Monday, November 12, 2012

Omnivore Odes: Poems About Food, Herbs and Spices

Cynthia Gallaher’s chapbook Omnivore Odes: Poems About Food, Herbs and Spices brings together poetry, foodie fantasy and herbal healing into one collection.

After some glorious hours of kitchen testing at the Culinary Suite of the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a workshop at the Culinary Institute of New England in Vermont, and time spent cultivating organic fruits and vegetables at Lisa Fishman’s Poetry Farm in Wisconsin, I wrote Omnivore Odes to celebrate superfoods and wonder herbs in our era of otherwise fast food and depleted nutrients.

The poems span foods from carrots to tempeh, herbs from black cohosh to turmeric, and spices from cayenne to cinnamon.

Cinnamon: The First Shall Be Last, and Last First

Cinnamon radiates like sun-warmed brick
in Sri Lankan woods,
where bark curls into little scrolls
where the world writes childhood memories.

Its beguiling fragrance
beckons grown-up customers into shops,
quickly sells market-listed houses
as heated ovens exude its allure.

Cinnamon, once the spice
that launched a thousand ships,
its coppery payload, darling hostage
of world trade and exploration.

To those from India, cinnamon
tastes like curry,
to Cincinnatians, chili,
to Mexicans, café canela,

But to most western tongues
its dozens of dessert appearances
seem to form their own
12 days of cinnamon Christmas.

Between sweet homemade apple pie,
crock-pot mulled cider and
oversized rolls sold in airports,
it’s the all things nice part about

This spice,
an insulin stand-in
to lower
blood sugar levels.

Did we not notice until now
its covert worth behind kitchen cabinets,
when it dropped its rolled-up-in-a-rug disguise,
to reveal its power to metabolize.

~ Cynthia Gallaher

Omnivore Odes: Poems About Food, Herbs and Spicescan be ordered through Finishing Line Press. It also makes a unique gift for your poetry-loving, foodie or natural healer friends.

Order Omnivore Odes

Here are a few comments on Omnivore Odes from authors I admire:

“What fun! In Omnivore Odes, Cynthia Gallaher uses wit and deft language to sing the music of the kitchen larder. Gallaher’s whimsy wanders from Popeye landlocked in the Texas spinach capital of the world to peanuts, ‘like the elephant, what many of us work for.’ In her gifted hands, the foods and spices of everyday life undergo transformation into fairy tales and new mythologies.”
~ Linda Rodriguez, author of Every Last Secret (St. Martin’s Press), Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press) and The “I Don’t Know How to Cook” Book – Mexican (Adams Media)

“Cynthia Gallaher weaves threads of science with seeds of the sacred. The result – a walk along a path that informs with delight. Certainly the best herbal poetry since Shakespeare.”
~Steven Foster, senior author of National Geographic’s A Desk Reference of Nature’s Medicine and Peterson’s A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs

Omnivore Odes by Cynthia Gallaher is now one of my favorite books of poetry -- giving voice to food, herbs and spices. The poems are so well-crafted she succeeds in making them simple, and in that simplicity lies richness. She paints with words -- and the paintings she leaves are vivid and bright. Especially inspired by the line in the poem ‘Black Cohosh Cool’ – ‘That a certain age can’t be played in a minor note.’ Her poems make me hungry for such wisdom.”
~ David Hernandez, the “unofficial” poet laureate of Chicago and founder of “Street Sounds” poetry musical performance ensemble

Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet and writer, is author of three full poetry collections and a writing workshop leader. She is on the Chicago Public Library’s list of “Top Ten Requested Chicago Poets” and named one of “100 Women Making a Difference” by Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine. She tweets about food and poetry at ◦

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writer’s solitude tucked into Wyoming’s northeast corner at Ucross Foundation

Alternate 14
offers new levels
of steepness

home to 10,000

The above are two haiku I wrote on the road to Ucross, Wyoming, while traveling east over the Big Horn Mountains. My husband Carlos, friend Raul and I happened to be on our way back to Chicago from a visit to Montana and Yellowstone National Park. The Ucross Foundation Residency Program is one of the premier writers' and artists' retreats in the United States and I had hoped to stop by to visit since we'd be right in the area.

We had taken Alternate 14, which appeared as a shortcut to the city of Sheridan on the map, but turned out to be one of the steepest climbs imaginable through switchbacks and around harrowing ledges, however breathtaking, which eventually landed us in the uplands, grasslands and former Lakota bison hunting grounds on which the Ucross Foundation now occupies.

This gently rolling expanse, 27 miles southeast of Sheridan, was once on an old stagecoach route and former home to the Pratt & Ferris Cattle Company, circa 1880s, of which Marshall Field (of Chicago department store fame) was a founding partner. Today, the town of Ucross (population 25) and the Big Red complex of the Ucross Foundation is surrounded by a 22,000-acre working cattle ranch, devoted to ecologically sound, holistic ranching practices. Half the land has been placed as conservation easement through the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

It had been a toss-up between our visiting Devil’s Tower and the Ucross Foundation, since our trio only had time for one. I had already seen Devil’s Tower as a child, and my two traveling companions weren’t too keen on making a sidetrip to a sacred Indian landform given up to the name of a western demon, in their words, so Ucross it was. Hooray! I had wanted to get a better handle on what this colony was about for years. The three of us called ahead while in Sheridan to find out if we could stop by for a visit.

A half-hour or so later, we pulled up to the Big Red Ranch House, one of the oldest standing houses in the area, beautifully refurbished and home to the Ucross Foundation administrative offices and Alkire Library. Sharon Dynak, president of the Ucross Foundation and head of its Residency Program, greeted us in the lobby, chatted with us about the program and our trip, then walked us over to the adjacent Big Red Barn. This sizable building houses an art gallery of residents work, a conference space and other offices. Visual art styles range from traditional western themes to highly experimental forms – an exhibition catalog spanning former residents' work is available onsite.

According to Dynak, the foundation’s residency program which hosts 65 writer and artist residents each year has been especially popular with musicians and musical groups. Besides the artists’ and writers’ studios and separate living quarters, are a separate studio with a lithography press, and two composers' cabins, Jesse’s Hideout One and Two, each equipped with a piano and electronic keyboard.

Spring and fall session residents are chosen by a panel of professionals in the arts and humanities in a highly competitive application process. Former well-known residents include Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and Adam Guettel, composer of music and lyrics for "The Light in the Piazza" musical. Residents have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Tony Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the MacArthur Fellowship, and many other honors. Gulp. Not sure if I’m ready to forward my latest chapbook published by a teeny, tiny press as my application documentation.

While Ucross is truly out there on a far-flung ranch, there is nothing rustic about it. The grounds, common buildings and studios are all first-rate and recently updated. The frugal end of the deal is that accepted residents can receive two to eight weeks of living accommodations, workspace, and lunch and dinner prepared five days a week by a professional chef with ample provisions on hand for the weekends – all on Ucross Foundation’s dime. The only financial incidental one has to be concerned with is getting to and from Ucross, Wyoming, from wherever is called home.

And you don’t need a car once you get there. There is absolutely nowhere to go within double-digit miles and everything you need to create poems, novels, paintings, plays and compositions lies right before you – giving you tremendous solitude and little distraction besides the local hiking you might attempt and a big sky full of stars to ponder by night. Note: You are not in the mountains here, but can see them in the distance. Find out more about the Ucross Foundation Residency Program, 30 Big Red Lane, Clearmont, Wyoming, at


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Use wabi-sabi in your journal entries

Wabi-sabi, the quintessential Japanese aesthetic, can be applied to journaling and is, in fact, an integral part of true journaling, whether we realize it or not. Wabi-sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest, humble and unconventional.

Published writing is usually rewritten, edited and polished writing, set in symmetrical fonts and printed in uniform order and quality.

Journaling, most often, is composed of our raw thoughts or emotions, scribbled down in an unsteady hand on a commuter train or a dimly-lit kitchen. Perhaps the pages are occasionally smudged with ink or stained by drops of coffee. Entries may be heartfelt and passionate, but can simultaneously be random, incomplete, unconventional and bold, without need to please an audience.

In the long run, the journaling process may add up to a complete picture or an epiphany of revelation, but tracing any single journal's pages, one-by -one, can render a modest journey, the humbleness of following a foggy path with no promise of reaching a clearing.

Most distilled, the Wabi-Sabi of journaling embraces a sense of faith -- in yourself, in life, and in the promise of a future. ◦

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autumn Equinox Fire Ceremony

Fire has its own life, it transforms everything, it is never static. Fire sustains us, warms us, cooks our food, keep us through cold nights. Fire nurtures us but can also bring death. Fire destroys, burns legacies, ravages forests, but allows new undergrowth to spring forth like a phoenix from ashes.

On the first night of the fall equinox, my husband, two friends amd I attended a fire ceremony in a Chicago suburban backyard. We were here to take a look at ourselves, at the new season and to possibly change and heal ourselves. Would gazing into an outdoor campfire of crackling logs set us on that path?

Some drawbacks: there were too many people in the backyard, too many lawn chairs huddled together, with the warmth of the campfire too far away on a night that dove into the 40s. Nevertheless, after some initial discomfort and disappointment, I chose to ignore these inconveniences. Being here with like-minded people who wanted to use fire as a meditative focus was all that mattered.

The leader started the ceremony. She talked about fire, about rituals, about Native tribes and had each of us, in rotation, throw a small tobacco offering into the flames. It was in thanks for the earth on which the fire stood. It was in thanks for trees and air which feed the fire. She explained how the ceremony would serve to help us release what no longer serves us, such as fear, and set intentions for what we wish to manifest, such as a fervent dream of ours.

Subsequently, we each privately examined that which we most feared. During this fear meditation time, the leader drummed on a bohdran-type handheld drum. Afterward, we each cast a sprig of cedar into the criss-crossed flaming logs. This served as a symbol through which we might banish the fear we identified. In response, the fire rose up briefly in acknowledgement each time. Afterward, we internally cast our thoughts into our dreams and wishes - again more drumming. Then we each tossed a small amount of sage into the fire.

After each segment of the ceremony, two or three of us teamed together to share our thoughts, our fears, our dreams and what we saw through our meditations. I had fulfilling private visions, a mind's-eye visitation of a bluejay, and creative ideas that seem to emerge from nowhere. What blessings!

To me, the fire, tobacco, cedar and sage are all instruments of God and are servants of God. Going through an autumn fire ceremony is a human way to ritualize new beginnings and take a meditative look at what we hope for our futures.

My friend Raminta, though of few words in between the ceremony segments, said she got much from the event. She had arrived on the scene with her mind awhirl, she said, but over the course of the ceremony found peace, relief and relaxation. She looked refreshed with her eyes dancing with new life! ◦

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is wabi-sabi? How is it continually and intimately expressed in the life of a frugal poet?

One of the most refined, thoughtful and poetic societies, Japan, has gone through unfathomable disasters in recent history, such as the profound earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. Nevertheless, the Japanese people continue to push forward in quiet strength, dedicated to and motivated by their culture, history, sense of humility and connection with one another.

Wabi-sabi is a philosophy based in Japan that embraces a sense of flawed beauty, the profundity in nature, and of things impermanent, humble, primitive, transient and incomplete. It celebrates the modest, rustic and unconventional. It is the organic versus synthetic, the rough-hewn and uneven over the measured and laser-edged. Loosely explained, wabi means a philosophy of imperfect, natural beauty and sabi means the artistic expression of what’s assymetrical, aged or unpretentious.

Daisetz Suzuki, one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, considered wabi-sabi “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.” Rather than a poverty of pain and a sense of desperation, it instead gives the relief of removing the weight of material concerns from our lives.

Wabi-sabi suggests the notions that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect. The Persians are known for a proverb about the true beauty of rugs, a wabi-sabi attitude reflected in a different culture, “A Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise.”

Remarkably, wabi-sabi has everything to do with the spirit of the frugal poet. We exist. We go with the flow. We focus on the beautiful. We have strength in light of hardship or snags in our lives. And our poems reflect this attitude. The concept of wabi-sabi reminds me of the lyrics in Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

It is the poets and those with a frugal poet’s spirit who can see both implicit meaning and opportunity in any situation, and can find voice, or at least search for it, to express compassion and humanity even amid injustice or when in mourning.

I had signed up for a multi-evening workshop in the craft of handmade bookbinding at Chicago’s Hull House. Our upper floor studio itself was a wabi-sabi space of lovingly worn benches, nicked but well-used work surfaces and natural lighting pouring in from screenless windows. We used hand-crafted papers, linen thread, monster-sized needles, scads of glue, bone folders, thick pieces of cardboard and stiff oilcloth in an array of colors. There, we crafted and sewed a number of hardcover blank books, Japanese side-stitched bindings and cloth-covered boxes.

I admired a fellow student’s finished handmade book, even though the pages were uneven and had a naturalistic waviness to them. “The only thing perfect is God. I try to remember that in everything I do,” she said. “I am imperfect and every act of creation carries human imperfection along with it.” But therein lay the beauty of her handmade book!

Flawed fictional characters, for example, are more interesting, textured, memorable and beautiful than perfect, static ones. What would Cyrano de Bergerac be without his big nose, The Little Match Girl without her poverty, or even Star Trek’s Mr. Spock without his lack of emotions? ◦

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Japanese haibun method: mixing journal entry with a haiku

A haibun is a Japanese form of journaling involving a journal entry followed by a haiku poem. The haiku serves as a distillation, an associated thought or an epiphany to the actual journal entry. The Japanese poet Basho and the beat poet Jack Kerouac worked in the haibun form.

Remember, the classic haiku poem is 5-7-5 -- meaning three lines of poetry; five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line and five syllables in the third line. However, in English language haiku, these rules are flexible.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Frugal Poet’s Guide to Montana-based Hot Springs Spas, Part 3

Most pools at Bozeman Hot Springs are indoors
After having bathed in some of the remarkable outdoor Montana hot springs locations, I was a little disappointed that all except one of the nine Bozeman Hot Springs pools were indoors. I suppose in the dead of winter this would be the ideal.

However, nearly all the pools are butt up to one another making this main indoor poll area humid and crowded. You either have to walk along narrow tile catwalks balance-beam style to get to the inner hot pools - or pull yourself up and over from one to another. The hottest pool has exposed hot faucets and pipes which burn to the touch. Be careful! Only one hot pool really smelled like authentic sulfuric mineral waters and I shifted between that one and the cold plunge. Best feature are the very roomy sauna and steam rooms. They are both excellent!

Bozeman Hot Springs is located about eight miles west of the city on U.S. 191. Entry fee is a humble $8.50. According to the spa founder, "the water resembles in its chemical composition the water of Carlsbad in Europe."

Thermopolis, anyone?
After we headed farther south to Yellowstone National Park. While waiting for Old Faithful to blow, my husband, friend Raul and I got into a conversation with an adventurous fellow who had traveling throughout the Rocky Mountain area for four months. We told him about our hot springs visits up in Montana and he suggested Thermopolis, Wyoming, which is another haven of hot springs bathing he had personally enjoyed. Guess it will have to wait until our next trip out west, but I’m intrigued by the town name and locale. Anyone out there have any experience to share about Thermopolis, or the Montana hot springs?


Frugal Poet’s Guide to Montana-based Hot Springs Spas, Part 2

Unique motel package deal in Plains let us enjoy Quinn's hot springs in Paradise, Montana
During a visit to the area, a local Montana friend had booked my husband and I at the Glacier Crossroads Motel in Plains, Montana, eight miles north of Quinn's Hot Springs Resort. It was a humble, clean, if spartan motel room, but priced at $60 a night, a value. The big perc was receiving a pass for two to Quinn's Hot Springs pools for each night we stayed at the Glacier Crossroads!

Since the hot springs admission is $10 a person, our passes were worth an extra $20 per day. After our two-day stay at Glacier Crossroads, we used the passes to admit the two of us as well as our two friends to the Quinn's pools. The changing area was clean and nicely decorated.

When we arrived, the sun was just setting and the stars began to poke out one-by-one and dot the sky as we bathed in the rich, sulfuric mineral pools. Pools are open late. I alternated between the hottest pool and the cold plunge right next to it. What a way to relax, feel fabulous and spend time with friends. The cabins situated around the resort look top-rate and, if one has the budget, any one of them would be a wonderful place to stay.

But I think our motel package deal was an excellent way to both enjoy the pools and save on accommodations.


Frugal Poet’s Guide to Montana-based Hot Springs Spas, Part 1

Symes might offer the hottest, most mineral-rich hot springs in Montana, if not North America
A local Montana gal friend introduced my husband, another friend and myself, three poets from Chicago out on the western trials, to the wonders of the Symes Hot Springs Hotel in Hot Springs, Montana. The unincorporated town proper is one of the funkiest, most laid-back corners of the state, with a natural food grocery, a Zen cafe and lots of former hippy types casually milling around in western laid-back style. We didn't stay at the hotel itself, but paid a mere $7 each to loll for hours in the artesian mineral bath outdoor pools. Meanwhile, dramatic 4,000-foot mountains served as breathtaking background, part of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
Balneotherapy or "taking the waters"
Deep beneath Hot Springs, Montana, lies hot mineral water springs heated by thermal pockets and warmth of the bedrock. At Symes, the hottest (108-degrees?) and most sulfuric-rich pool is absolutely amazing! Our Montana friend told us the waters are only second to Baden-Baden in Germany for rich mineral content. I couldn't find any such claim later online. But maybe she's right!

Our other friend, who has a slight case of arthritis in his hands and lower back, found relief over the next three days after bathing in the sulfuric waters. He mentioned that he hoped to bring his 78-year-old mother up there sometime for her arthritis woes. However, I would imagine the extra-hot waters far too intense for someone in their upper years. But the four of us did feel wonderfully loose and relaxed after lolling in the pools for a couple of hours. It was almost dreamlike!

The Symes Hotel itself is a throwback to the 1930s, when it first opened. Not too much renovation seems to have been made, but the art deco facade is striking. Randomly weird gift shops inside. Off the first floor lobby, a long hallway leads to private, clawfoot bathtub rentable spa rooms. Here is where folks can bathe in mineral waters au natural and adjust the temperature to their liking. These bathtub rooms of barebones, dated design -- kind of remind me of little hallway rooms a house of prostitution might have in a town like Bangkok (not that I would know) -- or as portrayed in that 1980s Albert Finney movie "Under the Volcano." One room even had a thick red rope that looked like a noose hanging from the ceiling. Yikers!

Then, at the end of the hall lies a private whirlpool and sauna spa room, which can also be rented. Poor room ventilation and cramped quarters, however, made it a turn-off and we didn't opt for it. The women's changing room and shower was nice, however.

Looked at another local motel called Alameda's that offers mineral hot springs in its own motel bathrooms and that seems like it might be a good choice for those who prefer the indoor, individual bathtub experience vs.the little rentable bathtub rooms at Symes.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Frugal Poet's Guide to Planting Copies of Your Book During Your Travels

If you are a published poet, I think the most important items to bring along on any out-of-town trip or vacation, but which also might weigh the most, are copies of your book or chapbook. When you visit new cities or towns, these destinations have bookstores that haven’t seen your work.

After you introduce yourself, the bookstore owner or manager may buy a couple copies from you outright or take some on consignment. If the bookstores take them on consignment, face the possibility you may never see any money sent cross-country from their sale. Be humble. Just be content that your books have found an additional home where you can send interested parties you meet along the way. Also, different cities may have open mics where you can read your poems and sell your books to audience members who like your work. Or you might meet other writers who simply want to exchange your book of poetry for theirs. It’s a great way for you to expand your poetry tastes and personalize your experiences out of town.

You might also want to donate a copy of your book to the local library of the place you’re visiting. Introduce yourself to the librarian. Tell him or her why you’re in town, and personally hand off a copy of your book for their circulation shelves. You never know who might pick up your book and read it. One of my books “Swimmer’s Prayer” had found itself in one of the Los Angeles libraries. Turns out the poet Charles Harper Webb actually picked up, perused and checked out the book from the library. Before long, he wrote telling me he’d like to republish my poem “Deb at the Ham Slicer” in an anthology he was editing for the University of Iowa Press called Stand-Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology. Suddenly, I was being published in the same anthology as Billy Collins and Charles Bukowski!

See what I mean about using a book or chapbook as a calling card? The point is to bring your books along on your travels, but to lighten your load along the way. Force yourself to sell or give away every single book so you have none left by the time you wind your way home. You might become a Johnny Appleseed of sorts, but of poetry. Instead of planting apple seeds (and future trees) where ever you wander as Johnny Appleseed did, you will instead plant your poems along your traveled path. If they take seed, you will grow new readers, audiences, and possible future readings and publishing opportunities.

And if you don’t yet have a book or chapbook, then simply use a calling card. A business card that you either craft yourself from a template and print on a laser printer, or purchase from one of the “free’ services online that only charges postage is the “poor poet” way to go. The card should contain at least one url link: to your website, blog or other electronic page where one or more of your poems appear. It could provide a link to the purchase of your poetry e-book version, if you have it available for Kindle or Nook. Hand out this card to interested parties and/or fellow poets you meet in your travels who would want to read your poems. It’s also a way to make new Facebook friends and build correspondences with those who share your interests from other parts of the country, or world.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

A creative, spiritual escape in central Wisconsin: The Christine Center

Living in Chicago and in the 21st century, I sometimes think it's impossible to get away from it all in the traditional sense. At The Christine Center in central Wisconsin, I found out it is 100 percent possible. Close to a state forest, this spiritual retreat center is buffeted by birch woodlands, clean air and quiet.

Over the course of an inspiring "creativity week," I tried the Intuitive Painting process, walked, meditated, wrote poetry, took time for my journal, chanted, ate vegetarian meals, perused the eclectic spiritual library, watched DVDs with others on ecology and the artistic process, tried a wood-fired sauna for the first time and logged some quality group yoga hours.

Founded in the mystical, Essene, Catholic tradition, the Christine Center welcomes guests from any belief system, with silent meditation morning and afternoon sessions in which participants can worship or visualize according to their leanings. Where else can you find a Catholic chapel with stained glass windows marking the colors of the seven chakras? Singing bowls, finger labyrinths and mandalas grace the walls and meditation hall.

I opted to stay in a modern hermitage with full kitchen and shower, cooked my own breakfasts and lunches and joined others for delicious homemade soup and salad suppers at the center. Rustic hermitages have no kitchens or showers, but all buffets meals can be purchased, with solar-powered showers available steps from one's quarters.

Campers have a choice of two locations on safe, clean acreage close to the center and also have access to meal purchases and showers. A return trip to The Christine Center is surely part of my plan. ◦

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vitamin B6 May Help You Remember Your Dreams

After waking, if the memory of your previous night's dreams dissolves as quickly as the sugar in your morning coffee, you may want to add Vitamin B6 to your diet. In a blind test, participants who were given 250 milligrams of Vitamin B6 had more vivid, bizarre, colorful and emotional dreams than participants who took lower doses of the vitamin or none at all.

While it can be argued that most dreams are bizarre, colorful and emotional, it may be the vividness quality that fosters the memorability of the dreams.

The theory is that Vitamin B6 helps convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, which wakes up the brain during REM sleep, the time when someone is dreaming, thus enhancing dream recall.

According to dream expert Robert Moss, bananas are an excellent source of Vitamin B6. One of his dream workshop students claimed to have remembered his dreams for the first time in months after eating a banana before bedtime.

Training yourself to remember your dreams is the first step toward keeping a dream journal. Likewise, dream journaling also helps you get in the mindset of remembering your dreams. ## ◦

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Poor Poet's Guide to Being a Performance Poet

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The Uptown Poetry Slam started in Chicago at the Green Mill Jazz Club, circa 1986, and soon became an international phenomenon, thanks to impresario Marc Kelly Smith. So anyone from this town who has anything to do with poetry does, or has done, performance poetry on stage. We need to set an example around here!

Otherwise, you might as well be some suburbanite sitting in a basement by yourself with a stack of envelopes and postage stamps, nursing a plastic tumbler of boxed wine.

Performing poetry doesn't mean just giving a poetry reading. It means breaking the fourth wall and leaping into the crowd with your poetry, if only figuratively.

How do you "perform" poetry or get into the "perfpo" scene? I started in church. Praying helps. But I also volunteered as a commentator and got lots of practice in front of my audience, i.e. the congregation, by presenting field-tested material, i.e. biblical passages.

Simultaneously, I also volunteered to read at least one of my own poems at every open mic reading I attended, which at one time, were legion.

I also took voice and breathing lessons at St. Nicholas Theater Company, in between serving as a volunteer there as well, though you may find this unnecessary.

Memorize at least one of your poems. A performance has to mean you lose the page. Once you get past dwelling on the words, you can move on to your oral and dramatic interpretation. The poem is then released from the mind to the body. The words go on automatic pilot and the actor or actress takes over to transform and deliver the words to the audience emotionally.

I eventually memorized 10 or more of my own poems and actually created a charm bracelet of these poems. My bracelet comprised silver charms I bought on ebay, each one symbolizing an important feature in a given poem, whether it be a sardine can, mermaid, owl, etc., which I attached to a slim bracelet, also purchased on ebay. I wore the bracelet to performances to remind myself on stage which poems I might care to perform, without the need to riffle through pages of a book or peek at an odd index card in case I went completely blank.

But the biggest breakthrough I experienced as a performance poet was to study different accents (there are CDs at the local library) and apply them to a couple of my poems. I read one poem set in Ireland with a Dublin accent. Hearing Frank McCourt read the entirety of "Angela's Ashes" on audio also helped me master some of the subtleties. For another poem, set in the south, I ply a Carolina accent. When I perform these poems, in particular, I really get outside of myself and feel as if I enter the world of the poem, in the purest and most complete sense. ◦

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Poor poet’s guide to happy hour dining

From selling floor to the slam, from cubicle to podium. Where to go in between? Happy hour!

As a poor poet, my dinners were usually eaten at my kitchen able, as were breakfasts. Lunches were brown bagged, unless the current employment powers that be popped for an occasional pizza party or barbecue. But what happens when you want to catch a poetry reading relatively soon after work? Poor poets likely haven’t the cash flow to treat themselves to downtown dinners. There may be no time to stop home, but you don’t want your stomach to growl and be heard over the P.A. system during your reading at an open mic.

Happy hours at the local pub/grill can make the joyful transition between you and hunger on those nights you can’t and don’t want to hurry home to eat. When the poetic muse of the night calls and you don’t want to accept the invitation in a cranky mood from lack of calories, you may find yourself at an outdoor café noshing tidbits to hold you over, watching the urban hoopla whisk by. Better yet, look for citified venues also situated by a river, lake or ocean that offer happy hours. During your brief, but happy, respite, you’ll be front row to the exact same views residents in apartments above pay dearly for.

Happy hour! When else can you get 10-cent chicken wings, dollar tacos or burgers, $2 bar bites or beers, and even $3 complete meals? The bewitching happy hours start around 4 or 5 p.m. on certain nights of the week, sometimes every week night, depending on the establishment, and clocks onward from there. Find yourself there, poor poet! ◦

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to Heighten Your 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. ◦ ◦

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rilke's "New Way" of Writing

In his book on the craft of writing, Next Word, Better Word, poet Stephen Dobyns explains how the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, around 1907, attempted to find a “new way” of writing. Instead of waiting for inspiration to engulf him, he would just begin to write on a particular subject, and the inspiration would appear as he wrote.

He actually caught such an idea from another great, the sculptor Auguste Rodin, for whom Rilke had worked as a secretary. Rodin often made preliminary studies of his sculptures in clay. He often didn’t plan on what he wanted to make, but once engaged, inspiration would fall and the subject revealed itself. ◦