Oct 27

This One’s For You


Dear Friends,

I’m in Port Townsend on a little 3-day writing retreat. My dog, Abbe, is with me, providing good company and a fine excuse to get up several times a day to go outside, where the fall weather has turned cool and blustery. It’s the kind of retreat where I’m not doing much of what we actually think of when writing—hands on the keyboard, words stringing out along the page. It’s more of a “reconnecting” kind of work: reading over bits and pieces I’ve written in the past, remembering what’s there, feeling tentatively for the shape of what’s to come.

This kind of work can be difficult, as it’s not very concrete. It can be easy to give up, and play solitaire, and eat chocolate instead (though I’ve always maintained chocolate is an essential writing tool…) But I just keep breathing through it, and reading, and allowing myself to drift off as the rain hits the windows.

Luckily, many of my allies are here to support me: Abbe, and Holly who joined me for dinner one night. And my friend Sheila Bender, whose life revolves around writing and helping others to write. And serendipitously, one of my favorite writers, Kim Stafford, was here in town and gave a reading Saturday night.


We often quote Kim in The Pen and the Bell because his work is so much about connecting with what’s essential in our lives. He emphasizes the holy practice of writing for writing’s sake. And the minute I saw him in the wonderful bookstore The Writer’s Workshoppe (where Holly and I have also given workshops), I felt renewed and inspired.

He talked about the importance of a daily writing practice, a way to bypass the “percussive of the everyday” and tap instead into the gentle flow of creativity that always threads beneath this racket. He read several new poems that are part of his latest practice—what he calls “Citizen Poetry.” In these poems he writes for instead of about. He writes poems for people, for places, for animals. They are small gifts. He even wrote a poem for the Writer’s Workshoppe, which included these lines:

“….it is a chapel where pilgrims
murmur their prayers for being
known, understood, accompanied,
invited to join the bookish tribe.

I have seen saints come forth
no longer alone, carrying a new
gospel, a personal testament,
a passport for the new life.”

Once you set yourself assignments like these—such as to write a poem “for” something each day—your writing can take on a new focus. You now have a task to hold lightly through the day.

Try it: if you were to dedicate your writing today as an action of “for” rather than “about,” what might shift in your tone or perspective?

This blog post is for you, dear reader. May you have a day of good work,





Oct 08

Fall Gatherings


Dear friends,

Windfall apples diced and simmering on the stove. Chard and kale in leafy abundance for sautés and smoothies. Sungold tomatoes sweet enough to eat right off the vine. Delicata squash still ripening as its vine dies back. Raspberry canes still bearing a few red jewels when we remember to check. All the gatherings of fall, the gifts that make it possible to let go of long, sunny summer days and turn again toward the hearth.

And so we let go of eating summer salads outside on the deck, swimming in lakes, pulling weeds after dinner as the sun goes down. We light a fire in the wood stove, dust off the books in the library, make soup, roast beets and squash, welcome the return of the salmon.

As we gather the harvest, fall reminds us of the importance of gathering together with friends again, too . I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to stay inside long enough to write in the summer. Instead, I carry my notebook with me, filling it with notes and sketches of what I observe. Now, I pull out that notebook, transcribe the notes, see if I might find the seed for a poem or two. As I work on those poems, I turn to my writing friends for feedback and our workshop starts up again after a long summer break.

Other gatherings happen in fall. In late September, I made the trek across the state to teach at Litfuse, a poetry gathering in Tieton. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Michael Shein, Carol Trenga and Ed Marquand, among others, Litfuse has become a vital celebration of poetry in all its diverse forms. I taught a workshop called “Words from the Land: Connecting with our Common Ground,” which seemed appropriate since Tieton is in the heart of apple orchard country. We read poems from the anthology: In Praise of Fertile Land, published by Whit Press, then wrote about our own connections to the land.

One of the participants was inspired to write about the apples she grew up with back east: the MacIntosh.

My Vagabond Song

“The scarlet of the maples can shake me like  the cry of bugles going by”
A Vagabond Song, Bliss Carmen, 1894

A Macintosh Apple doesn’t travel well
across the country.
It needs to stay home in New England

in the crisp autumn nights that
turn leaves red and gold

in the black soil full of humus
and colonial history

crisp thin skin with
tang and tartness
cut with sugary juices to the snap bite.

Last year on my birthday
Kathy sent me
in an envelope
some Macintosh seeds
from an apple she had just eaten.

The smell of wood smoke
down Frost’s country road
thick in mudtime

past  orchards getting smaller
as they are everywhere.

I want to feel its dark red roundness
warm in my palm
so I can put my head down
and smell it
and go home.

                  Peggy Barnett, 2014

I’ll end on a quote from a book I’m reading by Julian Hoffman: The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World. He begins with a line from Rilke: “Everything beckons us to perceive it, murmurs at every turn,” then goes onto remind us that “the art of perceiving is more about reception than it is vision. We don’t have to struggle to see things, Rilke suggests, for they are already there, calling us. The difficulty lies in unlearning our tendency toward indifference….There is possibility in the smallest of things, the most innocuous of moments. More mystery can be found in a few moments spent in a stand of trembling reeds than a lifetime passed in an unperceived world.”

May fall bring you many opportunities for noticing the beckoning world—see if you can notice some small natural detail you’d overlooked before—and for gathering together to share what you notice with friends.  You might also consider attending a writer’s conference in your area or creating your own writer’s gathering.  It could be as easy as inviting a few friends over for tea and sharing your fall harvest of words.

yours in gratitude for the abundance of fall,