Poem of the Week, by Adrienne Su

IMG_6546When I was 20 I flew to Taipei with a plane ticket and the hope of finding a place to live and somewhere to study Chinese. I took a cab to a hotel, where I stayed for three days, mostly in the tall narrow box of a bathtub, too scared and lonely and unsure of everything to venture out. Starvation finally drove me down to the lobby. I said, having practiced it over and over, “Wo e si le. Fanguan zai nali?” which translates as “I’m dying of hunger. Where is a restaurant?” The three glasses-wearing Chinese men behind the counter leapt up with cries of concern, led me outside and pointed across the street. Once there I scanned the menu, scrawled on long tendrils of paper pinned to the walls, until I recognized the two characters for potstickers. I ordered 16, at a penny apiece, and ate them all. Those potstickers live in memory, visceral memory, like everything Adrienne Su describes in her wonderful poem below. I still dream about them. 

 

Substitutions, by Adrienne Su

Balsamic, for Zhenjiang vinegar. 
Letters, for the family gathered. 

A Cuisinart, for many hands. 
Petty burglars, for warring bands. 

A baby’s room, for tight quarters. 
Passing cars, for neighbors. 

Lawn-mower buzzing, for bicycle bells. 
Cod fillets, for carp head-to-tail. 

Children who overhear the language, 
for children who speak the language. 

Virginia ham, for Jinhua ham, 
and nothing, for the noodle man, 

calling as he bears his pole 
down alley and street, its baskets full 

of pickled mustard, scallions, spice, 
minced pork, and a stove he lights 

where the customer happens to be, 
the balance of hot, sour, salty, sweet, 

which decades later you still crave, 
a formula he’ll take to the grave. 

 

For more information about Adrienne Su, please click here.  

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Poem of the Week, by W.S. Merwin

img_0560Last week the painter had a dream in which an old friend, dead in an instant two years ago now, appeared, smiling and so happy to see him.  Do you think he came back because he died so fast and he wanted to say goodbye to you? I asked him when he told me about the dream. Who knows? Maybe, the painter said. Either way it was good to see him, happy and healthy. W.S. Merwin has always been a poet of dreams to me, what with his imagery and the way his unpunctuated poems float on the page. His calm voice drifts across the water, and sometimes one of his poems feels exactly right.

Voices Over Water, by W. S. Merwin

There are spirits that come back to us
when we have grown into another age
we recognize them just as they leave us
we remember them when we cannot hear them
some of them come from the bodies of birds
some arrive unnoticed like forgetting
they do not recall earlier lives
and there are distant voices still hoping to find us

For more information on W.S. Merwin, please click here.

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More Dogs of Destiny!

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 3.56.23 PMDog lovers of the world, you are many and you are fabulous. I have loved putting together these dog of destiny posts. What began as a celebration of my new Percy, Dog of Destiny picture book has turned into a celebration of dogs in general. Soulful, hilarious, generous, slightly evil, sometimes scheming, always beautiful dogs. This is the last in the series. Enjoy!

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This is Chip. During his time on earth he was an expert counter surfer known to eat frozen sticks of butter, cleaning fluids and an entire bottle of vitamins. Please don’t judge him by his vet bills. Noble Chip is sharing his Halloween candy in dog heaven now.

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This is Lucy. She’s 16. She’s giving her human the cold shoulder right now because she’s peeved. Why should she have to go to the groomer if she doesn’t want to? HELLO SHE IS SIXTEEN.

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How Lottie loved Owl, her favorite toy from back when she was a puppy. And how Lottie loves the bed she knows she’s too big for and shouldn’t be on anyway, but she can’t always play by the rules and she doesn’t think you should either.

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My turn! No, my turn! Toby and Petey wouldn’t stop bickering over who got to sit on the cushy chair, so their human had to step in. #yourfault #noyourfault

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If Buckminster’s favorite toy is Scarlet, and Scarlet is a cat, then Cats = Toys. This is how dog math works.

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Air Charlie was part of the famous Flying Frisbee Dog team. He adored squeaking hedgehogs with all his heart but could not resist de-squeaking them, and once de-squeaked, a hedgehog was dead to him. This is why Air Charlie’s kind but perhaps enabling humans bought them in bulk.

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Air Charlie is pictured here surrounded by some of his bulk hedgehogs. He’s aware that he’s part of the 1% and he’s a little uncomfortable with that. He wants you to know that he always pays his taxes. You’re welcome to check his returns.

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Sir Winston was far too erudite for toys, but he would graciously accept bones of any size.

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Cooper, always the gracious host, figured that tug of war would be a good icebreaker when Buddy came to visit. Boy was he right.

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Tank and Tucker would like you to know that they were told to “act dignified” in this portrait and they followed instructions. Didn’t they? Didn’t they?

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This is Cooper. See that look in his eyes? He’s trying to tell you how much he loves toys, loves loves loves toys. But his human allows him only one. So can you blame him for going a little overboard that one day at his aunt’s house? #dogsgonewild

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Max did not enjoy playing dress-up, but his human used to dress him up anyway. He then went on to have a storied career as a rural attack dog. Correlation/causation? Max is in dog heaven now. Or possibly dog hell.

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Meet Charlie and Lulu. They want to tell you about their perfect day. It began like this. . .

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And it ended like this. They hope that someday everyone will be as happy and loved as they are.

Poem of the Week, by Ross Gay

How many times have I been driving in my city and glanced over at the face of a pulled-over-by-an-officer driver? Hundreds. How many of those times has the driver been a person of color? Most of the time.

 

Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ, 8:00 AM, by Ross Gay

It’s the shivering. When rage grows
hot as an army of red ants and forces
the mind to quiet the body, the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through the hips, chest, neck
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips,
his eyes scanning my car’s insides, my eyes,
my license, and as I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,
his hand massaging the gun butt, I
imagine things I don’t want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens.

 

For more information on Ross Gay, please click here.

 

One-day Picture Book Writing Workshop!

51ZARDXBHJL._SY453_BO1,204,203,200_Do you love picture books? Have you ever wanted to write one? Are you curious how to go about it? Welcome to my one-day picture book writing workshop!

In this intensive, fun class, we’ll deconstruct some classic picture books, talk about ideas for new ones, and go through all the nuts and bolts, such as how long can a picture book be? What’s the relationship between writer and artist? How do you write a picture book that children will love and adults won’t mind reading ten thousand times in a row? We’ll come up with ideas, draft a basic outline for one or more picture books, read aloud some favorite passages, and provide instant feedback on anything you come up with.

Street cred: I’ve written many picture books, including several New York Times bestsellers. All told, they’ve been translated into more than 20 languages and won dozens of awards. They still bedevil me, fiendish little things that they are, but when they work –when one lifts off the ground and soars into the sky– it’s magical.  

Date and time: Saturday, May 6, 12-4 pm
Place: Uptown Community Room, 3554 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55408
Cost: $100, payable via Paypal or personal check. (10% of proceeds donated to Small Sums, a non-profit whose sole mission is to provide homeless individuals with the tools needed to accept the jobs they have been offered. Items include things like bus passes, work boots, trade tools and licensing fees.)

Class is limited to 15 participants. To reserve a spot, please email me at alison_mcghee@hotmail.com or click on this Paypal link

Poem of the Week, by T.S. Eliot

Photos 223Sometimes all I want is a poem that’s rhythm and rhyme, words placed and spaced so they turn into a song inside my head. Langston Hughes does that. So does Dylan Thomas. And so does Mr. Eliot, below. I memorized this poem so that it will always be with me. Poem, you are a voice shaken from the yew-tree, and here I am, replying.

Excerpt from Ash-Wednesday, by T.S. Eliot

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth
This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

For more information on T.S. Eliot, please click here.
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More Dogs of Destiny!

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 3.56.23 PMIn celebration of my new picture book, Percy, Dog of Destiny, just published last week, I asked you to send me photos of your dogs, with or without some of their favorite toys.

This has been the most fun project. Thank you for your beautiful photos. They make me love dogs even more than I already did.  Enjoy.

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This is Rosie. She started a dog advice column a few years back. One of her most popular posts is about the delicious sunflower seed, notoriously difficult to catch in the wild. Her advice is to lie motionless beneath the bird feeder and be ready to leap when the moment comes. Thanks for the pro tip, Rosie.

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Bones are Stella’s favorite toys, and Stella is Cairo’s favorite toy. In their personal opinion? Balls are highly overrated.

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Please meet Barkley. He enjoyed playing with many toys in the course of his long and dignified life, but his favorite toy of all was his boy Ian, who is a firm believer in the “shame shared is shame halved” school of coning.

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This is Daisy. She has twelve loofah dogs but this one is her favorite. She is tired of defending herself against onlookers who speculate that her loofah dogs are longer than she is. Please. They aren’t.

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This is Jo and her favorite pink ball. Jo is in dog heaven now, but she left this photo behind to remind one and all that no one could fly through the front door the way she could. She would also like you to know that she always stuck her landing.

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This is Widget, who would like it known that he is a good dog. Most of the time.

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This is Widget again. Sometimes he gets a little cold, and that worries him. He has quite a bit on his mind, really. One of the things he wonders about is his humans. Do they know how much he loves them? Do they?

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This is Boomer. He’s an Australian shepherd. Boomer will be 14 in May. He spends a fair bit of time these days reflecting. Did you know that in his youth he was a mainstay on the Frisbee Dog circuit? Oh the glory days of yore.

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Meet Aku and Yumi. They are pictured here in their  element of snow and cold. During their time on earth they had the power to hypnotize humans with their unearthly husky beauty and mesmerizing eyes. Please gaze upon this photo with caution.

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This is Arthur. He lives on an island and rides the ferry back and forth to the mainland. He also has his own Instagram account and is working at a high-end dog collar start-up. Talented beyond measure, Arthur could be spending his spare time clubbing with supermodels, but he remains humble and sets aside time each morning for meditation and reflection.

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This is Rafa. He’s an academic dog best known for his work on the famous longitudinal study “Socks vs. Toys.” He will neither confirm nor deny rumors that he engages in rabbit poop eating. @therealrafa: “Enough with the poop innuendoes. Fake news! @mainstreammedia get your mind off turds! SAD!”

IMG_6565This is Callie. She’s in dog heaven now, but in her glory days she excelled at searching out and gobbling down poop of indiscriminate sources. She also had a lovely, elegant habit of lying on the floor with her paws crossed in front of her. Rest in peace, sweet girl.

Poem of the Week, by Kathy Fagan

img_6107This poem haunts me. Not because it’s sad –or maybe it is; I don’t really know what this poem is about– but because when I read it, it brings back times of internal struggle. Like when I was young and trying desperately to work my solo way out of a secret, six-year eating disorder. Partway through this struggle, for reasons I no longer remember, I sat down and made a list of all the people dearest to me. One way to translate “eating disorder,” maybe, is “self-hatred,” but I clearly remember that when I finished the list, all their faces came swimming up in my mind, and every face was smiling at me with love. It came to me in that moment that clothes, size, money, age, looks, where a person went to college– none of it mattered. The one thing that would matter about me to the world, if only I could remember it, was my own spirit. That moment was a turning point in my struggle. And somehow it relates to this beautiful, mysterious poem, because when I read How we looked / didn’t matter for once / because we were flying, I feel as if I’m flying.

 

How We Looked, by Kathy Fagan

          didn’t matter for once 
because we were flying. 

          The crows we were 
clothed in took a running 

          start for the gothic 
and that was all: 

          tooled doors opened 
and waxy air 

          lifted us on its current. 
And though the jeweled 

          light was dim we could tell 
the faces we were 

          seeing were beautiful, 
each with a mouth 

          and voice, and there was 
no doubt then, 

          as our chins and our rib cages, 
our wrists and our knees 

          rose, that what mattered 
was that we obey 

          for once, and when 
the voices said, 

          Look up, Look up, 
though rain fell 

in our eyes, we did.     

 

Click here for more information about Kathy Fagan.

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