Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bone Island Suite

I went to the Philharmonia Northwest concert with Kathleen Flenniken this afternoon. What an AMAZING show. Seriously, it is one of the best concerts I have been to — ever. Rebecca Loudon received not one but two bouquets and a standing ovation for her poems set to music by Roupen Shakarian. And the soprano was stunning in her flamingo-colored dress. The concert concluded with a terrifically fun Symphony #5 1/2 by Don Gillis (the lost twin of Doby Gillis?). I'm no music expert, but this orchestra is incredibly tight, fluent and spot-on in their playing. Season tickets next year?

More Burning Word

Burning Word was great fun! Despite the stormy weather. OMG: it dumped buckets of rain and blew like a hurricane for hours! At least we had poetry to keep us warm. I thought my workshop went very well, and I had a gas attending two of the other workshops. The readings were diverse, as usual: performance poets with guitars and chants, NW classics Tess Gallagher and Carolyn Kizer, a generous sampling of established poets from near and far, rappers and grad students. Thanks to Victory and John and everybody at WPA.

Susan Rich gave a great workshop on Food Poetry. My favorite part: where she had everybody close their eyes and open their mouths, while she put a piece of food into our mouths (a luscious piece of chocolate), and for us to write about the sensations and images it evoked. Sensual, erotic, and spiritual (I got an image of the Eucharist) all at the same time.

I drove back with Susan and Ilya K., and we got to the dock just in time to catch the 8pm ferry back to Mukilteo. Had a late dinner at the Thai place in West Seattle, and a great conversation about poetry, poets, poems; who we like, who we read, poems that mean the most to us, etc. Thank you Ilya for saying it was "OK" for me to not like John Ashbery. (Shhhh . . . don't tell anyone). ~grin~

PS: I should really read the weather report a little closer before going away to events like this. Silly me had only a short sleeved shirt and a vest. Thank God for Gayle Kaune who lent me the fleece lining from her coat to wear for a while, or I would have froze to death in the workshop tent. It was that kind of festival: at least four different people, over the course of the day, offered me the coat off their back to wear.

Friday, April 28, 2006

See You at Burning Word!

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Looking forward to the Burning Word Poetry Festival on Whidbey Island, tomorrow. I'll be riding up with Susan Rich and Ilya Kaminski. Check it out here. There will be workshops and readings and artwork and food, and hopefully sunshine! Carolyn Kizer will be receiving a lifetime acheivement award from the Washington Poets Association.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Don't Eat Those Peeps

Had a fun poetry group tonight, which included a baby shower for Jared (he and his wife Julie are due any week now) with cake and presents and general silliness and frivolity. I gave the baby a cute little red and white striped shirt made in Italy. And I gave the dad a tee-shirt and six-pack of beer. Our own RL had actually knitted things for the baby, all lovely and soft and beautiful.

The poems tonight were a trip: including one about a broken heart and hard candy, one arising from the Hanford civilian radiation exposure depostitions, and one made from the Flight 93 transcripts that really gave me the chills.


From a Joshua Clover essay in Fence. Thanks to Joshua Corey for the link:

A Tale of Two Steins

"Chickamauga is where I'm from and Canada's where I'm bound" doesn't strike me as poetry. On the other hand, "Chickamauga is where I'm from and solitude's where I'm bound" does. Not a poem, not especially good poetry, but poetry. It's in the equivalence (the machine of metaphor in the skin of grammar) drawn between "Chickamauga" and "solitude," which in common speech are not exchangeable terms: one's a place, one's an emotional circumstance. This error - the confusion of kind - sets poetry apart from common speech. That, and line breaks.

. . . read more here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Check out Kathleen Flenniken's feature on the NEA website here. Yay Kathleen! I remember liking this poem a lot when she first brought it to group 3 or 4 years ago.


I love my subscription to Word a Day. Here are a couple recent ones:

garbology (gar-BOL-uh-jee) noun

The study of a society or culture by examining what it discards.

[From garbage (which was originally the word for offal from fowls) + -logy

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:


oniomania (O-nee-uh-MAY-nee-uh, -MAYN-yuh) noun

Compulsive shopping; excessive, uncontrollable desire to buy things.

[From Latin, from Greek xnios (for sale), from onos (price) + -mania.]

I actually have a poem titled "Oniomania," that appeared on Literary Salt a few years ago. Now I need to write one called "Garbology."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What a gorgeous day! Had a nice drive home from Portland. The weather was perfect: like a midsummer day, the sky all blue, the evergreens green as green can be, the maples and elms and ashes all in leaf, the rolling hills blooming with wild mustard flowers. Where else can you drive past not one but two active volcanoes within a half an hour? Of course, I am referring to our own Mt. St. Helens and Mt Rainier. They were stunning today: covered with gleaming white snow, a tiny wisp of cloud, and seeming so close that you could lick them. It must be an atmospheric effect brought on by the clear skies and the rising temperatures, or something, these Spring days when the mountains seem larger and closer than possible. I love it.

My only question to the freeway drivers of Oregon and Washington: What is it you don't understand about "Keep Right Except To Pass"? ~grin~

Wordstock II

Wordstock has been fun. Got to meet several new people, including Clem Stark (who has great poems about his work as a carpenter), Joseph Stroud (CCP poet from Santa Cruz), Amy Uyematsu (who is also a HS math teacher in LA, as well as a former 60's activist), Matt Yurdana (a Portland poet whose first book was just published by U of Tampa(?) press, and who happens to work in medical software). Saw Joyce Carol Oates and Ed Hirsch in the green room, but was too shy to introduce myself. Also caught up with several old and new friends including Martha Silano, Kevin Craft, Scott Hightower.

The reading was a hoot. I loved Jeannine's poems! Her female supehero stuff works on several levels, from pop culture kitsch, to the more mythic and profound. My reading was a little problematical, as I found out about an hour before that I had left my second book manuscript at home! I suppose I could have just read from Saying the World, but I really wanted to read from the new book, as well. After looking for a place to print out a few pages from my lap top, and coming up empty, I decided to read directly from the laptop . . . and it actually worked out fine, once I got a handle on the scrolling.

Then, a dear friend in the audience had her cellphone go off just as I started to read the first poem. Not just a subtle little ring or buzz, but a choo-choo train song playing fairly loudly. She had to dig for a while in her purse/backpack to find said phone, as the song continued to play and she mouthed to me with an anguished look on her face: "I Am So Sorry!" It was actually kind of funny, really. And if I had it to do over again I would have stopped reading the poem, and made a joke about it, then asked if there was anyone else who had a song they'd like to play before we started, or something silly like that. And then started the poem over again. No worries . . . Next time . . .

Went out for drinks after at the author's area and met a memoir writer whose new book is called "FBI Girl." About growing up with a father who she discovered later was an FBI agent. Sounds fascinating.

Not sure I'll make it to much of the fest today, as I have to drive home, and work early tomorrow . . . and it is sunny out! I'd like to get outside.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"PORTLAND, Ore. - An Oregon man who went to a hospital complaining of a headache was found to have 12 nails embedded in his skull from a suicide attempt with a nail gun, doctors say.

Surgeons removed the nails with needle-nosed pliers and a drill, and the man survived with no serious lasting effects, according to a report on the medical oddity in the Journal of Neurosurgery." see full story here.

My oh my. I'll need to add this to the list of questions I ask patients who are complaining of a headache: "Do you have a nail gun at home?"

Friday, April 21, 2006

MHE 512

Had a great time with the Human Face of Medicine class at UW today. The class had been assigned to do close readings of several of my poems from Saying the World, as well as some readings from the textbook A Life in Medicine (including a great Lewis Thomas essay, "Leech, Leech, etc, " and a terrific Bulgakov short story, "Trial by Rotation"). We spent most of the class discussing the poems, and I think it went over fairly well. It was fascinating to hear their takes and interpretations, and to hear what questions the poems brought up for them. They were mostly first and second year medical students, and some had had previous careers in other medically related fields; and several of them seemed pretty well-read in terms of world literature; so the discussions were pretty high-level. Some of the poems were written over 15 years ago, and so it was really fun to cast my mind back and recall what they had arisen from, what were my intentions at the time, and etc; and to compare that to how I feel about the poems now, what I see in them now. And then to connect the poems to actual clinical medicine, and how it is practiced. It was fascinating and fun, and I hope the students enjoyed it even half as much as I did. Thanks Tom and Denise for inviting me. I can hardly wait to go again next week!

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I'm looking forward to taking a little trip down to Portland for Wordstock this weekend. It looks like a pretty huge festival, with over 200 authors reading, workshops, a bookfair, and etc. I'll be reading with Jeannine Hall Gailey on the Mountain Writer's Poetry Stage at 3pm Saturday. They are putting me up in the Benson Hotel, which looks like a wonderful old hotel in the downtown area. I haven't decided yet whether to drive down or to take the train. Driving is more flexible, but I'd also have to find parking, and it's sort of a boring drive down I-5. The train is less flexible, in terms of timing; but it's a little more scenic of a trip (not much), and it is far more relaxing: I could actually get some reading and writing done on board. Maybe even take a nap. Hmmmm . . . . decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Poetic Intentions

Congratulations to my good friend Jeff Crandall, whose art show "Poetic Intentions" recently opened at the Museum of Northwest Art, in LaConner, WA. It looks like a fascinating show, and will coincide with the Skagit River Poetry festival, this May. Check it out!

"In this installation, created specifically for this gallery, Crandall explores the transparency and fragmentary nature of language. The exhibit begins with Exploded Sonnets, a mobile-like glass curtain of words that divides up two original sonnets into their even syllables, each floating like a bubble of sound. Plays on words, containerization, advertising and religion are explored through glass-mounted collages, sandblasted glass spheres and bottles. "All Bottled Up" is a display of 85 cobalt blue wine bottles each with different human emotions, conditions, and other things we keep inside. The "What Lies Within" series uses hanging glass panes on a steel backdrop with light and shadow to point out the LIE within BELIEVE and other ironic words-within-words. Crandall works in Seattle, as both a nationally recognized poet and an accomplished glass artist. Poetic Intentions runs through June 4, 2006."

AWP Atlanta

I can't believe it's time for this already:
"AWP is now accepting proposals for our 2007 Conference & Bookfair, February 28 - March 3, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia. The deadline to submit conference event proposals is May 1, 2006. For more information, or to propose an event for AWP's 2007 Conference in Atlanta, visit us [here]. "

I'd love to go to Atlanta. Anybody have any great ideas for a panel proposal? Please back channel.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada


What a dark and beautiful movie. First of all, you must know I love Tommy Lee Jones. And this is a fine piece of directing and acting. The scenes of the Mexican outback are gorgeous. But they are leavened by the stark poverty and desperation of the people. This movie is about the lengths that grief will take you, when it comes to the life and death of a friend. And in that way it is a lot like "Brokeback Mountain," oddly enough. With the dead Melquiades' "Jimenez" becoming the resting place that Jack and Ennis dreamed of.

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Happy Easter (from Live Journal)


I'm sorry. I know this is gruesome, but I just couldn't resist. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Borges and I

I am a big fan of Borges' speculative and experimental fiction. Stories like "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," "The Garden of Forking Paths," "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," "The Library of Babel" are what I cut my teeth on, back in college days Comp Lit courses. And his essay-parable about writing: "Borges and I" is just the tops. But I often forget that Borges was also a wonderful poet. For this reason I am thankful for the fantastic translation of one of his poems in the recent issue of Poetry:

That One

O days consecrated to the useless
office of forgetting the biography
of a lesser poet from the hemisphere
below, to whom the shades or the stars
bequeathed a body that leaves behind no son
and blindness, penumbra and prison,
and old age, aurora of death,
and fame, which nobody deserves,
and the habit of devising hendecasyllabics
and an old love of encylopedias
and of fine calligraphic maps
and of fragile ivory and the incurable
nostalgia for Latin and fragmentary
memories of Edinburgh and Geneva
and the oblivion of dates and of names
and the cult of the Orient, which the peoples
of the miscellaneous Orient do not share,
and vigils glimmering with expectation,
and the abuse of etymology
and the iron of Saxon syllables
and the moon, which always surprises us,
and that bad habit, Buenos Aires,
and the flavor of grapes and of water
and of cocoa, confection of Mexico,
and a few coins and a clock made of sand
and who, one afternoon, like so many others,
resigns himself to these verses.

translated from the Spanish by Srikanth Reddy


Friday, April 14, 2006

Mail Call

"I am writing to request your participation in a very important online survey we are conducting for Men's Vogue.

This study is designed to help us better understand the interests and needs of men at the leading edge of style and business and, as a Men's Vogue reader, your opinions and attitudes are critically important to us.

Further, because we are only reaching out to an exclusive sample of Men's Vogue subscribers, your participation is vital to helping us achieve accurate, meaningful results -- and ultimately to the continued development and success of the magazine.

We respect and value your time, and would appreciate if you would take a few moments to click on the following link and give us your thoughts. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated and, of course, your answers will be kept completely confidential.

Thank you for your participation. Your insight is invaluable to us.


William Li

Men's Vogue? It just sounds so metrosexual.
Take the survey . . . tell them how you really feel. ~grin~

PS: (I wanted the free shaving kit)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A fascinating essay by Brian Campbell on the whole "Can Poetry Matter" thing, on Rock Salt Plum, here.
Congrats to Jeannine Hall Gailey whose Becoming the Villainess is just out from Steel Toe Books. I am enjoying how she weaves myth and fable with personal history. Here's a taste:

The Changeling

I went to bed a secretary
but woke up a wolf,
clothes in shreds on the floor.

It is as you fear;
beneath the push-up bra,
the false set of eyelashes,
I am fundamentally "other."
I am not what I seem.

You will weep
when I disappear,
and never miss
the infant I stole
from your cradle.

Also enjoying Collin Kelly's new chapbook Slow to Burn. It's fascinating that he and Jeannine both have poems about Wonder Woman! Here's the opening of Collin's:

Wonder Woman

The day I told my parents I wanted to trade in
G.I. Joe for Wonder Woman must have set off alarms.
I wanted to surrender my guns for the golden lasso,
more than dolls, mind you, I wanted to be
Wonder woman.
I don't remember who stitched the costume,
blue underwear with glued on stars, a red bustier
wrapped around my seven year old sunken chest,
the golden eagle oddly deflated . . . .

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The "New" Poetry Northwest


The inaugural issue of the "new" Poetry Northwest came in the mail Saturday, and what a delight! The new Poetry Northwest is gorgeous and fantastic. I love the beautiful cover photograph by Jock Sturges, and the large 8 1/2 x 11 format, which allows space for the poems to breathe. There is a terrific suite of new work from Richard Kenny, a lovely poem by our own Eduardo Corral, and a very thoughtful essay about reviewing poetry by Peter Campion, among other things. Kudos to David Biespiel and company. Hopefully this incarnation of the journal will have a long and happy life. Posted by Picasa
"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

John Adams
US diplomat & politician (1735 - 1826)
In a letter to Abigail Adams.

Hmmm . . . I dunno. Is this the definition of decadence? I mean, seriously, are tapestry and porcelain the ultimate goal? Or am I being too literal here?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Unsayable

The Franz Wright reading was pretty good. He read for only about 30 minutes, then took questions. It was a fairly small and intimate audience, about 25-30 people, and it was fascinating to hear him talk about his process, his inspirations, his life, in a less formal setting.

I am enjoying the book. It's quite similar to Walking to Martha's Vineyard in subject matter and tone. Here is one of the poems Wright read. I admire the self-effacing humor of the opening, the sonic pairing of the words "beauty" and "cruelty," and the fine turn the final stanza takes.


Nobody has called for some time.
(I was always the death of the party.)

In a way that leaves
a scar, I
no longer wish to love.

(Come a hairbreadth closer
to this shining
apparition and be consumed in flame.)

I'm still alone with all the world's
beauty and cruelty.

And I recall
here —
what is time? When
is the present?

I'm still here alone in the night hours with everyone.

And everything that once was
infinitely far
and unsayable is now
and right here in the room.

— Franz Wright, from God's Silence

Friday, April 07, 2006

I just found out that Franz Wright is reading at 7:30 tonight at University Bookstore in Seattle, from his new book, God's Silence. I want to go, would love to see and hear the new book, but I am on-call starting at 5pm, and still a little jet-lagged. Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions . . . .

Casa Batllo

This Gaudi apartment building was one of the most fascinating things I've ever seen. If you ever get to Barcelona, don't miss it. Gaudi's use of color and light and organic shapes is ingenious. I think my favorite part is the blue-tiled inner light shaft.

A pretty good website with a virtual tour here.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006


The entrance to our Hotel in Barcelona. Free bottled water and a terrific drag show in the bar. Posted by Picasa

Rooftop of the Pedrera, with those spooky-looking chimney tops. Posted by Picasa

Tile work on a steeple at La Sagrada Familia, about 300 feet off the ground. Posted by Picasa

Cathedral at Montserrat, not far from the Black Madonna. Posted by Picasa

Casa Batllo. Modernism on acid. Posted by Picasa

A Seville fairy bicylist. Posted by Picasa
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I just love the mix of colors on the roof tiles. Like an abstract expressionist painting. Posted by Picasa

From the Dona Maria hotel rooftop pool area. Posted by Picasa

View of Santa Cruz quarter from partway up the bell tower of La Giralda. There are no stairs in the tower, which was originally the minaret of a mosque; just 35 ramps that you climb one at a time, built so that the muezzin could ride his horse to the top, for the singing of the prayers. Posted by Picasa

The view outside our room at Fernando III in Seville. Posted by Picasa

One of my favorite facades at Alcazar. Notice the blue crosses inside the Arabic patterning. Posted by Picasa

Eating at Meson Cinco Jotas. Notice the legs of ham (jamon) hanging from the window. Posted by Picasa

A tile on the wall outside a tapas bar. Posted by Picasa

Flight from Baby Hell

We spent a little over 24 hours traveling yesterday (or was it today?). Seville to Madrid to Chicago to Seattle should not have taken so long, but there were big layovers at each stop. Oh well, we got to spend our last Euros on duty free meats and cheeses, and some tiny bottles of Spanish saffron.

The Madrid to Chicago leg was 9 1/2 hours long, and there was not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE babies in our area of the plane, none of whom had their own seat. One couple had the mother holding a newborn and the father holding an about 18 month-old boy. There was a big hullabaloo before take-off, apparently because only certain aisle seats have an extra oxygen mask that deploys in an emergency, that the baby can wear. There was much agitated and animated discussion (all in Spanish) as they tried to arrange passengers, and some disgruntled people who were forced to change seats.

Don't get me wrong: I love babies, and these were all so cute, except for this devil of an 18 month-old boy who essentially screamed and tantrummed almost the entire flight. Not a little quite cry or whimper, mind you. But a full out howl, with arching of his back and his voice going from hoarse and jagged to piercing and lancinating in an instant. His father and mother could do nothing to console him. Neither could any of the flight attendants or other mothers on the flight. I felt for the poor parents, and for the poor passengers sitting in the seats closest to them. (The child's favorite position seemed to be up on his father's shoulder, howling into the faces of the people seated right behind them). Occasionally the father would take the child back to the lavatory, and we would get a few moments peace.

He did not seem to have an earache, as there was no tugging at ears, and a nurse on the flight tried some auralgan ear dops (a pain relief drop you can instill in the ear canals(note to self: pack this on next trip)) to no effect. The kid just looked like he was tantrumming, and that he was used to doing this. I wished that I had had some of Dean's liquid benadryl to put the kid to sleep with. And I was tempted to offer a quarter pill of xanax for them to crush into the monster's sippy-cup, but my better judgement won out. Dean and I finally put on headphones for a while and watched "Good Night, and Good Luck" (which is really a very good movie BTW). What is most amazing is the other babies all were quiet and slept, or just looked on peacefully the whole fight. Which is a miracle in itself, as usually one howler can often set off a whole nursery.

Later, in Chicago, as we were waiting in the lounge area outside the gate for our connecting flight to Seattle, having gin & tonics and a burger, we suddenly heard that all-too-familiar howl, and there was the family, with their evil child, walking toward our gate! Dean and I looked at each other in horror, thinking: No. This. Cannot. Be. Happening. And it wasn't. They moved on to another poor flight. I think it was to Cleveland, of all places.

Home now and slept like a baby (no pun intended). We had a terrific time in Spain. But, as I said to Dean this morning as we woke up in our own bed, robins just starting to chirp and tulips coming up below the blossoming pear tree outside our window: "Isn't the best part of vacation the coming home?"

Some pics later . . .

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Al Cazar

Toured La Giralda yesterday, and Real Alcazar today, among other things. Such incredible stuff. The Alcazar especially. The whole Mudejar aesthetic is fascinating to me. It blows away the myth that Islamic and Christian ideas have always been at odds with each other. As these palaces show: the height of the era was a cooperative vision, where they coexisted in the art and the culture.

We fly back home tomorrow. It has all gone so fast. A great trip! And a whole memory stick of pics. Maybe I will post some.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ah, Seville

We have made it to Seville. Staying in a very old hotel in the Santa Cruz part of town. No internet access there, but we wandered by a cafe that has internet this afternoon, so thought I´d check email and post. Seville is a pleasant change from Barcelona: quiet, calm. Our first night we wandered the old town, with its narrow streets (built long before automobiles even were imagined). Orange trees in blossom everywhere and filling there air with a citrus scent, as horse´s hooves clopped down the cobblestones. A nice dinner outdoors at one of the cafes. Ahhh . . . very relaxing. Today took an open air bus tour of the city. A lot to see. I love the mix of Arabic/Islamic architecture and art with the Jewish and Christian. A true mix of styles and ways of seeing.