Thursday, September 05, 2019

NO SMALL THING — NOTES ON THE 2019 AUGUST POSTCARD POEM FEST

§

The average sized postcard, 4"x6", hasn't got that big an area on which to write. But every summer for a month, give or take, poets from all over the USA plus some from Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore, India and more manage to write poems on them and send them off into the world. The annual August Postcard Poem Fest (APPF) is over for another year. I mailed the last of mine September 3rd. I promised at least a couple more bonus cards and will get them done shortly, but right now it's time to gather some thoughts about this year's event. So this is kind of an open letter to Group 2.

Cards received from Group 2 (plus four "bonus" cards) (so far)
APPF13 — August 2019, as of Sept. 4, 2019
Right off the mark I have to admit I cheated as far as the very minimal rules are concerned. Actually, they're not rules per se, more like suggestions from Paul Nelson as to how to write postcard poems. He advocates for the down and dirty approach, that is, to write the poem directly onto the card without editing.

Some years I've been comfortable first-drafting directly to the card, but this wasn't one of them. I've not been writing a lot of late so that muscle was feeling a little rusty when August began. I sketched out poems on paper or in the Word doc where I keep a record of all the ones I send. I just started jotting down little blurts and some of the blurts turned into poems. I did, in the process, change the odd line break and there was maybe just a bit of editing. I've approached the fest this way before, but this year, perhaps because it was a return to my earlier way of getting poems onto cards, felt different. More intentional, somehow, and ultimately more satisfying. But slow. I'd come downstairs to my desk to write and spend two hours with one poem, one card.

The very first year I did this (2007) I wrote and mailed a card a day almost every day. I took blank cards with me when I hiked up to Kokanee Glacier for a couple of days, just so I could stick with the writing part of the plan.

(from Day 13, 2007)

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

You escape into a corner
pull out some cards
and begin to write.
Then someone wants to know
what on earth you’re doing that for, 
a twitter of disbelief 
flitters round the room
where people come and go
talking of vanishing glaciers
and pink snow.
If the door opened right this moment
and an elephant walked in
it would probably cause less of a fuss.

This year I seemed to work in batches. I had six in the mail at the end of July, then August arrived with distractions both predictable and not; a dear friend died; lots of company showed up to hang with, play with, laugh with, and eat with; my ninety-nine year-old mother keeps three of us hopping. Contrary to how I thought I was going to approach writing to the poets on my list (see last post; I was going to put all the cards, stamped and addressed as they were, into a bag and pull them out randomly) I ended up writing them in order, starting with the name below mine and carrying on from there.

The first nine poems I wrote/sent all incorporate a line of Shakespeare's. After I mailed the first of them I realized I had forgotten to indicate that. Mea culpa. (Most of the lines are pretty familiar, of the "to be or not to be" variety so you probably figured that out!) Three poems fell under "Ice Musings". The last ten ended up being a hodgepodge of little poems that fall under the title of Notes on the Story of Me #1–10. The rest are pretty random. I wrote two poems about snakes, one on Hurricane Dorian, a couple of Mom poems, a response poem written around the word "oubliette", one about the band Rush and an old friend, another about knocking on doors in Toronto for Dan Heap of the NDP in the early eighties, and one about a much-loved pair of jeans. Other than the NDP one and another that referenced Jeffery Epstein that was written before his death, I stayed away from politics. (Everyone on my list is in the States. What can I say?) Oh, except for one I wrote for Rita Wong, a BC poet and activist who was just released from jail after receiving a 28-day sentence for peacefully protesting a pipeline expansion here in British Columbia. Rita and Fred Wah published a gorgeous long poem (well, two poems; they each wrote one) about the Columbia River titled Beholden: a poem as long as the river, and if you care anything about this river our countries share (the treaty of which is in the process of being renewed), you might want to check it out.

Rita and Fred's book, taken in front of the Columbia River
near the confluence of it and the Kootenay River
Anyhow, that gives you an idea of how this year was for me.

I'm a bit of a hoarder, especially when it comes to pieces of paper with writing on them. As a result, I have all the cards I've received since this fest began, and last night I got this great idea that it would be really neat to spread them all out on the floor and get up on a ladder and take a picture, so this morning I  got into the Postcard Poem files and quickly realized the extent of my madness! Like, yes, I could do that but then the years would get all mixed up and I'd probably find myself spending a ridiculous amount of time sorting them again. So this will have to suffice:

Cards received over the 13 years APPF has been happening

But just digging them out and randomly looking through them—oh what gems I found! See that one of the painted tree under 2009? That was one of the late Bridget Nutting's. And remember how I mentioned, above, that a friend of mine died in August? Her poem begins, You died today... and ends 

The sky is empty now.
Even the squirrels are lost.
The birds no longer sing your praise.
Goodbye, dear friend.

I came across so many familiar names. We've been exchanging words for so long now you all feel kind of like family! As I started going through them I thought of how one year I got one from Diane di Prima. What were the odds I'd accidentally find it, in 2008?  

2010 was a light year as far as incoming went—received 21, but there are some beautiful lines to be found in that pile. 

Paul Nelson's 2011 ripe plum moon poem was mailed from Beijing! (I haven't sent you one yet this year, Paul, but I will). 

In 2012 I came across a lovely poem from another long-time postcarder who is no longer with us: Kay Kinghammer. There's another stunning original art one from Bridget with a poem written in her lovely cursive. And a very funny one from my friend Kim Clark. 

Bridget Nutting's 2011 card to me

Poems received in 2013 include a beautiful "late summer haiku" from Laura Pena. We exchanged cards again this year! 

In 2014 I got one from Judy Kleinberg that—wait for it—isn't one of her marvellous found poems like the one you can read here! And another winner from Kay Kinghammer. 

I think 2015 was the first year I got one from Terry Holtzman. Like Laura, we exchanged again this year. And Diane Conces, the same. And there's even one from my friend who died last month! He and his wife were traveling in Holland that year and sent a card. I knew which one was from Paul because I recognized his handwriting.

Going through the 2016 cards I find one from fellow cat-lover, Linda Roller. She's on this year's list, too. 

In 2017 there's one from Alan Kahn, on this year's list as well. More and more original art cards are in the mix every year. A delightful line pulled from a poem sent from Hartford, CT: Can you imagine Donald Trump as a bird watcher? And there's a beautiful poem about sons from Seattle. And one from Charlie Stobert in England, brought to me thanks to the assistance of a couple of wonderful David Bowie stamps. And one from Abhaya Thomas, also in this year's group, that contains the gorgeous line, you only see colours you can name

2018. Last year's bunch. So many familiar names in this batch as well. It's hard to set a lace unicorn free says Annie Stenzel in the haunting poem on her card. I'm so glad she did. 

Annie Stenzel's lace unicorn, APPF12, 2018
While I was going through those files pulling out the cards, I found scads of blank ones (just what I needed!) plus half-a-dozen or so that have poems written on them but were never addressed or sent. Why? I have no idea. 

Finally, I have to single out one postcarder who signed up somewhere around 2012 after hearing about it from me and has been sending me the occasional card ever since. I first remember Judy Wapp at a summer writing workshop with Caroline Woodward we attended back in 1989, I believe it was. In 1991 we both signed up for another writing workshop, this time with Tom Wayman. A guy named Ted Crosfield signed up for that one, too, and the rest, as they say, is history! You can read more about Judy and her collage art on my blog here. Anyway, sorting through the cards today allowed me to see just how many cards she's sent me (42!) and while I know I've send some in return, her output is nothing short of amazing. So thank you, Judy!

Judy's cards
Judy Wapp
And thank you, all of you who sign up for the August Postcard Poem Fest. We began, most of us, as strangers, but somehow the act of getting a few words onto a postcard and sending it off into the world serves to remind us of our similarities instead of focusing on our differences, as it would seem some of our politicians, both sides of the border, would prefer. 

You give me hope. And that's no small thing. 

§



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

AUGUST IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER AND IT'S POSTCARD POEM TIME AGAIN— YEAR 13!

§

It's PoPo time again, and I'm doing it a little differently this year. Friends and family will be visiting, Ted has cataract surgery to look forward to that requires some attention from me and right now I'm house-/pet-sitting for my son and his family. In past years (I've been doing this since 2007 when it began) I've chosen the card, written the poem, and THEN addressed it and THEN affixed the stamps. This often proved challenging, especially if I was using multiple stamps to make up the total required. Where on earth to put the darned things! 

Just choosing the card could take forever; over the years I have acquired quite a few.
Lots and lots of cards...
What to do, what to do...and then I had this brainwave! I picked out 31 cards, a mix of movie stars, singers, Magic Eye ones (the kind you hold close to your face and move back and eventually, if you're lucky, you'll see a 3-D image), cat artists, and some with funny sayings on them.


Then (why oh why didn't I think of this before?) I put the stamps on, and the Air Mail sticker, and now I can write a poem that fits around all of the above!



I haven't decided yet if I'll write to a theme this year or simply go with whatever I think of when I'm ready to send. It'll be interesting to see how it goes. Of course, I'll probably end up sending out a few "bonus cards" to some of the long-distance friends I've made thanks to August poeming, but if you're on my list—Group 2—you'll be getting one of these.

If you're interested in trying this, the deadline to register for this summer's poemfest is July 17th. Sign up here. It's $10 (USD) as the fest is a major fundraiser for co-founder Paul Nelson's SPLAB. 

Here are a couple of links for further info: 


I was interested to note that in 2013 it cost 63 cents to mail a card within Canada and $1.10 to send one to the States. This year the rates are up again—90 cents within Canada and $1.27 to send cards to the States. This is, I'm sure, the reason Canadian participation is down. In past years I've always had at least one or two other Canucks on my list, but this year all mine will be crossing the border. This means that everyone on my list has to remember to put the correct postage on mine or they won't get to me. So heads-up, Group Two! I look forward to receiving your poems and cards.

§




Sunday, February 17, 2019

TWO NEW MICHAEL DENNIS CHAPBOOKS EXPLORE DEATH AND DIVINING

§

Michael Dennis has been reviewing, or as he would say, "appreciating" poetry books on his Today's Book of Poetry blog for six years which makes me a little trepidatious when it comes to writing about poetry; he's so very good at it. Poet and Proper Tales Press publisher, Stuart Rossinterviewed Michael about his blog when it was just getting started. Since then Michael has posted his thoughts on over seven hundred books and chapbooks, including one of mine.

And now, hot off the press for 2019 are two new chapbooks by Michael himself: Divining (Proper Tales Press); and Sad Balloon (Monk Press). They're both quite wonderful and they're as different as can be.



Divining is a collection of centos based on lines taken from Margaret Laurence's 1974 novel, The Diviners, and as is often the case with this form, some of the poems work better than others. At least, that's what I thought on first reading; when I went back to have another look in order to write about them I found myself "getting" more of them. Here's one that worked for me from the get-go:


Let me look at you

A month away from it 
It was the ugliness of the smoke-blackened city
What if there were a fire
A relationship which is plainly going to be sexual
The swiftness of the encounter does not seem strange
Which is by no means a perfect arrangement
The cupboard contains one Guinness
That it could be you and not you — at the same time
Others bear somewhere within them the forms of fossils and shells
Let me look at you


The ends of the lines are left without any punctuation which works well. The lines feel as if they landed on the page a little like strewn petals at a procession. I like how reading them takes me back to reading The Diviners. Lines like However dour and bad tempered (The brood mares), I don't give a fuck what any of them think  (Having never begun), and Don't let the buggers on either side get you (Walking up the hill) remind me of meeting crusty Christie Logan for the first time while Not writing, looking at the river (No conviction) makes me think of Morag Gunn. Altogether a fun book to read.

The work in Sad Balloon are for the most part, somewhat sombre in tone and the poems are always, always deeply thoughtful. Yet deft touches of Michael Dennis humour shine through as in these lines from the poem

talking with Stuart Ross on the phone

was just talking with my old friend Stuart Ross
he and I have known each other a long time now
we speak often and about virtually everything
today it was about death
and it was about giving your wife flowers

the rules about flowers are easy
there is no situation
that flowers for your wife
will not improve


Who among us hasn't wondered about some of the questions raised in this one, for example:


surprise 

I've been watching all these happy videos
of men and women, soldiers
coming home from service overseas
and surprising their families

they are lovely videos
and deeply heart warming
you really can't watch 
without getting a tear

but I can't help but wonder 
about the surprise homecomings
where someone else
has been keeping a bed warm

one year or eighteen months
is a lifetime of changes
and some of these soldiers
must come home

to homes where they are not welcome
some soldiers must come home
to an entirely new narrative
and several surprises of their own


In Roxanne and Tiffany the poem starts with a simple observation of a street person and then moves into an exchange between the narrator and his companion. The way it ends has me wondering if we've known some of the same Gails!


Roxanne and Tiffany

Roxanne approaches
down the line of cars
with a haughty stagger
she might be losing her teeth
and what's left of her figure
she might be seriously stoned
or a little drunk
or both
but she's stoner-polite
and hopeful

she sees the old green Honda
I drive
Roxanne knows me by name

K and I were talking
as we sometimes do
and this time it was about
how names might shape destiny

and I put Roxanne forward
every Roxanne I ever met
was hard as nails
and usually for a reason

K said that Tiffany 
was the tough gal moniker
for her generation

but when I thought about it 
I figured any Roxanne
I'd ever met
could kick the crap
out of any Tiffany
on the planet

met a couple of tough gals
named Paula
and I know for a fact
that you should never
get in the way
of any woman named
Gail


A number of the fourteen poems in Sad Balloon make reference to friends who have died which, of course, gives rise to ruminations about the eventual demise of the narrator himself. My husband and I are in the process of getting down on paper (so bloody difficult for this writer; why is that?) our advance directives in the event of one or both of us being incapacitated and I found myself nodding appreciatively while reading several of the poems.

All of them, actually.

§


Saturday, January 19, 2019

MARIE AND ME: BOOKS, CLUTTER-BUSTING, AND THE COLLYER BROTHERS

§

I would hate to say how many books I've read—and still own—about clearing clutter. When I started to work on this post I couldn't remember the name of the guy who wrote two of the books Ted and I bonded over back in our early book-bonding days, so I went looking and without a great deal of effort I was able to come up with all these clutter-clearing classics:




My books are all over the house. There's my bedside table stash, the art books are shelved at the back of my closet, poetry books get a whole section to themselves, there's a how-to writing-related shelf, ones for novels and non-fiction—and cook books; you can make out The Joy of Cooking's signature red circle  in the second photo from the bottom—and there's a place for chapbooks and lit mags. (In addition to these there are four tall IKEA shelves in the basement I haven't the heart to photograph.)                                        





Ever since her reality show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo hit Netflix people have been taking to social media to lambaste the clutter guru about her attitude towards  getting rid of books. As you've likely heard, Kondo's approach to cleaning up is to have you gather all like objects together, hold each one individually, and keep or discard it based on whether or not it "sparks joy". When it comes to books, she would have you tap them to "wake them up", hold each one, and if you decide the book in hand no longer needs to be in your life (thereby not sparking joy), you thank it and let it go. 

A couple of years ago I managed to donate ten boxes of books to Nelson's excellent Booksmyth Used Books. There was fiction, non-fiction, a handful of kids' books, coffee table books, and poetry. (If it was a duplicate. Maybe.) Ten boxes, and you couldn't tell anything was missing. In one of the Tidying Up episodes the fellow whose books are about to be sorted laments that he has ten boxes altogether!

When I was twelve I read My Brother's Keeper by Marcia Davenport for the first time.  I had just finished reading Gone With the Wind, my first "adult" novel, and was soon to discover The Watch That Ends the NightI was starting to realize there was a whole world of words out there beyond Winnie-the-Pooh The Wind in the Willows and The Golden Pine Cone. My Brother's Keeper was first published in 1954 and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection which is undoubtedly how it wound up in our house.  


Davenport's novel is based on the infamous Collyer brothers  who lived in New York City in the first half of the last century. Homer Collyer went blind and became largely paralyzed and his brother Langley proceeded to look after him. Langley, who had trained as an engineer, set up a warren of paths through the massive amount of detritus that accumulated in their huge home, fashioning booby traps along the way in order to deter unwelcome visitors. One day, while bringing Homer his meal, Langley tripped one of his own traps and was crushed by falling debris. Blind and immobile, Homer then spent a couple of unimaginable weeks starving to death. 

And I thought my hoarding tendencies were bad!

The novel is a fabulous roman à clef wherein the brothers' surname is changed to Holt as Davenport delves deep into their lives and weaves a tale that speculates about what made them tick like the time bombs they were. When I picked up My Brother's Keeper and read the first paragraph I was hooked.

          "I never knew the Holt brothers, which seems strange because within a few weeks of their deaths I felt that nobody else could have known them so well. I never saw Seymour Holt at all. What I saw of Randall Holt was as gruesome a sight as a man could meet in a lifetime. By the day when they found Randall Holt I had already learned a great deal about that gentle man, and it became all the more harrowing and ghastly to have to watch while they scooped up the unspeakable thing from the rotting floor and carried it away in a covered basket.

First paragraph. Talk about dropping you into the story! (Italics are mine.)

"Clean your room!" my mother would yell, "It's starting to look like the Collyer brothers in there!" 

If, as Marie suggests, I were to bring all my books into the same room and put them in a pile in order to wake them up to check their joy factor I’d likely be crushed to death in the inevitable avalanche. 

All I can tell you is that when I decided to blog about all this being able to pluck My Brother's Keeper from the shelf where it had been contentedly napping between Michael Crummey and Lauren B. Davis sparked so much joy I can hardly stand it! 

Happy New Year!

§





Friday, December 28, 2018

ANOTHER DYSFUNCTIONAL CANCER POEM ANTHOLOGY

§

Just finished reading Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology, published by Mansfield Press and edited by the late Priscila Uppal and Meaghan Strimas. The book takes its title from the last poem in it by Uppal herself where she talks metaphorically about her relationship with her body: We are now that couple no one want to/ see in public; ...we blame each other's childhoods; I am no longer the love of your life. (She died just before the book came out, of synovial sarcoma.) 


There are over a hundred poems in the book. There are tender poems and angry poems and curious poems and introspective poems. Poems of loss, of remembrance. Of hope. Of resignation. 

"We all know someone" begins the blurb on the back, and isn't it true? My mom's had it three times. My husband has one kidney. My brother-in-law. So many friends, many of whom are survivors, but not all. My cousin, who died at 43, same age as her mother, my aunt. Same age, coincidentally, as Priscila Uppal. 

My poem is about that aunt, my mother's big sister, Beth Alexander. I don't remember her well, but I do recall her laugh which was extraordinary. She and her family came to enjoy Kootenay Lake for a month every summer and that last one I remember lots of whispered conversations that stopped when I came in the room and later, I remember my mother and grandmother flying off to Saskatoon to see her when they got the call that the end was in sight. They didn't get there in time. I remember not knowing what to say. 

I'm grateful to the editors for giving her a page in this anthology.


Sisters and cousins, 1952
Me and my mother Daisy, Beth's sister.
My aunt is holding her daughter, Dorcean, who was about 10 months old here. 

The book is available from the publisher, here, or from your local bookstore. 

§


POST-CHRISTMAS PRE-NEW YEAR POST 2018 — I WOULDN'T MISS IT FOR THE WORLD

§

Because this is a poetry-related blog, I give you:

Silent Night


The overturned garbage can spews wrapping paper,
greasy turkey skin and broken ornaments
all squeezed from the caulking gun that is Christmas
and scattered among needles the cat dislodged
on one of its forays into the branches of the tree
before someone thought to spray it with the plant-mister.

Don’t tell me it’s about Jesus,
don’t tell me it’s about peace on Earth —
it’s about who’s got the latest must-have-it gadget,
it’s about stomachs filled 
with the freshest tender and mild delicacy
that by the time this day arrives
has all the appeal of half-cooked sausage, 
the redeeming grace of deep-fried anything.

Snow sticks to our boots 
the way the last dollop of shortbread dough
clings to our fingers.
Soon we’ll quake at the sight of 
a new year looming,
a tsunami of bills,
but for now, all is calm.

We’ve managed to plough through another one,
dishes scraped clean and banished to the sink,
carols fading into the night, replaced by the new
—and last—Amy Winehouse. 
We listen, shake our heads,
then go outside to more closely examine 
the pure light of stars. 


It's never quite that bad, but it could be. There endeth another Christmas. I love it, Ted does not, I baked like crazy, I put on weight, I feel awful, but in spite of all that, I wouldn't miss it for the world, and isn't that a delightfully ambiguous remark?



§

Friday, November 16, 2018

CHAPBOOKS AND POEMS ON BUSES AND MINIATURE BOOKS—WHY I'VE BEEN AWOL

§

Here is a short photo essay that sort of catches up with what I've been doing of late, in Wordland, at least. Seems I've been so busy juggling other peoples' words I can't find any of my own. I'm into week three of a Facebook break and it's kind of nice! Soothing. Not as much stuff to wade through. There are enough things I miss about it (being in easy reach of overseas friends; the postcard poem group; our group that gets together about once a month for a potluck) that I'll probably go back, but I find I'm not in any hurry.

Denise Brown came for a visit in the summer. Over three days we sorted out her chapbook. 
This one may require a second printing! More info on my Nose in Book Publishing page.
At the end of September I was in Vancouver for the Poetry in Transit launch at Word Vancouver. It was so wet! You can see raindrops on my glasses. That's my poem in the background. 
Carol Lopez and Anne Wheeler came out in spite of the weather, as did Dory Dynna who took this one and my bff Lynne Blume who took the one above.
So then I got busy with this chapbook, a gorgeous collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by some of Robert Bateman's paintings that Yvonne Blomer wrote at the end of her three-year tenure as Victoria, B.C.'s poet laureate. 
The book contains fifteen poems along with the sketch or painting that inspired them.
About to make the holes for sewing.
Imagine my absolute joy when I realized I had hemp thread that was exactly the right colour for the image that had to go in the middle of the book! 
Kiisa keeping an eye on the books about to go into the press.
Chapbooks being signed by Robert and Yvonne ahead of the launch.
Some of the audience at the launch. It was so good to see old poetry buddies Wendy Morton and Rhonda Ganz there!
Yvonne and her dad. Robert, still signing books!
Yvonne's poem appears alongside the painting that inspired it at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria. The show is on until the end of January. Ted and I loved getting to see all the paintings there, but this show! Wow!
More information on the book over on my Nose in Book Publishing page.
I made a dozen or so little (around 2"x3"/ 5 cm x 7.5 cm) books that you can hang on a tree. The Kootenay Gallery in Castlegar has most of them. Merry Ho Ho and all that.
Because of the necessary closeness of the pairs of threads it's almost harder to sew these than the bigger ones. Needles keep getting tangled with the thread. 
Here's a baker's dozen of chapbooks I've done (not including my own). After adding three to the mix this summer, I had to move them all to a new display area.
Oh yeah, and this happened. Isn't this card the best? Kathy Holmes Tenta did it. This link is to an article from five years ago but it's still totally relevant, including the link to her Etsy store. She makes fabulous felt books for babies and the most wonderful masks for toddlers.
§