Wednesday, August 31, 2005
[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.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
It's a pity, then, that brilliant letters are about as likely to be written by young poets today as odes to Psyche. This isn't the fault of the poets. The letter has always been an awkwardly balanced genre -- part practical necessity, part literary performance, part cowardly way to break up with your girlfriend -- and advances in technology have made the letter's modern incarnations smaller, faster, flatter and more ephemeral. These qualities enhance the functional side of letter writing at the expense of the casual, cloudlike accumulations of thought that often lead to the most incandescent poetic observations. And let's face it, the modern letter equivalent makes for a lousy read. Consider, for example, a text message version of Keats's famous explanation of ''negative capability'' (as originally set forth in a letter to his brothers, George and Thomas, it's a kind of artistic disinterest):(Orr goes on to review the new Selected Letters of James Wright, which sounds like it's worth reading.)
JKEATS1: Iz tryN 2 dev mor neg cap
G&TKEATS: watz dat?
JKEATS1: dats bn N uncertainties -- misteries -- doubts w/o NE irritable reachN aftr fact & reasN : -)
There's nothing wrong with text messages -- they're terrifically useful and often very funny -- but they 8nt Xactly gud 2 look @. Even e-mail messages, which bear some resemblance to letters, are probably too short (not to mention too easily disposable) to maintain the letter's literary position.So we're likely down to our last few poet correspondents.
Anyway, that got me started thinking ... I wonder if blogs are, to some extent, taking the place of letters? True, they aren't addressed to a singular "you" so they lack a certain level of intimacy. But they do often have the pecular mix of formality & informality one finds in letters, and to some extent they are often addressed primarily to a known group of readers, even though they're accessible to a much wider audience. Certainly I've read a goodly number of individual posts that were well-written and substantial enough to hold a reader's interest outside the ephemeral confines of the "blogosphere" -- and I can imagine, somewhere down the road, somebody publishing selections from same. At least I think I can imagine that -- though I'm not entirely sure I like the idea. I know that a lot (though not all) of my email correspondence is dashed off hastily and has the "flattened" quality Orr refers to, while blog posts tend to be more ruminative, more detailed, more composed of actual complete sentences.
It's probably too early to say, really; blogging is a relatively new art form (if I may be so bold as to elevate it to that level), and I don't think it's exactly going to replace the centuries-old art of letter writing just yet. But in terms of the literary function of poets' letters, something Orr discusses ("poets often have used letters to arrive at new ways of thinking about poems," he says), blogs just might be primed and ready to jump in.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Friday, August 26, 2005
Seeing the new students pouring into town always makes me a bit nostalgic for my undergrad days, and sometimes makes me feel a bit sad that I did my MLS (that's Master of Library Science, though I'm sure y'all can come up with more interesting definitions) on a part-time basis while working full-time. If I won the lottery, I would probably go be a full-time student again, because it was a life I really loved. (The full-time-student-envy completely disappears at the end of the semester when the stress levels inside the library rise to deafening proportions, though, I assure you.)
Working in an academic library is, for me, one way of staying in touch with the parts of "student-ness" that I love. At least I'm in that environment, surrounded by people who are actively engaged in learning. Yeah, academia is a deeply flawed institution -- but I think, perhaps with a bit too much optimism, that its heart is in the right place. And I am an academic at heart, really. It's the environment I'm happiest in. Sometimes I think I should have just sucked up and done the whole "get a doctorate and become a professor" thing -- except that, oddly enough, I do not find myself drawn to teaching. I would enjoy teaching creative writing in some settings, I think; my old writing group used to give workshops on occasion and that was lots of fun, and working with advanced or talented or at least highly motivated students would be fun. But you and I both know that if I'd gotten a doctorate in English, or even an MFA, I probably would have ended up teaching freshman comp and introductory lit -- maybe in a community college -- and that would have made me crazy. There are people who love doing that, and more power to 'em. But it's not for me. And I'm glad I was able to recognize that before I did something bad like go from undergrad directly into grad school, just because it's what everyone (including myself) expected of me.
I do sometimes wish I'd had the bright idea of going to library school a little earlier, instead of farting around in a stupid office job till I was in my mid-thirties. But I'm glad I ended up there eventually. And every now & then I catch myself looking around the library, seeing students tracking down the information they need and collaborating on group projcts and whatnot, and I realize that I have some small part in helping them to get the education they want, and it makes me really (and geekily) happy.
Besides which, just about every librarian & library-school student I've ever met has a total office-supply fetish. And you just can't beat spending your days with people like that. *grin*
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Today 48-year-old Martina Navratilova, along with Anna-Lena Groenefeld, won the doubles championship at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Not only did they win, but in the last three rounds of the tournament they had to defeat the #1, #3, and #4 seeded teams. Pretty damned impressive. I love that Martina still plays at her age, still loves the game, still wins. She is sort of like the Stanley Kunitz of tennis. *grin*
I have been writing what might be a long poem, or maybe not so long once I chop out all the crap. My writing process feels different these days, looser. Every few days I sit down with the notebook and write another page or two of poemy stuff, and although it's been a couple of weeks since I started, I haven't typed any of it up yet. I have in mind a larger structure than I've worked with before -- I think, actually, that I'm envisioning a book manuscript, or a section thereof, even while I'm first-drafting stuff. That's new and different. Manuscripts I've done before (chapbooks or longer) have been more a matter of "go through all the poems and pull stuff out and figure out how to put it together" which makes me think of the artist carving an elephant from stone, taking the stone and chipping away everything that doesn't look like elephant. Except not really. Anyway, I'm envisioning a long-ass poem, fragmented, the fragments and sections interspersed throughout the whole of something longer. It's a little weird to imagine the skeleton of the larger effort before having written the meat and fin and feather of it, but I think it is a useful direction at least for now.
Feeling a bit lonely this weekend but it is a useful loneliness, a productive thing -- something to push against and feel it pushing back. A fruitful resistance.
Michael Cunningham, on Charlie Rose the other night, talking about how everyone's life has stories in it -- I often wonder what mine might be. I try to have faith that they are there & that if I keep chipping away at it everything that isn't elephant will fall away and leave my story standing there, unashamed and evident.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
My poetry group met this afternoon -- we usually meet on a weekday evening but sometimes our schedules get nuts and the only time we can find is a Saturday late morning/early afternoon. We were out at D.'s house; she lives out in the boonies of Nashville, IN and you go down this rather steep and somewhat daunting gravel road to get there. Her house is a sweet little log cabin surrounded by trees -- green green green green everywhere! -- and bird feeders, and guarded by a big Rottweiler mix who'd be more likely to lick you to death than actually do anything remotely guard-doggish. I can imagine living out in the woods like that, stocking up on everything in the wintertime because you'd be bound to get snowed in a few times -- sometimes I think it would be lovely to live in a little cabin or cottage and get snowed in a few times a year. If, of course, you could happily light a fire and snuggle in with a blanket and some books and a cat or three and not have to worry about making it into town for work. Sigh. I can picture my ideal life so clearly -- the only problem is I can't figure out where money would come from! Stupid money -- it just gets in the way of everything, doesn't it?
And then, of course, when I imagine living out in the boonies like that, I catch myself remembering that I am middle-aged and getting older, and thinking it would not be terribly wise to live out in the middle of nowhere by myself with no ready access to emergency medical care or anything like that. I do love the idea of looking out every window and seeing nothing but trees and grass and green things, maybe a pond, the occasional deer or fox stopping by for a visit. I am tired of hearing traffic and ambulance sirens and motorcycles.
Yeah, so I just need to win the lottery, right? *grin*
Anyway, we had a productive meeting -- making plans for our annual reading in October and workshopping a pretty good-sized stack o'poems. I am looking forward to the reading; I think most if not all of my poems will be from Provincetown & after. I guess you could say it will be the World Premiere for most of them. Except then people would look at you funny, so you probably wouldn't want to say that.
Thanks, by the way, to everyone who congratulated me on the Calyx acceptance. I'd been working on a pretty long string of rejections, so it was nice to break that streak. It's back to normal today, of course, with another rejection in the mailbox. Oh well. Time to send 'em back out! The only way to get published is to persist. Oh yeah, and writing writing writing, writing as hard and as well and as much as you can. All you can do is write the best poems you can figure out how to write, and keep on sending them out -- the rest is out of your control. That, and not letting either acceptance or rejection go to your head. When you sit down and face the blank page, that page doesn't give a crap who's accepted or rejected you before. It's a fresh challenge every single time. And that's the beauty of it.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
(Yes, maybe it's gauche and boring to post the details of one's rejections and acceptances on one's blog. So what. It's not like the non-poety people in my life are interested in hearing about it, and I do like to share happy news with people who might appreciate it.)
So, Calyx will be publishing my poem "Against Metaphor" next year. I don't know which issue yet. But I do like Calyx very much, so I am pleased. And now if you'll excuse me, I have a little self-congratulatory butt-waggling acceptance dance to perform.
Monday, August 15, 2005
I believe they're still reading submissions for the next issue -- hint, hint, allayouse. :)
Saturday, August 13, 2005
As anyone who writes probably instinctively understands, a concept for which you have no language effectively doesn't exist for you. When languages are lost, sometimes concepts die off with them, entire ways of thinking and of seeing the world. The classic example, of course, is the Eskimo language that has a whole bunch of different words for snow. How many of us look at snow and just say "snow" when, if we had the words for it, we could see that it was granular crunchy snow, or fluffy soft snow, or snow that comes as a complete surprise? How many of us would recognize all the kinds of love in our lives if we only had the words for them? And all the kinds of hunger, all the kinds of joy?
The article has a sidebar with facts about a few of the world's endangered languages. I thought these two were especially poignant:
Mohawk, one of the more famous North American Indian languages, is polysynthetic. That is to say, every verb must describe the action, the agent, the recipient, and the time of action. For example, the English phrase, "I am currently bringing the sugar to someone," is a single word in Mohawk: "tkhetsikhetenhawihtennihs."
Boro, a language spoken in northeastern India, has some of the world's most descriptive verbs. These include onsra: to love for the last time; gagrom: to search for something below water by trampling; and egthu: to create a pinching sensation in the armpit.
Of course, this is why we write poems -- to describe the things for which normal language is hopelessly inadequate.
What concept or action do you wish your language had one single word to describe?
Friday, August 12, 2005
What is the Great Pumpkin you are waiting for in your sincere pumpkin patch, the one you believe in even when your crabby older sister says you're crazy, the one for whom you'd wait all night shivering among vines? And when the shadow rising over the horizon turns out to be a stupid beagle ... what then?
Thursday, August 11, 2005
The plucked strings tremble
& traverse the heart,
back through that other
strong muscle singing blood
& guilt. ...
Go read the rest of it -- it's really lovely.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
I'm quite addicted to pandacams these days. There's a baby at the National Zoo (if that camera is at capacity, try here) and another even younger one in San Diego. Baby pandas are just the cutest little boogers imaginable. Ssssh, don't tell my cats (they think that title is theirs and theirs alone).
Dear World: I am feeling quite determined to apply to low-residency MFA programs in the near future. There is no need to continue testing said determination by making more things fall apart in expensive fashion. There's "making sure I have to jump over hurdles so I appreciate it" and there's ridiculous, and we're closing in on the ridiculous here. Just cut it out now. Thank you very much.
I am reading Rachel Zucker's The Last Clear Narrative. It is giving me some ideas about how to proceed with a couple of long poems I'm working on (one I've already got a version of on paper, and one that so far exists mostly in a framework in my head). One thing I have found over the past few years is that my reading and my writing mature in parallel -- being willing to take risks in reading, digging into poets whose form & language is very different from my own and who maybe even mystify me a bit at first, leads directly into a greater capacity for risk-taking in my own work. And god only knows risk-taking is important. Essential, even. I am only beginning to understand this, after over thirty years of writing. When I took a class with Cathy Bowman a couple of years ago, she had us read very broadly, for which I am still grateful; one of the poets we read, Stephanie Strickland, is someone I probably wouldn't have attempted on my own and that would have been my loss, as I enjoyed her work a great deal. It is also good to spend time reading poets you immediately enjoy and identify with and feel comfortable with, but I think your own writing (or my own, anyway; I shouldn't presume to speak for anyone else) benefits most from the effort to grasp what is not immediately lovable: the different, the strange, the (to use a loaded word here) difficult. (Or, to read poets who foreground clarity in the ways that your own work is difficult. Read stuff that doesn't sound like you, is the point.)
I didn't get that until a couple of years ago, and now that is one thing I always want from teachers -- introduce me to poets I might not otherwise read or know about. Cathy Bowman & D.A. Powell both gave me some of that (Powell was the one who recommended Rachel Zucker) and that has helped my writing at least as much as anything either of them ever said about my own poems. When I think about doing an MFA, about half of what excites me is the thought of having teachers giving me reading suggestions for a couple of years. There's just so much out there that I could spend eight hours a day reading and still miss out on good stuff.
I don't always have the critical vocabulary to put into words what someone else is doing. I couldn't, right now, write a paper about what Rachel Zucker's book tells us about the concept of "narrative." There is value in doing that kind of critical work, of course, but right now what works best for me is just to read the work fairly closely without trying to explain it to myself. Where are the gaps, how does she get from Point A to Point B. "Look at what she's doing here" more than "this is why she's doing this." One of my long poems is about the experience of being a spinster (I love that word) and I know that it is not going to be a Point-A-to-Point-B narrative, and unlike a lot of what I write it's probably not going to have so much of a beginning and a middle and an end. It's not going to make a big old "spinsterhood is powerful" statement, which is what I probably would have written two or three years ago. I'm not sure exactly what it is going to do, but I'll find that out as I go along. (See Charlie's excellent post on "Process and Product" for some thoughts along those lines, by the way. I know a lot of times I feel as though I'm just writing instinctively, but later on when I look back at what I've done I can figure out what I was doing and why -- but I sure couldn't have told you what my plans were before the words were on the page.)
When I got together with my friend S. last week I gave her a couple of my very recent poems, and she was astonished at how much my voice has changed since the last time she read much of my work (probably about three years ago). I am pretty sure I'm still the same person (more or less) and I suspect you can still tell the poems were written by the same person, but yes, there has been a change. For the better, I think... I hope.
As with many things, I suppose time will tell.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Note to self: Nobody appreciates being referred to as "you people."
I think the germs from my rotten tooth jumped down my throat when their toothsome residence got yanked out from under them, and took up residence. I now have a sore throat and a cold. Summer colds are a drag. What is it about being mildly sick that makes you think you should be able to just quietly read a book or write for a while, but then makes your brain just fuzzy enough that you can't quite concentrate? Hmph.
That's it. That's all I got.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
S.'s experience, which she'd hoped would be just the kick in the pants she needed to vault to the next level with her own work, has made her think long and hard about the next step in feeding her writing. Like me, she's considered low-residency MFA programs, but she's never seemed quite certain that was what she needed to do. (In fairness, I was never certain until the prospect of possibly doing one at FAWC arose -- and yes, I will apply to several other places as well, but I think I'm waiting to send out applications until FAWC gets their program underway and starts taking apps -- depending on how long that takes; I'm not sure what their time frame is.) S. hasn't done as many summer workshops as I have, but she's done some, and as our contrasting experiences suggest, you can't be guaranteed you'll get what you need -- and a week of working with someone, really, just isn't that long. Not when what you need, or part of what you think you need anyway, is a mentor -- someone who will kick you in the pants, push you, challenge you, in ways that a peer just can't. When you workshop with peers, you have the responsibility of challenging them right back -- and, selfish as it is, I just want someone to challenge me; I don't want to have to give back what I get. Just for a while.
Anyway, a mentor is only part of what I think can help my own work, and that was a bit of a tangent anyway. Mainly, I wanted to ask: how do you feed the beast that poetry is? You write; you read; but what else? Is there a point when you permanently step away from the "student" role, or more precisely, should there be such a point? (I have one friend who's been writing for longer than I have, she's been writing seriously for 35-40 years, and she still takes classes and workshops, several of them every year, as well as peer-workshopping with 2 different groups -- and I wonder sometimes whether it would be better for her to spend some time trying to trust her own sense, her own voice. But what's right for her may, of course, be different from what's right for me.) When you start publishing a lot, do editors start to provide the "pushing" that teachers give in the early stages of a career? (O funny word, "career," implying as it does a mappable trajectory and, well, a paycheck...) What else feeds the beast? Travel? Love? Fine wine? Can you bribe the Muse?
It's pretty clear to me that a low-res MFA would give me the biggest shove in the right direction right now, but it's not at all certain that I will be financially able to do that. And hell, who knows if I will even get accepted anywhere. So it can't be the only path I consider.
I figure I've got about a year "window of opportunity" before I fall back into complacency -- so I have some time to mull this over, and hopefully by next spring/summer I'll be able to start working on some applications.
And I am sorry that my friend didn't have the radiant experience that I did in Provincetown -- but talking to her reminded me not to take what I got for granted, reminded me how fortunate I am, reminded me how much work I did to make myself ready to be pushed & to take myself to a place where that was likely to happen.
(Carol -- Katie was in my friend's workshop too! Sometimes I like it when the world gets small.)
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Further Adventures of the Renegade Librarian: I mentioned WorldCat in an earlier post. If any of y'all who have published books are curious to know how many libraries own your book, but don't have ready access to WorldCat, drop me a comment -- be sure I have your name and the title of your book(s) -- and I'll be happy to look 'em up for you. Chapbooks too, so long as they have an ISBN. (You don't have to give me the ISBN for me to look them up -- it's just that non-ISBN-owning chapbooks are not likely to be included.)
Bonus, I'll do it from work and count it as a reference question, since we have to keep track of how many of those we get. *grin* If you want to see the whole list of libraries, those get really long so I won't post them, but I'd be happy to copy/paste it into your email.
Yes, I'm just a happy little bibliographic geek, I am! When Poetry from Sojourner: A Feminist Anthology (the place I'm probably proudest of being published) came out, I checked WorldCat every few days to see how many more libraries had added it. It's in 153 libraries now, a year and a half after publication, which is pretty good.
Monday, August 01, 2005
(I'm actually glad to get the rejection slip, as I've got a LOT of poems out right now, many of which have been out for months and months -- the ones that came back today went out in March, and at least one of them -- I'll have to check -- has been considerably revised since then. So now I can send 'em back out. I swear, it's like I on-purpose picked the places that would be slowest to respond this time around!)
P.S. How on earth did it get to be August already?? Man.
P.S.2. Whoever thought up the horribly annoying new Target commercial -- the one that starts off "I like backpacks and I cannot lie" -- needs to be FIRED. That commercial bugs the crap out of me.
P.S.3. Interlibrary loan rocks my little bitty world. Seriously. If it's in WorldCat, which compiles the holdings of hundreds of libraries and contains over 33 million records, I can probably get it delivered to me within a few days just by clicking on a couple of clicky things. I've gotten my hands on all kinds of obscure little chapbooks and random small-press stuff. It is, as they say, a beautiful thing.