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.

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.

The Day After Thanksgiving

Day After Thanksgiving

This razor-bright morning, I hike the South Fork
of the Nooksack to see the salmon running.
Up from oceans, following some scent of granite,
they’ve sliced their way to these beds of gravel
to spawn and die. More are dead, now,
than swimming, in the water sharded at its edges
by ice, their brown and silver bodies piling
where the steep stream pools.

I hike higher, up a logging road, its skin graveled
with small stones like salmon scales
and layered with copper leaves:
fish-shaped, blade-like, their centers rotting,
serrated edges glinting and steely with frost.

I rest at the edge of a clear cut and watch
the peaks of the Twin Sisters tear
their slow bite into the sky–rock and snow
piercing the blue–and ponder how all this dying
puts a point on the tip of gratitude,
hooking in the throat like barb-cold air,
sharp like salt on the tongue.

By Jennifer Bullis
Originally published in Cascadia Review, April 15 2013. In Impossible Lessons, p. 53.

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!
Jennifer

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 Amazon.com. 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!

Cheers,
Jennifer

* 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.

Cheers,
Jennifer

News About My Poetry Chapbook

I’ve been trying to be patient, but I just can’t keep this to myself anymore. My chapbook of poems, Impossible Lessons, is at the printer, and I’ll receive copies of it in just a couple of weeks! When it arrives, I’ll post a photo of the cover, which turned out beautifully.

If you’ll happen to be in the Northwest corner of the Lower 48 on July 10 at 7:00 p.m., please plan to come to my launch reading at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington.

I’ll be making a bigger deal out of this as that date draws nearer, but I just had to tell you!

NaPoWriMo Day 7.4 (Day 18 for Everyone Else)

Northern Harrier. Photo credit: National Wildlife Federation

Northern Harrier. Photo credit: National Wildlife Federation

Today, the fourth of my poems is published in the online journal Cascadia Review. All four poems (titled “Went Hiking,” “Strange Bird,” “One Way,” and “Day After Thanksgiving”) are now presented on the home page, along with my “Statement of Place” in the Cascadia bioregion.

These four poems are also included in my chapbook, Impossible Lessons, which will be ready to meet the world in about four more weeks.

(Coming some time soon: NaPoWriMo, Day 8! I think!)

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

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:

CROSSING THE METHOW AT THE TAWLKS-FOSTER SUSPENSION BRIDGE

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,
Jenifer