Tag Archives: poetry

MARIN POETRY CENTER COVID CONFINEMENT WRITING RETREAT . . .

Hi Everyone. Albert Flynn DeSilver here in West Marin California. I honestly have lost track of whether or not we are still under Shelter in Place orders, especially since I work at home. I’ve had an online business now for several years being a poet, writer, and teacher occasionally getting out to teach LIVE events at places like Spirit Rock Meditation Center, the Esalen Institute, Omega, 1440, and writing conferences nationally, etc. All of course canceled now and gone ZOOMY. This sheltering in place has actually been a surprising and most-welcome boon for my writing and teaching. I grieve at the suffering a pandemic and economic fallout causes, and yet the planet needs a break from all this rampant consumption, right? I see this as a time of great awakening, reflection, opportunity, and creativity. Besides staying at home I do also get out to ride my mountain bike, hike with the dog, commune with the birds, laugh with the clouds, dance between the raindrops, swing from vines of sunshine. . . You know, poet stuff. But enough about me. Let’s get to serving you up some yummy poems, ideas, inspiration, resources and literal food prep direction. Here goes. Enjoy. I hope this serves you well. With blessings and gratitude and in poetry always, Albert

POEM: Because we’re right on the cusp of summer, I’m going to start with THE SNOW MAN by Wallace Stevens (one of my favorite poems EVER):

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

CRAFT: “On Obsession” Mary Jo Bang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaYwK8aw4xU

PROMPT: Write a poem of 10 lines or less from the opposite season. Include the emotion of longing WITHOUT using the word “longing.” Start by hand. Write 10 versions at least one version using your non-dominant hand. Another version should be written in crayon. Only one can be typed.

JOURNAL: I’m going to start with my hometown journal The West Marin Review: https://westmarinreview.org/

RECIPE: from Jennifer’s Kitchen.com

Cherry Milkshake

prep 7 mins

total 7 mins

author jenniferskitchen

yield 1 – 2 servings

Deliciously sweet and creamy with no added sugar.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients except cherries in blender and blend until bananas and dates are chopped.
  2. Add cherries and blend until fairly smooth. Serve immediately.

Notes

I recommend a heavy-duty blender to make this milkshake to ensure the dates get blended well.

*

MPC Covid Confinement Writing Retreat—Day 2 (June 9, 2020)

Hello, Albert here again. Poetry, ahh poetry elixir of the soul. What’s fluttering about in my mind this morning? Painting. Specifically Julian Schnabel, who’s (?) Hulu documentary I watched last night. Talk about poetry! My initial thought as images of his paintings flashed across the screen was ‘I could write an interesting poem about anyone of these works.’ And many of them are imbued with words or at least a word. I remember being a young art student in the mid 1980’s and he had recently come upon the scene and was a massive sensation in New York, and so I went to a show at Pace-Macgill in midtown with my sister in the late 90s. I was already skeptical since my mother—ever the armchair critic said—when I mentioned we were going to a Julian Schnabel show—”oh the broken-plate trouble,” and promptly rolled her criticising eyes. In any event off we went. I remember being wowed by the glitz and glamor of the gallery and space, all the gallerists dressed to the nines as if they were about to dash off to the Oscars. The gilded door frames shimmering brass and glass, glass, glass. And then there you are boxed in a pure white cave at the whim of a confining geometry barely able to breathe or think straight. And out pop these giant red paintings with messy things written on them like “There is no place more horrible on this planet than a fox farm during pelting season” (except maybe a 40X20 foot abstract red painting with those very words hanging in a posh New York gallery and selling for upwards of $500,000). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment in principle , but was this an environmental activist plea? An intellectual mind game? An art-world insider joke? I wasn’t sure and so dismissed it as “bad art.” Hah. Turns out I was jealous. I always dreamed of being a famous artist, or even better making a great living through my art on my terms, which is what Schnabel has always done. I now see his work in context and find much of it brilliant and his commitment to painting and art-making inspirational. Watch this documentary. You will hopefully see the poetry. And even more-so than his paintings, his films are extremely poetic. Basquiat, Before Night Falls, The DIving Bell and the Butterfly, all brilliant. I do NOT recommend the one on Van Gogh. I found it disturbing and physically difficult to watch as he was constantly jerking the camera around to try and mimic Van Gogh’s distorted jittery visual perceptions of the world. Can you say seasickness? Now back to our regularly scheduled program, which is poetry. . .

POEM:

WHY I AM NOT A PAINTER


I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

—Frank O’Hara

PROMPT: Make a painting with a single word in it. OR Write a poem about why you are not some other vocation. Keep it out of the arts. FInd something arcane or archaic. Consider the language. . .like “Sawyer” or “Apirist.”

CRAFT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHvQgy_mCc0

Think about how this relates to your poem-making process.

RECIPE: https://mymodernmet.com/brushstroke-cakes-kalabasa/

11 color chopped salad:

1 carrot chopped, 1 purple carrot chopped, Half a red pepper diced, half a green pepper diced. Handful of mixed greens, half yellow pepper diced, 37 blueberries, 17 blackberries, 12 heirloom cherry tomatoes, 1/4 watermelon rinds cut off cubed, half an apple thinly sliced. Toss with 1 clove garlic crushed in a mixture of canola oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, fresh thyme, and oregano, salt and pepper.

JOURNAL: Lungfull Magazine, one of my all time favs, a New York Institution, the only journal with a 100% waterproof cover and who publishes a rough draft opposite the “final” poem. The editor Brendan Lorber should be (is) a stand-up comic, or a comically standing up poet. I have often mistaken the Zinc Bar on Houston street for the Comedy Cellar on Macdougal street. https://lungfull.org/index.html

Greetings fellow humans, it is day 3—June 10, 2020 and I come to you on meditation day. Every Wednesday I teach a FREE meditation class with discussion afterwards and it is so lovely to hear from everyone on how they are managing the current pandemic and social political uprising from the INSIDE out. Remember the word ‘poem’ means “to create.” Poets are creators. We have for centuries been known not only as creators, but seers, visionaries, shamans, and witches (good ones!!) Don’t let this go to your head. You are still a funny nobody tasked with doing the dishes (yet again) paying your taxes, sweeping off the deck, trimming the hedges, and facing your own mortality. Not to mention showing up to confront the great white tundric expanse of nothingness that is the page. So let’s get to it, shall we?

POEM:

I’M NOBODY! WHO ARE YOU?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you—Nobody—too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! They’d advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!

How public—like a Frog—

To tell one’s name—the livelong June—

To an admiring bog

            —Emily Dickinson (Poem 260, 1870s)

PROMPT: Write a poem about an alternate identity using endline rhyme

CRAFT: Thank you Jennifer Egan (yes this is on character in fiction) but how can you apply it to poetry?? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVdYTjgCEj8

JOURNAL: Another good SF Bay Area journal that is focused on narrative, but also publishes poetry is NARRATIVE https://www.narrativemagazine.com/about-narrative

RECIPE: The closest recipe to “NOTHING” is “something,” something ethereal and superlight like, like, like. . .foam! How about romanian strawberry foam?

  • Strawberries
  • Egg whites
  • Granulated sugar

So the most important thing when making this recipe: use the tastiest, sweetest strawberries you can get your hands on and the freshest possible eggs. The egg whites will remain raw, so buy pasteurized eggs, if you are worried about Salmonella.

  • Wash the strawberries and only remove the green top after washing them, if you cut it off before the strawberries will become watery.
  • Chop them finely and set a small amount aside for decorating the spuma dessert.
  • Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Make sure that the bowl and the beaters you are using are super clean, any trace of fat on them and the egg whites will not stiffen properly.
  • Slowly, start adding the sugar while beating the egg whites and continue until they are shiny and stiff again.
  • Add the chopped strawberries and continue beating until the berries are crushed and the foam has a nice color.
  • Place the strawberry mousse into serving cups (or wine glasses) and serve immediately.

Compliments of “Where is my spoon.com Wow, the advertising on these sites is atrocious!

let’s close today with a photo I took recently on the deck just outside my bedroom.

Spring Morning. March, 2020 Albert Flynn DeSilver. Beauty lives, Beauty saves!

Thursday June 11, 2020. Day four. Hello writers. Happy Thursday. Speaking of Mary Jo Bang, how about we go in with a BANG this morning. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mary Jo back in the 1990s when she came to the Napa Valley to teach at the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference and I had a glorious week of writing in the vineyards all sparked by her terrific writing prompts. A couple years later we read together at the glorious Point Reyes books just outside the Point Reyes National Seashore here in Northern, California. Here’s one of my favorite poems of hers:

The Star’s Whole Secret

Did she drink tea? Yes, please. And after,
the halo of a glass gone.
A taxi appeared out of elsewhere,

Five constellations, Louise said,
but only two bright stars among them. Soon, Ham said,
the whale will reach the knot of the fisherman’s net;

the moon will have its face in the water.
And we’ll ail feel the fury of having been used
up in maelstrom and splendor.

Mother did say, Louise said, try to be popular,
pretty, and charming. Try to make others
feel clever. Without fear, what are we?

the other asked. The will, said Louise. The mill moth
and the lavish wick, breathless in the remnant
of a fire.

—Mary Jo Bang (from Louise in Love, Grove Press 2001)

PROMPT: Write a series or suite of poems based on an imaginary figure. The dream mayor of your town or city, a cousin you wished you had. A cousin you did have but didn’t know at all so you had to invent them. Flesh them out with your words until they become as enigmatic as your best friend.

CRAFT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=_uq7vBGN54w

by Carl Phillips a colleague of Mary Jo’s at Washington University, St. Louis

JOURNAL: http://www.riverstyx.org/ Multicultural & from the Heartland

RECIPE: Shifting tones here good people: This recipe is for Democracy. NOW is the time for us to act poetically as well as engaged citizens (what’s the difference?) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/opinion/george-floyd-protests-race.html

Go forth today and write, speak out, act for change! Our ability to express ourselves freely hangs in the balance!

Greetings poets and writers. Day 5, June 12, 2020. I write to you from the Sierra Nevada near Dorrington, California among the sugar pines and raucous crows, the humming nuthatches, and swish of cars down highway 4 headed for the high country. We have ventured out for the weekend for the first time substantially leaving our house since late January when we flew back to the US from a trip to the Arctic Circle (long poetic story of blizzards, scary plane flights, reindeer, and “fikka”). Upon our return the airport was sprinkled with people wearing masks and agents asking if we’d been to China. Seems like a lifetime ago as we’ve gone full-throttle into world pandemic and American uprising. Never a dull moment this being human. What a time to be alive! What a time to be writing, writing poetry, writing visionary rants and praises and whatever arises. I could go on, but the poems await. . .

POEM:

from Citizen, I

Claudia Rankine

  • A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order the Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college. She wanted her son to go there as well, but because of affirmative action or minority something—she is not sure what they are calling it these days and weren’t they supposed to get rid of it?—her son wasn’t accepted. You are not sure if you are meant to apologize for this failure of your alma mater’s legacy program; instead you ask where he ended up. The prestigious school she mentions doesn’t seem to assuage her irritation. This exchange, in effect, ends your lunch. The salads arrive.
  • A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self.” By this she means you mostly interact as friends with mutual interest and, for the most part, compatible personalities; however, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning. Then you are standing face-to-face in seconds that wipe the affable smiles right from your mouths. What did you say? Instantaneously your attachment seems fragile, tenuous, subject to any transgression of your historical self. And though your joined personal histories are supposed to save you from misunderstandings, they usually cause you to understand all too well what is meant.

*Not sure what the light blue text color is about, but we’re at the limits of my blog technology skills here. With Apologies to Claudia for getting the formatting wrong:)

PROMPT: Write a prose poem about an uncomfortable interaction with another human in which mis-understanding flourished and context withered. Freewrite into the “inappropriate.” Whatever that means to you. Could be about race, class, political persuasion, gender—any point of difference. Do you fall in to position? Opinion? Belief? Is there a space in the writing that opens to something larger between you that you ultimately both long for? You don’t have to show this to anyone. See if you can leave the poem with an opening.

CRAFT: https://www.artidea.org/video-podcast/2100

JOURNAL: Black Warrior Review https://bwr.ua.edu/about/ Most of you reading this are probably white, and this is a legendary American journal that we should all be familiar with and understand the literary contributions of. . .

RECIPE:

The Anti-Racist Cookbook

A Recipe Guide for Conversations About Race That Goes Beyond Covered Dishes and “Kum-Bah-Ya” By Robin Parker and Pamela Smith Chambers

I’m going to get me a copy and start cooking! http://beyonddiversity.org/books/

Dear Poets & Writers, Good morning and happy Saturday June 13, 2020. I write to you from the Sierra Nevada where we had a lovely storm last night complete with lightning, thunder, and sweet sweet rain. This is a novelty in California in June. Before the storm I got to ride my bike out along the Arnold Rim Trail. What an adventure to “Cougar Rock.” No cougars but lots of broken glass, a plastic bottle or two, the ghosts of many a stoned teenager, and possibly some literal ghost of those who had had enough. Cougar rock is a high quartzite promontory on the edge of the Arnold rim, a thousand or so feet above the valley floor. High cliffs, exquisite views, don’t slip.

Okay, so this is day 6 and I feel the wind-down approaching (I’m on for a week only), but must say you all have inspired me. I rather love this blog trouble. I am resistant, you know. If you’ve been to my blog lately you’d notice the last post was in 2017, I think. This week is far more interesting than what I had been posting, and before that I had someone post for me. I know, I know. Every slight twinge of “not-my-voice” sent me reeling. So that didn’t last long. But I do LOVE the idea of continuing this style and format for my email list. What? You are not on it? Jump aboard, there’s lots of FREE writing resources, prompts, classes, online course, etc. And an incredible growing community of writers writing in all genres or not in any genre, just writing because writing is breathing. Let’s breathe together, shall we?

POEM:

Breathing

BY MARK O’BRIEN

Grasping for straws is easier;
You can see the straws.
“This most excellent canopy, the air, look you,”
Presses down upon me
At fifteen pounds per square inch,
A dense, heavy, blue-glowing ocean,
Supporting the weight of condors
That swim its churning currents.
All I get is a thin stream of it,
A finger’s width of the rope that ties me to life
As I labor like a stevedore to keep the connection.
Water wouldn’t be so circumspect;
Water would crash in like a drunken sailor,
But air is prissy and genteel,
Teasing me with its nearness and pervading immensity.
The vast, circumambient atmosphere
Allows me but ninety cubic centimeters
Of its billions of gallons and miles of sky.
I inhale it anyway,
Knowing that it will hurt
In the weary ends of my crumpled paper bag lungs.


July, 1988

Mark O’Brien, “Breathing” from The Man in the Iron Lung. Copyright © 1997 by Mark O’Brien.  Reprinted by permission of Lemonade Factory Press.

Breathing, an act NOT to be taken for granted.

PROMPT: SIt in silence with eyes closed, simply breathing in through the nose and exhaling out through the mouth for a minimum of 10 minutes. Open your eyes, grab a pen, and freewrite for 10 minutes on “The sky within me.” Write margin to margin, whatever’s there urgently and quickly. Don’t try and write a poem, just what’s in your heart-mind in the moment. After 10 minutes stop. Reread and make a poem from this chunk of text using no more than 20 words, no more than 3 words per line.

CRAFT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnvUVDUmWL0

I had the great privilege of attending numerous workshops with David in the late 1990s as part of Lyn Follet’s “Cloud View Poets,” from which an anthology arose. David St. John is a terrific poet and brilliant teacher and an encyclopedia of poetic information. This interview will make you think, if not write

JOURNAL: Let’s go to Los Angeles where David teaches and resides. https://faultline.sites.uci.edu/current-issue/

RECIPE: This book is a GREAT recipe for excellent teaching of poetry to children. Buy a copy and support an essential cause! Thank you: https://www.californiapoets.org/product-page/poetry-crossing-50-lessons-for-50-years

Good evening writers. I write to you this evening day seven Sunday June 14th upon my return home from the mountains. Everything seems so normal until you try and stop for a burrito on the way home through the central valley and have to do curbside pick up. We appear to be unconfined at this point with most Shelter in Place orders lifted, but I am afraid with cases rising across the country we might very well be back sheltering again soon. I hope not, but seeing so many people congregating maskless leaves me wondering. No matter. We write on, reflect on, be on! The human experiment continues. Just this moment. Just this breath. Truly it’s all we have. We are so conditioned into projecting out with our minds, toward fantasy, dream, reaction, memory, perception, opinion and belief—and it’s all so fast, that we forget that “it” can all evaporate in an instant. The “it” of it’s only this, ‘this one wild and precious life.’ The pandemic has brought us nothing if not a greater intimacy with our mortality. And if you have neglected that truth lurking beneath the uncertainty, fear, anger, and whatever other emotions have been surfacing—then you have been self-medicating and avoiding. Understandable, but unfortunate since you inevitably end up missing out on the radiance of presence, the poetics of now, the searing intensity of the immediate. And isn’t that why we read and write poetry? for that ever-harrowing confrontation with the now? So let us confront!

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Jalaluddin Rumi

from Rumi: Selected Poems, trans Coleman Barks with John Moynce, A. J. Arberry, Reynold Nicholson (Penguin Books, 2004)

PROMPT: What emotion is visiting you right NOW? Write a letter to that emotion beginning ‘Dear_____’ talk to it, ask it questions, describe it’s eyes, nails, hair or teeth. How does this emotion move in your body? Does it show up as an animal? WHat material or metal could you compare it’s weight to?

CRAFT: The great Jane HIrshfield on Transitions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASWFFVwj3vI

JOURNAL: https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/poems-of-walking-and-sitting/

RECIPE:

The Tassajara Bread Book has been a favorite among renowned chefs and novice bakers alike for more than thirty years. With complete instructions on making yeasted breads and full of recipes for breads, pastries, muffins, and desserts, Edward Brown offers a unique view on making bread with care and enjoying the results.

Tassajara Yeasted Bread (makes 2 loaves)

This is the basic Tassajara yeasted bread recipe, from which all of the others follow.

I. 3 cups lukewarm water (85° to 105°F)
1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast (2 packets) �” for faster rising and lighter bread, use an additional packet of yeast (about 3/4 tablespoon)
1/4 cup sweetening (honey, molasses, or brown sugar)
1 cup dry milk (optional)
4 cups whole wheat flour (substitute 1 or more cups unbleached white flour to make the dough a bit more cohesive, if desired)

II. 4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup oil or butter
3 cups additional whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat flour for kneading

Dissolve the yeast in water.
Stir in sweetening and dry milk.
Stir in the 4 cups of whole wheat flour to form a thick batter.
Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes).
Let rise 45 minutes.
Fold in the salt and oil.
Fold in an additional 3 cups of flour until the dough comes away from the sides of bowl.
Knead on a floured board, using more flour (about 1 cup) as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board, about 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.
Let rise 50 to 60 minutes until doubled in size.
Punch down.
Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubled in size.
Shape into loaves and place in pans.
Let rise 20 to 25 minutes.
Brush tops with Egg Wash.
Bake in a 350° oven for 1 hour, or until golden brown.
Remove from pans and let cool �” or eat right away.

Variations
The recipes in this section, with the exception of the Ricotta-Olive Bolso and two Focaccia breads, are examples of possible variations of the basic Tassajara Yeasted Bread. All quantities are for two loaves. For each recipe, proceed as with the basic recipe. Variations include the following:
• Water is partially replaced with eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, or mashed banana in some of the recipes.
• If you like a lighter bread (and quicker risings), use an additional package of yeast.
• The possible sweetenings each have a particular nature and are in some instances specified.
• The 4 cups of flour that go into the sponge are specified as “2 cups white and 2 cups whole wheat flour” or “4 cups white flour,” and so forth, as the case might be.
• For the 3 cups of flour in the second part of the recipe, the following ingredients may be substituted: rye flour, rolled oats, cornmeal, millet meal or whole millet, wheat bran, wheat germ, rice flour, barley flour, soy flour. If cooked grains or cereals are added, additional wheat flour will be necessary to compensate (or the amount of water at the start can be reduced). Generally only one or two of these grains or flours are added in addition to the wheat flour. When more grains are used, the bread tends to lose the distinctiveness of its taste. The use of rice flour, wheat germ, wheat bran, and soy flour in particular will tend to make the bread heavier and denser, although this is also true of any of the flours besides wheat.
• Use wheat flour as necessary to knead more (or less) than 1 cup may be required.

Published by Shambhala Publications

Want to be a Brilliant Writer? Attend a Reading!

Want to be a Brilliant Writer? Attend a Reading!

Readings are inspiring in more ways than one. As writers, we often think that writing workshops and classes are the best ways to improve our writing, but we mustn’t overlook the power of listening to words, and their ability to transform us.

In my case, my first poetry reading sparked a life changing event. It was fall of 1994, and I was still at the Art Institute flailing about with my visual artwork, when one afternoon my art history teacher (and fabulous poet), Bill Berkson, mentioned a poetry reading he was participating in at the Cowell Theater. The reading was to celebrate the release of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, edited by Paul Hoover.

I had never been to a poetry reading. I figured, what the heck? I’ll check it out. I went alone and brought my notebook. I was awed by the variety, complexity, beauty, breadth, and humor of the work I heard that night. This was like no poetry I had ever read or heard. I didn’t know poetry could be funny, or visual, or rhythmic without classically rhyming.

Something clicked, something transcendent was happening inside me, and for some reason I thought, “I can do this, I want to do this, I must do this”— and by “this” I meant play with language, explore the possibilities of language and words as filtered through my own mind. From that night, I set out to become a poet.

And every reading I’ve attended since then— while not being as life altering— has made me a better writer. Here are three benefits I’ve discovered from attending readings:

Inspiration

At the first poetry reading I attended, there were a variety of readers who were characters in their own rights: Larry Eigner in his wheelchair, moaning forth his disjunctively odd and sublime poems, then being translated by Jack Foley; Alice Notley and her beautifully insistent lyrics; Ron Padgett with his dry wit and humor; Bob Grenier flipping through his scrawl poems, reading them upside-down in a high-pitched growl. All of this was truly inspiring.

The opportunities to gain insights about character development, dialogue, cadence, and more abound at readings. Attending one can pull you out of writer’s block, help you write that hook you’ve been working on, and inspire you to get more creative with your characters.

Motivation

Being a writer comes with its challenges, one of which is fear— in multiple shapes and forms. Fear is what causes us writers to back off from our writing, to distract ourselves from doing what we love most. There is fear of rejection, of failure, of being vulnerable, of sharing our personal struggles with the world.

But seeing writer after writer perform readings of their works is a useful reminder that if they can do it, you can do it, too. There is also something about seeing people achieve their goals that makes you want to achieve your own goals. So, if you’re lacking motivation, attending a reading is a great way to get reinvigorated.

Writing Skills

As many writers know, perpetual reading is an excellent method for improving your writing skills. Attending a reading has the same effect, but the author is there and available to interact with you. How many times have you read something in a book and wanted to ask the author where they came up with that idea?

Attending a reading gives you access to other writers. Sitting and listening are only part of what happens at a reading. The rest of the time is often filled with discussions about books, writing genres, and methods for improving writing skills. Plus tips and secrets about the publishing industry, if you’re lucky!

Do you have an experience or story to share? Have you ever attended a reading that’s changed your life? What other benefits from attending a reading can you think of? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts!

Reach out to me through email, Facebook, or Twitter and let’s chat!

Write Your Way Around The Bay! Fall 2015

Write Your Way Around The Bay! Fall 2015

The autumn season is a wonderful time to visit the Bay Area. Festivals and harvests abound, the smell of apples permeates the markets, and the weather is almost always sunny but never too hot. My fingers itch to get to the keyboard and turn these autumn delights into poems.

Other writers must feel the same way, because autumn is a wonderful time to write your way around the Bay! This year you’ll find a truly remarkable writing event during each month of autumn, each one located in a different town in the Bay Area. If you didn’t already have an excuse to visit the Bay Area this fall, here are four more reasons below:

September: The Writing for Change Conference

The leaves are changing and so will hearts, minds, and lives at The Writing for Change Conference in San Francisco. On September 12th, writers, publishers, editors, and agents will be participating in this daylong conference in order to turn ideas into published words that will initiate change in the environment, technology, politics, human rights, and more.

The motto for this conference is “The event that shows you how your ideas can change the world.” Attendees will spend the day in workshops, listening to keynote speakers, and making connections that will take their writing to publication. If you’re looking to have your writing make a difference, this is the conference for you! Plus, you’ll be in San Francisco for the best weather the city has all year.

September: Petaluma Poetry Walk

Petaluma combines two of my favorite things on September 20th: walking and poetry. The 20th annual walk will showcase dozens of poets, including Phyllis Meshulam, Nellie Wong, Beatriz Lagos, Rob Greene, Lucille Lang Day, and many more. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through historic Petaluma and pop in to hear some poetry along the way. The event is free and open to all.

October: Litquake

Get ready to shake things up at Litquake this October! From October 9-17, writers and readers can attend literary events and workshops hosted at various venues in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Festival visitors come from as far away as Australia and Europe; it’s the perfect festival for encountering both local and international writers. Meet authors, attend readings and workshops, participate in lit crawls, and join in on the creative fun!

November: Elizabeth Gilbert LIVE in Napa

A tried and true way to become a successful writer is to learn from the best! This November 7th, writers have the opportunity to learn tricks of the trade from best selling author of Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert. Attendees will enjoy an inspirational talk, writing workshops, a Q&A session, gourmet lunch, wine reception, book signing, and more at the Meritage Resort in Napa, California. Plus, a percentage of proceeds will benefit Bay Area Writers in the Schools Programs. Learn more here at Liz Gilbert LIVE!

Whether it’s a festival, poetry walk, lit crawl, or workshop there is something for every type of writer in the Bay Area this fall. I’ll be attending all these events and more, hopefully while sipping a hot cup of apple cider and enjoying the beautiful autumn weather. Hope to see you there!

**Photo credit: “”A tree in autumn season”” by Arivumathi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Improve your writing skills at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference

Improve your writing skills at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference

One of the highest compliments that can be paid to a writer of prose is that their work is “poetic.” What does that really mean? You can find out at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference in my class Explorations: Prose and Poetry”.

Since 1990, the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference has been connecting writers to community. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry luminaries mingle with lesser-known first-time authors—each noted for teaching ability. Visiting faculty are accessible and eager to share their insights about literary craft and the publishing industry. Faculty members are available for “one-on-one” pitches. Participants mingle during informal breakfasts and lunches, conversing about literary craft, marketing, and networking.

“It feels like a big, happy family. It’s small and easy to make friends,” says former director Katherine Brown. Writing groups, book deals, lifelong friendships and possibly even a romance or few have grown from the conference over the years.

Both teachers and attendees come away with new connections, improved writing skills, and inspiration. I’m very much looking forward to sharing my many years of poetry experience with fellow poets. My workshop will explore the core elements of poetry and prose to help writers create more depth in their work.

The conference will happen August 6-8, 2015. More details at www.mcwc.org. Hope to see you there!

How to Write a Poem that Commemorates your Pet

How to Write a Poem that Commemorates your Pet

The grieving process that follows after losing an animal companion can be really heart wrenching. For most people, having an animal companion pass on is like losing a family member. There are many ways to cope with the grief, such as reaching out to friends and family, and there are also ways to commemorate your beloved pet so that their memory will live on with you.

A poem is perhaps one of the nicest ways to commemorate an animal companion. It’s personal and sentimental, and it’s something that is easily shared on social media, can be displayed in a frame, or be kept private. It’s also very therapeutic to put pen to paper and conjure up memories of your pet. The only tricky thing is actually writing the poem! The following tips and writing prompts will make the process of writing the poem go smoothly and easily so that you can focus on healing and creating a beautiful tribute for your beloved pet.

Write down facts about your pet

This is where you start compiling information that you can put into your poem. Writing down facts and details about your pet is also a nice way to remember all the good times and what you loved about your animal companion.

Include facts such as your pet’s favorite food, games they liked to play, and funny habits they had. Also write down details about your pet’s appearance. Did they have long or short ears? Did they have fur, feathers, or scales? Did your pet have any special behaviors or needs that made them unique?

Descriptive words

After you have a list of facts and qualities about your animal companion, make a list of descriptive words that can compliment the words in your first list. For example, if you wrote “brown” for the color of your dog’s fur, you could add “shiny brown fur that was the color of caramel”. Think about textures, sounds, emotions, and expressions.

Play around with making different sentences for the qualities you wrote down in your first list. Maybe “the color of caramel” didn’t sound quite right and you want to change it to “the color of milk chocolate”. Feel free to be as creative and expressive as you wish.

A picture is worth a thousand words

While it may be painful, looking at photos of your pet is a good way to come up with ideas for descriptive words and imagery. You’ll be able to see the expressions on your pet’s face and reflect back on the times when the photos were taken. This process can be very therapeutic. Just be sure to have some tissues on hand because it can really tug on your heart strings.

Poetry comes from the heart

The lovely thing about poetry is that you can really make the writing style your own. Poems do not have to rhyme. The only thing that truly matters is that your poem comes from the heart. You can include family members and friends and write the poem together. Or you can write it on your own. Either way, let the style come easily to you and don’t worry about form or layout.

Rhyming tips for poems

If you do want your poem to rhyme, there are some easy tricks you can use so that the words will flow naturally. First, make a list of words that rhyme with the type of animal you had. That way, you won’t have to try to think of rhyming words as you’re writing the poem. Second, make a list of words that rhyme with your pet’s name. Third, make a list of endearing words that represent how you feel about your animal companion, such as love, happy, and joy.

Lastly, look up examples of a variety of rhyming poems to see which style of rhyming you like best. Typically, a poem consists of stanzas that are four lines each. This does not have to be a rule set in stone. You can play around with the number of lines and stanzas until you find a pattern that is right for you. Pay attention to the number of beats per line so that your poetry will have a steady cadence and rhythm.

Finishing touches

After you’ve written a few lines of your poem, read them out loud to see how the rhythm is starting to form. It’s better to make adjustment in the early stages than to wait until the end. Continue to read your poem out loud every time you’ve written a few more lines.

When you get to the end of your poem, really focus on making the closing line count. Choose words that convey emotion and that pay tribute to your animal companion. Once your poem is finished, it is up to you if you want to share it with others. The poem is something you will have for always, so you can share it when you are ready.

By the time you’ve finished writing the poem, you will have spent quality time healing through the grief of losing your animal companion. It’s important to use things like poetry as a way take care of yourself through this difficult time, because the other place your pet will always live on is in your heart.

For more #BrilliantWriter tips follow Albert Flynn DeSilver at Facebook.com/Albert.Flynn.DeSilver.Author

A Poem for Cheryl Strayed

As host of the recent “Writing, Truth, and Community” event featuring best selling author and creative writer Cheryl Strayed, I was blessed with the task of introducing Cheryl, who has by now, been introduced in so many fabulous and interesting ways by so many fabulous and interesting luminaries, that I was wondering what little old me could possibly add to the mix? So in my poet-like bewilderment and terror, I couldn’t think of what else to do except what I always do with such surges of emotion. Write a poem! She was so genuinely touched, that she mentioned how when she met Robert Redford, though he kissed her four times, he did NOT write her a poem. My life is now complete, I can die a happy fulfilled man!! The poem is copied below. Enjoy!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Cheryl Strayed (after Wallace Stevens)

I

Among twenty snowy mountains
The only thing moving
Was the eye of a woman with a blue backpack
Called “monster”

II

She was of three minds
Like a tree with three branches
Of grief, of hope, of love

III

The woman whirled in the summer winds
A tiny speck of brilliance in the setting sun

IV

A woman and a mountain are one. A woman
And a mountain, and a grieving heart are one

V

I don’t know which to prefer, the beauty
of subtle thought, or the beauty of mountain dreams—
the woman weeping, or just after

VI

Charcoal clouds drifted across the tops of the sugar pines,
oh dear future sugar. . .the mountains frowned
her solitude thickening, the trail steepened

VII

Oh good people of the city
why do you imagine only golden words?
Do you not see how the blackbirds
nest in her trees, as in yours?

VIII

I know of noble songs, of grand ideas,
I know the woman with the blue backpack
is involved in what I know

IX

When the woman took flight
as now a bluebird might, it marked the beginning
of many endings

X

The sight of the woman
in the blue backpack with her heart full of
birds, full of words,
would make the mountains cry out
in understanding

XI

She walked the spine of California
on winged feet made of glass
on hammered feet of blood and pulp
the mystery and beauty eclipsing the fear
of an unknown. . .the pain of surrender

XII

The river is flowing
the woman must jump in

XIII

It was daytime all night long
from then on, the blackbirds in the night tree were
singing for her, a song abloom with the clarity of love

The Greatest Writers Retreat

[This is from my Redroom.com blog, that I actually just won a contest for–free admission to the USC  Writers’ Conference–and I can’t go :(]

The greatest writers retreat is into your self, into books you love, into the wildness of nature, into the chaos and beauty of your deepest emotions. As for actual retreats, in the late 1990’s I had the blessing of being a campground host at a remote state park called the Sinkyone Wilderness on the Northern California coast. The folks who had been campground hosts, had been so for years, were super-attached to their position, and it was extremely rare to get the gig. I just happened to luck out and my timing was right when a long-time participant had a family emergency and needed someone to fill the spot. March was not a popular time for anyone to be out there, but for a poet and artist haunted by his past and enchanted by his present, it was perfect!

The following excerpt is from my memoir “Beamish Boy,” which includes a chapter from this extraordinary experience that became the ultimate writer’s “retreat” into my self! Enjoy!

 

Alone in the Sinkyone

 

I had never ventured north of Sonoma County and was in awe driving west out of Garberville, California as I passed through a sweet little remnant old-growth redwood forest down by the Eel River, then followed the road out toward Shelter Cove, where it got more and more wiggly, meandering up and down through blond hills and densely forested patches of third-growth redwood and Douglas fir. I continued on through a couple of old settlements that have come and gone over the years. They were just clusters of houses with junk cars strewn about and old, rusty signs advertising a stopover for lunch or gas. Whitethorn is one of these places, once teeming with a tan-bark mill at the turn of the century and then for a while at mid-century, inhabited by Beats and hippies. It now appeared mostly abandoned, except for some back-to-the-land holdouts and pot growers hiding out in old school buses and VW campers being reclaimed by blackberry and wild ivy.

At Whitethorn, the road turned to dirt, met up with the headwaters of the Matole River for a while, then split at Four Corners where there used to be a stage stop and an old hotel. I took a slight right  to head into the Sinkyone Wilderness, named for the native peoples that roamed this wild land for thousands of years before European settlers showed up in the late 1800s. This is known as the Lost Coast, the one section of Highway 1’s coastal route that stymied the engineers. At the Usal Beach Road, Highway 1 gets diverted inland due to the exquisitely rugged terrain and the fact that this is one of the most seismically active areas of California.

I proceeded nervously down the Needle Rock Road into the heart of the Sinkyone, as the road narrowed to one lane and descended more and more steeply. I couldn’t help but notice that I was at the abrupt end of the continent. The land practically breaks off there, with the Pacific thundering a thousand feet below. The Ranger had told me it might be best to leave my car at Four Corners, as there are frequent mudslides, downed trees, and rockfalls throughout the Winter and early Spring. Down I wound, vultures flying below me through the fog and mist while I kept an eye out for elk who were known to trot lazily across the road.

Out my rolled-down window, I heard a redtail hawk shriek and watched him ride a thermal high above a tiny meadow. Lyle Lovett was on the tapedeck singing “If I had a boat, I’d head out on the ocean, and if I had a pony, I’d ride him on that boat, and we could all together head out on that ocean, me up on my pony on my boat . . .”

It took a good thirty minutes going fifteen miles per hour before I finally arrived at an open meadow a hundred feet or so above the sea, and there in the middle of the meadow sat the Needle Rock House. Once a homestead site, it is now a visitor center with an apartment in the back for a campground host. I was that host for the month of March in 1997 and 1998—two of the most magical months of my life. After my first visit in 1994, I had asked the ranger how to get on the list to volunteer. He said there was a three-year waiting list, but that sometimes people have to back out because of personal emergencies. I put my name down and followed up some months later. Sure enough, one of the longtime volunteers had to take care of an ill relative and gave up her slot for March of 1997. I stayed in the humble little Needle Rock House through the dramatic spring weather, sipping tea, reading books, writing poetry, painting, meditating, and hiking every nook and cranny I could find in thirty days’ time. I used to hike up to Chemise Mountain to watch the sunset, or head out to Bear Harbor to explore the rocks and shells. I’d walk the length of the beach (always negotiating the tides) out to Whale Gulch to birdwatch, whalewatch, or otherwise contemplate the great, infinite magic of existence. A poem from that time reads:

 

 

Needle Rock Mountain

from the tongue

of four

ravens spill cobalt cloud

shadow paintings

on the sea

 

 

The photo self-portrait (the one that ended up in my final show at the Art Institute) epitomizes my experience of being at the Sinkyone. My pale body is caught in a bright shaft of sunlight dancing blurred against the backdrop of a giant charred-black redwood trunk. I appear as an angelic forest sprite, almost lifting off the forest floor, blooming and ascending through a giant bouquet of sword ferns and into light, emerging from the darkness of the world and merging into the light of an eternal, more-awakened self.

When I arrived for my first month-long stay in 1997, the first thing I did was hike down the steep, washed-out bluff to Needle Rock. At the bottom, I was met with the bloated remains of a recently dead elk. The smell was incredible, and I couldn’t help wondering how the animal had wound up there at the base of the cliff. Had it fallen and broken a leg? Had it died of old age? During the month I was there, I visited the carcass almost daily and watched it decay, from distension and bloat to rot and animal scavenge down to the bones and head, which were the only parts left as I packed up in early April to leave.

I was about a week and a half into my stay when the ranger came down one day with the news that I had an important phone call.

It was Etoile. I hadn’t heard from her in years.

“Hello?”

“Al, it’s me, Etoile.”

“Who?”

“It’s Etoile, Al, St. Luke’s, remember me? Helloooo!” She said sounding frustrated and serious.

“Holy shit, Etoile, oh my God, how are you?” I said excitedly, with a pang of nostalgia sweeping through my heart.

“I’m okay, but listen . . . I need to tell you. . . I don’t know how to say this, but. . . Raine’s dead.” Silence.

“What?”

“She died last week in a car wreck in Florida. I thought you’d want to know.”

“Oh my God, I, I, I, I—wow, this is fucked up. What the . . . Jesus . . . I’ve been so out of touch— but I didn’t even know you two were close.”

“Yeah, we became friends when I was in Denver, and then we actually moved back to Connecticut around the same time. I saw her three months ago, before she left for Florida. She got back with an old boyfriend who was doing a lot of drugs, and— I don’t know what exactly happened.”

“I, I, I, I . . .” I couldn’t stop stuttering.

“I know, I’m so sad, Al.” She broke down, which inspired me to burst into tears.

“I’m so sorry, Etoile,” I said, sniffling. “Is there anything I can do from here?” I was at a loss of what else to say.

“Me too,” she said, “me too—I don’t know, maybe you could write to her family, tell them you were a good friend, and tell them what she meant to you.”

I was shocked and devastated, and flooded with reignited guilt. But I set aside all the conflicts and confusion of our past, and did write to Raine’s family with awkward, yet sincere condolences, then went down to the beach and wailed and screamed into the waves.

The ocean didn’t care, my dead elk friend didn’t care, the sky didn’t care, but somehow they all listened, and held me as I lay in the black sand, sobbing. In the days that followed, I made little altars for Raine on the beach. I prayed for her peaceful passage, and I prayed for her forgiveness. I filled my notebooks with a wobbly poetry of grief, regret, death, and rebirth.

 

 

We Kiss Ourselves Against This Thorny Mirror


 

We kiss ourselves against this thorny mirror

face our punctured lips

clean up our deflated kiss                   against

this thorny mirror       begin

again in the name of love . . .

 

. . . I will beam ecstatic float and drown

and resurface once again against that thorny mirror

upon which we kiss ourselves

release the wounds and embrace the world!

 

 

While in the Sinkyone, I kept obsessive notebooks that were not only filled with poems, but also drawings, watercolors, favorite words, journalistic drivel, and various quotes. I had endless amounts of time on my hands. The park was quiet at that time of year, though an occasional local might come by to visit. Otherwise, I just hung out and read, wrote, ate, slept, meditated, and walked or hiked. Thinking back on it now, one day at the Sinkyone was like a month in my current life. A year these days seems to fly by in the span of a single month. Out there in the Sinkyone, each day I was meeting eternity face to face, keeping time by the sun and stars, the shouting waves, and the sound of the singing rain.

The other thing I did a lot of was read. I read five hundred pages of dialogues with the obscure Indian mystic Nisargadatta Maharaj, called I Am That. Twice. I read Lorca’s biography and collected poems forward and backward about twenty-seven times. I read Gertrude Stein until my brain started to burble and seep out my ears, until I would run naked, laughing hysterically, into the meadow, tears of confused joy streaming across my face like frayed silver ribbon. I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, lamenting how I had missed the boat on a life of serious Euro-bohemianism. I read books on physics and the origins of the universe, and then a terrific book called An Everyday History of Somewhere, about the history of this most remote stretch of Northern California coastline: the Native Americans, the miners, the loggers, the hippies, and the back-to-the-land pot growers.

All this time of reading, writing, and just being, was heavenly. There was such an intense immediacy to the landscape, and a lack of regular distractions (TV, the computer, socializing, making money). I became emotionally raw and open, clear of mind and filled with an inspired happiness and joy. Around this time, I had begun to ask those great, timeless human questions: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? These questions enchanted and sometimes haunted me. In a way, I felt as if I was finally living them here in the Sinkyone, in this space of wild simplicity. And yet, like everything, it was temporary. Temporary, with a taste of the eternal.

One evening, I was hiking down Chemise Mountain at sunset when I came around a slight turn in the trail and I found myself on the edge of a steep cliff more than a thousand feet above the ocean. The waves were crashing below with their little foam doilies shifting across the sand and then disappearing—and suddenly facing me, was a huge male elk with a massive rack of antlers. Our eyes met and we stared at each other, frozen in time, suspended in the salt air in a kind of magical embrace, species to species. I don’t know how long we stayed in our embrace, but it was a brilliant sliver of eternity.

At that moment, my heart burst open, and my vision became incredibly clear. The elk finally wandered into the brush and I kept walking, and my surroundings continued to glow—the ocean rushed into my eyes and receded, the redwoods laughed, the clouds breathed in sync with my lungs, the alder leaves shimmered electric green. I started to cry and I didn’t know why, except that I was just overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of this merging experience, by the simple yet profound lack of separation. At that moment, the self I knew as Albert merged into elk and alder, ocean and sky. In that moment, I became awake to the immense presence and infinite beauty of this world, and instantly realized, yes, I am that!