Saturday, February 28, 2009

What I'm Reading: Satin Cash

I've long enjoyed individual poems by Lisa Russ Spaar as I've come across them in journals. In fact, my journey to her new book, Satin Cash, began by reading "Cricket" somewhere online, although I can't remember where. Then, on my way to AWP I read a review of the book that made me want to read the collection. Once at the conference, I met up with good friend Tara Bray, whose new book Mistaken for Song is just out from Persea, also Spaar's publisher for Satin Cash. While at Tara's signing at the bookfair, I swooped up a copy of Spaar's book as well, and I have not been disappointed.

The title of the book comes from Emily Dickinson: "I pay -- in Satin Cash -- / You did not state -- your price --." One of the things I love about Spaar's work is her amazing use of syntax and her surprising diction, both highly reminiscent of Dickinson for me. Spaar is an agile writer; her lines are so well-crafted that the reader falls under the spell of the poem without noticing the guiding hand of the poet...a sure sign of success. Her subject matter is univeral: love, loss, nature, seasons, birds, life, death, etc., yet each poem sees this subject matter through a new prism. I could not stop underlining for the life of me.

Here are some examples.

from "'To do That to Birds'"

In the family orchard,
all bruised blossom & bee-sting

among the practical effects --
machinery, mouth shushed

in the pesticidal cloud
of Southern Jersey -- I believed

I must be fugitive forever, ...

from "Yule"

A hedgetop explodes into wrens
as I pass, winged funereal wreathings
plying the wassail spank of sundown.

from "Home"

When I said to my love, I am afraid,

I do not know where is my home,
a casket opened in me, limitless

as the abyss to which all words attach:

Spaar is definitely a poet I'll be reading and re-reading. I would especially like to get her earlier books and read to discover how she has evolved over the course of her career thus far.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Here You Go ~ My 20 Books of Poetry

20 poetry books that made me fall in love with poetry (or that made me continue loving it).

These are in no particular order.

Rose - Li-Young Lee
She Had Some Horses - Joy Harjo
The Complete Poems - Elizabeth Bishop
The Book of Light - Lucille Clifton
Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon - Pablo Neruda
American Primitive - Mary Oliver
Country Music - Charles Wright
The Master Letters - Lucie Brock-Broido
And Her Soul Out of Nothing - Olena Kalytiak Davis
Elegy - Larry Levis
Asylum - Quan Barry
The Portable Walt Whitman
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Glass, Irony, and God - Anne Carson
Fabulae - Joy Katz
Salvation Blues - Rodney Jones
Ariel - Sylvia Plath
Opened Ground - Seamus Heaney
Grace Notes - Rita Dove
The Complete Poems - Emily Dickinson

There are many more recent books that come to mind, but I want to wait and see what kind of staying power these new collections have for me. Perhaps I'll return to this list in 5 years and see what pops to the surface

In looking at these titles, I see the faces of my past teachers and friends who introduced me to these books, creating the connections that form a web around my bookshelf. I also remember the random discoveries in bookstores in unfamiliar cities.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Do You Believe in Curses?

This week, the local paper (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) ran several articles on the financial affairs of The Oxford American. If you do not know this publication, please check it out. It is a wonderful magazine devoted to "writing and art from or about the South."

I'd link you to the articles, but the Dem-Gazette only allows subscribers to view articles for free. Everybody else has to pay. Here's a shorter version I found on Business Week.

Many of you know the history. The magazine was founded in the early nineties by John Grisham in Oxford, MS. Since then it has had an uphill battle to stay in print, nearly folding several times. A few years ago, the magazine moved to Conway, AR, to be housed at the University of Central Arkansas. At the time, this was seen as a good bet to stabilize the magazine. However, last year, an employee allegedly embezzled over $100,000 from the magazine. While she was arrested, she has yet to stand trial.

In the meantime, apparently, the IRS had not been paid. Yesterday, the paper ran a story stating that the magazine owed a lump sum to the IRS that, if paid, might threaten another financial collapse. Today, the good news, a generous donor from Arkansas (a UCA alum) has pledged $100,000 to help the magazine out, specifically with the taxes owed the IRS.

Woo Hoo!!!! Yay for the anonymous donor!

All that being said, the history of the OA certainly lends itself to believing in curses, but what do I know, I'm a Cubs fan.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bless UPS

Today, my 17 lbs. of books arrived from AWP. The package arrived badly beaten. It had clearly split open at some point on its journey from Chi-town to Little Rock. When I took the scissors to the box to pry loose the journals and books, I didn't even have to cut cardboard...just the tape they'd used to seal it all back together. I send my blessing to whichever UPS employee made sure I got all my books (I think?) and with little to no damage to my new acquisitions!

AWP Note ~ Bookfair

Attending the bookfair this year, I saw more tables housing online journals, big signs with the title of the journal and then a laptop for viewing, lots of handouts, buttons, bookmarks, etc. It set me wondering how the bookfair will change as the media of choice becomes more electronic. Will it be like the big computer conventions with the miles and miles of electric cables duct taped to the floor?

Now, there was no indication that the standard printed journal is on the way out. In fact, there seemed to be just as many sample copies available as ever, and I celebrate that. However, I also celebrate the way online journals have of spreading through the ether and providing me with instant access to the writing. Five years ago, I was hugely resistant to the idea of the e-book, and I'll admit that I love the smell of a book as well as its weight in my hands. Yet, today, I also like the weirdly connected internet space that provides more chance in who or what I might stumble onto. Perhaps this is because so many of the online journals have learned to use the technology to their advantage where readability and navigation are concerned. Perhaps this is because of my giant iMac screen that makes reading just about anything a pleasure.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Post-AWP Return to Normalcy

This was my third year attending AWP, and I finally feel like I might understand what I need out of the conference and how to get it. Maybe.

I do feel like traveling to AWP is traveling to another planet. Once I set foot in the hotel lobby my mind zeroes in on all things poetry and I get a bit fuzzy about everything else. I tend to overdose a bit on panels and readings at the conference. I learned more this year about pacing myself, and still, every time I went back to my room to take a timeout, I knew that I was missing another chance encounter at the bookfair or another opportunity to hear someone fabulous read. So be it.

Coincidence: I picked up a little book of poems, Souvenirs of a Shrunken World by Holly Iglesias, which is all about the World's Fair of 1904. Several of the poems hint at that slightly anxious feeling of not being able to see all of the wonders contained within the gates. Very AWP!

It was wonderful to see old friends and put faces to names from internet connections, and I did get re-energized about poetry and writing, as I had hoped. (I shipped home 17 lbs. of books/journals and brought another 10 lbs. back in my suitcase! Woo hoo!) Now, I'm settling back into my regular teaching pace, reconnecting with my students, and continually glancing at my stack of "to-read" material. Hopefully, I'll be able to write some "What I'm Reading" posts as the semester cruises onward full-speed.

I have more impressions jotted down in my notebook but am out of time for the day. Perhaps more soon.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

AWP ~ Playing the Game

For anyone making the trek to AWP this year, here's a fun essay from Agni by J.S. Tunotre: "AWP Chicago: A Gamer's Notes." Here are two excerpts to give you a taste:

In AWP Convention Game regulations, a salutation, an exchange such as the above, between people who already know each other, technically counts for nothing. It must either be truncated—for economical use of time is vital—or else parlayed, turned to advantage. The point of play, if I haven’t made this clear enough yet, is to trade up, to advance the avatar, and the only way this can happen is when someone with a higher-stratum position (more publications, better publications, more ascertainable connections) sees you, and with that certification promotes you along the board. This is hardly arbitrary. For as everyone knows, being seen from a higher position only happens when there is something to be seen, though of course the appearance of being seen has value insofar as you might be seen being seen, and therefore score second-order points (described in game book) whether or not there is genuine substance behind the encounter. The calculus is very tricky, and point scoring is often hotly contested.

and later

I am speaking here for all of us who still cannot walk into a room, a literary arena, without immediately seeing it as a complexly graded hierarchy, a scarcely disguised Hobbesian jungle, tyrannized over not by teeth and claws, but by their verbal equivalents. We all ask the same questions: How do we go about trying to advance our avatar along the board; how do we achieve status lift? Or, less cynically: how can we find our way into situations where our natural merits (our sensibility, our intelligence, our not-sufficiently-regarded achievements to date) can be made known and be validated?

Good stuff!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another Arrival

Today's mail brought copies of New South (2.1 Fall/Winter 2008), containing my poem "Requiem." Thanks to Austin Segrest, poetry editor, and all the other fine folks down Atlanta way for the support. The issue is jam-packed with poetry and prose. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, and probably won't until the flight to Chicago for AWP, but it looks enticing. Beautiful cover as well! Lovely sea turtles.


Sadly, my resolution to keep writing through the semester seems to be suffering. I'm hoping AWP will get me fired up enough to get back on track!