Wednesday, December 30, 2009
While there is some debate about when the decade actually ends, which leads to some complicated thinking about the nature of 0 and 1 and calendars and who started counting when...I'm taking this time to reflect on the end of the 200_'s.
In the fall of 1999, I entered the MFA program at the University of Arkansas, and that made all the difference. [Brief backstory: I graduated from undergrad in 1989 and spent most of the 1990's moving cross country five times. My 20's were fraught with relationship drama the likes of which I hope never to see again, and by the time I was nearing the end of the 90's I'd all but stopped writing. Finally, I ended the relationship and applied for grad school.]
The program at Fayetteville is four years, so that's a good part of the decade. In my time there I experienced many highs and lows and found out that workshop really wasn't for me. However, the blessing of four years with much writing time paid off. I saw my first publications in national journals and filled in many gaps in my reading. I also had the good fortune to solidify several friendships that continue to enrich my poetry life today.
After grad school, I met the man I'd later marry and the drama of my relationship days gradually subsided, which turned out to be a wonderful thing for my work. I'm the kind of writer who thrives on stability...a routine...and the constant support of people who love me even if I get three rejections in one day! In June of 2006, Blood Almanac arrived on my doorstep two weeks before C and I were married. Wow!
Now, as we reach the beginning of 2010, my second book is making its way around the publisher's circuit looking for a home. I am not a prolific writer, but I am persistent...perhaps plodding...a bit of a tortoise, I guess, rather than the hare...although I envy the hare its bursts of productivity. I've settled into a teaching job that might not have been my first choice, but that provides the stability I need and a steady income (praise be!). If you look at the sidebar for older posts, you will see that something finally clicked this fall about the balance of teaching and writing and what I want this blog to do. I'm so thankful to say that I'm perched on the precipice of 2010 with much more confidence and joy than I've ever known before.
Thanks to all of you who stop and read this blog! I hope to see more of you in the new year.
Thanks to Karen Weyant for posting about this group that has formed over at Goodreads. Here's what Karen has to say: "... for those of you on Goodreads — a 2010 Poetry Readers Challenge Group has been started. The object is to read at least 20 books of poetry in the year 2010 and complete brief reviews of these books."
I joined the group and posted a list this morning. One of my resolutions was to do more with Goodreads and She Writes...so another thanks to Karen for prompting me to get going on that.
38º and overcast, dreary, light rain/mist
Here are two poems that I absolutely love this morning.
Katy Didden's poem "Nest" made the best-of on Verse Daily. (I might have posted this back when it originally appeared, but it is definitely worth a re-read.)
This week's poem at Linebreak continues their great run. Check out Michelle Bitting's "Little Red Car" and click to listen to Arkansas alum Brian Spears read it.
I met Mary Biddinger's 3 poems before 2010 challenge yesterday. First, I forced an ugly duckling set of lines into the world...the usual result when I try to write on a deadline, but all that ugliness disgusted me, so I turned to my inspiration cards and voila...a new draft emerged. This is the card I used yesterday. The draft is called "Assets & Heirs."
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
39º and bright, shining sun
Due to the huge stack of books waiting to be read, and the drafting I want to do today, here are two mini-mini-reviews, rather than my longer take on books of poetry.
I can't remember where I first read about Shaindel Beers' A Brief History of Time, but I do remember her being referred to as a Midwest poet or a rural poet or something along those lines that peaked my interest. Beers' book is not a book that romanticizes the rural, working-class world, but one that forces us to look at the ultra-real details of a life begun in rural poverty, a life that progresses into the educated, urban, middle-class and all the mixed feelings that progression evokes. Race, class, & gender are at work in nearly every poem.
My four favorite poems from the collection are:
"Elegy for a Past Life"
"Rebuttal Evidence" that begins this way
Because I've been loving in my own way all along,
just today, on the drive home from work on that stretch of 12
that still slices through the cornfields...
"Overview of the Carbon Cycle"
"What Will We Do With You? This Bone Has Almost No Flesh Protecting It--" (my favorite) begins
But I am like any porcelain doll, waiting to be destroyed
by a hammer. Brothers do these things
to incite the cries of their sisters. They think
This is power. Someday they will learn that power
is smiling gleefully up at the anvil.
I read about Beckian Fritz Goldberg in an interview with another poet, exactly whom I've now forgotten. It turned out that I had an anthology with several of Goldberg's poems in it, which I read and which inspired me to check out Lie Awake Lake. In this book there are poems that beautifully weave the landscape with the body of the speaker. The poems illuminate loss and grief and, from time to time, joy and celebration.
I once had a student who did not like the use of questions in contemporary poetry, but one of my favorite poems of Goldberg's does just that (and I must confess I like to question in my poems as well). Here's the start of "Question As Part of the Body"
The essential question --
what do we ache for, what do we need, how do we get it?
or rephrased: How do we not die?
How do we not see question as
part of the body?
Pain as. Light as.
Other favorites include:
"Blossom at the End of the Body"
And I'll leave you with "Reliquary"
The lid sighed backward
it was a perfect fit
with the scent of laburnum and saints
as if the box, open,
addressed the physical world
the box being a snapdragon
in the hands
of the blossom thief: the boy in
the hands of a future
what if he saw tonight
the firecracker thrown in the corner store
busting open a box of chili powder
smoke and red dust
and suddenly we're all breathing in
desire and repulsion
because the open takes
something from us, but
Mr. Eros, you
ain't got a finger to stand on
not like a female saint
whose thumb is a shrine,
upright and petrified and guarded
by glass, permanently
testing the inner
Support poetry! Buy or Borrow a copy of these books today!
A Brief History of Time
Salt Publishing, 2009
Beckian Fritz Goldberg
Lie Awake Lake
Oberlin College Press, 2005
New Year's Eve will feature a blue moon, which has nothing really to do with color (or poetry for that matter). Read all about it here and prepare for more craziness than usual on the night in question.
Sara Tracey's blog has a link to her poems currently appearing in Arsenic Lobster, which are awesome and should be read posthaste, and a great video about students of today in higher education.
True Confession: I have neither read Little Women nor seen any movie version. After watching last night's PBS biography, I am now an ardent fan of Louisa May Alcott.
Over Xmas, I read the latest issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics (Issue 12), which features a look at lyric poetry in its Poetics section. The questions posed to a selection of poets and critics were these: "What happened to the lyrical poem in contemporary American poetry? Why is it disappearing? How has the lyric lost prominence?"
Being most inclined to the lyric, I was a bit stunned by the questions; as it turns out, I was not alone. Most of the responses included some argument against the questions themselves. Greg Orr's answer rocks! He discusses the foundational documents of different cultures that define the nature of poetry and points out that "In China and Japan both these documents stress the connection between individual feeling and the world that surrounds the self... ." Orr goes on to point out that the Western world does not have such foundational documents for the lyric and discusses Plato, Aristotle, and Wordsworth's "Preface," all three of whom I'd thought of as Orr outlined the Eastern documents. Orr does admit that the lyric may be out of fashion. Really? What say you, gentle readers?
Carolyn Moore discusses the need to break up long sequences of lyrics with some narratives or dramatic monologues, especially at readings. She gives me much to think about and a new reason to re-read the manuscript and check out how many pure lyrics I've strung together.
There are many more responses that add to the discussion, but I'll leave it up to you to buy the issue or find it at your library if you want to read along. I'll leave you with this from Noel Pabillo Mariano, "[P]oetry as a whole is undergoing a transformation where genres are being broken."
Monday, December 28, 2009
After several days of being with the extended family at my in-laws, lots of fun, storytelling, and general good times, it is nice to return to our own home and fall back into our routines. The sun is spilling over my left shoulder onto my desk (an oak dining table with a honey stain) and I'm surrounded once again by books and journals and more to read than I can accomplish in the brief time of the break that remains....but that's a blessing.
I have one more draft to write before Friday, and we are hosting a small New Year's Eve celebration this year, so I better get it written in the next three days!
Just a few links to get back in sync with my world, and more to come tomorrow or the next.
Reb Livingston has this great post about turning 37 and how every year in her 30's has gotten better. Heare! Heare! I concur with much abandon. While this post is non-poetry related, it stuck to me today b/c in about two weeks I'll be celebrating a birthday that will mark the beginning of the end of my 30's. It's been an amazing decade!
Of poetry note: Karen Weyant has two great lists: best poetry books of 2009 and best chapbooks of 2009. Check out these lists. I've got a bunch of new titles to scribble down on my to-read list.
Until the morrow! May you continue to enjoy the holidays in whatever fashion works for you.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
52º and unending rain
I wanted to wish everyone Happy Holidays with a great picture of our decorations; however, what you get instead is this picture of Lou-Lou, the cat who stole Christmas. Lou-Lou's favorite activity is knocking things off shelves and counters. No ornament or light would survive her desire to play.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
54º and steady rain, backyard puddle/pond in existence
I've been trying to keep to Mary Biddinger's challenge of 3 new poems before the new year.
Today, I drafted my second of the three. It is a Kwansaba, with many thanks to Saeed Jones for his post about this form. This is a new form for me. According to Jones' post, the Kwansaba was created alongside the creation of Kwanzaa and is a poem of praise. The form requires a seven line poem, each line of seven words, with no word longer than seven letters. Jones blogged about using this form with a workshop for school children. After working with Writers in the Schools at the U of A for four years, I still think about what assignments would work well for K-12 students, and this one seems like a sure thing. I may even use it in my college-level creative writing class this spring. (Jones' post contains one of his own Kwansabas, and I hope you'll take the time to check it out.)
In any case, I sat down with the intention of drafting today, in order to meet Mary's challenge, but I needed a focal point, something to get me started. I'd printed off the above post to take up to school with me in January, and it was sitting there on my desk, so I decided what the heck? Casting around for something to praise, what did I settle on but THE PRAIRIE...big surprise there! I thought I could just zip through seven lines and be done. Check another draft off the challenge list. Not so. As Jones hints at in his post, the form requires you to slow down and weigh each word, each letter almost and justify its existence in the poem. It also requires you to zero in on some SPECIFIC part of the thing/person/etc that you are praising (I typed prizing there first...cool). This is one of the reasons I think this will work well in class. Another benefit for me is that the poem is so short that when I was finished with the draft I wanted to write more, more, more just like it. (Of course, knowing that there's a long road of revision ahead!)
I used this inspiration card (see this post and this one) for my draft.
Now, to the more troubling reflection that sank in afterward. I was reminded of my post from October about Ren Powell's experience using an Arabic form while writing poetry in English and some of the negative reactions she got. For awhile I felt a bit shaky about writing a Kwansaba, as if I needed to ask permission to use a truly African-American form. But to whom would I address my request? If I don't celebrate Kwanzaa, am I entitled to use this form? If I'm not African-American am I? Still, it's a praise poem, and nearly all of us can find something to praise. Also, if we're ever to break down the idea of the canon, shouldn't we each experiment with forms from different cultures?
I think I'm experiencing a bit of that privileged, white guilt that some of my students feel when we study race, class, and gender issues in composition.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
56º and overcast/spitting mist
Hurry over to Linebreak and read this week's poem "Encomium: Highway 49 South" by Joe Wilkins or click to listen to Matthew Henriksen's reading of it. The editors of this online journal get it right time after time after time. Enjoy!
50º and overcast/murky
In what may be record turn-around time, Juked posted my poem "The Wisdom of the Dead" today, after accepting it on Saturday (see below). Hope you'll give this journal (and my poem) a read.
Also in the mail today, my contributor copies of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics Issue 12. I'm excited to read this issue not only because of the other great poets (including Angie Macri, my colleague at PTC, and Eva Hooker, my first official poetry instructor), but also because of the exploration of the current state of the lyric. Along the turn-around time theme, my poem in Redactions, "Voice Box" was accepted by this journal right out of the gate, within days of submission.
My thanks to the editors and staff members at both journals for their support of my work and of poetry at large. (Please help support the literary arts by subscribing to a journal or requesting your library subscribe.)
Monday, December 21, 2009
32º and sunny
Okay, I know I'm way behind the curve here. I saw the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies make a splash on the blog world several months ago and ignored it...zombies not really being my thing. However, when my husband heard that Natalie Portman is making the movie, he rushed to tell me about it...Natalie Portman being his thing in a major way. To his credit, he also knows I love Austen's work, so he figured this was a home run...a movie we would both love.
I really hadn't planned on reading the book, but yesterday we were out picking up a few things at a big box store and they had the book on sale. Last night I cracked it open and began to read. Now remember, I hadn't really read anything about the book, so I had no idea what was really going on. In other words, I was expecting an adaptation. Then, I began to read. After three chapters, I realized that most of this was very close to the original. The geek in me insisted on pulling the original off the shelf and checking to see just how close it was. I'm pretty sure the emotion that I felt was shock when I saw that it was indeed nearly 90% original text...word-for-word...with Seth Grahame-Smith adding the occasional zombie fight scene here and there and weirdly excising a few sentences here and there. (I still am dumbfounded by this excising...it appears rather random to me.)
Ok, so finally figuring out what was going on, I read the book description and sure enough it is described by the publisher as "an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem." Several other blurbs make it clear that it is the original with scenes added, and some blogs/sites go on to say that this is only kosher because the book is out of copyright and in the public domain.
I get all that, but as I read along, I was still bothered by this "mash-up" and bothered with myself for being bothered. After reading seven chapters, I couldn't continue because of all the thinking going on inside my head.
Here's one voice in my head, the voice of the college-level English instructor: I want some way to tell the difference at a glance between Austen's sentences and Grahame-Smith's. Perhaps different color print? I want to know who authored what. Of course, after several chapters, I could pretty much figure this out, but I worried about those readers who weren't as familiar with Austen's voice. Do they understand what is happening at the author level? How does all of this contribute to our students and their lack of recognition that plagiarism is a serious issue? I know this is fiction and copyright is not at issue, but if I'm standing up in front of my classes insisting that they put quotation marks around exact phrases and include signal phrases to identify the source...what does this type of mash-up say to them?
Here's another voice in my head, the voice of the educated-at-a-liberal arts college person: People have been mashing up bodies of work for as nearly as long as art has existed. It happens in music quite often...although there have been law suits about "sampling" when copyrights are involved. Then, there's parody and adaptations...happens all the time too. What am I getting so worked up about?
Here's another voice in my head, the voice of the writer: I am angry on Jane Austen's behalf. She is the one who worked and reworked that novel into existence (and didn't even get to put her name on it when it was first published...harrumph!). Now, Grahame-Smith is reaping quite a financial benefit: my copy is marked as the 20th printing (# of books / printing??? = ? royalties) and the sale of movie rights. This doesn't seem fair. But then, since the original is out of copyright, and they put her name on the cover along with Grahame-Smith's then all is okey-dokey, no?
The voice of the writer, again: Would I want someone doing this to my work two hundred years from now...okay, okay, I'll be dead and won't know, presumably, and I write poetry of all things..., but still. I get adaptation and taking characters and reshaping them into something new, Tennyson's "Ulysses" for example. But, this just isn't that.
Finally, I really don't want to be a downer. I want to be able to see the fun in it all. I don't believe Grahame-Smith is claiming to be a writer of literary fiction, so what's the harm? Isn't the exposure of Austen's work to a new audience a good thing?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
49º and sunny
Had a "good news" email yesterday from J.W. Wang, the editor of Juked. He and the rest of the journal's staff have accepted one of my poems for publication. Woo hoo! If you haven't checked out this journal, you should. It exists both online and in print.
In the vein of keeping it real, the poem that was accepted is one tough cookie. It survived 30 rejections and lived to earn this acceptance. In all honesty, I was just about ready to retire this one, so I'm doubly grateful to the folks at Juked for giving it a home.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
44º and mostly sunny
After a shaky start to the day, I've had a great revision session this morning. I had a poem swap this past week that yielded wonderfully helpful comments, which is always exciting. However, today, I remembered the real work of revision. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Lots and lots of reading aloud. (The cats are no help here. They think I'm talking to them and that I actually want them to congregate on my desk. ~~ Printers are expensive cat toys!)
Several thoughts that occurred in the process:
1. I really, really wanted to "finish" these four poems. My friend provided such great insights into their strengths and weaknesses, surely I could figure out the "right" changes to make. No matter how much I believe that writing is a process, sometimes the idea of "product" takes over.
2. After tinkering and toying with each poem until it had been spun into something new (a true re-seeing of what I wanted each poem to be), I hit a wall. That's four walls this morning. I realized that at a certain point with each poem I couldn't go any farther. I had to put the poems down and let them rest/breathe/rise/age/whatever metaphor works for you. I didn't want to. I wanted to keep pushing each one, and yet, instinctively, I knew that to continue to mess with the poem would mean its downfall. (I am not a patient person...this pause in the process is hard for me.)
3. I did learn from the past (this last fall, when I ignored a good friend's comments and sent some ugly duckling poems out into the world), and I really opened myself to the criticism I wanted to resist.
4. There are no good synonyms for "blood," when you mean the bodily fluid that circulates in our veins.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Today's the start of a new journal! Always a cause for celebration, although I'm not sure why. Writing is mostly about the process for me, and I struggle with the idea of things being "finished," be they individual poems or manuscripts. Still, it feels like an accomplishment when the last page of a journal is filled up and a new one is begun.
For anyone curious, I use the Moleskin blank journals with the soft covers, 80 pages each. The journals come with a blank black cover. I clip something interesting and paste it to the cover to make each one unique. Here's a picture of the new one.
Yes, I date my entries.
The mail carrier just arrived with my copy of Nate Pritts' first book Sensational Spectacular, which I won in a Goodreads giveaway. Awesome man that he must be, Pritts also included a bound copy of his chapbook [uniquely constructed self], available as a PDF here. The chapbook is a collection of centos gathered from student papers. I can't wait to read both!
Non-poetry related, but thanks to The Rumpus, I found this link to an elementary school in Norway with an outdoor fireplace for the kids.
Back to Brendan Constantine's discussion on the definition of art over at Red Hen Press' blog, here's a quote from today's installment:
If anything is certain it is this principal: behind every great work of art, there is an artist ignorant of much art, a person who cannot possibly have studied every ‘good’ or useful expression before. All art can be legitimately argued or improved. It is ‘up for grabs,’ or, as Paul Valery is often quoted, “A [work of art] is never finished, only abandoned.”
And this is perhaps the one that resonates with me the most:
Perhaps it is because there doesn’t seem to be a line or rule for determining when art occurs.
Finally, Dave Bonta over a Via Negativa has a post up about blogging and writers and the instantaneous publishing that can occur online. Bonta touches on many topics that have been floating around in my brain lately, particularly about the practice of placing drafts on blogs and some of the journals now including that as "previously published" in their guidelines.
Many print and online magazines will not consider previously blogged material for publication, causing the more ambitious writers to avoid posting drafts of their work, except possibly in password-protected posts. The irony is that in many cases a poem posted to the author’s blog can reach more readers than it would receive in all but the most widely circulated magazines — even online magazines, which are all too often poorly designed, practically invisible to search engines, and lack any kind of feed.
On the other hand, self-publishing alone does not advance a literary reputation, which is essential if academic advancement is at stake. One solution is for literary bloggers to publish each other. The same tools that enable the easy publication of a personal weblog can be used for any other kind of online periodical. Authors (and readers) can organize formal or informal networks through interlinking and the use of social media tools. We can rise together rather than compete for pieces of an ever-dwindling publishing pie.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Check out this new journal, Misfit, which will publish poems of 60-plus lines and poems of 7-minus lines. The very short next to the very long. I love it. I'm not sure I have anything that works for their requirements, but I plan on keeping up with what they publish in the spring.
Also, thanks to Leslie Pietrzyk for her recent post at Work-in-Progress about finding a writing buddy to help keep yourself honest about your goals.
I did draft some lines yesterday that may or may not make it into poem form. Feeling a bit like the Tin Man as far as writing poetry is concerned these days. Perhaps better things await today.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The blog over at Red Hen Press has an interesting post today from Brendan Constantine: Your Cheatin' Art. Sparked by a comment from a review of the movie The Road, Constantine examines how we form our ideas of what is art and what isn't.
Here's the excerpt that interests me the most:
Rather, if you are like many who believe that art is a field of study like medicine in which all efforts represent a movement toward a heightened understanding, toward a cause or cure for consciousness, then it may be necessary to assign values of legitimacy. Perhaps only in my opinion, art doesn’t ‘evolve’ in a single direction, its movements are not only progressive, but regressive and sometimes it doesn’t move at all, thus it perpetuates itself.
Constantine goes on to discuss the idea of an artist being "credentialed," a word that causes a shiver of unease to run up my spine, even thought I went the MFA route. The beginning of the blog promises more to come in the next few days, and I plan to follow the conversation down whatever winding path it leads.
I have a Blogspot question for any other users. How do you get the option for someone who leaves a comment to be alerted to follow-ups?
I have the comment moderator option switched on and email notification to me when someone posts, so I'm not worried about me. However, on some other people's blogs, when I leave a comment I have the chance to click a button to be notified of follow-up comments. How do I set this option for someone commenting on my blog?
Any help appreciated.
So, it's not that daring after all, unless you're me. Here's the new hair cut, with bangs...that was the dare to myself. I spent a long year in Fayetteville growing out my bangs and now they're back. I love it.
The thing is, later in the day yesterday, I got some good-ish news in an email, so maybe the new haircut really did bring me good luck. Now if only that luck would cover the lottery drawing tonight as well.
The thing is, later in the day yesterday, I got some good-ish news in an email, so maybe the new haircut really did bring me good luck. Now if only that luck would cover the lottery drawing tonight as well.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Since August, I've been consistently posting here on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday because of my teaching schedule. I became so comfortable with my routine that I must admit I'm a bit lost without it. My husband, who teaches at the high school level and therefore has a few more days to go, was confounded when I announced my plan to start the day at my usual time and not sleep in (today being the first day I might have done so). Still, I'm happy to be up and about and at the desk. However, beware, dear & kind readers, I cannot predict with what irregularity you will find me here, or perchance with what verboseness, it could go either way.
Today, there is much to say, all culled from the wonderful blogs I follow. You'll see my blogroll to the left. If you have favorites not listed there, please recommend.
This short, memoiresque post from Saeed Jones' for southern boys who consider poetry reminded me that a well crafted piece of writing, no matter how brief, creates a satisfaction that is felt almost bodily upon completing the read.
For all fans of the place where poetry and James Bond intersect, Linebreak features a poem "James Bond Suite" by Amit Majmudar read by Amy Watkins. There's playfulness here and yet a real commitment to poetics as well, which can sometimes be lost to pop culture, I think.
Thanks as well to Johnathon Williams of Linebreak for the link to this article in The Huffington Post. I'm coming into this conversation midstream, but the article is by John Oaks, co-publisher of OR Books, a new publisher that seeks to eliminate the middleman in publishing. Oaks and his fellow founder of the press, Colin Robinson, plan to print-on-demand and sell only direct to the consumer via their website. This eliminates wholesalers and bookstores. I could care less about the wholesalers, but the elimination of my local, independent bookstore is a thing I fear. On the other hand, the OR Books publishing model would be a great leap forward for environmental concerns...no massive number of books stored in large warehouse spaces (think of the savings on paper and energy to heat/cool/humidity control the warehouses). Print-on-demand requires intense marketing because it eliminates the ability to browse, of course. There are lots of issues here, but something to ponder, definitely.
With glee, I announce that I won a free copy of Nate Pritts' book Sensational Spectacular from Goodreads. 200 people registered, and only 5 were chosen...lucky me!
With glee & glee & glee, here is a list of the three books that I ordered through Inter-Library Loan at school and that came in yesterday, just in time for the break:
Ruin by Cynthia Cruz, Alice James Books, 2006
A Brief History of Time by Shaindel Beers, Salt Publishing, 2009
Lie Awake Lake by Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Oberlin College Press, 2005
On a totally non-poetry related note, I'm going to have something daring, for me, done with my hair today at my hairdresser's. I need some new luck in 2010 and thought this might spur it on. If I'm brave, I'll post a picture.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Someday, perhaps, someone will invent a personal weather machine that allows the operator to choose his/her weather of the day. After all, sometimes one wants a gray day to bury oneself in a book under the covers in front of a fire and sometimes one wants the sun to spark some hidden fire long dormant. Today, it is the latter for me and the former for the sky. We are mismatched.
Friday, I had the good fortune to share lunch with a fellow writer-teacher and talk shop. We shared some laughs and came up with a few ideas for the next semester. I am the type of person who figures that the people I admire (as I do this friend) have mastered the art of being; I am always stunned to realize that we share some of the same uncertainties and many questions. It's good to be reminded. Thanks, H.
After lunch, the husband and I left town for the night to visit close friends in Hot Springs. As I look at my time off for the holiday break, I tend to get a bit possessive and guarded. I'm glad now that I didn't put off our friends' request to visit. Enjoying good food and good conversation goes a long way to recharging the batteries.
Sunday saw some solid revision work on several newish poems. What startled me most was the really deep revision I accomplished on a poem that's been bothering me for several months. When I was able to step back and allow a major part of the poem to shift its place on the page and another wimpish part to vanish altogether, I made what seems to be a better poem. Time will tell.
No new drafts today, but the idea of drafting...
Friday, December 11, 2009
Still feeling like I'm all over the map as the week winds up. This pattern repeats at the end of every semester. I see a clear field of writing time in the distance and I want to leap with deer-like agility into it. Yet, every semester I forget that there will be days of gangly legs and stumbling about. There are always loose ends that need tying up both at school and around the house (which is fairly well frayed by the end of the busy teaching weeks). So, today through Sunday there will be many small tasks to be crossed off the to-do list. Trying to be more realistic about my goals, I hope to start drafting again on Monday.
I also have two new books that arrived last week. Can't wait to dig into these:
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Pudding House Press, 2004
Main Street Rag, 2008
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Many, many thanks to Justin Evan's for posting this review of Blood Almanac on his blog today. His words brought on a serious blushing fit, here at the home of the Kangaroo. Justin won a free copy of the book during my blog-birthday give-away. So glad it landed in his hands!
Justin also edits a great online journal, Hobble Creek Review. Hope you'll send him some poems if you are place-minded (location, location, location!)
Monday, December 7, 2009
No new drafts in a few weeks. The end of the semester grading has me distracted. Even though I have time in the morning to write, I find myself looking over at the stack of papers waiting to be graded. I just can't focus with them sitting there. Happy news, I should be done grading by Tuesday afternoon if I keep up the pace. Woo Hoo! My writing goal for December is to complete 3 new drafts before New Year's.
Given my current inability to concentrate, I've been blog surfing for over an hour and found the following tidbits.
***Friend and fellow U of Arkansas alum, Bill Notter, has a poem up on Verse Daily from his just published book Holding Everything Down. Hope you take the time to check it out.
***Thanks to Rus Bowden (via Facebook) for the link to this great poem "What the Elephant Sings" by Lois Marie Harrod in Canary. I'm unfamiliar with Harrod's work, but I'll be looking into it.
In other news Timothy Green, the editor of Rattle, sent out a call for audio files of poems from back issues. Check out the Rattle blog. Each day features a poem from a back issue (currently the Summer 09 issue...older issues will begin in the spring) sometimes with audio. This spurred me to learn how to record an mp3 of my own work. I'm happy to say that my poem "Self-Portrait: November" from Rattle 19 will appear on April 6, 2010, and you'll be able to hear my reading of it on the blog as well. Many thanks to Tim for promoting work from back issues and working to create a great poetry community at Rattle.com.
The papers are starting to tear up b/c I've left them alone too long this morning. Poor, sad papers. I must away, then, with my purple pen and begin again to whittle away the stacks.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Sharing a little love today for Josh Poteat's poem "Illustrating the construction of railroads" up on Poetry Daily today. I blogged about it here.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Yesterday, while sending out announcements about the new issue of Blackbird, I was overcome by a spate of self-doubt about the line between promoting my work and bragging. The digital world is amazing for sharing news quickly, but I am unsure of how much is too much. A kind and good friend pointed out the fact that if I didn't make such announcements, very few people would know where to find my work. She asked something along the lines of this: How is getting the word out about a new poem bragging?
Here is my reply:
Bragging? Remember, I'm a puritan/protestant/Midwestern closed-mouth. We keep these things to ourselves, darn it, lest we alert the universe to our success and the universe sends a tornado, a drought, or a plague of locusts to wipe us out!
So, I go about my life always watchful for the dreaded "fall."
Today, little danger of too-much pride, since I'm about to tackle the tower of final papers waiting in the corner for their grades.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
This morning I woke up to an email announcing the publication of Blackbird 8.2. I wasn't sure in which issue my poem would be appearing, so I clicked on the link to check and see. Yep, I was there...right after...gasp...Larry Levis...I had to do a double-take. My little poem was sitting right there in the shadow of one of the giants of my poetry world. I never got to meet Levis, but I know people who studied with him and were changed by him, and his work has influenced me in ways I can't even count.
After I caught my breath, I read the list of poets appearing in the issue more carefully and almost came undone again. There are too many to list here, but I'll give you the highlights with annotations.
Sherman Alexie--one of the first writers whose work inspired me after my undergrad years when I began reading on my own
Larry Levis--see above
Alison Pelegrin--fellow Arkansas MFA, in fact one of the first people I met in Fayetteville, she welcomed me with all her Southern grace and charm, her poems make me wish I were truly southern
R.T. Smith--who published the second poem I ever had accepted at a national journal in Shenandoah
Gerald Stern--uhm, enough said
Katrina Vandenberg--also an Arkansas alum, but graduated before me, always delighted when our paths cross at conferences, and a huge admirer of her work
Jake Adam York--well, I've written before about how much I like Jake's work, and in this issue he packs a wallop, also one of the great editors of Copper Nickel, my newest favorite journal
That is just a hint of the issue, and I haven't even looked at the prose yet.
I am so humbled to be included with these amazing writers. Thank you to the editors for plucking my poem from the submission pile and finding value in it.
If you have the time and the inclination, please check it out.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Given all the listing of books from 2009 going on around the blog world, I started thinking, inevitably, about what I would list. I decided to list the first three books that stuck with me, books that easily came to mind when I paused to ask "what did I read this year that I absolutely loved?" There are still several weeks left in the year and several books still on the shelf...but there's always 2010. (Listing is a fickle thing, at best.)
Here's a list of the three:
Illustrating the Machine that Makes the World by Joshua Poteat
If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting by Anna Journey
Mistaken for Song by Tara Bray (disclaimer...Tara and I are close friends)
Today, several blogs caught my eye, and I feel compelled to tell you, gentle readers, about them.
Check out Delirious Hem's super-cool adventskalendar 2009. Each day of December from the 1st to the 24th features a new poem. Click on the number "1" to hear a poem by Marianne Morris. It doesn't seem like "2" is active yet today, but I'll be checking back.
Rachel Dacus over at Rocket Kids has a fun post about the ever changing technology of publishing, which also features a link to T.R. Hummer's post on the same subject. Dacus is new to me, and I'm glad I discovered her blog, if only for the line "Please just embed my digital media under my fingernails now and give me the virtual visor."
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Available online today: Sawbuck 3.4
\\ Allan Peterson //
// Becca Klaver \\
\\ Daniel Borzutsky //
// George Kalamaras \\
\\ Ian Ganassi //
// Kathleen Rooney \\
\\ Lisa Ciccarello //
// Martha Silano \\
\\ Robert Lietz //
// Sandy Longhorn \\
Check it out!
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Yesterday: a read/write day. Read some and wrote some. "Finished" a new draft that I'd been stringing along last week. By finished, I mean simply that the poem now has something like a beginning, a middle, and an end, although it isn't narrative. Must now let it rest (like bread dough rising) before I poke and prod at it any more. I also made some major revisions to a piece I've been toying with since the summer. Breakthrough moment, possibly. Some drafts arrive fully formed and need modest shaping...others arrive in broken bits, leaving me to choose between the crazy glue, the twine, or the acetylene torch.
Today: submission day. I've been entirely neglectful of submitting poems this fall. Managed a round of submissions in August, only to realize I'd rushed the process on one whole set of poems. Then, I sent out a few in October. Today, I have two sets of 5 poems. Each set of 5 will go out to 5 simultaneous submission accepting journals. I like the balance in that.
Tomorrow: no post. I'm covering classes for a colleague and getting set to receive papers on Tuesday. Then, the onslaught of final grading begins. Last day of class is Thursday, with finals the next week. Is that speck I see ahead of me a light at the end of the tunnel?
Friday, November 27, 2009
This blog is two years old today. I almost missed the anniversary/birthday/whatever you call it. I think it took me 20 months to figure out what to do with this space, but I'm happy with what I've been doing since August.
Dear Readers, if there is something more you'd like to see here, please leave a comment. If there is something you'd like to see less of here, please leave a comment, too.
In honor of turning two, I'm giving away two copies of Blood Almanac. First come, first serve. Email me with your mailing address if you'd like a copy. The first two emails win. I'll post a comment here when the two copies are gone.
All thanks to whoever reads this space, my faceless, ephemeral audience.
Well, I'm finally reading The Southern Lit issue of The Oxford American, which has been out for several months now. While the issue is fat with wonderful stories and poems steeped in the southern literary tradition, an essay by Rick Bragg titled "Upending the Muse" stands out to me the most. I can't help but quote from it here and recommend you read it (available online) as soon as possible. (Of course, I may be so far behind on my reading that this is old news. If so, consider a re-read.)
"Upending the Muse" is an exploration of not only regional issues in writing, but class issues as well. In essence, Bragg explores the Romantic idea of the muse, which in the South seems to mean writing on the veranda in riding boots while drunk in order to court that wispy beauty, muse. This is a muse that eludes Bragg, perhaps, he wonders, because he has not been "better bred." He writes, "The muse, it seems to me, is watered in juleps and fanned with old money." Later, he adds, "Or maybe, just maybe, it's all an invention by the rich folks--a kind of pink-buttoned-down plot--to keep this writing thing to themselves."
As for the legend of great Southern (male) writers writing while drunk, Bragg admits this: "And I don't write at all, drunk. I can fight drunk and fish drunk, but I have to be clearheaded to drive cars, explain myself to my wife, and move a semicolon." (This may be my favorite quote of the entire article.)
Bragg also talks about writing to support oneself, writing on a deadline in order to meet a contract in order to get paid in order to eat. The Romantic idea of the muse does not fit with this reality in any way shape or form. Bragg is also quick to point out that this kind of work, writing for a living, is nowhere near as physically demanding as "roofing, or toting cement blocks, or wiping tables at a Waffle House."
Finally, the piece ends with a vision of Bragg's muse, "not a fairy at all," but "a hairy, goatlike beast, something you pin down with a boot on its neck, just so you won't be so goddamn lonely during this hateful process. And at night, when you believe you are done with it, it bumps and growls from underneath your bed."
Thanks to Bragg and the OA for a great read on a sunny long weekend, alas I have no veranda on which to lounge while finishing the issue.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
* * *
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,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
The Book of Light
Copper Canyon Press, 1993
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005
Monday, November 23, 2009
Today's writing time has been disrupted by a chipped tooth (a tiny chip...no pain...but a sharp edge) and a dentist appt this morning. Why does my tongue seem drawn to the sharp edge? I know the sharp edge is there and that it will scrape the tip of my tongue and yet I can't stop my tongue from going there.
Here are four new cards I made last night. I'm not sure they are authentic "soul cards" as I haven't really been searching my soul or trying consciously to portray my goals/hopes/dreams. Instead, I've taken a different direction. I'm looking for interesting juxtapositions of images and words that I hope will spark new drafts, and I may use these for my creative writing class next semester. If they inspire something in you, please email me the results!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Several weeks ago, I read a post on Kelli Russell Agodon's blog about "Soul Cards." These are self-created collages to serve as inspiration or as meditation objects and can be used to generate new drafts. Completely enamored with the idea, I've spent the last week cutting images and text out of magazines (even buying a few art magazines to find more interesting color, composition, and texture). I've also deconstructed old calendars, newspapers, junk mail...just about anything on paper that passes through the house.
Today I made my first card. I LOVE it! Can't wait to build up a collection of these. Here is the link to Agodon's directions and a picture of my card. (Agodon suggests 4" X 6" cards, but I went slightly larger, using 5" X 8" index cards, which seem to work just fine with a limited amount of glue stick applied and are less expensive than card stock.)
Having always wanted to be an artist, but lacking much skill in eye-hand coordination, this project lets me flex another creative muscle without worrying about having to draw/paint for myself. I also noticed myself looking at images and color differently as I went along...you'd be surprised what you can find in a grocery store magazine like O (Oprah's magazine). I found the silhouette image there.
Many thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon for this wonderful idea!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
"There is no reason to write a book unless the process of imagining it changes one's life forever." -- Richard Manning
"Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top." -- Virginia Woolf
"Don't go through life with your eyes closed, even though you may have chosen photography as your vocation. The machine may see for you, but its eye is dead. Your eye should furnish it with life. But don't believe that all open eyes see. Seeing needs practice--just like photography itself." -- Alred Stieglitz
"The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all." -- Annie Dillard
Thanks to Kevin Brockmeier for these:
“Nearly every writer has been given the advice, ‘Write what you know.’ This seems to me to rely too heavily on the narrow, limited ego and conscious mind I've already slandered. I prefer another piece of advice I have heard, ‘Write what you need to know.’” ‒‒
“Writers don't write from experience, though many are resistant to admit that they don't. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.” ‒‒
“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” —
“I've never been in charge of my stories, they've always been in charge of me. As each new one has called to me, ordering me to give it voice and form and life, I've followed the advice I've shared with other writers over the years: jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” ‒‒ “Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat. Everything moves toward the end, when the outcome will be known. Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. (Who, still on a battlefield, wants monuments?) The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.” ‒‒
Check out this great post from Sandra Beasley on Chick's Dig Poetry about her making of a video for her poem "Vocation." Watch the video. Now!
If I can figure out iMovie, I may just try this for some of my poems over the Xmas break. Sean...beware, my Mac guru, I will surely be calling on you for help and probably James K as well. Either of you want to provide some instrumental guitar accompaniment?
Friday, November 20, 2009
Like many writers I know, I am a pack rat when it comes to my work. I have boxes full of journals that go back to my teens and early twenties. I have the first booklets I made when I was around thirteen or fourteen, using my mom's electric typewriter. I copied poems I'd been given in school, "The Eagle" by Tennyson being one I remember...those talons described as "crooked hands," that last line, "And like a thunderbolt he falls"...ah...the drama! I loved the sound of the keys clacking that seemed to echo the sound of the words in the poems. I loved the precision required in the copying so I didn't have to start over or use the messy version of white out that existed in the early 80's. Then, after copying several of the masters, I included my own fledglings. I collected all of this in a school folder and titled my book, decorating it with unicorn stickers and magic markers.
In high school, I kept writing my own poems...about broken hearts mostly and full of horrific rhymes. I gathered these together in folders with three-hole tabs, again, making my own "books" out of my work. For the most part, I went through sheets and sheets of college-ruled loose-leaf paper in my drafts, even though I might not really be changing much. Each new word change required a new hand-written draft. Only when I felt the poem was "finished" did I type up my draft for my booklet.
When I started college as an undergrad the slow transition to personal computers had begun. St. Ben's installed its first computer labs around that time and we all carried around precious floppy disks and fought with the dot-matrix printers that seemed to jam constantly. While I still drafted poems on paper to begin, I moved to the computer for revision. This was when I first began saving each new draft with the title and a number, so that after several months I might have six or seven versions of the poem saved so that I could go back and revisit previous drafts if I took a wrong turn. Of course, I also printed each one out and kept it in a manila folder as well. That process stayed with me for well over a decade and took me into grad school and beyond.
I have always begun poems on paper (and still do), usually in a journal, most of which I have in boxes in the closet--heavy, heavy boxes. Once the poem takes on a shape and heft, I move to the computer. I cannot quantify what I mean by "shape and heft." It is different with every poem; it is an intuitive leap in my gut that says the poem is ready for the printer. Still, until the last year or so, I saved each new version as a new file in the poem's particular folder.
It dawned on me yesterday, that sometime in the last few years, I've jettisoned the saving of multiple versions on my hard drive. I still have the printed copies, which I date. However, I simply save over the original version on the computer now. I wonder if I do this because I now have a better grasp on my own voice and more confidence in my vision of the poem. I feel I take fewer "wrong turns" on the way to figuring out the poem's ultimate form. Do I eliminate some options by saving over the last version? Probably.
I wonder, too, how this shaping of poetry is different, if it is, from the the way writers of the pre-computer days shaped their work. I still print off my poems and hand-write many of my revisions on the page, although I know plenty of writers who do this on the computer. There is a visceral nature to the pen and ink that is lost for me on the keyboard. Wendell Berry wrote somewhere (and I apologize for not having the reference) about the physical link between the pencil in his hand and his imagination. For him, using any technology, even a manual typewriter, created a distance between the work and the creative center of his mind...a mind/body connection that was crucial to him, I guess. I've wondered about it myself ever since reading that in college. Now I wonder if this change in my drafting process results in stronger poems.
My drafting process exists in two technologies: blue-black rollerball gel ink scrawled in journals & black and white text in computer files. These technologies are symbiotic in my process, and I imagine that process will continue to evolve right alongside my evolution as a poet. While I used to worry about there being a correct way to do this drafting and revision, I think I may finally be in a place where I'm comfortable letting things develop in their own way and simply taking note from time to time about my process. I suppose if I ever take a drastic wrong turn, I will know I've run off the road by the heaping pile of rejection letters that will surely arrive in my mailbox, be it physical or virtual.
Two links for your Friday:
1. Kristin Berkey-Abbott's post Books with a Spine for Your Holiday Shopping Pleasure contains a list of awesome titles that might work well for gift-giving. Kristin inspires me to think about making my own list, perhaps over the Thanksgiving break.
2. Sarah J. Sloat's post Ghostbusters returns to the discussion of what poets call themselves when asked their profession. This contains a revealing (or not) statement about the Belgium prime minister.
If you haven't read their poems, I recommend both of these poets. Check their blogs for links to poems.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
*The outbreak of lists of best books of 2009 is freaking me out. The sheer number of poetry books that people are recommending is staggering, not to mention all the fiction and non-fiction out there as well. I feel like I've finally made it to a place where I can buy books of poetry fairly regularly without going into serious credit card debt, and I'm also a huge advocate of borrowing from the library. However, there's no way I could read all of the books out there. Who said poetry/literature is dead?
*Given all the back and forth about women on the PW list, I just want to clarify one of my personal positions. I am not advocating any kind of a quota system, and if the editors at PW stand by their list, then that is their right. It is my right to ignore any other recommendations they might make because I've lost faith in their judgment. What I am most interested in is addressing the institutionalized sexism that appears to exist at the upper levels of decision making about publishing and awards. Also, I'm interested in the number of women who hold positions in the upper echelons and if there is an imbalance there.
*I know there are many men out there with great books who struggle just as hard as women writers do to break into the publishing world. I salute them.
*Two books I bought recently that are now on the to-read shelf:
Holding Everything Down
Southern Illinois University Press, 2009
Beauty Breaks In
Mary Ann Samyn
New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2009
*Last week's acceptance was rapidly followed by two rejection envelopes. I'm cool with that. On my best days rejection letters are an inspiration to revision.
* A short poem by Emily Dickinson:
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Just had a weird error message about cookies pop up that took some time to unravel. I have trust issues with technology and believe that following Google's instructions probably caused some other problem somewhere of which I won't be aware for days or weeks to come.
I'm on my last day of grading binges to clear out my Comp I papers. I still have World Lit research papers to grade, but I have week left to get those done before the Tksgiving break (my goal). I find myself hoarding links to blogs I want to re-read with more time and stacking books in precarious piles on the to-read shelf.
It is great when life is full, but I struggle to learn the balancing act that will prevent burning out again.
I'll leave you with a poem from Karen Weyant's beautiful chapbook Stealing Dust, a book I read months ago and didn't have a chance to write about here.
The night after a three-point turn on a test
gave her a driver's license, my best friend
borrowed her mother's car, missed the turn
at Potter's Grove, plowed into a cornfield.
In the passenger's seat, I laughed
giving directions, back wheels spinning
through October mud and ears bent low,
silk brown and damp. That's how
it was like with us: two girls always threatening
to leave what we called a one-stoplight town,
when in fact there were three, often green,
short-circuited, a squirrel chewing through
a stray wire, a storm snapping a loose cable
in two. It should have been easy,
but there was always a check engine light,
a crack in the window, a rear tire worn raw.
It took us years to figure it all out --
all we needed to do was throw a suitcase
in the backseat, tilt the rearview window away,
so we couldn't see what fell behind us:
strings of stores sealed tight with plywood,
street lights dull, even in the darkest of dusks.
Support a Poet: Buy or Borrow this book today
Karen J. Weyant
Finishing Line Press, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
First up on my blog surfing adventures from today is Joshua Corey's post Nel messo del romanzo (That makes 3 poet Joshua's this week...weird). Corey's post is about the time suckage of writing and the differences in writing poetry and fiction. Topics I love to read about and mull over during my brief spare minutes. Here are a few quotes to whet the appetite:
The ancient hubris of poets produces this Faustian bargain: give up some portion of your life to writing, and immortality might be yours.
I am in the middle. Not I hope in that narcotic sense, but in a literal sense (I feel myself to be halfway through a first draft) and in Dante's sense, the middle of my way, in which I am necessarily lost, so that I may find it again.
I, too, become lost in the world of words, grammar, syntax, the OED, the crippling indecision of revision, and sometimes I find my way back to my other life only by stumbling from my office and being met by the reality of chores, grading, &etc.
I must say I am a lucky woman b/c I married a man who understands this wandering way...a man who doesn't mind the floors unswept, the dishes unwashed, and the shelves undusted. Now what to do about the papers ungraded?
Deborah Ager has posted a piece on the 32 Poems blog on the editor's responsibility if he/she solicits work from a writer. Is the editor required to accept something because he/she solicits work from a specific writer? My answer, no. I've actually been on both sides of this as a writer. I've had work solicited that was accepted and work solicited that was rejected with a nice note and a suggestion to send more later.
I admit, the ego-boost of having someone solicit my work was extraordinary, and I did feel more hopeful that the work would find a home. However, I didn't feel a deeper sting when the editor who solicited my work decided to pass. I knew the poems were a bit new and different from my previous work and might not fit. Also, this happened at a time when I was low on poems that were available to send out, which meant a smaller selection to begin with.
Finally, here is a link to Katha Pollitt's great post on She Writes in the continuing dialogue about the PW top 10 list. A long time ago when I was living in Columbia, MO, I had the great fortune of hearing Pollitt speak. She is the real deal. These two quotes hit home for me:
And yet, whenever a list comes out and it’s all men, or mostly men, the listmakers bristle at the suggestion that maybe gender affects the way they read and evaluate. “We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz,” writes PW’s Louisa Ermelino in preemptive-pugilistic fashion of the magazine’s all-male Top 10 list. That makes the editors of PW the only people on earth who are not only totally unaffected by the society in which they live, but who have no subconscious.
A wealth of studies show that gender affects just about every kind of evaluation people make, from grading papers (the same work gets a better grade if supposedly written by a boy rather than a girl) to getting elected.
As an English instructor, that last one actually scares me. I had a professor in grad school who had us create aliases for our midterm essay exams. A third party held the key that matched our names to our aliases. This was the professor's attempt to grade without bias. I've toyed around with doing this in my comp class from time to time, and Pollitt's statement nudges me closer to actually doing it (that and researching the studies she mentions).
And speaking of grading........
Friday, November 13, 2009
Two links that peaked my interest today.
Sandra Beasley's blog has long been a must-read for me. In yesterday's post, one of the topics she discusses is the interconnectedness of writers in the digital age. In her words:
It's a very human drive to surround oneself with kindred spirits, and in this internet age it's possible to maintain a constant chit-chat in poet mode. Your junkfood reading can consist entirely of poetry blogs. You can make a joke about villanelles in your Facebook status, and eight people will joke right back at you. With this kind of saturating access to fellow artists, the grandmother or boss or neighbor who doesn't "get" poetry becomes the outlier figure in our minds, the exception to an otherwise dominant community of readers and writers.
The outlier figure is very real to me, as most of my family doesn't "get" poetry. They are super supportive and proud of me and my work, but are not readers of poetry themselves. Beasley goes on to talk about how receiving praise from fellow writers is great, but hearing from an "outlier" that the work means something to them is even more amazing.
At the end of the post, she writes about the number of readings she attends each month, and I become ravenously jealous. This is a catch-22 for me. I am not built to live in a major metropolitan area such as D.C., and yet I crave the access to the arts that those cities provide. Alas, my small town nature holds me back.
On a completely separate note, Steve Fellner's blog is somewhat new to me, but I've found much there to dig into. His post yesterday on white space and the writer's emotion is a lovely and well-written essay. Here is an example of using the second person to great effect. There is dream-like feel to the writing. A few of my favorite quotes:
Through the white space, you were saying wake up. Wake up. The white space was the closest thing to sunlight you could let in.
In page layout, white space is often referred to as negative space. Negative space, negative capability. Where does the willingness to be "uncertain"--the location in-between uncertainty and limitless potential occur?
And now, I'm gone to ground to grade.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Joshua Poteat will forever hold a special place in my poetry life. He won the Anhinga Prize the year before me and graciously welcomed me to the flock at AWP in 2006. If you haven't read Ornithologies...go read it now. I was thrilled when I learned that his second book was out from The VQR Poetry Series, published by The University of Georgia Press.
I spent much of Saturday morning with Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World. Couldn't put it down, in fact. Then, had to re-read much of it today. The book is a series of poems inspired by J. G. Heck's 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science, even including an appendix of plates from Heck's book. However, the poems are not representational; instead, they receive inspiration from Heck and then take flight into their own wild and amazing complexity.
Sections one through three contain what I consider classic Poteat poems--poems that spread across the page in swaths of words, lush as bolts of fine silk--highly imagined and intricately wrought with an exacting attention to language. Then, there are two appendices. The latter is the illustration of the plates. However, the first appendix is a fantastic exploration in the art of excision. Using the text of a selection of poems from the first three sections, Poteat then excises and erases words and some punctuation, leaving the form of the original intact. It is a stunning act of revision that forces the eye to trace a wandering path across the page and search carefully for punctuation (a period or a comma could be lost easily in the white space). Rather than being confounded by these new versions, I found myself awed by the changed nature of the poems and their intent. Very, very cool. (Others may already have done this, but since I don't often read widely in the experimental realm, this was my first exposure to such writing on this scale.)
As is the case with many of the poets that I absolutely love, most of the pages of this book are dog-eared. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Her is a random selection:
From "Illustrating the echo in arched rooms"
........................................... ... Remove the fox
..........and there is a quiet unlike any twilight you have heard.
Remove the crown of light above the fox's head, and nothing
..................will be the same again, not for you, for your family,
for your village and its one path to the river where spiders
............draw maps threefold in sand, there under the trees
where the foxes rest, deep inside the arched rooms of their dens.
It is so hard to choose, but here is another:
From "Illustrating the construction of railroads"
At the edge of all fields, there is a space
.........for disorder. Blackberry through the gowns
of black locust, doveweed, and spurge,
.............................the hardened vine of ailment digging in,
burrowed to the clay, to the railroad mound
.........where the ties lay unabridged, unraveled.
These margins exist. They are not meant
.............................to contain us.
Support poetry today. Buy or borrow a copy of this book.
Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World
The VQR Poetry Series
The University of Georgia Press, 2009
1. Verse Daily has now posted three poems from the current Copper Nickel, including today's feature "Wedding Piñata" by James Hoch.
2. Thanks to Rhett Iseman Trull of Cave Wall for posting a link on Facebook yesterday to Poems by Heart. This is a cool website that lets you record a favorite poem as an MP3 and post it for others. I love how many websites are capitalizing on audio features for poetry. One of my first professors in college insisted we read the poems aloud and it made all the difference.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Following up on recent news about the percentages of women included in prizes and lists, I've read two more blogs/articles that I think add to the conversation.
The first is a blog from She Writes creator Kammy Wicoff: I Guess Women Aren't That Good At Writing After All. The news of the exclusion of women from the PW top 10 list hit the air waves/ether waves just as She Writes topped 5,000 members. If you haven't checked out this online resource, please do so. Here is my favorite quote from Wicoff's post:
Try to imagine if they [Publisher's Weekly] had come out with a list of the Best Books of 2009 and it had included ZERO MEN. Try to imagine if Amazon had released its Best Books of 2009 and it had included only TWO men. I know it's hard. But just try.
And in case you think ALL men got the star treatment from PW, you should also know that only ONE of the men on the list isn't a white dude. Naturally he is the dude on the cover.
Next is an article from Politics Daily by Lizzie Skurnick: Same Old Story: Best-Books Lists Snub Women Writers. (I'm sure this was linked on someone else's blog last week, but I've forgotten where...apologies.) This article reminded me of a conversation I had with a female poet friend several years ago. My friend questioned whether her book would ever find a publisher because it was so "domestic." About the same time, I had received a rejection from a major literary journal, one I've been submitting to without success for years. The rejection included a handwritten note that said: "I enjoyed the opportunity to read your work. The domesticity and perspective were charming and startling simultaneously." The note was signed by a woman.
My heart sank as I read the following in Skurnick's article regarding what happened when she was one of a group of judges for a book award:
Our short list was pretty much split evenly along gender lines. But as we went through each category, a pattern emerged. Some books, it seemed, were "ambitious." Others were well-wrought, but somehow . . . "small." "Domestic." "Unam --" what's the word? "-- bititous."
But, incredulous, again and again, I watched as we pushed aside works that everyone acknowledged were more finely wrought, were, in fact, competently wrought, for books that had shot high but fallen short. And every time the book that won was a man's.
"I just want to say," I said as the meeting closed, "that we have sat here and consistently called books by women small and books by men large, by no quantifiable metric, and we are giving awards to books I think are actually kind of amateur and sloppy compared to others, and I think it's disgusting." (I wasn't built for the board room.) "But we can't be doing it because we're sexist," an estimable colleague replied huffily. "After all, we're both men and women here."
She goes on to talk about the complications of a sexism that is so ingrained in our lives that we often have trouble seeing it.
Lots to continue thinking about here.