LOST LEXICON: Letterpress + Poetry Exhibit

LOST LEXICON, my latest work in progress, was on display in the gallery at The Old Art Building from June 23-28, 2017.  This work came about as a result of my being named the 2017 Ann Hall Artist in Residence at the Leelanau Community Cultural Center, which among other things, provided a beautiful, soulful old space with gorgeous light in which to show a body of work. I’m the first poet to ever receive this assignment, and the first to show in the gallery there. I’d had a project in mind for a while, for which I needed a large, well-lit space, and the LOST LEXICON began to take shape once I had the space to imagine it into being.
Here are some glimpses of how it came together.
Interlochen Public Radio did a very nice, 5 minute story about the project: Poet Rescues Nature Words from Dictionary’s Trash Heap.
Collectors can acquire the full set of twenty poems in a limited edition portfolio, of which there are just two left from an edition of 12. The deluxe edition, of which there is only one, is presented in a silk hardcover portfolio designed and created by Lisa Hersey of Antler Editions. Contact me for more information if you would like to purchase one of these special portfolios.
LOST LEXICON is a conceptual project, but it’s anchored in the concrete work of casting lead type, setting it by hand, and printing poems on presses that date to the early 20th century.
It’s also a conversation piece, and I want to keep sharing this with my friends and fellow humans.
LOST LEXICON is an occasion for me to work with language associated with the natural world at a time when it’s leaving our formal and daily lexicon in order to make room for more technology based words. So far I’ve written 32 of what will eventually be a 60 or so word set. Twenty of those poems were printed in collaboration with William Muller of Big Wheel Press, who brought his design and printing expertise to this project. The recent exhibit at The Old Art Building in Leland, Michigan was made possible by generous support from the Ann Hall Artist in Residence Program there.
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Summer 2017 Workshops With Holly Wren Spaulding

Over the next three months, I’m looking forward to teaching several in-person workshops, sharing new work in progress (in a gallery this time!), and talking about poetry as an act of conservation. Here’s the summer teaching schedule so far.

In my next post, I’ll share some plans to celebrate the release of my new book, If August, with readings and signings during the summer and fall.

June-July-August 2017

Workshop: Incubate Your Creative Life
Interlochen College of Creative Arts
Interlochen, MI
June 19-21

Are you struggling with where your creative work fits within your current lifestyle? This workshop is designed to provide heat and promote creative development through a three-day process of incubation. P
ractical, inspirational, and focused. Details and register here.

Reception for Lost Lexicon
The Old Art Building
Leland, MI
June 23, 5-8 pm

Public opening for my latest work in progress, Lost Lexicon, a series of poems presented as letterpress broadsides, and created in conjunction with my role as the 2017 Ann Hall Artist in Residence at the Leelanau Community Cultural Center. Details here.

Copies of my new poetry book, If August (Alice Greene & Co., May 2017) will be available.


Artist Talk: “Poetry as an Act of Conservation”
The Old Art Building
Leland, MI
June 25, 1:30-3 pm

I’ll talk about my work in progress, Lost Lexicon, the process of casting the type, and printing the poems in a letterpress studio. I’ll also discuss poetry’s ability to recuperate languages and ideas that are at risk of being lost. Details here.

Copies of my new poetry book, If August (Alice Greene & Co., May 2017) will be available, as will limited edition letterpress broadsides.


Poetry Workshop: Writing a Series
The Old Art Building
Leland, MI
June 26-28, 10 am-12:30 pm

A generative workshop for poets interested in exploring the poetic series or sequence as an alternative to the single, monumental poem. We’ll study some examples, write to prompts, workshop a draft or two, and explore a simple six-page book form as a way to think outside the usual boundaries of a poem. Details and register here.

Writing Workshop: Notebooking in Nature
Leland Township Public Library
Leland, MI
June 30, 2-4 pm

A two hour generative workshop in which we will read and discuss work by contemporary masters, spend time outdoors, practice the art of observation, and use our writer’s notebook to write in response to our natural world. Sponsored by the library, so there’s no cost. Details here.


Poetry Workshop: Evocative Nature: Writing in Response to Wildness
Glen Arbor Art Association
Glen Arbor, MI
August 14, 10 am-3 pm

A day-long poetry writing workshop in which we’ll consider the natural world and our place within it by using creative exercises to tune our awareness to the parklands that surround our studio, learning from the likes of Corman, Niedecker, Hirschfield and Basho, and writing poems of our own. Register here.

And just in case you need a reason to go to New Hampshire or Montana this summer 

International Affairs Family Conference: The World’s Oceans
Star Island, Isle of Shoals, New Hampshire
July 22-29, 2017

I’ll be offering a writing workshop and performing with the pianist Susan Hotchkiss on this beautiful island off the coast of Portsmouth, NH. This year’s retreat theme is “The World Oceans: Protecting an International Resource”. In addition, my husband, author of In Pursuit of Giants: One Man’s Global Search for the Last of the Great Fish, just released in paperback from University Press of New England, will present a keynote about the magic and beauty of the ocean, and how to turn love of that environment into meaningful advocacy for its preservation. Details and register here.


Beargrass Writers Retreat
Greenough, Montana
August 26-29, 2017

I’ll be among a vibrant group of writers who will present craft talks, read from new work, and offer manuscript consultations at the storied E Bar L Ranch outside Missoula. Food, drink, music, horses, fishing, writing, rivers, and big skies. It’s going to be fun.

Join us. Details here.


I always appreciate your early registration for these events, which helps me to plan travel and other logistics with greater confidence.


Thanks for reading. Hope to see you soon!


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Forms of Transport + April Workshop Line-up

As bitter winds whip around our snowbound house, I’m truly desperate for a gentler climate where my body might relax after so many months of shivering. It’s not going to happen this year. Instead, I’ll read. As Emily Dickinson said, invoking a book’s power to transport a reader: “How frugal is the Chariot / That bears a Human soul.”

As we move toward the Vernal Equinox, I’ll keep daffodils on my table, eat the last of the good Cara Cara oranges, and visit the indoor botanical garden at Smith College. There, the camellias and tulips and orange blossoms are blooming this week, and the balmy palm room creates an illusion of a tropical island grove. My favorite room is the one with aromatic plants and  I especially enjoy how everyone moans a little when they lean down to smell the peppermint and thyme and rosemary and rose geranium! I do, too.

While winter feels like a time for deep and sustained thinking and internal gestation, spring brings a more outward and energetic expression of my urge to create. If you’re feeling this, too, here are some upcoming opportunities to be aware of:
April Workshops With Me
The Spring edition of my year-round Poetry Immersion program begins in three weeks. This online course is already half-full, so if you’re craving structure and accountability around your writing practice, want to improve your craft, and would benefit from conversations about your work in progress, consider joining me from April 7- May 5. Our theme this session is Generative Development. Includes eight weeks of instruction, feedback, and two private tutorials. $325
Easthampton, Massachusetts
Letterpress Poetry Workshop (April 8) A 4 hour hands-on workshop in which we will create an edition of one sheet fold up books using hand set and cast type. Participants will each go home with part of the edition. Taught in collaboration with Bill Muller of Big Wheel Press & Lisa Hersey of Antler Editions. All levels. Limited space. $65
Northern Michigan
The Art of Observation: Notebooking for Poets (April 20). In this practical three-hour evening workshop, we’ll explore the art of observation, free-writing, and creative rewriting, as we strengthen a timeless practice that should feel spontaneous, flexible, and disciplined. Participants will leave the session with inspiration and ideas for how to make better use of a writers notebook, and one or two beginnings for new poems. This is an all-level workshop. $85
Poetry Writing Intensive: Working in a Series (April 21-23) It this two day, generative workshop we’ll study examples of multi-part poems that employ interesting writing strategies and forms, and then we’ll begin writing a series of our own. This course is most suitable for those who’ve been writing for a while, though I welcome anyone with genuine interest. $195

Letterpress note from Myrna Keliher of Expedition Press

In advance of actual spring, here are some poems to help you endure what remains of winter, and to soothe the ache of our current political situation. For best effect, click through to read the full text of each one.


Thank you the sheer dress you wore kneeling in my dream
at the creek’s edge and the light
swimming through it. The koi kissing
halos into the glassy air.
The room in my mind with the blinds drawn
where we nearly injure each other
crawling into the shawl of the other’s body.
Her shine, I should say, could take me anywhere
It feels right to be up this close in tight wind
It feels right to notice all the shiny things about you
(from “Lines Depicting a Simple Happiness,” by Peter Gizzi)
To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God’s love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay
( . . .)
(Read the full text and listen to Lucille Clifton read this poem over at the Poetry Foundation.)
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We Lived There, Expectant

Ten years ago I spent a month writing at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks, where they provide creative residencies to writers, artists, and activists, and serve as a meeting point for culturally-based progressive movement building by expanding and encouraging conversations among cultural workers and others, as we create work that touches on themes of social justice, the environment, militarism, race and other issues facing our world.

I wrote a lot of material during that time, and some of if gradually made it into the public space. Last week one of my poems from that time was published online. It took ten years for this one to feel complete and I am happy that it has a home out in the world.


At Blue Mountain
by Holly Wren Spaulding

Two loons on a lake
in the evening fog,
air thick with it,
pale water barely moving.

I’m like a days-old fawn
setting out for the grasses—
I’m nimble again,
I smell like the hollows.

Once, I wanted only sounds
and scents of another human—
(continue reading the poem.)


This morning I received a note from a talented student whose first manuscript was just rejected from a chapbook contest. She wanted to know if it’s normal to feel such crushing disappointment.

Of course it is. At least for many writers. I take another view, however, and that is this: I honestly don’t expect anything when I send out my work, which I don’t actually do that often. I don’t expect readers or editors to be more interested in what I’m doing than any of the thousands of other submissions that cross their desk. I certainly write with the goal to do the best work that I possibly can, but I have never invested in the idea that its receipt, or even its celebration by someone else, was the reason or the goal.

As my friend Ken, a long-time journalist, pointed out to me last weekend, once you have some bylines it’s just about doing your job. Not a big deal, in other words. I realize this is different than not actually having the option of publication, and he over 5,000 bylines at this point, so Ken’s in a different position than my student is.  But I resonate with the idea that we have to do our work and not expect much in the way of recognition. In my own case, even when you do have something published, it’s rare to ever hear anything from a reader. In other words, the real satisfaction is internal and has to come from the work itself, by which I mean the process of making it.

We have to write to please ourselves, and more than that, I write as a way of becoming intimate and even wise to my own experiences and thoughts and feelings. And I write to achieve that rare single-pointed mind wherein nothing else matters, and I’m doing just one thing at a time: shaping words and images. To Make music and maybe even make some kind of sense of what I think and feel: that is my reason for writing.


On Tuesday I attended a Q & A, followed by a reading, with the poets Jamaal May and Tarfia Faizullah. During the conversation at the Poetry Center at Smith College, May said many things that resonated with me, and at one point he mentioned that Natalie Diaz had received 40 or more rejections on most of the poems that appeared in her stunning debut collection, When My Brother Was an Aztek, which I saw her read from last year. It’s some of the most affecting work I’ve come across in a long time and I’m so glad she persisted in sending it out. May suggested that she was teaching editors to read her work and eventually they came along. They got it—but not immediately.

In response to a young poet of color who is struggling with being misunderstood in her work because her experiences and lexicon and points of reference are different from her peers in workshop, May said that anything that gets in the way, whether resistance or interruption, and certainly, rejection, is still the path, and you have to follow it: “Follow your life.” He encouraged everyone to become their own bodyguard.

This was such a rich and stimulating way to spend the afternoon and I’m glad these two are making work and getting it out there, so that the rest of us can find it and read it.

At one point Faizullah referenced a Sufi prayer: “Lord, increase my bewilderment.” If we can embrace this ethos, we won’t be dissuaded when the path becomes difficult.

I wish you could have been there.

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Turning Dissonance into New Forms

“When freedom is in danger, when you are asked, in one faked way or another, a shabby admonition, to leave your own humanity which includes the humanity of all, the alarm is extra-ordinary, America. Don’t you think so? You must respond, America. You must speak out, you must write.”—U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, in Poems for Political Disaster



You’d think it would be settled by now. That there’d be no need to count the ways art and poetry can help us through the dark times. But I keep running into reminders of how these values and ways of being become sidelined during extraordinary times. How they are treated as non-essential or secondary—even impossible.


For example, half of my private students tell me they can’t focus, can’t commit, can’t pull themselves away from the train-wreck to think about their own work. And yet just as many of the writers I serve tell me that they find themselves clinging to their writing practice as a life-ring of sorts. They read, they write, they do the work and somehow this holds things together inside, if not in our nation’s capital.


The outer-world, especially as encountered through the news media and social media, is an unfolding emergency of seemingly endless proportions. Anxiety, fear, and grief are the words that keep coming up when I talk with others about how we’re feeling and coping with things. Worse are the persistent, distracting thoughts that interrupt us throughout the day and night . . . What can we do? . . . Who’s in charge? . . . Are we going to be okay?


(In my A Secret Life course, participants have taken a one-month hiatus from social media in order to incubate a secret project. At first it was a challenge to step away, but now it seems to have restored some mental calm and in its place, creative work is flourishing. And something like happiness.)


Surely, the moments when I’ve been capable of imagining something other than disaster, are those when I’ve lost myself to making something: a poem, little paintings, collages, and handmade postcards, mostly. These are not grand undertakings so much as simple and familiar practices that give me access to a basic sense of well-being in my body and mind. Others pray or run to stay sane. I write. I read. I make things with my hands.


When I’ve steadied my gaze for long enough to write a line, a stanza, or a whole poem, I feel myself and I feel a form of power that I require in order to do all the others things I need to do, like parent, and make a living, and show up as an engaged citizen. It has always been so. Through heat and pressure and the mixing of many elements, the process of poetry turns dissonance and difficulty into new forms.

This is a form of alchemy.


This poem was written during a short residency at Arrowmont School of the Arts and Crafts in Tennessee last month. I worked with artist Bill Muller, of Big Wheel Press, to create a letterpress broadside which was sent to 1400+ supporters of The Old Art Building in Leland, Michigan, where I’ll be the 2017 Ann Hall Artist in Residence in June.


There is so much more that I can do, and will do as I learn how to respond appropriately and thoughtfully to the present moment. I’ve become accustomed to spending a little time each day, calling senators and representatives, writing letters and expressing my views. But I’m determined to continue to write and collaborate and teach as well, even under pressure to do otherwise, because we must not abandon what makes us human and whole. To do so would be to succumb to a regime that would like nothing more than to tire and crush us into submission and silence.


We must write our reverence, our tenderness, our humanity, and yes, even our joy. This, too, is resistance.


(Please consider joining me for one of my upcoming online writing courses. You can view the line-up over here. A Body of Work: Manuscript Incubator for Poets begins February 24. The fourth annual March 21 Day Poetry Challenge begins on March 1, and our theme this session is Reverence & Affection.)


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What Happens When We Make

What happens when we’re a beginner, again, and bring our creativity and sensibility to a process, without any of the expectations or self-judgment that saddles the work we do with an audience in mind? What happens when we make simply because we want to, or because it occurred to us, or because it’s our mode of being in the world?

These are questions I’ll explore over at the journal Culture Keeper in an ongoing series of conversations with artists of various disciplines. I’ll ask them to share the insights, new directions, and pivots that have come from side projects, experiments, and forays into what if.

The first article concerns my own experimentations in the realm of letterpress printing, and how these have impacted the work that will appear in my next book, If August, due out this spring from Alice Greene & Co.

Read the full text of the article here.

. . . . .

If you’ve been working on something that might be a book, consider joining me for A Body of Work, my manuscript incubator for poets, in which you’ll learn how to turn your poems into a chapbook worthy of a wider audience. We begin at the end of this month and we’ll spend three months finding and refining a clear, creative vision for your best poems. Full details here.




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The Value of a Secret Life

Four winters ago I gathered in a living room with my writing group. As we toasted the New Year, I suggested that each of us share something that no one else in our group knew about: our secret project. All six of us confessed to having one.


What a thrill to hear about the raw, gutsy, interesting projects we’d been working on privately. But afterwards, I wondered why we had kept those projects secret? Out of uncertainty? Or did we do so from an instinct to follow our own creative urges, at some distance from the eyes (but also the endorsement) of others?
That’s the real value in a secret life: it provides safe harbor for the most precious freedoms. I’d love to help you find & cultivate yours through my new on-line course called A Secret Life.

This is your chance to incubate an idea or project that you want to complete within the coming year. I welcome everyone—writers, dancers, singers, musicians, activists, visual artists, filmmakers, social workers, yogis, parents, meditators & anyone else—who needs support & inspiration as they take steps to make those private inklings more real in the world.


As an added benefit, I’ve designed this course to support those who would like to commit to a mini digital-detox as part of this experience. To that end, I will help you move away from the screen for a while and reclaim your off-line life. More details on my website.


This course might be right for you if you have the beginning of an idea but want & need to give it some more attention, & you’d enjoy my mentoring through the process.



We begin on Wednesday, February 1. Won’t you join us?


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Draw Closer + A Secret Life + A New Website

In more than twenty-five years of working among artists, writers & activists I’ve witnessed how creative endeavors enlarge people & fortify communities.

They reconstruct the mind & liberate the body from the forces that urge us to concede, to consume, & to accept narrower definitions of what it means to be alive.

I believe our work involves drawing closer, paying attention, speaking truthfully & manifesting a more humane & habitable world in all the ways we can do so.

For quite some time I’ve dreamed of an online home that will immerse you in the consolations and edifications of poetry. A place to inspire you to live your art more fully, & to embolden imagination.

That dream is now a reality & I invite you to meet me there. I’m offering a number of new online courses that provide stimulating instruction built on a foundation of poetic & contemplative practices, & linked to a liberatory ethos. These offerings are designed to amplify awareness, improve your craft, & provoke ideas & creative actions.

They are invitations to engage with, & contribute to our diverse culture, our democracy, & to the future.

Here are the three courses you can participate in this season, from anywhere in the world, with more to be unveiled in the coming weeks:

A Secret Life
because something is ready manifest through you.

A Body of Work
for the poet ready to transform that file of drafts
into a chapbook collection worthy of a wider readership.

Spring Poetry Immersion
new work, improved craft, & a steadier writing practice

My intention is to offer you an opportunity to see the world & your role in it, in a new way.

Please stop by and tell me what you think.


P.S. On my site, you’ll also find recordings of poems, scintilla on influences, my blog, & thoughts on the connection between my off-grid childhood & being a poet in the world.

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Poets have a place in the ecosystem

More than ever, we need art to help us imagine & understand the experiences of others, because when we do, we are more likely to honor our vast & varied humanity.
Each of us has a place in the ecosystem, and there are many roles to play if one cares to engage with, & contribute to our culture, our democracy, & to the future. Here are 2 roles that need to be stepped into right now:


carry forth the Long Memory, forgo magical thinking, face the uncomfortable & frightening—like facts about the planet’s rising temperatures—and respond with heart & vision.
unsettle expectations by proposing imaginative alternatives, rather than reacting & existing in a defensive mode.


have power & influence, resources & connections, & use each skillfully.
accept leadership & don’t assume that someone else will do what they can do, now.


Poetry Immersion, Winter: Contemplative Beginnings
listen to your longing to write poems & spend more time engaged with art & ideas…

learn more about this first session of my new, online Poetry Immersion program here. There is room for 12. We begin January 6 and you can participate from anywhere in the world.


In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be unveiling my new website & course offerings after nearly a year of deep reflection, imagining, connecting, creating & collaborating.

I maintain my belief in the sustaining power of art, Nature, & devoted inquiry. I continue to practice & teach resilience & collaboration. My intention is to offer you an opportunity to see the world, & your role in it, in a new way.

Stay tuned.

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Thank you/ dark though it is

In our family we share poems at the table. Here’s one that feels as relevant as ever.


by W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
smiling by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

Read the rest of the poem here.


The 21 Day Poetry Challenge begins in one week. Consider joining me to end the year in a reflective and and creative mode. Our focus this season will be poetry by women.

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