Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Raining Poetry

60º ~ the literal crack of dawn as the sky begins to lighten, loving these more normal temps, days of full sun, wishing for rain, all green things dry and brittle, leaves drooping from the branches and falling way before their time

Well, Dear Readers, Central Arkansas is receiving one kind of rain: poetry rain!  It's the week of the two Allison/Alison's.  Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading at our public library's main branch by Alison Hawthorne Deming.  Tomorrow night, the pleasure continues with a reading by my good friend Allison Joseph (who will also appear earlier in the day with hubby Jon Tribble to talk about Crab Orchard Review).  Yay! 

This week, I am poetry blessed!

Thanks to another good poetry friend, Hope Coulter, who teaches at Hendrix College, I'm well informed about the literary goings-on around town.  Each semester, Hope collates a literary calendar that spans Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Conway, and includes events at the local colleges, libraries, and other artistic venues.  It was through this calendar that I became aware of Deming's appearance at the library.  Deming appeared as part of a national Poets House series: "The Language of Conservation."  Here's the first bit from their website:

The Language of Conservation is a Poets House program that is designed to deepen public awareness of environmental issues through poetry. The program features poetry installations in zoos, which are complemented by poetry, nature and conservation resources and programs at public libraries. 

This program began at the Central Park Zoo in NYC, and the Little Rock Zoo was one of five lucky zoos, along with Jacksonville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Brookfield, IL, that were selected to participate when the program went national.  A leading poet was assigned to each zoo, and he/she curated a poetry installation.  (Joseph Bruchac curated the LR Zoo's installation, but I wasn't able to go and hear him read when he was here last spring.)

Since our zoo was chosen, we also get the gift of poets appearing at our public library over the next year. Yay to Poets House and Yay to Libraries & Zoos working together!

But, to the heart of the matter: Deming's reading was wonderful.  I'd only read her work in journals (in fact, we're both Terrain.org poets), and I knew her to be a poet of place and mythology...two of my favorites!  I hadn't realized her love of science, which she elaborated on last night.  Deming has traveled extensively and interacted with conservationists, biologists, and other scientists, and all of this goes into her poetry. 

In terms of being an audience member, I knew I was in good hands from the get-go.  Deming is self-assured, has a great reading voice, and interjects humor in an easy and natural way.  Her first poem was the title poem from her first book, Science and Other Poems, which won the Walt Whitman Award in 1993.  She followed this up with a few poems from each of her next two books, before ending with a larger number of poems from her most recent book, Rope, which I bought, of course, and will review here at some later date.  I especially liked "The Black Water," a poem from one of the older books with a nod to Elizabeth Bishop's "Florida," which was inspired by a kayak trip Deming took on a Florida river during one of her many travels around the world.  I appreciate it when writer's go back to older books, as it gives the reading an air of history, and for an audience member, like me, who is coming to the poet relatively fresh, it gives a greater balance to the work.  It was great to be able to hear Deming's journey as a poet in just that handful of poems. 

Since I have the book, I'll leave you with the title poem.

Rope

The man gathers rope every summer
off the stone beaches of the North.
There is no sand in this place
where the Labrador Current runs
like an artery through the body of the Atlantic,
channeling particles that once were glacial ice
and now are molecules making
not one promise to anyone.
The man gathers rope with his hands,
both the rope and the hands
worn from use.  The rope from hauling
up traps and trawl lines, the hands
from banging into rocks, rusted nails,
fish knives, winch gears, and bark.
The rope starts to pull apart fiber by fiber
like the glacial ice, and the man wishes
he could find a way to bind it
back together the way a cook binds
syrup or sauce with corn starch.
The rope lies in the cellar for years,
coiled, stinking of the sea and the fish
that once lived in the sea and the sweat
of the man who wishes he could save one
strand of the world from unraveling.


Support a Poet/Poetry
Buy or Borrow this Book Today!
Rope
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Penguin, 2009

Monday, September 27, 2010

Drafting a Guest Blog Post

55º ~ Holy Temperature Drops Batman!  Yep, 55º at 8:30 a.m....Bless Me!  My feet are actually a bit cold, even with socks on, as we have all the windows open again.  Why does a drastic temperature change like this invigorate me so?  In another four months, I'll be begging for a return of the heat.  I am the truest of tempermentals.

Today, I've spent the morning drafting a guest blog post for Her Circle Ezine, which is due to one of the editors there in a couple of weeks.  If you haven't checked out this site, I encourage you to do so, be you male or female.  Here's the first bit from their About page:

Her Circle Ezine is an online portal of women's creative arts and activism from around the globe. By celebrating artists and writers whose work addresses the social issues of our time, we strive to bring these issues to the fore, whilst reaffirming connections between art, politics, and life.

This site is a wonderful mix of many different arts from some fantastic women.  There are interviews, profiles, articles, and guest blogs galore, and I've been lucky enough to have been asked to submit a post for their "From the Writer's Life" series.  I've had a lot of fun this morning working on the draft.  As most of you know, I tend to be a single-genre writer.  Blogging for myself, and now for others, has allowed me to work on my non-fiction skills, which were beginning to atrophy before I took up blogging. 

As always, I could not do this without y'all, Dear Readers.  Even before I'd gotten to know many of you more personally, just having the idea of you, out there in the world reading my words, meant that I crafted my posts with care and deliberation.  I'm grateful that you exist!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall Semester: Week Six: No Drafting Today

77º ~ sun still rising, a front is on the northwestern horizon, promising more seasonable temps, still not much hope of rain, a deficit of 10 inches for the year so far...last year we were +24 inches by the end of the year, so I guess looking at the bigger picture matters

Today is Friday, dear readers, and that usually means drafting; however, today I must attend to student papers.  I know this is bound to happen each semester, but it still makes me grouchy.  To be clear, the being out of balance makes me grouchy, not the student papers.
I love that this image comes from a website called Survive Teaching.  Sometimes it does feel like a matter of survival!

To help make the gouchies go away, I took a look at my progress folder, and I have five new drafts to show for the semester.  This is week six, so I'm right on track for a draft a week as a goal, knowing that every once in a while the grading will take precedence. 

Onward to the grading pile!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sometimes Teachers Really Do Make a Difference

72º~ sunny days continue, headache inducing sun to tell the truth, a promise of more moderate temps for next week

Monday evening I had the double-whammy-pleasure of being reminded that sometimes I do make a difference in my students' lives. 

First, here's S. Mara Faulkner, one of my own former instructors who shaped my future and still means the world to me.

Mara Faulkner, OSB, instructor, mentor, friend 

As for Monday night, I attended the dual launch party for the student literary magazines from PTC and UALR.  Many of the creative writing students that start at PTC (community college) go on to earn degrees at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.  They make me so proud.  In any case, at the launch party several of my former students read their work, work that was originally written in my creative writing class and that went on to be published in one of the journals.  A few of the students pointed out the fact that they began the poems while in my class.  The attention was slightly embarrassing, but it really did warm my heart to be reminded that there are people still interested in reading and writing poetry and that I can help guide them on their journeys.  (Yes, I really am that earnest.  I can't help it.  I'm from the Midwest.)

When I got home from the launch party, I found another such moment waiting for me in my inbox.  Below is the text of the email (with permission from the writer, of course).  For clarity's sake Governor's School is a summer program for rising high school seniors.  Students live in dorms at a local college and experience college-level classes while meeting new peers from all over the state.

Hello Sandy,

My name is John Andrews and in 2005 you taught my creative writing workshop at Arkansas Governor's School (I was the guy that journal-ed all the time).  Since then I've graduated from UCA (BA in Writing - Spring 10) and am now working on my MFA in Poetry at Texas State (just started this Fall) and cannot thank you enough for putting the MFA seed in my head!  

The serendipity of today was that a friend suggested I read your book, they said "you know, you kind of write in the same style of this poet.... I think you'd like her." Kind of blew my mind.  So I found your blog and thought to touch base with you and thank you for inspiring me in 2005, and now!

Thank you, more then you know,

John

PS I can't put Blood Almanac down and remember you reading "Lover, Say Prairie" to us in class.

It may seem like I'm calling attention to myself by posting about these two experiences, but that is not my intention.  Both events just made me so darned happy that I feel like I must share the joy.  And for all of those fellow teachers / instructors out there...we really can make an impact on our students' lives.  Every once in a while we get the gift of knowing that for sure.

Thanks to all of my students past and present for making my life the fuller for knowing you all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Full Plate

69º ~ sunny, sunny, and more sunny, no hint or sign of fall, despite what the advertisements on TV and in the paper claim

Ah, dear reader, it's that time of year again at the desk of the Kangaroo.  The time of year when anxiety and excitement overwhelm the heart.  Chaos and calm vie for the right to rule my blood pressure and my sleep.




Here's what's currently running through this spaghetti brain of mine:

1.  I'm blessed to have great poetry pals who will read two versions of my current manuscript and offer thoughts on which is stronger.  This goes back to the Great Manuscript Exchange, and I'm happy to report that progress is at hand.

2.  I graded one class set of papers over the weekend and have one to go for that assignment.  Three sections of another course will be turning in papers by midnight tonight...so Grade On.

3.  College football makes me happy in a conflicted sort of way...such brutal contact and such body damage and such primal competition.

4.  Baseball season is winding down.  I've lost track of the Cubs a bit since my boys were dispersed to other teams.  Good bye D-Lee, good bye TheRiot, my long favorites.  I'll catch up with the roster next spring.

5.  There are five book contests with deadlines of Sept. 30th that I feel I must enter.  This means landing on some solid ground concerning the manuscript ASAP. (See #1.)

6.  Ten days until Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble come to campus.  Woo Hoo!  Lots more to do, mostly trying to spread the word far and wide.

7.  Less than a month until I visit the University of Missouri Columbia to talk to a class about Blood Almanac and possibly read at a Columbia reading series (non-university affiliated).  Thanks to Steph K for adopting the book and being the liaison for the reading.

8.  Less than a month until I get to see my mom in St. Louis for a mother-daughter weekend.

9.  Less than a week until C. hits a milestone birthday and we celebrate with good friends by boating on Lake Ouachita.

10.  Look at the time!  Look at the time!  I've got to prep for classes, grade online quizzes, grade bushels of papers.  I've got to read the manuscript for the thousandth time and try to gain some objectivity over it.  I've got to read at least one book of poetry this month.  I've got to revise these new poems.  I've got to submit my summer poems.  ...  I've got to remember to breathe!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Draft: Inspiration Cards

74º ~ sun, tiny breezes stirring the mid-level branches, windows open for now, more heat to come,

Another fragmented morning and jumbling thoughts, many of them schoolwork related, many of them remnant emotions from tumultuous dreams.  As I sat at the desk, cleared of any papers save poems and journal, I had to keep reminding myself to be calm.  I took a lot of deep breaths when spastic thoughts intruded.  I fought the "monkey mind."  After trying several starts at lines that didn't go anywhere, I went to my Inspiration Card folder.  For more info on inspiration cards, go here and here and here

I was surprised by cards I'd forgotten I'd made.  This I think is a key.  To love the cards while I'm making them and then put them aside for some weeks/months until they become new again.  In fact, the first card I saw suggested lines almost immediately.  Here's a rather poor quality picture of it, as a mirror image.  The words from the cut-ups say "backdrop for an archetypal" and "Bloodline." 


As always, I started with my pen and journal and filled two pages there (not hard since my handwriting is fairly large and sloppy).  The lines eventually coalesced and I was off to the computer to draft the full-fledged poem.  For such a rough start, I'm surprised by the length of the poem and how cohesive it feels already.  Sometimes these cards offer only surface-level lines without a real emotional backing, which is something I need in poetry.  Today, however, I was able to draft "The Old Ancestral Homestead" (a title most likely to be revised) and bring in emotional depth based on my life without having the poem slip into autobiography.  Not that I'm opposed to autobiography in poems; I'm just working on some distance for myself these days.

Happily, I have a bit of that euphoric feeling when the drafting has gone well.  Go Poetry!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm So Excited! (And I just can't hide it!)

93 deg ~ from inside my brick cubby at school, no idea what the outside weather is looking like, but I imagine, full sun and a small breeze

Here's what all the excitement is about.

Tearing Pages, Tearing Hair

71º ~ enjoying the cool morning before another 90+ day (I know, Mom, I'm not allowed to complain of the heat since I chose to live south of the freezing Iowa temps! :))  ~ truly the humidity has been bearably low and we've had some nice breezy days

Well, Dear Readers, when last I wrote about the manuscript exchange, I had reordered the entire book and was riding the high of my conversation with Steph.  (Here's the link as Blogger has gone goofy and won't let me embed the link:  http://sandylonghorn.blogspot.com/2010/09/notes-on-reconstruction.html)

Here's what I look like today:

The truth is, the ordering of a manuscript takes a lot of time, and I'm plum out of it if I want to get in on the first round of manuscript submissions this fall.  There are no fewer than five major contests in which I'm interested with deadlines of Sept. 30th.

I've been reading and re-reading my new ordering.  There's a definite pull to go back to what I had before, and I'm confused about this.  Does it mean that the order before was better?  Does it mean that I just grew so comfortable with it that it seems better?  Am I just incapable of seeing the book as Steph sees it?  Has this order business been holding the book back all along?  I am completely willing to work on the order with an editor, but I have to "win" a publisher before we can work on the order.  Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhh.  

Panic rising.

I know I need to get the new ordering out to some other folks for comment.  In the meantime, I think I'll split the difference and send the old version out to half the contests and the new version out to the other half.  The proof may just be in the pudding.  (Maybe all the woman in the picture and I need is a big bowl of chocolate and vanilla swirl pudding...alas, no time for that either as grading and schoolwork beckon.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Balancing Forces

95º ~ Yep, 95 on Sept. 15th, enough said

I was a bit under the weather the past two days, but I think I've whooped it now.



I've received the first batch of papers to grade but wanted to pop in to let y'all know that the universe loves to keep things in balance.  I wrote (here) about one acceptance from my August submissions.  To make sure the planet doesn't spin off its axis in delight, the universe has sent me three new rejections in the meantime.

Nonetheless, I shall persist.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Notes on the Reconstruction

80º ~ strong sun, playful breezes

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the gift of doing a manuscript exchange with Stephanie Kartalopoulos (click here to read).  Today, I'm writing about the result of that exchange.  Wow.  I feel like a minor earthquake has taken place, but with wonderful results.

First, let me say that Steph's manuscript was so strong and well-ordered that it taught me much just by reading it so closely.  I felt like I might have let Steph down a bit comment-wise, but I'd say we should all expect to see the manuscript become a full-fledged book very shortly!

As for my own manuscript, a little backstory for any new readers.  This will be my third year sending this mss. out; however, I'm beginning to discount the entire first year.  I started way too early again, and have since jettisoned a good third of those poems.  What went around last year was much more finished, and as past readers will know, I fussed and stressed over the order quite a bit.  What Steph was able to point out to me was that the order was arranged by grouping poems with similar images together a little too strictly and this wasn't letting the multiple themes of the book weave together in as interesting a way as possible.  (Steph has been a reader for a national poetry press and I'm so thankful to be a beneficiary of that experience!)

Through her amazing generosity, Steph offered a true re-seeing of the order of the book.  She didn't order it for me, but re-arranged which poems might go in each of the three sections.  She tore apart poems that I felt were married to each other.  I confess, there was a bit of the sledgehammer-to-the-chest feeling at first, but my old workshop training kicked in and I just put my head down and noted her groupings. 

We also talked about the title, as it is a bit longish.  The first year, the mss. was Glacial Elegies.  Last year it became In a World Made of Such Weather as This.  I'm now toying with Such Weather as This.

That was yesterday.  This morning, I locked the poor kitties from the office and spread the new groups out on the futon. 
Sec 1 done; Sec 2 in prog
Sec 1 - 3 done

Because of Steph's prompting, I was forced to see each poem in a new way and I saw the larger themes of the book come through more strongly, just as she'd seen that they might.  Wow!  Wonderful and welcome seismic shifts occurring. 

Of course, like all good revision, this one will need to sit and season for a bit.  I'll keep you all posted, Dear Readers, and thank you kindly for your attention.

Good News with Family

This post was composed nearly two weeks ago and got lost in the shuffle of life.

75º ~ yesterday's stormy skies refused to rain, today's offer the same tantalizing hope with little promise from the weather forecast

Today's good news is thanks to and welcomed with my cousin, Marta Ferguson, whom I wrote about here.  Two weeks ago, Marta emailed to let me know that Spillway, a journal with which I was unfamiliar, was calling for submissions on the theme of family, and they were especially interested in reading poems written by family members.  The deadline was 8/31, so we did a quick exchange of poems to settle on our choices.  Then, Marta put the submission packet together and sent it off to editor, Susan Terris.  Last night we received the good news that we were in!
Click image for link to Spillway
I just need to remark on how cool it is to be appearing with Marta and how awesome she is for corralling the whole thing and urging me on.  I also need to thank her for introducing me to a journal and poet-editor I should already have known about, and one attached to a super cool organization.  Spillway is published by Tebot Bach, a community literacy advocate group in southern California. 

Since learning about all of this, I've read up on the organization and the journal and read several of Terris' poems online.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her work and learning more about Tebot Bach.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday: Day of Drafting and Splitting a Pair

82º ~ good sun, small breeze, on the way back into the 90's for the next few days

Today was the start of a new journal, pictured here for your enjoyment.

This morning was a bit more fragmented than I like for drafting days.  The order of my routine was jostled, which should be fine b/c I have nowhere to be at any given time; however, I felt disjointed when I did sit down to draft.  I tried reading a few poems to get me going...no luck.  I tried copying out good words from said poems and using the random number generator (explained here and here) to start knocking words together in hope of a spark...no luck, although one word group gave me a slight tingle: bone and hook. 

Growing up in a fishing family, I'd been around several accidents involving a hook lodging in someone's hand, but the idea of the hook sinking into the bone kept swimming around in my head.  I wrote out "the hook in the bone," and then I remembered a line from last Friday that I didn't use: "there are ghosts in these fingers," and I started imagining the skeleton of a drowned girl at the bottom of the lake I used to visit with my family.  All of a sudden, the lines were tumbling into the journal...very mismatched and scattered, but I felt like there was something there.  I fiddled and fiddled with it and got it onto the computer.  Eventually, I realized that I was drafting two separate poems or at least two parts of a poem.  Thus I split the pair, in blackjack parlance, as I eventually removed one section from the draft and opened a new document to work on it separately.  So now, what I have to show for today's drafting are two poems "Midwestern Fairy Tale for Drowned Girls, Part 1" and "MFTforDG, Part 2."  I'm not sure if they should remain separate poems with the titles connecting them or if I should merge them back to the same document and use section headers within the poem itself.  That feels like a question that needs to wait a while, as the poems gain a little age in the folder.

I did find myself killing trees again.  These poems are more narrative than last week's lyric poem and I found myself fussing over small choices and needing to reprint every change so I could read through the entire draft again.  I'm interested in seeing if this pattern holds true in the future.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What I'm Reading: Ghost Alphabet

74º ~ light drizzle, clouds obscuring sunlight, the outer reaches of Tropical Storm Hermine have brought us a bit of much needed rain

This mini-review is long overdue, as I've had a copy of Al Maginnes' fourth full-length collection for a while now.  I've just re-read it and feel compelled to encourage y'all to pick up a copy if you can.  Full disclosure, Al is a friend of mine who graduated from the U of Arkansas' MFA program as I did, although Al was there a bit before me.  We met at AWP awhile back while reading on the same panel, and I felt an instant kinship.  Along with being a fellow Razorback, Al also teaches at a community college as I do, and so our kinship stretches across SEC football, poetry, and teaching in the amazing & crazy world of community colleges.

Ghost Alphabet is filled with poems that amaze me in their twining of lyric and narrative, of the blue collar world and the metaphysical, of what is unsayable and what is said.  Maginnes is a mature poet, and from the first lines of the book, I trust that the poems will live up to what I seek: an ability to reveal something about what it means to be human in this world and to do so through the exquisite beauty of precision in language.  In fact, that attempt to communicate those truths is at the heart of the book.  The speakers of the poems and the other people they describe are often troubled by an attempt to make meaning through language, either written, spoken, sung, or otherwise expressed.

The title poem, "Ghost Alphabet," draws the reader into a scene at a decrepit movie theater where the marquee is missing "enough letters..to make the feature's title unreadable."  What begins as mere description is elevated by the end of the poem to this:
.................However imperfect
their showings, the movies always
begin on time, relieving
any audience there is of having
to make stories from the wide blank
that echoes the space between letters
and all that finds itself written there.

Opening the second section of five, the poem "Mid Generation" reiterates that sometimes difficult need to fill in those spaces.  Here there is a man who "tests / another batch of berry juice and ash, coal dust / and thinned wax, trying to brew / an ink thick and dark enough to antique his hand."  This idea of trying to make permanence out of the unsayable essence of life permeates the entire collection and gives a haunting melancholy to the book.

Often, I admire most in other poets that skill that I lack myself, the ability to create long, loping poems that stretch to two and sometimes three pages.  I do not mean to indicate the "long poem," as it is technically to be understood.  I mean that I seem limited to the short lyric or fewer than 30 lines.  Al enraptures me as a reader by the stories that he tells through language carefully wrought, and yet these are not straight narratives.  The southern story-teller is here, yes, but tempered by a lyricism that deepens the poems.  The poems move in that meandering, slow southern way, and yet, each line/each word is necessary.  (I'm gritting my teeth in a good way and trying to figure out how he does this!)

I also admire Al's ability to work with blue collar images and transform them into poetry.  There are machines in these poems and factory jobs and the dull grind of manual labor.  One of my favorite poems is "What If This Life," which begins like this:

I can say this night is a wheel grinding fine
the edges of bone-white stars so that they gleam
with the cold shine of new knives, the pepper-fine dust.

And later:
But we wake not among stars
but in the world of the ten-hour shift,
the skinned knuckle, where rusty nails wait

to bite the unguarded foot.

Finally, I'll leave you with a whole poem because it shows that there is humor here too.  I don't usually gravitate toward poems about poetry or writing, but this one gets the job done so well, it won me over.

Arranging the Poetry Collection

Begin with some mysterious lines,
.......................................................designed
to pull the reader forward, the way the eye might
work to capture the drunken wandering
of a butterfly.  Next establish knowledge:
...............................................................the dates

of battles, obscure coronations, the location

of The Psychedelic Furs' first rehearsal.
..............................................................The sequence
comparing the father to a clock should come
in the book's valley,
................................where the decision is made
to finish or abandon altogether.  Next, a bit of irony will
show you have a sense of humor and don't

take all of this too seriously. 
.............................................End in rapture, whether
it grows out of lyric depths or the pills you rattle
in your palm each morning.
.............................................Make sure
the title can be taken at least two ways
and that the author's photo makes you slim and wise.

Dear Reader, I'll nudge you to read the collection to see how closely Al captures the process and to judge the wisdom in his photo, which you won't find on the back of the book, but in the back matter.  It's so cool when I see a friend there in the author photo, and even cooler when the book is as good as this one is.

Support a Poet/Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Ghost Alphabet
Al Maginnes
White Pine Press, 2008

Sunday, September 5, 2010

This Too Seems to Be Passing: The Era of the Big Box Bookstore

79º ~ gorgeous sun w/o too much heat, a gentle breeze, the sound of lawn care activities on a lazy Sunday

Well, Dear Readers, there was a time I would have sworn that the age of the Big Box Bookstore would not pass, and yet, it seems to be doing just that. 

Back at the tender age of 23, I went to work for a grand independent bookstore in Colorado Springs, The Chinook Booskhop.  This was the mid-90's when it seemed a Barnes & Noble was popping up on every street corner, and that each location was primed to knock out the competition of independent stores around the country.  Sure enough, in my first year at The Chinook, Barnes & Noble came to town.  I remember how we, the staff of the Chinook, visited the B&N one by one during the opening week, and came back to give our impressions, talking about the huge cavernous, cold space and the impersonal retailers who staffed it. 

We read all the articles about B&N in the national press and learned that as part of their business model, they staffed the store with superstars from the home office at the beginning and then hired on locals for part-time shifts in order to not have to pay insurance.  (We were smug with our insurance cards in hand.) We learned that the same business model allowed the new store to operate at a loss for the first six months to draw customers in with deep discounts and keep them coming back, even as the discounts were slowly lessened to reach a profit.  We heard about the huge discounts B&N received from publishers due to their ability to order large quantities of books, while we slugged along with paying 60% of the cover price to the publisher.  I'm not sure if all of that was really true, but it felt true at the time.  The Chinook held on until 2004, when the owners retired and decided not to sell their dear store.  I was proud when I learned that the B& N hadn't done in "my store."

In the past couple of weeks, I've now read two articles about B&N's fall from the starry skies of profit-making.  One article discusses Barnes & Noble being up for sale, whatever that means at the corporate level.  The other is the one that sparked this post.  Thanks to a link from The Rumpus, here's an article from the New York Times about one of B&N's major Manhattan corner stores going the way of so many of those independents B&N gobbled up in the 90's.  The lease is up and the rent is too high for their now-dwindling profit-margin.  There's a twisted sense of satisfaction in my former-independent-bookstore-worker heart about all of this.  Sure, it's sad to see another bookstore go down, but I don't believe the loss of bookstores means the loss of reading or literature.  We're in the midst of changing technologies, and people will continue to read, whether through an e-reader or with a hard copy of a book they purchased online, or at a local store that is now smaller, leaner, and willing to special order titles not in stock.

Speaking of which, let me champion again, my favorite online bookstore, Better World Books.  They buy used books, they sell new & used, and they send their profits out into the world to fight illiteracy.  Hope you'll throw a little cash their way when you can.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Major Jackson as Editor

75º ~ glorious, a sun that doesn't raise a blinding heat, perfect long weekend weather

Still slowly making my way through the Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers.  This morning, I'm reading the profile of Major Jackson, written by Mary Gannon.  While the background information and the interview questions about Jackson's poetry are interesting, especially his use of the 10-line form, the questions about Jackson's work as the editor of Harvard Review are the ones that have me underlining and starring his words.

When asked for a summary of what he sees "going on in contemporary poetry," Jackson says this:

"It all just strikes me as utterly and overly familiar -- the mom poem, the father poem, poems about family that seem overly wrought.  The poems that I'm attracted to, at least as an editor, are those that make me swallow my cynicism, that make me go, 'Here is a mother poem, but it's doing something else either with the language or the form that allows me another doorway into that topic.'  ... The language isn't dead.  (Yikes!  I've written about family a lot...better go back and check to make sure those poems aren't lifeless on the page.)

"Other things I see -- overexperimentation.  What I call overly inventive poems that are not making a reach toward the human; they are so much more about pastiche."  (This sentence got a double star from me.)

He explains further:
"And we've had now since modernism almost a hundred years of experimentation in poetry.  I'm not sure we can do much more than what we've already done.  So people are passing it off as inventive and experimental and it really isn't."

Then, he ends with this:
"But mainly, it's the middle-of-the road poem"
Jackson goes on to challenge us all as poets to be radical and have a "vision for the human."  Wow!

Whenever I read this kind of interview, it makes me turn immediately to my own work with a more critical eye and really ask: have I raised the stakes here?  does this go beyond the mundane?  have I made it new in a way that another reader will find that "vision for the human" in it?  I'm thankful for the reminder.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Draft, A Friend Inspires

72º ~ sun and clouds, a forecast for possible rain, but I think not, a stout breeze & we are all reveling in cooler temps and lower humidity, which seems to matter most

This morning I was late to the drafting table, still catching up on some academic work, as much of the last two days was taken up by a student success fair at our school.  I was the organizer and liaison from our division, so lots of running of supplies from building to building and keeping tabs on who was supposed to be where when.  It all went wonderfully, and I'm proud of my colleagues for stepping up to help get information into the hands of our students.

But, today is about drafting.  I fiddled with deskwork a bit and then reminded myself that I was sitting here for the sole purpose of writing a poem.  Once I prodded myself with that reminder, I put some Yo-Yo Ma on the playlist, swept the table clear of all but my journal and Quincy Troupe's book Weather Reports.  I was reminded of Troupe's "A Poem for 'Magic'"(click to hear him read, you must!) by this week's poem up at Linebreak, "Throwdown" by Josh Kalscheur.  So, I started by looking at Troupe's work again.  I was reading the poem "Skulls Along the River" when I happened to look up and see the photograph a friend of mine had sent me last week.  I had just read Troupe's line "we suffer because we must" and somehow lines about the photo started popping in my head. 

I am a white girl from rural Iowa raised on Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, & Patsy Cline, and the rhythm of long slopes of land.  Quincy Troupe is a black man from St. Louis raised on jazz and the blues and urban street rhythms.  The only thing we seem to have in common is the constant presence of the river.   And yet, I'm drawn to the images, rhythms, and blues refrains that lance and lace through his work.  He's been a poet-hero of mine since the early 90's when I read his work as an undergraduate.  While I don't write poems that look or feel like his, when I read Troupe's words, they spark some inspiration in me and I leap to the page.

The draft I turned out today, "Photo of a Stone Hand in Wales," takes its inspiration from Troupe and from my friend's photo, pictured here.
Thank you, friend, for the image!

I'm not feeling 100% confident about the poem because it seems to be about an age-old theme: the artist/craftsman's attempt to create something permanent and beautiful that will remain in the face of time's decaying nature.  I'm pretty sure the master poets have already done this one exceedingly well.  Only time will tell if my little attempt amounts to anything solid.  I certainly hope that if it does, I find a better title!