Happy Halloween from the Outer Coast of Southeast Alaska where we are, indeed, being pummeled by a late October storm. Perfect day to stay inside, word play with triolet, and watch leaves fly.
I’m delving deep into the collection of summer emails this week, maybe in an effort to get organized, maybe still pining for more carefree days. I came upon the notification that Young Ravens Literary Review had published not only a poem about my dad, “Not Harry Houdini,” but a photo I’d taken out at Starrigavin of a raven. I’m thrilled that both have a home in these pages. Editors Sara Page and Elizabeth Pinborough assemble a fine collection of work, so do check it out. They are currently gathering work through December 13th that explores and celebrates womanhood.
In the last breath of September, it was my pleasure to attend and celebrate Gary Glauber’s new collection of poems, Inside Outrage (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2022). He read beautifully via Zoom. His selected poems touched upon an array of topics: Love, Mr. Rogers, teaching, poetry, civil justice at Starbucks. It was the perfect antidote to the drumming of the atmospheric river and wind pummeling the windows outside, allowing me to disappear inside, into words for an hour that passed too quickly this afternoon.
With a shelved and bespectacled Homer Simpson over one shoulder and a guitar over the other, Glauber began his reading with his poem, “Blocked,” one he explains celebrates a lifetime of poetry. The poet reminds readers, “Let us celebrate the infinity / of our limited mortality…” It is also one that considers time and the travel of, the “…inestimable unknowable” that is “much like a poem.”
A teacher, just one of his many career hats, some of his poems explore education, from setting to art. “Learning to Read” and “Have You Graded the Essays, Yet?” are both essential explorations of educational experience from knowing both sides of the desk. The latter, especially, is relatable, right down to the red pen and the questions even my own high school students ask, “Why don’t we read / anything with a happy ending?” and “Do we need an introduction / and a conclusion?” Here, too, the speaker contemplates student immunity to the very changes his red pen marks, the indication of editing ahead, and proceeds to muse that for students, “Writing / is a lost art, along with reading.” We can all hope not.
There are so many reminders in his poetry of what is to be human and the lessons we’re all bound to learn one way or another. Glauber’s collection is one to savor, and add to the keeper shelf for future returns.
Poet Sonia Greenfield shared on her Facebook page an essay written by Haley Mlotek, “Against August” (The Paris Review) and I think it’s pretty damn wonderful. Yes, August is well-planted within summer months, but it doesn’t carry the late-spring anticipation of May, the giddy affection of June, or the full-blown buzz and hum of July. In fact, my reply to Sonia’s thread consisted of this: August is to muck around in the mire of all least favorite things: summer’s end, teacher in-service, and rain, rain, and rain, at least here. I am especially keen on her borrow of a few lines by poet Marge Piercy to make her point about August. In her poem “Blue Tuesday in August,” Piercy writes,
The world smelled like a mattress you find
on the street and leave there,
or like a humid house reciting yesterday’s
dinner menu and the day before’s.
But what I do appreciate about August is that it’s close enough to my own rambling off island, to road tripping, exploring, savoring, enjoying … other. And I’ll leave it at that.
I was never into listening to traveler Rick Steves prior to Covid years (local public radio KCAW 104.7 Saturday 2:00 slot), but the silly show caught my ear at times, so much so that nights I couldn’t sleep I’d Google the Hebrides and plan out a future adventure there when the world was open again.
Today’s show is no exception. In Program 579a: Kerouac’s Firewatch; Erosion; USA National Parks, Steves speaks to author Dan Richards about his book, Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth. They speak at length about Jack Kerouac’s two-month stint as a fire lookout in Washington’s North Cascades. He also interviews Terry Tempest Williams, and speaks to another guest about park visits.
Anyway, today’s return has me thinking about all those nights I couldn’t sleep. And I count myself lucky to be throwing another book in the Amazon cart and *not* booking tickets to the Hebrides. Not this day, anyway. One is clearly a cheaper option than the other. But I am clearly thinking already about the wait and anticipation for yet another summer and where its roads might take me. Plenty of time to figure out, and maybe that’s the greatest gift of August.
My favorite line in John Palen’s new chapbook is unpacked in the final poem, “Riding With the Diaspora,” which is the shared title of his book. He writes, “At 6:00 on a winter evening / we’re all diaspora, all a little homesick.” Even in the thick of summer, in the wander-about in full sun and high temperatures, this line takes me straight into the heart of winter, into that collective confusion from where is it we actually hail. Never an easy answer, really, as Palen’s poems sing. The entire collection is one of crossings; of time, of family. I half-wondered in the start of my reading if his collection would read similarly to that of a memoir. Perhaps there are elements of that included, but Palen’s collection exceeds this. His poems consider the displacement of the Indigenous, the Migrant, the Enslaved, the Refugee. They venture along the borders of the aged, the destitute, the ailing in poems that are poignant in both their pain and beauty. This vibrant collection challenges readers to consider their own “Where We’re From.” Chances are the reflection will not yield an easy answer, but the reading will be savored.
For those unfamiliar with Tidal Echoes, it is the literary journal of the University of Alaska Southeast. Professor and poet Emily Wall oversees its publication each year through Jr./Sr.-level editors coming up through the ranks of their own creative writing pursuits. It’s such a delight to publish in this journal because each is so unique and different from the last. I think I’ve published in about a dozen issues over the years. Each year feels a bit like this happy reunion of page of writers and artists of the region, many with whom I’m familiar, or simply know through friendship and writing. Many I’ve encountered through my volunteer editing work at Alaska Women Speak. Some have been my own creative writing students at Sitka High School trying on their own publishing wings.
Last fall I was asked by the editorial staff of Tidal Echoes if I would like to serve as their 2022 Featured Writer. What an honor! And certainly an opportunity I could not refuse. I worked most directly with Shaelene Grace for shoring up an interview in the fall, submitting poems in the winter, and prepping for my presentation the night of the April 1 launch.
I have to admit that I love all the written aspects of writing poetry, of publishing work, but I still fret at the idea of organized readings, even after all the opportunities I’ve had to do so. The idea of talking for 15 minutes still makes me balk initially until I resettle into the reality than time flies when I’m reading, really reading, my poetry. And usually, before I know it, I’ve cleared 15 and am headed into 20. The thing of it is though is overcoming that block, “Oh, I can’t do that,” and instead jump in. When it comes down to it, I’ve never had a negative experience in a reading, in fact it becomes one of those moments in which I’m truly present. There’s great beauty in that, but also in the look-around the room and seeing who is there to hear you read because they want to be there, be it friends, writing group, fellow writers, college roommate, parents, teachers past and recent, even someone you’re sweet on. There’s a sweetness to it all that can’t be replicated under other circumstances.
So I organized my presentation into Haiku Deck. It is titled “And then you follow that spark,” but if you put together each of the slide headers, you end up with a bit of a rough poem in even that:
And then you follow that spark
break out the technology
allow your poems space
be surprised by where you can revise
say yes to all the readings
I closed with reading “Songbird, I Offer You Refuge,” “When Even the Astrologer Says You’re Fucked,” “Troubadour,” “Like a Sniff of Pepper,” and “Heart as a Burning State.”
I have nothing but gratitude and admiration of Emily’s hand in all of this. Thank you to editors Emily Bowman and Shaelene Grace. And thanks also to reporter Michael Lockett for his interview and story in the Juneau Empire News: “Loss and Birds: UAS Releases Annual Literary Journal.”
I’ve not paid full attention to the importance of words since the turn of the year, at least in blogging terms. In early February, I received notice from Editor Bethany Rivers that she had selected two of my older poems, “Death by Staff Meeting” and “Strong Voice” for publication in Issue 8. Thrilled to see these oldies build their nest among other related writings. And while my feelings about staff meetings really haven’t change much, I can say that strong voice is a bit like a tide experiencing everything in its path.
Alaska poet Keriann Gilson launched her brand, spankin-new collection of poetry today, places I never want to see again (Gnashing Teeth Publishing, 2022). It’s this beautiful road-rambling follow of a relationship’s ebbs and flows. I appreciate Keriann’s experimentation with haibun, especially its form and how it meanders down the page. She also explained today that the enjambment is a clue into the relationship. When lines flow and haiku are more elegant, the relationship is at its zenith. In contrast, the existence of short, choppy, stilted lines suggests there are problems afoot. It is a fine read, one that should land on a lot of bookshelves for a future reading once it’s been savored. Cheers to Keriann, and not only for this fine read, but also earning her MFA. Exciting news all around!
It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.
Blue Canoe Writers has focused recent weekly meetings on the writings of Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, Ada Limón, and now Robert Hass. I’m reminded once again of the reason behind the partnership of reading and writing and again consider the richness of my own writing when I’m actively reading. I’m thankful for this group of writer friends that meets via Zoom Tuesday night and has done so consistently since the onslaught of the pandemic, and long before then, but more in person and in homes, and even once on the tugboat Adak, and in parks. We are largely split between the communities of Sitka and Wrangell, so it makes sense that we turn to technology to keep our gatherings close.
I did not mail out near the number of submissions in 2021 that I have in previous years, a practice I need to return to in 2022 along with early morning daily writing, but the year gifted me with such a plethora of experiences and friendships and for these, I am incredibly grateful: Trips to Washington state for storytelling over gin and cards, forays into Portland for leisurely visits to Powell’s Books, and a month-long writing residency at Storyknife in Homer.
My writerly dreams are many. They are rooted in fantastical and real. They swing from wanting to park under folk singer James McMurtry’s hat for writing instruction to apprenticing with the poet Dave Bonta on Haiku and visual poetry, to once again meeting in face-to-face gatherings with Alaska writers, with all poets of all places, to talk writing. I want to settle on a title for my current work in progress, apply for far-flung summer writing residencies, and fill my burgeoning stack of blank books with words/werdz. It is the time of year that I return to Neil Gaiman’s wish, “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” I don’t know what 2022 will bring, but I can only hope for continued sweetness, creativity, and good surprise. And if you’re reading this, I extend that same wish to you. Best.