Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Once in a Blue Moon

Every once in a blue moon, such as the one we're having this New Year's, I'll post a complete poem that I wrote. Here's one for 2010:

New Year's Day

It's the clean slate,
the board washed of yesterday,
a new document page,
a big open space under "Comments."

The sun rises over and outshines
the fireworks display of last night,
the glitter and silver
of your party wear.

Today lends a new brightness
to snow and sand, benches and backyards
and to all your fresh plans,
even if it's a cloudy day.

This year makes a resolution
to be like no other year for the next 12 months.
You dive bravely
into its whirlwind of weeks.

And later fondly remember and passionately forget
red-letter and grey-letter days
in a black-and-white sort of way,
but never cease to be part of this year

For the rest of your life.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Sandra Cisneros' Pre-Birthday Party

Poet and fiction writer Sandra Cisneros turns 55 on Dec. 20, but she happened to sneak into her hometown a little early to celebrate her birthday and the holidays with family and friends. Sandra's brother Quique threw a fabulous bash at his house in suburban Chicago, which included many of Sandra's other brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews.

It was also a mini-reunion of participants of Galeria Quique, a cultural venue from the mid-1980s held at Quique's former Printer's Row loft. Galeria Quique was a one-night-only showcase that took place once a month, featuring live performances/exhibits of poets, artists and musicians, followed by a dance-until-midnight party. At Galeria Quique, multi-ethnic crowds converged and attendees included the likes of politician Luis Guiterrez, TV host Phil Ponce, muralist Marcos Raya, and New York poet Sharon Mesmer (who will always be a Chicagoan).

Afterward, Galeria Quique stragglers would head over to Cafe La Fonda, an uptown 24-hour spot that featured what the group came to refer to as "Emergency Tacos." This later became the title to a poetry anthology chapbook featuring Sandra Cisneros and six other writers. Sandra recently referred to Galeria Quique and "Emergency Tacos" in a 2009 issue of "Oprah," as well as in the foreword of the 25th anniversary edition of "House on Mango Street." 

Sandra Cisneros, Quique, Sandra's cousin Licha, my husband Carlos Cumpian, and yours truly, all former Galeria Quique cast and crew, posed for photos. Quique's wife dug up a long forgotten VHS tape of some Galeria Quique footage, during which we cheered and hooted as one funky scene after another appeared on the TV screen. 

Artists such as Felipe Ehrenberg and Jose Antonio Aguirre made cameos on the video. Seeing the tape together truly brought back memories and bonded us all over again. Sandra hopes to eventually get a dvd version of the tape to place among the archives of the Macondo Foundation.

As Sandra Cisneros celebrates her 55th birthday, she has a special request. Macondo Foundation, a grassroots San Antonio-based organization that nurtures and supports writers from all backgrounds, needs a shot-in-the-arm. Sandra asks for a donation of $55 to the Macondo Foundation in honor of her 55th birthday. Or attend her birthday blast down in San Antonio on Dec. 20 (be sure to wear your leopard garb) where you can meet her and hand her your donation check in person.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Chicago's Hairy Who at the Union League Club

I occasionally try different writers' groups in Chicago. One balmy Saturday in November, I attended the Illinois Woman's Press Association (IWPA) fall meeting held at the Union League Club of Chicago. The other women in attendance were friendly, good conversationalists, bright and helpful. Can't say much about their guest speaker. But can give kudos to the club itself and its extensive art collection, visible floor by floor.

The Union League Club of Chicago is located at 65 W. Jackson Blvd. in Chicago, adjacent to the architecturally significant Monadnock Building, and is a multi-storey, non-partisan private club with "one of the largest and most important private collections of American Art." I was particularly taken with large art pieces by members of Chicago's Hairy Who art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, just steps from where I just ate lunch.

Originals by Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Ray Yoshida, Karl Wirsum, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke and Leon Golub grace the walls, nooks, crannies and staircases of the Union League Club. There are actually so many pieces of art, the club seems a little hard pressed as to where to put them all. The Nilsson painting (upper right) is hanging right outside the women's washroom.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Make a special Thanksgiving journal entry

When we think of Thanksgivings of the past, our memories can often blur into visual "bytes" of rising before sun-up, basting turkeys, cooking down cranberries into a sauce, hanging harvest decorations, watching a wave of people rush into and then out of the house, washing and drying dishes in a bright, steamy kitchen, and laughing with others, like yourself, festively dressed in fashionable high heels, but also in slightly worn-torn aprons.

But what does Thanksgiving really mean to those partaking in the meal with you? There's a special window of time during Thanksgiving when you can find out. You know that time in between the Thanksgiving meal itself and dessert, when you need to digest the first part of your meal before you can even think about cutting into the pumpkin pie? Instead of rushing off to watch the football game or get a jump on loading the dishwasher, grab your journal and instruct everyone at the table to "set a spell" to talk about the things that they are most thankful for this year. Write them down in your journal.

Or, ask everyone if they can recall their most memorable Thanksgiving (outside of this year's!) and why. You may find out some interesting anecdotes about your relatives that can help you appreciate them even more. You might even hear stories from the old-timers about those who have passed on whom you may have never met. The practical joke Great-Uncle Joe pulled 50 years ago could sound remarkably like something you, your son or your niece might pull today. More than looks often run in the family.

Sometimes Thanksgiving is the only time the whole family really gets together, and it's a day that often goes by far too swiftly. If you record some of what people say and do during Thanksgiving, you can savor the day longer and your relationships more deeply.

Forget videocams. They put people on the defensive and no one feels comfortable enough to say anything substantial in front of them. Plus, hardly anyone ever looks at them again once the camera is put away. On the other hand, people open up when you sit down at a relaxed table and chew the fat (and the Turkey bones), as you just happen to jot down a few notes in your journal all the while! ◦

Monday, September 14, 2009

Travel Journal Shortcuts

One of the best times to start a journal is during a special trip or vacation. And when teamed with photos and drawings, the same journal entries will take on added power to fortify an artist's journal or scrapbook. How do you start a travel journal, especially if you have never journaled before?

Take a shortcut. This means writing short, brief phrases that describe the people, places and things you encounter on your journey, instead of trying to tackle long sentences and hefty paragraphs. And because you're on-the-go, you may not have time for anything more than short, pithy descriptions.

Think postcard writing, but even more brief!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wow, A Windfall of Wine

A friend, Kim, who's a wine merchant, laid a windfall of bottles on me before leaving for Italy on a business trip. She's destined to tour several vineyards and wineries. My own cellar or, rather, rickety wooden rack in the basement had been reduced to few meagre bottles. I will list the wines here, lifting whatever commentary from the labels. Wineries are italicized. I will give my own review of each wine at later dates after drinking them.

In the red category, from Chateau St. Georges, is a 2003 full-bodied Claret Bordeaux from France of 60 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20 percent Cabernet Franc. Then, Four Vines 2006 Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel from California, with silky layers of berry fruit and spice. Moving on to Italy is Capestrano Rosso Piceno, a 2007 red wine of 50 percent Montepulciano and 50 percent Sangiovese, with sweet tannins and intense fruit aromas. Also from Italy, Statti 2007 Gaglioppo Calabria. Australian wines are always an interesting endeavor. Looking forward to trying Rochford Latitude's 2007 Victoria Pinot Noir, mentioning its favors of dark cherry, spice and savory oak. And finally, from New Zealand, Main Divide 2006 Pinot Noir from the Marlborough area.

Before transitioning to whites is a rose from Chile. This Calcu 2009 Rose comprises 50 percent Malbec, 40 percent Syrah and 10 percent Carmenere. It's label says floral with subtle notes of grapefruit and spice. And as a lover of champagne, I was thrilled to get a sparkling wine from Italy: Desiderio Jeio Prosecco Brut. Not sure if I'll be able to save it for New Year's.

Now on to three whites: I don't think I have ever tried a wine from Sicily, but now I can with Cusumano Insolia, a 2007 white wine. From Umbria, Italy, is an Argillae 2008 Orvieto dry white. And completing the list is a German white, Monchhof 2007 Estate Riesling Mosel. I drink white on occasion, but especially like using them in cooking chicken and pasta dishes. ◦

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Food and Flora Weekend in Galena

Behind the front-row-center Main Street scene in Galena, Illinois, lie some hidden treasures worth unveiling. Linmar Gardens high on the hill next to the clocktower high school coverted lofts is a lavish meander through thoughtful gardens, unusual sculptures and high and low waterfalls. A visit to the owner/artist Harold Martin's onsite workshop reveals his skilled penchant for the surreal. Worth the visit alone -- are the unearthed and lavishly converted ruins of African/American church, part of the original underground railway. See photo.

Next day, Ann Dougherty of Learn Great Foods took my husband and I on a three-hour city food tour which started at the The Great Galena Peddlery (which also offers cooking classes), included a mini-hike through a local sustainable blueberry farm Wooded Wonderland and back in town for an absolutely outstanding tasting menu meal at One Eleven Main, personally presented by chef Ryan Boughton.

The restaurant is committed to using locally grown foods from nearby small farms, and also butchers its own beef. The menu included a caprese salad using One Eleven Main's homemade fresh mozzarella, as well as basil and local heirloom tomatoes. Boughton then served a trout spread caviar style with toast crackers, crumbled egg yolk & whites, chopped red onion and capers. Medium rare grass-fed rib eye steak slices topped golden beet and pattypan squash wedges. Finished with a key lime tart accented with fresh blueberries from Wooded Wonderland on hazelnut crust. Meanwhile, we picked Two Brothers Prairie Path Ale beer from the restaurant's wide selection. Everything was over-the-top good.

Also had a fine lunch at Fritz & Frites bistro at the the north end of Main Street. Small and intimate with a decor that so reminded me of Galatoire's in New Orleans. Offers both French and German foods and a lush array of wines. My husband loved the salmon sandwich as did I the salmon salad with spinach, grapefruit and sliced red onion. French music in the background gave special accent to the experience.

Low point in the trip? Our B&B. The Pine Hollow Inn. Watch your head!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Deep End Club in Park Ridge

Before Park Ridge, Illinois, was famous as Hillary Clinton's home town, it was famous for the Deep End Club, one of the few venues that catered to teens in Chicago and the northwest suburbs. I've been thinking recently about some old friends from Chicago's Taft High School and the great times we had at the Deep End.

The photo is one I found on Google Images of someone from the Jefferson Ice Company band, which appeared at the Deep End. Between neighborhood bands, some Chicago headliners such as New Colony Six, Ides of March and the American Breed were booked. I believe even bubblegum band The Ohio Express graced the Deep End teen club stage. Yummy, yummy. It was a club where you could participate in a "love in" circle or do the Funky Broadway -- your option.

One landmark night, Deep End owners got on stage and asked the audience which direction they wanted the venue's music to go -- psychedelic or soul? The resounding answer -- soul music! So many of the cover bands hired brought music from Motown that we could dance to. And dance we did!

We managed to get our share of psychedelic music, as well, at the Kinetic Playground (aka Electric Theater) and the Cheetah II (aka Aragon Ballroom). I'd work after school and on Saturday mornings waitressing at Rose Grill at Higgins & Harlem just to spend all my money at the music venues, including Deep End.

Some little known trivia. One of the bouncers at the Deep End was none other than moonlighting Chicago cop Dennis Farina, who later turned Hollywood actor. He talked about wanting to head west even then, and made his dream come true.

If you have memories of the Deep End, let's hear from ya! Here's a music schedule from an era gone past. Note that the music group Chicago (aka C.T.A.) appeared at the Deep End Teen Club for $1.50 admission. Does anyone know which year that was?


Thursday, August 13, 2009

13 Ways of Looking at the Moon

This poem, inspired by Wallace Stevens' "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" traces 12 moon months according to the names given by the English and/or Native Americans.

13 Ways of Looking at the Moon

1. Old Moon
Year’s born in ancient cold,
a frozen snowball of a moon,
silent and seamless,
hurls towards spring.

2. Wolf MoonWhatever hasn’t been consumed,
lies under gaze of both wolf
and moon. A waiting game,
hide and seek between barren trees.

3. Lenten MoonHow can we give up
what was taken away months ago?
Trees surrender sap, ground opens its crusty heart
to both sun and moon. We follow.

4. Egg MoonThe oval and sphere compare arcs.
Which is more perfect?
Yet it’s now April,
more beautiful and pink than both.

5. Milk MoonLight’s liquid
feeds us by day,
liquid light feeds
dreams by night.

6. Flower Moon
Blossoms twist into strawberries,
buds into roses,
the gibbous moon unwinds,
full as summer.

7. Hay MoonYou can hear everything grow.
Tracking height and breadth
between crescents, quarters,
crops wax as moon wanes.

8. Grain MoonThe moon, a big grinding stone
covered in flour.
Cakes and loaves
celebrate in circumference.

9. Fruit MoonPlums fall like shooting stars,
moon hovers where no hand can pluck it,
but fills the basket of our hands
with its white meloness.

10. Harvest MoonHours by the bushel full
are filled by picking,
nights find us still in the field,
and so does the moon.

11. Hunter’s Moon
Moose and mushroom magnify
under its light,
we view our breath,
foresee a feast.

12. Frost MoonThe moon has shaved
for the holidays,
and sheds it stubble
as if earth were its sink.

Days of Christmas
These 12 most holy days
once a pagan bundle of solar leftovers,
pastiche darkness, phases, eclipses, tides,
falling to rest, awakening.

~ Cynthia Gallaher


Friday, August 07, 2009

Chicago Printers Ball 2009 Wrap-up

Finally getting out news about the 2009 Printers Ball in Chicago a week late, but wanted to include a fun photograph of Audrey Niffenegger, author of "The Time Traveler's Wife." She appears in resplendent red hat, next to yours truly. In addition to being a bestselling author with a feature film based on her book, she is also a professor in the Interdisciplinary Book Arts MFA Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts, where the Printers Ball was held this year.

The Printers Ball is an annual event sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Poetry Magazine. Poetry readings on two floors, ubiquitous small press periodical giveaways, free food and drinks, interviews, performances, and general literary mayhem takes place midsummer in Chicago. You don't need to get dressed up to attend, but its fun when you do. I wore a tiered chiffon periwinkle tank top and eggplant linen full-length skirt above bronze metallic gladiator sandals. Beaded earrings in multi shades of purple and lilac accessorized the outfit. I didn't bring an evening bag. Like Niffenegger, I toted my trusty workhorse shoulder bag which I stuffed with temporary tatoos, buttons with sayings and other silly stuff from the fair.

Many will remember the 2007 Printers Ball held at a vast venue on 35th Street. It was busted just before midnight for entertainment license issues. Did dozens of police officers with their arms crossed need to show up to usher out a bunch of poets weighted down, with neither drugs nor firearms, but stacks of poetry books? At first the Poetry Foundation didn't want to talk about it, but now even the president of the foundation brings it up at conferences such as the AWP as the org's right of passage into Chi-town street smarts.

Anyway, I read two poems at the feature event at the beginning of the evening on the 8th floor. One was an "uncensored" poem on avocados. Now how wild could that be. And another about the upcoming 25th wedding anniversary of the hubbie and me entitled "$1,000 Wedding, Dress Included." You know they say the marriages that last the longest often have the cheapest weddings. I'm as surprised as anyone.

A big find on the giveaway tables, among other wondrous items, was an issue of "Alimentum" magazine, which is a literary magazine devoted to the topic of food. Fun, witty, hip pieces within. And appetizing at the same time.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Breathing ocean air at Galos Salt Caves - Chicago

What pleased me most about visiting the Galos Salt Caves spa and health experience on Chicago's northwest side was its cleanliness. Tons of rock salt from the Russian Black Sea were shipped stateside to create this faux salt cave at 6501 W. Irving Park Road, which is an unusual offshoot of the adjacent, Polish-owned Jolly Inn restaurant and banquet hall.

I was ushered into the cave with three of my friends by a helpful and lovely young lady. Our group and two other participants spent the first 10 minutes or so of the 45-minute session walking around in clean socks to get a recommended foot massage from the salty surroundings. The salt bricks inset with Himalayan salt lights, decorative pillars graced with salty seahorses, and faux sparkly stalactites all added up to what could pass as the coolest basement rec room anyone could have created. It is, however, on the ground floor, but once inside, who knows? You feel fathoms from the surface of the earth.

My lungs opened up as soon as I breathed in the seemingly odorless salty air. Temperature is held at a comfortable 70-something degrees. We all slung back in white, zero-gravity lounge chairs and listened to gentle spa music highlighted with enchanting water sounds -- waves, waterfalls, fountains, streams. One friend, who travels around the world, said, "You made a good pick with this one."

The owners of the cave believe that a 45-minute session spent relaxing in this environment is equal to three days at an ocean beach. They claim the cave air has an anti-inflammatory effect and stimulates the immune system. It is particularly known for helping people with respiratory aliments.

I have to say that my sinuses opened up, I could breathe deeply and fully, and felt totally relaxed and refreshed by the experience. I will surely return and recommend this very affordable spa experience to my friends and family. ◦

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Planning a Staycation This Year?

Look it up now in the 2009 update ofMerriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Hardworking word-lovers everywhere can now learn the meaning of the word staycation ("a vacation spent at home or nearby") along with nearly 100 other new words and senses added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.

Many of the new words address: concerns about the environment (carbon footprint, green collar), government activities (earmark, waterboarding), health and medicine (cardioprotective, locavore, naproxen, neuroprotective), pop culture (docusoap, fan fiction, flash mob, reggaeton), online activities (sock puppet, vlog, webisode), as well as several miscellaneous terms such as haram, memory foam, missalette, and zip line.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Allen Ginsberg Memorial on July 3, 2009

My husband Carlos and I were fortunate enough to attend Naropa University's ceremony honoring Allen Ginsberg, poet, activist and co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The memorial took place on July 3 in Boulder, Colorado, in front of the Allen Ginsberg Library.

The occasion, MCed by Reed Bye, also marked the interment of some of Ginsberg's ashes at the Shambhala Meditation Center this summer, and the launch of the Allen Ginsberg Scholarship Fund.

Jim Cohn, curator of the virtual Museum of Contemporary Poetry read one of Ginberg's favored poems by Pablo Neruda, called "Let the Railsplitter Awake!"

The poem, about Abraham Lincoln, also harkens to Barack Obama's rise to presidency.

Musical numbers abounded, including singalongs of Ginsberg melodies and lyrics. In this photo, poet and Kerouac School co-founder Anne Waldman joins guitarist Tyler Burba. ◦

Meet and Greet Poets at Naropa

I suppose this post is more about photos than text. And more about lasting poets than passing fancies. During the third week of Naropa University's Summer Writing Program/Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, my husband Carlos and I had a whooping wild time attending workshops, lectures, panels and readings with some of the finest poets across the states.

We had fun hanging out with Truong Tran, a San Francisco poet and artist of Vietnamese descent who teaches poetry at San Francisco State University and Mills College. Found out he actually lives in Haight/Ashbury. His latest book is entitled "Four Letter Words."

Clayton Eshleman, professor emeritus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and his wife Caryl were a joy. Eshleman is the highly regarded translator of Cesar Vallejo and Rimbaud. Carlos was part of Clayton's workshop on Rhizomic Poetics all week.

Poet Anselm Hollo, originally from Finland, is now a full-time professor at Naropa University. His wife Jane, a Mississippi native, is pictured with him.


Naropa Summer Writing Program in Boulder

Back home in Chicago after spending a jam-packed week with my husband Carlos at the Naropa University Summer Writing Program/Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado, where they even compost their dryer lint! I studied daily under San Francisco poet Gloria Frym and Carlos participated in Clayton Eshleman's group. Each of us arrived home with a small portfolio of newly written pieces; the experience helped us both break out of our usual writing patterns in a big way. Between morning through night workshops, panels, lectures & readings, we were still able to enjoy some of Boulder's culture outside of the Naropa campus. Here, Carlos joins fellow students at the Tibet Kitchen patio, where they ironed out some poetry issues!

Recommendations. We made most meals in our tiny kitchenette apartment, yet also enjoyed some of the area's food and/or drink at Tibet Kitchen, Sunflower Organic Dining, Berry Best Smoothies, and the Laughing Goat Coffee House. Also tasted some kicker wild boar at Zolo's.

David Segal of Berry Best Smoothie Co. has been in the business for 16 years and uses only fresh fruit and juices in his smoothies. Also serves excellent freshly made veggie juices and out-of-this-world tamales which are also available at the Boulder Farmer's Market. Laughing Goat offers up food and beer in addition to coffee, and hosts poetry readings for Naropa University visiting poets on Monday nights.

One Wednesday afternoon, we hit paydirt all within a two-or-three block area. After receiving exceptional massages from therapist Jeremy Kotenberg, CMT at Massage Specialists on Broadway, we waltzed over to the Boulder Farmer's Market in Central Park, which teems with healthy people and gigantic kale leaves, stuck our heads into the otherworldly Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, and spent a wondrous hour at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art reveling in its human, uplifting and accessible exhibits (versus the sometimes painfully abstract and nihilistic themes favored at other contemporary art museums, shall I say, closer to home).


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dialogue with Creative Work

I have a day job, but I don't necessarily want to dialogue with it. I may argue with it a good portion of the eight hours I punch in, but I have other avocations that make more appealing partners. One is musical theater writing. I've worked on a children's musical and besides dialoging with my actual composer/collaborator, which is the most satisfying, my journal serves as an ideal stage to work out the answers to what drives the piece in the first place.

Some of the questions I pose consist of "What does the main character want?" and "What is the musical about?" When I ask what it's about, I don't mean the plot. The plot is what happens, scene by scene. Instead, I mean what deeper meaning is the piece trying to bring out? If it's about belonging, does the character discover that he or she can belong or that it may be impossible to really belong. If it's about connection, what might a character do to continually reinforce disconnection before finding a path to connecting with other people.

If working on a play or musical, you might have a journaled dialogue with your character asking directly what he or she wants, believes, avoids or regrets. You may not only find out your answer, but also find ways to smooth any bumpy parts of the script your characters trip on or redirect their steps when they wander away from where they and your piece are ultimately headed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Best times to visit Michigan U-pick farms

During a recent visit to Michigan, which is known for its fruit orchards, I came across a short list of dates when various fruits are ripe for the picking. I have fond memories of picking blueberries with my son and husband at a U-pick blueberry grove near the Michigan sand dunes on a July weekend. One particular Michigan grove cited specific dates that mark the height of each fruit in that area.
Cherries -- July 4
Peaches - August 15
Pears - August 22
Plums - September 7
Apples - October 1


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Writers Colony Recommendation!

I just heard that a writers' colony I've written about previously on this blog, The Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has several available weeks open for writers in the summer and fall of 2009.

Poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, food writers, I urge you to apply! The Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, a writer's paradise, is one of my favorite places on earth. I was in residence for two-week stints in 2006 and 2008.

The colony itself is located in a wooded area of town close to a natural spring, but still close to civilization. Everything is within walking distance. The town of Eureka Springs, set in the Ozarks, is a friendly haven of curvy, charming byways lined with architecture circa 1880s. The per diem at the colony, if you are accepted, is as low as $45 a day, which includes your own studio with bath and all meals. Dinners are homecooked for you five nights a week. The whole staff is great.

The photos are from the colony's Culinary Suite, which includes a fully stocked kitchen. It is truly the most stunning of the studios, and you are lucky indeed if you can land here during your residency. Many cookbook authors and food writers have stayed here.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Saugatuck Michigan End of May

Visited somewhere this weekend I've never been before -- Saugatuck, Michigan. Joined friends Maura and Jim, and husband Carlos, to what we thought would be a summer-soaked climate by now. However, I found myself wearing the jeans and two long-sleeved shirts I brought along in the brisk air, leaving shorts and tank tops in the suitcase. But it worked out fine.

The weekend ended up a serendipitous split between new spiritual experiences and experiences of the fermented kind. On Saturday, we did the usual Butler Street promenade and tasted a few wines at the Fenn Valley Shop in town. Let's just say the the Pinot Noir looked a tad clear and the hue of a rose', with a back flavor of some sort of hard liquor. To put it in a mild fashion, Michigan wines are not my favorite.

On the other hand, the beers we sampled at the Saugatuck Brewing Company microbrewery in Douglas, Michigan, were a delightful surprise, particularly the Main Street Wheat, 5.5% alcohol content. Carlos preferred the Ramblin Amber, 4.7% alcohol content. Diehard beer lovers can actually brew their own 11-gallon batch of beer at the brewery, which takes a period of two weeks. Learned an interesting factoid from the bartender: Guiness Stout has fewer calories than Bud Light.

On Sunday, we visited a Seventh-Day Adventist enclave in Pullman, Michigan, which includes some communal housing, a church, a natural foods warehouse and retail store called Country Life Natural Foods. The helpful, knowlegeable, warm ladies who greeted us made it even more of a pleasure.
Afterward, we headed west to Ganges, Michigan, to take part in an interfaith community service at Mother's Trust. Strangely, I had had a dream about this church a few months ago, not knowing where it was located. As soon as I saw it, I recognized it, and when one of Jim's friends out-of-the-blue encouraged us to go and actually took us there, I suppose my dream came to fruition. A former nun gave an enlightening talk on St. John of the Cross, and another parishioner held a 40-minute service on how eight different religions view the concept of mysticism, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Native religions, in addition to Christianity, which included a reading of a poem by St. Teresa of Avila.

Before heading back to Chicago, we took a long walk with three dogs (see Carlos and Speedy) through the Fenn Valley Winery vineyards, close to where we were staying in Fennville. Glad to note that the numerous sun-filled rows of vines were at the same stage of development as the three little ones I'm trying to nurture in my backyard. Happy for the confirmation, since I hoped I was doing something right.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Use Scent to Heighten Writing

The best writing employs the use of the five senses to explore metaphor, to show instead of just tell. In the book, "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook," the author Michael Gelb poses this self-assessment test to help you become more aware of your sense of smell:
-- I have a favorite scent. (What is it? Why do I like it? What does it remind me of?)
-- Smells affect my emotions strongly, for better or worse.
-- I can recognize friends by their scent.
-- I know how to use aromas to influence my mood.
-- I can reliably judge the quality of food or wine by its aroma.
-- When I see fresh flowers, I usually take a few moments to breathe in their aroma.

Gelb also suggests making "smells" a theme for a day. This could be a perfect journaling "date." Record what you smell and how it affects you through the course of a day. Spend a half hour at your favorite florist. Inhale the aroma of ten different perfumes or essential oils and describe your reactions. Others have suggested smelling a crayon, chalk, a rubber ball or other simple items from childhood.
How does smell affect your mood or memory? Write down your observations. What does each scent remind you of? Comparing sensory reactions to real life experiences or memories is the core of metaphor and image. You might want to even create a poem out of these images.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes and Giant Peppers

It took a month and a half of weekends to clear our 25-foot Chicago which included hauling ten yard bags of leavings away. I found, as usual, that actually planting tomatoes and peppers to be the easiest part. I ordered heirloom tomato and giant pepper plants this year from Wisconsin, which conveniently arrived on my doorstep just before Memorial Day weekend.

I intensely pruned our three grape vines in late March. They are prolific nevertheless with tiny, baby grape clusters forming in green and blushed red. Fredonia, Swenson Red, Edelweiss! I reluctantly ripped off the blossoms the past two years. This season's vines are hearty enough to bear fruit. Each "grape" is the size of a bb-shot at this point. I recall my son's toes the size of petite peas, way back when. But these guys are growing before my eyes, instead of over the years.

Also strung up five strings on the neighbor's garage (oops, don't tell him) to serve as props for pole beans, which I've never grown before.

Note to self: Remember the order in which you planted from house to alley (blogs are handy archives)! Tomatoes: Big Beef, Amish Paste, Yellow Brandywine, Red Brandywine. Peppers: Super Heavy Weight, Giant Marconi, Fat 'n Sassy, Big Bertha. I always say I'll remember, but I never remember. Even if I tag plantings, rain washes the words away. Thanks, blog. ◦

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lit reading at Woman Made Gallery, May 17

I've been to a literary reading at Woman Made Gallery before, and it is more than a reading -- it's an experience. Not only can you enjoy a couple of hours of new poetry, fiction and nonfiction work read aloud by the authors, but also take in the clean, spacious gallery tastefully arranged with paintings, sculptures, crafts and jewelry made by women, mostly from the Chicago area.

On Sunday, May 17, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. come on down to Woman Made Gallery for a lit reading on the theme of "The Emotional Body." Woman Made Gallery is located at 685 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. For more info call 312-738-0400 or visit its poetry site.
"The Emotional Body:" Think of body as object or actor, in whole or in part, in function and malfunction, sickness and health, stark or embellished. Think active body, gendered body, consuming body, sexual, emotional, physical body...our most inescapable abode.

Join curator Nina Corwin and a body of fabulous writers:
● Allison Joseph, author of Wordly Pleasures
● S.L. Wisenberg, author of Cancer Bitch
● Nikki Patin
● Laura Dixon
● Sara Parrell
● Cynthia Gallaher, author of Swimmer’s Prayer and Earth Elegance (reading poems about medicinal herb and plant healing)
● Kristin LaTour
…and a special guest appearance by Marty McConnell, recently returned from NYC.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Met Audrey Niffenegger Last Night

I met Audrey Niffenegger last night, author of "The Time Traveler's Wife." My husband Carlos and I attended a benefit for the Ragdale Foundation and book release party for Luis Alberto Urrea's "Into the Beautiful North" at Tumbao bar and restaurant on Armitage near Kedzie in Chicago.

Since Niffenegger is a Ragdale alum and her book was part of a special raffle going on that night, she was a definite invitee, who walked through the door with a striking presence. She is a beautiful brunehilde of a woman, with long red hair, in a hue that's unique but complementary to her features.

She is not only a writer, but an artist as well. Audrey Niffenegger's self portrait appears above. I approached her while she ordered a wine at the bar and complimented her on Time Traveler's Wife, which was a book selected by my family book club. I told her I liked her Chicago references, in particular of the Get Me High Lounge, which was a notorious Chicago poetry reading haunt back in the 80s. In that same scene, she described a bartender named Mia who had relatives in Glencoe. I told her my stepdaughter Mia also has relatives in Glencoe, but Niffenegger laughed, saying everything in the book is fictional. She's noted other such coincidences among her readers.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Wine and cheese tasting at Bin 36 -- Chicago

What better precedes a long evening of music with Leonard Cohen then a dining experience of short courses of cheese, hummus and soup at nearby Bin 36 at 339 North Dearborn in Chicago.

I took the 'el' downtown, walked north over the river, through the shadows of Marina City, and met my husband Carlos, awaiting me at Bin 36 with glass of Stella Artois in hand. Once seated at a relaxing booth, we had fun stretching our free time before the concert with little plates of pleasure.

Many patrons order flights of four red or white wines, which arrive in full-sized wine glasses, each filled with just a sampling of wine. Because I didn't want to get sleepy at the concert -- I heard Cohen keeps going until 11 p.m. -- I chose a tiny glass of 2007 Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec/Pinot Noir blendng called NQN, Picada 15 Tinto, Neuquen from Patagonia, Argentina. It was very good, fruity and dark.

Flights of cheese are also a specialty of the house, served with thin, crisp crostata bread. Since Carlos only likes goat cheese and I prefer cow milk cheese, we again didn't order a flight, but individual cheeses. Flights of sheep cheese are also available.

He loved the Cabra al Vino from Murcia, Spain, which is marinated in a local Jumilla wine. He said the cheese had "walls, floor and architecture. Very round and extremely satisfying." The Bridgewater cow milk cheese that I chose from Zingerman's Dairy in Ann Arbor, Mich., was creamy, mild, with a slight rind and spicy peppercorns throughout. Excellent! We also ordered a side of apricot/fig terrine and a small pot of honey to spread on bread along with the cheese, and it proved a bright, tasty addition.

The bowl of mushroom and walnut soup I ordered teetered between above average and just O.K. Would have preferred a salad. But the generous hummus plate accompanied by soft pita triangles was, according to Carlos "stunning, including the best oil, red onions and tomatoes." Our tab was just a little over $30. By midnight, when we turned in for the night, we still weren't hungry again. ◦

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre

It's been more than 15 years since Leonard Cohen played Chicago, and I was fortunate to grab two tickets only 1/3 back -- through a preview buy as a "fan." You know how it often can be to sit through live music that isn't quite up to par to a band's CDs? Quite the contrary with Leonard Cohen's show.

His musicians, singers, sound system, lighting and, of course, Leonard himself drove the entire occasion above and beyond the recorded disc -- a spectacular experience that pushes Cohen's legendary quality to the forefront, in a friendly way, and makes his 70-plus years just a side grin, which even he occasionally pokes fun at. But what other guy his age can get down on his knees over and over and rise without effort, sing for nearly three hours and dance off stage a couple of times between curtain calls?

Dressed in pork-pie hat, backed by six musicians (including Spanish guitarist Javier Mas) and three female back-up singers (one who is collaborator Sharon Robinson, as well as the two Webb sisters, who cartwheeled between numbers), Leonard Cohen brought forth beloved lyrics such as "dance me through the me to the end of love;" "it was the shape of our love that twisted me;" "everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied;" "I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel;" "we are so lightly here, it isn't love that we are made, in love we disappear." ◦

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Passing of Poet Deborah Digges

I was aware of the poet Deborah Digges as someone close to my own age who was beautiful, talented and a respected teacher at Amherst. You might say I was a little envious of her.
On April 10th of this year, she commited suicide. She had so much to live for, such a gift for poetry, even if everything else in her life might have fallen apart. I know she wrote a book about her struggles raising a teenage son, with both mother and son triumphing as a result of her efforts.
After so many hardships, to keep pressing on would make all the sense in the world. But which suicide in the recent or distant past makes sense?
The following is a gorgeous poem written by Deborah Digges that I found online. She makes mention of a stadium, death squads and an executioner. Strangely, she died in a stadium:

My Amaryllis
So this is the day the fat boy learns to take the jokes
by donning funny hats, my Amaryllis,
my buffoon of a flower,
your four white bullhorn blossoms like the sirens
in a stadium through which the dictator announces he's in love.
Then he sends out across the land a proclamation-there must be music,
there must be stays of execution
for the already dying.
That's how your pulpy sex undoes me and your seven
leaves, unsheathed. How you diminish
my winter windows, and beyond them, the Atlantic.
How you turn my greed ridiculous.
Now it's as if I could believe in having children after forty,
or, walking these icy streets, greet sullen strangers
like a host of former selves, so ask them in, of course,
and listen like one forgiven to their crimes.
Dance with us and all our secrets,
dance with us until our lies,
like death squads sent to an empty house, put down,
finally, their weapons, peruse the family
portraits, admire genuinely the bride.
Stay with me in this my exile
or my returning, as if to love the tyrant one more time.

O my lily, my executioner, a little stooped, here,
listing, you are the future bending
to kiss the present like a sleeping child.

(published in Ploughshares)


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More about "Neighborhoods: Poetry Writing Workshop" in Chicago on April 18

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, each with a distinct feel, a unique style. Become the creative bard of your neighborhood. Set your imagination free, gear up your memory, and take part in a writing workshop for adults where you’ll create a story poem about your neighborhood, whether an urban or suburban one.

What is a story poem or prose poem? How does it differ from a standard poem or short story? What are the special sights, sounds and aromas of your neighborhood? Is there an unusual character who stands out in your neighborhood? What makes your neighborhood like none other?

Find out at Neighborhoods: A Poetry Writing Workshop led by poet Cynthia Gallaher on Sat. April 18 at 1:30 p.m at Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. Explore prose poems by Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Italo Calvino, Carolyn Forche and Chicago’s Stuart Dybek. Get city-centric poetic inspiration from Polish poet Wislawa Symborska. You’ll then mix it up and try your hand at mapping out your own prose poem or two about that special place in Chicagoland – your own neighborhood.


Free poetry writing workshop on Sat. April 18 at the Harold Washington Library

Neighborhoods: Poetry Writing Workshop. Write a story poem about your neighborhood during a prose poem workshop led by Cynthia Gallaher on Saturday, April 18, 2009 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State Street, Chicago, Room 3N-5. For more information or to register, call 312-747-4400 or 312-747-4713. This event is part of the One Book, One Chicago celebration for "House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros. ◦

Monday, March 30, 2009

Personal dream image inventory for your journal

Let’s say you’ve been journaling your dreams for some time now. Your recall and vividness of dreams are becoming sharper and your dream entries contain more detail because you remember more of your dreams. You will reach a point when you’ll feel ready to begin re-reading your entries. Keep an eye out for recurring themes, images and symbols. Underline them in your entries.

Start a new journal entry and list these images. Such images can be characters, themes, objects, locations, situations or sounds. Try to remember the context in which these images appeared and the emotions that surrounded them. What do these images mean to you personally? Do they relate to anything going on in your waking life? What do you think some of your dreams are revealing about yourself?

Most sleep and dream experts discourage “dream interpretation” books or dictionaries, insisting dream images are all extremely personal and can only apply to the particular person dreaming them. If you go to the bookstore and look through various dream interpretation books, you might notice that these books will usually not agree on the meaning of any one image! Many of the dream symbol interpretations are based on older cultures in more closed societies in which everyone thought along the same lines. And every different culture had their own interpretations. In today's mixed societies of individuals, it's a much more personal story.

Robert Moss, author of the highly recommended The Three “Only” Things, said, “You don’t want anyone telling you what your dreams mean. Dreams bring many gifts of power and you don’t want to give that power away.” You are the best judge and interpreter of your own dreams.

Dreams are not prophecies, largely, but are instead a means of finding out more about how you really feel about aspects of your own life. And dream journaling is a way to record and reflect on these dream issues.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Heighten Five Senses: Smell

The best writing employs the use of the five senses to explore metaphor, to show instead of just tell. In the book, "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook," the author Michael Gelb poses this self-assessment test to help you become more aware of your sense of smell:
-- I have a favorite scent. (What is it? Why do I like it? What does it remind me of?)
-- Smells affect my emotions strongly, for better or worse.
-- I can recognize friends by their scent.
-- I know how to use aromas to influence my mood.
-- I can reliably judge the quality of food or wine by its aroma.
-- When I see fresh flowers, I usually take a few moments to breathe in their aroma.

Gelb also suggests making "smells" a theme for a day. This could be a perfect journaling "date." Record what you smell and how it affects you through the course of a day. Spend a half hour at your favorite florist. Inhale the aroma of ten different perfumes or essential oils and describe your reactions. Others have suggested smelling a crayon, chalk, a rubber ball or other simple items from childhood. How does smell affect your mood or memory? Write down your observations. What does each scent remind you of? Comparing sensory reactions to real life experiences or memories is the core of metaphor and image. You might want to even create a poem out of these images.