Good News and Laurels

As it happens, good news tends to distract us from the real work that has to be done.  This past weekend, I had the pleasure of reading poetry and speaking to Suzie Martinez on Fort Collins Public Radio, which was a great experience.  Right before that, I found out that Little Oblivion was selected as a finalist in the Poetry category for the Colorado Book Award this year by the Colorado Humanities and Center for the Book.  I’m really excited about this honor, and the readings that are a part of this.  I’m getting more of an opportunity to get back into my reading voice…  so poetry month may turn into a month about other people’s poetry rather than me writing new work.  I’m itching to edit, to submit, so I will probably focus on that this month.

 

For Real

The good part: I remembered how to get into this thing.

The bad part: It’s been way too long.

But it’s April, and I’m trying to renew the poetry part of my life, so for the one person who may be out there still reading this, keep an eye out for some poem-a-day drafts–as usual, posted for a day, then taken down.

National Poetry Month—Listen to the Voices

I’ve long been obsessed with zombies—any post-apocalyptic story has me in its corner.  I started young, reading The Stand by Stephen King when I was about 14.  Probably the same year, I read Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song. Before both of those was the great 80’s hit Night of the Comet. When I Am Legend came out, I went to the movies to see it. Alone.  I hadn’t been to the movies alone in years.  I’m not sure what the fascination was, but I feel the need to confess: there’s something about the end of the world, about being the only human—or one of the only humans—left on the world that makes me store a lot of food in my basement.

The biggest thing that struck me when I saw I Am Legend was the vulnerable sharing that Will Smith’s character Robert Neville does with the mannequins in the video store.  The pure lack of human interaction is haunting.  I consider myself a fairly social person, who likes to talk to other people.  So in a world in which there’s no one to speak back to me, I would be one of the first to listen to the voices in my subconscious mind.

So as I have just finished watching the last episode of The Walking Dead for the next six months, and the coincidence/karma/world spirits have started their spring whispers, I am going to attempt to have a poetry month plan:
1.    Read three books of poetry a week
2.    Write three poems a week
3.    Write three blog posts a week

The blog is a zombie itself, and to keep it from taking over my brain stem, I’d better grab a pair of pliers by my toes and free myself by dispatching it.  I am nothing without the poets around me, especially those who read and teach their contemporaries, so I am making time.  As far as the poems go, well, duh. It’s National Poetry Month. Which means those who dare, write it.  I dare you, too.

Happy Birthday, Little Oblivion

What would have been another Thursday in which I would leave work early, pick up kids to run the gauntlet of dog feeding/homework/whining/dinner/swim lessons/shower/bed, turned out to be a bittersweet day for me.  There, on the porch after the UPS man rang the bell, were two boxes of the last thirteen years of my life—my copies of Little Oblivion had arrived.  Now I know how the folks felt in the olden days when the stork brought babies to their doorsteps.  I am thrilled to have my author copies, and now I just have to be amazingly patient until it’s officially available in March.

The book design is great, and I owe a serious debt to Alban Fischer, the designer, and Elixir Press, for having faith in the book in the first place.  The photo we selected for the cover deserves serious accolades, too—Doug Bell took the photo outside of the Erebus Glacier Tongue, and what an eye to catch just that moment.

The hardest part of the day: I learned that one of my favorite poetry fathers, a phenomenal poet and a true mentor to me, Jack McCarthy, passed away.  He was ready from what he told us, but the silence that happens in the world when such a powerful voice leaves is insurmountable.  I met Jack at the Boston/Cambridge Poetry Slam back in 1994, when he was nice enough to talk to the young, scared business-dressed girl who was petrified to walk up to the mic.  He taught me to take care of language, and it would take care of me.  He taught me to pay attention to audience, because while we write for ourselves, we’re also writing to tell someone a story.  He taught me that it would be ok to do a job that seemed like a normal job—just because I wasn’t teaching at a university didn’t make me any less of a poet. The key was to make, and keep, poetry a priority—something I’ve seemed to forget once in a while.

So, in the spirit of shameless promotion, which Jack always told me was ok, you can preorder the book on Amazon.com, or wait until March and request it from your local bookseller.  You can also contact me to come and read, talk about Antarctica, poetry craft, work/life/poetry balance, or to be a frumpy still-life model for art students.

Writing the New Year

I may be four days late to write about the new year, my poetry action plan, this year’s resolutions, and my poetic state of mind, but that’s part of my plan:  this year is the “better late than never” year.  I will not be angry at myself for what I am doing late, what I missed doing, what I should be doing, what I didn’t do as well as I should.  I will strive for something more perfect than these things, but I will not regret or fill my writing life with that “I can’t” negativity that seems so easy to set as default.

Over the winter break, my family and I rented a cabin in Estes Park, Colorado, with some good friends of ours.  This long weekend was a “no screens” weekend, and although both my five-year-old and the teenage girl who came with us were fairly certain of their doom due to this requirement, we all came out on the other end feeling like we had healthier brains.  By day three, though, we’d exhausted the amount of games of Risk, Clue, and chess that we could take, and ventured out to a place with some extensive climbing walls, including instructors and equipment.  My lungs were filled with krazy glue at the time, and the cost of each kid was enough to enable all three adults to pass on climbing.  But I was thrilled to encourage both my kids to try something that seemed a bit scary, that they’d never done before.  The instructor, Ashlynn, was probably just over twenty-something years old, and insisted on the kids testing her belay to prove that there was no way they would fall.  That did not stop their fear. My son, Sam, climbed the smaller wall, and about three quarters of the way up, started having a mini panic attack.  I wanted to reach up, tell him he’d be ok, that he could come down, but I waited.  Ashlynn was awesome, and kept telling him that he could do it, that he just needed to look up to the next place for his right hand.  After about a minute (a mommy hour), his breathing slowed back down, and while he continued to say that he was scared, he climbed to the top and rang the bell.  He even went up one more time, although he decided after that to stop.

But I want to tell you Claire’s story.  She started on the big wall.  The first time she climbed up, she barely stopped before reaching the bell.  Ashlynn had her go up a harder route (same wall) the second time, and Claire had to be coaxed from about two-thirds of the way up to finish.  She had done most of the hardest work, and just needed to look up to see how close she was.  Her third time, she froze mid-wall, and started saying over and over, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do it.”  Ashlynn reminded her she’d already climbed this route, that she could do this, and after a few minutes of this and Claire not moving, she told Claire, “I’m going to make you do a push up for every time you say ‘I can’t.’”  Claire put her forehead on the wall and started to cry. After what seemed like an eternity of my daughter’s cries and words, and no grown up moving to rescue her, she moved one foot up, then the next.  She climbed to the top, slapped the bell with anger, and let go to walk back down the wall and shove her harness off, saying “I’m never climbing again.”

I knew that this was a great experience for her, that she needed to go outside of her comfort zone, that she needed to do something physical, that she’d never know what she was capable of if she didn’t try new things.  I didn’t realize that I should be translating that message to me.

The thing I also didn’t realize until now: she could have let go of the wall at the instant she didn’t want to finish climbing, but she didn’t.  She was saying “I can’t” but really wanted to succeed, to finish what she started.

So, this year, I resolve to step outside my comfort zone, in writing and in extracurricular activities.  I will not let go of the wall.

January O’Neil, a poet I respect and admire, writes a Poetry Action Plan (PAP) every year, to keep her on target and sane.  Like me, she’s a mom who strives to balance the many lives she’s required to participate 100% in.  I appreciate her drive and her candor, and so, my PAP:

·    Finish the next book and submit it to “test the waters” before March.
·    Revive this blog—for exercise, for sanity, and to keep me honest about what I should be doing to support Little Oblivion
·    Arrange at least five readings from Little Oblivion
·    Attend at least six other readings outside of the AWP conference
·    Read a book of poetry a month
·    Do one poem-a-day month

This might not be that much, but with a five-year-old, a seven-year-old, a marriage, a house, a full-time job that has nothing to do with poetry, it’s what I can do without regret.

My friend Tayari is taking the year off to focus on her third novel.  I admire her risk-taking, her knowledge of what she has to do for her writing, and her admission that it’s not always easy.  So there will be times when I try to get up at ungodly hours to write.  There will be times when I ask my husband to be more than he should be so that I can write.  But this will be a good year.

McMurdo Station

I’ve been horrible about blogging while I’ve been here, but to be fair I’ve been insanely busy with work. But in the sound-bite nature of our Facebook/Twitter world, I’ve been biting words off in small chunks. Today is our Thanksgiving holiday, and I’ve just eaten a big plate of food, shared with friends and colleagues, and I’ve either got to sit in a coma or take a walk out to Hut Point. But I figured I’d catch up with my blog for a few minutes while the food settles in, and then I won’t resemble so much of a seal when I walk out to the peninsula.

The best part of this trip has been knowing that Little Oblivion, which was a dream the first time I was here in 1999, a desperate old friend the last time I was here in 2009, and a reality at the printer this year. The best part of my trip in 2009 was that I intended to say goodbye to the Ice, to write it off, so to speak, to insist on “no more ice poems.” What ended up happening on top of Observation Hill was my realization that somehow my compass shifted, and that the Ice will always be here for me, just like the desert, just like the urban streets of Boston. And I’m ok with that. This trip, I have written three poems that don’t focus on the Ice, but most certainly echo my surroundings.

I’m also thrilled that I’ll be reading poetry, along with a prose writer who’s here on a grant, on Tuesday. To be able to read the poems that have loved and haunted me for the last twelve years here, with the people who made this place what it is for me, will be such a rewarding experience. Only one, most important absence will be noted: Marc, you’re the key to all of this for me, and while I sometimes get turned around, I will always find my way home to you.

Hiatus

I know, I’m remiss. I’ve had a rough week, so I’m taking a break. I’ve got more than 4 starts to poems, so I’m not worried that I won’t make my goal. And I’ve thought of a new goal for September (stay tuned).  I promise I’ll catch up.

August Poem-A-Day 18 and 19

HA! I know you thought I wouldn’t get poems written this weekend because I’d be partying too much, what with reaching the fourth decade and all.  But while I was waiting at the car wash for my car to be finished, I stood in the shade of a tree and drafted on my phone. Which is something I never thought I could do comfortably, but there it was.  The quick fractal, times two.

Fractal (4)
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Fractal (5)