Friday, December 13, 2013

Happy Anniversary: A Party Dress and The Making of a Blog Mask for Feral Mom, Feral Writer:

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end--Ursula K. Le Guin

I’m still obsessing a bit about hesitations, the pay-off for waiting on the periphery. But realizing we each eventually brave the stage for our part. Nature’s metaphors provide solace: take flowers. They don’t choose when to bloom, nor do they falter. The heat of the sun impels them to fold back their exquisite petals to reveal their centers. I wrote more about the fear cycle of exposure due to book publication in Tarot Butterflies and Poem Disorder and Not Saying Goodbye to Feral Mom and in a forthcoming guest post hosted by Suzi Banks Baum at Laundry Line Divine, Hesitations, The Lost Wing, and Outgrowing the Metronome. (Link updated Jan 13, 2014.)
But December marks the official six year anniversary of this blog. Happy Birthday, Feral Mom, Feral Writer--here I am in a party dress for you! I don’t post here as often as I wish—but I’m grateful my absence here correlates with joyful ventures on other websites that were seeded here. One of my favorite offshoots of this blog is working with women bloggers at Transformative Blogging—especially the fun we have brainstorming the concept of a blogging mask.

Initially, it was just a metaphor: taking on a blogging mask to navigate the blogosphere with a little shield, a little simultaneous kick in the pants to get on stage. But it didn’t take long to fall in love with the idea of making a physical mask in order to ground the process of consciously honing in on a blogging mask and focus. It not only adds a spiritual form of listening but gives us each a tangible object to write to and speak from. And a way to involve the body, and thus the heart, not just the mind. I made my first mask in 2012 with the first round of online students willing to try it out.

But we were spread out across the states and unable to pair up, so I cajoled my daughter into helping me. With a strong fire raging in the woodstove, I got supine on the tan leather couch, which meant the cat quickly graced my knees, and my daughter told me “Stop talking, Mom, you’re wiggling the plaster around your lips." So there was nothing to do for those long moments but listen to the sound of the scissors shearing the plaster strips, the wind through the redwood trees, the thunk of her little brothers trouncing down the stairs, house jiggling in response as the boys brushed my toes with their restless bodies until my daughter shooed them outside.

When my mask was done, my neck wet and cat peeved at my feet, my son surprised me by taking my place and asking his sister to make him one as well. Then she too went under the plaster in a beautiful display of trust.

I went with a base coat, applied outside in the driveway with a can of silver spray paint.

Then came the blue. So dark…I had to add the pink. There was so much pink paint on the plate I flipped the mask over and used up the paint all along the backside of the mask. When I pulled this photo up today I saw the holographic properties, the inside face, peeking through…although, it does make me feel (this photo) like I’m showing you my cervix. Try to get that image out of your head!

Next I took the mask out in the woods and tried to photograph it by some moss. Which came out dark. So then I dropped it in a silver bowl.

Then, it sat balanced on the lip of a white jug in my cabin for about a year when my husband was commuting and we were both just hanging on to withstand the separation. Because he’d hand-trowled the interior of my cabin with plaster and painted it such a lovely pale tan, I couldn’t bear to be in that cabin and write…so the mask took my place.

Then I chose a veil to veil the the mask for use on my “professional site”…something about the paint showing through the mesh made it feel naked to me.


Then we moved to a sunny city. I decided to teach the mask making and blogging focus workshop in person for A Room of Her Own Foundation. A friend suggested I buy face shells in case anyone was afraid to set wet plaster on their skin. I couldn’t resist the urge to play with the face shells, thinking all the while about the friends near and far the blog work and connections have brought me, and those yet to come. Here we all are, a composite flower.
The journey goes on.

Here a few phrases I found from writings the mask revealed that still align with my goals for this blog. I’m grateful to extend my best effort to:

Face the poverties (of body, soul, faith, imagination, relationship).

Ground the numinous.

Greet the past through the veil of now.

Free the self into greater joy in the company of kindred hearts.

Bessings to you and yours in 2014. Love and thank you to each one of you holding up the invisible web of love and support that goes into writing this blog. I couldn’t do this alone and I’m grateful to be in your collective presence.

Additional News:

Mordred's Dream, from the Guinevere cycle, is forthcoming in Poetry Flash--I'm ecstatic, of course. Working on the movie with Robyn's images and some beautiful flute music and this one is graced by a male reader's voice--more to be revealed.

I'm teaching Beginning Blogging in person at Coronado Adult Education on Thursday evenings from 6-8 pm from Jan 9-Feb 20 and again April 10-May 22.

and a Poetry Workshop: A Tour Through Forms on Tuesday evenings from 6-8 pm from Jan7-Feb 25 and again April 8-May 27th. Call (619) 522-8911 to register or visit their website to view the brochure: Coronado Adult Ed/ROP.

And Poetry of Motherhood on-line....hope to work with you in the future.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Writers and Lovers Cafe and a December Book Giveaway Offer

Writers and Lovers Café arrived in my mailbox all the way from Taiwan, full of haiku, haiga, senryu, haibun, tanka, and tanka classics (edited by Tad Wojnicki--I wrote about his work earlier in Lemonade Stands and Writers and Lovers Café). In this slim and lovely debut volume you’ll find the usual favorite haiku suspects (moons and roses) but you will also find a wilder array of volunteers in the book’s word cloud from Ferraris to fruit, AA to sirloin, Auschwitz to flea markets, garlic to spiders, and castles to children’s handprints.
And it features a haibun by yours truly, Reunion, which attempts to capture the emotional fray of trying to right the disparate needs of a family of five reconciling after three years of weekend marriage. No slender lover pining under cherry blossoms—think peevish wife and preteen daughter on shore, and loose in the sea: the surfing husband and sons. An entirely different kind of pining. Or pinning. Some kind of defeat and attempted triumph. I have now written a description longer than the haibun, so I'll stop here.

Except to say my husband is singing in the shower..Yes, honey, I wrote this one about you. As I've mentioned on this blog before, whenever I get a poem rejection, he's famous for admonishing, "Was it a poem about me?!....No?...So write one about me and I promise it'll get taken..." There you go, I concede, more poems in his future. About him.

Here’s the back cover of this edition of Lovers and Writers Cafe listing an upcoming call for submissions just in case you have taken up a haiku challenge--for instance there’s a wildish group of AROHO women committing to writing a haiku a day starting in January; if you join me in that challenge,  by Tad’s haiku deadline here of March 1, 2014, you should have at last 60 new haiku. And what better thing to do with a series of haiku than to submit them to someone who will actually read and cherish them?

Additional Notes:
This edition runs $6 a copy plus $4 for international shipping; here’s the link should you wish to give Writers and Lovers Café to the haiku fanatic in your life. There you'll also find submission guidelines in a larger font.

Another amazing site celebrating these forms and more with beautiful galleries and video collage, with thanks to Liz Brennan for pointing me to their site:

Haiga Online; up this October, “Same Moon"

Book Giveaway:

I am teaching Poetry of Motherhood online starting January 6-January 31, cost is $125; in an attempt to entice you to register, I promise to send a copy of the anthology, Labor Pains and Birth Stories (Catalyst Book Press, 2009, ed. Jessica Powers) to the first two students who enroll (an $18 value). The anthology features an Introduction by Tina Cassidy, Afterword by Jessica Powers, essays by Ariel Gore, Amy Parker, Ann Angel, Ashini J. Desai, yours truly, and 24 more writing mothers.

The cover art features a block-print I drew, carved, and rolled out three weeks before my first child was'll notice the ecstatic depiction of the mother despite crowning child...a giveaway of another nature that I had no reference yet for the serious work of labor. On the other hand, it rightly intuits the absolute joy of holding one's infant for the first time.

I hope to have the chance to work with you in January. Writers of all genres welcome as we use Fertile Source poems for inspiration but the form our writing takes varies by writer.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tarot Butterflies, Poem Disorder, a Call for Butterflies, And Not Saying Goodbye to Feral Mom, Feral Writer

Why do people make so much fuss about butterflies and never give a thought to the creatures out of which butterflies grow? It is the natural form of things that is always the most important…"  --The Lady Who Loved Insects (Tsutsumi Chunagon Mongatari, tr. by Arthur Waley)

November’s cocoon descends with its woolly promise of sleep and dreams backlit by cider and brisk walks along a grey-skied ocean….ensconced in winter coat and hand-made scarf. I was on the verge of saying goodbye to this blog (which this December, turns six years old) but I hesitated long enough to see its arc, where it has brought me, the place it gives me to listen, speak and most of all connect to others of like mind. I’m not ready to let it go.
In fact, I want to celebrate it and all of the heart to heart connections it brings. For fun, check out the very first post…which has garnered no more than 5 page views: The Desk. And contrast that with Truth or Dare at a whopping 1158. I’m not much one for numbers, but, I’m pleased to have readers. And frankly not upset to see I’m still amicably flying under most radar as I acclimate to the thought of having my first poetry book published.
Years ago in Iowa City I traded tarot readings with poet Corinne Stanley (here’s her poem Daughters at Prairie Wolf Press). As we shuffled the cards, we talked about aspirations for our writing lives. She asked me to choose an image: anything, an animal, plant--she would improvise and set the cards down in the corresponding shape. “Butterfly,” I said…and she was off and running, setting out a trail of tarot cards in the pattern of wings and a thorax graced by a long curving tail streaming like wake behind a boat in water or an airplane passing through clouds.

The last thing she said to me was, “Just make sure when the time comes, you take your time. Don’t rush.”
With book publication facing me next year, Corinne’s voice returns. In the generous feedback from readers of early versions of my poetry collection, November Butterfly, is a reassuring flood of warmth about individual poems, but an emerging question about order and cohesion. You’d think as a poetry editor and lifelong writer, I’d be able to see. But I can’t.

So I’m slowing down to listen to the work itself. Barbara Ann Yoder writes about this in her post, How to Get Your Book Written under the subsection, Let Your Manuscript and Process Show You the Way. This idea of book as voice or entity is a fairly new metaphor for me, but I’m hearing it also in the marketing world: see Alexis Grant’s post here on treating the books you write as a client, Insights About Digital Products That Changed the Way I’m Building My Business.
Seeing one’s writing through the eyes of trusted readers brings the work’s metaphors into view. Sandra Hunter (novelist and photographer of haunting snow and waterscapes with text) asked me, What do you want your butterfly's journey to be? Which in turn lead me to ask, What is a November Butterfly?  In honor of November and the collection in progress, I’m posting the poem the collection’s title revolves way of introducing an image project I hope you'll join me for below:

November Butterfly

It’s easy to love the sun
and the roses it fires,
the blood cardinals
flying over snow,
three black horses
running midmorning
in the rain,
a blue heron
on a downed tree
in the river’s mist.

But what of tar fissures
on back-roads off the grid,
a liver sheened reptile
clambering out of the ditch,
cold rims of hubcaps,
headlights of a car
commuting home, a voice
two states away on the radio,
a butterfly with a frayed wing
pinned living to the windshield.

It’s easy to love some women,
emanating green, moonskinned,
quiet, enchanting, etcetera,
as sunlight
through the undersides of leaves.
Winter in the thighs,
we hibernate in rooms they’ve left,
and pray they’ll return, notice us,
or let fall
some butter from their palms.

I wish I were a flower,
or the maker,
to mend you.
I held out my finger--
not a stick--
and up you grappled,
unfurled a tunneled up
for one last taste,
or to ward me off

So easy to muck the translation
no common language—
that gap between the self one loves
and the self one fears.
I can’t fill out your wing,
but I can look you
in the unblinking amber screen
of your eye,
be with you,
and set you on this leaf.

 --Originally published in The Dickens and forthcoming from Saddle Road Press in 2014.

 Call for Images

And so one interpretation is that a November Butterfly is ephemeral but stunning...something you do right by, simply by witnessing despite attendant sorrowful fragility. Something out of season that captures your attention, its beauty waking you up even if momentarily. Even if the initial impetus to stop and pay attention is based on a difficult encounter.

I’m sure I’m not alone experiencing either literal November Butterflies or metaphorical ones. I’m collecting images of my own for a Pinterest board I wish to start in December, but in the meantime, I’d love to know: what are the November Butterflies in your life, in our world? Send me an image and a few lines about how the image captures the essence described above for you and I’ll string them together in a post for this site. And they don't have to be literal butterflies...surprise me...

In the meantime, I’m working on hearing the manuscript's order of poems. Weigh in, please, in comments, my fellow creatives. How did you arrive at your first book's order? Or disorder?
As it stands, the poems based on iconic women (Diana, Nefertiti, Amelia, Jeanne d'Arc, Guinevere and others) make up three quarters of the project (you've heard me talk over the years about making the movies and the sculpture fun that accompany some of these poems). Motherhood gave me a bridge, a means of stepping inside of these women, even if briefly, to inhabit the public knowns of their narratives in order to intuit/imagine private emotional forays of lesser known aspects.
And surprisingly, writing those poems lead to new work in a wildish tour through the kind of adolescence many of us go through…that is apt to leave you if not with one wing, a frayed wing, for much of adulthood (I wrote more on this subject in a forthcoming post Lost Wings, Hesitations,and Outgrowing the Metronome  (link updated Jan 13, 2014) for Suzi Banks Baum this month when we traded—you’ll love her Motherhood as Portal to Joy: Threads of a Creative Life, or "What’s Good for Mom is Good for All of Us”) at Mother, Writer, Mentor.
In my case, unlike the butterfly pinned to the windshield and set on a leaf to expire in the poem above, I got a second chance. Through writing. So I’ll stop complaining. Maybe I’m suffering from a good dose of perfectionism…and I know the manuscript will find its way (in 2014) especially with the help of the beautiful circle of mothers, writers, artists, and friends I found here on Feral Mom, Feral Writer.

Flight will be short (or long), unsure (or steady), fraught with unknowns (or familiar). Wind, rain, and sun in the future. Risk it! Should I? Would you? Tell me, please do. Say something before I continue to list my fortunish cookieish phrases. And bless you, thank you, for being part of this feral flight with me.

Additional Links:

Photos are the intellectual property of and are all by: Robyn Beattie

While looking up sources for The Lady Who Loved Insects, I discovered a wonderful storytelling site: bilingual storyteller, Megumi: celebrating diversity, critical thinking, and diversity. Megumi has some great resource lists—here’s for example one titled, Strong and Resourceful Women List  in which she suggests tales that provide “a break from helpless and beauty-centered Cinderella stories.”
And of course Liz Brennan and I have not been idle over at Perhaps Maybe (where I continue to hope one of you will come out and play with us).

Here are opening lines for:

Red Rose
Perhaps we see a rose as red, yet the one color in which the eye sees it dressed is the very color the rose rejects... Read the rest of Red Rose here.

The Hummingbird’s Complaint
Perhaps the hummingbird, when still, juices the morning complaint... Read rest of The Hummingbird's Complaint here.

The Lesser Shorebirds
Perhaps my love for the namers rivals my love for you: be you godwit, whimbrel, or dowitcher…Read the rest of The Lesser Shorebirds here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

First Book Anxieties and Remedies: Suncatchers, Poetry Umbrellas and Butterfly Doors

"There is no single location of miracle..."
 Mark Doty, My Alexandria, from the poem Advent Calendars

Let’s say the sun were made of words. And the poet in the direct line of its transmission. So she spends her life spinning words back out in a carousel of patterns across a hardwood floor…a halo of fractal replicas of her many angles sliding like minnows across bare feet. Raveling the light/words into discrete units of color…dually winnowing and amplifying. 

I aspire to be a suncatcher, though sometimes I feel more like a shadowcaster. I realized this when I went through my own poems looking for a “sunny” poem for Nicelle Davis who has offered to paint poems across umbrellas she will give away at AWP, Seattle 2014 (send her a poem for the Living Poetry Project’s RAIN). Though she didn’t specify what kind of poem she wanted, I sent her a darkly celebratory marriage poem, The Painter’s Wife, only because it mentions rain. 

Then some other self in me perked up and decided a sunny poem might be “nice,” and you can guess the rest, I started the tallying of dark vs. light poems…until an hour later...I implored my husband and the Husky to rescue me for coffee. (My husband, reading over my shoulder, says I should drop words like fractal, raveling. But I play to stay sane on this personal blog in a way I don’t on other sites. So weigh in: can you stand lead-ins with metaphors? Even long-winded, mixed ones?)

On the upside, all this talk of rain made me miss the Midwestern storms of Iowa City where one can count on a righteous soaking while riding a bicycle home from work, raindrops as firm and as thick as a melon scooper’s chilled butter balls. To say nothing of the lightning, no simple jag, threading instead with multiple tendrils multiple banks of clouds, outdone only by the thunder, rolling, growing momentum, to land on the roof of one’s heart. I'm hoping one of these summers to return to either partake as a student and/or teacher at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

Since last posting I’ve made more than one trip to Balboa Gardens, fallen in love with the lily pond and the shady relief of the botanical gardens where the redwood lath creates a lattice of shade where constellations of leopard plants reign, their pale spots more like stars fallen straight from the Milky Way. Found new saints to research at The Timken Art Museum and stood in awe in front of Rembrandt’s St. Bartholomew (taking the docent’s cue to discern the signature dimly present beside St. Bartholomew’s face). Ate lunch in the sculpture garden with Aunt Rose and stood beneath the elephantine roots of the trees gracing the tiny amphitheater where three butterfly doors announce the existence of Zoro Garden (named after Zorine, the "queen of the nudist colony's pageant" formerly hosted on this site during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition according to Balboa Park's website). 

What I love about these butterfly doors is that each depicts the butterfly and the cocoon perched on corresponding plant of choice. That the doors are closed, set as they are up a tiny flight of stairs and embedded in the hillside. What lies behind them? Who gets to go through? Are you watching? Are you next?

Lately, with the forthcoming publication of my first poetry collection (November Butterfly, Saddle Road Press, 2014) I feel dogged by the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome, akin to the shadowcaster fears discussed above. Or to use a metaphor from the tattoo artist world, "my canvas is in a bit of pain"...suffering a projected anxiousness about exposure. One thing to write quietly and share one poem at a time here and there. Another to shift psyche to grow into a self with a book on its way.

But the storm is mostly in my head; when I open my eyes, I see what I need to see to keep going. Nicelle Davis (umbrella girl), fearless luminary, gives me courage and inspires me to take risks in my work; especially via her latest poetry collection from Red Hen Press, Becoming Judas. The title metaphor creates an amazing stage for what she'll explore in an eclectic weave of prose poem, Biblical reference, song and image play, poems juxtaposed with illustrations by Cheryl Gross. I was not only fascinated by her way of confessing assumptions while defining her childhood's constructed faith, but moved by how far she takes us in to her relationship to faith's veerings and the mother/daughter nexus of lifelong bonding and individuation.

Just for context on defining constructed faith, here's a couple lines from her poem Disclaimer: Assumptions Made By This Homemade Religion: "I mistook the pastel picture/ of Jesus hung in every home for John Lennon. Both/ called the Prince of Peace." As I read the collection, questions burgeoned, and I put on my Mother Writer Mentor hat and asked Nicelle, what is it like to write poems about one's mother? To reveal and honor the depth of that connection, as evidenced by lines that ignite the imagination of the reader: "[My mother is the one] who put me in this blue dress lit on fire..."

In return we received much more than a guest post from Nicelle; I'd call it a prose aubade for her mother, No Love is Singular: Confessions of a Poet Daughter accompanied generously by photographs and two poems from Becoming Judas. I took comfort in not only her poems, but her words about the process of reckoning with having written those poems: 

Yes, [my mother is] "the one who put me in this blue dress lit on fire,” but there would be nothing without fire to burn new ground, to open the potential found in a fallen seed. 

I wrote my mother into a book to tell her she is my fire, but this has and will be read wrong. Fine. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We can’t get it right—I’ll never be good—but there is potential in every effort. Fire and love are interchangeable verbs." 

I love Nicelle's reminder here about the powerlessness writers face when allowing work to go out into the world. When it enters the public domain, public questions arise. I asked her mine. But that risk and that bravery she exhibits in putting both work and process reflections out there affords other writers a measure of strength, a nod, a "come along" if you will. 

Another process boon for the anxious writing self comes via Barbara Ann Yoder's book I had the privilege to read in draft form. She defines her forthcoming book as a "guide to overcoming self-censorship." Here's a link to the page where she offers excerpts full of exercises: A Breakthrough Book for Women Writers. Or jump straight to one of the excerpts here, Writing With Courage, in which you are asked to write a fairytale about yourself and your writing life.

And my other combative strategy isn't really a strategy, it's just where the joy is: creating new work. Here are links and teaser first lines to the latest Perhaps Maybe collaborations. Liz Brennan is ready for more collaborators, so please send her a prose Perhaps to which she'll craft a Maybe or maybe she'll send it to me, or perhaps you and a friend could team up and write your own pairing and send it to her. This first treads the line between humor and possibility from the threshold of witnessing a daughter on the verge of puberty (the possible boys of her future already talking later in the poem through metaphors of tree): 
 Text of Metaphors: Perhaps when my daughter orders me to stop using metaphors (You're not off the hook. Don't ride me. Give up the goat) she secretly likes it. I can't stop anyway...

 Video recording of us reading Simply Poems (a reading with a breeze):  Perhaps until a spot more fertile for the flower is found, its pale shade stands as a reminder of what must come. Because leaves understand the inevitable, do we need to be told?  

This one turns on a powerful short story by Isaac Asimov, written in 1956, that has astounding relevancy for our technologically dependent and saturated state of being. Should we rely on people or machines when we use up our planet's resources? Neither? Both?  Here's Asimov's Last Question and here's how Liz started us off down our own line of questioning:

Text of The Last Question:  Perhaps while we can’t yet turn smoke and ash back into a tree, we can
train impossibly shattered things to mend themselves: a crushed hope, a fractured trust – an anguish suspended in a dream...

Which in turn inspired a miniscule debate about entropy. Maybe love is the opposite of entropy, but for this perhaps maybe, we settled on light: 

Text of Light: Perhaps light is the opposite of entropy, travelling at a speed hummingbirds match in nectared dreams of planets without kestrels...   

Further reading:Cathe Shubert, another AROHO find, offers an infusion of poetry goodwill here; she argues why poetry matters... in an essay she wrote last summer at Breadloaf: In Praise of a Poetry of Action.

October 10 addition: Just came across this beautiful process post by Marilyn Bousquin in which she addresses the ways men and women react to rejection in  On Shameless Self-promotion: Keep Hitting the Send Button; she takes apart the concept of shameless self-promotion by looking at the role of shame in women's writing lives.

Photos: are mine with exception of the cover for Becoming Judas; the stained glass mermaid above is the artwork of stained glass artist Rebecca Lichau out of Sonoma County.