Sunday, May 28, 2006

Insert cliche here

Today I am forty-five years old. Which is halfway to ninety, a number I do not even remotely expect to see. I am acutely aware that I don't have all the time in the world.

This year is "shit or get off the pot year." (I just typed "shit or get off the poet" which may be painfully apropos.)

Driving up to my mom's this afternoon, I counted fifteen turkey vultures before I gave up and stopped counting. They were everywhere, soaring over woods and fields and roadkill, soaking up the hot sun on their broad black fingery wings.

Friday, May 26, 2006

13 weird things about me

This one's going around and it looks kind of fun. It was supposed to be "13 things for a Thursday" but it's Friday. Deal. ;)

1. Although I have been told I sound taller online, I am only 5 foot 1. (And a half.)

2. I studied karate (U.S. Kyokushin style) for about seven years in my twenties, got as far as second degree brown belt, and was at one point the senior assistant instructor in my dojo.

3. When I was a small child I often slept with my head underneath my pillow. This was because I was certain that burglars would break into the house someday, and if my head was underneath my pillow they would not know I was awake and they would thus not have to kill me.

4. My first job other than babysitting was working in a zoo. I worked in the concession stand and I was also a "Volunteer Zoo Guide" in the petting area, where I frequently had to explain to small children that the little brown things on the ground behind the goats were not raisins and should not be eaten.

5. I am 25% Bolivian.

6. I once set my hair on fire at a poetry reading during the intermission by casually leaning against a table on which there were burning candles.

7. The movie "Whale Rider" makes me cry even though I have seen it at least 6 or 8 times.

8. I didn't learn to drive until I was 29 years old.

9. I saw the ocean for the first time when I was 20 years old.

10. I fall in love with places much more easily than with people.

11. Lately I have been calling my long-haired cat "Mister Fluffypants." He does not actually wear pants, at least not when I'm looking.

12. I studied Latin for a year in high school. The only sentence I can come up with now in that language is "Rana est in urna." (The frog is in the water jar.)

13. I love all the trappings of academia, from libraries to fresh notebooks for a new semester to the pomp and circumstance of graduation and honors ceremonies. I joke that I'm sometimes tempted to pursue a doctorate solely so I can get hooded, but there's a little grain of truth in that.

14. (Ooh! Special extra bonus fact!) In elementary school I played the violin until I broke my arm and couldn't practice for months and got behind everyone else. To this day I'd likely trade all my other talents, such as they are, for music. Especially if it meant a fabulous singing voice.

Monday, May 22, 2006

IU Writers' Conference

The Indiana University Writers' Conference is coming up in about three weeks, right here in lovely Bloomington. I am not attending the conference this year, though I've had some good experiences there in the past -- nothing that's felt as pivotal as last year's workshop in P-town, but I've had excellent teachers like Carolyn Kizer, Cleopatra Mathis, and Lucia Perillo.

Anyway, the evening reading series is free and open to the public, so I will probably attend most or maybe all of those. Here's the schedule for anyone who might be within driving distance and interested in catching some good readings. Looks like they have a new location this year, in the Chemistry Building (next to Ballantine Hall, if you're familiar with the IU campus) -- not sure why they aren't using the normal location in the Union building this year -- that's odd.

Like last year, the IUWC takes place right before I go to Provincetown. June will be poetry overload month for me, for sure. And hooray for that.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Carl Phillips

Really nice, lengthy article on Carl Phillips from the Riverfront Times -- thanks to Jilly Dybka over at Poetry Hut Blog for this one. (If you don't visit the Poetry Hut, I recommend it; Jilly does a great job of collecting interesting poetry-related articles from all over the place.)

Phillips will be teaching at the Fine Arts Work Center the week I'm there, so I will at least get to hear him read, and I hope to get a chance to chat with him a bit. I know two people who'll be in his workshop, so with any luck I'll get to hear a lot about how it goes. I haven't picked up his newest book yet; I'll probably buy it out there.

What I like about reading his work is the idea that it's okay to write these long, convoluted, syntactically complicated sentences in a poem -- something I've tried to steer myself away from, as I have a tendency to get long and convoluted (or at least overly parenthetical) myself; maybe it's time to try giving myself free rein and see where it goes. Maybe I will try to write a two-page poem that is all one sentence, just to see what happens. Muahaha (evil laughter).

* * * * *

I bought myself an adorable little portable USB hard drive today. 80GB of storage, which is four times the size of my laptop's hard drive. Now I just need to stay in the habit of backing stuff up religiously. If you store your writing on computer (or your photos, or music, or whatever) please, please back it up somewhere. You won't ever regret it.

(I also have one of those cute little USB flash drives, about the size of a pack of gum, which holds every poem I have ever written. This just boggles my little middle-aged mind. It's a wonderful feeling, though, when I'm packing the cats down to the basement for a tornado warning, to know that all I have to do is stick that puppy in my pocket and no matter what blows through, I will still have all my words. I used to worry what would happen if I had to evacuate and didn't have time to pack up the half-dozen fat three-ring binders that held typed copies of all my poems, or what if my house burned down when I wasn't home, etc. It is also nice to be able to take everything with me when I travel. You young people who take technology more for granted probably find yourselves amused by how mind-boggled I am by this stuff. But I started writing back when electric typewriters were relatively new technology. So being able to keep some 1300+ poems on a doohickey the size of a pack of gum... I think I have to go lie down now.)

* * * * *

Today, I hate horse racing. Prayers for Barbaro.

Friday, May 19, 2006

And the Lammy goes to...

The Lambda Literary Awards for GLBT literature were announced the other night. Poetry winners were:

Gay Men's Poetry
Crush by Richard Siken (Yale)

Lesbian Poetry
Directed by Desire: Collected Poems by June Jordan (Copper Canyon)

If anyone wants to see the complete list of winners (doesn't look like it's up on their website yet), let me know and I can email it to you...

* * * * *

Chaotic work day. My branch library closes for good one week from today. They are already starting to dismantle bookshelves and haul away filing cabinets, etc. Next week will be pretty crazy. Then I turn forty-five. Then it's almost time to go to Provincetown.

Every ten years I seem to hit a "reassess my life" point. It happened at twenty-five, at thirty-five, and guess what. The next few months should be interesting.

* * * * *

"Interesting" can mean a lot of different things.

I guess we'll find out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Like the commercial says...

...when you're #2, you try harder.

Had a lovely voicemail from the Fine Arts Work Center today to let me know I was selected as the first runner-up for the Agha Shahid Ali scholarship. (Remember when I was asking about artistic resumes a while back? That's what it was for -- they needed that, and a brief statement, and of course a manuscript.) Apparently it was pretty tough competition, with some 60 applicants for the one scholarship. Too bad they don't have more to give out, but it does feel good to know that in some way I am at least playing on the right field, that at least the judges didn't read my manuscript and say "*snerk* yeah right. Next?" This feels like an affirmation -- a welcoming. I'm pleased.

And yes, scholarship or no, I'm still going -- even if I have to fund it the good old-fashioned American way. That's why God invented credit cards, right? *grin*

* * * * *

Also: Today's poem on Verse Daily caused me to make unseemly noises. Who is Alison Apothecker and where can I find some more of her work? WOW.

I really need to get around to subscribing to Crab Orchard Review (where this poem first appeared).

Monday, May 15, 2006


Anyone else catch the shout-out to Jimmy Santiago Baca on last night's West Wing series finale?

Man, I'm gonna miss that show.

Kunitz reading at FAWC, August 2003

Sad news...

Stanley Kunitz, 1905-2006
I never actually met him, but was fortunate enough to hear him read in August of 2003, at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, in the room named for him. Being there was a true gift. So many of us owe so much to him.

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
Poetry Foundation (includes links to other sources)

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Few things can make me feel as deeply peaceful as a good meal in a quiet place. I just got back from a late brunch at the Runcible Spoon, where I've been going for years and years (probably the first time I went there was in 1980 or so). I had their Weekend Special, which consists of: two eggs cooked however you want them (I had mine over medium); two pieces of toast with jam or appple butter; bacon or sausage or home fries or maybe there was one other choice (they were out of home fries, but I always get the bacon because their bacon is, for some reason, always perfect); and two pieces of French toast or one pancake (the pancake I had today was maybe the most humongous pancake I have ever had at the Spoon -- not only was it bigger than Julie Dill's head, it was the size of a large dinner plate and a full half-inch thick) with butter and maple syrup. And lots of good coffee. All for under ten bucks.

(Since some of the keys on my elderly laptop are a bit recalcitrant, I almost told you that my pancake came with male syrup. That would have been a different sort of meal entirely.)

For some reason the Spoon is the perfect place to be on a rainy afternoon. There are plants in the windows and fish in the bathtub, and instead of feeling gloomy it feels cozy. Plus I had one of the better, long-time waitrons, as opposed to the one I had last weekend who dropped my jam (I'd asked for apple butter, but whatever) and never brought me a new one, and had to be prompted for silverware. I wrote in my journal for a while before my food arrived, and then while I ate I started reading an interesting history of Provincetown. (I bought it last summer at Now Voyager bookstore in P-town, but am just now getting around to reading it.)

Although I visited Provincetown once in the summer of... hm, 1982 or 1983, I guess (for a women's martial arts camp), I didn't fall in love with the town until I spent a week there, alone, in June 2001. It was a wonderful, relaxing, energizing week which I credit for helping to bring me back to a place where I could write again after several years of not writing much at all. I know that in many ways it is past its heyday. People like me -- lower-middle-class folks, people who can't spend much money on things like vacations -- can barely afford to spend a week there, and it's no longer the kind of town where a starvingartist* can find refuge in a cottage or a dune shack just being an artist/writer, not without working a couple of jobs to pay the bills or being sponsored in some way. And the Portuguese fishing families that settled the town many decades ago? They can barely afford to live there anymore either, and many of them have given up and left. While it is still a town that welcomes the artist, the odd character, the queer in whatever sense of the word you choose, it's also a town that has gentrified itself almost beyond recognition in some ways. I'll never, unless I win the lottery (and a pretty substantial one at that), be able to afford a house there, not even a little three-room apartment.

And yet that town still reeks of magic for me. Partly it's the ocean and the air and the light -- things no amount of gentrification can eradicate. Partly it's the sense of literary and artistic tradition that pervades the place. Partly it's the joyous queerness of it all -- you gotta love a town where the sight of drag queens on rollerblades gliding down the middle of the main street is an everyday occurrence. It's a place that values independence, and is home to very few chain establishments -- there's a Ben & Jerry's, and a small Subway, and as far as I know that's about it. It's a small town, with big white church steeples and the sense of being reasonably safe walking back to your room at midnight after spending a few hours drinking beers at the Squealing Pig or eating a slice of pizza at Spiritus or window shopping or listening to music or just hanging out watching the nightly parade.

It's a place where, for so many reasons, I feel safe letting my inside be my outside. I get that sometimes in Bloomington, because it's home here, but it's different. And yes, the fact that I don't live in Provincetown -- that I can go there and be whoever I am and then walk away from it -- probably helps. It's like writing a poem every day: wonderful for short periods of time, but I probably couldn't live that way forever. (Although I do often feel that, if not for the money and the having to work for a living part, I would be very happy to live in Provincetown. If I ever win that big-ass lottery, I'll find out. At the very least, I do hope to spend some time there in the winter, before too long -- or at least the fall or spring; well outside of tourist season anyway.)

So that's today: loving my town, eating a good meal in a restaurant I've frequented for twenty-five years or so, watching it rain, dreaming of another town I also love. I think I fall in love with places more than I do with people.

Also: Lotus kitten would like to announce that his Loudest Purr can be heard well into the next county. I guess he likes it here. :)

* In Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet's father is always saying "starvingartist" or "starvingwriter." She writes in her notebook, "Are rich people ever going to grow up to be writers or are writers all like Mr. Rocque with no money? My father is always saying starvingartist or starvingwriter. Maybe I better reduce."

Friday, May 12, 2006

They're playing torch songs on the radio

Do poems have to be about something important in order to be important poems?

I mean, no, I know they don't (red wheelbarrow? come on). And I've read (and written) so many poems that desperately want to be important, but fall on their faces from trying too hard.

But what makes a poem an "important poem"? What?


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

All aboard...

The new issue of Boxcar Poetry Review is up, including my poem "Sugar Hits the Highway." This poem is one of a series I'm writing about a character named Sugar; in this one, she's apparently driving north on US 31, somewhere north of Peru, Indiana. :)

This journal may have given me a new submission-to-publication record; I emailed the poems to them on March 31, got the acceptance on April 20, and the issue is up today. Pretty impressive!

* * * * *

Also: Terrific Carl Phillips poem over on Poetry Daily today. Check it out.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

April showers brought May pollen. Achoo!

Gorgeous weather yesterday. Gorgeous weather today. Supposed to be gorgeous weather tomorrow. Just about 70 degrees, sunny, some of those puffy clouds that look like alligator heads and buffaloes and sailing ships.

Yesterday: the Kentucky Derby. I usually watch it, though I no longer follow horse racing closely -- I used to, in my teenage-horse-crazy days. (I actually got to meet Secretariat once, and stroke his huge glossy shoulder.) Now I'm more aware of the class issues nobody on the screen is talking about, less caught up in the pure animal beauty of those shiny Thoroughbreds; now it's kind of like watching a rich-people party I know I'll never, ever be invited to. I catch myself deeply resenting rich people sometimes, when I realize the money they spend on one hat to wear to the Derby could pay for -- but never mind. The horses, the horses are still beautiful and muscular and fast.

Today: going to a party to celebrate a friend's daughter's graduation from college. It seems like it wasn't that long ago that it was me graduating from college, and now it's the children of friends. But it was that long ago: over twenty years now. Yikes! I've known this particular young woman since she was about two years old, so it's really cool to see her growing up and getting on with her life.

Tomorrow: I'm taking a vacation day. My branch library is closed for the oh-so-brief break between spring semester and the first day of summer session (spring finals ended Friday and summer classes begin on Tuesday). The rest of May is going to be nuts, since my branch closes for good on May 26th and there is much to do between now and then, so I decided to take a vacation day just to breathe first. I have a long list of chores that should be done, but what I really want to do is just read and write all day. Hopefully I can find some happy medium: get the oil changed, drop off stuff at Goodwill, do a bit of house cleaning, then indulge myself with words.

* * * * *

If you haven't seen Charlie's good news yet, go congratulate him! I like it when good poems (and these are very good poems) get recognition.

* * * * *

A thought-provoking short essay from Adrienne Rich in the Virginia Quarterly Review, about poetry and politics. I need to read it again, and more closely, but this:
I need to reach beyond my interior decoration, biography. Art is a way of melting out through one’s own skin. “What, who is this about?” is not the essential question. A poem is not about; it is out of and to. Passionate language in movement. The deep structure is always musical, and physical—as breath, as pulse.
That bit makes me say yes, yes, yes.

* * * * *

Outside my window right now, up in the sky, a cloud that looks like a fat fish. Next to it, a cloud that looks like a fish skeleton.

And next to that, the sky's unbelievable blue.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

My voice is very small

Sent off a chapbook manuscript today. I keep revising it and changing it and sending it here and there. Hey, everyone needs a hobby.

Watched "ER" tonight, which was set in Darfur. I know it's just TV. I know.

I am very lucky. Almost unconscionably so.

And so are you.

"The Poet of Provincetown"

Nice article in this week's Provincetown Banner about poet Harry Kemp, aka "The Poet of Provincetown." Apparently he was quite the character. At one point Upton Sinclair said he was the next Walt Whitman -- and today hardly anyone outside Provincetown remembers him.

I'm sure there is a lesson there about poetic fame'n'fortune, but at the moment I am too sleepy to extract it, so I'll just leave it at that.