Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Word on Wednesday - Best / Most / Favourite of 2008

(because what year would be complete without a best / most / favourite list?)


Most tender cry
The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
(whose website has been under construction for quite some time)

Years ago my friend Barbara recommended this book and the title stuck in my mind. I finally bought it last Jan with a bookstore gift certificate someone had given me, and even then it sat on my shelf for months. Just before summer, curled up on the couch for a weekend, I cried my way through Henry and Clare's romance. I love how the story's sadness and foreboding is peppered with the humour that comes when two people are so comfortably one, destined and resigned to that destiny of constant heartache. A heartache as beautiful as is is tragic.

Most stunning cry (sudden and unforseen)
Fierce Light - Where Spirit Meets Action
a documentary by Velcrow Ripper

Last October I attended my friend Sue's wedding. This friend had a chronic kidney condition and during the ceremony I could tell she was exhausted. Part way through the reception dinner, my husband and I realized that the entire wedding party was gone. Word came around that Sue had fallen ill and had to be taken to the hospital. She went into a coma and died that evening.

I was in shock, it was unreal that one could attend a friend's wedding and then the friend could vanish from this earth. Sue was all light and heart and spirit, but she also had a flair for the dramatic. We all agreed that her exit was beautiful... how many other people get a reception line of all their friends and family at the end of their lives?

A friend at Sue's wedding recommended a movie to me. She had specifically thought of me after watching it. She said Fierce Light was an inspiring documentary about people coming together for good, for peace, for action. That sounded about right. In the midst of a crazy work week, just a few days after Sue's death, I ducked out for a few hours to see the film at Vancouver Film Festival. It was sold out. I sat in the front row, swallowed by the screen.

In the opening sequence, the director Velcrow Ripper shows the story of Brad Will, an anarchist and video journalist, through his final film footage. Brad was shot and killed (by police) in 2006 during the teacher's strike in Oaxaca, Mexico, which he had traveled down to document. He basically filmed his own murder. The footage was gut-wrenching.

My heart burst open... it was too much. I had known Brad. I knew he had been killed, but I hadn't expected to see the footage on full screen in colour.

I had met Brad at Naropa University. My two fondest memories of him were when he and I spent an afternoon trying to create the perfect intoxicating tea and attending his mock gay wedding held outside the Promise Keeper's convention. Brad was one of a kind. A generous coyote trickster with a heart for justice.

I'm pretty sure I cried through the entire film, and not just for Sue and Brad, for all the wonderful, beautiful people out there with fierce light and spirit. Brad died doing what he had to do. Sue died in the arms of love. I don't know if there is any more appropriate way for them to leave us.

to story about Brad that appeared in Rolling Stone

Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Poetry Purge*

a: to clear of guilt

: to free from moral or ceremonial defilement
: to cause evacuation from (as the bowels)

I've been typing up my 2008 3:15 Experiment poems. I'm hoping to get them finished before spring. If you have never heard of the 3:15 Experiment... well I just don't know if I can talk to you any more. (it's a collaborative writing experiment, it's annual, it's insane)

I came across this one and really liked how it merged my waking life / job, dreams, odd lists, and a bit of advice (both practical and unprovoked). It is here, unedited, in pure 3:15 form, as the experiment is about writing from / exploring the hypnogogic state.

August 9, 2008
Vancouver, BC

Let’s all give ourselves a raise
all under promoted underplayed
artists report to the promenade deck
time for lawn bowling, sushi
and photos with loved ones

Celebration is a necessary component
to breathing
festivities, fireworks, fondue
should not be kept on a shelf
in the back drawer, coated
with dust. Admire your success
open the windows let it be known

It’s 3 months until winter
keep the hula skirt dry martinis
in china glasses mini umbrellas in our soup
ice sculptures shaped like ducks
cats w/impossibly soft pillows
rites of passage shuffleboard
sun setting over the hills horizons like
white elephants name your poison
name your game—name your baby
take away the name and what’s left?
the essence of what is
breath, celebration, light of our
lives we trust each other
only because we love
to give in, give away
we love to not be in charge
take us away people of the moon
people of the asteroids people
giant-like and forgiving.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Word on Christmas

We've been the landlords to a Chinese family for the past year. They've been renting the bottom half of our house while their new home is being built. There are two kids, Mom and Dad, Grandma, and for two months a few cousins. I only understand about 1/10 of what Mom or Dad tells me, and Grandma speaks straight Cantonese with a lot of hand gestures. I always smile because her eyes laugh and shine whenever she speaks to me.

The laundry room is shared and I have to walk through their hallway, past their bathroom, Grandma’s room, and the kitchen to get there. I would have been horrified if any of my landlords had to walk down my hallway to do their laundry. I get shivers just thinking about a few of my landlords. We had a peeping tom for one when I lived in Prague...

In any case, whenever I venture down there, first knocking politely, then jiggling the doorknob so they know I’m about to enter, Grandma always greets me enthusiastically, with a hand on my arm, and the ladies wave from down the hall in the garage, pausing over their sewing machines... oh, yes, they do piece work in the garage. Mom, Grandma, Sister, and “Cousins.” They are chatty and keep the radio on a Chinese version of an easy listening station. The laundry room is just off the garage.

Over the last several months, Mom has hemmed two pairs of pants for me, our curtains, and she made me a green cammie for my birthday. I’ve photocopied papers for her, faxed documents to China, and I gave her kids most of my Halloween candy. They are moving out at the end of the month; their new
house is finished.


Today is Christmas and I need to do laundry. I had heard the whir of sewing machines earlier, so I know someone’s around. I’m not sure if they celebrate Christmas, with kids growing up North American and living in such a fusion of cultures. My own traditions have morphed since moving to Canada.

I grab a little present so I won’t go down empty handed. It’s a honey gift set that my friend made. Her parents run an apiary. They make the honey and she makes the beeswax candles. I venture downstairs and find Mom, Grandma, Sister, Cousin and a Girlfriend sharing a meal in the kitchen. Merry Christmas, Mom says. I hand her the honey gift set and she tells me in very broken English that she wants to invite me to a party at her new house. She then says to come over and she’ll hem my pants. Okay, I say.

Grandma opens all the cupboards, pointing and chatting the whole time. I smile and shake my head. She opens the refrigerator and gestures inside. I still don’t understand. She goes to a calendar and flips the pages to Dec 28. She points to everything around her and then gestures away. Ah, they are moving on the 28th. Everything in the kitchen will be gone by the 28th is what she means. That’s a lucky day. The Mom had once said that numbers ending in “8” are lucky.

Grandma goes to the stove and grabs something wrapped in aluminum foil. She offers it to me. She points to herself, then the item, then to me. I'm pretty confident she's giving it to me, so I take it. It’s heavy and warm. Thanks, I say, Merry Christmas.

I go back upstairs and into our kitchen. Baby is in the middle of making a traditional Christmas chili. We've been camped out for a few days due to weather and illness. We didn't get a chance to buy any of the usual holiday fare, so chili and pancakes it is.

I set the steaming package on the counter.

What’s that, Baby asks. I believe, I say, it’s a Christmas Yam.

Today I am grateful for the beauty of small gestures.

Happy Holidays to all! Be well and safe! May you all be delivered your own Christmas Yams.

Our front yard, yesterday :-)

And a farewell from this planet to poet Nanao Sakaki who died on Dec 21 at age 86.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Word on Wednesday - Gross National Happiness and Pronoia

This weeks' word goes out to the happy feet of Matt Harding. I couldn't stop smiling as I watched this video. I also got a little teary-eyed a few times, because it's just so damn beautiful. Watch it in its entirety, cuz just when you think you've seen it all, he changes it up a bit. Well done!

(Since YouTube is now WIDESCREEN, it doesn't fit in my blogspace any more. Doh!)

If you just love him, his website is Where the Hell is Matt?

And if you want to see an interview with him, check out young VJ Alexandra Liss' Video on SanFranciscoIAM

In particular, what he says at 5:38 about the country of Bhutan is lovely. I had never heard this. Basically the king of Bhutan (they just moved to a democracy recently) decided to measure the prosperity of the country's citizens NOT on economic terms, but by their level of happiness. They have a Gross National Happiness and a Ministry of Happiness.

That is just about the coolest thing I've heard of since I discovered Rob Brezny's book PRONOIA a few months ago. It actually deserves its very own WORD Entry. Perhaps I'll do more on that later. I'd definitely recommend it as a great holiday gift.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Friday Five on Tuesday

Better late then never, right? I'm working my way back to blogging more. I have to shape up because I was invited to participate in the upcoming Poetry Bloggers Conference (more info as it comes!).

The poem below was inspired by my recent trip to Hawaii, where I swam with sea turtles, and missed my husband back home.


untidying the line between breath
and spirit
our nightly sculptures mock
dark matter
enter the
light of eternal sunshine
transformed via
our bliss
bedroom sighs
we rise
again and again
flying over pele’s mountain
woozy with love
plain and simple

words only jumble the treasure of it
all so godish
a connection of sea turtles
bidding aloha to brackish waters
our tears and kindnesses
mixing gesso on which
we overlay
their sun-kissed skins

FRIDAY FIVE words last week:


Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The title of this post says it all... the world breathed a collective sigh of relief as Obama was elected the next president of the U.S.

Being an ex-pat living in Canada, I felt a renewed sense of hope and pride in my home country.

Vancouver celebrated last night, and it wasn't just the Americans living here, either. I was out to dinner with two friends last night. I apologized for being distracted by the election, which was being broadcast on a large screen TV at the restaurant. They laughed and said they were distracted by it, too.

When Obama was announced as the next president, I let out such a loud cheer that everyone in the restaurant laughed. As Obama gave his speech, the owner turned up the television and everyone turned to listen. The wait staff, the kitchen staff, the owners all pulled up chairs and everyone sat, happily stunned. There were even some tears of joy, and they weren't all coming from me. My friend Ami and I held hands tightly, witnessing what everyone knew was an amazing historical moment. I high-fived my waiter on the way out.

I came home to some congratulatory e-mails from friends in other parts of the world. U.S. policy and economics affects the world, that has become very clear in the last eight years. The world was indeed watching last night...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - yes, on the track...

I've been typing up some of my 3:15 Experiment poems, which are pretty dark this year. If you don't know what the 3:15 Experiment is, it's an annual collective of poets who all wake up every night at 3:15 AM during the month of August. Many brave poets attempt it, few survive... well, okay, they all survive, but they do get pretty cranky.

The poems are posted UNEDITED, because the point of the experiment is to see what your 3:15 mind comes up with in its hypnogogic / hypnopompic state.

(the event at the end of this poem is tragically true, not a nightmare I had)

August 2, 2008
Vancouver, BC

As a way of falling asleep
broken thoughts turn into
automatic images playing
Don’t want to force the images let
them come coaxed like eels
underwater, yes, where preference is usually
blind, but no there is a shock
in life that is unreal
how unreal the story of our lives
when we tell it back gripping I
have become a gripper holding
onto that which made the road here
boyfriends, jobs, speeches, crashes
all jambalaya

my heart rips open w/ today’s news
a man beheaded on a bus on his way back
home on a bus across Canada
nobody got up to stop the knife
and would I have been any more
confrontational? faced w/a mad man
would I run?

decapitated, the victim 3 minutes dead
what I imagine is the breath
one minute easing out w/a thought
of someone I love or used
to love 10th grade prom the
sloppy gropings and smiles
breathe one-two the knife descends
like that when did the lights go?
did he know his head was coming off?
did he have a chance a moment to
realize and love his life for
what it was?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Attempt at a Video Poem

This is the audio/visual to go with my previous post's poem.

Ironically, being a writer/producer/director, I have never actually edited anything before. All I have on my computer is this extremely limited Windows Movie Maker, but what'cha gonna do... perhaps I'll get inspired and invest in something a little more snazzy.

All wedding pictures taken by Tod McCoy, all other pictures taken by me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

monday poetry train - present beau for 2 friends

A present beau is a poem you write for someone using only the letters available in their name/s. For instance, in the poem below, I could only use the letters a, b, c, d, e, i, j, l, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w - which gave the poem a softer tone because it lacked hard letters like t, k, and g.

Present Beau for Dawn Samuelson and Neven Jambresic

on the occasion of their marriage

aug 31, 2008 - ashford, wa

once in a blue moon

a wondrous love evolves

raw and massive

riddles are balanced

a diorama dances

love’s drums drive rise above

all noise all scars subside

leaves us noble and alive

a sudden call across a room

in seconds loved bloomed

cried dove roamed soared

love drove our

man and woman on

as nervous summer smiles simmered

and wild amour burned

sun and moon and world

embraced lion and lioness

and since love’s sudden wow

our dawn and neven now

vow arrive at wedded bliss

will ever woven become

one sacred river

one sacred road

joined in dream and soul

love’s rare invaluable ode

~danika dinsmore

I'm going to figure out how to post an audio of me reading this poem to this blog. Anyone know how?

I bet it's easy in wordpress, I'm just too lazy to switch from blogger to wordpress. I'll get around to it someday.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

You Know You Want To...

The Annual 3:15 Experiment commences in TWO nights... and I think you all are just insane enough to do it...

You can register on line at:

If you've never even HEARD of The 3:15 Experiment... where have you BEEN for the last 15 years?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Hello everyone. I am on "vacation" from my blog right now. Not sure when I'll be back. Sometime at the end of July.

In the summertime, there are reruns on television. In that spirit, here are a few of my favourite posts over the last year or so:

From my Thursday Thirteen File

A crazy idea that took me most of the day to post:
13 Pages from 13 Journals

If you like monkeys, you must check out:
Thirteen Sad Monkeys (from Thursday Thirteen)

A Few of my Favourite Writing Exercises:

The "literary definition"

The use of small incidences

Poetry fun you can have with Friends

A Few Favourite Poems:


No Matter

ID Matters

Something from my Polly Papers

Miranda July Rocks

And lastly... my cats' favourite post

Hope your summer is going well!


Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday Poetry Train

I just got back from a weekend reunion with several of my best friends from college. We all turned 40 recently. We've known each other for 22 years, and even when we don't see each other for a long time, it's like no time has passed at all.

The job of a writer is to capture these moments in words and I feel humbled by the task. Words really aren't enough. I want to return to this later and do it justice. For now, this is the fresh version.


once together we
hummingbirds and flamingos
dance on the
dessert buffet
twenty-two times around the sun
pressing the rough parts free
the wrinkles and scars
musical notes on the agenda
of repeating the memories
that made us

artistry in life is play my
playmates my moulin rouge
my circle unbroken my song
my mother my poet my
together in the california sun
tears in our bloody marias
pull my finger jesus smiles
pull my finger and
shut the door

at once we children
hold hands at the zoo
in line for the night train
making home where we land
together once there
is no going back we
return to our dream
what is real what
is real our once together

Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday Poetry Train (in Motion)

I haven't written any poetry this week... however I DID attend a screenwriting summit this weekend with Michael Hauge, Linda Seger, John Truby, and Sid Field. I was very unimpressed with Sid Field. Not that I ever refer to any of his books... although I did like his Four Screenplays.

As for the others, I definitely took something away from each. Truby is an excellent lecturer on structure and genre, although a little rigid in his analysis.

For today... you'll have to settle for Poetry in Motion. I really dig this video from It was created by a student at Vancouver Film School. I've been obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance lately, and the unbelievable control people have over their bodies.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Word on Wednesday - Word to Director Katrin Bowen

Since I missed the Monday Poetry Train, I figured I would give this week's word to Vancouver Director Katrin Bowen and her beautiful video poem Almost Forgot My Bones based on Tanya Evanson's poem of the same name.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - for Joe Stummer

I just watched an incredible documentary last night about the life of Joe Stummer, lead singer of The Clash. Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. There was so much I didn't know about him, especially the amazing journey of his life. And even though he had some tortured years and pushed away a lot of his friends, he was authentic, and he was a very generous human being. I found the film inspiring in many ways.

When he died at 50 (of a congenital heart defect he knew nothing about), he had come full circle and found peace and happiness in his community.

(The title is in reference to Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, the Hero's Journey)

Separation – Initiation - Return

Joe Strummer lived
the perfect Hero’s Journey
status quo ransacked
when sent to boarding
school the inciting brotherly
suicide the threshold of the
free world trials and allies and
enemies lovers and fans
until finally the belly
of the beast
without a backup band
and the only redemption
to make amends with
all the hippies

he burned fires in circles
after he learned
it’s not places you return to
it’s peace of mind the
final okay I’m here this is it
this is me
and I’d rather be happy
than right
that rock laughing at me
in the shade
without form
we could live that long
and have compassion too

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - Found Poem from talk by Jill Bolte Taylor

Assignment: write a found poem. Use the words of a piece of non-fiction or a speech to write a poem. Put someone else`s words into the style/form of your own poetry.

This is a found poem made up of words and phrases from Jill Bolte Taylor's moving talk on T.E.D. called A Stroke of Insight. Click the link and pull up a box of Kleenex.

a stroke of insight

I can no longer identify
the boundaries of
my body

my body

enormous and expansive
disconnected from all chatter

no longer the choreographer
of my life
I surrender
a sea of silent euphoria

and no way to squeeze
the enormousness of myself
back inside

I am the lifeforce power of the universe
with manual dexterity
and two cognitive minds

I am the lifeforce power of the universe
at one
with all that is

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Weekend Workout - bonus poetry and a shout out to Eckhart Tolle

I haven't given you all a weekend writing workout in a while, so I stopped in with a bonus poem for the Wishes, Lies, and Dreams class at Puget Sound Community School.

My assignment this time is to go someplace where there are lots of people and just wander around, being quiet, and listening to them all. I think buses are great for this. So are malls. Listen to everyone's pain, fears, worries, suffering, silliness... Your job is to empathize with them all.

I've been having a great time observing others after reading Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth, which I think is a useful tool for writers. Forget books about writing for a moment and read a book about being a human suffering inside of an ego. Should give you insights for great character development.

During or after you do this listening exercise, write a poem that begins with the lines "I listen..." and see where it takes you.


I listen to angels
on the bus wearing
narrative eyes - I've lost
my fearlessness the charm
of youth once wombed in an
immortality of ideas
I am now offered seats
sweets - and less hours in a day
The bus driver tells me
about how his sister smothered
the dashboard of her car
with stuffed animals

I had a car like that I say
Allen Ginsberg rode shotgun
when I gave him a ride home
from a party
elixired on poetry
an incident my keeper of
memory adores

A bodhisattva sits next to me
remembering his dinner
Chinese ladies with bags of aluminum cans
chat loudly and the bus lurches
tumbling us madly forward laughing
as we touch - we know
each other now
a bird of souls
a playground of misfits

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Poetry Train... not so much...

I'm not feeling so poetic at the moment, but I am pretty excited.

Now you can finally see why I have been so insanely busy lately (making for inconsistent blogging).

The first of 25 internet TV sites I am helping to create has launched!

It's less than a week old, so there are still bugs and glitches and funky things going on, as well as changes we just couldn't make in time for our launch. So, we'll be tweaking over the next few months to get everything right.

Each site is locally-based and locally focused. Toronto and Seattle are next.

For some reason, the sound adjuster isn't working on the viewing pages, so you'll have to adjust the sound from your computer.

A few short films that I wrote are posted on the TV IAM portion of the site:


What the Cat Said

And I wrote, produced, and directed the "How To TV AM" video, which is about creating video citizen journalism (Click on the pink How To TV IAM graphic)

Word is getting out, people are excited about participating and love the look. I can`t wait to start on the next city!

So, no poem today... but at least I`m getting sleep again. :-)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - from the singed mouth of poetry

I just got back from Burning Word, the "festival of poetic fire," over on Whidbey Island in Washington State. My husband was a good sport and came with me, sitting in on an impressive number of poetry readings for a non-poet. We were pretty full by the end of the day.

This festival has a special place in my heart simply due to the number of people from my past who haunt it. It's always a reunion. This year I marveled over how many of them I've known for 10 or more years. Anne Waldman, Judith Roche, Paul Hunter, Paul Nelson, Clarice Keegan, Heather Haley, Charles Potts, Amalio Madueno... und so weiter... so many more I can't even list. Cheers to you all for being a part of the who I am now.

I had the pleasure of MCing the Vancouver stage & open mic and one of the workshops. I wrote the following poem in that workshop, although it's already been through a few incarnations.

losing the hammer-will

we have no will
to hammer the hills
tell each other as
drakes chase ducks
around the pond
and into the parking lot

angels in loose clothing
hum fatly the drums
of breath
groping half-baked
in the day - -

Hop on the Poetry Train and have a super week.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monday Poetry Train #22

Hello, hello from your inconsistent monday poetry trainer. how y'all doing? we had the most beautiful weekend in Vancouver, sun shining and cherry blossoms and magnolias in bloom down every street.

Here's a fresh one from last week (when it was still cloudy and rainy).
I'm writing poetry again... hooray.

Id Matters

No matter my inner
chaos - the birds go on
with their lives
cats too, sometimes
all 9 at once
under the roof chicks
have hatched into
gray spring - the
big-headed tomcat skulks
down the cracked

Notebooks coffee my morning
I embrace words high
sages have warned me
not to use - I choose
emotion over intellect and
the letters get all curly
like a school girl's locker

Beyond that meadow
of voice all is right
with the world - I'm still here
behind the traffic of ego
in the lush cemetery of dreams
laughing - just laughing
my id off

Have an superlicious week!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weekend Workout / Monday Train: Wishes, Lies, Dreams #6 of 6

Yes, I'm cheating, I'm combining my Weekend Workout (cuz it's late) with my Monday Poetry Train. But since I used this new exercise to write a new poem, I figured it counted as both.

This is the last assignment for the Wishes, Lies, and Dreams portion of the Weekend Workout. Thanks Puget Sound Community School, for playing along.

Calling Out

"Calling" is a form of wishing. We call for help. We call for something larger than ourselves, to connect with something larger for ourselves. Sometimes our calls are simply pleas to something beautiful, something simple and pure, because we know we are flawed.

I think this exercise is best done outside. A quiet spot is better, but I did this one on my back porch with the traffic outside and all the telephone wires hanging like laundry lines.

In this exercise, you just get quiet for a few minutes, and then look around you and find something in nature to be "in awe" with.

After having a few moments of "awe," call out to this thing. When you call, speak on behalf of yourself as a human existing on the planet. Think about your time on the earth compared to its. Think that you can learn something from it. Listen to what it teaches you.

You literally start this poem with "I call to..." and then ride the call like wind and see where it takes you. This is a very "stream of consciousness" kind of poem and I'm looking forward to seeing where you all land with it.

Lost Flock

I call to the snowcapped blue
mountains Tuesday morning the
river of cars buoys ex-pedestrians
to the city
my muse
of politics
each vying for some heart
as if there weren't enough
to go around

Black crows on the wire
identify each other by instinct
while we do by hairstyles and
familiar arguments

I call to my people
follow through on your dreams
head forth
look the squeegee kids
in the eyes say
hello and thank you
like the magic you do
without fear
of losing your flock

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Poetry Train #20

Hello Poetry Trainers.

First, some most excellent news... I finished the first draft of my second novel. Sure feels good. And it doesn't totally suck! Sure, it needs some love, but for the most part, I'm just glad I've got a full draft to work with. I think the real magic is in the editing...

So, tonight, in celebration, I wrote an original poem. This is about as hot off the press as they get.

It doesn't even have a title yet.

The dramaturge sits in his oafish chair
beard in breath
wrangling his metaphors
he wants demonstration not simple words
the bee bigger than life
just because you say a red bird
represents death
doesn't mean it can't speak

The puppeteer, too, wants a larger role
and the woman behind the bar
the audience in a slow suicide
of soliloquy
wanders home past the
midnight beggars
the bearded critic
stuffs himself
with himself
and goes to bed
dreaming of the speed of light

And speaking of dreaming... I should get to bed myself.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weekend Writing Workout - Wishes, Lies, Dreams #5 or 6

I've been having a blast writing these weekly exercises for Puget Sound Community School poetry students. If you have some time, please do check out some of their work. They've done a great job with the exercises (as a matter of fact, I may need to borrow some of their examples for a book I'm writing on teaching poetry).

I've been spending more time on wishes and dreams, so I though it was time for some more lies. Or, at least not exactly the truth... How many of you have been in a situation where you don't know the answer to something, and rather than admitting you don't know, you make something up? Little kids tend to do this a lot, but I bet adults do, too.

Then again, some questions are simply unanswerable...


I decided this week to take one of my favourite writing exercises and give it a little bit of a twist.

For this exercise, everyone in the class/group needs to put a few objects on the table. I like a balance of natural objects and man-made objects, so perhaps each students could get one of each. I've used bricks, rocks, tree bark, glasses, pens, shoes, keys, flowers, a bottle of water, anything will work, really.

Exercise #1

Pick three objects that you will use for this exercise. Pick at least one natural object and one man-made object.

Write a question at the top of your page. It is important that the question be open ended rather than yes/no or answerable in one word. Examples would be:

Why is the sky blue?
Why does rain make people sad?
What is space made of?

How do birds stay in the air?

What is fame? love? war?
Why must we grow up?

What you will do is ask each of these objects your question and they will answer you in the form of a list poem. Keep in mind, though, that your object doesn't really know the answer to the question, so it makes the answer up.

Why would the object make up the answer? I suppose it depends upon the personality of the object. It's too egotistical to admit it doesn't know, it's afraid to tell you it doesn't know, it's ashamed it doesn't know, it thinks it should know, etc.

The challenge is in keeping the object's perspective in mind as it answers your question. Remember, it has a skewed and limited view of the world.

Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Have the first object answer your question. Start each line of the poem in the same manner to give it repetition. You will do this with each object so that at the end you will have 3 stanzas.


(objects: bark, popsicle stick, brick)

Why Can't I Sleep at Night?

Because you dream of chainsaws
Because you worry about nesting birds
Because your grandparents are sleeping next to you
Because the seasons make you tired

Because you dream of teeth
Because you are disposable
Because you have forgotten your childhood
Because you aren't finished yet

Because you dream of wild oceans
Because you want to grow arms, legs, or vines
Because there is something blocking the door
Because grey isn't your favorite color

I like that this one repeats the "because" each line and each stanza begins with the same idea, that there is some dream involved.

Exercise #2

Now you can turn it around and have the objects ask YOU a question. Meaning, each object asks you the same question, and you answer it for them. You can use the same objects in the first exercise or different ones. You can ask the same question, or try a new one.

Why would you make up the answer or lie to this object? Maybe you are teasing it, maybe you have an attitude. You can decide to tell the object what you think it wants to hear, what it needs to hear, try to convince it of something, or assuage its fears.

(objects - pen, leaf, shoe)

What is love?

It is straight lines and no smudges
It is unmailed letters in a drawer
It is being both right and left handed
It is learning to write your name

It is straight branches and no bird poop
It is unwritten graffiti in someone's mind
It is having branches on the east and west side of the trunk
It is leaning to fall

It is straight lines down a car-free road
It is unopened boxes of fluevogs
It is having socks for every occasion
It is learning to walk

Have fun with this! I've always gotten really interesting results from this exercise.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - Toot!

I haven't done much writing of original poetry lately... and I'm still without my laptop, working off my ancient PC pulled out of the garage. It's an adventure every time I start exploring my old files.

I tried to find the oldest unpublished poem on this computer that was worth sharing.

This one is 10 years old, when I was traveling in and out of a very long "broken-heart-dark-night-of-the soul" phase in my life. Yeah, we all have at least one of those. I'll spare you from any of the overly-maudlin or overly-philosophical ones.

I've always kinda liked this one, though, not sure why I never published it.

beautiful sonnet

I have never held breath like your intake silence
how can I not love you in your way that
Gemini arm’s-length seduction
eaten with one cannibal cry
how like you to slide between the remains
renaming parts of me turned to dust

1:37 AM won’t stand in front of you
won’t beckon the curtains
draw runes from a black bag
everything about the air rings warning
this is my life this is my life this is my life - but
mantra is weak logic with you fresh on my skin

your passing fancy held onto for lack of better touch
leaves no tomorrow to teach you interpretations of such

Feels good to be back on the train, even if it has been regurgitated material these past two weeks.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Weekend Workout - Wishes, Lies, Dreams #4 of 6

The Dreams of Small Things

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
~William Blake
Often times in my workshops I ask my students to go "small." What I mean is that picking large, abstract topics to write about (like love, loss, war) can lead to cliche and vague poems. When you focus on the details of life, and think in concrete images, the more abstract will emerge. You can start off writing a poem about a snail and get to a poem about love. The poem's meaning will come through the objects themselves.

When you want to write about loss, don't try to explain loss, don't tell me what loss is, show me loss. Think of images of loss. And start small.

Part #1
- Find a small moment

In my adult workshops I ask participants to go outside and find the smallest "political" moment they can. There are a lot of politics in small things. Politics means the use "of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control." Do the cats in your neighborhood vie for control? Do the leaves? Does the wind?

If you find the idea of the "politics" of things too difficult, simply watch small things in action. Watch the wind blow the seeds off a dandelion. I like watching the pigeons gather on the roof of the tallest house on my block.

In the first part of this exercise, go outside and find this small moment and describe it. This can be done in poetry or prose. DESCRIBE and don't judge or try to make it mean anything. Then, after you've done that for a few lines, look around the object and see how it interacts with the other things around it.

(Thanks to one of my Creative Writing for Children (age 14) participants for the below examples)

The Top Leaf

The top leaf hides in the gray sky with a sigh
above all the other leaves, pointing to the sky
in between winter and spring it beats
its own drum, no wind, no rain, no tide
A plane buzzes overhead, a gull cries
the leaf stares straight up, holding a bud
that no one will ever see, except me
writing in my blue notebook, looking
for the mystery of small things

Part #2 - The Dreams of Small Things

Now that you've made friends with your leaf, or dandelion, or spider, or bird - go one step further and put yourself in the place of your object. Live like the object, and dream what the object dreams. Remember to use its surroundings.

If you'd like, you can use the start line "In my dreams..."

The Dreams of Leaves

In my dreams, at the top of the world, I open
my bud and bloom all year round, soaking the sun
up and never getting wrinkles
The gulls flock overhead in V-formation, calling down to me
an invitation to the beach
One plucks me in its beak and we fly to the shore
the wind laughing in my skin
as airplanes soar, caring for
passengers traveling to distant lands
I fall to the sand, as the gull gets bored
The waves tease slowly and grow
lifting me up to float
through the night by the moon's glow
through the day by the sun's gloat
I am golden and lost, like a delicate

NOTE: I did not make rhyming a necessity for this poem, my student discovered that herself. I like the way it moves in and out of an unpredictable rhyme pattern.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - I'm back! (again)

Hello Poetry Trainers... boy have I have a few crazy weeks. As you know, I was producing the annual Women In Film Festival, which ended last night at our Spotlight Awards Gala. This on top of my day job, made for a string of 14, 16, even 18 hour days. Whew!

In the middle of all this, my computer went KAPUT! I thought all my poetry was lost, but a friend saved my hard drive (NOTE: backup your hard drive on a regular basis, people!)

I dug my old PC out of storage and am writing on that now. Feels so archaic, haha. It's about eight years old.

In honour of my old 'puter, I dug up an eight year old poem, never published (never happy with it I guess), written while I was living in Prague. I was writing poetry pretty much everyday while I lived there. Wow, it all seems a lifetime ago...

Prague, CZ
July 28, 2000

i’ve attached myself
to the way space
opens up

when everything flames

carries you away to burn

in a new direction for a while

last night we cooked fancy meals
veggie burgers rice wine greek salad ice cream
with blueberries strong coffee
in the morning omelets with creamed spinach
for late lunch blueberry pancakes and
in that determination bought bus tickets for Split
craving at least one day of sun and beach
for all the dark rainy days July has brought

suddenly i’m on vacation
or pre-writing as Bernadette calls it
which is anything you do when you’re
not writing

it's all about mortality
or why we need to love
i’ve become afraid of flying
smoking cigarettes instead
there is so much smoking time here
it passes the meantimes between rational fears

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Check in and Weekend Writing Workout #14 - Wishes, Lies, and Dreams #3 of 6

Hello all, thanks for the comments and notes. It's nice to know I've been missed. :-]

Last weekend I was out of town for my 5th anniversary and my 40th birthday. Wow, I'm 40! Where did the time go?

Also, not only am I working a day job, I'm producing a film festival in my "spare" time (so it's like working 2 full time jobs right now). The Women in Film Festival runs from Feb 29 - March 8th. Our website is It's not the most inspired site... but the films are awesome and the festival will be great... if I can survive until then.

Time for this weekend's Writing Workout: The Cherish Wish

I thought of this one while doing my morning pages. I'm reading through Julia Cameron's "Finding Water" (her third book in her Artist Way series and the perfect thing to keep me grounded right now because it's all about "perseverance" and how to stay focused when other parts of your life threaten to distract you from your art - ha!).

This exercise has three parts to it, and each part could be a poem in itself. Although, I think running through the entire exercise will bear the most rewarding fruit.


In Cameron's book she asks readers to make short lists of things that they "cherish." They could be the small details of your life, objects you wouldn't want to part with, or pieces of the natural things around you.

Set your timer for 3-5 minutes and without stopping to think or edit, make a list of things that you cherish.


I cherish the birds flying east when the sun is on the horizon
the seagull who sits on the chimney of the blue house every morning
the full moon on a clear night
my father's reading glasses, which are the same prescription as mine
my "February" doll he gave me for my 12th birthday
the little wooden Buddha on my altar
I cherish my little coloured wooden cats that sit on the mantle
my cats themselves in their temperaments
my completely worn out and over-read edition of The Phantom Tollbooth
the walk through the cemetery on my way to the store


Pick one of the lines above and write a short poem using the formula: cherish, cherish, wish.
Meaning, you write what it is that you cherish, expand or relate a second thing you cherish. And then wish something about it.

Do this at least 3 or 4 times until you have a series of small poems.


I cherish the birds flying East when the sun is on the horizon,
and the caw-caw-caw as they make their way,
an entire city of crows moving together in space
I cherish the sun, too, as it sits there
admiring the birds
I wish I could fly with my home
and bring all the world with me

* * * * *

I cherish my father's reading glasses, which he wore
for the months before his death, so he could see us
large moist eyes behind good-bye eyes
I cherish the moment in the hospital room when we discovered our
prescriptions were the same, and we exchanged glasses, laughing
I wish I could give them back to him, so he could see me, and I him
one more time

* * * * *

I cherish my walk through the cemetery on my way to the store
and my discovery of Ruth Mystic, who must have been a fortune teller,
her small old headstone buried in the grass
I cherish the way the trees are shaped like animals, as if the spirits of the dead
have taken on new forms, the coyote tree howls to the sky
I wish I could howl, too, like an animal tree-spirit, and shake my furry leaves of
all the winter snow


Now that you've got these little cherish-wish poems, you can leave them as they are, or you can try something a little less formulaic.

The formula was simply a way of getting the words out and onto the page, although the little poems are quite satisfying in theselves. Now you can play with what you have and merge them all into one long poem and see where it takes you.

Add details, let it take you new places, and FIND the connections among them. There's a reason you chose those items in your last exercise. There is probably a theme running through them.

I see now in the examples above, a theme of longing and loss. What connections can you make with the mini-poems you wrote? Take that connection, that theme or tone or idea, and base your final poem on it, keeping that connection in mind.

I recommend a circular path, meaning go back to where you began at the end of the poem. This will make the connection complete. You'll see in this one that the reference to the birds returns at the end:

Every day as the sun sits on the horizon
the crows head East
a city of birds
cawing together in space
I head West, taking a short cut
through the cemetery
on my way to the store to buy
more fruit
the trees are shaped like wild animals
howling across the graves
I visit Ruth Mystic, born 1889, died 1947,
a plain stone with no flowers
a tree-rabbit peers down at us
snow at its feet

At the store, I wear my father's glasses
to read the labels on cans of beans
the same glasses he wore for the few months
before his death, after eye surgery
large moist eyes behind good-bye eyes

I cherish the moment in the hospital room
when we discovered our prescriptions were the same
and my mother exclaiming,
when she learned there was
nothing to be done for him
that he had just gotten
his new eyes

Returning from the store
I fill the space between my self
and my home
the city of birds long gone,
the cemetery dark as
silhouettes of tree-wolves bay
at the moon

Have a great weekend!