Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Carnegie Center in the News

The Herald Leader had an article today about the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. Read about it. Celebrate it. Support it.

Countdown to Halloween

"Bats," a poem by Paisley Rekdel.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Drink from Your Own Well

William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer's Vocation:

Kierkegaard said, "Drink from your own well." And I like that, taking it to mean that each of us has an individual source for our best work, and that to reach deliberately elsewhere is to neglect something essential in our writing.

So when I get up in the morning and settle down to write, I do not reach for what is timely or in style, but for something that suggests itself to me right at the moment. It can be any trivial word or even syllable, or a sound from the trees outside, or what day it is, or that the sun is about to come up--anything. And sometimes I feel that the more trivial it seems the better, for with nothing to live up to I can relax and catch onto a current within me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reflecting on the Week

I have been tired (as I'm sure those around me have been too) of hearing myself complain that I haven't had time to write in recent weeks. The word that frequently escaped was balance, how I've been trying to learn how to balance the work I need to do (i.e., what I'm being paid to do), the work of daily life (you know it...laundry, dishes, yard work, phone calls, etc.), and the work I need to do (i.e., my own writing). The latter is what has been compromised. It's what always gets compromised when there are time constraints and responsibilities. Notice the complaint sneaking in.

So this week I tried a new approach. I woke one to two hours earlier than normal to write. I would probably classify as a night person, certainly not an early morning person by choice, so this was tough for me. But it worked. I resisted the urge to ignore the alarm. I pushed myself from the warm bed (surely one of the Sirens in inanimate form). I went to my favorite chair in the office. I wrote. I wrote until the time I normally wake up. It doesn't matter what I wrote; some of it is garbage, some has promise. But I am satisfied, as if a craving has been fulfilled.

I'm toying with the idea of staying up an hour or two later instead of rising earlier as perhaps that would be more in line with my body's natural rhythms. But there is something I really like about writing first thing in the morning. The mind is in the perfect state for writing...a complicated blend of foggy and clear, blurred by the dreamworld and unspoiled by the noise of the real world. This state of mind allowed me to write without judgment. Moreover, I liked writing in the dark that comes with this time of year, with only light from an adjacent room--quite congruous with the early morning quiet.

Will I be able to keep this practice? Time will tell. At least this week I'm not tired of hearing myself complain. I'm just tired.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Poetry Sites

Here are some poetry-related sites that have come to my attention recently:

Poetryvlog posts a weekly video of a poet reading his or her own poetry.

Ars Poetica shares daily poems about poetry. This blog has an interesting origin; it began when Dan Waber invited five of his favorite poets to send him an ars poetica they'd written along with the names and email addresses of five other poets. The invitations grew from there.

Mark Doty's blog is a sort of online notebook for the poet. (As a side note, I think Doty has to be one of the hippest poets out there. What other poet of his reputation [if you haven't heard, his book Fire to Fire is a finalist for the National Book Award] has a public MySpace page and blog? And I may be one of the least hip poets without a reputation for using the word "hip.")

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spot of Tea

What's a writer without her beverage of choice and a little something to nourish her? For some reason, fall equals baking to me, so last night I stayed up too late and baked biscotti, adjusting the recipe to what I had on hand. The biscotti turned out to be a nice little treat for my morning break today. To be honest, though, I typically drink my tea out of a mug but I thought my mother's tea service would make a prettier picture; it certainly made for a more elegant spot of tea.

Here's my modified (and halved) recipe (I I said, it was late last night) which made 16 cookies:


1/4 cup and 2 tbsp sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup slivered almonds
3 oz. egg substitute
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add almonds. In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla. Fold egg mixture into the dry ingredient mixture. Stir until dough is stiff. Split dough into two sections. Roll/shape each piece into a log. Place the logs on the baking sheet (I lined mine with a Silpat) and flatten slightly. Make sure to leave plenty of room between them. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool. Leave the oven on. Slice each log into 1/3" slices diagonally. Place (cut side down) on the baking sheet. Bake for another 20 minutes, until crispy.

Next time, I might increase the cinnamon and nutmeg and/or substitute almond extract for the vanilla.

Georgia On My Mind

Ella one else like her.

As far as I know, Atlanta's had a dry season, just as Kentucky has. While I was visiting, the area got some much needed rain and I had actually packed an umbrella, which meant I got to walk in the rain, something I haven't done in a long time. With moderate temperatures and steady rain, my walk took me over puddled sidewalks, pine straw from longleaf pines, and iron-rich soil that muddied and ran in red rivers. Many writers walk--to clear their minds, to fill their minds, to establish a rhythm in the body that carries over to the written word--so I don't know why it surprised me how cleansing and energizing a solitary walk could be.

One of the treats of the trip was a visit to the Georgia Aquarium. While the Tennessee Aquarium still ranks number one in my book, the Georgia Aquarium offered some great exhibits, including the whale sharks. I can't find words to describe these fish. I was spell-bound. If a trip to Atlanta isn't in your future, check out the Ocean Voyager web cam, where you might spot one of the giants gliding across your screen.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No Praise, No Blame

After reading Sherry's recent posts about William Stafford, I decided it was time to read his collections about writing poetry. The library only had Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer's Vocation so that's the one I'm reading. Turns out it is what I need to be reading right now. Stafford championed process over product. What Stafford espoused is summarized nicely in this statement of his:

A writer must write the bad poems in order to approach the good ones--finicky ways will dry up the sources.

Essentially the idea is to lower one's standards. Although I've heard (and tried to practice) this advice fairly regularly in my writing career, it still seems foreign to me (shall I say, un-American?). We are trained to set goals, make progress, achieve, have something outward to show for our labor (i.e., publications, awards for the writer). Certainly goals serve a purpose, but it is good to remember a writer is someone who writes, not someone who publishes, not even someone who writes well necessarily. By lowering or removing expectations (and as a result, nixxing those pesky, shaming, blaming voices when expectations aren't met), the writer writes for the sake of writing, for the sake of language and interaction with the language. Anything that might result from the writing process, say a finished product or publication, is just gravy.

On the flip side of "no blame" during the creative process is "no praise," no criticism or judgment of any sort. I've practiced this in the earliest stages of writing. This freedom from judgment is a critical component of Writing Practice, which in other circles is called free-writing or pre-writing. Whether in a group or alone, I have learned to turn off some of the censors/editors during the first stages of writing. However as drafts progress, as I become more committed to a piece, the internal editor becomes louder, more insistent, either drawing smiley faces or circling flaws in red ink. Okay, the editorial process cannot be shrugged entirely; sometimes I need to hear from the internal editor that I'm on the right track or that such and such construction is awkward. But I think the later stages of writing--at least sometimes--could benefit from a no praise/no blame philosophy and the open dialog with language it encourages. As simple as applying the philosophy, right (insert smiley face followed by #@##&!)?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

miller's pond, 2008, Vol. 11, Issue 1

I'm pleased to report my poem "Photograph, Summer 1981" appears in the recent issue of miller's pond. The issue includes poems by featured poet Jeff Worley as well as poems by Leatha Kendrick, one of which is one of my all-time favorites, "Talking to Liza."

Wisconsin Book Festival

The Wisconsin Book Festival starts today in Madison. This is a terrific tradition, a five-day conversation about reading, writing, and books. This year's theme is Changing Places.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blackberry Lily, and a Correction

The blackberry lily seedpods have opened up, revealing the luscious seeds that look like blackberries (thus the plant's common name).

In September, I lamented the departure of the hummingbirds. Since then, I've spotted individual hummingbirds hovering around the feeder or the mouths of remaining flowers, the most recent sighting being Sunday. I think, each time, how rare and that surely it will be the last time this year. Odd how sometimes it takes time to recognize loss.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Spice of Life

While making dinner the other night, I was searching online for information on spices, which brought me to the Enspicelopedia. From allspice to white pepper, this online resource provides a description, uses, origin, and folklore for various spices and herbs. I especially like the folklore section (must be the writer in me). Did you know that Romans believed cinnamon's fragrance sacred and burned it at funerals? Or that the name parsley comes from the Greek word petros, meaning stone, because the plant was often found growing among rocks?

I think my delight in finding the site stems from my love of reference books...dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias. From early on, I've loved scanning reference books (and in recent years, online sites), looking for something but not knowing what. Maybe it's the brevity of the entries or the fact you can open the book to any page (hmm...sort of like poetry). Maybe it's simply my admitted love of lists.

Often when I need to jump-start a poem--whether looking for a hook to start a new poem or fresh insight to feed the revision process--I'll head to the dictionary or encyclopedia. Getting to the root of a word or event or thing clarifies the word/event/thing. Such research frequently cracks open the poem. Although I've been doing this for a while, I'm still surprised that by studying the elementary aspects of something, I can find a way to grow the poem into something quite complex and multi-layered. But life is filled with those pleasant incongruities.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pink for October

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month.

It is a reminder to show my love for the women in my life. It is a reminder to love myself. It is a reminder that we are ultimately responsible for our own health, for listening to our bodies, for caring for our bodies by practicing regular self-exams and scheduling annual mammograms at age 40+ (or earlier depending on your physician's recommendation). It is a reminder to educate myself, that I still have a lot to learn. It is a reminder to believe a cure is possible.

My mother lived her life with faith, gave her love unabashedly, and left behind hope.

Friday, October 3, 2008

20 Days for Peace and Justice

Friend, fellow writer, and Peaceways Newsletter editor Gail Koehler sent notice that the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice's 20 Days for Peace and Justice have arrived. Check out the calendar of events, which has something for everyone. Writers in the area might be interested in Writing Peace and Justice: A Reading by the Affrilachian Poets at the Carnegie Center on October 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Real change happens at the local level.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yard of the Month

Our yard was named the neighborhood's yard of the month for October, a delightful recognition. With the gift certificate to the local nursery we received, I got some mums and pansies. I've never planted mums or pansies before, maybe because my gardening energy is usually spent by the time fall comes around. This year, the garden required very little maintenance so I had fun getting my hands dirty once more. The additional color really brightens up the garden beds.