Why I Moved to South Beach, Why I Stay

Weekends like this last one prove I’m living in the best place in the world. My days were full of music, poetry, dog snuggles, and blue skies, along with church, a little laundry, grocery-shopping, and house-cleaning.

Yes, blue skies in January on the Oregon Coast. Right now as I write this, I look out my office window and see gold-tipped pine trees stretching into a powder blue sky unmarked by clouds. The alders are still winter-bare, but daffodil bulbs poked their heads above the soil this week, even though the storm season is far from over. From somewhere beyond the yard, I hear doves. Like the rest of the west, we’ve had far less rain than usual this winter, but unlike California and other western states, we have enough water, so that drought is not a problem.
It’s warmer back in California. I see weather reports predicting blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, and I miss those days when I could walk unfettered by heavy coats. But oh it feels good to lie beneath my electric blanket on a cold morning, and I finally have a use for all those sweaters my mother and I knitted over the years. And it feels great to sit in the sun under the Sitka spruce with Annie leaning against me, just enjoying being alive.
Yesterday I was up at 6 a.m. to lead the choirs through two Masses at Sacred Heart Church. It was dark as I showered and dressed and ate a slice of pumpkin bread for my hasty breakfast. But as I drove north on Highway 101, scanning the road for black ice, the sky lit up with pink clouds that turned bright red, a Hallelujah Chorus of a sunrise that made me glad to be here. The red reflected on the ice blue water of the bay and the ocean beyond where crabbers were pulling in their morning catch. After 17 1/2 years, the beauty of this place still amazes me.
More storms will come, weeks of gray skies, gray ocean, gray everything, of winds that tear at the windows and walls and sideways rain that stings like needles, but this is the tradeoff for those red sunrises and rainbow sherbet sunsets, for easy drives on roads without traffic at any time of day.
And for music and poetry. I don’t know whether it’s the ocean setting, the reasonable proximity to universities, or simply the lower cost of living, but this is a world of writers, artists, musicians and dreamers, and that’s a big part of why Fred and I chose to live here when we left San Jose. On any weekend, you can enjoy plays, concerts, art exhibits, readings, or dance performances. You can learn to blow glass floats, make beaded jewelry, or paint with watercolors. The Performing Arts Center and Visual Arts Center in Newport are busy year-round, and other venues to the north and south offer more arts activities.
It’s a place where one can get involved in a big way. A friend and I co-founded the coast branch of Willamette Writers a few years ago. Now I’m on the board of the Northwest Poets’ Concord, which hosts an annual poetry conference in May, and Writers on the Edge, which hosts the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series. I have a critique group which meets on Tuesdays. I have taken workshops, taught workshops, met famous or soon-to-be famous writers, and shared my work at readings, talks and open mics.
This last Saturday, we met for the Nye Beach Writers Series at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Covering the paint-stained tables of the art classroom with red silk tablecloths and battery-powered candles, we welcomed our guest author of the month, R. Gregory Nokes, for a talk about his new book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory. I ran the book table. After intermission, I ran the open mic. I read several of my poems, people loved them, and I felt fabulous.
During the day, I had time to sit out in the sun with Annie, to take a nice long walk, to catch up on email, clean my kitchen, play a little piano, and watch a movie on TV.
Getting up Sunday morning was hard, but then I got to play the piano at church, sing with two wonderful groups of friends, and chat over tea and donuts in-between. Afterward, a quick trip to the store, where I ran into several friends, as usual, a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, more piano, and more time in the sun before heading south to Yachats for the open mic.
Music, poetry and friends came together at the Green Salmon coffee shop, which is not open at night but allows us to use the space. Christmas lights still hung along the ocean-facing windows as we perched in our high wooden chairs. We laughed, we sang along, and we applauded performers taking the stage for the first time and veterans who came to try out new songs or just keep in practice. It was a safe place where people could screw up and nobody minded. “Do-over!” people would shout, and the performer would find the missing words or chords and finish in triumph.
Then it was time to make the long dark drive home, passing only a few cars on the way, keeping a lookout for deer or raccoons crossing the road. Time to light up the pellet stove, snuggle with the dog and fall asleep to dreams of music, blue skies, and words for a new poem.
I awakened to sunshine, blueberry muffins and another day of words, music, dogs and the most beautiful place on earth.
This is why we moved here. Sometimes I get lonely. I miss Fred like crazy, but this is why I stay.
I haven’t posted here lately. I’m working on compiling the previous five years of posts into a “Best of Unleashed” book, which will eventually be available as an e-book. But I will still chime in here, too, because I can’t help myself. If you enjoy reading my blog, please recommend it to your friends. Thanks for coming. Have a beautiful day wherever you are.

Poets’ Concord: Where Everyone Speaks Poetry

While the rest of Newport, Oregon celebrated Loyalty Days with a carnival, a race, a parade, the crowning of a festival queen, and a field of flags honoring our veterans, and while freakishly hot weather brought scantily-clad crowds to beaches where it’s usually daring to go without a coat, hat and gloves, approximately 100 of us gathered at the Hallmark Inn and Resort last weekend to talk about poetry.
Poetry? Yes, poetry. Your average American will think you’re strange if you say you like poetry, stranger still if you tell them you’re an actual poet, but not here. The Northwest Poets’ Concord, now in its fifth year, is a wonderful three-day event in which we’re surrounded by our people. These are the kind of folks who spill their coffee or trip on the stairs and say, “Ah, there’s a poem in that.”
We gathered for workshops on performance poetry, sonnets, poems about body parts, poetry and photography, poetry and yoga, poetry and drama, poetry and the blues, and more. When the days’ classes were over, we gathered in the new beachside banquet room below Georgie’s Beachside Grill for open mic sessions where we could hear and cheer each other’s poems. And we stopped at the conference bookstore to buy each other’s books and take a little of the magic home.
Poets usually write in solitude, but for three days in Newport, they’re not alone.
It felt odd to emerge from my final session into the hot afternoon and shop for dinner at the J.C. Market with the tourists buying beer and ice. They didn’t understand that every item that went into the cart could become a poem. Ode to a watermelon. The perfect sonnet about a tomato. Fried chicken blues. You never know.

Poets gather at the beach

I spent a big chunk of last weekend surrounded by poets at the fourth annual Northwest Poets’ Concord in Newport, Oregon. Approximately 140 of us met at the Hallmark Inn & Resort overlooking the Pacific. Sunshine and a sparkling blue ocean provided the backdrop for our explorations of poetic verbiage.

Not everybody likes poetry. One workshop leader, the poet Henry Hughes, compared it to ballet. Only a small percentage of the population ever see ballet or like it. But those who do REALLY like it.

Ditto for poetry. Who else would spend a gorgeous beach day in a hotel meeting room talking about things like line breaks, themes, and inspiration and listening to dozens of poets read their poems in that slow every-word-means-something manner that is standard for poetry?

Everyone seemed to have a sheaf of fresh poems in their purse or backpack. It’s like a secret passion we all share. Reminds me of the dart-throwing convention with which I shared my hotel last week in Portland. Dart-throwing? They have conventions? I wonder about the wisdom of mixing cocktails with darts, but they seemed to be having fun.

Our darts are words. Keynote speaker David Biespiel, poet and columnist for the Oregonian showed us how to take a poem apart and read it in a way that makes it mean so much more than a quick zoom through the words. Poems are different from novels or newspaper articles. You can’t skim or speed-read poetry and get anything out of it. They’re little pieces of art, photographs, tiny stories that call to be studied, like looking at a painting. You could glance at it and walk by, but you get so much more if you stand there for a few minutes and really look.

Last year, I wrote a lot of poetry during the Concord. This year, it was more a weekend of listening and absorbing. However, I did write a poem a day in April for one of the National Poetry Month challenges. Here’s one that I read at the Concord.

The Dog has a Question

Warm from the tub the woman sat on the floor,
naked except for her woolly robe,
and applied an orange plastic razor
to the stubble on her legs.
The dog, lonely, lay her heavy head
on the woman’s lap and watched,
scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape,
until the woman sighed, running her hand
along her smooth, hairless skin.
The dog looked up, bewilderment
wrinkling the fur between her ears,
wordlessly asking, “Why did you do that?”

Thank you to Sandra Ellston, poet and recently retired Eastern Oregon University prof, who organized the Concord. Sandra is also president of Writers on the Edge, of which I’m on the board. WOE produces the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series, third Saturday of the month, 7 p.m., at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Impressive guest artists and an open mic. Visit the WOE web page, as well as the Northwest Poets’Concord page. Try a poem or two. Think of it as mind candy.
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