhood resonate throughout this book, but in no way do these reverberations result in a cloying or oppressive tone. Instead, these poems rapturously embrace her prayer-laden, mystical, reverence-for-family past. In an unexpected coup d'grace, Vap's "take" from her liturgical upbringing is to write poems electrically charged with not only cathedral-ic beauty, but pantheistic and paganistic beauty as well.

If you're not sure yet whether to spring for the entire book, here's a poem to help you decide:

Linea Nigra: cross of jubilee

My innermost is a circle

holding your belly, the size
of a grain of rice.

My innermost is a wild upland,
and he piddling backwater of your father's

and my
libertinage. Star, I'm lit by the foxfire

of your very nub.

The blue braids in your baby blanket
are from the trousers of a state-trooper;

the blue tint of my labia
is the slip of a man. My broad

and round ligaments
would tie chicken feathers

to the thoraxes of bees and follow
them back to their hive

where the weight of you--that's our each-other.

My world is sunlight. Your world
is a single wave wrapped aroud.

within me, our slightest idea

turned into roselight and chained

behind the sternum.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Allen Ginsberg/Santa Claus: Separated at Birth?

While slogging along on my jog this morning, it occurred to me that my recent KUOW interview with Jeremy Richards would lead many to conclude that being agnostic equals not believing in Santa Claus (I mean, I spend the entire ten minutes talking about how I dissed Christianity at age of 12 and never looked back).

Au contraire, so au contraire.

Over here at BP, we are huge believers in Santa Claus. We like the ones with fake beards, and we like the ones with real beards you can tug on and they won't turn sideways. We like Santa with his bowl-full-of-jelly gut and his pipe. We never grow tired of reading the pop-up version of The Night Before Christmas and never blush when we have to say "the moon on the breast of the new-fallen slow." We love walking by department stores on cold December nights and catching a glimpse of the long line of kiddies dressed up in their finest red velour waiting for a chance to sit on Mr. Kringle's lap and whisper their desire for Hotwheels crisscross track.

We loved, as children, Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus and Miracle on 34th Street, especially Miracle on 34th Street, because that one proved there really, truly was a Kris Kringle.

And we loved most the animated Christmas special titled Santa Claus is Coming to Town because that one explained all sorts of mysteries such as why Santa was fat (adipose-loving wife), and . . . or, well, how an elf might aspire to be a dentist and find himself lost in a blizzard with some guy named Yukon Cornelius--but whoops, I think we've moved onto the 1970s version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

Anyhoo, the only thing I don't miss at all about my childhood Christmases are those incessant Coca-cola and Zingers commercials during A Charlie Brown Christmas. I mean, we had it rough in those days!

Okay, that said, of course I was a total train wreck for two days when my son told me and my daughter there was no Santa Claus, then revealed to us unwrapped gifts from Santa. I mean, what the heck!? But he hadn't thought of a few things, and one is that the spirit of Santa cannot be doused by his deluge of inquiries and evidence. No f-ing way. Santa lives because Santa is a spirit; he is the good and giving in each of us.

Also, by the way, Santa doesn't give a wit whether or not you believe in God, or whether you think Christ is the Savior. He has more important things to worry about than whether you are going to heaven or hell, including managing all order of elfin creatures and responding to untold number of requests for electronic gadgets.

In other words, you can definitely be an agnostic and still believe in him.

Come to think of it, Ginsberg and Santa (see photos above) sorta share an affinity, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Santa, Santa Letters, Hidden Presents, Blahhh . . .

Okay, so I might not be the best present hider. The basement probably wasn't the best idea, especially after the kids seemed pretty much onto it. Why didn't I move the goodie-filled boxes out to the garage? Why did I think they wouldn't let curiosity get the best of them?

All I know is that in the five or ten minutes I was revising a poem this morning, my children snuck down the basement and found some of their gifts from Santa.

My daughter, realizing elves weren't busy making her Littlest Pet Shop critters at the North Pole, began to weep; she wept and wanted to be held for a long time.

No biggie, right? Just tell her some gifts are from your mom and dad, and we hide those, and some come from Santa. After all, Santa is a busy man, and there are lots of kids. Especially in these tough economic times, Santa can't give each kid more than two or three gifts.

But no, no, no, because these presents she'd found were items she'd asked SANTA to get her.

So I spent the day feeling sick in my heart, having robbed my 5-year old of the magic of the season, having taken away her blissful morning of surprise and awe, unless I go out and buy more gifts for her, just to prove there is a Santa, while her brother of 10 years keeps whispering in her ear that there's no Santa cuz have you ever heard him on the roof? How come?

I'm pained and spent. I don't want it to matter, and yet it matters so much.

I know that kids are resilient and I am resilient, and that Santa will work his magic, but I feel so emotionally spent right now. I just wish I could rewind the tape, get a do-over.

I am not a wallower, though, and that is why there's a batch of ginger cookie dough chilling in the fridge. Which reminds me of a gorgeously wonderful This I Believe essay I played for my students on Friday, our last class: Baking By Senses and Memories, by Emily Smith.

Sigh. I can't sort out how much of my sadness is truly about The There's No Santa Episode and my favorite English class of all time coming to a close, or the horrible neck pain I've been experiencing, or a bunch of other personal and difficult stuff going on right now. It's like a bunch of rivers dumping into one ocean . . . which water is from which?