Scissors, Paper, Poem

For years, I've loved Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I've given away copy after copy as a go-to guide for writing practice. With all my ardor, I don't know how I missed Wild Mind, Goldberg's second insightful book on building a writing life.

Thanks to a friend's suggestion, I'm immersed in the book. To both loosen and limber up, sometimes I simply need a nudge. Her suggestion of the Cut Up Poem is the perfect push.

How to Make a Cut-Up:  Take some old poems or journal entries and copy them onto a clean sheet. Cut apart the lines with scissors. Now mix the lines and arrange in a new order. Throw in additional lines from other sources. Play around with them, shifting lines, discarding some and adding others to make your own poem.

"It's good practice," writes Goldberg. "It breaks open the mind."

I agree.  And while I usually let poems settle and breathe before I edit and share, these exercises are so liberating that sharing fresh off-the-pen words feels just as good as writing them.


Instead of a letter

What will sustain this scattered joy?
This morning I woke to the word remote.

Perhaps you just need permission
for a do-it-yourself dream that will blossom.

Like the drive-in movie theater once novel and grand,
now dusty and sagging on bitten back roads.

Big Macs replaced smokestacks as an icon of American prosperity.

It takes so little to dream. It takes so much to love.

Instead of a letter, you text me, send a smile made of punctuation.

I’ve never needed much.


How to Breathe

Here, in my lungs, in the tight narrow space
where breath is taken and given away

I’m trying to learn something about love,
how it gives what cannot be seen

We can’t sense space without light, and
we can’t understand light without shadow and shade

I’m trying to learn something about faith,
like a farmer, a fisher, a lover wounded and waiting

Memories lodge in orchards, platforms, docks
Things we make, break, mark

The natural world has much to teach about order —
not the repetitive and simple sort
but the complexity of how we live
in storm and sun, in ebb and flow

As we move through days,
geometry holds the mind,
faith the heart,
and this land
where it juts, retreats and recovers
shows us how to love in the darkness,
how to breathe


These poems were composed from random journal entries, combined with lines extracted from Chambers for a Memory Palace, and Main Street To Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture.

Have you tried a Cut-Up Poem? If not, please do! If yes, please share!



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.