Thursday, May 27, 2010

Update: Reality Hunger by David Shields

73 deg - sunny, sloppy heat with afternoon thunderstorms building into a daily pattern

Well, the good news is that I had my first physical therapy appt yesterday and I'm on the mend.  Most of my back pain is gone or nearly gone.  The bad news is that I'm completely out of alignment.  I'm torqued to the left from my ankle to my knee to my hip to my shoulder (all the weight bearing joints).  So, this injury was going to happen one day or another.  Last night I re-learned how to sleep in a better posture.  It was difficult, but I have to say, I woke up feeling the best I've felt in a long time.  Tomorrow, I learn how to sit (obedience training anyone?)


Through the injury, I was on some pretty heavy muscle relaxers and couldn't really read until the last day or so, which I devoted to poetry.  However, I still have David Shields' Reality Hunger on my desk, and since it's a new book, it's due back at the library pretty soon.  Here's a link to my route to Shields' book.  Last night, I sat down and took a closer look at the book, particularly curious about what Shields had to say about permissions, given that the entire book is a collection of numbered sections, almost entirely authored by others and without acknowledgments within the text.  Here is a small example from chapter "d: trials by google."

84
Identity has always been a fragile phenomenon.

85 
I mean, I knew I'd never be the football star or the student council president, and, you know, once people started saying I was the bad kid, I was like, "All right, they think I'm the bad kid.  I'll show them how bad I can be."

86
No matter how ambiguous you try to make a story, no matter how many ends you leave hanging, it's a package made to travel.  Not everything that happened is in my story--how could it be?  Memory is selective; storytelling insists on itself.  There is nothing in my story that did not happen.  In its essence it is true, or a shade of true.

So, the whole book is composed of these numbered sections, divided into 26 chapters given a letter and a title.  The whole of the book calls into question the idea of "reality" and the possession of ideas, as I explained in my earlier post.  When I learned that Shields had in fact written very little of these words, but had collected them, I grew confused and concerned.  Everything that I've been taught about scholarship necessitates the correct attribution of ideas to their original thinker.  Of course there are universal ideas, but certainly #85 and #86 above have unique voices, and they are not the same. 

So, I looked to the front matter of the book for any issues with permissions or acknowledgments.  I found only a gratitude list to the Guggenheim Foundation, Artist Trust, and the Simpson Center for the Humanities.  Now, I was really intrigued.  Someone funded Shields to collect these words and arrange them.

Flipping to the back matter, I found the appendix and much of the explanation that Shields provided in the earlier piece I referenced, but it goes on.  After admitting that the quotations are not acknowledged, Shields says, "I'm trying to regain a freedom that writers from Montaigne to Burroughs took for granted and that we have lost.  Your uncertainty abot whose words you've just read is not a bug but a feature."  He then claims that he can't engage in the terms "appropriation and plagiarism" unless he actually does them.  And then there is this, what I'd been waiting for:  "However, Random House lawyers determined that it was necessary for me to provide a complete list of citations; the list follows (except, of course, for any sources I couldn't find or forgot along the way)."  That's one heck of a parenthetical.  The students I teach certainly aren't allowed to "forget" a source in scholarly research.

Shields goes on to point out that there are dotted lines along the margin of the entire index and to restore it to its original form, we should cut out the index.  He ends with: "Who owns the words?  Who owns the music and the rest of our culture?  We do--all of us--though not all of us know it yet.  Reality cannot be copyrighted.  // Stop; don't read any farther."

Of course I did read farther, and will report the proper acknowledgments to the above sections.
#84:  Slater, quoted in David D. Kirkpatrick, "Questionable Letter for a Liar's Memoir," New York Times
#85: James Frey
#86: Dorothy Gallagher, "Recognizing the Book That Needs to be Written," New York Times

While I tried to keep an open mind about Shields' thesis, I simply can't agree.  Even when I keep quotes in my journal, I'm always careful to take down the writer's name and where the quote appeared.  Often, this is simply useful when I want to revisit the entire article, poem, book, etc.  Obviously, when I'm writing for scholarly reasons or simply professional ones, I'm aware of proper citations and acknowledgment.  However, it is as a writer that I'm most stricken by Shields' ideas.  Sure, I love for people to share my work, but I'd prefer to be acknowledged as the author; after all, as I tell my students the word author is the root of authority, and I am the authority of my own mind and creations, am I not?  I certainly wouldn't want someone to pick up a book like Shields' and think that the person whose name was on the cover was the writer of my words.  Yes, I'm greedy that way.  No, I don't think my words belong to everyone, not in the way that Shields implies.

This conversation has actually been going on with several of my friends of late, especially fellow poets who discover one of their poems has made an appearance on someone else's blog or listserv or whathaveyou in the electronic realm.  Again, I'm all for that sharing, with proper credit being given.  Another couple of friends and I got into a great long discussion about if there is a line in the sand beyond which an artist should not lie (a la James Frey and JT Leroy...both of whom make frequent appearances in Shields' book) and whether there is really a line between fiction and memoir as art forms.  Finally, I was struck by this notice at the front of a poetry book I recently reviewed here at the Kangaroo:  "No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of both the publisher and the copyright owner."  I have to admit that I've never really worried about that before in terms of reviewing material here.  I'm always careful to give credit and links to the original work, and I promote the purchase or library borrowing of the book.  I also have to admit that I stumbled on that disclaimer by accident and it may appear in more books that I've reviewed without me noticing it.  Having Shields' book on my desk, I did my due diligence and emailed the author who gave me the go-ahead and sent her permission on to the publisher to cover all the bases.  I'm happy to do that.  After all, I want to celebrate the mind that created this particular combination of words.  Someone copying them down is not the same thing at all. 

Final thoughts:  Even if Shields' point is to put his collection of quotes into conversation with one another, isn't that conversation deepened if we know with whom the words originated?  I'm all for juxtaposing Nirvana and Virginia Woolf, but knowing the context of their realities is what intrigues me about what they have to say.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What I'm Reading: Tongue



73º ~ partly cloudy, summer sinking in

Last year, I wrote about Rachel Contreni Flynn's first book, Ice, Mouth, Song here, and I'm so glad to be able to write about her new book, Tongue, today. Rachel is another poet I was able to connect with at AWP. Her shining eyes and bubbly personality still give me happy memories of meeting her.

When Rachel handed me my signed copy of Tongue, she also gave me a kind of warning, although I can't remember her exact words. She alluded to the book being a difficult one. In content, she was exactly correct; however, the poems are so beautiful, that their beauty offsets the difficult subject matter. That subject matter is largely composed of a young, Midwestern girl as speaker and her relationship with her perhaps anorexic or mentally disturbed sister and her dying grandmother. It is interesting that I just finished Allison Benis White's Self-Portrait with Crayon, because Rachel's book also deals with a separation and an absence.

As was true with her first book, Rachel's poems are scissor-sharp, penetrating, yet highly musical and with a touch of whimsy that sets off the feeling of the fairy tale as told by the original brothers Grimm. As an example, here is the shortest poem in the book, all of three lines long.

Deep

There's a blade
in the hay mow

and we're jumping.


Poems as short as this rarely work for me; however, this one follows a longer more rambling narrative of the girls and their father. Perhaps its brevity against that longer backdrop provides some of the shiver.

There is narrative in most of these poems, and the book is divided into three sections. The first, "Gnaw," from which "Deep" comes, is mainly about the girls in their Midwestern home, as the one sister spirals out of control and the other tries to cope, tries to give voice to the chaos. The middle section, "Tongue," is a series of linked narratives telling the story of the speaker-sister sent away to Maine to care for the dying grandmother. There's a haunting cat, an axe, and a human tongue washed mysteriously ashore. All the while, in the background, is the knowledge that the other sister has been institutionalized or hospitalized. The last section, "Hollow," is the girl speaker growing up or grown up and trying to mend the frayed threads of her family.

As one last example, here is "Awake," which was just up on Verse Daily recently. This poem shows Rachel's strengths in blending narrative and lyric in a magical way. This poem also gets at the speaker's desire to give voice to what is happening to her family and being silenced in that solid, Midwestern way. We do not speak of these tragedies; we simply go on in the best way we can. Here, the speaker rebels against all that.

Awake

Of course it turns out
the tongue was just

a slice of sea cucumber.

That it took so long
for the experts to discern this

is ridiculous, and the girl

is suspicious. She believes
it's a lie so the island

may now be over-run
with placated vacationers.

She believes in the tongue.

That someone is coming
to take hers. But now she will

not allow it. She has constructed
all her barricades:

words, smoke, silence. Her safety.
The girl returns to Indiana awake.

Vigilant. Tough as a stump.


Support a Poet/Poetry! Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Tongue
Rachel Contreni Flynn
Red Hen Press, 2010


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Back Injury and Poems to Share



78º ~ on the way to being a scorching weekend

If you follow me on Facebook, you may know by now that sometime Tuesday I injured my lower back while either cleaning or painting a door. Of course, I thought it was just a sore muscle and I could take care of it with some ibuprofen. Woke up Friday morning in the kind of pain that told me I need professional help. The official word is lower lumbar strain or some such thing, which means I had to postpone a trip to Iowa to see the family. Bummer. Now, I'm all drugged up and forced to be still, so I'll be haunting the internets.

Whilst I was haunting this morning, I realized that I've had some poems and an interview up at Connotation Press for a few weeks. I missed the publication because of end of the semester craziness, I'm sure. In any case, I love this online press for their thoroughness and their variety. I hope you'll check out not just my poems but all the other offerings as well. Many thanks to Kaite Hillenbrand for her excellent interview questions.

PS: Should my posts contain a typo here or there in the next few days, I hope you'll excuse me, Dear Readers, and blame the painkillers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One Link, Two Links...

70 deg ~ rainy day, nice napping weather.

Just a couple of links today.

The first is to Rachel Contreni Flynn's poem on Verse Daily today "Awake." I'm right in the midst of reading Flynn's new book Tongue, and it's as spectacular as this poem.  Haunting.

Also, I've got a poem up at The Collagist this month, along with an interview on their blog.  Hope you'll give it a read, Dear Reader.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What I'm Reading: Self-Portrait with Crayon

61 deg ~ some sun, some clouds, blessedly - little humidity

Late, late, late to the party once again, I've just finished Allison Benis White's Self-Portrait with Crayon.  It has been on my to read list ever since it came out and the first reviews appeared.  It seemed like everyone was blogging about it.  If a book appeals to me after a few sentences of a review, I tend not to read the rest of the review so that I can approach the book from a neutral place.  Not sure that's the point of a review, but it's what works for me.

Knowing I had long wanted to read this book, imagine my delight when Allison Benis White was on the line-up of one of the readings in Denver for AWP.  I had read a few of the prose poems that make up the book when they'd appeared online or in blog postings, and I had the pleasure of hearing Allison read several more of them that night in Denver.  I was hooked and bought the book after the reading.  As luck would have it, Stacey Lynn Brown introduced me to Allison at the reception and we had a great time talking about poetry and later sharing a rickshaw/pedi-bike back to the hotel.  Both Allison and Stacey were poets I met in Denver, and they are both amazing women.

All this is a long preamble to set up my reading of the book.  In most cases, I read someone's book without knowing them or having heard them read, as there are few poetry readings here in Little Rock.  I've almost always read a poem or two online or in the journals and then gone out and gotten the book.  AWP in Denver changed that a bit.  In some cases, I've now met and become friendly, if not friends with yet, the poet before I've read the entire collection.  I have their voices in my head as I read, and it is wonderful.

Now, to the book.  This is a collection of prose poems which take their titles from Degas paintings and their subject matter from both the paintings and the life of a speaker abandoned by her mother when she was a child.  The speaker's voice is fragmented, sometimes that of a motherless child, sometimes that of a motherless adult, and sometimes a more objective observer of the paintings.  For me, the choice of the prose poem as a form holds the fragments together.  I've tried my hand at only a few prose poems and am not sure I've quite captured the strengths of the form as yet.  Allison is a master at manipulating the form to serve the poem in the best way possible.  I'm a bit in awe of it.

Also, in Denver Allison spoke of the content of the book.  While it's been a month and more since I heard her speak about this, I think I've remembered correctly.  She talked about wanting to write about her own experience as a child when her mother abandoned the family but not really knowing how to craft that content into poems until she started studying the Degas paintings.  In some way, the paintings became a way for her to explore the content of her life and to create poems out of it without the book being a straight-up group of autobiography/memoir poems.  Here's just one example from the opening of "The Bellelli Family (detail)"

To enlarge and color the mother's face does not soften her pose.
Her eyes half-closed and brown and emptied of her daughters
and her husband who looks at the floor.  Dressed in matching 
white aprons, the two girls cannot look at all, one stares at the 
painter and one at the wall.

The threads that run throughout this book are many: the desire to name things and emotions, loneliness & abandonment, mirrors (sometimes broken), fragments, fire, memory, and under them all the painful attempt to reckon with a difficult past.

Here's another excerpt that I marked as particularly beautiful and indicative of the whole.  It's from the middle of "La Savoisienne"

..............................................................................There are at
least seven kinds of loneliness.  And last night when she could
not speak in a dream although her mouth was urgent.  Hidden
beneath the floor boards, if she could only scream now as they
walk by.  It counts because she remembers it.  A loneliness like
being born remembering.

Finally, here's a complete poem that shows the blend of the speaker and the paintings.

Dancers in Blue

Everything happens, is gone:  four women in a rehearsal
room.  A moment I can watch lose.  They touch blue sleeves
off-shoulder, stretch.  Memory is movement unhinged.  Each
woman turns toward a different angle, are all sides of one
woman.  To remember now is then, or the difficulty of wearing
an off-shoulder dress.  Their dance is rehearsed before mirrors
until grief is perfected.  I want my life stilled inside a frame.  I 
look--a woman is multiplied, look away.

While the story of the speaker's abandonment could have been sensationalized, it is not.  It is the undercurrent tugging at each poem.  It is the sadness, the loneliness that permeates each poem without being trumpeted.  Instead of placing blame or providing melodramatic scenes, Allison creates art that questions and explores a painful subject in a reverent way.  I'm glad to say I know her, and I'm so glad I finally read this book.



Support a Poet/Poetry Today: Buy or Borrow this Book
Self-Portrait with Crayon
Allison Benis White
Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2009

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nature Heartbreak Leads to Drafting

67º ~ after last week's heat and thunderstorms, temperatures should return to the normal 70's and 80's this week ~ today, the sky is a thin white cotton sheet

As you may know, dear frequent reader, I have a view of the backyard from the desk of the Kangaroo, and sometimes I read on the deck. Both provide a great vantage for the unfolding natural dramas of our shaggy & wooded backyard. The new bird drama is that yesterday, a fledgling robin fell into the grass and couldn't fly back to the tree. We didn't see it fall and couldn't find the nest, so all we could do was watch it hop and wobble through the grass, making its slow, slow way back to the cover of the ivy at the base of the trees. The day before I'd seen what was probably its sibling, dead on our driveway. We've had some rough winds lately with our storms, and perhaps the nest was not protected enough to keep the young intact.

C. and I are horrible at accepting the laws of nature. Our hearts break and we are sad. We would make poor farmers, although we both come from farming families.

Yesterday, while I was reading on the deck, I had one eye on the poor robin. Gradually, this line came to me: "Cast out by rough winds and a roar louder than his father's voice." Ah, yes, I had in mind Shakespeare's "rough winds" because a FB friend had posted that line from the famous Sonnet 18 about a week ago. As I worked with some more lines, I knew I wasn't writing about the bird, but about a new saint for my series. This one is a boy, orphaned by a tornado, and is called "The Fledgling Saint." The comment I wanted to make about this draft was how what was happening around me made its way into the poem, but in a changed way. The image of the vulnerable baby bird seemed too cliche to work with at the time, but the idea of being shaken from the nest/house by an "act of God," that seemed like something out of which I could make a saint.

I only had a chance to jot down a few lines yesterday, but this morning, they were still vibrating with energy, so I returned to them. While the drafting was not smooth, I was able to conceive of what feels like a complete structure for the poem.

I don't have a strong track record of success with the drafts I write after a period of silence. Time will tell if this boy-saint survives the revision process. Regardless, it feels good to be back at the generative work.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wordcounter



67º ~ cloudy skies, slept late with little sun to wake me

Thanks to Kelli for first posting about Wordcounter. I'm about to leave to visit a friend for lunch, but thought I'd throw up these page shots before I left. This first one is from my current manuscript, In a World Made of Such Weather as This. Given the number of "dead" poems included, I pretty much knew that word would top the list. "Down" is probably #2 because it's contained in a repeated line in one poem and down is where we find the dead, sometimes. "Body" is #3 b/c the last year or so has seen a slew of body poems, and when I write about the dead, I often embody them. I love that "girl," "prairie," and "grass" all made the list. "Mother" and "father" are there as well and show that one section of the book revolves around family ties, binding and breaking.








Just because I was curious to see how much variety there was between book #2 and book #1, I also ran Blood Almanac through the counter. Here's its top 25. I am truly puzzled by "way" as the #1 word. I will be going back to read the book to see how that happened. "Body" shows up again, perhaps illuminating one obsession; "down" repeats as well...hmmmm. "Water," "night," "sky," and "horizon" seem just right to me.

All this is fun to play with, but I do need to have a serious sit down with In a World Made of Such Weather as This and see where the whole book stands. I'm about ready to move on to book #3 and want to get book #2 as finalized as possible for the next go-round on the merry-go-round of contests and reading periods.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Voiceover



81 sticky º ~ humidity blanket thick

A quick post today because I really do intend to set my mind to drafting time. Normally, I'd put everything aside and start with the drafting; however, this morning, I needed to record the poem that will be up at The Collagist very soon. In the past, I'd just open up Audacity and use my built-in mic; however, after my last recording for Linebreak, I knew I wanted to upgrade my mic. I sounded so tinny. Many thanks to Johnathon Williams from Linebreak who recommended the Zoom H2 recorder. Also, many thanks to Matt Bell at The Collagist who provided very clear instructions for how to use Garageband, something I'd been struggling with for a while, having fallen back on Audacity as a substitute. So glad to finally know how to record a podcast!

Here's a picture of the recorder (cute as a bug) and a picture of my desk while I was trying to figure out all the setup steps. While I lost about a half an hour to figuring things out, I'm glad I invested in the new equipment. The sound quality of the recording is much better, at least to my ear, and the recorder is portable, which means I can take it to readings and panels in the future! I'm hoping to record some of my older work and post it here from time to time.


Sometimes I look at the photos of other writers' work spaces and I'm so jealous of their beauty. I've always been much more of a mess, and all of my furniture is cobbled together, but it suits me and my process. I need a lot of surface area when I work, and office desks just don't cut it, unless I'm willing to spend, spend, spend. So, I use a kitchen table that my parents bought for me back in 1997. Recently, we took off the legs and it is now resting on two file cabinets. Turns out, I was hurting my back b/c the height wasn't right for me. It might not look like much, but it fits perfectly now!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What I'm Reading: Loose Sheets of Poems &Etc Torn from Journals on the Plane to AWP



73º ~ trees listless in the slightest of breezes, humidity & heat rising, much squawking and carrying on from the stupid usurper starling's nest...ugly noise

When I travel by plane, which is quite rarely, I like to take a stack of lit mag back issues to read and then to leave in random places in the airport or in my seat pocket on the plane, hoping someone who might not regularly encounter such things might pick up the issue and flip through it. I'll never know if it happens our not, but I love the possibility.

On the trip to AWP, I happened to read several poems that I felt I might want to re-read. Knowing that I'd be acquiring more books in Denver, I decided to keep my load light by ripping out the poems I wanted to keep and passing on the journals as always. This morning I went back through that unruly collection of loose leaves and reread. I ended up keeping about half and recycling the rest. However, I also found 10 pages from PEN America #11 that contained "Mimesis" by David Shields. I remember being intrigued by this essay in numbered sections but not having the concentration to give it its due. (One reason poems are great to read on planes is I can concentrate deeply during the reading of the poem and then allow for the interruptions of air travel...beverage carts, seatmates who need to use the restroom, the loud-voiced woman two rows back complaining about her seat not reclining...etc.)

In any case, I just spent a lovely bit of the morning with Shields' "Mimesis." As I said, it is an essay in numbered sections. Some of the sections are one sentence, such as #1: "Writing began around 3200 BC." Some of the sections are long paragraphs, although no section is more than one paragraph in length. One of the reasons I tore this out is because my colleague and traveling buddy on the trip to AWP, Antoinette Brim, and I had just had a conversation about the question of using other people's lines in one's own work. Section #3 in Shields' piece is this: " In 450 BC Bacchylides wrote, 'One author pilfers the best of another and calls it tradition.'"

"Mimesis" is a loosely linked exploration of the history of writing, its evolution into poetry, fiction, & the essay form, and an exploration of how advancements in technology have altered literature. One of particular interest to me is a section on the history of copyright. Along the way there are side trips into history and religion. Throughout the entire piece, the theme of reality becomes the connective tissue that holds the whole thing together. Shields examines the slippery slope of language as a signifier for reality (I think I'm using that term correctly, but if I'm not, someone who knows better, please correct me). He attempts to uncover both the intent of the author to either depict reality or fantasy and the expectation of the audience to either absorb reality or revel in fantasy. While he mostly focuses on the essay and novel as literary forms and doesn't much mention poetry, I'm still fascinated.

Section 38, the penultimate section, says this: "Collage, the art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, was the most important innovation in the art of the twentieth century." This struck me for several reasons. One, there is a run of longer sections leading up to it, so its brevity stands out. Two, many of the other sections are speculative; this one is declarative. Perhaps this should have clued me in to what I'd been reading, but it did not. I turned to the last page of the piece, a page entirely made up of the author's note. It begins, "This book contains many unacknowledged quotations; it contains little else. I'm trying to regain a freedom that writers from Montaigne to Burroughs had but that we have lost. The uncertainty about whose words you are reading is not a bug, but a feature. Who owns the words? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us. Reality cannot be copyrighted." What follows is a series of notes that provide source information for the different sections.

Now, I'm hooked. This question of authority seems to have existed almost since the first development of the written word. I've just requested the book from which this piece is excerpted, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, from my local branch of the library. If this also piques your interest, Dear Reader, there's more info from PEN America's blog here.

Of course, I'm usually about three steps behind the rest of the world on these things...always trying to catch up...so you all may have read, digested, and discussed already. Such is the life at the desk of the Kangaroo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Plans Derailed (for Happy Reasons)

81 deg ~ on the way to 90 in a few short hours, strong breeze dismantling the last of the flowers on our scrubby trees of indeterminate variety

Big plans to actually start drafting new poems today were derailed by a surprise happy email last night.  Jacque Day, the Assistant Managing Editor of New Madrid, emailed to let me know that they would like to publish all four poems I submitted back in March.  Wow.  I would have been happy to have one poem in this great journal; however, with all four set to appear in the next issue, I'm thrilled!  

So this was a happy derailment.  I spent the morning sending out a few withdrawal notices and cleaning up some records for submissions, which led me to having to clean up my manuscript b/c I hadn't kept up with the acknowledgments. 

For those of you wondering about my drafting process, the whole one-a-week draft got knocked off course by the semester's end.  It usually takes me a few days to transition to a new schedule.  However, rest assured, Dear Reader, I'm filled with energy, words, and hope. 

Now, to a question that has begun to plague me.  I've asked others about this on their blogs or in emails, but I'm hoping to get some more answers. 

Can one publish too many of the poems in a manuscript that is currently looking for a publisher?  Can one be over-exposed in the lit mags? 

Yes, the question seems a bit hilarious to me, but someone, somewhere mentioned to me that publishers might turn down a book where too many individual poems had already appeared and now I'm a bit freaked out.  At the U of Arkansas, we were simply told to get the poems out there and into the lit mags and that this would help us build a reputation and may help us land a book with a publisher.  Whoever started me thinking about this mentioned the figure of 70%...that a poet should stop publishing individual poems when 70% of the book was out there.  If you've followed this blog for long, you know I have a bit of the accountant in me (thanks, Mom!), so I actually love to crunch the numbers.  This can be dangerous, as my current freak out displays. 

It seems to me that the book as a collection is something entirely other than just a string of poems, that there needs to be some kind of connective tissue holding it all together and that a reader can't get that from randomly reading individual poems in journals. 

Help!

By the way, I am in no way looking the gift horse of this acceptance in the mouth.  I'm doing my happy dance all the way to the grocery store!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I'm Reading: Ink for an Odd Cartography



75 deg ~ temperatures rising back to normal, windy, humid, chances of rain all week

I am falling back into my summer writing life and it feels glorious. Having spent the last two hours on the deck reading and tracking bird drama, I feel like I'm back in my right mind for the first time in a long time. As to the bird drama, the red-bellied woodpecker made a return visit this morning. I thought I heard him yesterday, and today I was sure of it. So sure, I looked up from the book I was reading and stared right at him, clinging among the ivy that covers the dying tree's trunk. The drama was the squawking starling that didn't take to the woodpecker's return. Stupid starling of the short memory...it wasn't that long ago that the starling's nest belonged to the woodpecker. Grrrrrrrrr.

But, back to poetry. I have this stack of AWP books, now increased by the National Poetry Writing Month book giveaway books...a plethora of riches, so many that I couldn't decide where to start. Finally, I left it to chance and picked up the top book: Michele Battiste's Ink for an Odd Cartography. I bought this book on the last day of AWP when wandering the book fair for the $5 and $10 book deals. I recognized Michele's name b/c I have one of her chapbooks on my to-read list. As I picked up the book, the person at the Black Lawrence table said "oh, the author is right there and she's reading tonight." That clinched it. I bought the book and had Michele sign it. Later, I heard her spectacular reading as part of the Colorado readers line up at the Denver Press Club, and I knew I'd been right to buy the book. With our brief meeting at the book fair and a quick conversation at the reading, Michele has now become someone with whom I will keep in touch.

I started this book on the plane, after I finished Brent Goodman's book, but I ran out of energy and gave in to post-AWP sleep. I'm sorry for that. This morning, reading these poems, was pure delight. As many of the reviewers state, Battiste is a poet of extreme energy; the poems are steeped in pent up emotion bursting through language so precise that it cuts straight to the center. And the center for this book is intimate relationships and what makes them work or fail. What kept startling me was the honesty in the poems, the honesty about both the speaker's struggles and the loved one's struggles. No holds barred.

Another thread that pulls me into these poems is the Midwest connection. Battiste is from New York (now living in Colorado) but earned her MFA at Wichita State, and her time in Kansas clearly seeped into this work. For example, here is an excerpt from "Committment," which rocked my world, as we used to say.

...my sorrow like milk-
weed forced from its pod.

The plane plummets, the car
crashes, the millet rusts
across the road. This side,
windrows are thinning
and wait to be baled
and the babies are impatient
underground, smacking
their fists at roots. Soil
shrivels in the autumn drought.


Oh my! The sounds she manipulates: "plummets" echoed by "millet," "baled" and "babies," the harshness of "smacking" softened by "soil" instead of "dirt." And the images: sorrow like milkweed (oh how I wish I'd written that line), plane and car crashes linked to a crop in the field, and then those babies. That great twist makes me sit up straighter each time I read the poem.

Some favorite lines from other longish poems, too long to copy here:
"The gypsies passed and cast a tarantella to our bones." ("Your Bed")
"The DJ more blacksmith than artist, smelting a frenzy in 4/4 beat, / relentless and hammering." ("Ruby Skye")
about cliffs and promontories "...their language / is a privileged one, coded and closer / to God." ("Gravel Language")
"Begin at hinge, not lipped. Lidded. Outer canthus." ("Strategy of a Kiss")

The last section of the book, save for a Coda of one poem, is a narrative, a book of days, detailing the separation of two lovers (one going to a conference overseas, the other left behind) who may or may not make it as a couple. Here's the first day:

Saturday, March 6
Wichita, KS


After the airport, I walked
......the perimeter of the park, thinking
......life to be just this: some place else
and going, I drove toward a moon we thought
......was full the night before
Tonight it proved our underestimation of things completed
and I then watched clowns in white-face mocking
......human drive for conquest, reproduction
Once I did not love you
I don't know when I did but estimate phases
Today you left at 4 pm and beginning absence
......is the hardest -- no memory of coping, no progress



Support
a Poet/Poetry: Buy or Borrow a Copy of this Book Today!
Ink for an Odd Cartography
Michele Battiste
Black Lawrence Press, 2009

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My New Kangaroo



59º ~ lots of sun filtering through the leaves...have very limited view of the sky these days due to our beautiful old shade-making trees

This is just a quick post to show you all my first internet auction purchase: a kangaroo brooch. If you've met me in the flesh, you may know that I don't wear jewelry or makeup or the latest fashions. However, when I was circling the AWP book fair and telling folks about the book giveaway going on here at the Kangaroo blog, I decided I wanted a piece of "antique" jewelry of a kangaroo that I could wear to readings and AWP and other poetry places. I wanted something that was one-of-a-kind and on first searching the internets, I was dismayed by a sea of tourist pieces from Australia. I gave it a rest and tried again this week (this time searching for estate sale sites rather than just "kangaroo jewelry" and voila! While this is a brooch, the little space between the kangaroo's ears looks perfect for a chain, so I'll probably wear it as a long necklace. I guess I'm giving in a bit to the idea of "branding," but hopefully on my own terms.

Now, back to the real work at hand...drafting, drafting, drafting.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hooky, Hookie, Hookey



72º ~ clear skies for now with storms in the forecast ~ a cold front is coming through and sending the highs plummeting (love that juxtaposition) for the weekend

My man and I are playing hooky, hookie, hookey today (I found 3 spellings for it after realizing that I couldn't think of how to spell it...end of the year brain mush) and going to see the early matinee of Iron Man 2. I know, I know, today was my return to poetry full time, but my man and I have a problem with movies made from comics...we must see them. It's a calling. I'm not really skipping school since I turned in all my grades yesterday, but it still feels decadent to go to a movie at 11:00 a.m. on a Friday rather than working or writing.

I slept in this morning, meaning I got out of bed at 7:15 instead of 5:45. My summer routine usually runs around the 7 a.m. wake up time...no alarm clocks for 2 1/2 months! Woo hoo!

I spent an hour catching up on blog reading and I do have some poetry thoughts to leave with you, Dear Reader, before I head out to the magic of movies.

1. People keep blogging about how blogging is dead (killed by Facebook and Twitter). This seems a lot like the argument that poetry is dead, an argument almost always made by practicing poets.

I know I came very late to the blogging party, but I've found my groove and have no intention of leaving. I love you all, Dear Readers, but this is a selfish endeavor at heart. I write to find connection in the vast nooks and crannies of the poetry world where I feel comfortable. I'm so lucky to have met some great people through this avenue. I also write in this space to help myself articulate my own thoughts about poetry and the poetry world. So, thank you all for reading!

2. I came across two blogs about women poets that I know are a furthering of the conversation about women being overlooked in the publishing world. First, Jessica Smith at looktouchblog has been compiling a list of practicing women poets. You can find it here. Second, Elisa Gabbert at The French Exit, has a thought-provoking graphic of the idea of women poets. Click here. I'd read Jessica Smith's list first and then came across Elisa Gabbert's visual. So, the one had softened the ground for the other, so to speak. I was stunned by the visual. I do not believe I have ever thought of "women poets" as separate from "poets" (i.e. male poets). I do love what the graphic says about the perception of gender in poetry, but I have to confess, I don't really consider myself as that different or separate from male poets. Let me reiterate that I do believe there is a problem when any major prize list skews 98% toward male writers. What I'm talking about here is my own interior landscape as I go about my life as a poet. Perhaps I am naive, but I don't see being a woman poet as something that holds me back. Perhaps because I haven't risen to a level to be winning any prizes or making any shortlists? Lots to ponder here. As my profile says: I have lots of questions and few answers: but that's kind of how I like it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Surprise Results!

66 deg ~ full on sun...ah, the old smart phone predicts a high of 90 shocking degrees

So, on Sunday I thought all hope was lost and that I hadn't had any luck in the National Poetry Writing Month book giveaways.  It's just like me to jump to that kind of conclusion!

Sunday night, I was blog reading and Jessie Carty had added a new giveaway for the first comment on her blog that night.  Voila!  I was first and I am thrilled b/c I won a copy of her chapbook At the A & P Meridiem published by Pudding House Press. 

Then, wouldn't you know it, on Monday, I received an email from Victoria Chang naming me one of her winners (she went above and beyond the two book giveaway!)  I will be receiving Salvinia Molesta from Victoria.  Woo Hoo!

But wait, there's more, yesterday there was one more email.  This time from Jennifer Gresham letting me know I was a winner on her site as well.  I'll be looking for her chapbook Explaining Relativity to the Cat, along with the above books.

I know, I know, I have a problem with patience.  Here's the universe reminding me again that sometimes waiting is worth it!

I have one more day of grading today and student conferences tomorrow...oh and graduation next week, but soon, soon, I'll be free to dive eyeballs first into all the books I brought back from AWP and these new additions!

Life is good!

Monday, May 3, 2010

In a Word

62 deg ~ full sun, probable high of 86...that's how quickly Spring passes in Arkansas

As for me, I leave you with an image and one word:
GRADING!

The worst should be over by Wednesday.  Until then, if you know of a composition instructor in your life...be kind!  We're all a bit frazzled by now.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Drumroll Please.....

72 deg ~ sky still stormy in the wake of last night's tornadoes, rain is holding off for now

And the winners of the National Poetry Writing Month book giveaway are:

Tara Mae of Memphis, TN wins a copy of Blood Almanac!

Valerie of Colorado wins a copy of Tara Bray's Mistaken for Song!

Many thanks to all of you who stopped by to put your name in the hat for this year's contest.  I have a sneaky suspicion that we'll to it again next year.  As always, many, many thanks to Kelli for organizing the whole thing.  Brilliant!

If you just can't wait a whole year to try again, I'm having a post-NaPoWriMo book sale!  I'll send you copy of Blood Almanac for the bargain price of $10 (reg. $14), postage included.  Email me at sandy dot 40 dot longhorn AT gmail dot com for details.  Sale ends on May 7th!