Friday, March 31, 2006

Something to watch

The brother of one of my livejournal friends got shipped off to Iraq (again, even though he was not supposed to get deployed again). She's taken the "make your own Chevy Tahoe commercial" website and created a pretty powerful, subversive political statement with it, as a tribute to him. Highly recommended. Go check it out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jane Hirshfield

I went up to Butler University in Indianapolis yesterday evening, along with three other members of my poetry group, to hear Jane Hirshfield read. I actually (and this is a bit embarrassing to admit) wasn't very familiar with her work when I first heard about the reading, but since my friends were going I figured what the heck, I'd go along. I checked out Given Sugar, Given Salt from the public library, and was very impressed -- I love how she doesn't shy away from large and/or abstract issues, but always arrives there via the concrete and specific. Though I guess you could say that about any number of poets. She also, in this book, wrestles with some things that feel very specific to middle age -- something I'm wrestling with now in my own work (and my own life).
I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples,
putting pages of ruined paper
into a basket, pulling them out again.
[from "Waking This Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep"]
Last night she read exclusively from After, her new book. I enjoyed her reading very much; she spent more time chatting and providing background than many poets do, but I didn't feel she overexplained the poems, and I got a better sense of how she works -- something I always enjoy. I also got the impression that she would be a good teacher, just from how she talked about the poems and about her own writing process. I think my favorite poem was the one she opened with, "Theology," which had dogs in it. (It wasn't just because of the dogs that I liked it.)

After the reading she took a few questions, which she answered graciously. One question was about how to arrange a book of poems, which certainly seems to be a topic that's out there in the poetic zeitgeist these days, on listservs & around the blogosphere. She didn't really say anything I hadn't heard before about this, but it's obviously something she has struggled with and spent a lot of time thinking about.

Although it was a splurge since it's only out in hardcover, I bought a copy of After, and had her sign it like a big ol' fangirl. Hey, if you can't splurge on a hardcover right in front of the poet, when can you, y'know?

I also chatted for a few minutes with a young poet who's in her final semester of the low-res program at New England College, and has absolutely loved it. Contagious enthusiasm. I have got to find a way to make a low-res program happen -- to come up with the money, and the time/energy.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Catching up

I know, there hasn't been much to see here lately. Sorry about that! I haven't fallen off the face of the earth or anything, I promise.

I've got a poem in the new issue of The Cortland Review. It's got a really cool photo on the front page of the issue.

The fourth-Friday-of-the-month poetry reading at the Runcible Spoon a couple nights ago was very nice. Five Women Poets, the group I'm in, were the featured readers (those of us who were in town anyway; Anya couldn't make it), along with a storyteller from the Bloomington Storytellers' Guild. Usually Patricia tries to have a musician or something to provide a little break from all the poetry, so this time it was a storyteller. Anyway, I opened by reading Gayle Brandeis' "Pear" because I think it is such a kick-ass poem that I really wanted to share it; I think I said her name three or four times to make sure people knew it wasn't my poem, heh. Then I read two car-crash poems, two jazz poems, and a Provincetown poem. The car-crash poems and one of the jazz poems were very very new, but they seemed to go over well, especially "So What" (one of the jazz ones). The person in charge of the new Bloomington Women's Writing Center caught up with me afterwards and asked if I would read a couple poems in their benefit concert next month, which was neat. It takes like three people to make the Spoon feel crowded, and there were maybe twenty people there, so it was a nice full house. And I had a lovely glass of pinot grigio. Maybe that's why I enjoyed the evening so particularly much. ;)

I enjoy readings. I'm not the best reader out there, certainly not the most dynamic performer, not (my five-foot-one pudgy middle-aged self) the sort of reader who commands the attention of everyone in the room the moment she stands up. But over the years I think I've learned how to more or less do the poems justice, and I don't get at all nervous about reading anymore, which is kind of weird considering I am relatively shy (yes, really) and not at all fond of public speaking. On Friday, after the featured readers, there was (as always) an open mic. There weren't too many participants this time -- three, I think -- and one of them reminded me so much of me when I was first starting out reading my stuff, when I was 19 years old or so. Actually if I'm not mistaken the first time I read was at an open-mic at the Cornucopia, a natural-foods restaurant in South Bend, when I was in high school, back in the late seventies. I don't remember much about it, which is probably a very good thing for my ego. *grin*

Good mail this week: got my copy of Susan B.A. Somers-Willett's Roam. I know Susan a bit from online, though I haven't met her, and am just tickled to death (now there's a middle-aged midwestern phrase for you!) to see her having some good success. Also, the cover is really cool. I look forward to spending some time with this book. And, I hope that reading a book by someone I kind of know will prod me in the direction of working on my own stinkin' book manuscript. I turn forty-five in a couple of months; maybe "get the stinkin' book manuscript together and start sending it out" should be my birthday resolution. I don't know if it will be any good, but at 45, I have to recognize that I don't have forever to do this if I'm gonna do it.

I thought I might have something more interesting to blog about, but I now have a Very Large Cat draped across my lap making it difficult to type on the laptop, plus he's purring so loud I can't hear myself think -- so I'll come back later if I think of anything.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

artistic resume?

I'm applying for a thingie that requires an "artistic resume." Anyone have advice about how to structure one of these? Should I just throw together sections for publications, awards, readings, education/workshops, and other activities? Should publications go in chronological order, or alpha by journal title, or what? I have no clue here.

Thanks to anyone who can make a suggestion. :)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nota bene

Here's an interesting note: I went back into my submission files today and did the math. "O" was rejected ten times before getting that honorable mention in the Thomas Merton Foundation contest. (Of those ten, I think I had one or maybe two encouraging notes that didn't single out any particular poem from the submission packet, and there was one that specifically said they enjoyed this poem.) Ten rejections isn't all that many as those things go, but it's enough to notice.

The moral of the story, of course, is that if you've written a poem you believe in and you want it to be published, persistence pays. Sometimes, anyway.

Of course, first you have to write poems you believe in. That's the hard part. I wish I did it more often, that's for sure.

This coming Friday evening, Five Women Poets -- the poetry group of which I am a member -- will be featured at the Runcible Spoon Reading Series. Should be fun. At our meeting the other night we decided we can each have about ten minutes, so I need to figure out what to read. I'm thinking two car-crash poems, two jazz poems, and one or two others -- but I'm not sure yet. I love reading at the Spoon because I've spent SO much time there over the years that it feels very comfortable and homey to me. (In fact, I was just there today for brunch!)

I've been reading Jane Hirshfield's Given Sugar, Given Salt today and loving it. I've probably read scattered poems of hers here and there, but hadn't read any of her books, and am now kicking myself for waiting so long. She's reading at Butler University in Indianapolis the week after next and I am planning to go.

The weather is still chilly, but after drenching rains and quite a bit of flooding last week the grass is green and there are crocuses, a few daffodils, and the beginnings of forsythia. Robins are hopping around. The days are longer. I think we've just about survived another winter.

EDIT: As soon as I said that, I may have to retract it -- the weather forecast I just saw calls for heavy snow and single-digit temperatures early in the week. YEOW.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy news!

I don't normally blog from work, but I can't resist sharing this happy news. I just got a phone call from someone at the Thomas Merton Foundation in Louisville, telling me that my poem "O" was awarded honorable mention in their Poetry of the Sacred contest! The judge was Sena Jeter Naslund, whose book Ahab's Wife I just adored -- so to think that she liked my poem makes my little heart all tingly.

Apparently the poem will be posted on their website eventually, so when it is, I'll link to it. It's a poem I've always been particularly (maybe unreasonably) fond of, so I kind of feel like one of my favorite children just brought home straight A's on her report card. *grin* Sort of makes up for all those other poems that were ordered to report to the principal's office...

EDIT: They've already posted the winners on their website!
Here's the winning poem, and here are the honorable mentions.

Wow, the other poems are really good! "Pear" (one of the other honorable mentions) just made my toes curl up a bit.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.

Have you ever argued with one of your own poems? By writing another poem that contradicts the first? I tried it once, and I think I may make myself do it again as an exercise.

The first poem is one I wrote back in 1990, and for quite a while it was my favorite poem that I'd ever written. (Probably because it got me the nicest acceptance letter I've ever gotten -- not just "we want your poem" but a few words about why the editor liked it, which just tickled me to pieces.) The second poem was written 12 years later, begun while listening to a panel discussion on poetry at the public library, written in a fit of annoyance with myself because I felt like I was working too hard to make everything in my poems Oh So Deep And Meaningful -- a fault, if it is a fault, which "Let X Equal..." is certainly guilty of.

Note that I still like "Let X Equal..." even though I argued with it. (I contain multitudes, bla bla.) Actually I think it served as a better exercise to argue with a poem I didn't particularly disagree with. Can I feel equally committed to both sides of my own argument? Well, I am a Gemini, so I suppose that may be one of my talents. *grin* I've never presented these two poems side-by-side, not in a reading or anything, so it will be interesting for me to look at them together. I won't say which one I think is the better poem, though I do have an opinion about that, oddly enough. (I also think they are both crap, but I am having an "everything I have ever written is crap" night so I know better than to put too much stock in that.)

* * * * *

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.

[1990; first published in Northwest Review, vol. 30 no. 3]

* * * * *

Against Metaphor

Today, let the cat
be just a cat, crouching
in the kitchen where he hears
a scrabbling mouse. Let this glass
of clear cold water
be simple refreshment,
the morning sun be the rising
that happens every ordinary
day. My face is just my face,
my feet are in my shoes
which are on this wooden floor
in my house which is just a place
where I can live. Sometimes a life
is just a life, and at night
as I fall into my prosaic dreams
let me learn to be grateful
for having lived the day
as it actually was, one place
at one time,
simple witness.

[2002; first published in Calyx, vol. 23 no. 1]

Friday, March 10, 2006

Apropos of nothing... marked the twenty-year anniversary of my full-time employment at Major Midwestern University. (Yes, twenty years. I was a mere child of almost a quarter-century when I first started.) My boss took me out to lunch, and when we got back, there was a whole surprise party with cake and flowers and cards and everything! I couldn't believe it. Most of my student workers (the ones who hadn't already left on spring break) were there, and some of the faculty & staff from the department my branch library serves stopped by, and some librarians & staff from other departments -- I was amazed at how many people stopped by. The only official recognition one gets from the university is a little pin, so I certainly was not expecting Festivities. It was especially nice because in a couple of months the branch library I've been coordinating for the past 3 years will be closing (being transformed into a technology commons sort of space for the students in the department) and I'll be moving to a new position within the Libraries, so it was just kind of appropriate to have Festivities and a Big To-Do right about now. Then after work I went out to the Irish Lion with a couple of friends, and I stuffed myself to the gills on Blarney Puffballs (delicious little deep-fried balls of potato/cheese/onion, served with sour cream for dipping), fish & chips, and Bass -- enough decadent fried-ness there that I am probably now assured of not surviving for another twenty-year anniversary. Soooo good.

I do not normally like being the center of attention (but since there was cake, I was happy) -- don't normally do much to celebrate my birthdays or anything. But it felt nice to have Festivities today. I felt appreciated, and that's a pretty cool thing to feel at one's place of employment. I still say it would be awfully nice if it were possible to make a living writing poetry, but since it's not, I'm glad that I work in a place where people are mostly pretty nice to me, doing something (library stuff) that feels like a reasonably good and useful thing to do in the world.

I hope you AWPeople are having a good time down there in Austin. Post more! I want pictures and gossip. I want to know who flirted shamelessly with who. I want to know who drank too much and started dancing on the tables. I want ... oh, okay, no, I really don't want that kind of a report. (Feel free to backchannel with all such info, though. Muahaha!)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Watson, come here.

From Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac today:

It was on this day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell received patent No. 174,465 for the telephone. He filed for his patent on the same day as a Chicago electrician named Elisha Gray filed for a patent on basically the same device. Bell only beat Gray by two hours. Bell offered to sell his patent to Western Union for $100,000, but Western Union turned him down.

In honor of this event, an old poem of mine:

The Message

"Mr. Watson, come here. I want you."
--first words spoken via telephone

Alexander Bell, working fiercely in the lab,
spilled acid on himself that day.
There was something about invention
and necessity, and his words crackled out
into another room, thin and urgent,
carried through air into a moment
when everything changed.

Why then do we always wait
until that last panicked moment
to shout out what we need? We build
the devices, thin glowing wires,
lay the paths to carry signals
from lips to distant ear,
set up elaborate inventions

of intention, plot the ways to speak
our need, then let the creation sit
while we fiddle with one toggle or the next
never testing it by giving voice -- but
finally the burning
becomes too much to bear, impulsively
we grab the wires and cross the distance

with what we know, once said,
is true. Desire crackles out
into another room. Come here.
I want you.
published in New Zoo Poetry Review, 1998
and in A Linen Weave of Bloomington Poets, ed. by Jenny Kander (Lexington, KY: Wind, 2002)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Three good things

Thanks to Ginger for linking to this fabulous essay (or I guess it's actually meant to be a talk) by Rachel Zucker:
Confessionalography: A GNAT (Grossly Non-Academic Talk) on "I" in Poetry
I just read through it quickly, but definitely want to go back and chew on it a little more. I find myself, as is proper for someone in middle age I think, wanting to escape the confines of personal history in my poems, but at the same time I find myself drawn harder and harder to the pull of personal truths. Paradox? Sure. But that's what poetry is all about, Charlie Brown. (As a side note, we talked about truth vs. fact in the journaling discussion group I attended yesterday. I said that there were three things -- stating the facts, telling the truth, and making sense -- and that none of those things were necessarily related to or dependent upon one another. Well, I don't think I said it quite that succinctly, but you know.)

Because the Other Driver's insurance company came through with flying colors, I have no reason at this point to think I won't be able to make it out to FAWC this summer. I truly can't afford it, but I just feel I have to do it, so (in my mind at least) I'm now committed to it. Gonna try and apply for some scholarships, which would make it immensely more do-able. But if you can't commit to doing the impossible and/or seriously impractical now and then -- well, again, that's what poetry is all about. Hey, being able to pay the bills is overrated anyway.

Charlie has a new love in his life and she's adorable. *grin* Go see!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Lammy Finalists, etc.

1. Not quite a cover girl

Got my printed catalog for the Fine Arts Work Center's summer program today. There I am, on the inside front cover, right next to Hunter O'Hanian's signature. Je suis arrivée. Or, uh, something. Anyway, I'm sure they will send you a catalog if you write to them and ask for one, and then you too can gigglesnort at me in my oh-so-touristy aloha shirt trying to look all writerly in that comfy Adirondack chair in the FAWC courtyard. (I was scribbling in my journal and waiting for the caffeine to kick in, is what I was doing.)

2. Lambda Literary Award Finalists

The list of 2005 Lammy finalists came out today. (For those who may be out of this particular loop, they're awards for GLBT literature, in a bunch of different categories, awarded by the Lambda Literary Foundation. The awards ceremony is in May.)

Finalists in poetry:

Gay Men's Poetry
School of the Arts by Mark Doty (HarperCollins)
For Dust Thou Art by Timothy Liu (Southern Illinois)
Sugar by Martin Pousson (Suspect Thoughts)
Crush by Richard Siken (Yale)
Blue on Blue Ground by Aaron Smith (Pittsburgh)

Lesbian Poetry
Where the Apple Falls by Samiya Bashir (redbone press)
Directed by Desire: Collected Poems by June Jordan (Copper Canyon)
Life Mask by Jackie Kay (Bloodaxe Books)
New and Selected Poems, Volume II by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press)
Eye of Water by Amber Flora Thomas (Pittsburgh)

There are a few people here I don't know. Never heard of Martin Pousson; anyone know him? Samiya Bashir's name sounds familiar, but I can't think where I might have heard of her; same for Jackie Kay. I'm not familiar with Amber Flora Thomas, but looking her up on I see that she won the Cave Canem prize in 2004, and has blurbs from no less than Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, and Molly Peacock. Her book also has a really gorgeous cover. Looks worth checking out.

If anyone hasn't seen the full list of nominees in all categories and wants it, either comment with your email, or backchannel me, and I'll be happy to forward it along.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Boruch & McGrath reading

Marianne Boruch and Campbell McGrath read tonight to a packed house. (Really. They drew like four times as many people as the J.D. McClatchy reading on Sunday. To be fair, the publicity for Sunday's reading got screwed up and half of it said it was on Saturday, so people may have gotten confused.) I spotted several members of IU's MFA program faculty (Cathy Bowman, Maura Stanton, Richard Cecil, probably others) as well as several people I knew -- it was defintely the Poetry Place To Be tonight.

And it was a good reading. Boruch led off with a poem from her recent Selected, but then read all new work, which was quite good. McGrath read a sheaf of new poems, then several from Pax Atomica (including "Rock and Roll" and "The Human Heart," two of my favorites in the book), then a few from a manuscript he's currently working on -- one of which, "Ode to Bureaucracy" I think it was called, had me struggling not to keel over laughing. What I love about McGrath's poetry is that he's simultaneously one of the funniest & one of the angriest (I'm not kidding, read some of the rants in Florida Poems if you don't believe me) poets around today. --Maybe "angriest" isn't the right word, maybe I just mean "ranty-est" but man, he does a mean-ass rant when he gets going. I envy that.

Happily, Boxcar Books had a table outside the room selling a few books afterwards, so I bought my own copy of Pax Atomica & can now return the public library's copy to them; I also bought Marianne Boruch's book of essays, In the Blue Pharmacy (which I also have out from the public library). I thought about going back in to get them signed, but the room was mobbed with people most of whom were swarming towards one or the other of the readers, and decided not to fight the crowds. I'm not an autograph fiend, though I do really enjoy having books signed by people I know somewhat (fellow bloggers, I'm lookin' at you) and by summer-workshop teachers. I enjoy getting books signed by people I don't know sometimes, too, but it's not a big enough deal for me to make like a salmon and swim upstream through the throngs or whatever.

(I did once stand in a very long line at a bookstore to get Alice Walker's autograph in a book. But that was Alice Walker and she's pretty much a rockstar.)

Also, I got new shoes today and they have purple insoles and I love them.

Also, I'm jealous of all you people going to AWP. I am not very good at schmoozing in crowds, but if I found a couple of people I could mostly hang out with so that I wasn't constantly wandering around trying to break into conversations, I think it would be a blast going to readings and buying (way too many, I'm sure) books and meeting up with various bloggers for a drink or five. Maybe next year.

Also also, I have marshmallow peeps. Peeps!