Fast Five with Theresa Wisner

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"I have a dogged determination to keep going; to not be a quitter." 

— Theresa Wisner

Welcome to Fast Five, in which we ask a writer five questions to open the door to know more.

Theresa Wisner lives on the central Oregon Coast and works aboard Oceanus, an Oregon State University research vessel. Hailing from a family of commercial fishermen, as a young woman she went to sea to both continue the family tradition and prove her own fortitude. In her memoir and literary debut, Daughter of Neptune, Theresa blends seafaring adventure with family dynamics in a story of personal and professional self-discovery.

1. 
Daughter of Neptune is a powerful story of family, addiction, and perseverance in an industry dominated by men. What prompted you to tell your story?

I sometimes think that the goal was to write a story, and the events came along to give me a story to write about. I don’t know that I ever thought, I’m going to write a book about this one day, but from my earliest memories I’ve wanted to write. 

2.
In your memoir of working at sea, you reveal the fears and insecurities that led to your alcoholism. Why was this important for you to share, and in the face of struggle, what keeps you going?   

Quitting drinking was, by far, the biggest challenge of my life. There were people who showed me it could be done. I wanted to be brutally honest in my struggle, and in so doing, let someone who might be struggling know there is hope, even in the darkest time. I wish I could say that there was something inspirational in me that kept and keeps me going. I think it’s solely a dogged determination to keep going; to not be a quitter. 

3.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Write. Really. Just write. Sit my tail in a chair and write. It seems so easy, but it’s difficult to practice. There is always something that can, and often does, call me away. Even if I have nothing to write, the act of sitting in front of the computer or paper brings the story to me, it doesn’t come from living my life. It comes from having the intent to write. More dogged determination!

4.
What books or authors have shaped your life? 

Although I don’t read him much any more, Stephen King shaped much of my desire to be concise about description, and evoking emotion from it. The Stand, in particular. Theodore Dreiser and Tolstoy were big in my early years. More recent work is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I love the simplicity of these works. Isabel Allende is simply brilliant. There are so many more, but these come to the top of my head. 

5.
I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

As a Pacific Northwest gal, I love a couple of words:

Pluviophile: one who loves the rain.

Petrichor: the smell of the first rain. 

Bonus Question: What question did I not ask that you wish I had? 
I’m currently working on a book of fiction that puts a young woman on Ernest Shackleton's failed Antarctic Expedition. I don’t know if I’ll keep Shackleton’s name, but the story has intrigued me since I worked in Antarctica. 


• Buy Daughter of Neptune at Amazon

• Learn About Theresa:
Coming to terms with being the Daughter of Neptune - Oregon State University magazine

Fast Five with Patricia Bailey

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“I feel better on
the days I write. Happier. Clearer. 
I’m unsettled when I’m not writing." 

 — Patricia Bailey
author of The Tragically True
Adventures of Kit Donovan

Welcome to Fast Five Interviews, where we ask five questions to open the door to know more:

Patricia Bailey — Trish — lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, a small town in southern Oregon. Her debut novel, The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan tells the story of a sharp and spunky 13-year-old girl who defies age and gender expectations to stand up for what’s right.

The young adult novel has earned numerous accolades, including 2018 Oregon Book Award for Children’s Literature, the Oregon Spirit Award from the Oregon Council of Teachers of English, and the 2018 Willy Literary Award from Women Writing the West. 

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1.
Are you Kit?

Not nearly enough to suit me. She’s far braver and way more outspoken than I am. She’s also much more likely to say what she thinks regardless of the consequences. She’s kind of my hero. 

2.
How did you come to writing?  

Slowly. Or rather I should say I came to see myself as a writer slowly. When I was kid I realized that sorting out my thoughts on paper and making up stories was fun – more fun for me than it was for many of the people I went to school with. I liked trying to get each sentence just right. I enjoyed the buzz I got when I found just the right word. In college I discovered that my classmates and friends seemed to like to read what I wrote – that I could make them laugh or make them sad or make them think with my words. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I could write outside of a classroom assignment. It was later still when I realized that the real writers that I admired were just ordinary people who wrote – not magical, mythical creatures – and that with hard work and persistence I might actually become one too. 

3.
What writers or books have most strongly influenced you?  

This shifts for me almost day-to-day, depending on what I’m thinking and what I’m currently working on. That said, I think the one book that stands out for me the most is Pam Houston’s Cowboys Are My Weakness. I remember finding it at a bookstore when I was in college and devouring it. It was the first book I read that felt familiar. I knew these people. I’d been to these places. I had stories like this. It was the very first hint that maybe I had things to say that people would read. That my stories might actually matter too. 

4.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

I’m a slow writer, so I think the best advice I’ve gotten is to just take the time you need to get the story right. I’d love to be able to write a quick draft and go from there, but it just doesn’t work for me. Remembering that my process is my process and it takes how long it takes is helpful when I’m feeling old and overwhelmed.

5.
Writing — and publishing — can be difficult work. In the face of challenge, what keeps you going? 

I think the act of writing does. I feel better on the days I write. Happier. Clearer. I’m unsettled when I’m not writing. So, if I can remember that the act of writing makes me happy - no matter how hard the day is – and focus on just that part, the other worries seem to shrink a bit.

Bonus Question
I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

Glimmer, jellyfish, moon, smarmy, moxie, shiver, loaf, and about a million more I can’t recall just know. I really should keep a list.

Fast Five with Bette Lynch Husted

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"I've been troubled all my life by the story we don't tell." 

— Bette Lynch Husted
author of All Coyote's Children


Welcome to Fast Five Interviews, where we ask five questions to
open the door to know more:

Bette Lynch Husted writes with breadth and depth, carefully crafting poems, memoir and story. Her works include At This DistanceAbove the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land;Lessons from the Borderlands; and All Coyote’s Children

Living in the small, eastern Oregon town of Pendleton, her work is woven with landscape, family and culture. Her latest work, and first novel, All Coyote's Children, has earned accolades from The Oregonian: "Thoughtful, superbly written and redolent with inviting characters and ideas. Husted's first novel deserves attention and prizes."

It's time for Fast Five, in which we ask five questions that open the door to know more.

1. 

How did you come to writing?

I was eight and my sister was ten when we broke into print on the children’s page of The Idaho Farmer with stories we had written one summer afternoon to entertain each other (both, as I remember, titled “Mystery in the Old Barn”). But though I kept writing, isolation in small rural communities and the demands of teaching made my next publication a long time coming. What made a difference was Fishtrap and later a series of wonderful workshops at The Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops for Women [founded by Judith Barrington and ran for 17 years], where I not only learned from people like Naomi Shihab NyeGrace Paley, and Lucille Clifton, but also realized that people could hear my voice — and that getting my work out was “important for all of us,” as Alex Kuo wrote to me. I kept that piece of blue stationery above my desk for a long time, and I try to pass on this gift to other writers.

2.

You’ve written poetry, memoir and, most recently, fiction. Your work features a distinct and vivid sense of place. How has place formed you as a writer?   

“The place,” my father called the benchland north-central Idaho homestead where he was born and where his children, too, would grow up. We were all bonded to it — by daily chores, of course, but also by the light “rolling down the mountain” each morning, the red-winged blackbirds’ return in late February just as the barnyard was beginning to thaw. The river sound of wind in the pines on the hill. “Place” showed me what it meant to be conscious, alive. It still does. Maybe it helps that I have spent my life in the rural inland Northwest where we are reminded of our relationship to the earth in ways we might not be if we were surrounded by concrete. But I can’t imagine not feeling this way. 

3.

Your novel, “All Coyote’s Children,” is a powerful story of cultural and generational connections. In it, you write, “It’s not telling stories that gets us in trouble. It’s not telling them.” What prompted you to tell this story?  

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I’ve been troubled all my life by the story we don’t tell because, as one of the characters in All Coyote’s Children puts it, “it cancels all our mythologies. No wonder we can’t face it.” How do we face the fact that the indigenous peoples and cultures of North America were dehumanized, seen as savage, inferior, obstacles to be eliminated as we “tamed a continent” (a phrase used by our president in his recent Naval Academy graduation address) and then all but erased from our national consciousness? All of us who are non-Natives, even those brought by force to this continent, continue to live on stolen land. What do we do with this knowledge? And what do Native people do with their erasure from so much of “American history,” not to mention the ongoing pain of that story?

Ten years ago, the spiritual leader who married my son and his Umatilla/Cayuse and White Mountain Apache wife said, “We’re joining not just two people, but two families.” His words felt extraordinarily generous. I knew this wasn’t the complete answer to my question, yet that day healing seemed possible.

But only if we tell our own true stories and listen carefully enough to hear each other’s. In many ways, this is what draws me to writing: trying to stay open, receptive to the stories that connect us. 

4. 

A character in your novel says, “Life is hard, and will get harder.” In the face of difficulty, what keeps you going? 

I’ve read that the Cheyenne People have a saying: A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished, not matter how brave its warriors, or how strong their weapons.

The Cheyenne may be acknowledging this truth: it takes a lot to put the hearts of women on the ground. “Survival is hard sometimes,” Leona says in All Coyote’s Children — but though she has stumbled, she’s still upright, and helping the lives of others to go on. My own mother was such a woman — able to lift her eyes to the sunset or blue-black thunderheads or Orion climbing the sky no matter the challenges she faced. (“I’d catch another bubble if I waited,” she copied on the scrap of paper that’s now pinned to my own bulletin board. “The thing was to get now and then elated.”) 

Sometimes, though, the difficulties can be overwhelming. What keeps me going is writing, feeling my way forward one word at a time. 

And I’m fortunate to belong to a wonderful poetry workshop group. We drive from various corners of Oregon to meet once a month, each of us knowing that this sharing of words (and food and wine and friendship) is a lifeline.

5.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

The late Ursula K. Le Guin was a member of that workshop group. We carry her with us always, hearing her voice in the stories she left the world and treasuring our own memories, her careful critiques, the image of her sitting in the wicker chair on Jeannette’s side porch stitching or sketching — but we miss her, we miss her. 

Last month I watched the trailer of Arwen Curry’s forthcoming documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin and heard Ursula say, “To learn to make something well can take your whole life. And it’s worth it.”

One last gift. And the best writing advice any of us could ever receive.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

The words that immediately come to mind are Clearwater and Kooskia (pronounced KOOS-key), words I grew up with, words that mean home. I always thought I was lucky to live near such a beautiful river, and one so beautifully and accurately named. But the place names I usually love most are the ones from Native languages, Kooskia and Umatilla, Wallowa, Walla Walla. So why would “clear water” and “Kooskia” bothspring to mind as my favorite words, I wondered? Wikipedia tells me that “the river got its name from the Niimiipuutímt naming as Koos-Koos-Kai-Kai – ‘clear water.’” That may well be a condensed version of a much deeper language connection—still, it makes me very happy.

Shaindel Beers

We laugh because honesty

is uncomfortable here in this trailer where I'm

supposed to lie to these high-schoolers, tell them

if they work hard enough, they can be anything.

The way the lie was told to me. We laugh because

we're all in this together -- our falling apart houses

and cars and hearts and lives. I wish I could tell them,

The thing that you have is this. The vastness.

The peacocks in the middle of the road, the man playing

air guitar as he walks along Mission Highway.

And I know, Children, that this isn't much, but it's the gift,

the one gift, these stories, that can't be taken away. 

— Shaindel Beers
from The Gift (for my Golden Eagles)

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Shaindel Beers  is a poet and teacher living in the small, eastern Oregon town of Pendleton. She's the author of two poetry collections, the poetry editor for Contrary magazine, and teaches English at Blue Mountain Community College. 

1.
How did you come to poetry?

I wrote my first poem, unprompted, as a natural reaction to something when I was ten. I learned that my cousin had shot my dog. I remember I cried so much, and then I found a notebook. Poetry has been how I emotionally process ever since.

2.
Your first poetry book, “A Brief History of Time,” offers a direct and down-to-earth voice that we don’t often see in poetry. Is this a conscious choice, a reflection of your personality, or something else?

When I was a younger writer, I was always drawn to blue collar poets because they felt familiar; they made me feel like I, too, could be a writer. This wasn’t anything I tried to do; it’s more a part of who I am. I’ve gone to college; I have two graduate degrees, but I’m from a farming and factory town with one traffic light where people know that you wave hello at someone driving a tractor. That’s just good manners. I’ve tried to broaden my vocabulary, but using words that don’t seem natural to me always seems like putting on a false front. I completely agree with what Stephen King says in his memoir On Writing:

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be more embarrassed."

3.
Your latest book, “The Children’s War” takes an unusual tack in exploring global and domestic violence. What prompted this poetry project?

I happened upon this article one day, and it was so powerful, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started studying the artwork of child war survivors and the history of art therapy for children during wartime wherever I could find it. I ordered books online, I scoured online galleries. I wrote authors of studies. It was an obsession, one of those projects that basically writes itself.

But then midway through, I hit a wall. The big question for me was if I was supposed to write an entire book of children’s war poems or if I should include other forms of violence. On the one hand, I didn’t know if anyone could read an entire book of poetry about child war survivors. On the other hand, I didn’t want to seem selfish by including personal narratives with war narratives, but I decided to treat the collection as a study of violence in general. Violence in the home and in the community eventually becomes global violence. It is all borne of the same motivations – for one party to oppress and dominate another party.

4.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

There’s so much terrific advice out there that I’m not sure I can narrow it down, but I really believe that if you feel you’re supposed to write something that in some way is supposed to help someone, write it. Write it, and keep sending it out into the world until someone publishes it.

5.
Life can be trying, as evidenced by your work. In the face of difficulty, what keeps you going?

Last year, I was at the Quest Writer’s Conference in Squamish, British Columbia, and a bunch of us were sitting at a table outside the dining hall soaking in the magical view of the Tantalus Range. One woman said, “You know how you become one of those older women you admire? You just keep going. You just wake up the next day, and keep doing what you’re going to do.” It was so simple, but it was an epiphany. You just wake up the next day and start over again.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

Most of the words I like have to do with the interesting sounds in them rather than the meanings of the words. I love the sound of the word coagulate because I love the weirdness of those vowels shifting into each other. In the language of the local Native American tribe, “good morning” is “Tahts maywee.” It sounds so cheerful. You can hear some of the language here in Roberta Conner’s TEDTalk, and it’s a great talk on the importance of indigenous languages. I also love the word chartreuse. It’s a beautiful color, too, but the sound of the word is lovely. 

Catherine O'Neill Thorn

 “Allowing young people to tell

their stories and discover other

ways of seeing themselves and the

value of their lives is honoring them

and what they've survived.”

— Catherine O'Neill Thorn

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Catherine O’Neill Thorn is a poet, writer and founder/director of Art from Ashes, a literary youth organization in Colorado. She has been conducting transformational poetry and spoken word workshops at juvenile detention facilities, treatment centers, and schools since 1992.

O'Neill Thorn developed the Phoenix Rising curriculum,  designed to empower struggling youth to express their creativity through metaphor and expose them to a language based on self-affirmation and belief in a successful future. This method has since become the seminal program of Art from Ashes. In a series of three-minute writing prompts facilitated over two hours, young people see immediate evidence of their creative ability and readily share their experiences — a process that often takes much longer using standard inquiry or therapies.

Art from Ashes has provided workshops to over 8,000 young people who have survived traumatic events, are victims of abuse, neglect and/or poverty, and are at risk for or engaged in destructive behaviors.

1.
How did you come to writing? Were you first a writer, then a leader?

I started writing poetry when I was five years old. In the British and Irish cultures, poetry is considered a high art form, and since all schoolchildren are taught the importance of elocution, memorization and literature, it stands that memorizing poetry is an necessary part of a young person’s eduction. Consequently, my mother started reading us poetry when we were toddlers; she often played Dylan Thomas on the record player and occasionally stopped mid-sentence and recited a lengthy poem from her childhood. At the time, my bothers and sister and I were not at all impressed, but now I have only her to thank for my deep appreciation of poetry.

As a teenager and young adult, I kept numerous journals filled with poetry . . . most of it incredibly sad. I wish I had this program then. It was a lonely business pouring out my heart in despair; I would have benefitted from the transformational process, as well.

I’ve always loved poetry. Some have said it’s my religion, but to me it’s actually a vehicle. When you’ve been driving a beat-up old Volkswagen and suddenly you have access to a new Mini Cooper, well . . . that’s poetry.

2.
People often look at writing and poetry as a mushy and temporary feel-good fix, but you seem to see written expression as critical to survival. Is this true, and if so, why? 

When I started developing the curriculum for youth in residential treatment, probationdepartments and eventually for Columbine High School students, I called into play my experiences as a writer; as someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression; and also my troubled past. When I added my spirituality and research into human behavior and psychology, that's when I realized that language is a powerful medium that taps into our subconscious and can direct and manage our perceptions. Since it it ultimately our beliefs, not our cognitive process, that most affects our choices and behaviors, the ability to dialogue with our subconscious and learn to manipulate our perceptions changes everything.

When we learn that there’s a difference between a fact and our story about the fact, as a creative genius, we see that we are totally in charge of our story. And it is our story that determines our reality.

The world can be ugly and cruel. And the world also is amazing and awesome. Both and everything in between is true. Allowing young people to tell their stories and discover other ways of seeing themselves and the value of their lives is honoring them and what they've survived. More than that, allowing someone who has suffered the opportunity to find strength and hope through the power of language is not only poetry but is neurology. My definition of poetry is a dialogue with the subconscious through the language of metaphor. The dialogue can be shifted, and the resultant shift can change everything.

3.
Art from Ashes deliberately distinguishes its writing process from art therapy. What’s the distinction?

Poetry therapy is a distinct practice that requires training in specific therapeutic techniques, as well as how to integrate poetry with those techniques. Our process is a group process, and while it is an effective support to therapy, it is more focused on each individual’s creative genius and their ability to choose an identity that does not make them a victim of experiences or circumstances. We accomplish this not by therapeutic skills (although certainly the result is therapeutic) but by introducing young people to the power of the arts and their own creative genius; by allowing both a safe process using the language of metaphor and a space space in which to express their story without judgement; and by guiding young people who have struggled through a process of transformation—from despair to self-determination.

The Phoenix Rising program reaches young people who have had limited or no exposure to the arts; because we bring in published poems, we provide arts education; because we introduce local poets and authors, we engage marginalized youth with the creative community; because we provide public performance opportunities, we allow young people to practice public speaking skills and reengage them with their community.

While all art is intrinsically healing, and while therapy has multiple cognitive and behavioral benefits, our curriculum is unique and effective because it’s interactive, self-directed, and taps into the creative subconscious utilizing our three-step process of expression, connection and transformation.

4.
You’ve founded, organized and managed numerous literary events and community programs. You’re a motivational speaker, and a writer. What keeps you motivated to continue to give your time, energy and effort? 

Someone once asked me about the spiritual beliefs that informed my work. After explaining the source of my process and that I believe this is the reason I was placed on the planet, he said, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful (you have to love sentences that start that way), but what if you’re wrong?”

Without giving it any thought, I responded, “I don’t care. It works.”

As long as the youth are responding, as long as their lives are improving, as long as they want to keep living, as long as they see themselves having a powerful future, I accept the multiple challenges (and even the ongoing fatigue!!!) and will go as long as I can.

5.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve given or received?

Given: Don’t think. Your left brain is analytical and judgmental and has to be right and has to be good and you just need to make it SFU if you want to dialogue with your creative subconscious.

Received: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I gave it to all the Columbine students in my poetry group when they graduated. She has a whole chapter on Shitty First Drafts that corresponds with our process, but it was so refreshing to hear a widely-respected published author say it. I have to fight my own “rational” brain all the time to just let the words flow.

So yeah. Basically both say the same thing.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector. What are you favorite words?

Oh so so many! The ones that are “chewy” in my mouth are my favorite, as well as onomatopoeia. I also like fairly obsolete words. We tend to cheer for those at the office. The Indian name Ramachandran is amazing to say. The Spanish word susurrada is one of my favs (whispered). I also like words like eschew (I have a bumper sticker that says “Eschew obfuscation”) and finagle and . . .

Shawnte Orion

I never noticed the difference

between naked and exposed

until your sweater was puddled on my floor

and your shoulders remained covered

in kaleidoscopic swirls of ink. A tattooed

cartography of memories and myths.

Sleeves I could never remove.

— Shawnte Orion
Sleeveless

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Shawnte Orion takes poetry to the streets, bars, laundromats and more. His work has been published in numerous literary journals, including Crab Creek Review, Barrelhouse and New York Quarterly. He lives in Surprise, Arizona, and has been named one of 100 Phoenix Creatives.

In his debut poetry collection, The Existentialist Cookbook, Orion sifts through the absurdity of modern life for scraps of philosophy, religion, and mathematics to blend into recipes for elegies and celebrations.

1.
You often perform your work in non-traditional settings: bars, hair salons, museums, laundromats, and street corners. Why?

I don’t want poetry to be confined or limited to the niche demographic of People Who Like Poetry. I’m no professor. I didn’t come out of a University writing program. I’m a “regular” person with a normal job, so I believe poetry can be relevant and appreciated in anyone’s world. I love occasions when I get to read to people who aren’t usually exposed to poetry. Whether they left the house for the sole purpose of doing their laundry or seeing a punk band, I like the challenge and reward of trying to hold their attention and maybe even win them over.

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2.
The Existentialist Cookbook, your first full-length book, offers a great blend of sharp and smart poems mixed with wonderfully tender and touching pieces. Was this range intentional?

Yes. I experience the world through an array of emotions and moods and I want my poetry to reflect that spectrum. Times when I am withdrawn and pensive are as integral to my process as moments of hilarity. This might have worked against me with certain presses who prefer a more unified “voice” but fortunately Raymond Hammond and NYQBooks appreciated my amalgamated poetics. I don’t necessarily want this collection to contradict itself, but it should contain multitudes.

3.
Your poems are quick-witted, full of clever word play and pop culture references, and peppered with such engaging titles as, "Love in the Time of Hand-Sanitizer" and "Unable to Surface for Air During Shark Week." Who (or what) has influenced your writing?

Before I started getting into poetry, the songwriters and filmmakers I was obsessed with in my youth left an imprint on the way I approach poems (Soundgarden and Frank Black music- Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman films, for example). Back in middle school, I also paid a lot of attention to what stand up comics could accomplish on a stage with nothing but words and perspective. It wasn’t until I took a workshop with Denise Duhamel that I began to realize how much crossover there was between the poet and stand up comic worlds. She pointed out that Denis Leary started out as a poet (even published in Ploughshares). I looked up one of the comedians I remember most (John Wing) and found that he published a few poetry books. Influences are a small world after all.

4.
Your book bio says you “attended community college for one day” but that your poems have appeared in many respected literary journals. How did you come to poetry, and how did you “learn” to write?

My French teacher in 7th, 8th and 12th grade, Elaine Phelps, had our class work with poetry to understand the language. Translating and discussing the poems of Jacques Prevert showed me how efficiently ideas and experiences could be conveyed through a handful of lines. Once I started reading lots of contemporary poetry, it wasn’t always the brilliant stuff that taught me the most. Often times, it was noticing where and how certain poems fell apart that “taught“ me what I wanted to avoid.

5.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Continually revisit the poems you thought were finished weeks, months, even years ago. A little bit of distance can create a lot of clarity.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

I also try to keep lists, so here are a few of my most recent additions:

reticulated

innuendo

thigmotropic

Gail Waldstein

“I believe in telling the total emotional truth, or as much of it as I can clasp.”

—Gail Waldstein

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Gail Waldstein is author of To Quit This Calling, a memoir of her 35 years as a pediatric pathologist, and Afterimage, a poetry chapbook. Her stories, essays and poems have won numerous awards and have appeared in New Letters, Carve, The Potomac Review and many other journals. An excerpt from Mind Riot, a memoir about her disintegration into schizophrenia, is available to read at Solstice Literary Review. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

1.
As a pediatric pathologist you routinely conducted autopsies on dead children, as well as diagnosing leukemia and brain tumors on very sick children. How did your career choice impact your creative life?

I had always wanted to write and a few years after a grueling internship in pediatrics, ’68-69, when I also gave birth to my first child and worked every-other-night for the rest of that year, I did write about that and was published in the early ‘70s. By then I had two more babies and my marriage was fragmenting. I was divorced in ‘76. I put aside all hopes of writing then, continued in pediatric pathology full time and solo-raised three children for fifteen years.

The truth of what I did daily in the morgue, the operating room, at the surgical bench and microscope, diagnosing tumors in babies and children drained my humanity. Said another way, in order to stay reasonably sane I shut down empathy and worked, wrote medical articles, book chapters and never accepted career advances that would require working evenings, which were dedicated to being home with the children.

“Creative” for me during those super-busy years equaled crocheting, cooking, embroidery. I kept a journal, always have, but didn’t venture into serious writing again until a poem seized me in the early ‘90s, when I pulled over, parked and wrote. By then the children were off at college or into early careers and I was remarried, another adventure that was going to hell. I continued in pathology, but increasingly found that the armor I had to wear to muscle through the surgeries and autopsies was diametrically opposed to my being able to peel my skin off and write from a raw place, which is how I wanted my work to be. I want to move a reader’s heart, to create in them the emotions that sweep us, almost slay us, move us deeply. Eventually, this dichotomy between how I had to present myself, and how I wanted to be caused (or contributed to) several severe diseases. Later, after lots of drugs, surgeries and wrestling with part time work, I quit medicine, primarily because of rheumatoid arthritis. Economically, an insane decision, but personally fulfilling and the right thing for my writing and my body. It took a few years before I noticed my body had begun to unclench, cells were breathing again.

2.
The story of your health is story itself. You’ve survived cancer of the cervix, rheumatoid arthritis, and schizophrenia (for which you were treated in a mental institution). Do you consider writing a form of therapy?

Absolutely NOT.

I have been asked that question many, many times or told that my writing is therapeutic, that it’s so confessional and out-there that it must bring closure or relief or healing. And while writing, the way I approach it is very interior, visceral and (hopefully) deep, it is not therapy.

I was in intense psychotherapy after my hospitalization at age 30 for three years. That experience was painful, self-revealing, transformative. I have been blessed not needing psychiatric drugs afterward, but I remain connected to therapy and assume I will return for “mini-fixes” forever. While it’s easier now, having lived with my disease for decades, and recognizing danger and mental disorder faster than ever, I can say that the worst day of writing, when I’m stalled in front of a legal pad or computer, desolate and dry, the most difficult dark places I visit in my work, the most eviscerating confessions I decide to expose, is like eating a thick slice of chocolate cake compared to those early years of therapy. There is no comparison.

3.
You are a later-in-life writer. How did you come to writing?

I am definitely a late-life writer, but as I said earlier, it was something I always wanted to do. I read poetry and novels in med school, sometimes secreted paperbacks inside medical texts. I would’ve graduated higher in my class had I read more medicine, no doubt, but I majored in both English Lit and Biology in college, and I desperately missed literature in the sterile, memorization-oriented sphere of medical school.

My writing began as my second marriage was crumbling. I saw lovers kissing on a Denver street in a snow storm and it reminded me of my first kiss and I wrote what I saw, what it renewed in my body. That opened some connection with the muse, some daring. I had always wanted to write about my hospitalization and had made weak stabs over the years. In the mid-90s, as more poems, stories and essays arrived, I began work on my book, Mind Riot, which I’m still wrestling.

4.
You write in many forms: essay, poetry, short story, memoir. Which came first, and what does one form offer that another doesn’t?

Poems came first, and still, if I’m lucky enough to feel one bubbling up, I stop whatever I’m doing and write. It’s not automatic writing, but I do want to honor the impetus.

Prose writing is more work, more struggle, more muscular for me. Not that I don’t work hard on my poetry, I do, but the end is always close, the rhythm set, the music compact. For prose I try to remember Ron Carlson’s advice, where in the body does this happen and write toward that. I have a erratic approach to writing (as do most women writers). I may see a shape, a floating color, a locale where I realized something novel, a vision of a loved one in a particular slant of light, an argument, and that starts things. I don’t read for plot and if it shows up in my work, great, but I’m not primarily interested in it. Occasionally I think I know where I’m going, but I don’t outline. I think the delight of “first writes” for me is discovery and planning would ablate that.

As I reread an ugly first draft, I’ll see ten or twenty pages without a single scene. Revision time. It took me many years to learn that revision is not simply editing, but seeing the whole piece anew. I now love revision as much as a fresh start, which I never thought I’d say.

I realize in rereading your question I haven’t answered what form offers what. That’s probably because in pathology I considered myself a “lumper,” not a “splitter.” I saw similarities between tumors; I noted the dance of malignant cells and their relationships, and found that more interesting than individual characteristics that subcategorize and define individual malignancies. I certainly could and did break things into small cubby-holes; that was my job, my career. But I’m not sure I ever subscribed to the concept that such minute distinctions were as important as medical professionals insisted.

I feel the same way about prose. I’m not a strict nonfiction MUST be TRUE kind of woman. I believe in telling the total emotional truth, or as much of it as I can clasp, but I often have no idea whether I’m writing memoir, short story or creative nonfiction. And to add to my personal confused philosophy, many of my pieces, which invariably contain autobiography, have won awards in two or three of these “classifications.”

(I first read this question as to what informs my work, so as a “bonus,” I’ll leave what I wrote to answer this unasked question: My obsessions inform my writing, love and its foibles, observed and experienced, is a theme I come back to often. My long exposure to medicine and my experiences in it as a doctor and then a patient colors my work and infuses my vocabulary. Feminism is also woven deeply in my writing.)

5.
For many years you served as a creative writing mentor for Denver Public Schools (earning teacher of the year in 2003), and also taught at the college level. I have been the beneficiary of your insightful and incisive editing. What do you find turns a piece from ordinary to extraordinary (and how do we do it?!)

If I could answer that, I’d win some prize. There’s something about the strength of truth that hits the reader in the gut. I know it when I see it, the old Supreme Court comment about pornography, applies. You feel it in your cells, you gasp, your nose starts running and you know you’re about to cry. Sometimes pretty prose alone, the music of it, catches my breath, or a strange, mystical image; sometimes it’s a peculiar juxtaposition, two ideas that are unrelated are mashed together and I’m forced to rethink reality. As far as I know there is no simple rule for making writing extraordinary. Except, maybe the old saw, How does one get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.

I do know though, that without risk there is little but ho-hum. You hear risk easily in humor, people have to go over the edge, insult or offend (and often apologize), but without the courage to try something wild and new, there’s no extraordinary, just rehash.

I encourage that risk-taking in writers all the time. A lot easier if I don’t have to do it myself. But of course, I try and make myself tell the absolute truth, the fullness of what happened and what an idiot I was, or how base and mean and petty I was. I think we all need to tell the full truth as best we can. I believe writers are obligated to show pimples, prejudice, injustice, corruption, at least on the page, and hopefully kindness and perhaps redemption, or at least an inclination to reform.

I still teach and mentor in the public schools, now through a program run at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and when I get something from a student that evokes a visceral reaction I try and let the reaction show. I applaud these young artists who exhibit courage, and am humbled and inspired by their fertile, fervent minds.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector, and encourage writers to gather words with interesting textures, sounds and significance. What are your favorite words?

yes, love, hope, simple, laughter, truth, courage, writing, grace, chocolate

Ruth Harrison

Because a few questions can offer endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five —  interviews with great writers.

ruth+harrison.jpg

Ruth Harrison was born in Kansas, grew up in Colorado, and has lived in Oregon since 1950. She is a retired professor of medieval literature (teaching at Portland State University, Linfield College, and Oregon Coast Community College) whose poems have appeared in regional, national and international publications. She is author of two textbooks, three chapbooks, and seven poetry collections. Noting her value to the writing community, the Oregon Poetry Association, the state’s oldest and largest poetry organization, recently honored Harrison with a lifetime membership.

1.
You primarily write in traditional poetic forms. Is there a particular form you favor, and why?

Well, the sonnet — because it is old and mossy, and lovely in its song-like qualities, hallowed by time — and by users like Shakespeare and Keats, leading the way. And the villanelle, which I attempted as soon as I learned its name (in a college class), in part because it sent me looking for a poetry handbook, which led me on to many other forms; and in part because it's a challenge to make the required repetitions not thud on the ear, not seem repetitious and boring. And the triolet because its repeat lines are not so many as the villanelle's, and because it's small and must convey its impact in a short space . . . There are many many short forms Madelyn Eastlund's Poets' Forum had introduced me to, that I have enjoyed no end. The cresset comes to mind for its lovely symmetry and slight rhyme requirements, just enough to make a poet work to get the exactly right word to make meaning and to suit the formal requirement. The struggle is good for us as writers and as craftsmen. And I enjoyed trying a form Lew Turco told me about, the rubliw (named, I think, for Richard Wilbur—?), that he and his fellow poets have enjoyed playing with at Iowa and later.

2.
At what age did you begin to write poetry, and how has your writing changed over the years?

I was told I made verses from about age two, but of course was not yet writing, just making. And I made an occasional attempt in school years, fifth and sixth grades, and so on. Then a few efforts in high school and college classes have survived . . . some college efforts made it into a college anthology. My teaching years mostly put an end to the writing, because teaching is so all-consuming, but sometimes when my students were busy with an in-class writing project, I sat writing also, to add to the work-filled intense quiet atmosphere as much as anything. But I didn't give it concentrated attention until I retired from my final teaching position, in 1994.

3.
You formed Tuesday, a writing group that has met every week for over 20 years. How has the group influenced your writing life?

Tuesday has been a singular blessing. It carries an automatic weekly deadline to have material ready for the next meeting; it encourages revision and craftsmanship; and it takes the loneliness out of the writing life. It provides a first audience for untried work, in an unthreatening setting — a good testing ground.

4.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received (or given)?

Keep writing.

5.
Will you please share a favorite poem from your new book, West of 101.

This is one many hearers or readers have liked [in unrhymed iambic pentameter]:

Night Lights

It’s 2:13 and she is not asleep

but trying. She’ll go warm herself some milk,

sit with the quiet, and look across the waves,

inhale the pine tree scent, and pause before

returning to her bed . . .   Take Christmas in:

plug in the lights, enjoy the silence, night,

the distant sound of surf, here near the glass.

The pane exhales a cool light essence, fresh

against her face.

She seems the only one

alive, awake here long before the dawn,

and watching the deep waves she knows are there

only because it’s west— that's where waves are.

Across the black . . . nothing alive in sight.

And moments pass in solitude and dark

But now a spark appears and disappears,

appears again. A crabber out there in

December’s endless night, his worklights bright.

On impulse, she unplugs the Christmas tree

and plugs it in again, to say hello

to light that speaks to her across five miles.

Three times the light blinks back, and she repeats

her greeting to the worker in the cold

before the boat is hidden by a surge

and swell of waters.

She lets go that breath

when light appears again, and sparks in sign

of living presence in that larger earth

the darkness opens.

A repeat flash says:

We’re all right here because the land is there

And every soul’s alone, but that is how

life is for all of us who’ve had the luck

to be born, and will have the luck to die.

We know you’re there, the only spark in sight

this holiday. And thank you for the light.

— Ruth Harrison

Margaret Chula

I love that mad scribble . . .

and then, sliding different words

across my tongue until it finds 

the perfect sound.

Because a few questions can offer endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — interviews with great writers.

Margaret "Maggie" Chula has been writing and teaching haiku and Japanese poetic forms for over 30 years. She is the author of seven poetry collections, and her haiku have appeared on Itoen tea cans in Japan, on a construction site for the new transit line in Portland, and on billboards in Tokyo train stations. She frequently collaborates with artists, musicians, and photographers, and currently serves as president of the Tanka Society of America, and as poet laureate for Friends of Chamber Music in Portland, Oregon.

Your short form poetry has earned numerous awards and recognition. What is it about the short form that draws you?

My love affair with haiku and later with haibun and tanka began when I lived in Kyoto ("Tranquility and Peace Capital"). For 12 years, my husband and I lived in a traditional Japanese-style house. Built after World War II from low-quality materials, there was a thin line between outdoors and indoors. Every winter mice nested in the closet. In rainy season, centipedes scuttled across the walls. Summer brought moths doing their frantic dance inside paper lanterns. For a few weeks one autumn, a weasel made his nightly visit to the garbage can in the back hallway. Tanuki (raccoon dogs) and a red fox frolicked in our moss garden. Our back door opened onto a rice field where we observed the rice cycle: flooding the paddy, planting rice shoots, cutting the rice in autumn, hanging the sheaves on bamboo poles to dry, and the final winnowing. Even in winter the fallow fields had their own beauty, filling with snow like a scene from an old woodblock print.

This awareness of seasonal changes is very Japanese. It’s expressed in every aesthetic from tea ceremony to flower arrangement and, of course, in poetry. Honest, direct, and profound, haiku suited my lifestyle of simplicity—living so intimately with nature!

The university where I taught English and creative writing had an extensive collection of English-language poetry. At this avant-garde university, several Japanese professors at Seika had studied abroad and met beat poets like Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder (who both came to lecture while I was there). The library also had English translations of the great haiku masters: Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. I read all of R.H. Blythe books, copying down my favorite haiku in a notebook. There is something about transferring poems to paper that makes them come alive and be a part of your own experience.

Eventually, I began to compose my own haiku. Even with my busy teaching schedule (12 classes a week), I designated one day a week as a writing day. Hopping on my 50cc motorbike, I’d head up to a temple in the mountains for inspiration. I especially liked the winter months when I could be alone (Japanese hate the cold). Sitting on tatami and drinking green tea while watching snow fall on the garden, I’d fill my notebook with haiku.

I wrote in seclusion for a couple of years until I was introduced to an American poet who had lived in Kyoto for 30 years. Edith Shiffert and I met regularly for lunch or coffee at a kissaten or at one of our houses to share both our lyrical poetry and haiku. Sometimes we’d go on an excursion and write haiku together. Edith is now 98 and still lives in Kyoto.

After all this background, I would simply say that, for me, a haiku is like a drop of dew containing a single moment of beauty, a reminder of the transiency of our lives. The longer five-line tanka reveal our deep connection to nature as we live our lives filled with desires, loss, love, and continual change. Haibun invite us to tell stories in prose, interspersed with haiku, which surprise us with the unexpected. After 33 years, these Japanese poetic forms continue to entice and intrigue me.

Some people say "first thought best thought." Others edit a piece into place. What is your writing process?

First, and most importantly, I try to be true to the experience. Haiku and tanka bloom from a moment of revelation. Whether it’s a spiritual awareness or just seeing something familiar in a new way, I jot down the words without judgment. Because haiku and tanka are so short, it’s easy to roll the words around in my head, say on a walk, and come up with a satisfying order. Over the years, I’ve become more alert to moments of synchronicity—both profound and humorous, such as

all at once

        peony blossoms drop

        clap of thunder

As haiku poets (or any poets for that matter), we need to be aware of the natural world—not only through observing it through a child’s eye, but by understanding the characteristics of flowers, birds, animals, etc. As Bashô said: Learn of the pine from the pine, learn of the bamboo from the bamboo. The enjoyment of this peony haiku is enhanced by knowing that, in Japan, it’s a rainy season flower. The peony’s delicate petals and fragrance are welcome in this month of heavy humidity and heat. All at once can mean both both suddenly and that peony petals fall at once, a characteristic of this flower. Both the petals falling and the thunder booming outside offer a moment of synchronicity. I actually laughed out loud when this happened: those delicate blossoms making such a loud noise when they tumbled onto my desk.

How much did I edit this one? Not much. Most likely, I took out a few articles or adjectives. In such a short form, every word must contribute to an image, mood, or action. The verb, especially, needs to be strong, both in sound and effect. Rearranging lines is essential in order to have that aha at the end. One great thing about haiku is that, by using a few well-chosen images, there is no need to explain or embellish.

What is your favorite poem in your latest book, Just This. Why?

The tanka in Just This express our endless states of longing (evoked by fragrance), loneliness caused by what’s been lost or never was, and memories passing away or forgotten. In the final section, as at the end of our lives, there comes an acceptance of things just as they are.

Just This is dedicated to my mother. Tanka about her final days thread throughout the five sections. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vicks VapoRub

the smell of Mother in winter

her hands rubbing

my small chest back and forth

deeper into my heart

winter afternoon

        mother and I sort through

        her jewelry box—

        accepting baubles

        just for their stories

the hollow stems

of summer daylilies

pull out with ease

Mother has fallen

and broken her femur

New Year’s Eve

my ninety-year-old mother

puts rollers in her hair

first red camellia

unfurls in the snow

and the one I often end my readings with

this morning

pale white light

shines through the window

it’s snowing again

and Mother is gone

Let’s talk about creative crossover. You’ve collaborated with an artist on a project about Japanese internment camps, have performed a one-woman show about Japanese poets, and currently serve as poet laureate of the Friends of Chamber Music (Portland, Oregon) for which you have written over 40 concert-inspired poems.How do these collaborations influence, enhance, or challenge your writing process?

I have to admit that I’ve become a collaboration junkie. Why limit yourself to one art form? Whether it’s a one-woman show combining costumes and Japanese music with poetry or writing poems to an artist’s work, or composing poems at a chamber music concert, this blending of the arts excites me.

Here’s what I wrote in my book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps, a seven-year collaboration with quilt artist Cathy Erickson:

Collaboration is like a mirror that shows

each artist not just a mimicry of her work but reflects

a subtlety that she was not able to see before.

The words of the poem allow the quilt artist to look deeper

into the fabric of her creation to see the layers

that were not visible before. For the poet, words

take on texture, color, linear rhythm—a rhythm

of lines and shapes rather than iambs.

The sum of the piece becomes more than itself.

My approach to writing the poems to Cathy’s quilts was to follow the aesthetics of the Japanese style of painting called haiga. Hai is translated as poem (as in haiku) and ga is painting. Haiga, then, is a painting accompanied by a poem. The best-known example would be a hanging scroll of a sumi-e ink painting with a poem brushed vertically in calligraphy. What is the relationship between the painting and the poem? Rather than merely describing the artwork, the poem in a haiga shifts away from any obvious interpretation and invites the viewed to appreciate the visual image in a new way. A successful haiga creates a synergy where the interaction between the artwork and poem generates yet another level of interpretation and enjoyment. Often where one art form ends, another begins. There is a dialogue between the two forms. Both have a visual quality spoken in two different languages.

This is how I approach collaboration, whether working with a musician, a dancer, a photographer, or an artist.

You are an accomplished writer, poet and literary leader. What do you know now that you didn't know when you first started writing?

I didn’t know how this passion to write would continue to grow over the years — how it would become such an essential part of my life. I love the blessing of inspiration (even when it comes at 2am), that mad scribble of words and phrases, and then the process of moving lines around, finding the perfect adjective, sliding different words across my tongue until I find the perfect sounds.

When I moved to Portland in 1992, I didn’t realize that I would find such a supportive, nurturing poetry community. I have been sustained and enlivened by the members of my two poetry groups: the Pearl Poets and Word Sisters.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and urge others to keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

I like words with interesting sounds, like peripatetic

the s’s: clouds, solace, shadow, caress, susurration

huddle

puce

jocular

and a new favorite borborygmos (loud rumbling, gurgling, and tinkling noises heard in intestinal activity).

Auburn McCanta

Welcome to Fast Five: short interviews with my favorite writers. Life may be short but who doesn't have time for five questions?

Auburn McCanta is an award-winning writer, poet, journalist, and advocate. Surviving a brain tumor nearly 20 years ago inspired McCanta to write her first novel, All the Dancing Birds.

In the story, Lillie Claire Glidden is unraveling. She knows she’s in trouble when she finds her wallet and keys deep in the refrigerator. Not even her favorite red wine can dull the pain of the dreaded diagnosis: Alzheimer’s.

Told from Lillie Claire’s perspective, All the Dancing Birds offers beautiful and terrifying insight into the secret mind of those touched — and ultimately changed — by the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m intrigued with the genesis of this novel: your brain tumor. Can you give us a bit of backstory?

I’m a brain tumor survivor of eighteen years. I still remember how my hands trembled in my lap as I received the initial kick-in-the-gut diagnosis that I had a tumor, a little larger than a golf ball, squatting deep and ruinous inside my brain. I was then given the unpleasant task to prepare for a number of terrifying outcomes, each one more frightening than the one before. In the world of brain tumors, full recovery is generally the last item on a long list of other more probable and very unkind possibilities. Nevertheless, with a gifted surgeon, a great deal of love and support and the luck to have inherited my grandmother’s stubborn Irish streak, I was given the gift of a shiny new life.

During the months following surgery, I taught myself to walk again, to talk again. To live again.

It seemed only natural after surviving a brain tumor, that I would develop a keen interest in other brain diseases as well. As time went on, I spent many years with family members and friends who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. After my own experience as a brain tumor patient, it dawned on me one day—like lightning in a bottle—that I retained the ability to think, even when it wasn’t clear to anyone else. I compared my early days following brain surgery, when I was unable to intelligently communicate, to the latter days of my loved ones with Alzheimer’s, who were equally unable to communicate. In recalling how difficult it was to locate and form words (a condition called, aphasia), it occurred to me that even in my darkest times, when my reasoning was skewed or my thoughts were slow in forming, I nevertheless retained the ability to think—however narrow those thoughts might have been. I retained a lively imagination and, even when I felt jumbled with medication or all those blind alleys I wandered through within the quiet of my mind, I still never stopped thinking. Similarly, I’ve watched dementia patients, silent and sometimes unapproachable, light up whenever someone might simply stop, take their hand, look into their face, and croon a soft hello.

It’s the notion that thought does not cease—regardless the circumstance—that I wanted to fictionalize.

I believe insight and knowledge is as possible through fiction as it is through clinical and nonfiction studies, that fiction teaches and illuminates and clarifies in different ways. A story can surprise and educate in creative ways; it can let readers explore difficult subjects through imagination and storytelling.

Statistics can be so clinical. You managed to turn dramatic data (5.5 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s!) into a personal story that is both moving and illuminating. How were you able to capture the inner life of this disease of deterioration?

Alzheimer’s disease has been described as a rabbit hole into which entire families fall but, unlike Alice, there is no return to normal.

There is no single look to Alzheimer’s, just as there is no particular demographic that is either susceptible or immune. For those with Alzheimer’s, every place from which to be productive and giving, to be restored, to be welcomed, to be themselves, to give physical expression to their changing personalities, is removed. These are, quite simply, people slowly deprived of their unique humanity.

Although I allowed Lillie Claire’s thoughts to incorporate intelligent and robust language until the end (obviously, I took a great deal of literary license), she wanted it that way. Characters are like that for writers—they can be pushy! Lillie Claire wanted her story to be written as if she were fully able to speak into to the heart of each reader. She wanted everyone to know that even when she was silent, or had thoughts that didn’t exactly capture reality, or when she appeared not to have thoughts at all, she was still able to feel pain and joy. She was always able to think something. Researchers and caregivers confirm that even in the final days of Alzheimer’s, there is still a thread of connection to thought and feelings. Discomfort can be felt. Loneliness is an emotion still available to a dying patient, even when that person is otherwise silent on the issue. If All the Dancing Birds is able to communicate the concept that we remain thinking individuals until the end, then I’ve done something good to help promote human communication when all evidence points otherwise.

All the Dancing Birds is the story of one woman’s long and wrenching struggle with Alzheimer’s, but it also strikes me as a novel about empathy. Each of the main characters – son, daughter, caregiver, even Lillie Claire herself – respond differently to Lillie Claire’s declining health. Was this an intentional path while writing the book?

I’m most proud to have taken a task that was said to be impossible and create a work of imagination, illumination and creativity. Finding the interior of Alzheimer’s disease was more than imparting clinical information—it was like grabbing hold of a sticky bee’s nest and coming away without getting stung. Giving readers the information that thought continues even when words are gone could only have been told by my spunky Lillie Claire who allowed me to pile every uncomfortable aspect of Alzheimer’s on her small shoulders. She never whimpered that I’d given her too much, and for that, I’m proud of her and proud of me.

When I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I quickly found that there were as many different responses to me as there were stars in the sky. Each of my children found the path that was most comfortable for them to confront a frightening diagnosis given their mother. I called out the memory of my children as I allowed Bryan and Allison to form their responses. I also gave Lillie Claire the gift of her own response to her failing mind and crumbling body. In their own way, even John Milton the Cat and the dear little patio birds responded to Lillie Claire’s progressive changes. As odd as it might sound, as the author, I even gave myself an opportunity to change along with Lillie Claire.

I love that your main character is a writer and poet. Were you, like Lillie Claire, shaped by literature?

When I was just four, I became sick with Rheumatic Fever. At the time, treatment was paired with strict bed rest in hope that a common outcome of heart valve damage could be avoided. My mother sat with me every day for six months, teaching me letters and words and a love for literature. Not content with “See Spot Run,” my mother encouraged me to read large and impressive stories. So, at four and a half, I was reading everything I could find. We wound our way through Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Br’er Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland and the Little House books. We read Nancy Drew. We read The Golden Book of Poetry.

Books have always been how I link myself to this often confusing world. Words give wings to those who read.

Your novel was many years in the making. When we met (at the 2008 Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference) your novel had already seen several drafts, and you had experienced encouragement followed by discouragment. How did you maintain the heart and drive to see the book to print?

During times when life interfered with active writing, I nevertheless kept a running story in my head. Sometimes months would go by when I was unable to devote time to writing, but those seemingly dry periods were still rich with what I call “head writing.” During those times, I imagined my way through the lives of each of the characters. Without writing down a word, I found intimacy with each person—Lillie Claire, Brian, Allison, Jewell, even a cashier in a small super market scene. I knew what each character wanted to say and how they wanted to tell their story.

Every step of the way, it seemed I met resistance to tell the story of Lillie Claire from a first person perspective. I was discouraged by many “professionals,” with admonitions that a story presented from inside the mind of an Alzheimer’s sufferer was impossible.

I thank each person who hammered away at how “unrealistic” it was to continue with such an improbable story. Being dissuaded and discouraged by others allowed me to become steel, to write with the heart of a lion, while still floating like dandelion seeds on a summer breeze. I love every person who said I couldn’t because in the end, they gave me the gift of “I did.” Writing All the Dancing Birds was a daily practice of love, a story both soft and big, a moment for me to have a conversation with every person who has ever been sick, or is with someone who is sick, or who may become sick one day. It’s a story for all, but I hope it speaks only to you.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and urge others to keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

My first favorite word is “You,” followed (in alphabetical order) by,

cherish – What a beautiful word, meaning to hold one dear.

defenestrate – meaning to throw out of a window. Writers often consider doing this to our manuscripts when we struggle with a scene.

diaphanous – pretty and evocative, like the texture of light hovering above water.

eponymous – The word just floats off the tongue, doesn’t it?

flapdoodle – Who wouldn’t laugh over this word?

propinquity – proximity or nearness. This word reminds me of how we need to stay close to one another, and always be glad for our connections.

writer – well, of course.

 

Mindful Writing in a Busy World


Writing serves a purpose greater

than the product alone; it becomes

a spiritual practice, a way to connect

ourselves to that "presence,"

however it manifests in our lives.

Because direct questions offer endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers. Life may be short but who doesn't have time for five questions?

Holly Hughes and Brenda Miller are writers, friends, and authors of The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. Both are accomplished: Holly is a poet, professor, and editor of the award-winning anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease; Brenda is editor of the Bellingham Review, and a Pushcart Prize-winning author who teaches at Western Washington University. And both are deeply introspective writers who believe that "writing can be a rich, active form of paying attention to the self and the world."

I'm intrigued by, and appreciative of, the letter writing practice that led to the creation of The Pen and the Bell. What prompted your correspondence?

Holly: That was one of the wonderful serendipities of this collaboration, as we really just fell into it. We’d drafted an outline with chapters then met to discuss our plan. At the end of our session, we decided it looked too formal for the organic process we’d envisioned, so we decided to continue to correspond by letters (via email) instead. Thankfully, we both had a sabbatical that fall, and so the timing was good. Within a few months, we were both loving the correspondence — I was always delighted to find a “Letter from Brenda” in my In Box — and we quickly recognized that our letters were becoming the book we’d envisioned.

Brenda: Yes, serendipity is the right word, because the idea seemed to just arrive — to materialize as a message to which we both said, “of course.” And once we started writing, it was so much fun that it was actually hard to stop. I think I wrote three letters in the first week!

In the introduction you write that it is important to "carve out space for writing in a world crowded with distraction." In a few words, how does one master this seemingly impossible feat?

Holly: It’s hard to answer this in a few words — we share many specific strategies in The Pen & The Bell — but the premise of the book is that by combining mindfulness practice with writing practice, it’s more possible to carve out space and time; the two practices can work synergistically to support each other. For example, by meditating or reading a favorite poem aloud (contemplative reading) before writing, you can more quickly enter a creative state — where the more authentic writing comes from. Other than that, we give suggestions for taking whatever time you have — at a red light or walking to work—to breathe deeply and re-connect with yourself throughout a busy day — and these small mindfulness practices allow us to bring more of our undistracted selves to the page.

Brenda: It’s really about learning to write more quickly — not spending time “thinking” about writing or agonizing about it, but simply writing, even if you have just a few minutes. We give you lots of prompts — in the book and on The Pen and the Bell website — that can give you places to start. It’s also a matter of prioritization: really getting a sense of why writing is important to you, and forming a community (a community can consist of even just one other person) that helps you value this priority.

What did you gain in the process of writing this book, and what do you hope readers will experience? (I cheated, that's two questions!)

Holly: I’ll address the first question. I think we wrote this book for ourselves — we’re both teaching writing full-time, seeing first-hand all the distractions that we and our students face on a daily basis, distractions that sometimes keep us from writing. As the letters evolved, it became clear that we were letting our creative muse help us find strategies that felt in keeping with both the challenges — and the deeper core values — of our own lives.

Brenda: Yes, and we hope our readers will experience the same thing: some support for their creative lives, an excuse or opportunity to slow down and remember what it feels like to focus in a deeper way than our hectic lives (and minds!) sometimes allow.

I like your idea that "contemplation is an active practice." For you, which came first: writing or mindfulness?

Holly: For me, writing came first, as I’ve been writing in a journal since I was a kid. They both came together twenty years ago when I was working as a mariner on the water in Alaska. Looking back, I view that time — what I called “wheelwatch practice” — as a form of mindfulness practice. I began attending meditation retreats and receiving formal instruction about 12 years ago. I became particularly interested in mindfulness practice after reading several books by the Vietnamese monk Thich Naht Hanh and was lucky enough to attend a week-long retreat at Deer Park Monastery in California when he was in residence.

Brenda: I’ve been writing since I was 7 years old, so I guess writing came first! Though children do seem to be naturals at contemplation as well; they can focus a long time on insects, animals, blades of grass. . . I was always kind of a moody child — quiet, introspective — and so perhaps those two modes have always coincided for me.

I'm a collector of words. What are your favorites?

Holly: What a fun question, Drew! I must admit it’s difficult to choose; there so many words I love, both for their meanings and their sounds, their feel as they roll off your tongue. But here are a few of this week’s favorites: waterfall, bumblebee, pomegranate, bladderwrack, stipple.  (The last is from a favorite Hopkins’ poem, Pied Beauty, that has many more great words).    

Brenda: delicious, marble, agile, welcome, pineapple (I don’t know if they’re my favorite words, but they popped around in my mind while I pondered your question. Plus, I’ve been on a pineapple-eating kick lately, and the word just makes me feel happy.)

 

Stefanie Freele


I like to make the middle

something sassy and meaty. 

I like to make a fine ending

that swoops.


Welcome to Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers. Life may be short but who doesn't have time for five questions?

Stefanie Freele's stories and flash fiction can be found in Glimmer Train, Quarterly West, American Literary Review, Pank, and many other literary journals. Her collection, Feeding Strays, was a finalist for both the John Gardner Binghamton University Fiction Award and the Book of the Year Award. Her stories have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She recently won the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, and her second collection, Surrounded by Water, will be published in May 2012. In addition, Freele is the Fiction Editor at the Los Angeles Review.

How did you come to writing?

As most writers, I have always loved reading. I never knew that I could become a real writer though until I decided to go for my MFA at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop. Up until then, I thought there were readers, people who journaled a bit and then some very gifted folks over there that created their wonderful writing for us readers. Somehow a little whisper: write, grew to a yell: WRITE! and one finished story led to another led to a collection.

Your work is wonderfully distinct. Feeding Strays, a collection of 50 short (and short-short) stories, was a finalist in two prestigious contests, and has been described as loopy, sensitive and "full of strange, original invention." How do you describe your writing content and style? 

I don't know if I can describe it, I may be too close to my own writing, it is like trying to describe yourself. I don't know if I could do that either. I like to not waste much time falling into the beginning, I like to make the middle something sassy and meaty, I like to make a fine ending that swoops. Okay, I'm being silly there, but truly, it is difficult to dissect one's own writing.

Some people say "first thought best thought." Others edit a piece into place. What is your writing process?

Usually a little something nags at me along the way, something someone said, or something I observed and it nags enough that I finally get down to write about it. The little something then somehow births a story. I don't truly know how it works, but for instance, the last story of Feeding Strays, called "Every Girl Has An Ex Named Steve" began from two incidences.

One: I found myself saying just that to a friend when we were dog walking, "Every girl has an ex named Steve" and immediately knew I needed that line, and extra proud because it came from myself and I didn't need permission to swipe it.

Two: I witnessed a teenager in a banana suit standing outside a store while stiffly handing out coupons. I'd never seen a more miserable looking fellow. He oozed misery. He hated that banana suit body-cast more than he hated anything else in his short little life. I was watching youthful disillusionment happening right before my eyes. I felt achingly painfully sorry for him.

Thus, the first line of the story, "We tell her not to date a man in a banana suit."

I edit later when I think the story is told. Then, I use a different part of my brain, one that organizes and chops and perfects.

As the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review, what do you look for in a story? What do you love to see, and what makes you cringe?

Cliches make me cringe. Overused plots make me wilt. Flowery self-important writing makes my face do the just-ate-a-lemon. Over-reliance on dialogue has a confusedly queasy affect on me and I have been known to drift off during weighty segments of backstory. I love to see more humor, more wacky, more real crisis and conflict, more creative plots.

You are an accomplished writer, reader, poet and editor. What do you know now that you didn't know when you first started writing?

I did not know I would meet so many talented and genuine authors. I've had an enormous privilege, by being both the Fiction Editor of the Los Angeles Review, a former submissions editor with Smokelong Quarterly and speaking at various conferences, where I've been introduced to some beautiful and amazing writers. When you get a signed book from an author you've just met and you go home and love the book, that is a wonderful feeling. I thought being a writer would be very lonely, very isolated and curmudgeonlike but it doesn't have to be.

And, although I knew I loved words, loved stories, loved to read, I didn't know how much that love can just keep growing until you just want to shout about it. But, shout not too long, because hey, I've got a pile of books to read.

Bonus Question: I'm a collector of words and often have my students collect words, too. Do you have any favorite words?

The other day someone used the word bombastic and I found myself in love with that word. I don't think I've ever said it aloud, however I'm going to attempt to insert it somewhere, either in a story, or in an accusation. I really want to tell someone they are being too bombastic. And, I want to be right about it.

 

Oregon Poetic Voices

In a world that really

doesn't seem to value

the small, quiet voice,

I think they felt like

they mattered

says Doug Erickson, as he finishes a day recording people and poems in rural Oregon.

Oregon Poetic Voices, founded by Erickson in 2009, is the nation’s largest online poetry repository, offering a comprehensive digital archive of poetry readings from all over the state.

OPV contains recordings of almost every significant Oregon poet — including a 1921 recording of Oregon’s first poet laureate — and over 300 contemporary poets of all ages, backgrounds and accomplishment. Access to the wesbite is free, and participation is open to all.

“We hope to be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “Early on I thought it was important that this not to be a juried project. I felt that to really capture the essence of Oregon and its poets, it was important to leave it completely open to all. It gives the site a mixture of literary, cultural, and anthropological layers.”

Though not a poet, Erickson — who works as special collections archivist at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon — carries an enthusiasm for the written and spoken word. As a result, OPV is growing fast. He travels town to town, across the state, inviting new, established, and self-described poets to share their words.

“I have had people come on horseback and on bus, from homeless people to the wealthiest of our state,” he says. “Each with a story, and a medium to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity.”


Doug Erickson, Oregon Poetic VoicesYou are not a poet, yet you appreciate poetry, and think it worthy to archive. Why did you create Oregon Poetic Voices?

I do not self identify as a poet, but I am a writer, and know the highs and low of trying to communicate through printed words. Early on I thought it was important for me to not be a poet, and for this not to be a juried project. Much of the academic world that I live in is peer reviewed and scholarly. While I am a big believer in this type of scholarship, I felt that to really capture the essence of Oregon and its poets, it was important to leave it completely open to all. This has enabled the site to grow much faster that it would have been if every poem and poet was vetted. It also gives the site a mixture of literary, cultural, and anthropological layer to it. I imagine that not only those interested in poetry, but also anthropology, sociology, history and literature, in the future will find this site useful. I hope it becomes a time capsule for the thoughts and ideas of many Oregonians from this time period. 

When and how did you start OPV? 

The idea comes out of the encouragement of William Stafford, who was my colleague and friend at Lewis & Clark, who wrote and encouraged writing every day. When his archives came to the college, and I saw the nearly 50,000 pages of correspondence, I realized that much of these letters were from fellow writers, those that were famous, and those that were just simply trying to write, or become writers.

His teaching philosophy was "no praise, no blame," meaning encourage people to continue to pursue and grow as writers and thinkers. Sometimes praise and blame can lead one down a path that takes away from that seeking. While I don't fully subscribe to that notion myself, I do think in the case of OPV, this approach is a good one. Sure, there are many bad poems, yet there are also some very good, if not great, ones. They all represent a place in time for a writer/poet. Some with bad poems will go on and write great ones, and vice/versa. So, I wanted to capture and create a medium where this could take place.

Oft times historians and archivists wait for the history to come to them, rather than go out and harvest the activity that is happening presently. History is full of examples of recording that survived over time, the ruling class, and the prevailing race. With technology, and hopefully more cultural compassion, we can harvest the history of people, regions, races, genders, and voices, hereto forgotten or destroyed. And we can do it in the season that it is being created. I hope this is what OPV is doing. 

What do you hope listeners will experience? 

I hope they encounter the breadth, and expanse of this collection. There are so many self-identified poets that really feel passionate about their writing, and words. I have had people come on horseback and by bus, from homeless people to the wealthiest of our state. Each with a story, and a medium, to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity. I think that Oregon is unique in having so many poets, but I also think that if other states were to try this same project (and I hope they do!) they would find that many people would come forward to share their writings. 

Here's an excerpt of an email I received. I share it with you because I think it captures the feelings that many have when they come together and are able to share their work. I just happen to be the person who brings the equipment. The real OPV is simply the poets, young old, good, bad, famous, and not famous. Each share equal footing here, and collectively make up the voice of Oregon:

 . . . I'm the woman who was so emotional I insisted on hugging you and thanking you for letting our voices be heard. What you may not know but should, is that when my friends came out of the recording room their faces showed the joy of accomplishment. We sat around the table and our poetry tribe found a reason to be a community together because a community happens sometimes when you don't know it will and reading our work brought us together. Reticent, shy people bubbled over with talk. People who I'd had to nag and keep after dared to come and do something they truly feared but wanted to do so much and, because of you, they just did it.  . . .  In such a complex, difficult, unknowable place as this earth, this life, I love when something is so clearly GOOD, and Oregon Poetic Voices simply is. 

How is OPV funded?

OPV started with an initial grant from the Library Service and Technology Act, a grant distributed to all 50 states and administered by the State Library. The money originates with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

We only have funding through January 31, 2012. After that, well . . . we are working on it. We are not really in a position to take donations, unless some angel wants to come in and be a major funder. We are looking to small granting agencies to see if we can keep some of this program going after Feb. 2011. I am Head of Special Collections and Archives here at LC for the last 20+ years, so I will continue in that role, and hope to keep OPV alive in some small way if no money comes our way. 

Bonus Question:  Anything I didn't ask that you'd like to answer?

None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of my team at Lewis & Clark College: Melissa Dalton, poetry project fellow; past poetry project fellow, Tessa Idlewine; Jeremy Skinner and Paul Merchant, my colleagues in Special Collections and Archives; OPV's design team Jeremy McWilliams and Annelise Dehner, and student interns and assistants past and present, Rachel Sims, Chris Keady, Natalie Figuroa, Anna Fredrickson, Caitlin McCarthy, and Becca Dierschow; workshop leaders, and all the local folks in communities across Oregon who helped to organize and prepare for OPV, and for making us feel at home in your communities. 

To learn more, and listen, to Oregon Poetic Voices, visit www.oregonpoeticvoices.org.

 

Paulann Petersen

We write to discover, to define

— moment to moment to moment —

who we are, who we are becoming.

This happens as we write.

Because a few direct questions can offer insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers. Life may be short but who doesn't have time for five questions?  

Paulann Petersen, Oregon’s Poet Laureate, is a former high school teacher and author of five poetry collections and four chapbooks. She has led workshops and given readings in hundreds of places — from Powell's in Portland to Omsania University in India — and in nearly every nook and cranny of Oregon. A Portland native, she is a member of Friends of William Stafford and organizes the annual Stafford birthday readings. Petersen’s most recent book is The Voluptuary, published in 2010.

You are an accomplished poet and teacher, and now Oregon's esteemed poet laureate. What do you know now that you didn't know when you first started writing poems?

I know now what I couldn't have possibly known when I began writing poems: how the process itself would buoy and sustain and inform my life.  We write to create ourselves, to discover, to define — moment to moment to moment — who we are, who we are becoming. This happens as we write. Not until I was immersed in the process could I begin to realize its potent effect.

You've been called a writer of embodied poetics, and have said, "I believe in body poems, poems that rise from the body."  Would you please elaborate?

A poem is a creature of sound. A poem comes to us, all poems come to us, through the oral tradition. Yes, a poem has a certain life as mere text on a page. But that life as text is only a fraction of the poem's complete life. A poem can't assume its complete life until it's been given voice.   

A poem has a sound form, it's comprised of a sequence and combination of sounds. A poem has musical devices. A poem has kinetic energy. A poem has risen from the physicality of its maker, and it speaks to the physicality of a listener.

For me, writing a good poem means writing an embodied poem.

You've written five full-length poetry books and taught hundreds of classes. What makes a poem work?

Sound form. Compression. Line integrity. Unpredictability — a little or a lot. A sense of incipient recklessness. A sense of conveying something that's coded in the blood. These make a poem work.

A good poem is a vehicle for transformation. It transforms the listener/reader as she or he hears or reads it.  A good poem, in the process of its making, transforms the poet.

Of all your poems, which is your favorite? Why?

Hmmmmm. I avoid hierarchies when I can. Vertical structures are dicey at best. (Best. There's one of those vertical structure words!) So picking a favorite poem: that's a dicey proposition. But there are two poems that I read frequently when I'm giving readings. And both of them sonically and conceptually feel right to me, even after repeated readings. They are among a group that feel like embodied poems, time after time.  "Appetite"  and "Bloodline." 

Bloodline

The moon is wet nurse

to roses. She suckles

each soft-mouthed poppy.

Blame her for menses.

Rail at her for the craving

to binge and purge.

Please her when you choose

to delay the day for planting,

biding your time

until night has fattened

her silver torso. Praise her

when the fleck of seed

poked down into damp dark

takes hold and swells.

Any girl-child is always

her offspring.

Upbraid her for your daughter's

sass and door-slams,

that hot hurry to be what most

differs from you.

Long ago, the moon decided

on a pathway against the route

stars take. No one else

would dare to walk

the black sky backward.

- Paulann Petersen

I'm a collector of words. What are your favorites?

I'm smitten with noun lists. I use them when I'm teaching writing workshops (workshops designed to generate new writing from participants). One of the noun lists I give to participants contains nouns I took from my own work. I often remark that I couldn't have a noun list that didn't contain blood, magpie, magnolia, ink, salt, skin and moon.

Bonus Question: Is there something distinct about an Oregon poet? or Oregon poetry?

Oregon poetry, like Oregon itself,  is characterized by remarkable variety.

Oregon is mountains, ocean, high desert, rain forest. It's the hotsprings in Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, the Church of Elvis in downtown Portland, pelicans on Klamath Lake, herons in oaks Bottom on the Willamette. Oregon is abundance; it's variety, vast and gorgeous. Our state teaches its poets inclusiveness and gratitude. Oregon encourages a wide embrace, and its poetry does indeed have a very wide embrace.

Another distinction: my bet is that there are, given our total population, as many good poets per capita in Oregon as anywhere on earth.

Kelli Russell Agodon

Because five questions can lead to endless insight, I'm happy to introduce you to Kelli Russell Agodon. Her poetry collection, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, is easily my favorite book of 2010.

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of two poetry books, and is editor of Crab Creek Review. Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room was published this month and is dedicated to "those who write letters to the world."

I was delighted to see that many of these poems — and the book title — were influenced by your stay at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon, which is very near where I live. Which came first, the poem-letters, or the Emily Dickinson Room?

The poem-letters. I had been working on the collection for about two years when I stayed in the Emily Dickinson Room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel on a writing retreat with friends. It was in that room where I realized what I was writing about and was able to focus my collection and begin to write the poems that were missing. The title poem, “Letter from the Emily Dickinson Room” was written in that corner hotel room looking out at the Oregon coast realizing how much I craved calmness.

How would you describe your writing style?

If you’re asking about my style as in my method or process then my writing style is to write as many poems as I can and revise the ones I like best.  (And to try not to over-revise, something I’m quite good at.  I have killed many a poem by over-revising it and sucking out all of its energy and every spark.)

If you’re asking about my writing style as in characteristics or what is my voice or distinct form and/traits, then my writing style is conversational, sometimes surreal, sometimes narrative, sometimes humorous, usually accessible and with a dash of darkness for kicks.

Or maybe my writing style is glasses plus casual Fridays and black boots.

What is your favorite poem in this collection? Why?

Great question!  I like having to think about this as my easy answer would be, “They are all my favorites…”  But if I have to narrow it down to one, I’d say, Questions at Heaven’s Gate is probably my favorite because it was an underdog poem that I stood up for.  When my manuscript was accepted, I received some great advice on edits and suggestions on what poems to take out to make the collection stronger. This was one of the poems that was on the suggested “remove list.”

I remember feeling a deep gut instinct inside me that said: This poems needs to be in the collection.  On a personal level, this is very deeply an autobiographical poem about my father’s death and who he was, and in a certain way, how I’ve dealt with it (imagining him speaking with God, etc.). I love that I had to speak up for this poem and was glad I did.  I think it’s my favorite because it was almost not included.

Questions at Heaven's Gate (an excerpt)

I

When my father meets God

he says, Let me introduce myself . . .

When my father meets God

he says, Am I too early? Too late?

When my father meets God

he says, Do you serve drinks here?

When my father meets God

he says, It was easier not to believe.

When my father meets God

he says, I can see my house from up here.

When my father meets God

there is only the sound of my father

falling.

When my father meets God

he says, I can breathe again.

When my father meets God

rain returns to the city.

As an editor of a literary journal choosing from hundreds of poems to publish, what do you love? What do you loathe? 

I love poems that surprise me (and not in that shocking, swearing, taboo words/subjects way), but in fresh language, new images and putting the extraordinary into the ordinary. Anyone can write a poem about a shocking topic and have it stand out because it’s about a tragic occurrence or because of the nature of the subject, but I’m interested in writers who can write about a shopping trip, the forest, an experience in a way that connects me and makes me stop and pay attention.

There’s little I loathe beside people being unkind or poor manners. There’s more to love in poetry than to dislike.

I’m a collector of words and have my students collect words, too. What are your favorite words?

Hipsway, lollygagging, inky, salsa, penlight, oaf, shenanigans, tangle, moth, humdrum, hipbones, madronas, whiplash, bamboozle, numbskull, foxtrot, and prayer (though not necessarily in that order).

My least favorite word is filibuster

Mark Thalman

An English teacher for 26 years, Mark Thalman has an impressive body of work as a Poet-in-the-Schools, an assistant poetry editor for Northwest Review, and a board member of the Portland Poetry Festival. His book of poems was published this summer. He was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon and now lives in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Congratulations on the publication of Catching the Limit! You have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Is this your first book?
Yes. It’s been a long journey getting this manuscript published. Holding the book in my hands almost doesn’t seem real. Like so many writers, it’s difficult finding a publisher or winning a contest. This manuscript has been a semi-finalist for the Walt Whitman Award and a few other contests. Four years ago, it was selected to be part of Bedbug Press – Fairweather Books, Northwest Poetry Series.

Why is Catching the Limit dedicated to your parents and grandparents?

My parents were always very supportive and positive about getting a good education. When I was growing up, they gave me a lot of opportunities: snow skiing, playing golf, fishing, guitar lessons, taking us on trips around Oregon. My mom read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to me when I was about five. She loved taking my sister and me to the public library to check out books. My grandparents, who were great story tellers, used to own the Willamette Pass Ski Area and had a cabin at Odell Lake. That’s where many of the poems in the second section of the book take place.

Please tell us about your writing process.

I write like an artist paints. (If you visit my website, you can also see some of my paintings.) Some poems may take a few months to finish, others have taken 16 years. A lot of times, a poem will be almost finished, but I am waiting to learn or discover what it needs to give it that finishing touch. Some poems go through a lot of revisions, others don’t. If I can write a few good lines each time I sit down, I’m satisfied.

What is your writing style?

I write lyrical poetry. Each word has its own music, and a poem has to sound right and have a presence on the page. I like to have internal rhymes, but not hard rhymes at the end a line. I love good similes and metaphors. It’s probably just easier to read you a few lines from “North Umpqua, Summer Run” so you get the idea.

In a smooth flash of motion,
deft as a blade, the fish strikes
and the surface explodes.

Trembling violently in air,
amid spray and foam,
the steelhead blazes like a mirror catching sun,
falls back, extinguishing the fire,
only to lift again,
a flame out of water.

Your poems have such a rich sense of landscape and place – specifically Oregon. Do you consider yourself a regional poet, a nature poet?

Someone said that all writing in some sense is regional, but when I sit down to write, I don’t think of myself as a regional or nature poet. Catching the Limit is about the Oregon Coast, the Willamette Valley, and the Cascades. Sure, I am interested in how a whole forest continually renews itself as in my poem, “In the Silence of a Pine Cone Falling”, or how different trees decompose in “Blowdown." There is a lot of nature in the book, but hopefully the themes and the “human condition” will transcend any regional boundaries.

Your work wonderfully combines your specific experiences/observations with universal understanding. How do you do this, and is it intentional?

(Laughs briefly and good naturedly.) Sometimes “art” happens! I can only think of a couple of poems where it is intentional. Such as the last line in “On the Dock at Evening” where the narrator says, “I have lived my life for just this moment.” That line is a response to James Wright’s well known poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm . . .” where his narrator claims, “I have wasted my life.”

One of my favorite poems is one I read several years ago in Ingrid Wendt’s,  Starting with Little Things: A Guide to Writing Poetry in the Classroom. I’ve used your poem, “Born in Oregon” in numerous writing workshops with youth, and it was such a treat last spring to meet you and hear the poem in person.

Born in Oregon

Some days I am a fir. Squirrels eat from my limbs.
Other days I am a rhododendron. My genes are coded
as cuneiform. Toadstools and moss grow in the caverns
of my lungs. I am accustomed to the sky,
gray as wax paper.

What is your favorite poem in Catching the Limit and why?

I don’t have a favorite. It depends on my mood. My poems are like children, and I try to treat them equally. I like it when people tell me what their favorite is. Everyone has their own experiences and perceptions they bring to a poem.

Do you have a tight group of poet friends? And how would you suggest others cultivate a writing network?

Yes, I have a group of poet friends, most who I’ve known for a long time. However, people have become so spread out, its really the Internet that makes staying in touch possible. Over the years, my wife, Carole, has become one of my best editors, because she’s seen so much of my work and understands what I am trying to do. As far as cultivating a writing network, if a person attends writing workshops, they might find some like minded poets who want to start their own poetry group.

Where can we get your book?

Presently, Catching the Limit, can be ordered from my website, markthalman.com. Unfortunately, Tony Gorsline, my publisher, passed away this summer from cancer. With Tony’s passing, Bedbug Press – Fairweather Books did not survive, so I don’t have any small press distribution at this time. However, I will be giving some readings at bookstores, and I’ll be signing books after my reading at Wordstock (in Portland). In a few months, you should be able to find it on Amazon.com. However, if you purchase it from my site, you will always get an autographed copy, and I’ll ship it to you right away.

 


Rhett Iseman Trull


I want to go back to the winter I was born and warn you

that I will flood through your life like acid

and you will burn yourselves on me

— from The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late

 

 Rhett Iseman Trull's first book of poetry,  The Real Warnings, won the 2008 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including American Poetry Review, Best New Poets 2008, and Prairie Schooner. She received her M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she was a Randall Jarrell Fellow. She and her husband publish the literary journal Cave Wall in Greensboro, North Carolina.

 In choosing your book for the 2008 Anhinga Prize for Poetry, Sheryl St. Germain says “Open this book up anywhere and you'll find a poem of fierce and uncompromising energy and insight . . . I've never read a poet who understands more fully the brutal paradoxes of love and of loving damaged things.”  What influences or inspirations led you to poetry, and to these ‘fierce’ poems?

My biggest influence always has been reading. In fact, before I could read, I used to listen to my storybook record of Disney’s The Fox and the Hound over and over. I can quote it still: near the end, there’s this moment that goes, “Sometimes, on warm summer nights, Tod and Vixey would leave the forest and climb the hill overlooking Copper’s house. As Tod looked fondly down at his friend, the voices of a little fox and a little hound seemed to echo in the breeze…”

That sentence did something to me as a child. I could feel the words go straight to my heart and move me in some mysterious and vital way. And I think all of my writing, ever since, has been an attempt to recapture the kind of feeling that ran through me when I first heard those words.

I started by writing short stories and novels. But when I was twelve, I discovered poetry. I was in a summer musical, Annie. I got to be an orphan because I was little and cute, not because I could sing. I wanted to sing, though. I yearned for that world of musicals. More than anything, I wanted to be a Broadway star, but I knew I didn’t have the talent for that path. Singing in musicals lit that same fire the The Fox and the Hound ending did. I think what led me to poetry was that need to sing.

An older girl in the musical that summer showed me her notebook of poems, which she used as a kind of journaling device, pouring her deepest wishes and pains into these poems. I had never thought of poetry that way, as a kind of whole-body song on paper. I was hooked. I went home and started my own poetry notebook.

I like that word Sheryl St. Germain used: “fierce.” I’m honored by that word. Emotions that are fierce are hard to capture in language, and yet that’s why I write poems: that driving need to try to turn whatever I feel with ferocity into some kind of music.

What is your favorite poem in this collection? Why?

That’s a tough one because each poem is special to me for different reasons, and my favorite of the moment changes often. Right now, Heart by Heart the House is my favorite, I think. I wrote it as a challenge and promise to myself to try to live more in the moment. I tend to be a catastrophic thinker, always worried about what awful thing is going to happen next. Most of us live that way, with our minds more in the future or past than the present. I’m learning to love the moment and enjoy the moment more. Heart by Heart the House is a kind of love poem to my husband, Jeff, and to our life, to my life in the moment. 

How do you support your poetry habit? Do you have a ‘day job’?

Right now, my “day job” is the non-paying day-and-night job of publishing a poetry journal, Cave Wall. But over the past six years, while trying to complete and polish the poems in The Real Warnings, I’ve had several jobs, from teaching undergraduates at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, to working in my local comic book shop, Acme Comics. I miss teaching and hope to return to it soon.  

You are the editor of Cave Wall, a literary journal. How do you balance your work promoting and publishing other writers with your need to do your own writing and promote yourself? 

I love working on Cave Wall. I love every aspect of it: discovering poems and art that move me, figuring out the best layout, mailing a finished issue into the world, calling bookstores, opening the mailbox to find a huge stack of submissions. I spend more time on Cave Wall than on anything else in my life. And although it has taken away from my own writing time, I think it’s helped me grow as writer. It’s led me to appreciate more the moments I do have to work on my own writing so that I use that time more wisely.

Before I started Cave Wall, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, feeling extra critical of every word I wrote. I still get that way sometimes, but Cave Wall has connected me with so many poetry-lovers and poets—not just those we end up publishing but all those who submit their work and all our readers—that gratitude has swept over me and outshined the self-anger and frustration. My writing now comes from a better place inside me. And just realizing how huge and varied the world of poetry is has inspired me. So I think the loss of some writing time is a small price to pay for that feeling of gratitude, inspiration, and awe that Cave Wall has awakened in me.

Balance is difficult both to achieve and to maintain. As soon as one finds it, watch out: something else is just around the corner, coming at you, and you will have to learn to balance all over again. But my advice to all writers out there who are trying to juggle many things (jobs, family, kids, etc.) is to try to catch the frustration as it rises and turn it into gratitude. It’s easier and more fulfilling to write from a place of gratitude. 

What poets would you like to emulate? What fiction has your interest?

I have way too many favorite writers to name here, but I will list some. I read a thousand times more than I write, in all styles and all genres. In fact, if I say I’m going to sit down and write this afternoon, that means I’m going to sit down with a stack of books and read and hope something moves me to write. Some of the poets whose work I return to often are Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty, Christine Garren, Jack Gilbert (especially The Great Fires), Jeffrey Harrison, Edward Hirsch (especially Wild Gratitude), Richard Hugo, A. Van Jordan, William Matthews, Theodore Roethke, William Butler Yeats, Robert Wrigley (especially Lives of the Animals), Adam Zagajewski.

Lately, I’ve been learning a lot from the poetry of Robert Dana, Sarah Lindsay, Erika Meitner, Jud Mitcham, Liz Robbins, Alison Stine, Natasha Trethewey, Cecilia Woloch…you can’t go wrong with any of those. My favorite novels include Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

I love short stories, as well, and have been spending a lot of time lately with beautiful stories by Holly Goddard Jones and Kevin Wilson. Also, one of the best short stories I’ve read recently was published earlier this year in the journal One Story. It’s called Hurt People by Cote Smith. I think it was his first published story, and I can’t wait for more by him.

I read many comic books, as well. My favorite recent titles are Alias by Brian Michael Bendis, Cassanova by Matt Fraction, Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn, and Fables by Bill Willingham. 

I’m a collector of words and often have my students collect words, too. Do you have any favorite words?

The words that come to mind are the names of my cats: Charm, Chulita, and Pita; and Chulita’s nickname, Boombadoom. That’s weird. Maybe it’s because I say those words more often than other words throughout the day and associate them with happiness. Theodore Roethke wrote that poetry is giving a cat its right name, or something like that. So yeah, I’m gonna go with: Chulita, Pita, Charm.  

You’ve done many interviews and readings since your book was published. What question hasn’t been asked that you’d like to answer?

I haven’t been asked about the importance of revision. For me, the majority of the writing process, and the place where the magic happens, is revision. It’s not unusual for me to work on a poem for years before it’s ready for an audience.

There’s a sequence of poems in my book called Rescuing Princess Zelda. It’s made up of nine poems that take place in the adolescent wing of a state mental institution. From start to finish, I worked on that series for ten years. When I wrote the first poems for it, I didn’t know it was a series, so I guess I should clarify that I worked on the poems in it for ten years and worked on it as a series for about six years. I’m not quick to let go of a poem. I like to slow down, let a poem sit in a drawer for awhile, and return to it many times over many months to see what emerges.

Every now and then a poem will spill out almost whole, almost polished, in a first draft. This happens for me with maybe one out of every 25 poems I write. And that’s a great feeling, a boost in confidence and energy.

But I think, maybe, the more rewarding feeling for me is when a poem I’ve worked on for months, even years, comes together and all that time spent pouring over dictionaries and research, all that time switching around the syntax, pays off. The majority of my poems need that kind of time to find their right shape and language. I am a big believer in the transformative gifs that come from time and distance. 

  

Rick Campbell

Because a few direct questions can lead to endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers, and chances to win great books.

Rick Campbell is the director of Anhinga Press, teaches English at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, and helps to run Other Words, an annual writing conference held at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. He's written four poetry books: Dixmont, The Traveler’s Companion, Setting The World In Order, and A Day’s Work. He’s won a Pushcart Prize, an NEA Fellowship, and two fellowships from the Florida Arts Council. Born in Pittsburgh, he now lives in Gadsden County, Florida, with his wife and daughter.

You make good friends in the strangest places. Rick and I met at a high school reunion in which our spouses were reliving their adolescence. Desperate for conversation that traveled beyond the 1970s, Rick and I found common ground in poetry. Since then, we've enjoyed an ongoing conversation about writing, publishing and poems. 

We often talk about the music of poetry. Please, tell me, what makes a poem work?

For me, for most I guess, there are a lot of things that make the poem work. Music — whether it’s rhythm, a more traditional idea of beat or meter, or maybe some larger sense of sound, as in composing a song, a symphony maybe — it’s hard for me to define “music” in a poem. It’s like that saying I know it when I hear it. But music isn’t all that’s important; I think a poem needs to make a statement. It needs to say something about the world we live in. It has to tell us, maybe not a truth, but some sort of revelation. When I read a poem I want to say “yes,” that’s how it is, and it’s even better if the poem reveals something to me that I did not know, or that I had not seen before in the way it’s revealed to me. If a poem is going to work, then lots of things, maybe everything has to work. And, for me, not many poems really “work.”  

You are an accomplished poet, professor and publisher. What do you know now that you didn't know when you were first writing poems?

In the beginning, when I was 25, I didn’t know anything about poetry. I wanted to write songs. It took me a long time to become even a pretty good poet.  I could see what was good in what I was reading, and I read a lot of poetry, maybe 15 or 20 books a week in those first few years.  But that does not answer the question.   I guess the most important thing that I have learned is to trust the words, to let them come out and then see what happens. In the beginning I tried to force the words into the idea of the poem. Now I know that the words create the poem and the ideas.

Some people say "first thought best thought." Others edit a poem into place. What is your writing process?

I usually write the entire poem during the first draft. Then, if the poem seems worth it, worth hanging on to, I edit and rewrite it until it seems finished. There’s a poem in Setting the World in Order, “The Poem in the River” that I started in 1978 and finished in 1996. I worked on it in three different towns over 2000 miles apart. That’s pretty extreme, but I write and I rewrite. I think it’s sort of combination of first though best thought and think and think again. That phrase is a pretty dangerous thing for a teacher for a teacher to tell a young student. Beginning poets need to work poems for a long time, and take a careful look at each word, each step of the poem’s composition.

Finish this sentence: If not a poet, I'd be . . .

a centerfielder, an itinerant fisherman? I don’t know what I would I have been. I’m not sure I would even have gone to college if I didn’t want to write. I didn’t start college until I was 25; my first major was in anthropology, but I don’t know what it would be like to be one. And I was never good enough to play pro baseball, so I would have starved as a centerfielder.

What is your favorite poem in Dixmont, and why?

Tough one. But I think it’s Intelligent Design and the Click Beetle

. . . The beetle clicks, leaps, falls, assesses its heads

or tails state, then either crawls off somewhere

or begins again. If grand design

were measured by a success ratio, wouldn't

a simple rollover mechanism be a better idea?

The universe is full of little jokes and games

of chance. I had only a minute chance of getting

throat cancer and I got it. Then I had a 90% chance

of being cured, and maybe I am. The

odds were so slim that the drunk

who hit my wife's car that afternoon

on a lonely country road

would be speeding east as she drove west

on a blue May day . . .

I like the way it moves, how it gets so many things into one poem. I hope everything in it works. When I was first trying to write poems I was often told that I had too many things in one poem. I probably did back then, but I also believed that if I could do it right, then I could make a lot of things hang together and get the poem to leap and then land with grace.  I think that poem does it, and that’s why I like it best. In truth though, the poem I like best is always the one I just wrote.

Bonus Question: I'm a word collector. What are your favorite words?

I like provenance, epiphany, redemption, but I don’t know if I have a favorite. A friend and I counted how many times river appears in Setting the World in Order and it was like 33 times or something, but I love rivers far more than the word river.  I like “B Flat,” but only when I’m playing that harp.

Ce Rosenow

gratitude

a bit of sea foam

in my open hands

Because a few direct questions can lead to endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers.   

Ce Rosenow is president of the Haiku Society of America and the publisher of Mountains and Rivers Press. She lives in Eugene, Oregon where she teaches writing and literature at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon. Pacific is her fifth poetry collection.  

In the introduction to Pacific, Michael Dylan Welch says, “The greatness of the ocean is at once calming and frightening, repelling and attractive, and these poems dwell in such tensions.” What influences or inspirations led you to poetry?

I think the primary reason I was drawn to poetry was a combined love of language and realization that some kinds of knowledge and understanding are beyond the scope of language. Poetry not only accommodates those two responses to language but embraces them.

Why haiku?  What is it about this form that interests you?

Reading and writing haiku has the potential to become a life philosophy or a life practice. Haiku focus on a single moment and draw our attention to very specific happenings within that moment. So much of my work outside of haiku involves analysis. Recognizing haiku moments and writing haiku to convey them offer a balance to my analytical work by encouraging me to stay present and attentive to the individual moments I experience. 

so many stars

so much I don't know —

winter night

When we met at the Poets’ Concord in Newport, Oregon, we briefly discussed the haiku. Modern haiku is not constrained to the traditional 5-7-5 syllable format. Would you share more about what makes a poem a haiku?

There are so many different approaches to writing haiku in English. Personally, I am drawn to haiku that use images of two simultaneously-occurring events and suggest the interconnectedness of things. At least one of the images is of nature. The internal comparison, or the relationship between the two events, is also central for me in haiku. The poems can either follow a fixed syllable count or, more commonly, no syllable count at all, and I appreciate haiku that effectively utilize a pivot line so that there is some sense of surprise at the end of the poem. There are several books that explain in varying degrees of detail the different approaches to haiku, but I’ll just mention two: The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson (now available in the 20th anniversary edition) and Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga.

What poets and writers would you like to emulate? 

I’m afraid I could produce an endless list of writers whose work includes things I admire. I do know that I am particularly drawn to writers who combine their interests in writing, editing, and translating, as well as in publishing the work of other poets. Cid Corman is a wonderful example of someone who dedicated his life to poetry. He wrote poems on a daily basis and engaged for decades in editing, translating, and publishing, as well.

arguing 

on the windy beach . . .

sand in my teeth

You are an accomplished poet, teacher and publisher, and have taken part in numerous readings and interviews. What question hasn’t been asked that you’d like to answer?

What a great question! My answer relates to my previous comments about writers I would like to emulate. I think it would be interesting to be asked about the relationship between writing, researching, teaching, editing, translating, and publishing. All of these things are in conversation with one another. They allow me to come at ideas and the expression of ideas through language from so many different perspectives, and those perspectives inform the ways in which I make poems.

Susan Rich

Lately, I am capable of small things.

Peeling an orange.

Drawing a bath.

Throwing the cat's tinsel balls.

Believe me, this is not unhappiness.

Only one question—

why this layering on of abeyance?

Though it is winter inside of me —

there is also spring and fall.

Yellow tulips in need of planting

root in a basket by the door. 

— Susan Rich
an excerpt from Letter to the End of the Year

Susan Rich is a poet, activist and educator. The author of three poetry collections, her latest book The Alchemist's Kitchen was published in April 2010. She has worked on staff for Amnesty International, as an electoral supervisor in Bosnia Herzegovina, and as a human rights trainer in Gaza and the West Bank. Rich lived in the Republic of Niger, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, later moving to South Africa to teach at the University of Cape Town on a Fulbright Fellowship. She now lives in Seattle, Washington and teaches at Highline Community College.

In recommending your latest collection of poems, poet Jane Hirshfield praises your “kaleidoscopic curiosity” and your “powerfully kinesthetic language.”  What influences or inspirations led you to poetry, and to your “powerful and compassionate” poems? 

As an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to study with Madeline DeFrees and she introduced me to the work of Carolyn Forche. The Country Between Us was a pivotal book for me. Here was a woman, a young woman, who had traveled outside of the United States to El Salvador and who had come back to write poems concerning things that mattered — life in extremity. I had just returned from two years living outside the United States as well and wanted to believe that I, too, had permission to write about my life.

The Alchemist’s Kitchen is a wonderful blend of the everyday and the ethereal, and includes many poems inspired by paintings and photographs. What is your favorite poem in this collection? Why?

Oh dear. My favorite? Isn’t that a bit like asking a parent to choose their favorite child? I can’t do it. But what I can do is choose several favorites with the caveat that these “favorite” categories are fluid.  If you were to ask me tomorrow, the choices I’d make would be different. Given that I am in the throws of planning a reading for tomorrow night, I can focus on poems that are fun to read — that are meant for the air. One of these is “Mr. Myra Wiggins Recalls Their Arrangement.” It’s a persona poem in the voice of Myra Wiggins’ husband. I had never written from a man’s point of view before and I found it oddly liberating. “The 4 O’ Clock News @ House of Sky” is a poem that I like to read aloud. This poem is dedicated to my very dear friend, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon. I wrote it while in Spain but it concerns our friendship and goes off in some strange directions. The most personal poem in the book might be “The Never Born Becomes of Age” and what I like about it is that I did not want to write it, yet it persisted. I like to write poems that I don’t want to write. 

Can you tell us about the title of your book? Where it came from? What it means to you?

The title of this collection came to me far more easily than the titles of either of my past books. I was re-reading Denise Levertov’s New and  Selected Essays – many of which were written I believe — during her time in Seattle. In her essay Biography and the Poet (1992), Levertov  takes up the question of literary biography of poets (and by extension, she expands, all biographies) as to whether we need to know about the drugs and dalliances of the life or if they are “the chaff which the the imagination has discarded.” For the most part, she rallies against being too inquisitive regarding the facts of the poets life. But the essay is balanced with praise for certain biographies such as Walter Jackson Bates Life of Keats, where the biography is in service to the poems or to essays or journal pages some poets had published.  Sometimes, Levertov says, understanding the life of the poet  “one is grateful for a glimpse into the alchemist’s kitchen.” I immediately felt myself drawn to the phrase. 

I’ve re-interpreted Levertov’s original sense of looking at a poet’s memoir or biography being the alchemist’s kitchen to the poems themselves being the material of alchemy — the ordinary objects turned to gold. In researching more on the nature of alchemist– in its original meaning – I learned that Alchemy has a double origin in Greek philosophy and Egyptian texts. That the origins of the word itself is thought to be Arabic. But what fascinated me the most was that the alchemists were not merely interested in turning base metals into gold but that there was a spiritual discipline and that the transformation of metals was secondary to the wisdom that the alchemist would himself attain through their work. One of my favorite quotes by the poet Stanley Kunitz goes like this: “the first task of the poet is to create the person who will write the poems.” So to answer your question, I’ve used the term “alchemist’s kitchen” as a metaphor for the process of writing poems. That said, I also am a great lover of food — growing it, preparing it, bringing friends together to enjoy it. 

You teach community college students. How do you balance your work teaching and encouraging students with your own writing and book promotion?

Your question implies that there is balance in my life. Hmm. Most of my own writing happens during the summer, over winter break and on sabbaticals. I think that’s why I’ve embraced the technology of the blog. I began the blog this past November as an experiment. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the blogosphere — and I suspect it is because I can maintain a small handhold on my creative life even during term time. My teaching life is also creative, but in a different way. 

Your book was recently published and you’ve embarked on a tour that includes both the traditional (bookstore readings, print interviews, etc) and non-traditional (in-home ‘salon’ readings, virtual readings and interactive readings, etc). Where is your ideal reading? 

My ideal reading? I would like to read in a really wonderful restaurant. A place that uses as much locally grown food as possible and that’s housed in an old building. Maybe the building is made of stone and was once a dance hall or flour mill. After a scrumptious meal and perhaps a bit of live music — while the guests tapped the tops of their crème brulee, I would read my poems. I would read food poems about “glazed florentines and praline hearts” or “tiramisu and lemon tarts.” I’ve read my poems in a variety of venues, but I’m still waiting to be asked to read in a restaurant. I would like that.