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


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


Getting Beyond “I like”


This morning I’ll give a talk on workshops and critique groups at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. Here are some of the resources I’ll cite and recommend, plus a few extras:

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland

Searching for Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker

Simone Weil on Attention and Grace

Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (pdf)

Interview with William Stafford on workshops (among other things)

The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long

Writing Alone and With Others, Patricia Schneider

The Writer’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop, Steve Kowit

“In the Workshop after I Read My Poem Aloud,” Don Colburn

Next Word, Better Word, Stephen Dobyns (esp. the chapter on revision)


Writers Resist, and other antidotes to despair


It’s been a long while and a wrenching turn of history’s wheel since my last post here. In the wee hours of election night, I channeled my grief into sharing poems by Lucille Clifton, Denise Levertov, Tim Seibles, Anna Akhmatova and others on Facebook. I need to feel connected to the larger human story in order not to despair, and poems help me do that. So, in that spirit, I offer you this list of recommended poetry events, and a little update on what I’m doing.

Jan. 15: The Writers Resist movement kicks off on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with more than 80 events around the world, from small towns to major urban hubs like Hong Kong and London, to defend the ideals of a free, just and compassionate democracy.

Here in Washington state, Writers Resist readings will take place on Jan. 15 in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Bellingham, Bainbridge Island, Ellensburg, Spokane, Port Townsend and Goldendale, to name a few.

At Seattle’s event at Town Hall, 14 writers will celebrate American ideals of freedom and equality by reading excerpts from their own work and the writings of other American thinkers concerned with freedom of speech.

Participating writers include:

Daniel James Brown (The Boys in the Boat)
G. Willow Wilson (The Butterfly Mosque)
Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins)
Elissa Washuta (My Body is a Book of Rules)
Robert Lashley (The Homeboy Songs)
Jane Wong (Overpour)
Samuel Ligon (Wonderland)
Kristen Millares Young (prize-winning journalist and fiction writer)
Bruce Barcott (Weed The People)
Imani Sims (performance poet)
David Laskin (The Children’s Blizzard)
Claudia Castro Luna (This City, Seattle’s Civic Poet)
Tod Marshall (Bugle, Washington State Poet Laureate)
Angel Gardner (Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate)

The ACLU of Washington will present a brief history of free speech and will be present to accept donations at the reception after the reading.

Feb. 7Ross Gay at McCaw Hall for Seattle Arts and Lectures. Here’s one, must-read poem from Ross Gay: “A Small Needful Fact.”  Ticket info here.

This year I’m doing a few performances and workshops, but am mostly focused on writing new poems:

  • Feb. 9 at 8a: Klavano Grand Rounds Lecture at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Writing Our Way Toward Wholeness and Awareness: Poetry and Guided Journaling for Patients and Providers. Co-presenting with Julie Arguez, MSW.
  • Feb. 23 to 25: I’ll be reading contemporary love poetry (including a little of my own) following performances of When Love Speaks at Taproot’s Isaac Studio Theatre. (I performed in When Love Speaks way back in 1994, in my other life as an actor.)  The show runs Feb. 9 to 25; each performance will be followed by a short reading of contemporary love poems by local poets including Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and Peter Pereira.

Lots of workshops and classes to recommend:

There’s even more happening at Open BooksHugo House and Elliott Bay Books. Find weekly recommendations, writing prompts, and poems by Poet in Residence Elisa Chavez at The Seattle Review of Books.

Yours in poetry, yours in active hope—


“Silence is part of the enterprise”

Thanks to reminders from a dear friend, I’ve recently started listening to Krista Tippet’s podcast, On Being. This morning I listened to her conversation with the Irish poet Michael Longley.

The conversation focuses often on Longley’s writing about “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, and feels remarkably timely. He speaks about love (in all its forms) as the center of poetry, as its central subject, and acknowledges that his work has “no agenda — I stagger around.” He reminds me that “self-importance engraves its own headstone” and that “silence is part of the enterprise.” About compliments, he quotes his wife as saying: “you accept them, but you don’t inhale.”

Image by Colin Davidson

And, he declares: “Good art, good poetry, makes people more human, more intelligent, more sensitive and emotionally pure than than they might otherwise be … poetry encourages you to think for yourself and disregard church and state.”

More about Michael Longley here.




Celebrating Open Books: A Poem Emporium

openbooksFriends, just a quick note that this is the week Seattle’s beloved Open Books: A Poem Emporium transitions to its new owner, Billie Swift. You’ll find “A Few Final Words from John and Christine” here.

As I just wrote to John and Christine, I am keenly aware that the poetry community I encountered when I turned to poetry some 20 years ago was shaped indelibly by Open Books — by the physical space, the intimate readings, the books of course!, but most of all by John and Christine’s always smart and unfailingly kind presence, and by their knowledge and insight regarding poetry. (And, truth be told, by the example of their own poems and way of being poets in the world.)

Now would be a good time to stop by or call the store – to buy that collection you’ve been hankering for or meaning to send to a friend. John and Christine have announced that they’ll be open two hours after normal closing time Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week, and invite us to “Come reminisce, socialize, and look towards Open Books’s bright future with other friends of the store.” (More info here.)