Thursday, August 31, 2006


With the beginning of the fall semester, my job is taking just about all the energy I've got. I'm working on the reference desk almost every day, plus leading some tours and orientation sessions for new students, plus several other major projects. I'm not working any more hours than usual, but I'm working more intensely, putting more of myself into my job than usual right now. I'm loving my job, but I'm not really writing right now, which is frustrating. I'm trying to trust that this is temporary.

Lucky for me the US Open is going on, and I love watching tennis, so at least I have something relatively mindless to rest my brain with in the evenings. (And DirecTV is dishing up five extra channels of US Open programming, which is awesomely cool.) Tonight Martina Navratilova and Nadia Petrova won their first-round doubles match in extremely convincing style, 6-1 6-1. Navratilova will have her fiftieth birthday in October. Right now I am watching Andre Agassi, a mere slip of a child at thirty-six, against the usually-quite-entertaining Marcos Baghdatis. It is Agassi's last tournament before retirement, so it goes without saying that pretty much everyone is cheering for him...

I get to take Labor Day off for the first time in several years. Hopefully at least a little poetry will happen over the long weekend. I'll be wandering through the Fourth Street Festival and maybe some of the art will inspire me. Man, let's hope so. I miss poetry.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Craft and cats

Gina Franco shares some intriguing notes from a craft class with Thomas Sayers Ellis: "A Risk in Every Room."

My list of teachers I think I'd like to work with just gets longer and longer.

On a totally non-poetry-related note, my little bitty kitten Lotus had his annual vet appointment yesterday. He weighs eleven pounds, four ounces now! I guess he's not so little bitty anymore. :) (Which makes sense, since he is a year and a half old now after all.) My vet adored him and threatened to steal him away, but I didn't let her.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Welcome back

It is the week of ubiquitous arrival. The dorms officially open tomorrow, but a lot of students have already arrived early -- for official reasons, like the international students and the football team and the marching band and the Resident Assistants in the dorms, or just because they wanted to pay the early move-in fee and get here already -- and of course the off-campus students have been filtering in all week. All over town there are upperclassmen having reunions with one another, parents looking tired and sad and proud but mostly tired and cranky, townies looking resigned, students looking excited and happy or maybe kind of scared (and some of them also tired and cranky).

I am forty-five. I moved here when I was eighteen, a wide-eyed freshman.

The ones I love are the ones who come here open and fall in love with this place, which means that they let this place change them.

I remember my first semester so vividly. I met new friends almost immediately, which for someone who was always shy and found it difficult to meet people was nothing short of miraculous. But we were all new, all strangers, which made it easier. Plus I lived in the hippie dorm. *grin* I remember an autumn night when some friends and I wandered downtown to a street dance featuring local bands. I was wearing a long skirt and sandals, and the harvest moon was fat and orange and weightless in the trees. I remember finding people who actually liked to talk about poetry. I remember reading Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich and knowing that my life would never be the same.

Nowadays, a lot of the undergrads live in luxury apartments, with giant plasma TVs and expensive cars and the stink of privilege. It's true that I resent them, their unquestioned assumption that they deserve all that, that life should be no other way, how they take material ease and comfort for granted. Not many of them end up being librarians, I suspect. Maybe some of them end up being poets. I kind of doubt it, but who knows.

My undergrad experience -- both in and out of classes -- was all about questioning everything. Who I was, what I wanted from life, what the point of all of it was. It was hard and I cried a lot, but it was the right way to do it, for me. I can't imagine what it's like not to question, just to assume, to demand, to take for granted. I can't imagine believing you have always been right about everything.

This is probably why I don't run the world.

I love being a part of this academic community, though. I love the vibrant energy, the sense of people all around me trying new things, the certainty that -- even if not everyone is here to be a scholar and not everyone wants to question their own beliefs -- a large part of the community around me is devoted to learning, teaching, understanding. Being in the library and knowing that somewhere in that building, now and then, someone pulls a book from a shelf and opens it and knows her life will never be the same. I love being, in some small way, a part of that.

Welcome back, students and learners and dancers and dreamers and yes, even the plasma-TV owners. Welcome back.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Enough is enough

I am tired of the fact that I waste so much of my non-work time. There is no reason on earth why I shouldn't be reading a book of poetry a week, drafting at least one new poem a week, and revising & submitting like crazy. I spend too much time watching TV, screwing around online, and accidentally napping on the couch.

Well, enough is enough. The fall semester starts on Monday around here, and in the name of getting a fresh start myself, I am going to try to be a little bit more disciplined. I've set up a schedule for myself that has me spending less time online, rationing my TV time, and spending 90 minutes every evening at my desk being productive. (I've even outlined what counts as "productive" although it is pretty broad.) This will be in effect every other Monday, as well as Wednesdays and Thursdays; on the other Mondays I work till 10 pm so I have to have a different schedule for that day, and on Tuesdays I work until 6 (instead of 5) so I have to tinker with that schedule a bit too. Fridays I will have an evening off, and for now I'm not going to draw up a weekend schedule.

If that feels okay after a while, I will rearrange things so that I am spending two hours at my desk being productive. By the time I'm applying to MFA programs, I want to feel confident that the 25 hrs/wk they expect you to put in (between residencies) won't be an impossible stretch. When I'm in an MFA program, I figure I will probably spend 3 hours a night Monday through Thursday, plus big chunks of time on Saturday and Sunday, with Friday evenings off -- that should come out to about 25 a week.

Assuming, of course, I get in somewhere. And can come up with the funding to go there if I do. Eep!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Disconnected ramblings

"The sex is better at Yaddo but the work is better at MacDowell." Well then. Guess which one I want to go to! (Thanks to Jilly for the link.)

* * * * *
I got satellite TV yesterday, with a DVR, and have been amusing myself by hitting the "rewind" button while watching something live. Now if I blink and miss something, I won't miss anything. I want that button for my life.

* * * * *
I'm sitting on the couch (sitting the long way with my feet up and my back against the arm) and there's a kitten on his back against my leg, all stretched out as long as he can possibly stretch with his two front feet stretched out over his head towards my feet, and his two back feet nestled by my butt. He is as long as my leg when he stretches out like this. I guess I can't really call him a tiny baby kitten anymore. When I skritch his tummy he stretches out even longer. He's like a slinky. An orange and white slinky that purrs and sheds.

* * * * *
I had thought about trying to take Maurice Manning's W513 class at IU this fall semester (that's the only graduate-level poetry writing class here that's ever open to non-MFA students). But the course description I found online makes it clear that this time around, it's really intended only for the MFA fiction students and is going to focus primarily on "how poetic craft differs from the craft of fiction." When I took the same class with Cathy Bowman a few years ago most of my classmates were MFA fiction students, but it wasn't exclusively for that population. Oh well. It's just as well -- if I can discipline myself sufficiently, I can get a lot of work done in the next few months without having to be in a class.

You'll note that big old if in there. I really gotta work at that one.

* * * * *
I was talking with one of the graduate assistants in the library where I work, and the topic of poetry and MFA programs came up. She mentioned that one of her friends had recently finished her MFA at Vermont College and had just won some contest or other for her first book. The name sounded vaguely familiar to me, like I'd read a press release about the contest, but I couldn't place it, so I asked the GA to send me the details in email. Turns out the friend was the winner of the Sawtooth Prize, which was judged by D.A. Powell. Sometimes the world is very, very small. I actually kind of like it that way. And now I have two reasons to be curious about this book & to buy it when it comes out.

* * * * *
I need to start sending out publicity for the Five Women Poets reading at the end of September. We are in a new venue after having used the same location for quite a few years, so it will be interesting to see whether we draw a slightly different audience at Boxcar Books -- which is a nice little lefty-punkish-indie bookstore with a small but surprisingly good poetry section. Always nice to read in a bookstore, surrounded by words & all their echoes.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Difficult material: Some things take time

Oddly, I have now written two poems about my father's death in the past couple of months -- one while I was in Provincetown, and one last night. He died in January 1994; I've written about it since then, of course, but almost nothing that felt like a real poem. (As opposed to, you know, just scribbling or working stuff out for myself or therapy whatever.)

I won't go so far as to say that now my dad's death is just "material" like anything else; of course it's still something that cuts closer to my own heart than, say, a poem about a squirrel running around the yard. But I feel like I'm working with it a bit more, shall we say, impersonally now -- and that feels like a good thing, a useful thing.

The one I wrote in Provincetown came from an exercise in which we were to write about emotional pain using the language of physical pain. I wrote about grief & about the time I had a corneal abrasion, which was pretty much the most exquisitely painful thing I've ever experienced (I'd rather break a bone or go through major surgery again). You can't keep your eye open because the light hurts too much. You can't keep your eye closed because the eyelid pressing on the scratched cornea hurts too much. It's this inescapable thing, kind of like the early days of grief. I wrote the poem feeling rather detached about it and actually fairly cheerful, whereas another poem about how difficult it can be to go into stores and try on clothes when you're a fat chick made me feel like throwing up as I was writing it. Go figure.

One reason I held back from writing about my father's death was because, well, you know. "Death of a parent" is on everybody's list of the "oh god not another one of those PLEASE don't send me any more of those" topics . It's really hard to write anything about it that hasn't been said a billion times before. And yet, if part of the work of poetry is to help us (both reader & writer) grapple with the difficult, to understand what it is to be human, grief & loss is inextricably part of that. It might be the biggest part of that. Not to write about it feels dishonest, incomplete. The trick, I guess, is figuring out how to tackle this material so that it's not just catharsis for the poet but also gives the reader a reason to bother with it. There I go again, stating the obvious. But I'm not sure how to be any more specific about it than that.

I don't know that I've managed to be successful with either of my "dead dad poems" (hi LKD) -- I make no claims for them at this point. But I think, I hope, that with these poems I'm starting to move beyond personal catharsis and beyond "oh here let me bestow upon you this wisdom I have gleaned from my own pain" and into the real territory of poetry ... whatever the hell that is.

It only took twelve years to reach this point with this particular material. Sheesh.

What is your own "difficult material"? Is there something you hesitate to tackle in your work, even though it feels important to you? Is there something you're waiting to write about? What are you waiting for? I'd like to know.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The dog-day cicadas at the top of their lungs

Slept late today. Very late. Unconscionably late. So late I am too embarrassed to say how late. And when I will happily admit to sleeping till noon on many weekends without embarrassment, that will give you some idea just how late.


Still feeling very quiet. Summer is winding down and the fall semester begins in just two weeks (and a day). Hard to believe. I do love fall, and back-to-school sales (which make me crave notebooks and pens and bookshelves and new shoes), and despite how chaotic this town gets when thousands of students arrive, I do love it when they all come back.

Had a note from the folks at Blackbird today -- there is potentially going to be something very interesting in their November issue (besides my poem). More on this as it develops -- fingers crossed.

Outside it's almost dark, and there's a small brown rabbit in the driveway. There are at least a couple of these little guys living in my yard. Most mornings I see one or both of them when I get in the car to go to work and I always say hello. Hi, bunny. Hi little white tail. They never say hello back at me though. In fact, usually they run.

I am in a funny in-between place, but I'm not sure what I am in between. Perhaps I just need to drink more coffee.

And if I want to write, I need to make myself sit down and write. Because you can't write if you don't write. You know?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Quiet lately, and an Alice Friman poem

I haven't had much to say lately, here or anywhere. I'm not sure why, but I'm just going to ride it out and trust that the words will return.

Meanwhile, here's a poem by someone else.

Northwest Flight #1173
     We guessed your silent passage
by the phosphorescence in your wake.
At dawn we found you stranded on the rocks.
--Stanley Kunitz
We sit on the tarmac in Indianapolis.
Four hours, five, punctuated by coffee
and too small cakes on miniature trays.
The rain taps at the rows of little windows --
the only recognition from the outside world
that we are there -- while we,
like the ark on drizzling Ararat,
wait for the levels to go down: the generators
to work. I read poetry and think of whales.
A beached body, its grunts and squeaks,
small tracks like the flashing instrument panel
that measures the dying of a great interior.

I remember last August when I saw one
trailing phosphorescence off Provincetown:
the long languorous arc of the body dipping
in and out like a needle hemming the seas,
while circling birds above the blowhole
announced the repeated baptism of tonnage,
the metamorphosis of breath to rainbow.

Transferred to another plane, rocking at last
on the runway, all windsocks go, the great wings
spread out over their humming eggs of energy,
we lift, shuddering through fog, to where the sun
pumps above our small geometric lives, and I
wonder as we climb, buoyant in our blindness,
if we too want -- like a silver needle freed
of thread -- entrance into insubstantial air.

--Alice Friman, from Inverted Fire (BkMk Press, 1997)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

As far as the eye can see

On the way back from Race Point, June 2005
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Just quick notes

I want to do this so badly I can taste it. (It tastes like salt.) Perhaps I can apply for an Individual Artist Grant from the state Arts Commission, which would cover it, and then go in say late September or early October of next year. If they'd have me. That seems like a long time from now.

The other day I made a list of places I want to go and things I want to do, and I even left off a bunch of them. I either need a heck of a lot more vacation time and a heck of a lot more money, or a fairy godmother.

* * * * *

Here is a nice article from the Cape Cod Times about the Stanley Kunitz memorial reading at the Fine Arts Work Center this past weekend.

* * * * *

This is cool as hell: The Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form. They are only up to the A's and B's, and you too can contribute if you want to.

* * * * *

My kitten is eating a cardboard box. I really don't know why.

* * * * *

I'm very tired.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

AWP advice?

Seeking advice from AWP veterans! I have realized that I actually do have a reason to attend other than "wanna hang out and meet some bloggers and see what it's like" ... it would be a really great thing for me to be able to chat with representatives of some of the low-res MFA programs I'm considering applying to. And Atlanta isn't too bad a drive from here, just about 500 miles -- if my ancient little car holds out (oh, cross your fingers) I could easily do it in a day.

But I can't afford it. But! My aunt lives in ATL, probably about a 30-minute drive from downtown. And if she's in town that week, I'm sure I could crash with her. So here's my conference-newbie question: how much would I miss out on if I had to leave at a reasonable hour every evening to get back to my aunt's -- say, no later than 8 or 9 pm? (It would be so rude of me to come stomping in at midnight; she goes to bed early.) Not having to pay for a hotel room would make it decidedly more affordable, although I still might not be able to swing it (heck, even just parking is expensive)... but the prospect of being able to meet some of the low-res program folks and make a more intelligent decision is awfully darned appealing.

* * * * *

This blasted heat and humidity is sapping every ounce of energy I've got. I know it's hotter in other places, but in the middle of the day we generally have about 65% humidity here -- going up to 90% at night. When you do this to lobsters, they turn bright red. When you do this to land mammals like yours truly, we tend to go home from work at night and fall asleep on the couch and just crash there. I am behind on everything.

More, I hope, later.