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.