First of all, thanks to Natasha Moni who featured my poem from Field Guide to the End of the World, “Martha Stewart’s Guide to the End Times,” on her 30-poems-for-poetry-month feature on her blog.
And the new Spring 2017 issue of Jet Fuel Review is out, complete with two poems from my new manuscript in them, “Self-Portrait as Final Girl” and “In the Movie of My Life’. This issue also features great work by my friends E. Kristin Anderson and Martha Silano, so be sure to check out the whole thing!
I wrote a poem last night about Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossom” series of paintings, as I was reminded of them as I was taking pictures yesterday. We had this really beautiful late afternoon light after a grey drizzly day. Van Gogh was really interested in how the light in the south of France might be more like the light of Japan, and was very entranced with the styles of Japanese painters of ukiyo-e, or the Floating World. (I wrote about that concept a bit in my book, She Returns to the Floating World.) He painted pictures of branches that began blooming while there was still snow on the trees is Arles, trying to imitate Japanese woodblock prints.
Some more pictures of blooming trees yesterday around our Woodinville wineries:
Speaking of inspiration, I managed to sneak out Sunday night to Open Books, our all-poetry bookstore, for a “conversation” between Katie Ford and Molly Spencer. Here’s a picture of me with Molly Spencer and friend afterwards. It was great to get to chat and left me feeling inspired the rest of the night.
It’s been a crazy few days – tulip fields, hosting visitors from Japan, reading at Soul Food with friends from Two Sylvias Press – whew! Did I mention two new reviews for Field Guide to the End of the World? Today is the first day I’ve had a chance to download the pictures and recover enough to write a post!
First of all, the new reviews.
–Star*Line reviewed sixteen Elgin nominees, including Field Guide to the End of the World. Excellent (and kind) review by Diane Severson. (It’s in the very middle of the sixteen reviews, so scroll down a bit to find my review.)
–Kathleen Kirk focuses (appropriately, since today is Earth Today and the March for Science) on the environmental issues in Field Guide to the End of the World in her review for Escape Into Life. Thanks Kathleen!
Two new reviews for Poetry Month – who could ask for more?
The Soul Food Books reading for Two Sylvias Press was a wonderful opportunity to see my friends Natasha Moni, Michael Schmeltzer, and Molly Tenenbaum (who played banjo as well as reading poetry!) I always love reading in my own stomping grounds, in Redmond on the East side of Seattle. Here’s a quick pic of the four of us at the reading. I think all of us sold books, too, which is a nice plus at a reading!
We hosted our friends from Japan Dr. Ayako Ogawa and her husband Tadaaki while they visited here in Seattle. Dr. Ayako is very special to us because she was my little brother’s Japanese professor in college and later became a family friend. She edited my manuscript for She Returns to the Floating World, making suggestions, correcting and proofing cultural references and Japanese words, and she sent it to her friends and family so they could look at it too. Anyway, she’s become a good family friend, was tremendously supportive when I got my scary cancer news last year, and is just one of my favorite people. Glenn and I were happy that we had one sunny day so that we could take them for a brief tour of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in La Conner. We saw one seal but fewer birds (during our March visit we saw five bald eagles, numerous herons, and both trumpeter swans and snow geese, just for comparison.) But the tulips were gorgeous and the weather was a sunny 66 degrees (I believe I’ve mentioned we’ve had a record number of days in a row of rain and cold this year, so..) So a few pictures here from our Skagit Tulip Festival adventures:
I’m reading tonight at 7 PM at Soul Food Books with Natasha Moni, Michael Schmeltzer, and Molly Tenenbaum. I hope to see you there! Read more here!
I’m bringing Dr. Ayako Ogawa and her husband, our friends from Japan who are visiting us and who are always a delight. If you’ve read She Returns to the Floating World, you know she helped me with the translations and cultural references in that book. She was also my little brother’s Japanese professor in college, and has become a good family friend.
We’ve been having some rough weather here in Seattle this year (see last night’s whipping wind and driving rain that got me freezing and soaking wet in about ten seconds of walking) and are really hoping for at least one nice day to get up and around the tulip fields at Skagit! Whenever we have people visit, we always seem to have miserable weather. I swear Seattle has nice days sometimes…just not since last October. Ha! I’m hoping for a bit of a break tonight, too. It’s no fun going out in the pouring rain for poetry – but on the other hand, where better to spend a rainy night than in a coffee shop with poet friends?
Here’s a picture of our kitten, Sylvia, helping me with my writing this morning, though she prefers social media to poetry. Actually, most of the work I’ve been doing for National Poetry Month hasn’t been about creating new work – it’s been about 1. working on my newest poetry manuscript, 2. working on my PR for Poets book for Two Sylvias Press, and 3. going out more and sharing poetry with more audiences. It often happens that April is too busy to get any serious writing done, and that has been the case again this year. But that’s okay.
There hasn’t been much time for serious poetry contemplation in the middle of all the busyness, but I did get a chance to write a review of Marie Howe’s excellent Magdalene. I also finished Siri Hustvedt’s inspiring and thought-provoking book of essays, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, which encompassed the art world, some neurological items, poetry, and philosophy. The first half of the book was much stronger than the second, I thought. (I was also shocked to see a picture of Siri with her daughter in the latest issue of In Style Magazine. Apparently her daughter is a hipster musician of some sort? Worlds colliding!) I’m also almost done with Doris Lessing’s daunting Golden Notebook, on communism, feminism, individuality and creativity in a fractured modern world – Lessing is a very smart writer, and there are great moments in the book, but I would not describe this reading as either “fun” or “light.” It’s taken me a while to get through it, and usually I’m a fast reader. Now, onto my next reading journey!
It’s National Poetry Month, which is one of the busiest for me (and for most poets) – more readings, more requests, more everything. One of my friends, Natasha Moni, is featuring a poet a day on her blog. In the midst of busyness, I try to find a way to achieve balance, to stop from getting too frazzled – or worse, sick. It’s Easter weekend, too, which for many of us, means extra activities, maybe family visits or a special dinner, or at least extra chocolate bunnies.
April’s also a month that offers a lot of opportunities for bliss and beauty. From daffodils, cherry blossoms, tulips, and here in the Northwest, the first promising days of sun, to the fun that comes from sharing poetry with others, April has always struck me as a hopeful month.
Last year at this time I was going through a lot of stressful and difficult medical testing and dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis. This year, while I’m still undergoing a lot of medical testing, but the “terminal” part, if not erased, at least has been put off or given a giant question mark over it. I am feeling more hopeful, but also have the halo effect of the life-or-death tension of the whole last year, which is to notice the things that seem so important but aren’t, or the small things that make me feel grateful for my life.
This last year has helped me rediscover an enthusiasm for things I had forgotten or has made less a part of my life – art and music, being in nature, the joy of adopting a new animal friend, and also the feeling of “nothing to lose” in embracing my writing and also a certain amount of artistic impatience – the sense of trying to capture as much of my life as possible in words before losing them – the words or the life. And also sending my work out into the world as fearlessly as possible.
I am feeling grateful for a certain abundance I’ve experienced in 2017, in the middle of banal things like medical appointments and political anxiety, in the midst of navigating a middle age I thought I might not live to see. I feel like the universe, if not generous in all things, has been sending me friends, adventures, and experiences that add up to me feeling a new sensation – a feeling of gratefulness in imperfection, a feeling of, if not joy, a kind of abundance. The experience of going out (or even staying in, via Skype) and reading or teaching and interacting with students makes me always feel more grateful, if a little worn out. So much of our lives as poets can feel like a life of scarcity – not enough money, opportunities, publishing, prizes, etc. The only thing we often seem to be overabundant in is rejections and submission fees! But really, even if the President/Republican congress decides to take away support for the arts, poetry will still be there. This year, I am focusing on what I have: writer friends, artist friends, at least a couple of family members nearby, some really exciting writing opportunities, a new writer’s group, a new book to take to publishers, and my first intern (as a writer – I worked with interns as a tech manager and also when I was a lit mag editor, but it’s different!). I’m planting things outside my new home, where I hope to stay long enough to see everything bloom next spring. Already, the bulbs we planted last fall have started to bloom, and the kitten loves to help us garden. I feel like in our imperfect worlds, with so many things out of our control, we have to focus on the things that bring us happiness, great and small, the gifts that arrive as a surprise on our doorsteps.
I had the lovely opportunity to read and teach at Highline College in Des Moines, WA today. Not only did they have a huge crowd in a giant auditorium, they had put up several of my poems (and also poems by Terrance Hayes, who’s visiting the college next week) up as broadsides in a huge artistic poetry month display in their public library. I was honored! Here’s a picture of me with Highline professor Susan Rich and very sweet administrator Lindsay Seeley. It was a great day but now I’m ready to crash. I love National Poetry Month but it wears me out!
We’ve been having cool, stormy weather, which has kind of matches by health stuff, marred by upper respiratory stuff and migraines. I’m ready for some great warmer weather AND great health! Hoping for that by the end of the month.
Coming up on the schedule is a reading at Soul Food Books on April 20 with a few Two Sylvias authors like Natasha Moni and Michael Schmeltzer. It’s a fun lineup and a relaxed East side reading venue, so put it on your calendar.
Since last posting, I got to see Alice Notley read thanks to a friend’s spare ticket, and that was really something. I feel like there are twelve times as many poetry events in April as I can possibly attend! I’ve been writing a bit more than usual too, as well as reading more books.
Here are a few pics of April’s Seattle skies…the Pink Full Moon with cloud cover, a rainbow in sunset clouds. And it’s almost the end of the cherry tree season, so, appropriately, a picture of white cherry branches in bloom, and the fallen blossoms after a storm.
It’s the beginning of National Poetry Month (and my birthday month,) so even though we’re still in a weather-whomp of rain and lower temps, I’ve been cheered by the appearance of more singing birds (one that insists on singing outside our bedroom at 6 AM every morning,) more trees blossoming, and finally. a few bulbs in my garden blooming – the pink hyacinths in my boxes have appeared healthy and hearty after our cold, wet winter. These are the cherry blossoms down the street from our house, our in full snowy blushy splendor. The Japanese call the time of the advance of the cherry blossoms “sakura zensen.” To the right, you can also see Glenn and I posing with some new magnolia blossoms in the Kirkland neighborhood, where Google and Facebook employees wonder by, bearded and ensconced in their phones. This was also a day I got a bunch of medical tests done, all of which came back with mostly good news. No liver cancer, for one, which was a concern, and a negative tumor marker test on a rarer kind of carcinoid, plus only minor problems with liver function from all the tumors in there, which was also a concern.
I started the month by getting another round of a cough and sinus thing (probably from going into two different doctor’s offices for the lab tests above) but I did manage to squeak out a poem yesterday, so we’ll hope for the same today! I’ve been inspired by reading Siri Hustvedt’s new book, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind. Fascinating stuff! I love reading about art and gender, and Siri has such a fierce intellect, she just automatically makes me want to write something. I also really am loving Aimee Mann’s new album “Mental Illness,” and tweeted that my fave rhyme so far this month is her rhyme in the song “Good for Me” of “smoke machine” with “taste of dopamine.” I love art and music, and learning more about them, but am terrible at singing, instruments – I can do a little piano and guitar, neither all that well – and making art. It’s a good thing I have poetry!
So I wanted to post another April poem, this time apocalypse-oriented, from Field Guide to the End of the World:
Looking for Spring
Spring has been late to visit the Pacific Northwest this year, so I’ve been desperately seeking signs of spring. In this spirit, we took a drive up to La Conner, home of The Tulip Festival, where at this time the last two years all the tulips were already up. This trip, just a few fields of daffodils and a few ornamental trees were in bloom. Around my neck of the woods in Woodinville, I found some plum and cherry blossoms. At this point with all the wet and cold we’ve had, we need all the flowers we can get!
I’m going in for some more medical testing today, which is always nerve-wracking, especially the tumor marker tests, which can be tricky and misleading and very scary. Wish me luck! I purposefully try to schedule something pleasant afterwards and nothing stressful beforehand. Today involves two different sets of doctor offices in two different systems, which is a bit more complex than usual…
No, it’s not a sexy thing, it’s a poetry submission thing!
Last week I had a “Submission Party” with a few poet friends via Google Hangout, and it was really fun – and three of us had acceptances within a few days! It was a good way to motivate yourself during what can be a dreary time of year and help some of us get our of our usual submission ruts. (I tend to send to the same journals over and over, for instance.) I very much recommend doing this with your friends if you can get them together – we had a few prep rules that helped – preparing a poetry packet in advance, bring at least three places you’d like to send and share, and have your spreadsheet and cover letter templates at the ready!
I am looking forward to April, National Poetry Month, my birthday month, Easter and baby animals! We did see a mother deer with her baby in the grass yesterday while we were stalking flowers in our neighborhood. How about you? What are your plans for April? Anything ambitious? I’m doing a local college visit at Highline College and a reading at Soul Food Books with some other Two Sylvias Press authors on April 20.
Thanks to Stephanie Wytovich, amazing horror writer – she is on the Bram Stoker finalist ballot this year for her poetry book, Brothel – for taking the time to interview me today on apocalypses, my new book Field Guide to the End of the World, my thoughts on the future of science fiction, and advice for writers (spoiler alert: stay weird!)
I have to say I have found the horror writing community to be so warm and welcoming, especially for such a spooky and scary genre! Stephanie is a great example, as are the writers in the local Seattle chapter I’ve met with. I’m very happy I joined the Horror Writers Association last year and encourage other poets to do the same!
Also, I was super touched that my local library tweeted about my new book yesterday:
— King County Library (@KCLS) March 23, 2017
KCLS is one of the best library systems I’ve every belonged to (and I’ve belonged to libraries since my mom first got me a card at 6!) I really appreciate their support of local writers!
First, thanks so much to The Pedestal and Stephanie Chan for this excellent, thoughtful review of Field Guide to the End of the World. Here’s a little bit from the end of the review:
She makes the end of the world strangely relatable, filled with details of normalcy that have been flipped on their heads. Field Guide to the End of the World feels very much like a collection of postcards, poems sent from a series of desolate vacation spots, each inscribed “Wish you were here”—with romantic nostalgia for a future that may or may not come to be.”
(If you’d like to purchase a signed copy of Field Guide to the End of the World, you can do so here! And here it is on Amazon in case you’re just dying to write your own review 🙂 Did I mention I’m in the middle of revising and trying to finish my PR for Poets book? I’ve re-organized it into more bite-size chapters and interview tips, and So I thought I’d practice a little of what I’ve been writing about.)
Had a bit of a hard week with the aftermath of more medical testing – I’ve got a couple more important ones to do, then hope I can get a break for a while, as in, no results will be worrisome and require even worse follow-up testing. And at the end of the month, a new Aimee Mann album drops – “Mental Illness,” so I’ve got that to look forward to!
Today’s the first day of spring, and yesterday we had actual sunshine (after two months of record cold and wet) so I went out hunting for signs of spring. Nothing in my own garden is blooming yet, but we put roses, blueberries, and sweet peas in the ground anyway. Here are a signs of spring from all around town…plum blossoms, camellias, and other early blooms:
Success, Ambition, and the Body: How Do We Define Success as Writers? And What Do We Do When Circumstances Defy our Expectations?
I am staring down my 44th birthday next month, in the middle of a bunch of medical testing I had to put off while I was sick the previous couple of months. I have noticed that many of my conversations with friends lately – younger friends in their twenties and early thirties, older friends in their mid-fifties and sixties – are about whether or not we are feeling successful in our lives as writers.
What does success mean to us? Is it a full-time, tenure-track teaching job (I used to think so!) What about getting an NEA grant? (Though now, after seeing the Trump budget proposal which I dearly hope will be turned down by Congress, the NEA may in fact disappear, so,…) What about getting a poem published in a dream publication? What about getting your first book published? What about your second? What gives you happiness and satisfaction in your work? Would a MacArthur Genius Grant make you feel happy with what you have done, or would it drive you to work harder? Do you just want to get paid enough to cover rent and food?
I asked this question of Facebook and got a myriad of answers from writers just starting out and writers who have several of the accomplishments I’ve listed above. (You can check out the thread here at this link, I think: https://www.facebook.com/webbish6/posts/10155904705729951)
You can see that success, satisfaction, happiness with your work on a writer can be hard to define, can be a moving target, and can often feel like it depends on external factors we cannot control.
I was talking to a writer friend of mine who, like me, is often limited in her drive to succeed by what her body is able to do (or is not able to do.) I had to turn down a reading visit I dearly wanted to do next month because I have been so sick this year and I was worried the travel would send me back to the hospital. When I have to do stuff like that, it feels like crap. I feel like a failure. Though I know I can do a Skype visit (which I love! And thank goodness for technology!) I miss the in person visiting. I’m one of those writers who actually likes being around people – other writers, students, etc.
When I consider applying for full-time jobs I’m worried my body would not be able to handle…but on some days when I feel optimistic, I feel like I could do…when I wonder if I’m letting down my publishers by not traveling more to promote my books, or skipping AWP… I’m running into the problem of drive versus limitation. My friend whose been laid off from her job of twenty years and is stressed out looking for something new, or my friend who’s looking for her first job that can sustain her financially – they are also running into limitations, different ones. Our lives are defying our ambition, our plans for success, our road to what a writer is supposed to be able to do and be.
I wrote last year when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I was happy with what I’ve accomplished so far in life, and you know what? That’s still mostly true. I’ve been Poet Laureate of my city, I’ve published five books, all with publishers I consider friends. I’ve published in a few “dream” publications. But now that I’m looking at the possibility of a little more time, and the possibility of being slightly more mobile (I’m mostly not in a wheelchair or on a cane right now, due to 6 grueling years of twice-weekly physical therapy for neurological issues) it feels like I SHOULD be doing more than I am. But I’m still worn out, the cancer tests keep going, my immune system has been a big FAIL for three months. I’m grateful that I may not be facing death in six months. But I’m also anxious about what I should be doing in the meantime.
Last night I turned in two articles, turned in the judging of a poetry contest, and finished my first organized draft of what will become my sixth book eventually (possible titles: Post-Life? Sitting by Yourself at the End of the World? Self-Portrait as Accident?) and am thinking of what I can do to help promote Field Guide to the End of the World that I’m not already doing. And you know, today, I’m getting ready to go undergo more tests at a medical office which will take a couple of hours, and I’m like – can I get a submission in? Or write a new poem?
My ideas about what I expect for my life are different now, my ideas about what success as a writer consists of has changed. Sure, I would love a part-time job I could actually do from home, I would love a best-selling book or more prestigious book reviews or an award for Field Guide to the End of the World, I would love an unexpected award or fellowship out of nowhere, but I’m thankful for what I do have: a whole bunch of poems I’m pretty proud of, a great bunch of writer friends around the globe who are supportive and helpful when I need it, a spouse who values the work I do (even when it doesn’t bring in the kind of money I’d like it to.) I am thankful for today, which I would usually classify as a “bad day,” as it involved a company coming to cut down one of my backyard trees, a birch that’s gotten infested with birch beetles, which was sad, the news about Trump wanting to cut Meals on Wheels, which at least several of my house-bound relatives are reliant on, the NEA, and PBS, and the aforementioned several-hour-long medical testing. But the sun shone a little today, I made plans about new things to plant, and when I get home, I’m going to make more plans, submission and writing plans. That’s what we do to truly succeed as writers: we hold on to hope, we plant seeds, we try again. We keep writing.