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.

Get some Cascadia!

October 8, 2016

Cascadia Poetry Festival

This is a guest post by Paul Nelson

The fourth Cascadia Poetry Festival happens Thursday through Sunday, November 3-6, 2016, at the Spring Street Center, 15th & Spring in Seattle, and three other venues. Inspired by the Taos Poetry Circus, the fest features Academic, Democratic and Performative aspects, as well as late-night events that have more of a party feel.

The Academic portion of the fest is handled in two ways: Workshops and Panels. One workshop, Poetic habitat now (Daphne Marlatt), will investigate what Wendell Berry’s call for a “biocentric” vision to replace our dominant anthropocentric one might mean in poetry. “Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human.” This challenge is a call for a radical shift in our attention, one that foregrounds our relations with other species and with the elements that make up our habitat, one that recognizes how interdependent, even coterminous we are with them. Daphne Marlatt, the brilliant (and much overlooked south of the border) Vancouver poet, will facilitate and incorporate a notion from Denise Levertov, to whom this iteration of the fest is dedicated. (More about the Denise Levertov plaque project here.)

The other workshop will focus on the creation of beautiful hand-made artist books and be led by Portland poet Marilyn Stablein.

Panels happen on Saturday morning and will focus on the confluence of water and poetry in Cascadia, as well as Levertov’s legacy. That Marlatt, Sam Hamill, Tim McNulty and Brenda Hillman will be on the same stage talking about Levertov is something anyone interested in her legacy should not miss. In addition to the main stage poets already mentioned there will be UW Professor Emeritus Colleen McElroy, whose poems about her youth each equal about a thousand Black Lives Matter speeches; Sarah DeLeeuw of Prince George, BC, whose book-length poem Skeena looks at that mighty river from the river’s perspective; JM Miller, the UW-Tacoma faculty member and healer, whose new book is Wilderness Lessons; Peter Munro, the NOAA Fisheries Scientist who runs the popular EasySpeak Seattle reading series (& facilitates the panel); David McCloskey, the Father of Cascadia who gave the bioregion its name; Jordan Abel, the Vancouver indigenous poet whose erasures of settler texts was an award winning book, the place of scraps; and Elwha storyteller Roger Fernandes, among others. The closing reading will happen at Open Books.

A daily Democratic reading is Living Room, in which all poets can share their original work with other poets. The late night readings, called the After Party, are curated by Seattle poets Matt Trease and Greg Bem and happen at the trendy Common Area Maintenance, and a Cascadia Invitational Slam happens at Black & Tan Hall in Hillman City on Friday and Saturday nights.

On a personal note, the fest is part of a 20-year Cascadia Bioregional Cultural Investigation which also includes a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Innovative Cascadia Poetry, the first Cascadia Poetry anthology, Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, interviews under the banner of American Prophets and soon Cascadian Prophets and my own serial poem re-enacting the history of Cascadia so far in two hunks: A Time Before Slaughter and Pig War & Other Songs of Cascadia. Through these efforts I hope to discover the Sh’te or animating spirit of place and become a fully re-inhabited Cascadian. See you at the fest.

Gold Passes for entry to every event (except the workshops and the Slam) are $35 and available at Brown Paper Tickets. Admission to single events will be available at the door for $10.

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Paul NelsonPoet/interviewer Paul Nelson founded SPLAB & the Cascadia Poetry Festival, published: American Sentences (Apprentice House 2015); A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (essay, Lumme Editions, Brazil, 2013). He’s interviewed many poets, including Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, George Bowering and Brenda Hillman, presented poetry/poetics in London, Brussels, Qinghai & Beijing, China, and published work in Golden Handcuffs Review, Zen Monster and Hambone. Awarded The Capilano Review’s 2014 Robin Blaser Award, he writes an American Sentence every day and lives in Seattle in the Cedar River Watershed.
(Author photo by Susan M. Schultz)

Susan Rich readsThis is a guest post by Susan Rich.

National Poetry Month means that schools, universities, art galleries, and bookshops are hosting poets, asking us to come read our work. And if you’ve ever attended a reading, you know that the experience can be profound or perilous, depending.

I’ve given a good deal of thought about what makes a good poetry listening experience. As someone who goes to poetry readings and also gives them, I like to try and figure out what makes me enjoy a reading.

Today I had the distinct pleasure of listening to the poet Oliver de la Paz read his work. He is a superb poet and a superb presenter of his own work. Here are a few things I learned from him this afternoon:

  1. Welcome your audience. Before Oliver began reading he talked for a little bit about what he would read and where he comes from. Since he was visiting at a college, he emphasized what it felt like to grow up in his hometown of Ontario, Oregon, and the trouble he’d fallen into as a boy to keep boredom at bay. Trouble? Boredom? He had these students completely ready to listen.
  2. Read a diverse selection of your work. Sometimes there are poems that we feel might be “too dark” for our audience; perhaps we don’t want anyone to feel down on our behalf. But the truth is, people come to poetry readings wanting to feel, wanting to be moved. Don’t be afraid to read your intense poems but you can also offer something light, something loving as well.
  3. Tell stories between your poems; give places for the audience to pause. This is something I often need to be reminded of because for many people new to poetry — or new to a particular poet — the story is the gateway to the poem. I’ve seen superb poets skip this step to the detriment of their own work and I’ve seen “ok” poets with a brilliant set-up keep their audience fully engaged.
  4. Mix it up! This week I’m reading at two different venues with two different friends. Instead of the one-poet-then-another routine, we are going to try something new. Perhaps we will each read a poem with the word “blue” in it or we will both read a love poem, or a break-up poem. The idea is that we will integrate the poems and make a sort of “living anthology” so that the experience created will be new and fresh. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  5. Always, always, enjoy yourself! I try to arrange for a dinner with a friend or an after party whenever I read so that I know there will be something to look forward to besides the reading. I enjoy readings but it is an intense experience and I am most happy afterwards when I can chat with people. Knowing that good food is involved makes me feel I’m singing for my supper.

After my book launch at Open Books in Seattle, I wrote a Top 10 List of things to think about when you launch a book. These tips will work for any reading at all — book or not. You can read more at The Alchemist’s Kitchen.
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Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which was a Finalist for the Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award. She is the recipient of awards from Artist’s Trust, The Times Literary Supplement of London, Peace Corps Writers and the Fulbright Foundation. Individual poems appear in the Antioch Review, New England Review, Poetry Ireland, and Prairie Schooner. Along with Brian Turner and Jared Hawkley, she is editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders, published by McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation. Susan runs The Alchemist’s Kitchen blog on travel and the creative life; she is also cofounder of Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women.
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NOTE: This evening, Thursday, April 17, 2014, the Northwind Reading Series presents Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon at the Northwind Arts Center in Port Townsend.

NaPoWriMo 2014

This is a guest post by the founder of NaPoWriMo, Maureen Thorson.

Back in 2003, I decided that I would write a poem every day in April. I called the project NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) and I posted the poems I wrote to my blog. The next year, I did it again — and some of my friends joined in. Things snowballed from there. Last year, more than 2000 poets participated, via www.napowrimo.net.

One of my greatest pleasures is seeing how many people end up writing great poems, or even whole books, based on ideas they started to play with in their NaPoWriMo poems. In fact, my new book, My Resignation, grew out of the poems I wrote during the 2008 NaPoWriMo.

Originally, I used the NaPoWriMo website just to link to the blogs of poets who were participating. Over the past few years, I’ve added more resources for participants, including optional daily prompts.

Many poets are intimidated by sitting down to write; they feel an expectation that they produce only serious, finished work. The prompts give poets something to focus on other than these self-cancelling feelings — a new form, or a specific group of words, perhaps a goofy title. Maybe the prompts result in finished poems, maybe the poet just has fun experimenting. The point is, at least something gets written!

Interested? It’s easy to participate! If you want to follow the prompts, great. If not, that’s fine too. If you want to post poems to your blog, and/or have your blog linked to on www.napowrimo.net, we’d love to see them. But there’s no pressure. The only thing you need to do is try to write a poem a day in April.
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Maureen ThorsonMaureen Thorson is the author of two books of poetry, My Resignation (Shearsman Books 2014) and Applies to Oranges (Ugly Duckling Presse 2011). She coordinates the NaPoWriMo website, where you’ll find poetry prompts, links to featured poets, and other writing resources each day during the month of April.

Kelli's Corona
In the Dark Days of Winter, Remember the Light Poetry Brings

A guest post by Kelli Russell Agodon on the occasion of Emily Dickinson’s birthday

As December amps up many of our lives, poetry is a way to ground us.

For the last month, I have been waking up before my family to write poems. I turn on my laptop, put on a little background music, then I begin. Sometimes the words don’t come. Sometimes I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.

I’m still a little sleepy when I begin and that openness between the dream world and the awake world helps.

When I feel stuck, I reach for a writing prompt from The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice (a book my friend Martha Silano and I created, inspired from our own writing dates). Mostly I just try to get something down. Sometimes the exercise starts me and I end up going an entirely different direction — that’s okay. The goal with every writing prompt is to write, not to follow directions.

Many times in our lives, we feel there’s not enough time to write, and yet we find time to go to the store, eat meals, watch television, connect with friends, clean the house. Writing should get some priority in our lives, if not a lot. Writing time should be something we strive for, to pull ourselves out of our frenzied routines.

Set the timer for ten or fifteen minutes and try to write a poem. Even if you don’t write anything, you have given yourself a little vacation from your regular life. You have opened a door to creativity. You may notice an interesting thing happening: the more you show up to write, the more you write. Our brains begin to connect with our writing times and the words come easier. With this time to our self, the rest of our life seems less hectic.

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Get your own copy of The Daily Poet by Martha Silano and Kelli Russell Agodon.

Read more about creativity and the writing life on Kelli’s blog, Book of Kells.

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Kelli Russell AgodonKelli Russell Agodon is a prize-winning poet, writer, and editor from the Northwest.

She is the author of Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (White Pine Press, 2010), winner of the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Prize in Poetry and a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. She is also the author of Small Knots (2004) and the chapbook, Geography (2003). She co-edited the first eBook anthology of contemporary women’s poetry, Fire On Her Tongue, and recently published The Daily Poet, a book of poetry writing exercises she coauthored with Martha Silano.

Her third collection of poems, Hourglass Museum, will be published in February 2014.

Kelli is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and was the editor of Seattle’s literary journal, Crab Creek Review, for the last five years. She never underestimates the power of museums and good dessert to heal what ails.

Visit her at agodon.com or on Facebook or write to her directly at: kelli (at) agodon.com.
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photos: Corona by Kelli; Kelli by Susan Rich

Redmond’s New Poet Laureate

November 17, 2013

This is a guest post by Michael Dylan Welch.

The City of Redmond, Washington, recently announced the appointment of its third poet laureate, Michael Dylan Welch. That would be me, your guest blogger today. I’m grateful for this opportunity to share my activities, the fourth of which is the wonderful “Poets in the Park” conference in April, which I hope you can attend. But more about that in a moment. Here are my main plans for the year ahead.

Poem of the Week

  1. “Poem of the Week” posters. These 11×17-inch color posters appear in the Redmond library in hallway entrances, in the poetry section, and in a display space next to the information desk. They also appear at other locations around the city, including the VALA Art Center, two bookstores, the senior center, teen center, city hall, and elsewhere. Sets of weekly posters (I have nine months’ worth) are available for free to use in other businesses and schools in Redmond.
  2. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” quarterly poetry readings featuring famous poets. The first reading took place on October 30, focusing on E. E. Cummings, with snacks and drinks provided by the city. People brought favorite Cummings poems to share and discuss. I showed YouTube interpretations of Cummings poems, played recordings of him reading his work, and also explored his poetry in various categories (visual poems, sonnets, love/erotic poems, poems for children, political poems, and what I called “kick-ass” poems). I’ll do similar free programs every three months on the last Wednesday of January (Emily Dickinson), April (Rumi), and July (Neruda) 2014.
  3. “Summer Poetry Walks.” From May through August 2014, I’ll lead free monthly walks designed to get people outdoors to write poetry about urban and natural environments, followed by sharing and discussion.
  4. “Poets in the Park” conference, April 26 and 27, 2014. I first started and directed this popular conference in 2004 and 2005, and I’m happy to revive it now. It will take place at the Meitzer Auditorium and the Redmond Senior Center alongside the Sammamish River Trail, with master classes the day before at Anderson Park. Former Washington State poet laureate Sam Green is on board. Watch for more details, including registration fees and other participants, coming soon.

Michael Dylan Welch

In addition to these projects, I continue to curate the SoulFood Poetry Night on the third Thursday of each month (we’re now in our eighth year of readings), and to curate readings for the Redmond Association of Spokenword (RASP) on the last Friday of each month. These Redmond readings have featured many fine poets from around Washington State, plus an open mic.

 

Here, There, and EverywhereI also recently edited Here, There, and Everywhere, the first RASP poetry anthology, available from CreateSpace. I also run National Haiku Writing Month, coming up in February, the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry, but action happens year-round on the NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook, where daily writing prompts provide much inspiration for more than 1,500 participants. I also maintain my own poetry website at www.graceguts.com, and I’m vice president of the Haiku Society of America. You can find out more about Redmond poet laureate events at http://www.redmond.gov/poetlaureate. Hope to see you at one activity or another, and if you have questions or ideas, please drop me a line at WelchM@aol.com. Write on!

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