Gratitude for Words of Encouragement

Joannie Stangeland’s latest collection of poetry (Ravenna Press, 2014)

Many, many thanks to Seattle poet, editor, and winemaker Joannie Stangeland for her write-up of Impossible Lessons as her Saturday Poetry Pick yesterday! Her lovely words are here.

In a wonderful coincidence, I’ve been reading her new book, In Both Hands. The poems there are haunting, replete with precise images of beauty and loss. I’m falling in love with, and going to school on, these incredible poems.

Be sure to read another recent post of Joannie’s, in which she describes her current writing projects.

A Little Story Involving Some Blasphemies in the Garden

Pulling weeds from the raised beds, I was feeling smug and virtuous for choosing to foodscape. We’ll eat lower on the food chain: more veggies, less meat. And the second week of June is never too early to put in your vegetables, right? I was further congratulating myself on allowing the tiny wild pea vines I was ripping out in handfuls to have served as a cover crop all these months. It had proliferated all through the spring: sweet little legume, enriching the soil with its nitrogen-fixing roots.

When I stood to look at the space I’d cleared, I saw about a billion displaced aphids squirming on the soil. Tiny green sugarbodies, suddenly exposed to the sun. They scuttled for the lifeboats, anything moist—grass blades, fir cones, pulled-up pea roots. I picked these up between gloved finger and thumb and dropped them into my wheelbarrow.

Disgusted, sorrowful, I returned two hours later. Toughen up, I told myself: the food chain never was for the faint of stomach. I spaded in compost and manure and the aphids’ billion sun-shriveled bodies. Mixed it all well. Planted my veg.

O goddess of solstice, O patron saint of sciatica, O receiver of insect souls: please bless my goddamn tomatoes.

 

Poetry Readings This Week

Heather Curtis, Jennifer Bullis, Shannon Laws at Village Books, Fairhaven

Heather Curtis, Jennifer Bullis, Shannon Laws at Village Books, Fairhaven

I get to do two readings in the next four days. With five other poets! Please join us for one or both of these events:

Saturday, April 5, 7:00 p.m. at Village Books, Bellingham. This will be the Bellingham launch of Anacortes poet Heather Curtis’s first collection of poems, Upon Waking. To join Heather in celebrating her book during National Poetry Month, Village Books has invited Shannon Laws, author of the poetry collection Madrona Grove, and me to read with her.

Monday, April 7, 6:45 p.m. at Seattle Public Library, Fremont Branch. Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Michael Schmeltzer, and I will participate in this reading organized by Floating Bridge Press.

Hope to see you there!

Cheers,
Jennifer

Paintings by Mary Lingen

Lake Hattie 11 by Mary Lingen

Lake Hattie 11 by Mary Lingen

Sometimes when I’ve been writing and writing until I can’t write another word, I spend some time with visual art, and I can start writing again. Isn’t it interesting how the nonverbal has power to fuel the verbal? Or, maybe it’s simply that beauty strengthens and motivates…

While browsing literary magazines to submit poems to recently, I was reading Shark Reef, a journal based in Washington State’s San Juan Islands, and became captivated by the stunning visual art featured in its issues. When I came across paintings there by Minnesota artist Mary Lingen, I had to see more, and clicked through to her pages at MNArtists.org. I’m excited to show you two of my favorites, from her Lake Hattie series, shared with Mary Lingen’s permission.

Isn’t it surprising, how bare winter branches can carry so much color?

Lake Hattie 10 by Mary Lingen

Lake Hattie 10 by Mary Lingen

To see more of Mary Lingen’s art and learn more about her work, explore her blog at http://marylingen.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/march-1-2014/. For visual and spiritual sustenance, I find myself returning to Mary’s paintings again and again.

Thank you for your marvelous work, Mary, and for permission to share some of it here!

Cheers,
Jennifer

Readings During National Poetry Month

I’ve been invited to participate in three different poetry events in April, all within the span of 12 days! I’m very excited to get to share poems from Impossible Lessons, as well as some new material, at the following readings:

Saturday, April 5, 7:00 p.m. at Village Books in Bellingham. This will be the Bellingham launch of Anacortes poet Heather Curtis’s first collection of poems, Upon Waking. To join Heather in celebrating her book during National Poetry Month, Village Books has invited Shannon Laws, author of the poetry collection Madrona Grove, and me to read with her.

Monday, April 7, 6:45 p.m. at Seattle Public Library, Fremont Branch. Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Michael Schmeltzer, and I will participate in this reading organized by Floating Bridge Press.

Thursday, April 17, 7:00 p.m. at Cafe Zippy in Everett. I’ll be the featured reader at Everett Poetry Nite, which includes music and open mic.

More details to follow!

Cheers,
Jennifer

Reflections on AWP, Part 1

I had a wonderful time attending my first AWP Convention in Seattle the week before last. I went to readings and panel presentations, and made delightful and informative forays into the book fair.

Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts, impressions, and pieces of information I came away with after my three days at the temporary center of the literary universe:

1) There is more than one way to write an ekphrastic poem. I used to think that ekphrastic poems need to be about the work of art they refer to–or at least about the event, scene, or figure that the work of art portrays. In a panel session exploring ekphrastic poetry, I learned some ways to work beyond this conventional definition:

  • The poet can allude to, but not announce, the poem’s relationship to the work of art.
  • The poet can immerse in the work of art, and the work of art can trigger the writing of the poem, without the poem describing the work of art.
  • Images usually suggest stories, and the poet can write a poem that resists the narrative intentions of the image by inventing an alternative story.
  • If, as Edward Hirsch asserts, poems inspired by art are “imaginative acts of attention,” then the way a poet pays attention to one work of art can inform how s/he pays attention to another work of art. In this way, a poem can respond, either explicitly or implicitly, to more than one work of art.

2) It is possible to live quite comfortably on trail mix and espresso for three straight days. Because when tantalizing conference sessions and readings and book displays cram the schedule from 8 a.m. until midnight, who has time to sit down to a proper meal? Well, I am exaggerating a little; I did supplement my trail-mix diet with a Chipotle burrito and a couple of breakfast sandwiches ordered to-go. Also, some very kind friends from Bellingham (thank you, Judy and Luther!) fed me apples and yogurt, and offered me additional high-quality proteins, after a late-night reading. Next time I go to a multi-day conference, I intend to carve out time to try at least a couple of good local restaurants. Or, at the very least, increase the chocolate-chip-to-almonds-and-dried-fruit ratio of my homemade mix.

3) I need to be very, very patient about getting a full-length poetry manuscript into print. Contrary to what the annual “Debut Poets” feature in Poets & Writers Magazine tends to indicate–i.e., that most first-book manuscripts are submitted to just a few publishers before being chosen for publication–the presenters of a panel session on book contests that I attended emphasized that finding a publisher for a poetry manuscript can take many years. As in ten to twelve years. As in multiple times being named a contest finalist, but never being chosen as the winner (a phenomenon known as Bridesmaid’s Syndrome: always the bridesmaid, never the bride). HOWEVER, refusing to be discouraged by these statistics, I took heart from several points made by the editors and poets making up this panel:

  • Having one’s manuscript chosen as a finalist, even when the final judge doesn’t select it to win, does get the attention of the press’s editors and can result in publication outside the auspices of the contest. Panelist Dora Malech, for instance, saw two of her collections published after being named a finalist at two different presses, three years in a row; even though her manuscripts didn’t win these contests, she developed relationships with the editors who eventually chose her work.
  • Prize money attached to a contest is nice, but it won’t solve your financial problems, or even necessarily cover the travel expenses you incur to promote the book.
  • Winning a contest can, nevertheless, attract reviews and publicity that less frequently accompany the publication of other poetry books.
  • 50-65 pages of poems is the new ideal for a full-length collection. (This is because paper and printing costs have continued to rise, and the recession has made book buyers even more price-conscious than before.) While some poetry publishers allow manuscripts of up to 90 or more pages, Joseph Harrison, editor at Waywiser Press, quipped, “I’ve never seen an 88-page manuscript that needed all 88 pages.”
  • Another conclusion I drew from this panel session is that I am UNBELIEVABLY FORTUNATE  to have a substantial chapbook in print. Thank you, Lana Hechtman Ayers of MoonPath Press, for turning me into the published author of a beautiful little book. You are my Fairy Godmother.

In Part 2, which will follow soon, I’ll elaborate on these further points:

  • The chapbook abides as a thing of beauty.
  • There is a place for politics in poetry, so long as the poetry is not sacrificed to the political message.
  • Editors and publishers are actual people, and I had the pleasure of meeting several very fine ones.

Thanks for reading!
Jennifer

Poetry on the Radio

Poetic Moments at KMRE 102.3 Bellingham

Poetic Moments at KMRE 102.3 Bellingham

Bellingham, WA poet Shannon Laws, under her radio name Boosie Vox, has added a new feature titled “Poetic Moments” to her radio show on the local KMRE station. In between “Golden Age of Radio” music segments, audio recordings of local poets reading their work are randomly aired. Shannon devoted countless hours during November and December recording Bellingham-area poets. Shannon produced the recordings and prepared them for broadcast. All of them are assembled here on Boosie Vox’s Sound Cloud; please have fun browsing this large and wonderful sample of poetry audio by many poets dear and near to me!

I’m honored that Shannon recorded four of my poems from Impossible Lessons. Here’s “Strange Bird,” which originally appeared in Cascadia Review. For some reason, I can’t embed the audio in this post, so please click on the fifth recording down to listen!

STRANGE BIRD

What bird are you? Hawk-shaped, gray,
tail striped and neck ringed in white,
you hover and swoop, low, a few feet above
the hay stubble, spying for mice.

Once, you dart down,
scramble in the grass, lost to my view
as you sate your raptor’s appetite on some
ground-bound creature.

But if hunting’s your purpose, why
do you round me in your orbits,
line me in your sights, between flights
to the field’s far corners? What am I to you?

I wonder further, amble the field—
then you return again, hover,
and drop this poem
into my mouth.