November 2022

In the bookcase beside my desk, I keep An Emily Dickinson Year Book. Published in 1948, it has pages made of that thick creamy paper of old books. Each day offers an excerpt from a poem or a letter. November 3 offers a particularly curious line from a letter: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”

Why Norway? I was so intrigued by Dickinson’s choice of country that I brought the quote to an advanced poetry workshop where students and I respond to daily writing prompts. Dickinson’s words took me quickly into lengthening nights and cold days, into a meditation on my own turning north in winter, when I go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota to ski and write, to celebrate obscenely early happy hours of beer and popcorn with my partner before night wraps the cabin in -20 degrees.

Some quick checking confirmed that Dickinson never traveled to Norway. She associated November with a country she knew only through books or letters. I found more context in the letter, dated 1864. She wrote, “It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sunsets sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign.” Ah, there it is. Light that makes the familiar foreign. That’s November. And here we are.

As I worry about the economy, the election, and the strange dreams in which I’m running in wooden sandals in the rain or climbing endless stairs to nowhere, writing with others calms me. It quiets the energy of a weird dream that I drag through the day like a deflated parachute.

When we turn back the clocks tomorrow, I’ll believe I’ve gained an hour. Something real, like coins or a print book.

November brings acceptances, rejections, and beautiful things in the mail, like this new issue of the Bellevue Literary Review. In my essay “What Anna Ludwig Saw,” I visit the history of the first human X-ray through my own experience of studying X-rays of my broken hand a few years ago.

New poems are forthcoming, so please check back.

And if you’re looking for a writing prompt, use Dickinson’s observation of November as the opening of a draft that you let surprise you. 

October 2022

View from my office, St. Olaf College

This update follows months of transition. From remote living back to in-person activities and teaching, from prairie to mountains back to prairie, and now summer turning to fall. I’m not the kind of gardener who covers the tomatoes and mums and marigolds to prolong them. I admire that care and dedication. But, I just let go, like the woods and the prairie, even though the morning after a killing frost is hard to face. Brown edges and dull colors. Then neighbors are out stringing lights, and a different sense of day and night and color emerges.

Through these transitions, some new poems and essays are making their way. I’m grateful to journal and book editors who have weathered surges in submissions, backlogs, canceled readings, delayed printing, and overall disruption.

The Fall Anniversary Issue of Stirring is now available, including my poem “Small Bones.” The features and artwork are stunning. Please take a look.

Bellevue Literary Review‘s issue 43 just arrived from the printers, and I’m to looking forward to reading. This journal feels like a welcoming home to me as my interests and research move more into a blend of humanities, art, and science. My essay, “What Anna Ludwig Saw,” looks into the history of xrays in context of my treatment for a broken hand.

Later this fall, another essay and new poems are forthcoming. Please check back. Here’s to transitions, letting go, and discovering what remains.

July 2022

Postcards, postcards, postcards

I enter July thinking about reversals.

After the recent Supreme Court vote, I’m working to reject and respond, to thwart further reversal and denial of human rights.

This morning on my way to yoga at Prema Studio, someone on the radio noted that we’ll lose 50 minutes of light in July, 14 minutes during the coming week. The inevitable reversal of light. My first thought was to set an intention for today’s yoga practice to receive and hold on to light. Then I wondered how I might experience this seasonal change differently if I focused on letting go instead of holding on. What if I create space for longer darkness, more stillness?

As a rhetoric teacher, I think a lot about different responses for different purposes. This morning’s question was a reminder that I can gain energy to respond to one reversal by embracing other reversals.

We began our yoga practice with legs up the wall, reversing the flow of fluids, taking pressure off a complex system of veins and arteries that I too often take for granted. I felt restored and energized by the end of that segment of our practice.

As a writer and visual artist, I switch between words and images to let one energize the other. Sometimes the two come together, as in the visual poems in Heron Tree posted last month. At other times, I stay in one medium–book arts, collage, or fabric postcards, pictured above. I love postcards of any kind. They were the artifact and genre for my chapbook This Space for Message. I favor them because they are small and they invite fragments. And they are reversible. One side is typically the image, the “I am here” of the moment. The flip side is blank space, but not so much that it’s intimidating. It’s just enough for a few words to connect with someone.

We began and ended our yoga practice with this quote, paraphrased here: “I reflect in stillness before moving into purposeful action.”

Light and darkness. Word and image. Fullness and blank space. Done and undone. These pairs seem like binaries, but only if we ignore the immense gap between them. I’m living in the gap this month. Where are you?

June 2022

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments, a law that transformed sports opportunities for girls and women in the U.S.  I dedicated a hefty chunk of twenty years to co-authoring Playing for Equality (2016), a collection of oral histories that chronicle Title IX’s passage and implementation. While offering the facts of the law, these stories of eight women–physical educators, coaches, Olympic athletes, and administrators–are snapshots of the daily efforts required to overcome inequity and create legal and social change.

Some of the writers I now coach ask how I stuck with the project for so long. I admit, I was often lost in the evolution of sports governance for girls and women because the facts are buried in archives beyond the internet. But the stories kept me going. Celeste Ulrich loved to play as a child, and she told us how she turned that passion into a teaching and coaching career, and ultimately applied that experience in her work as a college dean. Five-time Olympic athlete Willye White brought us inside the racist, sexist practices of the games and her training leading up to each competition. Their perseverance inspired me through every revision.

Today, June 23, I’m thinking about the excitement, the risks and sacrifices, and the energy required to create social change. You might find this book at a local library, purchase it through a local bookstore, or learn more on my For Readers page.

In other news this month, Heron Tree published two word and image poems in Volume 9. The journal publishes found poems created from public domain books. Editors add to the volume throughout the month. I invite you to take a look now and return for more.

Two new essays are forthcoming. Please check back for details. I’m ever grateful to editors and readers for your support.

If you’re heading out to play on this summer day, or facing challenges and obstacles, I wish you inspiration and strength. May stories be your guide.

May 2022

I enter May grateful for community art spaces and the opportunity to come together to make and share and inspire. This weekend I wrapped up a productive National Poetry Month at the Red Wing Arts Poet Artist Collaboration. I met artist Lynn Brown, whose painting “Wild Again” responds to my poem “No Longer Wild.”

I recently completed Interrelations, an artist’s book drawing from Anna Botsford Comstock’s How to Keep Bees (1905). The inspiration came from Heron Tree‘s call for found poems. The journal published one poem I submitted, and I was so involved with Comstock’s book that I made Interrelations with text from Chapter XVIII, “Interrelation of Bees and Plants.” You can see more of the book on my Word and Image page. I debuted the book during a reading from The Feast Delayed at Content in Northfield.

5 Editions of Interrelation

You may find a new poem among fine words in Issue 2 of RockPaperPoem, an upcoming journal sponsored by the League of Minnesota Poets.

Although the weather has been grey, reflecting the heaviness many of us feel about COVID, wars, and racial injustice near and far, April enabled me to connect with hope. At each reading, and for several Monday evenings with a writing class at the Northfield Arts Guild, I was able to see beyond worry into the power of centering art in community. Art doesn’t always solve problems, but it shapes how I see and respond. Please watch this space for new publications and upcoming events.

Bookmaking at Northfield Arts Guild

March 2022

Between winter and spring live days of reawakening, solitude, and curiosity. For hours I ski and reflect on changes that occurred during the darkest months. This weekend, I thought about longtime friends affected by war. Fresh air and sunshine settle me to read poetry. I return to worn copies of books by Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, and more. My annotations remind me of how much I didn’t know when I read their books in my 20s, my 30s, again and again, and how much still I have to learn.

As I plan for coming events, I imagine how to invite the voices that have influenced me. In some ways, they exist in my poems. In other ways, I integrate them at events by reading from their books as well as my own.

Here’s where you can find me reading, teaching, and in print this spring:

April 7, Poetry Reading and Discussion, 7:00 pm Content Bookstore, Northfield, MN. This event will be live on Facebook. Please check back for details.

April 24, Poetry Reading, Amanda Bailey, Becking Boling, D.E. Green, Diane LeBlanc, Casey Patrick, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, Red Wing Depot, Red Wing, MN

April 29, Red Wing Arts Poet Artist Collaboration Exhibit. Please follow the link for locations and details.

Heron Tree has begun to post poems for Issue 9, which features found poems from fiction and nonfiction published before 1927. The issue will include two of my poems in June.

The Strategic Poet: Honing the Craft edited by Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books, has made a fabulous debut. I’m looking forward to spending time with this book of craft essays, model poems, and prompts during a summer residency.

And if you’re thinking about revitalizing your writing practice this spring, check out this Writing Series I’m teaching at the Northfield Arts Guild, Mondays, 6:30 – 8:00 pm, in April.

April 4, Write Into Spring

April 11, Revealing the Language of Metaphor

April 18, The Single Poem Book

As always, a few surprises are in the works. Please check back, be kind, and stay well.

January/February 2022

As I typed the slash between the months in the title of this post, I thought, “how true.” One month tethers to another as we navigate, slowly, each new step of a new year/an old pandemic. How, then, do I make or recognize change?

One morning this week, I was looking out my garden window while practicing yoga. A black-capped chickadee landed in the lilac bush and remained for the entire time, even though it was -20 degrees. As I was moving into stillness, this little bird was mirroring jumpy transitions and constant shifts in its gaze. But in a small way we were in sync, up early, in our element, perhaps moving to stay warm, preparing for the day.

The coming weeks will be a time of preparation as I look forward to upcoming publications and activities.

January 31 — A new essay will be out in Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. I received two beautiful books of poetry and photography from the editor Randall Brown this week. Those gifts sustain.

April 4, 11, 18 — I’m teaching a 3-class Writing Series for multiple genres at the Northfield Arts Guild (in-person). Classes are available individually or as a sequence. The emphasis is on creativity and play as we learn more about generative practices, metaphor, and the single poem as a book.

April — Watch for details about readings and forthcoming poems and essays.

Although there are no birds outside my window this morning, the sun is shining. Time to go exploring after last night’s light snow. I hope your days bring wild movement and stillness, imagination, and energy.

December 2021

Cover Art: Molly Keenan RetroFutures Designs

Earlier this week, I visited a poetry class that was reading my new collection of poems, The Feast Delayed. I enjoy talking with readers, especially college students who are discovering the elements of craft and writing toward a better understanding of their voices and identities. A few of their questions surprised me with their levels of complexity about individual poems and the collection. One student asked why I move backward and forward in time without calling attention to the shift. Are these moves intentional? Is it okay if readers feel disoriented? My response was briefer than the question deserved, but I explained how experience, image, and memory sometimes work as one force in a poem. When the three together spark language that will be the poem, the blurring is the constellation of experiences that Denise Levertov defines in “Some Notes on Organic Form.” If we’d had more time, I’m sure we would have talked much more about the origins of a poem.

This week also brought exciting news in the poetry world. Poets & Writers recognized The Strategic Poet (Ed. Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books, 2021) as one of its Best Books for Writers. It’s a bottomless well of strategies for writers by writers. I contributed a sample poem to illustrate apostrophe, and I’m inspired by the range of poems within and across sections. The collection is structured by the elements of craft (descriptive detail, diction, imagery, and more), so users can follow the sequence or move around according to interest. With craft talks, prompts, models, and sample poems, The Strategic Poet is that essential book to have at a writing residency, for writing groups, and near any poet’s desk. It’s an ideal holiday gift for writers.

As always, some new publications and events are in the works, including a limited series new artist’s book. Check back for details. Wishing you a calm and safe December.

November 2021

Tonight I’ll turn clocks back an hour and change my relationship to light for the coming months. I’m a morning person, now eager for early light to walk the dogs, write, prepare for each day. I don’t mind the longer evenings. We’re coming into a quiet season of more solitude, more creative time.

I’m celebrating the notions of harvest and fruition with readings and more recognition related to The Feast Delayed.

Creative writing faculty at St. Olaf gathered with community on campus on November 4 for a celebration of recent publications. I was in good company with colleagues Cole Bucciaglia and Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, and special guest reader William Pierce (Coeditor of Agni).

. . . And a reminder that books and literary journals are holiday gifts that can be read, shared, and donated.

Photo Credits: Jennifer Kwon Dobbs

October 2021

How quickly fruition turns to transformation. The mums are a purple chorus in the front yard, with one more holding closed buds whose color I can’t remember. The surprise will be magnificent in a few days. Meanwhile, the maple trees are shedding leaves, layers upon layers in streets and yards. Poet Janet Holmes once noted that poems often privilege sight above the other senses. This time of year I’m reminded to observe and record the smells of autumn, taking up again the challenge to describe the scent of marigolds lingering on my fingers after I pick off the spent blossoms. For now, the words remain “the smell of marigolds,” a placeholder as I go deeper, get closer, live with it.

This time of year, too, means announcements and deadlines. I’m grateful to Sweet: A Literary Confection for nominating “Damage Control” for a Best of the Net award. Sweet has a new look and a delicious new issue. Please visit their site.

“Mountain Quartet,” a new short essay, recently went live in Atticus Review. While you’re there, you can sign up for The Weekly Atticus, all about writing and writers, delivered each Saturday morning.

Much will have changed when I return for a November post. Who knows what new stage of pandemic or recovery we’ll be living in. Like many human and non-human animals in Minnesota, I’ll be preparing for winter. I’ll also be submitting grants, poems, and essays while looking forward to a reading with creative writing friends at St. Olaf. Details on that and new publications coming soon . . . .

Update: Faculty Reading, Cole Bucciaglia, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Diane LeBlanc, November 4, 7:00 pm, Boe Chapel Undercroft