Thursday, March 13, 2014

Writer Heavens: San Diego Writers Ink, Chi Chocolat Truffles and Writer Residencies by Train

Though we relocated to San Diego just over a year now, I’ve only recently discovered San Diego Writers, Ink, located just off Pacific Highway at NTC Liberty Station. I seem to learn the city best by showing out-of-towners around, this week my sister (I’m overjoyed to spend time with her). A writer herself, my sister willingly came with me to a Brown Bag session for a wonderful hour of on-the-spot writing at the Ink Spot. Here we are, pictured in front of the Alfonso Arambula Archangel statue gracing the courtyard below.

I will be teaching a four-hour poetry workshop (Poetry Play: A Tour of the Forms—from haiku to sestina) for San Diego Writers, Ink Saturday April 12 from 12:30-4:30. After sharing our fast-writes with our newfound writer friends, we also cruised the Inspirations Gallery next to the Ink Spot where we fell in love with the mosaic horseshoe artwork of Jill G. Hall

(We went back today--March 18, and wrote, and I took a few photos of the horseshoes for they are.)

Next stop for two sisters on a sunny San Diego afternoon outing before kid pick-up: the exquisite Chi Chocolat coffee shop located just below Inspiration gallery and the Ink Spot writing room. We sampled (ok, devoured) our truffles: purple dragonflies featured a lavender flavored interior, green owls (see the “hoot” spelled out? downright adorable) featured mint, the nova oval a Mexican spice interior, and last, pretty much the ace for us:  the 1 of diamonds with its soft cardamom dark chocolate filling. We sat admiring a beautiful wooden chess set at the table next to us perched waiting for players and savored our coffee, truffles, and memories of Narnia prompted by the lantern gracing our table.

I'm re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my youngest son from an original set of volumes that belonged to my grandmother. Coincidentally earlier this month, while cruising the library for poetry volumes, I discovered The Magician’s Book, A Skeptics Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller. I skimmed the book, intrigued, but a bit hesitant to quell the joy of rekindling childhood memories by analyzing the methods or intentions of C.S. Lewis. A quote from Miller's website about The Magician's Book reads:

In her search to uncover the source of these small books’ mysterious power, Miller looks to their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the familiar, idealized image of the author, but a man who stands in stark contrast to his whimsical creation—scarred by a tragic and troubled childhood, Oxford educated, a staunch Christian, and a social conservative, armed with deep prejudices.

As a child, I went some Sundays with one grandmother to Catholic church and some Sundays with the other grandmother to Christian church; later my parents took us on an adventure to an Illinois commune where our leader borrowed from a great many religions across centuries so that by the time we were turned loose into the world as young adults to think for ourselves, my siblings and I each found our way to our own understandings of source or God. Without a solid reference for the symbols of Narnia early on, I enjoyed them more or less as images without context or much associative halo.

I learned from Miller that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were friends, though they were not necessarily mutually enamored of one another's work. When I was five, my father read us The Hobbit and The Trilogy, so both authors figure as the heavyweights of my early image-scape. Miller’s book confirmed for me the stubborn grip my child’s heart still has on that numinous imagery of Narnia (wardrobe and magician's pools as portals into parallel worlds, a lion unafraid to offer his mane to the hands of little girls). Child-brain trumps adult brain, forgiving the possible patchwork of sources and images, the possibly weak array of girl characters should one extend them into womanhood.
As a mother, I understand more than ever the responsibility of defining and living one's "happily ever after," our outside-the-gender-box female strength still in need of claiming (exhilerating and frightening by turns, but worth the risk). See Justine Musk’s TedxOlympic Blvd Women talk, The Art of the Deep Yes, or read the transcript, in which she states “The deep yes is the right to dream your dreams and live an authentic life as the hero of your own unfolding epic. It’s a yes to all your imperfections and the knowledge that you’re fabulous anyway."

In hopes that a mother of three can still aspire to adventures and the open road, I’m applying to Amtrak's Free Residency for Writers for one of 24 writer residencies (boy will they be shocked at the flood of applications. March 14 update: according to The Wire over 7000 have applied thus far)… I mean, who doesn’t want to get away for two to five days on a train and take along a blank notebook? To ruminate in one's own sleeper car equipped with desk and private bed and outlets? With a book tour on the horizon in the fall to celebrate first poetry collection (forthcoming from Saddle Road Press) and first anthology I’m editing of the stellar poems and interviews by the writing mothers we’ve published at The Fertile Source (forthcoming from Catalyst Book Press), I hope Amtrak will send me out to the heartland in time to give a fall reading or two with other writers featured in our anthology (Laurie Klemme and Tonja Robins).

Here’s a link to a CNN blogpost about the writer responsible for throwing out the idea, Alexander Chee, and the first writer responsible for tweeting about Alexander’s idea (thus garnering Amtrak’s attention and completing the first successful unofficial residency): Amtrak's Free Residency. I even opened an Instagram account (I imagine chosen writers will be tweeting, facebooking, and instagramming their way across the country). With less than two minutes on Instagram, my daughter swapped out my profile photo in favor of the one with the cat riding on my can she already have my password?

Where would you go and what would you write? The last time I traveled on a train, it was twenty years ago... when I took advantage of a brief holiday from my MFA program in the heartland in order to confront a love triangle...rode the California Zephyr, if I recollect accurately....but that is a story...or a series of poems...I would write...if I could, alone on a train again for a few solid hours...with green eggs and ham...

…dare to dream...#AmtrakResidency...

[Added March 14: A cautionary note by a writer scrutinizing Amtrak's terms and conditions:
Rights and Concerns: Amtrak Residency. I am with the blogger on hoping Amtrak will modify this portion of the application.

And here's a post from The Wire in which Amtrak addresses some of these concerns: Nervous Writers Have Questions about Amtrak's Residency (And Amtrak Answers Them For Us)

and another From Scratch Magazine, regarding tax information as well:
All Aboard! Irrevocably, Absolutely, In Whole or In Part! )

and one from The New Yorker, Writing Powered by Amtrak] Now back to the fun:

Train Poems:

One Train May Hide Another, Kenneth Koch (

Peter Ashley’s Ten Favorite Railway Poems (The Guardian)
Peter Ahsley edited Railway Rhymes, poems celebrating the railway, Everyman’s Library, 2007

Always on the Train, by Ruth Stone (

Travel, by Edna St. Vincent Millay (black cat poems)
The Railway Train, by Emily Dickinson (poem hunter)
Railway, by Fred D'Aguair (poetry foundation)

Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down, An Anthology of Women’s Poetry, Edited by Andrena Zawinski (Scarlet Tanager Books)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mother of Three Escapes to AWP 2104, Returns with Poet Tarot Deck

Photo by Robyn Beattie
To say I needed to get away this month would be an understatement. My daughter lit her bookshelf on fire (via candle to tissue box, a four foot wall of flame rushing ceiling with help of a bottle of perfume). She timed it perfectly to coincide with her brother’s birthday sleepover party (built in audience of nine). How neither her shoulder length hair, surfer poster nor closet curtains caught still puzzles me. Less than an hour later, the toilet backed up in one bathroom and the fluorescent bulbs in the other winked out for good. By then, dusk beat us to night and my husband under-cooked the burgers for the kids in the dark so we pulled out the frying pan in the house, promising the kids we’d remember which bite mark went with which kid.

Other casualties of the month: the lower living room window (light-saber match between my youngest and the neighbor friend). The old-school window spoked out in a comic strip POW, triangles of glass littering the shrubbery. During the two weeks it took for the new shatter-proof window to arrive, the Husky punched her way through the remaining 4 triangles unscathed, heartbroken, in pursuit of my husband on his way to the ocean when he failed to walk her one morning.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
These outer details pale in comparison to the emotional spiral I'm walking as I being my initiation into parenting tweens and teens--thankfully in my orbit are writing mothers like Suzi Banks Baum, who continues to run guest posts that make my struggle bearable at Laundry Line Divine, most recently: What do Mothers Make: Connections. Her description of being shot out of the serenity of the center of the lotus blossom resonated with me. As did her astute suggestion to lower one's expectations in a gentle way during the often temporarily unbridgeable span of disconnections that can so quickly flare. No surprise, then, after the usual three pages of carpool notes and instructions, I left my husband at the helm to meet friends and bolster my inner life as a writer, boarding an airplane for Seattle.

This was my first time attending AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference). With graduate school a healthy number of years in my past, I surmised accurately I’d be coming at AWP from a very different perspective than a young prospective MFA student. A friend forwarded me a link to poet Kay Ryan’s 2005 witty review of her AWP experience: A Lifetime of Preferring Not To. I laughed my way through it but ultimately decided not to forego the conference (though I felt better equipped to scale my expectations to the venue). And with more than a dozen friends I planned to meet and support, I couldn’t wait to get away.

Two Sylvias Press Poet Tarot Deck
I packed tarot decks--just two--as last time, travelling to A Room of Her Own Foundation’s summer retreat, I brought all ten decks nestled securely in their silk bag which caused security to ask me to open my suitcase (oddity of the two round decks, Motherpeace and Daughters of the Moon, nestled amid various sized rectangular decks?!). I waited while they cleared the other suspicious traveler, a woman with gorgeous grey streaks in her white hair and a suitcase full of oranges and shoes. I had to repeat the word, “Tarot,” several times and unwrap several of the decks before they waved me through. “Aren’t we dangerous,” I joked to the woman repacking her oranges as I refolded the silk and cinched the drawstring tight.

While AWP’s itinerary of choices meant I never threw my own tarot cards, I came home with a fabulous new deck to add to my collection. Two Sylvias Press created a Poet Tarot Deck featuring poets on some of the cards; the subtitle of the guidebook reads, "A Deck of Creative Exploration" and includes exercises meant to help writers and artists with creative process. I couldn’t resist the urge to interview Annette and Kelli. For this deck, they chose to represent male and female poets equally, as well as to choose deceased poets of British and American descent. I asked them:

If you were to make a second, feral deck (without constraints of choosing deceased poets of British and American descent), whom else would you love to include (for a living poets’ deck)?

Annette Spaulding-Convy: I imagine in a living poets’ deck—Olena Kalytiak Davis as the Chariot, Cate Marvin as the Tower, Richard Siken as the Hierophant, and Marie Howe as the High Priestess. My imagination goes wild with this question as there are so many amazing contemporary poets whose work I truly admire. One more—I think Jane Hirshfield would be an awesome Temperance.

Kelli Russell Agodon: For a living deck, I’d love to include Denise Duhamel as the Wheel of Fortune, Kay Ryan as the Hermit, and Li-Young Lee as the Moon.  They are three of my favorite poets, each very different in style from each other and I’d love to highlight them so more people could learn about their work.  In another deck of dead poets, I would love to include Pablo Neruda for the Lovers card. He is a poet I’ve always connected with.

Here’s a link to the rest of the interview with their generous responses at Transformative Blogging this week: The Conjuring of a Poet Tarot Deck: An Interview with Two Sylvias Press. I am thrilled to add this deck to
those I’ve already chosen to share with my writing students for my upcoming class, Exploring the Minor Mentors: A Tour Through the Suits (forming with a solid base already, and we'd love to have you join us--starts March 17) which combines writing and tarot.
Ruth Thompson and Lisa Rizzo at Saddle Road Press Table
I’ll write more later about the amazing readings I attended at AWP, but for now, want to close by thanking my editor Ruth Thompson of Saddle Road Press for the anchor of her beautiful table, a reason for coming, in support of authors Michelle Wing (debut poetry book, Body on the Wall) and Carol Houlihan Flynn, author of the memoir, The Animals. These women are my Saddle Road Press sisters, so I will blog up “writer-views” of their work in support of their books and offer the links here shortly. 

Related Posts:

Tarot Butterflies 2

March 21, 2014 addition:

Here's a fun link to a tarot synchronicity involving The Poet Tarot, Two Sylvias Press, and one of their poetry books, Dear Alzheimer's in a post written by Michelle Wing, poet and blogger at The Poem Whisperer

Related link, on flowers, catching fire:

Dyed Carnations, by Robyn Schiff