Review of Split the Crow in Tishman Review

BookCoverImage-232x300

Update** Well, I actually sent a copy of Split the Crow for review and completely forgot about it! Thanks to Jennifer Porter for pointing this out. The Tishman Review didn’t know, however, that I was a Bennington alumna so my absentmindedness alerted them to that.

An interesting and thoughtful review by J. Adam Collins in Bennington’s Tishman Review. I got my MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, so Tishman must have gotten wind of my new book. Funny how reviewers can sometimes pick up on things happening in the poetry that I never saw myself. Example: “But Sousa does not only give voice to the suppressed. To the majority, the oppressor, and the complicit she warns against excessive reparations ‘sometimes resembling anemic condolence, / sometimes largesse.'” Yes, yes! I didn’t consciously intend that, but then, I don’t approach poetry at the conscious level until a little later in the game. Thank you J. Adam Collins and Tishman Review.

We Asked For $20, They Gave Us $10

Unknown

It’s kind of ironic, in light of the gender pay gap, that the original movement to get a woman on the twenty dollar bill (http://www.womenon20s.org) has resulted in the government’s offer to put a woman on the ten. According to the treasury, the ten dollar bill is up for redesign, thus is the logical choice for, excuse the pun, a makeover. Martha Washington was the first and last to appear on US paper currency, a silver one dollar note (described as the loveliest dollar ever made) issued in 1886 and out of circulation by the turn of the century. Both Pocahontas and Sacagawea appeared on coins. It’s also a little ironic that our chosen woman won’t get the $10 all to herself, no, she’ll be chaperoned by Alexander Hamilton, first treasury secretary, and current holder of the bill. According to the treasury, Hamilton, who debuted on the $10 in 1928, will appear on the reverse side of the bill.

The original movement to put a woman on the $20 sought not only to honor a woman of distinction, but to replace Andrew Jackson who was a primary force behind Native American genocide. Many have observed how strange, almost surreal, the fact that an important American woman has not appeared on our most circulated currency to date. Almost as strange as the fact that we haven’t elected a woman to the presidency as of 2015. And our chosen woman will have to wait until 2020 when the new $10 will enter circulation, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Believe it or not, there is lively debate on social media over Alexander Hamilton’s replacement by some “literary” woman; I think someone got Harriet Tubman confused with Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even in my own Facebook feed a few older white men have questioned the replacement of important political men from history, men who shaped this country (Goddammit), with, well….. a woman. One went so far as to claim that American currency has traditionally featured presidents (Hamilton the exception) an honor which should not be revoked in favor of a woman no matter what her importance in other spheres: science, literature, all those humanities.  I had to point out that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Susan B Anthony and Rosa Parks were fighting for the right to be considered people by the white men (their fathers, brothers, men who held the sales receipts to their lives) who wrote the laws and ran the country. These women were fighting for freedom, for the right to govern themselves, to own property, to vote, in some respects a similar fight to the one our forefathers fought when settling America a century before. They weren’t ‘political figures’ in the congressional and presidential sense because they couldn’t even vote for their president, couldn’t help get a candidate into office, never mind run for president.  In my house when someone is acting clueless and careless of others’ needs we jokingly quote George Bush (the second). In 2001, when government officials, as well as newspaper and television offices were being mailed envelopes containing Anthrax, Bush, in an effort perhaps to ensure the public that its president was in fine form, replied to a reporter: “well, I don’t have Anthrax”. In other words: “it doesn’t affect me”. To which I say: not the right answer. But if it’s any consolation to the dominant sex, by law, George Washington can never be replaced on the one dollar bill and no living person may appear on US currency. So if, let’s say, Hillary Clinton were to be elected the first woman president in 2016, she may (thanks to Susan B Anthony) have stolen the election from Jeb Bush, but Andrew Jackson will still be safe on the twenty.

“She Believed She Could”: A Squam Story

IMG_0212

Last week I led a six hour Found Poetry Workshop at the spring Squam Art Workshops retreat on serene Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire. My introduction to ‘Squam’ came a little over a year ago when founder and director Elizabeth Duvivier contacted me through my Etsy shop to ask if I’d consider giving a poetry reading at the June 2014 retreat. My first poetry collection Church of Needles was due out in May and I asked Elizabeth if the reading could double as my book launch.  In what I’ve come to understand as Elizabeth’s enthusiastic, make things happen modus operandi, she answered with a definitive ‘yes’ and pulled together a lovely reading at the camp’s 1930s style playhouse, attended by the most encouraging, kind group of women (of all ages) knitting away as I read. I’ve been spoiled by that generous audience and have wished many times since that I could enforce a ‘knitters only’ rule at my readings.

Let me say that in the insular, fairly academic poetry world, holding your book launch at an arts’ summer camp in the center of New Hampshire where every other rock has been adorned with a sweater knit to its own rocky specifications, is not just uncommon but will likely be dismissed out of hand as ‘not serious’. The poetry world is fairly serious. I myself come across as serious, but I nurture a decidedly stubborn, at times eccentric, “excuse-me-while-I-give-my-great-horned-owl-call” core, so I took a chance, shortly after my reading at last year’s retreat, and pitched a workshop idea to Elizabeth for the June 2015 retreat: The Found Poetry Project. I described a basic outline of the workshop because it was all in my head at that point. Elizabeth said ‘yes’ again and I proceeded to worry for about a year. Because if there’s anything less definable than holding your book launch at summer camp its leading a six hour workshop (all at once) culminating in decoupage.  A six hour workshop is like a three to six week series of workshops in the ‘real world’. In my own life, on a daily basis, I bridge the gap between my crafty and poetry selves. I approach them similarly, but poetry is my vocation, my calling, where art and craft are creative experimentation for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever mastered a hands-on art or craft. Once I reach the point of near-mastery I get bored and have to put it aside. In my years as a serial Etsy shop owner and craft dabbler I have taught myself to wet felt and needle felt, spin, sculpt dolls in paper clay, quilt, knit, paint, make baubles out of various vintage bits, etc. etc. All of this to say that the folks at Squam are just as much my tribe as my fellow poets. Still, I worried that my offering of a writing workshop competing with knitting, rug hooking, sewing mushrooms and seed pods, (all that scrumptious color!) just wouldn’t be enough to get students through the door. Who wants to go to summer camp and write? By the time retreat rolled around last week I was over prepared. Each of my students would get a binder containing essentials for the workshop, as well as ‘take-homes. I’ll give a quick rundown: source pages to ‘write’ erasure and Centos, small art prints (unique to each binder) for Ekphrasis, a Penguin books title postcard for another prompt, a packet of index cards for a question/answer prompt, many loose pages from vintage books for prompts and the aforementioned decoupage, example poems, sheet of poetic terms, a list of additional prompts for home. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was enough, wanted to do more, worried it was too much, that my small group of intrepid students would feel like they were in school. I needn’t have worried. Each of my students came with different reasons for taking the workshop. All were so open, enthusiastic and focused. Several expressed gratitude for the format of the workshop (timed prompts, lots of prompts, how I kept things moving) and the binder full of stuff. They were writers and students at heart! I was so impressed with the quality of writing these students produced. I had created about five solitary writing outposts inside and outside our classroom so they could get off by themselves to write and come back to the group between prompts. All chose to stay at our group table and mentioned appreciating the energy of writing with others.

I’ve led few workshops, not many, much shorter than The Found Poetry Project and was worried I’d have a hard time ‘leading’ for six hours, that I’d run out of things to say, would come across as too teachery, not teachery enough. My students told me after the fact that they worried about writing poetry, didn’t know what to expect, feared they couldn’t do it. Besides publishing a few books and giving readings, my professional life is small. I don’t teach college classes (the meat and bread of many creative writers), I don’t teach at writers’ conferences, I’m not a mover and shaker in the poetry world. I’ve homeschooled my boys, who are quickly aging out of homeschooling. In short, I’m a little insulated, a little sheltered. But sometimes, things you need for your own growth and challenges you’re ready to take just kind of sneak up as if to say “it’s time”. The minute the workshop began, I felt like a fish in water. Leading this group of women seemed the most natural thing in the world. I wanted them to have fun, to write, to leave with poems and the potential for more poems. The nurturer in me wanted to shepherd them through the workshop and deliver them on the other side, enriched. And I think it worked! The feedback was astounding: “this was truly a gift”, “this workshop has blown open the doors for me”.

Doors:) I have an oddball habit of spotting ‘doors’ between tree trunks, making a wish and walking through. I was a little jittery before the first session of the workshop (see everything above).  Because our class space was located in a building a distance from the hub of camp, and because they had to walk, students began arriving early. For about 15 minutes it was just me and one student. My fears were bubbling to the surface, that familiar fear I get before giving a reading where my mind goes blank and I know I’m likely to forget all the intelligent things I have to say.  I stepped out of the classroom and stood by the picnic table, and what appeared to be an out-of-service sandbox (weeds were reclaiming the space). I took a deep breath and tried to think calming thoughts, but thoughts, by their nature, aren’t calming. There were many, many tree trunks but none offered themselves up as entryways, so I had to imagine. I said to myself: “This is it, I’m prepared. I know what I’m doing. I’m walking through the door”. And I did.

20150605_185012    20150605_184948

Mini magnetic poetry kits made by students

Squam and the Poetry of Place

IMG_0233

I’ll write a longer blog post in a few days about my amazing experience leading seven writers through a six-hour found poetry workshop at the Squam Arts Retreat where we braved the chill of our renovated sugar house classroom (COLD few days in NH), dodged some well-fed, yet still hungry mosquitoes, but were rewarded with the above: blue sky, blue water, sun (almost 70)  and, in my case, the sight of two deer swimming toward shore at 6 a.m. Whew, that was one sentence, kind of sums up those intense five days of Squam for me.

IMG_0214

Home for five days, my cottage (which I shared with an old friend from Maine) aptly named ‘Bungalow’

IMG_0191

The day I broke camp fireplace rules (because I didn’t read the rules) and kept the fire burning all day. The night before had been in the 40s, outside and in. ‘Nough said.

IMG_0190

Standing in the ‘kitchen’ one can see the living room (also my bedroom) and the porch

IMG_0208

The lovely dining hall. Check out that vintage wooden canoe hanging from the beams

IMG_0205

A submerged sitting area. For reference I included the one high and dry on the dock. Always the poet, I kind of loved the juxtaposition and the fact that both are empty, pointing in the same direction as if inhabited by invisible occupants.

IMG_0183

‘Rock’ is short for ‘Rockywold’ the name of one of the camps, but Rock Dining sounds very romantic, conjures images of a Victorian picnic on boulders. This is one woodland path at the camp which would look just like my backyard in western Mass but for the knit bombs.

IMG_0189

The Sugar House, my cold but picturesque classroom. This building does appear to have functioned as a sugar house in the past, when it would have been steamy warm and sweetly fragrant with boiling maple. I had space heaters.

IMG_0218

My class. I hope to have a couple more photos of the class in action for my longer post. We’ll see.

IMG_0185

IMG_0186

IMG_0209

Enormous dream-catcher with everyone’s hopes and dreams written on the dangling feathers.

IMG_0213

I love this sentiment: “Art is my constant companion, my dearest repose” Also kind of sums up the Squam ethic and the attitude of everyone there.

IMG_0235

This loon and its mate were quite close to the dock I was sitting on. Loons everywhere and their sad, eerie, beautiful song echoing off the hills and Rattlesnake Mountain behind the lake.

IMG_0249

As if workshops, the lake, knit bombs and swimming deer weren’t enough, Squam has a Saturday night craft fair with ice lanterns.

IMG_0243

IMG_0195

More to come soon!!!

Short Rant of the Week: Store Loyalty Cards

Unknown

I don’t know when store “loyalty cards” became a thing, don’t remember using them 10 years ago every time I wanted to buy milk, a book, printer paper or sandals. Loyalty cards are those seemingly-useless cards branded with their store logos that you have to dig out of your purse before unloading your cart-load of groceries onto the belt, while also digging out your credit card, handing your reusable bags over while trying to convey the fact that you’d like ALL your groceries in the big reusable bags and not a bunch of plastic bags each containing one item (trying to do this without sounding entitled) and remembering to put the little plastic divider after your groceries so the impatient lady behind you won’t get pissed and sigh really loudly; she, by the way, has two items, but for some reason eschews the five items or less line… I have upwards of six loyalty cards arranged in a special card divider in my purse, not because I use them often, cherish my cards, or feel particularly loyal to my grocery store (which also has an annoying coin system) but because I hate experiencing that wave of panic when I can’t find my card and eight people are waiting behind me as I give over my name and phone number (which I’ll probably forget under pressure) to get into my account. According to articles like this one, stores implement loyalty cards because they gather invaluable information on “loyal” customers’ shopping habits swipe by swipe. Customers are rewarded with discounts. In my own experience, I find two of my loyalty cards actually deliver savings: Barnes and Noble and Famous Footwear. But Barnes and Noble charges a fee upfront to activate the card and I haven’t done the math, so my savings may be miniscule. Famous Footwear sends me $10 and $20 off coupons all the time; maybe because they’re not actually all that famous and they need the business. Target is my last loyalty card holdout. They can’t budge me. I had to take a stand sometime and based on their hard-sell I’m pretty sure the cashiers are getting a commission for pushing loyalty cards. As I said earlier, in addition to loyalty cards my local grocery store also has a coin system, the bane of my existence, where, after swiping my card, the cashier asks if I have a silver coin. If I give her a silver coin, at the end of the transaction she says “you won a silver coin” and gives me my coin back. I laugh every time, but I laugh alone because either the cashier doesn’t see the humor in the coin system or she’s sick of people pointing out how silly it is. If I don’t give her a coin, she doesn’t give me one in return. So I’ve taken to pretending I don’t have any coins. I’ve dropped into grocery stores I never shop at when traveling or to grab a water and when I explain that I don’t have a loyalty card, the cashier just swipes one she has hanging on a chain around her neck. It reminds me of playing store when I was little. Remember the colorful cash registers with their colorful plastic coins? Your friend would hand you a red coin marked 5 or 10, you’d pop open the drawer, rummage around and hand back a random coin. You’d both smile, nod your heads, say ‘thank you, have a nice day’ and pretend it made sense.

517zVJZTcZL._SY300_