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:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Writing Warrior

Here's Laraine Herring's book, which you can read more about at

This morning I used to time my shaking. Tomorrow I'll use it for the breathing, too.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Maybe you buy six hundred books on writing...

"The beginning always starts off easy. 'I want to write a book,' you say. So maybe you take a class or two. Maybe you buy a book on writing." -Laraine Herring

So I'm blogging about how to begin. What I tell my students is that you have to begin over and over again, sometimes more than once in each session, at a bare minimum once per day (even if only for fifteen minutes). Knowing how to begin is important. Nothing happens without beginning.

I don't think I can dictate for anyone else how to begin, though I can make suggestions. Laraine Herring suggests breathing, shaking (yes, shaking!), and writing -- each for five minutes. I like how five minutes of practice demystifies the process. Oh, five minutes, I think. I can do anything for five minutes. On day two of this practice, I found the breathing boring. (This fits with what my friend Glenda says about my not breathing.) The shaking? I almost hate to admit it, but it was fine. It was funI am all too aware that I'm not in touch with my body. I live in my head. The five minutes of writing? It turned into two journal pages, then an hour and a half on poetry, a million ideas, and now this blog entry.

The main thing wrong with saying "I want to write a book" is that it's too big. Recently a colleague told me that she and her father -- many years ago, before his unexpected death -- had planned to write a book together about their teaching. "You should write it," I said. "You can dedicate it to him." She shook her head sadly. "I'm not a writer," she said.

At the risk of sounding like the ghost-chef in Ratatouille, ANYONE CAN WRITE. Just don't set your goals so high. No, you can't write a book, not this morning.

Buying a new book about writing, by the way, is an excellent way to procrastinate on your writing.

This morning write a paragraph. Write a sentence. See if you can stay with it for five minutes.

And now, for me, breakfast.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


"The ideal expression of reading a poem is, in many respects, close to the experience of writing it: one goes through uncertainty, flashes of perception, small satisfactions, puzzlement, understanding, surprise." -Kenneth Koch, Making Your Own Days (14)

Various things (Emma and the Earache, primarily) have kept me from my writing time for a couple of days. Today, however, I was up at 6 a.m., and out in my cabin, writing my heart out. I have decided to -- finally -- take seriously Laraine Herring's book, The Writing Warrior, and the practice she suggests. You should do it, too. Today is day one.

My goal this summer is to be FEARLESS in my writing (thank you, Margaret, for helping me to articulate this).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I have often heard it said that when someone we love dies, they are always with us -- it's the sort of old saying that I sometimes agree with, and sometimes resent. Yeah, well where is he? as one of my young nephews once said to me.

Recently, someone turned the saying around for me: When someone you love dies, a part of you goes with them, no matter where. This feels true.

Yesterday, sleep starved, trying to grade papers, waiting for Emma to come out to the car with her friends after a movie, I suddenly saw my dad, not in that idealized way that I often picture him -- the dad I knew as a child -- but as I'd last seen him. He was wearing his plaid barn coat and he looked tired, too, his face a little sunken, his blue eyes watery. Two weeks ago he visited my mother in the ER in Centralia. "How did he look?" I asked her. "Oh, about the same," she said. "He was probably wondering what was taking me so long."

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Friday, June 15, 2012


The spring before Emma was born, our unexpected baby coming six years behind her twin sisters, I bumped into an old friend. I was grading papers at a coffee shop in Edmonds. I still remember how manic and exhausted I felt. My friend walked up to me and laid her hand on my arm and told me that she had heard about the new baby. I remember looking up at her with a frantic expression, words failing me. "Whenever something brings this much chaos into my life," she said, looking directly into my eyes, "it always turns out to be good thing."
I remember coming home from night class a couple years later, and finding all the dining room chairs turned upside down or stacked on the table, and Bruce, looking weary, telling me, "She climbs, and then she jumps."

I remember the summer she turned ten when she set a goal to swim every day.

She is failing her Humanities class, and getting a D in math. Do I make her go to summer school? Or do I stand by, holding a towel, waiting to see what will happen next?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dream Farm, Dream Sea

I have been thinking about this poem for more than a week. It was published in Santa Clara Review fall/winter 2001-2002, but I wrote it about a walk I took with my sister Kathy when my niece Terra was a baby. Terra is now 24 years old and has a baby of her own. 

On Sunday, June 3, I was able to walk with the surveyor and my sister Sharyl across the farm, or across the approximate boundaries of my nephew's ten acres. The property is located about an hour's drive from the Pacific coast.

dream farm, dream sea

Poised on the cusp between winter and spring
Weird neon of skunk cabbage holds candles

In cupped hands. We move through memory, water
Skippers across the old face of childhood,

A landscape where moss
Knows no direction, will not point

North or South. Children dance
Bright faces silvery fish

Shafts of light, dark pillars of trees.
Air electric with birdsong. The pond

Blinks a green eye. We pass the baby
Between us. Her arms row us into the light.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Paragraph (and Emily Dickinson's room)

"A paragraph is its own space to be decorated, maybe as small a space as that tiny guest bedroom in the back of your house but just as valuable. It deserves your full, wide-open imagination. It isn't just a marker, an empty shoe bin, another 120 words getting you from here to there. It is a world--or can be."

-Eric Maisel, A Writer's Space

Friday, June 8, 2012

Starting with the Sentence

"To be sure, your eventual goal is to be able to write forcefully about issues that matter to you, but if you begin with those issues uppermost in your mind, you will never get to the point where you can do verbal justice them. It may sound paradoxical, but verbal fluency is the product of hours spent writing about nothing, just as musical fluency is the product of hours spent repeating scales." Stanley Fish

My father with his two older brothers and his younger sister, around 1930.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Something to write about...

"The writer first has to reread to see what is on the draft's page, what is not, what should be....When we read our drafts we are like the archaeologist who finds a fragment of a bowl, the preserved ashes of a fire, a sharpened piece of stone, and then uses a trained imagination to create a civilization." -Donald Murray

Here we are at the end of another spring quarter, the end of another academic year. My students are revising their final papers and portfolios -- all 74 of my students -- and I'm getting ready to read their final papers and portfolios.

I'm thinking, however, about the farm and how these past two weekends sifting through 90 years of clutter and treasures has spun my head so that I can hardly think about anything else.

Which objects "make" a life? Does the archaeologist judge the importance of my life based on the stuff I've acquired and hoarded, the jar of stones picked up on who knows what beach, or the brittle bouncing ball that once went with a set of jacks, on the horseshoe saved, the copy of Katie Kittenheart with my name in a childish scrawl inside the front cover?

I like to think I know who I am, but would someone sifting through my things have her own estimation of my identity?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mary and Martha

Memorial Day weekend my three daughters traveled with me to the farm to help get their grandmother packed up. All three helped a little, of course, but Annie was the champion. She kept busy, working alongside the grownups. She also instigated a rather festive time claiming her grandfather's plaid workshirts (not shorts!), and each of the girls took home one or more. (Pearl claimed the only one with pink in it.)

Pearl and Emma went to the creek and caught tadpoles, then waded through the pond and caught a frog. (All were released by the end of the day.) They coaxed the cat out of hiding. They took my camera for a walk and took blog pictures for me. They built a bonfire and roasted marshmallows. Their aunt gave them a whole box of games and they took them out one by one and played them. (When I asked them why they weren't helping, Pearl said, "We're testing the games.")

I really appreciated Annie. I really appreciated Emma and Pearl. All in all, the three of them had a great weekend and made the memories they most wanted to make. I thought of titling this post "Two Marys and a Martha," but then I decided that I didn't want to be that literal. No one was sitting at the feet of Jesus. No one worked without a break and got crabby about it.