NaPoWriMo Day…Oh, who am I kidding?

So instead of writing poems the last few days, I’ve been working on a lyric essay project. I started it back in January, with the goal of building up a book-length body of poemy prose on the topic of adoption. As part of that project, I wrote some material about horses. Now, I’m shaping and adding to that material in order to fulfill a related goal, of having an excerpt ready to send out to journals by May 1. Here’s a little excerpt of that excerpt:

***

The places Stormy and Poco carried me to—the places on the edge of Reno where a person could ride a horse—were mostly broken places. Broken trail, or trails leading to places broken from having trails leading to them. The trails were power line roads, maintenance roads along irrigation ditches, dirt access tracks leading to small reservoirs or cattle-trampled springs that fed the irrigation ditches. Burned-out rangeland and fire breaks. They were rutted and rocky off-road roads, roads leading to the shot-up shooting ranges out in the sage. Always lots of rocks, always shattered glass. Sometimes, snakes.

NaPoWriMo, Day 1 (Day 2 for Everyone Else)

Happy National Poetry Month! This April, I’m getting a bit of a late start with NaPoWriMo (though not as late a start as I did last year). I hope to write and post a new poem here every few days. In between, I plan to enjoy and comment on the poems posted by writer-friends who are also participating in this poem-a-day challenge.

My first poem is inspired by yesterday’s prompt from NaPoWriMo founder Maureen Thorson, to “write a poem that has the same first line as another poem,” and by David J. Bauman’s (a.k.a. The Dad Poet’s) lovely reading of Frank O’Hara’s poem “For Grace, After a Party.”  (Instead of following the instructions, however, I borrowed O’Hara’s title, not his first line.) Here we go:

POEM BORROWING A TITLE FROM FRANK O’HARA

For Grace, after a party is the best time
for getting back into dancing.

For Grace, after a party is never as sweet
as that span of time just as the second drink
is kicking in and everyone is beginning
to feel hopeful.

For Grace, after a party means she can stop
apologizing about her hair.

For Grace, after a party is a time to uncorral her feelings
and watch them buck and snort across the pasture.

For Grace, after a party is an interlude
for considering which loved one to forgive.

For Grace, after a party is the perfect time
to practice scrambling eggs and holding
the weather, warm and calm, in her spoon.

Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing

My sincere thanks to Andrew Shattuck McBride and Tsena Paulson for “tagging” me to participate in the Blog Hop, in which I get to detail “The Next Big Thing” I’m working on in my writing.

Here, I respond to a standard set of interview questions about my writing projects. Please bear with  my unusual numbering. I mostly do know how to count; it’s just that my “poetic” logic occasionally supersedes rigid numerical sequencing.

1. What is the title of your book? Is it a working title? / 5. What genre does your book fall under?

My book is titled Impossible Lessons: Poems. It’s due out this April from MoonPath Press. Working titles for my manuscript included “About the Food Chain, and Other Pointed Questions for the Deities,” “The Logic of Leaves,” and “Myths of Origin, Falling Away.” My publisher, Lana Hechtman Ayers, came up with several more idea for titles, including “Impossible Lesson,” and Andy McBride suggested ending “-s” to the end of that. I’m delighted with the resulting title, Impossible Lessons. It implies that the poems ask challenging questions, and that the answers I receive through them are equally challenging.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from? / 3. Who and/or what inspired you to write your book?

The poems in this book are inspired by hikes in the Pacific Northwest and England; by my struggle to reconcile my experiences of a loving God with the violence I observe in nature and among humans; and by my search beyond Judeo-Christianity and Western philosophy, into the realm of other ancient mythologies, for explanations. My inspirations also included my horses, a cat, and several wayward chickens.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The poems in the manuscript span thirteen years of writing and revising. One of the earliest poems I drafted, “Strange Bird,” is from 2000, whereas others, such as “Eve Reflects” and “Cover Letter from the Goddess,” I wrote within this past year. I’ve been submitting various iterations of the manuscript to first-book competitions for the past nine years.

6. What books would you compare yours to in your chosen genre?

While I wouldn’t presume to compare my book to theirs, I can say that my writing in it is strongly influenced by the poems of Mary Oliver and Luci Shaw, and by the lyric prose essays of Annie Dillard. I also frame some of my poems as responses to William Stafford, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

7. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Alder, appetite, campfire, cedar, sorrel horse, goldfinch, grasses, cantaloupe, quantum, boulder, backbone, blame, molar, altar, swallow, snakeskin, suffering, farewell, whiskey-jack, allure, sparrow, cattle, blood cell, thistle, cosmos, alfalfa, spindle, impermanence, chemo, woodpecker, salmon, heron, flaring, huckleberry, gratitude, granite, fir, world, blade, feather, unfolding, holy.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

8. Do you have a publisher, or will you self-publish your book or seek representation?

Lana Hechtman Ayers at MoonPath Press, which publishes poetry by writers from the Pacific Northwest, is the editor and publisher of the book. I am terrifically indebted to Lana, who invited me to submit my manuscript–and then hand-selected and arranged the poems for the volume! I’m outrageously pleased with the result: the collection she has compiled is essentially a “best of” representation of my writing from the past thirteen years.

10. What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?

It uses the F-word just once, and that’s quoting Philip Larkin, so it’s really okay.

9. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie or to read your work for a recording?

Ah, now we’re getting to the next Next Big Thing I’m working on. That would be a manuscript of persona poems with the working title “Impersonations,” for which I’m seeking a publisher. My poems in this collection are voiced by various Old-Testament figures, Greek goddesses, and two characters of my own invention: emerging poet Amanda Bubble and her imperious, mercurial, epistle-penning aunt, Fabiana. I wouldn’t know how to wrangle all these personae into a film with a plot, but if I were to stage the poems as a dramatic reading, with the characters writing letter-poems to each other, I could envision the following cast:

Mia Farrow as Eve
James Earl Jones as Abraham
Carol Kane as Noah’s Wife
Lucy Lawless as Artemis
My completely awesome local FedEx delivery lady as Aphrodite
Zachary Quinto as George Clooney–wait, no: George Clooney as George Clooney
Zachary Quinto as Amanda Bubble’s imaginary boyfriend (but I digress…)
Gwyneth Paltrow as Amanda Bubble
Joanna Lumley–wait, no: Helena Bonham-Carter–wait, no: Carla Bruni as Fabiana

But I digress again. The next next Next Big Thing I’ve recently begun writing is a lyric essay, inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds and Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and Holy the Firm. It’s an autobiographical meditation that interbraids topics of adoption, horses, forgiveness, walking, place, and becoming a mother.

And now, I’m very pleased to tell you about the four writers I’m “tagging” to respond the interview questions next:

Marilyn Cavicchia lives in Chicago, where she is an editor at the American Bar Association and a freelance editor at home. She received a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in journalism, both from Ohio University. For about 15 years after college, she wrote hardly any poetry. Since resuming in 2009, she has had about a dozen poems published in literary journals. Her next challenge: chapbooks. She blogs at http://MarilynCavicchiaEditorPoet.wordpress.com/ and will post on February 12.

Bethany Reid, while earning her MFA and PhD at the University of Washington, authored a chapbook, The Coyotes and My Mom (Bellowing Ark Press) and became an editor for The Seattle Review. She has won the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize at Calyx and, in 2012, the Gell Prize for her poetry collection Sparrow. She lives with her family in Edmonds, Washington, and teaches at Everett Community College. She blogs at http://AWritersAlchemy.wordpress.com/and will post on February 15.

Amy Shouse is an L.A. native who lives with her husband and dog. Her childhood had just the right amount of unwieldy dysfunction to make her a hopeful reader looking for safety as well as a writer who loves to hear the reverberation that comes back when she throws words out into the world. She is the author of the poetry collection Underway–Looking Aft and blogs as Cupcake Murphy at http://OddGoodTrue.com. She will post on February 24.

Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson is a Canadian who married an American. She resides in Bellingham, Washington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous places, including The Literary Review of Canada, The Liner, EDGE, Echolocation, and the anthology Killer Verse. She blogs at http://www.CaitlinThomson.com/wp/ and will post on February 26.

Many thanks to these writers for agreeing to carry the Blog Hop forward. I’ll post links to each of their blogs on the days they post their responses to the interview questions, so that you can see what The Next Big Thing is for each of them!

Thank you for reading!

Cheers,
Jennifer

An Accidental Encounter with a William Stafford Poem (A Trip to the Methow Valley, Washington, Part 1)

Where have I been the last couple of months? Well, I’ve been poeting–lots of poeting. Unreported poeting. You see, from the end of September through the end of October, I was engaging in a poem-a-day challenge that my writer friend and co-challenger, Andrew S. McBride, and I called Patchwork Poetry Writing Month–PaPoWriMo, for short. The “Patchwork” part derived from the fact that during October, I was hosting two sets of out-of-town family, planning a birthday party for my now seven-year-old, and traveling to eastern Washington. So we started the challenge early–backing up the start to September 24–to fit in 30 days of writing by the end of October.

My goal for PaPoWriMo was to produce enough new poems to complete a book-length manuscript of persona poems to submit to first-book contests with deadlines falling on October 31 and throughout November. I’m happy to report that I was able to write 18 new poems, and re-write more than a dozen older ones, to complete a manuscript of 46 poems in time to make those deadlines.

One of the happy interruptions to my PaPoWriMo challenge was a trip with my husband and son to the Methow (pronounced MET-how, with the “t” and the “h” pronounced separately) Valley for five days during the third week of October. This was the third autumn in the past four years that we’d gone there to relax, stare in amazement at the fall colors, and hike the numerous trails immediately outside of–and even connecting–the towns of Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp, WA, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. For Mark and me, the Methow Valley Community Trail (open to walkers, bikers, equestrians, and skiers, depending on the season) reminds us of the village-to-village foot travel we used to do in England and Scotland. For our son, the trail offers an opportunity to ride his little bike as fast as he wants without having to negotiate traffic.

Our first day’s walk led us to the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, an impressive footbridge spanning the Methow River on the Methow Valley Community Trail. We had explored this section of the trail last year, but it wasn’t until this trip that I noticed, just to the side of the trail on the south side of the bridge, a plaque displaying a poem by William Stafford! Since I could hardly believe my eyes, I asked Mark to take a picture of it:

At Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, Methow Valley Community Trail

William Stafford’s poem “Where We Are” at Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, Methow Valley Community Trail

Since it’s hard to read Stafford’s poem in the photo, here’s how it goes:

WHERE WE ARE, by William Stafford

 

Fog in the morning here
will make some of the world far away
and the near only a hint. But rain
will feel its blind progress along the valley,
tapping to convert one boulder at a time
into a glistening fact. Daylight will
love what came.
Whatever fits will be welcome, whatever
steps back in the fog will disappear
and hardly exist. You hear the river
saying a prayer for all that’s gone.

Far over the valley there is an island
for everything left; and our own island
will drift there too, unless we hold on,
unless we tap like this: “Friend,
are you there? Will you touch when
you pass, like the rain?”

This poem, which I’d never read before seeing it there on the plaque beside the Methow River, transfixed me, and still haunts me. The idea that one’s seeing calls the landscape into existence makes my hair stand on end, and the image “Daylight will / love what came” is deeply true for the east-of-the-mountains light that seems to bless whatever it touches in this place.

This extraordinary light, in fact, is one reason Mark brought his Nikon with us to the Methow Valley. However, that camera proved cumbersome on the trail, and he didn’t want it getting rained on, so he shot all of the following photos using his iPhone 4s:

Methow River, looking downstream from beside the Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Methow River, looking downstream from beside the Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Fall colors along the Methow Community Trail, just downstream from Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Fall colors along the Methow Community Trail, just downstream from Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

OMG aspens!  Photo by Mark Kummer.

OMG aspens! Photo by Mark Kummer.

Oh my heart. Aspen, alder, and cottonwood leaves on the Methow Valley Community Trail. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Aspen, alder, and cottonwood leaves on the Methow Valley Community Trail. O my heart. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Coming up in Part 2:  our walk along the Big Valley Ranch Trail and my poem responding to William Stafford’s “Where We Are.”

Cheers, and more soon!
Jennifer

Reflections on NaPoWriMo

Dear Readers,

My thanks to all of you who read, inspired, and gifted me with such generous responses on my poems this past month. I feel like you’ve been on a long road trip with me, and you don’t even mind that I talk too much while I drive, that I eat more than my share of the Doritos (or the artisanal small-batch, fair-trade, non-GMO dried kale chips, depending on where we last filled up), and that we somehow ended up in Philly even though I’d originally said we’d be going to Charlottesville.

Thanks to you, I’ve learned a lot along the way. This has been my first time to participate in National Poetry Writing Month, and in gratitude to you and as reminders to myself for Aprils yet to come, I want to recap these highlights:

  1. Poems, poems, poems! By my rough count, I wrote 22 new ones. Even though this is far fewer than most of you who committed to April’s NaPoWriMo, Poem-a-Day, or 30/30 challenge, this has been my most prolific writing stretch in twelve years. I also got six or eight other snippets and starts out of the effort–partial drafts that weren’t ready for prime time, but that I hope to develop into full poems. (Stay tuned for my first one from this batch, tentatively titled “I Want a Megalith.”)
  2. New and wonderful sources of inspiration. I discovered that prompts abound on the web. Though I sought and found poems in my usual sources–walks, others’ poetry, a quiet voice that drops words and lines on my head to reward me for doing household chores–the daily deadlines of NaPoWriMo often required a more e-caffeinated start. In addition to the thought-provoking daily prompts from Maureen Thorson and Robert Lee Brewer, I found brilliant and original exercises created by Danielle Mitchell and Rachel McKibbens.
  3. The afterparty ROCKS. Nothing prepared me for the lively, high-humored amazingness you people hand me, and each other, in your comments and posts. In the course of three weeks, I received a business tip from Marilyn  Cavicchia, Editor and Poet, to sell my horse-hair ponies on Etsy; was initiated, also by Marilyn, into the sacred rite of post-Easter roasting of Marshmallow Peepswas provoked to make a proposal of marriage (still unanswered–you’re breakin’ my heart over here, Judy!) to ChocoalteIsAVerb; and was featured on Vince Gotera’s vibrant and encyclopedic poetry blog. And best of all has been…
  4. The inordinately supportive, positive comments you have been making on my poems. They have been so lovely. In the last week of April, I received eight rejection notices (plus another one this morning) from journals and book & chapbook competitions, but arriving as they did while I was basking happily in the glow of your generous words, their sting was largely blunted. I’m especially thankful to Andrew Shattuck McBride, who–in addition to taking off the top of my head, in the best Dickensonian way, with such poems as this, this, and this–knows how to give one hell of a peptalk. Thanks to his and your encouragement, I’m energized to start a new round of revising and submitting this month. Seriously, friends, you are only egging me on when you do that.
  5. Resetting priorities. Participating in NaPoWriMo has broken my unhappy addiction to news websites and fostered, in its place, a radiant enthusiasm for your writing and art sites. ChocolateIsAVerb’s word-collages, DadPoet’s video-readings, Cupcake Murphy’s OddGoodTrue-ness, Doug’s “Bad Poems,” Arna Baartz’s SilverPoetry, Reno King’s poetic blues stylings, Mick Axelrod’s performance-vibe poems, Vince Gotera’s and Catherine Pritchard Childress’s poems, plus those I’ve already mentioned above, and many others, have brightened my days and strengthened my soul. As wise nutritionist Danielle Mitchell says at LitNivorous, “You are what you read,” and thanks to all your sharing of your creative gifts, I am growing better-nourished by the day.
  6. A further nutritional discovery: even when I put protein powder into my antioxidant berry smoothie, the Kentucky Bourbon still makes it delicious. This I discovered seeking brainfood when,this April, I was awake poeming at late hours. But it was friend, colleague, and writer Jeffrey Klausman who introduced me to the Bourbon recently, and long ago to the practice of writing poems. (Next time I wake up hung over and surrounded by inky shreds of paper, Jeffrey, I’m blaming you.)
  7. Note to self for next April: arrange childcare beforehand. When I rashly jumped, a week late, into NaPoWriMo, I failed to anticipate that my six-year-old was going to be at school for no more than eight and a half days for all of April. Spring Break encompassed the first nine days of the month, and parent-teacher conferences the last five. In between came the stomach flu. Hence all those late-night writing sessions. For next year’s NaPoWriMo, I’m going to save up my royalty money (ha!) and hire a nanny for a couple hours each day so I can write during my son’s school breaks without losing so much sleep. This, in turn, will reduce the need for late-night protein smoothies flavor-enhanced with Bourbon. It’s a win-win.

While I catch up on sleep over the next few months, I’ll return to my pre-NaPoWriMo blogging schedule of one or two posts per week. I intend to keep working on and posting new poems, just at a more leisurely pace, as well as myth-book reports and the occasional metaphysical screed.

Also in my plans is to catch up and keep up with all of YOUR blogs. This road trip with you has been a blast, and it’s not over yet.

Oh! Now I know why we ended up in Philly. It’s to go birding with DadPoet!

With my gratitude to you,
Jennifer

NaPoWriMo, Day 17 (Day 24 for Everyone Else)

First of all, my sincere thanks to Vince Gotera, who featured this blog and my poem from yesterday on his wonderful poetry blog, The Man with the Blue Guitar. His write-up of my efforts here is the funniest thing I’ve read all month. I’m tremendously grateful to Vince for his generous feature.

For today’s poem, I followed a complicated prompt. My workshop group, a lively cadre of Bellingham poets calling ourselves On Assignment, tasked ourselves to write a poem incorporating the following words or concepts: maps / getting lost, stochastic, lightning, and diacritical marks. Crazy, right? Here’s what I came up with:

THINKING OF LENICE

You taught parachuting
and rode a seal-bay racehorse named Éclat
across Cascade passes.

You said you loved the sky,
its ecstasies where it met the earth.

You said one time, Éclat’s steel shoe
scraped a rock and sparked a fire.
You stomped it out but Éclat took flight.

You both knew ways back to Mazama
and met there by nightfall.

Later that summer your skydiving partner
mispacked his chute and jumped off the map.
Éclat sliced a tendon on a downed electric fence.

You moved to Las Vegas,
took up day-trading with a man
you suspected had murdered his wife.

You called me once, told me you’d got rich,
laughed that this kind of success
was stochastic as lightning.

Years later, I still glimpse Éclat from the freeway
grazing with the other retirees
in the tree farm on the floodplain of the Snohomish.

And I picture you pacing somewhere
in a darkened apartment in an opulent city
glancing out the windows

to check on the clouds, tightening
the screws on all the switchplates
and waiting for something dangerous,

something dazzling, to strike.

NaPoWriMo, Day 14 (Day 21 for Everybody Else)

Today’s poem is for Australian artist Arna Baartz. Her blog is Silverpoetry, and while I was visiting, I got curious about her gorgeous artwork there. So I clicked over to her art website, which features her colorful and complex paintings. Please do visit Arna Baartz; she’ll even give you a cupcake!

Arna told me in a comment that one of her paintings was part of a series about the question, “What would fall out, if the heart were a pocket and we were each turned upside down?” Reader, this got me thinking:

WHAT WOULD FALL OUT, IF THE HEART WERE A POCKET
AND WE WERE EACH TURNED UPSIDE DOWN?

Turn the pocket of my heart upside down,
and out will trot the buckskin horse
who raised me to middle age
before going the way of all grandfathers

Turn the pocket of my heart inside out,
and watch the tumble of my tabbies and torties
and my gone firstborn, an Abby

Upend my heart and pour out the woman
who hid away so many parts of herself
for safekeeping, she forgets where they are
except when her grandbaby trips over them

The feather-shaped leaves and all their siblings
The trails I’ve hiked, and those I haven’t
Dried ink and some still wet

The Voice who once told me to be his child
and then went mostly silent

Dump out my heart and meet the kind-souled stranger
I’ve been married to for twenty-one years
who tells me I say the strangest things

The miniature of him, who agrees
but also suspects this is all quite normal