Happy New Year!

Greetings, and may your year ahead be healthy, joyous, and prosperous! I’ll blog late-winter to follow up on those potatoes (spoiler: they were tasty) and talk about my projects from the latter half of 2014. This season I am grateful for friends and family and work and health, and I hope all the same blessings and more for you, dear readers.

Sunrise light hits driftwood stump stuck in sandy Pacific Ocean beach in Ocean Shores, WA

Thanks for visiting Brainripples – it’s here for you.

Sacrificial Alder

Chitted gold potatoes in an egg cartonThis weekend we dropped a few 15 year old Red alder trees to increase sunlight for our first ever potato patch.

Piles of fresh cut Red alder branches with tree stumps in backgroundFelling a tree is bittersweet. I love these alders: they were our first source of shade in a mostly barren yard, and they attract all kinds of little birds. I also love the light that grows vegetables, and I could see the difference in moonlight the night after these alders came down. Fortunately we have several more alders growing 50 feet away, and new saplings sprout in flower beds every year.

We will be using these alder branches for compost, and the trunks will edge garden beds and paths. May our golden, red, and purple potatoes be plentiful so that the alders do not fall without good purpose.
Angular slices of red alderwood arranged on a porch

Poetry Chapbook Review: Impossible Lessons by Jennifer Bullis

Impossible LessonsA hard copy of Impossible Lessons for today’s review was provided by MoonPath Press.

Poet Jennifer Bullis’ debut chapbook Impossible Lessons celebrates the mundane and familiar with thoughtful poems. Bullis writes poetry of place, reporting from corners of the Pacific Northwest, the poet’s mind, and locales both regional and temporal. She chooses precise yet simple words for each poem, with nothing overstated, and nothing left untethered.

“Test Kitchen” is one of my favorite poems in the book, probably because it contains familiar touch points, like “I begin making coffee, lift my eyes to the window—”. Rather than spinning off reams of convoluted thought, Bullis grounds us in a kitchen engaged by a distracted attendant. For me, the scene grows more familiar with each line. I too wonder, just “How do you funnel all your intentions / into a one-teaspoon poem?” By setting her poems among common things, people, and situations, Bullis disencumbers her verse to leverage more substantial ideas. She demonstrates this with another kitchen-based poem “Body, Blood” wherein she unifies the mundane, “standing over the sink de-boning a chicken,” with the sacred “that my body is in fact already holy but thanks / to the holy chicken will be continuing alive.”

As a homemaker, I am drawn to her kitchen and garden poems. But as a Pacific Northwest native, I feel most at home among her mentions of “gold cottonwoods” who “shuffle their starlings / from one branch to another”, or “a pileated woodpecker” who “works the dead trunk of a newly leaning maple.” When you read poems like “Day After Thanksgiving” or “Walking Wolf Creek Road, Methow Valley, October,” don’t be surprised if you feel thunder and rain raising the hair on your arms. This Northwest backdrop pervades Impossible Lessons, although many places Bullis describes in her poems are not places to visit, but to experience: womanhood and motherhood, anticipation and uncertainty, illness and discomfort, regret and lessons learned, hope and possibility.

These places are accessible to all readers of Impossible Lessons, thanks in part to Bullis’ clean writing style. Bullis uses a readable vocabulary, and pays close attention to sound and rhythm throughout each line. But what really makes her work accessible is that idea I stated earlier of “nothing left untethered.” There are no wishy-washy poems, no half-baked sentiments, no false starts. Bullis is logical, and each poem accordingly reflects a complete thought (or rather, a complete thought process). Her poems articulate a lightning spark, skip over emotional muddles, and move the reader toward acknowledgement, opportunity, next steps. For example, “Cover Letter from the Goddess” orients us to a parent’s challenge, “After some two millennia away / to raise my sons, I seek to reenter the workforce,” contrasts individual with organization, “If you are a locavore, I can grow / an entire village for you to eat,” and considers systems of value, economy, and livelihood, “holding it all together on a shoestring,” all within the greater context of Earth-wide systems, all without cracking a dictionary.

Jennifer BullisThis steady progression employed by each poem makes Impossible Lessons satisfying to read. In her July 2013 interview with The Bellingham Herald, Bullis shares, “My writing process usually involves reading and walking. […] The movement of walking brings my own words forward.” And in the Cascadia Review she writes, “My relationship to the landscape is largely as a pedestrian, and my writing process largely kinesthetic: Poems map themselves out in my mind as I map these places on foot. It makes me happy that for eighteen years now, my shoes have been grass-stained, leaf-covered, and very often wet.” Be it your shoes or your imagination, expect the same results when you read Impossible Lessons: you’re going to travel somewhere fresh yet familiar, and you’ll probably come back with a few pine needles stuck in your hair.

Live from the late summer garden: a quick veggie patch tour

What have I been doing all season?

Working backyard veggie patches, picking friendly orchard fruit, digging rocks on mountainsides, crafting small business web copy, perusing new poetry, and doing my best to stay informed on this wide wild world of ours.

Take a quick tour of my 2013 Pacific Northwest veggie garden:

I’m finally learning to use a pressure canner, and there’s been a lotta apple cake in my house this season. Next, I’ll try to make my first batch of apple cider vinegar. Less than 10 days till autumn! Time to sow winter crops and split firewood.

Poetry book review comin’ your way in a few days!


A iron-crusted Indiana Jade reaches into a quartz pocket



Literary Journal Review: A cappella Zoo Issue 10, Bestiary: the best of the inaugural demi-decade

A cappella Zoo Issue 10: BestiaryA hard copy of the Bestiary for today’s review was provided by the editors at A cappella Zoo.

Grab the A cappella Zoo Bestiary and pull up a chair, but don’t get too comfy. Guest Editor Gina Ochsner keeps her eye on the comfort zone horizon while selecting the best poems and stories for this celebratory tenth issue. Ochsner prefers writing that nudges a reader, as she explains in a 2010 interview with Jeff Baker at The Oregonian,

“I’m not here to make people comfortable, I’m not even writing to make myself comfortable. I make myself really uncomfortable because then I’m hitting on a raw nerve and that’s what it should be all about. The worst thing someone could say about my work is, ‘That was a nice read. I felt so comfortable.’ That would be horrible.”

This same disquiet and vibrancy represent speculative literature (speclit) at its best. Ochsner’s choices for the A cappella Zoo Bestiary accordingly transport readers from the pedestrian path to the Twilight Zone with tight, visceral writing.

Some works in the Bestiary unsettle more than others. From the first sentence, Andrew Mitchell’s story “The Rocket in the Sky” corkscrews with tension of impending and immitigable doom, a lightning flash in the lifetime of Perry Abbot.

Joe Kapitan’s story “War Crumbs,” shows us children who playfully reassemble Uncle Henry, a veteran who literally falls to pieces. As the children periodically hunt Henry’s body parts, we readers puzzle through violent histories, old wounds, half-truths, and meted justice.

“Teaching a Post Lunar World” is a poem by Caitlin Thomson that reads with the clarity and brevity of a nursery rhyme. Don’t be fooled. When the “eldest asks, How could you sleep?” in a moon-and-starlit night, I find myself wondering, How would I ever sleep in a post lunar world?

While you’re looking skyward, flip to Lora Rivera’s story “Calling Rain,” an offering of healing that will crack your heart open like thunder. True to Ochsner’s objective, Rivera gently but unflinchingly introduces us to Tara, a powerful woman, a survivor of violence and sexual abuse, a caller of rain, a sentinel of inner strength.

All speculative literature does not read equally. I find some pieces easy to apprehend on the first read, while others require more work for me to acclimate to their universe.  “The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob” by Theodore Carter falls in the category of easy to apprehend, and I was glad to see it reprinted. What can I say? “Sea Blob” pulls on my heartstrings.

Other pieces take a little more mastication. I remembered “The Creature from the Lake” by Hayes Moore like a bit of old dream. On this reading I felt more familiar with my surroundings, less focused on the strangery, and more able to regard the dynamics of the characters.

The real joys of the Bestiary are the unburied treasures: poems and stories I’ve missed from back issues. I’ll just take this chance to say, Thank You, Gina Ochsner, for retrieving so many sparkling jewels like…

… “The Legs Come Off Easily,” a story by Emily J. Lawrence, wherein self-plasticizing young girls pose: “‘The real question is, were you ever real at all?’”

… “Man without a Wishbone,” a poem by Prartho Sereno that muses on “the strange gift of wantlessness / However we come by it.”

… “Take Up the Bonnet Rouge,” a story by Chantel Tattoli that reads like creative nonfiction and affords us the essential levities of garden gnomery.

… “Tale of the Avian Saint,” a poem by William Keener that invokes our senses of responsibility and accountability, and invites us to listen closer and think more carefully.

… “Old Myths,” a story by Collin Blair Grabarek, wherein we witness the Valkyrie descend on an oilrig seeking heroes to defend us in the end times, only to find mere mortals.

… “Kentucky-Fried Christ,” a poem by C. E. Chaffin that offers a kaleidoscope of burning materialism.

… “Brunhilde’s Escape,” flash fiction by Danya Goodman that juxtaposes cityscapes and wildlife, plucks at secret hopes of escape, joy, possibility, and reconnection; I too harbor a not-so-secret delight that Brunhilde the hippo’s “proud and foreboding footsteps are now free to stomp on pasture and road alike.”

Whether you sail the slipstream every day, or just want to dangle your toe in speculative waters, the A cappella Zoo Bestiary will satisfy with a healthy serving of well-written and willfully discomforting speclit.

Ready to read? Visit A cappella Zoo.