Ready, Pack, Poem!!! AWP here we come!

It snowed last night.  As my son giggled, snow has come to California, we went outside and danced–then hugged the snow goodnight.

The next morning, JJ and I frantically turned poems into objects.  I received so many great poems (really great works) that I’ll be making poem gifts right up until the moment my flight takes off for Chicago. (I am very excited to share these words at the conference).

The dress Pavi made me to help enact the poems from Circe is ready–gold falling from it like I’ve just emerged from a sea of light. I hope AWP is kind to tentacles. I hope art remains risky and fun.

Blessings to all,


AWP: Getting Ready To Poem You

While getting ready to pack for the Living Poetry Project at AWP, J.J. found a few poems he couldn’t part with (sorry and thank you Kathleen Flenniken for you poem “Radiation!”–I’ll be sure to make new poem objects to bring to Chicago).  J.J. was happy to color his Godzilla-poetry hand puppets while I stressed over the best way to “have a good time” at AWP. (This is the crazy part of happiness–the worry it generates. I should just enjoy the words without worry…I should…)

The more poems I turn into gifts that more gifts I want to give, so if you are still interested in “poeming” someone at AWP please send me your work. (

As I joyfully find poems in my email for the Living Poetry Project (AWP), I am struck by the kindness of the authors and also moved by their stories. Every writer WANTS to go to AWP, but not everyone can afford it. Like any art, writing is expensive. I must confess, the only reason I’m able to go to AWP is because of the generosity of others. Every artist works very hard to be with art. (The idea of profit for art is foreign as an unnamed planet). Artist give to artists in hopes that art will happen. It is a terrifying exchange; the closest resemblance I have found to being a practicing artist is a professional gambler.)

I am very fortunate to be reading at AWP this year, thanks to Matt Ryan and Ken Robidoux. These two gentlemen are great publishers and even greater people. They risk much for artist to have a platform. Amazing.

I’ll be reading in costume—which seems risky to me—but I’m in love with performance and illusions—the overlapping of worlds.

Here is the rough draft of the dress—my son and the very talented Pavlina Janssen turning me into a jellyfish woman. (Are those tentacles or umbilical cords? You decide.)

See you inChicago.

Lowbrow Press Reading
Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 9:00pm until 11:00pm

Connotation Press

Weeds Tavern: 1555 N Dayton St(between Clybourn Aveand North Ave).
Nearest transit: North/Clybourn (Red line). 312-943-7815



The Living Poetry Project 29: Eugenio Montejo

I’ve always been a big fan of Kirk Nesset’s work; his short stories and poetry are honest (sometimes brutally honest) portraits of humanity. He has a great ability for looking at what it is to be human from multiple viewpoints. I often try to teach at least one of his stories in every class I teach—I love his sincerity and generosity—I trust Kirk Nesset.

I had never heard of Eugenio Montejo, but trusted Nesset’s taste and knowledge with words. He didn’t lead me astray. I must have read this book twelve times. Not only are the poems beautifully written, they are also instructional. The person I would most like to be is shown in the de-centered I of Montejo’s poems. As Cruz Perez observes of Montejo’s poems, “rather than seeing how the days pass, we feel the earth turning.”

This book, oh this book, Alphabet of the World—simply beautiful. And the introduction to the book (by Wilfredo Hernandez and Kirk Nesset) might be the best lesson in poetry I’ve ever found.

To celebrate this collection, I made 100 copies of the title poem to give out to students at Eastside High. I love substituting at Eastside—usually teaching English to ESL students. The teacher obviously cares and does a great job with his students (who are fabulous teachable people). We took turns reading the poem aloud. The students were kind about my terrible Spanish and helpful in explaining the small losses and gains found in the poems translation.

Teaching sometimes is magical—this exchange of words spoken aloud was magical.

To continue sharing the magic of Eugenio Montejo, poet Charles Hood and I presented the poem at a reading held at Butlers Coffee. This was a great reading, as my son and his little friends also preformed a Robert Frost poem. Many of my AVC students attended. My son helped me give sections of Montejo’s poems that I burned into wooden-birds. This combination of poetry and community is very inspiring. I am so grateful for art and the links it makes—the bridges between cultures and other distances.

The Living Poetry Project 28: Sex Puppets, Christopher Marlowe, Wittenberg, and the Amazing-Glittering Pavi

AWP is coming; or rather I’m going to AWP next week.  The Association of Writers and Writing Programs is like every holiday copulated to create the ultimate event for writers. Miles of books will be presented to 10,000 book lovers, well over a 1,000 events and public readings will be held all over the city ofChicago. I don’t sleep at AWP and it usually takes me a month to recover from the volume of words that are shared and exchanged over this weekend conference. Even now as I write, I’m shaking with excitement.

AWP has become my annual marker—it is the date in which I strive to have met my annual goals as a reader and writer (I never fully meet these goals, but I do strive, strive, and strive to be closer to art and artists with each passing year.)

AWP is usually held in the coldest cities in the United States. I have to buy sleeves to go. I have to find a dog sitter. I have to pay all my bills in advance (to make sure I don’t spend my rent money on books). I have to run (and run faster) to meet my obligations at work and home to allow myself a weekend of pure language. It is truly my own Cinderella goes to the ball story.

One of the many “to dos” I had to accomplish before the trip was to make sex puppets—yes, sex puppets. I am privileged to be a part of AVT. AVT is a theatre company dedicated to the local theatre and artistic culture in Quartz Hill. I love the people who make AVT a “working” theatre group. The new show we are working on is Wittenberg:

APRIL 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28
by David Davalos

Produced by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service,New York.

Martin Luther, Doctor Faustus, and Hamlet walk into a bar… no seriously. Set in 1517 at the University of Wittenberg and in the German town of it’s namesake, this highly irreverent comedy explores how these three men’s sagas overlap, intertwine, and irrevocably affect the course of each other’s lives. 

“A cocktail of brainy allusions, absurdist plot twists, sly wordplay and disarming anachronisms, fortified with serious ideas, WITTENBERG should delight Tom Stoppard fans, recovering English majors, disillusioned academics and anyone who has ever wondered what Helen of Troy was like in the sack .” — Washington Post.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm. There is no performance Sunday April 29th.

Produced and Directed by Nalin A. Ratnayake
Karen Gruca, Production Stage Manager
Technical Design Team: Nicelle Davis, Pavlina Janssen , Jessica Katzman, Phillp E. McKaughan

$10 general / $8 students

For those of you in the area, please go seeWittenberg!!! The cast is fabulous, the costumes gorgeous, and I happen to KNOW there will be an on stage sex scene enacted with puppets!!!

Doctor Faustus is in the play and Faustus originally belonged to another playwright—Christopher Marlowe, so I brought copies of “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” to give to the cast and crew. This sexy poem goes like this:


by: Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

OME live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies;
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair-lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy-buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
An if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd-swains shall dance and sing
For they delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

“The Passionate Shepherd to his Love” is reprinted from Poetica Erotica. Ed. T.R. Smith.New York: Crown Publishers, 1921.

The AVT production of Wittenberg will be lush with acting talent, rich with literary allusions, and blessed to have costumer, Pavlina Janssen, to give the show texture and historical context. Pavi, as a visual artist, with an ability to turn the human body into a canvas. She is a truly a remarkable artist. She recently had a gallery showing of her multi-media works; To celebrate her show, JJ and I brought her gifts of glitter and poetry.

Pavi’s work use fur, doilies, paint, and even vomit to create works that not only represent life, but enact the process of aging. Her painting, full of color and shine, will age and eventually die. To own one of her works is to watch time pass and face off with the anxieties of our own mortality. Again I say, Pavi is a remarkable artist.

Pavi has designed and created a “costume” for my AWP readings–something like a Siren–something like a jelly goes to the opera. I can’t wait to show people Pavi’s work.

For those of you going to AWP, if you are interested in seeing Pavi’s costume and hearing me read from Circe please come find us at the following readings:

Lowbrow Press Reading
Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 9:00pm until 11:00pm

Weeds Tavern: 1555 N Dayton St(between Clybourn Aveand North Ave). Nearest transit: North/Clybourn (Red line). 312-943-7815

Connotation Press

Thursday, March 1st, 3:00pm until 6:00pm

Kasey’s Tavern  701 S Dearborn Street (betweenHarrison St.$Polk St.) 312-427-7992


Art opens and opens and opens to more art. I’m grateful to live in such a world of possibilities.

Great thanks to Nalin who created AVT and brought so many creative people together. I wish him well as he is leaving AVT to undertake a new great adventure–working for Teach for America. You are a gift Nalin.

The Living Poetry Project 27: Coffee as Possession

Possession by Angela Ball is a book I’ve carried with me for years. Her book (in many ways) has become a good friend with the difficult advice I need.

Her book examines the things we own and how those things in turn own us.

One of my favorite stanzas from the book comes from its title poem, “Possession,” which reads:

“How can you laugh at little things?”

a woman asks. “Our baby’s

gone, and my life’s gone, too.”

Soon loss is more precious

than the baby, than anything.

This poem “Possession then ends with:

A wish is all there is,

long payment for something happy.

Every person’s guilty

of spring and spring’s ending.

As the baby falls off my son and he becomes a child (and all too soon an adult), it is difficult to not get caught up in the loss of it—the loss of something that was never mine to possess.

As the financial climate continues to trouble me and those around me, it is difficult not to feel shame for the things I don’t have—or sadness for the things I can’t give.

BUT, Possession comes in with its humming song and reminds me spring is mine—the moment is mine and yours–life and poetry belong to us.

To celebrate this collection I made poetry cups to give out. Poetry + Coffee = The Moment.

Spring to All.

The Living Poetry Project 26: Sista Tongue

Lisa Linn Kanae makes a book that blends art and language so well that it becomes difficult to discern what is visual from textual. (My favorite sort of read.)  The story of Pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English) is combined with found texts from conservative academic perspectives on the topic. All is in conversation in the book; the stigma of Pidgin is explored and broken in the exchanges presented on the pages of Sista Tongue.

A truly remarkable book.

I shared this book with a group of English professors, who played with the wind-up toys while trying to unwind the text.

The Living Poetry Project 25: Skate Fate

Best book of the year: Skatefate by Juan Felipe Herrera.

I love this book—no—I believe in this book. The foster kid, Lucky, who tells his story of loss and recovery has the power of a non-violent protest in his rhythmic responses to middle school life. LIVE, the persona Lucky tells his readers, LIVE.

It is a voice like Lucky who will sing our broken-footed community into hope and dance. For this reason, I ordered ten copies of Skatefate to give to local skaters. In my attempt to find skaters, I heard about a local art show focused on skateboards. Local skaters were invited by the amazing Larissa Nickel to skateboard around the gallery (to be living art). I copied sections of the book onto postcards to hand out to the participants.  I asked those who I gave copies of the book to write me with there response to this poetry-novel-song book–I’ll be excited to post their responses in the comment boxes soon.

Skatefate is a must must must read—a must share.

Great thanks to Juan Felipe for writing a book that opens the heart as wide as song.

The Living Poetry Project: I Was Poemed

The Living Poetry Project extended its reach through other arms. My Valentine hid poems around the desert for me to find–the maze of clues reconstructing our first date.

It was odd to be on the receiving end of The Living Poetry Project–the world inverted, leaving me feeling a little confused, frustrated, and joyful.

Silly poetry. 🙂

Maybe the best part of this poetry gift was having to ask the ladies behind the counter of the Barn Antique Shop for my poetry package? The ladies gave me the bundle with the care and excitement of handing over the world wrapped in a brown paper bag. Maybe the best part was seeing my Valentine’s face when I completed my poetry  scavenger hunt–both excited and terrified of my response–hoping I found the world in his gift?

I taught earlier that day and had my students watch Bright Star–a film that reconstructs the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. The film is dramatic and tragic and full of colorfully winged things and lines like: “I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”

These romantic butterflies had me thinking about the difference between three days and fifty years. This difference–how does it work? Do most of us live fifty years sustained by the emotion found in three days–or do we live like butterflies, living and dying three days over and over again.

The search for Keats continues. Anyone have any ideas where to look next?

(Small side note: a butterfly’s wings move with each heartbeat–they fly by pulse. So do poems.)

Blessing and love to all. -N.D.

The Living Poetry Project 23: The Search for Keats Continues

The search for John Keats continues as The Living Poetry Project brings poetry written on the backs of beasts to the local ACME production of Beauty and the Beast.

Bravo to the cast of 100 children and a double-bravo for the adults who run this amazing program for our local youth.

While researching Keats,  symmetry, and the labyrinth of other subjects that come up with the study of beauty, I found this fun website: Literature Fun Facts.

Best to all!

Sample from Literature Fun Facts:

John Keats

John Keats was only about 5 feet tall—nevertheless, by the time he died at age 24, he was a literary giant, surpassing any other 24-year old English writer. We can only wonder if Keats were to live to be an old man if his popularity today would exceed that of Shakespeare.

Height of other British Romantic Authors:

William Blake: 5 feet

William Wordsworth: 5 feet, 9 inches

Percy Shelley: 5 feet, 11 inches