Moving on...

Starting today, 1/1/2012, I'll be blogging at the stanza: a little room for poetry & the writing life. I hope to see you there.


Reading and Retrospective

First, Reading.
Those of you who have been reading here for a while may remember that I always post a list of books read in each year. Although I have lower than usual confidence in my record-keeping for the wild and crazy 2011, here's the list (and please forgive me for not properly formatting titles):

At Home: A Brief History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Adam and Eve a novel by Sena Jeter Naslund
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Blood Almanac poems by Sandy Longhorn
Threshold poems by Jennifer Richter
Rookery poems by Traci Brimhall
The First Four Books poems by Louise Gluck
Gilead a novel by Marilynne Robinson
Housekeeping a novel by Marilynne Robinson
The Forgotten Garden a novel by Kate Morton
Wuthering Heights a novel by Emily Bronte
A Room with a View a novel by E.M. Forster
Pearl of China a novel by Anchee Min
Rebecca a novel by Daphne duMaurier
The House at Riverton a novel by Kate Morton
Sacred Hearts a novel by Sarah Dunant
A Gate at the Stair a novel by Lorrie Moore
Private Life a novel by Jane Smiley
Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads by Rosalind Wiseman
Heart's West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enss
The Beekeeper's Apprentice a novel by Laurie King
Today's Special Dish poems by Nina Lindsay
A Reliable Wife a novel by Robert Goolrick
The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine
WAIT poems by Alison Stine
The Everything Tween Book by Linda Sonna
Selected Poems by H.D.
Colosseum poems by Katie Ford
When Will There Be Good News? a novel by Kate Atkinson
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

up next:

No Eden poems by Sally Rosen Kindred, and
Death Comes to Pemberley a novel by P.D. James

And now, Retrospective.
Reader, Both Fires is almost three years old. My how time flies.

In those three years of my life as mother, we've gone from little ones, to big-ish ones; from the bird theater to exclamations of "Epic fail!" and "Whatever." (Oh, how I detest 'whatever.').

In those three years of my life as writer, we've gone from the fledgling poet just trying to connect to the world of poetry a bit, to the still-fledgling poet who is now sending out her work on a regular basis and sometimes even getting acceptances; from the mom who felt guilty taking time off to write, to the writer who knows her children will be better and stronger because she pursues her own creative life without apology.

In those three years of my life as person, we've gone from the teeny tiny woman (who, I'm glad to tell you, doesn't live here anymore) to a gal who, yes, has a chronic illness but who now has the right meds and a clearer diagnosis, and who can see her illness more as a sculpting life force than an invisible box.

I've enjoyed writing here, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading.

Starting tomorrow, I invite you to join me at the stanza, where the story of mother, of writer, of person, poet and pilgrim, will continue. I hope to see you there.

Reader, I wish you peace, joy, and everything wonderful in 2012 and beyond.


Thoughts for the New Year

Hello, Reader. What are you doing today?

Here in the Peninsula Town, we are cleaning the good ship Rack 'Em and Stack 'Em. Husband is swabbing the decks. I'm tending to the galley (although, obviously, I've just snuck off to write this post), and the cabin boys and girl have been ordered to tidy their quarters. Aye, aye, sir!

The close intersection of our big cleaning day and the turn of the year reminds me of something Jane Hirshfield spoke of at the reading I attended earlier this fall. She told the audience that each year at New Year's she cleans, or attempts to clean, every surface and object in her house. As she explained it, this is an annual ritual observed by Buddhists. She said that, although she has been doing this for many years, each year she always finds something that she has never cleaned before.

I find this idea fascinating: just to touch each and every surface and object that form the space one calls home... and to find places, spaces, things, that one has never touched... and then, to touch them for the first time.

I imagine that within the context of a healthy dose of Buddhist detachment, this ritual cleaning is very life-giving. However, trust me: here at the good ship Rack 'Em and Stack 'Em, under the overhang of Catholic guilt, we are attempting no such feat.

Still, I have ritual on the mind. Ritual, perhaps from the Proto-Indo-European re(i), "to count, number" via the Latin for rite, "religious observance or ceremony, custom, usage."

The holidays are rife with ritual. Even now the masses are going through the ritual contemplation of New Year's resolutions, no? Well, not me. I'm not much one for resolutions this year -- probably because of the way all my best-laid plans and goals for 2011 were cleansed away by Moving to California. This year, I'm thinking: I might exercise more, or I might not. I might eat more veggies, or I might not. I might put a chapbook together, or I might not (I pause here to offer extra credit for anyone who can tell me where this phrase comes from: "Might go to Yale. Might not.") As for New Year's rituals, we don't have any hard and fast ones around here. Sometimes we cook a nice dinner, then the kids complain about it and hardly eat, then we all go to bed. Sometimes not.

As I look to 2012, I'm thinking only

natural bridge at Santa Cruz

shape and be shaped

pacific beach

stay on your path, the one you were made for

Skyline hike

keep things in perspective


And, although I don't have a photo of it, the sign I caught sight of at a coffeeshop I drove by yesterday (and although I just had to get up from my desk, go into my bedroom, and lock the door to get it, and although someone has been hanging on that locked door crying "Mommeeeeee! Mommeeee! Mommeeeee!" for the last 10 minutes),

relax, you have plenty of time

Happy 2012, Reader.

(P.S. etymology info here)



Merry Christmas!

once a Michigander, always a Michigander


Makin' Copies

the way cut and paste used to be
If you were out for an early morning walk on my street this week, so early that the sun hadn't yet risen, you may have seen a lamp burning in a corner window of my house. I was at my desk in the glow of that lamp, in the sweet, quiet hours of pre-dawn. I was not doing any of the following:

1. ordering gifts
2. preparing holiday cards
3. wrapping presents
4. planning holiday menus
5. stringing popcorn
6. baking cookies
7. etc, etc, etc

What I was doing is this: Going through my file folder labeled 'handouts.' Cutting poems and poet bios out. Arranging them on a piece of paper. Taping them down. Jotting down notes and attributions. Makin' copies (anyone else remember that skit from Saturday Night Live?).

This is a little labor of love I have going on. When I see a poem that I think is (a) wonderful, (b) interesting, (c) particularly well-crafted, (d) about to take off the top of my head, (e) stirring something inside for me that I need to write about, or (f) all of the above, I print it out and drop it in my handouts file. After I have a handful of poems gathered up, I take out the scissors and tape, and start cutting and pasting. Literally. I know there must be an electronic way to do this, but I love the old, analog method -- it makes me feel close to the paper and the poems. After I've cut and pasted all the poems and bios, I make a few copies. Then I send the handout to two of my poetry buddies. The idea is to read these poems, study them, learn from them, and use them as jumping-off points for new, original work.

[A note about copyright: I've done some research and I think I'm in the clear with copyright laws/fair use, since the handouts are intended for educational purposes and provide no economic gain to me.]

I learned the handout concept from my excellent former teacher, Deborah Keenan. Up until now, I've sent out only a few handouts to only a few people. But I would like to offer the handouts to anyone who wants one. Maybe you are a teacher that would like to use them in class. Maybe you're always looking for new (or new-to-you) poets to read and study. Maybe you are just a person who would like to have a few poems sprinkled into your days from time to time, or to learn a little bit of poetry. If you'd like a copy of the handouts, send me a message at mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com and I will send one to you each time I make one (which is, so far, about once a quarter). The stamp's on me.

Hooray for spreading the poems, hooray for poetry!