crazy things happen

new sights to see

new sights to see

One day, you call your friend and say, Quick, give me a number between 1 and 243. She gives you a number and you turn to that page in your book of prompts. That page says to write a villanelle. You (begrudgingly) write a villanelle, revise it one bazillion times, and then send it off to a local poetry series. Next thing you know you are reading your poems at a local bookstore, and your friends are there listening.

One day you read a prompt that says: write a poem about a shadow. And so you do. And your writing group falls on it like a pack of wolves. They do not like it. But they note that it’s clearly an erotic poem. Which you did not intend. But which you decide to play that up in revisions. A few years later you see a call for submissions for erotic poetry. You think, Why not? and send it in. Your poem gets put into an anthology of erotic poetry. Also, you suddenly move across the country. Next thing you know you’re in the Mission reading erotic poetry with other poets you’ve never met but who are also in the anthology. Crazy.

One day you walk by a book at the library called Hearts West: True Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier. Something in you shifts. You realize you must read the book. You read the book. The voice of a Mail Order Bride (capital letters) takes up residence in your mind. You write her poems because she won’t leave you alone. You send a few in to a contest. You wake up on another Tuesday morning in the P-town, and next thing you know you’re enduring the longest, most turbulent descent in the history of air travel, after which you finally land in Salt Lake City on the way to a conference where you will get to read some of your work, and more importantly, learn from the poet who chose your manuscript the winner. AND you are not even worried about what to wear to the poetry reading! (this may be the craziest thing of all).

Once upon a time I would not and could not have imagined ANY of these things happening. I thought poetry was just something I did for me. I never imagined anyone else would find value in my poems. Or that I would go places and meet people because of my poems. Although none of these events are rock-star poetry events. Although they are small potatoes in the big po-world, even so, I’d never have imagined them happening in my life because of poetry.

Luckily for me, I’ve always had people in my life who I think of as co-dreamers: those who can dream for me when I’m too scared or busy or scared or worn out or scared to dream for myself. They believed in me before I believed in me. (They still do sometimes if I’m having a day of disbelief).

We think we’re so in control of our lives. We think we know what we’ll be doing a year, two years, five years from now. We think we know our own strengths and limits. We don’t, really.

Get a co-dreamer or two if you need to. Proceed as way opens. Don’t kick out the crazy, whacked out persona girl blabbing away in your head (or whatever crazy, whacked out whatever is making noise in your head). Don’t discount what might happen for you because you followed your dream (by which I mean: because you lived your true, authentic life) bit by bit.

you are cordially invited

The good people at Writers@Work have asked me to spread the word that there are still some spots left at their conference June 4-8 in Alta, Utah.

Conference faculty include Ellen Bass (poetry), Robin Hemley (creative non-fiction), Michael Martone (mixed-genre) and Lawrence Coates (fiction).

Details here.

The Mail Order Bride will also be there. And unlike — ahem — some other people, she is not worried about what to wear to the reading 😉 .

how to terrify a middle-aged, suburban, formerly-midwestern poet

Dear MUNI, please don't make me wait forever. wikimedia

Dear Muni, please don’t make me wait forever. wikimedia

First tell her she gets to read at LitCrawl. This will be terrifying enough because, amongst other things, she will not know what to wear.

Then tell her she’ll be reading from an anthology of erotic poetry, which, true, she does have a poem in — but technically it could be interpreted as erotic or not erotic, and when she wrote it she didn’t even realize it could be interpreted as erotic (but, truth: once she realized it could, she revised as such).

Next tell her she’ll be reading with people she’s never met before, and while she’s sure they’re very nice poets, she’s shy. And she’s pretty sure they’re younger than her, although she has no data to support this certainty.

She is also pretty sure they’ll know what to wear.

After that, send her some pre-reading information and include things like this:

“the audience can be loud at times, the scene rowdy, and venues packed beyond belief”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet’s eyes grow large. She would like to know exactly what is meant by “rowdy.” Could it possibly involve rotting vegetables being thrown at the stage? Or getting the hook?)

“bring your flexibility and your sense of humor”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet wishes she were super-flexible with a generous sense of humor, but she knows she’s really more like Bert than Ernie, more like Rabbit than Tigger. And she is already nervous about this reading, and unsure of what to wear).

“parking will be very challenging”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet remembers life back in the midwest when “challenging” parking meant you would have to walk from the far edge of the parking lot to the venue. Those were the days. She knows that “challenging” parking in the city means: NO parking. She knows this means she should take transit, and while she’s good with that in principle — she’s a regular on the 22 bus, on the CalTrain — she can’t but help going back to the memory of waiting for a Muni that never came. Never. In fact, she’s not sure, but she might still be on that platform in the city waiting for that Muni.)

“there’s an after-party”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet remembers the last after-party she went to. It was in 1989. Yes, it was in the Eighties, people. It was after her high school’s production of Oklahoma! She knew what to wear, and she knew her best friend would be there. She knows all the cool kids will be at the after-party, but she has never been a cool kid. Also, she probably can’t afford the extra babysitting time the after-party would require, so,… [here the middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet wanders away mumbling incoherently and looking dazed]).

So, um, yes. She’s a little nervous about my reading on Saturday. And she’s adding up the psychic and actual cost of this little reading (seriously, we need grants for writers so they can attend their own readings!). And she’s telling herself, You don’t have to be one of the cool kids. And, You can wear one of your Haystacks! And your boots (thanks Mom and Dad)!

But she probably won’t stop wondering exactly what “rowdy” means until after it’s all over. And she would love for you to come if you’re in the Bay Area and if you can swing it; info here. And she wants you to know, if you never hear from her again, she’s probably somewhere up in the city, on a fog-cloaked platform, waiting for a Muni.

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.”……….