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.

Artist Profile in the Bellingham Herald

Yesterday, the Bellingham Herald ran an Artist Profile of me in advance of my chapbook launch next Wednesday. The interviewer, Margaret Bikman, had me discuss details about my writing process and my attraction to poetry in order to shed light on the poems in Impossible Lessons. If you’re interested in those things, or in learning more about my mysterious past, please check out the interview here.

Happy weekend, and thanks for reading!

How Do I Get My Hands on This Book, You Ask?

Dear Readers,

Please go ahead and judge this book by its cover, which I like very much.

Please go ahead and judge this book by its cover, which I like very much.

As promised, I’ve figured out how to get my new chapbook of poems, Impossible Lessons, to you if you’d like a copy. Here are four ways:

1) If you live in Whatcom County, Village Books now has copies upstairs in the Poetry Section; look for the “Local Authors” display. *

2) If you can come to my book launch celebration at Village Books on July 10 (7:00 p.m.), I’ll sign your copy and probably also give you a hug.

3) If you live elsewhere in the U.S., please email me at jenniferbullis (at) comcast (dot) net and give me your mailing address. I’ll email you back with my mailing address; you mail me a check for $10, and I’ll mail you a signed copy. Postage is on me!

Please know that if you buy through Amazon, neither my publisher (MoonPath Press) nor I receive any income for the copy. That’s why I’m plugging these other options. However, I do encourage you to visit the Amazon page for Impossible Lessons so that you can browse the first several poems of the book and read the embarrassingly sweet blurbs that some poet-friends of mine wrote for the back cover.

4) If you live outside the U.S., please do order your copy through Their magical international sourcing elves will ship it to you for much cheaper than I can arrange.

Thank you, dear readers, for all your support and enthusiasm about this book! I’m delighted that it’s finally here to share with you!


* If you live in Whatcom County and your name happens to be Lee, John S. (of John and Lee), John S. (the other John S.), Luci, Marya, Jeff, Sherri, Jeremy, or Carol–you all know who you are–don’t you dare buy a copy! I will be delivering yours to you in person.

OMG! My Chapbook! It’s Here!

Today I came home to a huge carton on my doorstep. From CreateSpace. Could it be–already?

Yes, Dear Readers. Yes it is.

My chapbook!

The front cover. Remember all that fuss over which of Mark's photos to use? (Yeah, me neither.)

The front cover. Remember all that fuss over which of Mark’s photos to use? (Yeah, me neither.)

I am, as you might guess, giddy. It is 43 pages of poems, elegantly arranged over 58 pages, Oreo-cookied between one of the loveliest photos ever taken of fall leaves in the Methow River and three of the most embarrassingly glowing blurbs ever to grace a back cover. I can hardly believe it.

I’m profoundly grateful to Lana Hechtman Ayers, editor and publisher of MoonPath Press in Kingston, WA for inviting me, exactly one year ago today, to submit my manuscript for her to consider publishing; for her artfully selecting and shaping the poems into sequence; and for her meticulous care and patience throughout the process of editing and producing the chapbook. I thank Tonya Namura, too, for designing the cover so beautifully and laying out the text. This is my dream come true!

And my thanks to you, Dear Readers, for your enthusiasm and encouragement about this project. It’s been fantastic to be able to share this great news with you throughout the process. I’ll post details soon about getting copies of the chapbook into your hands.


Walking the Big Valley Ranch Trail, and a Poem in Response to William Stafford’s “Where We Are” (A Trip to the Methow Valley, Washington, Part 2)

Before I continue regaling you with my travel narrative, here’s some background on William Stafford’s Methow River poems. A whole series of them, originally commissioned as interpretive signs in 1992 by the forestry department, is posted along the North Cascades Highway between Washington Pass and the Columbia River. Over time, some of the placards were damaged by snowplows and road debris, but apparently several have been restored or are still in readable condition. (I myself have seen only the one by the footbridge, completely by accident. You can bet that next time, I’ll be making a pilgrimage to every single one!) You can see this list for the titles of Stafford’s Methow River Poems, and learn more about the story of the poem-placards here and here; the latter article also contains a map of the poems’ locations in the Methow Valley. As well, the poems were published together by Confluence Press in 1995, and collected in Even in Quiet Places by Confluence in 1996.

On the second day of our trip to the Methow Valley (or just “The Methow,” as locals call it), we explored a trail that runs parallel to the Methow Community Trail, but on the opposite side of the river. It’s mostly level and easily bikeable for our seven-year-old.

Big Valley Ranch Trail. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Big Valley Ranch Trail. See the little guy in green? That’s John, on his bike. Photo by Mark Kummer.

The trail, laid out in two loops totalling about 5 miles, winds along between hay fields to the north and river to the south. (If you squint hard, you can just make out the “Big Valley Trailhead” notation in the northwest quadrant of this map and the two green loops representing the trail.)

As I walked, I continued to marvel over the William Stafford poem we’d stumbled across farther up the trail the previous day. Stafford’s images in “Where We Are,” with its fog, rain, and light, were on repeat-play as I watched the rain clouds dance with the sunlight:

Tri-colored aspens. (This one's for you, Cupcake Murphy!) Photo by Mark Kummer.

Tri-colored aspens. (How do they DO that?) This one’s for you, Cupcake Murphy! Photo by Mark Kummer.

At the end of the second loop, we were able to get to the river itself. John’s favorite riverside game is to throw rocks into the water, but for the sake of the fish, I persuaded him to build rock cairns instead.

This many more salmon will live to see another day! Photo by Mark Kummer.

This many more salmon will live to see another day! Photo by Mark Kummer.

Mark’s favorite riverside game is to lie down on the rocks and snap pictures. Thank you, Mark!

Actually, Mark loves to fling rocks into the river too. But aren't you glad I convinced him to take this picture instead?

Actually, Mark loves to throw rocks into the water too. (That’s how John picked up the habit.) But aren’t you glad I convinced him to take this picture instead?

My favorite riverside game is to sit on the log next to the rock cairns and stare at the trees, at the water, at the stones, at the mountains… and, after a while, awake from my reverie and write poems about them. In this case, however, it took me until a few weeks later to get down the poem I’d wanted to write in response to William Stafford’s. Here’s how it goes:


After William Stafford’s “Where We Are”

Daylight loves everything coming up this river
like the fog, like the slow reveal
of a poet’s seeing as he stands

on this swaying bridge suspended
over the swift channel of his imagining.
Walking this footpath so many years

behind him, I stand atop the bridge’s curve
and look downriver, the sun setting behind me
loving the wet sky violet.

An oxbow moon floats on the horizon
as gold cottonwoods shuffle their starlings
from one branch to another

and finally breathe them out over the river’s
mottled glow. Every bird’s flight
renews my eyes’ slow marveling,

like the rain locating boulders under its feet,
friendly, stepping and tapping
and greeting them one at a time.

 (By now, you pretty much know who's working the camera.)

Fossil? Inclusion? Can anybody tell us what’s going on with this rock? (And I assume you pretty much know by now who’s working the camera.)

Stay tuned for Part 3, in which I write about walking the Wolf Creek Road segment of the Methow Community Trail, following the footsteps of a deer.

Cheers, and more soon,

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!