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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.

“Digging” by Seamus Heaney

(For text, click on this link: Digging by Seamus Heaney : The Poetry Foundation.) Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) was an international treasure, a native of Ireland, and a longtime professor at Harvard. His poem, “Digging,” contrasts his own work of writing, with his father’s manual labor. I thought it would be a nice follow-up to Grace Paley’s, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative.”

My habit–these past four days–has been to 1) post the poem here; then 2) write it out in my notebook; and then, 3) try writing my own poem, using the original as a kind of model. One way to do this is strictly, so if the poet begins with an adjective, you begin with an adjective, then a noun, and so forth. But another way is simply to free associate from the poem’s theme or approach. After rereading “Digging,” a few times, I think I’ll write about my mother’s work and the extent to which it has differed from mine.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, remember Chris Jarmick’s blog, Poetry Is Everything, and notice that he recommends the video prompts by Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen.


Day 30: The Last Day

“Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems? After all, there’s a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you’re writing your poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world. And I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don’t think there could ever be too many poets. By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’” 
― Ted KooserThe Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets

from POETRYisEVERYTHING (abbreviated):

THE PROMPT for Wednesday April 30th, 2014

Prompt 30 – Something old, something borrowed, something blue — Our poem will be 8 to 12 lines. Every other line (lines 2, 4, 6 and 8 and possibly 10 and 12) will be brand new lines that you write. One or more of these lines will include something blue.

For lines 1, 3, 5, 7, and possibly, 9 and 11 use lines from two to three of the poems you have written in the last 30 days.

This is what I came up with (tinkered with it a little, losing the 2, 4, etc. organization):


Emma, Playing the Guitar

As a child I fell in love with words, pleats
and plaits, with words like implicate

which means braided into. Words
unfurling, an ocean that my streams ran to,

or out of, like my parents’ shelves of books,
my logger father reading aloud Emily Dickinson and Rudyard Kipling.

Tonight my youngest daughter practices her guitar,

in love with music, making me listen to a blue e-minor chord,
trellises of music like trellises of wisteria,

a wicker chair under a skylight, a scent
of gardenias and lilacs, the heavy bees thrumming.

Bout, fret, strings, saddle and bridge, soundhole, neck.

And her name, a word I’ve counted on
to make the world make sense.

Day 29: The Remodel

cabin4At POETRYisEVERYTHING, for Day 29 of National Poetry Month, Chris Jarmick assigned a house remodel poem. He also made some lovely, encouraging comments about the challenge to write a poem a day this month, for instance:

“And if you’ve paid a little more attention to poetry during our month long sharing of prompts and writing —thank you… I know good things will come of it.”

Because of Chris, I also have become a subscriber at Elsewhere in the Rain (the link should take you to a post that includes a list of poetic terms),  which I highly recommend.

So here is my poem. Er, draft of a poem. May good things come to you.

I’m not sure why, but I have been thinking
about how death reorganizes us.
I don’t mean anything simple, no cleaning out of closets,

it’s more than donating the old suits
and scuffed shoes to Good Will,
throwing out the years of National Geographics

and Good Housekeeping. Something more primal,
more like remodeling, tearing out closets,
breaking out a window to add a cupola

or a deck, making the kitchen brighter,
expanding the bathroom to make room for a tub.
It isn’t our own death that does all this hammering

at the stays of existence. Other peoples’ deaths,
or whatever that category of event
that wakes us, that insists we see

the necessity of a wicker chair under a skylight.
Don’t wait to call the carpenters until things are dire,
until the time is more expedient–

Your own death will arrive one midnight and then your house
will be a small room, smaller than this one
in which you sit and write.  You can promise

to write, but no letters arrive from the dead.
There’s no desk there and the ink
in your lucky pen dries up after the first millennium.