Friday, July 28, 2006

Plug, plug, plug

I have been one poor correspondent & owe several of you email. I promise to catch up this weekend!

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A couple of quick plugs:

Inch is looking for "tiny poems and tiny fiction." Sounds intriguing! See this post from Little Fury for details.

My good friend and poet-colleague Shana Ritter recently made an appearance on The Poets Weave, the poetry show on our local NPR station. They're now archiving and podcasting this stuff, so you can take a listen if you'd like; she has some nice work. You can nab it from iTunes by searching on "WFIU" or you can go directly to the radio station's website, where it is archived in RealAudio format. (iTunes will have a new episode up in a few days, so if you want to hear Shana, you'd best nab it soon.)

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Got my contributor's copies of the Merton Seasonal, the quarterly journal of the Thomas Merton Foundation, featuring my little whale poem which was awarded honorable mention in their Poetry of the Sacred Contest. They sent me five copies, which is really cool. All in all they run a very good contest: they phoned me to give me the good news, which made it more exciting; the contest results were announced when they said they would be instead of weeks or months later like some contests; the check arrived like a week after they notified me about it; they posted the poems on their website quickly; and the winner & honorable mentions are very nicely showcased in the print journal. And all that from a contest with no entry fee! Check out some of their past winners to get a sense of their generous definition of "the sacred," check out the contest guidelines, and if you have a poem that might fit, I highly encourage you to enter this year's contest. All in all, it's been one of my favorite publishing-type experiences. It's so cool to find a non-poetry organization that recognizes and honors the value of poetry & poets.

So I guess that was really another plug, wasn't it. :)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Relaxation and focus

Thinking about Provincetown and my workshop experiences there -- what strikes me above all else is that I've never experienced, anywhere else, that balance of utter relaxation & "on-vacation-ness" and focused, intense, hard work. Not at any of the other summer workshops I've attended, not when I take a couple days off work to stay home and write, not anywhere. That's where the magic is for me, I think; and I even experienced a bit of it when I visited Provincetown just for vacationing, before I started taking workshops there. The atmosphere of the town is so ... I don't quite know how to describe it. So NOT "nine to five," business as usual. Partly it's because so much of the town is dedicated to tourism, to reminding people that they're on vacation. Partly it's the landscape of the place, the expanse of water, the desolate dunes, the Province Lands that feel like another planet, the smell of salt water, the clarity of light. It all works together.

So when we all gather at FAWC for a workshop, we're on vacation, most if not all of us; enjoying the fact that while we're there we don't have to clean the house, pay the bills, go to work, make the dentist appointment. And yet the focus is so damn intense. I don't know about anyone else, but I spend at least as much time writing, reading, preparing for class as I do actually in class. More, usually. Not to mention how conversations over dinner, drinks, even slipped in around the edges of the karaoke (heh) keep circling back to poetry. It's pervasive. Everything starts looking, feeling, smelling like a poem.

Tonight I remembered one of the most important lessons I learned in martial arts, lo these many years ago -- yes, I was a very serious student of karate for about six years or so, in my twenties. The first most important lesson is to remember to breathe (I gotta admit that one applies to poetry very nicely too). The second important lesson is to relax every muscle that is not absolutely necessary for whatever technique you are doing. You don't want to be a floppy jellyfish on the dojo floor, that will get your ass kicked. But you also don't want to clench every muscle, not until that sudden, singular moment of contact with your sparring partner. Try it for a moment. DON'T HIT ANYBODY. :) But make a fist, and throw a punch in the air. Try it with every muscle in your body clenched and tightened just as tight as it will go. It's like pushing that fist through something viscous, isn't it? Now relax everything, just hold as much tension in your body as is absolutely essential to maintain your form, and try to throw that punch again -- then at the moment when your fist would make contact, tighten everything (even your ass muscles -- especially your ass muscles!) and let out a sharp exhale. I bet your fist whips out there a whole lot faster.

I think poetry is like that, too. If you can relax everything else, relax and let go of the bill-paying mind and the going-to-work mind and the "oh my god everything I write is crap" mind, the words flow a lot faster and more freely. All your energy becomes focused on that one moment of contact, the impact of your words upon the page. When you waste less of your energy on unnecessary tension, whether physical or psychological, there's that much more energy to focus on whatever it is you want to focus on.

And remembering to breathe? Still not a bad idea. *grin*

NOTA BENE: The Management is not responsible for any bad "wax on, wax off" jokes that may hereafter ensue. Also not responsible for lost items. Thank you. --Land Mammal Mgmt.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

this connection...

I'm reading Juliana Spahr's This Connection of Everyone With Lungs. Goodness. Why on earth have I waited so long? This is wonderful stuff, and gives me all kinds of new ideas about what is possible in poems.

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The situation in the Middle East (and elsewhere) leaves me frightened and speechless. I don't know what else to do, so I just go on living and writing and loving the world as best I can.

I don't know what else to do.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's hot. Let's read a poem.

It's too hot to think straight. Not that I generally do anyway.

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There are so many poems out there. Do I really have anything to say that hasn't been said, and better, 85 bajillion times?

Does anyone?

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Here's a poem:

Daring Love

I am daring love to be anything else,
to be on its best behavior wicked, to be heartache
in its prime. Love, nod yes, the noggin
of a great disease. Make chain gangs by design,
love; be phantom brawling the nursery, be darkness.

Love, a cooing shadow when a stranger
takes me into his car. Love is my spiced breath,
love cuts teeth. Love unwinds iambic vines
down unrhymed alleyways, jeweled yet innocent weeds
casually blooming the balled tongues of children.
Love dedicates itself, all ruby-sucked thumbs,
to the stewing cradle at the foot of a stranger's
gut. Tell me truth, love: why want his mouth
that toils like a bad taste after the mint
of the moon?

Just leave husk and gristle. I dare you--

be the reason my mother hated to be touched.
Thirty years with a man who refused homecomings
and proms, married without mentioning love. My mother.
Every night she bleached the coaldust out of his clothes,
tasted in his mouth the coalmine, the scuttle, the coal.
You are that smoked winter, love, admit it. You waltzed
his black lung, her wallflower cancer. The ICU nurse
said my mother loved me. Love, are you an empty stare
as the heart, your celebrated domain,
latches its last door?

I am daring love to be anything else,
to be heathen in a red room, to be God's love
for Job, to be kicked dog. Grind your spotlight
on the daughterliest sons. Leave a little despair,
love, be what the least of us can claim.

--A. Loudermilk
from Strange Valentine

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Card catalog poetry

Courtesy of Choriamb: Check out the Card Catalog Poetry Project! Very cool, especially for us librarian-poetry-nerds -- and most especially for us librarian-poetry-nerds who are old enough to remember using the actual card catalog back in pre-computer days. *grin*

Monday, July 17, 2006

That's just the way we like it

Every now and then I catch myself expecting the writing of poems to get easier as I get (supposedly) (well, one would hope) better at it -- or at least more experienced.

It doesn't, does it? Not ever.

Well damn.

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P.S. So nobody knows what's up with Bloom, huh?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

That was quick...

Got an email this evening from Poetry Southeast, accepting one of the poems I just emailed to them late Sunday night. That's what I call a quick turnaround! The poem, "Eight-Bar Solo," is a tribute to the late great jazz bassist Ray Brown, and to my dad (who was also a bass-picker).

Poetry Southeast is still reading for their fall issue until August 1, in case you -- yes, you -- may have some work to send them. It's a nice little online journal, with an emphasis on Southern writing (but they take work from us Yankees too).

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bright ideas

Toying with the idea of taking a week off in February or March, heading out to Provincetown, finding a cheap off-season cottage or apartment or at least a room with kitchen privileges, and giving myself a little writing retreat -- perhaps to start working on MFA application essays and suchlike, perhaps to futz with a chapbook manuscript, perhaps just to read and write like crazy. I have never been there earlier than early June or later than mid-September, and I want to see it when it's bleak and everything is closed. I imagine the moors glinting with frost and the ocean stretching out forever in more shades of gray than I knew existed.

Toying with a lot of ideas, actually.

(Don't you love how I just tossed out that phrase, "MFA application essays," like the whole process of coming to this decision hasn't caused me several years of more-or-less angst? Lordy. After all this dithering and grumbling, I sure as hell hope I actually get accepted somewhere. I'm going to feel fairly ridiculous if I don't.)

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The people across the street are sitting out in their yard and playing their hippie drums. This makes the kitten nervous for some reason.

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I had a smallish epiphany while sitting at my desk in Provincetown, and jotted down a title. Said title seems to fit most of the poems that I'm particularly fond of but have not ever seemed to quite fit into the chapbook ms. currently making the rounds. Also, as soon as I thought of the title, I thought of several other poem ideas that fit with that title. Perhaps I am working on my second manuscript now. I wouldn't know. Some of what I'm writing feels different to me, though. I can't quite put my finger on how.

Also, memorization is going better than I expected, and is more fun than I expected. "Stasis in darkness..."

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I promised several people that I would blog about the exercises D.A. Powell gave us in Provincetown. I still intend to do that, and I'm working on it. I need to dig out my folder o'papers from that week so I can report on exactly what poems we read to go along with the exercises, since I didn't include complete citations in my notes (but do have them on the handouts). They were good exercises. Of course, the one that was supposed to be easy was the one that caused me the most anxiety -- which figures, doesn't it?

Yeah. It figures.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Anyone know what's up with Bloom? Their website seems to have disappeared, or moved and left no forwarding address...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


After reading Alison Bechdel's absolutely terrific graphic-novel/memoir Fun Home, I am thinking a lot about the ways in which writers take risks. Bechdel takes just about every risk in the book (as it were) with Fun Home, and is being pretty thoroughly rewarded in sales & critical acclaim. (Which, for those of us who have been following her work for many years via the fabulous comic Dykes To Watch Out For, is both gratifying and a bit surreal.)

I want to ask my poems what risks they take, what risks they are willing to take. I want them to risk their wordy little lives for me.

In return, I need to lay it all on the line for them. I need to be willing.

I know I'm doing the work I need to be doing when every now and then I scare the crap out of myself or kind of feel like throwing up. (Thinking about applying to MFA programs makes me kind of feel like throwing up, too. Y'all should consider buying stock in anti-emetics.)

I haven't really been writing since getting back to Indiana. Break's over now, I think. The Muse is coming and I better look busy.