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:

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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.

Clover, today!

February 24, 2019

Clover: A Literary Rag celebrates Sweet 16 today as a selection of contributors to volume 16 share their words. Featured authors are Luther Allen, James Bertolino, Jennifer Bullis, Nancy Canyon, Susan Chase-Foster, Michael Daley, Victoria Doerper, Paul Hunter, Andrew Shattuck McBride, C.J. Prince, Betty Scott, Gary Wade, and Bob Zaslow.

Join in the celebration at 4:00pm at Village Books in Bellingham. It’s free, and copies of Clover will be available for purchase and signing.

the creatures are stirring!

October 15, 2018

Can you hear the yowls and yaps, the squeals and chirps? That growling sound, the one that makes you clutch one another in your tent… that’s the sound of SpeakEasy 22: Animal Beast Creature.

The SpeakEasy poetry series returns to Bellingham on Saturday, October 20, 2018, as poets Jennifer Bullis, Elizabeth J. Colen, Paul Hunter, Jeffrey Morgan, Bethany Reid, Kimberly Roe, Ely Shipley, and Sheila Sondik explore the power of animals — persona, myth, spirit, science, and a deep wildness. The program is free and begins at 7:00pm in the Encore Room of the Mount Baker Theatre. Village Books will be on hand to sell the poets’ books. Event info on Facebook.

SpeakEasy is an occasional poetry series that emphasizes themed, audience-friendly presentations of quality poetry by Cascadia-region writers. It is produced in Bellingham, Washington, by Luther Allen, author of The View from Lummi Island, and Judy Kleinberg.

Come experience the animal magnetism.

You’ll need an extra-large calendar for everything that’s going on during National Poetry Month, so we’re getting a head start on some of the don’t-miss events.

On Sunday, April 15, 2018, join authors Jennifer Bullis (Bellingham), Kathryn Smith (Spokane), and Maya Jewell Zeller (Spokane and Ellensburg) for a rousing reading of poetry exploring themes of resistance, solitude, and ecofeminism. “Jennifer’s poems are rich with earth tones and riotous cadences; Smith explores isolation via spare lyrics; and Maya’s work uses a range of caesura to interrogate human-animal relationships and the anxiety of parenting in the Anthropocene.”

The reading will begin at 4:00pm at Village Books in Bellingham. Read the full description on the Village Books event page and mark your calendar!

here they come!

January 3, 2018

Get ready. The Nasty Women Poets are headed your way. Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press) is a timely collection of poems that speaks not just to the current political climate and the man who is responsible for its title, but to the stereotypes and expectations women have faced dating back to Eve, and to the long history of women resisting those limitations.

In BELLINGHAM, four of these nasty women — Bellingham poets Jennifer Bullis, Susan J. Erickson, and Jessica Lee, and Seattle poet Carolyne Wright — will present a lively array of poems from Nasty Women Poets at Village Books in Fairhaven on Sunday, January 14, 2018, at 4:00pm.

In SEATTLE, contributors Kelli Russell Agodon, Jennifer Bullis, Susan J. Erickson, Susan Rich, Martha Silano, Judith Skillman, and Carolyne Wright will share some nastiness at Open Books on Friday, February 2, 2018, at 7:00pm.

In REDMOND, poets Jennifer Bullis, Martha Silano, Judith Skillman, and Carolyne Wright will be featured at SoulFood Poetry Night on Thursday, February 15, 2018, at 7:00pm.

The nasty women poets included here talk back to the men who created those limitations, honor foremothers who offered models of resistance and survival, rewrite myths, celebrate their own sexuality and bodies, and the girlhoods they survived. They sing, swear, swagger, and celebrate, and stake claim to life and art on their own terms.

The anthology, edited by Grace Bauer and Julie Kane, includes work from Kim Addonizio, Jan Beatty, Kelly Cherry, Annie Finch, Alice Friman, Allison Joseph, Marilyn Kallet, Melissa Kwasny, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Jessica Mehta, Lesléa Newman, Nuala O’Connor, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Melinda Palacio, Jennifer Perrine, Marge Piercy, Lucinda Roy, Maureen Seaton, Rochelle Spencer, A.E. Stallings, Stacey Waite, Diane Wakoski, Müesser Yeniay, and a fabulous coven of other women’s voices.

Other readings are scheduled nationwide (there are nasty women everywhere!) including Baltimore, Cambridge, Kalamazoo, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Watch for them — better yet, ask for them — at a bookstore near you.

poetry riches

September 27, 2017

This weekend is full of poetry treasure…

On Friday, September 29, in Bellingham, Poetry at St. Paul’s opens with a presentation by Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image Journal, followed by a reading by poet Luci Shaw. Events begin at 7:00pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Also on Friday, September 29, in Deming, Frida and Friends features Susan J. Erickson reading from her book of poems, Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine, joined by poets Lois Holub, Stephanie Hopkinson, J.I. Kleinberg, C.J. Prince, and Leslie Wharton. The reading begins a 7:00pm at the Deming Library.

Also on Friday, September 29, 2017, in Seattle, Meghan McClure and Michael Schmeltzer will read from their new collaborative volume, A Single Throat Opens (Black Lawrence Press). Join them at their book launch at 7:00pm at Open Books.

On Saturday, September 30, Poetry at St. Paul’s continues with a trio of workshops offered by Jennifer Bullis, Luci Shaw, and Caitlin Thomson. Registration is required. Workshops run concurrently, 1:30-3:00pm, at St. Paul’s.

Later on Saturday, September 30, head back to Open Books in Seattle for a launch party for Hailey Higdon’s chapbook, Rural (Drop Leaf Press), featuring readings by the author, Sarah Heady, and Tanya Holtland.

This is just a sampling of the weekend’s goings-on. Enjoy!

Bellingham, Washington, will be treated to a round of fine poetry and workshops as St Paul’s Episcopal Church hosts its first-ever poetry festival. Events kick off at 7:00pm on Friday, September 29, 2017, as Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image journal, speaks, followed by a reading from poet Luci Shaw.

On Saturday, September 30, beginning at 1:30pm, there will be several poetry workshops to choose from, led by Luci Shaw, Jennifer Bullis, and Caitlin Thomson. This will be followed by an open mic and a 7:00pm reading by Scott Cairns and Jeanne Murray Walker.

The workshop fee is $15 and registration is required. Otherwise, all lectures and poetry readings are free and open to the public.

No prior experience with poetry is required, and indeed one of the hopes of the organizers is that those unfamiliar with poetry will come and be able to connect to it in this venue. All events will take place in the church and the Great Hall.

For the full schedule, to sign up for workshops, and for more information, please see the Poetry at St. Paul’s website.

catching up…

May 20, 2014

Floating Bridge

In case you missed last week’s news, Floating Bridge Press has announced the winners of their 2014 Chapbook Competition. From submissions numbering close to 130 manuscripts, “many of exceptional quality,” the judges selected the 2014 winner, John Whalen of Spokane, for his manuscript, “Above the Pear Trees.” The other finalists were Maya Jewell Zeller of Spokane for “The Earth, That Other Sky,” Jennifer Bullis of Bellingham for “Amanda Bubble Is Nearly On Fire,” Dennis Caswell of Woodinville for “O.” and Michael Schmeltzer for “Elegy/Elk River.”

John Whalen’s chapbook will be published this fall and a reading in Seattle will include the winner and finalists. For additional details, visiting Floating Bridge Press online and on Facebook. Visit the Boynton Blog CALENDAR page for upcoming readings from Floating Bridge and many, many others.

Ish River and the Anchor

December 5, 2013

Anchor Art Space, AnacortesEach year, during the dark months of winter, poets and friends gather for the Ish River Poets Circle in a tradition started by Robert Sund in the early 1980s.

The December gathering, on Sunday, December 15, 2013, 3:00-5:00pm, will feature poets Jane Alynn, Caleb Barber and Jennifer Bullis plus a musical intermission with Brad Killion and Jeff Winston. The poets will gather at Anchor Art Space in Anacortes, which has been transformed for the season into a holiday gift store filled with one-of-a-kind, affordable, unusual and highly crafted artwork.

poetry reading!

July 2, 2013

Jennifer Bullis - Impossible LessonsWednesday, July 10, 2013, marks the official debut of Impossible Lessons, poems by Jennifer Bullis — and her reading, at 7:00pm at Village Books promises to be richly rewarding.

Of this collection, just released by MoonPath Press, Jeremy Voigt says, “…Her language is both direct and incantatory, circling through the great human paradox of our animal flesh and our spiritual ascensions….” and James Bertolino says, “…Her images are arresting and unforgettable, the phrases lush and impeccably crafted….”

Originally from Reno, Nevada, Jennifer Bullis earned a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of California, Davis, and taught community-college writing in Bellingham, Washington, for 15 years. Her work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies and she has won an impressive collection of awards, including, most recently, Honorable Mention, Tupelo Press Poetry Project, Spring 2011, and Winner, The Pitch Contest, Poetry Northwest, November 2010. She was a judge for the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest in 2008 and blogs at jenniferbullis.wordpress.com.

Please mark your calendar and join Jennifer and her fans on July 10 as she reads from, discusses and signs Impossible Lessons.

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