Friday, April 24, 2015

On Poetry Jeans & Noticing Something Closely

Here are some fresh ideas for National Poetry Month at Tweetspeak, the Best in Poetry & Poetic things. Including photographing your poet jeans in a creative way. I think if I do that, I will have to write about it. Also from Tweetspeak, some unusual poem prompts.

How has your poetry month been going? Mine is rich with poetry everywhere I turn -- for reading, listening, and writing. I didn't go for the poem-a-day exercise, but rather the read-a-poem-a-day direction. Also I have revised poems every week, if not every day, and in batches. I pick out poems from a manuscript that speak to each other and see where they want to go next, keeping all three or four open as I work on each one, going back and forth, and if there seem to be connections strengthening them.

Over at Blogalicious, Diane Lockward is featuring a poetry book a day, complete with blurbs and sample poems and links to poems from the book online. What a gracious way to celebrate poetry month! I liked especially the sample poems from Adele Kenny's book A Light, a Thirst, or Nothing At All.

Read a poem today! Buy a book! Or just notice something very closely. To me, that act is poetry.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Reading Fiction Breeds Compassion -- and I Hope Writing It Does Too

Scientific studies have confirmed what avid readers know: reading novels makes you a more warm-hearted person, more likely to understand your fellow human beings, and quicker to empathize with them. And not just ONE study, but several scientific studies, have identified activity in the brain that leads to this result. And not only fiction, but specifically literary fiction, was determined to have this salubrious effect on the human heart-mind.

As a reader of novels, and now a writer of one to hopefully come out in 2015-16, I feel better about devoting an embarrassingly immense amount of time to worlds that are described with a certain subtly disparaging tone as "fictional." But as psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York say, "Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience."So those "pretend" worlds I lived in as a child, and still inhabit as an adult writer -- they're good for my "real world" relationships. Which include my relationships on social media. It's as real as you need to get, because whatever is in your mind is your reality.

And now, back to working on my novel, The Renaissance Club. I hope that by transporting you back to 17th century Renaissance Italy and introducing you to a time-traveling young art historian who gets mixed up about whether she lives in the "then" or "now," the story will support your own inner journey of understanding human nature, love, and time.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Celebrating Poetry Month - You can get my book at a discount

I'm celebrating the month in yet another way -- giving a hefty discount on my recent book, Gods of Water and Air. From now through April 30, you can get a copy directly from me for only $11, including shipping. Email me if you'd like one: rachel@dacushome.com

Poet and essayist Molly Fisk said : “In Gods of Water and Air, Rachel Dacus turns a painterly eye onto both the nooks and crannies of our world — ‘hints of rose madder in the cerulean,’ a palm tree’s
‘rigid, rattling arguments’ — and ‘the blue immensity’ that holds us all.

Thanks to editor Angelique Jamail, my poem "Prayers for Everywhere" appears on her site Sappho's Torque today. I'm delighted that it appears on the weekend of Passover and Easter, as I think prayers should be borderless and expansive, helpful to all, everywhere. Which is where the poem started, actually. The poem is from my book Gods of Water and Air (reviewed on The Pedestal).

Happy Easter, happy April, and have a poetic day! Buy or pick some roses if you can.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hello National Poetry Month! (April fool!!) (No, not April fool)

April, the month of showers, taxes, fools, and poetry, is upon us. Why does that combination seem just right? Fools and poetry, at least. In the Sufi tradition, a wise fool is a disguise for a Sufi holy man who might get his head separated from his shoulders if he were overtly who he is, so he plays the fool with poetry and jests that are really something deeper.

Fun fact of April 1: Did you know that National Poetry Month was started by the Academy of American Poets? I didn't until of course googling it. You can read about this and other Natl. Poetry Month facts on their website. Here's why they chose April…

"We chose a month when poetry could be celebrated with the highest level of participation. April seemed the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry—in an ultimate effort to encourage poetry readership year-round."

I'm great with that, except ... hello, April 15? I won't be reading so much poetry between now and April 15. Maybe a haiku each day until April 16. Actually, I might read a longer poem than that every day, for I surely will read one poem or more every day in April. And I will submit poetry every day of this coming month. That will force me to do some revising.

If you're doing the daily poem-writing exercise, here are three good books with prompts to power you through:

The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop - Edited by Diane Lockward. "A poetry tutorial to inform and inspire poets. Includes model poems with prompts, writing tips, and interviews with poets."

The Daily Poet  - Edited by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. "Write a poem a day every day of the year! The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice (Published by Two Sylvias Press) offers a unique writing prompt for every day of the year. Created by poets for poets, this calendar of exercises offers inspiration and a place to begin."

Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets - Edited by Erica Goss. "Vibrant Words is a book of poetry writing prompts intended to spark creativity, banish writer’s block, and inspire new ideas. You’ll find out why you need core strength to write well, that poetry waits in parking lots, and what you can do with just one word."

Sunday, March 29, 2015

April -- a Poetry Month discount on my book

I plan to honor poetry every day by reading it every day. Especially poets new to me. I bought two new books by poets friends recommended: Edgar Bowers and Henry Rago. Both write in ways that move me and illuminate the way poetry lives around and through us, whenever we have eyes to see.

Here's my reading of "Flight," the first poem in my book Gods of Water and Air.






Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ready for National Poetry Month? No, Me Either

Here's the list of things I'd like to do for Poetry Month, but probably won't, because -- hello! -- it's also Tax Month and I'm writing a novel. But you never know....

1. Join a Poem-A-Day group and write a poem every day in April. NaPoWriMo has a great portal to a number of prompts and sites with groups doing the challenge). I did this several years running in a small group on The Alsop Review's wonderful Gazebo Workshop. The joy of the 30-day poem challenge in a group is the feeling that you're all stretching and reaching for new strength, failing and succeeding together, and pretty soon, it doesn't matter if it's your poem that's the wowser of the day, we're all rowing together.

2. Go to an open mic reading and present a new poem. This is one I promise myself to do every April, and often wind up having a schedule conflict on the one day of a monthly reading I know I'd like to attend. April is so jam-packed on my yearly calendar that I really wish we could move it to June. In my area, there's a wonderful monthly series (yes, a plug): The Second Sunday Poetry Series at Valona Deli (delicious sandwiches) in historic downtown Crockett, California. It's curated by the fabulous Connie Post, former Poet Laureate of Livermore, California and poetry promoter extraordinaire.

3. Read a poem every day. Okay, this one I can do. I almost always do it anyway, because poetry is heart and soul of what gets me going, keeps me writing and living with awe and optimism and truth. I know I'm gushing, but really. Try these sites: Poem of the Day - Poetry Foundation, Poetry Daily,
Your Daily Poem (listserv).

4. Buy a poetry book. How hard is this? The price of two lattes. Come on. We can all do this. We all have a list. And if you need to add one, you can buy my newest book Gods of Water and Air and even get a little prose mixed into your poetry. It's all good. Available on Amazon, including a Kindle version for only $5.99.

And it's not too late to submit your work for a poem-a-day feature on the marvelous blog by Angélique Jamail, Sappho's Torque. Deadline is March 15!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tales of Weird Families & Other Quirky Groups of Humans

My interest in this kind of story could be defined as obsessive. What can be more obsessive than something you've lost or something you feel you never completely had? Novels about families and other groups fascinate me because my family never quite cohered and split apart pretty fast. So I read to replace it with a better family, though my secret wish is to see that all families or groups of closely connected people have the visceral conflicts and the unique quirks mine did -- to see that whole panoply of psychological oddity that really is, in my view, the human condition. Perhaps growing up with my parents gave me that idea: a bipolar rocket scientist and painter for a father, and a mother whose idea of fun was to see what lay down any forsaken dirt road, especially if it led to a beach. And those were the pleasant qualities. The darker stuff was equally bizarre and led me to contemplate the labyrinth of light and dark we each are.

So when I began to write my time-travel novel, The Renaissance Club, knowing it would be set in northern Italy and involve an art history tour, I couldn't resist populating it with quirky people. Is there really any other kind? I've been in search of a "normal" family life all my life, and have rarely observed one. When I did, it was so abnormal I suspected it for being a sham, as was the family of my best friend in junior high. All plaid, cheerleading perfection on the surface, roiling weirdness under the table manners.


After such a childhood, it's no wonder I fell in love with naturalist Gerald Durrell's marvelous My Family and Other Animals, as animals in menagerie quantity have played a part in my family life too. Or Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (read it!). There's a quirky family embodied as Dorothy's companions in The Wizard of Oz. That series became my childhood reading, writing, and collecting passion. I still have the cloth bound editions with John R. Neill's wonderful  illustrations.

After conferring with a college teacher about the politics within a community college, I decided to set as my quirky family group in Italy a bunch of college instructors. The dean is Dad, his wife the mom who really doesn't take care of anybody, and the professors just so many siblings squashed into an uncomfortable though sometimes dazzling road trip. And having lived in a communal house or two in Berkeley in the 60s, I feel qualified to translate family and housemates (or work mates) back and forth, as different categories quirky family. One day I will write about those large cottage-like group living houses in Berkeley, and the odd birds who inhabited them, bringing their even odder friends to dinner, or to dinner for a week at a time.

Friday, February 06, 2015

New poems published, new ideas cooking

I'm having a happy poet week! That's the one in which you have two poems floating around out there in front of reading eyes (presumably), and you feel the wind under your wings to carry you to some new ideas.

Autumn Sky Poetry Daily has today posted my poem, "Prayers for Everywhere." This is the last poem in my book Gods of Water and Air. I put it in that position because I feel a poetry book needs a conclusion that speaks to its unity, and for this collection of memoir poems and essays, a benediction of prayers of praising common things seemed just right. My working class port hometown of San Pedro figures prominently in the book, and I think it was there that I learned to pay close attention (which itself is a form of prayer, I think) to all sorts of lowly objects and beings. Snails crossing the lawn, worms washed out on the road, the little red pods the pepper trees dropped, the kelp whose pods you could pop and see a little gush of seawater. My childhood was full of these and many other textures, and nothing grand except the ocean. So prayers for all these small places and daily objects.

Tiferet Journal just published in their January digital edition my new poem, "The Map of Light." I've been associated with Tiferet for more than a year, through by publishing poetry and also helping to raise funds in support of this wonderful organization, which is dedicated to "heart, compassion, and the reconciliation of opposites." I think our world needs a little more compassion. Maybe a lot more. I hope my poem is a map that fits into that mission.

New publications always send me back to the drawing board. I've been pulling out poem drafts from 2014 and looking at them with an editorial eye. Right now, I'm working on a possible new collection, but sidling up to it, not rushing. I have dedicated 2015 to getting my new novel, The Renaissance Club, out into the world. And then of course once you launch the newest thing, you have to make sure it stays afloat. But poetry isn't an occupation for me, it's a necessity. So I will keep wading into the surf and see what waves I can catch hold of.

I do love a surfing metaphor.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Into the Woods and the Art of Playwriting


I don't usually write movie reviews, mainly because I rarely go to the movies. Since I bought a big screen television and an Apple box and can watch films at home, I now decide whether to see movies in the theater by how much I want their sights and sounds to overwhelm me. As soon as I heard there was going to at last be a movie of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece musical Into the Woods, I realized I would have to forgo the ability to put a movie on pause, eat my own snacks, and watch in my pajamas at any hour, in order to see this on the big screen.

I was ready to fall in love, based on comments by fellow Sondheim fanatics, and I wasn't disappointed. It was unbelievably good and transporting. Director Rob Marshall created the perfect cast, made the brilliant decision to hire the playwright of the original, James Lapine, and to ask Sondheim to consult on the production. Since he had to shorten the play to fit an acceptable movie length, he had a challenge that most directors sensitive to a major work of art would have found daunting. What to cut? Fortunately, the original creators, being part of the team, were ready to assist and even rewrite.

Can you imagine George Bernard Shaw revising his masterpieces for film? In fact, director Gabriel Pascal persuaded him to do just that, notably on Caesar and Cleopatra and Pygmalion. Caesar and Cleopatra came out looking more like a play than a film, but film was less cinematic in 1945. And film is such a different medium than stage.

While one may inspire another, they can't use the same scripts. I've been lucky enough to write some plays that were performed and videotaped. When I look at the videos, I realize how different are these media. The best-captured stage play wilts under the camera. It's the immediacy of actors right in front of you that makes a play -- especially a musical -- more exciting than a film, or exciting in a different way.

Into the Woods the film somehow transcends the distinction. Maybe it's because the play is so vital and alive, the songs and music so compelling and interwoven into the classic fairytale stories that have been co-opted to the revelation of more subtle and larger truths, but this movie made me feel I was in the front row at the most marvelous staging of the play ever.

Of course, Meryl Streep had a lot to do with it, with her portrayal of the most touching and complex Witch and mother ever. The staging of the hilarious song "Agony," with the two Prince Charmings splashing around in a mountain stream while vying to be the most agonized lover, also did it.

So I came home and watched videos of Sondheim and Lapine revealing how the show was created, and also how they worked on the movie. Then I reread Sondheim's marvelous books. I'm steeped in craft discussions, but it's the songs running through my head like that stream full of agonized princes that makes me know I've seen a masterpiece film of a masterpiece play.

The play begins and ends with the thematic phrase "I wish." Sondheim's Sweeney Todd has been made into a movie. I wish Rob Marshall or someone would next bring to film my favorite Sondheim: Sunday in the Park with George. But as Into the Woods tells us, "Be careful what you wish for." Because wishes come true and then you live with the consequences. For example, I always wished to be a writer ...



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Promoting tolerance, one writer at a time

It seems like a good time to consider tolerance and all its meanings, especially for those of us who write and can give voice to the need for it. The dictionary defines tolerance as: "willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own." I think the key word here is "willingness" -- an open mind.

Last year I joined the staff of Tiferet, a journal founded on the principle of tolerance and compassion. Tiferet brings together writers who promote tolerance. Founder Donna Baier Stein, who named the journal, says the Hebrew word Tiferet means “heart, compassion, and a reconciliation of opposites.” Today more than ever, seeming opposites must learn to come together.

Through a quarterly literary journal, monthly radio interviews, and global community of writers Tiferet brings divergent faiths and beliefs together. inspiring us to create, exchange, and grow.

And in 2015, happily, Tiferet's community and projects are also growing. Tiferet needs to raise $10,000 for another vibrant year of publishing, interviewing, community-building, and more. Hopefully, Tiferet's Indiegogo campaign -- to concludeon February 19 -- will push forward and raise much-needed support.

And hopefully, you can help! Here's a link to learn more:

Tiferet's Indiegogo Campaign - Donations due by Feb. 19