Friday, February 17, 2017

A Room of One's Own

Sitting at my desk at the Marion Davies Guest House this blustery February day, watching palm trees dance frantically in the rain and processions of waves race onto the shore, I am reminded of Virginia Woolf's 1928 essay, "A Room of One's Own." Woolf argued for the solitude that every writer needs. What made her plea so revolutionary, however, was that she was speaking as a woman writer offering a vision of creative solitude to other women who had much less of it or felt they had no right to claim it. Whether her readers had a passion for writing was only one part of the equation; the other was the essential need for independence—the sense of freedom that can only be had, paradoxically, by taking refuge in a private room with a door that can be closed, and (perish the thought) even locked.

Slightly more than halfway through my residency, with scarcely a month to go, and having spent the majority of the past five weeks writing poems in this "room of my own," I am filled with gratitude and wonder at what a difference such a space can make.

This week, while preparing for the second event of my residency, a solo reading of my chapbook-in-progress, "Fugue for a New Life," Tuesday evening, February 21, I came to realize how much I have been able to accomplish here. Of the fifteen poems I will be reading, at least half of them were either written or substantially revised during my residency. And now, in the process of sequencing them, I can see from a broader perspective where this collection is going. I knew it was a book of love poems at its core, but now I see another thread, perhaps influenced by the theme of my weekly workshop and also last month's public reading, "Poetry and the Art of Listening." That thread is listening itself—an essential aspect love, or so it seems.

So thank you, Annenberg Community Beach House, the City of Santa Monica's Cultural Affairs Department, and everyone there who has made my Writer's Residency possible, for allowing me to occupy this lovely "room of my own" for this rare and cherished period of time. I will aim to make the most of it until March 14!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

From the Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division:

If you'd like a flyer about Beach House Writer-in-Residence Dinah Berland and her activities, you can download one here. Please forward to your friends!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Where Do Poems Come From?

On the second floor of the stately Marion Davies Guest House, the door to the Artist in Residence Office generally remains closed (except for office hours, Friday, 11 am–1 pm). So what's going on in there? you might wonder.

If you had X-ray vision, you would most likely see me either scribbling away in my writing journal, drafting something new, or, later in the day, typing up that morning's draft or revising an earlier poem that has been "ripening" for a while. Most poems require a little breathing room to reveal themselves to the fullest, and returning to something drafted days or weeks ago, or even longer, tends to offer new perspectives and ideas. 

Sometimes I will pull out a poem that has been sitting in my files for so long I don't remember having written it. At best, this can be an exciting discovery, a chance to shape raw material into something new. If the poem doesn't call to me, that's OK, too. There are always others where that one came from.... Where would that be? you ask. The answer sounds too easy, but it's true: Poems can come from absolutely anywhere: a passing thought, an overheard phrase, a dream, a memory, a piece of music, something read, something noticed on the street, the ocean smashing against the shore outside my office window (yes, I do see a corner of paradise out there!)—or any combination of these. It could be an idea that arises spontaneously, a thought that has been pursuing me for days, or a phrase from an unfinished poem that suggests a new one. 

The latter bit of serendipity happened recently, on my way home from a day spent working on several things, none of which caught fire. One of these was a poem about my lifelong love of dancing. I had decided by the end of the day to try a "list poem," cataloguing the various periods when dance played a part in my life—from my first dance class as a child to the nights as a young mother many years ago, when I would habitually spend Friday nights dancing barefoot on a wood floor at Dance Home, above the Radio Shack on Santa Monica Blvd. 

One of the episodes I listed took place in my first year of college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I was an art student and budding jazz fan. I especially enjoyed hanging out with the jazz musicians, who occasionally invited me to their jam sessions and private parties, including a memorable evening line dancing at a shack on the outskirts of town. 

As I was exiting the freeway that evening after spinning circles around that dance poem, I noticed a license-plate frame on the car immediately in front of me that said, "I Would Rather Be / Line Dancing." What's the chance of that?! I immediately realized that I needed to drop the rest of the poem and concentrate on that experience alone. "Thank you!" I said aloud to the anonymous driver I was following. How perfect, since "line dancing" is essentially what a poem does. 

So if you come to my public reading at the Beach House on Tuesday evening, February 21, you will hear me read "Line Dancing" and know exactly where that poem came from: a distant memory and a surprising encounter with a license-plate frame—because poems can come from anywhere.


Here are the three events associated with my writer's residency. All of them are on Tuesday nights, from 6:30 to 8 pm, at the Annenberg Community Beach House, and all require RSVP. You are warmly invited to attend any or all of them!

January 31: Poetry Reading featuring Teresa Mei Chuc, Daniel Romo, and Billy Burgos, followed by a discussion on poetry and the art of listening, moderated by Dinah Berland. 

February 21: Dinah Berland, reading from her book-in-progress, "Fugue for a New Life" 

March 7: Poetry reading by the Camera Obscura Poets (world premiere)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Beach in Winter—What a Spot for a Writer!

The beach in winter is amazing! The ocean has its own steely character, deep blue with sparkling highlights; the cyclists are more dedicated; and the light—well, the slanted light over the ocean is glorious, even through scattered rainclouds.

Yesterday was my first day as Writer in Residence at the Annenberg Community Beach House. If you have never been here before, you are in for a lovely surprise, rain or shine—even without taking a dip in the pool (which is closed for the winter). Whether you are a writer, a reader, or just curious about what poets do at residencies, you are warmly invited to stop by the Marion Davies Guest House this Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and every Friday through March 10 for a conversation. You might also want to avail yourself of a docent tour of this historic house, built for the actress Marion Davies by her longtime companion, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. 

Bring a favorite poem, and I'll show you some of mine! We can talk about any aspect of poetry that interests you, and you are welcome to ask me about my book in progress or anything else you've always wanted to know about poetry but were afraid to ask. 

Hope to see you this Friday—which is forecast to be sunny, by the way!—or any other Friday for the next eight weeks.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Annenberg Community Beach House welcomes poet Dinah Berland as incoming Writer-in-Residence (tenure: January 10 – March 14, 2017.) Berland focuses on the idea of “Poetry and the Art of Listening,” and will be presenting monthly public events at the Beach House under this theme. Her residency project is to finish work on a chapbook of poems, titled Fugue for a New Life. Berland’s monthly events are augmented with an ongoing workshop at the Camera Obscura, weekly public office hours at the Beach House (Fridays from 11am-1pm,) and regular blog postings at The public is welcome to visit Berland during her office hours to discuss literary matters and the residency experience, or check out the blog to ask questions or leave comments online.

Dinah Berland
is a widely published poet and book editor with a background in art. Her poems have appeared in more than two dozen journals, including The Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, New Letters, and Ploughshares, and are included in many anthologies. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College, received an Individual Artist’s Fellowship in Poetry from the California Arts Council, and won an international poetry prize from the Atlanta Review. Her book Hours of Devotion (Schocken, 2007) is a verse adaptation of the first (1855) full-length book of Jewish prayers "written by a woman for women."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Week Four: Celebration!

Opening night is finally here! A wise mentor once told me that celebration is as important as preparation. There's always ups and down on any journey- but the fact that you've arrived at all is a fact worth celebrating! It also allows us to mark the occasion and honor the work and preparation it took to get there- important things for our self-confidence and mental well-being. And what better way to celebrate than share the product of our labors with you!

Everyone is extremely excited to get to perform We (or Us) for an audience. As we were putting the final touches on the piece over the last week, it became evident that the last missing ingredient was you. You're the real breath of life, the lightning bolt that gives energy to our creations. We can only do so much for empty chairs- it's the energy that you share with us that allows us to make the best art we can. So come share We (or Us) with us, and let's celebrate the moment and all the moments that make this life special together!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Week Three: Balance

We (or Us) is shaping up nicely. As we rapidly approach our opening, every rehearsal seems to advance the show leaps and bounds, and new challenges lie around every corner. It never ceases to amaze me how the more you know and practice something, the more familiar you become with an art or activity, the more you realize how much more there is to learn.

A particularly striking lesson made itself apparent a couple days ago. We were working on a piece which features two duets happening on different levels of the house. Both couples knew the choreography and danced beautifully, but there were moments when they were out of sync; that is, moments of imbalance in the stage picture. As one couple has more leeway to move than the other, the immediate solution seemed to be to adjust their floor pattern to compliment the other, more stationary pair. However, there remained a moment that proved to be troublesome- no matter where we placed or moved the mobile couple, the picture just didn't seem right. Then it hit me- move the more confined couple just slightly. We did, and the picture immediately found its balance. The moment reminded me that sometimes, all that is needed to rediscover balance is a small shift in perspective. Pushing the boundary of percieved possiblity ever so slightly presented a solution to the problem. The same principle applies to many aspects of our lives- often, all we need to grasp goals just beyond our reach is a re-evaluation of situation, to turn a "can't" into a "maybe". Whether it's trying to balance on top of another person, a stage picture, a checkbook, or a relationship, changing the way you perceive the circumstances allows for more creative and successful solutions.

All of us here at Post Mortem can't wait to share We (or Us) with you! See you next week!