Online Poetry Discussion Today, 1:00 to 5:00 PM

“The darkness of winter is a great backdrop for the inner landscape of the imagination.” Zack Rogow
“It’s that permission to go into the interior that winter–at its best–is about.” Mike Burwell
“A mindfulness happens in deep cold. We have to pay attention or we can be in deep trouble. That kind of urgency and that kind of mindfulness are both energizing for poetry.” Peggy Shumaker

If you’re looking for the online poetry discussion of four Alaska poets, moderated by Sandra Kleven, you’ve come to the right place! The discussion starts at 1:00 pm, and will take place via the comments function, on this blog. The poems and biographical information about the poets can be found here.

( To leave a comment, click on the “# comments” at the bottom of this post, just to the left of the little envelope symbol. You can use a Google account, which automatically posts your user picture, or you can choose the third option, where you simply type in your name, any name — and note, you do not need to type in a URL. The anonymous option works, too. Questions? Email

142 thoughts on “Online Poetry Discussion Today, 1:00 to 5:00 PM”

  1. Welcome, poets and others,
    Poets, I suggest posting at your arrival here. I expect the conversation will take many turns, and I'll rely on the group to shape it. But for starters, I suggest current work and the impact of winter on writing. Above, are three comments from the poets who took part last year. Let's get on with it. Welcome all!

  2. For me, it's the clarity of winter that's important because I strive to make my poems as clear as a sheet of ice. A rather simple poetics.

  3. So you are not oblique? Nothing intentionally hidden for critics and students to speculate about?

  4. BTW, technical comment. I believe we must periodically "refresh" to catch the next posts.

  5. Kelsea Habecker

    Of course there are many facets to the inspiration I draw from winter, but one is that the cold exterior shifts my focus inward, which is fruitful for poetry.

  6. Oblique? When I say clear as a sheet of ice, I mean you see the surface and what's beneath the surface. When I read a poem I love it gets clearer and deeper with each reading.

    I think logging in might finish me off.

  7. Welcome, Nicole, Kelsea,
    Do chime in as well about the work of this winter – the projects arising from the interior…
    And, Tom, I hope you will speak to clarity vs the kind of slant meanings embedded in some poems.. It interests me that you strive to be clear. I see the narrative – in the sense of story told in your collections. Say more!

  8. Thanks, Tom. As if often the case, we were simultaneous. But it's a deep topic. Any body else?

  9. Few technical problems here.

    The cold and dark slow the world down; allow us to hear the voices in the landscape, and translate them into the poem

  10. As the Sun lengthens her stay each day, Winter is forced to loosen its frigid grip.

    We are freed to amble down wooded paths in search of bird song so long missing.

  11. Mindfulness rings true for me. It's essential to all poetry, not just northern poetry. Poetry is one way of paying attention and waking up to detail. One thing I like about living in Fairbanks is that the harshness of the winter never lets me forget that I live in a physical world. I say mindful by being here.

  12. Kelsea, Can you comment on your current projects? I know you will likely be the first to have to take off, today. And maybe you can go deeper (and clearer) than just listing and say something about process and/or struggle in creating work. Thanks!

    Other Poets, please don't wait to be asked directly as if this were an interview. Please just pick up on a thread and run with it. Especially, this one about work and process. Thanks!

  13. Obviously I meant to say "when i read a poem I love it when it gets clearer with each reading."

    I'm not very good at this. Can we exchange hand written notes?

  14. Too late for that, Tom. Though in future years we should problems "Live Stream" or something sexy like that.

  15. Before this session, I took my dog for a walk along the river. The light and cold of late winter/early spring work in tandem. The light brightens the spirit and the land is still quiet, as if thinking about awakening.

  16. Kelsea Habecker

    I've just finished a memoir about living in the Arctic–up on the North Slope in an Inupiaq village. That book is very much about my experience of winter–and the profound impact winter had/has on me. The extreme conditions of winter in the Arctic–the cold, the dark–forced me into my own body, into an awareness of my senses and surroundings much more heightened than anything I'd experienced before. Nicole's term, mindfulness, rings true for me as well.

  17. Tom, you're doing great. We are exchanging notes.

    Maybe it's that we started with mindfulness, but Toms' ice image makes me think of impermanence (maybe I'm just wishing for an end to the ice in Fairbanks right now). Perhaps poems are an attempt to deal with impermanence in an ever-changing world.

  18. Gretchen and Nicole,

    There is something about the winter light that seems almost spiritual as if it's a door into another world. I love to walk at dusk and imagine that I can follow the light into the dark.

  19. Kelsea Habecker

    As I was working on the memoir, I was conscious of wanting winter itself to become a character in it–as it certainly was in my actual life.

    One of the things I love best about Alaska, or other places where winter dominates the calendar, is that you have to experience winter deliberately. When I've lived other places (the Midwest and the East Coast, for instance) people seem to want to just pretend that winter isn't happening, that they can just ignore the season and muddle through until spring when regular life resumes. Up here, winter is so long you can't pretend it's not happening. Up here, we learn to enjoy it and interact with it deliberately and consciously, and that, for me, makes the year richer.

  20. Kelsea, what were the circumstances of entering that world? Were you in a sense "blown away" by the realities you never expected? Or somehow prepared and entering it, with all the right emotional gear and with the right mindset? Not that there is one right one in each category above… but I mean prepared, perhaps, as a pilgrim might be – knowing you were entering another realm?

  21. It is interesting to think of the poem having the clarity of ice. On those windswept places in the river, I have often stopped, staring down into the depths, seeing more the longer I look. Oftentimes, it is the beauty that holds me there, nothing more. I don't necessarily care what is causing the bubbles, the ripples, or the fractures.

  22. Kelsea Habecker

    To answer your question, Sandy, I was unprepared. I went up to the Arctic, hired to teach in a village, with very little idea of what to expect. I think that proved beneficial, though, because I went with no preconceived expectations that clouded my vision.

    It was challenging, for sure, and the experience opened me up (or hollowed me out, which is where I got the title for the book of poems I wrote up there) in unprecedented ways.

  23. for me the stages of twilight as the sun rises sparks ideas of rebirth, revision, awakening and such…..

  24. I think Hollow Out might help prepare a new teacher. I think that one thing our rural writing can do is leave behind crumbs of helping.

  25. The winter light is very spiritual. Sometimes I am so moved by the beauty, I feel like crying. Tom's comment may change that, and I'll just follow the light into the dark.

  26. Kelsea Habecker

    Tom, I agree. The light in winter in the far north–the blue hours, the long twilights–is a big part of what is so evocative for me as well. It does feel mystical.

  27. I have a general question for everyone. Do you feel that the landscape shapes you as a poet, or would you be the same writer no matter where you write? If you have a mind of winter do you thrive in a wintery place?

    I'll be quiet for a spell.

  28. Well, then, we have the main character in Nicole's "novel in poems" who does the same thing but different in an earlier time. Going into the cold unknown. With a lot of hope and getting hit with a lot of icy reality. STEAM LAUNDRY Nicole?

  29. Kelsea Habecker

    I just finished reading Barbara Sjohol's The Palance of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland. She mentions catching Arctic Fever, a condition of longing for the Arctic (maybe akin to the Portuguese "saudade??"). The heightened reality of the high north gets under your skin, and other places feel more bland, less evocative. I definitely have Arctic Fever.

  30. Kelsea—
    I taught in the Northwest Arctic in an Inupiaq village. When we moved out there, I was questioned routinely about the dark by friends and family from elsewhere. I found that light seemed to be the defining factor of the place, rather than the dark. The days grew shorter until late December and then the light returned very quickly. I asked one of the elder women in the village if it seemed that the light came back so fast. "Hmm," she replied. "Maybe too fast." It was not what I expected and when the light returned, with it came the noise and "busyness" of village life.

  31. Technical – don't let it bother you that braids get mixed up. Maybe just restate the theme or the last person asking a question so readers can weave their way through our posts. No need to sit back, Tom. Write a post about what you are working on and/or about your recent books. You have me reading – besides your very cool book, actual ancient Chinese poets. Thank you. They feel so immediate.

  32. @Tom: The swings in the length of light here keeps me aware. I can never forget the latitude, that the earth is spinning around the sun and that I'm on it.

    @Kelsea: When I lived in other places I could just "muddle through" and the seasons would all blur together. I'm not allowed the luxury of not noticing things here.

  33. Kelsea Habecker

    Tom, I feel the landscape shapes me. I feel that I "found" my poetic voice while I was living in the Arctic. When I left the North Slope, I moved away from Alaska for a few years, and in those ensuing years, my poetry felt more flat. And, when I wrote, I was constantly still mining my winter experiences to conjure up new poems. That's why I moved back to Alaska again last year. Something in this raw, rugged landscape definitely contributes to my poetry.

    How about you?

  34. Vivian Prescott

    It's funny, I'm reading all your wonderful comments about a mystic and mindful winter and reading your work online (on another screen) and there is still snow outside and somehow I can't relate to it's beauty. Winter where I grew up in SE is much different from the "northern" experience. I was just thinking I should write an 'opposite' poem to Kelsea's Weather Report: A Chance of Flurries.

  35. Kelsea Habecker

    @ Gretchen: Yes! In spring, I often felt like like was an intruder! Sometimes it felt like a relief, a form of solace, if the dark months had felt confining or oppressive that year, but more often light seemed to suddenly screech into our lives and bring mania and constant motion, which felt unwelcome after winter's long stillness.

  36. Kelsea,

    Do you mind if I borrow "the blue hours" for a poem or even the title of a book? After all, poets steal from other poets.

  37. @Tom: Just last night a friend told me that she thought I "do well here," meaning that the place is good for me. Certainly, the northern landscape shaped the poems in Steam Laundry. In a more subtle way it's working on my new poems too.

  38. Landscape influences my poems, and I draw on the features of the place in which I live. I've lived in the west, the midwest, the south and the pacific northwest—the weather, plants and the animals inhabiting the poems were different, but I still was effected by the same issues that I explore in poetry.

  39. Hi, Erin here from sunny sunny Homer. I'll be in and out because we're stacking firewood – last batch for the winter I hope.

    I found this winter to be a fabulous time for introspection – good to hunker down with some meaty internal questions rather than be spurred into creativity by external stimulus.

    Nicole, I'm almost done with my second reading of Steam Laundry – it's so awesome! Congrats!

  40. Kelsea Habecker

    @ Vivian: I feel the flip-side of winter, too. There's a harshness, a hardness to it. It can be wearying. I won't deny that. That reality is very much in my consciousness as well, and definitely plays a role in my life. But in my poetry, the awe and amazement winter inspires in me plays the dominant role.

    Right now, I'm ready for thaw. I'm ready to be snow-free for a few months.

  41. Vivian Prescott

    Kelsea, I was trying to think of another word for "Bless" that wasn't "curse" so that I wouldn't curse myself. Words are powerful. So help me out here. I think, thanks to you, that the poem is trying to make its way to the tips of my fingers. I've been living in Kodiak for this past winter and I had a very different experience with winter.

  42. sheet of ice…

    to slip and fall on poetry
    to skate across
    to auger a hole and drop a line

    great discussion all.

    what about winter as subject/content… do you veer away or ever worry about being type-cast as a "northern" writer? a literary snowman/women?

  43. I see the connection to nature but I feel linked to suffering. Any comments on the harsher realities?

  44. @Sandy: Yes. Hope versus icy reality is the struggle in Steam Laundry. As I was in the archives reading, I was stunned by how struggles of life then were so similar to the struggles now–bills, bad marriages, affair, miscommunications. We live to think everything has changed, but there's so much that's the same. That's why Sarah Ellen Gibson's life interested me.

  45. Kelsea Habecker

    @ TJ: I'd love to be considered a "northern writer." At the same time, though, I hope that I'm able to become more universal in my approach. Being rooted in one aesthetic landscape feels right, but I also hope I can expand into sympathies for other ones as well. The next book I'm gearing up to start on, for instance, won't be solely focused on the north. I hope I can do that justice, too.

  46. Vivian Prescott

    Hi, Erin from Sunny Homer. I just got back from hunting seaglass on our first springlike day.

    I think these posts are inspiring me to look at what I've experienced this winter in regards to lonliness, weather, writing, etc…I might steal Kelsea's words in her post and call it On the Flip Side. Hmmmm.

  47. We are inches from the snowfall record in Anchorage. People here are wishing for this little extra that will ice this year in the record book. Me, too. I'd like to see that.

  48. @TJ: Yes, that worried me when I was working on Steam Laundry because it's so rooted in place and history. Ultimately, I had to let it go because the worry was blocking the writing.

  49. I can't wait to read Steam Laundry and Hollow Out and all the other fine works by the poets here. As I've admitted in my guest 49 writers stint in January, I haven't read a majority of Alaskan literature. Guilty! (I should at least be fluent in Tom Sexton).But I'm making up for it this year.

  50. Back to Tom's question on how winter/Alaska informs poetry. My first visit to Hawaii convinced me I could not live there and write poetry. On the other hand, I wasn't sure I cared. The following year I went back, and driving down a narrow road, I saw a sign in someone's yard listing the number of people killed in the Iraq war. There and then, I knew I could write poetry in Hawaii, even if it is "paradise."

  51. Sandy,

    About the Chinese poets. I invite them to go on walks with me, and we talk about the mountains, the light,
    human nature. They're good company even though Li Po drinks too much wine from time to time.

    I wonder what they'd think of the Arctic. Fairbanks is as far north as I've ever lived. Suddenly I have this longing to live in Barrow.

  52. I am reading again the posts on light and really appreciating – as when Gretchen posts the local woman's comment that the light returns, "Maybe, too fast." Sometimes the light exposes way too much. Sometimes, I like to just hold the notion that "it's not going to get dark" at least not while I am awake. I like that a lot.

  53. Hi–Ela here, also from sunny Homer!

    So many interesting threads already!

    Wrt Tom's question about landscape shaping the poet–I've wondered about this myself, as I've been in AK for just over three years, and before that lived in HI, CA, and back across the Atlantic.
    Thinking about what and how I wrote in each place, as an adult at least, I think I have written about the landscape wherever I've lived, and in that sense the differing landscapes affect what I write. But I think other themes and changes in my life (especially still being relatively young) have had just as much effect on what and how I write.

  54. Gretchen,

    I'm familiar with your "Hawaii" experience. I too thought I couldn't write anywhere but Alaska. Then I married a man who is in the CG reserves and off we went to Puerto Rico. Low-and-behold I could write there too. Though I still longed for Alaska. I think that longing fed something, perhaps. I finished my linked novel about Alaska while I was there.

  55. Have any of you read Peter Davidson's The Idea of North? Joan Kane (another fine poet of the North) recommended it to me. I read it this winter, and found it really helped me articulate much of what I'm drawn to about North-ness as a concept. It's fairly cerebral and academic–not a quick read–in its explorations of the conceptions of North from far back in literature, art, mythology. I loved it and highly recommend it. I underlined just about every sentence. 🙂

  56. I struggle with the returning light! Haven't quite found the words for a poem for which I have the shape, about light uncovering everything before I'm ready for it. This is partly to do with my dread of the approaching summer with its unrelenting pace and waves of visitors and urgent activities!

  57. The feeling of the light coming back too fast is true here. Late March and April turn into an absolute frenzy as everyone readjusts. The upside is I tend to generate a lot of new work during the "too fast" times. The downside is I feel exhausted.

  58. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I'm catching up reading and greatly enjoying — know that there is at least one fly on the wall (and no doubt many more) as your discussion keeps accumulating!

  59. Gretchen, I love your HI story! Actually part of the reason why I reconciled myself to leave there was because I wasn't writing as much as I'd hoped. But that wasn't about the paradise element, it was because I was working my tail off doing farming work!

  60. Right now, for the first time, I'm reading Gretchen's poems "When the Wolves Enter the Village" and the "Courage of Sophie Scholl." I'm loving those poems. Such language!

  61. Not Chinese – but Rumi is my comforter in times of difficulty. I read – even just google searching for quotes and my troubles life. I feel that he is with me. Also, sometimes Roethke. But he's a different kind of comfort. You all likely saw the quote at the top of the page. Three hundred years ago a Chinese man stays up too late reading. In the rest of the poem, his wife asks, "Do you know what time it is?" This is such an intimate picture and her question, I guess, is timeless.

  62. @Erin: Thanks for reading Steam Laundry. I'm glad you liked it and happy to hear it earned a second reading.

    @Kelsea: I like your description of the "heightened reality of the high north." That's so accurate for me. I do feel like there's a veneer that frustrates me when I'm outside. Everything seems a little blurry–socially, geographically, emotionally. I experience a clarity here that I don't feel in other places.

  63. So many awesome book recommendations already!

    I have to upload a lecture in a minute, and it might take up all my bandwidth, but I'll follow along as I can and pipe up again when my internet isn't maxed out.

  64. As far as the "returning light" I was returning from the beach today and saw cars gathered at the CG base chapel. There are several denominations who share the building for services. I asked my husband if they would mind us holding a nature ceremony for the return of light there. That's how I felt today; that I needed a ceremony because the light and warmth has returned. It isn't shocking or unwelcome but I feel like I should decorate a tree or pole or something, maybe light a fire and dance around it.

  65. Gretchen? Can you speak about your current projects and talk about Between Fire and Water, Ice and Sky?

  66. I recently had a long discussion with a friend of mine about writing about Alaska. He said one major danger in writing about Alaska is not just that outsiders romanticize the place, but that we, as insiders, also have a tendency to romanticize the place. Do you agree with this? If so, how do you address it in your own work? BTW I have just read Steam Laundry and feel like it's absolutely wonderful.

  67. @David: Yes, it's absolutely a danger. It's something I thought about a lot since I was writing specifically about an overly romanticized historical period in Alaska. I'm not sure I have a solution. What would the vaccination to romanticism be? Maybe it's staying grounded in detail. Anyone else have thoughts?

    I think there are other places that suffer the same danger. New Yorkers live in a romanticized city and writers there can be trapped by that as well.

    Thanks. I'm glad you like Steam Laundry.

  68. Nicole,

    I always feel anxious when the days get longer. It doesn't last thank God, but I must admit that the winter solstice is my favorite time
    of year, and I write more during the winter.

    When we spend a winter in Maine people think we're crazy because
    they all head for Florida. My standard reply is Maine's as far south as I want to go.

  69. Between Fire and Water, Ice and Sky, was the culmination of years of writing. I am a very restless person, and find it ironic that the "talent" I was given requires stillness. With that, I produce slowly, and as time passes, I become dissatified with poems and they end up at the bottom of a box. For the aforementioned ms., I gave myself a deadline, did not get dressed for days, and finished it. Anne Coray, at NorthShore Press, expressed an interest, and agreed to publish it. The content of the poems contains my life story, I suppose. The background of my father, growing up in the church, as the child of a minister, where "spare the rod," was the order of the day. My years in the Arctic, etc.

    I lost my husband two and a half years ago in a car accident, and I didn't think I would write again. He was an artist and we were collaborating on a project; the first time we had planned something together. After a year, I rediscovered my voice, if you will. Without losing a world view, I allow the loss to enter my poems, as it will. Eventually these poems will find their way into a new collection; or, so is my plan.

  70. In terms of addressing romanticism in my current work, I'm dealing with it through humor. After finishing Steam Laundry, which I felt I owed some earnestness to as it's grounded in a true story (and not necessarily a happy one), I'm enjoying playing around with the absurd.

  71. @ David, I asked earlier about the dark side. I personally don't feel or work the nature vein. I've been everywhere in the state with small exception. In a small plane heading toward Huslia, I feel amazement over where I am… especially when in the co-pilots seat (not helping though). I saw the sunset horizon and thought, There's Elliot's "patient anesthetized upon a table…" which is quite a leap. I compose on the planes but I might be thinking about consciousness itself. The world below astonishes me but my mind goes elsewhere. Some very abstract work was first drafted in the air over Alaska. Weird, huh?

  72. Gretchen, your story is touching beyond words and confirms my desire to read your book.

    @Nicole–I should join the chorus of appreciation for Steam Laundry–halfway through and loving it, remembered so vividly the poem excerpts I'd heard you read already and delighted every time I found one!

  73. Gretchen, I am sorry for your loss and I can't imagine how I would even write after that. I am looking forward to reading your books. Will you include some of your husband's work or what you had planned on working on in your collection?

  74. Nicole,

    I don't think you romanticize Alaska at all. I always find it instructive to look at early writing about Alaska. Even when the writer has lived here, the descriptions are so general that there is little sense of place. You hit the nail right on the head.

  75. The Alaskan mystique does effect those of us who live here, as well as "outside" world. I must admit, I have capitalized on that romanticism, when travelling in places where citizens from the US might not be held in highest esteem. When you say you are from Alaska the reaction is one of wonder or otherwise: "Isn't it cold there all the time?" You are a different breed of "American."

  76. @Gretchen: I, too, am sorry for your loss. I look forward to reading your work about it. My book of poems, and the memoir I've just finished, deal with the theme of grief as well. In the Arctic, due to particular social hardships in the village, I lost things that I thought were central to my ability to experience hope, and I eventually lost hope itself. That grief was immense. And rebuilding it was an effort, but one well worth it.

  77. Nicole, I think you should jump chest deep into the absurd! Poet Zack Rogow taught me to do that during my MFA at UAA. He pushed my work in that direction so that I looked at Alaska themes in a different way, which resulted in my digital chapbook Slick and my new chapbook Sludge.

  78. @ Gretchen, Yes I say I'm from Alaska too but sometimes people think that means you're from Canada.

  79. Okay, Kelsea, now I really have to read your book of poems. You mention social hardships, grief and losing hope. Perhaps I should have read your book this winter.:)

  80. Vivian: My husband's paintings can be found online by typing in his name: Eric Deeter Thanks for asking. He was working on a series of paintings based on the myth of Prometheus and the relevancy to contemporary issues. I was writing poems to accompany the paintings.

    Kelsea: I look forward to reading your memoir. My experience in the village was different, as it is where I started teaching, my husband was a stay-at-home dad, my son started school, and we were able to maintain a very close family. Certainly, the grief and sadness in some of the villages effects one in profound ways, as you have stated. Loss of hope is devastating and I'm glad you have made the journey back.

  81. That's maybe what I was getting at before, Kelsea. Holy Land came out of that period of endurance (Bethel 1984 – 87). Too broke at times to get out with a family of five. Major processing in order. Took ten years to begin to make poetry of it.

  82. @Vivian: I don't shy away from the grim stuff.

    To respond to the general theme of how do I avoid romanticizing Alaska, I think it's by precisely that: including the grim and harsh in my portrayal of life in Alaska. I love Alaska ardently–so that sense of romanticizing the state comes through, I'm sure, but is tempered by my awareness that while I'm more compelled by this place than any other I've ever lived in, all is not always well here. (Or anywhere, of course.)

  83. Regretfully, I have to bow out of this chat in a few minutes, though I'll try to check back in toward the end if I can. I've enjoyed dialoguing with each of you, and am honored that Sandy chose to include me in such a fine bunch. Many thanks all around.

  84. Tom – Your books cover, at least, two geographies. I am not sure of the extent to which people know about the Lowell poems… a far different time and place. Mike Burwell interviews Tom in the current issue of Cirque and that's when I picked up on the poems about youth… and being here and thinking about there.

  85. Kelsea–

    I enjoyed reading your comments. I took a few moments and have Peter Davidson's book on order. Thanks.

  86. Thanks, Kelsea… If you are still here for one more comment, where are you, today? Anchorage? We must do wine, sometime. Or at least a high tea. ~ Sandy

  87. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Loved all of your thoughts about heightened awareness of season and especially light (and how different from what non-Alaskans would expect us to talk about — the cold). As a novelist whose first 2 novels take place in Europe, I've also struggled with my own concerns about writing about Alaska and stumbling into cliche or romanticization, so I appreciated the thoughts about how to innoculate against. I recently wrote an essay called "Leaving Alaska" in which I explored how, as a newcomer here nearly two decades ago, I couldn't wait to be an old-timer (who didn't get things wrong) and now I envy that newcomer who was astonished by everything — who saw and smelled and noticed more, heart racing at thoughts of bears, and awed by everything. Thanks to you, poets, and all writers who help us recapture those vivid sensory impressions and thoughts after we've become jaded about our own familiar worlds.

    Question for any of you: I've been reading more essays again lately and noting how the most experimental ones really seem like prose poems. Do the subgenre labels or divisions interest you — do you notice trends — or are you annoyed by labels, boundaries, etc?

    As a non-poet a little labeling actually helps me because it loosens up my narrative expectations. But what do the poets think?

  88. Hello from Fairbanks.

    Thanks for the opportunity to talk about poetry.

    Tom – I appreciate your comments on clarity. Poems that reveal themselves to me upon further reading are the best! Do you rely on readers to signal whether you've reached that level with a poem?

    Nicole, you mentioned impermanence as a strategy to deal with an ever changing world. Your poems in Steam Laundry struck me as almost permanent in that they are historical tales with roots in the present. I love that contrast. Did you find similarities between Sarah's northern experiences and your own?

  89. Sandy,

    My life in Alaska and my life growing up in Massachusetts have an odd symmetry. I was an eighteen year old soldier stationed on Fort Richardson when my mother committed suicide by hanging herself in the cellar. My poem "Memoir" deals with her death. In a sense it's about how poetry saves us from despair. I was here when my father died. My neighbor across the street in Lowell when I was a boy had been in the Aleutians during World War Two. I can't separate the two places any longer in my poetry or in my life.

  90. @Gretchen, Checked out your late husband's art. I am so impressed and so glad to discover it. Are some of the Prometheus images there?

  91. Thanks, Kelsea–awesome to interact with you a little more

    @Andromeda–what you're saying is congruent with what I observe about prose writers in my writing groups: that they really appreciate the structure of genre labeling.

    In regard to your question, I think Peggy's story about the genesis of Just Breathe Normally is so interesting, specifically that some of the short pieces were originally poems but she had to rewrite them without the line breaks in order for them to "fit" in the book. But many of the pieces in that book are rather like prose poems.

    I've been doing personal essays as well as poetry for my MFA coursework this year, and the last two have been braided essays of sorts. For the current one, I'm planning a series of interconnected "shorts," and have been wondering about the genre-bending with prose poem-land too.

  92. Good question, Andromeda. I feel freed by subgenre labels as well. I've been working so much with prose poems right now. I think of the prose poem as a received form. I can generate more new drafts by playing with it. Some time in the later drafts I might let that form go. For example, a prose poem might get line breaks and become a different kind of poem, but because I started writing it as a prose poem, it pushed me in the early drafts to try something I wouldn't have if I had thought of it as a different form. Labels, or forms, are definitely freeing for me.

  93. Tom, I am looking forward to reading A Clock With No Hands. The publisher says "the poems celebrate, with all the rust and anger in a dying mill town…" I like that analogy. I grew up in a mill town in SE Alaska, Wrangell. I saw it go from boom to bust. I've even recorded my father's "Mill Stories." I plan to record more mill stories from those who worked in the lumber mills in Wrangell. My Question: Did the poems come from your experiences alone or were some poems formed from stories you heard growing up? or both?

  94. @Tom. Interesting. Good to know you don't have to… a poet doesn't have to. Sorry about your mother. So shocking an ordeal only heightened when one is far away – and young. I have a suicide among my siblings quite recent. Even that opened my eyes to things I had not known. I wrote in reaction. My here and there has Seattle on the other end. Before you take a break from this frantic typing activity – can you say more about the here and now. What do you do daily? Are you writing often? Does an accomplished poet such as yourself, a former poet laureate, still submit to journals?

  95. Andromeda–
    I don't necessarily consider the form when I start working on a poem. The content and the voice leads to line breaks and so on. Years ago, I took a short story class, my inexperience causing me a degree of consternation. I just decided to write, as if the story were a poem, lengthen the lines, and add commentary that I would normally leave out of poems. In the end, this seemed to work well.

  96. Teresa,

    I know that sound strange, but sometimes I find depth in one of my poems that I didn't realize was there when I first wrote the poem when I read it again. It can be a metaphor I wasn't quite aware of or even another meaning of a word that I wasn't thinking about.

    The ideal situation is when a reader finds meaning below the surface and tells me about it.

    That makes me feel that I'm a poet worth reading.

  97. Well, I have to sign off now. It was nice to chat with such wonderful and inspiring poets. I'm looking forward to reading your books. (I'll catch up on the rest of the posts later). And thank you Sandy and AK 49 Writers for hosting this. All the best,


  98. Tom—I am so sorry about your mother.

    Sandy—I am sorry for your loss.

    Over and over, I am reminded that, amidst the beauty of the world, we are all touched by loss. That shared experience does not change or lessen the pain. It does, however, alleviate the lonliness of grief. Poetry provides one vehicle for exploring saddness, despair, hope.

  99. Tom – What a great answer! I love that language, that proprietor of metaphor – often works in layers. Like the folds of our brains are in contact, collaborating beyond our control. Count me among those who have found meaning beneath the surface of your work.

  100. @Tom – I know exactly what you mean and have termed it as having a far better poet deep inside.

  101. @Theresa: When I was writing Steam Laundry, I liked the exercise of writing about someone else's life. When I began, I thought it would be nice to escape writing about my own life. What I found when it was done was that I actually had infused the whole book with my own experience. I like your description of a "historical tales rooted in the present." That's what it feels like now that it's out in the world. The poems grew out of my experience as much as out of the letters I was reading.

    @Gretchen: I can connect with the idea of forcing yourself to finish things (that you mentioned earlier). I'm the same way. I'm looking forward to reading your next book very much.

  102. @Gretchen: You said, "That shared experience does not change or lessen the pain. It does, however, alleviate the loneliness of grief." That seems so true for all the poets here who had commented about writing about loss. Yes, poetry seems to be a vehicle for connection and the connection is a way of healing.

  103. Tom—

    Years ago I took classes with Nelson Bentley in Seattle. He said two things I have always remembered: "The reader will find things in your poem that you never dreamt were there." "The poet is far from the last word on the poem."

    and for Sandy, Nelson was in Michigan and went to a reading by Roethke (who was at UW in Seattle). Roethke was funny and bright and Nelson decided he wanted to be at a university that would hire this poet.

  104. Thanks, Gretchen. My first poem about my brother was so painful, sort of angry/sad. I titled it "For Jon, Once My Brother." I wrote it within six months of his death, It was taken when I submitted it with a small group of other poems. I groaned when I got the response. "Not this one." It was the first poem to be published after I, finally, internalized the concept submit your work.

  105. I love that story, Gretchen. You know I did a movie about Roethke, two years ago… Just eight minutes but on location at the Blue Moon Tavern and the U District. I don't know Nelson but I'll have to check him out. I start to feel a kind of vibe in the hippie sense when these stories come together and when influences overlap. For instance, Roethke has probably influenced your poetry, by way of your UW profs and that brings him into the room. I start to get the magic and even feel how one can seek shelter in the poets of the past – both in the poems, the prose and the stories shared out loud.

  106. Gretchen,

    Thank you for the Nelson Bentley comment. It's perfect.

    My week old computer just shut itself off, but I'm back obviously.


    Write about your mill town. Alaska's working class history is very important. Ask Nicole. Years ago, a woman told me to stay on the coast in Maine because all the rest is mill towns. I write my "Lowell Poems, in part to answer her.

    Computer's acting up. I might disappear.

  107. I propose we end at 4 pm. I think we might just end with a flurry of whatever else needs to be said, maybe slipping past the hour, precisely. There were some mixed messages about whether or not we should end at 4 or 5 pm and I think 4 feels right if other's agree, too. Please advise.

  108. When I started university, I lived in Montana. My father said he would pay for school in Missoula or Bozeman. Missoula was the liberal arts school, so I chose to go there. Richard Hugo was the poet in residence and my first professor. He was one of Roethke's disciples.

  109. Hello, Poets, from overcast Sitka. I'm enjoying the commentary on winter writing Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts this afternoon.


  110. Four is fine by me. I'll be happy to check back tonight and answer any later arriving questions. I've really enjoyed the chance to catch with everyone here and look forward to all the reading all the authors you've all suggested. Thanks everyone!

  111. Sandy,
    4pm would be good. I have to bake a cake for work tomorrow. Does that have anything to do with poetry?

  112. Gretchen – What was Hugo like? I've read quite a bit… and we have Hugo House, the writing center in Seattle. A complied book of prose has the title The Real West Marginal Way. Great title and great street name for the spin of poetry. Marginal… I live on Defiance St. It is beginning to get me into trouble.

  113. Hugo was quite a character—very funny. He also taught me to have a very thick skin, as he was ruthless in his criticism, peppering his comments and suggestions with very colorful language. You were asked to read your poem in workshop and then "shut up." He told us we would not be there to tell the editor what we meant, so the poem better be able to stand on its own. Even now, in my writing group, I am almost pathologically afraid to open my mouth and comment on my own poems.

  114. Thank you all. This has been fun. Sandy, thank you for inviting me to participate in this conversation.

  115. You are welcome.

    AQR the 30th anniversary issue will be out on April 18th with a big party. Watch for the weekly Round up and other announcements.

    Remember the Write-a-thon – See link on the right. This is a major fundraiser. Be in it if you can, if not sponsor another writer.

    In June,
    Live and Moving : Poets in full meter – I am curator of this show that takes place as part of the Spenard Jazz Fest, Poets work in collaboration with musician and dancers. It will take place on June 7th at 7 pm location TBA.

  116. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thank you, everyone — this has spurred me to look up many of your books and to watch for forthcoming projects!

  117. Thanks to the poets and other participants. Great talk. The poets pages, have, so far, remained up for years. I'll just let them sit and you can continue to read their bios, poems and order their books by clicking on the links provided. Invigorating! Thank you!

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