A Writer in Every Port

I’m not sure why I can’t stay put — why I always need to be planning the next trip to [insert destination here]. I adore my house on wooded acres, tucked into the hills above a tourist destination. Maybe I caught my grandad’s wanderlust that he caught from his dad’s work on the railroad. Maybe it’s genetics, stemming from the same urge that drove my ancestors to trade one continent for another. But it’s more likely a by-product of moving: having so many loved-ones in such a long string of scattered places. Social media is fine for keeping up with the facts of someone, but it’s no replacement for real-time bonding with someone over a shared meal. Even as a child, my parents made sure we traveled on what little discretionary funds we had to maintain the relationships that were important…relationships I would later rely on after my parents left for Africa.

So it’s no wonder that as an adult I followed their example. And once the internet created the ability to meet and collaborate with strangers-who-become-friends, my string of scattered people became a web that now spans oceans. Since 2009, I’ve made a point of meeting up with writer-friends whenever family-travel brings me into close proximity. I’ve shared pints with Mel Bosworth, toured the Louvre with Dorothee Lang, dined in Beacon Hill with Tim Bridwell, took Yorkshire tea with Samantha Priestley…and New York City? Rose Auslander, Casey Tingle, Elizabeth J. Coleman, Paco Márquez… These meet-ups play a critical role in a key component of my writing life: creative kinship.

Dinner at an Irish pub with Ben Moeller-Gaa in St. Louis

Creative kinship is what sparked the idea for my calligraphic treatment of Ben Moeller-Gaa’s haiku. His guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for English-language haiku crossed-pollinated with my guidance on what is and isn’t reader-friendly book design. Our geeky discussions yielded a unique approach to a frequently mistreated poetic form. My practice of that approach over the course of four haiku poets’ collections has honed my calligraphic skills while giving me wabi-sabi instincts. Now I can’t write haiku to save my life, but I have enough awareness of their spirit to help another haiku/haibun poet, dt.haase, develop two works-in-progress. The only thing that could have beat dining with dt. one night and Ben the next on my latest train journey would have been for the three of us to dine together! Maybe someday…

Eating the world’s best pizza (Giordano’s) with dt.haase in Chicagoland

I’m sure it’s possible to write in seclusion and only share work with faceless entities, but I can’t imagine it’s much fun. Working for a press out of my home, writing at a desk in my home — the internet makes these possible. Having to drive an hour+ to engage with poets in real life, however, sometimes leaves me isolated. The creative kinships I’ve developed over the years have opened up collaborations that have taught me skills I never would have gained on my own. And it’s the endorphins that come from these intense, trusting partnerships that carry me through the long, dark January nights when the roads are too icy to attend Writers Night Out…or Down Cellar Poets…or Boston Bookbuilders…

If you have grown thanks to creative kinships, please share in the comments. How did you meet? Have you ever met in real life? What works of art exist in the world now because of your creative kinships?

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Definite Repeat Read

What Is Reading For?What Is Reading For? by Robert Bringhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My mentor suggested I read this book while on a retreat. He said it would help rejuvenate my creative spirit and help me guide my press into its fifth year printing books and chapbooks. He wasn’t wrong. Bringhurst’s lecture-turned-artifact is a feast for the eyes, hands, and mind. I especially enjoyed his comparison of books to ecosystems and agriculture, having grown up in farming communities and being trained as an ecologist. I read this book quickly. I read it slowly. I read it and took notes. I now plan to read it every New Year between now and the end of my dance with the written word. Because it will take me years to figure out what kinds of words are best to plant, what kinds of words are best to harvest, and how to properly celebrate that harvest by making an object worthy of the name Book.

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What is REAL?

An Amateur MarriageAn Amateur Marriage by Jessie Carty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many of us, myself included, have friends we only know online. Some are merely acquaintances or notches on a networking belt. But other online friendships are more substantial, built on honest communication and/or collaborating on real projects. For me, Jessie is one of these friends. And I have often wondered what life is like for her on the other end of cyberspace, in those moments where the computer is off and the smartphone is put away, in her “real” life.

This chapbook gave me a glimpse into her other world. A world filled with objects and someone to share them with. This world–—her nest, feathered and re-feathered as she moves from what she thinks is expected to what she knows is needed, is made so real on the page that I could feel her couch and taste her casserole. And yet.

And yet I started wondering what “real” life actually is. And whether this poetic construction of Jessie’s life is given to us to satisfy that voyeuristic tendency we all have at some level. That she, in her clever way, might actually be protecting the world she loves by showing him/it to us in a controlled context–—allowing her “Jack” to walk away “nimble and quick to situate himself without any light.”*

I may never know the truth, even if I do meet her in person someday. But in the end it doesn’t matter. The idea of “real” in this chapbook is so enjoyable that I’ll take it, believe it, and wait impatiently for what her next (chap)book will reveal.

*From her poem “What I fear”

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Danish Breakfast

Denmark, Kangaroo, OrangeDenmark, Kangaroo, Orange by Kevin Griffith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had breakfast with Kevin this morning. Sausage and day-old pancakes with jam. And tea. We laughed as we discussed aging, travel, writing, and the odd mythology. When I say “we laughed,” I mean to say that I laughed and sensed that Kevin must have laughed as he wrote these pieces. Though I suspect with some he sighed as he revised. Or pondered. Or stewed. Because these prose poems seem to have the qualities of a mood ring: adapting themselves to the reader’s inner state so that different elements are highlighted accordingly.

I couldn’t put this book down—had to consume it in one sitting. It was every bit as engaging as the collection of his microfiction I had the pleasure of publishing (101 KINDS OF IRONY, Folded Word, 2012). Yet it had more layers, as poetry must. The same wit and wink were there, but also in attendance were beauty and insight. And a line I’ll never forget from “In the Town of the Fallen Angel”: If you are very lucky, you will see the angel himself, asleep in his chair, holding the open wings of a book in his lap.

Thank you, Kevin, for making me lucky today.

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