Poem of the Week, by Karla Kuskin

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 3.21.51 PMWhen my children were little one of our favorite books was The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. Such a simple story. In apartments all over New York City, orchestra musicians are dressing for the evening performance. Everyone wears black. They muscle their instruments, large and small, into cabs and the subway, and they head to work. My children and I read this book over and over, usually at bedtime, where it soothed their way into sleep. It’s long gone from my shelves, but I still think about it.

This book and others like it tantalize me, because the author took something familiar –an orchestra–and focused on the unfamiliar. Musicians not in their orchestra pit at a grand hall, but at home, getting dressed. The backstory. The unthought-about. It’s dangerous to think you know everything about something or someone. It leads to complacency, to boredom, and sometimes to destruction. When I read this poem below and pictured a moon radish, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed floated back into my mind. And lo and behold, Karla Kuskin was the quiet genius behind both.  

 

Write About a Radish, by Karla Kuskin

Write about a radish
Too many people write about the moon.

The night is black
The stars are small and high
The clock unwinds its ever-ticking tune
Hills gleam dimly
Distant nighthawks cry.
A radish rises in the waiting sky.

 

For more information about Karla Kuskin, please click here.

Dear Sister, a siblings book for all ages

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Early reader reviews are already in for Dear Sister, which comes out next Tuesday and is illustrated by the wildly talented Joe Bluhm, and so far they’re all full of love, like these from Goodreads.

“As evidenced by my rarely awarded five star rating, I loved, loved, loved Dear Sister! In fact, I would go so far as to say it is my favorite children’s book of 2018. Cue the fanfare!”

“Hilarious!! Such a fun and sweet book. If you have siblings, you will love the tone and the humor found in these pages!”

“Made me sob. In a very good way.”

Want to know where the idea for Dear Sister came from? In part, from someone I used to call Duggle. Wuggle. Dougie. Douglas. Aka my baby brother, born to a family of three older sisters, me being the oldest, when I was nine years old.

I remember the day he came home from the hospital. My parents let us skip 4-H so we could come straight home and meet our little brother. We tiptoed into the den, where he lay in a blue and white baby carriage. His hair was extremely black and his face was extremely red. He looked up at us suspiciously and after a few minutes started to wail.

Who could blame the poor thing? We were three little girls and he was our living doll, putty in our hands, ours to play with, ours to torture, ours to dress up, ours to hand around one to another. IMG_0898

Doug is still nine years younger than me and always will be. That’s how it works. He’s 6’6” to my 5’10”, no longer a red-faced and rightfully suspicious baby but all grown up and hilariously funny. He and my wonderful sister in law and my wonderful nephews live a few miles from me in Minneapolis.

When my phone barks out the crazy piano tune I assigned to him –Brother is a crazy piano player himself—I pick up.

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“Brother.”

“Sister.”

How lucky am I to have a brother like Doug? Very. Dear Sister was inspired in part by my love for my siblings. I hope you like it. It’s out next Tuesday, and you can preorder it wherever you buy your books! 

To order a copy

From your local indie bookstore
From Amazon
From Barnes & Noble

Poem of the Week, by Betsy Brown

IMG_0531The men I love most get it, with “it” being the malevolence of treating women as if we’re not equal. At one point the other night, when I could suddenly barely talk because of the rage that filled me, a male friend said about sexism, It’s like air, invisible and everywhere. And you breathe it in your whole life, but when the switch flips and you suddenly realize how deep it goes and how awful it is, it’s fucking overwhelming. 

Yes. It is.

Me at 10: Waiting on the stairs to go back into school after kickball, a classmate reached out, grabbed my breast bud and jeered as he twisted it as hard as he could in front of everyone, a moment that changed the course of my life. At 16: Standing on a subway too crowded to move a single inch, a man standing behind me shoved his fingers up my skirt and inside me. At 19: Working as a summer hotel housekeeper, a guest called for help from inside his room, and when I went in, flipped over naked on the bed to show me his erection and ask me to help him with it. At 23: A man I was making out with yanked my underwear down and kept pushing at me until I escaped and ran. 

These memories and others, which are nothing compared to what so many of my women friends have endured, bring back the humiliation and bewilderment and self-hatred I felt when they happened, when all I could think was What did I do wrong? Which is why the ending lines of the poem below, by the remarkable Betsy Brown, will be with me forever.    

 

Midwest Boys, by Betsy Brown

In Oshkosh, Wisconsin,
we kept it in mind
I-41 went clear down

to Florida. These scoop-necked
midsized midwestern
towns, set up separate originally

on waterways for trading–
first furs, then lumber,
the worker drinkers

voiceless then fierce
for the hell of it, tense
machinery, construction.

As a teenager you noted
mainly the routes out.
Spring, the dead mud,

the bad paint job, drifting jarred
eaves troughs, sullen pickup
sunk to its axles on the lawn.

A boy’s mind turns to the road.
Tract houses, one, one,
all along the frontage road

with tequila and Old Style, pot,
cheap speed; if you’re
a girl you try to remember:

They shoved candlesticks
up Linda. They drew on her
with her Bonne Bell.

If you pass out
they’ll strip you,
you won’t know

and if you’re lucky only
photograph you. These pictures
show up on bulletin boards.

In Eau Claire, 1992, teenage
boys dropped rocks from
an overpass over I-94,

aiming for windshields.
Martin Blommer in his
Winnebago, hit by a 32-

pound rock; his wife alongside
didn’t hear it, the crash,
the RV veered in a second

into the median, staggering
to stop, and he, in silence,
transfixed instantly, forever.

32 pounds. These are
my highways. I remember.
Long-play radio stations,

driving in moonlight
past hours of white
white mute fields.

I never wanted
to go back to Florida.
As a girl I didn’t

have much to compare–
dime bags, shot glasses, lives
that trudged with losses

and butane. I can’t forgive them.
Where could one drunk girl
find an ocean?

In the first forced blink of spring
I hate you.
I remember your names.

My curse on you is this:
May you have daughters
and may you love them.

 

 

For more information about Betsy Brown, please click here.

 

 

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@alisonmcghee

Poem of the Week, by Veronica Patterson

IMG_0711It was the summer of a long pink skirt, ice cream cones, cartwheels on the beach, waitress shifts followed by late nights at the bar followed by breakfast at the diner, a little rented room and a refrigerator shared with twelve other girls. This was Cape Cod, a long time ago, and my buddies Doc and RJ and Stu would descend on weekends. After we walked back from the bar I’d hold the back door open for them and they’d sneak upstairs to my room (guests weren’t allowed) to sleep on the floor around my bed. One weekend they brought a new boy with them, someone I’d never met, and I instantly liked him. That night we all decided to sleep on the beach instead of sneaking into my room. We spread quilts and looked up at the stars, waves lapping at the shore.

The new boy and I were next to each other. RJ and Doc and Stu all fell asleep but I was too aware of the boy, and he was too aware of me. I was shy that way and he must have been too, because we lay motionless on the sand, not touching, not sleeping. Hours passed. Toward dawn I turned on my side and my foot touched his, and silently he reached out and pulled me into his arms and curled his body around mine. We fell asleep, our friends around us, and when we woke up in the morning there he was, smiling at me. The poem below brought that lovely memory washing back over me. It reminds me, in these days of justified anger and pain, how much sweetness there can be between a girl and a boy, a woman and a man.   

 

Perseids, Later, by Veronica Patterson

          A tease of clouds intermits
the searing blueblack. Cicadas
drone in a 3 a.m. silence
          and I fall back

          onto an Army blanket, 1956,
a meadow outside Ithaca, lying with sister
and brother, in the grip of fierce
          dreams and longings, my skin

          alive with up,
drawn to the studded dark, whose
tiny burns might be those of a sparkler
          twirled too fast.

          This night, as you sleep inside,
I lift binoculars to contain
these pricking lights, which
          perforate,

          and still pull me
to them. Your dream wafts from the house,
a stay. In waning heat, in my thin
          nightshirt, I feel

          the years accordion,
and I shiver. Each of us
gets to be vast sometime. Three
          meteors streak

          the length
of a star-glazed strand
of my hair. How can the birds sleep
in this confetti of light.

 

 

​For more information on Veronica Patterson, please click here.​

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@alisonmcghee

Poem of the Week, by Izumi Shikibu

Digital story, cartwheelEvery summer in my teens I canoed with friends through the Rideau region of lakes and canals in Ontario. We camped every night, swam, cooked, laughed, told ghost stories and played games. One annual camping spot was on a lake with an enormous rope swing tied to an overhanging tree. You grabbed the rope, stepped back as far as you could, swung out over the water and then plummeted. The rope swing took nerve. The drop was steep and the water cold, and once you committed, you had to leap – if you swung back you’d crash against the tree and the rocky bluff. Leaping from it was wild and exhilarating. Once, as I swung out, I looked down to see a long water snake swirling in the water directly below me. My fear of snakes is lifelong and deep-seated, and I was horrified, but there was no going back. I plummeted with my eyes closed and struck out for shore the second I surfaced.

In all the years between then and now, life has taught me a thousand times over that the most beautiful things are often shot through with sorrow and loss. But when I first read this poem, by a woman who lived and died many centuries before I was born, it was that memory –the snake, the long plummet into the freezing water, the wild surge of life as I tore toward shore–that came rushing back to me.

 

“Although the wind . . .”
             – by 11th-century poet Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

 

For more information on Shikibu, who lived and wrote in the 10th and 11th centuries, please click here.

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@alisonmcghee

One new book and three new one-day classes!

Panther Mountain, 30 September 2013Once, when I was ten years old and the proud owner of a three-speed Schwinn with a basket and a speedometer, I rode to the top of the biggest hill nearby and surveyed my surroundings. Pine woods, fields, farmhouses and barns, and the lonely two-lane road in front of me. Breaking my land speed record was the goal, so I stood up and pedaled as hard as I could down the hill. 5, 10, 15, 20, all the way up to 35 mph, with the wind roaring in my ears and my long hair blowing back (no helmet; this was back in the day). 

That personal land speed record, 35 mph pedaling as fast as I could, is what this summer felt like to me. Planes and trains and automobiles, bikes and kayaks and mostly, my own two feet, traipsing around the city and the country.

Now it’s fall. Time to take a breath. Time to survey the surroundings. Time for one new book and three new one-day classes!

DEAR SISTER


Dear Sister is my new graphic novel for all ages, especially 8 on up. It’s a collection of letters and drawings from a brother to his little sister, beginning on the day she’s born and continuing for the next ten years, until he goes to college. This book was inspired in part by notes my own kids used to write each other, notes that were alternately horrifying and hilarious, and also by my own fifth-grade diary, which is filled with entries about my baby brother. Funny, tender, and honest, Dear Sister is my love letter to the sibling relationship.

Dear Sister is illustrated –amazingly so–by the talented Joe Bluhm, who’s one of the artistic geniuses behind The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I loved working with Joe on this book. I’ll be visiting upstate New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, southern California and the Twin Cities for Dear Sister. Please check my blog for details of upcoming readings and events – if I’m in your neck of the woods for any of them, I’d love to meet you.
 

To pre-order a copy of Dear Sister:

From your local indie bookstore
From Amazon
From Barnes & Noble

NEW ONE-DAY CLASSES, NOVEMBER 2-4

Do you have an interest in creative writing but haven’t yet taken the plunge? Are you a writer already, interested in exploring a new form or just taking a class for the fun of it? I’d love to see you in one of these upcoming November classes. Please join us!
 

Friday, November 2: Creative Writing Kickstart!

Location: Uptown Minneapolis
Time: 12-4 pm
Cost: $100, payable via personal check or this Paypal link.

Have you always wanted to write but aren’t sure how to begin? Or, are you a writer in need of an energy boost and a fresh start? This four-hour intensive Kickstart workshop will recharge your writing energy and help you develop a regular writing practice. We’ll do several brief writings and talk about various aspects of craft and process –maybe language, maybe flow, maybe dialogue, maybe tense and point of view, maybe some other things– in terms of what makes great writing great. 

The class is designed for writers of all abilities, experience levels and genres – so I forbid you to worry if you’ve never written before! Whether you’re a longtime writer in need of a boost or someone who’s always had an interest in writing but never known how to sit down and get started, the class is designed for you. Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you for one month following the end of class. Enrollment is limited to 15.

Saturday, November 3: The Art of Writing Picture Books

Location: Uptown Minneapolis
Time: 12-4 pm
Cost: $100, payable via personal check or this Paypal link

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 our 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? I promise it will be informative and fun. Enrollment is limited to 15.

Sunday, November 4: The Freedom of Form

Location: Uptown Minneapolis
Time: 12-4 pm
Cost: $100, payable via personal check or this Paypal link. 

When you’re stuck in a piece of writing, feeling lifeless, what do you do? Grind through, hoping desperately that a window will open? Give up? Take a break? Declare yourself a failure and slink off to drown your sorrows? I’ve taken a shot at all these methods, and none of them work as well for me as re-framing the work itself. I give myself seemingly arbitrary rules to work within, e.g., Write this scene as a series of text messages, or, Write this novel as a series of one-hundred-word passages. The freedom of assigned form is real, people, and it’s why novels usually have chapters, and picture books are usually under 500 words. It’s why enduring forms of poetry like haiku and sonnets and sestinas are still alive and thriving. In this workshop, which is designed for writers in all genres, we will play with form as a way to open up your writing, your mind and your heart to the freedom and creativity inherent in all art. We’ll complete some in-class writings, discuss published works and in general have a great and exhilarating time. Enrollment is limited to 15.
 

Thanks for reading, and happy fall to all.