Thankful Thursday 

Bandon, Oregon - Autumn Walk with Alyssa

It's Thankful Thursday!

Gratitude. Appreciation. Praise. Please join me in a weekly pause to appreciate the people, places & things that bring joy.

This week, I am thankful for:

1. Autumn Light (see above)

2. Blackberry pie, made with berries picked along the Yachats River on a sunny afternoon.

3. Barbara Hurd, for writing Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination

The one essential quality of the imagination is that it moves— in wide sweeps, in pinched steps, out to sea, down into the interior. The imagination is polytheistic and polygamist; its groundspring is multiplicity, not singularity. Trying to press a single meaning onto imagery is like asking a river to hold still. It will squirm out of your interpretation, jump its banks, form new rivulets and bayous in its relentless churn toward the open ocean.

4. Cashmere sweaters

5. Lou Grant, the late 1970s television show that shaped my desire to become a newspaper reporter. The cable reruns, featuring fictional news staffers Billie, Rossi and Animal, still delight me. Do kids still grow up wanting to be reporters? In our new media age, does journalism still shine?

6. Garlic simmering in a pasta sauce.

7. Sharpie - Industrial Super Permanent Ink - Marker


When you create

I think anyone who practices an art, whether they are a saxophonist, or a watercolorist, or a poet, when you are writing or creating art, you are exercising a very innate freedom. You are your most free when you create.

Major Jackson
from an interview in Poets & Writers


In unexpected places

Corvallis, Oregon

The Thing Not to Forget

Stepping outside, you neglect
once again to drop your jaw
and lift your face, flower-like,
to the great blue beauty, to launch yourself
into the dazzle that is gracing you
with this one more chance not to forget

- Rick Borsten


I was so happy to stumble upon this poem. Really, I did stumble. Out of a cafe, into a parking lot and upon this poem. I like the poem as much as I like its placement: in public, above asphalt, in an unexpected place. I love when poems crawl out of books and into the world.

How about you? How and where are you finding poems? 



Thankful Thursday: Dandelions

I was "Mrs. Nicholson" today as a volunteer teaching assistant for a summer school group. Made buddies with a little boy who looked and acted like Edmund from The Chronicles of Narnia, a little girl who picked a dandelion for me (and insisted on sitting next to me!), and a helper who painstakingly sorted my cards after calling each word in a rhyming bingo game."

Several years ago "Mrs. Nicholson" was Haylee Travis, a timid teen in a writing group at Seashore Family Literacy, where I am a volunteer mentor. I love seeing these young people grow up, out and into the world — and then give back.

In the online world last week, there was a great deal of discussion about making poetry more inclusive. Collin Kelley, January O'Neil and others opened a lively discussion, asking: How do we set a larger place at the poetry table for those working outside the academy? How do we take the insular and make it open? Some are weary of 'established' poets repeatedly invited to speak and present. There is a call for a greater breadth of representation. 

The blog talk opened many doors. I'm pondering these questions when I hear about Haylee's teaching experience. I'm thinking of the little girl who picked a dandelion for her, and my heart warms because there are so many little girls (and boys) needing a Haylee in their lives. 

And I'm thinking of another student, Hallie, who spent a few weeks as my summer camp assistant. The kids all wanted to read with Hallie, to sit by Hallie, to soak up the love she was willing to give. Now, back at college, she has started a writing group,  patterned in part, she says, on "what we did with the kids."

And I'm thinking of Fred, my very favorite volunteer. At Seashore, he does everything, from reading and writing with kids, to dishing up meals, and tutoring adults. 

This isn't a plug for Seashore Family Literacy. Volunteers are at every turn, and every age, and you don't need an organization to give your time, effort or love. You don't need to go overseas, go broke, or go Zen. Opportunity is everywhere — next door, down the street, around the corner. 

The question buzzing on the blogs has been, "How do we make room at the table . . .?"

But I think a more pressing question is: What are you bringing to the table? 

If we want more representation, more inclusion, and a more vibrant writing community then we must be willing to give time and effort to create what we desire. What are you giving to strengthen your community, and enhance your life and the lives of others?  

Six years ago I moved from Denver, Colorado to a small town on the Oregon Coast. I left friends, family and numerous writing opportunities. When I arrived in my new town (pop. 650) I was hungry for writing companions. Not finding any writing groups, I created my own. I offered monthly writing sessions in my home, serving soup and writing prompts. I didn't wait to be invited; I made my own party. 

After a time, our group — a mix of never-to-very published — wanted to share our work with a larger audience. Again, there was no local reading series. And again, I didn't wait to be invited; I made my own party. Off the Page, an annual poetry & prose event, is now in its fifth year and has broadened to include writers from all over Oregon. 

I share these examples, not to toot my own horn but to urge others to make their way. Seven years ago I was the shy writer in the back of the room. I didn't raise my hand or my voice. I waited to be invited and included (a painful flashback to high school, in which I was never asked to prom). I took the lack of invitations as a lack of acceptance. But at some point, you gotta step up, out and into the world. You have to get in and give.  

And when you do, you just might find a young girl eager to offer dandelion love. 



Anthology as appetizer

When you are away, most of what happens to me happens in the supermarket. I like it. I wouldn't like it all the time, but sometimes I love to let myself go to seed, live unwashed, uncombed. I read in the sun on our unmade bed, eavesdrop, go to the Grand Union several times a day.

— Martha Bergland, from An Embarrassment of Ordinary Riches, a story appearing in the anthology Love Stories for the Rest of Us. 

I've grown to love anthologies — collections of essays, stories or poems by a variety of writers, typically organized around a theme.  I like to taste the flavors of many writers in one place without the commitment to just one. An anthology is an appetizer.

For example, in  Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave I found Caroline Leavitt and Kaui Hart Hemmings. I liked their short stories so much, I raced to find their novels. The Descendants, by Hemmings, turned out  to be one of my favorite books.



 And The Pacific Northwest Reader is a wonderful surprise of essays about the upper left corner of the United States. The collection is reminscent of the Federal Writers' Project of the 1930s, and each essay is crafted not by professional writers but by independent booksellers and librarians. As a bonus, a portion of book sales go to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. The Great Lakes Reader is also available now, and other regional volumes are in the works.

In Feed Me: Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image, I discovered Lisa Romeo. I now faithfully read her blog each week.  




Poetry, too, produces some great anthologies. I'm loving The Poets Guide to the  Birds, both for its unique theme and for its breadth of writers. The collection includes work from 137 poets, and includes big names (Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye) and lesser known but no  less talented poets (Linda Zimmerman, Keith Ratzlaff).

Anthologies are the first taste of a reader's feast.  In fact,
while reading Winter Wren by Sally Green, I wondered, before I had even finished the poem, how I could get more.