National Poetry Month

Have visited three islands, five libraries, some bookstores, a few schools, a fire station, and Grant Mountain Preserve as part of several poetry events in the last ten days.  Busy!  This week will bring the launch of WA 129 book in Olympia and several other poetry events.  And:  heard Robert Wrigley read from his great new book, curated an art portal, saw deer in my yard, and celebrated Edna St. Vincent Millay in Ellensburg.

Update:  am almost finished sending out acceptances to the digital section of the WA 129 project–looking forward to working on that over the next few months!  More poetry news soon.

WA 129

An update:  Acceptances for the printed anthology have all been been sent, and I’ll start sending information to poets who I’d like to be included in the digital project soon.  All poets who submitted should get some sort of notification from me in the next couple of weeks.  I apologize that it’s taken so long to get back to folks, and I’ll be in touch soon!


WA 129: Over 2000 poems submitted

img_1275I apologize that I haven’t had the chance to update this in the last few weeks.  It seems that poets like to put off submitting poems until the last possible minute:  about 600 poems came during the last week that submissions were open!  Although the vast majority of poems came in via email, I also received a couple of hundred poems via postal mail.  Anyhow, I’ve been reading through the many, many poems that were submitted, and I’ve started to send out acceptance notes: I will send acceptances for the book manuscript first; I will send acceptances for online publication next; after I’ve finished those duties, I’ll send thank you notes to those that submitted whose work will not be included in the project.  So many admirable works–but I can only include a few hundred in the project!

Of course, the wild world keeps spinning in its wild journey through the wilderness of space.  Here’s a poem by Naomi Lazard that has been on my mind:

Ordinance on Arrival

Welcome to you
who have managed to get here.
It’s been a terrible trip;
you should be happy you have survived it.
Statistics prove that not many do.
You would like a bath, a hot meal,
a good night’s sleep. Some of you
need medical attention.
None of this is available.
These things have always been
in short supply; now
they are impossible to obtain.

This is not
a temporary situation;
it is permanent.
Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.
For reasons beyond our control
there is no vehicle out.


Okay–back to reading through submissions.





The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun

The last few weeks have whirled and swirled and gone by without much of a chance for me to update things–but I will soon!  Look for an announcement on WA 129, an update of my calendar for spring of 2017, and some images of the many events I’ve been part of and the many great writers I’ve been lucky to spend time with throughout our state.  Below are some images from (beginning in the upper right):  Soap Lake (a gym full of poetry fans!), Spokane (snow, snow, snow), The Nisqually Youth Center where I was part of a salmon celebration and story telling evening (what a beautiful design on the gift I received!), an airplane (dig those mountains!), Roslyn (camels!), and The Hugo House.

The Tyranny of Intention

As we approach the deadline for the WA 129 project, I thought that it might be useful to share a few directives that have always helped me when working on my own writing—both in generating new poems and thinking through older drafts.

  1. It’s always a challenge to find those poems that matter most to you, that come from intense feeling—but more than just feeling, intense intellectual engagement, extreme physical engagement (hiking, fence hole digging, yoga, and dance):  those activities and passions in which the sense of self falls away and leaves verb, action, or, as William Carlos Williams put it—contact.  And yet–it’s exactly those poems that we must search for, must apply ourselves to writing.  Those urgencies are where the (fill in the blank: heart?  spirit?  soul?) reside, and it’s only those intensities that can initiate powerful poems.  But see (B):
  2. Learn to subvert the “tyranny of our intentions.”  That’s a phrase that Chris Howell used when I interviewed him for one of the conversations that ended up in Range of the Possible. Anyhow, I think that Howell’s caution is against trying to control our art too much and points us toward many valuable notions:  Dean Young’s phrase “the art of recklessness” is another version of the same idea; we need to be receptive to the creative forces that are not immediately apparent to us; we need to realize our habits, the imaginative ruts into which we easily slip–and avoid such patterns. We need to understand that the subconscious is tuned in to creative energies that the rational may never recognize. Simply (ha!), be open to the swerves that your poem might take—the images that might not be exactly in the direction where you think the poem should go but that bring about something unexpected.  The unexpected can lead to surprise (which can lead to astonishment, often the dwelling place of great art).
  3. Don’t judge yourself or your poems.   One of my favorite anecdotes about writing comes from a Bill Moyers’s interview with William Stafford; Stafford talks about his writing routine; he wakes in the early morning (4 or 5 a.m.) and leans back on his couch with a legal pad to write down whatever comes to him; Moyers asks, “What if what you write isn’t any good?”  Stafford, always cagey and wise, replies, “Then I lower my standards.”  I don’t believe in writer’s block; I believe in our powerful ability to self-censor, self-scrutinize, shut down creativity before it even happens.  So:  lower your standards.  Make something. Create.  Go into the trance, “the realizations in language” that Stafford talks about in this video.
  4. Ilya Kaminsky gave a talk at this fall’s Litfuse Festival in Tieton. He was great, and he emphasized three simple generalizations about writing that are always smart to keep in mind.  First, think about how your nouns should usually be images; think of the difference between “a plate heaped with food” and “a plate with stacks of sliced Swiss cheese, shredded lettuce, and eight slices of tomato.”  The generalized “food” is mushy as a plate of overcooked pasta; the particular (especially the colors!) of the cheese and tomatoes stand out in the mind’s eye.  Second, verbs should generate energy.  Is, was, have—those weak linking and helping verbs take away the fire of language’s connections.  Lastly, you should weigh and measure the usage of every modifier—adjectives and adverbs.  Only keep those that are absolutely necessary.

The rather eventful last month took me to many wonderful places in our state:  Yakima (see Mark Fuzie in a photo below) and Woodinville, Redmond and Tulip (what an amazing cultural center), as well as return trips to Metaline Falls and Ritzville (we made poems!).  I also gave talks on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, “What Fiction Writers Can Learn from Poetry,” and met with the wonderful Rotarian Club of Lake City, Washington!  And so much more: I had a chance to listen to hear Brenda Hillman (see her below in Capitol Hill as part of the fantastic Cascadia Poetry Festival), Heather McHugh, and so many other wonderful poets, including the energetic crew at the Everett Poetry Nite.

I’m looking forward to my last few trips of 2016–to Lacey, Seattle, and Tacoma; Curlew and Republic, Chewelah, Soap Lake, and Ephrata.

No Bigfoot: But Some Little Feet

I was just in Mineral, Wa, at The Mineral School, a place where Jane Hodges has launched an artist residency program in a 1947 school house.  It’s an ambitious undertaking in a really wonderful building in a secluded place–Mineral has a campground, a small general store, a tavern, and a church (as well as a few tractors and some big trout that I’ve seen rising in the lake).  Perfect seclusion to get some work done, to focus on the poem, the novel, the memoir or book of essays.  It’s been my home base for visits to Centralia College, Onalaska High School, and Eatonville High School, and today, I’ll go to the Salkum Branch of the Timberland Library system.  Keeping busy and meeting wonderful people, dedicated teachers, and community members who value connection with one another and the world around them.

I went on a walk down the road from The Mineral School to see Mt. Rainier–too cloudy and rainy–but found instead the Mineral Lake Lodge and this cool quilt made by Caroline, the owner: Yeats is everywhere!  If only the world wasn’t so full of weeping.  A great visit to a wet and wild and secluded part of our state–and no Bigfoot sightings, although I did see this: img_1882

Little feet (see them up in the corner?):  one of the great artists of the last century who wrote:  “There has been a shift of emphasis in the practice of the arts of painting, music and dancing during the last few years. There are no labels yet but there are ideas. These ideas seem primarily concerned with something being exactly what it is in its time and place, and not in its having actual or symbolic reference to other things. A thing is just that thing. It is good that each thing be accorded this recognition and this love. Of course, the world being what it is-or the way we are coming to understand it now-we know that each thing is also every other thing, either actually or potentially. So we don’t, it seems to me, have to worry ourselves about providing relationships and continuities and orders and structures-they cannot be avoided.”

And then, on my last day there:  the mountain.


Next entry (per a request) will offer some ideas to help with writing–



Don’t Think Twice

Not much time for reflection–been zooming around the state, meeting wonderful poets and fans of poetry and readers of poetry and people who are just kind of curious what a Washington State Poet Laureate (and a poem) might look like.  From glorious apples in Chelan and the great fun of being part of a poetry pole celebration in Cle Elum to the honor of reading with Charles Johnson and Bridget Foley at Bedtime Stories, it’s been a busy few weeks.

Coming up next week:  a journey to Mineral, WA (to read with Nicole Hardy), and several events at schools and libraries in surrounding communities!

And how does it feel?  Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate!  His words have been a part of my life since childhood; I can vividly remember my father singing Dylan songs while strumming his guitar:  a bold and wonderful choice by the Nobel Committee.