SPARROW

To see the announcement for my poetry book, Sparrow, selected by poet Dorianne Laux for the Kenneth and Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize at Writers & Books, go to http://www.wab.org/gell-poetry-prize/gell-prize-2012-winner/

You can find a review by Kathleen Kirk at EIL: http://www.escapeintolife.com/blog/review-of-sparrow-by-bethany-reid/

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Superstition Review

I have four poems at the latest on-line edition of Superstition Review http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/n6/index.php

Click on "POETRY" to find me!

Monday, December 27, 2010

One Bad Poem


I'm awake early in the morning in my mother's house,
hiding in the bedroom with a cup of coffee
and my notebook. Mom is watching television.
My eleven-year old daughter lies asleep
in the bed beside me. It's as close,
this morning, as I can come to being alone.
This is what it's like to be me
and to insist on being a writer.
These few lines. Too much caffeine.
Other people elbowing in (my mother's news program
wafting from the living room; Emma snoring).
Another few lines. Not really poetry.
Just scribbling. But now I am imagining you.
You pour yourself a cup of coffee
and you sit down. You turn the page, idly,
trustingly. And, who know why,
but what I've written speaks to you. It says,
You are not alone in your dreams of becoming.
It says, We are in this together.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm in a Quoting Kind of Mood


"Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold."


-Zelda Fitzgerald

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quotable


I have spent the entire day (9 hours) finishing my grades, munching on cran-raisins and almonds (no lunch), drinking way too much coffee. I'd leave for home now, but first I have to walk through the pouring rain to my car, and then it's a 35-minute drive. It's 2010, shouldn't there be Add Imagea Star Trek like transporter device that I could simply step into?


It's all good. My students' creative nonfiction essays were nothing short of brilliant and I enjoyed reading them. My daughters want to get a Christmas tree tonight. Tomorrow morning when I get up, it will be the first day of my holiday break. I'll read some poetry. And I'll write a poem.


"The future is uncertain but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity." -Ilya Prigogine

Monday, December 6, 2010

One Bad Poem


I wrote this a couple weeks ago. Not sure that it works, but a friend has been urging me to put more of my daily writing here. So here goes.


"You can't sit here," I tell the cat.
"I'm sitting here." I move him
to another chair, which has to be
equally comfortable, but before I can settle down
with my notebook and pen,
my cup of coffee, my scattered thoughts,
he's back. He's a black cat.
He came to us as a kitten
on my youngest daughter's seventh birthday.
He sits imperiously on the footstool,
watching me. We woke this morning
to snow and I am playing hookie
from my paying job so that I can sit here,
scribbling, which is my real work.
The cat gets bored, curls at my feet
and goes to sleep, which is his real work.
The only sounds are the furnace clicking on,
the lap-lap of the filter on the goldfish tank,
and the scritch of my pen
across the paper. Now it seems
I am dreaming the world
into being. A dog barks.
When I glance out the window,
the snow has stopped. I turn back
to the page. I draw blue letters
across line after line.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Writer's Block


I have been writing comments on student papers all day, in fact, for several days. This morning when I returned to my office at the college, I found a strange little book on my desk, Writer's Block, and a cryptic note, signed, I think, by my friend Marianne. Here's a quote from the book:


"Ironically, when asked to write about writer's block, I'm at a loss for words," says Phil Gulley, a Quaker pastor as well as the author of the best-selling essay collection Front Porch Tales and the fictional Harmony series. "Fifty sermons a year for the past 18 years, 9 books in 11 years, and not once have I fallen silent. I sit at my desk and the words come, sometimes slowly, but they eventually arrive. To be sure, some of my efforts lack a certain sparkle, but I've never missed a deadline.

"Writer's block, I'm coming to believe, was a myth begun by underappreciated authors who wanted to make their craft look harder than it is. I once picked up road kill for a summer. After a week on the job, I developed road kill block. I did all I could to avoid the task. Phoned in sick, vomited in the boss's truck, and spent evenings looking for another job. But this was in the early Reagan years, jobs were scarce, so I returned to the road kill.

"Since then it has been etched in my psyche that if I fail as a writer, I would have to return to my road kill job. With an incentive like that, I can't afford writer's block.

"My biggest worry isn't that I'll run out of things to say, but that I'll run out of time to say them, that God, in his peculiar way of doing things, will yank me from this world before I've thrown in my two cents.

"I have a friend who writes for a living who is regularly cursed with writer's block. He's lived a pampered life, is independently wealthy, and can easily afford such luxuries. When words fail him, he goes to Tuscany for a month to play golf. Someday, I hope to be able to have a writer's block like that."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rereading Abigail Thomas's Thinking about Memoir

...and this advice caught my eye:

"Sometimes you wake up at four in the morning with all this energy and no cows to milk. So you just have to get up and figure out what it's there for. Use it or lose it. If you're lucky some part of you will know what to do, but it's not the part that thinks it's steering. Make sure you have your notebook and a pen."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On the Seventh Day


On the seventh day, tired of being the only grownup,
God rested. He'd carried infant creation
on his back all week long, every decision,
every jot and tittle his own design.
Just for one minute, he thought,
Could they stop asking, "Why?"
Could they just be grateful for breath,
for cold water, for warm bodies?
On the seventh day, God bathed his feet in the river.
He watched the sun go down behind purple mountains.
And he couldn't help but feel a little sadness then,
having created the hearts of these beings,
already knowing how they would rail against every end.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Memory


"Maybe the most sacred function of memory is just that: to render the distinction between past, present, and future ultimately meaningless; to enable us at some level of our being to inhabit that same eternity which it is said that God himself inhabits." -Frederick Buechner, Keeping Secrets

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Memory


I was telling my students about Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and its main character, Billy Pilgrim, who has come "unstuck in time," when I mentioned that we all do that sometimes, we all time travel in our heads. Don't we? They looked at me as though the men in white coats would arrive shortly. Oh, well.


My brother's white and brown dog
runs up the hill path ahead of me.
Our cows in the muddy barnyard--
looking patient and troubled
as Old Testament prophets.

Juncoes in the spent briers--
their black heads like monks' cowls.
November's one ripe blackberry
holding itself out to me
like an offering.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

...to make the naught resound...

"For if poetry has the power to make the naught resound, if it has the power to house, bury, and commune with the dead, it is because its rhythms, accents, and elegiac tones have their elemental source in human grief. If the transmutation of the earth into invisiblity is at bottom a poetic task, and if we have the ability to undertake such a task, it is because human beings are veterans of mourning." -Robert Pogue Harrison, The Dominion of the Dead

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quotable


"The way to find your true self is by recklessness and freedom." Brenda Ueland

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Curiosity


"In any work that is truly creative, I believe, the writer cannot be omniscient in advance about the effects that he proposes to produce. The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist, who is intensely curious about what will happen to the hero." -Mary McCarthy

An older poem...

I'm retiring this from my send-out file. I am also looking out my office window at the rain and wishing I were far away.

THE RELUCTANT BODY

She means to be gone only a moment,
browsing a travel brochure while I vacuum.
But she steps onto a white beach at Santorini

where sunlight smells of olive trees
and blue sea. A handsome Greek gets her drunk
on grappa. So she'll have a headache

when she wakes. So he doesn't speak English.
She speaks the soul's language. He's good
with his tongue. Besides, she never

has headaches. It's me who will wake
clutching the heel of one hand over an eye,
mourning my reluctant body, bereft without her.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Permission Granted


I am sitting in my messy office pretending that I am going to write...very very soon. Now I have picked up Heather Sellers's Chapter After Chapter and, instead of writing, I am reading her.


"If you're not good at making time to sit down and write every day, give yourself a month to learn how to do just that. Try to find fifteen minutes a day. Delete a television show or a meeting or quit doing the dishes after dinner. If you can't do fifteen minutes, start with five. Go sit in your writing room for five minutes a a day for a month. Do exercises--perhaps like the ones in this book--or just let yourself daydream. Write by hand, slowly, making little notes and sketches. Ease yourself into a disciplined writing life." (15-16)


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Brings You Joy?


My daughter is trying to break her own record
for most times off the rope swing
at our local swimming pool. Can one make a career
of rope swinging? Is it taught
at universities? Is it an Olympic event?
Is there enough money in it
to support it, even as a hobby?
I don't know what our taxman will say
if we try to deduct expenses. Look,
I'll tell him, it's not just an obsession,
it's a passion. It's Art, for crying out loud.
Yes, she's only ten. The taxman
is probably right in thinking she should stick
with her schoolbooks a while longer.
But all the greats start young.
Each time she reaches the head of the line
I stand up to watch. She doesn't look
at me; this girl has focus.
Meanwhile, I'm attempting to break my own record
for best parent of a ten-year-old girl.
If no one notices, it doesn't matter.
I don't do it for recognition. I don't do it
for the tax breaks. I do it for joy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Art & Fear


"The hardest part of artmaking is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over..." -David Bayles & Ted Orland in Art & Fear

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

After Reading Poems in an Important Journal

Some poets write about Corbusier or Stradivarius.
They write about Jacob wrestling with the angel,
about Gettysburg or the Persian Gulf.
They craft their complex, allusionary poems
stanza by stanza -- like Daedalus crafting wings
tier by feathered tier. My daughter breaks up
with her boyfriend and we lose an evening
to tears, to wails of pain. No one sleeps.
The next day she's flirting
with a boy named Theo --
she tells me I won't like him (piercings
and two tattoos). I tell her
that his name means "Lover of God."
I wish I could write a poem that would help her
to get along in this world with a little less drama,
one that would show her how to course over the winds
in steady flight. The feathers mount, tier by tier.
Blessed or unblessed, I write about my Icarian girl.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stringtown


I have four poems in Stringtown 11 and want to recommend it for all of its fine content, and for Polly Buckingham's excellent editorial work. You can pick up a copy at Edmonds Book Shop, or by writing to Polly at PO Box 1406 / Medical Lake, WA 99022-1406.


Stringtown's website is http://www.stringtownpress.org/
I've included the cover picture from Stringtown 6.




Tuesday, October 5, 2010

RUMI

"If you resist the slightest irritation, how can you ever expect to become polished?"

-Rumi

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Holding


Here's the motor behind the poem I would like to write today.
Yesterday I saw my friend Glenda. She noticed how tense I was and I said, "From holding on."

"Yes," she said, "and holding back."

Quotable


"Writing teaches impermanence. It shows us how to move with ease from one chapter of our lives to another." Laraine Herring
Though, typing this, I wonder if writing doesn't also teach us to to be fully inside a chapter, to know not only when to move on, but when to move "in."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another Farm Poem



Anyone who has ever visited my parents' farm has seen the gray buildings sitting beyond the small orchard. They were originally bunkhouses and could be put on the railroad tracks and moved from one logging camp to another. My grandfather bought them and moved them onto the farm, probably during the Great Depression, as I've been told he borrowed $600 at that time and set up a chickenhouse. When I was little, the buildings stood in a long row with a raised porch between them; the closest one to the house was a shop; the other was the chickenhouse. Years ago Dad pushed the chickenhouse sideways and turned it into an open shed. This picture is of the backside. Anyway, I mention these outbuildings in the following poem and can't imagine that anyone would understand their significance to me without some explanation.


WHAT THE HEART HOLDS

I've written too many poems
that begin with pouring a cup of coffee.
But I pour a cup anyway
and carry it outside. I sit on the back deck
under my mother's kitchen window
contemplating the pear tree, the clothesline,
the fish pond. I sit staring at the gate
that opens to fields I know by heart.
I grew up here, and if a poet
can be a citizen of any country --
this is mine. I've read somewhere
that when you lose anything your heart
has to make room for it.
Emily Dickinson said this, too,
more or less: "The brain is wider
than the sky / for the brain the sky contains."
I think she meant "the mind" or maybe "the soul."
Maybe she meant "the heart." It seems
in any case that my father
has now moved into my heart
and while I sit here, drinking my coffee
and watching a breeze play in the orchard trees,
I imagine him setting up house there,
like Whosoever Will in the old Sunday School lesson.
Next to go will be this farm with its plum
and pear and apple trees, the unweeded flowerbeds,
the ancient boxcars -- once bunkhouses,
then shop and chickenhouse --
resting atilt on their foundations, abandoned.
My heart unfolds like the American flag
at Dad's graveside service. It shakes out
and folds in again, stars and stripes, night sky
and fog, all the trees of my childhood --
vine maple, cedar, holly, douglas fir.
I take it all in. I drain the last of my coffee
and sit holding the empty cup, holding
this empty feeling that must be vastness,
this sense of how big my heart will have to be.


Friday, September 24, 2010

The Art of Writing

Here's a passage from The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters, which I've borrowed from one of my students.

Revision
A sentence may contradict what comes before
or trespass on what follows.
Sometimes the idea is good but words fail,
and fine words may make no sense.
In such cases it is wise to set the two apart
since they harm each other when put together.
It is delicate to judge which idea or word works better--
a difference finer than a wheat ear's hairs.
Weigh each word on a scale;
use a measuring cord to make your cuts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Soccer Mom Poem

Time for another poem? Here's one from my persona as soccer mom.


Soccer Afternoon

We walk onto the astroturf under a gray sky.
Another soccer season begins, gnats,
a light rain, children shouting.
If a soccer ball were a crystal ball
there's only one future it could reveal:
this game and next week's and the next,
an endless parade of pony-tails.
More bottles of water. More jerseys.
More white socks. But it's okay,
I'm happy with sameness. What else
would I be doing with the afternoon?
I would have all these girls young forever
prancing across the field, running to shelter
under my umbrella. We were made for this,
to cheer on our children, to applaud when the ball
slips into the net for our team. To shout
encouragement when it doesn't.
Some other poet said it better, but let no god
hear my grousing and think I mean it.
Let me stand here on the sidelines cheering
for as long as my girls need me.
Let them need me a long time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeping Busy

"’Keeping busy’ is the remedy for all the ills in America. It's also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed." –Joyce Carol Oates

Thin Places


This quote from Jeni Stepanek's book Messenger (the book is about her son Mattie) resonated with me. I've heard it said that Ireland is a "thin place" (I think I can credit John O'Donohue for that), and I've always thought that my family's farm is another.

"A preacher once described thin space to me as that place where your spirit and God are in closest contact. Generally, we're all aware we have a spirit, an essence, that's deep inside us. At your thin space, the veil separating your essence from your being becomes transparent enough that the spirit becomes undeniable. Instead of being a silent voice, your spirit more or less shows itself to you; you know it intimately rather than simply being aware of it." -Jeni Stepanek

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quotable

I read this today in Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Empathy and Art


I found this quote, from sculptor John M. Soderberg, in Writing Begins with the Breath by Laraine Herring. It resonates with a number of conversations I have had in the past few days.



"One of the most crucial human qualities, I believe, is empathy. Given empathy, brutality becomes impossible. Empathy is at the heart of our humanity, and in fact is the heart of our humanity, for it reduces the barriers of race, religion, and creed to items of mild interest, while unlocking our true, inherent human dignity. The act of encapsulating empathy in some medium, be it dance, or music, painting or sculpture, simple stories or more complex forms, is my definition of art. The feeling and then the sharing of an emotion or idea--which is the essence of art--is what makes us human."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Guest Poet


Here's a link to another poem from Ted Kooser's site at http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/

KNOTS


"Good writing takes place at intersections, at what you might call knots..." --Margaret Atwood

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Memoriam

Ivan King, 1927-2010

Mornings my father rose early,
stood at the kitchen window
sipping yesterday's cold tea.

It mattered to him to live frugally.
Each day was precious and he wrote
the list of how to spend it

in his head: to stake the beans,
cut thistle and tansy in the far field,
call the butcher to get that old cow.

My father didn't much use
the word "love," too expensive
a sentiment. But as he stood in the barn loft

and tossed hay to his cattle
he thought of the pastor offering communion.
And if it is his body that is broken now

I recite his life under my breath,
savoring all of it, body and blood,
that lig in religion like that in ligament,

joining all of the parts together.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Postcard Poem (8.15.10)

Driving through the dusk to my childhood home
I feel as though I could drop the "home." I'm driving
through the dusk to my childhood.
The past thirty years blink closed--
I'm twenty-one again, single, childless,
lonely. My childhood, too, is small,
a matyroushka doll
nested inside other dolls. The crescent moon
hangs orange and huge over the horizon.
Venus--an entire planet--is only one steady speck
of light. The moon is an eyelid.
Behind it, that's me, dreaming
that I'm driving through the dusk to my childhood.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Writer's Portable Mentor


I'm pleased to recommend this excellent book of writing instruction by my friend the Seattle teacher and writer Priscilla Long.


For more information, go to http://www.priscillalong.com/

POETRY POSTCARD MONTH


Once again, it's August and that means it's Poetry Postcard month. Here's one from my first week. I wrote it under the thrall of Mary Oliver's "The Messenger."


Maple leaves wrinkle in a breeze.
A bank of St. John's Wort.
Unmown grass. Dandelions
and plantain. My work today
is the same work as yesterday:
to love this corner of the world
I'm sprung up in, accidental
and purposeful as a weed.

Monday, August 2, 2010

QUOTABLE


This is for Pearl. I found it in Laraine Herring's The Writing Warrior --


If you're really listening, if you're awake to the
poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly.
In fact, your heart is made to break;
its purpose is to burst open again and again
so that it can hold ever-more wonders.

--Andrew Harvey

Saturday, July 31, 2010

DISSERTATION


I have been cleaning my home office ("handle everything once") and came across a bundle of abandoned poems from some years ago. Here's one --


DISSERTATION


Mornings I woke early,
put on coffee, brushed
my teeth, then sat
down, my hands on the keyboard.
The computer was crammed
behind the living room couch.
If I was lucky, the words
fluttered and sang.
If the words did not come
I worked on an odd paragraph,
hammering it against the rock
of its own meaning until
it burst and released a morsel
of truth. The openings
of chapters became very fine,
then overwrought. The sun rose
and the household (husband
and daughters) slowly awoke.
Now when I look back
over those pages and pages
I finally know that what I was doing
wasn't writing, not
in any mere sense of writing.
I was struggling with the word.
And I still struggle to know it,
the word that was in the beginning,
in the world's morning,
and was good.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." --Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7.15.10

I sit in my car in late afternoon watching sunlight slant
through maple leaves and, stirred by a breeze,
observe how the light dapples
the seat beside me and the dashboard and my own arm.
I would love to be so easily moved as these leaves are moved,
to change and change back again
with so little thought. And having thought that,
I remember how soon the leaves will change utterly,
turning orange and yellow and red and then falling.
I don’t think I want that much change.
One car passes on the main road
and then another. I don’t look up and so they sound
like the same car passing or maybe the same string
of cars, over and over, like carousel horses
going around and around. The last time
I rode a carousel, it made me feel as giddy
as a child, as though I had spun backward in time.
Maybe the tree feels the same way each spring,
not thinking, “new leaves,” but, “Oh, here they are again,”
the five fingered maple leaves climbing back
to their old positions. If there’s a God
she must see us at least somewhat like that,
each generation springing up so unsurprisingly,
so exactly like the last. Not that we don’t go unrejoiced
or our love unrequited. But any fool can see
this tree I’ve parked my car beneath
loves being clothed. She quakes in the breeze,
ecstatic as any angel, that full of joy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

QUOTABLE


"A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream." --Gaston Bachelard

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


This may be a better link to my poem, "The Conservation of Memory," on the Blackbird site. Cool image from their opening page, too.






Thursday, July 1, 2010

FRIENDS


"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

- Anaïs Nin, from a diary entry in The Diary of Anaïs Nin

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TWO WEDDINGS


In the past two weeks, I've attended two weddings, both outdoors in remarkable settings, joining remarkable people. I'm inspired to share a favorite love poem.

Answer to a Child's Question
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Do you ask what the birds say? The Sparrow, the Dove,
The Linnet and Thrush say, "I love and I love!"
In the winter they're silent—the wind is so strong;
What it says, I don't know, but it sings a loud song.
But green leaves, and blossoms, and sunny warm weather,
And singing, and loving—all come back together.
But the Lark is so brimful of gladness and love,
The green fields below him, the blue sky above,
That he sings, and he sings; and for ever sings he—
"I love my Love, and my Love loves me!"

Monday, June 21, 2010

GUEST POET

My friend and fellow Teaching Labster, Sheila Dunn, sent me this, which she called "a bad poem." I don't think it's bad; I think it's really good. I wonder if this came out of our very brief discussion about Aporia, that Greek notion that where our thinking gets jammed up, that's where we have to keep going in order to have the big breakthrough?

KEEPING A LOG

(for Bethany Reid)

My day is a log jam once more.
I stare past it, dumb and dulled,
a thud and a jolt now and then
but most of the time choked in place.

That's where you come in.
Why not, you say,
Raise a log, hoist it on its end,
then shave the rough parts
and rub your hands on its grain?
Why not, you say,
pull the post with the strength you doubt,
then haul it to a dry spot
to see it the first time?

And why not imagine a face in the wood
and you with a knife and the will to chip?
And why not, you say,
lay it on the ground and sit a spell?

You stir the log.
You break the jam.
Bring it forth, you say,
watch the whirl,

feel the water in wait,
and it will move you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blackbird

I have a poem in the current issue of Blackbird, an on-line journal.

http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/

Click on "poetry" and then look for my name.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese"


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your
place in the family of things.

Although I wasn't able to attend, I'm told that my good friend Thom Lee mentioned this poem in his address at EvCC's commencement Friday evening.
Image borrowed from Mary Oliver's amazon.com page.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

End of the Quarter Dream


Having asked my students to write about a minor character in the folktale, I write about the ferryman. I am the ferryman. I row passengers to the other side. Some passengers rock the boat. They grip the gunwales and moan. It's my job to keep the boat steady, to get them across. They get out, and I'm as relieved as they are. But sometimes they're smart and funny. They tell good stories and make the rowing easier. No matter who I carry across, when we reach the other side, I wish I could get out, too. I picture my passengers going on in their journey -- on dry land, through cities and prairies and mountains. How far will they go? How crucial was it, getting them across one small body of water? I shift my oars and row back to where I've been. New passengers grumble and step aboard.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Emily Dickinson: The Language of Flowers


Take the time to browse this site co-sponsored by the New York Botanical Gardens and The Poetry Society of America. Click on the "Gallery" tab to find still photographs and videos depicting the recreation of Emily Dickinson's flower gardens.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

IT'S ABOUT TIME


I posted the essay below so that my friend Esther Helfgott could pick it up already blog-formatted for her site. Visit her at the It's about Time reading series at the Ballard Public Library on the second Tuesday of every month, six p.m., or at this URL: http://itsaboutimewriters.homestead.com/

(I borrowed the image from http://schools.mukilteo.wednet.edu/ ma/library/images/poetry%20magnetic%20pieces.jpg)

To hop directly to the craft talk, "One Bad Poem," click here
One Bad Poem
a craft essay by Bethany Reid

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” –G. K. Chesterton

On August 29, 2005, I decided that during the remainder of my summer break from teaching I would write one poem each day. My daughters would go back to school in a day or so (they were twelve, twelve, and six), leaving me some leisure in the month before classes began at my college. I had undertaken this practice before and called it “one bad poem” after something I once read in a self-help book, Wishcraft, by Bonnie Sher and Annie Gottlieb. In short, Sher and Gottlieb advise that if perfectionism keeps you from a goal, you must vow to do whatever it is you want to do--ballet, sailing, quilting, going to law school--badly. So my goal was not to write one splendid, brilliant poem per day, but simply to get up early every morning and write a draft of a very bad--terrible, if need be--poem.

My friend Glenda, who is also my massage therapist, had watched me go through this process before, and found the title “One Bad Poem” unnecessarily self-deprecating. She wanted me to call it, “One Rich Reflection on the Day.” Sometimes it does turn out to be a rich reflection. Sometimes it turns out to be splendid and brilliant. But the inelegant idea of a bad poem is what gets my notebook and pen out. How can I fail? When I saw Glenda the day before classes began, that fall of 2005, she asked me how I was feeling, and I told her I was sad because the next day I would be giving up writing my one bad poem. She said, “Don’t give it up! Keep writing!” Glenda is tall and willowy. She has dark eyes that crackle as often as they twinkle. I complained--I won’t have time, I’m so busy, 80 to 100 students, not to mention three daughters. She would have none of it. “You have all the time there is,” she said. “Write the poem. Everything else will be a snap.”

It wasn’t always a snap, but each day I wrote a poem and I typed it up; I put a date on it, and I put it in a notebook. I thought I’d keep up the practice for one more month, just until I saw Glenda again. Then I had a poetry reading scheduled for December third, and that became a target for when I could quit. December third came and went and I kept writing. From August 29 to the end of December I missed only two days. I wrote 123 new poems—bad poems, perhaps, but poems.

Like many writers, I have for a long, long time attempted to write every day. I write in a journal anywhere from a short entry of a few lines to three or four pages. The one-bad-poem practice did not replace journaling--what I usually call “scribbling”--and differs significantly. My journal is where I go to gripe about my kids and my husband, and sometimes to brag about them. I cry on my journal’s shoulder about the washing machine not agitating right and about the freezer going out. I list things to do and things accomplished. I write about my students and my friends and the weather and what my sister said yesterday. Some of my journal entries lead to poetry, but they are not poetry. The journal is a repository, a way I have of clearing my mind so that I can get on with the day. Poems, even bad poems, feel quite different to me.

So where do the poems come from? That first fall, when Hurricane Katrina swept her way through New Orleans, I wrote a number of poems about floods, real and metaphorical. I also worked themes of heaven, marriage, housecleaning, horses, Eden, teaching, and children. I worked each theme as if it were a vein of rich ore that I was trying to chip out of myself. Some days I felt stuck. On one particular morning that first fall I gave up and checked my email. Afterwards, I wrote the first draft of this poem:

MY MOTHER EMAILS ABOUT HER NEW DISHWASHER

“The dishwasher is plumed now.”

When the plumber opened its box,
the dishwasher strutted out, eyes bright
as glass beads, tail feathers of emerald

and turquoise fanning
over pale linoleum. When it leapt
shrieking to the china cabinet,

my mother and the plumber
had to coax it down--Cheerios
and Quaker Oats, a stalk of celery.

And so the dishwasher took its place,
hunkering beside the sink.
The stove stretched a striped paw

and growled. My mother paid
the plumber. She tied her apron on
and set to making supper.

Recently I’ve been “unwriting” poems--taking a first line or basic premise from someone else’s poem and then going in the opposite direction. Here is one starting place, lines from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone” (translated by Annamarie S. Kidder):

I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

And the one-bad-poem I wrote in response:

Today I would like nothing better
than to be folded,
folded like a note slipped into a book
to mark a page you don’t want to forget,
or folded like a sheet tugged from the clothesline,
in half and in half again.
I want to be folded the way egg whites
are folded into a meringue,
like sheep into a fold,
like an origami bird,
like a dollar bill into a coin purse.
Later you can take me out, unfold me,
smooth my edges and spend me
on something unexpected and delicious,
a peach or a packet of art paper
or a bar of dark chocolate
folded into its envelope of foil.

Another fertile source for new poems is, of course, my own notebooks. Failed poems make great starts for new poems. Good poems do, too. I sometimes set myself the task of using the same opening image several days in a row, or, while leafing through the typed poems, I’ll stop and draft a new poem beside an old one.

Each year that I have been writing my one bad poem per day, I’ve been able to salvage about fifty poems, to see at least that many through to some form of completion that made it possible to put them in the mail to literary magazines and journals. The result has been, over four years, more than forty published poems, two awards, and four nominations for the (still elusive) Pushcart Prize. I don’t have a new book of poems forthcoming (how I wish) but I have started a poetry blog, which you can visit at www.awriters alchemy.blogspot.com. The writer’s alchemy address was a false start--of course it’s titled “One Bad Poem.”

As my daughters have grown older, finding time to write has become more complex. They go to bed later and later, and I find it more and more difficult to get up early. Nevertheless, my one-bad-poem practice has kept me writing. Somehow, despite having three kids and a husband and elderly parents and friends and a teaching career, every single day I pick up my notebook and I write one bad poem. So far, so good.

MORNING POEM

I’m keeping myself as compact
as possible, a neat little house
with the doors locked
when the poem opens like a window
and in comes all this stuff I hadn’t planned on--
light and birdsong and the sound
of traffic. Or the poem
isn’t the window; it's everything outside
the window. The poem is a tree,
a dogwood or maple or cedar.
The poem is the breeze toying with the leaves
of the dogwood and the maple and the cedar.
The poem is the rattle
of the smaller shrubs, the salal
and Oregon grape, as the raccoons scurry through.
The poem is the motion behind
the raccoons, the mother who is large
and a little scary,
her kits who trundle after. But now
I am no longer a house. I put on
a jacket and shoes. I crawl through the window
that the poem left open as it escaped.




NOTES:
An earlier version of this essay was offered on June 11, 2009, as a craft talk for Esther Helfgott’s It’s about Time poetry series at Ballard Public Library.

I found the Rilke lines at www.poets.org. Other on-line sources I visit frequently are poems.com (Poetry Daily) and www.duotrope.com (Duotrope Digest), both good portals to lots and lots of journal and small magazine websites.

A revised version of my poem "Folded" was accepted for Phrasings IV (2010), a dance and poetry production sponsored by Chuckanut Sandstone Poets and the Bellingham Repertory Dance Company.

Bethany Reid teaches creative writing and American literature at Everett Community College. She is fully aware that she is not the only, the first, or the most interesting poet to embrace a daily writing habit, but she hopes she’ll inspire someone out there who is as busy as she is to give it a try.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rita Dove


Last night my friend Carla and I traveled to Seattle Arts and Lectures to hear poet Rita Dove (thank you Margaret and Lori for the tickets!). Here's a poem from her 1995 book Mother Love.



Persephone, Falling


One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder--
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished. No one heard her.
No one! She had strayed from the herd.


(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
don't answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

CRITICAL ANALYSIS VS. STORY


“Since analysis has to travel backward, the path it goes is an ever-narrowing one, whose goal is the vanishing point, beyond which only ‘influences’ lie. But the writer of the story, bound in the opposite direction, works into the open. The choices multiply, become more complicated and with more hanging on them, as with everything else that has a life and moves.” Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story (109-110)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

BICYCLE SUMMERS


Sixth week of the quarter -- and I can smell summer coming. One of my summer projects will be to pull out an old manuscript and try -- again -- to turn the story of my childhood obsession with horses into fiction. Here's an old poem that negotiates the same territory.


BICYCLE SUMMERS

In morning bright of pasture days
We untied metal steeds
From creaking gates. Girls,
We led our bicycles as if at halter,

Patting handlebars, a curve of nose and neck.
It was summer all summer long those days
We taught our bikes to barrel race,
And brought them afterward to water.

Mary's horse and mind were blue,
Kathy's gray--Lori's horse was purple--
Flashing spoke, gleaming hoof.
And when evening called us home,

Two girls east and two girls west,
We left our horses tied to nudge the grass
Grown long against a summer gate
And galloped to our supper.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Listening

"Learn to listen when you're talking to people. Listen to how people say things, to what they really mean, because people frequently say one thing and mean another. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff and look at your own poetry the same way." --Nikki Giovanni

What this has to do with lemons, I'm not sure. But I liked the picture.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

CONTRACT

I am thinking of an old friend today, so I'll share an old poem.

CONTRACT

Today I chronicle the pleasures
of the body. Each ache, the headache
I woke with last night, I now
recite. Its throb in my socket,
the hand across my eyes as I pressed
myself back into sleep. I accept
the cramp, the bruised knuckle,
every toe ever stubbed.
For all of these, I give thanks.
For crow's feet, for cellulite,
for the belly and thigh, for split ends.
For the child whose bicycle tire
slammed into my shin then ran
over my foot, for the slammed shin
and crushed foot. For the child herself
I give thanks. For the traffic light.
For the rain. For my car heater
which blows only cold air. For the boy
on the black and chrome motorcycle
who swerves into my lane. For the
stitch in my back, for the hitch
in my knee, for the gut's rumble,
for the flare of a rash. The rushed heart,
irregular periods, fading eye.
The mammogram. The hangnail.
Each new freckle I scratch across
the register of my years. I turn
none of it back. Even what I forget
and the curse because I forgot
I welcome as evidence of breath.
I write it down. Because you are dead,
I chronicle the body and call it
pleasure. I don't forget you.

This poem appeared in Pontoon 7 (2004)

Monday, April 19, 2010

QUOTE from THE SEQUOIA SEED

"...what you heard wasn't 'No'; it was 'Know.'" Karen Wright

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guest Poet


The best thing about working at my college -- the amazing and creative people who surround me. Here's a poem from my friend Paul Marshall. It erupted from an exercise in Teaching Lab last week, something I called "the poetry bank," where we generated lists of questions, colors, overheard bits of conversation, animals, etc.


Untitled


Will you kiss me one last time?
Will you kiss me one last time?
Tit for Tat
my Mother tells my Alzheimers addled Father.
Filled with despair,
his sloth like, sad-eyed,
slow moving response hangs red in the air.

Looking at his little rocking chair
the boy says,
"I want to make a sail boat. Where is the axe?"
I'm going to paint it pink and name it chartreuse.

"Of course I would say good bye to you before I leave,"
his wife said.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chesterton

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." G. K. Chesterton

A conversation with my friend Phebe made me think, today, of this quote. A couple of quarters ago, I read the essay from which it originates. In essence, Chesterton says that there are some things in life that require experts -- think of astronauts or dentists. But then there are those tasks that we really want a man to do for himself -- blowing his own nose, for instance, but also writing a poem, or raising a child.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

DID I DO WHAT I WAS SENT HERE TO DO?


Did I do what I was sent here to do?
Was that color crayon chartreuse
or only plain-jane green?
Should I have worn peacock feathers,
painted my eyes cerulean?
I think peacocks and peahens
would
make better children
than children, running to me
and screaming as I carry
my bucket of corn.
A doll's teacup and saucer --
Who ever had so much to starve on?
(A chipped saucer, chartreuse lip
peeking beneath the enamel.)
What happened to the doll,
to her turquoise eyes that fluttered open
whenever I picked her up
?
If I leave now, who will gather
my children at nightfall?
Who will collect all these feathers
floating like snow from the floors above?
Who will call colors by their right names?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

ANNIE'S APPENDIX

(An experiment with P's)

For Louise, who said, "I expect a poem"

On the first day of spring
my daughter's appendix
decides to put itself out.
Oh, prodding appendage,
aptly, ineptly applied,
apparently paroled,
appled and dappled (I suppose),
poor plicated appendix,
ponderous, up-ended compendium.
My daughter gives it up
without a protest.
Goodbye dear part,
dear prosaicly archaic appliance,
dear appropos of what aptitude,
of what appropriation
we can only propose.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Robert Frost


One of my favorite poems -- I find myself reciting it every morning this time of year as I drive to work.


NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

The picture is of Indian Plum (also known as Osoberry, and in my family, Sarvis) one of my favorite shrubs and the first shrub that blooms in the northwest woodlands (this year, in February!). Image from http://www.consultyou.net/meadowhawkfarm/mhfblog/photos/media/1/20070317-IndianPlum3-17.jpg Every year I mean to take pictures of it, and every year it comes and goes so fast I miss it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010



One daughter left for NY this morning with her choir (at 4 a.m.). Her twin sister (and I) spent the weekend in the hospital -- emergency appendectomy. It's my spring break between quarters and I have an ever-constant shadow (my poor sickly girl) saying, "What are you doing now?" "Can I go with you?" I go back to teaching full-time on Monday -- three classes beginning at 9 a.m. each morning. What will happen to my morning writing? When will I have time and space to write again? With 80 students writing papers, when will I have time to do anything else?

I open a book, Soul-Kissed by Ann Tremaine Linthorst, and I find this litany I've sometimes heard in church:


All will be well
all will be well
and all manner of things
will be well.

Friday, March 19, 2010


A very rough attempt -- but I think it might become something.


The heart is the size of a pear
and about the same shape. Suddenly

it's 341 A.D. and St. Augustine, as yet
unsainted, is a boy

stealing pears. It is 1962
and I am eight, climbing the pear tree

in our backyard and ripping my dress.
It is 2010 and a boy in Kazakstan

runs down a lane of wild pears.
His heart is beating hard.

The pears glow like gold,
like hearts. "It was foul,"

St. Augustine would later write.
"And I loved it. I loved my own undoing."