Friday, June 18, 2010

Post-Conference Glow

The Kachemak Bay Writer's Conference was fabulous! One thing I didn't anticipate, but loved, was really getting to know other Alaskan writers better. Joan Kane (winner of a Whiting Award) was there and it was terrific to get to know her. Her book The Cormorant Hunter's Wife is beautiful. Peggy Shumaker, Sherry Simpson, and Nancy Lord were there too. We all took a great harbor cruise together and chatted about politics, poems, and the writing life. It was a real treat for me.

I got lots of good advice while I was there too. One thing that really stuck with me that several people mentioned during the week, was the importance of having a writing community. One writer said she hated networking and finally realized that poets and writers don't really "network" in the true sense of that word...they become friends. And through the years, those friendships yield opportunities. She said thinking of it this way helped her get out there and meet other writers. I like this thought...and I think she's right. In the last few months I've started corresponding with a few poets I admire (including Tom Sexton who has a new book coming out with the University of Alaska Press) and it's been wonderfully encouraging. Writing is such a solitary act, and one that requires such having others along the way struggling to do the same work is helpful. We speak the same language, we fight the same's good to have each other.

Tonight I'm feeling so grateful to be part of such a rich, writing community. There is some truly outstanding work being written in Alaska right now, and the writers I got to know this weekend proved themselves to be as generous and warm as they are talented.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Getting Ready for Kachemak Bay

I've been working like mad to get ready for the Kachemak Bay Writer's Conference. I'm leading 2 workshops, sitting on 2 panels, meeting with a writer to review her manuscript, and giving a reading. I really hope it will be a productive and energizing week for all of us going.

I've also been working like crazy on my manuscript, since I'm mostly going to read from that for my reading. Right now it's really helpful for me to read it in public and get some audience feedback. I spent all weekend with it spread around the living room floor trying to arrange it. I'm feeling pretty good about it now, but it feels like it still has a ways to go.

Here's a new poem I'm thinking of including in it:

Sleeping in Charon’s Wake

Some things
always wake us—a tug, coming in, at 3:00 am
prop boiling the water like a boat crossing
the Styx, our own boats slamming the dock in the wake.
I open my eyes and see powerful sodium lights
shining into the hatch over my head,
hear the shouts as the tug fights the current,
and a man leaps to the dock, to get a wrap around a cleat.

And other things
don’t wake us. Jonie, eating at the pub on steak&prawn
night, drinking her usual bottle of wine, slips
coming down the dock, slips
into the cool, green river next to her own boat
which must have rocked a little bit, in the wake
of her body. Which must have rocked, a little bit,
in the wake, of her body.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

5,670 Poems in the Trash

One of the things that keeps me from sitting down at my computer every morning is the fear of bad poems. It's so discouraging to write a bad poem--even more so than writing no poem at all (it could have been a good poem, right?).

I'm going to be on a panel at the Kachemak Bay Writer's Conference titled What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me 10 Years Ago and I've been thinking about what I want to contribute to the discussion. I think my biggest regret is simply that I didn't write more poems (well, and that I didn't find Mary Oliver 10 years earlier).

When I was an undergrad at Colby I met the National Book Award-winning poet William Stafford. I cheekily emailed him a letter and some poems since he was living in Portland, where I was from. Amazingly, he wrote me back, said he liked my poems (which was an act of enormous generosity on his part because they were terrible) and invited me to come chat with him when I got home for the summer. So I did--I rode the bus up to Lewis & Clark college one day and we chatted about poetry for a few hours. It sort of felt like one of those imaginary conversations you have with God--if you had two hours, what would you talk about? I can't remember now what we did talk about, but I remember his kindness and his encouragement to keep writing, no matter what.

He said once that he wrote a poem every day of his life. In preparing for this conference I looked him up and it turns out he published 57 volumes of poetry. He didn't publish his first book until he was 48. So, if we assume he started writing seriously then (and of course he'd have been writing before then), and we assume each book has about 40 poems (the average) then he published approximately 2,280 poems (obviously I'm guessing here, but go with me on this). So, then if we assume he was true to his word and wrote a poem every day of his life, for 30 years, that means he wrote approximately 7,950 poems. So, if we do the math...that means that National Award-winning poet William Stafford threw away approximately 5, 670 poems!

That really helped put things in perspective for me.