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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lowly Milestone

I was thinking about milestones today, how they used to be these hunks of rock to mark the distance in miles to a real place, but now there's no actual destination. We are not trying to get to Sydney, but instead marking an important event in history -- the first looping roller coaster, for instance, which appeared in 1840. Milestones made out of stone are rare, but milestones are everywhere and for always. Can you think of other words that have gone this route, from concrete to metaphor, fossilized words, as I think John Ciardi called them?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cheap Wine & Poetry On the Horizon

I got some grant money burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to join up with Cheap Wine and Poetry to 

Feed the Hungry!

Yep, that's right: you, me, all your friends, relatives, and their friends and relatives can help stock the shelves at Rainier Valley Food Bank, and in the process receive a FREE glass of delicious cheap wine at Richard Hugo House while listening to some fine poetry!

When: Thursday January 26, 2012, 7:00 PM

Where: Richard Hugo House
1634 11th Avenue
Seattle WA 98122
(206) 322-7030

Who: Greg Bem and Amber Flame

plus Peter Pereira and Martha Silano, supported by Seattle 4Culture/Individual Artist Projects

It's true!
This is a Rainier Valley Food Bank Benefit Reading;
the first 30 people to bring a donated food item receive a free drink!

What to donate: 
The food bank can always use donations of high protein, healthy foods, such as:
Canned chicken, tuna and salmon
Hearty meat soups and stews
Canned vegetables and fruits
Dry and canned beans (kidney, pinto, green, yellow, refried or black beans)
Peanut butter
Pasta and rice
Pancake and baking mixes
Granola and energy bars
Dried fruits (raisins, dried cranberries, apricots, apples, et

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Books I'm Reading; the Life I'm Leading

Seeing/hearing Erika Meitner, Beth-Ann Fennelly, and Nicole Cooley read here in Seattle a couple of weeks ago was such a special treat. I've finished reading Fennelly's Unmentionables, and now I am reading Meitner's Ideal Cities. They are both fantastic books; I highly recommend them both.

I'm also reading Eavan Boland's A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet; I am a huge fan of Boland's poetry, and her prose is beautiful, too. If you are interested in Boland's development as a poet--a female, Irish poet--this is the book for you.

Reading, a little writing (not much), and playing in the snow: that's been my life the past week.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gemini Space Capsule, Air and Space Museum, The Smithsonian

Research Notes, "Ode to the Imagination," Little Office of the Immaculate Conception
I wanted to give students at University of Washington a window into my creative process along with a sampling of the poems I write. I decided to focus on poems about mysteries--both cosmic and quotidian in scope, and--24 hours before this presentation/reading-- I decided heck, why not create a Powerpoint?!

Never mind the fact I'd only put together one Powerpoint presentation in my life. Never mind that my son had the flu and most of my notebooks are in storage: no time like the present, I reasoned, to throw myself out there to the sharks.

I began by taking a bunch of snapshots of poem drafts/notes in some recent notebooks. Then I troved Google Images and my own iPhoto collection for pertinent images. And then I started in with uploading photos and text, plus creating bulleted lists.

I admit it was a very fun process (much more fun than lecturing on the comma splice or eviscerating--err, I mean explicating--someone else's poem), but one thing I forgot is that a bunch of slides does not a successful presentation make! Oops! Also, why did I think I would never lose my place, never forget which slide came next?

Dear audience, thanks for putting up with me while I surprised myself as slides I forgot were there appeared when I hit "return." I must have come off like either a 90-year old amnesiac or a 5-year old let loose with a Mac. Forgive me, please, dear students of UW!

Honestly, I did not intend to be quite so transparent with my nascent PP skills, but when else to find that out but before a crowd of 80 or 90 that I needed to practice a little more at home, perhaps rehearsing more than once with the son with the 100-degree fever before it went to 101 and morphed to a tummy ache/headache/flu!? Anyway, other than a few (I hope) minor techno glitches/surprised looks from the presenter as she tried and failed to synch what she was saying with what was on the screen, I was quite pleased with how it all went off.

Best of all, now that I've done a full-length (class hour) PP presentation, I am SOLD. It's the best way to convey information to a large group of students with varying degrees of interest or expertise on a given subject. I am already scheming with how I will continue to revise this presentation, adding music and YouTube film clips of such things as Alan Shepard hanging out in his rocket before take-off, and of course David Bowie's "Space Oddity" booming in the background, along with ELO's "Telephone Line."
Research Notes: "Ode to Imagination" 
Thanks to professor and poet Richard Kenney and the University of Washington for inviting me to share my work with one of the best audiences ever!  I promised if ever asked back to read/PP, I will wow you with my techno savvy, never once getting my slides out of order!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Open Books Reading: Cooley, Fennelly, & Meitner

These three ladies rocked Seattle's Open Books last night!

Nicole Cooley read first from her book Breach and also a great new poem about dollhouses. I was taken with her poem "September Notebooks" right from the opening image from that book I read as a child about the porridge "that takes over the town." Morphing Katrina with 9/11: it works beautifully in this poem. Every word out of her mouth was incredibly powerful.

Then Beth Ann Fennelly blew me away with her reading of "Souvenir," which begins in humor and ends with incredible poignancy about our shared humanity. So good. And her poem about the painter Berthe Morisot was so inspiring. I read from Unmentionables last night until the book fell onto my sleeping face. Her poems just keep getting better and better. Here's a recording of her poem "Because People Ask What My Daughter Will Think of My Poems When She's 16." "When Did You Know You Wanted to Be a Writer?" made me laugh but also scared my mom jeans off. Sorry, but you have to buy the book to read that one.

Erika Meitner finished off the reading with her kick-ass poems, starting off with "Miracle Blanket," from her book ideal cities, which won the 2010 National Poetry Series. "Miracle Blanket" begins in humor and ends in supreme holiness--any poem with a saint in it rocks, but to pair the ridiculousness of the swaddling/shush-ing solution to a colicky infant and invoke the patron saint of babies made for a glorious coupling. I also loved learning about her process/hearing poems borne of combing the internet for the generic language of contracts/legal documents. And the poem about Wal-Mart, incantatory and spellbinding! Erika also has an even newer book from Anhinga, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls. Read a review in Barn Owl Review

What a reading -- so inspiring. I can't wait to dive into their newest collections.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Respect the Vegans

I often talk a big game about becoming vegan at some point in my life ... not today, not tomorrow, but maybe, I don't know, next year? Once I actually assumed A Vegan Life. It lasted about a month. I remember quite a few dinners consisting of fried potatoes with lemon tempeh. There was also the challenge of concocting dairy-free desserts (I think I gave up and resorted to chocolate sorbet most nights). I didn't drink much coffee back then, so half-and-half wasn't much in the picture, but how did I think I was going to survive without cheesecake, pumpkin pie, yogurt, or two eggs over easy? Or milk chocolate!?

Chocolate became my gateway back to fish, ice cream, and chicken (I had not, since 1979, eaten what I referred to as "red" meat--veal, beef, lamb, pork--though the fact that I did eat chicken and fish made me not quite the vegetarian I longed to be). Yes, chocolate, of course. Because I was hungry all the time (vegetables and rice just aren't that filling), I started nibbling this giant bar of gourmet chocolate I spotted in the pantry. More than nibbling. I was helpless. In one day I ate the entire bar. This created a great dilemma: what was I to call myself? A choco-vegan? After all, there was not yet a word for my kind of cheater: a flexitarian. There was no place to hide, no sorta vegan or quasi-vegan, so I chucked the whole meat/dairy-free thing in one fell swoop. The next morning it was eggs in the batter and cow's milk on the Cornflakes. Done, finito, exeunt.

Until yesterday. Yesterday and today I have been 100% vegan. I have not even attempted to eat with others or in a restaurant, and I am here to report that this is quite difficult diet to adhere to. I think it's mostly due to habits of taste, habits of preparation. I am used to having chocolate nearly every day of my life (and I don't especially like the dark version), cream in my coffee (actual cream, not non-dairy creamer, not soy or rice milk), and, well, milk on my oatmeal. I am not a huge carnivore, but it takes some amount of intentionality (is that a word?) to not choose a dinner menu that includes chicken or fish or dairy. It's something I don't give much thought to, though I do eat a diet high in fruits and veggies, and low in processed foods, huge hunks of charred flesh, burgers, fries, etc.

The diet I am on is drastic. I'm not eating any bread-related foods, or sugar, or distilled spirits, for instance. Maybe I could be a vegan most days if I could have one of these three vices now and then.

I will probably only last one more day on the 100% austerity diet--rice, beans, quinoa, fruits, veggies, and nuts. But I am considering going sugar, meat, spirits, and dairy-less for the month. No promises, but the thought has definitely entered my mind.

Any vegans out there who want to share their stories of conversion? Was it difficult at first? Why are you (or were you) vegan? Health reasons, animal rights, or some of each? Are you grossed out by all the yucky chemicals and harmful bacteria in meat and dairy products, even, in the case of meat, in the organically-labeled ones? Discuss among yourselves!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hairshirt Redux

If you're not sure which hairshirt I'm referring to, click here. That was last year, but this is this year, and this year I am, along with foregoing alcohol during hairshirt season, giving up all sugar, processed foods, and foods derived from animals.

Let the fun begin.

This morning I had oatmeal with raisins and walnuts, plus a smidgen of maple syrup. Not a bad way to start out the day, but I mourned the lack of half-and-half I usually douse my oatmeal with, along with the cream in my decaf coffee (since I can't drink the stuff black, I guess I'm also off the bean juice for the duration).

After finishing up breakfast I cooked up a giant pot of minestrone soup a la vegan. The hard parts about vegan minestrone are as follows: no grated parmesan cheese on top, no baguette on the side. Otherwise, not much different than usual.

I predict I will be eating nuts like a little fat-cheeked squirrel all this month. And lots of satsumas. Good thing I like both.

However, I have been craving Genoa salami all afternoon, and I wish I could have some of my homemade pizza tonight. I refuse to use soy cheese, and I do not think I am allowed to have any wheat. Spelt flour? It may well be worth a try at some desperate point during this month of austerity, but I am assuming it will not allow me to roll out a thin, crispy crust. Any confirmation on that?

I was about to head out for a jog, but--dang!--I hear the pitter-patter of raindrops. So sad!

It looks like I will have to sit here a while longer, attending to various and sundry writing and class prep tasks. Woe is me.

Happy new year, everyone! May you keep your resolutions for all time, or at least till mid-Feb.