Everything Has Two Handles

Over the years, in my quest to keep learning more about the craft of writing, I seem to have subscribed to a number of self-helpery blogs. Usually I delete the notifications without reading. Occasionally I take the time to unsubscribe. This morning, this title caught my eye and I clicked on it and read all the way through.

Beautiful and timely.

I’ve been writing a story that attempts to address the Greek idea of aporia — so this paragraph was important:

Everything is an opportunity for excellence. The now famous passage from Marcus Aurelius is that the impediment to action advances action, that what stands in the way becomes the way. But do you know what he was talking about specifically? He was talking about difficult people! He was saying that difficult people are an opportunity to practice excellence and virtue–be it forgiveness or patience or cheerfulness. And so it goes for all the things that are not in our control in life. So when I find myself in situations big and small, positive or negative, I try to see each of them as an opportunity for me to be the best I’m capable of being in that moment. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are, we can always do this.

-Ryan Holiday

I could quote from almost all 14 points, but I especially needed to hear, “You don’t have to have an opinion about everything.” (A choice one of my daughters is making, for instance.) Here’s the link:


The Madrona Project, v. II / no. 1

“Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come” is a Chinese proverb that serves as epigraph to this new collection from Empty Bowl Press, selected and edited by Holly J. Hughes. In a time of drastic examples of climate change, in the face of predictions of “pornographic” damage to come (Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet), it gives me heart.

The collection features artwork from Jocelyn Curry, Susan Leopold Freeman, Anita Leigh Holliday, Sandra Jane Polzin and others, and poems and prose by a wealth of northwest writers including Judith Roche (1941-2019), and our new Washington State poet laureate Rena Priest. Woven throughout one sees the panicky facts of destruction: “A raft of debris as large as Africa” (Kathleen Flenniken, “Horse Latitudes”); “smoke / hangs like a veil, a scarf we can’t breathe through” (Sharon Hashimoto, “Back Fires: September 2020”). It’s time, these poems and prose pieces exhort us again and again: “We’ve stayed calm for too long,” and “It’s time to move quickly” (Iris Graville, “Not Just a Drill”; “Truth time” (Risa Denenberg, “Posthuman”).

And all that’s so worth saving calls to us from every page: “Surrounded by birdsong in many languages / walled in by forty-, fifty-, sixty-foot cedar, fir, hemlock / maples leafed out, honeysuckle beginning” (Ronda Piszk Broatch, “Apologizing for Paradise”); native blackberries “carry the taste of my childhood forest on a summer day” (Irene Keliher); “we pick up and play and write and sing and dance so that the Honduran emerald hummingbird the leatherback sea turtle the mountain gorilla the tiger salamander…” (Penina Taesali, “The Word of the Day”).


“Perhaps every poem I write is the same poem; a poem to you, child of the next world, I hope you have some hope,: Sarah Marie Ortiz calls out to the future in “River.” In her introduction Hughes says much the same:

“I hope our songs will spark your imagination, rekindle, and breathe life into these embers of hope. Together, may we envision a future that hears and honors all our voices.”



Nancy Canyon

[featured image is “Pond Lily” by Canyon]

Nancy Canyon’s Saltwater (Independent Writers’ Studio Press, 2014, 2019) maps a life’s trajectory from childhood abuse and loss to healing. Though the chronology is from childhood to womanhood, the poems also march from a closed, inner space, claustrophobic, smothering — to an openness where even “skin to skin” contact evokes “meeting in the wilds, / running in meadows.” On the back cover, Mary Gillilan describes how Canyon “bares her soul in order to free it in poems told with white-knuckle honesty” — concluding, “Saltwater delivers the life of a woman from the inside out.”

I emailed Nancy with a few questions and she emailed back, generously sharing her publishing history (a novel, Celia’s Heaven, and an ebook of short-short fiction, Dark Forest, a memoir, forthcoming) and her influences:

I have put together a number of poetry books that I haven’t published yet. They sit on my computer, waiting I guess for a big collection of my poems, since I have over 150 poems in just one file. Many poems I’ve written during February Peace Poem month, April poetry month & August postcard month. Most of the poems I have published are in anthologies, such as Take a Stand: Art Against Hate, This Uncommon Solitude, and For the Love of Orcas. I favor World Enough Writers and the work Lana Hetchman Ayers does. I have a poem in her anthology Ice Cream Poems titled “Outdoor Theater Church.” And another poem, “The Thing He Secreted,” in Last Call. And I do love Crab Creek Review, where I was a fiction editor back in 2007. The journal was then run by some of my good friends Kelli Russell Agodon & Annette Spaulding-Convey. Kelli and I went to graduate school together at PLU. She is the person who got me started writing poetry. Writing poems helped my fiction, and it gave me a reprieve from writing long documents.
Nancy is also an accomplished artist (see her website to learn more) — no surprise as you can see both the arc and the artistry in the poems: some quite short, some in blocks of prose, some in shapes, but always with an artist’s deft touch  (“eyes vacant / as flat primer”). I asked Nancy about how she ordered Saltwater and she confirmed my suspicions: “As for ordering poems…I like connecting the story, color, theme or image within a poem to those elements in the next poem.” When I went back to the book, I could see this pattern everywhere. One poem, “Outdoor Theater Church” includes lines of a new father’s commands; the next poem, “Housekeeping,” begins “Father says: Clean your bedroom.” In later poems a twist of green in one poem leads to a raven’s whirling dance in the next.
It was a challenge to choose just one poem, but I think this one. It’s a late poem in the book, but the “sleeping children” carried at the end took me straight back to the opening:

Night Dance

A raven danced on my roof tonight.
He whirled beneath a silvery moon
dangling from an invisible thread in the sky.

Raven’s black eyes darted, lustrous wings
unfurled, feathers ripped through chill
of night air, gathering me into an embrace.

Like a coin flicked by a child, we spun at the peak,
burning a smoke signal of gratitude to Great Spirit
for carrying sleeping children in His arms.

—Nancy Canyon


I once traveled to Litfuse with Nancy and shared a house with her and two other poets. This morning I feel as though I just spent several hours talking about our childhoods and reading poems aloud, sipping coffee on the back porch like old friends. Next we’ll be breaking out the Merlot and putting our feet up.

Could we hear some poetry now, please?

No matter how steep the climb, I’m so grateful today to be on this path with you. May the next four years, indeed, be “a time to heal.”

Meanwhile, there’s always poetry.

Joanna Klink has become a big favorite of mine, ever since reading an epigraph from her work in Holly Hughes’s Hold Fast. This poem is from Klink’s book, Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy. 

The photograph is mine, from yesterday’s walk on Big Gulch Trail, Mukilteo, something else that lifts my heart.



If there is a world, let me be in it.
Let fires arise and pass. The sky fill with evening air
then sink across the woodlots and porches,
the streams thinning to creeks.
In winter there will be creatures half-locked in ice,
storms blown through iron grates, a drug of whitest ardor.
Let the old hopes be made new.
Let stacks of clouds blacken if they have to
but never let the people in this town go hungry.
Never let them fear cold. If there is a world,
let it not be temporary, like these vague stars.
Let us die when we must. And spinelessness
not overtake us, and privation,
let rain bead across tangled lavender plants.
If there is a world where we feel very little,
let it not be our world. Let worth be worth
and energy action–let blood fly up to the surface skin.
If you are fierce, if you are cynical, halfhearted, pained–
I would sit with you awhile, or walk next to you,
and when we take leave of each other after so many years,
the oaks will toss their branches in wheels of wind
above us–as if it had mattered, all of it,
every second. If there is a world.