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

You can find a review by Kathleen Kirk at EIL:

Monday, January 30, 2012

For Sale

"The best part of a farm is the poet's..." -Thoreau

The best part is the poet's, and I get to keep the memories, and dreams, and pictures -- not to mention the poems -- but I have a persistent fantasy of buying the family farm and turning it into a writers' colony.

This farm was timber once, a quarter-section, a pie-shaped wedge between Deer Creek and Elk Creek in Lewis County, Washington. Around 1920, my grandparents bought it. My mother was born in this house and has lived here almost all her life, all except her first few years of marriage. I was six months old when she moved back; my brother was two and a half. Back then the house had a long front porch with flower boxes and sweet pea vines. My dad loved this farm. He would never, never have left.

So far, the only people to make a serious offer on the place wanted it for the timber. Wouldn't it be nice if a family wanted to raise their children here?

Or...two horses, a big dog, a writing studio in the orchard.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Homemade Life

I just visited Molly Wizenberg's blog, as I occasionally do. It's a food blog, but I came across this post, about writing.

Here's an excerpt: "When I’m writing, when my fingers are moving over the keys and words are marching across the screen, I don’t worry. Physically, I can’t worry; there’s no space for it in my head. I wish I could remember that more easily, so that I could choose to write first, rather than worry."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An old poem...first published in CROSSCURRENTS, 2001


Ambulances sang white up our creek road,
a red thread that pulled us
from our play. My mother watched,
a logger's wife, her life
waiting for the telephone's
alarming ring. Her fear
caught in my throat. At three
I followed her from room
to room, her pregnant looming body
hushing questions, "Will you die,
Will you die?" I dreamed our house
burning as I stood, sinewy among alder switches
growing on the clearcut hill
while flames licked boards known to me
as my own bones. I woke
one midnight to see my father
knit among burning trees--
were these visions dredged from a pond
of dream? Real?
What siren called out from those woods,
drew our four generations
to trudge in their caulk boots
its wet winters, its summers struggling
with fire for an acre of trees?
For all my mother's worry,
that white car never carried my father down.
He walked up our graveled drive
August hoot-owl days alive,
alive as everything, bigger than movie cowboys.
He sat on the cement stoop
to children wrestling
over the unlacing of his boots, tousled
our red- and tow-heads. Father,
Mother, the growl for supper and later
the quarreling of dishes in a settling house.

Friday, January 20, 2012

draft of a new poem

I wake from a dream of packing.
A nightmare of packing. I can't find
my tennis shoes. The pants
are the wrong size.
Where's my toothbrush?
Whose house is this?
My daughters are young.
They find my wedding dress and pull it
from its box, layers of taffeta
everywhere, like drifts of snow
I have to wade through to find the suitcase
empty again. I need a pair
of blue jeans. I need riding boots,
though I'm not sure why.
I need a weather forecast for where
I'm going. Someone spills makeup
over what clothes I've managed to assemble.
Everything -- unfolded, damp.
The plane will leave without me.
I wake into a blue morning,
old snow slipping from branches,
rain falling like points of light.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Food for thought...deeper thought...

Today I finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. In this very well-written treatise about not only the Internet but about how our brains work (in particular how memory works), Nicholas Carr persuasively argues for more time off-line. He puts to rest a number of current myths, for instance the idea that only young people are "natives" in Internet culture.  The brain's plasticity seems an encouraging thing (so if  constant distractions create a short attention span, then deliberate attention can repair this tendency?), but I wonder if my habit of writing in longhand in a notebook each morning is going to seem increasingly antiquated to my students. I worry about the future of reading novels, and of writing them.

But I also went sledding today with my daughters and one of their friends, which is one effective way to get all of us away from our electronic devices, not to mention the television.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

True Colors

A memoir by local poet Jana Harris, Horses Never Lie about Love, crossed my radar a couple weeks ago. This morning, wishing I had bought it then, I decided to take a look at it at and found a video about her remarkable mare, True Colors, that is MUST SEE.

Would my husband let me buy a horse farm?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Trying to imagine what's next...?

"The sun can dawn, but we don't see it if the drapes are closed." Marianne Williamson

Saturday, January 14, 2012


"Do not fear your hungers. They are neither good nor bad. Use hunger as fuel. Use hunger as energy. Guide your hunger. Focus your hunger. Use your hunger for growth. If you do not consciously direct your hunger, your hunger will use you and those around you." -Laura Day

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One More List

I've been reading Julia Cameron's Vein of Gold as part of my morning warm up. Sometimes I do the exercises, but just as often I'm lazy about them. This morning, however, she asked me to list 100 things for which I am grateful, and -- because of yesterday's post about lists, not to mention my pep-talk to my students -- I felt that I had better give it a try.

Whenever I've written a list this ambitious (100 questions, 100 things I'd like to do), I seem to start with a blank, and then find myself really stuck at about 20: I'm grateful that I am 20 questions in on this list. And I think about quitting. Sometimes I do quit. But if I push on, I suddenly break into another level, that I guess I'd have to call specificity. I'm not simply grateful for my daughters...not simply grateful for whichever one I name first...but I'm grateful for her Woody Woodpecker laugh, for her enthusiasm for her friends, for her wild hair, for her skills as a baker, for how good she is with children.

I get to number 100, and I'm no where near finished. What a shift!

You should try it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Where do your ideas come from?

In my Creative Nonfiction class I have been encouraging students to write lists.
  • 12 trips -- the 7-11 late last night, or the Grand Canyon, or Brazil -- any 12 trips.
  • 12 events -- curriculum night at your daughter's school, your wedding, your uncle's funeral.
  • 30 chapters -- number 1-30 down the left hand margin of a page; beside #1 write, I AM BORN, now write the titles for the other 29 chapters of your life.
  • 10 things you did yesterday -- write this in ALL CAPS and see what happens (what does it feel like to write in all caps?).
Next step: choose one item from one list and freewrite about it, that is, write without stopping for 10 minutes. Do this again, and maybe again on other items from the list.

Next step: list 10 things that, if you were to choose one of these freewrites to continue, to turn into a story, you'd want to include.

Now, give yourself a reward. Good job!

Monday, January 9, 2012

William Zinsser

After almost two years of weekly blogs at The American Scholar, William Zinsser has signed off. I want to share his recent blog on the cartoon strip, "Blondie," because how can writing be more elegant and simple than that?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Emma at 12 1/2...

Given that my daughters started school on Tuesday, and my classes don't begin until Monday the 9th, I've booked a lot of lunch and coffee dates this week. Everyone I see wants to know how my girls are, and when I respond with the standard motherly groaning and eye-rolling (though they are actually fairly boring children), my friends always seem to think I mean the 18-year-olds. "Now, Emma. She's twelve, right?"

As one friend added, "Isn't she the good one?"

Listen up. Emma is twelve and a half. It seems as though it was only a month or so ago that I began congratulating myself on getting Annie and Pearl safely ushered through the rough waters of adolescence, when Emma began...acting different. She's always been strong-willed and loud, a natural enough function of being the youngest of three. But suddenly, she was pouty and sullen. She was yelling at me and at her dad. She was slamming doors and hiding in her room. We were fighting over the car radio.  

So I had a talk with ... not Emma (what good would that do?), but with myself. Hey, self, I said. Hang on tight!

Why am I telling you this? I think that raising teenagers and being a writer are very similar. My mantra with the girls has always been, "Keep them busy, and keep an eye on them." Oh, and, "Catch them doing something right," comes in a close second. Come to think of it, "If they read, don't worry too much about the rest of it," has also been a useful expression. (My unacademic threesome are all readers, one voraciously so.)

And my writing mantras fit in perfectly: Keep writing. Pay attention. Lots of terrible writing isn't a problem, so long as you find a little bit worth keeping. Read.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nelson Mandela

My friend Carla emailed me with this quote. You've no doubt read it before. We should all copy it out and carry it with us.

“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. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Nelson Mandela (from his 1994 inaugural speech)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cats, Photographs & Creativity

I love uploading my photos from my camera and finding 112 pictures of the cats. I choose to see this as creative outpourings from my children. I'm grateful that it's a digital camera and not old-school film.