Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Me and Sylvia Plath

I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but: One week from today is Election Day. Please, please vote! And if you can, try to learn something about your smaller local races, too -- City Council, County Commissioners, School Board, whatever you've got where you are. It's important to vote for your Senators and Congresscritters, but the local issues are awfully important, too. I especially try to find out something about my local School Board races, because what's going to change the world more than making sure the kids in your town are getting a good education?

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A quick Google News search on "Sylvia Plath" tells me that a lot of newspapers & other sources are picking up the story about the newly-discovered Sylvia Plath poem which is set to appear in Blackbird tomorrow. I am so tickled that my poem "Opening the Hive" will appear in the same issue. Not just because Plath was a big influence on me when I first got serious about poetry (though she was), and not just in the selfish hope that the Plath publicity will draw a few more readers for my poem (who knows if that will happen) -- but also because Plath's poem was discovered in the manuscript collections of the Lilly Library, the rare-books library here at Indiana University, where I work -- yep! -- in the library system. In fact, I worked in the Lilly one summer while I was an undergrad, as a page/shelver. I remember coming across some of the books from Plath's library there, and touching them almost reverently. We also have, in addition to a lot of manuscript materials, a set of paper dolls she made when she was young -- and even a lock of her hair, which is a little creepy but whatever.

And not only THAT, but I wrote "Opening the Hive" after reading Marianne Boruch's essay, "Plath's Bees," which I found in Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World. I wouldn't go so far as to say my poem responds, exactly, to Plath or to Boruch; it was more a case of "ooh! bees! a beehive is a cool image to use in a poem!" -- but the connection is there, nonetheless.

Too cool.

Edited 11-01-06 to add:
Here's a link to Sylvia Plath.
And here's a link to me.

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Also cool: an email today accepting two of my poems -- both fairly new ones -- for the Fall/Winter 06 issue of Pebble Lake Review. Thanks to Amanda!

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Happy Halloween to all. If the veil between this world and the next is truly thin tonight -- may that be a source of understanding and inspiration, not fear.

And failing that, at least a good hard sugar coma.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Mary Oliver

Went to the Mary Oliver reading in Indianapolis tonight. On the one hand, how great to see such a huge crowd for a poetry reading -- there were hundreds of people there (I am terrible at estimating crowd size, but Clowes Hall seemed about half full, and I think it has a capacity of 3000). And it looked like a lot of them were buying books. On the other hand, how many of those people will attend even one other poetry reading this year, or buy a book of poetry by somebody else?

I don't like it when I start to feel resentful. In my defense, I already hadn't been feeling well, which I'm sure contributed to my little bout of crankiness. A few years ago, I went to a show by the singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick, in a local bar; there were maybe 50 people there, not a horrible turnout, but not a packed house either. Two nights later Ani DiFranco gave a concert on campus, and Melissa had enough of a gap in her schedule that she was able to stick around, so she got tickets and went to the concert. (I actually ran into her there, and she remembered me from having chatted with me at her own show, and gave me a big grin and a hug -- which made my night.) I kept stealing glances over in Melissa's direction during Ani's show, and she looked sort of down and cranky, and she left early, and I didn't really understand why. Tonight, I think I understood the little "where were all these people two nights ago?" voice that must have been muttering inside her head as she sat in that packed and cheering auditorium watching somebody else get to be the rockstar.

The reading was ... well, I hadn't heard her read before, but I didn't feel particularly surprised by what she read or how she read it. I was a bit surprised by a couple of genuinely funny poems, both from her new book -- she has some poems about her little dog Percy that are just priceless. One of them involves Donald Rumsfeld. Oh, go to the library and look it up for yourself. :) The other thing that surprised me was that the instant she stepped behind the podium, she nearly disappeared. Apparently, um, she's not particularly tall. Whenever she was looking down at her paper, we could pretty much just see her from the nose up. When she looked up, we could see her whole face. It was like watching a poetry reading by Kilroy Was Here. I spent a lot of time listening with my eyes closed, because it was actually kind of distracting!

I asked the friends I'd driven up with whether they wanted to go get in line for autographs, and none of them did. I hadn't been able to decide if I wanted to buy a book and get it signed or not -- I kind of did and kind of didn't -- so when my friends weren't interested, I decided to bag the autograph line and just head home. Then I saw the line. Holy cow, I bet it was going to take her at least 90 minutes to get through that whole thing.

It's funny -- the reading, and the entire atmosphere surrounding it, made me think of so much I love about the poetry world and so much I can't stand about it, all at once. So many people there were loving the reading, were so happy to be there; it was a really nice atmosphere. And while Oliver's never been a lesbian activist or anything, she's never been closeted either (that I'm aware of) -- most or all of her books have been dedicated to her partner, who died last year -- and frankly it gives me a little bit of a warm fuzzy anytime I see someone who's not straight getting that much adoration. (Call it the Martina Navratilova Effect.) And, yes, I do like much of her work. I won't deny that her work is generally more comforting and reaffirming than challenging, and if that means her work fails by a certain set of definitions, well all right then; working from another set of expectations, her work is a rousing success. But the whole poetry-superstar thing makes me so uncomfortable, and I don't think it is good for poetry.

Anyway, my thoughts are muddled, and I am tired. It's raining outside, and Joni Mitchell is singing "My Old Man" on my tv (I love VH-1 Classic). I spent over two hours in a small car with four other people, with at least two different conversations going on at any given moment, and I spent another hour in a very crowded room listening to poetry and being distracted by my own self-indulgent internal mutterings. It's time for me to be quiet for a little while, and then it's time for me to sleep.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thanks, y'all.

The Indigo Girls concert Monday night was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I was front row, a little to the left (Amy's side of the stage); sometimes the sound is kind of crappy from the very front, but the sound was pretty good this time. There were so many nice moments. The opening band, Three5Human -- which takes its name from the historical fact that not so very long ago, here in the U.S., Black human beings were officially counted as 3/5 of a human being -- was AMAZING. The lead singer, Trina Meade, has the perfect rock'n'roll voice, huge and full of heart (think Janis Joplin meets Tina Turner); the guitarist, Tomi Martin, plays these awesome rip-your-face-off licks and makes it look effortless. Trina joined Amy & Emily onstage for their old old song "Kid Fears" and I got more goosebumps than I've gotten from music in a long time, and during the encore Trina & Tomi joined them for "Tether" -- all I can say is, if you think Indigo Girls are nice little acoustic folkies, you should have been there with those three electric guitars wailing to the heavens.

It made me think that everyone should have work to do that makes them feel that alive.

Afterwards, a small group of us waited around outside to say hello to Amy & Emily and get quick autographs. They are very very good to their fans and nearly always take the time to greet the hard-core hanger-outers at least briefly, even when (like they were this time) they're tired and it's cold. While we were waiting, Carol Isaacs (their keyboard player) came around and offered us all chocolates, really good ones too. (I love her!) The Indigo Girls appreciate their fans, and make a point of saying so, more than any other musicians I can think of at their level of well-knownitude. Every time I see them it's like they are actually surprised, and very pleased, that we all know the words to many of their songs and that we stand and dance along or sit and listen intently. "Wow. Thanks, y'all!" It's so endearing.

It makes me think that none of us do our creative work in a vacuum; that we are all in conversation with whatever audience we imagine, and with our peers and our influences; that being listened to (or read) is an amazing gift; that on a good day it is a very, very lucky thing just to be alive.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Blustery bits

It's cold and blustery outside, wind blowing bright yellow leaves across the still-green lawns. (Well, I assume about the yellow and the green -- the colors were there a couple of hours ago, but now it's dark out.) I have finally given in and turned on the heat. Sigh.

Busy week upcoming -- Indigo Girls concert tomorrow night, Mary Oliver reading Thursday night -- both in the same venue, Clowes Hall on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis, just under two hours from where I live. I haven't seen the Indigo Girls for two years (though I caught Amy Ray's solo show last year) so it will be very good to see them again. Besides the fact that I love their music and admire their political activism, Amy & Emily are two of the nicest human beings you could ever hope to meet -- which makes it all the more fun to support them. The other night in Toronto, they had to leave the stage mid-encore because the venue had a very strict curfew with a huge fine they'd have to pay for breaking it. So what did they do? Why, they got their guitars and they went outside and they played their usual last song, "Galileo," in the street for those fans who had stuck around. Someone even put a video of it up on Google Video (I think that link should work). It's kind of dark, and mostly what you hear is the crowd cheering and singing along, but still, how cool!

I am looking forward to Mary Oliver's reading, too. I know a lot of poets nowadays don't care for her, but I like her well enough, and I've never heard her read before. I glanced through her new book in one of our mega-chain bookstores last week, and there's a lot of God stuff in it, which makes me uneasy; she's always written about religious-ish stuff, of course, but she hasn't in the past said "God" quite so directly quite so often. Oh well. She just lost her partner of many many years not that long ago, and I guess if anything will send a person to religion, that sort of thing probably will.

Eduardo notes that Blackbird will be including a previously-unpublished Sylvia Plath poem in their November issue. The last I'd heard was that they were still negotiating the specifics of the rights, so I'm pleased to know that it's really going to happen. All the more so because my own poem "Opening the Hive" will be in the same issue. (And yes, I think it's extra amusing that my poem uses bee-related imagery, given that Plath wrote a bunch of bee poems herself!)

That's it from here, I guess. Back to the laundry.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Voracity, Veracity

Did you spend hours as a child reading the encyclopedia or the dictionary? Do you love watching documentaries on TV, nature or science or history? Do you get a little thrill from guidebooks and almanacs and all manner of reference materials?

Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

At my poetry group's reading last month, I read a new poem called "Sleeping in Space." It's about an astronaut trying to sleep on the space shuttle as it orbits the planet, and in it I use terms like "orbital sunrise" and "apogee" and "capcom." I've been fascinated by the space program for many years, I admit, going back to the Apollo moon-landing days; but this particular poem came about after having watched about fifteen or twenty hours of NASA TV over the course of several days. A couple of the members of my poetry group expressed some kind of surprise that I knew all these facts about what astronauts do, and asked where I'd learned this stuff. But how, I wonder, can you not? If you're a poet (or, probably, any other kind of writer), I think you owe it to yourself and to your art to be fascinated by the things of this world, to read and watch and listen voraciously, to learn and learn and learn.

They used to say, "write what you know." But I think what's important is to know what you write: to immerse yourself in a world and its language, then write from that place. When I put a po'ouli in my poem "A Field Guide, A Map," I probably spent an hour looking up stuff about that particular species of bird, what it looks like, how it's studied, where it lives (or lived; the poor thing may be extinct by now). Is all that in the poem? No, I really just mention the bird's name. But by learning more about the bird, that name seems now to belong to a real thing, something that I can feel certain belongs in the poem . There's a reason it isn't a dodo or a hummingbird. It has to be a po'ouli.

Some people call this immersion obsession, and say that you have to write about what you are obsessed with. Fair enough. I can be obsessed with something for an hour, write one poem about it, and leave it behind. Or I can learn its language for weeks, months, years. This kind of obsession, or learning, or research (yes, I'm gonna sneak librarians in here in a minute!) is what gives poems a language and a context. A linguistic texture. It's one thing to write about a whale, but quite another to make it a minke whale, to see its baleen and the gleaming white bands around its pectoral fins, to know that the exhalation of a minke whale -- its blow -- is, unlike that of the humpback or the blue whale, practically invisible. Now isn't that way more interesting and resonant than just to say "hey, a whale"?

So if I ever teach a poetry class, here is what I'm going to make them do. I'm going to send them to the reference department of a library, and I'm going to ask them to research some body of knowledge that they aren't already terribly familiar with. I don't care if it's oncology, cloud formations, the history of Barbie dolls, Greek mythology, or auto repair. I'm going to ask them to find twenty vocabulary words that are unique and/or specific to that field, and turn in the list of those words complete with definitions. Not just brief dictionary definitions, but a bit about what the terms mean and a bit about their context within the field of study. They can start with Wikipedia or something, but I want them to find at least an introductory text or guidebook and spend some time with it. They don't have to come away feeling like an expert in the field, but they need to immerse themselves, at least a bit. Then (you see this coming, right?) they're going to write a poem using that vocabulary -- and, of course, mining it for emotional resonance, not just writing a poem about "how to repair a car" or whatever.

This is what poets and librarians have in common. We love facts, names, specificity. We know all kinds of weird, unexpected stuff. Or we should, anyway. My friends who write SF/F and historical fiction don't have a monopoly on doing research! And that's the way I like it. (Of course, I freely admit to being a big old nerd.)

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On a completely unrelated note, This Is Broken had me laughing at my desk today till tears ran down my cheeks. "Please notify the United States Postal Service to notify the United States Postal Service that the recipient has a new address." Hee hoo ha!


Just found out that Robert Pinsky is visiting my campus -- on the same day that Mary Oliver is reading up in Indianapolis. Good grief. His reading is at 4:30 and hers is at 7:30, so if I were driving alone, I might be able to make both -- but because I'm carpooling to Indy with a group of people who like to arrive early, I won't be able to. (It's about an hour and 40 minutes from Bloomington to the Butler campus, where Oliver is reading; we're leaving around 5:00. I think I'm gonna take a book, because I think we're gonna be sitting in the car for half an hour waiting for the doors to open...)

I know for a lot of people the choice between Pinsky versus Oliver is like the choice between having one's fingernails pulled out with a pliers versus, I dunno, something else bad. To which I say, phhbbttt.

The College Arts and Humanities Institute and the Institute for Advanced Study are actually bringing several poets to campus, along with writer Temple Grandin, to speak/read on the topic of "Solitude" -- something rather near and dear to my heart, and probably to the hearts of most poets, I'd wager. W.S. Merwin is reading at 5 pm on November 13, and Louise Gl├╝ck is reading in March. Here's all the info, in case anyone's interested...

Blood Orange Review

The new issue of Blood Orange Review is now available online, including my poems "A Field Guide, A Map" and "Snow at Midnight" as well as other good stuff. (Or, if you don't like my poems, amend that to "as well as some actual good stuff." *grin*)

It's a nice little journal and they're in the market for new work, hint hint....

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saturday jollies

I've never posted about football on this blog before and I probably never will again, but Indiana beat Iowa 31-28 today, which is the first time they have beaten a team in the top 15 since October of 1987 when they beat Ohio State on the road. (I remember that one well because I was in DC for the big March on Washington for GLBT Rights, and the news spread through the Indiana contingent pretty quickly.) This one was a home game, so it was pretty crazy.

When I heard the final score on the radio, while driving out to Bloomington Hardware, I decided I was afraid to go anywhere near campus for a while. :)

In other happy news, the Valparaiso Poetry Review is taking my poem "Swallowed" for their Spring/Summer 2007 issue. This is a weird and kind of creepy poem that for some reason I have kept submitting despite a bunch of rejections -- I don't know why, but I always thought it would eventually find a home.

I know, it's probably considered tacky to blog about every acceptance I get (at least I keep my mouth shut about the rejections, which of course there are more of). But I wouldn't go to the trouble of sending stuff out if I didn't enjoy it when something gets accepted, and the cats don't give a shit, so y'all get to hear about it. I like reading about other people's acceptances, too. Even if I don't post a congratulatory comment, rest assured I always smile and think, "go you!" I like to be reminded that most of the time, persistence eventually pays.

If anyone is reading this from the general vicinity of Bloomington/Indianapolis, by the way, I have in my possession a couple of extra Mary Oliver tickets (the reading is on the 26th and it's free, but you have to have a ticket) -- our little group accidentally ended up with more than we needed. If anyone wants them, let me know and I can save you the bother of getting your own from Clowes Hall.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A good mail day

In today's mail:

Navigate, Amelia Earhart's Letters Home by Rebecca Loudon. The cover art is even more gorgeous than it looked online! Plus, lulu.com sent it from an address on Aviation Parkway in Morrisville, NC. AVIATION PARKWAY. How totally freaking cool is that?

The Transparent Dinner by Christine Hamm. Here's what I said about the book: "There is both stench and beauty here, both grim reportage and fractured fairy tale. The strength of this book is in its relentless refusal to distinguish between the two, exposing the place where horror and magic commingle to create something deeper than a simple truth. These poems tell secrets -- dirty ones, delicious ones, ones you know you could be punished for hearing. Hamm is a thief and a trespasser, and her readers are the richer for it."

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause. Hey, a girl can't read poetry ALL the time!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Poetry 1, Technology 0

My poem "Eight-Bar Solo" is up over at Poetry Southeast. Lots of good stuff there, including poems by Kelli Russell Agodon, Dorianne Laux, Hilda Raz, and plenty more! Check it out, if you're so inclined.

Got to work this morning only to find that the hard drive on my workstation was in the process of completely crapping itself. Fortunately almost everything I have there is saved to the network drive. Still, darned inconvenient (and a handy reminder to all to back up everything you care about!). I'm home on my dinner break now, before heading back for my 6 to 10 pm shift on the reference desk. The evening shifts are generally pretty lively. Since the Information Commons is open 24/7, there are lots of students just getting there by the time I leave at 10. (We have grad students, librarians-in-training, to staff the desk till midnight.)

There is a cloud outside my window that looks just like a giant flying mouse (not the Disney variety). Cool.

P.S. I don't really care for cigars anyway. Shut up, Dr. Freud.

Friday, October 06, 2006

...but no cigar

"...the winner of the 2006 Anabiosis Press Chapbook Contest is Bestiary Charming by Jackie White. The runner-up is Breach by Anne Haines, and Northport by Thomas Allan Johnston receives an honorable mention."

And a hand-written note that says "Very close!!"

In other news, I think I'll stay home tonight because I'm absurdly tired, but tomorrow I'll be whooping it up at the Lotus Festival. Where else can you enjoy Tibetan sand paintings, Hindustani slide guitar, funky Brazilian samba-tronica (I'm not kidding, that's what it says!), stilt walking and mask dancing from Cote d'Ivoire, Klezmer punk-rock, Tuvan throat-singing, and the Balkan Beat Box all in the middle of Midwestern flyover country?

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I've been particularly enjoying working on the reference desk lately. The desk I've been working on since June is much, much busier than the one in the little branch library where I used to work, so although I'm only on the desk about 8 hours a week, I'm getting a whole heck of a lot more experience.

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This week's installment of Dykes To Watch Out For made me cry, dammit. Mo's had those cats forever, and I knew they were getting really old, but... wah.

If that made you sad, go get some baby panda therapy. Is there anything cuter than a baby panda? I can't think of anything.

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Like several other bloggers, I recently received copies of the textbook I'm now in (thanks to Emily). I am highly amused. Except if I had to answer the study questions, I suspect I'd flunk the class on my own poem.

It's fun being in a book full of mostly dead people though. That's a first for me. It's odd company to be keeping, for sure. Me and Emily Dickinson, we're like this.

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I am probably going to be submitting some of my published pomes to IUScholarWorks, a new digital "institutional repository." This is something a lot of universities are starting to do, generally coordinated by the libraries. It's one way of preserving scholarly & creative works digitally, giving them a permanent "address," and gathering together a bunch of the scholarly & creative output of a university in one easy-to-google location. We don't have a lot of content in ours yet, but if you look at the ones at Kansas and California, you can get a better idea of how this sort of thing works.

There is a "community" here for librarians & library staff, and we're starting out by just including works that have already been published. I double triple checked, and it really is ok with them if I stick a bunch of poems in, as long as they've been published and as long as the rights reverted to me upon publication. Cool. I want to convert them to pdf format first, so I'll get around to doing that shortly. I'll give y'all a link when they're in there.

Not that I have to worry about this anytime soon, if ever, but does anyone know whether book publishers would (hypothetically) have an issue with (hypothetically) publishing a manuscript that included poems already housed in an institutional repository? I'm thinking it wouldn't be a problem, since books always include poems that have been published in journals and anthologies. But if anyone suspects differently, let me know.

(Adding my documents to the repository doesn't involve relinquishing any of my rights -- I made sure of that.)

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Hanne Blank manages to put into words some of the things that have been bugging me about the Mark Foley story. The whole thing is such a nasty little brew of inappropriate behavior, downright sleaziness, homophobia, and political power games. Lately I've felt like I should wash my eyes out with soap every time I read the news.

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How in the hell is it October already? I had all these plans. I was going to get all this stuff done. Hmph.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Today's crackpot theory

The success of a reading depends entirely upon managing to wear the right pair of shoes.

Tonight's went pretty well. It would have been nice if there hadn't been a really loud punk band playing in the park across the street for the first half of our reading. But other than that I think it went pretty well.

I like doing readings. Maybe I like it a little too much, considering I don't get to do it very often.

Maybe if I bought new shoes I'd get asked to do more readings. *grin*