Poem of the Week, by Tom Sleigh

This past week I was at a lake with parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and children, the grownups piloting boats around for hours on end so the kids could fish or waterski or tube behind it. Endless making of lunches, endless baiting of hooks. Endless how to wakeboard, how to waterski, how to play poker. Endless patience. Thirty years from now, these same future grownups will be hauling a new batch of kids around behind a different boat. I thought about the adults in my own childhood who taught me how to cook, how to sew, how to stack wood, how to tell a story, how to grow a garden. One day your father’s hauling you up the sledding hill on the toboggan, the next your eyes are glazing over as you teach your kids how to play Candyland, the next you’re sitting in a bar with them drinking Guinness. This small-but-huge poem by Tom Sleigh chokes me up when I read it, for so many reasons.

Boomerang

The sidelong whiplash of his arm sent the boomerang
soaring, pushing the sky to the horizon
until the blade just hung there, a black slash on the sun

so far away it seemed not to move at all
before it came whirling back larger and larger:
would it hit him, would he die — and you ducked down,

terrified, clinging to his thigh, its deathspin
slowing as it coptered softly down and he snatched it
from the air. How you loved that rush of fear,

both wanting and not wanting him to feel how hard
you clung, just the same as when he’d float you
weightless across the pond while waves slapped

and shushed and bickered, his breath loud in your ear …
and after he dried you off, he’d lift you onto his shoulders
and help you shove your head through a hole in the sky.

 

For more information on Tom Sleigh,  please click here.

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August 1 Creative Writing Kickstart class!

Greetings, friends, Minnesotans and countrypeople,

There are still openings available in my one-day Creative Writing Kickstart workshop on Saturday morning, August 1 in Uptown Minneapolis. The focus of the Kickstart is writing from life: where you are now, where you were, and points in between. We’ll do several brief writings, discuss some short published works (provided) and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great.

The class will be intensive but fun and low-key. It’s designed for writers of ALL abilities, experience levels and genres. If you’re a longtime writer in need of a boost or someone who’s always had an interest in writing but never known how to sit down and get started, join us!

Limited to fifteen. I’d love to see you there. If you’re interested, please email me at alison_mcghee@hotmail.com to reserve a spot.

Date: SATURDAY, AUGUST 1
Time: 9 am-1 pm
Place: 3554 BRYANT AVENUE SOUTH, MINNEAPOLIS, MN 55408. (The Community Gathering Room in Uptown Minneapolis, right on the corner of Bryant and 36th, between Bogart’s Donuts and Gigi’s Cafe.) Parking on-street. Community Room.
Cost: $75, including hand-outs, payable via check, Paypal, or cold hard cash.
Bring: yourself, a pen and a notebook or your quiet laptop. Lots of beverages and tasty treats and sandwiches and salads available at Bogart’s and Gigi’s.

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Poem of the Week, by Galway Kinnell

The other day in my poetry hut, where people sometimes leave little poems as well as taking them away, I found this tiny poem penned out on a piece of scrap paper. Galway Kinnell, who died last year, was one of my favorite poets; I always sort of had a crush on him, based solely on his photo and a few of his poems. The poem below fits my definition of a prayer. Also, how often do you get to say the word “is” three times in a row?

Prayer

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.


For more information on Galway Kinnell, please click here: here.
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Poem of the Week, by Ellery Akers

I love that the Times has started publishing a poem every week in the magazine. This one floated up off the page at me last week. It makes me think of what writer Anne Lamott calls the three essential prayers: Help, Wow, Thanks. That feels about right to me.

The Word That Is a Prayer
– Ellery Akers

One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you:
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.

For more information on Ellery Akers, please click here.

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Portrait of a Friend, Vol. VI: My Beautiful Friend

One Story findMy beautiful friend, I have been thinking about you.

That’s how the letters between you and L almost always begin. Letters, because that’s what they feel like even though they’re written via email. These letters are almost always long, not intentionally, but because there always turns out to be so much to say.

It was the same way –so much to say– the night you and L first got to know each other. This was the second night of seven that you spent at one of those artist colonies that seem like dreams but actually do exist here and there in the world. Your children were tiny at the time, and a week was the longest you could be away from them, so you applied to the only artist colony willing to let artists stay for only a week.

(That week in New England still, whenever you think about it now, feels like a dream. You had a room to sleep in and a dining room to eat in for breakfast and dinner and a cabin in the woods to write in. At lunchtime, an unseen someone silently left a picnic basket for you by the door because you were there to write and not to be disturbed from your writing, something which still blows your mind when you think about it. You took breaks and biked through the woods on winding paths past other cabins –composers, sculptors, painters, musicians, other writers. You were surrounded by art. A trumpet, practicing the same golden phrases over and over. Giant wooden cut-out sculptures of giant people and giant animals, scattered throughout a meadow. A glimpse of a painter through the window of her cabin, standing back and studying her work. A composer, bent over a table jotting those indecipherable-to-you marks onto music staff paper.)

But back to L, and that first conversation. You and she sat at the table long after dinner was over. There was a bottle of red wine, maybe two, and you kept pouring it into each others’ wine glass. The two of you talked and talked and talked. It waNever done before, Mary Olivers one of those conversations where you open up your heart to someone, where you talk about hard things and easy things, where sometimes you’re laughing and sometimes you’re crying.

You knew right away that L was a kindred spirit. The dining room was empty but for the two of you and in your memory it was dark. Maybe there was a candle on the table? L leaned forward and the light glimmered in her beautiful dark red-brown hair and her eyes were an almost unearthly hazel and she kept nodding and everything about her said that she was listening. That she heard you.

She is still that way. Many years have passed since that night, and you rarely see each other in person –you live far from each other, and she has small children now– but time and distance don’t matter.

My beautiful friend, I have been thinking about you.

Some words that come to mind when you picture L:

Fierce.

Brave.

Hugehearted.

Fierce and brave and hugehearted because if L loves someone, there is nothing she will not do for that person. She was like that with her father and her mother as they fought –and that is the right word here, fought– against the cancer that ended up taking them away from her. You are thinking now of a note from L, maybe a year and a half ago now, that ended with what you remember as being these lines: I cannot lose my mother. I can, not, lose, my, mother.

Poetry, Someday originalYou worried when you read them, because you knew how crazy she was about her mother, whom she called Muth, and you had been by her side in the ether when her father died.

He was known as Big T and you loved him even though you never met him because of his Elvis hair and his huge heart and the fact that he worked as a mailman his whole life, a job you have always admired because if you’re a mail carrier, you keep on keeping on, no matter what. But most of all you loved Big T because he adored L with his whole giant heart.

I cannot lose my mother.

It cracked your heart to think of her soldiering on without the two of them, because despite everything bad and wrong that sometimes goes on in families when you’re growing up –and hers was no different from any other family in that regard– Big T and Muth had their daughter’s back. Like L for them, there was nothing they would not have done for her.

But L did lose her mother. You were on a long, long internetless flight when Great Salt Lake #2Muth left the earth, and when you landed and turned on your cell phone, a call from L came in.

“I didn’t want you to see it on Facebook,” she said. “I knew you were flying and I wanted you to hear it from me.”

In the middle of her worst fear, L somehow was thinking of you? That cracked your heart even more. You were sitting by a window in the airport waiting for your next flight, and a girl a few seats down glanced at you with curiosity and sympathy when you started to cry.

L is all those things, fierce and brave and hugehearted, to the core. You have watched her do battle for Big T and Muth and also for her special needs child, whom you have never met in person but who melts your heart with his oceanlike hazel eyes, his solemn face, his searching way in the world.

Once, you saw a photo of him sitting in a fast food restaurant, an enormous smile on his usually-serious face. “A mother-son date,” read the caption. You could imagine it so clearly, L and her little boy out on a date, L leaning across the table intent on him in the way she is intent on everyone she meets and teaches and befriends. Her little boy and her little girl are lucky, with L as their mother.

Once, before L had children, she came out to visit for the weekend. This was right after you had moved into an apartment with your kids. You remember her playing Go Fish with your youngest, who was tiny and hilarious at the time and kept saying “Aw, nuts!” whenever she lost, and how L cracked up each time.

Should she have kids, you remember her asking you. An answerless question, because how can you ever tell someone Yes, you should have kids. Having kids is such a beyond-enormous thing to do that you could only shrug, smile, shake your head in an I Cannot Help You kind of way.

Now her girl curls up beside her to read, and she has that same smile and that same gorgeous dark hair, and you look at the photos and shrug and smile and shake your head. And her boy works his way through a world that, hard though it is for everyone, is so much harder for him, and L is rigKamu's hearts card to meht there with him. Fierce.

Sometimes you hear her voice in your head. It’s such a surprising voice: deep and resonant and powerful. If L had wanted to be a radio star instead of a writer, she could have. When you hear her voice in your head she’s saying something that begins with My beautiful friend, even though she doesn’t say that in real life, only in letters.

My beautiful friend, I have been thinking about you.

You’re glad L chose writing over radio, though, because that means you get to read her books. That first night you became friends you talked about the kind of books you write. Yours were all set in upstate New York back then, in the landscape you grew up in, peopled by imaginary people who felt real to you.

L’s were, and are, wild books about a woman who gave birth to herself, about another who worshiped Elvis, about people who you can’t imagine will feel real until you begin reading her books. And then they do. She is a writer of strange and rare talent, as if she lives partly in a world between the conscious and the subconscious and that’s where her books are written. The woman can take a moon pie and a lake and a girl with blue skin and string them together into a metaphor that, against all logic, not only holds but holds a whole world of secrets and grief and love and redemption.

L is on your mind much these days, maybe because you’re partway through her latest novel. That would be the logical explanation, but it doesn’t feel accurate because kindred spirit friendships, like L’s novels, transcend logic. You’re weeding your flowers when suddenly LBook bed‘s wide grin appears in your head and then moments later an email or text or Facebook comment from her pings into your phone. It’s a friendship that operates on an invisible frequency.

Once, many years ago, you and L met up at a conference in New Orleans. You remember little of the conference but everything about the six hours the two of you sat at a second-story balcony in the French Quarter, drinking and eating and talking. People on the street below kept throwing strings of beads up to you even though you both kept your shirts on. Music was everywhere and you remember laughing and laughing for the first time in a long time.

No matter what is going on in her life or yours, L always makes you feel better. The simple fact of her presence.

Once, a few years ago, you met L at Eataly in New York. Big T was gone but Muth was still alive and healthy. L appeared from the train on a winter night, her beautiful dark hair glistening with melting snow, and you flung yourselves into a hug. Wine and antipasti and more wine and then pasta and talk talk talk. At one point you said to her, “I just want to keep being alive! I love being alive!” and she laughed that big laugh of hers.

Not long ago, she reminded you of that night. “Remember that night at Eataly? When you said you just wanted to be alive?”

Yes. You remember. Nothing has changed. You do just want to be alive, as long as you can be alive with people like her.

Blue man group reject

 

 

 

 

 

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SECOND CLASS ADDED! August 1, 9-1, Creative Writing Kickstart: Writing from Life

NOTE: DEAR FRIENDS, THE FIRST CLASS FILLED IMMEDIATELY SO I’M ADDING A SECOND SECTION THE DAY AFTER, ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 1, FROM 9 AM TO 1 PM, AT 3554 BRYANT AVENUE SOUTH IN UPTOWN MINNEAPOLIS.

Date and venue have changed, but everything else remains the same. Changes below noted IN CAPS.

* * *

Greetings, friends, Minnesotans and countrypeople,

I’m offering a one-day Creative Writing Kickstart workshop on SATURDAY MORNING, AUGUST 1 in Minneapolis. The focus of the Kickstart is writing from life: where you are now, where you were, and points in between. We’ll do several brief writings, discuss some short published works (provided) and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great.

The class will be intensive but fun and low-key. It’s designed for writers of all abilities, experience levels and genres. If you’re a longtime writer in need of a boost or someone who’s always had an interest in writing but never known how to sit down and get started, join us!

Limited to fifteen. I’d love to see you there. If you’re interested, please email me at alison_mcghee@hotmail.com to reserve a spot.

Date: SATURDAY, AUGUST 1
Time: 9 am-1 pm
Place: 3554 BRYANT AVENUE SOUTH, MINNEAPOLIS, MN 55408. The Community Gathering Room in Uptown Minneapolis, right on the corner of Bryant and 36th, between Bogart’s Donuts and Gigi’s Cafe. Parking both on-street and in their lot. Community Room.
Cost: $75, including hand-outs, payable via check, Paypal, or cold hard cash.
Bring: yourself, a pen and a notebook or your quiet laptop. Lots of beverages (including beer!) and tasty treats and sandwiches and salads available at Bogart’s and Gigi’s.

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One-Day Class on July 31: Creative Writing Kickstart!

Greetings, friends, Minnesotans and countrypeople,

I’m offering a one-day Creative Writing Kickstart workshop on Friday afternoon, July 31 in Minneapolis. The focus of the Kickstart is writing from life: where you are now, where you were, and points in between. We’ll do several brief writings, discuss some short published works (provided) and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great.

The class will be intensive but fun and low-key. It’s designed for writers of all abilities, experience levels and genres. If you’re a longtime writer in need of a boost or someone who’s always had an interest in writing but never known how to sit down and get started, join us!

Limited to fifteen. I’d love to see you there. If you’re interested, please email me at alison_mcghee@hotmail.com to reserve a spot.

Date: Friday, July 31
Time: 12:30-4:30
Place: the Common Room (a private meeting room) at Common Roots Café, 2558 Lyndale Ave. S. (Right on the corner, opposite the CC Club: http://commonrootscafe.com/) Parking both on-street and in their lot.
Cost: $75, including hand-outs, payable via check, Paypal, or cold hard cash.
Bring: yourself, a pen and a notebook or your quiet laptop. Lots of beverages (including beer!) and tasty treats and sandwiches and salads available in the café.

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Poem of the Week, by Todd Boss

These days I spend a fair amount of time walking the beach and watching surfers. I don’t know how they do it, how they paddle out there and then hang out, waiting and watching for oncoming waves that are big enough to skim underneath, along, in front of. I don’t know they can see that wave coming and not want to duck right under it or paddle frantically back to the shore, the way I would do because big waves terrify me. The black-wetsuited surfers are maybe like the whales in this poem below, fearless without thinking about fear, because water is their home. A world without hem.

Whales Wear the Patterns of the Surface of the Water

– Todd Boss

all over their bodies whenever they rise for breath,
forever slipping in and out of sheaths of silk and sheer,
the sun’s hookless fishnets gliding over and over them,
over and over again. The surface is their coutourière,
and her daring glitz and glamour is what all the girls are
wearing this summer. How beautiful they are in their azure
negligees, their silver-spangled zigzag rags aglimmer!
Later, when the day’s bead curtains shift away and they drift
into the dreamless deep, they’ll leave their lovely lingerie
behind and find themselves unashamed between seamless
sheets of black satin—a world without hem—where nothing,
not even the moon’s thin strings of pretty under-things,
can come between their lovers and them.

For more information on Todd Boss, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

I don’t usually like or want to match poems with whatever’s going on in this country of ours. Too neat and easy, too matchy-matchy. But this past week? Hello. I turned many poems over in my mind but none felt exactly right. Then, near midnight tonight, I stood in a crowded room in San Francisco and watched the tremendous storyteller and artist Ashley Bryan, 92 shining years of age, climb to a podium and lead us all in a recitation of the below poem. Is there anything that man hasn’t lived through? So here you go, my friends.

My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.


For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.
For more information on Ashley Bryan, please click here.
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Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

Mom and Dad and me in DundasThis one goes out to my dad, who taught me how to make scrambled eggs, how to drive stick (kind of, anyway – after a few too many times of me stalling out the little red truck he got out of the cab so as not to yell anymore and told me I could figure it out on my own there in the cornfield, which I totally did), how to build a fire in the woodstove, how to ride a bike, how to love the open road and wheels beneath me, how not to suffer fools, how to read the funnies on Sunday morning, how to be loyal, how to be stoic, how to work hard, and how to tell a good story. Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father-types out there.

Father’s Voice
– William Stafford

“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

 

For more information on William Stafford, please click here.

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