NaPoWriMo Daily Challenge: A Poem for Ruth and Don

I have been writing (or trying to) a poem each day for the NaPoWriMo daily poetry challenge to commemorate National Poetry Month. As of today, April 28, I have written 24 poems. This year instead of posting all my sometimes feeble attempts to the public, I've only been brave enough to share them with other poet friends who are on the same journey. They know the struggles of trying to be almost brilliant every day. 

Now that National Poetry Month is drawing to a close, I thought I'd take the plunge to share a few of my poems here. For Spring Break this year, I took my first trip to Hawaii to visit my good friends Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell of Saddle Road Press, the publishers of my book Always a Blue House. There were a few days there in their lovely house on the Big Island when Ruth and I would be writing our poems on different floors. 

So here is one for you, Ruth and Don:

Day 12

Silver Swords

Ruth raved about them,
thorny globes glistening
among lava falls
on the slope of Mauna Kea.

We bumped our way
along a rocky track,
like the roads in Tanzania,

distant plains spread out before us
green and gold like the Serengeti.
How could this be Hawaii?

Then there they were, shining
like unsheathed blades,
presence potent
as she had promised.

 

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Poetry Challenge A Year Late

Tania Pryputniewicz sent me a poetry challenge last March:  Use at least three of the musical expressions on the front of this card, plus cat, plus piano or other musical instrument of your choice in a poem. Game on!

It's almost April, which is National Poetry Month. This was a good way to get myself back into writing shape before attempting the NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) 30-poems-in-30-days challenge.

It's taken me a year to write this poem. I guess publishing a book got in the way. But, Tania, here it is! 


Piano forte

Hauled all over Texas,
Colorado until Illinois,
Mom’s big upright in the corner
never made it past the blue house.

Legs scuffed from rough and tumble,
keys stained, discolored ivory
cracked by shoes and toys.
One senza music -
sounding thunk, thunk.

Childhood cat a black
eighth note, paws soft-stepping
across the keyboard,
drew ghost music,
dolce espressivo.

I could pick out high C,
my  piano lesson a solo
cut short when we had to move,
finding a new place again.

Mom dragged that piano
all over those living rooms:
it held stockings at Christmas,
once played divider, enough space
for a hillbilly bedroom.

From her red Methodist hymnal,
she filled each house
with  chords poco marcato:
“Onward Christian Soldiers,”
 “Thine is the Glory.”

In the end strong men
hauled its black body away,
Mom stood at the window,
sheets of music in her hands.

 

Musical terms:
dolce espressivo – sweetly expressive
forte - strongly
non tropo vivo – not too lively
poco marcato – a little emphatic

For Tania Once Again

Last weekend I took Always a Blue House on the road for the first time, going to San Diego for the Not Yet Dead Poets Society First Friday reading with my dear friend and sister poet, Tania Pryputniewicz. Tania and I then co-led a Saturday morning poetry workshop at San Diego Writer's Ink

One of the writing prompts Tania brought to the workshop was based on a poem she wrote about another time we spent as poets together at a writing retreat in Calistoga, CA.

That poem was the first in what has become an ongoing poetry challenge that we've tossed back and forth to each other. Sometimes it takes months for us to complete our poems. In fact, I'm working on one right now.

Until I finish that poem for Tania, I thought I'd re-post the first challenge poem that appeared on this blog back in June 2015. It seems like a good way to thank my friend for her love and poetry support. 

 

                                                                 

 

For Tania From Italy

Here z's
are everywhere:
Firenze
scamorza
pizzeria
palazzo
zabaglione
Piazza della Stazione
Via Panzini
San Lorenzo
Uffizi
Rizzo
They fly from my mouth,
zip through air
like chimney swifts
circling the great dome
outside my window.
Violin music swirls up
from the piazza below.
Delizioso.

Difficult Animal: A Review

In Difficult Animal (Saddle Road Press), Lisa Lutwyche shows us the meat and bones of life, that difficult animal we all struggle with, full of love and confusion, with hidden teeth. This collection is a poetic memoir beginning with her childhood: talented parents, music they produced, and her young ache for love and acceptance.  However, just when I began to believe this would be the story of a girl and her family, I was brought up short.

This is no idyllic reverie; Lutwyche doesn’t shy away from life’s pain. The lessons of her grandmothers whose presence is a soft constant in the “Great-Grandmother Annetta” and “Gentle Watch,” are shattered by the violent death of a fawn whose eyes wouldn’t close. This poem, “Requiem for a Nuisance” brings ominous undertones of danger.

That danger does come in the form of domestic violence and then cancer. It was with the second section that I truly fell in love with this book. Here Lutwyche’s strength of language and willingness to write unflinchingly grow in power. She too won’t close her eyes but instead faces whatever comes. In “Invisible,” she bravely claims:

so if I am

         invisible

let me twirl

         around your faces

laughing

        teasing

let me dance naked

and shout

forbidden dreams

Dance and shout she does. Lutwyche uses multiple points of view in her poems as if she holds life in her hands, turning it over and over to view it from every angle. Images of hands appear repeatedly throughout this book: a father’s whose hands held the power to move hearts, violent hands of an abusive husband and a new love whose touch / heals. But the most important hands are those of this brave poet, wielding her pen. In “Brewing the Witch” She stirs in the deep secret / of her untapped strength…brews the witch / she needs to be. And this reader is glad she did. 

Available on Amazon.

Goodbye Comic Sans?

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I came across this interesting blog post about fonts today: If You're Using These Fonts You Need to Stop by Larry Kim.  He lists Comic Sans as the worst font you can use on your website or blog. He also includes a list of other "offensive" font types. What surprised me? Included was Times New Roman. Really? Read his post here.

I have to admit that as a teacher Comic Sans was my go-to font when creating handouts for my students. Other fonts seemed too business-like. I guess that's the point. Think  about what font is best for your purpose. 

I haven't spent much time worrying about typography for my website but this makes me think I should pay more attention. For all you bloggers out there, I'd love to know if you've given this much thought.

A New Home for My Blog and Video Tour

In Bologna

In Bologna

After over five years of posting on Blogspot, Poet Teacher Seeks Home has a new home. I'm excited to announce that my blog will now be housed on my main website.  This means that those of you who have supported me by subscribing to my blog will need to re-enter your email if you want to continue receiving posts. And I sure hope you will keep reading. 

Another new feature to check out is my Always a Blue House On the Road video tour. As part of my book launch tour, I've decided to make a video of me reading a poem in every place I visit this year.  Check out the first one here

 

Good Literary Citizenship Post #1: A Reminder from Emma Lee's Blog

A couple of weeks ago,the blog post How to Be a Successful Poet on Social Media (Emma Lee's Blog, October 26, 2016) appeared in my inbox just in time to remind me of my responsibilities as a citizen of the literary community. In it Emma Lee, a blogger and writer based in England, asks some important questions such as:

When was the last time you shared someone else's status update/tweet/blog link on social media? When was the last time you shared a link to your blog? (Read the rest of the post here.)

Now that I'm in the process of marketing my new poetry collection, Always a Blue House (Saddle Road Press) due for release on December 10, 2016, I find myself in the position of asking people to help me spread the news of my book on social media and in literary journals. As for many writers, this process is not always comfortable. I'd much rather be sitting in my room writing poems. But in the publication world, it's a necessary part of the journey. 

So far, I've had many generous people give me opportunities for interviews and reviews. Emma Lee is one of those. Now she's reminded me that I can return the favor in my own small way. 

What better way to make myself feel less forward and self-important than to find ways to help get the word out for others' work? I've decided to do a series of posts featuring the work of other poets and writers. Just doing my bit.

So, people, check out Emma Lee's blog. She has some great resources for writers. It's fun to read about what's going on in the English poetry world. Who knows, you might find a place for your work beyond your own country.

Such Beautiful Books!

Today the advance copies of my book, Always a Blue House arrived on my doorstep. It is such a beautiful book thanks to the editing and design work of the multi-talented Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell of Saddle Road Press

My book officially comes out December 10, 2016, just in time for my birthday. You can pre-order it on Amazon here, or wait to order it via my website in December. 

How many different photos of my books can I take? 








Slice of Life: While in Bali

This summer I was fortunate to go on a two week writing retreat/tour in Bali under the guidance by writing/writing coach Laura DavisJudy Slattum and Made Surya of Danu Tours,  with healer and movement teacher Evelyn Hall.

I have dreamed of going to Bali for years. This tour was a wonderful way to experience such a special place. The following comes from one of the daily writing sessions on the trip: 


While in Bali I saw women lighting incense in their daily offerings, showing their deep connection to the spirit. I saw many smiling faces, people who seemed truly happy with life if even for only that moment. While in Bali I saw banana leaves swaying in the wind, bright hanging flowers. I saw hens herding their chicks across roads. I saw motorbikes loaded with families and people carrying great bundles of goods. While I was in Bali I saw dancers of strange beauty and grace dance their steps with tight precision.

While in Bali I heard the roosters crow every morning whether in town or country. I heard greetings: “Selamat pagi” and “hallo” from everyone I met. I heard “Terima kasih” and “same sama" for each small kindness. While in Bali I heard the rustle of palm leaves and the sharp pounding of rain on the roof. I heard the cooing of brown doves and the sharp cries of birds I had never met before. I heard the chak, chak of the kecak monkey chorus and tickling gamelan music. I heard priests chant at dawn each morning.

While in Bali I smelled the sweet scent of flowers at night:  plumeria blooms, jasmine and bougainvillea. I smelled the pungent odor of decaying offerings and onions frying in the kitchen at noon. I smelled the mildew of fabric that won’t dry in the humid air. While in Bali I smelled chili and lemongrass and ginger in broth. I smelled coffee brewing and chocolate being made. While hiking through the Balinese countryside. I smelled manure and cows and pigs. I smelled wet moss on cold stone steps.

While in Bali I tasted the stickiness of palm sugar, the taste of fresh unsweetened coconut. I tasted peanut sauce and ginger and garlic, the ever present nutty tempe. While snorkeling in Bali I tasted the salt of ocean water on lips. I tasted shrimp crackers and nasi goreng and nasi campur and mei goreng. I tasted cacao seeds and clove flowers picked from trees.

While in Bali I felt the trickle of sweat down my back and cool mountain breezes.  I felt a deep wonder at the richness of this small island. While in Bali I felt a deep stillness in my heart. I felt rain pour over me and waded through puddles up to my ankles. While in Bali I felt the earth under my bare feet. I felt the rhythm of dance.

While I in Bali I met Balinese writers and dancers and artists of all kinds. I met children who played music for us, and women who took care of us. I met drivers who steered us to where we needed to go. I met the stars in the dark sky at night. I met geckos and large brown butterflies and wasps the size of birds. I met huge snails that ate hibiscus flowers from my outdoor bathroom.


 
While in Bali I was reminded that how I live is not the only way. I was reminded to dance and sing, to live in my whole body instead of just in my head. I was reminded of the importance of meeting new people and opening myself to those around me. I was reminded to go out into nature and shake off the dust of cities. I was reminded of how good it feels to go barefoot and to stop worrying about dirty feet. While I was in Bali I was reminded of how important traditions and art can be, how it feels to live in a community that cares for one another.


















While in Bali, I learned how importance of the cycle of life and death. I learned what it means for people to live surrounded by symbols of their spirit. While in Bali I learned I might be persuaded to believe in reincarnation if I could stay here long enough. I learned to love this place of great beauty as well as great trouble, of hordes of tourists and quiet rice fields, of brightly colored flowers and great piles of trash. I learned to go down a river on a raft, tie a sarong and listen to prayers without understanding a word. I learned to trust the politeness of those around me. While I in Bali I learned to sit still and let my senses open wide.

Notes: nasi means rice
          nasi goreng is fried rice
          nasi campur is rice with many small dishes
          mei goreng is fried noodles
          selamat page means good morning
          terima kasih means thank you
          sama sama is you're welcome

Bali here I come

After a year of planning, I'm finally on my way to Bali to write with Laura Davis and a crew of unknown writing buddies. First leg of the trip is done. I love Cathay Pacific - I actually had enough leg room to sleep for a few hours. 

I have a 4 hour layover but there is a Starbucks across from where I'm waiting. At times like these I find it difficult to criticize global capitalism. 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Solitude and Sadness

Today after I drove my friend, Ruth to the airport, "Claire de Lune" came on the radio. I've always found this piece by Debussy to be sweetly melancholy, and today it was the perfect music for my mood.

Now I sit in my house alone with just my own thoughts and notebook for company. I've looked forward to this solitude. The promise of this time got me through the last hectic weeks of work before summer vacation, of tying up the loose ends of the school year. But now that I have what I wanted, I wish my friend had not left.

Just a week ago at this time I was in Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast in a funky rental house on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Two of my writer friends shared this house with me. Down the road, two other houses, both filled with other friends. Nine women who had come together for our annual writer retreat. That whole week the presence of my friends surrounded my writing with love.

I remember the first time I went to camp when I was 10. I was nervous and apprehensive the whole long drive up to the campgrounds. I didn't know anyone and wasn't sure what to expect. Then it turned out to be such a glorious experience. When my parents came to pick me up after the week was over, I cried all the way home in the car. Every time I leave Sea Ranch, I think of that long-ago car ride.

Today I don't feel quite as bereft as that 10-year-old girl.  Just a little sad.  I guess it's to be expected, coming down from the exuberance of this year's experience of what my sister calls Poetry Camp. As all of us have flown off to our private corners, I am grateful for the flurry of texting, photos and emails we've sent each other. We find it hard to let go sometimes.

I know we will stay in touch over the year, but it's not the same as sitting around the table laughing and eating, writing together, or listening to each other read new work. Nothing can replace that shared community.  I'll have to wait until next June for that.






Sea Ranch, June 2016: A room with a view and starting a book campaign

For the past few years, I've made an annual trek to the northern California coast to Sea Ranch. This is a rather other-worldly place. Made up of a community of cedar-sided houses perched on the edge of the Pacific, there is little to do here. In June, it's windy and chilly. The nearest town is tiny Gualala, 12 miles up the road.

So what's the draw? For me, it's the chance to be with an amazing group of women I met in 2011 at the AROHO retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Another ranch, another place where there was nothing to do except eat, read, write, talk and experience the beauty of nature.

This year at Sea Ranch my bedroom is in the library of one of the houses we've rented. As I type this, I sit surrounded by books. Out my window, the ocean roars, gulls riding the wind currents. This is a glorious, wild place to begin my summer vacation.


Every year when I come to Sea Ranch, I set myself writing goals, just as I would expect of my own students. This blog post is the beginning of my first goal for 2016: begin a book campaign.

One of the wonderful women in my mighty band of writers here is Ruth Thompson who runs Saddle Road Press out of Hilo, Hawaii. I am honored that Saddle Road will be publishing my first full-length book of poetry in December.

Creating a book of poetry can be a long, painstaking process. I published my chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean (Big Table Publishing) in December of 2010. For the last six years, I've been slowly and steadily building a new collection of poems. And now my completed manuscript is in the hands of my trusty publisher.

Well, at least the first draft is in her hands! I know I have many revisions to go through before the book is ready to go out into the world. All writers can expect that. We may not like it, but we expect it. It's what writers do.

What many people don't know is the other work that goes into getting a book into people's hands, especially a book of poetry from a small press. And that's a marketing campaign. Most of my non-writer friends are surprised when I tell them that I will be responsible for marketing my book. But it's true. Being a poet and teacher, I never thought I'd have to add PR representative to my resumé. Now I am.

So in the next six months, I'm off on a new adventure of revision, choosing a cover -- and marketing. I know I'm not alone in this. I'm lucky to have writer friends who have given me great advice already. But I'm always looking for more ideas.

I'd love to hear from others, not just writers, who have have been on the same path. I know artists, photographs or filmmakers face the same challenges. What was it like for you to get your work known? Maybe I'll add your ideas to my to-do list.