Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year 2006

Happy New Year, all! I seem to have picked up some kind of Martian Death Flu on my holiday travels (okay, it's just a yucky cold, but Martian Death Flu sounds more glamorous) so my first resolution for 2006 is to rest and drink orange juice and get myself healthy again. Whatever you are doing tonight, I hope you are warm and safe and happy. I wish you all a peaceful, creative, and successful (that word -- whatever it means to you!) year in 2006.

Friday, December 30, 2005

From flyover country

The new Indianapolis Airport, now under construction, is apparently going to be chock-full of art. What a cool thing. Even better, they are looking for poems by Indiana poets, as one of the proposed works of art is going to feature poetry on it.

If they pick one of mine, y'all have to start planning your travel so as to connect via Indianapolis, just so you can go "ooh! I know that poet!" :)

And in honor of the new year (and for me personally, a return to sending stuff out after a brief hiatus), this bit o'sanity from

Rejection Blues?

A cockroach will live nine days without its head, before it starves to death. A publisher won't.

If you yelled "I've been rejected!" for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days, you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee.

Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour and hurts. Posting another submission takes seconds and doesn't.

Remember, when someone annoys you, it takes 42 muscles in your face to frown. But, it only takes 4 muscles to extend your arm and smack the w****r in the head. Or post a submission to another publisher.

If you fart consistently for 6 years and 9 months, enough gas is produced to create the energy of an atomic bomb. If you wrote a short story every day for the same period, you'd have about 2469 stories to submit and your home would be a much nicer place to visit.

The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male's head off. Unless the publisher that rejected you happens to be a male praying mantis, telling him to f*** off will not have the same effect.

A pig's orgasm lasts for 30 minutes. The publisher that rejected you is certainly not a pig...

An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain. (We know some people like that, don't we?)

Starfish don't have brains. (We know some people like that, too)

Some lions mate over 50 times a day. Publishers would need to be lions if rejected writers could only get mental telepathy to work.

If publishers really knew the secret of what makes a good book "good", they'd be writers.

The following have had books published: Jeffrey Archer, Joan Collins, Jackie Collins, Roy Hattersley, Salman Rushdie.

Are you really thinking of giving up now?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Home again, home again...

Back home after a relatively quick trip for a family Christmas (and my little sister's 42nd birthday) in Atlanta. It was a lovely visit, good to spend time with family. The presents I gave seemed to be well-received, which makes me happy. And we ate very, very well -- always important! :)

The day after Christmas we went to the Georgia Aquarium, which was absolutely mobbed -- an aquarium staffer told me they'd sold 17,000 advance tickets for that day, plus walk-ins! -- but was very enjoyable nonetheless. They have two whale sharks (named Ralph and Norton), which are enormous enough to be impressive but at 16-17 feet are only about half the size they will be at maturity. The tank that houses them along with a few hundred other fish holds 6 million gallons of water, and has lots of viewing windows, including one the size of a big movie screen. Had it not been so very crowded, I would have loved to just sit there for a couple of hours with my notebook, watching fish and writing. They also have five beluga whales, one of whom has invented the game of blowing bubble rings: he surfaces, takes a mouthful of air, then dives and blows a ring-shaped bubble, which he then plays with. Sometimes he makes a bubble ring big enough to put his face through. It's hysterical to watch, and apparently two of the other whales have learned this behavior from him. They also have a giant Pacific octopus, which I was able to see briefly, but there was a really bad crowd at that spot because it was a popular exhibit with a very small viewing window. And otters! And piranhas! And a coral reef, and lots of other really cool stuff.

The next day we wandered around and shopped in Little Five Points, which has a lot of neat shops although I started feeling extremely middle-aged and uncool there. The best was Charis Books, a feminist bookstore with a pretty good poetry section. I love feminist bookstores (used to volunteer at the one here in Bloomington before it closed down shortly after Borders and Barnes & Noble came to town, go figure) and this was a nice one. My mom had given me one of those Visa gift cards for Christmas and Charis got a pretty good chunk of it. :)

We ate at a couple of good restaurants, both highly recommended if you're ever in Atlanta. After the aquarium we went to Six Feet Under, so named because a) it's a seafood place and b) it's across the street from a humongous cemetery. I had the blackened shrimp tacos, which were wonderful. The place looks like a dive from the outside, but the service was fabulous and the food was very Southern and very very good. For my sister's birthday dinner, we went to Watershed, a casual-but-nice place in Decatur which is co-owned by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. Since it was Tuesday, it was fried chicken night -- a very big deal at Watershed; they often sell out of the fried chicken early in the evening, so we went early, 5:30. Their fried chicken is pretty famous, and takes 48 hours to prepare (soaked in brine & buttermilk, among other exacting preparations) and fully lives up to its billing. You get a heaping plate of it (I think there were 4 pieces), along with a big glob of very good mashed potatoes, two excellent flakey biscuits, and these wonderful garlic green beans. So, so good.

I don't have to go back to work until the 3rd (taking a little vacation time). I hope to use some of this much-awaited downtime for some reading and writing. I want to revise "Breach" (my chapbook ms.) and start sending it out again, revise some poems, and maybe even start writing some new ones. Also, get my grant application started.

I am still catching up on blog-reading and email -- I'll catch up eventually! I hope everyone's holidays have been peaceful. And onward we roll into 2006. Wow, that's a big number. Yikes...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Solstice Blessings

On this longest, darkest night of the year, may each of you find -- not just light -- but peace with both the darkness and the light.

Just Delicate Needles

It's so delicate, the light.
And there's so little of it. The dark
is huge.
Just delicate needles, the light,
in an endless night.
And it has such a long way to go
through such desolate space.
So let's be gentle with it.
Cherish it.
So it will come again in the morning.
We hope.

by Rolf Jacobsen
translated by Robert Hedin

A blessed Solstice to those who celebrate it.

And for those who celebrate Christmas, here's a little greeting for you, a few days early:

Monday, December 19, 2005


When I get a rejection slip with "Thanks. Good luck w/these--" & the editor's initials scribbled on the bottom, I can never help but read it as if it's sarcastic in tone: "Yeah, good luck getting that stuff published." This is why I've declared a brief submissions moratorium for myself -- this is not a healthy way to look at a perfectly innocent rejection slip, especially one from a particularly good journal.

I think after the holidays I'll have a better attitude and I can get back to it. I think I will end my submissions moratorium when I feel that I've regained a healthy equilibrium of time spent reading & writing. Because that's what matters, the reading & writing, not so much the submitting.


I don't have a kitten anymore -- I hve an orange streak that flashes around the house every so often. I guess he did hold still for a little while last night, but about all I've seen since I got home this evening has been an orangey-white blur that apparently has a kitten inside it somewhere. He's taken to jumping onto the top of the coat-tree in the living room and looking down on everything like a little bitty mountain lion.


The official announcement went out today -- the branch library that I coordinate/manage is being transformed into an "information commons" type dealie; our books, journals, and reserve operations will be moved to the main library, probably over the summer. Which means my job will be phased out. I have been assured that there will still be a place for me within the library system, and have had preliminary discussions with the Associate Dean regarding what that might look like; it could be interesting, but uncertainty & change can be hard, and right now I have no idea what my job title will be, where I'll sit every day, or who I'll report to six months or so from now. So part of today, after the announcement went out, was spent responding to questions from colleagues & faculty. A bit awkward explaining a decision I didn't make, but whatever.

At least I have Provincetown to look forward to this summer -- most likely -- even though paying for it means putting off some dental work and some car repairs. Eh, who needs teeth when you have poetry. :)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Decision, decided. (I think.)

Thanks to everyone who gave me their thoughts on my workshop choices. It was hard to go with my gut instinct because my gut instinct tells me there are at least six workshops next summer that I would get a whole heck of a lot out of! I decided to narrow it down to Carl Phillips vs. D.A. Powell (though as I noted before there are a bunch of very promising-sounding options). I phoned FAWC this morning and Dorothy, the summer program administrator, read me the complete workshop descriptions -- and in the end that's what decided me. Phillips' description sounds very similar to what Powell did last year: revision, and using the revision process to generate new material as well. Which is good stuff, and Dorothy said students always rave about Phillips, so it could be a very, very good workshop. But Powell's workshop on "Writing the Body" feels a bit risky to me, feels like it might make me write some things I'm afraid to write, feels just a bit scary. So that's the one I signed up for. I will need to let go of my expectations, because I will not have the same experience I had last summer. But I know I will be challenged, I will spend a week fully alive with the smell of the ocean filling my lungs, I will learn a hell of a lot.

I may blog later about why a workshop on "Writing the Body" feels risky and scary to me. It's a risk I need to take, because I have a tendency to live inside my head a lot and consequently to write very "think-y" poems. Provincetown, where I am so aware of the salt smell and the way the fog feels against my skin and the sounds of the harbor and the scratch of sand inside my shoes, where the light falls in a way it falls nowhere else, is the perfect place for me to work on this.

I could tell I made the right decision because as soon as I told Dorothy to sign me up for Powell's workshop I felt like bouncing in my chair a little bit. It was nice to chat with her for a minute, too -- she remembered me, and told me again how much she liked the poem I read last summer at the student reading (yes, they do know how to butter up the paying customers *grin*) and she told me to look for my picture in the printed catalog I'll be receiving soon. (Meep!) --And thanks to Carol for pointing out that my picture is on page 14 of the "FAWC News 2006" newsletter! I was sitting in that lovely Adirondack chair in the FAWC courtyard on Friday morning, writing in my journal, wearing a Hawaiian shirt I got in Kihei, Maui and someone stood on the balcony outside the classroom my workshop met in and snapped an aerial view. "Still Life with Poetry Nerd in Courtyard." (Carol, check out page 7, too -- the cookout picture -- did you spot Michael? Sonia Sanchez is there too, and I keep squinting to see if I can make out anyone else...)

I can't possibly afford this. It's foolish for me to be doing this. Stuff like this is why I have no retirement savings and am going to have to seriously consider stepping in front of a Mack truck when I hit seventy or so. But ... it feels absolutely, completely right to be planning this return trip. It's a palpable, physical pull.

Meet me there.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Decisions, decisions.

Well, hell.

Today I got my early-registration information from FAWC for their summer workshops. (Yeah!!) (They always send out bare-bones info to people on their mailing list before they put the schedule & registration up on their website, so we get first dibs.) I'd been more or less thinking I would apply for the Indiana Arts Commission grant to cover the costs of attending a workshop. But ... of COURSE ... the two I'm most interested in doing are in June, and the grant period begins July 1, so I can't apply for the grant for those workshops.

I could do a workshop later in the summer (although I'd still have to register, reserve housing, probably even buy a plane ticket, all before I knew for sure whether I'd gotten the grant or not). But ... I stopped for a minute and really listened to what I've been saying for the past couple of days, which is, "I'll just put the workshop stuff on my credit card and if I don't get the grant, well, I'll figure out some way to pay it off."

So, duh. I should just do that ANYway, if I want the workshop badly enough to do that, and apply for the grant for something ELSE that will work out better. Probably an online mentorship thingie. Which would probably fit the grant specs better anyway, because in the workshop I attended the other day they really emphasized that they want the grant to take you a step farther along in your career, not just keep doing what you're already doing. And I've done workshops already, but I've never done a mentorship thingie. And a mentorship thingie would be a very natural way to work towards a (ssshhhhh, don't tell, you'll jinx it!) book manuscript.

So, even though I can't possibly afford it, I think I'm going to call FAWC tomorrow and make reservations for a workshop. And housing, because staying at FAWC is cheaper than most of the B&B's in town, and their housing books up super super fast so if I don't nab it now I'm probably out of luck. And honestly, I'll have several months before it's too late to cancel and get my deposit back, so even if I change my mind, I'm still better off putting down a deposit now.

BUT ... there are two workshops that appeal to me right off the bat (okay, there are probably half a dozen that interest me, but these two particularly). They're both the same week (the week of June 18th). One is "Revision: Art and Strategy" with Carl Phillips. The other is "Writing the Body" with D.A. Powell. Now, D.A. Powell's workshop last summer was (as anyone who was reading this blog back then knows) a tremendous experience for me; I'd go so far as to say it was one of the best weeks of my life, and that Powell was the best teacher I have ever had. So do I sign up for another week with him? If the week is less than mind-blowing for whatever reason, what a letdown. And last summer was just a perfect confluence of me being in the right space, the right people in the class, the right poems showing up to be written, the right weather, the right teacher -- chances are, nothing's going to live up to that standard. But, he's a damned good teacher and I'm sure it would be a good workshop no matter what. On the other hand, working with somebody new would be good (maybe I've already learned what I have to learn from Powell?), revision would be a very worthwhile thing for me to work on, and I have a gut instinct that Phillips might be a really good teacher for me. And I'd still get to hear Powell read, and hopefully get a chance to hang with him a bit and catch up.

Ugh, decisions, decisions. I could also go later in the summer and do a revision workshop with Martha Rhodes, who I met at IUWC last summer and liked quite a bit. Or I could apply to get into Marie Howe's advanced poetry workshop (and if I didn't get in, Cleopatra Mathis is doing a revision workshop that week, and Mark Wunderlich is teaching that week too, so I could just take one of those instead and not have to change housing/air reservations). Major Jackson is doing a workshop called "Doorways: A Poetry Workshop" which sounds intriguing though I might ask the FAWC folks to read me the full description before I would sign up for it. Marie Ponsot is teaching at the end of August, but that's a bad time to take off work so it's probably out of the question. Oh, and Thomas Sayers Ellis has one called "A Risk in Every Room" and since I am fascinated with the idea of risk in poetry and what it can mean or not mean, that intrigues me.

But I am fond of June in P-town, and I'm inclined right now to go with either Phillips or Powell.

Any thoughts, input, ouija board suggestions would be MOST welcome. (Carol! I'd especially love to hear from you on this.) I think I'm gonna call them tomorrow and make the reservations, but switching from one to the other in the same week is not a problem if the other one isn't full yet, so even if you're late to the party, I'd be glad to hear your opinion. Yes, you.

The fact that I can't possibly afford this, that it is completely irresponsible of me to even think about it, makes it a little more exciting. :P


My poetry group had our holiday meeting tonight. We usually bring more food than for a regular meeting (and more festive food), and we usually exchange small gifts although this year we each made a donation to charity in the name of the group instead, and we usually bring poems by others to share instead of critiquing our own. I read "Octopus in the Freezer" by our own Artichoke Heart. They loved it, although Anya said "boy, that's a mind I wouldn't want to be inside for more than a few minutes." (She meant it in a good way, though!)


The next person to ask me whether I've got my Christmas shopping finished yet gets decked. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Come out and play

I love all the houses on Po-Blog Avenue. If you haven't added one yet -- you are welcome in this neighborhood! It really isn't about creating something beautiful or being the best artist... and I think it is so good, especially for those of us who work hard to be "good" at some art or other, to just go play and not care about being any good. It is hard (at least for some of us) (ok, at least for me) to let go of wanting to do it well, and just play -- that's why I hardly ever pick up my guitar anymore, don't draw or paint (things I did all the time in high school or so, and which I really miss sometimes) -- what is really hard is to take that playful sense back to poetry and just screw around with words, to let go of the reins and stop worrying about whether what I'm writing is any good or not. And of course, when I let myself play, that's when I come up with something unexpected -- that's when I am ambushed by language and manage to write something nobody else would have thought to write.

So if you don't draw a house, take some time in the near future to just go play with art or creativity of some sort. Get a jar of Play-Doh and make a dog sculpture. Build a snow fort. Finger paint. Play Christmas carols on the kazoo. Get out that old guitar and bash away at it like some rock star and open up your mouth and sing, even if you're not Bono. Or even if you are.

Today I attended a Verious Serious Meeting of Very Serious Artists -- I guess that's why the rant above. Someone from the Indiana Arts Commission came to our arts center downtown to talk to interested artists about the IAC's Individual Artist Grant program. As it turns out, the fiscal-year timing may make it logistically difficult for me to try to get money for a writing workshop, since grant awards are announced in mid- to late June and most of the workshops I want to attend are in, say, July. I'd have to go ahead and sign up for the workshop and pay for it on my credit card and hope like heck I get the grant (and funds aren't disbursed until fall or so anyway) and then if I didn't, either cancel the workshop (tricky if I've had to buy plane tickets or make reservations at a B&B with a stinky cancellation policy) or just go and, I don't know, pay off the credit card eventually. Another possibility might be to ask for funding for a more private writing retreat, a cabin in the woods somewhere, time and space I would use to finally put my alleged book manuscript together. I can think of a few other possibilities, too. Or maybe I could just move into one of y'all's houses on Po-Blog Avenue. :)

And I am probably jinxing it anyway by talking about applying, just like the job I told a bunch of people I was applying for and then didn't even get an interview. (And rightly so, I might add; the two people who did get interviews were way more qualified than I was.)

So I have a lot to think about with this grant thing, but I'm glad they did this workshop, as I have a much more solid sense of how to frame a project so that it will be more "grantable." And I think I'm going to be able to come up with a project that will work with the parameters of this thing. My Tax Dollars At Work.

(In fairness, I do know a couple of people who've had real problems with these grants. I am hoping that my many years of working in one of the bigger administrative offices on campus have taught me enough about navigating bureaucracy to help me wade through this process or at least be patient with the muck and mire. We shall see. It is, after all, the State of Indiana, which means everything's bound to be a bit more convoluted than necessary.)

I swear I had something else I wanted to write about, but maybe not.

It's cold outside.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Welcome to the neighborhood...

So here's the game.

Go to this link right here. Draw a house. When you finish, you can take a silly little personality quiz. And then you can see your house, along with other bloggers' houses, by visiting Po-Blog Avenue.

(You have to use the first link to draw your house, and not the second one, otherwise your house won't be on Po-Blog Avenue with the rest of us, and we'll accuse you of being an isolationist.)

Get as creative as I know y'all can be. ;) (We did this today in an online community where I spend too much time. A lot of the buildings kind of refer to various community in-jokes, but you can see our little street over at Eschwa Street. Just to give you an example of how silly you can get with this.)

Build your house, move in, kick your feet up ... yes, that's a cat in my front window, purring happily away! And no, I can't draw worth crap, especially using the touchpad on my laptop. Obviously, artistic skill is not required here. *grin*

Friday, December 09, 2005

Grant writing, or, Your tax dollars at work

Next week I'm going to go to a workshop offered at our local arts center, aimed at helping people get Individual Artist Grants from the Indiana Arts Commission. There isn't a whole heck of a lot of money given out to artists in this state, but this is a nice little program that provides up to a thousand dollars for people to pursue specific projects -- including things like traveling to workshops. If I can get one of these, I can go to a workshop in Provincetown again next summer, something I don't think I'm going to be able to afford otherwise. ($1000 won't cover all of the expenses -- travel, workshop tuition, lodging, meals, cat sitter, airport parking -- but it would cover tuition and lodging, and maybe travel, so it would make it possible where it wouldn't be possible without the grant.) A friend of mine got one of these grants last year, so I know that writing workshops are something they are known to fund, and I think I've been published more than she has so hopefully the fact that she got one means I can get one too. Although she's got a lot more grant writing experience than I do, and that matters.

I'm happy that the Waldron is providing an informational workshop to help guide me through this process, and I'm glad that I'm able to take a couple hours off work to go attend it, but I think I need all the help I can get, so I'll gratefully accept any advice about writing grants for this kind of thing, if any of you have experience with it!

Monday, December 05, 2005


I am watching a documentary on our local PBS station, in which the Beaux Arts Trio is playing Beethoven (the documentary is in honor of the 50th anniversary of the trio). In addition to making me wish I had set the VCR for this one (confidential to Miz Loudon: WTIU is going to be releasing this documentary to other PBS stations in March; call yours up and see if they're getting it, 'cause you would love it), it is making me think about the concept of virtuosity. A friend of mine (and fellow poet) has written a book about virtuosity in the performing arts; I haven't read it, but I wonder what (if anything) constitutes virtuosity in poetry? Or does the concept of virtuosity apply only to performance (and if so, can performance poetry have virtuosity)?


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Nice news and a question

Cortland Review sent an acceptance for my poem "One Goose" tonight. Yay! Don't know yet when it will appear.

Does anyone know what's up with Rock Salt Plum Review? I sent them some poems back in May, and now their website just says "sorry, the site you requested has been disabled."

Freezing rain outside -- I am very glad I don't have to go anywhere in the morning. Apparently a whole section of I-70 in Indianapolis has been shut down because it's just too slick to drive. Yep, it's winter.

Here's your daily dose of cuteness: my two boys playing Rassle-Mania on the couch. I should take wagers and sell tickets.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Crazy Quilt a success

Tonight was the Crazy Quilt of Bloomington Songs performance, and as far as I'm concerned it was a big success. It was fun to see people outside the usual "poetry crowd" showing up for a poetry-related event, and the singers & pianist were spot-on with their performances. The poems were divided into groups of three or occasionally just two; all the poets in that small grouping would go up "onstage" together, and each stood at the podium to read while the others sat in chairs, then the musicians performed those pieces while the poets stayed up front. After the three (or two) pieces were performed the musicians & poets all took a bow, and the poets returned to the audience while the next group of poets came onstage. It sounds complicated but it worked really well. My poem was paired with one by Roger Pfingston, who's been a fixture on the Bloomington poetry scene as long as I can remember, and I think the two poems worked really well together.

The poets were given corsages (a single rose, with white ribbon for the ladies) at the door, which was a sweet touch. And at the end there were fabulous brownies and cookies, and no end of congratulations all 'round. I think this was one of the most fun poetry experiences I've ever had, for a number of reasons -- the collaborative aspect, the opportunity to hear some nifty new music, the "outreach" to people who might not normally attend a poetry reading (or, similarly, people who might not normally attend a performance of 21st-century "serious music"), and don't forget those fabulous brownies. *grin* Hey, I'll trade a poem for a rose, a brownie, and an evening's entertainment anytime -- that's more than one usually gets for poems!

The performance was videotaped by our local cable-access channel, so hopefully I'll be able to record it when it airs. And Lee Chapman (the composer) is talking about recording this work to CD, which I hope does happen, as I'd love to hear the pieces again. He did a good job, I think, of not overpowering the words with the music; the words didn't seem secondary to the music, nor vice-versa, which in my experience is not always the case with poetry/music collaborations. Another thing I particularly enjoyed about the evening was that the contributing poets spanned a wide range of experience -- some were fairly new poets who hadn't read in public much; some were about like me, published here & there but not well-known or anything; a few better-known poets were included, like Catherine Bowman and A Loudermilk (whose poem, "Kicked Dog," was one of my favorites). All in all, I'm tickled that my "little poem that could" was a part of this thing.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dress rehearsal

Tonight was the dress rehearsal for the Crazy Quilt of Bloomington Songs performance. Some of the poets weren't there, but those of us who were read our poems, and the musicians performed all of them. There are three musicians performing: a pianist, a soprano, and a baritone. Most of the poems are sung by only one of the singers, although both of them perform the last one on the program. My poem ("Door") is sung by the soprano, Virginia LeBlanc, whose voice is just gorgeous; I chatted with her briefly after the rehearsal and found out that she is in the final year of her doctorate at the IU School of Music (generally considered to be one of the best music schools in the country), and the morning after the performance she's headed for an audition in NYC. So, yeah, she's a wee bit talented. :) It is something else, hearing my words coming out of the mouth of such a talented singer. Some of the pieces worked better than others, of course, but none of them seemed to me to be clunkers, and some of the settings brought out entirely new layers of meaning in the poems. It was neat to hear. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's performance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Happy stuff

There's been a veritable flurry of good news around blogville lately... don't miss Christine's!

As for the new study showing that poets and artists have more sexual partners than the average schmoe, all I have to say is ... maybe on someone's planet. Jeez. (Then again I don't fit the "depressed" part of the thing either -- I'm actually rather annoyingly content most of the time -- so maybe I'm not an actual poet after all. This possibility bears investigatin'.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thinking ahead

After yet another standard rejection from a journal that has in the past given me at least a nice note, I think I'm going to pull back from the submission game for a while -- let the stuff that's out come back, but not send anything else out till maybe after the first of the year. In the meantime there is plenty of reading and writing to be done.

Roger Mitchell once said that anyone can be a poet, but you have to want it badly enough. Right now I wonder whether I really do want it badly enough. Do I want to have a book published someday? Sure. Of course. But do I want the actual writing part? Do I want it badly enough? Is it something I am meant to do? That feels like a good question right now.

Friday night is the Crazy Quilt of Bloomington Songs performance. Should be fun. We have an actual dress rehearsal on Thursday night, which makes me feel a tiny bit impatient as I'm reading a poem that will last all of about thirty seconds, but I suppose it's necessary. The poets will be reading their poems before the musical performances of same, and there are probably a lot of logistics involved in getting people moved on & off the stage, et cetera.

Thinking ahead to next summer. I really want to go back to Provincetown for another workshop, though I can't imagine how I will be able to swing it financially. The Indiana U. Writers' Conference is another possibility -- still pricey if I don't get a scholarship (every time I attend I apply, but have never yet gotten one) but at least I don't have to cover travel and housing. They've announced their 2006 faculty already, though they haven't yet indicated who's leading manuscript workshops and who's just teaching lecture-type classes. Still, looks like a fairly interesting group: Amy Bloom, Richard Cecil, Debra Kang Dean, Barbara Hamby, Tyehimba Jess, Dana Johnson, Allison Joseph, David Kirby, Richard McCann, Jon Tribble, Samrat Upadhyay, and Mark Wunderlich. I also see that Bob Bledsoe is the new director of the conference this year; Bob was in the poetry class I took with Cathy Bowman a couple years ago, when he was an MFA fiction student here, and he's a good writer and a sweet guy. I imagine he'll do a good job with the IUWC.

I suspect, though, that as soon as FAWC releases its summer schedule, I will be rushing to sign up for a workshop there even if I can't possibly afford it. (Hey, I can always get my deposit back in a few months if I keep doing the math and just can't swing it. And the deposit can go on the trusty credit card -- that's what they're for, right?) I can't expect it to be as revelatory (I was going to say "epiphanous" -- if that's not a word, it should be) as the workshop I had this past summer; that was probably a once-in-a-lifetime conjunction of the right teacher and the right fellow students in the right place at the right time. But it would, without doubt, be a lovely and well-spent week. So we'll wait to see who's teaching there in 2006. Who knows, maybe I'll land a grant or a scholarship and blow most of my vacation time for both IUWC and FAWC. That would be a blast.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Gobble, gobble

In the "nobody will notice unless I say something" department, I'm heading to my mom's for a few days for that turkey holiday thingie, and may not be reading (as much as usual) or updating. Where I'm going, there's a lake effect snow advisory for tomorrow, 5 to 7 inches of the yucky stuff or maybe more. I'm sure it will be an amusing little drive. (For rather odd values of "amusing.") Hopefully it will be relatively uneventful. I'm not taking the cats this time -- the cat sitter will be stopping by morning & evening.

I've been rather cranky and dissatisfied lately, so I'm going to try to use this holiday to remind myself that I have much to be thankful for. Y'all would be a part of that. The little connections I've found here, the generosity of so many of you in sharing a part of your lives, the common ground. And the poetry -- I'm thankful for the poets many of you have recommended and for the poems many of you have written and published -- some of which I might never have stumbled across without this blogging thing. So to all of you, thanks -- mahalo -- blessings. And if you are traveling this holiday (or if you're not), be safe.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Save the date...

Bloomington, IN – Friday, December 2nd – 8pm -- at the John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium -- A Crazy Quilt of Bloomington Songs -- songs of love, war, nature, and nonsense. Poems by: Joyce B. Adams, Catherine Bowman, Patricia Coleman, Charles Greer, Anne Haines, Jenny Kander, Andrew Kenower, Jack King, Donna Kluesner, A Loudermilk, Doris Lynch, Antonia Matthew, Roger Pfingston, Elvia Pyburn-Wilk, Eric Rensberger, John Sherman, Jerry Smith, Suzanne Sturgeon, Thomas Tokarski, Donovan Walling. Music by: Lee Chapman. Performed by: Virginia LeBlanc, Soprano - Howard Swyers, Baritone - Carol Scheuer, Piano. GA - $10, Students/Seniors - $8, Children - $6 tickets on line: or at the door.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Flakes and flurries

After crazy storms, tornado warnings, and reports of "debris falling from sky" in my town yesterday, today was blustery and cold -- and the first snow fell. Didn't stick, but it snowed and flurried much of the day. Tonight is clear and starry and and cold, cold (remind me in two months that I once thought a 22-degree night was "cold, cold"). My 15-year-old car has been a bit cranky about starting lately, which probably means something expensive. Great.

Afte getting a bit of disappointing career-related (not the writing "career" but the one that pays the bills) news last week, I was feeling a bit deflated. Decided to pass on the book contests with November 15 deadlines, of which there were several I'd been hoping to manage. Then decided maybe it really isn't time to work on a book yet after all, especially given that individual poem acceptances have been few & far between lately -- so decided to work on a chapbook ms. or two. After a day or so of that I decided to downscale further and just write poems. As of today I'm hiking it down one more notch, and writing ONE poem until I get that one right (the one I posted the beginnings of a draft of on this blog the other day, and promptly blinked right back out). I've been fiddling with line breaks, counting syllables, trying short lines and longer ones. I've got about a half-dozen different versions now, all shaped just a little differently; the funny thing is that the more I fiddle with the lines, the more clearly I can see where the poem's energy is concentrated & where it loses momentum. It's like I'm tipping it back and forth until the shiny parts sift up to the surface where I can see them. I will probably not end up counting syllables for the final draft, but it has been a useful exercise. I'll print out all the versions soon and then start with a blank page and write it again from scratch.

By "soon" I probably mean after Thanksgiving, at this point. This weekend must, alas, be given over to house cleaning, as right now it's not fit for the cat sitter to set foot in it (I'll be at my mom's for the holiday). Funny how writing starts to feel like something I want to do again, just when I'm not going to have much time for it for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

Your daily dose of cuteness

Not much to say at the moment, but I still have a terribly adorable kitten. See? I think he's reasonably happy... :)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Librarian-ish link o'the moment

Librarianly types (and some of you picking this up over on slisblogs) -- those of you interested in ontologies, taxonomies, folksonomies, knowledge management, and so on -- might be interested in reading Ontologista.

What is an ontologist, you ask? Well, her response is that "an ontologist is a librarian with stock options." Hmmm, once you put it that way, it sounds like something I oughta look into. *grin*

Monday, November 07, 2005

Lyric vs. narrative

The lyric mode, which is most associated with poetry, as we associate the narrative mode with fiction, can occur in any genre. Poems, plays, essays, stories, employ a variety of modes other than what might be thought of as their signature mode -- in other words, poetry isn't always in a lyric mode, or fiction in a narrative mode, nonfiction in an expository mode. You can define the lyric by comparing it to the narrative. The narrative mode is linear, chronological, and because of chronology -- the old first this happened, then that happened -- it implies cause and effect. The lyrical, by contrast, is the mode of dreams: associative both in terms of image and sound, so that we can get from one idea to another via assonance, alliteration, rhyme. Time in the lyric is subjective: you can speed it up, slow-mo it, flash forward. Often in stories what is called the epiphany is actually a switch from the narrative to the lyric mode. Joyce's "The Dead" offers a classic example of this: the story is in the narrative and dramatic mode for most of its length, but at the very end, closure involves a leap into the lyric complete with images of falling snow and the f-sounds Joyce employs.

[from an interview with Stuart Dybek by Jeanie Chung, AWP Chronicle, Oct/Nov 2005]

This was in response to a question about "lyric fiction," but I think it's a decent definition of "lyric" and "narrative" in general, and I like what he says about switching from one mode to the other. Since M. writes some fiction as well as poetry, I think this might be a particularly useful discussion for her -- and for me, too (ooh, selfish tutor, talking about stuff that's useful to me *grin*). I also like that he parallels "assonance, alliteration, rhyme"-- and the associative in general -- in the lyric with chronology in the narrative, as ways of getting from one place to another. That just kind of makes a little light bulb go on for me. Even though it's pretty basic stuff, I hadn't seen it quite this clearly before.

Lines and endings

Thanks for the comments on my last post -- I'm glad I'm okay, too. :) Evansville isn't that close to Bloomington, but given the weather that was moving through, we could easily have been in a similar situation. The local news is full of devastation footage, looking like a giant stomped through various neighborhoods and squashed big sections flat. Really awful.

On a much more pleasant note: Thinking back now on my "tutoring" session (really, the "personal trainer" concept is a lot closer to what we're doing) last week. My plan was to talk about the line first, and try to work on thinking of the line as a living entity rather than talking about line breaks. I thought I'd bring in someone who uses very short lines successfully (W.C. Williams) and someone who uses very long lines successfully (D.A. Powell), so we talked about several poems by each of them. We talked about lines a bit, but we ended up talking more about endings. We talked about how Williams' short lines slow down the poem, give a greater weight to each line and each image. Then we went on to talk about how Williams could sometimes have gone on for another stanza or two but that would have ruined the poem (he gives us that wheelbarrow and those chickens, and just leaves the image to stand alone without going on to explain why he's writing about it; he takes the plums and apologizes and mentions their sweetness and coldness but doesn't go on to elaborate about what it means to have taken the plums) -- of course, explaining what the poem is about is such a common "beginner" mistake, and seeing how much stronger Williams' poems are without doing that was, I think, instructive. Then Powell -- we talked about how he often puts a full stop or a colon in the middle of a line, letting it serve as a pivot or a fulcrum of sorts, but he never ends a line (even the last line of a poem) with a full stop; he doesn't feel the need to create or tack on a polished ending that wraps up the loose ends (something I tend to do too often).

Then M. got out a poem of her own that she'd like to work on revising, and read it aloud, and I could see her recognizing the places where she'd overexplained, the places where she went on past the point where the poem (or line, or image) lost its energy. It was really cool, seeing that little light go on for her. I didn't give her a line-by-line critique of the poem and we didn't talk about how she might edit the poem, but in the interest of revision, I suggested that she might try rewriting the poem with several different focal points -- there were four different people in the poem, and I suggested she might try rewriting it focused on each individual character, or on the physical room in which the poem was set. I think if she tries looking at the poem from several different angles, the real poem will make itself known to her. It was a different sort of critique than anything I've done with my writing groups, which have usually gone for a more line-by-line thing. That works great for editing, but for revision, maybe not so much. I found myself coming back quite a bit to stuff that we talked about in D.A. Powell's workshop this past summer, and maybe understanding it a little better through trying to explain it & apply it to someone else's work. I guess everyone quotes their own teachers when they start teaching, eh?

Anyway, I think she got something out of it, and I got to look at my ideas about revision from a little different distance, so it was a good session. Now to decide what to bring in for her next. I'd thought we'd move on to look at different forms, but I think first we should talk about the narrative vs. the lyric, what each of them is, why you might choose to work in one mode vs. the other, how to (and whether to) move between the two. I've loaned her Ilya Kaminsky's book, and also Adrienne Rich's "Twenty-One Love Poems" (which I was shocked to find that she wasn't familiar with), both of which may give us some starting places for discussion. The poem she brought in last week, I think, could successfully be reworked as either narrative or lyric -- and maybe writing it both ways would be an interesting exercise to give her. (And, hmmm, maybe an interesting exercise to give myself with one of my own poems.) There was a nice bit in the interview with Stuart Dybek in the current AWP Chronicle, a definition/contrast of the two. Let me dig that out and post it. Meanwhile, if anyone has thoughts on this, or excellent examples, I'm all ears.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blowin' in the wind

a wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand. I think i too have known
autumn too long

(and what have you to say,
wind wind wind — did you love somebody
and have you the petal of somewhere in your heart
pinched from dumb summer?
O crazy daddy
of death dance cruelly for us and start

the last leaf whirling in the final brain
of air!)Let us as we have seen see
doom’s integration………a wind has blown the rain

away and the leaves and the sky and the
trees stand:
the trees stand. The trees,
suddenly wait against the moon’s face.

[e.e. cummings]

Just a quick note to say that, while we did have tornado warnings from about 3:00 to 4:30 last night (and yes, I was up until 6 am because of it; the cats were not thrilled about being hauled down to the basement...), we are all fine here. We had a brief monsoon, but that's about it, although we did see the same squall line that caused a tornado that killed at least 19 people in & near Evansville, Indiana (and adjacent portions of northern Kentucky).

I have a terrible fear of tornadoes, thanks to having been in a big one when I was five years old in Topeka, Kansas. (Our house was severely damaged, uninhabitable, but not flattened. At the time, that tornado set the record for the most damage -- measured in dollars -- ever caused by a single tornado.) Nights like last night are not much fun for me. But I'm fine. The storms blew most of the leaves from the trees, though -- I woke up in a changed landscape.

...and the trees stand.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Postage and the line

So it looks like the price of stamps is going up in January but the exact date hasn't been announced yet. If I send out poems now, chances are pretty good I won't hear anything back until at least January. What would y'all do (or what do y'all plan to do) -- just go ahead and put the new postage amount on the SASE and then if it happens not to go up you've just wasted a couple of cents? Put the current amount on the SASE and then if it does go up your SASE comes back to you postage-due? Or just only send to places that take submissions via email for a while?

It's the little things.

Tomorrow after work I have my first "tutoring session" with my friend who wants to get herself back to poetry. I've decided that the first thing we need to look at and talk about is the line. Not the line break, but the line itself (a perspective that, once I found it, really changed how I thought about my own work). I want to bring in a few examples of poems that use lines well -- one with short lines, one with long lines, and maybe one that uses medium-ish lines but uses them particularly well. I wish I'd thought of asking for examples here earlier -- it's now 10:30 pm and I have to get everything put together before I go to bed, since I work until 5 and we're meeting at 6. Fooey. I'm thinking maybe "The Red Wheelbarrow" for short lines, pull out something by D.A. Powell for long lines, and in a couple minutes I'll go dig through my books and find something else to bring in. Maybe a sonnet, hmmmm. We'll probably do a little on-the-spot writing exercise too -- maybe I can dig up one that's somehow related to thinking about the line.

My other plan is to get her to broaden her reading a bit, ease her into reading a wider range of contemporary stuff. I'm going to loan her a book every time we meet (we're meeting every other week) -- I think I'll start her off with Ilya Kaminsky. I have yet to find anyone who's read Dancing in Odessa and not liked it, and it should give us plenty to talk about next time. Plus I can direct her to the audio files of him reading a few of the poems over at From the Fishouse and that's always fun.

Tell you what -- if anyone has suggestions for poems that make excellent use of lines/line breaks and are available online, pass them on to me and maybe I'll get a chance to print them out at work tomorrow. I'll take other suggestions too, available online or not, but if I can't grab them online I probably won't be able to use them in tomorrow's session. But we can probably continue talking about the line a little bit into the next session too.

Next time I think we may talk about prescribed forms -- I'll find a few examples of the sonnet, the sestina, the villanelle, the ghazal, and a couple of others, and make her write a couple of those just for grins. Because everyone should be forced to write a horrible sonnet at least once in their lives. I'm also going to swipe something Cathy Bowman did in the class I took from her a couple of years ago -- she talked about how poems move across & down the page, which led to talking about short vs. long lines and short vs. long poems. (And which led to the assignment of "write a short poem" -- for which I wrote my poem "Door" that has become the little poem that could.) I might start into that tomorrow, depending on how the time goes. Man, I feel woefully unprepared for tomorrow's session.

But I'm sure it will be fun.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Give the people what they want

In case you are ever stuck for poetry material and want to write the kind of poems that people want to read, here is a helpful list you can refer to. All of these were searches that led people to my blog over the past few months. People are looking for these poems! Write them!

right whale poem
mammal poems
cheating poems
cricket poems
lesbain [sic] love poems
lesbian poems
lesbian love poems to read [er... as opposed to lesbian love poems to fix the roof with?]
short personification poems
poems about librarians
very little poem
cheating poems for her
gay and lesbain [sic] published love poems
poems on rejection
poetry on balances
little short poem
personification poem about cats
in vitro poems
lovable poems short very
group girlfriend poem
poems list about guitars
funnies poetry
romantic words
karaoke poems
poems on land
pinoy poems about birthday
ten best poems
ten good poems [a little less ambitious than the previous one...]
thinking of you in your time of need poems
ten most love poems
mean ex best friend poems
fluffy kittens in Bloomington, Indiana [oh wait, that's not a poem]
i want to meet you poems
mean poems
poems on karma
the last eagle poems
interesting poems
poems about quadratic equation
cheating love poems
poems about the midwest
sestina set to music
poems that get you laid [well duh... aren't we all looking for these?]
greatest poems
wild and crazy best friends poems

So there you have it ... write these poems and the teeming masses will beat a path to your door, shouting, "That's just the poem I was looking for!" Get busy, y'all. *grin*

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Happy bit of news

Got a note this morning from Matthew W. Schmeer over at Poetry Midwest to let me know he's nominated my poem "Windows" (which was in Issue #13) for a Pushcart. Nice. :) The poem racked up a healthy pile of rejections before PM took it, but it was one that I always did think would end up finding a home somewhere. It feels good to know someone else liked it too.

He's still taking submissions for the Winter '06 issue, so send 'em if you got 'em!

(Yep, this is my first Pushcart nom. First times are nice. *grin*)

EDIT: Even cooler -- Charlie got a nomination too! (And his poem is HOT. Go read it.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In which we unleash our inner punk rocker

If you're interested in my long, detailed, and somewhat giddy review of tonight's (FREAKIN' AMAZING) concert by Amy Ray and the Volunteers, it's over that-a-way.

I am sweaty, my ears are ringing, and my voice is hoarse ... I love it. That's what's wrong with my life. There's not enough rock & roll in it.

And a little picture. One of these people is a dorky librarian. The other is a sweaty rockstar. It is left as an exercise for the reader to guess which one is which.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Three cool links and a rockstar

Cool Link #1:
Courtesy of the BBC, here are a bunch of audio interviews with various writers. Some of the interviewees included are Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, and Nadine Gordimer.
From the same source, and even cooler, a bunch of audio interviews with poets including Auden, Cummings, Heaney, Yeats. (Yeats!)
I haven't listened to any of these yet, but it looks awfully nifty.

Cool Link #2:
The UCLA Library's Dept. of Special Collections has mounted an exhibition of the papers & manuscripts of Paul Monette, including a very nice online exhibition. Some of the online images include working drafts of poems, as well as photographs and other stuff. I remember being utterly devastated by Love Alone: Elegies for Rog when it came out, hearing an urgency and, for lack of a better word, a necessity in these poems for which at the time I had no real comparison other than Plath's Ariel. In addition to the images, the online exhibition includes a lengthy biography of Monette and his work. (I had completely forgotten that he wrote an episode of thirtysomething, a show I adored at the time.)

Cool Link #3:
Okay, this has nothing to do with writing except that whales have inspired me a lot, but Cape Cod Online has an extensive feature on the highly-endangered North Atlantic right whale. Lots of pictures, multimedia, and information about these amazing creatures.

Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls, currently touring in support of her second solo album -- she'll be here in Bloomington on Saturday) sent out handwritten thank-you notes to those of us who volunteered to do "street team" publicity work -- putting up posters, phoning radio stations to request her songs. A very sweet gesture from someone whose music I love and whose integrity and political work I respect deeply. (She is such a goofball, though -- ending the note with "Happy Halloween and Rocktober!!!" Somebody, I think, was a wee bit punchy from the road. *grin*) Amy's solo work, incidentally, is just terrific; rougher and punkier than what she does with Indigo Girls, and good & loud, and uncompromisingly queer. I cannot WAIT for this concert on Saturday.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Red sky at night...

An intriguing sunset tonight, with streaks of red/plum clouds to the west. On the busy street just at the end of my small block a fire truck and an ambulance just raced northwards while a police car, lights & siren, crossed past them racing south. It's the last evening of my week-long vacation; tomorrow is back to work. Of course I haven't done nearly all I set out intending to do, and of course I'm feeling as though I've let myself down. Bah.

While perusing the Alliance of Artists Communities directory, I stumbled across a lovely retreat on the very south end of the Big Island of Hawai'i. Certainly something that bears thinking about. My writing has benefited, in the past, from stumbling into new landscapes -- Provincetown, Maui. I know I can't possibly afford a two-week Hawaiian retreat (even though they offer the space very inexpensively) and a Provincetown workshop next year; hell, the way my finances are going lately, I'm going to consider myself very fortunate if I can swing P-town even for a long weekend. I'm going to look into grants, although I have found out that the Indiana Arts Commission has yet to disburse funds promised for this year's individual artist grants, and under the current governor's administration I fully expect arts funding to be drastically cut. Sigh. Maybe I'll win the Powerball.

I will manage something next spring or summer, though -- some kind of a workshop or retreat. I can do the IU Writers' Conference relatively inexpensively, since it requires no travel and I don't end up eating too many meals out (lunch on campus, usually, and maybe dinner once with fellow conferees); alternatively, I could try to rent a cabin or stay at the inn in one of the state parks (I could camp, but my middle-aged back requires a proper bed), take my journal and my laptop and a pile of books and call it a writing retreat.

Unless, of course, I do win that Powerball, in which case my entire life will be a writing retreat. ;)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Structuring books of poems, part 2

From the current (Oct/Nov '05) AWP Writer's Chronicle, in an interview with Rita Dove by Elizabeth Alexander:

Alexander: Your books are all so beautifully sectioned. How can you see that you have more than one thing that goes together and not just a bunch of stray hairs?

Dove: I actually put piles of poems on the floor and walk around them, asking: "Do you want to be over there? You want to be in that group?" I talk to them. I listen to them and then--

Alexander: They get up and go?

Dove: Yes. They edge over there, you nudge one next to another. It's quite a physical thing, isn't it? They really have to want to go together. And build their power from each other.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Productivity, sparrows, and creative flow

My vacation week has been far less productive than I'd hoped. I have only read a couple of books, just today drafted the first new poems I've managed in a while, haven't sent out any submissions (though I did inquire about an old one, and received a prompt & courteous response, but as it turns out my poems apparently fell into some black hole and can't be found), haven't touched the book manuscript I keep claiming I am working on. Haven't cleaned house either, but that doesn't bother me as much.


Today there was a fat sparrow sitting in the middle of the street in front of my house, so still I thought he was one of the walnuts that keeps falling off the tree by my front porch and hitting the roof with a resounding thud and scaring the crap out of me. The bird was just sitting there, not budging, so I went out to nudge him off the street and into a safer place. I gently nudged him with my toe (not wanting to pick him up with my hands, afraid he might have West Nile or avian flu or something -- every time they say "avian flu" on the news I think they are saying "Evian flu" and I find myself thinking, damn, do those designer-water-drinking rich people have their own brand of flu now?) and he hopped a couple hops, still out in the middle of the street, not safe. I kept nudging him and finally he flapped and lifted off a bit, but only flew a few feet. Still in the road. I nudged him about four times with my foot and finally he got his fat little fluffy self out of the street. I couldn't tell if he was too young to fly very well, or maybe sick, or what. Let's hope he is okay.


I've been thinking about how my writing process, specifically the first-drafting stage, has changed over the past couple of years. In a way it feels less controlled, more open, more ... urgent. It feels like a very physical thing. As I learned years ago when I studied karate, when you tense your muscles & try too hard to control what you are doing, the muscular tension slows you. Relaxation makes you faster. Try it. Tense every muscle in your arm, then try to throw a punch. Tense every muscle in your legs, consciously think about the process of lifting and bending and placing, and try to walk. Slow and painful, isn't it? Now relax and try it. Another word for this relaxation is flow.

You can work in this flow when writing, too. You can tense up and think hard about what might come next. You can consciously try to make the words do what you want. But if you relax and let language have its way it is easier, looser, faster. Does a bird want to fly into your poem? Let it. You can evict it later if need be. Soften your vision, let your mind reach a bit farther into distance. Don't wait for words and phrases to come all the way up to you and introduce themselves. It's better if you grab them when they're not looking.

In tennis, you strike the ball differently depending on where you catch it in its arc. If it peaks far ahead of you and you catch it on the way down, that's one possible stroke. You can also catch it early, as it rises, which allows you to send it in more surprising directions. Words also have an arc like that, and if you relax and loosen your death grip on control, you can nab them in mid-air, catch them quicker, send them sailing in a trajectory of surprise. You have more options this way and you are less likely to settle for the same damn arc over and over, the overly familiar phrase.

Let the bird fly into your poem. Let the horses with their surprising shapes. Let your gaze soften into distance. Get the words on paper before you even see them clearly in your mind. Once you've written them down, you can worry about looking at -- or understanding -- them later. But when you're first-drafting the close focus, the concern with understanding what you're on about, is the muscular tension that slows you, that dams the flow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Structuring books of poems

For anyone who may have missed it, Poetry Daily has reprinted Natasha Sajé's Iowa Review article on "Dynamic Design: The Structure of Books of Poems." It's been pretty widely linked-to, I think, so I'm mainly posting it here for my own future reference.

Allegedly, while I'm off work this week, I had planned to start seriously working on my own book manuscript. Haven't touched it yet, but there's three more days. (Eek.) Today I had lunch with some friends, then met with the friend who wants "poetry tutoring" -- we decided that "personal trainer" was a more accurate model though. We're going to meet for two hours every other week, starting the first week of November. Should be interesting.

Are there other books, articles, essays, chapters, etc. about how poetry books are organized, or how to put together a manuscript, stuff along those lines? Other than Jeffrey Levine's tips on putting together a manuscript (fairly general, but practical), it doesn't seem like I've run across that many, though it seems like something poets would want to write about now & then. Odd. Anyway, if anyone knows of such, I'd love to hear about them.

Will also happily accept general manuscriptin' advice from those of you who have done it before. I've put together several chapbook mss., and about ten years ago I put together a book-length ms. but it sucked. :) So I feel like I have a vague idea of what I'm doing, but not really. I would love to get the darn thing done so I can shut up about it, though.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Readings and surprises

So the reading happened (more about it later), and afterwards I'm standing around chatting with people, and these two women come up to me and they look really familiar, in the way that someone looks familiar when you haven't seen them for a year or two and their hair is completely different than it was when you last saw them, and you're thinking "crap, who is this, I know I know this person" and then they turned out to be Julie and Lainey. Who freaking drove all the way from St. Louis for the reading. Hell, I'm happy when someone drives across town to hear me read. Nobody's ever driven from another state to hear me read before. Too freaking cool.

I did notice that when I read my poem "Aero" and introduced it by saying it was dedicated to Rebecca Loudon, these two random women were sitting back there all poking each other and grinning, and I couldn't quite figure out why. Now I know. *grin*

So the reading went well, I think. We had probably about 45 people in the audience (I didn't count them, and I'm really bad at estimating, but that seems about right) -- most of the seats were filled, which is always a nice feeling. I think I went a little over my 8 minutes (oops) but for once I don't think I babbled on too much with my introductions, which I have a tendency to do. I read "Fog, Provincetown," "Aero," "Animals at Night," "The Problem of Birds," and "Hold." It was especially good to hear Shana (our "Special Guest") read, as we read together many many times when we were in a writers' group together but I hadn't heard her read for a while.

I probably have more to say about the reading, but this post was interrupted for like 45 minutes when both of my cats wanted to snuggle up on my lap for a while (all together now: awwwwwww) and now it's 1 in the morning and I'm tired and a certain couple of St. Louisians may be calling in the morning if they want to meet up for breakfast/brunch. So, more later, perhaps.

Friday, October 07, 2005

...but I got this spark, I got to feed it something
or put it out for good...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A tutor who tooted the flute...

Talked to an old friend today, a Unitarian minister & writer who has gotten away from writing (other than sermons) over the past few years and wants to make a place for poetry & writing in her life again; she decided that what she wants is to engage a tutor, someone to meet with her every other week or so & work with her on her writing & give her assignments & stuff, and she thought of me as someone who might be able to do this. She wants to pay money and everything; when I said heck, I'd do it for a cup of coffee, she said that it was important to her to pay for it -- and looking at it objectively (as opposed to seeing it through the haze of "who in their right mind would pay money for meeeee?"), she's right; it sets up a certain dynamic and makes it clear that the focus is on her and her work rather than on a peer-critique, even exchange kind of thing.

So, at first I was a little bit taken aback about the idea, but now I'm kind of excited about it. I'm already thinking of poets I want to have her read -- some who are similar to her own esthetic and some who are very different, because I think reading poets whose work is very different from yours is important -- and exercises I could give her. And formalizing the situation, especially with a small stipend involved, makes it feel like something I can put on the old CV and everything. And she is someone I haven't seen much of lately & always enjoy spending time with, so I think we'll both have fun with this.

Have any of you tutored one-on-one like this? I'd love any advice or suggestions!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Making the selection

Starting to think about what I'm going to read on Saturday night. I am definitely reading the two best poems from my Provincetown week ("Fog, Provincetown" and "Hold"). I haven't sat down with the ol' stopwatch and timed them yet, so I'm not sure how much of my allotted 8 minutes that will take, but I'm guessing somewhere in the vicinity of 3 total, which leaves me with enough time for several more. I was going to read "Ars Erotica" but found out today that at least one of the students I supervise is likely to show up, which makes me feel a little bit weird about reading a sex poem. Is it just me, or is it a whole heck of a lot easier to read sex poems to strangers than to people you actually know?

When you're putting together a reading (if you do such things), how much do you think about who's likely to attend? Does that influence what you choose to read? If so, how?

The weather forecast is for a high of 60 degrees on Saturday, and sunny. Which sounds lovely, but pushes me over to Plan B in the "what to wear" department, as the light summery stuff is right out. (Which is, of course, as it should be in October...)

Today's dose of kitteny cuteness for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Reading date/day correction

Because apparently having a kitten sucks out your brain, I goofed in my previous post (and have since corrected it). The Five Women Poets reading is on Saturday, October 8 which is not a Friday. Our readings are always on Saturdays. I don't know why I said Friday. Sheesh.

I am at my mom's; the drive up here was pretty awful, with Bear (aka Big Guy) meowing and moaning -- so stressed that he actually panted occasionally -- for the first 4+ hours (the last 30-45 minutes weren't too bad though) and Lotus (aka Little Guy) totally freaking out after the first hour and a half or so and shoving his way through a two-inch zipper gap OUT of the smaller carrier, so that all of a sudden I was in traffic trying to steer myself to the shoulder one-handed while holding on with the other hand to a kitten that had suddenly landed on my chest. Ai yi yi. (And the litterbox in the big crate did get used, so it's a good thing I had it there.)

One of Mom's cats (the young, insane one) really likes my little guy; they've spent a lot of time chasing and pouncing and playing with each other. He doesn't normally have anyone who will play with him much, so he's delighted. He grudgingly tolerates my big guy, with a hiss now and then. Mom's older cats are not so crazy about the invaders and we're mostly keeping them in a separate part of the house. It's a circus here, I'm telling you.

Someday, I swear, I'll get back to the poetry-related posts. I definitely write more/better when my life is relatively quiet & stable. If nothing else, I guess that's a good thing to have learned from all of this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Busy, busy

Taking the cats on a short road trip this weekend to visit my mom, which probably qualifies me as batshit looney. I've never really traveled with cats before, but both of these guys are laid-back enough that they should be OK. I hope. (Ack!) I generally like highway driving; I put on music and just kind of zone out for a while and work on just being in the moment. It's nice. Will probably not be blogging much, if at all, for the next few days.

My poetry group's annual reading is a week from Saturday. I don't yet know what I will be reading or, more importantly, what I will be wearing. I guess I'll work it all out one evening next week. For those who may be in or near Bloomington, the reading is Saturday, October 8 at 8 pm in the Rose Firebay at the John Waldron Arts Center downtown; $5 general admission ($4 students/seniors, $3 children). Comment or email me if you want more details or anything.

The week following the reading, I will be on vacation from work. I'm not going anywhere, but a week of peace and quiet, solitude, cats and books sounds quite like heaven to me right now. I feel like I've been on a bit of a rollercoaster these past few months: the absolute high of the workshop in Provincetown at the beginning of July, a mad rush of writing, financial difficulties and dentists and mechanics and vets, Mudpuppy's death, hurricanes and horrible news, adopting Lotus. I would like to step off the rollercoaster for a few days. It would be nice if I could get some writing done, and maybe even make some progress on getting a manuscript put together, but right now I will be content with peace and quiet and geting some reading done.

The kitten is working out ridiculously well -- he and the big wooly-mammoth cat spend hours every day playing tag, hide and seek, Kittianapolis 500, and Kitty Sumo Wrestling. I have never seen cats bond this quickly before.

Extreme Closeup:

[more orangey cuteness to be found here -- I've added some new ones in the past couple of days]

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Introducing ... Little New Guy!

We're in negotiations about his name, Little New Guy and I. He's very happy, very playful (understatement), and Bear is taking it all in stride. He's hissed a couple of times, but only when Little New Guy has done the full-on pounce-onna-big-cat-face ambush thing. I think they are going to become great friends.

Little New Guy likes kitten food, the kitty water fountain, and long walks on the beach ... er, strike that last. He is super friendly and affectionate, and he has a Mighty Mighty Purr Machine.

He was picked up as a stray by the Morgan County Animal Shelter about a month ago, and was saved from imminent euthanasia by Jody from Rescue Farm. He is about five months old, and I am utterly smitten. :)

Want to see more kitten pictures? Sure you do.

UPDATE, Sunday morning: His name is Lotus. He is named after the Lotus Festival, which is taking place this weekend; the festival was named for folk musician Lotus Dickey, who was from Orange County, Indiana. So, an appropriate name for an orangey kitten adopted during Lotus weekend! And, sometime in the middle of last night, he and Bear figured out how to play together. They've been tearing around the house pouncing on each other ever since. It's making me smile more than I have in the entire last month put together.

Stay tuned for some scenes from our next episode.

Exciting (albeit non-poetry-related) news coming soon. I think. Probably. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me

No poets received MacArthur grants (you know, the "genius awards") this year. But one librarian did. I know which of my professions is most likely to pay my bills. (I was going to link to the MacArthur Foundation website, but darned if it isn't down right now. Maybe they need to hire one of their genius people to keep their website running? Just a thought.)

My poetry group met tonight -- mainly worked on planning our annual reading (October 8th, details are over there in the right-hand margin somewhere in case anyone is within driving distance and wants to hear some poems) (but if you do, please don't leave at intermission, 'cause I don't read until the second half). The group is called Five Women Poets but we have eight readers this time around, seven group members and one guest. Hey, we're poets, not mathematicians. (Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a...)

The reading is called "Not the Foggiest Notion" (we always have a title for our readings, though I've never been sure quite why it's necessary) so I guess I will have to read my fog poem from Provincetown. Okay, okay, I was gonna read it anyway. I have two Provincetown poems to read, and that should be about 3-4 minutes, which gives me another 4-5 minutes to fill. Maybe I will sit down this weekend and figure out tentatively what to read. Nah... I'll do it the week of the reading like I always do. Last year I actually read a poem I had just written that day, which I would advise against doing 99.9% of the time, but it went over really well and I actually still like the poem. So who knows -- maybe I'll write something new between now and then.

Our "special guest" is Shana Ritter, who was in my first writing group that I started twenty years ago and which met regularly for over ten years. I'm looking forward to reading with her again; she's a terrific poet and a fine reader. She got a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission this year, which she used to take Martin Espada's workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in July; I'm going to hit her up for advice in a couple months (though she doesn't know it yet *grin*) because there's no way in hell I'm going to be able to afford to go to a workshop next year, probably not even the IU Writers' Conference right here in town, unless I can get a grant. (Vet bills. Dentist bills. Donations to hurricane stuff, which I got maybe a bit too carried away with. And today, a lovely car-repair bill of more than one week's take-home pay. Sigh.)

So yeah, MacArthur people? I'm right here waiting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Olds to Bush: Thanks but no thanks

Wow. I never thought of Sharon Olds as being particularly political, but check out her letter to Barbara Bush, declining an invitation to attend the National Book Festival.

Good for her.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Three new poems drafted today. The first one was pretty much just warm-up, and who knows whether the other two are any good or not, but at least it's words on the page, after almost a month with none.

That breeze in the tree outside your window this afternoon? That was probably just my sigh of relief.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Seven things blah blah

oKAY, oKAY, I'll do it. (It's not like I had anything of substance to say anyhow... I need someone to come over here and kick my butt so I sit down and get some writing done this weekend.)

Seven Things I Plan To Do Before I Die:
1. Get a book published
2. Adopt a dog (and another cat, too)
3. Go snorkeling again, preferably in Hawaii
4. Go on a month-long writing retreat
5. Visit my father's grave
6. Go to Baja California to visit the gray whales in the lagoons
7. Be happy as much as possible

Seven Things I Can Do:
1. Explain some computer stuff so that even my mom can understand it
2. Take really good care of cats
3. Recognize at least one good quality in just about anyone
4. Parallel park (more or less)
5. Remember the words to pretty much every Indigo Girls song
6. Be happy with my own company (including going alone to movies, restaurants, concerts, even on vacation)
7. Be content

Seven Things I Can't Do:
1. Keep a spotless house (or anything remotely resembling same)
2. Swim
3. Speak a foreign language well
4. Wear high heels
5. Get up on time for work without an alarm (or two, or three...)
6. Understand why anyone would vote for George Bush
7. Travel light

Seven Things That Attract Me to People of the Same Sex:
1. Sense of humor
2. Passion about something, whether it is politics or music or computer programming
3. Kindness to animals
4. Compassion/empathy towards others
5. Love of books/reading
6. Intellectual curiosity
7. The ability (and willingness) to make me feel like I have her complete and undivided attention now and then

Seven Things I Say Most:
1. Sleeeeeeeeepy!
2. Oh my.
3. C'mere, Bear-Bear
4. Bear, you so cute
5. (Other rather embarrassing things said to cat)
6. I'll do it later/in a minute/tomorrow
7. (when training students) Does that make sense?

Seven Celebrity Crushes:
1. Amy Ray
2. Bruce Springsteen
3. Susan Sarandon
4. Jodie Foster
5. Martina Navratilova
6. Ty Greenstein (from Girlyman)
7. [This space intentionally left blank]

Seven People I'm Tagging:
1. You
2. You
3. You
4. Her
5. Him
6. You
7. Yes, you too

Monday, September 12, 2005


I feel like I'm emerging, a bit, from the paralysis that's gripped me for much of the past couple of weeks. Tonight I sat at my desk for a little while and wrote in my journal: nothing particularly productive, nothing working towards a poem, but words on the page. You gotta start somewhere.

Found this neat interview with Ruth Lepson, co-editor of Poetry from Sojourner: A Feminist Anthology (in which my poem "Catching the Scent" appears). I love this anthology and am ridiculously pleased to be in it, so I found the interview, in which Lepson discusses the anthology, particularly interesting. She talks about the daughter/mother relationship as being "a central subject of the book," and my poem falls into that category; nice to be part of a trend for once (*grin*). The interview originally appeared in Rain Taxi.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

How he got his name

This picture was taken 18 years ago this summer, when Mudpuppy was about 5 weeks old. He kept that smug smile all his life. :)

Laurel asked, so I'll tell you how he got his name. I was working in an administrative office here at IU at the time, and I had 2 cats (Yoda and Ninja, who were half-siblings). My boss came in one Monday morning and told us that the day before, she and her husband had been about to take their boat out on Lake Monroe, but the neighbor's cat was on the boat and it took them forever to get her shooed off. Then when they were out in the middle of the lake, they saw this little ... creature come crawling out from underneath something on the boat. First they thought it was a rat, but then they realized it was a tiny baby kitten, and there were four of them. When they got back to shore, the mama cat seemed to say "nuh-uh, you took 'em, you KEEP 'em." So my boss gave them flea baths and all day she talked about how cute they were and how if nobody took them she would take them to the shelter where they'd probably just get put to sleep. Towards the end of the work day she ran home and came back with a Box Full Of Kittens. Needless to say ... I picked up this little tabby guy and held him up to my face to coo at him, and when he kissed me on the nose it was all over. I'd had no intention of bringing home a third cat, but how could I not?

So I took him home, and left him shut up in the bathroom while I went to work the next day because he couldn't even waddle all the way across the room without falling over a little (he was that tiny) and I was afraid my grown cats would beat the crap out of him, as they were considerably less than thrilled about the sudden appearance of this little fluffball. One of my co-workers said I should name him Bud. I'm not gonna name him Bud! I said. That's a dumb name. You should name him Spuds McKenzie, she said. Don't be silly, that's a dog name, I said. She walked around all day muttering "Bud! Spud! Mud! Pud!" and somehow that turned into "Mudpuppy" in my head. I'm not gonna name him Mudpuppy! I said to myself. That's a dumb name and who ever heard of a cat named after a stupid salamander?

But as I was standing in the front yard after work, waiting for the cab to come and take us to the vet (I didn't have a car at the time), holding this little bitty tabby kitten, I started talking to him (of course). I asked him if he wanted to be named Mudpuppy. And when the nicknames started coming out of my mouth -- Muppet, Mup-nuppet, Meep-nuppy (the only thing he could say was "meep! meep! meeeeep!"), I knew I was stuck with a cat named Mudpuppy.

And so I was, for 18 years.

After work today I stopped by the vet and picked up his ashes (a local kennel has a pet cemetery & cremation service, and they will pick up & deliver from the vet clinic if you want). I took a copy of the kitten picture I posted above, and all the techs and vets and a couple of other folks oohed and ahhed over how adorable he was. I took the bottle of insulin I bought for him just a couple days before he got sick and hadn't opened, and the brand-new box of syringes, and they will be given to another client who has a diabetic cat and doesn't have a whole lot of money. Maybe a little bit of the luck Mudpup enjoyed for 18 years will go along with it and help keep this other cat healthy. I hope so.

Monday, September 05, 2005

fatigue and kindness

Between the personal grief (the loss of my dear cat) and the grief & suffering in the larger world, I can hardly bear to use language these days. The world (and especially this country) is about as fucked-up right now as I can remember ever seeing in my forty-four years, and my own house is much too quiet.

I will not feel bad about grieving my cat -- not to grieve is not to love, and I will not shut my heart down, not even in the face of ... what we're all facing now.

But it's hard to feel that I have anything to say, anything to add. Reading things like this survivor's testimony, I feel like I shouldn't even try. I cannot go south to help, I've given money, and what few words I can muster pale in comparison to what others have been able to say -- read those others. I have a good compilation of links to organizations accepting donations to assist animals who are also suffering in the hurricane's wake; anyone who wants those is welcome to backchannel me for the list (ahaines at gmail dot com). I will also direct you to this list of resources for socially responsible hurricane relief. Beyond that (which isn't much), what can I possibly say or do or offer?

Just this, just this: if you read these words, please be kind to somebody today. It may seem small and insignificant, but sometimes it's all we've got, just a little human kindness. It can't fix everything that's wrong, but maybe it can ease our hearts a bit. Be kind.

We need some happy news...

Blogger babies are the cutest -- check out Suzanne's new wee one! May she (and all of us) always find a safe place in this crazy world...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A little more on Mudpuppy

Many thanks to those who sent condolences on Mudpuppy's death. He'd lived with me very nearly his whole life -- when I adopted him he was only 4 weeks old and didn't know how to eat solid food yet, though he figured that one out really fast and was a pretty good-sized cat his whole life (around 15 lbs). When he died he was 18 years old; if he'd been a human I would have been sending him off to college this month. Unless he'd joined a gang or become a rock star or a professional athlete, of course, in which case I'd be retiring so he could support me in my old age.

He was diagnosed with diabetes in January 1996, and from then until his death I gave him insulin shots twice a day, every day. Since the shots had to be 12 hours apart and timing was pretty critical, I had to get up early on weekends and holidays (though I often went back to bed, being very much Not A Morning Person), and if I went out with friends for a drink after work, I had to make sure I was home by 7:30 at the latest. "Gotta run! I need to go stick my cat with needles." The shots themselves didn't bother him a bit -- in fact, after the first few when he sensed that I was nervous, I don't think he even noticed them. With insulin and careful dietary management, diabetes is something pets can live with long-term -- Mudpup was a fabulous example of that. His quality of life was excellent; in the last couple of years he wasn't very active, and was bothered by arthritis in his hips/back legs, but he spent many happy hours napping in his bed or on the couch or sitting on my lap purring up a storm.

I am heartbroken to lose him, and I will miss him terribly. But I know that he had about as happy a life as a cat can ever hope for, and I'm glad I was able to give him that for so long. House pets have one job in life -- to love and be loved -- and that's a pretty lucky life to have.

Friday, September 02, 2005


July, 1987 - Sept. 2, 2005
Image hosted by

"monkey toes" (one of his nicknames):
Image hosted by

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I've been reading all the fascinating comments on my "epistolary blogging" post with interest. I'm afraid, this week, I just don't have the energy to respond as I'd like to. The whole hurricane/flood thing has me in a bit of a funk, even though I don't really know anyone directly affected by it (other than some online friends/acquaintances). See Rebecca Loudon's post for some pointers re: assistance; while some of her links are Seattle-specific, they should lead you in the right direction regardless of your location. I gave what I could, though it was a pathetically small donation. The situation down there is just unimaginable. And, as always, it's those who had the least to begin with who are hurting the most.

[Edited to add: Here is a list of organizations accepting donations for Hurricane Katrina relief, from FEMA. Also consider the Humane Society's Disaster Relief Fund. ] [Further edited: Network for Good has an even better list of places to donate.]

On a more personal front, my little-old-man cat, 18 years old (and diabetic since January 1996), is pretty sick & spending the night in the hospital. I know he's been on borrowed time for a while now, but I worry about my little guy and the house feels sad without him in it. He has lived with me since he was 4 weeks old, and if he were a person, I'd be sending him off to college this month. :) I know many of you are "cat people" so please send some good thoughts in Mudpuppy's direction. We're not quite sure what is up with him, but he is definitely feeling crappy. Fortunately I have a wonderful vet who cares about him a lot and who I trust very much.

Doesn't help that work is crazy, crazy busy this week (first week of classes) and next week will likely be quite crazy as well. I do have to work Monday, so no three-day weekend of recuperation for me.

So if this blog is kind of quiet for a while, it's just because I am here, drinking a beer and distracting my brain by watching too much tennis. I'll be back to poetry eventually.