Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reading on the Radio or in Person?

I love reading on the radio.  I was on KTOO yesterday afternoon with Pat Moore and it was so much fun.  I love sitting behind that big, plush mike.  I love watching all the lights and little sliders on the sound boards.  I love looking out the window watching a raven fly by while we talk.  The radio has such a perfect blend of intimacy and privacy. I love not wondering if I've missed a button on my shirt.  And for poetry, it feels so perfect because the focus is so much on the language itself, and on the voice.  Here's a link to the radio show if you want to hear it.  I'm on 2nd, so it's about 15 minutes into the show:

This is not to say I don't like doing readings in person.  I'm giving one tonight at UAS and I'm looking forward to it, but I feel more anxiety about reading in person.  There's so much more to think about, and as a rather shy poet, the idea of all of those people  looking at me for 45 minutes is a bit unnerving.  I'm very grateful that they want to, of course, and so glad to see support for poetry in Juneau, and excited to see who will come, and what kind of conversations we'll have.  But I'm still nervous.  What if I flub a poem?  (I probably will.)  What if I get the hiccups?  (My irrational, persistent fear before all readings.)  How do I not look nervous?  

I remember the first reading I gave in Juneau--this was years ago and it was at an Evening at Egan on campus so it was a pretty big crowd. I have a good poetry friend who came, and who knew how nervous I was feeling.  Right before I went up, she pulled me into the women's bathroom and handed over an airplane bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream.  She had one for herself too, so we did our shots and then bravely went back out to face the crowd.   It was perfect.  (Since then I've either been pregnant or breastfeeding, so I've had to learn to do readings without that little sweet helper.)

The fun thing about getting ready for a reading is the time I get to spend with the poems again.   Thinking about performing, and about who will be there, is a whole new way to look at the work. The poetry starts to become a very real conversation in my head.  I always intend it to be when I'm writing it, but the thought of reading, of speaking it aloud, makes that even clearer for me.  It's interesting how some poems naturally feel more appropriate for reading aloud--the ones that are stories, or ask questions, maybe, or in some way engage the audience.  And other poems feel more like armchair poems--the ones we want to read quietly when no one else is around.  

It also makes me think of all the readings I've been to and the way readings change my understanding of the poems I hear.  I love hearing a little background on the poems, or hearing the stories behind them.  This is especially nice if it's poetry I know well and love; hearing them read and talked about by the writer gives me a whole new relationship with the poems.  I hope I'll be able to do that tonight too.

So this morning I'm just reading through poems, trying not to think about hiccups, and getting excited for the conversations that will happen tonight.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Trailer!

So apparently the new fad in book promotion is book trailers.  I think it's kind of a cool idea, actually.  I secretly really like making home movies, so I jumped right on this one and had a lot of fun with it.

There is a really great e-book written by Poets & Writers about book promotion (The Poets & Writers Guide to Publicity and Promotion) that is well worth a read.  It has chapters on various ways to help promote your work on little-to-no budget.  One whole chapter is on book trailers.  They talk about using trailers to really introduce the idea of the book, and to help readers get a sense of what the book is about.  It really works the same way movie trailers do.  I think right now it's more of a fiction thing, but I found a really great trailer on  YouTube by Alaskan writer Vivian Faith Prescott (The Hide of My Tongue is her fabulous book of poems).  That trailer gave me some good ideas to get started.

I think this one might be a little long, and I'll keep working on it, but here it is.  I'd love any feedback! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing to Terry, Visiting William

Today I put my book in the mail to Terry Tempest Williams.  I know, bold move.   I sent her the book because one of the poems is dedicated to her, and because her bird writing inspired so much of the book. I wanted to find a way to say thank you, and maybe find a way to start a conversation.  I know I probably won't ever hear from her.  And that's ok.  I've met her twice and I know she's fabulous and sensitive and grateful and all the things we hope for from our favorite authors.   And if she writes a brilliant paragraph in her next book instead of an email to me, I'm good with that.   

But of course a little part of me is hoping anyway.  When I was a sophomore in college my then-writing teacher, Ira Sadoff (a brilliant poet--if you don't know his work you should) found out I was from Oregon and told me I should write to William Stafford.  At that time Stafford was teaching at Lewis & Clark College, which was just a short bus-ride from my house.  So I did.  I emailed him a letter telling him how much I loved his poems and including a few of my own.  And a few months later I got a letter back from him, inviting me up to see him when I came home for Christmas break.

Naturally, I was over the moon.  That Christmas I rode the bus up to see him, and we had a lovely talk, sitting in the library, about poetry and my plans.  He was as generous and amazing as you'd expect him to be, if you know his work.  I don't remember everything he told me, but I remember he told me to keep writing, and that he treated me as a real writer.  As an undergrad, that meant everything to me.  

After he died, one of the poems published posthumously was about that day in the library.  I don't know, of course, that this poem is about me, but I think it's a pretty safe bet.  Here it is:

Emily, This Place, and You

She got out of the car here one day,
and it was snowing a little. She could see
little glimpses of those mountains, and away down
there by the river the curtain of snow would
shift, and those deep secret places looked
all the more mysterious.  It was quiet, you know.

Her life seemed quiet, too.  There had been troubles,
sure—everyone has some. But now, looking out there,
she felt easy, at home in the world—maybe like
a casual snowflake.  And some people loved her.
She would remember that.  And remember this place.

As you will, wherever you go after this day,
just a stop by the road, and a glimpse of someone’s life,
and your own, too, how you can look out any time,
just being part of things, getting used to being a person,
taking it easy, you know.

                                                            William Stafford, The Way It Is

Of course I deeply treasure this poem.  And feel so blessed that even after his death Stafford has continued to give to us in so many ways.  And this experience, miracle that it is, has given me the courage to send my book to Terry.  Who knows?  Maybe someday we'll sit in a library together, and talk about writing.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Melting Clocks at AWP

I just got an email from a writer friend from Wisconsin and he says:  "My lord, wasn't Chicago a bit surreal?"  That's maybe the perfect word for it.  How to even begin to parse such an experience?

If it was surreal, maybe a collage of images would work best:  walking along Wabash street, under the thundering El, headed back from a night of drinking with two writers.  Listening to Alison Hawthorne Deming teach us about creating poetry in our communities.  Reading poems to a packed room at the Chicago Cultural Center.  Asking two men, new friends, for their birth stories.  Sitting at the Salmon Poetry table with Patrick Hicks and finding out we both lived in the same college in Oxford, ten years apart.  Sitting exhausted on the floor with a sandwich, almost too tired to eat it.  Meeting the publisher of Salamander who published a poem of mine.  Buying a pair of sexy cowboy boots.  Falling asleep, every night, very late, to the vision of the Sears Tower, rising like mist outside my window.

It was incredibly rich, and deeply exhausting.   It's something to be in a hotel with 10,000 other writers.  Everywhere you go, someone is talking about meter or publishing or promotion on Facebook or quoting a line from a poem.  It's the only time in my life that I don't feel poetry is marginalized.  It's pretty heady.  I can't wait for next year.