Monday, April 28, 2014

Sports Fans


spring reigns, break-up pervades

and we sit, around a campfire

on the bank, watching the pre-game show, slow

the brown river runs, undulant under

the light-filled sky, not

a tailgate party, per se 

but close (hot dogs on sticks and beer), 

we watch with the exuberance granted

a sporting event, jumping to our feet when

upriver an ice jam lets go (the crowds go wild; can you hear them, cheering?) 

silt rolls down cliffs, the water (with sudden speed and velocity)

surges and the river (he)

re-shuffles himself and all the space around him

as ice sheets, big as cars amble and spin and flip

swerving around eddies (I'd say a 50 yard gain

in a matter of seconds) the river

leads in turnovers, how fast does (he) run?

colliding with ice cakes, taking a hit 

the earth is onto a big play


trembling, we sway along with him, jumping

from our lawn chairs perched precariously on an

undercut of silt and root (we live dangerously) and 

then the whistle blows (a deep rumbling of ice bumping rock, boulders)

no one says a word

this guy (the river) is a true Olympian


his rhythm and pulse, tearing clumps of soil and stone and stalk

cutting deep channels, 

"why, it's like he's been shot from a cannon," he shoots

he scores, he is a cloudburst of sky-sweeping liquid, 

he is beauty in motion, he leaps and rolls and 

 within moments, he quiets

We sit down in our chairs, sip our beers, dissolve back into the landscape

and with the eagles perched behind us (in the tall spruce), we wait 

for the next and the next 

staggering play of the day by the

man called Copper, (who moves with grace and power), the all 'round

Invincible, (sports) Illustrated  

Player of the Year

                                                   two trees, husband, dog and me

iced apple?

rock tumbler

Note: Every year in the spring, we sit on the banks of the Copper River at our cabin and watch the ice jams push through at "break-up." Defining moments, the ice makes thunderous and shearing sounds as the river melts and ice sheets from glaciers upriver tumble down its course. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Art's Impulse

You know who they are. People I call "connectors." The ones you meet along life's path who challenge you to become your personal best, who provide encouragement in your skills as a writer and artist, who recognize the dynamics of living a creative life and show, through their own examples, how to sustain it.

That's why when Suzi Banks Baum asked me to talk about my process as a creative person, I obliged. Through the sharing of her art, poetry and life, Suzi is a master at bringing women together to share their stories of struggle, accomplishment and beauty.

Suzi is an artist, writer and full time mom who edited An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. On her blog, Laundry Line Divine, Suzi writes about the juggling act of motherhood and creativity, and how to navigate the waters of social media for authors and artists. She hosts a blog series with guests from around the world, and provides "hands on" writing and art workshops in real time. In real places! 

Suzi lives in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts and I live in Alaska. We will finally get to meet in person this August at a reading of her anthology (in which I gratefully have a story) in the north woods of Marquette, Michigan. We'll also let our imaginations fly in a mixed media art workshop. 

I am a poet, writer and dabbler in painting and mixed media and this is how I work: 

Sometimes in the writing of poetry, I have an initial idea and start by "clustering" to create a portal into the mind. Gabriele Lusser Rico describes this technique in her book, Writing the Natural Way. Many natural forms come in clusters...grapes, lilacs, spider do thoughts and images (when given free rein). The literary critic Northrop Frye said "any word can become a storm center of meanings, sounds, and associations, radiating out like ripples in a pool." To follow art's impulse is to write whatever comes to mind in the moment.

It's as simple as writing a word down on a page, and then free-associating words and ideas triggered by that word without censorship or dwelling on anything specific. Keep your hand moving for two minutes, letting words and thoughts spill out without thinking or analyzing anything. Clustering happens naturally and feels a bit chaotic as you let words radiate out from the nucleus word without judgment. 

Stop writing after two minutes, then connect the words with arrows on the page. At some point, a shift occurs and you suddenly understand what you want to write about; the subject of the piece becomes clear. Sometimes I have to repeat the process several times until the clouds dissipate and a mental shift occurs. At this point, I switch from using a pencil to writing on the computer. My poem, Trajectory, was created in this way:


The river doesn’t follow a straight line
pulled by the moon but roams
like a coyote
following root skin and scent.

Ice jams push sludge brown waters
(on a screaming path), uprooting
one-hundred-year-old spruce trees and
cutting the silt bank to its knees.

We count our blessings. shore up with big rocks.
muscle against the inevitable, learn
to soften and adapt.

And this summer you turned eight.
smarter. taller. faster. still freckled.
learning to skate and paint.
are you who you once were?

a fish pulled from the net slides
through my slippery hands, gulls wheel
the sky goes rust and
everything, it seems
is carved in sand.

Another way to generate poems is to create an amalgam of images, and write from the the finished product. This is also chaotic from the start, but interesting because associations may be made from the interaction of images that initially had nothing in common. I keep a big box of images: pictures cut from magazines, old postcards, greeting cards, sketches, small impromptu paintings, photographs. 

I'll take a photograph and cut out images to interlay on the photograph, and experiment to see what emerges. The image at the top of this post is one such creation. I haven't created a poem from this appropriated image yet, but I suspect when I do, it will be about any number of things: language, ancestry, the rhythm of time, lineage, Native Americans, the art that binds people of different ages, or something as obscure as salt or silence (clustered words), or it may even dip into a political realm.    

Digging through my big box of images clipped from magazines, recycled books, and drawings, I pull together possibilities. The results are often times surprising and revelatory. I didn't know I was going to write about sugar maples today! 

In the area of writing, I am currently working on a memoir about the adventures I so adamantly searched for in my 20's by making a move to Alaska, and the intersection of those experiences with my immediate family's upbringing (originating in Michigan). At the same time, I follow the intensity of poetry because it brings out strong feeling, even though often contradictory, and find it is grist for writing longer pieces of both fiction and non-fiction. 

Thank you, Suzi, for inviting me on this blog hop to share my process and introduce other writers, artists and digital media gurus to the reading public. 

Next on the list...Joanne Tombrakos. Joanne is a storyteller, marketing and sales consultant, and Professor of Digital Marketing at NYU ( 
Joanne considers herself a creative entrepreneur and she is the self-published author of It Takes An Egg Timer, A Guide To Creating The Time For Your Life and a novel, The Secrets They Kept. Joanne contributes to The Huffington PostForbesWoman and BlogHer. A two-time career reinventor, her previous incarnations included teaching in the public school system and sales and marketing positions for CBS and Time Warner. When not consulting, blogging or working on the next book she can be found indulging in dance breaks, naps and dark chocolate. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Make Room

          Make Room

          what tall ships sailed under
          snow on these dry-blue beds

          crushed by the weight of
          heavy moons and black ground

          how many layers of bones
          lie below the lake, no

          longer shaded by trees
          of a hundred rings.

          the workers meant to catalogue
          tools, children's toys, bent eyeglasses

          digging up artifacts disguised as old comforts:
          cooking pots, woolen shawls, keepsakes

          a pentagram engraved in stone
          made sense of things, each point

          on the star given meaning for
          the purpose of solace, consolation.

          still nothing changes

          even the oldest among us don't sense
          cresting the last hill

          or waiting for the ocean
          to loosen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Emma Hill House Concert

Let me first say this about Emma Hill. She was born and raised in Sleetmute, Alaska, a village of 100 people, give or take, on the salmon-fed upper Kuskokwim River. She's well-traveled, and has toured the world sharing her exquisite musical talents with eager listeners everywhere. And reviewers have compared her music to that of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (no, really....I'm not kidding!) 

As young as she is, Emma Hill has learned boatloads about the pains of first love (and second and third), the tragic loss of loved ones, and the rigors of being on the road in service to her art. Lucky for us it is from these experiences she so soulfully shares the rhythms of her life. 

Brian Daste and Emma Hill
But she never forgot her home ground. After living in Portland for five years, Emma returned home because she missed the land and people that made her who she is. I say this without sentimentality. Alaska...the rivers, mountains, coastlines...the sweep and scope of the place is like a character in a story, not just a point on the map. Its mystique runs deep in your heart, and holds a mighty tight grip you just can't shake. 

Emma will tell you so. She grew up singing and writing songs, and remembers sitting in the back of her Dad's Cessna  jotting down words to songs as they flew up and downriver in their travels from the village. That was many years ago, and she's still cranking out great music. Take a listen to this tribute to her uncle/pilot Steve Hill, who lost his life in a small aircraft accident. For Alaskans listening tonight, you understand. Everyone of us knows someone who has encountered the same fate in a land where airplanes are as common as taxis and buses. Emma pours out her heart with grit, grace and passion on this song titled, "A Pilot's Goodbye."

House concerts are a marvelous way to get to know your favorite artists face-to-face. To enjoy their music and stories right in your own living room. As singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris once said, though she's played the world over, her fondest memories are those when she played and sang in the living rooms of friends and family, enjoying the intimacy and comfort of their homes.

Tonight Emma brought the memories of her home and life into ours, and it was indeed, a memorable show. 

Thank you Brian and Emma, and thanks to all the friends who came over to hang out with us in the living room. 

To hear more of Emma's music, click here: