Tagged Writing

A Mid-Summer Night’s Reading List


Carrot TopsAt the end of the school year, a great English teacher once said, “What kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t give you a summer reading list?”

So too I echo, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t kick up a few summertime jewels?

Poetry: “Or Both. We Could Do Both.” by Martin Rock

The poem “Or Both. We Could Do Both.” appears in the Black Warrior Review 38.2 This is the first of Rock’s work that I’ve read, so I’m unsure if this piece is an example of his usual experiments. His poetry takes its time, meandering over a few pages. Segments of the poem are struck through with a line, only to be supplanted by one or more replacement lines:

Sample: "Or Both. We Could Do Both." by Martin Rock

The result is a pleasureful, slidey sort of reading experience, where the mind is free to oscillate between potential imagery and reflexive intentions. It’s fluid, dreamy, and surprisingly satisfying. I say surprisingly because sometimes it can be difficult to take to a poem on first read when the form is so willfully misdirecting. Rather than losing me, Rock’s poem redirects constantly, leads me on like a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and invites me to try again for a different result.

I wonder how Rock prefers to read “Or Both.” aloud? With partners? Shifting voices and positions? Multiple readings? Maybe I’ll get bold, write to him and ask. I plan to experiment. (For all I know, this is an established poetic form and I’m in the dark. Feel free to kindly illuminate me and your three fellow readers at Brainripples.) I think I need to go play with this form, maybe chop up some old discards for a new life.


Short Fiction: “Us” by Raymond Philip Asaph

I’m new to Lascaux Review, but that’s because Lascaux is new! Edited by Stephen Parrish and Wendy Russ, Lascaux “provides a showcase for emerging and established writers and artists.” Asaph’s “Us” keeps you moving with clean language and dry wit, and in doing so clears the stage for much bigger topics like American society, mental health, and our heartfelt desire to make a true connection with other people.

Stick around, because Lascaux Review is hosting its first ever short fiction contest which opens this September 8, 2012 at noon Eastern Time. Here’s the 2012 photo prompt:

I’ll be submitting, and I’ll be making time to read (and time permitting, respond to) the other submissions. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, short fiction contests are a fun opportunity to glimpse a sparkly fresh batch of stories among comrades. I like these contests because they usually result in real-time readership and feedback. (I think it’s something about the group creative effort that takes me back to my OM days.)

Long-ass Fiction: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Every year I try to make time to read a couple of classics. Thanks to audio ebook downloads available from the Kitsap Regional Library, I am now free to ponder on-demand the chewiest of language whilst I scrub skillets, prep meals, and fold laundry. I’m glad to report that Great Expectations was not what I expected. First off, kudos to Mr. Simon Prebble, because his excellent reading with well-honed and lively character voices makes Great Expectations extra enjoyable. (I’ll also add that if you’re of the insomniac ilk, you might try this reading of Dickens as a bedtime snack. I found it does the trick.)

I was grateful to Dickens for sparing us a total crash and burn ending for the main character. Even with all the character miseries and drive-by morality whompings, I nonetheless savored Dickens’ skilled craft so much that I downloaded and listened to the book a few times more. My favorite takeaways from this story are first in Dickens’ excellent use of food and meals as metaphors for subjects like society, class, health, and relationships. His special skill is a humorous use of irony. As I explained to my mother, I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed Dickens quite so much in my teens as I do today. I had no idea that Dickens would make me laugh so much, and I’m pretty sure most of the jokes that get me now are imparted through his tactful expositions on the ironies of youth. Oh yes that, and the masterful run-on sentence.


Book of Poems: Water Witching by Kathleene West

The fun thing about unread books on the shelf, is that they’re always ready when you need them. I picked up Water Witching at an independent bookstore in Cedar City, Utah back in 2010. West’s book has been waiting quietly for me to be quiet enough to read it. The familiar language disarms you; no great expectations, so she can really surprise you. Reading West’s poetry is a little like swimming slowly out on a lake, lulled by comfortable confidence, not realizing how far you’ve strayed from the shore.

I haven’t finished her book yet. Not only am I a slow reader, but I find the most satisfaction in poetry when I read poems one at a time, with long pauses in between for thinking space. Among West’s poems, mundane objects found in the home and garden are tools for revealing the invisible and mystical. Try these lines from her introductory poem, “Pining Away as an Erotic Activity:”

Nothing on hand, but a jar
of relish, to whet and unsatisfy
my hungering tongue. Weak and empty,
I watch visions like late movies,
turning to the restricted channels.
How perfectly I can tune you.

A good poet can tantalize and teach in the same breath. Her piece “Celebrating Disaster, The Sinking of Hood Canal Bridge, February 13, 1979” reads a bit like someone’s private journal pages, with personal asides and hearsay woven through the memory. One of my favorite kinds of literature to collect when I travel are the self-published journals from the elders of yore, newly rediscovered by modern descendents. Here’s a great one from my neck of the woods: Tales of Hood Canal, by Ethel M. Dalby, edited by Valerie Johnson.

And speaking of poets who teach, I feel like this poem cannot be shared enough, so here it is again: Sonia Sanchez, “Peace.” Listen, then speak.

I’ll have some new work to share in September/October. Until then, please feel drop me a note in the comments, share what you’re reading or writing.

Carrot Clouds



Bring it on 2012


Greetings of the long-anticipated 2012 New Year! And for those following the lunar cycles, I wish you scaly Dragon greetings, and offer Seattle lion dances from both 2011 and 2012.

Mid-winter I enjoy reviewing my previous year and setting goals for the months ahead. Here’s a peek at what I’m up to, plus juicy links for you to sample:

Culture, Food & South Seattle Neighborhoods

My favorite projects of 2011 include writing for South Seattle neighborhoods like White Center and South Park. The best perks of these projects are a) eating good food on my lunch breaks, b) working with awesome people, and c) meeting Seattle merchants and hearing their stories. I use what I learn from each merchant interview to write business profiles, feature articles, and other collateral. Content I write is used for print and web promotions offered throughout the neighborhood and the greater Seattle area.

In White Center I help grocers spread the word about fresh, healthy food available within walking distance. With more than 30,000 residents speaking 50+ languages, White Center boasts many delicious globally-inspired local eats, as well as specialty grocery markets where folks can find ingredients for Southeast Asian, East African, Indian, Latin American, and Eastern European cuisines. (Learn more about activities in White Center neighborhood at the White Center Community Development Association.)

Catch the Culture: South Park SeattleJust a few minutes’ ride from White Center is South Park, an old Seattle neighborhood with a uniquely urban-industrial heritage. Our goal with Catch the Culture is to attract customers to the 30+ retail stores and restaurants along 14th and Cloverdale. These businesses are feeling the squeeze from the closure of the South Park Bridge in 2010, which typically brings some 20,000 vehicles of customers per day to the neighborhood. South Park is a square-mile oasis of nearly 4,000 residents with a school, a farm, community centers, family homes, hundreds of unique businesses, and a pretty stretch of shoreline along Seattle City’s only river, the formidable Duwamish River (we’ll get back to the Duwamish another day – there’s more to say about this river than one paragraph will allow).

PS – That fabulous South Park logo (as well as the Brainripples logo) are the work of graphic designer Kathi “george” Wheeler at Noise w/o Sound. Whether you need design work for print, web, signage, whatever, george is the genius you want. Unless you want something boring and plain–in that case you’re looking for someone else.

Stories, Poetry & Midnight Madness

Whenever I get busy, I write poetry. A work-weary brain can be conducive to the weaving (and mis-weaving) of words. Each year I like to use January through March to mine poems from the previous year’s journals, and select usable pieces for revision and submission. I think I have about eight candidates worth looking at this month.

Line Zero: Issue 3 (Ed. Renda Dodge)I may have forgotten to share here that my poem “Shore” won the Spring 2011 poetry contest for issue 3 of Line Zero (“Springtide” also appears in this issue). I’m grateful for the publication in a new indie arts journal, and I’m even more grateful to have discovered the Line Zero community. As my writer friend James Buescher used to remind me, I’m “not a joiner.” But joiner or no, I feel like I’m in good company in the Line Zero pages.

Last summer I made time (read: skipped sleep) to participate in another Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest hosted by Jason Evans (which, by the way, is a lot of fun for writers at every level). I’ve since taken my flash piece Solarrivum and rewritten it as a complete short story, which is now in its final stages of editing and actually kinda pleases me (which in turn makes me suspicious that it still needs drastic work). Soon I’ll begin the joy of submissions; I have my eye on a couple speculative fiction/slipstream journals. Speaking of which, feel free to join me sending good vibes for the speedy revival of GUD Magazine.

In January I started my latest fiction-in-progress, a story set in a Twilight-Zone-worthy cityscape. I have the basic structure and cast, and I’ve sketched the main character to get a sense for his needs. For this story I’d like to write a few cutthroat characters, so among my winter reading is Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – an excellent choice I recommend to anyone seeking good examples of strong character voices.

Rot, Mud & Other Good Dirt

2011 left me with almost no time for garden and forest romping (as evidenced by a severe lack of blogging here at Brainripples). While I did get out into the wilderness for occasional recess, I didn’t even plant my cold frames last spring. That’s about to change. Greens, radishes, onions, and carrots are my usual pre-spring starters in the ground, and I’ll need to get a jump on corn and squash in the cold frames for transplanting to the hills once the warm weather returns in May/June. With any luck I will also find the time (and the necessary bandwidth) to blog from the garden in 2012.

Speaking of nature blogging, The Festival of the Trees has sprouted adventitious roots in the rich loam of the home blog. No longer a roving blog carnival, the Festival of the Trees accepts all tree, forest, and wood related submissions for consideration at treeblogging.com. Poet/Editor/Brainiac-at-Large Dave Bonta is diligently keeping the Festival alive, and he’s found some really cool stuff in recent weeks. Case in point: Goths up trees. Nuff said. (No, one more thing – if you want to see another cool project of Dave’s, check out Qarrtsiluni literary journal where he and Beth Adams are Managing Editors).

Which brings us to other good dirt. The compost pile I started moving in 2010 never made a complete relocation, but I did plenty of relocating to make up for it. After a busy 2010 I started 2011 renting the upstairs of a farmhouse in Hobart, where I stayed for six months to be closer to Seattle work. Making time to care for my health continues to be a priority, and I seem to be relearning how good health enables good writing (somehow the rhythm of writing hypnotizes and the mind can forget the needs of the body, like when I continue writing even though I had to pee some 90 minutes ago). It may seem as if an unwavering diet of persistence and sleep deprivation is a recipe for great writing, but to take that path the writer must gamble finished work against impending burnout, and these days I aim for finished work as often as possible (a habit I attribute to the sound recommendations of Seattle storyteller Anita Marie Moscoso). Finished work requires persistence and steady pacing, even if sleep deprivation is still on the docket.

Recently I read an older article in the Guardian about Philip Roth, yet another accomplished author of whose work I have not read enough. Among the best ideas I gathered from the article are Roth’s habits of writing while standing at a lectern (I’ve considered this for months now but have yet to try), and walking one-half mile for every page he writes. This winter I think I’ll count “bring in and stack the wood” in lieu of my half-mile, although if I apply that math retroactively to my current WIPs I’d have to say, there’s a lot of wood to bring in yet (especially if I want to get ahead of the next good snow storm).

Wanna help me shape my spring reading list? Share what’s good on your bookshelf this season, or tell me where I can read/view your latest work.

Here’s to a most excellent 2012 for all!


What I plan to do on my summer vacation


Blogging on all channels will be light until autumn. You’ve probably noticed the crickets around here, so I thought I’d pop in and offer a peek at what I’ve been up to, which is by extension what I plan to do with the approaching summer.


Seattle Neighborhoods

Perhaps you’ve noticed my tweets about South Park Seattle and other neighborhoods? That’s because one of my favorite projects right now involves writing for neighborhoods around South Seattle. For these projects I get the opportunity to meet with local merchants and learn their stories. Then I do my best to tell those stories for print and web use. Our goal is to help attract new customers from around the Puget Sound area by sharing the unique goods and services to be found in these communities. Did you know that there are over 30 languages spoken in homes throughout the Duwamish Valley? There’s a load of history surrounding the Duwamish River. I’ll try to share the best things I learn along the way.

If you’ve missed the tweets and want to learn more about South Park Seattle, I recommend these starting points:

All About South Park

South Park Arts

King County: South Park Bridge

Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center

Washington State Encyclopedia


Poetry & Prose

The solstice is just a couple days off, and I feel good about staying on track with my writing goals for 2011. Sometimes it has been a challenge for me to set aside significant time for working my own creative material. Life happens. This year I’m spending more hours writing and editing my stories. I’m powering through spiral-bound journals with greater velocity. I’m also taking more time to submit one or two finished pieces—at least once a month.

For the poets in the audience: among my foci this year is prosody, and if you’re interested in honing the music of your poetry (or if you’re just among the curious who would like to learn ways to read and enjoy poetry) I suggest these reference materials as starting points (which I borrowed from Kitsap Regional Library bookmobile—love your library):

Rules for the Dance : a handbook for writing and reading metrical verse by Mary Oliver

The poem’s heartbeat : a manual of prosody by Alfred Corn

I also checked out this book, but had to return it before I had time to read: All the fun’s in how you say a thing : an explanation of meter and versification by Timothy Steele. If I get back to it I’ll let you know what I think.

It wasn’t the refresher course in the rules of scansion that excited me about these books. What I did enjoy was each author’s use of examples, philosophical musings, and allusions to the evolution of language. It’s always a good to be reminded of the intimate relationship between poetry and breath. (It’s also nice to remember that I’m not the only over-analyzer on the planet.) If I had one wish about these books, it would be for less emphasis on poets and poetic forms that I already know. I’m on the quest for similar books which address poetic traditions and forms from other regions. If you know me, you know I’m not much of a gal for tradition. But there is much to be gained from the careful study of those predecessors who had way, way more self-discipline than I do.


Reads & Critiques

So what else am I reading? The stack is tall, but my favorite interest this year is slipstream. I blame it on the folks at GUD (review here) and a cappella zoo (review here). Years ago someone told me I was writing magic realism, which was before I’d even heard that it was a genre folks wrote to. Now that I’m a more of an active reader, I’m curious to learn about the evolutions of speculative fiction and slipstream. What I know is that I love well-done specfic and slipstream, and I’d like to learn to write a story that’s as effective as it is ethereal. If you’re interested in slipstream, I recommend this title (originally recommended by a cappella zoo): Feeling very strange : the Slipstream anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel.

Part of the reason I’ve returned more than a few unread library books is that I’ve gone into critique partner overdrive. It started last winter when I wanted to add a couple people to my critique exchanges to help keep me active. May rolled around and I had somehow accrued 10 critique partners, including one full manuscript exchange (not a short story but a rather ambitious novel). What I love about critiquing is not just reading newly-forming work, and not just challenging myself to share feedback that’s useful, but the act of the exchange itself. I think it makes me feel alive as a writer to trade with someone else who’s hacking away at the same mountain, hoping to strike a vein. Just remember, all ye who venture to pursue the full-manuscript critique: it’s worthwhile work, but you must be prepared to donate a significant chunk of your life to get it done.


Ongoing Projects

Do you love trees? Sure you do! Blog, pod, vid, whatever medium you like, share a tree, orchard, garden, or forest from your neck of the woods. Then send us the permalink at the Festival of the Trees. Our monthly blog carnival is hosted at a different blog each month and celebrates trees in all their forms. The upcoming issue is our fifth birthday! That’s right – we’ve been blogging trees with folks from around the world for five years. Join the party at Dave Bonta’s blog Via Negativa.

If you’ve been reading my blogs these past years you know that for me, health and garden are intimately connected.  While I didn’t finish moving the compost pile (did I mention that life—and the occasional flood—happens?), I did stick with my other health goals from 2010. I don’t do my qigong every morning, but I’m pleased to be in much better health this year, most especially because it means I can stay productive in my work. My new 2011 health goals include restarting my yoga/dance routine. I’m renting the upstairs of a farmhouse with big open floors, so it’s a great time to dust off my books from the Evergreen days and get my form back. The rental is located on a short neighborhood street with lots of trees, so my other simple goal is short, daily walks. I love being a writer, but it does require a fair amount of sitting. My final word for you all this summer: make time for recess.