John L. Wright

THE LOVELINESS OF THIS WORLD, John L. WrightFinishing Line Press, PO Box 1626, Georgetown KY 40324, 2020, 36 pages, $13.00 paper, https://www.finishinglinepress.com/.

It is always a pleasure to recommend a local poet. Wright lives in Edmonds and until 1988 was a physician at Swedish Medical Center. I’m so glad he made his way in retirement to poetry, or that poetry made its way to him.

Among many poems taking a fond look at people and dogs he has known  (and many, lost), The Loveliness of this World also catalogs Wright’s walks through a northwest landscape. After I walked at Japanese Gulch in Mukilteo this afternoon, I sat in my car and read this prose poem:

Walking in the Woods without an iPhone

–the red crest of pileated woodpeckers their drumming the whinnying flight of the flicker its white rump the call of the owl the eagle and the quail the basket bark of cedar the insipid taste of salmonberries the wild huckleberry’s tartness licorice fern rooted in the bark of big-leaf maple the purplish blush of alder its hanging catkins the Indian plum its white blossoms the leathery leaves of salal the yellow flowers of Oregon grape the fragrance of evergreen after rain.

Yes, I thought, exactly so

Let me add that this poem is not representative of the collection–many beautiful, more conventional poems I could have chosen–but I love the joyful and playful compression of this.

 

Joanna Thomas

RABBIT: AN ERASURE POEM, Joanna Thomas. Dogtown Press, Ellensburg, WA, 2018, 22 pages, $5, paper.

I met Joanna Thomas two years ago at Litfuse. She does this really arty, fun stuff with erasure poems and visuals and — because I generally don’t do those sorts of poem — I almost skipped her workshop.

I am SO GLAD I went. More than the keynotes or anyone else I encountered that year, Thomas’s work burned a hole through my imagination all the way down to my bootsoles. She is a wonder. If you can’t get your hands on any of her limited edition books (exquisite little gems you’ll want to keep and give to friends), then you should invite her to give a workshop for you. (Adults and our delights aside, I think these would inspire some pretty wicked home school lessons.) To read more, visit Thomas’s very visual blog:  https://www.joannathomas.xyz/.

Because the poems don’t run down the left hand margin, my blog space will just make a botch of it; hence, the photograph. In short, Thomas has erased  Webster’s Elementary Dictionary: A Dictionary for Boys & Girls (New York: American Book Company, 1941), and she shares the image from the dictionary, then duplicates the poem (and its peculiar layout) on the facing page.

 

Photo by Immortal shots from Pexels

Where’d You Go, Bethany?

This coming Saturday, January 18, at 4:30, I’m leading a poetry workshop at The Book Tree in Kirkland, a book store owned and operated by poet Chris Jarmick. I’m also the featured reader a little later in the evening. Open mic runs until 8 p.m., and if you show up, there are many fine restaurants within walking distance. We will decompress together.

Meanwhile, our dog, Pabu, is convalescing from surgery and I’m doing quite a lot of hanging out with him, and reading. A bit from my list:

Rita’s Notebook, a blog I follow and which always has exceptional posts, and often includes amazing links to more poetry and creative writing news. The link will take you to an “In Memoriam” post about the man who published my first book, The Coyotes and My Mom, and to whom I will be forever grateful.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, by Dominic Smith. In 2019 I read mystery after mystery after mystery (hoping to understand how it’s done), but over the Christmas break I picked up this book and could not put it down. A forgery of a 17th century Dutch painting lies at the heart of this novel, and the writing is detailed and … well, mind-blowing. The novel’s construction–braiding together 21st century Australia with 1950s Manhattan and the Netherlands in the 1600s–dazzled me.

I have also been rereading Write Away by Elizabeth George. I can’t say enough about this book. George explains how she creates her characters (I’m quite hooked on her Inspector Lynley mysteries, which are chock-full of literary magic) and pretty much every nuance of her process. She also shares snippets from her own journal. Here’s one that especially resonates with me:

“This is the moment when faith is called for. Faith is the creative spirit within me, which is part of what I’ve been given by God; faith in the process; faith in my intelligence and imagination. If I’ve managed to imagine these characters and this situation into being, doesn’t it follow that I should also be able to imagine my way through to the end of the book? It seems so. Thus…I suit up and show up. I sit down at the computer and I do the work, moving it forward a sentence at a time, which is ultimately the only way there is to write a book.” — Elizabeth George (Journal of a Novel, July 6, 1998), Write Away

It would be lovely to see you on Saturday at The Book Tree.

The Pear Tree

Christmas Eve–cards are sent, gifts are wrapped (mostly), and the holiday dinner shopping is underway.

After my visit to Chartres in June, I’ve been challenging myself to write down three things each day for which I’m thankful. This practice found its way into my mystery novel when the protagonist shared her gratitude practice and then started thinking of Instagram photos as a visual gratitude journal. (Something I now do, too. Funny how writing about it brought the whole idea to consciousness.)

Recently someone suggested that I write down 20 things to be thankful for. It took the practice to a whole new level.

The advice contained three additional suggestions:

  • be grateful for what delights you
  • be grateful for what seems not-so-delightful (or downright horrible)
  • be grateful for what’s coming

Writing down the not-so stuff makes me see it in a new light, and reminds me that even the crappy stuff in our lives often comes bearing gifts. In fact, it always does, if we are paying attention: the hardest lessons, if we stick with them, teach us the most.

This ties in with a little assignment I gave to writing lab members way back in September, to write a poem of praise. I wrote the poem in November while at a writing retreat, and I had every intention of finishing it and mailing a copy with my holiday cards. But it takes as long as it takes.

At a reading I mistakenly attributed the form or inspiration for my poem as “Skunk Hour” by Elizabeth Bishop, but of course “Skunk Hour” is Robert Lowell’s poem, which is famous. But what many people don’t know is that he was inspired to write it after reading Bishop’s “The Armadillo,” which is the poem I meant to refer to.

The Pear Tree

            for Francine Walls

It’s late fall now, and we gather at Glen Cove
to write. This morning we watched
four grebes float across rain-pocked water,

watched as one dropped from sight,
then another, then all, and all popping up again
in comic succession, lifting small white wings

and throwing back their heads as if to crow.
What draws us beneath the surface of our lives,
if not minnow or eelgrass, insight

braided, strong enough to pull us deeper?
Once in a cathedral I stood in front of a statue
of the Madonna and child, said to be carved

from a single pear tree. The sculptor
had tilted Mary’s face downward, so that she gazed
at Jesus, a toddler crowing on her lap.

Outside the window, this morning,
the rain has stopped, though when I look,
the grebes are still there, each resting

on its own reflection. Before that pear tree
was chosen, it must have grown a long time
in someone’s garden. Someone walked there,

breathing the scent of blossoms, talking of love.
Someone picked and ate a pear,
the ripe flesh spreading like honey

across her tongue. O taste and see,
as we read in the Psalms, what is holy waits,
eager to delight our every moment.

 

And I’m grateful for you. In 2020, I hope you write!