this is not a list

It is list time of year. Shopping lists, baking lists, grocery lists, book lists (currently, best of 2019; soon, most-anticipated of 2020). Add to it the end of a decade, and I—.

This is not a list.

This is in praise of constellations.

Constellation: from the Latin: con- a word forming element meaning “together, with”; and stellare “to shine.” Meaning “a collection of stars.” Meaning “a group or cluster of related things.”

Before standardized calendars and maps, we (humans) used constellations to determine when to plant and (to an extent) when to harvest. We used them for navigation. They were points of reference as the world spun and tilted, and time rolled on.

But the stars in a constellation only look like they’ve joined together to make a shape. They only appear to be close to each other—in fact, they are often several thousand light years away from one another.

In this, they are contrary in nature to lists. Praise be.

Instead of lists, I am in favor of constellations—those lights that appear to gather together across gaps, those harbingers of seasons, those guides, those shapes if you squint hard enough.

While it’s natural and human to mark endings and beginnings—of years, of decades—and to say something summary about them, I am in favor of things not-quite-gathering in an apparent cluster of shine: the books or passages of books that gave us light; the friends and family; the camping (or other) trips and memorable meals; the works of art; the long-held dreams finally come true; the perfectly poached egg; the nagging obsessions; the ditch flowers; the scraps of language or thought gathering other scraps of language or thought unto themselves; the saplings of hope and sensing when to plant them; the griefs; the ideas that led us along on our way somewhere (who ever really knows where?); the true norths, still there, always there, when we look back over our shoulders.

My constellation(s) will be different than yours, and yours, and also yours. My constellation needn’t matter to you, nor yours, to me. I could tell you about my constellation this year, but why should I? You have a perfectly good constellation of your own.

It’s enough to have them, these unlikely not-quite-gatherings that somehow give light and points of reference to a year. To know that light-years of darkness stretch between one shining thing and the shining thing that appears to be next to it (but isn’t, actually). To, as Praxilla did in ancient verse and in Michael Longley’s poem about her, “set [your] groceries alongside the sun and moon.”

Squint hard enough, it’ll make a shape. Call it a year, call it a decade, call it an optical illusion—but one that hung in the sky for you. It’s enough. No list needed.

not-so-wordless wednesday: Mrs. Williams responds…

Mrs. Williams RespondsIMG_2263
to His Note About the Plums

This is just to say
I burned your laundry
that was piled on the floor
and which you were probably

expecting me
to wash and dry
and fold
and put away.

Forgive me
the pile was high
so rank
and so daunting.

friday roundup: all of these faces, Spillway 20, and “Traveler’s Field”

[background music: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” lyrics replaced with “Where did you go social contract?]

Friday again. Hello, Reader. This morning I upheld my end of the social contract by tracking down the grownup on my street who yelled the F-bomb and other choice words at my boys for riding their bikes on the sidewalk. Very politely, I reminded this gentleman (ahem) of his responsibilities to the children in the neighborhood. Namely, that a friendly reminder, and talking to me or my husband directly if follow up is needed, is really the way to go, rather than yelling and swearing at a ten year old. #justsayin. Sometimes I feel like our society has become too mobile and nobody knows their neighbors anymore, and so we sometimes forget our responsibilities to one another. But yes, that is me: the activist neighbor who will gently speak to your child if s/he is doing something unsafe or disrespectful, and who will remind you of good manners, Mr. F-bomb. Sheesh!

Now that that’s out of the way, we can get down to roundup business:

all of these faces  I’m really excited to share with you the new website of my former mentor and teacher, Deborah Keenan. When we lived in St. Paul, I studied with Deborah at the Loft Literary Center, and in her private Monday morning group. Those years learning from Deborah were so formative in my growth as poet. From her, I learned how to dissect a poem to see why and how it was working, and to write out of what I was reading. She took my work seriously, and helped me to see that it was time to start believing in my work, sending it out, claiming the title Poet. She’s also the person from whom I learned to make Handouts (which, er, reminds me — I’m a little behind on The Handout schedule, but don’t worry, it’s on my list).

As her website says, Deborah is poet, artist, and teacher. If you poke around a bit, you’ll see her amazing collage work, and run into some quintessential Deborah writing prompts (click on “writing inspiration”), more of which will be added to the site over time.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you’re wondering about my title for this section (and as she writes on her website) the phrase “all of these faces” is what encouraged Deborah to begin her collage work years ago (Hmmmm, what poem would you write under the title “All of These Faces”?).

Spillway 20  So, I’m going to be reading up in Marin this weekend, for Spillway 20 where my poem, “Making Dinner with Joan of Arc” appears (I wrote about drafting this poem here, and by the way, I wasted quite a lot of time to be able to draft it!) Each reader will read her own poem, and the poem of one other contributor. I’m excited to read Kathleen Kirk’s poem “Cassandra Can’t Believe the Headlines” (man, I know how Cassandra feels!). I’m looking forward to the reading, not without some nervousness. I’m walking around my house repeating this mantra: “Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.” 🙂 Wish me luck.

“Traveler’s Field” A while back, I wrote a bit about poetic citizenship, and today’s poem comes from a stellar example of poetic citizenship, the Central Arkansas Broadside Project curated by the indefatigable Sandy Longhorn. Hop over and read a little bit about the project. One thing I love about it, besides the fact that it moves poetry into public space and consciousness, is that each poet whose broadside is featured recommends other poets whose work they enjoy. If I had had even one of these broadsides in my hands when I was 16 years old…!!! So, Sandy, three cheers for you and the CABP. And Reader, for you, here is “Traveler’s Field” by Hope Coulter.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks for reading. And now, for me it’s back to, “Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.””Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.””Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.””Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.”……….

in which someone is wrong on the Internet, and I spout

Watch out -- thar she blows! wikimedia

Watch out — thar she blows! wikimedia

Have you seen this cartoon?

Yeah, I know. When someone is wrong on the Internet, trying to convince them (or anyone) they’re wrong is tilting at windmills. But for some issues close to my heart — like working parents, or poetry readings, or now, The Secret to Being Both a Successful Writer and a  Mother: Have Just One Kid — I can’t help myself. I just have to pipe up.

And here’s the thing: I’m not even going to try to convince anyone (including you) that anyone’s wrong. I just want to say what I believe. So, here I go:

First, can we agree that the editors at The Atlantic probably chose a headline that was sure to get people’s hackles up? Okay, now that we’ve agreed on that:

Can we stop? Can we stop pretending there’s a secret to being a successful mother-writer? Can we also stop pretending that the secret to being a successful mother-writer is access to affordable childcare and a partner who shares equally in parenting (although I admit this would be pretty sweet)? Can we also stop pretending that being a successful mother-writer is harder than being a successful mother-anything-else? Can we also stop pretending that it’s harder to be a mother-writer than a not-a-mother writer, or a not-a-mother anything else? Can we also stop pretending that there’s a secret to being a successful writer, regardless of motherhood status?

(We will not stop pretending that generations of institutionalized and cultural ideas about women’s roles at home and in the workplace still influence women’s lives because we’re not pretending about that. That’s been pretty well-documented, and we’re working on it, and let’s not stop working on it.)

Would some examples be helpful?

Is it harder for me — a mother of three — to find writing time than it is for a non-mother writer who’s caring for a chronically ill spouse or an aging parent?

Is it harder for me — a mother of three — to find writing time than it is for my friend who cares for her adult brother with severe mental illness to find time for her life’s work?

Is it harder for me — yes, still a mother of three — to find writing time than it is for a writer who has the *Secret Number* — one — child, who happens to be a special-needs child?

I’m thinking no.

Is it harder for me — who just said to her children, to quote Joan Didion: Shush, I’m working. Why don’t you ride your bikes to the park. — to find writing time than a mother of one, who has no playmates on standby? I don’t know, but I kind of don’t think so.

So first off, can we agree that life is very life-like and we all have responsibilities and relationships that tug us away from our life’s work from time to time? Mother, not mother, writer, not writer. Et cetera.

Okay, moving on:

Do we all need better access to affordable childcare, eldercare, family-care? Yes.

Should we all have partners who share equally in parenting and household-running? Probably. Personally, I’m not waiting around for that (although I am trying to influence the next generation in my very own family). My husband, though very supportive in many ways, works a job that requires many hours and lots of travel — he is simply not here to do half of the child-rearing or household-running. Is this ideal? Probably not, but it seems to be the way upwardly mobile jobs are going in this economy, and I can’t change it in time for it to be different in my near future.

Can we now get back to the question of The Secret to Being a Successful Anything?

Friends, there is no secret. Not for being a successful writer or anything else. There are only two things:

The first is to define success for yourself. If I define success as winning the Yale Younger and then directing the Writer’s Workshop at Iowa, I’ll never be successful — I’m too old for the Yale Younger and I haven’t the credentials for academia. Lucky for me, I have my own idea for what it means for me to be a successful writer. Would that success be obtained more easily or quickly if the particulars of my family situation were different? Possibly, but I will never know. We all have one life. This is mine. I’ve never believed that you can have it all — especially not all at the same time — so I’m doing the best I can to have the most important things as I go along.

The second is to be bound and determined. No matter how many kids. No matter if your house just burned down. No matter if your cats are sick, or your spouse is sick, or your job is requiring extra hours right now. Find a way to do your life’s work, whatever it is that you feel called to. There will be bleak seasons, there will be long slogs. There might even be months or years where you’re just only keeping your foot in the door. Yes, you will have to sacrifice. Yes, this requires discipline. No, it is not worth losing your health (physical or mental) over. But find a way.

End of spout. Forgive me. Amen.

friday roundup: the conundrum of self-promotion, after the smoke clears, and ‘the whisper of girlhood’ (and… some other stuff)

I'll get around to the housework... after the smoke clears... (snagged this image from FBTroublemakers via Sandy Longhorn)

I’ll get around to the housework… after the smoke clears… (snagged this image from FBTroublemakers via Sandy Longhorn)

Reader, this week has been devoid of long, quiet library mornings. It has been devoid of long, quiet anythings. We have had birthday and fever and birthday-fever. And then some more fever. I’ve been telling myself: make use of whatever time you have, and believe that it’s enough. People ask me, “How do you write with three kids?” Answer: sometimes I don’t. Other times, I write in whatever time I have. I’ve drafted poems on the way to the zoo, at swim practice, and in the ballet studio waiting room. Also the doctor’s office waiting room. Also in the aisle at the grocery store and the movie theater. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have a few hours every day those weeks when everyone’s in school (I remember this in theory) — so I’m not complaining. Just saying: whatever your passion is, slip it into the tiny cracks of your days if you have to, until a wider plain of time opens up. Yes, I am writing this to remind myself — thank you for bearing with me :). Now on to the roundup:

the conundrum of self-promotion  Erin Coughlin Hollowell writes today about the conundrum of self-promotion. Her book Pause, Traveler (which I’m looking forward to reading) is coming out soon. Erin says, “The problem is, like most introverted writers, I feel awkward promoting myself and my work. Pushy, self-aggrandizing, embarrassed, uncomfortable.”

I don’t have a book to promote, but I certainly do feel the same way when it comes to spreading the word about my poems as they make their way in the world. Still (deep breath), I’m going to share with you a link to Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke, an anthology of erotic poetry from Tupelo Press, that I’m happy to have a poem in. Other contributors include Cynthia Rausch Allar, Michelle Bitting, Lisa Coffman, Amy Dryansky, Li Yun Alvarado, Paula Brancato, Gillian Cummings, Darla Himeles, Joel F. Johnson, Christopher Kokinos, Amy MacLennan, Stephen Massimilla, Barbara Mossberg, Susanna Rich, Aubrey Ryan, Anna Claire Hodge, Janet R. Kirchheimer, Conley Lowrance, Lea Marshall, Mary Ann Mayer, Steven Paschall, Liz Robbins, Jo Anne Valentine Simson, Jeneva Stone, Judith Terzi, Gail Thomas, Kim Triedman, Bruce Willard, P. Ivan Young.

The book is available in print and e-book format. I’m grateful to the folks at Tupelo Press for finding a home for some of my work. And here’s a teaser: Peter and Wendy… who knew? 😉

after the smoke clears  I’ve been reading through a really cool issue of Poetry East called Origins: Poets on the Composition Process. For each poem published in the issue, there is also a short essay on the poem’s origins, written by the poet. It has been fascinating to read about the process behind each poem.

And yet, one of my favorite essays in the issue is “For Once Let’s Not Talk So Much About the Poem” by Joseph Stroud (whose poem “Grief” appears in the issue). Stroud says,

“Perhaps the best response to a good poem is silence. Or to read it again.”

He says,

“In the end, after all the smoke clears, after all the discussions and theories and criticism, there are two kinds of poems. Poems that make a difference in our lives. And poems that don’t. Let’s hold on to the ones that do, hold on and cherish them, and do all in our power to try and write them.”

Let the people say, Amen!

‘the whisper of girlhood’ (and… some other stuff)  Reader, forgive me, but I just haven’t been able to narrow down this week’s poetry selection to one poem. No, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to go read this entire issue at Connotation Press. Because I know you want to read some of Sandy Longhorn’s sickly speaker poems, and Bernadette Geyer’s garbage disposal poem (and also her yoga poem), and Brooke J. Sadler’s poem/prayer involving…, well I don’t want to give it away — but it involves breakfast meat and go read it. And also Julie Brooks Barbour’s work (teaser: watermelon!). And then Erin Elizabeth Smith’s Alice in Wonderland poems (where you’ll find ‘the whisper of girlhood’). And there are other good poems there, to. So, click around. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, and then, just a note: I’ve been having some blog-keeping issues. My whole list of po-links somehow disappeared. I’m slowly rebuilding the list, but in the meantime, sorry about the  missing links.

Happy Friday, Reader. Happy poetry! Thanks for reading.