For Whose Eyes and Ears

February 20, 2021

This is a guest post
by Jed Myers

In the lore of therapy, it’s said a person’s emotional state will improve with keeping a journal. The benefit holds even if the journal entries are never shared with another soul. Does that mean we need only ever spell things out for ourselves alone? Or does it mean that the act of writing is so fundamentally relational, no actual other is needed for the experience of being heard and understood by another?

Words have evolved for the conveyance of one being’s experience to another. So even when we speak in our imaginations, talk to ourselves, or write our private entries, we are invoking the presence of another, however invisible.

I do wonder, for whose eyes do we place the words of our reflections on the page? In whose ears do we hope our written words will ring? And whose are the minds and hearts we want to stir with what we’ve written?

I’m sure there’s no simple or single answer to any such questions. But I’m also sure — from tuning in to my own process of writing, if by nothing else — that there is an envisioned other, or a collection of others, that we’ve got a representation of in the wings of the act of writing, to whom, in the writing, we’re speaking.

Maybe this goes against a kind of purist’s notion of writing only for oneself. I don’t know. It could be that an implicit other just like oneself, a mirror twin, so to speak, is such a purist’s other. The writing that would emerge in that spirit might be more idiosyncratic, harder for the rest of us to “get,” but it might be in its own way just right — the words chosen and arranged for the dear twin who will understand perfectly.

Then there’s the writing for a different other, or for a gathering (in the mind’s amphitheater) of others of varied sensibilities. Perhaps these are the presences some of us want to touch with our words. These imagined others might stand in for real expectable readers in the world. We can’t be sure how they’ll hear us, as we don’t know just how they think and feel. How will our poems ring with them?

That question’s at my shoulder while I work out my lines. It can serve to press me, word by word, closer to the marrow, where I’ll find more intuitive sureness of common feeling, even across cultures and times.

I like to invite one odd other to the gathering and to be sure that figure’s listening — a guest from some time in the future, when my life’s been over long enough that those who’ve remembered me are gone. I reach for what might make that other grateful to have stumbled onto my words. I’ll write what I need to say — as if in my journal — that will also close the rift of space and time, so that my guest might feel that a hundred years ago is more or less last week. That’s what I feel sometimes reading Sappho or Du Fu — the intimacy of distant solitudes.

. . . . .

Jed Myers lives in Seattle, where, aside from writing, he’s a psychiatrist with a therapy practice and a Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Washington. He’s author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press), and four chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels (Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award) and Love’s Test (winner, Grayson Books Chapbook Contest). Recognitions include Southern Indiana Review’s Editors’ Award, the Prime Number Magazine Award, The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Prize, and The Tishman Review’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize. Poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, multiple anthologies, including Two-Countries: US Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press) and Take a Stand: Art Against Hate (Raven Chronicles Press), and many other publications. Poems are forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Cutthroat, Sequestrum, and Galleywinter Poetry Series. Two essays on poetry and medicine have appeared in JAMA. Jed is Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.

Jed Myers will co-feature with Charles Rafferty in the Poets in Conversation reading series on Saturday, May 22, 2021, 4:00pm Pacific. Details and access information will be posted on this site and on The Poetry Department Calendar page.

Author photo by Alina Rios
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Poetry Karma

October 7, 2020

This is a guest post by
Dayna Patterson

Do you have a poem or book of poetry you’d like to promote, but feel like doing so in the midst of social injustice, climate catastrophe, and pandemic would shrivel up your soul like a spider on a hot stove? How can you garner attention for something you’ve worked so hard for without feeling like you’ve become one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, or Freddy Krueger’s cousin, or the demogorgon from Stranger Things? Well, let me tell you about Poetry Karma.

First of all, I just made that up. Poetry Karma is not a real thing, except in my head, and maybe soon it will live in your head, too. Poetry Karma is a way I’ve been framing my interactions with the poetry world for going on a decade now, and I’ve found it especially helpful when so much is transpiring in the world.

You already know what karma is. When you do good to others, you acquire good karma, like an angelic nimbus that trails you wherever you go. When you harm others, your karma begins to resemble a storm cloud, heavy with potential lightning that could strike back at you at any given moment.

Poetry Karma, then, is the kinds of energy you draw toward yourself based on your interactions within the literary community of readers, writers, editors, and publishers. Do good to others, and your poetry karma will hold onto that good like a warm coat in winter.

We all know or have heard of folks in the literary community who have bad Poetry Karma: they only promote their own work; they take, take, take; they tear down other writers; they don’t earnestly engage with the work of others; they are attention-seekers; they misappropriate and/or plagiarize, inconsiderate of the harm they inflict; their Poetry Karma is ravaged by ego.

So how can you influence your Poetry Karma for good? To my mind, amassing positive Poetry Karma can involve many different approaches:

  1. Write book reviews. If you want folks to write reviews of your books, start building up your good Poetry Karma right now by setting a book review goal for yourself. How many books can you reasonably review in a year? A month? Alternatively, you could interview another poet for a literary journal about their new book.
  2. Share and promote the work of others on social media. Chelsea Dingman and Nicole Sealey are wonderful examples of poets who strengthen community by encouraging folks to read and share the work of others. When you’re sharing, examine your intentions. If you’re sharing just to be noticed by a prominent poet or poets, that action can actually damage your Poetry Karma rather than enhancing it.
  3. Volunteer your time to read or edit for a literary journal (or start your own!).
  4. Volunteer your time to help run or organize local poetry events, conferences, festivals, etc.
  5. Engage in a collaborative writing project, which will help to suppress that ravenous beast Ego.
  6. Celebrate the achievements of others. Be liberal with your sincere praise.
  7. Start a poetry blog where you share news and submission information (props to J.I. Kleinberg, Trish Hopkinson, Derek Annis, and others who are doing this kind of work!).
  8. Volunteer to teach a poetry workshop (maybe for your kid’s class, or for inmates, or for your neighbors, or . . . ).
  9. Start a writing group and be generous with your feedback and encouragement.
  10. [Fill in your own idea here. I’m sure you’ve got plenty. You’re a poet, after all!]

Will it still feel weird to promote your book or poem or literary event? Yes. But you can engage in activities to strengthen your good Poetry Karma. You can publicize your stuff and balance those look-at-me moments by boosting and uplifting others.

. . . . .

Dayna Patterson’s first collection, If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020), was released around the same time COVID struck the U.S. She’s been trying to publicize the book while not feeling like a jerk all of the time. She is also the founding editor of Psaltery & Lyre, an online literary journal dedicated to publishing literature at the intersection of faith and doubt. More at daynapatterson.com.

[Ed. note: Dayna Patterson will read from If Mother Braids a Waterfall as part of the 2020 Utah Humanities Book Festival on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 7:00pm Mountain / 6:00pm Pacific. The reading is free but registration is required.]

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Photo of Jain Temple ceiling ornament, Ranakpur, Rajasthan, India, by Shakti

Author photo by Mariana Patterson

A healthy collaboration

July 15, 2020

This is a guest post by
Kelli Russell Agodon

In early March, Melissa Studdard and I decided we would write a poem every weekday based on news stories just to stay connected and to find new ways to push our creativity. On the day we started, the pandemic became top news and we realized what our focus was going to be — writing poems during the pandemic.

Each day, the news would change, our feelings would change, the world would change — and we would show up to our shared Google document to write about it. We try to document the world, the news, the day — it’s kind of a diary in verse. We have been called “Historians of Emotion” and I think especially with the poems about the pandemic, that is what we’re writing about most of the time.

For each day, one of us would begin with a few lines or images, and then the other shows up later in the day to finish it. Before we share it on social media, we ask the other “anything you want to change?” and once we get the “No, looks good!” response, we post it and consider it “done.” The next day, the person who ended the poem starts the new one and the collaboration continues.

For collaboration to work, both people need to be open to having their words changed and each must focus on the same goal: to write and finish the best poem. Ego needs to be left at the door and instead, a sense of playfulness and openness needs to exist in both writers.

What I have learned through collaboration:

  1. I have learned that poems can go in so many directions. I may take a poem a few places, but seeing a poem through another’s eyes, you see the many places it can go.
  2. A larger trust for each other as collaborators. There are definitely some people I would not want to collaborate with. Collaboration should be fun, and if it feels like a drag, maybe find a different person to work with.
  3. To know there is always backup help! Sometimes I will show up to a poem and, with hardly enough ideas or vision for what to do, I will jot down a few words or images unclear of what I am trying to do. Later, Melissa will show up and make the poem better. I have done that for her as well. It’s a wonderful experience to see how we each find ways to complete a struggling poem.
  4. Friendships matter. I have become closer to my friend Melissa and have been inspired by her vision of poems and her incredible creativity.

Here is the Houston Media’s NPR story on our collaboration:

Follow Kelli and Melissa’s collaborations on Twitter and Instagram @KelliAgodon and @MelissaStuddard.

. . . . .
Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, editor, book cover designer, and cofounder of Two Sylvias Press living in the Seattle area. She’s a recipient of Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Prize in Poetry as well as a two-time Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards. Her work has been featured on NPR, ABC News, and appeared in magazines and journals such as The Atlantic, The Nation, APR, Harvard Review, The Rumpus, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and O, The Oprah Magazine. Her fourth collection of poems, Dialogues with Rising Tides, will be published by Copper Canyon Press in 2021.

Author photo by Ronda Piszk Broatch


Image credit: Seattle Early Music

This is a guest post by
Jennifer Bullis

In January 2018, out of the blue, I received an email from a composer in Seattle. He wanted to compose a cantata about the mythical Sirens, he explained, and was looking for a librettist. He had an idea: to seek a poet to write the lyrics. Standing in Elliott Bay Book Store, browsing the recently published Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, he flipped to the mythology section, where a poem of mine happened to appear. When he contacted me, I was intrigued by his concept and by the prospect of working with someone in a different artistic medium. Thus began my collaboration with Aaron Grad on “Honey-Sweet We Sing for You.”

Aaron detailed for me his ideas for the cantata and his reasons for choosing the Sirens as his subject. Inspired by the #MeToo movement and Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, he wanted to compose an original piece reimagining the story of the Sirens from their own point of view. Based on his idea, Early Music Seattle was planning a myth-themed concert of short pieces by Baroque-era composers, highlighting women’s stories and voices, for the 2019-2020 season.

This collaboration has been an education and a joy for me at every phase of the process. Aaron asked me to draft the libretto first, and then he composed the music to it, and we worked together to revise the libretto as the whole cantata took shape. Initially, to help me prepare to write, Aaron gave me a fascinating crash course in operatic vocal composition and the cantata form. I learned, for example, about recitative and aria passages, including the good and necessary “rage aria,” a section conveying the character’s fury at being wronged.

Developing the content, I got to research other versions of the Sirens myth, and found useful models for transformation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It offered Aaron and me a different way into the Sirens narrative, one that de-centers Odysseus and his sailors and focuses instead on the Sirens’ original devotion to, loss of, and search to recover the goddess Persephone after her abduction by Hades. In this new context, the Sirens’ songs of enchantment can be imagined as not only a seductive lure to sailors, but as cries of outrage, grief, and searching. “We sing for her,” sings the soprano voice in the cantata’s final recitative; “We sing for all our sisters.” The program’s title was adapted from this lyric.

Since planning for “For All Our Sisters” began, it expanded to include even more women’s voices and artistic forms. EMS Executive Director Gus Denhard commissioned Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna to narrate the program and perform original poems, and Seattle dancer Milvia Pacheco to choreograph and perform an original dance.

The live performance was scheduled for May 30th, but because of the pandemic is being rescheduled. In the meantime, Early Music Seattle is posting an exciting series of videos in which the program’s musicians and other artistic contributors, filming from home, present excerpts and discuss their visions for amplifying women’s voices through their performances. You can watch these videos on Early Music Seattle, with new videos posted weekly, and enjoy these artistic collaborations highlighting women’s voices and stories.

In addition to the links embedded above, learn more at:

. . . . .
Jennifer Bullis is the author of the chapbook Impossible Lessons (MoonPath Press). Her poems and essays appear in Verse Daily, Cave Wall, Water~Stone Review, Terrain.org, Cherry Tree, Gulf Coast, and Under a Warm Green Linden. She is nominee for Pushcart and Best New Poets awards, and is recipient of an Artsmith Residency fellowship. Her full-length manuscripts have been finalists for the Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes for Poetry and the Moon City Poetry Award.

Pandemic Assignment

May 16, 2020

This is a guest post
by T. Clear

Tasked with the poetry prompt tomato, I sat down to a white page, and waited for something to happen. I’ve never been one to write to a prompt. All attempts have resulted in a ho-humness that’s not worth the energy it takes to type. Stabs at keeping a journal and establishing a daily writing practice have never amounted to much. A poem chooses me, instead of the other way around. I won’t say I’m happy with this arrangement, but I’ve come to accept it. Yet there I was, with an assignment, and because I had the time, decided to give it a chance.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family — Solanaceae — which includes potatoes, peppers and eggplants, as well as several poisonous species. As children, my five sisters and I feared deadly nightshade, whose dark purple blossoms with yellow starburst centers grew vigorously on the fenced edges of our property. We knew not to eat any of the crimson berries, and our idiomatic folklore taught that we would die within 15 minutes upon ingestion of any part of the plant. We wore gloves to yank it out; it exuded a bitter scent, as if even inhalation had the power to strike us down.

Nightshade seemed a good place to start work on a poem. A quick search informed me that the nightshade we so deathly feared was actually bittersweet nightshade (also known as felonweed, snakeberry, violet bloom); and death, though a possible outcome, is generally not a consequence, unless one were to consume ripe berries in great quantities, and with no ensuing intervention. Just like that, a large swath of my childhood beliefs was proven wrong. I wondered: what else did we believe would do us in, or not? And how were we so lucky to survive childhood’s real dangers? — Maple trees from which to plummet, the wrath of stinging nettles, blackberry vines whose unforgiving thorns snagged our arms in bloody zigzags. Skinned knees and elbows, a little finger sewn back on after surviving a door-slam, ice on a headbump: we persisted. Disease was not part of our vocabulary, except for the vaccination scars on our upper arms, which we compared and rated for their size and visibility.

Wait — wasn’t I trying to write a tomato poem? Yes, well….

Okay. Nightshade fit into the first line. That qualified it as a tomato poem, in a species-roundabout way. But from there, I veered to fairy-ring mushrooms, to a remedy for nettle stings, to the wild sorrel that grew abundantly in open fields, and on to the hazelnuts we cracked with our molars (which initiated long years of fracture). Death came only with the dogs killed on our busy street because they roamed freely then, as did we.

Until the summer we adopted a stray black cat and named him George. He moved in as if returning from a long journey, glad to get back to his own bed. We couldn’t have been more delighted with this affectionate, good-natured pet. And all that cuddling-up-in-bed with George resulted in a summer-long lockdown, of sorts, confined to our half-acre yard while we recovered from a nasty case of ringworm, compliments of…George. Though less than three months, it was an eternity to a six-year-old. Our dad drove away with the infected pet and we stayed on our side of the fence, nightshade and all. No explanation as to the cat’s destination, but none of us wanted to know. The protective innocence of childhood is a kind of virtue. The truth of the cat’s fate was too much for us to hear.

And suddenly there it was, on the screen: my poem, 33 roughly drafted lines. My tomato poem, veered from its triggering subject to my own childhood folklore. So lost in the stream of consciousness generated by the realization that my nightshade wasn’t deadly nightshade, I’d surrendered to the afternoon, and the poem essentially wrote itself. From a prompt.

Perhaps I succeeded because I’m home all the time now, compliments of the truly deadly danger from which we hover behind walls. Or maybe my belief that I can’t write from a prompt is faulty, like the belief in immediate death by nightshade. Maybe, it took this time to be able to stretch out, more time than I’ve had since childhood, minus that nagging sense that I was missing some essential task. And yet, when I sat there poemless with tomato looming before me, that become my essential task: a tomato, a poem, a black cat named George, and quarantine.

. . . . .


 
 
A co-founder of Floating Bridge Press, T. Clear’s poetry has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Iron Horse Literary Review, Lily Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Raven Chronicles, and The Rise Up Review. She is on the editorial board of Bracken Magazine, and facilitates the Easy Speak Seattle critique group Re/Write. Her website is tclearpoet.com.

. . . . .
[Ed. note: T. Clear’s tomato poem is being submitted for publication. Please stay tuned.]

This is a guest post by Rena Priest.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.” Virginia Woolf

I first read this quote from “A Room of One’s Own” while lounging in a bathtub in Spokane. I was 19, and it was cold, and a hot bath was the best, cheapest way to stay warm. I was very poor, and this idea that writing what you wanted was more precious than silver, well, it was exhilarating.

For many years I stayed true. I said as much of what I wanted to say as my abilities would allow. But recently, I’ve felt daunted by having so little to show for the years and effort I’ve devoted to writing. What I “want” to write has changed. I no longer want to write the truth in my soul. My soul has too much grief, too many expletives, and not enough flowers, birds, or sunsets to appeal to mainstream poetry audiences.

These days, I want to write the kind of poem that I can screen print on a pillow and sell on Instagram by the truckload. I want to write a sing-song children’s book that will fly off the shelves like hot-cakes so that I can cast off the shackles of my student loans.

Last year, for the first time, I made sacrifices from the hair of the head of my vision and went for the silver pot. At the urging of a colleague, I applied for and was awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society to write about a captive killer whale. I did the work. I researched, and I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again until I had a draft of something that someone else would perhaps pay money to read.

In the beginning, it wasn’t writing that I wanted to do so much as writing that must be done. I was doing it for the cause, and the byline. Eventually, the story drew me in. It raised questions in me. I became deeply invested in the whale’s fate. The more I learned about her, the more imperative it became to share her story. Nothing has ever felt so important to get right as the story of this whale, and I have never been so engrossed or challenged in my writing.

In the end, my vision aligned with the work, bringing me to this conclusion: If you don’t want to write something, you’ll half-ass it for a while until you chuck it and start over, or you won’t do it. But if you give yourself to the writing — authentically give yourself to it — you’ll be true to your vision. It can’t be otherwise. Not “a shade of its colour” will be sacrificed.

Publishing, however, is a whole other story. 😉

. . . . .

Read “A captive orca and a chance for our redemption” by Rena Priest, just published in High Country News.

. . . . .

Rena Priest is a poet and a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. Her literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with a 2018 American Book Award. Her most recent collection, Sublime Subliminal, was published by Floating Bridge Press. Priest’s work can be found in literary journals and anthologies including: For Love of Orcas, Pontoon, and Poetry Northwest. She has attended residencies at Hawthornden Castle, Hedgebrook, and Mineral School. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a Jack Straw Writer (2019). She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

Kids Need Books

February 18, 2020

This is a guest post by Joe Nolting.

After teaching middle school in Alaska for 30 years, I moved to Bellingham, Washington, with my wife, Annie (a writer), in 2012. I soon fell in love with my new home town and wanted to do something to promote literacy, so I founded Kids Need Books in 2016.

Kids Need Books (KNB) hands out new and gently used books to disadvantaged Whatcom County families. I started KNB as a way to curb the summer slide — the academic decline commonly experienced by low-income students during their time away from school and books. My volunteers and I soon discovered that local families were hungry for quality reading material and the program evolved into a year-round effort for people of all ages.

Distributions take place at the weekly satellite food banks at Alderwood Elementary School and Christ the King Church, and at other sites, including the Deming Foothills Food Bank, the Agape Project in Lynden (for migrant worker families), community block parties, school literacy festivals, and an afterschool Latino book club.

KNB is run entirely by unpaid staff. I act as the program’s coordinator — acquiring, organizing, storing (mostly in my garage), and handing out books. A core group of a dozen volunteers assists me with the regular book distributions.

Most of our books are donated by Village Books, the Assistance League of Bellingham, Friends of the Bellingham Public Library, local schools, book clubs, and member congregations of the Interfaith Coalition. Some books are rarely donated, including board books for infants and bilingual books (especially books in Spanish/English and Russian/English). KNB uses Project Neighborly (Whatcom Community Foundation) grant funds and cash donations from individuals to purchase these less-often-donated reading materials.

KNB believes that literacy can build a bridge from poverty to prosperity. One of the primary goals of the program is to grow the home libraries of low-income families. Research indicates that children who grow up in a home with a library of over a hundred books are likely to successfully complete high school and pursue a college education.

As the program grows, the need for quality books, financial donations, and volunteers grows. New and gently used books (including poetry books), may be dropped off at the Interfaith Coalition office (910 14th Street, Bellingham).

Tax deductible donations may be made through the DONATE button on the KNB website. If you are interested in helping out at a book distribution, please email Joe Nolting (jtnolting AT gmail.com).

Recently, KNB handed out its 100,000th book and a volunteer coordinator from the Alderwood neighborhood remarked, “Kids Need Books has fundamentally changed the reading culture of our neighborhood. We are grateful.”

– – – – –


Joe Nolting was born in Ohio and grew up in Vermont, where he met his wife, Annie. They drove to Alaska in a VW bus and were still there 35 years later. He taught middle school in Alaska for 30 years, mostly in the Matanuska Valley, and moved to Bellingham in 2012. Annie and Joe have one son, Ben, who is a Ph.D. mathematician working as a consultant. When he is not collecting, sorting, or handing out books, Joe likes to mountain bike, read (of course), and write poetry and essays.

Joe Nolting’s poems have twice been selected as winners in the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest.

if it’s February…

February 1, 2020

This is a guest post by Michael Dylan Welch.

If it’s February 1, it must be time for National Haiku Writing Month. This year is NaHaiWriMo’s tenth anniversary, and it’s hard to believe it’s been thriving for a decade.

NaHaiWriMo was inspired by National Novel Writing Month. I first did NaNoWriMo in November of 2010, and thought at the time that there ought to be a national month for haiku and that February would be perfect — the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry. The goal was to write at least one haiku a day for the entire month. And so I set up a website and a Facebook page and started spreading the word that we’d begin on February 1, 2011.

On that very first day, someone asked if there was a prompt they could follow, so I came up with “hands” as the first prompt, and we were off. Following the daily prompts was optional, but they provided inspiration for hundreds of people that first month.

At the end of February 2011, participants said they didn’t want to stop, so I’ve arranged for guest prompters each month since then. The NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook immediately became a year-round place for haiku inspiration — and of course you could also use the prompts to write any kind of poetry. The Facebook page now has more than 3,100 likes, with poets participating in many countries around the world. The #nahaiwrimo hashtag is also popular on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other social media channels.

Since 2020 is our tenth anniversary year, I’d like to celebrate some highlights from our history.

The first thing that many people notice is our logo, with the numbers 5-7-5 with a red slash through them. Clicking that logo on the website leads to an essay on why counting 5-7-5 syllables is a myth for English-language haiku, despite how widespread that belief is. The logo is deliberately polemical, to make people think about how there are more important targets for haiku than just counting syllables — targets that are nearly never taught in schools and that are unknown to the general public. Counting syllables is the most trivial of haiku’s disciplines. I hope the logo (and the ensuing conversation) has done some good shaking up haiku misperceptions, though it has also had the effect of offending some people who remain attached to syllable counting.

In addition to the daily prompts, I started creating haiku-related memes. These sought to poke a bit of fun at haiku (and misperceptions thereof), with the intention that we not take haiku too seriously (and yet seriously enough). Many people shared these memes on Facebook, which helped to promote NaHaiWriMo. Here, for example, is a set of memes with a Simpsons theme.

In March of 2012, NaHaiWriMo was the subject of a “group interview” of sorts, about how NaHaiWriMo worked. The results, from many voices, appeared in the online journal Notes from the Gean. This interview serves as a snapshot of the way things were in those early days.

Later the same year, NaHaiWriMo published a free ebook, With Cherries on Top: 31 Flavors of NaHaiWriMo, featuring selected poems inspired by 31 different daily writing prompters for the month of August 2012. The book also features dozens of my fireworks photos. Follow this link for more details, including links for free downloads.

In 2014, a new feature of the NaHaiWriMo community was short interviews with each of the daily writing prompters. The interviews show the broad international support that NaHaiWriMo receives. Prompters are always reminded to make sure their daily prompts are posted to the Facebook page before the day begins in New Zealand! This international aspect of the community is emphasized in many of the comments about NaHaiWriMo.

In September of 2017, NaHaiWriMo published its first printed anthology, Jumble Box (from Press Here), with artwork by Ron C. Moss. The collection presents poems inspired by each of the daily prompts from February 2017. The book was shortlisted for a Touchstone book award from The Haiku Foundation.

One of NaHaiWriMo’s most ardent supporters from the beginning was Johnny Baranski. After he died, in January 2018, NaHaiWriMo held the one-time Johnny Baranski Memorial Haiku Contest, complete with cash prizes.

Of course the biggest highlight is the sharing of hundreds of thousands of haiku by a growing community of poets. Many poems have followed the prompts, but it’s also fine when they don’t. And not everyone who participates even posts online, which is also fine.

NaHaiWriMo eagerly celebrates its tenth anniversary in February 2020, and invites your participation, whether you’re on social media or not. Just pledge to write at least one haiku a day for each day of the month. And since 2020 is a leap year, that means 29 haiku. Are you up for the challenge?

Learn more at www.nahaiwrimo.com. Follow this link for more about haiku and some of its misunderstandings (start with “Becoming a Haiku Poet”).

Personal Aside: For those who might live near Kirkland, Washington, I’m the writer-in-residence at the Kirkland Library this year. Starting on Thursday, March 26, 2020, I’ll be leading a monthly writing critique group on the fourth Thursday of most months. Please bring writing to share. I’ll also be giving a presentation on Mary Oliver and her theme of attention on Earth Day, April 22, and a presentation on “forest bathing” and haiku in July. See my other events here. One of those events is another iteration of Poets in the Park in Redmond, with poetry performances on July 25, and workshops on July 26, with a theme of travel. Watch for more details soon.

 

This is a guest post by Bethany Reid.

I was taking my very first poetry class, from Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington, when I learned that Dylan Thomas’s executors found among his papers 67 drafts of “Fern Hill.” I was all raw courage then, and the notion of revision imprinted itself on me, a little like a German shepherd adopting a duckling. So when my students get discouraged about revision, when my writing friends tell me to stop revising anything, I tell them about “Fern Hill.” It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the madwoman stage of drafting a new poem, but my heart belongs to revision. And if you recently participated in NaPoWriMo — National Poetry Writing Month — then you have 30 new poems in your notebook, and the party is about to begin.

The word, revision, looks abstract, but it’s really fossil poetry, in the best Emersonian sense. That vis in the middle means that revising is seeing again. And I think of revision not as a single lens, but as a series of lenses.

Especially when I’m not sure where to begin revising, I take out a lens for word choice. Maybe I’ll circle all of the verbs in the poem. Just bringing them to my awareness (just seeing them) begins the process of making them stronger, and for deepening the poem as well. You can use this lens for each part of speech. Are your nouns concrete? Any adverbs rattling about and asking to be excused? Too many the’s or it’s?

I have another lens for line endings. Colleen McElroy taught me to read aloud only the end words of each line. (End words in the first stanza of “Fern Hill”: boughs, green, starry, climb, eyes, towns, leaves, barley, light). No, you don’t need a strong word every single time, but becoming aware of what you do have will alert you to missed potential, and strengthen the entire poem.

Once you’ve looked at line endings, take a quick look at line openings. (“Fern Hill” won’t seem as useful here, but notice that in addition to 8 repetitions of and, words like fields, time, golden, down, and sang occur. They are almost a précis of the poem.)

There is so much more you can do, I know. I ask questions. I take out separate lenses to add color words, smells (which I tend to neglect), or emotion. I read my poems aloud as I revise. I also like to play around with line length and stanza breaks. Sometimes I try putting a poem that’s not working into a form, a sonnet maybe or something more complex like a sestina. Just to see what happens. I carry my poems with me and read them away from my desk. Even submitting poems to journals and contests turns out to be a kind of lens. As my poems move into my send-out book, they get another read through. If they come back to me…I am willing to do it all again.

Eventually, there is an end-point. And I don’t mean a point of diminishing-returns (an expression I rather hate), or the famous Paul Valéry line: “Poems are never finished, only abandoned” (though I agree). With practice, I’ve learned not only how to revise my poems, but how to see when they satisfy me. You will, too.

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Bethany Reid’s most recent book, Sparrow, won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize. Recent publications include EIL, Clementine Unbound, Silver Birch, Del Sol and Cheat River Review. After 25 years of teaching, she retired early to take care of family and write. You can learn more about her at her blog (bethanyareid.com, formerly A Writer’s Alchemy).
 
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Unamuno Reading Series Madrid

November 13, 2016

The Unamuno Author Series

This is a guest post by Jeremy Voigt.

They’ve left me standing at the back of the tiny bookshop, alone, in the very space where I will stand beside a small table with a sweating water bottle. Books floor to ceiling behind me, books — floor to ceiling — before me. Desperate Literature is a closet of a bookstore. Because the owners, Terry and Charlotte, who live in a one-room apartment in the back, have great taste, the shop is a dream closet of great titles.

I will read standing next to Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy, across from brick and wood shelves housing the books in French, and a compelling ink line portrait of Virginia Woolf which one can buy or that comes with a purchase of The Waves. I’ve never felt the truth of Woolf’s book more than now. Time recurs — I feel I’ve been here before, though I’ve never been in Madrid in my life. Everything is mixture and movement, rising and falling, faces and book titles.

My wife and three young children take up the entire children’s section in a hallway at the back, blocking the door to the apartment. Terry buzzes around straightening books, mocking his Spanish, selling tickets and handing out the small booklet of my poems he made for the event. I am trying to distract myself with book titles as people enter, pay 3 euro, get a book, and a glass of wine.

I pick up a beautiful little copy of William Hazlett’s On the Pleasure of Hating. A locally printed copy of a dozen or so Emily Dickinson poems translated into Spanish. I read a few poems by James Womack from his book Misprint. James will introduce me. I’ve never met him. He is quiet, deferential, articulate. He says kind things about my poems.

Spencer Reece comes. He fills the room with his tall and lean body, his warmth. He hugs everyone. He has invited my family and me to Madrid, has organized the reading for the Unamuno Author Series. Mark Strand’s girlfriend, Marie Clair, is there with a friend. Ex-pats from southern California. Five or six Spaniards, students, hoping to improve their English come. Roberto Bolaño wanted to write books for those of us desperate for books, for the comfort of words and images and rhythms. In Madrid it might be the heat, in the Pacific Northwest, my home, it might be the rain, but everyone in this room is desperate for books, for words, for a small space where these things are primary.

A student, recently arrived in Madrid, asks if she can buy one book and come back weekly to read another. Terry says, “that’s why we’re here.” They have a signed Hemingway. He started the dedication twice. A drunken Hemingway inscription? They sell “boozy books.” Charles Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Kerouac. A title comes with a shot of whiskey. Quotes are everywhere, hand painted. The heat ebbs a little as evening comes. It is August in Madrid. Liz takes pictures.

We crowd to the back half of the shop. Spencer sits on the floor. My children sit in front of him. Everyone crowds around. I stand against a bookshelf. I can see nothing but books and faces. I hold my poems. I want so badly to be worthy of this moment. Of these people’s attention. But that is the wrong impulse. They are here. I will read. That exchange is enough, as it has been for years in literature. Spencer has gathered smart, generous people together (Terry, Charlotte, Liz, James) who love literature, are desperate for it.

Liam Rector used to tell each incoming class at the Bennington Writing Seminars, “find those with whom you have rapport and proceed.” Nothing in my life could have prepared me for the experience of traveling 14 hours across the world to read in a beautiful-crowded-hot bookshop to a room of a dozen deeply engaged people. But it is great fun, and I am full of gratitude. The other good news: someone bought a 300 euro book that night.

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More:
Unamuno Author Series on Facebook
YouTube: Jeremy Voigt reads his poem “Lunar Eclipse” on the rooftop of the Catedral del Redentor in Madrid

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Spencer Reece with Jeremy Voigt and family
Jeremy Voigt lives, reads, writes, teaches, runs, husbands, parents, and observes the ever-changing state of things in Bellingham, Washington. His chapbook is called Neither Rising nor Falling, and other poems have appeared recently in Post Road, Poet Lore, Talking River and Gulf Coast.

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