Saturday, August 30, 2008

Birth Day

Yesterday, two of my closest friends welcomed their baby boy to the world.

Hello, Harper! Welcome to the World!
In a few hours, I'll be meeting you in person.
Can't wait.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

First Two Weeks

Well, we've been back at school now for two weeks, and, as suspected, my writing/reading time has dwindled. Unfortunately, time for blogging is suffering the most.

One tough moment in teaching lit. is when I've assigned a story or poem or play that I love, usually a piece that was instrumental in my formation as a writer, and I walk into the classroom completely pumped up and discover that the class or a particularly vocal student finds the piece less than thrilling. Such a thing happened earlier this week. I know not everyone has the same taste and not all of my students are interested in literature to begin with. That being said, it still takes the wind out of my sails a bit when it happens.

In the meantime, I did find time to read the new issue of Poets & Writers and now have several new scraps of paper with authors & titles listed. I thought the article on David Rhodes, an author with whom I was unfamiliar, was especially interesting. I hope to be able to read Rhodes when my schedule eases up a bit. Also, the article on the Dickman twins, Michael and Matthew, especially the sample poems, made me want to check out their work.

When will the cloning machine be ready, or the time-stretching machine?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What I'm Reading: Unaccustomed Earth

Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my all-time favorite fiction writers. I first fell in love with her work when reading her story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Then, her novel The Namesake came out, and it was just as wonderful. This week, while getting back into my teaching schedule, I've been trying to read a story a night from her new collection, Unaccustomed Earth.

Lahiri writes out of the emigrant/immigrant experience, mostly Indians who move to Great Britain or America or the next generation of Indians born in the west. She is a subtle writer, and I am perhaps drawn to her for the quietness of her prose.

One story in particular took my breath away. "Hell-Heaven" tells the story of a woman unraveling her mother's life. Her mother and father were married in India in a traditional arranged wedding. The narrator has grown up in America and struggles to understand her parents. We are all alien to and from our parents at some stage of adulthood; however, the culture clash of being raised in India, as the narrator's mother was, and being raised in America, as the narrator was, brings that alienation into even sharper focus. The story ends, and I won't spoil it for you, in a jaw-dropping revelation about one moment in the mother's life which might have changed everything, but didn't. It's a story, intricately woven, of love, duty, and loss, three eternal components of the human condition.

Lahiri has a way of gently drawing me into her characters and their lives, exposing their cares and concerns in such an empathetic way that I can't help forming a deep bond with them. As is true of all great books, I am slightly saddened each time a story ends.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Glacial Elegies ~ 5 Hrs; 8 Ft

I can't remember if I've blogged about the eight foot conference table my brilliant husband bought several years ago or not. (Today was the first day of classes and my brain is a bit muzzy.) In any case, this past weekend, I spent five hours shuffling poems around on said eight foot table. Said table is cumbersome. Most days it lurks, propped up behind the door to the laundry room, something for the dust bunnies to hide behind. However, when needed, it is the perfect location for laying out the individual poems in a 50-60 page manuscript.

[This weekend of revision was based on the careful comments from two close poet-friends, to whom I am indebted.]

I'm not sure why or how, but it looks like I'll end up with three sections in this book, the same as the last. The table is perfect for making three rows of poems (of about 20 poems each) and still being able to read each poem. I discovered with Blood Almanac that I need to see the entire book at once during its construction. I need to be able to let my eye float over the pages and to let my brain see the connections between the poems (or not). As I weighed the comments and made my decisions, I plucked poems from here & there and placed them in a new location or tossed them on the floor. What I found most interesting was the domino effect that began almost immediately. Yes, I agreed that the first poem in the first section wasn't doing its job and needed to be moved. But, wait, now the next poem isn't working to launch the section, either .... Drat .... chaos and shuffling begin.

In the end, after five hours and three separate printouts, I felt a sense of wholeness about the book that hadn't been there before. I've added a few newer poems that have been in the pipeline and I've taken out a few of the weaklings from the first draft. I'm also happier with the arc of the book now. Who knows how long the satisfaction will last, but it's a good feeling for now.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What I'm Reading: Weather Eye Open

With a new school year approaching, and a new computer needing a home on the desk, I've spent the last few days reorganizing my home office. In the process, I found a slip of paper with the title Weather Eye Open and author Sarah Gridley. (I'm in the habit of jotting titles/authors down on scraps of paper as I stumble across them. I suppose it is up to fate as to when and if I ever continue the journey of reading them.)

Having read only the first handful of poem in Gridley's book, I am already falling in love with her work. Her use of language is gymnastic; verbs, nouns, and adjectives sparking against each other in huge leaps of imagination.

Here's the opening of "Genealogy"

To ear, the shell recounts the ocean's holdings. To eye,
the book refigures pulse, spun-black signatures outlasting
guests of body.
      She locks it in
the top-most drawer. In sleep a bullfight
brights its gore inside her.

Here's the opening of "Wanting the Ten-Fingered Grasp of Things"

At this portion of the curve
where quartz is ground, the ocean brokers
broken wares. Energy is cursive, cold, and beautiful.

Basically, at this point, I want to type the full extent of each poem I have read. In some ways, I am surprised at how strongly I am receiving these poems. While I'm not a narrative poet, my poems usually show some tie to a sense of place, with a clear speakers, usually an I or a she moving through time and space. At lease in the first couple of sections of poems that I've read in Gridley's book, this doesn't seem to be the case. These poems are pure lyric, and I feel like I'm swimming through the language, awash in images and actions, making my own sense of the work.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quotes and more

"Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."
Virginia Woolf
A Room of One's Own

"There is no reason to write a book unless the process of imagining it changes one's life forever."
Richard Manning

"I was an earth thing all along
my feet are catching in the brush"
A. R. Ammons
"Breaking Out"
A Coast of Trees


Books on the side table waiting to be read:

Unaccustomed Earth Jhumpa Lahiri
Cocktails D. A. Powell
the true keeps calm biding its story Rusty Morrison

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Tomorrow, I go back to work. A week of meetings and professional development. Students on the 18th. My goal will be to blog once a week. My teaching schedule is still in flux. One of the realities of teaching at the community college level is that there is no consistency in student enrollment. Classes that make easily one semester might struggle the next, even for full-time faculty. I'd rather start the semester off with a bit more surety, but there you go. I should know by Tuesday what I'll be teaching for sure and when. The situation is even more tenuous for adjunct instructors, and they have my sympathy.

I am pleased with my accomplishments for the summer. The book is shaping up and facing its first readers. Thanks to those who've taken the time to give me feedback. I'll send it off for the first time by Sept. 15th. I only hope that I'll be able to keep my writing balance when back to teaching. As always, it is helpful to have a supportive husband along the way.

I've just discovered (or rediscovered, maybe?) the idea of the palinode, a poem that retracts what a poet might have said in an earlier poem. I'm fascinated by the idea, as I've been struggling with several poems I've written in which I know I've captured a "truth," yet the poems seem so harsh and filled with blame/regret/anger. This palinode reminds me that I might have captured a momentary truth, but I can always retract and change my focus. I've always known that poetry (art) could do this, but it's nice to see it in action.

I've been reading the current issue of Hayden's Ferry Review and highly recommend the poetry gathered there. Of particular note is the international section, which features poems in the poet's orginal language on the facing page opposite the translation. This should be mandatory when publishing translations. Having never seen Bengali in print before, I was stunned by the beauty of its characters. I couldn't read the original, of course, but some readers will be able to, as I am of some remnants of French, and seeing the original against the translation only widens the dialogue. Aside from the translations, the journal is simply beautifully produced and worth the read.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Elegy for the Library Checkout Card

So, I've been using InterLibrary Loan from my school's library and using the public library a good deal. As I thumbed through a book last night, it struck me once again how much I miss the old checkout cards. I loved being able to see who had read a book before me. All the different handwritings and names made me feel connected in some way.

Granted, I also like the due date slips that are pasted into the book with the due date stamped. This way I can see how many other readers have checked out the book. I feel sorry for books with no other stamps than mine. Granted, the library might have just changed the slip, but still, that one date looks so forlorn. If I'm browsing the shelves and see that no one has checked the book out, I just might take it home so it will earn a stamp!

However, our public library uses recyclable due date cards. Each card has four dates, month and day, printed so that depending on how the card is flipped in the slot, a different due date shows up. The "save the planet" part of me loves this idea, but it doesn't let me know the history of the book, which saddens me.

I do know the reasons for pulling checkout cards, and I'm a huge fan of privacy laws, so I'm not seeking a return to the old. I'm just mourning the passing of a tradition that made me feel a part of a larger circle, I guess.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Thanks, Monda, for posting about I have been mesmerized all afternoon. Here is a Wordle of my poem "Berries Frozen in Fog." Watching the program create the image, I "see" the poem in a new way. Fun. Loads of fun.

(Sean, if you read this, you will be soooooooo proud of me. I learned how to do a screen shot and convert from a TIFF to a JPEG. Holy Cow!)

Here's the poem as it appears in MARGIE vol. 5:

Berries Frozen in Fog

Small orange bursts burden the branch. The weight
makes bend and curve, shows all there is to know

about belief. The fruit’s skin glows like blown
glass that breath itself might break in half.

This is winter in the west, my refugium
(from the French fugere, which means to flee),

my high ground under siege. This fleeting
wind has dragged the arctic down to me.

The day proceeds, decidedly outmatched.
Slow thaw. The sprig springs back. The tipping point

is met. The ice melts off the leaves the way
that grief lets loose, gently undoing the latch,

when no one else is watching, slipping past.

Now, back to the new submissions!

Saturday, August 2, 2008


August has arrived. For those unfamiliar with the world of poetry publishing, most of the journals and publishers work on an academic calendar. Things move slowly, slowly during the summer months, if they move at all. Many lit mags and book contests are closed to submissions during June and July.

Yesterday, a handful of lit mags opened their reading periods. Come September, the floodgates will be loosed. It's time to warm up the printer and buy the paper.

However, soon, the paper and printer will go the way of all things 20th century. A good portion of the journals are now accepting submissions via electronic means (either email or an online submission manager). A poet-friend and I had lunch this week and exchanged recent experiences with online submissions. There are many pros and a few cons, it seems. The pros have to do with saving money on postage not to mention paper and ink, receiving confirmation on receipt, ease of withdrawing a piece if necessary, and saving time in general. Our one beef with the electronic submission format has to do with the responses we receive. Both of us have received snail mail rejections with notes of encouragement from mags that are now using electronic systems. We've both gotten vague replies via email from the same mags that encouraged us in the past. It is near impossible to tell if the rejection is the standard one or if there is a personal message within.

Case in point. I recently received this email from a journal I absolutely love and admire and have been submitting to for years. In the past two years, I've felt like I was gaining ground because in snail mail rejections, I've gotten personal notes of encouragement. Here's the email:

"Thank you for giving us the chance to consider your work for publication in The anonymous Review. Though it does not fit our current needs, we appreciate your interest in our magazine and your commitment to quality writing. I really enjoyed reading your poems. Keep up the great work."

Those first two lines seem to be the standard rejection, but the next sentence brings in the "I." Is that the personal message? It seems unlikely that editors have the power to edit within the system, but I'm still curious. Does the electronic system prevent editors from sending personal notes?

Let me be clear. I'm not criticizing this journal, or any of the others using electronic submissions. By and large, I prefer to submit electronically. I'm just throwing the uncertainties out there. Anyone who tries to get their work out there knows that the process, aside from the very clear guidelines provided by most journals, is muzzy indeed.

I've got my list of 20 mags with open reading periods, I've got my batch of poems all polished and shiny, and tomorrow I'll begin the process of sending my poems out there, if I find the courage to begin.