Sunday, December 13, 2020

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (December 13, 2020)

I read good poems by other people while we all drink coffee.



Poems read:
  • Morning by Billy Collins
  • I Am Offering This Poem by Jimmy Santiago Bac
  • Love Poem by Louise Gluck
  • Blues for the Death of the Sun by Ansel Elkins
  • The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Since March 13 by Azaria Podplesky

Since March 13

by Azaria Podplesky






I’ve taken upwards of one hundred pictures of my cat. 

I’ve finished two tubes of Chapstick. It turns out they’re a lot harder to lose when you never leave your apartment. 

I’ve still not managed to read through my stack of The New Yorker.

Yoga studios closed and I tried to remember how I spent my time before I started teaching.

I’ve tried to stay off social media. I’ve failed at staying off social media.

I bought a set of shelves in July to display photos and trinkets which had been in my closet for far too long, but didn’t hang them until October.

I cancelled my cable. I’ve been reading more - Homegoing, The Cassandra, The Dutch House (an autographed copy found at Value Village), but I’ve also become great friends with Netflix and Hulu.

I’ve set up donations to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, the ACLU Legal Defense Fund and two bail funds. I’ve voted. I’ve signed petitions, but it still feels like I’m sitting idly by, cat firmly planted on my lap, while the world burns.

Yoga studios reopened. Limited class sizes, everyone six feet apart, masks worn at all times except while practicing. But still, yoga.

I thought I’d hate working from home because of the silence, but it's beautiful to hear every tick-tock tick-tock from the clock in my kitchen.

Speaking of work, if I had $1 for every time I wrote “coronavirus,” “pandemic,” “quarantine,” “COVID-19” or “cancelled” in an article, I wouldn’t be working anymore.

I’ve spent 35 hours on a train, in a roomette smaller than my bathroom, to see my grandparents in California. It took months to convince myself I could travel safely, and I’m glad I finally bought the ticket. Watching the West Coast go by -- Evergreen trees, mountains, field after field after field after field and, finally, the Pacific Ocean -- filled my soul more than I anticipated. 

Somewhere in California
photo by Azaria Podplesky

Somewhere in California
photo by Azaria Podplesky

Somewhere in Oregon
photo by Azaria Podplesky

Somewhere in Oregon
photo by Azaria Podplesky

I’ve seen the lists of things to do during quarantine -- bake, learn a new language, write that novel you’ve been meaning to get to -- and tips for how to bake, learn a new language and finally write that novel, but I’ve not crossed a single suggestion off the list. And I’m OK with that.

I have, however, almost finished writing a play, which has been an incredibly fulfilling experience.

I’ve laughed. 

I’ve cried. 

I’ve been catcalled while wearing a mask.

I’ve complained about being tired and about being tired of being tired.

Yoga studios have closed again, and I still haven’t remembered how I used to spend my time.

All in all, I’m here. How are you?

Azaria Podplesky

Azariai Podplesky
Azaria Podplesky is the entertainment writer for the Spokesman-Review. She also teaches yoga in her spare time. She really has taken more than one hundred pictures of her cat during quarantine, and she isn't ashamed to admit it. To read Azaria's work for the Spokesman-Review, visit


Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Tea by Mandy Chapman Orozco

A Pandemic Poem

by Mandy Chapman Orozco


The world breathed it in 
and stopped turning.
Those left to live, dirty.
Those left for death, free.
          We sat for tea 
poured in fragile cups
painted shades of soil and sky.
A place for the stuffed butterfly. 

Mandy Chapman Orozco
Mandy is passionate about the power of spoken and written word. She works full-time at The Bail Project, writing to combat racial and economic disparities in the bail system. Mandy also serves in her local community of Spokane by consulting and writing for smaller nonprofits that are fighting big inequities. Mandy holds an undergraduate degree from University of California, Los Angeles and an MBA from Whitworth University. When she’s not speaking and writing for change professionally, she’s having interesting conversations with her philosopher husband and their children, going for a run, drinking good coffee, and creative writing (she just verbed that).

Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (December 6, 2020)


Poets read:

Wendell Berry, from his book A Small Porch; Kim Addonizio from her book Tell Me; Polly Buckingham from The River People; Adrienne Rich from The Dream of a Common Language; Marge Piercy from The Moon is Always Female; James D'Agostino from Slur Oeuvre

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Remnants by Dahveed Bullis

You've reached Pandemic Meditations, a weekly series in which creative people share responses to life in the pandemic. This week, I'm pleased to welcome director and actor Dahveed Bullis to the series, and to share the first film meditation. Please watch, enjoy, and share his short film Remnants with your friends, neighbors, and family. Preceding the film, Dahveed provides notes about its making. (~20 minutes long).  

(If you'd rather watch the film directly on YouTube, use this link:

Thanks, Dahveed, and all of those involved in the making of Remnants. Your energy, focus, ingenuity, and effort is such a gift, and I appreciate it so much. As I know our readers do too. . 

~ E.P.


On the Making of Remnants, a Short Film

by Dahveed Bullis

The only word I have been able to find for the Pandemic before us has been "tragic." Whether in regards to how sections of leadership has handled it, or how divisive and separate things have become, I have seen tragedy all around me since March. 

I am tired. 

Through this Pandemic though, I have witnessed beauty. I have seen artists persevere as they have continued to create regardless of what the world experiences around them--somehow feeling compelled to continue to speak on the climate of their culture, just like the long history of artists before them. 

I have found myself becoming a filmmaker. A wild transition from theatre artist. After being an adjunct at Spokane Falls Community College, which had me directing a freshly adapted play into a film through Zoom, I found myself clawing to learn more about this newfound craft. 

As a lover of tragedy, I could not help but be inspired to tell a bit of tragedy when asked for my Pandemic Meditation. 

In chapter 6 of Aristotle's Poetics he states:

"So tragedy is an imitation not of people, but of action, life, and happiness or unhappiness, while happiness and unhappiness have their being in activity, and come to completion not in a quality but in some sort of action …Therefore it is deeds and the story that are the end at which tragedy aims, and in all things the end is what matters most …So the source that governs tragedy in the way that the soul governs life is the story."

Remnants was born on the heels of these contemplations. 

I invite you into Holden's world. 

This film encompassed collaboration from so many incredible artists, and we worked for months to put this together. I am forever grateful for the chance to create and a platform to do so with. I hope you enjoy the piece, as it is my first independent film. 

Ask yourself, after months of isolation, how do you manage to meet outside expectations if your inner life is turmoil?


And now, for this week's featured presentation, Remnants, directed and acted by Dahveed Bullis:

Dahveed Bullis
Dahveed Bullis lives and works in Spokane as an actor, director, instructor, and musician. He graduated from EWU, and helped found Spokane Theatre Arts Council. He recently joined the Company Ballet School to direct their Theatre Arts Program. And, pre-pandemic, you could find him acting alongside Marjorie Powell in the improv duo The Seagull Sloths. He's father to a son made of the moon and stars.

😷 Check back every week for new Pandemic Meditations. Catch up on what you've missed here:

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Pandemic Meditations Preview: Remnants, A Short

Pandemic Meditations continues this week with Remnants, a short film by Dahveed Bullis. Launching here this Thursday, December 3. 

See you then.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (November 26, 2020)

The first session of Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee, which is now a series in which I read good poems by other people every Sunday morning.


Poems come from these books:

  • The Body's Alphabet by Ann Tweedy
  • Citizen by Claudia Rankine
  • Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke
  • The River People by Polly Buckingham
  • Plainwater by Anne Carson
  • An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Pandemic Meditations: A Pandemic Playlist by Neil Elwell

A creepy sort of greeting on this pandemic thanksgiving
Due to rising Covid cases and the predicted second wave of the pandemic, we here in Washington state, like several other states, have have returned to a modified shelter-in-place. This means that today's typical stomach-stuffing and family gatherings are postponed, cancelled, or turned into a round of Zoom and Facetime meetups. 

As a child, I didn't have a family that was big on traditional meals or large gatherings. Once married, my sister tried a few times to create a semblance of the Norman Rockwell's painting with our family and her in-laws, and it was a damn good showing (she cooked it all, and Dad would fall asleep on the floor for the rest of the afternoon, hat tipped over his eyes). Those remain a few of my childhood memories of so many family members in the same place and time. But we were never a family that could sustain a tradition that seemed so asynchronous to who we were as anxiety-riddled humans who prefer small groups, or better, our own company.

As a teenager, I spent Thanksgiving morning working at the town's fine-dining restaurant, which hosted a bountiful Thanksgiving buffet. The tips were good due to the guilt-generosity of diners who relied on us to serve their meals instead of themselves. That morning always passed fairly quickly, and since it was a buffet, it required more preparation than the deep effort and juggling that comes with menu service. And the meal afterward, my goodness (a whole table dedicated to dessert!), and shared among fellow servers and cooks . . . well, it was pretty pleasant to eat good food with equally tired friends. 

Once married, I'd attend a traditional Thanksgiving at my husband's grandparents' house. This experience was a little startling because of its ease--everyone knew the order of events, what to say, and where to sit. Afterward, the elders gathered around the TV, and the cousins met on the carport to share memories of when they were kids at this same house on this same day. I hadn't known such families existed.    

Now, my former husband, my partner, and our son gather sometime after noon to share a simple meal of soup and bread and a warm pie. Afterward, we might go on a hike or walk around the neighborhood. It is finally what makes the most sense to who I am and who we are. That we all live between 400 and 2,000 miles from our first families helps to keep the day easy and delightful. Though, when asked what my plans are for Thanksgiving, I think my plans sound off-key to the questioner--or I imagine they do, lacking as they are the crowd and commotion the day seems advertised to require. 

Thankfully, I won't have any of that.

There is much to be discovered and enjoyed when we unravel traditions, rituals, and routines. 

And so today's pandemic meditation comes from no Thanksgiving tradition. 

Today's meditation is made of music. Many of us have relied on, returned to, and replayed songs and albums that bring us the most needed emotions, memories, and mind-states as we experience these sorrowful and surreal times. There is something to be thankful for, or just simply said, about what helps us cope with, or better think about, our lives and each other. 

Thank you very much to my friend and Spokane musician Neil Elwell for taking the time to create a playlist from the music he's been listening to, as he says, in "the ugly months of 2020." 

Perhaps you'll find yourself among songs this Thanksgiving Day. 

That would be good.




Neil's Pandemic Playlist

by Neil Elwell

It would be cumbersome to write about all of the artists and music I've been listening to since the pandemic began, so I've broken it down to a few artists, albums, and tracks . . . Here ya go, Neil's Pandemic Playlist, in no particular order, a tip of the iceberg, but gems, nonetheless. (As always, your mileage may vary.)

Miles Davis' album In a Silent Way is the master's 1969 musical expression featuring keyboardists Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Chick Corea, with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, John McLaughlin on guitar, and Tony Williams on skins . . . The entire side one of the original recording is 18 minutes of bliss, called "Shhhh/Peaceful"-- and it is.

Dire Straits, with Mark Knopfler at the helm released Love Over Gold in 1982. One of several amazing cuts is "Telegraph Road," a 14 minute tour-de-force featuring Knopfler's incredible guitar work and songwriting. DS had a great feel for dynamics, and in this cut, it shows.

Richard and Linda Thompsons' release Shoot Out the Lights (also from 1982) is a soul-baring musical chronicle of the Thompsons' impending divorce, at least in part. The track I find myself singing in my head is "Walking On a Wire," which shows Richard's songwriting talents and blistering guitar.

Musical maverick Paul Simon's 1986 recording Graceland dares you to not engage in foot-tapping and maybe a little dancing around the room. The title track and most of the album features mainly South African musicians. The Everly brothers, of all people, show up to provide background vocals. Wow!!

Ry Cooder's 2013 album Corridors Famosos, recorded live at SF's Great American Music Hall is a tour of the many lands that Mr. Cooder has visited (literally and musically) throughout his career. In this record, and onstage that night, were no less than 17 musicians--with Cooder and the band at the top of their game. My favorite track: "Crazy 'bout An Automobile"

Joni Mitchell's Hits is a mainly user-friendly compilation of her radio hits up until 1990. Another recording full of great tunes, with "Big Yellow Taxi" as one of the standout tracks.

Guitarist John Williams (and others) put together a fine tribute to guitar music Spanish Guitar Music. It offers the six-string masters performing Spain's folk music at a very high level. "Fandango" here is this record's amazing piece.

Tom Waits spends a lot of time blasting out of the speakers, inside and out, here at the hovel. No wonder the neighbors think I'm "weird." Nevertheless, all of Mr. Waits's records are magnificent, especially Small Change\ from 1976. "Tom Traubert's Blues" with the "waltzing Matilda" refrain is a long piece that's just about guaranteed to stick in your mind. All hail Tom Waits, is my motto.

This is just a small sampling of what I've listened to during the ugly months of 2020. Other artists include Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Rolling Stones, Maria Muldaur, Howlin' Wolf, John Coltrane, James McMurtry, Peter Rowan, JGB, Robert Johnson, Weather Report, Earl King, Willie and Lukas Nelson, Neil Young, Django Reinhardt, Johnny Cash. Many more made it onto the turntable and into the cd player. 

It's tough and not a lot of fun, being locked down. 

Music helps. 

A lot.


Neil Elwell
Neil Elwell is a Spokane musician, guitarist, singer, and gardener. When there isn't a pandemic, he plays in the two bands Doghouse Boyz and Laffin' Bones Blues Band

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Missing in Edinburgh by Regi Claire

Every week since September, creatives of all sorts have been sharing reflections on the pandemic. This week, please welcome writer Regi Claire, who sends us these words from Scotland.


Missing in Edinburgh

by Regi Claire

flattened, photograph by MV (fa73)
from flickr, used under CC license

These past few months I have felt increasingly flat. Flat from the bottom up. From the worn soles of my purple docs to my no-appetite belly to the limp cling of my hair. Some days, my skull feels like a thinly papered room whose inhabitants have moved out and taken the furniture with them. 

My lassitude has caused time to slow down, down, down. I dream and dawdle. And yet the months since March have passed in a blur. Saturdays come round rollercoaster-fast; it feels as if my orchids and other plants need constant, rather than weekly watering. Time contracts and relaxes erratically, like a giant heart out of sync. No more rhythm to the beat. No more sense.

There has been a seismic shift in my approach to writing. I have downsized, you might say. My words now tend towards the miniature rather than the vast canvas. Composing poetry seems the answer to my scattered unsettledness. It all started one morning in May, at the height of the first wave of coronavirus infections here in the UK, when I received an email telling me that my first-ever poem, ‘(Un)certainties’, about my sister’s death at sea, had been shortlisted for the Forward Prizes, the most prestigious poetry prizes in the British Isles. I felt jolted out of myself. Buoyed up. Tearful too, because the poem had been my attempt to deal with a grief that threatened to overwhelm me. Since the arrival of that email, I have written only poetry, putting my work-in-progress, a novel-of-stories, to one side. The poems have come to me in fits and starts, between sleep and awakening, while I am brushing my teeth, putting on makeup, or walking our golden retriever.

The pandemic has made me seek out more solitary places that don’t require complicated choreographies of avoidance: during lockdown in March I discovered the large Commonwealth cemetery in our neighbourhood, where I occasionally meet with a writer friend and her puppy dog. Beneath its majestic beeches, birches, oaks, Scots pines, bushes and cherry trees – yes, with real cherries, though small and hard as marbles, fit only for the dead – rows of weathered old tombstones and recent graves extend across bumpy, root-thickened grassland. There are crows here and magpies, squirrels, owls, foxes and (so I hope) hedgehogs.

My husband reads to me when I do the cooking and the washing up. A treat of the first order. Not surprisingly perhaps, we have now fallen back on Wodehouse’s Blandings novels – a totally escapist indulgence.

I miss not being able to visit friends in their homes or welcome them to our flat. Only once was it possible to enjoy a socially distanced meal (and movie) in the house of friends. But we have been to some delightful outdoor tea parties, even in numbing temperatures, also a fantastic barbecue and several sun-dappled al-fresco summer lunches complete with white tablecloths, wine and strawberries, as perfect as any French impressionist painting. My American writer friend, who lives at the other end of the Meadows park, has promised us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner next spring, or whenever local virus restrictions permit. And we look forward to reciprocating with them all.

I miss not being able to teach face to face. For a while I ran my creative writing and critical reading groups on Skype and Zoom, but the rapport, the magic that binds people together in one room as they breathe the same air, share biscuits and cups of coffee, that atmosphere of quick-flitting glances, nods and smiles just can’t be replicated on screen. For me, online workshops, despite all the laughter and easy familiarity, can never achieve that level of intimacy. Still, many of my students are keen to resume and I have decided to run my courses again in early 2021. I know this will inspire me to read more widely, and I hope my own creativity will take off in all sorts of exciting, unexpected directions.

And I miss not being able to travel. Our annual trip to Switzerland to see family and friends was cancelled by the airline. Thanks to generous Scottish friends who offered us their fabulous pieds-à-terre further down the coast and who drove us there and back, we had a holiday all the same (we don’t own a car anymore and with our compromised immune systems would have felt uneasy staying at a hotel or guesthouse). That week of sunshine retains a brightness and intensity in my mind that seems to illuminate the whole year – and to hold within it the immensity of the sea and the sky, the joy of our retriever chasing into the surf after sticks, the soar and swoop of birds, the orange flare of the sea buckthorn above the dunes, and the breeze recharging every fibre in our bodies. 

When not writing, walking the dog, doing housework, fiddling with my iPhone or calling friends and family, I spend chunks of time administering our life so we don’t have to go to the stores. Several friends with cars have been incredibly helpful with our shopping. We live in Edinburgh’s university district, which due to its high density of student accommodation has become one of Scotland’s coronavirus hotspots, and I currently buy almost everything online: groceries, dog food, vitamins, CBD oil, red wine, toner cartridges, printer paper, books, specialist lightbulbs for the tenement stairs, a spray shower hose, a toilet seat and, just the other week, a washing machine… 

Instead of novels and thrillers, I often read product reviews, especially the bad ones. Seldom in recent weeks have I laughed as hard as when checking out one-star reviews of toilet seats. The ‘best’ one included a video, complete with sound effects, of a slow-close lid that creaked so hideously it could have come straight out of a Hammer horror movie. It made for compulsive viewing, even at one o’clock in the morning.

Today I ordered a five-star shampoo and a conditioner promising gloss and volume. Tomorrow I will get myself a new pair of docs. And then I am going to bake an apple pie from the fruit picked in the orchard of friends. I will drop off a couple of slices for them and some more for our other friends; and we will sit in their winter-ready gardens, wrapped in our padded jackets, hands round a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and catch up on life. We will eat and drink and be merry (and celebrate the outcome of the US election) even in the midst of looming Brexit and this paralysing pandemic.


Regi Claire and Leila, photo by Dawn Marie Jones (used with permission)
Regi Claire is a novelist (The Waiting, The Beauty Room), short story writer (Fighting It, Inside~Outside) and recent poet. Born and brought up in Switzerland, she now lives in Scotland with her husband, the author Ron Butlin, and their golden retriever.

Regi’s poem, ‘(Un)certainties’, won the Mslexia/Poetry Book Society Women’s Poetry Competition 2019 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prizes 2020 (for Best Single Poem). She is the winner of a UBS Cultural Foundation award and a two-time finalist for the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year awards.

Before the pandemic, Regi taught a class in creative writing at Edinburgh City Art Centre and a couple of critical reading groups, one of them at Edinburgh University.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Erin Pringle to beam into ISU's Theodore Dreiser Visiting Writer Series

Once upon a time, about twenty years ago, I was a college student living in an apartment at the back of a red brick house that shared a back alley with a bowling alley and the dumpsters for Mogger's Restaurant and the Tap Room. 

By day, I spent my time in the halls of Root Hall at Indiana State University (ISU), most often with my best friend Alexa--whether we were in class, picking up free books in boxes outside professors' offices, or smoking cigarettes on the picnic bench outside the building.

By night, I wrote in the screen light of my iMac in my kitchen, drank too much wine, and crossed the driveway to the Tap Room or to my best friend's apartment. Sometimes, I'd carry my dirty dishes to her because I hated washing dishes and she would do that for me, knowing that it was that or I'd leave them to mold then throw away.  

At the time, I didn't know how fleeting those years would be or that not every university would be as wonderful, or that not every English department kept their doors open and inviting to students. 

Of course, twenty years have passed somehow, and Alexa has died, my former professors are retired, teaching elsewhere, or in the grave. A few of the stories I wrote in the Creative Writing classes appear in my first book, The Floating Order ("Losing, I Think"; "Wednesday Night Reflections, Edited Thursday"; and "Remember Ella"), and the initial idea for my newest novel (Hezada! I Miss You) was seeding itself.

One of my favorite departmental events was the "Always on Friday" presentations at which professors shared what they were working on--and, bonus, there'd be doughnuts in the kitchen. 

Another perk was the Creative Writing Department's Theodore Dreiser Visiting Writer Series, wherein the department would bring writers to campus to talk with the students and share their own work. 

I'm happy to say that now I'll be on the other side of the podium, virtual as that podium may be. And I hope you can make it.

As much as I desperately wish I could be there in person, and that you could be there in person, we know what times we live in, so we must be together virtually. 

The event is free and open to the public, whether you live in, near, or far from Terre Haute, Indiana and the ISU campus.