Poem of the Week, by George Kalogeris

Here’s a non-list-of-resolutions way to celebrate the baby new year and your own inner dreams: Join me in the Zoom room, January 7-13 for our first-ever Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, each unique, each created to unlock unknown worlds within. It can be so comforting to write together, for ourselves, without expectation or feedback. Join in for any or all of the hour-long sessions. Click here for all the details

What’s the one thing you’d most like on your tombstone? a woman in a prison writing class once asked me. The thing you most hope others would remember about you?

Such a good question, with only one answer: that I was kind. Which is a goal I fail at every day, at least in my own invisible, snappy, eye-rolling mind.

A deep, secret fear of mine is that something –maybe a disease of some kind–turns me mean. Brings some kind of latent cruelty to the surface, so that I end up hurting every single person I most love.

Please oh please let me be, in the end, no matter what the end is, like the poet George Kalogeris’s mother.

Baby Monitor, by George Kalogeris

She’s sound asleep. Or her Alzheimer’s is. I can hear
each breath she takes through the monitor I keep
on my desk, hooked up as it is to the one upstairs,

beside her bed. The kind of listening
device that’s used for keeping track of infants,
the tremulous speaker could fit in the palm of your hand.

A little green light pulses every time
it picks up any trace of my mother’s voice.
Babble of baby talk and muffled whimpers.

Those garbled bits expelled from her speech machine,
its plastic speaker propped all night on its stand,
calling out softly some rhythmical ruminant something

so automatic it might be dreaming out loud,
in my mother’s oblivious voice –O Sibylline
machine that makes the incomprehensible clear:

“…and please help her…and please guide him…and stop
it from spreading to the kidneys, please, dear Lord…
and make that enough to meet their mortgage payments…”

I’m privy to a prayer that no one else
can hear. At least tonight. Some primal psalm
where all are nameless, but none of them forgotten.

And please and please and please goes the little green pulsing light.

Click here for more information about George Kalogeris’s stunning collection, Winthropos, which includes the above beautiful poem. 

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Anni Liu

Click here for all the details of my brand-new January Write Together week-long session. I’d love to see you in the Zoom room.

This past week I deleted a couple of no-longer-functional emails from my Poem of the Week subscriber list. As I was scrolling through the long list, addresses of passed-on friends flashed up – oh look, my darling Zdrazil, there you are. And Jay Hopler, the poet whose gorgeous poems I discovered just before he died. And Melissa Bank, beautiful human, beautiful writer.

Everyone on the list stays there unless an official bounceback flings itself my way, full of incomprehensible code that to my non-coding eye means only one thing: this person will never again open an email from you, Alison. Until that day comes, I send the poems out into the ether, because who am I to decide how and when and where a poem will find its way home?

Lake of the Isles, by Anni Liu

            January 2021

 After my grandfather died
I waited for him to arrive
in Minneapolis. Daily
I walked across the water
wearing my black armband
sewn from scraps, ears trained for his voice.
Migration teaches death, deprives us
of the language of the body,
prepares us for other kinds of crossings,
the endless innovations of grief.
Forty-nine days, forty-nine nights—
I carried his name and a stick
of incense to the island in the lake
and with fellow mourners watched
as it burned a hole in the ice.
He did not give a sign, but I imagined him
traveling against the grain
of the earth, declining time.
Spirit like wind, roughening
whatever of ourselves we leave bare.
When he was alive, he and I
rarely spoke. But his was a great
and courageous tenderness.
Now we are beyond the barriers
of embodied speech, of nationhood.
Someday, I will join him there in the country
of our collective future, knowing
that loneliness is just an ongoing
relationship with time.
It is such a strange thing, to be
continuous. In the weeks without snow,
what do the small creatures drink?

Click here for more information about Anni Liu.


alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Ross Gay

Click here for details and to register for this Thursday, November 17’s Memoir in Moments evening workshop and January’s Write Together week-long session – I’d love to see you in the Zoom room!

Once, just out of college, I went to the movies with a friend. In the pocket of my jeans were nine dollars – a five and four ones. This was my cash for the week. I leaned back and draped my legs over the seat in front of me (terrible, I know) and watched the movie.

Walking home, I put my hands in my pockets, realized they were empty –my nine dollars must have fallen out to the floor of the theater–and panicked. My friend was weirded out. “Nine bucks?” he said. “Why are you so upset?”

He was a trainee investment banker. I was a trainee novelist.

Some of us – most of us? – are panicked by money worries at some point in our lives. For some, it’s a lifelong condition. I’ve never forgotten that night at the movies, the loss of that precious cash, how I tried to comfort myself by picturing some other penniless person, maybe a movie usher, maybe a late-night cleaner, and the wild happiness they must have felt when they found that $9 scattered beneath my seat.

The Truth, by Ross Gay

Because he was 38, because this
was his second job, because
he had two daughters, because his hands
looked like my father’s, because at 7
he would walk to the furniture warehouse,
unload trucks ’til 3 AM, because I
was fourteen and training him, because he made
$3.75 an hour, because he had a wife
to look in the face, because
he acted like he respected me,
because he was sick and would not call out
I didn’t blink when the water
dropped from his nose
into the onion’s perfectly circular
mouth on the Whopper Jr.
I coached him through preparing.
I did not blink.
Tell me this didn’t happen.
I dare you.

Click here for more information about the wonderful Ross Gay.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Robert Okaji

Still room in tomorrow’s The Art of Writing Picture Books, Tuesday’s The Intuitive Leap and other workshops! Click here for all the details – I’d love to see you in the Zoom room.

A while ago I was out doing errands, heading to places I haven’t been in a while: Turtle Bread Bakery, Great Harvest, the coop, Sunnyside Gardens. When I was finished I headed home, except not, because next thing I knew I was pulling up to the curb in front of my children’s old elementary school.

Alison, what the hell are you doing? It’s been well over a decade since I picked a child up at elementary school.

I looked up at the old brick building, the playground that we fundraised new equipment for, the third floor that was the domain of the eighth graders, the first floor where every year we hosted the Carnival fundraiser that parents semi-dreaded and every child adored.

The routine of those years washed through me: drop off the older two, take the youngest and her friend to Turtle Bread for a muffin before school started, return to Turtle Bread and sit in a booth with coffee and my laptop, writing one book, then another, then another. Years and years. Hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye.

Driving without Radio, by Robert Okaji

One minute you’re sipping coffee at the stoplight,
and the next you find yourself six miles

down the road, wondering how you got there,
just two exits before the French bakery

and your favorite weekday breakfast taco stand.
Or while pondering the life of mud,

you almost stomp the brakes when a 40-year old
memory oozes in — two weeks before Thanksgiving,

the windshield icing over (inside), while most definitely
not watching the drive-in movie in Junction City, Kansas,

her warm sighs on your neck and ear, and the art
of opening cheap wine with a hairbrush. How many

construction barrels must one dodge to conjure these
delights, unsought and long misfiled? You turn right

on 29th Street and just for a moment think you’ve seen
an old friend, looking as he did before he died,

but better, and happier, and of course it’s just a trash bag
caught in a plum tree, waving hello, waving goodbye.



Click here for more information about Robert Okaji.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week (excerpt), by me

Ever wanted to write a picture book? Join me on Zoom next Sunday afternoon, November 6, for a nuts and bolts workshop on The Art of Writing Picture Books. Click here for details. I’d love to see you in this or one of my other workshops!

All my life I’ve dreamed of flying. Just me and my arms, soaring through the sky. In a recurrent dream I run down my city’s streets, but my strides get longer and longer and higher and higher, until I’m floating above the sidewalk. Long, effortless air strides.

At first it’s exhilarating. But then it accelerates, and suddenly I’m too high. Beyond the reach of gravity. I can’t get back down. Soon I’ll be among the stars. And I don’t want to be among the stars! I’m not ready to be among the stars!

Sometimes a picture book you wrote long ago comes back to haunt you. Like this one.

Only a Witch Can Fly (excerpt), by Alison McGhee

If you were a young witch who had not yet flown,
and the dark night sky held a round yellow moon
and the moon shone light on the silent broom
and the dark Cat beside you purred Soar
would you too begin to cry 
because of your longing to fly?

The dark night around you fills with Fly, fly
and bright yellow moonlight shines down. 
Cat, by your side, purrs a gentle Bye, bye
and Owl stares up at a star, so far.
Your heart tells you now and you walk to the door. 
Cat arches his back and croons, Soon.

You stroke dear Cat and slip from your home,
your home in the woods by the fire,
cauldron and hat, brown velvet Bat,
the too-small robe you once wore…

Click here for more information on the incredible Taeeun Yoo.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Ellen Bass

I’d love to see you in my January “Write Together” session or one of my half-day workshops next month. Find all the details here.

When I was young I felt desperate sometimes, desperate to escape my own grief, spiraling thoughts, panic, pain. Drugs aren’t something I’ve ever done but I understand the wild impulse to get out of my own head. I used to tromp for miles and miles until I’d temporarily walked myself out of the internal chaos. In really bad spells I narrowed time down to half-hour segments, sometimes fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes, Allie, was my silent mantra. Can you get through fifteen minutes? That’s all there is, is fifteen minutes.

Getting through the next fifteen minutes is a form of waiting. The act of waiting is a kind of living mantra, a belief that everything changes, everything passes. Waiting is a form of matching your breath to the breath of the wider, wiser world.

Phone Therapy, by Ellen Bass

I was relief, once, for a doctor on vacation
and got a call from a man on a window sill.
This was New York, a dozen stories up.
He was going to kill himself, he said.
I said everything I could think of.
And when nothing worked, when the guy
was still determined to slide out that window
and smash his delicate skull
on the indifferent sidewalk, “Do you think,”
I asked, “you could just postpone it
until Monday, when Dr. Lewis gets back?”

The cord that connected us—strung
under the dirty streets, the pizza parlors, taxis,
women in sneakers carrying their high heels,
drunks lying in piss—that thick coiled wire
waited for the waves of sound.

In the silence I could feel the air slip
in and out of his lungs and the moment
when the motion reversed, like a goldfish
making the turn at the glass end of its tank.
I matched my breath to his, slid
into the water and swam with him.
“Okay,” he agreed.


alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

“Write Together” in January, 2023

Friends, want to write together this January on Zoom? One hour both morning and evening, 14 sessions total, January 7-13, 2023. Join for any or all fourteen sessions!

Each unique hour will open with a brief reading and a prompt designed to wake up the magical inner writer. This is a play-around-and-take-risks-and-see-what-you-come-up with week inspired by my own yearly practice. No feedback, as this is purely for your own creative spirit, but we’ll reserve the last few minutes of class if you feel like reading aloud to appreciation and applause only.

You won’t have to take a week off work or your daily routine –unless of course you want to–but you will have fourteen hour-long opportunities to write in a focused, intensive, exhilarating way in a room full of others doing exactly the same thing (it can be so comforting to write in the presence of others). Limited to 30.

Fee: $200 (one half-price scholarship remaining). Payable via Venmo, personal check, or Paypal (scroll below for details).

Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

Note: Spots still available in the below half-day workshops. Click here for detailed descriptions of each class.

Memoir in Moments: Thursday, November 17, 2022, 6-9:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Art of Writing Picture Books: Sunday, November 6, 2022, 1-4:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Intuitive Leap: Tuesday, November 8, 2022 (distract yourself after you vote), 6-9:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Gift of Words: Tuesday, November 15, 2022, 6-9:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)

Half-day workshop fee: $100. Note that I also offer a pay-as-you’re-able option to participants under financial duress (I’ve been there myself), up to two per class, from $10-$95, no questions asked.

Registration and payment: To register for an individual workshop, simply send payment and note which class you’re registering for. Registration is tentative until payment is received. You may send payment via Venmo to @Alison-McGhee-1, Zelle to alisonmcghee@gmail.com, Paypal to alison_mcghee@hotmail.com, or by personal check.

Please email me with any questions: alisonmcghee@gmail.com.

Poem of the Week, by Ruth Awad

Sign up here for one of November’s workshops: The Intuitive Leap, The Art of Writing Picture Books, Memoir in Moments. I’d love to see you in the Zoom room!

The food shelf three blocks north is extremely busy these days. People trundle down the sidewalk with wheeled carts holding brown paper bags of food or load bags of groceries into old rumbly cars. The little free library outside the church now holds cans and boxes of non-perishable food.

I don’t like capitalism. When I say that out loud I often follow it up with as-practiced-in-our-country, because saying you hate capitalism here in the “richest country on earth,” where 1% of Americans have amassed more money than the bottom 50% tends to get you pushback. Usually from people who have lots of money or who want lots of money. Who sometimes assume you’re a fan of Communism, which, nope.

Why the pushback? Maybe because we’re taught that all you need to do is work hard, work harder, just keep working, and if you end up poor it’s your own fault because you didn’t work hard enough? Maybe because we’re so used to the systems we’re born into that it’s hard to see what’s right in front of our eyes? Like that man with the cart who passed by yesterday, one of the wheels about to fall off.

Hunger, by Ruth Awad

Imaginary, the value of the pound, and yet when it drops
like an apple rotted from its branch, my family may starve.
1,507 pounds to the dollar. What that means if you’re not
an economist: a kilogram of meat is now a luxury. A line
huddles outside a Beirut bakery though the price of subsidized
bread is up again. The worst financial crisis in 150 years,
the World Bank says. And I don’t see the story anywhere
here. In my house with its lights on. Where I choose to skip
meals. Once we were stitched together by food stamps.
Dirt poor, my mother describes it, though land is more valuable
than almost anything. America and its incongruent abundance:
fields of corn and the hungry in the streets. The cattle well fed.
Security guards in grocery stores. If you die from hunger, the spirit
goes searching for food and the wanting never stops. Hard to say
what you’d do to live. My father picked an apple from someone’s
tree, was chased until he dropped it. If you steal an apple, it’s a crime.
If you withhold an apple from someone who’s hungry, it’s not.

Click here for more information on Ruth Awad.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Please check out my half-day and Writing Together offerings – I’d love to see you in the Zoom room!

A few days ago I was on the phone with my sister, telling her a true-life tale from a few months ago. She started laughing so hard she had a coughing fit (always my goal). Then she turned quiet.

“I bet it wasn’t funny when it happened, was it, Allie?” Nope. But making unfunny things funny is a way to transcend what really happened. That child with a book in her treehouse, in her hay fort, in her room with a flashlight: she was me. She’s still me, making up people who take everything that’s too hard about being alive and somehow make it manageable. The older brother I always wanted, the high school boyfriend I never had, the woman who’s the me I want to be, they rise up from my keyboard every morning, saving my life like always.

Moon in the Window, by Dorianne Laux

I wish I could say I was the kind of child
who watched the moon from her window,
would turn toward it and wonder.
I never wondered. I read. Dark signs
that crawled toward the edge of the page.
It took me years to grow a heart
from paper and glue. All I had
was a flashlight, bright as the moon,
a white hole blazing beneath the sheets.

Click here for more information about wondrous poet Dorianne Laux.

alisonmcghee.com

Words by Winter: my podcast

Brand-new Writing Together session, January 2023

Calling all word people!

My brand-new “Writing Together” session is now on the schedule for January, and I’d love to see you in the Zoom room! Details below. Click here for more information, along with info on my other half-day workshops both this month and in November. And, please forward to anyone who might be interested. 

Dive deep – see where the prompts take you

Writing Together: January 7-13, 2023, 10-11 am CT and 7-8 pm CT every day (note time zone)

In this brand-new Writing Together session, we’ll convene in our Zoom Room for one-hour sessions twice-daily (drop in for one or both a day, or whatever suits your schedule). Each hour will open with a brief reading and continue with a 20-minute prompt related to the theme of the reading. Each day’s theme will be different, and all are designed to wake up the magical inner writer who lives within us all. The last ten minutes of each session will be reserved for anyone who feels like reading their prompt aloud, not for feedback but for applause and appreciation.

The Writing Together session was inspired by my own yearly practice of a week devoted solely to generating new ideas, having fun, and playing around with cool new prompts. There’s something so comforting about knowing that a whole group –up to 30 of us in any given session– will be writing together at the same time, each of us in our little Zoom boxes. Come have fun and see what you come up with! Fee: $200, payable via Venmo, personal check, or Paypal (scroll below for details).

Bonus: Weekly writing prompts will be emailed to you every Friday for one month after class.

FALL 2022 WORKSHOP SCHEDULE AT A GLANCE

Memoir in Moments: Thursday, October 13, 2022, 6-9:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Transformation of Trauma: Friday, October 14, 1-4:30 pm Central Time (Note: this class is always free)
The Freedom of Form: Sunday, October 16, 1-4:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Art of Writing Picture Books: Sunday, November 6, 2022, 1-4:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Intuitive Leap: Tuesday, November 8, 2022, 6-9:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)
The Gift of Words: Tuesday, November 15, 2022, 6-9:30 pm Central Time (note time zone)

Words by Winter Half-day Writing Workshops: Could your creative spirit use a recharge? Come join me on my (virtual) porch for an exhilarating, fun, intensive workshop! All my 3.5-hour workshops are taught via Zoom and designed for writers of any and all experience. No preparation or skills required. Workshop offerings are regularly updated (check out the brand-new The Intuitive Leap class), and I’d also be happy to design one specifically for your writing group. Each workshop requires a minimum of five participants and is strictly capped at ten.

Half-day workshop fee: $100. Note that I also offer a pay-as-you’re-able option to participants under financial duress (I’ve been there myself), up to two per class, from $10-$95, no questions asked.

Registration and payment: To register for an individual workshop, email me at alisonmcghee@gmail.com or simply send payment and note which class you’re registering for. Registration is tentative until payment is received. You may send payment via Venmo to @Alison-McGhee-1, Zelle to alisonmcghee@gmail.com, Paypal to alison_mcghee@hotmail.com, or by personal check. Please email me with any questions.