A Guest Post from Stacy W. Dixon!

Hello lovely blog readers, I’m being visited by the wonderful poet Stacy W. Dixon this week.

Stacy W. Dixon’s work has appeared in The Mid-America Poetry Review, Tiger’s Eye, Pirene’s Fountain, Sweet Tree Review, Word Fountain, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

stacy dixon

She’s writing about her new poetry collection, Visiting Ghosts and Ground.    buy on Amazon

stacy book

Stacy wowed me with her clear-eyed and powerful poems of grief.

Take it away, Stacy:

“I think we naturally write about how we experience life. My work is often intimate and personal, though not always autobiographical.  I am inspired by many things; art, nature, memories, dreams, and family. 

water lily

The poems in Visiting Ghosts and Ground begin in adulthood and then turn back to childhood memories.  My mother and grandmother, and the effects of their loss upon my life, inspired some of these poems.  A few of them are influenced by my ancestors, such as Kindred Incantations, Shelf Life, and From a Stolen Child

hands

I feel this collection is largely about connections to the land and the ghosts of the past.  It’s a journey of love and loss, and the desire to keep that love alive.

love and loss

 My hope is always that my work will resonate with others, as so many poets and writers have touched and inspired my own life.”

blue light

Thank you, Stacy, for your poems and your post. As in your lovely lines, “Long days/on end/in the bluish hue,” your collection will resonate with anyone who carries loss in their heart. 

Visit some of Stacy’s inspiring work online here:

Inheritance

& here:

Superimposed

& here:

Night Muse

As always, thanks for stopping by.

thank you

 

 

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“Do you really want to write a beach book?”

“Do you really want to write a beach book?”

was the question posed to me by an international best-selling crime fiction novelist in her writing workshop where participants read a few pages of their works in progress.

Her tone was accusatory.

slap cheek

Honestly, I felt like I’d just been slapped.

Hard. On both cheeks.

I’ve no doubt my face colored.

I was crestfallen. Every writer hopes for approval from authors they admire. Or at least, constructive criticism.

judged c

I felt judged as lacking.

I felt publicly shamed.

I don’t even know if I answered her.

I was just doing everything in my power to keep from bursting into tears.

meaningful

I tried very hard to hear what she was saying as meaningful feedback.

But she wasn’t critiquing my writing, but the content of my writing.

What I hadn’t realized at the time, was I was running into the great divide, previously unknown to me–

Literary versus Genre Fiction.

lit vs genre

And genre fiction, like my romantic time travel adventure novel, according to her was not worthy of wasting time writing.

(And isn’t crime fiction, genre fiction too? Well, not hers I guess.)

I’ve been writing poetry since I could hold a crayon. But that was okay, because poetry is considered literary?

poetry b

Call me naive, but I didn’t realize there was such animosity between literary writers and genre writers.

To me, good writing is good writing.

And I’ve always read both literary and genre fiction without placing any value judgment on the worthiness of either.

I like what I like. And I like a good story.

once upon

I like books that transport me to other worlds, other lives, other experiences than my own.

bradbury

Books that make me think, and feel, and understand something new.

kindred

Books that take me out of my own mental anguish and bring joy.

p and p

Both literary and genre fiction can do those things.

handmaid

So why decide one type of writing is better or more worthy than the other?

Why is only “literary” worthy or merit

and

who defines what is literary and what isn’t?

better

I wish I had stood up to that author.

I wish I had said, “All writing matters.”

proper lit

I wish I could go back in time, and say to that author who shamed me,

“Yes, I really want to write a beach book.”

And now I have.

I wrote the book I needed and wanted to write.

And I’m glad I did. Hopefully, some readers will be too.

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Why I Love Time Travel

Growing up, we were a one TV household.

And believe it or not, until 1980 or so, that TV only had a black & white picture.

tv

When my parents weren’t home or weren’t watching, my older brother was in charge of the TV.

He loved science fiction. So I learned to love it too.

 

Saturday mornings meant 

Godzilla movies

godzilla

and space adventures like

Forbidden Planet

forbidden-planet

But of all the movies my brother and I watched,

this one fully captivated my imagination–

time machine movie

The 1960 film version of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

 

From that moment on, I was hooked on Time Travel.

I borrowed the book from the library and devoured it.

time mach

And of course, my brother and I watched science fiction TV shows too!

Like 

time tunnel

&

baker

&

star trek orig

And you can probably guess my favorite episode–

city on edge

City on the Edge of Forever —

a time travel episode where Kirk must chose between love and saving history.

 

So why do I love time travel so much?

love tt

Because time travel is an opportunity to

learn from the past

and 

maybe even to right wrongs, 

as in my favorite time travel movie so far

back 2 future

Back to the Future!

Marty makes life better for his entire family–

after almost screwing it up that is.

future

Time Travel lets you see possible futures

and 

visit history. 

Colliers Illustrated Weekly 28/06/1952, pp. 20-21

And time travel can help a person learn to become his or her best self,

as in my new favorite time travel book,

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11 22 63

(and the book is way, way better than the show–give it a read!)

 

Time travel, for me though, is mostly about regret. 

rewind

The choices we regret making

and the chances we didn’t take.

regret

That’s why in my time travel novel, Time Flash: Another Me

FrontCover159BoxFlat

Sara Rodríguez Bloom García gets lots more chances to make things right. 

Second Chance Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

But like most heroines, she’ll make things lots worse before they get better.

worse

Hopefully readers will enjoy the adventure of it all.

enjoy reading

And feel happy when they read how the story ends.

Concept of choice directions. Made in 3D.

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Family Poems Are Hard–part 3–final part

I left off part 2 of Family Poems Are Hard saying I thought I was done writing family poems after my first full-length collection, Dance Inside My Bones.

DanceBonesFrontCover

In the book, I have lots of poems about growing up in a difficult family situation.

Like most of us, I suspect.

There is no such thing as a perfect family.

And maybe, not even a normal one. What’s normal, anyway?

normal

There are poems about my mother, my father, my brother, grandparents, uncle, friends, and boyfriends in Dance From Inside My Bones.

There are poems about the state of my heart and mind, from childhood to young adulthood.

So what else was there to say?

no words

Mostly, all my relatives were alive when I wrote and published the collection. They didn’t read it.

Then, over the years, loved ones started dying off.

Some, of awful lingering illnesses.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: The shadow of a cemetery worker is cast on reclaimed gravestones in London City Cemetery on March 2, 2009 in London, EnglandThe cemetery is piloting a scheme whereby graves over 75 years old become eligible for reclamation. New bodies will be placed into the existing graves, the headstones turned around re used carving the names of the newly deceased. Once a grave has been earmarked by English heritage the cemetery must wait one year to see if family members claim the existing grave. By conserving as many memorials as possible the City of London hopes to maintain the historic cemetery landscape and sustain buriel provisions for the future. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Grief  is always hard. Grief over difficult relationships ending, is especially complicated.

Complex & powerful.

My brother, who had helped with rescue endeavors on 9/11, was diagnosed with a rare, likely incurable leukemia.

 

00585_p_s9acrwl7fs0424_z

My brother and I had never been able to be close growing up because my mother pitted us against one another. She was a master of hateful mind-games. And she forced my brother to to inflict physical punishments on me, as well.

This did not inspire a deep, loving relationship between us, as you can well imagine.

But with my brother’s fatal diagnosis, I realized time was short. If I was ever going to have any meaningful dialogue with my brother, it had to happen soon.

time out

In what turned out to be the last eighteen months of my brother’s life, we talked–

really talked–a few times.

We said things, I never knew were possible.

That brief time was such a gift. A tremendous gift for which I will always be grateful.

heart gift

And then, my brother died, after living his last days with a grace I never imagined possible.

A hero in life, and in death.

There was so much I never got to ask him. Or to say.

So much about our relationship I still needed to process.

So I took up my pen.

write left

I took up my pen because writing is how I process my emotions.

Writing is how I sort what I am feeling and thinking.

I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.

Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.

headstone

I never intended to publish these poems.

But I did share a few at readings.

Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.

(nowhere)

Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.

And then, a year later, my mother died.

dead mother

My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.

Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible lung cancer death.

Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.

Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.

Unlike my best friend, who had a bad headache that turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor.

Unlike my brother, who fought the illness as hard as he could, for as long as he could.

death unfair

I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.

But angry all over again that other people I loved had.

To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.

But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.

So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?

cry

Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.

Shreds them, actually.

I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.

scratch

And more poems came.

Because there was more to say about family.

And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.

truth

If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.

Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.

less alone

And so, I went ahead and published the new family poems in journals.

I read the poems at readings.

And eventually, I let the book enter the world.

dead boy

I have no regrets.

The Dead Boy Sings In Heaven is for my brother.

And for anyone else who comes from a difficult family.

I believe if my brother could see the book, he’d give me a hug.

And he’d tell me that the Godzilla poems were his favorite.

(Mine too.)

godzilla and friends

Though family poems are hard…

family poems are healing.

healing

Thank you for reading this far, and listening to my heart.

May you always find healing whenever your heart hurts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Family Poems Are Hard–part 2

I left off part 1 of this topic saying that publishing my first book of family poems, Dance From Inside My Bones, was truly overwhelming.

For a number of reasons.

DanceBonesFrontCover

First, let me say, my experience with Snake Nation Press, where my manuscript won the Violet Reed Haas Award, was not one of those reasons.

The strong women editors at Snake Nation, Roberta George and Jean Arambula, were truly stellar to work with.

They lauded the honesty of my work, and had me attend the AWP conference in Atlanta for the book release.

Not for one minute, did I forget how fortunate I was to have my poetry manuscript published.

Getting a poem published is hard. Getting a book published is harder. I was one of the lucky ones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yet, a part of me believed it was some sort of mistake.

That they announced the wrong winner and would take it back.

Removing word with pencil's eraser, Erasing mistake

A voice in my head (my mother’s) told me I didn’t deserve it.

Nonetheless, I was overjoyed, and deer-in-the-headlights scared.

deer in

At the AWP Snake Nation booth, I stood behind copies of my books, as thousands of people streamed by.

I am a terrible introvert. It took every ounce of bravado I had not to go to my hotel room and hide.

hiding

I smiled. I nodded I answered questions.

Mostly, the same one over and over–

what

My book is about family and growing up into a young woman. 

And the response was largely–

Oh, childhood nostalgia.

happy child

No, not that at all.

Actually, it was more like this–

crying

The problem was when I wrote the poems, I wasn’t thinking of some future point when I would have to physically stand in front of people and justify my work.

I wasn’t thinking about being there, in person with the book, putting a face to the autobiographical poems.

hiding-behind-book

When I was writing the poems, I was trying to put my experiences into words that might connect with others on the other side of the page.

Being in front of people with my book felt like one of those dreams where you are suddenly naked in public.

naked in public

I was more than uncomfortable. I was worried about being judged, or blamed.

I had written my truth, but I guess, I hadn’t yet claimed it. Not live and in-person, anyway.

I hadn’t accepted I had a right to that truth.

I hadn’t thought ahead to having to stand in front of folks and give readings.

I was really up there

But, I would give readings. And at Seattle’s Open Books, no less.

And I feared I would be hated for not saying Hallmark things about my mother. In this culture, and many others, the word mother is synonymous with sainthood.

But I didn’t have a Hallmark mother, nor a Brady Bunch family.

bbunch

And I had been in abusive situations with family members, but never told anyone, other than my therapist.

Now that the book was out, it felt like I was shouting it from the rooftops, telling the world.

shout

Well, anyone in the world who wanted to read Dance From Inside My Bones.

Then, there was the fact that all but one of those abusive family members were still alive.

What would they say, if they read my book?

account

Fortunately none of them wanted to read my book.

Which was a relief.

My mother said she knew it was “garbage” since I had written it.

I expected that. But it still hurt. Even now she’s dead, it’s still impossible to shut out my mother’s derisive voice in my head.

dead mother

So what really happened at each reading I gave?

People were polite, applauded.

polite

Several people bought my book.

Sometimes one or two folks asked me to sign it.

But one person came up and confided in me that my work spoke to them about what they’d been through.

That person thanked me.

And I cried tears of joy as we hugged.

connected

I realized I’d come full circle.

Poetry saved my life as child in harrowing circumstances. Poems reached across time, distance, gender, culture, and spoke to me of survival. Poems taught me I wasn’t alone in my suffering. And if others could survive, so could I.

bridge

Finally, my poems provided that message and reached out as well.

My words only connected with one other living soul. And that was more than I could ever hope for.

I may not have changed the world.

bridge 3

I may not have bettered that person’s life.

But for one brief moment in time, that person knew they were not alone.

And it was enough. For both of us.

poetry matters

But still, I thought, I would publish no more autobiographical poems. I had said all there was to say.

Little did I know…

[Next time, Family Poems Are Hard–part 3]

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Family Poems Are Hard–part 1

You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.

Reading and writing poetry, both.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.

crayons

And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.

Family poems felt important to write.

But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.

The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.

art w

For many years, I wrote poetry just for me.

And read whatever collections I found at that struck my fancy–Sharon Olds, Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, Phillip Levine, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, Lucille Clifton, and many others.

luc cl

But in 1987, I wanted my own poems to matter. I wanted to learn how to write well.

So I signed up for a poetry workshop at the Boston Center For Adult Education with instructor Ottone “Ricky” Riccio.

To this day, Ricky remains one of the finest teachers I have ever known (and I have 5 official degrees, so that’s really saying something). He was firm, but kind. Gentle, but direct. He was a humanitarian and he took such joy in his students’ work. He was humble and loving and generous.

Ricky truly opened the door to writing poetry and welcomed me over the threshold.

His how-to book on writing poetry remains a bible for me:

int art po

https://www.amazon.com/Intimate-Art-Writing-Poetry/dp/0595093809

When I moved from Boston to New Hampshire, I discovered another amazing poetry mentor offering classes–Patricia Fargnoli.

You know how you secretly wish someone would tell you that you were special, that you had talent?

Pat believed in me. She told me what I wrote mattered. She encouraged me to start sending work out. To put together a collection. She wrote me a glowing recommendation when I decided to pursue an MFA.

Patrica Fargnoli remains my mentor, my friend, my poetry mother. I can never repay all she has given me.

DanceBonesFrontCover

Thanks to Pat, family poems were the first collection I assembled, though not my first to be published.

Little did I know what it would feel like to have this book in the world…

[stay tuned — Family Poems Are Hard — part 2 coming soon]

 

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Sometimes beauty alone is not enough…

Coastal Oregon is a beautiful place. I consider myself fortunate to live so near the Pacific ocean.

cape meares beach

Being by the ocean has always had a powerful, calming effect on my natural state of crippling anxiety.

anx

Plus, there is a wonderful sense of community in my hamlet of Tillamook county. People look out for one another. I love attending the monthly pot lucks and meeting all the interested and talented folks.

And of course, there are the local dairies with charming cows and the comely coastal range mountains.

cows

Really, beauty everywhere you look.

And I certainly don’t miss Seattle traffic, where it often took 2 hours to go 30 miles or less.

seattle traf

But what I do miss is where I was going in all that traffic, 2, 3, sometimes 4 nights a week:

to poetry readings!

poetry read

I miss attending poetry readings where the air is filled with poetry!

Where the audience is filled with poetry lovers.

Where I can indulge in my love of poetry with fellow poetry lovers.

Talk poetry nonstop.

no books

What’s really sad is that there is not a single bookstore in Tillamook.

Not even a used bookstore.

Though we do have a wonderful library.

till lib

But when I asked the library if I could arrange poetry readings there, they said no.

So guess what I went and did?

poetry book club

I asked if anyone in my community would want to join me in a poetry book club.

And 9 people said yes!

We had our first meeting and it was wonderful!!! People had such interesting and insightful comments about the poems we discussed from Lois Parker Edstrom’s Night Beyond Black.

lois

It was so much fun, people want to do it again–the last Wednesday of every month!

I feel so lucky there are so many local folks open to discovering poetry along with me.

I’m not alone with poetry any longer.

po bo

And then, the wonderful poet Christine Swanberg from Illinois came to the Oregon coast for a  brief visit!

If you haven’t read her work, you really should.

The first poem in her most recent collection made me weep for joy.

christine s

And now I have this secret plan to bring more poets to Tillamook!

Well, not so secret since I am mentioning it here.

My husband and I are working toward procuring a guest cabin.

And that means someday soon, I can lure poets and artists of every description to come visit me here in Oregon.

Who doesn’t want a wonderful retreat by the beach?

sea cabin

Okay, so it’s cold and rainy most of the time in Oregon, and the sea water temperature doesn’t even top 50 degrees in the summer, but it is so beautiful here.

Powerfully beautiful.

sunset

I want to share all this beauty with my writer and artist friends so they can make even more beauty out of the beauty they discover here.

poe beauty

And beauty alone can be more than enough.

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