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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mama Camp

Monday was Pie Camp. Apple Pie Camp. After rolling out, baking, and eating an entire Braeburn and Granny Smith pie with vanilla ice cream, we went to the soaking wet playground and zipped along on the zip line swing until we were sweaty and ... soaking wet and cold. We were still wired, but we had to come inside. Dance party in the kitchen followed by mellow reading night.

Tuesday was Future of Flight Museum in Everett, WA Camp. We went inside the biggest building in the world, which the docent said could hold 800 hockey stadiums and ... and what was the other comparison? (Sorry, but we weren't allowed to carry pen and paper).

We also got to listen to a very loud power tool, which this dude was using to put together a section of the front of a 747. We also decided Dream Lifter and Dream Liner were too similar of names -- how would you ever tell them apart? Riley said they should just make it simple and call them both Dream Livers. Did you know they make over 340 737s a year at the Boeing plant in Renton? Did you know that exterior airplane paint can add over 800 pounds to the overall weight of a plane? Did you know that a jet engine is around 16 feet high? Did you know there's a place in the hangar called the Dreaming Production Integration Center?

Wednesday is Science Camp Day at the Pacific Science Center. I think we will see an IMAX movie and eat lots of greasy popcorn with too much fake butter on it.

We can spend $60 each day at Mama Camp... and it will still cost less than a week of Wilderness Awareness Camp, though we don't want to knock the pluses of a kids-in-camp week, when we are able to write poetry and prep for our fall classes. But then again, Mama camp is pretty dang sweet.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

10 More Hot Tips from Poets & Scientists Who Know It: The Space Shuttle Shutdown Edition

1) If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. (Sir Isaac Newton)

2) Don't insult your reader's intelligence. (Elizabeth Bishop)


3) For all of the history of grief, an empty doorway and a maple leaf (Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica.")


4) Let the images speak for themselves! (Jorie Graham)

5) No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. (Crusty Frost)

6) If it is a wild ride, it is a poem. (Also Mr. Frostbite)

7) When inspiration strikes, drop everything and get to it (Anne Sexton).

8) Put your ear down close to your soul, and listen hard. (Anne Sexton)

9) Revision is your most important task. (Ted Kooser)

10) So, you want to be a poet? Do you have about 70 years? (Robert Bly)

Bonus Tips Brought to You By My Favorite Barefoot Poet, David Graham:

Bonus Tip #1: Nothing is learned once that does not need learning again. (Donald Hall)

Bonus Tip #2: If Fame belonged to me, I could not escape her ... My barefoot rank is better. (Emily Dickinson)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ten Hot Tips for Aspiring Poets

Out of the mouths/books of famous poets ...

(1) Good writers borrow; great writers steal. (TS Eliot)

(2) Lie for the sake of assonance. (Donald Hall)

(3) Lower your standards. (William Stafford)

(4) Give yourself permission to write a very shitty first draft. (Stacey Luftig)

(5) Make word lists and use those words when you get stuck or blocked in the middle of writing a draft. (Kelli Russell Agodon)

(6) Poems are not about communicating; if you want to communicate, use the telephone. (Richard Hugo)

(7) Communication should be your #1 priority when composing and revising a poem. (Ted Kooser)

(8) You know absolutely no allegiance to the truth; if what really happened is not interesting, compelling, or musical, revise until it is all of these things and more. (Richard Hugo, summarized)

(9) Most reckless things are beautiful in some way, and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful, just as religions are beautiful because of the strong possibilities that they are founded on nothing. (John Ashbery)


I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

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

(W.S. Merwin's "Berryman")

Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing Workshop on Main Street


We are always booked up, but we are especially busy in the summer. Not the usual kind of busy, but the busy that has to do with sunshine and ferries, berries and backpacks. But somehow or other Kelli Russell Agodon and I found a way to meet for breakfast and writing this gorgeously sunny summer day. It was a bit of a feat, but we found a table for two in the sun, and for 2-3 hours we ate oatmeal (Kelli) and eggs with fried potatoes (moi) and scribbled in our notebook or tapped away on our iPad. When the final timer chimed we were up three poems: a sonnet, a pantoum, and an anagrammer-generated poem. Three more than we had at 10 am.

I sailed off into very light traffic heading south on I-5, my notebook thick with possibility. Thanks, Kelli, for another great writing session--it is people like you who keep me believing the business of words is the best business out there.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leaving Marquette, Dreaming of Marquette

Russ & Carol's Madonna with assorted house paints and brushes.
Science 2: The Building Where I Taught (I loved that they put me in a science building)

The Gries Hall Fairy House

The NMU Library Mascot

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Love Affair with Michigan's Upper Peninsula

I had my doubts about Michigan. I mean, it might be what I've heard people call the Third Coast, but could it ever be as cool as the West?

And anyway, it's east of the Mississippi, and I let the East go thirty years ago.

But love is never rational, is it?

I guess that explains why I can't get enough of Lake Superior--her facts and figures (maximum depth: 1,332 feet), her tributaries (the Pigeon, the Pic, the White--over 200 in all).

I guess that's why I didn't want to leave Ishpeming, wished I could have photographed every house, every bar.

Smitten, I think you would call it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Do you Spell Minutiae?

Do you view them as trifling details
or precise and purposeful points?
Are they Blake's grain of sand,

or whether you dined on scrod
or sea bream last Friday night?
I thought minutiae meant trivial,

but it also refers to minute matters
of import, whether to employ
semi-colon or period, comma or dash.

The poet champions image over trodden
or trite: the bat that flits at the close
of eve, the outcry of the hunted hare.

And then there's the key to keeping
hold of a wonder-struck wit:
It was sea bream; I'm sure of it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I'm on the Pavement Thinking About Political Poems

What have you been up to lately? I've been looking at/thinking about visual art, reading about the life of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and enjoying the scent of two tiny beeswax candles--one in the shape of a pine cone, and the other in the shape of a bee hive. Am also revising poems that have to do with consumerism, conspicuous consumption, the cult of materialism, but also with war and other nasty things I didn't used to write about because I was too worried about lapsing into cliche and rhetoric.

Political poems, poems of social commentary, are not the easiest to write. Love poems, at least to me, are a cinch compared to writing about war or famine or ecological disaster--but I have been busily trying my best.

If you are thinking you'd like to move from writing about your pet chinchilla or the spider you found in the toilet this morning to something akin to a political poem, the best place to start is with Poetry Northwest's Spring/Summer 2008 issue, The Political Issue. Not only are there quite a few wonderful newer poems by the likes of Michael Heffernan, Heather McHugh, Kevin Young, and Mary Jo Salter, but there's a wonderful feature where they asked each contributor to share their favorite political poems. Brilliant move. That feature alone is worth twice the price of the magazine. If reading the poems in the issue, plus tracking down the poems by Yeats, CK Williams, John Ashbery, plus having a gander at Kristin Prevallet's Dear George Bush doesn't get you fired up to write your own political poem, try reading some poems by Muriel Rukeyser, Anna Ahkmatova, and Bob Hicok. His "Stop-Loss" is a great place to start.

A few tips as you begin drafting a political poem:

(1) I know it sounds like a cliche, but the personal really is political, at least to the extent that your personal take (your images, your voice and style, your anecdotes and experiences about a political event or a beef against your government) is way more engaging than hollow/generic rhetoric and rehashed rage. Tell it from your own point of view, not from what you've been told by someone or some history book, news program, or newspaper.

(2) Even though you might have a specific opinion about the war in Iraq or who should be the next president, don't go into the poem already knowing what you want to say or where you want your poem to end up. Eek, no. Instead, go forth with no clue where you will end. That Bob Frost guy was a self-aggrandizing duffer, but he got at least two things straight:

(a) "A poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom; and

(b) "If it is not a wild ride, it is not a poem.

The same holds true for political poems.

(3) Railing against the machine does not require chest-beating or grand and eloquent statements. You don't have to have answers or solutions. The best political poems open the can of boingy, purple and orange-striped Wonderama worms and leave it the audience to react, revile, and/or pass it on. You don't have to be The Great Solver, or The Great Resolver. Sharing a racist encounter in a poem (without even commenting on it, necessarily, though you might) is quite enough.

(4) Get ready to revise, revise, and revise some more. Prepare to meet thy soap-box detector. It is tough to decide if you've crossed the line into preachy fanaticism. If you are not sure, put the poem in a drawer for a while, then come back to it when you're a tad less fired up.

I could use some help with this last step myself--when the humor completely drains out of a poem, it's hard to know if I've gone too far-- if I've lost my audience, bummed everyone out with my downer sadness about the state of the union.

Political poems take longer to write than poems about your sweet grandma or the Ossobuco your loving partner prepared for you last night. They can take a year or more, and then some.
Be patient and don't give up; you'll get it right eventually.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Greetings from Marquette, Michigan

I managed to lose my digital camera today (yes, it takes a special kind of person), so these are mere Google images, plus I am a (albeit content) wrung-out dishrag from 3 x 4 = 12 hours of poetry workshop leading these past three days, but I want to share my exuberance and gratitude for being in Marquette these eleven days as the guest poet at Northern Michigan University. It is indeed an honor. In my class I have had the pleasure of working with some of most personable, graceful, caring, and articulate students I've ever met. They are trying hard to be the best writers they can be, and it is infinitely gratifying to witness their growth. I am spoiled, and in a big way.

I also love Lake Superior and its pinkish-sand, so soft, the lake so vast I could almost be walking down a beach on Long Beach Island in New Jersey.

I also must share my just-this-moment realization that I am NOT in the mitten part of Michigan. Silly me, I did not consult a map until ... just now. Silly me, I did not realize that the U.P. was not part of the mitten. I really honestly did not know that the part of Michigan I am in is above Wisconsin, and should, essentially, BE Wisconsin. Or how quite close I am to Canada (the lake that touches the shore down the street is the same lake that has a shore, across the way, in Onatario--at least I think it's Ontario).

Yes, yes, another dingbat American, another poet without a map, another detail-wise and big- picture foolish kind of gal.

What I can't understand is how the flight from Minneapolis to Marquette took less than 40 minutes. That diesel engine must've been switched out with some heavy-duty rocket fuel!

Other than teaching, I've been cookin' up a mess o poems. Half a dozen in the hopper since I took off from Seattle on Monday, with many more ideas illuminating my future. Miles to go before I even think about taking a hike, but that's just my ambition speaking. Seriously, I need to hoof it to the store before I run out of Wheaties.

Peachy as all get out to be in Roethke's state, in Jim Harrison and Bob Hicok territory, in Susan Blackwell Ramsey's backyard, though (curses, curses) no direct flights from Kalamazoo to the U.P.

Susan Blackwell Ramsey, by the way, is the 2011 winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize! Whooty-hoot-hoot! One of my fav poets! Yay! Though it kills me I'm so close, and yet she's not here to catch the cork, etc., weep weep.

And now back to learning about ore boats and that beautiful brick-red lighthouse ... thanks for stopping by!