Saturday, April 28, 2007

NaPoWriMo fall down go boom

Congratulations to all those who are closing in on that NaPoWriMo finish line! For myself, I've had to admit defeat -- just too much else going on. But I did end up with 21 drafty poems, definitely more than I usually come up with in a month; and it's not out of the question that I might come up with one or two more before May 1st. If I weren't frantically preparing to go out of town, I'd probably still try to make it to thirty over the weekend. Oh well.

I'll be gone for a week or so helping my mom recuperate from hip-replacement surgery, which she is having on Tuesday. I won't be entirely offline, but I probably won't be around as much as usual.

Here's an older poem for you:


The dying-battery beep reminds me
that we can't talk like this forever.

It's the things we can't help--
the lock that freezes three times every winter,

clocks that spring
forward, dinner burnt, pages

drifting to the floor--
that keep us apart.

I'm always driving west at sunset:
gold slipping nearer the horizon,

the flare of blindness on my windshield,
everywhere I turn, so much unexpected light.

published in Bloom: Celebrating Life in Bloomington, April/May 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Natasha Trethewey on PBS NewsHour tonight

Last-minute breaking news! I know many of you are Natasha Trethewey fans. I just got this from PBS -- she will be on their evening news show TONIGHT!:

April 25, 2007

In our continuing NewsHour Poetry Series, tonight we feature this year's Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry, Natasha Trethewey.

Ms. Trethewey was awarded the Pulitzer for her book, Native Guard, a collection of poems inspired by her southern heritage and personal experiences. The book is her third volume of poetry. Ms. Trethewey teaches creative writing at Emory University. She also appeared in a poetry profile for the NewsHour last spring.

For online coverage of Natasha Trethewey and the rest of the Poetry Series, go to the Online NewsHour at

EDITOR'S NOTE: Segments highlighted on NewsHour Poetry Series Alert are scheduled to air but subject to change.


Still behind on EVERYdamnTHING.

Best American Idol recaplet ever. For example: "The giant hairy Rupert Murdoch octopus reinvents monetizing easy-chair altruism for the tenth time; Ryan's classy about it. I think he's trying to make Anderson Cooper notice him." Bwahahahahaha!

I *heart* Television Without Pity.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

I am behind on everything: email (whose bright idea was it to sign up on a couple of high-volume listservs, AND about seventy bajillion different National Poetry Month "get a poem a day in your email!" dealies? I realized today I had so much crap in my inbox that I'd actually missed some real, sent-only-to-me emails. Eek!), house cleaning, reading, writing, submissions, NaPoWriMo (I think I'm two days behind on that now and I may just throw in the towel) ... everything.

Today my poetry group met out at the home of one of our members. Helen lives way out in the country, so we all gathered at Tonia's house and rode out together in Deborah's lovely Prius. On the way out there we saw a large wild turkey flying along beside the road and then it crossed in front of us and landed on the other side of the road. It wasn't flying very high, maybe three or four feet -- turkeys are not particularly aerodynamic. It actually looked rather like a vulture that had swallowed a basketball. I wouldn't have recognized it as a turkey until it landed, if someone hadn't pointed it out to me. And now I'm thinking about that episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where Les Nessman finds out that turkeys can't fly. Well, apparently they can. Sort of.

I've been poking around trying to find out if by chance there might be any poetry readings or anything else vaguely literary going on in South Bend the week I'll be up there for my mom's surgery. So far, no dice. It's probably just as well, as I imagine I'll be booked fairly solid with the caretaking stuff.

I've also been reading Mark Doty's newest memoir, Dog Years, and really loving it. I am a sucker for good animal stories anyway, plus I like Doty's memoirs in general. I'm slowing down as I get close to the end, because I know it's going to get really sad pretty soon.

It's Little 500 Weekend here in Bloomington (aka "The World's Greatest College Weekend" aka "most sane people over the age of 25 or so stay as far away from campus as possible all weekend"). The Little 500 is the bike race made famous in the movie Breaking Away, which I really need to get around to owning. That movie came out just a few months before I arrived here as a dewy-eyed freshman, so I went to see it in the theater all excited that there was a whole movie about the place where I was going to be spending the next four years of my life. Little did I know, then, that I'd be spending at least the next 28 years here. Yes, I have lived here for almost thirty years. God, I'm old.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sherman Alexie, and being That Person

First off, if anyone who was at tonight's Sherman Alexie reading happens to read this, I apologize. Yes, I was That Person at the reading: the one who has a cold, but comes to the reading anyway with a pocket full of cough drops, and makes it through most of the reading but eventually develops a nasty tickle in her throat and starts coughing, and sits there coughing in fits and starts, trying to decide whether it's more disruptive to get up and run out of the room (which would have involved walking in front of half the audience) or to sit there continuing to try and stifle the coughs. I was That Person, someone I have bitched about after many a reading, and I apologize. Sigh.

Cough, cough, cough.

(At least I had my cellphone off, heh.)

The reading, though, was fabulous. He started off by telling us that this would be his first poetry-only reading in several years, then he spent a good ten-fifteen minutes storytelling -- talking about a turbulent flight, retrieving an elderly woman's hat on the street (yes, both of these stories were as funny as you'd expect of him), small moments of grace -- which led into some of his thoughts on the Virginia Tech massacre. He read/spoke for, oh, 40 minutes or so, then took some questions. He can do this ridiculously fast 360 from pee-your-pants-funny standup comic to some really searing, powerful poetry; the reading was definitely a roller coaster ride. During the Q&A he pointed out that all the poems he'd read used rhyme and meter; he said he got fed up with writing in free verse when he realized his poems were just becoming a series of tics, like whenever he got stuck he'd just put in a salmon, like poetic Tourette's or something -- and that working in rhyme and meter has enabled him to work with material he hadn't tackled before. He said he is reading a lot of Richard Wilbur lately.

There was a funny moment during the Q&A when he was talking about MFA programs, and how he kind of envied the MFA students (the MFA program was the primary sponsor of this reading, so there were lots of those folks in the audience); he said that as an undergrad it didn't even occur to him to do an MFA, and anyway his first two books had already been accepted by his senior year -- this caused an audible intake of breath from a number of aforementioned MFA students, which cracked him up and he imitated what must be going through their minds -- "fucker!" -- then mentioned that before he graduated he'd also learned he had an NEA fellowship, so of course there was that $20,000 waiting for him; at that point he just... stood... there, looking at the audience like "yeah, you got a problem with that?" without cracking a grin, as the MFA students just moaned. Then of course he cracked up again. Yeah, he's got a sizable ego, but he also pokes fun at himself a lot. For all I know he could be a real jerk in everyday life, but behind the podium he's one of the more likable readers I've ever heard -- engaging, polished but not too polished, pee-your-pants funny a lot of the time but also deadly serious sometimes, and he seemed to enjoy being up there as much as the audience enjoyed listening.

So, a thoroughly entertaining reading, as I knew it would be. I've been reading him for years and love his work, so I'm glad I finally got to hear him read in person, and get a book signed and stuff.

* * * * *

Missed my second NaPoWriMo poem yesterday, dammit. In my defense, I was coping with a yucky cold and spent several hours completing a big old application for a thing, which included a personal statement -- so at least I was writing something, eh? As penance, I'll post a draft from a few day ago (it will disappear in a day or so):

[and, it's gone.]

Monday, April 16, 2007

Breaking news: Pulitzer!

Natasha Trethewey has been awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Native Guard.

In fiction, Cormac McCarthy's The Road is the big winner. And Ornette Coleman got one for music, which is pretty cool.

All of this year's winners in Letters, Drama & Music can be found at the link above.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Attention Bloomingtonians

(That's Bloomingtonians of the Hoosier variety, not the ones from Illinois or Minnesota or whatever other Bloomingtons they've got out there.)

Sherman Alexie will be reading on Wednesday, April 18th at 8:00 pm at the John Waldron Arts Center. It's free, and supposedly there's some kind of a reception afterwards although I don't have the details.

I don't know whether he will be reading fiction (he has a new novel that's either just out or coming out very soon) or poetry or what, but I'm sure he will be entertaining whatever he does. Alexie has been one of my favorite writers for quite a while now, but I've never heard him read before and I am looking forward to it like crazy.

* * * * *

Those of you currently getting socked-in by the big nor'easter, I hope you are somewhere warm and safe and dry tonight! Looks pretty nasty out there.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Look what I found

My first NaPoWriMo "miss": I didn't write anything yesterday. In my defense, I was tired and coming down with a cold. Today I will write two drafts to make up for it.

Here's the first:

(A found poem)

Source text

[Someone came along and sprayed this blog with Draft-B-Gone!]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bloom (the Bloomington one)

So the article on the Bloomington poetry scene is in the new issue of Bloom: Celebrating Life in Bloomington (not to be confused with the other, more literary Bloom). It's not, after all, the cover story -- the cover story is "Bloomington is a Dog's Town," with a picture of a Great Pyrenees. Cute puppydog vs. buncha surly poets: can't say as how I'd argue with that decision. *grin*

Anyhow, it's a nice little article, featuring brief interviews with & poems by Tony Brewer, Catherine Bowman, Roger Mitchell, Patricia Coleman, Jenny Kander, and myself. I am going to try to pick up a few extras (the place where I picked mine up today only had four copies sitting there, and I didn't want to clean them out entirely). It's distributed free here in town, so if anyone would be interested in having a copy, I'd be happy to just send it; if you want to send me a buck or two to help with postage (it's a big, glossy, 112-page magazine), or a spare copy of a poetry journal in exchange, that would be lovely. I'm not sure how many extras I will be able to snag, so I'll make it first come, first served. Email me with your mailing address.

(Shana Ritter, who wrote the article, has always gotten confused about which northern Indiana town I grew up in; in this article she claims that I am from Fort Wayne, which is not true. I have never set foot in the undoubtedly-lovely *cough* thriving metropolis of Fort Wayne. Just for the record.)

* * * * *

Did you see the Seattle Times feature on local poets? Did you listen to the audio clips of Peter Pereira reading his poems "Anagrammer" and "Dream of the Cancer Cure"? Did it occur to you, as it did to me, that NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday should do a feature on Peter's anagram poetry to go along with the weekly Will Shortz puzzle thing? If so, or if you're saying "wow, that didn't occur to me, but now that you mention it, that is a brilliant idea!", you too can contact NPR to suggest the story idea. Just, you know, a suggestion. :)

* * * * *

Still on track with NaPoWriMo, though the past few days haven't yielded anything that feels much like a keeper. I may post more snippets eventually, though. I do like one of my titles: "History & Theory of Basements." The poem basically sucks, but I like the title.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Farewell to Vonnegut

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

----Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007. So it goes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yo yo dawg, so check it out...

...okay, none of the Indiana Arts Commission panelists acted like American Idol judges, but wouldn't it have been kinda fun if they had?

Seriously, I drove up to Indianapolis today to sit in on the IAC Literature panel, and I am so glad I did, and so glad the process permits that kind of openness -- it was a fabulous learning experience. I got there a bit late and missed the first few applications, but I heard most of them. There were four panelists, a moderator and a coordinator and a tech guy; the discussion of each application was kicked off by the first reader, who presented their evaluation (generally reading from something they'd written out), and then the discussion opened up. Some of the applications didn't take very long to discuss, including a couple which were immediately deemed "no-brainers" (as in "we'd be crazy not to fund this"). Some received more in-depth discussion and, in a couple of cases, some back-and-forth that may have swayed some panelists' evaluations. There was a big three-ring binder with all the applications available for the audience members to peruse, which was really nice.

All in all it was VERY interesting, and from what I could tell, I think the panelists did a good job of getting right to the point and picking out the most important points of each application, positive and negative. They weren't brutal, but they didn't hesitate to "get real" (as Randy Jackson would say) -- one panelist said about one application, "I suggest that you should get to be a writer before you apply." Ouch! Some of the day's recurring themes:
  • Timeline. Several people were proposing to write entire novels in the course of the grant period -- one had even included "marketing" as a line item in the budget, for a novel that hadn't really been started yet. The panelists consistently saw this kind of thing as "unrealistic" and overly optimistic.
  • Preparedness. One writer with no publication credits & not that much experience in the genre of the proposal wanted funding to go to Bread Loaf; the panelists thought that being accepted there would be a challenge at this point in the writer's career, since Bread Loaf is highly competitive. If the writer had included a Plan B, perhaps a less selective workshop or conference, I think the proposal would have done better. They also liked to see writers who've already done some work on their own rather than applying for a grant too early; "writers need to make a commitment on their own before asking the State of Indiana to commit [financially] to them." It's also a very good idea to do your research, and really target what you're asking for -- if you want funding for a workshop, be careful to select a workshop that will give you something specific that you need for your project. For example, they really liked that I'm planning to take a workshop on revision, because that shows I've thought about what I most need help with and what will move me towards my goal. (That's exactly why I chose Carl Phillips' workshop at FAWC over other, equally attractive-sounding workshops -- I thought it fit best with my overall plan. I'm so glad the panelists agreed!)
  • Along similar lines, don't ask for funding for something that won't push you forward to the next level in your writing. One writer wanted to take a workshop that the panelists felt was "beneath her" -- that she was already doing quite nicely in this area and the workshop wasn't going to benefit her enough to justify the expense.
  • Professionalism. It should be obvious that if you're asking for money to write, then you should make damn sure the writing in your application is good. This means: spell things right. Also, be professional in the sense that you know something about how the writing world works; this goes along with selecting the right workshop if you want a workshop, knowing when mentoring is appropriate and helpful, etc.
  • Specificity. Whatever you're requesting funding for -- is it the best way to get what you need? Be clear about what you intend to derive from the workshop, retreat time, travel, whatever you're asking for -- and make sure that is the best option for you. Don't ask for funding for an elaborate writing retreat, office space, etc. when what you really need to do is just sit down at your kitchen table and make yourself write. Grant funding is no substitute for self-discipline and initiative.
  • Overall -- what they wanted to see most of all is GOALS that are clearly stated, appropriate to the project and to the current stage of the writer's career, and realistic. And provide evidence that shows you will be able to follow through on your proposal. "We should spend our money on artists who have a track record that indicates they can take the next step." "There are so many wonderful ideas, but we need evidence that the person can make them happen."
I suspect that most of those points are going to be relevant in any artistic grant proposal, not just here in Indiana -- so I hope that sharing them will be helpful to someone else. A lot of it seems like it should be common sense, but apparently -- not so much. ;)

Without going into embarrassing detail, I will say that my application seems to have met with a fair amount of support. I wasn't one of the "no-brainers" but I got some very positive, very encouraging feedback. One panelist said that the work I'd submitted wasn't his cup of tea, but that he did see that it was good and "worthy of attention" -- I can definitely live with that. One thing they particularly liked was that I was quite specific, in each phase of my proposed project, about what "success" would mean. There were 18 applicants in literature, and about 230 overall, with enough money for 40 grants -- so it's very competitive. I won't know until June whether or not I get a grant, but I feel hopeful. And even if I don't, I can rest easy knowing that nobody laughed my little application out of the room, that I was in the right ballpark.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have a little orangey cat who's just flung himself headlong into my lap and flopped over onto his back for a bit of a belly rub. Speaking of clearly stated, realistic goals. *grin*

Monday, April 09, 2007

Divertimento with the translation*

Today's NaPo amusement: I took a poem of mine (older, pretty much finished) and ran it through Babelfish. I translated it from English to Italian to French and back into English, and then took the resulting fractured mess and edited it just enough to make it sound halfway like a poem. Maybe I'll post some snippets later on this week. It actually did -- as this exercise often does -- give me a new perspective on what I originally wrote, and turned up a few interesting phrases I may cannibalize for something someday.

Tomorrow: to Indianapolis, for the Arts Commission's peer-review panel in Literature. I'm nervous, oddly. I keep reminding myself that I won't know for sure about the grant for another couple months. But I'm sure I will learn a lot tomorrow. Should be fun.
*"Fun With Translation" taken from English to Italian to French to Dutch to English

Sunday, April 08, 2007


A very happy Easter to those who celebrate.

For the rest of us ... happy "day before half-price Peeps & chocolate bunnies" day! :D

* * * * *

Day 5:

Later, naked and rosy,
sheltered from the frost, she blooms.

Day 6:

He is cello when he sleeps,
a bow with insufficient rosin.

Day 7:

I live here
because I believe in the changes . . .

Day 8 (a two-fer!):

It's these small deaths
that chip away at faith.
Let me be
like all those robins . . .


It's the thinnest skin,
this dam
that holds the grieving in.

* * * * *

Did anyone else see the recent Nova episode about cuttlefish? Whoa. Amazing, amazing critters. I had no idea!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More snippets

Day 3:

Brain muzzy as tent caterpillars
in the rain . . .

Day 4:

Midnight, sometimes, I've bees in my blood. They shiver me,
buzz and honey me till I give up on sleep.
I'd choose clover if I could . . .

* * * * *
Yesterday: 79 degrees, with a ferocious thunderstorm in the afternoon.
Today: 31 degrees, blustery, with the tiniest of snow flurries.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Your tax dollars at work

(Well, if you're a Hoosier, anyway.)

Today the Indiana Arts Commission sent me all the details about the review panel for Individual Artist Grant applicants in Literature, which happens next week. I don't have to go, and if I'm there I'm not allowed to talk to the panelists about my application or pipe up with any clarifications or anything. It'll be kind of like a workshop, where I just have to sit there and listen even if I feel like my work is being misinterpreted or whatever. Well, I've been in enough workshops, goodness knows, so it won't be an altogether unfamiliar experience. I think I will learn a lot by listening to the discussion -- not just of my application but of the other Literature applicants as well. If my application is unsuccessful, I'll probably get a much clearer idea of what it takes to write a better one. And I will get to learn about what some other writers around the state are up to, what kind of projects they've proposed. So, I do plan to go. I'm nervous about it though, which kind of surprises me.

The panel is scheduled to run from 10 am to 3 pm, in downtown Indianapolis -- I'll need to allow an hour and a half travel time each way. Only the Literature applicants will be discussed that day; there are separate panels for the other genres such as visual art, crafts, music, etc. There are 18 applicants in literature, and mine will be the 16th application reviewed. (Yikes ... I hope the panelists aren't totally burned out by that point.) The grants themselves are not limited by genre; they have x amount of money to give out in $2000 chunks, and each application gets a numerical score from the panel in the appropriate genre. After all the panels have convened, then they take all the highest scoring applications and award grants to them. Then they go to the next highest ones and award them, and so on till they run out of money. So I'm not just competing with the other writers, but with ALL the other applicants. My understanding is that they'll be able to award about 40 grants total. I didn't count up how many applicants there were but maybe a couple hundred? Yikes.

So I won't know for sure about the grant until the Commission convenes in, I think, June sometime. But next week I will at least know what score my application received; if it's under a certain point I know for sure I'm out of the running, and if it's super high I will feel confident of having a good chance.

The material I received today actually included the names of all the applicants, in all the genres, which is pretty cool. I recognized three or four of the writers' names; the fact that the list wasn't jam-packed with really well-known people feels like a hopeful sign to me, though. I recognized a smattering of names from the other genres too, including a singer-songwriter who has performed extensively with John Prine -- so yeah, there is definitely some tough competition for these awards. I don't really like the idea of "competition" in art, but there you have it.

Whatever happens, though, putting together the application was a very good experience for me. It made me sit down and outline what I need to do to make this particular project happen, and for that matter, it made me think seriously about doing a relatively ambitious project which would, I hope, push me to the next level as a poet. I think listening to the panelists discuss the applications will also be a good learning experience, and if I'm lucky, I'll strike up a conversation with one or more of the other Literature applicants, maybe even get a little group to go for coffee or lunch afterwards. That would be nice.

* * * * *

Oh yeah, Napowrimo. Nothing yet today. But I'm on it, I'm on it.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Day One:

She was born landlocked,
knows the comfort of maps.


Day Two:

Little factory,
little ghost machine,
your sweet beating. Continue,

napowrimo, day 1

I looked through an L.L. Bean catalog and selected five words and made myself use them in a poem: comfort, essential, balm, twill, wrinkle.

I don't think the poem is a keeper, but at least it's words on the page.

For the most part I probably won't be posting my drafts this month, unless I come up with anything particularly interesting. I may post snippets, or prompts. We'll see.

Tomorrow (er... tonight, I guess) -- a basketball poem, maybe. :)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Is it just me ...?

I was reading a Daedalus Books catalog in the bathroom (some people keep porn in their bathrooms ... I keep book catalogs) and came across this little description in the children's section:
Barbie Birthday Bash
Barbie and her little sisters decide to throw a surprise party for Skipper. They go shopping for roller skates, wrap presents, and decorate a cake, while Ken videotapes the excitement when Skipper arrives.
Roller skates, huh? Oooookay.

* * * * *

Yes, I'm doing NaPoWriMo. No, I haven't written a poem yet today. Yes, I'm about to go into the study, clear off the desk (I've been avoiding the desk lately due to the large pile of unfiled papers, unread books, journals, etc. piled on top of it), and read some poems for a while. Then I will take out a pen and start.

I swear.

* * * * *

This one's for Ms. Loudon: Was Amelia Earhart a doomed castaway? Some pretty persuasive stuff here... wow.