Friday, August 31, 2007
But this weekend should be nice. The weather has finally broken, after far too much heat and humidity for far too long. And this weekend is the Fourth Street Festival of Arts & Crafts, which for me means looking at a lot of gorgeous art I wish I could afford, making goo-goo eyes at lots of dogs, and most likely running into any number of people I know. This is the festival's 31st year; it will be my 29th year in a row of attending. (Wow, I'm old.)
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I just picked up Laurel Blossom's Wednesday: New and Selected Poems via interlibrary loan. (This copy came from the Virginia Intermont College library, and it's signed!) There are a couple of poems in here that I stumbled across years ago -- I was an undergrad, or maybe (could it have been this long ago?) in high school; they must have been published in Poetry, as that was one of the very few literary journals I was aware of back then (because the public library carried it). In fact, I'm pretty sure that is where I remember finding them. Anyway, something about these two poems just grabbed me so hard at the time, I remember reading them aloud to myself and loving the way the language felt in my mouth. If I stumbled across these poems for the first time now, as a considerably older woman with considerably wider reading behind her, would they grab me quite as fiercely? Maybe not. I have no way of knowing. But I'm so grateful for the way they became a part of my younger vocabulary, and for what they taught me at the time.
Here's one of them.
The road sign reads Kansas, another example
of language imitating life. The land's so flat
the wind acts as if it would like to blow you to hell, but
you're modern, this is it: a wheat field
is a wheat field
is a wheat field till you wish. Be careful.
This is that dead stretch they warned you
to cross at night. They were right. If you're driving
straight through to the Coast, you're both crazy
by this time, you are not quite the strangers you
may have been when you left.
Neither of you has ever been this far west.
Your companion pops No-Doz, flips the radio dial
every few minutes to make sure he is
where he thinks he is, no fool
like the deejays spinning blind in their booths.
Every station repeats the same news.
You swear you can smell the sea
and he loves it, no question
California, the two of you, the future
you've heard a hundred times before. It's a hit
and it shines on the other side of this landscape
like the light from the setting sun or a star, traveling
at the same speed you are.
from Wednesday: New and Selected Poems (Roseville, MI: Ridgeway Press, 2004)
Monday, August 27, 2007
It's a 4 1/2 foot fossilized walrus penis. (What did you think it was?) If you'd had 8000 dollars, you could have bought it. Instead, it will be in the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum.
Here's another story about it, with more details but no picture.
I really want one of you guys to use the word baculum in a poem. Isn't that a great word?
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Last night I dreamed that I was talking to C. Dale (who I have never met in real life) and he asked me who my favorite bloggers were. My response: "Me, of course!" I think this is perhaps a sign that I am spending way too much time online.
Then we continued the conversation but neither of us would name any names. Come on, C. Dale! You can give me better gossip than that in my dreams!
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Also present is Mark Doty’s incredibly rare 1981 manuscript The Empire of Summer, a book that Doty has since disowned and stricken from his official resume. The book appears in only eighteen libraries worldwide.
One of those libraries happens to be the one I work in. Hee, hee. And I am a huge Mark Doty fan, but after reading the book, I can understand why he wouldn't care to lay claim to it. But isn't it kind of reassuring to know that one's favorite poets didn't, oh, spring from the forehead of the Muse or whatever -- that there was a time when they hadn't yet figured out what to say or how to say it?
All the same, the fact that people are apparently willing to pay a great deal of money for this book makes me want to burn the high-school literary journals with my crappy teenage poems in them, just in case. Oof. Not to mention being grateful that the crappy book manuscript I was sending out about fifteen years ago never got published. Apparently, sometimes one can be grateful for rejection. Ha!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
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Blurb: If anyone out there -- anyone of the published-book persuasion, I guess -- would be interested in blurbing my chapbook, drop me an email & I can send you the manuscript to read. I have a couple blurbs lined up, I think, but another wouldn't hurt.
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Peeve, pet variety: People using "poetry" as a synonym for "beauty." E.g., "When James Blake hits a killer forehand it's pure poetry." Yes, when a poem is good you have the feeling that not one word should be changed, everything is exactly where it needs to be, et cetera. But good poetry can also be disturbing, jarring, ugly even. Some poetry is beautiful but if you always come to poetry with the expectation of beauty, you're eventually bound to be thwarted. It's like "nature" -- nature is orchids and butterflies and pristine beaches, but it's also droughts and earthquakes and cat-5 hurricanes, and critters that kill & eat one another in sometimes unpleasant ways.
Don't even get me started on people expecting "nature poetry" to be all pretty and domesticated. Nature and poetry can both be terrifying. Ought to be, sometimes, really.
* * * * *
Ephemeral: As usual, this draft (hot off the press, scribbled while sitting in the public library this morning) will disappear in a day or so.
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004-2006
by Adrienne Rich
Rich has been a touchstone poet for me pretty much ever since I've been even halfway serious about poetry. I often name her "Twenty-One Love Poems" as something I'd take with me to the proverbial desert island, though I'm sure it's cheating to choose a whole sequence when someone asks me to choose one poem. I don't necessarily adore all of her work, but I think she is still doing important and vital work after all these years; what I've admired about her forever is how her poetry has evolved, both in form and content -- she's a poet who has not been afraid to change & to question herself, and that seems so crucial.
Definitely a book I will be buying.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I plan on going; I'm hoping I can work out a carpool with someone because my (16-year-old rustbucket of a) car is misbehaving a bit and I'm not entirely sure I trust it 90 minutes from home and late at night, but I'll be there regardless. See you there?
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
[a poem-eating monster went through here and chomped up the poem! she went thataway.]
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
On the issue of whether writers should take the feelings of their loved ones into consideration when they wrote, William Faulkner counseled ruthlessness, saying that "Ode on a Grecian Urn" was worth any number of old ladies. This trade-off -- family harmony versus heartfelt expression, once I invented for myself a glitzier heart -- worried me a great deal when I was young. Indeed, when my mother read my first book, after she'd spread the news of its imminent arrival, she remarked dryly/angrily/wistfully/shamefully: "I wish you'd told me what it was going to be like."
Question: What was it like? Answer: Full of much bad writing. I had too much investment in the autobiographical myth, which I thought was necessary because I lacked the inventiveness not to write about actual life, and I thought that actual life required a grand myth to be interesting -- what could be interesting about a pasty-skinned girl from the suburbs? I hadn't gotten wise to Emily Dickinson yet, a poet who derived her outlaw spark from the sly rebellion of her strange punctuation. To put the brigand into the poem itself, not the autobiography, this is the harder trick.
--Lucia Perillo, from "Bonnie Without Clyde" in I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness and Nature (Trinity University Press, 2007)
"To put the brigand into the poem itself." I'm gonna engrave that somewhere. Perfect. I don't think this means you have to be crazy experimental or whatever; taking risks with the poems themselves can mean a lot of things. I think part of figuring out what kind of poet you are is figuring out what kind of risks your poems want to take -- what kind of outlaws they want to be.
(This Lucia Perillo book is excellent, by the way. I highly recommend it.)
Friday, August 17, 2007
Work's been busy, busy; I'm a member of the team that is responsible for the library's website, and we just put up an entirely new site as of yesterday evening. So of course there are lots of problem reports, some ruffled feathers to be soothed, some powerpoint presentations to be made for new student orientation introducing people to the site. I've done a lot of running back and forth (well, emailing back and forth, mostly) between librarians/staff and programmers, doing what can feel at times like translation -- distilling a reported problem into the details the programmers need to diagnose it, then taking what I find out from them & coming back with an explanation in relatively less technical terms. It's fun, actually, but today I was juggling about as fast as I can juggle.
The weekend will be for catching up with neglected things -- poetry, laundry, sleep. And I'll watch more tennis than is really good for me. (Note to self: this has to be the last year you allow yourself to get this distracted by the height of tennis season. Seriously.)
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"What I really want to talk about is my attempt to sell my book of poems, an art form I've been practicing for long enough now that I can't really speak of humiliation memories but rather . . . what? Humiliation loci? Nodules? What I mean is that humiliation turns into an ongoing, inhabited state because writing itself is of this nature. It's the flagrant narcissism that's so humiliating -- writers think their creations are worthy enough to be circulated and admired; they secretly harbor the pride of new parents who are annoying in their ertainty that, out of all the universe forged by procreation, their own child rises above the rabble. Then print serves to cast one's vanity in cement."
--Lucia Perillo, from "Fear of the Market" in I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends
We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.
We called other friends—the ones
Your mother hadn't called—and told them
What you had decided, and some said
What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we'd just have to live
With that, that your life had been one
Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,
Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we'd have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.
from American Prodigal
Liam Rector, 1949-2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
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There's a new baby panda at the San Diego Zoo! It will be two weeks old on Friday. Needless to say, I'm spending way too much time at the pandacam lately. Pandas are about the size of a stick of butter when they're born, and they don't develop the distinctive black-and-white markings until they're a week old or so. The new little guy's markings are clearer every day, and it's becoming quite the fat, squirmy little cublet. Now that Mei Lan in Atlanta is almost a year old, it's nice to have a new bitty little one to watch. (Mei Lan is still cute though!)
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Thanks to all who commented on the recent post about titles. I think it's a fascinating topic. I've occasionally pulled a book off the shelf at the library or bookstore just because of the title, so I guess titles can be important. (Although I can think of terrific books with stinky titles, and so-so books with fabulous titles...) I suppose they're a bit easier when your manuscript has a well-defined theme or story arc to it, though if you have more of a collection of diverse individual poems, the title can be one way of pulling it together.
Mildly amusing: I have two poems called "Breach" but neither one of them is included in the chapbook of the same name. One "Breach" was published a while back, but feels too dated to include in a manuscript now (it's a 9/11 poem, ugh) and the other wasn't written when I submitted the manuscript. I could try to stick it in now, I suppose, but I kind of like the idea of letting it lurk around unseen like a ghost poem. Similarly, the Indigo Girls had an album a few years back called "Come On Now Social," which is a line from a song that didn't make it onto the album at all -- though it eventually showed up on one of Amy Ray's solo albums. The newer "Breach" poem may make it into the book manuscript ... time will tell.
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Oops, I was supposed to be talking about Eduardo! Dang. Next time.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
So -- concrete detail, and specificity, and sneaking up on one's subject methodically, as a way to risk sentimentality and get away with it. Or something like that anyway.
Also (I just noticed this) -- look how long that last sentence is! The poem is full of long sentences, actually, except for the statement "He forgot / everything & would never be the same." The poem hinges on those lines, takes a turn right there into its ultimate direction. And after those lines, the whole rest of the poem -- almost the second half of the poem -- is all one long sentence, starting with "I remember" and slowly working its way into Mr. Pate's experience. And after the short sentence that says Pate "forgot / everything" -- that long final sentence comes to a place where he does remember something, "never forgetting" what is in the end most important, to "cherish these tiny little heads." Again, the poem sneaks up on its conclusion, circles around it, eases towards the ending until it feels inevitable -- like the boxer's knockout punch that at first seems to come out of nowhere but then you realize he's been setting it up all along, circling and circling with footwork that didn't seem to be going anywhere in particular at first. (Okay, the boxer thing is maybe stretching it a little.)
Anyway, here's the poem.
Mr. Pate's Barbershop
I remember the room in which he held
a blade to my neck & scraped the dark
hairs foresting a jawline: stacks of Ebonys
& Jets, clippings of black boxers --
Joe Frazier, Jimmy Young, Jack Johnson --
the color television bolted to
a ceiling like the one I watched all night
in a waiting room at St. Joseph's
while my cousin recovered from gunshots.
I remember the old Coke machine, a water
fountain by the door, how I drank
the summer of '88 over & over from a paper
cone cup & still could not quench my thirst,
for this was the year funeral homes boomed,
the year Mr. Pate swept his own shop
for he had lost his best little helper Squeaky
to cross fire. He suffered like most barbers
suffered, quietly, his clippers humming so loud
he forgot Ali's lightning left jab, his love
for angles, for carpentry, for baseball. He forgot
everything & would never be the same.
I remember the way the blade gleamed
fierce in the fading light of dusk & a reflection
of myself panned inside the razor's edge
wondering if I could lay down my pen, close up
my ledgers & my journals, if I could undo
my tie & take up barbering where
months on end a child's head would darken
at my feet & bring with it the uncertainty
of tomorrow, or like Mr. Pate gathering
clumps of fallen hair, at the end of a day,
in short, delicate whisks as though
they were the fine findings of gold dust
he'd deposit in a jar & place on a shelf, only
to return Saturdays, collecting, as an antique dealer
collects, growing tired, but never forgetting
someone has to cherish these tiny little heads.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
I also find it sad that I read so many young poets are constantly changing their manuscripts after not placing in a contest. When everything is so oversaturated and so many contests are run by committee, taking your losing to mean anything is dangerous. Having been a screener for contests, I can say that I've seen so many manuscripts look overlabored. You need to let go of your manuscript. There's only so much you can do.
Unless you have a bad title. Here's an embarrassing confession: for years I sent out my manuscript and never placed. I called it the dumbest, dullest things! Aesthetics of the Damned was one. Hoaxes and Scams was another.
As soon as I called it Blind Date with Cavafy (all the poems were basically the same ones that appeared under the other titles), I started being named a finalist. And I won pretty quick. After many, many years of bad titles. This is my theory: most screeners, most poets are insecure in making aesthetic judgments. The mention of Cavafy made it clear that I knew something about poetry. The humor of the phrase "blind date" juxtaposed with the literary allusion signaled I was a poet. I am very embarrassed to admit this, but I think it's true. There's so much out there, and most people are tentative, they need clues that they're giving the right book the award. That isn't to say this is why I won, but I did notice that I started making it past the initial rounds much more often. Choose a smart title. Most titles suck. They're boring and pretentious and vague.
In my experience, titles are hard. I like my chapbook title (Breach) but poem titles frustrate me. As for the (soon, soon...) full-length collection, I think I know the title, but once I start shoving poems together it may not work anymore.
There are lots of ways to come up with titles:
~~use the title of one of the poems in the book (which puts a lot of pressure on that poem, eh?)
~~pull out a key (or not so key) phrase from one poem (which still spotlights that one poem, but not so blatantly)
~~title that serves as a key to somehow unlock the "meaning" of the book
~~title that names the overriding story or thread or tone of the book
How do y'all come up with titles?
* * * * *
Spent a couple hours at Panera today, drinking too much coffee, eating a Dutch apple/raisin bagel (toasted, with low-fat cream cheese), and reading (Lucia Perillo and Major Jackson, to be specific). Drafted two poems, one of which may be a keeper, then had to pull over in a parking lot halfway home because another one was banging on my brain. I love it when that happens.
* * * * *
Really wishing I could make it to AWP in January, but it seems highly unlikely given the price of hotel rooms in NYC. I truly can't afford to spend three weeks' salary (or more) on a conference, even though I think it would be lots of fun. Sigh. I am, however, going to keep an eagle eye out for cheap airfares, and try to sneak out to Provincetown in the early spring for a long weekend -- March or early April or so. I really want to see a North Atlantic right whale (super endangered species; there are maybe 330-350 of them living) and they hang out just offshore that time of year.
* * * * *
Two weeks from Monday, classes begin at the university here. Much as I complain about the lack of parking, newbies going the wrong way on all our one-way streets, and impossibility of getting a table at Panera, I secretly love it when the students return. All those new young faces, all those fresh starts. It reminds me that you can always start something new if you need to. And it reminds me of how thrilled I was to arrive in town as a bright-eyed freshman back in 1979 (god I'm old), and those first months of discovering so many of the things I still love about this town.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
- land mammal with highest blood pressure (well, work has been kinda stressful lately...)
- is turkey a mammal (ummm, do you mean the country, or the bird?)
- lousy poets (none of those here! you go away now!)
- fun experiments that go boom (mad scientist, huh?)
- sucker fish costume (dude, it's nowhere near Halloween...)
- blackbirds pooping on outdoor tables (yeah, that's why I like to eat inside)
- i wasn't accepted at breadloaf (me neither. Oh wait, I didn't apply.)
- ariel view of sharks (I don't think Plath had any shark poems. I could be wrong.)
- can i go to work with a scratched cornea (dude, stay home. That's a good excuse.)
- what kind of mammal is living in my yard (I'm gonna take a guess and say ... a heffalump?)
- low residency mfa, cheap (SNERK! dream on...)
- jackal clockradio garden (the hell...?)
- cranky violinist on beach (Paging Rebecca Loudon!)
Monday, August 06, 2007
Anyway, I am pleased to announce that I will be joining Carol and Jenni in the Finishing Line Press stable of authors. My chapbook, Breach, will be published sometime in 2007 or 2008. Yippee!
Of course, when it's available for pre-ordering I will post the details here on my blog. If you're afraid you might miss it, or just want a more personal notification, drop me an email (ahaines at gmail dot com) with your email address, and/or your snailmail address if you'd like a postcard. I'll be delighted to
More details to come as I have them....
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam venturi saeculi.
After I kiss his forehead lightly once
after the closing of the box,
where does his suffering go --
of course it's the Catholic heaven
he expects, the resurrection of the body
and the life of the world to come
but where does his suffering go --
I mean whatever of it
that is not part of me --
The fearsomeness of his face has been
drained now and recomposed,
injected with a semblance of spirit,
the lips held shut, so like himself,
but with a semblance of rest
because in heaven
the pain of the body and soul is supposed
to be forgotten and past but it is lost,
or does it suffer without him on earth
and where does it remain
for more life --
Most of the universe is missing
but it isn't lost,
I expect it's here somewhere, world without end,
hiding in plain sight,
all the suffering banished from God's heaven,
all the imploded substance
and the trapped light.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
And so it was with a certain relief that I began to read Dan Bellm's marvelous collection One Hand on the Wheel, about the poet's experience of his father's death following a lifelong difficult relationship, the tremendous pain of being so intimately connected with someone who does not approve of you, the physical reality of death, the way pain mingles with relief. Reading these poems knocked a lot of words loose inside me and I drafted two new poems today, poems I am curious to find out where they go. So thanks to whoever (I can't remember who it was) recommended this poet on their blog a while back. (Interlibrary loan is a wonderful thing!)
I have also just started reading Lucia Perillo's new book of personal essays, I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness and Nature, which takes a head-on, unsentimental look at the suffering of the body and its intertwining with the mind. Good stuff. The book itself (from Trinity University Press) is physically very nice, with a good sturdy binding and paper that feels good between the fingers. I've only read a little bit of this book so far, over lunch at the Village Deli today, but it probably contributed to knocking loose those words.
I think it is fine, by the way, to write poems about happiness and joy, though I think it's best if those poems are aware, in the back of their little poem minds, of the fact of suffering. I think it can even be a political act to write poems about happiness, to dare to be happy & express that. Some days, it is just plain good to be alive, and I like it when a poem can remind me of that. I just don't think poems should take happiness for granted, is all. Nor should people.
Yeah, that's all starting to sound a bit like a manifesto, so I'll cut it off there. Be well, all.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Seriously, I was quite floored when I read this interview and found such nice things said about my poem! All the more so because judging from the buzz around ye olde blogosphere, there's going to be a lot of really fine work included in the inaugural issue of Barn Owl Review.
I've had so much good news lately that the only thing to be done is to get cracking and send out a bunch more poems. That way I'll get a bunch of rejections and the world will be restored to its rightful balance.
* * * * *
This writing retreat looks really lovely, doesn't it? It's not one of the fancy ones where you get to stay there for free and they feed you and everything, but the cost seems pretty reasonable, and it looks to me like a place where one could get a lot of writing done.
* * * * *
According to this article, the debut album by Two Nice Girls is being re-released, with extra tracks and essays and photos! This is totally awesome news. I was a huge, huge Two Nice Girls fan back in the day. Their most famous song was "I Spent My Last $10 (On Birth Control and Beer)" and part of it went like this:
I spent my last ten dollars
On birth control and beer
My life was so much simpler
When I was sober and queer
But the love of a strong hairy man
Has turned my head, I fear
And made me spend my last ten bucks
On birth control and beer.
Imagine that, totally tongue-in-cheek, all countrified, with wailing steel guitars and so forth. It was brilliant. They also did a great mashup of "Sweet Jane" with Joan Armatrading's "Love and Affection" and (though it wasn't on aforementioned debut album) one of their songs actually mentioned my all-time favorite book of all time, Harriet the Spy. They were big fun in concert, too. I am so ordering this reissue. You can get it via cdbaby (right here!), which is one of my favorite places to order music. They're fast, and all their customer communication is really adorable.
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90-plus degree heat for the past three days, and predicted to have more of the same for the next week and a half or so. And this being Indiana, it's humid, too. This weather makes me miss the ocean! I hope you are all staying cool, calm, and somewhat collected.