Sunday Morning Muse with an Embarrassment of Novel Riches

In past decades, let’s say my pre-teen years through my forties, I often read more than 50 novels in a year. Then, in my fifties I started reading poetry in earnest.  A poetry lover since childhood, I was less likely to buy books of poetry than to buy novels; less likely to read all the way through a book of poetry than a novel; less likely to have poetry friends to talk with about the poetry I was reading. Then, I started writing poems myself. Now I spend most of my reading time with books of poetry.

But now I have an embarrassment of riches of novels! Three books that I’ve been on a waiting list for at my local library all came to me this week. These are:

The Overstory by Richard Powers- (502 pages!!) 
which was just shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje (285 pages) 
whose The English Patient was a Man Booker winner

There There, by Tommy Orange (304 pages) 
whose short story in the New Yorker inspired me to write a poem, 
but that’s another story.


Can I read three novels in three weeks? In particular the upcoming three weeks? I have my doubts. I’ll probably reorder The Overstory and read the other two. But I’ll keep you posted.

As an aside, I read more slowly than I used to and this means that, though I spend about the same amount of time reading as I used to (given the vagaries of other obligations, for example, work, running a press, writing, volunteering) but digest fewer words. This is partly due to changes in vision which are common at my age, partly due to the slowing-down effect that reading poetry has on its readers, partly due to the distracting effect of screen reading and social media, but in some part, I’m not sure why my appetite is so much less voracious for novels than it used to be. When it comes to novels, I buy few, but often pick up 1/2 dozen at a time from the library. Why? Because these days, I have a new novel reading habit: I often start novels but don’t finish them. In fact, I often go 30-50 pages in and decide “no, I don’t want to read this.” Let’s just call it, “time is running out” for anything that doesn’t enlighten me or bring me pleasure.


In other news, in poetry, the current pile on my nightstand includes:

Unforgetting, Christine Potter (Kelsay Books, 2018)

Prairie Fever, Mary Biddinger (Steel Toe Books, 2007)

Hapax, A.E Stallings (TriQuarterly Books, 2006)

What the Living Do, Marie Howe (W.W. Norton & Co, 1998)

As If, Anna Meister (Glass Chapbook Series, 2018)

Let’s just note, for what it’s worth, the novels are all by men, the poetry, all by women.

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Sunday Morning Muse Without Ado

It’s no longer Sunday morning. I haven’t heard from the muse yet today. I am feeling somewhat gray, like my hair and the weather. I’ve too much on my must-do list when truth is, I really don’t want to do anything. Maybe I need more coffee. Or a nap.

bosie-is-a-girl.jpg The news around here is that the new baby girl has earned her own name. She’s Tig. You may or may not know her lesbian namesake.

Yesterday I did a workshop and reading at the Book Tree in Kirkland Washington. During the workshop, which was meant to be about strategies for getting our poems out into the world,  most of the time was devoted to sharing our ideas about how we create poetry community. I’ve seen a lot of negativity on social media about the larger poetry community, which always unhinges me. My experience, other than the typical frustrations of rejection, has been overwhelmingly positive. It was heartening to hear how local poets solve the problem of finding/making community which supports their ability to stay positive about reading and writing poetry. There are dozens of monthly poetry readings in smaller communities surrounding Seattle, most of which include open mikes. Regular poetry readings are held at libraries, book stores, restaurants, bars. We shared information about free write groups, social media groups where rejections get posted and laughed about, small group work-shopping, writing reviews, book groups that only read and discuss books of poetry. There are annual and biannual regional conferences that most of us attend whenever we can.

I felt like we had just created a poetry community in the room.


Here is the interview I did with Jen Rouse that appears today at Bekah Steimel’s blog 

Her new book, Riding with Anne Sexton, is not simply ingenious, it’s quite a tour de force! I hope you will order a copy!


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Sunday Morning Muse with Bitter Honey

I think about bees when I drip honey on challah and apple slices. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which always seems a more natural time for reflection and endings than in the deadness of winter. The harvest moon. The start of the school year. The end of summer, time to account for whether enough grain has been stored to get us through the inevitable winter months. Although there is argument for January 1st too, a moment when we are poised over the dark abyss, but take heart in remembering that we are going back into the light. Again. I wonder how we bear all of this repetition, so eagerly anticipated in childhood, and so foreboding as we age.  Another year, expectations of ritual celebrations and foods and annual mammograms. I will make apple-honey cake, I always do, and take it to work where my posse of co-workers–whom I have great respect and love for– have come to know and expect that I will feed them the ritual foods of my religion- potato latkes, knaidlach soup, apple-honey cake. I am used to being “the only Jew” but not to so much kindness and curiosity.

And these things that belong to our private selves in contemplation. The winter darkness that I accepted when I moved to the PNW, because I craved solitude and found it here. The inevitable depression I will feel as the rainy darkness overcomes me. I will think about suicide. I always do. I will know that I always do and that it will slowly ebb back into something less dire. The need to write and the knowing that without poetry  life would be too burdensome. The feeling that I am not grateful enough for what I have– my health, a job, a writing life, family.

The manuscript I am working on now is titled, “why I hate to cry”. I cried yesterday listening to a radio program that spoke about social isolation (specifically, the way men–not just straight men– are groomed to avoid emotional relationships with other men, to their detriment.) This interested me, but why was I crying? I suppose I understood that I am “like that”, I avoid emotional relationships, but is it too my detriment? I really can’t say with any certainty.

This is all very complicated, as I contemplate retirement. For so many years I have spent so much of my emotional reserve in taking care of people-as-patients, I don’t seem to have much left for friendship. I wonder if I will be like one of those “men” who retire and find themselves at a loss for meaning. Who fail quickly; who die shortly. Who am I, if this is how I see myself in retirement? And yet, I am longing for the freedom to pursue the possibilities of connection. Of traveling and meeting all the poets that I only know on Facebook and Twitter. Of having meaningful conversations. Of learning to cry again without hating myself for it.

I wish each of us some sweetness in the new year. Layered into what we all fear, even know, is happening. The wrecking ball, the earthquake, the failure of democracy, the loss of habitat, the disappearance of bees, famine and war, cancer, overdoses. All of it. May it be mingled with some sweetness. Some tears. Some love.

Here is a poem. It takes a longer view, I suppose, of how I feel today:

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Sunday Morning Muse with #SeptWomenPoets










I’m in on this: reading women poets in September, which, if you follow on Twitter, you will see delicious suggestions of many, many books you will want to read (or re-read), some poets you’ve never heard of but are grateful to know about, and a sudden urge to spend all of your allowance on (yes) books of poetry by women.

There is no sign-up; there are no rules, no commitment, but the idea of reading books of poetry, reading women poets, reading while thinking “this is a woman, a poet, a book of poetry by a woman” gives a certain delight.

Even if you have been doing this all year long for many years.

I have a pile of books that I intend to read (at least some of) this month, and hope to write reviews of (at least a few) here on my Sunday Morning Muse blog.


What’s up?

I’m excited to be reading in Portland
Incite Queer Writers Read Forum
Wednesday at 7 PM
Literary Arts
925 SW Washington St, Portland, Oregon

Hope to see some Portland friends there! Vancouver WA too!

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Sunday Morning Muse with Smoke at Reentry

I returned osmoken Monday from a week at the Jersey shore and a few days in NYC to a reentry into the smoky conditions of the Pacific Northwest. You can get a visual on how many fires the West Coast of North America is dealing with here.  I’ve also noticed more than a typical number of earthquakes over the past two months. I monitor the ones in the Ring of Fire here. The Ring of Fire is the large basin of land surrounding the Pacific Ocean where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

I think it’s fair to say, at least regarding our fire “season” that we have reached a “new normal” meaning fires all year round in this region. We’ve seen quite a few respiratory problems at the clinic over the past couple of weeks. It’s certainly unpleasant particularly since we only get a couple of months of sunshine where I live, but of course, it’s been worse than just smoke for people and animals in the fires’ paths.


I have a review of Max Ritvo’s forthcoming book, “The Final Voicemails” (Milkweed Editions, 2018), up at the Rumpus.  Max Ritvo was an enormously gifted poet who died at age twenty-five, two years ago, on August 23, 2016, after a prolonged bout with cancer. His posthumous collection, The Final Voicemails, will be released on September 11, 2018.  As a nurse practitioner who cut her milk teeth watching young gay men die in droves in the 1990s, I was tremendously moved by Max’s courageous work in the face of his death. I hope you will read my review, and more so, that you will read his work, which includes the also posthumously published, “Four Reincarnations”. 

I am finding writing reviews of poetry to be very engaging, an activity which forces me to read very closely and deeply into a poets’ work. My next review for the Rumpus will be “The Black Bear Inside Me” by Robin Becker (Pitt Poetry Series, 2018).

Let me know if you want me to review your book on my blog!

I’m also looking forward to seeing an interview I conducted with Jen Rouse, coming soon on Bekah Steimel’s blog. Headmistress Press published Jen’s “Acid and Tender” in 2016, which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize. Jen has a fabulous new book, just released, that you don’t want to miss. It’s called “Riding with Anne Sexton”. Check out this poem from the book that was published on Glass: A Journal of Poetry, called Anne Sexton Talks to God. It will knock your socks off, I promise!

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Sunday Morning in the City

city view


back next week . . . . .

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Sunday Morning at the Jersey Shore

cape may

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Sunday Morning Muse with Worry List

I found I had more on my worry list than could fit into the days I have before I travel.  And so I have delayed my trip and am spending a few vacation days at home instead. However I spend it, hopefully two weeks away from work will be enough time to clear my head of the huge chunk that work occupies, and perhaps, think a bit about what’s next. I expect to retire at 70, now 18 months away. Of course, if I’m well enough (so far, so good on that front), I won’t really leave work I’ve loved for the past 40 years completely behind me, just cut my work hours down to suit my schedule, instead of the other way around. I’ll transition my primary allegiance from nurse practitioner to poet.

I will travel next week to the Jersey shore, as I do every year, to spend delicious, relaxing time with family.  As a new citizen of the Pacific NW, I have learned to feel at home with a different coast and ocean than the one I grew up with. But a year without gazing at the Atlantic from a familiar spot on the Eastern seaboard would be devastating for me.

And during the stay-cation portion, I look forward to several poetry-related tasks:  a book review for The Rumpus; reading a manuscript for my press; feedback on poems from a friend.

And hopefully, some revision work on my current manuscript.  Right now I have about 60 poems I am working with, and I have some tickling ideas about how to strengthen these poems. Something I haven’t done much before is using space on the page differently than same-old left-margin stanzas. I’m having no luck placing these poems, perhaps they are not “quite there” as one journal put it. But more and more, I think they just need to be read as a collection, in conversation with one another. They are also the most personal poems I have written.

The burden of submission-and-rejection is too much for me right now. So I may publish more of them here in my blog.


Pieces of a Story

I couldn’t have reached this place without kinship
couldn’t have been born without my mother
or my father, for that matter, or become who I am
without my brother or the sister who died at her birth
eight years before mine, now an archetype
an absence
much grander than I can ever become
without so much as a whimper.
Or the cousin my aunt gave away (not exactly thoughtlessly)
without knowing the effect
it would have on her in-wedlock children
two born before
and one after
the affair. Or for that matter, the effect of her untimely death
on all of us, god forbid what happened to her daughters in foster care.
And to peripheral me who was ignorant

                   [[[[ ignorant ]]]]

of the born-dead girl and the give-away boy.
As sordidly do I blemish others—
lost custody of my own son, letting go mournfully
like any mother
so much so that most of my story
are the pieces I did not know.



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Sunday Morning Muse with Sun, Son, and Mourning: an Update

Why my son: He is really not a part of this blog, but I will be seeing him soon, so he is much on my mind.

About summer sun: She is shining in Sequim and all over the Pacific NW, and it’s hilarious that after barely a month, people who have lived here much longer than I have are complaining about the heat, when it’s 80 degrees and the rest of the country is sweltering and burning. I am bathing in light and warmth and a little sad because the days are already getting shorter.

What I mourn: All the same things. And a few new ones, it seems, every week.

BosieMy news: I’m getting a new kitty, named Bosie (after Oscar Wilde’s lover- who was kind of a jerk).  I’m fond of the name so probably won’t change it, despite my already-cat named Bo. I’ve considered variations: Boise, Boychick, Oh-boy.  Making strategic plans to avoid cat fights.


What I’m reading: an advance review copy of  “The Final Voicemails” (Max Ritvo) and “Birds of the Pacific Northwest”.

What I’m writing: I’m working on a new poetry manuscript titled “why I hate to cry”. I’m also dusting off a novel and made a commitment to attend a workshop next spring to work on it.

What I’m submitting: Poems to impossible journals- so I can reach 100 rejections before the end of the year.

A poem this blog reminds me of even though it is summer:

Mean distance from the sun, mid-winter, Northern hemisphere

I lie fallow in my seventh decade:
91 million miles
from an imploding fireball
beheld as light
that raced eight minutes
to reach my eyes
and has mercifully allowed me
the miracle
of another breakfast.

(Two shiny eggs
smothered in salsa
atop a tortilla; pined for
in preparation; fleeting
as an orgasm.)

I sit at a table
three thousand miles from the Florida coast:
a knife, a fork
grasped firmly in two hands
and cut myself
into pieces small enough
for a child to swallow.

Nothing is simple.
Not our distance from the sun
nor my distance from my son.

from "Mean Distance From the Sun" (Aldrich Press, 2013)
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Sunday Morning Muse Resurfacing

I spent the past 6 days going to a morning poetry workshop at the Port Townsend Writers Conference with a group of 12 poets, led by Ilya Kaminsky. If you are a poet and you’ve never met, or work-shopped with Ilya, I urge you to do so if you can. He is the most generous, funny, creative and insightful of the many wonderful poets I have work-shopped with at PTWC (and elsewhere) over the past 10 years, each of them delightful in their own way.  How Ilya stands out is for his process, his ability to converse with poetry, his teaching savvy, his inventiveness in overcoming any barriers to getting the poem written. And his generosity, especially. He spent his lunch hours holding in-depth individual conferences with each of us.

I’ve been in a “poetry cloud” for the past week, and need to return to earth. Return to hospice visits, clinic work, volunteering, and the general decline of civilization.  Spending time with poets this week reminds me that there is kindness, generosity, and creativity in this world, and that our work does matter.

here are some small 3-liners from a workshop exercise

The only difference
between sex and death
is sex. 

Gather materials: 
seaweed from a mermaid's hair
corn husks from a pig's mouth

A small problem:
getting from nowhere
to here

Poem, I love you but
why work my ass so hard
when what I long for is a soft landing

my life is the size
of a small cabin in the woods
composed of decades

I only remember riding my bike
in the rain, along empty streets
preparing for the grief to come

As if I came to the Pacific ocean
having known nothing of water
but rivers

We used to have so many suns
but every time a species goes extinct
another one burns out

I watched you crumble
your body unsteady and compressed
your enlarging spleen and those cigarettes




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