Christian Charm Workbook reading at Lit Crawl


Seattle Public Libraries‘ librarians are wizards. These public servants outpace algorithms and understand the contours of research. My librarians have unlocked family secretes in the Genealogy Library and Seattle Room at the Central Branch downtown, sending me on a fascinating adventure down the research rabbit hole of roots and religion. I will present some of these findings, along with maps, old photos, new cartoons, and songs, at Lit Crawl this Thursday, October 22, 7:00 PM at Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave, Seattle.


Here’s a map of the whole big Lit Crawl. I wish I could be in several places at once for this event – but I’ll be starting out at the Frye at 6:00 for Native Writers from Seattle and Beyond, then stick with myself at 7:00, and sprint over to Sole Repair at 8:00 to catch Poetry Northwest’s reading. #whatsyourcrawl

Seattle Lit Crawl 2015: Seattle Review of Books itinerary for people who hate readings

The Seattle Review of Books recommends you come to my Lit Crawl reading at The Frye Art Museum Thursday, October 22 at 7:00 PM.

On Thursday, October 22nd, Lit Crawl Seattle is bringing you readings from more than 65 authors at 20 different venues. The full schedule of events is a little bit daunting. How are you supposed to choose three readings out of this embarassment of riches? Let the Seattle Review of Books help! Here’s our third suggested itinerary:

If you’re sick and tired of “traditional” readings, where someone stands up and talks about their book for fifteen minutes, Lit Crawl’s got you covered.

1. At Capitol Cider, Seattle Public Library librarians David Wright and Andrea Gough will present a cider flight, along with readings to go with each of the ciders. Gough and Wright are wonderful readers, and they’re likely to uncover some real gems for this event. Plus, drinking with librarians is always a lot of fun.

2. At the Frye Art Museum, Rachel Kessler will present a slideshow performance of Christian Charm Workbook, “her multimedia memoir about growing up with the Jesus movement in 1970s Seattle.” Kessler is a great local writer, and she always finds some interesting ways to incorporate other media and performance into her work.

3. It’s back to Capitol Cider for you, where Book-It Repertory Theater will perform a segment of their adaptation of David James Duncan’s brilliant novel Brothers K, which is a retelling of The Brothers Karamazov set in Washington state.

James Tate “The challenge is always to find the ultimate in the ordinary horseshit.”

James Tate died on Wednesday. He wrote a poem called “South End” that begins: “The challenge is always to find the ultimate in the ordinary horseshit.”

Charles Simic interviewed Tate in the Paris Review. Simic asks, “There is such a strong belief that tragedy is a higher form, that comedy is a low, temporary distraction, and that great literature must be solemn. What is the subversive quality in humor that everyone is worried about?” Tate said:

Most people don’t have a sense of humor in the first place. So if they find themselves laughing at the end of an experience, they are almost distrustful of themselves—like, what happened to me? Today, for instance, on the tragedy side we could easily be talking about the hideous effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, or we could be talking about the Iraq war. But we can go out tonight and hear a great jazz band. We could spend a night with friends, laughing and drinking and toasting and saying how wonderful life is. Simultaneously, we all know that we’re enshrouded in tragedy, lies, and all kinds of evil. Torture, for God’s sake! And heaps of evil beyond what we can contemplate, and yet life is wonderful for those of us who haven’t been directly affected. So we walk around balancing the two all the time. I, for one, am not giving in. I am not going to walk around in tears all day long. I still want to have a good day if I can.

In my poems, I try—God knows, probably unsuccessfully—to bring that home. There’s a poem in my last book, “A Clean Hit,” where suddenly a bomb falls out of the sky and blows up this person’s house. And all of the neighbors come running down and they’re saying, “What the hell happened?” The guy whose house got bombed says, “Well, I voted for this president. They shouldn’t be targeting me.” They’re all trying to figure out what they did and what they didn’t do that could have caused this bomb to drop. Some of them think it’s a mistake. They say, “It happens all the time. Those reports pass through so many hands, by the time they reach the top somebody has gotten the address wrong.” So you can still have fun with the horror.

I was at a reading at U Mass-Amherst while on tour with Wave Books’ Poetry Bus when I heard Tate read “How the Pope is Chosen,” which permanently altered my brain.

How the Pope is Chosen

James Tate

Any poodle under ten inches high is a toy.
Almost always a toy is an imitation
of something grown-ups use.
Popes with unclipped hair are called “corded popes.”
If a Pope’s hair is allowed to grow unchecked,
it becomes extremely long and twists
into long strands that look like ropes.
When it is shorter it is tightly curled.
Popes are very intelligent.
There are three different sizes.
The largest are called standard Popes.
The medium-sized ones are called miniature Popes.
I could go on like this, I could say:
“He is a squarely built Pope, neat,
well-proportioned, with an alert stance
and an expression of bright curiosity,”
but I won’t. After a poodle dies
all the cardinals flock to the nearest 7-Eleven.
They drink Slurpies until one of them throws up
and then he’s the new Pope.
He is then fully armed and rides through the wilderness alone,
day and night in all kinds of weather.
The new Pope chooses the name he will use as Pope,
like “Wild Bill” or “Buffalo Bill.”
He wears red shoes with a cross embroidered on the front.
Most Popes are called “Babe” because
growing up to become a Pope is a lot of fun.
All the time their bodies are becoming bigger and stranger,
but sometimes things happen to make them unhappy.
They have to go to the bathroom by themselves,
and they spend almost all of their time sleeping.
Parents seem incapable of helping their little popes grow up.
Fathers tell them over and over again not to lean out of windows,
but the sky is full of them.
It looks as if they are just taking it easy,
but they are learning something else.
What, we don’t know, because we are not like them.
We can’t even dress like them.
We are like red bugs or mites compared to them.
We think we are having a good time cutting cartoons out of the paper,
but really we are eating crumbs out of their hands.
We are tiny germs that cannot be seen under microscopes.
When a Pope is ready to come into the world,
we try to sing a song, but the words do not fit the music too well.
Some of the full-bodied popes are a million times bigger than us.
They open their mouths at regular intervals.
They are continually grinding up pieces of the cross
and spitting them out. Black flies cling to their lips.
Once they are elected they are given a bowl of cream
and a puppy clip. Eyebrows are a protection
when the Pope must plunge through dense underbrush
in search of a sheep.

Kendrick Lamar In the Classroom

I am a Writer-In-Residence at Washington Middle School, a public school in Seattle’s Central District, through Seattle Arts & Lectures‘ Writers In the Schools (WITS) program. Inspired by the discussions the 7th grade students at Washington Middle School were having around race and police violence after we read Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again,” and my own obsessive listening to Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly, and Brian Mooney’s “Why I Dropped Everything and Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album” article, I decided to use this album as a poetry writing prompt. In class we listened to the last two minutes of the last track on the album, “Mortal Man.” Towards the end of “Mortal Man” Lamar interviews Tupac from beyond the grave by using excerpts of Tupac’s answers from a 1994 interview. This track concludes with Lamar reading Tupac a poem. He prefaces it by saying it describes his world. I gave students a copy of this to read along as we listened to it together, encouraging them to write all over their copy, to talk back to the text with their annotations.

Excerpt from “Mortal Man”

By Kendrick Lamar

The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it

Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it,

in order to protect itself from this mad city

While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive

One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly

The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness,

and the beauty within the caterpillar

But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak

and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits

Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon

which institutionalizes him

He can no longer see past his own thoughts

He’s trapped

When trapped inside these walls certain ideas take roots such going home,

and bringing back new concepts to this mad city

The result?

Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant

Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar

never considered, ending the internal struggle

Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different,

they are one and the same.

Students worked in small groups to de-code this extended metaphor. They asked questions and broke down what they thought Lamar was talking about. What do the caterpillar and the butterfly represent? What is the institution he refers to? Is there a message he is trying to get across? I encouraged them to disassemble the poem like does with song lyrics. Each group presented their interpretations, explaining how they reached their conclusions, and answering questions from their classmates. We spent quite a bit of time discussing all their different ideas and how an extended metaphor works.

After this discussion, we read Terrance Hayes’ “The Carpenter Ant”.



It was when or because she became two kinds

of mad, both a feral nail biting into a plank

and a deranged screw cranking into a wood beam,

the aunt—I shouldn’t say her name,

went at the fullest hour of the night,

the moon there like an unflowered bulb

in a darkness like mud, or covered in darkness

as a bulb or skull is covered in mud,

the small brown aunt who, before she went mad,

taught herself to carpenter and unhinged,

in her madness, the walls she claimed

were bugged with a tiny red-eyed device

planted by the State or Satan’s agents, ghosts

of atheists, her foes, or worse, the walls

were full of the bugs she believed crawled

from her former son-in-law’s crooked mouth,

the aunt, who knows as all creatures know,

you have to be rooted in something tangible

as wood if you wish to dream in peace,

took her hammer with its claw like a mandible

to her own handmade housing humming,

“I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,”

softly madly, and I understood, I was with her

when the pallbearers carried a box

made of mahogany from her church to a hearse

to a hole in the earth, it made me think

of the carpenter ant who carries within its blood

an evolved self-destructive property, and on its face

mandibles twice the size of its body,

and can carry on its back, as I have seen on tv,

a rotted bird or branch great distances

to wherever the queen is buried–Kingdom:

Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, Tribe: Camponotini,

the species that lives on wood is, like mud, rain,

and time, the carpenter’s enemy, yes,

but I would love to devour the house I live in

until it is a permanent part of me,

I would love to shape, as Perumthachan,

the master sculptor, carpenter and architect

of India is said to have shaped, a beautiful tree

into the coffin in which I am to be buried,

I know whatever we place in a coffin, the coffin

remains empty, I know nothing buried is buried,

I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,

I don’t know why God keeps blessing me.
Individual students then tried out a few metaphors of their own with the extended metaphor prompts below. We tried comparing our neighborhoods to a thing or an animal that seems to embody it. We compared a person’s voice or movements to that of an animal or object. We described an abstractions, a feeling or situation, by comparing it to a tangible thing.


Kendrick Lamar and Terrance Hayes compare people and situations they are in to insects, cocoons, coffins, and trees to illustrate their experience. The word metaphor comes from the Latin metaphora which means “to carry over.” A metaphor “carries over” the idea of one thing to another. (BONUS question: Do you know another word that begins with meta-? And happens in Kendrick Lamar’s poem!)


If your neighborhood were an animal, what animal (mammal or insect or bird or reptile) would it be?

My neighborhood is a ______________________________________________________

because  _________________________________________________________________


Terrance Hayes compares his aunt (a human) to an ant (the creature). Think of someone you know well. What animal does her/his voice remind you of? What kind of animal does s/he move or behave like?

My ________________________ is a ___________________________________________

Her/his voice reminds me of __________________________________________________

S/he moves like ____________________________________________________________


Poets use metaphors to illustrate and describe a concept, such as loneliness or hope:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high over vales and hills”

–William Wordsworth


“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches on the soul—

And sings the tune without the words—

And never stops—at all…”

–Emily Dickinson

What are you feeling—anger, admiration, respect, thanks, bewilderment? What object or non-human animal could represent this feeling, (be a mascot for it)? If you are feeling friendly, maybe you can write as the potato sprouting eyes. Shy or threatened? –perhaps try writing as a roly-poly bug.

What concept or feeling could these things be metaphors for?

a rattlesnake                   a potato                    a hippo                       a mailbox                   a maggot                        a wolf                        your sneaker              a roly-poly                  a spinning top                 a lost sock

My ______________________________ is a __________________________________ (feeling)                                                         (animal or thing)

EXTEND your metaphor – continue writing in the voice of one of these things you have compared your neighborhood, or a person you know, or a concept to. Ask yourself:

How did you come about? _______________________________________________

What has your life been like? _____________________________________________

What are some things you like, or dislike? Why? _____________________________

What sounds do you make? ______________________________________________

How do you move or change? ____________________________________________

Now take this PRE-WRITE and use the images and ideas you came up with to write a poem using your EXTENDED METAPHOR. It may rhyme or not. Use the space below and more paper if you need it. GO!


Extended Metaphors from Ms Lockenvitz’s 7th graders:


“My neighborhood is a raccoon

because everyone comes out at night.”


“My neighborhood is an owl

it’s sailboats’ soft “woo-woo” in the dead of the night.”


“My neighborhood is a spiderweb—


they are everywhere, like, everywhere—

connected by the simplicity and beauty.”


“My neighborhood is a cricket

because it’s quiet then has sudden loud noises



“My neighborhood is a pack of dogs.

We are quiet until you approach us.”


“My neighborhood is a bird’s nest

because it has lots of construction—

the birds taking out old sticks

and replacing them with new.”



“My sister is a snake, not scared of anything.

Her voice reminds me of a loud shriek

she moves like a slithering, sneaking

to kill with her shrieking voice.

“My sister is a scorpion.

Her voice reminds me of a cackling rooster.

She moves like a cobra, silver, slithering

ready to attack.”


“My sister is an elephant.

Her voice reminds me of the slam of a locker.

She moves like an unwinding scroll.”


“My friend is a rat, a quiet, noisy,

annoyed little rat. Her voice

a squeaky toy.”


“My mother is a bald eagle—

her voice reminds me of an eagle calling out to her babies.

She moves swiftly into danger,

she moves fast and loud to protect.”



“My calm feeling is a roly-poly, minding its own business.”


“My curiousity is a leaf

discovering the world.”


“My boredom is a lost sock under my bed waiting to be found.”


“My anger

is a rattlesnake


through the earth, scratching

my head, thinking my life

is such a mystery.

I see the green figure,
I flip into a ditch

and slaughter her throat.”


“My regret is an alarm clock.”


“Nostalgia is a fleeting Monarch butterfly.

It pops out of the blue and flutters in your stomach. It materializes…then fades…”


Christian Charm Workbook on Vashon Island

I’ll be reading an illustrated essay from Christian Charm Workbook my work-in-progress memoir, with local literary luminaries Merna Ann Hecht, Janie Elizabeth Miller, and Liz Shepherd, and special musical guests Kat Eggleston, Charles Reed, and Michael Whitmore this Friday, May 29 at 7:00 PM at the Hastings-Cone Gallery, adjacent to Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe at 17817 Vashon Highway, Vashon Island, WA.

This multi-media project was supported, in part, by an award from 4Culture and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. It is free and open to the public.

Read about it in The Vashon Loop and The Vashon Beachcomber.

Zacheous In the Tree

(Zacchaeus In the Tree Halloween Costume, 1980)

From the press release:

In the vein of Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, Christian Charm Workbook chronicles Rachel Kessler’s experience being raised by Jesus People in 1970s Seattle. From speaking in tongues to discovering riot grrl punk rock feminism to unionizing day care workers, she searches for the communal high, while battling the patriarchy and her own demons. Poet Sierra Nelson describes it as “Boyhood meets Girls with Judy Blume as fairy godmother, plus ecstatic dancing and speaking in tongues.” It is a personal account of adolescent brain science and spirituality: Kessler examines the intersection of religion and puberty, and the way this heightened state of being shapes our perception, drawing on new findings in neuroscience about the teenage brain and old stories of saints and other spiritual seekers who began having visions around the onset of puberty. This book is a meditation on failure, and ultimately, mercy.


Rachel Kessler has been writing and presenting literary performance art based in Seattle and King County for over 17 years. For the first time in her career she is writing about growing up in Seattle and its suburbs. Her family came to the northwest as Klondikers and were active members of the Jewish community in Seattle’s central district. Activists and self-described hippies, her parents converted to their own unique brand of Pentecostal Christianity known as Jesus People, cultural radicals who were deeply involved in local 1960s and ‘70s folk and rock music scene. Raising her own kids in low income housing 5 blocks from the hospital she was born in, Kessler founded literary performance art collaborations Typing Explosion and Vis-à-Vis Society, hell-bent on actively engaging audiences in the act of creating poetry.

Her work has appeared in USA Today, Narrative Magazine, The Stranger, Tin House, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, The Open Daybook, Henry Art Gallery, Frye Art Museum, and elsewhere. She has worked as a food critic, houseboy, teacher in homeless shelters and juvenile detention, revolutionary poet-secretary performance artist, and fake scientist. Christian Charm Workbook was recently awarded a Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs CityArtist award and a King County 4Culture grant. A 2008-2014 Writer-in Residence at Seattle Arts & Lectures, Kessler is also a Whiteley Scholar, and served as artist faculty at Centrum, University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories fellow, and guest lecturer at the UW Rome Center.

Merna Ann Hecht, a long time Vashon resident, founded and co-directs the Stories of Arrival Refugee and Immigrant Youth Voices Poetry Project at Foster High School in Tukwila. She also teaches creative writing and humanities at the University of WA, Tacoma. As a poet, essayist, teaching artist and storyteller, the focus of her work and writing is on the meeting place between art and social justice.


Janie Elizabeth Miller is a poet & essayist living on a small organic farm on Vashon Island, WA. She won the Grand Prize for the Eco Arts Awards in 2014 & was a finalist for’s 2013 poetry contest. Janie directs poetry studies at the University of Washington in Tacoma & teaches at Richard Hugo House. Her work explores the environmental imagination, the artist as activist & ways to use naturalism (the senses & spirit!) to access greater worldhood. Her work can be found at Poecology,, CURA, Cimarron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics, Five Fingers Review. She has a chapbook forthcoming from alice blue books.

Vashon resident Liz Shepherd is a Seattle arts administrator, country music deejay for Voice of Vashon and the creator of an imaginary one-woman show called ‘Scarred for Life,’ about her adventures in a 20-year career as the director of two international children’s film festivals.

Paul Constant on LitHub “Denise Levertov Should Be More Famous: How Do You Immortalize a WIllfully Uncategorizable Poet?”

“And I walked naked

from the beginning

breathing in

my life,

breathing out


arrogant in innocence.”

            –from “A Cloak

Read this piece by Paul Constant NOW.

Constant compares Levertov’s poem “Zest” to death metal, which fills me with such joy. He writes, “with her precision and her enthusiasm, she’s drawing you close with her confessions and as you lean in to hear those whispered truths, you realize that she’s gently turning your body until you’re both staring in the same direction.”

Levertov’s “confessional” poetry also engaged with the political and moral landscape. “Levertov argued with Duncan and with anyone who claimed that poets should not be giving speeches at protests; her outrage was an inextricable part of her humanity, so why should she deny it?”