Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Problem of Going Digital (eBooks)

48º ~ bright sun, crisp breezes, all is well with the weather world as the year closes

Today, I have hit upon the one, true problem that I have with going digital, by which I mean switching to eBooks and internet journals.

The problem is this: there is no towering, life-endangering, stack of things to be read. At this moment, three stacks of books, mostly poetry hover over and around me. Add to that a stack of articles ripped from magazines, as well as articles and poems printed from the web, a slippery, slide-y kind of stack that makes a mess of my desk. While these stacks can sometimes inspire guilt and self-admonishment, they are always within reach, and I cannot "forget" that there is something I want to read.

Recently, though, I've been trying to cut down on paper and ink consumption by not printing as many things off the internet to read and by buying more eBooks or eSubscriptions to journals. My big exploration into reading poetry books as eBooks has been with Lucie Brock-Broido's latest, Stay, Illusion. I have access to it, and all the rest on both my iPad and my laptop; however, both iPad and laptop are slim, trim, and easily lost amid the clutter of life. Also, they don't scream "Read Me. Read Me Right Now" like a print version of almost anything else does.

Sidebar: C. and I recently visited a friend in the hospital. Said friend is slightly younger than we are, and when we arrived, he had a few other visitors of the younger variety. When I asked if our friend needed any magazines or anything, another visitor burst out laughing. He reminded me that with a smartphone, which our hospitalized friend had, there was no longer any need for magazines. I laughed along but a little part of me was so sad.

As for my desk and my "to-read pile," I don't know how this will all turn out. I suppose I will adapt to the changes, as humans are wont to do (or not, if we are the curmudgeonly kind). For the time being, I will search for some kind of visual indicator to remind myself of the eVersions waiting for me. Perhaps, I should print out color copies of the covers and tape them to my devices? Any other creative ideas?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Draft Notes: The Angry Sisters Make Use of the Swarm

55º ~ bright sun for basking in, a cold front on the way to knock us down to size

Today's draft came about as usual, from reading, word gathering, and then several words sparking on the page. In this case, it was the idea of "women," "seed," and "city." Of course, the women instantly became the angry sisters and then I had the sound of them "seeding the city," but with what? Well, the husks of cicadas, of course.

Confession: I find cicada husks to be horrible and slightly terrifying and wouldn't touch one unless given piles and piles of money. C., on the other hand, loves them and likes to collect them for the man cave.

At first, the angry sisters were going to seed the city with the bodies of the dead women/girls that are their obsession (those women/girls killed by men either in domestic violence or in those more infrequent stranger killings). However, that seemed a bit too unfeasible, as they are often searching for the remains. Perhaps it was the sound of "seed" and "city" that led me to "cicada" as it does not appear in my word bank.

However it happened, the poem begins like this.

All summer we thread
the shed husks of cicadas ...

The seeding of the city doesn't happen until the third stanza, when the sisters hang their "garlands" at the homes of "straying men."

The poem is in tercets with short, clipped lines that I'm made uncomfortable by.

I don't know if the angry sisters are going to work any more. They are so, so angry and accusatory. I found myself staring at my journal wondering what else I might have to write about, what other obsessions I might have. Nothing is calling to me now, and I'm not even sure the angry sisters were calling today or if I forced the poem out, knowing their obsessions.

In other words, where do poems come from?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Draft Notes: The Angry Sisters bury their mother

45º ~ sheer gray cloud-cover, no wind to speak of, my best window covered with a sheet to save a kinglet bent on attacking its own reflection

Today's draft did not come easy, and I'm sure I know the reason why. I had all the time in the world open before me, and I began as usual, by reading and gathering words. Then, I re-read all the "angry sister poems" that I had worked on (so sporadically) this past year. I fussed and faltered. I picked up another book to read, and wham, I knew I had to write a poem about the burial of the sisters' mother. In one of the poems I'd re-read in the series, the sisters proclaimed themselves "motherless," and that I suppose was the spark.

However, it became very hard to write the poem. The problem is that the angry sisters are a set of peronae based much more on my real life than the sickly speaker ever was. So, I had to keep reminding myself that my mom is alive and well (if socked in by snow and cold!). I also screwed up the process by jumping on the computer too soon.

Ah, well, at least there is a draft. The title bleeds into the first line, which is the reason for the odd capitalization in the title of this post as well. And, the first two lines are giving me fits so I won't quote them here, except to say that what follows the title is this, "in secret ... ." The burial takes place at night, and the last line explains why the secrecy and lack of a cemetery plot.

I'm hoping more reading and more quiet time over the next week will lead to more drafting. I'm hoping to figure out a schedule for the semester to capture more quiet/reading/writing time as well. Oh, the folly of a New Year's resolution!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Do You Read Poetry?

55º ~ on our way up to 70s for the next three days with stormy weather in the offing, for now the sun fights the gray, the breezes stir but do not rage, the rain holds off for a few more hours

How do you read poetry? This is an earnest question, as most of mine are.

Many of you know that I started teaching at the graduate level this past semester (for the low-residency program at the University of Arkansas Monticello). I taught a course in contemporary American poetry, assigning poets from the 1960s through today, and while teaching that course many things surprised me (for example, the vehemence with which several students took offense to Ginsberg). However, nothing surprised me more than how my students read the poems at the beginning of the semester.

As the courses in this low-res program are conducted online using the Blackboard LMS, I created weekly discussion boards where each student posted a response to one of the poets for that week, using one--three specific poems from our selection to illustrate the student's response in terms of poetic elements used by the poet and how the poet fit into American poetry (or didn't). I also required that each poet appear on the board before a student could repeat, which meant that sometimes, a student had to post about a poet with whom he/she might not be completely attuned.

After the first week of discussion, it became clear to me that my students were reading the poems in a completely different way than I intended, and this had everything to do with technology.

To go back in time to the late 80s and early 90s when I was an undergrad, for the most part, all we had was the poem on the page and a dictionary by our side. We were taught to read, at least at St. Ben's/St. John's, by reading out loud, by annotating (yes, writing in our books!), by looking up definitions and allusions, and by formulating our own personal response to the poem on the page. This, then, is how I've read poems ever since.

You see, back in the bad old days, we did not have the vast resources of the internet. To research a poet and/or a poem meant a trip to the library across campus (and remember CSB/SJU is in central Minnesota where the biting winds of winter knock a girl down from late Oct. through late March). Once we reached the library, there was a thick reference book to search for articles on the poet/poem, A Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (all hail, Michelle Holschuh Simmons for the reminder of the name) and then a set of stacks of print periodicals where we hoped to find the article itself. If not, then we had to inter-library loan the article (having it faxed from another library). If not looking for the most current articles, we could, of course, use the library catalog (which had just switched to a digital form) for books on the subject at hand and then go to the book stacks, perhaps stopping after all of this to copy a relevant chapter or article at the copier (10 cents a page) so we could annotate that as well.

And so, we could not access immediately the thoughts of critics and reviewers.

I confess that I am somewhat insular and often forget to think that others may have been taught differently, so imagine my surprise when the first week of discussion included references of what other people thought about the poets and poems rather than simply the student's take on the poet/poems. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this type of scholarship, and I did require research essays and class presentations that used sources. I was simply flabbergasted because I assumed the students would know that I didn't intend them to do research at the discussion level. (Yes, I am often beaten by my own assumptions!) I was also still thinking in terms of a face-to-face classroom at this point, where students don't usually go into that much depth of research before coming to class to discuss the reading of the day (or at least I didn't when I was an MFA student). So, two wrong assumptions in a row.

I quickly wrote a note to the class, explaining my expectations. I let them know that the reading should be time-consuming enough and that I didn't intend them to have to research as well (until they focused on their research essays), but, more importantly, I wanted to hear how each student met the poems on the page without the clutter of other critics or reviewers. What seemed simple enough to me actually presented a problem for several students, not an intellectual problem, but a problem of habit. They were so used to turning to the internet and "the experts" that they didn't trust their own instincts. It took us a few weeks to settle the line: feel free to look up definitions and allusion but do not read critics and reviewers until after you've formulated your own thoughts on the discussion board. After that, all was smooth sailing.

Now, I'm left to wonder, how do you read poetry? I simply can't believe that we should skip directly to the critics & reviewers. It seems to take the joy out of the reading for me, but am I just an old fuddy-duddy, stuck in the last century? Or have students been so trained in research and scholarship that they forget to read the text one-on-one, so to speak? Is this the difference between reading as a scholar and reading as a writer? What do you all think?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Draft Notes: One Confession

56º ~ sweet return of sun and Southern breezes, the joy of living beneath the snow line (with apologies to any readers feeling the weight of snow and icy bite of air) ~ what leaves that remain on any hardwood trees are brown and marked by last week's freeze, the privets though, go on waving their green leaves ~ taunt or celebration?

The last poem I drafted in all seriousness seems to be dated July 11. Holy quiet periods, Cat Woman! Today's return to drafting follows my every pattern from quiet periods before. I spent the last four days (since my grades were all turned in) dealing with pesky tasks, endless to-do lists around the house, and other mundane duties. One might ask, why not jump right in to poetry? For me, it doesn't work that way. After a long time away from the page, I have to clear the decks of as much dross as possible. Otherwise, it lingers in my peripheral vision.

In any case, I put on my instrumental music, gathered my coffee and watered down OJ, my dark chocolate topped butter biscuits, a random book from my to-read pile, and my journal, and I began. After reading several poems from a book I won't name because I wasn't reading it so much as using it to ignite the day, I thought I had a line or two, and I went to the journal. I scratched out most of a poem, one about the angry sisters. I turned to the computer and finished a draft, but per my usual experience when returning to the page after a long silence, it was painful, sluggish, stilted, more apt to prose than poetry. Still I pushed through and printed the dreaded thing off.

I made another cup of coffee, picked up the book again, and this time admitted my intent, gathering words instead of reading poems. Sure enough, after getting about thirty random words on the page of my journal (chosen from all different pages in the book and dropped randomly on the page), I started seeing sparks, started drawing circles and arrows around combinations, in particular the combination of "skull," "raft," and "detour."

And then, the real poem draft of the day presented itself. It begins:

His skull a raft, a wreckage,
our father plummets into fragments,
takes a perpetual detour to the past.

It is a poem that deals with a difficult subject, and it is confessional. In this case the drafting was hard because it caused me to have to admit something about myself that puts me in a not so great light, but there it is on the page just the same. And this time, I felt a satisfaction in the working of the lines, a liveliness in the words.

This poem, which I've titled "One Confession" for now, will need more revision and then it will take a bit of courage to send out to the world.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Notes from an Online Reading

42º ~ the casters of fore say that we should return to normal temps (low to mid 50s) for most of next week, sympathies to those north of here where the cold has been much, much worse ~ skies heavy gray, birds heavy feeding (robins, mostly today)

Thursday night, I participated in my first live online reading, in this case sponsored by Hayden's Ferry Review for the launch of issue 53. I've got two sickly speaker poems in the issue: "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country" and "I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep." (I've linked to the draft notes.)

I confess, I was a bit nervous about this reading, as I've only ever recorded for the internet before and this was LIVE! All thanks to Sam Marton at HFR for sending out great instructions and organizing the entire set up on Ustream. Sam provided us with an opportunity to check out the site the day before the event and get familiar with the set up, which was priceless for my nerves. He also sent out a schedule so we would all know when we were scheduled to hit the "Go Live" button on our end.

The day of the event was marked by two momentous occasions: 1) I hit "send" on my final set of final grades for the semester and 2) I received my contributor copies of the HFR issue. Wahoo! So, having submitted grades and now clutching the journal in my hands (and what a production this print journal is, 5-star quality!), I set about organizing my computers and the room in which I'd be broadcasting and practicing what I wanted to say and the poems I meant to read.

This meant moving lamps around, taking all the riff-raff off my bookshelves so that only the books showed in the background of the video, and finding a sweater that looked half-way decent. I logged into the site, where you can see what your camera is picking up without going live, so I could judge light and image. I tried to deal with the glare on the glasses, but, alas, failed at that. Also, I had my system set up so I could broadcast from my desktop, which is plugged into the internet connection through a hardline, and I planned to have my laptop going next to me to see the live broadcast, as there is a delay. The best laid plans and all that.

As the broadcast launched, I was in my seat listening to the readers before me on my laptop, when George the cat decided to check things out. He was distressed by the fact that my desk was askew (I had to turn the computer for better video quality) and did a hesitant tap dance across the desktop keyboard and then wound through cords and such behind the computer. Meanwhile, I listened on. Then, the reader scheduled to go before me, didn't appear and didn't appear and didn't appear (tech difficulties, luckily resolved so he could go later). Sam emailed and said, "Can you go a few minutes early?" Sure, no worries. I'd planned ahead.

I tried to hit the "Go Live" button on my desktop, and...nothing happened...oh god!, click, response. George the cat!!!!! He must have knocked something or pressed a key or something. Scramble, scramble, scramble...get laptop from viewing mode to broadcasting mode...fluster, fluster, fluster...and begin to broadcast!

I started to speak and prayed that I was broadcasting, as I now was in the blind (with Ustream, you can't have a broadcasting window open at the same time as a viewing window on the same computer or you get feedback) and on my laptop instead of my desktop, which meant relying on WiFi. As I read my thanks and then my first prepared poem, I panicked. Did Sam need me to fill time? I'd prepared 10 minutes as suggested, but then, he asked me to go 5 minutes early? Should I go to my allotted end time? Yes, I decided, or close. So as I was reading my first prepared poem, another section of my brain was scrambling. Luckily, I had the whole fever manuscript right there and picked two shortish poems I know well and blended them in. This is why I always, always, always rehearse.

Finally, I came to the end, and we'd been told to wait a bit after finishing before clicking the "stop" button or we would cut off the broadcast (which was on a delay). I did wait what felt like an uncomfortable amount of time, but, sadly, without my dual computer system working, I couldn't see the broadcast, so I cut myself off. Sigh.

It turns out that I probably shouldn't have added the two extra poems, as the reading ended up going long. I hope no one thought I was one of those horrid readers who disregards time allotted! Also, because I was on my laptop, using WiFi, my broadcast broke up a bit when the signal strength dropped. Sigh.

I do think I was the oldest person reading Still, I was thrilled to get a chance to try the technology.

Also, I was happy that friends and family far and wide (including a friend in England who stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to listen...thank you, Danny) could see/hear the reading. It was great to be able to call Mom afterward and celebrate the event. On top of all that, I got to hear some amazing work (in particular, poems by Benjamin Goldberg and Emma Sovich) and I didn't have to leave my house. In fact, I had sweat pants and slippers on! Lovely, lovely.

Again, thanks to Hayden's Ferry Review for the experience and to Sam for the organization and technical support.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hayden's Ferry Review Online Reading, 12/13/13 @ 8:00 p.m EASTERN

Here's the direct link to the channel. To hold you over until 8:00 EST, you can watch a video of Lydia Ship reading "Roar You" from issue 52!

There may be an ad (or choice of ads) before each reader. Simply choose an ad and watch for five seconds until the Skip button appears, and then you can go straight to the reading. Check out our roster below, featuring a last minute addition: the one and only Emma Sovich! Please join us in the cyberworld come 8 PM for a fantastic reading of poetry and prose!

8 PM—Introduction by Sam Martone
8:10—Kelsey Ronan
8:20—Brandon Amico
8:30—Benjamin Goldberg
8:40—John Holliday
8:50—John James
9—Sandy Longhorn
9:10—Ruth Joffre
9:20—Ray McManus
9:30—Kelly Magee
9:40—Chelsea Biondolillo
9:50—Emma Sovich

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Canceled Events and an Online Reading on December 12th!

27º ~ all is covered with a thin sheen of ice, trees stripped bare except for the sweetgum still clinging to 20% of its leaves and the infernal privets that never lose a leaf

Well, friends, I had the great disappointment of being iced in this weekend and having to cancel my trip to Benedictine University at Springfield. This meant canceling my appearance on The Midwest Radio Show and at the reading at The Dana House with Chad Simpson and Monica Berlin. And, I was especially looking forward to meeting Justin Hamm in person after years of an online friendship. Alas, I'm a good Midwestern girl who knows better than to try and beat the weather at its own game. And, let me tell you, when the ice comes down in Arkansas, it means business. This is not like driving in snow, not at all.

On the flip side, you can catch me on Thursday night (the 12th) on Ustream for the Hayden's Ferry Review 21st Century Reading for issue 53!  So cool!  Contributors from issue 53 will be reading from all over the country. As someone who doesn't have the financial wherewithal to jaunt about to different reading venues, I see great things for this type of reading in the future.  Plus, I can wear my sweats!

We aren't supposed to share the link to the reading until the night of the event, so be sure to friend me on Facebook for the link that night OR send me an email with a request for the link and I'll send it to you on Thursday night. At the moment, I'm scheduled to read at 8:10 CENTRAL time. The full reading will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. central standard time, and you can pop in and out as your schedule allows. Each reader gets 10 minutes, and I'll be reading the two fever poems that appear in HFR Issue 53: "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country" and "I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep." I'll probably have time for one or two more poems and will read some others from the sickly speaker.

In the meantime, I'm trying to drum up motivation to grade and grade and grade and grade. Yes, I know the end is in sight. Yes, I know that the sooner I finish the grading, the sooner I can begin to write again, and collage. However, all I seem capable of during these days of gray and ice is sleep, eat, Law&Order on Netflix, sleep, eat, repeat. I can't even focus on reading, and I've tried! Brain = an icy mush.