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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Game of Cat & Bird

I was hanging out in the kitchen, fussing over a batch of fresh kale with peanut sauce, when I heard this loud chirping, something akin to when you walk by the bird section of a pet store. It sounded like a whole covey of chatty avian creatures (or however one might refer to a group of passerines), but I was preoccupied with the peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil, so I just assumed the birds on the side of the house were extra chirpy this evening.

And then my cat filed in on cue, a totally freaked out and sputtering English sparrow preceding her by a few inches.

Batty, bat, bat, bat, indeed. The cat and the bird, the bird and the cat. Not my favorite sight to behold, which is why we put this very obnoxiously bell-loud collar on Nacho.

But bell be damned: our cat had managed to take down a youngster songster, a little sweet junk-bird.

Next thing I knew, Nacho had chased the sweet little sparrow under a table, and poor birdie had wedged herself between the wall and the back left table leg. And there the freaked and tweaked thing sat, perfectly still, perfectly peep-less.

Until I had the brilliant idea of snatching her up with a pair of tongs.

When I did, she fluttered into the next room, where I was able to again gently nab her between two rods of stainless steel and release her out a window.

To watch her fly away toward a tree unharmed completely made my day.

It's amazing to me how animals go about their business all around us--building nests, chomping away at our wooden home (we found a monstrous carpenter ant in our upstairs bedroom the other day, but neither my husband or I bothered to pick it up and toss it outside; we decided this was one of the many reasons we were made for each other), biting us in the night (spiders? fleas?), stealing the strawberries (squirrel thieves!), generally doing what they were put on this earth to do (including stalking and killing). All while I'm fluttering about not unlike a that sparrow in the kitchen, oblivious to the near-constant dramas not only in and around our home but out there in the cosmos.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Life/The Writing Life

My ten year old left for sleep-away camp on Saturday afternoon. Here we are right before he boarded the big school bus for two weeks in the woods. He was probably thinking to himself "dang, no screen for a long, long time," and what was going through my head? Lots of stuff. For instance, he lets me hold his hand/hug him in public when none of his friends are around, but when he's on the school playground with me he'll ask me to please leave right now. I've been a little bit sad since we said our goodbyes. Out of sorts. Not only is the house unusually quiet, but I keep having these moments where I think I need to pick him up from somewhere, or get him to his piano lesson or soccer practice.

And then I remember he's not here.

It's a bit disorienting. I've been programmed to fetch, and there's one less kid to fetch.

Pathetic, right?

I mean, here's my chance to write and relax, or clean out the garage, or take a load of old clothes to Goodwill, and instead I am ... noticing all the mommies with toddlers and preschoolers and...envying them. This kept happening yesterday when I took my six year old to the zoo (yes, I still have a six year old; I have no business being nostalgic about raising children!): we would pass by a family with little ones in tow, and I would look on mournfully, remembering the stroller days (Strollers? Am I serious!?).

I can't explain it, and I can't seem to shake it. As I was stirring a Moroccan chickpea stew this afternoon (see below), I wondered if it might be some sort of evolutionary/biological trick, this selective amnesia that instinctually lets slip away the mind-numblingly boring task of watching a small child or children. How am I so easily forgetting (it takes work to recall this next part of the sentence) those days where I checked my watch every minute as I built yet another tower of plastic yogurt containers, yet another Thomas the Tank Engine track, or pitched yet another wiffle ball?

Is it really true that from now on all my kids are going to hear from me is how much I miss pushing them in the baby jogger? I don't want to be one of those older moms who can only remember the good stuff--who forgets the tedium and pain and sacrifice of raising kids--but at the same time, what's most forefront in my mind after ten years of raising my son is how much joy I found (and continue to find) in watching him learn and grow.

Okay, now I'm going to go crawl up in a ball and cry me a river.

But actually, I won't cry even a little. I might be a little out of sorts, but I don't have it in me to wallow. There's a lawn to mow, after all, and then taking my daughter to the library.

Also, as my poet friend Barbara Crooker reminded me this morning, poems don't come from an easy life. Instead, as she wrote in her email,

poems are like coal--they need the intense pressure of an out-of-control daily life to be able to turn into diamonds. . . .

What I take from this is that sometimes it's important to feel the feelings (even the ones I'd rather not feel), and not write. To chop the veggies, stir the stew, to let life unfold in front of my wide, wide eyes.

To know that poems can be born from bad days, from unwanted feelings, too. They always do. And in the meantime, I know my son is canoeing, horseback riding, and all the other fun things one does at summer camp.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kelli Russell Agodon's 2010 Release Wins ForeWord Prize

Kelli Russell Agodon's highly acclaimed book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (White Pine Press 2010), just won the Gold in the 2011 ForeWord Prize. Congratulations, Kelli!

Here's me below, raising a well-deserved glass to one of my favorite poets. When I heard the news, the first image that popped into my head was a smiling-from-the-grave Emily Dickinson. The second was imagining the look on the face of that poor, misguided teacher who once told Kelli her poems weren't *actually* poems. More evidence to the contrary: I'll drink to that!

Friday, June 24, 2011

One Piece of Advice from Poetic Asides

Robert Lee Brewer is featuring, on his blog Poetic Asides, bits of advice he's received from poets that he's interviewed over the years.

Thanks, Susan Rich, for reminding me about W.S. Merwin's "Berryman," especially the lines

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

And thanks, Dorianne Laux, for reminding me not to write sissy poems. (I think I know what those are.)

And thanks Jeannine Hall Gailey and Diane Lockward, for putting it so plainly: embrace your weirdness.

But most of all thanks to Robert, for asking ...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ren Powell's Mercy: New & Selected Poems

I've been reading and enjoying Ren Powell's, Mercy Island New & Selected Poems. These strange, entrancing and beautiful poems lead us into a world crawling with creatures--cicadas, rhesus monkeys, turtles, baboons, a looming red-eared slider--along with a compelling cast of human characters. These are borderless, luminous creations written by a poet of witness who leads us across continents and states of consciousness with an honesty that is both elusive and accessible. Powell's lens looks straight into the horror of violence and terror, but what she shares with her reader is the resounding reminder that the human spirit is resilient and abiding. These compassionate and truthful poems pull us in and refuse to let us go.


I was born again.

Then I was born again.

He said they found me in a crack

in a rock in the Valley of Fire.

Easter morning

I was a red-eared slider

Peace sign

painted on my shell.

I got a new name

driving through Utah,

obeying all the signs:


for the “crazy escaped Indian”

called Falling Rock.

I was Love—loved

like a Susanna, whispered to sleep

by the elder’s soft, blubbering bong.

I was Love, loved

like the naked little angels of the temple

in Salt Lake City where Mamma said

they baptise the dead.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Don't Miss the Filter III Release Party!


The Filter Vol. III Release Party will be: Friday, June 17th, the Fremont Abbey, 4272 Fremont Ave North, Seattle, WA 98103

An evening of readings from Zachary Schomburg, John Osebold, Stacey Levine, Maged Zaher, Karen Finneyfrock, Ed Skoog, Elizabeth Colen, Elissa Washuta, Susan Rich and Sarah Bartlett . Freshly letterpressed copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Filter Vol. III has arrived. This 3rd issue of the entirely handmade journal is a box of wonder: The cover has a paint-by-numbers theme, and the box structure is letterpress printed by Kate Fernandez of Fernandez and Sons. The book will be filled with brilliant work in individually bound chapbooks of prose and poetry, with art postcards and posters that you can remove and display.

The contributors in Filter III are:

Yusef Komunyakaa, Zachary Schomburg, Stacey Levine, Amanda Manitach, Maged Zaher, Sharon Arnold, Martha Silano, John Osebold, Rebecca Brown, Counsel Langely, Ed Skoog, Karen Finneyfrock, Sean Ennis, Sarah Mangold, Gala Bent, Rachel Contreni Flynn, David Lasky, Elizabeth Colen, Sandra & Ben Doller, Brandon Shimoda, Ben Beres, Brandon Downing, Sarah Kate Moore, Dan Rosenberg, Susan Rich, Susan Denning, Sid Miller, Sarah Bartlett, Shawn Vestal, Marie-Caroline Moir, Lucy Corin, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Jill McDonough, Jessica Goodfellow, Jessica Bonin, Friedrich Kerksieck , Erika Wilder, Elissa Washuta, David Bartone, Chris Dusterhoff, Britt Ashley, Becca Yenser, Anne Gorrick

Tickets for the Filter release party are on sale now through Brown Paper Tickets. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door, and $5 for students and seniors.

Copies of Filter may be purchased at:

About Filter Literary Journal
Filter is a literary journal made entirely by hand. Each issue contains erasures and other literary art alongside unaltered poetry, fiction and visual art. Filter seeks to represent the work it holds on a visceral level, so that the book is as carefully crafted as the poetry, fiction and art that it contains.

Filter Literary Journal is grateful to 4Culture for their funding and support.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Philly Book Tour, Part II: Museum of Art OR She's Got Everything She Needs

There was no photography allowed at the Mutter Museum, but at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (at least in the Impressionism galleries) the guards didn't seem to mind a snapshot here and there.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Impressionists--or shall I say their popularity has made it hard for this discriminating museum patron to fawn all over them--but I allowed myself to, this one time, appreciate Pissarro, Cezanne, Monet, and Manet, especially what they were able to do with color and light. These three examples of their work stopped me in my museum-sauntering tracks [top to bottom: Manet, Cezanne, Pissarro (sorry, but I did not write down titles--heavens!--and now I can't find the names of these online, though the Pissarro, I believe, is fittingly titled "Fog."]

Also of great interest and delight was Thomas Hirschhorn's "Camo - Outgrowth (Winter)," an installation of 119 globes with camouflage-patterned tape bulging out of various parts of said globes. Along with these were many photographs of people wearing camo: hunters, fashion models, soliders, even a camo-patterned backpack. Also, Dick Cheney in a combat suit with troops clapping behind him, also a military funeral. It's a very powerful piece.

And then there were the Duchamp galleries, which I had no idea were even there, and what a treat as I love Duchamp! It was the first time I'd heard about "Given: I. The Waterfall 2. The Illuminating Gas ..." As I wrote in my journal "OH MY GOD! You peer through two peep holes behind this makeshift wooden door and it's a model of a nude woman splayed out in a field, a wacky/tacky illuminated and perpetually-flowing (optical illusion") waterfall in the distance (how do they keep it going? Is it motorized? Does a guard change a battery every few months? Since it was installed in 1969?)--a post-coital scene? Or has she been raped? Murdered? Though she must be alive as she's holding a gas lamp. Creepy, but much more to admire here than the urinal or the bicycle wheel..." And what a mystery: Duchamp told the world he had stopped making art in 1946, then spent the next twenty years fashioning this final work. They found the materials, along with a "carefully compiled installation manual" after his death. Surprise! He had been doing his art after all. But how bizarre!

I am drawn to visual art because it unsettles me, removes me from ho-hum thought patterns, forces me to consider the role art plays in a given society, along with what compels artists to make art, the viewer to go see it (or pay millions of dollars to own it), and also why we get our culottes in a twist over it (I'm thinking of, for instance, Serrano's Piss Christ).

For me it's about whimsy, the vicarious pleasure of witnessing creative joy (not to mention an imaginative mind) of a Calder, a Chagall, a DeKooning, a Johns, a Picasso--or, the giddiness that ensued as I walked through a Henry Art Gallery chirping with live canaries.

I want to interact, react, feel. I try to stay open, but I draw the line at giant black canvasses (Ad Reinhardt be damned) . Black canvasses, though my friend David George tried to persuade me otherwise, don't do it for me. Nor does the minimalism of Ellsworth Kelley (not a big fan).

I only had two hours, but I crammed as much viewing in as I could muster without fainting from fatigue and overstimulation (!).

Next installment: The Chagall Exhibition

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Taste of Summer in Seattle

It lasted two days, but at least it arrived on a Friday and didn't blow out till Sunday mid-day--much, much preferable to a cold, wet weekend leading into a gorgeous Monday morning.

On Saturday morning we packed up the car and headed out for a hike in the woods! This was the first time all year we didn't need to stuff sweatshirts, fleece jackets, raincoats, and wool hats into our day packs just in case. It was actually kinda hot on the sunny parts of the trail--and felt a lot more like 85 than the 72 degrees Weatherbug claims our Seattle temp climbed to, mainly because we've all been trained to accustom ourselves to 55-degree days in May/June. But not this weekend! Or, at least Saturday (high clouds--a marine layer--moved in on Sunday around noon--oh, well!)

But while the one-day heat wave lasted, we hit Scott's Dairy Freeze in North Bend, and boy did the vanilla malts taste good.

So go ahead and be cold and rainy all next week, Seattle; this past weekend has secured my Vitamin D, ice cream and French-fry, endorphin, and Fresh Air Fund high for at least the next five days.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sweet Philly, Sweet Woodruff

I took this photo at the Mutter Museum's adjoining Medicinal Garden. I enjoyed the garden because it was quiet, shady, had benches, and because I could sit there and relax without having to purchase a $3 latte. The weather in Philly was gorgeous--a tad hot on Thursday, but would a Seattle-ite complain? No way. Friday night a breeze came in from--where, the Jersey Shore? How far away could it be?--and my editor (Henry Israeli) and another Saturnalia Poet (Sebastian Agueldo) strolled the South Street neighborhood after dining at the lovely Pumpkin.

All weekend I was whisked from one delicious meal to the next, from one cozy and inviting home or hotel to another, always attended to by my hosts, the aforementioned Henry, and Harriet Levin, a wonderful poet who teaches at Drexel, where I was honored to visit one of her poetry writing classes.

When I wasn't doing the poet business I was sneaking in some sight-seeing. The Mutter Museum, which I'd been so looking forward to finally visiting, made me kinda nauseous (I think it was the conjoined twin exhibit that brought on a case of the queasies), but this lovely garden revived me in no time.

The day before I wedged a quick trip to the Philadelphia Museum of art between my 11:00 and 6:00 pm readings, spending some quality time with a room full of Pissarros, Manets, Monets, and Cezannes. I also ventured into the contemporary art galleries, and further back to the three Duchamp rooms, a wonderfully unexpected find. [No photography allowed.] I took the above photo while trying to hail a cab back to the Drexel campus. I'd forgotten all going to see the Rocky statue, but then there he was kind of unexpectedly as I walked to the other side of the museum. I snapped a few photos, and then one of this water/ice stand right next to it.

Looking back on my recent East coast odyssey, it seems fitting I was drawn to the medicinal garden, a place where many healing herbs are lovingly presented for all to enjoy. Fitting because all weekend I was taken care of by poets whom I admire and respect--treated as if I were important, as if poetry mattered, as if my poetry mattered.

It was good medicine.