29 July 2011

Dream of the Unified Media: Jory Mickelson on The Cure's Disintegration

Check out my mini-essay on music over at Charles Jensen's blog Kinema Poetics!

Dream of the Unified Media: Jory Mickelson on The Cure's Disintegration: "Coming Out & Coming Apart"     Plainsong I can feel the heavy wash of synthesizers vibrating their way out from the scratchy..."

25 July 2011

Writing Retreats: A Report from Port Townsend Writers' Conference and Beyond

I returned home last night from the Port Townsend Writers' Conference.  It was a great week of workshops, craft talks and readings.  I spent six days in the workshop of the poet Carl Phillips who had many things to say about kinds of repetition and pattern in poetry.  The drafts of poems I brought to class are better for his comments.

In my workshop, I met some great queer writers including Ian Sherman and Steven Rydman, although not many among the sixteen of us were LGBTQ.

I am grateful for places like the Port Townsend Writers' Conference for giving writers a place to meet one another, learn from a wide array of faculty, and generally providing a space for members of the writing tribe to geek out.  Not everyone shares a writer's sensibilities.

For example, the day I returned home I attended a BBQ in Bellingham in which a gentleman recounted how an aggressive duck would take bread right out of his hand.  I said, "Be careful, you are going to end up like Leda and her Swan."  Blank stares ensued.  After I offered an explanation, there may have been mumbling about "useless pieces of information."  I am not saying that all writers need to know their Greek mythology, but the chances that someone else will get the reference will be much higher among those who write.


There were many highlights to this conference including the poet Dorianne Laux reading a hilarious poem she had written about Dolly Parton.  She said, "If you are going to write about breasts, you may as well go for broke."

Also, hearing a sizzling reading by the poets Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu who are also the founders of VIDA: Woman in Literary Arts.

A writing retreat is a great place to be, but it doesn't guarantee that you will come away from it with a stack of new work, a book deal, or the solution to the obstacle that has been holding your manuscript back all these years.  A writing retreat creates a space for you to write.  The hard part is realizing that what you put into that space is exactly what you will get out it.  There are many people to meet and talk to at writers' retreats.  You could spend most of your time socializing (and I did spend a good deal of time doing just that).  You could visit from one cluster of writers to the next and never put pen to paper.  A writing retreat is not a magical solution to your writing problems.

But it does give you the one thing all writers complain about incessantly...time.  Writing retreats and conferences give you time away from your job, your family, your school work and the distractions of life to focus on your writing.  Most of us lead busy lives and are always trying to carve out a piece of the day to do something more.  If nothing else, a writing retreat allows a busy person to have more than an hour a day in which to labor upon the page.      

Take some time today to spend with your own work.  What writing project has been collecting dust, is stashed in the back of a drawer, or languishing in a lonely computer file?  Take a moment to take it out and look at whatever it is that needs your attention.  No, really look at it.  Go and get it.

Now schedule to spend some time with it this week, no excuses.  Carve out some time to let yourself work.  Let this be your own writing retreat, even if only for thirty minutes at a time.  

15 July 2011

Off to the Ocean

Dear Readers,

I am headed off to the Port Townsend Writers' Conference all next week.  I will be slaving working at the conference and also taking a workshop from the poet Carl Phillips.  I am thrilled to take the class and extremely grateful for the folks at Centrum who asked me to come and work.

I attended my first Port Townsend Writers' Conference back in 2009 on a fellowship from Western Washington University.  There I met many great writers and had more than my fair share of fun. I am also happy to report that the three poems that I drafted there have all made it into print.  (Yeah, I know it has been two years.)

Take a moment and check out this exceedingly productive and magical place!

06 July 2011

Writing with Decay and Ruin


For some time now, I have been hypnotized by ruin.  I don't mean the moral ruin that I was always warned about in church, but the ruin that comes to everything as the result of time.  None of us is safe from decay.

My first lesson in ruin came from the continual round of seasons in Montana.  The biting, frigid winters and the sometimes brutal summer sun baked and broke open anything that was left outside.  Wood weathered, paint peeled and the asphalt split and fissured.  Every year hard freezes pushed up a new crop of rocks into our garden.  The elements stripped and cracked the paint from the picket fence, turning the wood gray.  Potholes and crevices gaped open all the roads in town from the freeze-thaw-freeze of spring.

Ruined library books swollen with summer rain.  Rusted cars that I buried in the sand pile only to discover years later.  The small African frog who didn't last long as a pet, reduced to a perfect tiny milk-white skeleton three months after I exhumed its grave.

Growing up in a rural environment taught me that I too would one day be reduced to so many brittle bones in earth.

Perhaps this is one reason that the poetry of Richard Hugo appeals to me so strongly.  He wrote about a landscape in decline.  Boom towns became bust towns in a matter of years.  Hugo's poems speak not only of rural decay, but also of the slow decline of the inner life.  Hope slips away like so much snow melt in July.

I have spent the past two 4th of July holidays in Butte, Montana, perhaps one of the greatest examples of urban decay in the west.  Butte boasted a population over 100,000 people from more than 75 countries in 1910.  Now only 34,00 remain.  Butte, once the copper mining capital of the United States is more relic than the "richest hill on earth."  Nearly one dozen mining headframes dot the landscape.  Uptown Butte displays its former glory in brick, weathered wood and fading advertisements.  It is still standing, but just.

Ruin calls on me to mourn.  Decay resonates with some inner part of me that whispers, "All shall fall to time."  I admit that I am melancholy by nature, but urban ruin also elevates my vision.  My imagination rises to fill in the crumbling walls, empty windows and fades signs with new life.

I begin to realize that as so many others have faded from these places, I will as well, but perhaps some writer or artist in the future will also wonder about me, in the same spaces--where I called to the past and it answered back.

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