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.