25 February 2010

Poetry of Place, Regionalism and the Ghettoization of Writers

Some of my favorite poets and novelists have written about the landscape in which they lived. Whether Mildred Walker or Kim Barnes is evoking the terrain (of Montana and Idaho respectively) on the page, they remain masterful in their craft. I live and breathe the land that the characters inhabit. Even if I haven’t heard a curlew cry—I feel that I could intuitively recognize it in the wild.

So what happens when a writer produces several books or a series of poems about the same landscape? Most often, he or she becomes known as “the author whose books are set in the Redwoods” or “the poet who is always going on about Iowa.” Their work becomes irrevocably associated to a geographic location. A poet becomes a poet of place. A writer becomes a “Montana” writer. The killing term is "regional writer.”

Among some critics and academics, regional becomes a code word for provincial. The writer’s work is good for the region in which they write, but somehow not beyond it.

In my limited contact with writers, academics and publishers, I have encountered this prejudice. God help the poet who uses rural place names or the novelist who has more than two books in the same remote setting. ”He or she always writes about Oregon…”

Is calling someone “regional” caused by the human need to identify and categorize? Has the word regional become a convenient box for marketing departments to sell books?

What I haven’t seen is the tendency for critics and academics to identify urban writers as regional. Should a poet whose work is set NYC, where they also live be called a poet of place? No one ever says, “His work is good in the boroughs, but not much beyond the Tunnel.”

I believe that it is time for people to take a hard look at what the terms regional and writer of place mean. Ghettoizing writers and their work may simplify categories, but it can also be a form of dismissal.

Perhaps it takes regional writers—further from large urban centers—to point out that many urban writers are wearing t-shirts that say, “I am HUGE in Boston.”

22 February 2010

New Work in New Places!

I am happy to announce that my poem "Cold Mountain Blues" will be appearing in Front Range on March 1st.  You can check out this great literary magazine published in my home state of M-O-N-T-A-N-A!


18 February 2010

A Different, But Still FANTASTIC Essay by Mishon Wooldridge

Autobiography for the Queen of Cups


Butter clams were the first food I ever took directly from the earth. Goo and grit and salt. Those were easy. My brother and I six and five years old, we carried the bucket between us. My dad in his late 30’s, hauled two shovels and told us where to go. Puget Sound replicating the ocean. Puffy gulls over water. Clouds over sky. Blue on white on gray. Speculation of another clam, a deep digger, a challenge—geoduck. Up to my waist in sand, digging with both hands. A pool forms in the hole where we seek the shelled beast, but it can’t hide from the fingers of six hands cupping, reaching, grabbing.


I must remember how to take cold water. For one whole summer I practice daily in the lake: past my knees, around my thighs, my hips—goose bumps racing over arms, neck, and head. Out. In. Lake gently cups my breasts, armpits. Cold drapes over my shoulders, chin, lips…the ducks are watching me. Iridescent and camouflaged. Back stroking, I am a fleck on the surface of a giant drink, like the gleefully drunk fruit flies I sometimes flick out of my wine. When I am filled with the rumble-splash sounds of pulling and kicking, filled with sun-stung eyes, filled with my relative size in this ceramic-mountain surrounded park, I turn upright again. Search for clustered trees and flickering vehicles to measure distance to shore. Number the ducks that have followed me.


Nothing is substantial. Around him the grass wavers, knots, and curls. Trees bend as if jointed. And he is talking to me. They are talking, circling me. Mouths opening and closing. Accusations galloping toward me. After me. Him. Arms crashing down. Crushed against his chest. This is a dream. Arms closing, mouths opening. My dream. Water flows, fountains from under my feet. His arms are a goblet filling with river. My body is scaly and silver, gliding whip-like against his metal confines. The shimmerings of trees, cars, houses twinkle out. He is a lost possession among the river rocks.


The sink water is orphaned from Lake Whatcom. Redeemed of any germs or native spirits. Chemically altered and pumped into every home until it resembles very little of its origins. A river in my hand when I wash dishes. Rain when I cut onions. Neptune’s horses plowing me down. From my apartment window, I keep mistaking Bellingham Bay for Puget Sound. Tsunami or under-tow. When I think of Puget Sound, Atlantis-like islands gloaming offshore, I am also wishing for the Pacific Ocean, the jagged north coast of skinned shins and gleaming agates. Any ocean could recycle me. I’ll comb your tangled locks, Sedna, kiss your fingerless hands. How many gods can drink of these waters?


There is a photo of me standing thigh deep in the Sound, catching the tiny clearish jellyfish that ride the lolling tops of waves. I love sliding my hand just under the surface of the water so that when the wave peaks, then dips—suddenly a jellyfish on my palm. A momentary shock for us both. Like holding a piece of a ghost. I throw the creature in a high arc and hear it plunge back into the water behind me. I do this for hours. My hand opening and closing. Waves rising and falling. Everything familiar and strange, measured by the way it fits into the cup of my hand.

Mishon A. Wooldridge primarily writes poetry and memoir. She is currently poetry editor at 5x5 literary magazine. In 2008, she received her B.A in Creative Writing from Western Washington, and has been published in Earth's Daughters, Third Wednesday, Labyrinth, Jeopardy Magazine, Licton Springs Review, Arcturus. Find more of her work at http://www.wordprogressions.blogspot.com/

New Poems in Lines + Stars

I am pleased to announce that you can now find my work in
Lines + Stars  Winter 2010 issue.   My poem "Buffalo Jump" can be viewed for free online. 

Please take a moment and visit the site at http://www.linesandstars.com/

09 February 2010

Explaining Poetry To Others

I found this postcard in a junk shop.  The image is strange and if you give it a closer look it gets wierder.  I wonder if the text was added after the fact by someone else.  In the picture there is a spotlight...or light coming through a curtain?  But why is the curtain open if there is a lamp?  Is that a cigarette burning on the carpet behind the figures?  Is the poet Fred sitting in a theater seat? 

The image is by Glen Baxter from 1989.  The postcard was produced by Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

05 February 2010

On the Failed-Writer and the Troubled-Writer

Last night I watched a film about a writer who was lost, wandering down the California coast in search of himself. The film also featured a failed writer who chose accounting and a stable, long-term relationship with a man who had an autistic child. The relationship was passionless, but the failed writer loved the child very much.

Should we examine the inevitable plotline where the “troubled-writer” arrives on the scene and then watch the sexual tension build? Thirty-six minutes into the film, my partner said, “It is too soon for them to have sex, the film has an hour left.” At forty-one minutes into the film, failed-writer and troubled-writer were naked and writhing on the living room floor.

Let’s look past the stock characters and shout-in-your-face themes to examine how the writing life is portrayed. The movie presented two options. You can be a troubled creative type who takes odd jobs, lives and nomadic lifestyle and really write. Or you can choose a stable, well-adjusted life and lose your passion and never write again. To be fair, there were some subtle variations, but time and time again Hollywood presents us with the same stereotype. You can write and fall apart or you can live well and not write at all.

(The movie never got around to explaining how troubled-writer could afford to travel the country and stay at bed and breakfasts while still being a starving artist/student. I will examine the myth of the wealthy writer at another time.)

Are these choices accurate? In my own life and among my friends, I find that it usually takes a mix of the two to be successful. The troubled-writer types whose lives are full of drama and chaos often lack the discipline to revise their work or send their work out. A life of chaos, regardless of artistic genius will not produce discipline.

Conversely, people who are struggling to pay the bills, raise a family or finish a degree can easily forget to set aside time to write. It happens. I did this while applying for grad schools. I was writing essays, artistic statements and resumes, but not creating new poems.

Most writers I know who are getting published are a combination of the failed-writer and the troubled-writer. They are disciplined enough to set aside time to write, revise and submit their work. They manage to keep food on the table, but are still stormy and creative people.

What kind of writer are you?

01 February 2010

Straight Crushes, Secret Admirers, What Drives You to the Keyboard?

Tonight, I saw one of my Bellingham crushes. I treasure my crushes. I pretend that they are secret, but my boyfriend knows. My friends know. Anyone standing near me when that boy walks by is sure to know. What does it mean to be headed toward my mid-thirties and still swooning over a handsome gent with a great smile?

Perhaps what I like most about my crushes is that they are safe. Most often the gentleman in question is heterosexual. Often, these men are people that I have a passing, friendly acquaintance with. Straight men be forewarned. Your worst nightmare is true. There is a gay man who is hot for you.

These infatuations change with the seasons and with my mood. In the fall Mr. X will cause my ears to burn, but by spring I have moved on. I like that they are temporary. I can have multiple crushes at once. Keeping open to new possibilities is one way that I know I am still alive.

Every February I send out valentines with terrible poems on them. One of my thrills is sending them to my secret crushes. They asked for it--literally. I only send the valentines out to those who sign up. No one is forced to give me their home address.

I come across as a cynical and jaded, but I love being in love. Beneath this hard exterior is...well some sharp thorns and barbed words, but THEN you might find an anemic and shriveled romantic.

I dislike St. Valentine's Day on principle. I hate how crowded restaurants get and the growing pressure to express your love. I am uncomfortable with how much cultural expectation I have managed to absorb and how often I am disappointed by the reality of this holiday. It never turns out right. Not like I picture it my head with the soft lighting and dreamy smiles. Scented candles almost always give me a headache.

I started writing poems because I fell in love with words and what language can do on the page. I continued writing because it opened me up to the world and to the life that was happening around me. Poetry keeps me open to new possibilities.

What brought you to the keyboard or page and what keeps you there?


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