Saturday, May 31, 2008

In the Mail

Contributor copies of the New Delta Review, which contains my poem "Why the Wind." The website is a bit behind on the current issue, citing last year's summer issue; however, it's worth a look, especially the samples of poetry from previous issues.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Dictionary Delights

Working on a poem the other day, I needed to check the finer nuances of a word, so I grabbed the appropriate volume from my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I also have access to the complete OED through my school's library databases; however, I still love the feel of the page and the chance encounters that occur. Here is one:

While looking for the word "moulder," I happened to flip a few pages past and found the word "muggle" staring up at me. Being a fan of Harry Potter, I was intrigued. Imagine my surprise to discover that in the early 20th century "muggle" meant "marijuana," in particular it meant "a marijuana cigarette." What? What???

When I looked in the complete OED online, I found 4 definitions for the word, with the 4th being the capitalized "Muggle," the usage of Harry Potter fame, interesting that they capitalized it. Other definitions included the obsolete "a tail resembling that of a fish" and the obsolete "a young girl, sweetheart."

The online version includes many more quotes than my shorter edition, and I was surprised to see that the marijuana "muggle" was used into the 80's. How did J.K. Rowling miss this? Or...conspiracy theorists unite...did she?

This little foray into linguistics kept me quietly amused for much of the day. I keep telling my students that they need to get a really good dictionary, but they never believe me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Glacial Progress

I've begun the slow process of bringing the second book together, and it is living up to its title (Glacial Elegies). The progress is slow, slow, slow.

Each morning, I set about following Katrina V's advice (see previous post) about sorting the poems by theme and image, jotting key words in the bottom corner. I read the poems with more focus than many of them have received in months and sit and think and then sit some more. Finally, I jot down a few notes in the corner and move to the next one. Some connections spring instantly to mind and I note that as well. In the past two mornings, I've made it through about a dozen poems in each sitting. Then, I have to take a break, as I feel myself becoming less patient, less attentive, less focused.

It's been interesting to refocus on each individual poem with such intensity. I've made some small revisions here and there, tightening, shaving off the excess. While I know there is a long road ahead between now and publication, I am excited about the poems and about the book as a whole.

Friday, May 23, 2008


The soundtrack of my life currently involves the decimation of 3 perfectly healthy 80+ year old trees that once stood mightily in the neighbor's yard. The house is across the street and down one, yet the sounds of chainsaws and hunks of wood clanging against a metal trailer are everpresent in our house. It's been this way for 3 weeks. Giant trees do not go easily or quietly. I do not know why the trees have been destroyed, and I can't really think of any good reason to do so...not even building a new house on the lot.

I've been away for a week, a trip up home to see the family in Illinois and Iowa. I come from a place where trees are sacred. Settlers of the prairie planted trees to hold back the wind and hold down the precious topsoil. In Northeast Iowa, the woodland forest of the east meets the prairie of the middle west. Spreading west of Waterloo, are acres and acres of open farmland set out on the Jeffersonian grid of township and range lines, and as I drove, I could identify where the farmhouses were, long before I saw them, by the stands of trees.

I suspect there will be something about trees coming up in whatever poems come next, and perhaps the disjointed rhythm of the chainsaw and hurled wood as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Poem in diode

Today is the launch of Volume 1 Issue 3 of diode, which contains "What Makes the Body Universal," one of my new poems. Thanks to Patty Paine and all the rest of the staff at diode for putting on such a great show. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What I'm Reading: "Putting Your Poetry in Order" Katrina Vandenberg

I first met Katrina Vandenberg at the Arkansas Literary Festival several years ago. She was a visiting writer at the U of A and had come down to read from her beautiful book Atlas. Today, I've been reading her article "Putting Your Poetry in Order," which appears in the May/June 2008 issue of Poets & Writers. Using the mix tape as her model, Vandenberg runs through a series of 11 points to keep in mind when trying to order a manuscript. Each point includes a song title, of course.

As I'm about to set out to do just this kind of arranging with my second book, tentatively titled Glacial Elegies, the article couldn't have come at a better time. Perhaps the best piece of advice from Vandenberg is to avoid grouping poems that are too similar. This is a weakness of mine. I think I find comfort in lining up all the poems about a certain if they are protected in some way. I suppose I need to start thinking like a reader and not a writer when looking at the manuscript as a whole. What will make the groupings exciting? What will make them boring? Many readers do not read poetry books from beginning to end. Is there any way to anticipate the leaps?

The other item that stands out in the article is the reminder that the spaces between the poems are important, too. One of my favorite undergraduate professors opened my eyes to the white space on the page as a vital element in the poem itself, and now Vandenberg reminds me that in the collection, the white spaces become places of echoes and reflections that can intensify the relationships between the poems. Finally, close to the end of the article, comes this quote about a poetry collection: "It's a poem made from all of your poems."

As I begin to order and re-order the poems for the next book, I'll keep all of these things in mind. Thanks, Katrina!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What I'm Reading: "Islands Apart: A Notebook" Eavan Boland

This essay appears in the May 2008 issue of Poetry and asks important questions about poetic identity. The second section begins by questioning, "Who exactly is a poet? How do we recognize one, even when circumstances seem to deny the possibility of such an existence?" (Boland 136).

In the essay Boland takes an historical look at several Irish poets with certain opposing viewpoints and follows up with a look at a type of split in today's poetry world. She describes a type of poet today who is "skill-based." As Boland says, "He or she can -- or should -- lecture, lead a workshop, run an introductory class, teach composition, write a review, give a conference paper. In pursuit of all this, they are also expected to travel neatly, punctually, and soberly" (141). Let's be clear, Boland is not opposed to this set of skills; however, she calls attention to the "small minority ... of poets out in the world who don't want to do any of these things" (141). Ah, after reading the first half of the essay with a somewhat distant interest, I was now at full attention. Yes, I felt compelled to do all of the things listed for the skill-based poet. Why? Who had ever told me that I "needed" to travel, read, lecture, lead, etc.? I'm not sure anyone sat me down and instructed me in this. Having read one too many articles on self-promotion, once Blood Almanac became a reality, I just dove in without thinking too much about it.

Boland goes on to discuss the fact that the above skills are crucial to economic survival as a poet; however, she flips the coin and takes a look at those poets who cannot or wish not to be "skill-based." She asks, "Is it possible to suggest a category ... even an individual poet who might be marginalized by such an emphasis?" (Boland 142). Here the word "marginalized" lept from the page for me, having come of age in an undergrad English dept filled with feminist and post-colonial scholars. The first members of Boland's marginalized category are avant-garde poets, but it is the next set that interested me the most. She calims, "The down-to-earth question of availability might affect women poets" and goes on to discuss the difficulties of travel and time for women who are mothers and poets (Boland 142-143). I wish she might have included men who are fathers and poets as well, but from everything I've seen, the burden on mothers is still greater than on men in most cases. Boland finishes her category of non-skills-based poets with those who are shy, private, antisocial, introverted, etc., and then she discusses a refuge for these writers that can be found in prizes, retreats, fellowships, etc. She concludes where she began, with the idea that there have always been some poets who fit easily into the public persona of "writer" and some who have not (Boland 143). So, the essay doesn't offer any call to action; rather, it questions and illuminates and offers a new perspective...perhaps it is okay to slow down a bit on the "skills" and refocus on the private work of making poems.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Clean Slate

I've just spent half a day doing a deep clean of my office space, and tomorrow morning I can begin getting back to the work I love the most. I've dusted off the stacks and stacks of lit mags and books that have collected in the last 3 months. The only issue now is where to begin. I'll keep you posted.