First Friday Post

Ah, summer. A time to slow down, and a time to catch up on some of the reading I’ve been planning to do all year. I have a big stack of books waiting for me, and I’m eager to get at them! This is the first of what I hope will be a summer long series of book and/or movie reviews, posted on Fridays.

I finished four books this week, all excellent:

The Pale of Settlement, by Margot Singer
This is a collection of linked short stories, that all have as their central character Susan, the American born daughter of Israeli immigrants. The stories span in time  from the 1982 war in Lebanon, through the suicide bombings of 2003, deftly weaving in current events with the personal history of Susan’s family, and exploring the connection between identity, family, and memory. Beautifully written, this is an excellent read.

Bone Worship, by Elizabeth Eslami
This fiction work centers around Jasmine Fahroodhi, the daughter of an Iranian father and an American mother. When Jasmine returns home after failing to graduate from college, her father launches a plan to arrange a marriage for her.   This is a coming of age story about one young woman’s search to discover who she is in this world, and her attempt to understand her enigmatic immigrant father.  The ending seemed a bit glossy to me, but I still found the book to be an easy and interesting read.

Like the Heart, the World, by Sage Cohen
I met Sage recently at a bridge and poetry walk, and was moved by hearing Sage read the title story from this poetry collection. These poems are divided into three  sections: New York, San Francisco, and Portland, corresponding to places Sage has lived. All the poems are rich in imagery, and intertwine self-reflection with accurate observations of the outside world. This is a poetry collection that can be read again and again.

Deer Drink the Moon, edited by Liz Nakazawa
Ooligan Press published this collection of Oregon poetry. The sections are divided by geographical regions: Coastal Range, Willamette Valley, Cascades, Eastern Cascade Slopes and Foothills, Blue Mountains, Klamath Mountains, and Northern    Basin and Range. There are many well known poets included in this collection,   such as William and Kim Stafford, Judith Barrington, Floyd Skloot, and newly named Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Peterson, but these are by no means the only poets that are engaging. I found the collection well rounded, and discovered new local poets to keep my eye on. I also enjoyed getting a sense of other regions in Oregon, as I have rarely ventured outside Willamette Valley, Mt. Hood, and the coastal beaches.

Poetry in the Lan Su Chinese Garden

Last week I attended a poetry workshop, led by local Portland poet Sage Cohen. It was held in the Celestial Hall of Permeating Fragrance in the Lan Su Chinese Garden, located in downtown Portland. It had been 10 years since I last visited the garden, shortly after it first opened in 2000, in  a space that once held a parking lot.

My memories from my past visit are vague. I remember only strolling along the footpaths with other members of my extended family, who were gathered in town to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. The garden was a lovely backdrop for our conversations and reconnection.

Last week, the garden again served as a lovely backdrop, this time for the poetry workshop. There, gazing at views of the garden through windows open to the outdoors, Sage offered us an invitation to write poetry in community. The only requirement to writing poetry, she told us, was to pay attention. Interestingly, my yoga instructors all tell me the same. Pay attention. Be present. Tune into the moment.

Sage dispelled the myth that poets need to be suffering in order to write good poetry, by sharing with us a quote by singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen (no relation): “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

Through a series of prompts, we then wrote our own poetry. After each prompt, two or three poets volunteered to share with the group what they had written. It never fails to amaze me how a roomful of writers, using the same prompt as a springboard, manage to create such a wealth of diverse writings (in this case, poetry). And how poetic all the writings sounded, even though they were first drafts, penned in approximately 7 minutes apiece.

It also always catches me by surprise at what I choose to write about—often things I rarely consciously think about—when I am in a writing workshop. This time was no exception. I wrote poems about the Sunday mornings of my childhood, the randomness of life (prompted by two friends going in for cancer treatment that week), the bonsai in the front of the room, and my Tai Chi class. All in an hour-and-a-half workshop.

Afterwards, I took the time to wander leisurely around the garden, fully immersing myself in the beauty of the place. It was a typical Portland June day—somewhat cool, somewhat cloudy— but with everything growing lushly, and flowering shrubs and plants in full bloom. I viewed the garden from various angles and penned some haiku, finding inspiration in the reflecting pond, mirroring the clouds and downtown towers in its lightly rippled surface, the pounding of the waterfall, the willow bending to water, and the tantalizing fragrance of some unknown plant wafting through the air.

mirrored pond-
holding the sky
in its depths


bamboo bends
but does not break


three friends of winter-
evergreen pine, resolute bamboo,
the dormant plum


scarlet peony-
blowzy blooms
a single dropped petal

A free poetry writing workshop with Sage Cohen is available to listen to online at The Inkwell, on blogtalkradio. Additionally, you catch an interview with Sage by Nyla Alisia, also at The Inkwell.

Bridge and Poetry Walk

This recap is cross posted on Reading Local: Portland. Check out the great aerial photo of Portland’s bridges on RLP.

Event Recap: Bridge and Poetry Walk

It would be impossible to ask for nice weather than yesterday, for the first bridge walk of the 2010 season, led by Sharon Wood Wortman, author of The Portland Bridge Book, and leader of waterfront bridge walks for Portland Parks & Outdoor Recreation since 1991.

Assembling on the steps of the Northwest Natural Building (NW Second & Everett), we started our day by touring the Oregon Dept. of Transportation’s Traffic Management Operation Center. Webcams provide live feed from highways around the region, and on a good day (from the traffic standpoint), nothing out of the ordinary happens. But in case of an emergency, there is a control room equipped with a table where a bank of telephones pops up at the touch of a button, like something out of a James Bond film!

Then in the museum, Sharon gave us an abbreviated version of Bridges 101. We learned that there are three main types of bridges: suspension bridges (like the St. John’s Bridge), arch bridges (like the Fremont Bridge), and beam or truss bridges (the prevalent kind).And of the movable bridges, those also come in three flavors: vertical lift bridges, swing, and bascule.

Poet Sage Cohen then presented the first of our poetry moments, reading to us the title poem from her poetry book Like the Heart, the World. This dovetailed quite nicely with Judith Barrington’s Walking North, from the Oregon poetry anthology Deer Drink the Moon, edited by Liz Nakazawa. With that, we were ready to go out and face bridges. A short ride on MAX took us to our first bridge, the Morrison. Just as we arrived, we were able to witness the bridge being raised from above, and then a second time, as we toured the bascule pit. I will say that it was impressive (and not a little bit scary) to stand just feet away, and see the 940-ton counterweights lift the bridge!

We had another poetry moment, crowded there in the control tower of the Morrison, and then went out on the deck to see how many other bridges we could spy in the distance. Visible were the top of the Fremont, the Broadway, the Steel Bridge, the Burnside, the Morrison, the Hawthorne, and the OHSU sky bridge. There’s also the St. Johns, the BNSF Railway 5.1, and the Ross Island, but I’m not sure we could see them from where we were standing. Another ride on MAX took us to the Eastbank Esplanade, where we crossed back over the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, but not until after we got to see it lift as well.

More walking along the waterfront, more poetry, and a little demonstration of harmonic oscillation, as we all jumped in the air simultaneously on the pedestrian bridge leading to Union Station, eliciting a few strange looks from passerbys. To enhance the effect, Amtrak passed below us just at this juncture. Sitting on the steps on the other side, Sharon read us her poem, Supporting the Divine, while two volunteers demonstrated the principle of the cantilevered kiss.

This sadly is the last year Sharon will be offering the bridge walks, but you can still catch one of the three bridge walks (scroll down to “2010 Bridge Walks”) left this season. And there will be a PDX Bridge Festival running from July 24 – August 7 this summer, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Hawthorne Bridge. Finally, for all of you poets out there, Sage will present a free poetry workshop this Monday, June 7th from 11-12:30 at the Portland Chinese Gardens.

Salamander & Co. joined us to shoot a video of the walk, which hopefully will be available within the year.

NaPoWriMo 2010

Tomorrow begins National Poetry Month. I’m psyched. I will be participating in two poetry challenges again this year.

The first is the Poetic Asides Poem-a-Day (PAD) Challenge with Robert Lee Brewer. I am a relative veteran of this  challenge, as I completed both the 2009 April and 2009 November challenges. I even had the honor of one of my April poems being selected in the top 150 poems (out of 25,000+)– a great morale booster!

The other challenge is one I  learned about this week from Sage Cohen, and is the Read Write Poem NaPoWriMo Challenge. I just signed the participation pledge today, and now am proudly sporting their badge on my blog.

So tune in here tomorrow, and everyday in April, for a post of my NaPoWriMo poems. Here’s to a poetic month!