Earth Day

mv spokane

Yesterday I took the two-hour trip to see my mother. It was a sparkling blue day and the ferry crossing was blue, blue, and blue.

It was Earth Day, and we all might continue celebrating by reading something about Science and our besieged planet, or by checking to see if there’s a March for Science coming up in your hometown.

You might write a poem. Here’s an old one by Amy Clampitt:

GRADUAL CLEARING

Late in the day the fog
wrung itself out like a sponge
in glades of rain,
sieving the half-invisible
cove with speartips;
then, in a lifting
of wisps and scarves, of smoke-rings
from about the islands, disclosing
what had been wavering
fishnet plissé as a smoothness
of peau-de-soie or just-ironed
percale, with a tatting
of foam out where the rocks are,
the sheened no-color of it,
the bandings of platinum
and magnesium suffusing,
minute by minute, with clandestine
rose and violet, with opaline
nuance of milkweed, a texture
not to be spoken of above a whisper,
began, all along the horizon,
gradually to unseal,
like the lip of a cave
or of a cavernous,
single, pearl-
engendering seashell.

Amy Clampitt  (1920-1994)

Poetic Medicine

CAM01141

“Writing and reading poems is a way of seeing and naming where we have been, where we are and where we are going with our lives.” -John Fox

I saw this book, POETIC MEDICINE: THE HEALING ART OF POEM-MAKING, by John Fox, at a friend’s house. She hadn’t read it yet, but promised to forward her recommendation. I remember that day, that writing session, especially, because, as we were finishing, her front yard suddenly filled with all sorts of birds. I think it was a precursor of the weather that was sweeping in, but it had that feeling of an omen. When I spied Poetic Medicine on the shelf at Half-Price Books, I remembered those birds, and I bought it.

While visiting my mom over the last couple of days, I packed the book with me, and read in all the interstices. Some gems include the preface by Rachel Naomi Remen, and an abundance of poems from every where, including this one by Wendell Berry, which spoke directly to the emotions I’ve been dealing with these last few weeks. I started in September to work on a series of poems about my dad’s death, and wings seem to push their way into every poem. I’ve been trying to read between the lines of my drafts, and see what this is saying to me, what it’s saying that hasn’t already been said by so many others. And this book is helping. So, the poem:

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

-Wendell Berry

 

In the Company of Writers

b85fd-stack2bof2bbooksI have had the privilege over the past few weeks of hanging out with some very cool writers. Joannie Stangeland for one, Katie Tynan (of It’s About Time) for another. Last week I was one of the featured readers for Rose Alley Press‘s 20th Anniversary reading series, and I want to take a moment to recommend this local press, owned and operated by David D. Horowitz, and its books (particularly as it is getting to be that gift-giving time of year).

The novelist Jane Hamilton tells a story about getting caught reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch in a school hallway while waiting for a child. The other mother who spied her said something that Jane translated to “How Quaint.” With an edge of outrage in her voice, she added, “as if I were tatting lace!”

I thought of that story because I read Middlemarch, the first time, while taking a class with Professor William Dunlop, whose poetry book, Caruso for the Children and Other Poems, is a Rose Alley Press book.

One reason to go to readings is to connect with like-minded people who read the same sort of books that I do. That you do. Don’t you?

 

 

Digging Deeper

On Friday I drove with a couple of friends to Tieton, near Yakima, Washington, to attend Litfuse: a Poets’ Workshop. While there, I took classes from Samuel Green, Elizabeth Austen, and Ellen Bass — and others — and every class had time built in for opening a notebook and writing. I came home Sunday afternoon, with my head spinning.

Sunday was the blood moon, of course, and having spent the weekend with poets, there was no way I was going to miss it, no matter how exhausted I was. My youngest daughter refused to go with me. My other daughter still living at home was at work. My husband said, If you find it, sure, give me a call.

I was not going to miss it. I took the dog with me and drove, searching for a place without trees obscuring the eastern horizon. Not easy where we live. I drove down to the Sound, but that didn’t work at all (even though quite a number of people had gathered there). Finally, over the airfield, there it was! Very faint, low to the horizon, not all that big, but definitely in eclipse, pinkish-red. Lovely. I pulled the car over and Pabu and I got out to watch. One other car pulled up: everyone leapt out of the car, a woman took a picture with her cell phone, and they all leapt back into the car and drove away. I called my husband and told him to bring the binoculars. We stood in the parking lot of QFC, near a Jack in the Box, leaning on our car, and watched for an hour. We talked about where we are likely to be in 2033 when this particular combination of Blood Moon and Eclipse take place again. Older daughter got off work and joined us. Husband went home. I watched until the moon was back to its usual, brilliant self. High in the sky and easily visible from our house. No searching required. My 16-year-old’s sort of boyfriend showed up (Do you want to go look at the moon?) and they disappeared into the night.

“Be the sort of person on whom nothing is lost,” Henry James advised a young writer. Sherman Alexie, speaking at Seattle Arts and Lectures this past year, said something on the order of, You can make a poem out of anything — it’s what happens, and what you think about what happened (and then he read a poem about doing laundry).

I remember once being told that you can’t write poems about the moon — it’s been done too often. But at Litfuse, when Ellen Bass brought up how love poems are a little overdone, she then added, But of course we’re going to write love poems! We just have to write really good ones. Elizabeth Austen called it digging deeper.

In my reading this morning, I came across this quote, from novelist Jonathan Franzen: “With every book, you have to dig as deep as possible and reach as far as possible. And if you succeed in producing a reasonably good book, you’re going to have to dig even farther, or else, again it won’t be worth writing. And what that means, in practice, is that you have to become a different person to write the next book. The person you are already wrote the best book you could. There’s no way to move forward without changing yourself.”

For every poem. There is a poem in this material for me about the frustrations of having a 16-year-old daughter, about my husband indulging me even when he thinks I’m cracked, about being a poet, about seeing what we’re given to see. Here I am, shovel in hand…

Karen Whalley, “Family of Hard Workers”

So many poets, so little time. I barely dented my book collection, and left out so many other favorites. Next year, thirty more?

For the last day of National Poetry Month, I am pleased to recommend the poetry of my friend, Karen Whalley. I have loved Karen’s poems for nearly 30 years, ever since our mutual professor, Nelson Bentley, put us on a Castalia Reading program together. This poem, from her collection, The Rented Violin (Ausable Press, 2003), resides in the vast class of “poems I wish I had written.”

If I were giving assignments, this one might inspire us to write about what-happened, vs. what-didn’t-happen, and what that might have looked like.

FAMILY OF HARD WORKERS

I would like to forget
That I come from a family of hard workers:
Grandfather of axe handles carved
For the Georgia railroad, Grandmother
Of thirteen children flinging feed for the chickens
From a fifty-pound bag, forgive me,
I forget you. And if my father glorifies
What is, in actuality, a certain lack of choices
On the part of his relatives
Who rose at the cock’s crow
And made a day so similar to the one before it
That if someone asked what they’d done that day,
They would stand with their hands in their pockets
Then give you their one answer:
I whittled an axe handle. I fed the chickens. 
Then forgive me for not doing that, too.

Once, I kept a carved statue of a horse
On my window sill,
The right front leg crooked, like a little finger
Which made the horse seem always in motion.
It’s all I remember about the horse,
The arched leg ready to step
Into the green pastures of my imagination
And thrum with its hooves,
Churning up grass, unhaltered, unsaddled,
Its huge head rivening the wind.
Better if my family had said:
You come from a family
Where beauty matters.
Look at the horse, now,
Running for joy. 

Finally, I can’t resist adding a link to Kathleen Flenniken’s The Far Field, with a poem by Professor Bentley: http://kathleenflenniken.com/blog/?p=1951

Carla Shafer, “Ten Good Lines”

My dear friend Carla Shafer is retiring from her job as a grant-writer at Everett Community College. (Click on her name to find an interview.)

Yesterday was the retirement party and today is the poetry reading. You kind of have to know Carla to understand why retirement = poetry reading. But I will be there, along with a few other poets, to read and pay tribute to this amazing person. Two o’clock, Russell Day Gallery, if you are interested. (Come early! It will be crowded!)

This poem is from an early collection of Carla’s, titled Rain Song, which William Stafford called, “a rich array…so sweet…so warm…and onward.” I have at least a dozen other favorites to choose from, but this one strikes me as a tribute-poem, through and through.

TEN GOOD LINES

Rilke says to wait to write the poem.
Experience must pile up like laundry.
Later picked through, it will relinquish
maybe 10 good lines. Worthy of one’s life time.

Once I watched William Stafford construct
a poem. Early in the day he planted seeds —
“…a picnic on the beach, a campfire in the sand.
You bring your violin, I heard we have a banjo player…
come…sometimes people choose to sing.”

Under a cool summer sky, kicking sand,
we gathered around the fire.
Bill was there early and stayed until the end,
collecting the scene’s pieces and
sensing careful phrases. The next day
he shared ten good lines.

So I thank Rilke for telling me that
I might spend my life to reap
a meager, but worthy, feast.
And I thank Stafford, who lives
each minute as a source for poems
cooked and served up daily.

Reading at Edmonds Bookshop, tonight!

This evening at Edmonds Bookshop, at 6:30, I will be reading with four other northwest poets (click here to see the list), including my friend, Bellingham poet Jennifer Bullis.

This morning, sitting in bright sunlight under a row of (I think) Acacia trees, I reread Jennifer’s book Impossible Lessons (see a review, here), and tried to choose just one to share. It is a rich book — mythology, horses, babies, birds — and I happily recommend the whole of it to you. But here, just in case you have any questions, her poem, “The Answer.”

THE ANSWER

After the windstorm, a pileated woodpecker
works the dead trunk of a newly leaning maple.

He pulls his scarlet-crested head back
the full length of his black and white body

with each pounding stroke of his beak,
scattering moss, bark, bits of rotted wood

on the forest floor. I want to know
why his head is shaped like an anvil

and why he is fated to hammer
for his food. I want to know why

this particular maple snag has lost its footing
among so many of its neighbors.

I crave a sound rationale as to how
this one, of all of them, was singled out

by the beetles and fungi that killed it
in the first place. But I learn nothing

except by the woodpecker’s breaking off
his analysis of the tree and flashing past

all my questioning, the red crest of his head
a sweet and vivid and impossible lesson.