Apr 28

Spring Clean Your Writing?


Dear Friends,
Today I attended a “spring cleanse” workshop that combined yoga and ayruvedic medicine; I went immediately to the groovy store afterward and stocked up on all kinds of greens: bok choy, fennel, cilantro, tatsoi, chard. I bought organic turmeric and fenugreek seeds. I made a stir fry with so many greens it seemed impossible that I could eat them all, but I did—oh yes, I did. I could feel my body soaking them up.

In the list of things to do for this 7-day cleanse—which includes drinking some vile tasting powder in water every night before bed, and eating Kitchari (mung bean and rice stew) every day—is “mindful, deep breathing.” To cleanse means to give the body and the mind a little break. It means to create optimal conditions for healing.

On my way home, I wondered how this might apply to our writing. What would a “spring cleanse for writing” look like? This is what came to mind for me: making a plan to get control of my notebooks from my weekly writing practice. Type up what calls to be typed up, and let go of the rest. Organize these snippets by theme. Go through my writing folders and store away those documents that are no longer relevant or useful.

If I think of this as a “cleanse” rather than a chore, I think my attitude toward it may lighten; I’ll be friendlier toward both myself and my writing, knowing I’m giving both the respect they deserve. I suspect that, with this frame of mind, I won’t torture myself with indecision. and it will become pretty clear what stays and what goes.

What would you do to “spring clean” your writing? What small step can you take to spruce things up a bit in that part of your life?

With love,


Apr 21

“Calling the Choir to Sing”

photo: Dan Kowalski

photo: Dan Kowalski

Dear Friends,

This week, I find myself at a one-day conference on Whidbey Island: Calling the Choir to Sing: An Invitational Gathering of  Northwest Climate Leaders. I’m here to read a few poems and talk about the role of the arts in witnessing and speaking out.

It’s been a full day of talks, discussion in small groups, punctuated by walks on winding trails under dripping cedars, and at last I’m feeling present, able to contemplate the difficult questions of climate change. This afternoon, we watched a video clip called “Numinous Waters” shot in Alaska by my old friend Dan Kowalski. As we watched a massive chunk of glacier calve into the sea, with the haunting notes of Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn of the Cherubim” as a backdrop, I heard a collective inhalation—then together we sat in deep silence.

I was reminded once again of the power of art, of image, to reach our hearts. I recently listened to an interview with the poet Jane Hirshfield in which she said, “when we think in metaphor, we think with the whole world.”  Of course, and that’s the power of poetry and image. In Dan’s video,he asks, “Can beauty and presence save us?”

As I stroll under the tall cedars, I believe in my heart that it can—and that as artists, we need to continue speaking up on the issues we care about, that will affect future generations, even these issues that too often feel overwhelming. In an article in Grist called, fittingly, “What the warming world needs now is art, sweet art,”  Bill Mckibben makes a plea to artists and writers:

“Therefore, it falls to those of us alive now to watch and record its flora, its fauna, its rains, its snows, its ice, its peoples….We can register what is happening with satellites and scientific instruments, but can we register it in our imaginations, the most sensitive of all our devices.”  

Later, as we stand in a closing circle, united in our resolve to take whatever actions we can in our own lives and work, I’m reminded that we can’t address these challenging issues alone—we need to gather as a community.

On April 22, Earth Day, we have an opportunity to do this. Find out if there any Earth Day events happening in your community, and see if you can join them. If not, take a moment to reflect on your place, your natural/human community, and what you can do to ensure its continuing quality of life. It doesn’t need to be climate change, which I know feels daunting—and it’s fine to just choose one small action.  We hope you’ll share your commitment or your reflections here. 

Yours, believing in the power of art and community,




Apr 13

The Ten-Minute Rule



“I suppose the more you have to do, the more you learn to organize and concentrate—or else get fragmented into bits. I have learned to use my ‘ten minutes’. I once thought it was not worth sitting down for a time as short as that; now I know differently and, if I have ten minutes, I use them, even if they bring only two lines, and it keeps the book alive.”
  —Rumer Godden, A House with Four Rooms

Our lives are made up of ten minutes here, ten minutes there. The above quote came into my inbox from Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project just when I needed it the most. In the midst of a chaotic schedule—one in which I wear too many different hats—I’ll often find myself with ten minutes here, ten minutes there, and fritter them away with Facebook, email, Internet surfing, or television, rather than simply taking a breath and being here. What is it I’m afraid of? What am I avoiding?

So, with Rumer Godden’s quote in mind, I vow this week to use my ten minutes wisely. Whether it’s to write, or read a poem, or do some stretches, or call my mother—I know that by valuing these small bits of time, I value myself. And I come back refreshed into the madness of the world.

Will you join me? Just for ten minutes at a time?



Apr 05

“Dispatches from the Garden”


Dear friends,
Today dawned clearthe third sunny day in a row in the Pacific Northwestand we’ve spent the last two days in the yard: cutting back plants that didn’t survive the winter, turning mulch into the soil, spading compost into the planting beds.

A month ago, even though it was still raining, we optimistically poked a few snow-pea seeds into the soggy earth, dug in potatoes, and are now lining up four-inch pots in the greenhouse, a colorful deck of seed packets at the ready.

Gardening’s been on my mind for a few reasons. Serendipitously, Charles Goodrich,  a colleague and friend, shared poems from his wonderful book Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden at a reading a few nights ago in Port Townsend. Funny, wry, and filled with insight into what makes us human, his prose poems arise from close observation and are steeped in the beauty and muck of the earth. Charles worked as a professional gardener for 25 years before taking his current post directing the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, so it’s no surprise that gardening metaphors show up in his writing.

charles_jestureHere’s what he says about ritual in one of my favorite poems, “Interstition:”

Sticking to ritual makes things tick. Ask the robin sitting on her nest. Ask the lilacs beginning to bud….You might think its superstition, but it’s actually interstition, acting on blind faith that the individual things we see are all stitched together by something potent and invisible.  Better not ask what it is. Just dig.

Here’s another timely poem from his collection:


            Into each cell of the egg carton I tamp an egg’s worth of soil, then press into each seed-bed three seeds. I spritz them with tapwater, and place the carton on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.

            A week later, the seedlings have arisen, every one. Twelve groves of tiny plants, each sprout just a pair of seed-leaves on a slender pinkish stem, succulent and alert.

            But now I hesitate. If I really want full heads of lettuce, I have to thin these plants, have to pick up the scissors and kill two of each three.   In the everlasting tussle between spirit and matter, no one knows when his time is up.  I feel the blade at my own neck. 

Goodrich’s collection of poems is a reminder that these rituals—the work of our daily lives—are always good fodder for contemplative and writing practice. If spring finds you with your hands in the warming earth, please share the poems you’re reading for inspiration—or write one of your own. Try using Charles’ prose poem as a model: begin by describing your gardening task in all its sensory, earthy details, then let the words carry you into metaphor or reflection.

Or, with spring cleaning in mind, think about what you can “thin” in your own life. How does it feel to let go of what impedes growth?

We hope you’ll share your poems here, too.

Yours, grateful to have her hands in the earth again,