Category Archives: poetry

Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the 3:15 Experiment

I’m a bit at the eleventh hour here with this invitation (SINCE IT BEGINS TONIGHT), but truly, you could join the experiment at any time. And I wanted to write this invitation especially to those who don’t necessarily fancy themselves to be poets.


Since August 1993, a shifting menagerie of writers has been waking up each night at 3:15 AM for the entire month of August to write. The original idea was:

to discover what connections would be made while writing separately, but together, at the same time for a month while under hypnagogic influences.

The experiment was so intriguing and inspiring it kept growing and morphing. Many writers have come to look forward to it every year. Many have created their own guidelines and experiments within the format. We love this as long as people maintain the point: to write in the hypnopompic/hypnagogic states (between sleeping and waking / waking and sleeping).

Anything posted to any “official” 3:15 publication or website maintains the RAW unedited material. Though many writers choose to publish their edited poems elsewhere. We like that, too.

To Join:

A facebook page to stay in communication during the month:

3:15 Facebook Page

Some samples from years past:

The 3:15 Experiment Website
Though not everyone chooses to post their poems (or even types them out).

And here is a thesis paper written by Gwendolyn Alley on the topic:

The 20th Anniversary of the 3:15 Experiment

My invitation to you comes in the form of a poem.

you don’t have to be a poet

to write poetry
my father built greenhouses
and filled them with orchids

I believe people are meant
to get along with each other

the Indian taxi driver waves
me into my turn
gives me the right
of way      as I cruise
the summer streets on my
hand-me-down bicycle

I stop at the Holy Cross Anglican Church
to write down that line
about my dad’s orchids
before it spills into the road
with my juggled thoughts
of the two cherub-faced Mormon boys
who came to my front door
struggling to respond
when I told them:

Think of the metaphor of the ocean
how we can be drops
yet still disappear
into the One
universal consciousness

before thanking them for their good work
and sending them on their way
tripping tongue-tied through the gate

no, you don’t have to be a poet
to write poetry
you just need to write
an open door


Filed under Collaborations, do something different, poetry, The 3:15 Experiment, truth and beauty, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout from FaerieCon West

Greetings from FaerieCon West, where I will be storytelling and causing mischief all weekend.

Danika and Spring Faerie

Before the workout, I have a few announcements:

First, today is the LAST day to enter the drawing to WIN a copy of the FUTUREDAZE anthology of YA science fiction. Co-editor Erin Underwood has generously donated a copy. (I’ll close comments at midnight PST)

Second, the 2013 Nebula Award nominations are in and Hydra House’s own Cat Rambo was nominated for her short story “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” from her Near + Far collection.


The Nebula’s Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy nominees are:

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

CHECK OUT the entire list of nominees and congrats to all (I wouldn’t want to have to pick a winner from this lot).



This is a BRAND SPANKING NEW exercise that has nothing to do with character or plot or editing. I developed it for a recent writing workshop and had such a good time with it I wanted to share it here.

The workshop was for kids, so it’s broken down into small steps. Feel free to take whatever you’d like from it…


Create 5 columns across a sheet of paper and write:  Colour, Fruit or Vegetable, Instrument or type of Music, Location, Day of the Week. Then, below each, list something or place you’ve never really liked in this category. Something that doesn’t appeal to you and you’d never choose it voluntarily.

For instance, you do not like the colour brown, brussel sprouts, harmonicas, Los Angeles, or Tuesdays.


Next, under each category, write a sentence like this: “When I think of ______, it reminds me of ______.” Example:  When I think of brown it reminds me of camping in the rain with my Dad.


Choose one of the things that don’t appeal to you and write for 10 minutes straight using the start line:

I never picked you _____…

(without stopping, editing, or rereading – the more you write, the more material you will have)


From the 10 minute stream of consciousness writing, circle all the images, phrases, and lines that appeal to you and pull them out of the piece. Rewrite them on another piece of paper. When done, it might look like this:

orange reminds me of my softball jersey in 6th grade
we were the “losingest” team that year
I got in trouble for picking a bouquet of orange California poppies that year
orange is like a prison uniform
orange was never in my favour and i never had an “orange phase”
I had a “purple phase,” my bedroom was purple and pink with white curlies on the bedpost
I also had a “green phase” where everything I wore was green and I looked like a forest
I had a very brief “red phase,” I was trying it on for size
Even though sunsets and fire are orange, I still don’t like orange


Carve out your poem from these lines. There are many ways to do so: rearrange lines, leave out words, change words to create alliteration, add interesting space for breath, etc. Expand and change the language where necessary. Add more imagery.

never orange

I’ve never picked you orange
as a favour as a phase        my youth
spent through pinks and purples
stringing the edges of my bedroom
with the white curliness
of imagination

orange was never curly it was
twang and offense
a softball team jersey hoisted upon
the losingest team on the playground
where only once      for a moment
I thought I might find comfort in you
orange, the poppies, sprung about the hill
and me picking a bouquet only to be told
those are California poppies,
you can’t pick them
it’s illegal

orange, you betrayer, you
prison sentence
you were never the greens of my wardrobe
of my fern forest         nor were you
my brief liaison with red
when it offered a chance
a sports car
a mini-skirt
a swiss army knife

orange, I’ve never loved you
never let you under my skin
even in your soft sunrise I’ve taken you
for an imposter even in your flames

Have a Great Weekend! I’ll be HERE. 🙂


Filed under poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

Mid-Week Mourning Poem (for Victor Gato)

I haven’t posted in so long I think the three people who actually read my posts have probably given up on me. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends.

If you are new here, hi, hello. I generally leave a weekend writing exercise at the end of the week and post a new piece of writing at the beginning of the week, but today I’m bringing you a mid-week exercise and a poem.

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged in a while is because my cat was very sick and it became clear several days ago that he wasn’t going to make it. It was that delicate time when one has to decide in the cat’s best interests rather than one’s own. It was time to let him go.

I find the periods of my life when I am in mourning to be inspiring creatively. In particular for poetry and song. Emotional pain might not feel “good” – but it’s powerful stuff. I’ve learned to just be in it.

This week the workout is to write a “3-Stage Mourning Poem.” By “stage” I basically mean stanza. With each stanza, you need to “switch direction” but keep them related.

If you aren’t mourning a person or a pet right now, mourn anything. A plant, a favourite pair of shoes, your youth, your favourite restaurant, your ignorance, your idealism . . . whatever, just pick something to mourn.

Most importantly: bring in TANGIBLES. Familiar things we can see, hear, touch, etc. We so often feel pain when we see objects or hear songs that remind us of our loved ones. Show us those objects, weave them into the poem. If you start to get abstract, bring it back down.

And BTW, It doesn’t have to be a serious poem. (or piece of prose for you prose peeps out there)

In Mourning Cats

I know many cats in heaven.
All grandparents, a dad, cousin-in-law, acquaintance,
and at least three friends.
I may know two mice, if mice go to heaven
but my thought is mice
get an automatic rebound
back to the material world maybe
in the form of squirrels

They say cats have nine lives and I believe it.
Once you get to be a cat in heaven
you get to choose your next life.
That’s why cats always act like they own the place
because they do and when they commune with the mother ship
we are the butt of their jokes
how we suffer
how we break our hearts
how they just walk off in the middle of the night
without so much as au revoir


We get close to the void
and write poems about getting close to the void.
Death makes us narrative.
We need to tell it straight
so family members can slip into the words
weave through remnants of troubled dreams
the stories weighing us
like magnetic ghosts

Victor Gato (1995 - 2011)


Filed under aw... poop, poetry, random poop, weekend workout, writing exercises

Interview on Blog Talk Radio

Mende Smith interviewed me today on her Blog Talk Radio show Writing on Demand.


Listen to internet radio with World Wide Word on Blog Talk Radio


Books mentioned in the interview are all available through en theos press

Leave a comment

Filed under every day angels, her red book, poetry, Reviews and Interviews, spokenword, writing life

Weekend Workout: Wine Tasting Poem

Gwendolyn Alley and I developed this exercise for our “Message in a Bottle” writing workshop last month. Half of the workshop took place at the Channel Islands Visitor Center, the other half at Old Creek Ranch Winery.

The idea is to taste a particular glass of wine and answer the questions below in the form of a poem. Take your time with the lines if they lead you somewhere. Feel free to change, discard, or add your own questions. We planned the questions to go from “logical” questions when tasting wine to more abstract.

We recommend tasting and writing it as a group (using the same wine) and then sharing the poems. And, of course, feel free to edit it into whatever you want it to be.

You can certainly do this exercise with any other alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage. Wine is a good choice because of its complexity. If you don’t drink, try the exercise using chocolate or any other item of food that will inspire your senses.

This particular poem was inspired by the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by Old Creek Ranch Winery. I actually loved this wine so much I bought a bottle. Get it while you can as this is the last vintage of it they plan to make!

My poem below. Gwendolyn Alley’s poem here.


What fruit/s does it taste like?
What kind of flower?
What kind of spice?
What mineral is it like?
What sound does it have?
What music is it?
What animal?
What memory?
What type of weather?
What regret?

The End of the Bottle: 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Drink me plum cherries, smoky roses, sweet spice

quartz in a quarry echoing the laughter

of children on a Sunday spree

Like Eddie Reader, that soft space between

deciding to do something    and

not doing anything

The cats current pleasure is in thighs rich in memories

of driving

San Diego on the highway

Peter Gabriel convertible

The boyfriend freshman year I was proud of because

of his sexy-factor

Sunshine befell his optimistic dental career

he WAS baseball, apple pie, mother nature

light rain reflecting rainbows

happily ever after and all that

A swiftly tilting 18-year-old life

Where summer vacation meant a pause of labour

Where the routine as a melody

repeated in gold-mine futures

everything before us

the years stretched true


Filed under poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

More Her Red Book, Too

I’ve continued my Her Red Book, Too Ritual almost every day since I gave the assignment as a weekend workout. I don’t know how long I’ll continue. Perhaps until my book tour. Perhaps until I have enough material for a whole new book! All I know is that the results have been pleasantly surprising considering my whole life right now is working from home on my book marketing/touring strategies. I mean there’s not a lot of drama going on other than in my head, so I have to make use of the mundane.

Like writing about the crows daily migration east to west and back again. =

On the Morning of the Crow Migration

She does not recall when began
her fascination with birds
Prehistoric miracles   defying the mundane

It could have been when she settled
into the new home
It could have been when she
gave them all names
Ahab on the chimney   a seagull lookout
or buoy
with a waddling of followers
willing to topple off the roof
and the Tweets Family Robinson
house sparrows in the eaves

Throwing open the curtain this morning
she catches the daily crow commute
West with the sunrise
each day   a clockwork
Nature Call
And what if she went East
followed their route
to the border of their nesting trees?
Would she find the feckless crow
muttering   waxing poetic about
the futility of flight
on a Winter’s Day?

Or is it All for One
One for All
No matter what the Ha Ha birds says?

(SEE my previous Her Red Book, Too entry: On the Day of the Bicycle Mammogram)

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Filed under her red book, poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

Monday Potes (on Tuesday, of course!): On the Day of the Bicycle Mammogram

A few weeks ago I gave a weekend workout assignment that I enjoyed so much I haven’t stopped. It was a writing ritual I had created for myself 9 years ago that became the manuscript for my chapbook Her Red Book. Once I got back into the ritual (very basically: writing in 3rd person early in the morning and just before going to bed, and always titling it FIRST with On the Day of, On the Night of, On the Morning of. . . etc) I quickly realized what a gem it was and couldn’t believe it had taken me so many years to try it again.

I’ve wracked up several of them that I’m already editing and have decided to post a few, even though they still feel a bit precious.

On the Day of the Bicycle Mammogram

She rides on an uneven day west
a straight shot that curves     but
does not stray     In the waiting room
the receptionist speaks loud English
to the Chinese lady     nods in another cyclist
eyes the father holding hands
with his woman-girl

They are all beyond guessing ages

She makes polite naked conversation
in the machine     her breasts
vised in like fruit to juice
nothing to it   she thinks
walking over the fading footprints
of visitors to the objectionably yellow building

She admires rooftops
the array of shingles     ceramic and wood
She cycles past the cars and buses
daring them to make her feel
It’s just a test this
is only a test     not the last
not the truth     not the point

When she reaches her door
the winds have died down
the sunset has been postponed and
all she wants
is to finish her book
the one she is trapped inside
the one she has climbed into
volunteering herself
for duty


Filed under her red book, monday poetry thang, poetry, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: On the Night of Recreating a Ritual

(UPDATE (Feb 5) – I just started this workout and I have to say I am amazed and loving it. I think the combination of the ritual of writing first thing and last thing each day, introducing the piece through the “title” ritual, and writing 3rd person about oneself somehow draws deeper meaning from what could be seen as very ordinary experiences)

A big thank you to Gautami Tripathy for reminding me about Marvin Bell, who I hadn’t read in a long while. She was experiencing some writer’s block and Big Tent Poetry suggested their readers write versions of Bell’s Dead Man Poems (click on links for examples).

Dead man poems come out of an old Zen admonition that says, “Live as if you were already dead.” But you needn’t feel remorse. The dead man is alive and dead at the same time. He lives it up, he has opinions, he makes bad jokes, he has sex.

~Marvin Bell

Years ago when I was reading the book The Poet’s Notebook (which also contains a few “Dead Man” poems) I was inspired by several of Bell’s journal entries that began with phrases like: “The Journal of a Few Minutes to Midnight,” “Journal of the Perverse Nature of Ice,” “Journal of the Night of Blue Ice.” I merged these two ideas, the “Dead Man” and “The Journal of . . .” and encouraged my students to create a ritual for a set period of time during which they would start each piece of writing this way:  The Poem of ______, The Journal of ______, etc.

I was writing in a red notebook at the time, and for my own ritual I wrote every night before bed and first thing each morning in this book.  Each poem started with the title “On the Night of . .  .” or “On the Morning of . . .” or “On the Day of . . .”

Each poem was written in 3rd person, like Bell’s, but whereas he says the Dead Man isn’t necessarily him, my poems were all recording the small events of my own life, observing myself at a distance.

My intent was simply to write at the beginning or end of the day as an observer of my own thoughts and actions.  It was an experiment in objectivity. What emerged was a sometimes surreal, sometimes poignant 3rd person story-telling . . . Becoming a character in my own poems allowed me to maintain a common story-thread while increasing my sense of freedom within the work.

Eventually, these poems ended up in a chapbook called Her Red Book.

I’ve included an example below. Other titles from the series include: “On the Night of the Pork Chop Billboard,” “On the Day of the Hospital Window,” and “On the Morning Before the Morning Before the Plane Took Off.”

Much of the time we title things after we’ve written them. In this case, the title should be the first thing written as a jumping off point.

(Suggestions for prose writers to put this exercise to use are below.)

On the Night She Didn’t Feel Like it Anymore

She stuffed herself to claustrophobic proportions
belly ache a reminder she still had work to do
she baked during moments of frustration listening
for the difference between fireworks and gunshots
she had been startled the week before by a
strange man in the yard      tonight
she baked without looking out the window

perhaps it was the New York Times story
the Israeli tank blowing up two little boys
on bicycles who didn’t know the curfew was still in effect
the whole one     the one who maintained his limbs
was buried with his chocolate bar in his hand

perhaps it was Noah’s impending flood God with crumbs in his beard
or the appearance of an angel-afraid-of-dogs in the forest

perhaps a lot of poets had died in the last few weeks
and with them their hats

or perhaps it was the rose on the bus lying on the dashboard
in wet paper towels confiscated at the border     a memento
a kiss       an apology

what she really wanted was to stay up all night creating a path
of words burning clay singeing the wick of mortal time

what she remembered was this is not a dress rehearsal
what did it matter the embarrassment of being human
when we are all pedaling away from the same tanks
with our chocolate bars and
our misinterpreted dreams

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

I’ve never used this technique for my prose or for story or character building, but I think it would be an interesting experiment.

Of course, you’re probably already writing and thinking about your characters as “other” than you, so this exercise would simply be to use the ritual and the writing prompt as a way to write in a different direction and discover what’s there.

You could focus on a particular character and each morning when you get up, and each night when you go to sleep, simply write an observation of them around an incident, large or small. Just observe them and see what they do. It could be a great way to write about something you’ve been stuck on. Remember to write the “title” first.

for example:

The Story of the Ethereal Observation: she could not have seen them descending. At least, she should not have been able to see them. Standing there in the middle of The Shift, one hand on her friend’s arm, the other to her own mouth. Her heart, she could always sense it speaking to her, and now it was pulling as if it wanted to escape her chest. Her friend looks at her, at first teasing, then concerned. She could see them but not describe them. How can you describe a shape made of air? She moves forward, pulled by ghost. She knows she must leave, although she also knows if she leaves at that moment, she will not return. (etc)

By forcing yourself to write first thing in the morning and again just before bed, and using the “titling” method, perhaps you can sneak up on your muse.

Have a great weekend!


Filed under her red book, poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

Thought About You

Okay, a singularly unoriginal title for my experiment.

The last writing workout was writing about loss. I had wanted to write a poem for a friend on the anniversary of her death, so I experimented by writing snippets, thoughts, images, mememories of her out on cards over the whole weekend and then collaging them into a poem.

At one point I had gone out for the evening and forgot that I was “remembering” Gabrielle over the weekend until the next morning, then felt guilty for forgetting. So that’s in here, too.

Thought About You

For Gabrielle Bouliane, One Year Gone

I’m done baking and remember you.
Remember that I’m supposed to be remembering.

I want to say I’m sorry for every minute gone by,
but that is mortal guilt and not for angels or sunflowers.

Your candle lit in the livingroom and I must leave the house.
Someone once told me
never blow out reverent candles,
but snuff them with metal.
I hear you laugh through my superstition.
Motorcycle lipstick, coming down at me love.

Is it better to leave a candle nub or burn it to the end?

I think about my old motorcycle,
wonder if I’ll ever be that daring again.
I bet you ride sharp and clear like a sting.
I bet you leave star dust, kicking into cosmic gear.
I bet your kiss could wrap humanity,
and we’d all grow suddenly hungry.

Oh, Gabby, I’m afraid
the world has gone crazy.

I wish there were more of you
of your voice    of your word
I can hear your tone your eyes your stance
I can hear the waves of you on stage
I can hear you working next to me,
cranking through ideas.

First day on the job at The Poetry Factory,
you spilled a coke on the new Mac keyboard
and it didn’t work for a day.
But it was just us, and we could laugh it away.
What isn’t done in the sticky hours isn’t what strikes us down.

Oh, Gabby, the only thing I fear
more than this crazy world
is not living in this crazy world.

To be alive is to get uncomfortable,
to get up on stage and tell the world
I’M DYING and you’re all coming with me,
my friends, my beautiful beautiful friends.

You caught us with our genius showing,
a challenge dancing in the wind.

You came into this world gifted and aimed,
and I can’t help wondering
what target would you have hit
in your Golden Days?


Filed under every day angels, monday poetry thang, poetry, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Writing About Loss

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it challenging to write a satisfying poem about a loved one who has died. What words can fill the space the person held?

In honour of dear friend and poet Gabrielle Bouliane, who died of cancer one year ago today, I wanted to write something to/for her this weekend.

This workout is something I’ve never tried before, so I’m experimenting with it. I’ll post the results after the weekend.

Instead of sitting down to write a poem or letter or story in one go, eeking out inadequate language for a heart-ripping loss, I’m going to keep Gabrielle in my thoughts all weekend and carry several index cards with me wherever I go. Any time a thought or vision or image or anecdote comes to mind, I’ll write it on a card.

It doesn’t matter if I’m at the library, in a movie, on the bus, or at a party – the thought, image, etc gets written on a card.

On Sunday night or Monday morning, I’ll go through my cards and form the poem (or whatever it turns out to be) from there.

Unintentionally, the first few things I wrote were addressed to her, so perhaps I will stick with that.

The first thing I wrote on a card was:

You were so you, more you than I me. When I cry to you, you don’t suffer my foolishness.

~   ~   ~

There’s a TOAST in honour and memory of Gabrielle happening at 10 PM in Austin, TX. So 8 PM here on the West Coast. Here’s the FACEBOOK INFORMATION about it.


Filed under poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises