Back to school: fall workshops on performance and poem titles

Yes, this site has been quiet! For the past few months I’ve been working on finishing my next book-length manuscript. It’s close. More on that another time…

But now that August is wrapping up, high time to let you know that I’m teaching a couple of workshops this fall:

“Your Words Aloud, Your Words Alive” at Hugo House

Monday evenings, 7:10 to 9:10 p.m. in Seattle, WA (Sept. 16 to Oct. 21, 2019)

What does it take to transform the words on the page into an engaging, authentic, and memorable performance? Commitment, rehearsal, and humility. You’ll learn and practice tangible skills (including mic technique, ways to handle line breaks, and introductions), as well as develop a performance style that suits you and your work. The class includes take-home reading and assignments. Students will give a public reading during the fifth session. Max class size is 15.

Early bird pricing through Aug. 27: Registration info here.

“The Title as Frame and Invitation” for Olympia Poetry Network

Sunday, Sept. 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Olympia, WA. $40; advance registration req’d.

Where do great poem titles come from?  What makes a title “great,” anyway?  Through example poems, we’ll explore this essential and too-often overlooked craft element. Bring three of your own poems-in-progress, and we’ll practice titling to entice the reader with a compelling frame and invitation.  (Sponsored by Olympia Poetry Network as part of the 2019 LaureateFest.)   Max class size is 20; as of late August, just a few spots left.

Registration info here.

“You do not have to be good.”

mary oliverIn many ways, my life hinges on the six months I spent traveling in the Andes region in my early thirties. Shortly before leaving Seattle to begin that open-ended trip (there’s nothing quite like flying to a new continent on a one-way ticket), a friend gave me Mary Oliver’s New and Selected, Vol. 1.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

As it has for so many, “Wild Geese” entered my being and reverberated with a whole set of previously unarticulated questions. I carried that poem with me as I walked in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, grieving the end of my aspirations as an actor, heartbroken over a failed relationship, and suspecting that poetry was my next path.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.

Even now, after memorizing and teaching and sharing “Wild Geese” for 20+ years, it still ricochets around in my psyche. To have written a poem that could do that!

I was fortunate to record Mary Oliver reading at a sold-out Town Hall event in Seattle, as part of my work for KUOW.  She read “Wild Geese,” which you can hear here, among many other poems. (Hang in there for the first couple minutes.)

As there should be, there are and will be many tributes to Mary Oliver and the reach of her deceptively plain-spoken poems. Today, I just want to listen to the poems in her voice, and let them enter and open the person I am now.

LitFix at Vermillion

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It’s been a while — at least a season, maybe two? — and who knows how many agonizing news stories since I last posted. I hope you’re finding ways to nurture your soul and engage with the world. Autumn always feels like a fresh start to me — that new-school-year rhythm is indelible, I guess. So, in that spirit I offer news of these readings, events and classes — I’m involved in a few, and others are just things I want you to know about as you enact your own autumn rhythms.

On  Sept. 27 at 7p I’ll be reading new poems* for the Lit Fix series at Vermillion, 1508 11th Ave in Seattle. Also performing: fiction writer Kristiana Kahakauwila, novelist Urban Waite, and essayist Katie Lee Ellison, with music performances from Americana artists Leslie Braly and Ed Brooks.

On Oct. 11, Seattle LitCrawl will feature 35+ free readings — I’ll be reading at 9p with novelist Jennie Shortridge and John Mullen at Spin Cycle Records 321 Broadway Ave Easton Capitol Hill.  Details here.

*Speaking of new poems – I had the good fortune to be featured as the August “poet in residence” at Seattle Review of Books: four recent poems and an interview about the new work.

Are you thinking about taking a writing class or two? So many options!

The Seattle Arts and Lectures Poetry Series has a(nother) amazing line-up—

Oct. 6: The Gramma Reading Seriesin the Erickson Theaterat the Frye Art Museum will feature Tyehimba Jess, Kaveh Akbar, Anastacia Renée and Moonshine: A Cabaret performed by Au Collective and directed by Imana Gunawan.

(Those gorgeous fuyu and hachiya persimmons were photographed by John and Ann Winings, and courtesy of the Creative Commons.)

Sustainable Joy: Poems for the University of Washington School of Social Work Conference on Mental Health & Self-Care for Social Work Practitioners

Ecosystem

Yesterday I had the honor of giving the keynote presentation at a conference organized by the Student Advisory Council at the UW School of Social Work. As promised to conference attendees, here’s the list of poems I read as part of my talk:

Marge Piercy: “To Be of Use

Mark Doty: “Golden Retrievals

Mary Oliver: “Wild Geese” (video)

Elizabeth Austen: “This Morning

Ada Limón: “Instructions on Not Giving Up

Jan Richardson: “The Map You Make Yourself

Elizabeth Alexander: “Praise Song for the Day

Huge thanks to the conference organizers, presenters and attendees — I have more regard than ever for the vital roles social workers play, and for their commitment to blending love-in-action with rigorous inquiry.

Words To Carry Us

openTonight at Open Books, Kari Hilwig and I will offer — and invite — poems in response to grief, illness and healing. I’ll mention lots of books as resources, so wanted to make that list available here.

Let me say that these are books that have been personally meaningful. It is, of necessity, a partial list – even on my own bookshelves, the more I looked, the more I found* – and the list had to end somewhere. I offer this as a starting place for those who may be looking for poems to accompany, to perhaps even carry them, through grief or illness.  What books have been useful for you? 

I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature. Lucia Perillo.

Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems. Lucia Perillo.

My, My, My, My, My. Tara Hardy.

Native Guard. Natasha Trethewey.

Meaning a Cloud. J.W. Marshall.

Woodnote. Christine Deavel.

What the Living Do. Marie Howe.

The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing. Kevin Young, ed.

A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. Sheila Bender.

Gaze. Christopher Howell.

Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making. John Fox.

The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden. Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine.

Red Studio. Mary Cornish.

Mercy. Lucille Clifton.

Trapeze. Deborah Digges.

*I have no doubt that as soon as I press “publish” I will think of several other utterly necessary books. This is the good news: since loss is an inextricable part of our human condition, it has been a central concern of poetry since earliest times.

Readings this week: Oct. 4 – 7

Yuri Tozuka
This stunning piece by Yuri Tozuka was the prompt for my new poem “Museum of Lost Birds,” which I’ll read at the Signs of Life reading Oct. 4 for the Facere Jewelry Art Gallery.

Mostly I’m keeping a low profile these days: writing, revising, reading books ranging from Mary Roach’s BONK to Danez Smith’s DON’T CALL US DEAD to Krista Tippett’s BECOMING WISE. But this week I’ll lend my voice to a handful of events — would love to see you there.

  • Oct. 4 at 4p: Signs of Life at City Center conference room. Seattle, WA. Reading poems and prose written in response to jewelry art. Sponsored by Facere Jewelry Art Gallery. Also reading are Catalina Marie Cantu, Bill Carty, Jane C. Hu and many others; several of the jewelry artists will also speak about their work.
  • Oct. 5 at 7p: Reading from the WA129 anthology at Open Books. Fifteen contributors to Tod Marshall’s anthology of Washington poetic voices will perform.
  • Oct. 6 at 5p: Walking the Borderline: A reading of new poems and discussion of the writing process at the Edmonds Library.
  • Oct. 7: “Demystifying the Line Break” at Write on the Sound. Edmonds, WA. SOLD OUT.

Because it needs to be said out loud, again:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

—William Stafford