Monday, December 21, 2015

A Delicious Evening

There's nothing quite like hearing writers read their work aloud and then going home and savoring their printed words at leisure.

Readers at the book launch in November. Photo by Robert R. Sanders
Many thanks to Shawn Aveningo and Robert R. Sanders from The Poetry Box Book Publishing® for hosting a rousing book launch for The Poeming Pigeon: Poems About Food.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bon Appétit!

My new poem, “The Surprise Inside the Cake,” was just published in The Poeming Pigeon: Poems About Food. The volume also includes work by Paulann Petersen, Tricia Knoll, Jane Yolen and Carolyn Martin. To order a copy, visit

Monday, August 24, 2015

Of Course I'm a Feminist!

This spring, I got to celebrate International Women's Day by participating in a poetry reading, which our organizer, Ellen Goldberg, cheerfully called "Of Course I'm a Feminist!" The poems we read that evening have now been published in an anthology, which is available from The Poetry Box. To purchase a copy, visit

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Criss Cross Applesauce

Criss cross applesauce
do me a favor and get lost

These lines from a clapping game are also the first two lines of the poem “Criss Cross Applesauce” by Thomas Lux.

In the poem, a single dad drives his young daughter “from her mother’s house to mine.” The girl is a kick – full of moxie and intent on being a kid. When the dad wants to talk about intellectual stuff (he brings up the surrealist artist Lautremont and his painting of an umbrella on an operating table), the girl keeps on chanting her playground rhyme: “along come some boys — p.u., p.u., pu.”

The dad’s appreciation for his daughter is palpable, his awe over the fact that this goofy, sublime person is his child. By repeating the line "from her mother's house to mine," Lux adds a subtle, poignant touch – the dad's time with the girl is limited.

One day I was thinking about this poem and decided to imagine a backstory for its narrator. What else did I know about him? What specific person did I see when he talked about his daughter?

I realized I was picturing a slender man in khaki pants and a chambray shirt. He kept a couple of bandages in his wallet just in case and knew how to make his daughter laugh, even after she has an accident that leaves her knee bleeding.

I knew the narrator’s name was Luke. The girl was Anna.

Luke told Anna stories about an evil queen in a gold dress. I knew he was worried her scraped knee needed stitches. He didn’t like the man his ex-wife was about to marry.

Luke himself had been married once before. I'd heard of mass cult weddings and decided that a “Reverend” had chosen Luke's bride for him just minutes before the ceremony, in which one hundred other couples were joined. I knew Luke hadn’t seen his first wife since the day he'd left the cult, but she’s still as real to him as Anna, who is asleep, with a trace of vanilla ice cream on her cheek, in the next room.

And I was off. I wrote the first draft of the story, "Yuliya's Ghost," in just a few days, and then edited it off and on for about ten years.

The final version was published last month by The Milo Review, both in print and online. Over the years, I deleted much of the background material. The queen, the khaki pants and the scraped knee all ended up on the cutting room floor, while the cult remained the center of the story. Thanks to all of that extra writing, though, Luke became a rounder character for me – a loving father, with a hint of danger in his past.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Happy Birthday to Thee!

Dear Will,

I hear they made a big to-do out of your birthday again this weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon. They lined up concerts and lectures, not to mention country dancing and shop window contests. The main attraction was a parade featuring a giant birthday cake. Not bad for a guy who turned 451 years old this past Thursday.

Of course, hordes of people think you’re fantastic 365 days a year. Really, did any writer/director/performer ever have such a fan base? I think it’s safe to say, Will, that you still enjoy more adoration than Jane Austen, Christopher Nolan and Beyoncé combined. Just look at Central Park. Every summer hundreds of people spend an entire day waiting in line, hoping to get tickets to see your characters strut across the stage. What’s more, professors spend their whole careers publishing papers on your motifs, Hollywood is always coming up with modern adaptations of your works, and inmates put on productions of your plays in prisons.

We, your fans, are all colors, all ages, from all countries. Some of us are native English speakers and some of us aren’t (FYI, your plays are a hit in China and Vietnam). Some of us make money selling t-shirts and coffee cups with your image printed on them. Some of us feel smart when we say your name. Some of us hope our love for you will win points with potential dates. Some of us get a kick out of saying you didn’t really exist. Some of us like to roll our tongues over your poetry. Some of us feel clever when we casually drop your lines into our conversation. Some of us wish we could traipse around in those costumes – the capes and wigs, the black boots and crowns and brocade-trimmed trains. Some of us just love you without analysis. Some of us love you so much we want to bring you back from the dead. In a town northeast of Tokyo, there is a Shakespeare theme park where tourists can wander through replicas of Elizabethan buildings, such as the house where you were born and the Globe Theater. A doll-version of you even tells visitors the story of your life.

I fell in love with you one day in sixth grade. Miss Knerr showed us a black and white film of your Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that was it for me. Around that same time, my best (nay, my only!) friend invited me to go with her to see As You Like It and then Much Ado About Nothing. My father noticed my growing enthusiasm for your work and gave me something of his – a set of your complete works. The musty volumes were so ancient that when I opened them their burgundy bindings crumbled in my lap. I remember staying home sick from school. I was lying on the long yellow couch in our living room and, instead of watching Perry Mason re-runs or an old movie, I held one of my father’s old books and entertained myself by reading about those warring lovers, Beatrice and Benedict. After that, I memorized whole speeches. As Helena, I spewed venom at Hermia for betraying our friendship. As Beatrice, I strutted around my bedroom and gave my all to the “If I were a man” bit.

The summer before I started high school, my parents took me to San Francisco. On the way home through Ashland, Oregon, my dad made a call and snagged three tickets to see Henry VI, part II, the only play that the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival still had seats available for that day. The next year, my parents took me to see Antony and Cleopatra. At the Tudor Guild Gift Shop, my mom encouraged me to pick out a souvenir. I bought a palm-sized plaque that had the Merchant of Venice quote “Young in limbs, in judgment old” printed on it. “Ha!” my dad said when he saw that. He’d been in the navy and believed in rules. He got mad when my brothers and I left the garage in a mess or used his scissors and didn’t return them to his desk. But he saw how passionate I was about you, Will, and he encouraged my interest.

My mom did the same. The summer before my senior year of high school, she planned a vacation for just the two of us. On a hot summer’s day, we set out in her little gold car for the six-hour drive from Beaverton, Oregon to Ashland. With the windows rolled down, we belted out show tunes and laughed. We pulled off at a rest stop and ate crackers and grapes. The next night, my mom made reservations for dinner at an Italian restaurant some distance away. After winding along miles of road lined with so many trees we may have been entering the depths of the Forest of Arden itself, we ate a gigantic meal served one course at a time – antipasto, soup, salad, pasta – a novelty for us as we were used to eating dinners at home with salad, bread and a main dish all on one plate. That same evening, back in Ashland, my mom and I saw your masterpiece,The Tempest, and on the stage, the actors seemed to shimmer with enchantment. The next day, the performer who played Prospero led a group of us on a backstage tour. On the floor I saw a sprig of silver leaves that had fallen from the scenery. I picked it up and imagined I could hear the eerie music of your magician’s isle.

I kept the program for every play I saw at that festival, Will. I imagined that I would go to college in Ashland. I pictured myself falling in love with an actor. I’d work in a café, I thought, until I won my first bit part. If I couldn’t make it as an actress, then perhaps I could be one of the festival’s musicians, playing my recorder in the concerts that were given in the courtyard outside the theater before the evening’s show. I’d need some practice though, and probably a new recorder, since the only one I owned was the brown plastic instrument on which I’d learned to play “Hot Cross Buns” and “Pick a Little, Talk a Little.” Back then, in the early days of my affection for you, I went to church with my parents every Sunday. I didn’t think there could really be a hell, but I had no doubt that there was indeed a heaven where you were comfortably residing. I pictured you among the clouds, still wearing your doublet and tights and holding a pen with an impressive plume. Dying didn’t seem so bad, since it meant I'd get to meet you.

In Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend, visitors could make birthday cards for you. This, dear Will, is my greeting for you, written in your own perfect words. After four decades of loving you, I – like thousands of others – want to say, “Haply I think on thee.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

On a Happy Note - Some Thoughts on Spring Break and an Oddly Pleasant Dream

I’ve been a little worked up this winter. When I went to the dentist last week, the hygienist thought I'd probably been clenching my jaw lately. This didn’t come as a huge surprise to me. But on Friday our family drove to the coast and with each passing mile, I felt another muscle relax into its proper place.

It was the first day of spring, and the air felt as mild and sweet as a sleeping baby’s sigh. When we got to the Ecola Creek Lodge, we heated up a pasta dish (made with roasted red peppers, cashews and a dash of lemon juice) and ate it with a great mound of dark greens spritzed with vinaigrette. Then we all cozied up in the living room and read for a long time before watching a DVD of Laggies, a movie starring Keira Knightley. Since it had only played for about a week in Portland last fall, I thought the movie might not be the best thing ever made, but it turned out to be a gem – a romantic tale with just enough quirkiness to keep it interesting, like a dash of cayenne in a cup of cocoa. The film’s colors were a pleasure too. In one scene, the glowing green of a mossy wall made me feel like I’d stepped into the surreal beauty of a pre-Raphaelite painting.

The next morning the sun was out and we walked on the beach. Our son and I talked about Ms. Knightley and agreed she’s a gifted comedienne. We loved the way she flopped on couches and put on an American accent with just the right touch of “valley girl,” without turning her performance into a cartoon. While we talked, I pointed a toe in the sand and tried out a few chaîné turns (a ballet move) just to see if I could still do them. I did pretty well, considering my heavy leather shoulder bag was swinging around too, threatening to throw me off balance.

Later, back in our living room at the motel, we all read some more. I also checked my email and found a message from a friend/former writing student. In the year since we’d last corresponded, she’s moved to the country, where she works on her writing and her art. She now lives within walking distance to a store and to the library. It all sounded so peaceful, I felt happier, more relaxed just thinking about her enjoying this new life she’s created.

Before heading outside again, we watched another movie. This time it was The Notebook, in which a baby-faced Ryan Gosling falls in love with a baby-faced Rachel McAdams. Our daughter, who’s seen the movie before, turned it off just before a gray-haired James Garner and a well-coifed Gena Rowlands die in each other’s arms. It seemed like a good idea to end on a happy note.

After dinner, it was even warmer than before, so we took another long walk on the beach and then sat down on a bench in the sun and ate dessert before returning to the motel and watching our third DVD. Pride is based on a true story about a group of gay activists who banded together to raise money to aid striking Welsh miners in 1984. We were expecting a cheesy, feel-good crowd pleaser, but the movie was subtler than it had looked in its trailer. Even the triumphant gay pride parade at the end was bittersweet, as a caption appeared, letting us know that the real-life co-founder of the group died at the age of 26 of an illness related to AIDS.

The next morning it was too rainy to walk on the beach, so we packed our bags and got home in time for me to attend a publishing party for The Way a Woman Knows, a book of poetry authored by Carolyn Martin.* Outside the old stone church where the event was held, I ran into a former writing teacher of mine, who looked radiant in an electric blue sweater and matching earrings. Inside, I felt a little awkward in a room full of people I didn’t know. But when Carolyn took the stage, the mutual love everyone in the audience had for her was palpable. She’s one of those people whose face lights up and whose arms open wide for everyone. And I do mean everyone. I hardly know her, but when I congratulated her, she graced me with that same glowing, unconditional love I’ve seen her offer to her dear friends.

When I left the party, the rain was coming down harder than ever. I clutched my copy of Carolyn’s book inside my faux-leather jacket and made a dash across the street for the parking lot, feeling like I probably should have stayed longer. But I’d had enough mingling for one day. I was anxious to take off my cowboy boots and put on a pair of sweats. I wanted to kiss my husband and children, to write something new, to take a dance class, to make a collage, to publish another short story or maybe a book of poems.

That night I dreamt that it was the first evening of my spring writing classes. In the dream, I’d come to class without my binder full of lesson plans and I had to think of a new prompt on the spot, which is a laughable idea for a dedicated over-preparer like myself. Miraculously, though, the assignment I came up with in the dream worked. Everyone was writing so intently I hated to stop them. Among the students were some of the participants from my real-life classes, as well as a couple of characters created by my unconscious, including a man who reminded me of Truman Capote and a woman of about 80 with dyed black hair and a purple coat. On her fingers she wore carefully feathered black and purple paint, and when it was her turn to read what she’d written, we were all transfixed by her odd, high-pitched voice and her intriguing words.

When I woke up, I thought about how much I love teaching and how much I love listening to my students read. As much, at least, as I love playing with words, eating, reading, dancing in the kitchen, watching movies and sitting in the sun at the beach.

*The Way a Woman Knows by Carolyn Martin was published by The Poetry Box® and can be ordered at

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Let's Get Surreal

Here’s a poem from my chapbook, Baila Conmigo, which was published by Dancing Girl Press last fall. When I wrote this piece, I was inspired by Benjamin Péret’s weird poem “Hello” and its string of incongruous images that somehow work together to make a certain sense.

For Betsy   (after Benjamin Péret)

You are my symphony of stained glass and hot peppered cashews
my bathtub of tainted apricots
my jaguar springing on the tattered dew
my purple blouse with the hand-embroidered itch
my frog in the waterproofed suit
my bottle of coiled perfume
my tortured pearl rising blister-style and on cue
my secret dress trading sequins with the Sphinx
my rush hour tongue probing the chambers of a flaming stew
my needle in the carpet
my hornet in the hog's breath
my candy cigarette dipped in kerosene
my beloved X-ray machine—
your fingertips find every bruise and probe old wounds
then push me, barefoot, onto roiling paths that burn—
and for that I want to say
thank you.

To order Baila Conmigo or to see other titles by Dancing Girl Press, you can click

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Women's Day

On March 8, I'll be participating in an International Women's Day Poetry Reading presented by Soapstone.

I'm excited about this event for a big long list of reasons, including the fact that one of the readers is Sharon Wood-Wortman, the co-author of The Portland Bridge Book. When my son was in third grade, he was obsessed with bridges, and Ms. Wood-Wortman's book was one of his favorites. It's not every day you get to meet a legend from your family's history, so I'm expecting March 8 to be pretty thrilling from this standpoint...not to mention that we'll all get to hear some great poetry.

The event is free and open to the public.

 International Women's Day Poetry Reading

March 8, 2015
6:00 - 8:00 pm
TaborSpace, 5441 SE Belmont
Hosted by Ellen Goldberg
Readers include
 Fran Adler, Judith Arcana , Shawn Aveningo, Gail Barker, Judith Barrington, Emily Carr,
 Brittney Corrigan, Pam Crow, Linda Ferguson, Andrea Hollander, Tricia Knoll, Elise Kuechle, Carter McKenzie, Penelope Schott, Marilyn Stablein, Ila Suzanne, Carlyn Syvanen,
 and Sharon Wood-Wortman.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sweet Indeed

Dear Friends,

I recently got some pleasant news. The Milo Review, which published my story "All the Sweet and Beautiful Boys" in their fall 2013 print and online issues, is now running the piece on their website as a Feature Story. You can find it at

Here's to more pleasant surprises for us all in 2015.