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, March 26, 2012

Job Over, for this quarter

"The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him--it cannot fail..." -Walt Whitman
I've spent the entire day reading student portfolios, and I am now turning in my grades...only six hours late. A few colleagues are still on campus and stopped by to tell me, "Your students will never come back for those papers, you don't have to read them." I'd feebly protest. They'd say, "You don't have to read them carefully. You don't have to comment."

I know that. I have been guilty of telling people the same thing. But these are the portfolios of my Creative Nonfiction students, and they are really, really great stories. Not always fully realized, not always structured beautifully. Not always finished. But as works in progress, they are as gorgeous as my students themselves are.

"I would like you to know, Bethany" (one student wrote to me), "that if someday, by some crazy accident, a mad person at a publishing company decides to buy one of my books...your name will be on the dedication page."

How could I not read that student's story?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"a continuous squandering"

"Not any self-control or self-limitation for the sake of specific ends, but rather a carefree letting go of oneself; not caution, but rather a wise blindness; not working to acquire silent, slowly increasing possessions, but rather a continuous squandering of all perishable values." -Rainer Maria Rilke

I am grading end-of-term papers, and this quotation leapt out at me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Power of One

EvCC Teaching Retreat Video

I hope this link will work for you. Words of wisdom from several of my colleagues (and moi) about not so much living.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guest Poet

This being human is a guesthouse,
every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honrably,
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thoughts, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invited them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Merlana Jelal-uddin Rumi

Friday, March 16, 2012


"You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it." Charles Buxton

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Time To Be Silent

I am attempting to clean my office, and I came across this poem, by David Rankin, in a Courage to Teach packet.


There must be a time when we cease speaking
to be fully present with ourselves.

There must be a time when we exclude clamor
by listening to nothing whatsoever.

There must be a time when we forgo our plans
as if we had no plans at all.

There must be a time when we abandon conceits
and tap into a deeper wisdom.

There must be a time when we stop striving
and find the peace within.

-David Rankin

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Piece of Cake

I often report here about what's going on in my Creative Nonfiction class. Today my 18 year old twin daughters turned up, with cake and a balloon, and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. I could not have been more surprised.

Rather than turn that into a clever lead for the need for surprise in one's writing, I'll simply end with a quote from one my students: "Never apologize to your students for anything that results in cake." J.J.

(the picture is an old one of A & P on their 16th birthday in Libre Union, Mexico)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Art of Living

"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both." L.P. Jacks (qtd. in Burnham's For Writers Only)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Surface Stories

I loved this blog post by William Kenower, "Surface Stories," and am compelled to share it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Writing Cabin

I have been meaning to share this for awhile, hesitating I think because I can't believe my good luck. Or I'm afraid I'll jinx it.

My husband is building me a "shack" (as Emma calls it) in the backyard. It will be insulated and heated. It has a skylight (because I like natural light, he told me, but I believe it's there because Bruce liked the challenge of building it). Here are a couple pictures of the process. As of yesterday, it has a shingled roof.

Is that not completely amazing?!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Theodore Roethke

After dinner yesterday my daughters wanted to go to Barnes & Noble to do homework. I had homework, too, but the books seduced me away from the table. I stumbled upon this quotation, in Sophy Burnham's For Writers Only, which is surely the very next gift for the writer in your life:

"I was in the particular hell of the poet: a longish dry period. It was 1952, I was forty-four, and I thought I was done. I had been teaching the five-beat line for weeks--I knew quite a bit about it, but write it myself--no: So I felt myself a fraud.

"Suddenly, in the early evening, the poem 'The Dance' started, and finished itself in a very short time--say thirty minutes it was all done. I felt, I knew, I had hit it. I walked around and I wept; and I knelt down--I always do after I've written what I know is a good piece. But at the same time I had, as God is my witness, the actual sense of a Presence--as if Yeats himself were in that room. The house was charged with a psychic presence: the very walls seemed to shimmer. I wept for joy." -Theodore Roethke

Here's a link to Burnham's website:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Franz Wright, "Night Walk"

My friend Carolynne sent me this poem. It made her remember how important friendship is, and I can feel that, too, but where it really sent me was to my days as a waitress, before I found love, before I married and had children. Funny how a poem can feel like a transport to another place and time I have almost forgotten -- waiting on a family dashing in for hamburgers between games in their son's Little League playoffs on a Saturday afternoon -- driving home one evening through a quiet neighborhood and seeing the lights in other people's kitchens and dining rooms.

Night Walk
The all-night convenience store's empty
and no one is behind the counter.
You open and shut the glass door a few times
causing a bell to go off,
but no one appears. You only came
to buy a pack of cigarettes, maybe
a copy of yesterday's newspaper --
finally you take one and leave
thirty-five cents in its place.
It is freezing, but it is a good thing
to step outside again:
you can feel less alone in the night,
with lights on here and there
between the dark buildings and trees.
Your own among them, somewhere.
There must be thousands of people
in this city who are dying
to welcome you into their small bolted rooms,
to sit you down and tell you
what has happened to their lives.
And the night smells like snow.
Walking home for a moment
you almost believe you could start again.
And an intense love rushes to your heart,
and hope. It's unendurable, unendurable.

— Franz Wright                               

Friday, March 2, 2012

Writing Advice from Richard Hugo

"You'll never be a poet until you realize that everything I say today and this quarter is wrong. It may be right for me, but it is wrong for you. Every moment, I am, without wanting or trying to, telling you to write like me. But I hope you learn to write like you. In a sense, I hope I don't teach you how to write but how to teach yourself to write. At all times keep your crap detector on. If I say one thing that helps, good. If what I say is of no help, let it go." -Richard Hugo

I think this is from Triggering Town. I found it in Donald M. Murray's The Craft of Revision.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Grading Blues...

Since Monday I've been lugging around three sets of student papers. Finally, the oldest set has been returned to their proper owners, and a second set (due waaaayyy last Tuesday) is now more than halfway complete.

I've always enjoyed teaching. It's so much better than waiting tables or banking or being an office clerk. But, grading papers? Nah, don't like it, never have, probably never will. Even so, winning a poetry prize has done a lovely job of shifting my mood. Papers? No big deal.

So here's a treat for Elizabeth George fans, an interview from Author Magazine, in which she reflects as much on her earlier work as an English teacher, as she does on her amazing novels. When all three of my sets of papers are returned, and I'm caught up on emails (such as sending a bio to Writers & Books!), I intend to treat myself to a copy of George's new book, Believing the Lie.