Friday, April 29, 2005

Ambiguous rejection & fun with manuscripting

I realized today that the problem with submitting one's work via email or web form (and thus receiving an emailed response) is that it's a lot harder to tell whether you're getting an encouraging rejection or just a regular one. When you get a paper rejection slip with "try us again" inked on it, you know that not everybody got that same note and you take heart a little. (Unless, of course, you're at that point of being sick to death of getting little inked notes and no acceptances, in which case it makes you gnash your teeth a little.)

But with email, unless you've had emailed rejections from the same journal before & know what their standard wording is, it's hard to know whether "The poems have gone through many hands, with interest" is just a continuation of the apology for holding the work so long (six months, in this case) or whether it means they really did kind of like the poems. Argh. Oh well, I'll choose to take it as mild encouragement, because I need that right now, and also because this particular journal is one I'd really really love to get into. (Plus, at the end it's signed "The Editors" but then it has one editor's name in parentheses -- so I'm going to pretend that means this note came personally from that editor and is not, in fact, the standard rejection form email. Or rather, that it started off with the standard rejection template but that this editor added stuff to be encouraging.)

Ah, the mind games publication -- or the hope thereof -- makes us play.

This weekend I want to finalize the new(ish) chapbook ms. and get it sent off to one or two contests -- especially since I got a rejection for the older ms. this week (it's still out to one place). I'm a little tired of the whole contest idea right now, but putting together the manuscript is a good exercise and teaches me something about my work, and I probably won't bother doing that without the incentive of having somewhere to send it, so contest submission it is. That, I think, is one of the few ways in which the actual writing (which is the important part) does intersect with submitting and publishing (which is the hobby part), and one of the few ways in which the publishing part actually does the writing part some good. I would write poems no matter what, even if some god descended from the heavens and told me that I was fated never to have another poem accepted anywhere again. But would I bother putting together manuscripts? Probably not. Putting poems together in book (or chapbook) format is, for me, a way of organizing the poems and presenting them for other people -- they already have plenty of context and narrative arc or whatever in my own mind, I don't need to put them in any order to get that for myself.

Although the process does teach me something about my work -- the last chapbook ms. I put together made me realize I do have a couple of overriding themes over the past couple years or so, and made me feel like I am writing towards something & not just haphazardly strewing poems. I don't think I'd bother doing it without the eventual goal (cross your fingers) of publication, but that doesn't mean I'm not glad to have done it/to be doing it.

Which makes me wonder why other people put together manuscripts -- would you do it if you knew it would never ever get published? And what have you learned from the process of organizing a ms. (or writing towards one, for those of you who consciously write towards one specific project at a time)? What does the "book process" give you as a writer? After putting together a first book that you're happy with (whether it gets published or not), do you feel differently about your writing? Does your poetry change at that point?

Is trying to get published a guilty pleasure? I think I've come to the conclusion that it is one of mine. Hee.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

National Hairball Awareness Day

For all the cat lovers out there: Today is National Hairball Awareness Day. You may celebrate by watching this jolly little musical interlude:

With love from this guy:
Honey Bear

Monday, April 25, 2005

midlife checks and balances

Today I was emailing back and forth with a colleague and something she said reminded me of the Liz Phair song "Fuck and Run" and I wanted to tell her that but for the life of me I couldn't come up with the name Liz Phair. So I thought I'd google for it, and tried to think of some of her other songs, and "Supernova" got stuck in my head but I couldn't think of the title of the song for anything. I thought of googling for the line "fuck like a volcano" but I didn't really want that in my search history at work. The same went for the title "Fuck and Run" but I finally couldn't stand it anymore and plugged that phrase into Google and I was in business.

Man, I hate getting old. Short-term memory is the first to go. Next I think is attention span, and

...oh man. Where was I?



On good days, reading blogs leads me directly into reading poems, and I shut the laptop and go into my study and sit down at my desk and read for a while and then I write for a while.

Other days, not so much.

I am trying to find some kind of balance. And the unread book pile is appallingly high.


(Alternate post title: Land Mammal and the Whales -- yes, it sounds like a bad garage band)


If you go to and scroll down to the April 22 entry in the "Whalesong Log," you can hear something remarkable. A Maori woman named Raina Ferris visited Maui and went out in a boat to chant a traditional Haka. Several whales came near and -- I swear to god -- sang along. It's quite remarkable, and worth downloading.

There is something about this chant and the whalesong that has a completely overwhelming effect on me. The first time I listened to it, tears started streaming down my face. I know this makes me sound like a total woo-woo whale-hugger or something (and yes, I have seen the movie Whale Rider -- I've seen it at least a half-dozen times -- and yes, I cry during that too). I do not think that whales are any more spiritual, gentle, or intelligent than any number of other species, although I do believe they are fairly intelligent. (They ain't gentle, though. I have seen huge male humpbacks competing over females, and it's rather violent.) I do not think that whales were put on this planet to teach us a cosmic lesson. I do think whales are amazing and beautiful creatures. And my own interest in whales has led me to read more widely about environmental issues in general and to become more aware of my own footprint on this damaged planet.

But ... just go listen to the song. It's quite beautiful.


In December 2000, I finished up my Master of Library Science degree. My mom gave me a whopper of a graduation present -- a check large enough to go take a week's vacation somewhere. I thought long and hard about it, and realized that I wanted to go whale-watching. I'd begun reading a bit about whales, my interest having been sparked a few years earlier when I visited a then-girlfriend in Delaware & saw a large pod of dolphins swimming and leaping not far offshore. They were cool -- and if dolphins were that cool, how amazing must whales be?

So I took my graduation money and I went to Provincetown. Okay, I wasn't just there for the whales; P-town is a queer vacation paradise, and it has lovely B&B's and funky little shops and terrific fresh seafood and neat little bookstores and live music all over the place. I went out whale-watching for the first time and when I saw my first humpback -- a female, which the naturalist on board identified as "Giraffe," a fairly well-known individual -- I just about cried. There's something so beautiful about these animals, the grace of their flukes, the unhurried way they go about their business.

Now, I had been writing very little for several years at this point. There were lots of reasons for this -- the death of my father, a relationship that was first wonderful (and took up all my energy) and then disastrous (and took up all my energy), then several years of working full-time while going to library school half-time. I thought maybe all the writing had dried up in me. But a week in the amazing clear light of Provincetown, the total relaxation of having no obligations other than to go sit on the beach with a book and maybe go out whale-watching again, and the ... something ... that those whales stirred up deep inside me -- well, I started writing again. Hesitantly, clumsily, but I could tell it was still there for me.

Later that summer I came into a few unexpected dollars and found a cheap airfare, so I zipped back out to P-town in early September. My last morning there -- September 10, 2001 -- I caught the early morning whale-watch, and saw a young whale (whose mother was identified as "Owl") breaching, leaping from the water over and over, apparently just for the joy of being a young playful mammal. I flew back late that night, the last flight of the evening from Boston to Chicago, the last flight of the evening from Chicago to Indianapolis. And then, well, after the next morning there were no more flights for a while.

At this same time there was a North Atlantic right whale -- an extremely endangered species, with perhaps 350 individuals remaining -- entangled in fishing gear off the New England coastline. He was first sighted in June, about the time I first visited P-town; several rescue and disentanglement attempts were made throughout the summer, garnering a fair amount of news coverage, but he grew more and more sickly and emaciated with each sighting. On September 16, though the news wasn't paying much attention at that point, the radar beacon attached to a buoy on the trailing gear went silent, and the whale was presumed dead.

I remember sitting in Bryan Park, a big green expanse of grass and trees and little rolling hills, a few days after I got back to town. I needed to feel my skin in contact with the earth, the healing of that. I sat on the grass in the park and wrote about whales; about the young whale breaching over and over with such exuberance; about the right whale as his skin turned ghostly white and he finally sank in silence; about the breaching of boundaries, how so many people's sense of safety had been breached a few days earlier. The earth brought me solace and the writing, though it didn't bring me understanding, brought me some measure of peace. It was the first time in several years I'd found that through writing and it felt like coming home.

Would I have come to that point without whales? Maybe. Probably. But I still credit whales for some of it. I will always try to go on a whale-watching vacation every few years. (In February 2002, I went to Maui for the first time, also for the whales -- and found a whole lot more than whales -- but I'll save that for another post. Which is pretty funny, since this whole post started off with listening to Maui whales.) When I go to Provincetown in June for my workshop with D.A. Powell, you can bet I'll be on board the Dolphin Fleet boats at least a couple of times, binoculars and camera at the ready, tasting the salt air on my lips, letting the wind tangle my air, scanning the waves for the slightest flash of fluke. I can't swim for shit, but being out on the ocean like that feels like home in a way this landlocked Midwestern girl can't ever explain.


This is the only sestina I have ever written. It's not what I wrote that day in the park -- that turned out to be a prosepoem, and it's not that good. This, I wrote the following summer, during the IU Writers' Conference, inspired by my workshop with Lucia Perillo, a class on forms with Karen Volkman, and a class on "poetry of the changed world" with Roger Mitchell.

[poem deleted; if you want to see it, comment or backchannel me]

Sunday, April 24, 2005

moldy oldie

Just for fun... if I had to haul out one of my poems to represent me, this would probably be the one. (Is that kind of like a parent admitting they like one of their children best?) It also got me the nicest acceptance letter I've ever gotten, so I'd probably have a soft spot for it for that reason alone.

Let X Equal . . .

Let the woman wake
from sleep, as she does each morning
of her life. Let her arm
reach out, drowsy, and brush
the bedroom curtains aside,
let her watch for five whole minutes
the cat washing herself
on the front lawn, the bird
pecking madly at damp earth,
the neighbor clutching the front of her robe
as she steps out the door
and stoops for her morning paper.

Let the sunlight be quiet
and warm across the lawn. Let the grass
be succulent and green.
Let the day unfold like a perfect
equation, every moment growing
toward some simple answer,
some singular integer.
Let the woman stand for the thesis,
the given, all the formulas that build
a body of knowledge. Let her waking
be the question, and the window
equal some visible understanding, the work
she is asked to show. Let the neighbor
and the curtains be variables, the light
and the lawn be the sum
of each other, the pure reciprocity of morning.
Let the woman's hand, opening
curtains, and the woman, rising,
be a new theorem, solid and given,
the beginning of an elegant
and irrefutable proof.

-A.H. 1990
published in Northwest Review, 1992
and in Celebrating Seventy, compiled by Jenny Kander (Lexington, KY: Wind, 2003)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's like Christmas...

...but not because it's cold (although it is, 40 degrees today and blustery, with a freeze warning for tonight). No, it's like Christmas because it was a Good Mail Day today: Bruce Springsteen's new CD (which I pre-ordered, and now I have it before its official release date on Tuesday -- I feel special), and my order from Tupelo Press (books by Patricia Fargnoli and Ilya Kaminsky).

The Tupelo order just went in on Monday afternoon, and already I have the books in hand. Not only do they do gorgeous books with terrific poetry in them, they provide good service. Yep, I'm a fan.

And speaking of being a fan ... I'm listening to Springsteen now. This is, I think, very much a writer's album. His primary concern in these songs seems to be the creation of characters and the spinning of tales. It's not really new ground for him, but he does it so well. And the sound is, as early reviews have noted, a lot like the "Tom Joad" stuff but informed by the full-band sound of "The Rising." Themes: family, loss, bleakness, hope, the salvation brought by love (and sex). You know, the usual Brucely stuff. I really like the production on this (Brendan O'Brien again) although I'm sure a lot of Bruce fans will fuss that there's too much crammed in on it.

There ain't nothing like the E Street Band in full swing, and this is not that. But it's good stuff nonetheless. And the writing -- well -- I love how he picks out details that tell us something about his characters, how he uses the passage of time within each song, how he focuses on specificity. I know it's nothing new to compare Springsteen to Dylan, but a lot of this material does kind of remind me of Dylan, the "Tangled Up in Blue" Dylan.

He's on VH-1 "Storytellers" tonight. That should be just plain fun.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Rambly little tidbits

Thanks to everyone who gave me congratulations on the Poetry Midwest acceptance. Comments aren't playing well with others tonight so I'll respond to a couple things here...

Jennifer: "Garretless non-carousal"! I love it. That would be a great blog title.

Woody: Thinking?! Uh-oh... should I duck? ;)

Charles: I did not do the dance, because I was at work and they already think I'm weird. I did manage a bit of a seated butt-waggle though.

Poetry Midwest took a poem of mine called "Door" last year. The one they're taking for the upcoming issue is called "Windows." I think in order to keep getting published by them I'm going to have to write a poem called "Chimney" ... or perhaps "Joist" or "Soffit."

Note to self: two pieces of colby-jack cheese and a handful of slightly stale croutons does not constitute a proper dinner. Good grief.

Finally: Does anyone have any "inside scoop" on Notre Dame's MFA program? Don't get excited, it's mostly just idle curiosity. I did notice when I poked around on their website that two of their poetry faculty (Sonia Gernes and John Matthias) are retiring this year, but I have no idea who's coming in to take their places.

Notre Dame has a lovely new-ish bookstore on campus. I've only been there once, but next time I visit my mom (who lives quite close to the ND campus) I think I'm going to try & visit it again.

That's all for tonight, just rambly little tidbits. Oh, and now the truck that was blocking me into my driveway has moved, so I can leave the house and go get some proper food. GOOD.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Broke the streak...

...of rejections at last. Poetry Midwest took one of mine for the summer issue. Cool. They're still reading for this issue till June 13, in case anyone else wants to submit some stuff.

Good snailmail today too: my tax refund from Indiana (I e-filed, but for some reason the website wouldn't take my routing number for direct deposit, so I said the heck with it and let them cut me a check -- hey, it was only 8 bucks, how much of a hurry could I be in to get it), a $10 check from the Kinsey Institute for a questionnaire I filled out, a "$10 off any $25 purchase" coupon from Lowe's, and the new issue of the Writer's Chronicle (hopefully this one won't suffer the same fate as the last one, which went astray on recycling night and got recycled before I was finished reading it).

Thinking, in the aftermath of Li-Young Lee's reading and the comments people made, about what we expect a poet to be like. Some people expressed dismay at what they perceived as a lack of professionalism or a lack of respect for the audience; some expressed delight at what they perceived as a bit of poet-y wildness. Should poets be wilder than regular people? If so, I think I'm in trouble; besides the fact that I don't always fully conform to gender roles and (like the librarian I am) I tend towards comfortable shoes, I don't think I come across as particularly wild or mysterious at all. I make every effort to avoid unnecessary drama and angst in my personal life. (I'm not particularly interested in dying young, either.) Does that mean I suck as a poet? I sure as hell hope not.

But are poets somehow fundamentally different from non-poets? I don't know. I used to think "creative people" saw the world differently from others, and this might be true to some extent, but if it is, then "creative people" has got to be expanded to include scientists and other people actively engaged in some kind of investigative process -- I sometimes think poets have more in common with scientists than with painters, and that writing is most fruitfully seen as a process of investigation and discovery. (There are flaws with that analogy, especially in that the writing process is much less clearly defined than the scientific method, but I think it's a useful analogy nonetheless.)

The more I read about science, the more I realize how completely everything -- everything -- is intertwined. Right now I'm reading a book about the conflict between whale conservation and the commercial fishing industry (Entanglements: The Intertwined Fates of Whales and Fishermen by Tora Johnson) -- there is such a complex web of interactions governing, well, everything; the reproductive success of the right whale depends on the abundance of a particular type of plankton (copepods), and the success of the copepods depends on ocean currents and water temperature, which depend on the overall climate of the Earth and things like El Nino, which are in turn changed and influenced by human activity -- and humans' survival depends on the survival of phytoplankton, which are eaten by copepods, and which are responsible for the production of a large percentage of the planet's oxygen. (Even that's an oversimplification, but you get the idea.) Scientists have a responsibility to see, simultaneously, the macro and the micro, and to understand all the tangled, complex interrelationships among ... everything. So much that on the surface appears completely unrelated is at heart utterly interdependent. And I think poets also have a responsibility to see connections that aren't immediately obvious; in fact, I would say that revealing unexpected connections is one of the hallmarks of a good poem.

Anyway, that's a bit of a tangent, although I feel like it does have something to do with the question of who a poet should be. I think that poets have to be curious and open to the unexpected, but I don't think that means we have a responsibility to be "weird" or whatever.

Actually, I think poets are about like regular people in that there are all kinds of us -- wild, boring, bizarre, professional -- and I think it's the poetry itself that we should put our expectations on. Although, of course, without the creative/investigative process of actually writing, the poetry wouldn't exist in the first place.

More later, perhaps.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The best thing...

...anyone said in comments on my post about Li-Young Lee's reading came from Didi:


You are one with God when you write. You are one with man when you read.

That is all I have to say about that.

Lot of work I want to do tonight, several poems I know I want to revise, but I have a splitting headache. I got some poems back today (as in rejected) and wanted to figure out where to fire them off next, but I may just go to bed. I got two packets sent out today, so I have a total of eleven packets out at the moment ... maybe I'll just wait until some more come back and shuffle them around a bit. I'm feeling a bit head-to-brick-wall-ish about publication right now, as I haven't had an acceptance in a while; I think the cure for that is probably not to think about it for a bit and to spend more time writing -- which is, after all, the point.

Edited to add: Hey, I found the blog of someone who actually did take notes at LYL's reading. Here, if you're interested.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Why can't every day be like today?

Today was a good day. The weather was perfect beyond perfection; I drank just a smidgen too much coffee (which nearly always propels me into productivity one way or another); I spent the entire afternoon reading and writing & plan to do more of the same this evening. I finished reading Mark Doty's newest volume, which is wonderful and something I'll be returning to. I drafted a couple of new poems (one perhaps a bit overmuch inspired by Doty, but revision should make that a bit less obvious at least) and revised another. WFHB (our volunteer-run community radio station) aired a particularly interesting installment of their weekly series "A Cycle of Poets" this evening, featuring Jenny Kander interviewing poet Roger Mitchell and his wife, fiction writer Dorian Gossy -- there was a bit of cross-genre discussion of language, and Dorian said some nice things about how poetry has influenced her fiction, particularly (though I don't think you'd necessarily guess it just from reading her) LANGUAGE poetry. That's made me think about how good it is to admit influences that stem from impulses very different from your own natural ones & to read work that's very different from your own.

Which reminds me, I'm also reading the new issue of Bloom. I love that journal, the range of work they publish. Really need to send them something.


Bumper sticker of the week:

I love my country ...
... but I think we should start seeing other people.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Lesbian Academic Love Poem

Because I know at least a few of you out there will appreciate this (hi Em and Julie)...

Lesbian Academic Love Poem by Sara Jane Stoner

book sale finds!

Just finished fighting my way through the IU Library book sale. Boy, I found some good stuff. There was more I could have bought -- a few hardcover poetry books -- but I kept reminding myself that these books are actually IN the library and I can check them out ANYTIME and even for cheap, I should only buy the ones I actually want to *ahem* OWN.

But I did spend eight bucks. Here's what I got:

Hardcover ($3.00)
The Writings of John Lennon (combined edition of In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works)

Paperback ($1.00 each)
Wallace Stevens - The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination
May Sarton - The House by the Sea
Frank O'Hara - Lunch Poems (Pocket Poets edition)
Dylan Thomas - Under Milk Wood

Journal Issues (25 cents each!)
Poetry - June 1933, June 1966, October 1967, August 1974

The August 1974 Poetry has perhaps the worst cover ever seen on a Poetry. It is, ah, very much a product of its times. It's pink and has two stylized naked people seen from behind, a man and a woman, with a serpent sneaking up behind them. I can't describe it adequately except to say it is very 1970's. Maybe I'll try to scan it.

From the "News Notes" section of the June 1933 issue:
We apologize to Robert Tallman and our readers for a mistake, due to editorial carelessness, of a kind which never occurred before in POETRY's history -- the inclusion in the May number of a poem which had already appeared in February. The editor's Mexican trip must have cleared her mind of other matters, and Mr. Tallman, because of a change of residence, received his May proof just one day too late to correct the error.

This issue also includes the winner ("America Remembers" by Paul Engle) and honorable mentions from the "Century of Progress" contest. The "News Notes" section includes bionotes for the poets included, and mentions that
The editor's own poem, on a Century of Progress subject but not contributed to the contest, took her by surprise on the train in January.

I am highly amused. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

book sale

For anyone who might be in or near the Bloomington, IN area (and if you are, freakin' introduce yourself already!):

Giant Book Sale!

Well, the books are normal size, but it is a really big sale....

InULA (Indiana University Librarians Association) Book Sale will take place Saturday and Sunday in the Herman B Wells Library (Main Library), room E174. (If you go in the main lobby doors on the parking lot side of the library, this room is in between the two sets of doors.)

Preview sale 9 am to noon Saturday, $20 admission.

Free admission from noon-5 pm Saturday and 11 am-2:30 pm Sunday.
Books sold by the bagful (SUPER CHEAP) from 3-5 pm Sunday.

I have found lots of really cool stuff at this sale in years past, including some nifty out-of-print poetry books and -- the coolest find -- the 1979 edition of Who's Who Among American High School Students, which I didn't buy when I had the chance (yes, my name is in it) because it was ridiculously expensive -- but for a dollar, twenty-plus years later, I snapped it up and gave my mom a thrill.

I'm thinking I may not allow myself to go. I need more books in this house like I need more cat hair in this house.

An odd reading

OK, OK, I knew someone would ask. Yes, Li-Young Lee's reading Monday night was odd. I don't want to speculate about what's up with him; and I don't know how unusual this reading was for him, as I've only seen him read a couple of times, and the most recent one was in the rather controlled context of the IU Writers' Conference. And I'm not "in the loop" of MFA-program gossip, so I don't know what's being said or what transpired at his Q&A/discussion on campus the following morning. (I would've loved to have gone, but there is this little working for a living thing they make me do during the day.) I don't know how much of what transpired was pure theatrics.

Anyway. Cathy Bowman stepped up to introduce Lee, and after giving the usual quick biographical sketch, she asked the audience to say in unison the phrase "God in Man." This apparently had to do with a conversation the two of them had been having. The audience complied, sounding a bit confused. Lee stepped up to the podium with the requisite stack of papers & folders and water bottle. He said something about how that was what he wanted to write about, God in Man, but it always ended up being too much Man and not enough God, and he just wanted the God, or something. He started reading poems, but seemed frustrated, and before long he was revising poems as he read them -- stopping, shaking his head, going back and reading the stanza again with different bits in it. He expressed frustration quite a bit. Then he started reading a poem, talked about what wasn't working in the bit he had read (just a few lines) and how there were too many R sounds, finally put the poem down without reading past the first few lines. Cathy Bowman called out from the front row to ask him to finish the poem anyway. He didn't. (I was thinking at this point that it was kind of cool to see that maybe even Li-Young Lee has periods of thinking everything he has written is crap. Heh.)

At this point he seemed like he was going to go on reading poems, but he sort of went into ranting a bit. I wish I'd taken notes (although some of the bits I remember made their way into the poem I posted here). "I want to go home," he said several times, pounding on the podium. "You guys, I am in so much trouble up here. I want to get out of here, I want to go home, Cathy, I want to go home." He went on about God and Man and language, and I wish I'd been taking notes because there was a bit about a bird; he talked about how music and poetry and (a bunch of other stuff) wasn't the answer, sex was the answer, and we've got to get the sex thing right, sex isn't just about genitals but about the whole body, and if people would get sex right they wouldn't want to kill each other, and in fact the reason people kill each other is that they really want to fuck each other. He went on like this for oh, ten minutes maybe? fifteen? I wasn't really keeping track of time. Then he finally said something like "you guys just sit there, I'm leaving" and picked up his papers and his water bottle and left the room.

Cathy Bowman kind of looked around and went up to the podium as people applauded in a confused fashion. First she said that maybe that was just part one, but then I guess she realized he wasn't coming back, so she plugged the Q&A/discussion the following morning in Ballantine Hall, and said he'd be out in the lobby to sign books and so on (but I didn't see him as I left). All in all the reading was maybe 35 minutes or so, not a really unreasonable length for a reading I guess, though certainly shorter than I'd planned on -- and certainly much lighter on actual poetry!

I had a few thoughts about what was going on. Maybe he really was going through some kind of an emotional or existential or midlife or substance-related crisis and was just kind of falling apart. Maybe he was just having one of those "everything I've written is crap" days and couldn't deal with it. Maybe he was in the midst of working on an important new piece and he was so fully in the midst of the creative process that he couldn't talk to normal human beings at the moment (some of his ranting did kind of remind me of stuff I might mutter to myself as I pace around the house in the midst of writing a difficult poem). In a way it seemed like he was trying to read us poems that he hadn't actually written (or thought of) yet. Maybe he was just being a bit of a diva. I don't know. It certainly wasn't a boring stodgy academic Poetry-Voice reading, anyhow. And since I got a poem out of it, I'm not complaining....

Edited later to add: Here's a blog entry from someone who was there & actually took notes, which (other than the poem I started drafting as I listened) I failed to do. It may be somewhat enlightening, since she got down more of what he actually said than I managed to.


On a totally unrelated note, Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls) just released her second solo album, Prom, and holy crap does it kick butt. Folkish-punky rock for the most part, with lots of electric guitars, some particularly excellent drumming from Kate Schellenbach, some cool melodies, and some fabulous lyrics. The whole thing is sort of a meditation (if you can meditate at the top of your lungs, haha) on high school, and how we learn about gender roles, and the intensity of being that age, and being queer in high school, and stuff like that -- some great lyrics like "I had a sex education without a word for my gender." I just got it on Monday (I'd pre-ordered it via Daemon Records) and already I've listened to it a half-dozen times. Good, good stuff.

Monday, April 11, 2005

a very rough draft

Li-Young Lee's reading tonight was ... odd. I'll leave it at that for now, except to say that I think he was trying to read us poems that he has not written yet.

However, it spawned a new poem for me. This is as rough as a rough draft gets; comments are welcome, but bear in mind I haven't really had a chance to read it myself yet! :)

The Problem of Birds

[deleted; if you missed it and would like to see it, comment here or backchannel me]

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Trying to decide whether this one goes in the chapbook ms. or not... leaning towards not.


[deleted 04-12-2005; if you missed it & want to see it, comment here]

Saturday-night manuscriptin'

Landlocked Travels (shamelessly ganked from an Indigo Girls song, so possible copyright issues)
Animals at Home
The Landlocked Body
Landlocked Light
Landlocked Weather
Landlocked Luck
Stupid Stinkin' Chapbook
---possibilities so far

I am either good or bad at titles -- there's no in between. I really liked "Breach" as a title, but this manuscript has changed so drastically that it just doesn't work anymore. Bah.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

"Nothin' matters and what if it did" --John Mellencamp, 1980

Jeez. First Creeley, now Bellow and Conroy. It's a bad month for writers.

Here's the Iowa City newspaper's Conroy obit.

I used to think "ugh, Iowa, who would want to go there, that program is mean." Then I went to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival a few times -- which is, I know, a completely different animal from the Workshop, but it gave me the opportunity to talk to a lot of people affiliated with the Workshop & several of its recent grads. And for all its faults, I think programs like that instill in one the understanding that writing MATTERS. Doing the work matters. Doing it as well as you can matters. It matters enough to hurt.

I came real close to applying to Iowa (& other programs as well, of course) then, around 1992 or so ... probably would not have been accepted, but who knows. Who knows how different my life would have been.

Anyway. Met up with Jenni yesterday evening at the Runcible Spoon; we talked poetry and blogging and read each other's chapbook mss. Didn't do any in-depth critique or anything, but it felt really good to talk about putting together a chapbook with someone else who's actively working on one -- my poetry-group colleagues aren't doing anything of the sort. Jenni's fun to chat with, opinionated (that's a good thing), and she's got some terrific poems in her manuscript. And it's always so good to spend time talking poetry with someone who cares passionately about it.

It matters, this poetry stuff. Not the po-biz of it, not the networking (though I find that fun sometimes, getting to know people and making small talk and everything), not the publishing -- publishing matters in the sense that it's one way of trying to chisel out a lasting space for your work, but that's a different kind of mattering. It's the poetry itself that really matters, both the process of writing it (and the learning/understanding process that goes along with the writing) and the poems that result.

That's why I feel so frustrated when I'm not writing well, when I'm not able to devote to it the kind of time I think it would take to become the best poet I could possibly become, when I can't figure out how to get better. Because it matters so much, and I don't want to give it half-assed attention. This isn't a hobby. It's a life.

I need to win the fucking lottery. Don't we all. *heh*

Monday, April 04, 2005

Still Life With NCAA Championship

Bad Poet No Donut, Part II: I found out that Ishle Yi Park's reading on campus was at 7:00, not 8:00 as I was originally told, and since I didn't get home from running errands until after 6 I decided not to go. I swear I'm going to hear Li-Young Lee next week come hell or high water, though. Although the MFA program is making it darned hard to do so, since they have yet to update their website with a time or location. Maybe I'll call the MFA office tomorrow, much as I hate making phone calls to people I don't know.


As has been noted by several bloggers, news sites, et cetera, Ted Kooser has won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and Marilynne Robinson in fiction. (I really do need to pick up both of those books, as well as Brigit Pegeen Kelly's Pulitzer-nominated volume. Do you suppose people could stop publishing books for a few years so I can have a chance to catch up? Bloggers excepted, of course -- y'all can publish all you want. I'll just read faster.)


Had a headache for three days. After work I had to run out to the vet clinic to pick up some Cosequin (tuna-flavored glucosamine chondroitin powder for the arthritic geriatric cat), and on the way back I took a spontaneous detour into a Starbuck's drive-thru. Mind, I don't patronize Starbuck's that much -- their coffee isn't that great and I'd rather support locally-owned establishments, although I do love Panera for some reason -- but my aunt gave me a Starbuck's card for my birthday almost a year ago, and I still haven't used it up yet, so I may as well. Anyhow I got a caramel frappuccino. As soon as I had finished half of it, I realized my headache was entirely gone. Mmmm. Magic caramel frappuccino. We'll just ignore the fact that those things have about 179463 calories in them.


In today's mail: new books by Lucia Perillo and Mark Doty. I have been looking forward to Doty's book ever since I heard him read some of these poems in Provincetown in the summer of '03. "Heaven for Paul" in particular has stayed with me since that reading. I can just picture the two of them on that plane. And the combination of humor, tenderness, and understated wisdom in that poem blows me away. (I suppose it's best when he's reading it out loud with Paul in the audience though.) His "Heaven for Stanley" was especially moving as well that night, in the room named for Kunitz, the night after most of us in the audience had heard Kunitz read in that same room. It was pure serendipity that I managed to be there for those readings; I'd thought I wouldn't be able to afford to visit P-town that summer, but a semi-last-minute bargain airfare popped up, and when I checked the FAWC website to see who was reading in the next few weeks and realized I could hear Kunitz and Doty, I booked that puppy in a hurry and flew out for a long weekend. Well worth it -- both readings were truly special.

I'm pleased to have Lucia Perillo's book, too. I took a workshop with her at the IU Writers' Conference a couple of years ago -- 2002, I guess it was -- and enjoyed her immensely. Amusingly enough, I originally tried to get into Mark Doty's workshop that year, but sent in my application too late and his was already full. I was terribly disappointed at first, but as these things usually turn out, Lucia's workshop was absolutely the right one for me.

Also got the Indigo Girls' "Live at the Uptown Lounge" DVD -- I've had this on VHS since the early nineties (in fact, if I recall correctly, I purchased it with my winnings from the office NCAA tournament pool, the one and only time I won!), and am happy to have it now on DVD.

I am such a consumer.


Speaking of consumerism, Jenni is in so much trouble. Caveat Emptor, our good used bookstore, is having a "Spring Cleaning" sale this week while she is in town -- 30% off all used books. I don't know if she has internet access where she's staying. Maybe I'll be kind and not tell her. Ssssshhhhhh.

She and I are going to try to meet up at the Runcible Spoon tomorrow evening to drink coffee and talk poetry, or to drink poetry and talk coffee, I'm not sure which. Although I've met tons of "Internet people" over the years, from various BBS's (I never know how to pluralize that) and from livejournal and from various listservs and such, this will be my first "blogger person" meeting.

So with any luck, by tomorrow night I will have Official Blogger Person Verification that I Am Not A Half-Crazed Axe Murderer in person. Er, I hope so anyway.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

I want to be a Girlyman

Sounds like you AWP-ers are having a good time! Maybe someday I'll get to go. I love that kind of thing -- conferences, festivals -- the intensity of it. I'm a fairly shy person, though I am relatively good at finding common ground with people and making conversation once I feel like I know them a bit -- though I tend to hang out on the fringes. I suspect my Provincetown trip/workshop in June is going to drain my travel/vacation budget for the next couple of years, so who knows when I'll make it to AWP -- but hopefully someday.

Right now I'm in full-on "wish I were a musician instead of a poet" mode though. I went to hear Girlyman last night and they were just so much fun. You haven't lived until you've experienced a queer-folk-singalong of "Rock Me Amadeus," in German and everything. And then there were songs like "Speechless" and "The Shape I Found You In" that just about made me cry. There are things you can do with music that you just can't do in poetry. Plus, of course, musicians get flirted with WAY more than poets do. Heh.

I did buy a Girlyman T-shirt, which will be especially fun to wear to my workshop in P-town.

I meant to get some writing done today but have had a headache most of the day. I know -- whine, whine, whine. Maybe this evening.

This is, I think, the world's most boring blog today -- so I will close.