Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Down to the thin end of the year

My holiday travels began in terrifying fashion: as I was driving to Indianapolis, the drizzle began to freeze and within five minutes the roads went from wet to sheer ice. Cars were going every which way; I passed one really bad accident, a few fender-benders (one of which I saw happen), and a bunch of slide-offs. There was quite a bit of traffic on the highway, and for about ten miles -- maybe more -- we were all driving about 5 mph at most, easing over towards the left shoulder where we could get at least a little bit of traction. I was on a stretch of road with a drop-off on either side. It was the most frightened I have ever been in a car. I was this close to just yanking on the wheel (actually it would have taken the merest tap) and sending myself into the guardrail just to get it over with, since crashing seemed inevitable. I made it through without incident, somehow; it took me 2.5 hours to get from the north side of Bloomington to the south side of Martinsville (about 20 miles), and the 50-mile drive to the airport took me four hours.

Fortunately, I'd decided to book a "park'n'fly" deal at the airport Radisson, since I had a 7 am flight & had thought it would be nice to have a relaxing evening in a hotel room rather than leaving my house at butt o'clock in the morning. So at least the ice didn't make me miss my flight.

Family Christmas in Colorado was laid-back; we'd decided to exchange only stocking stuffers & did charitable donations in one another's names instead of presents. My sister & I spent several hours in the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, which was wonderful as always -- what a great bookstore! I restrained myself and only bought 3 or 4 books and 1 literary journal, but if I'd had unlimited funds (and luggage space) I could easily have left with a lot more than that. You'd think somebody who works in one of the best academic libraries in the country, & thus has super-convenient access to nearly any book in the world, wouldn't want to buy books all the time... but you'd be very, very wrong. It's an addiction, I'm telling you.

So it's been an interesting year. My first chapbook was published; I put together my first book-length ms. (finishing the first version of it on my first writing retreat) and started sending it around; I wasn't very good at all about sending poems out to journals; I wrote a lot of poems & started on a series altogether unlike anything I'd ever written or attempted before. A job promotion. My first earthquake. I also rediscovered music as a primary source of inspiration & creativity, going to a lot of good concerts including four Bruce Springsteen shows (one of which was pretty much the best concert I have ever seen by anyone ever) and coming back to playing guitar myself a bit, and bought my sweet little blue Stratocaster, becoming an electric guitar owner for the first time since 1979 when I sold my old single-pickup Gibson Melody Maker because I needed the money for college. (Sigh.)

And I continued to overuse parentheticals throughout the year (as you may have noticed already).

What's coming up in 2009? A new President, a new Springsteen album (and presumably a tour; I'm going to do my damnedest to make it to at least 2 or 3 shows), several new books I'm excited about, poems to read, poems to write. My first AWP to attend. Hard work to be done, all around. I hope to challenge myself creatively and push myself beyond my comfort zone, though just how that will happen remains to be seen. I want to waste less of my time; I'll be turning 48 and every year I feel more aware that time just isn't an unlimited thing. Resolutions? I don't know... maybe.

What about you? Are you making resolutions? What does 2009 hold in store for you?

I wish each of you the happiest of New Years. I'm grateful for everyone who humors me by reading this blog, and I look forward to meeting some of you at AWP!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Freeze and stasis

Solstice Blessings to all who celebrate that particular, oldest of holidays.

In my neck of the woods, it is currently 3 degrees, with winds gusting up to 25-30mph creating wind chills well below zero. I am bundled up in my drafty house, wearing a hat, lots of socks, a blanket, the new blue scarf a friend made for me, and all kinds of other interesting items of clothing. I need to get up and clean house in preparation for holiday travels, but it's so much warmer to stay bundled up underneath this blanket on the couch, listening to Little Steven's Underground Garage on the radio (it's the Christmas A-Go-Go edition, and you just gotta love an album with tracks like "Come All Ye Faithful Surfer Girls" and "Back Door Santa"). I'm just glad that I had the foresight to run all the errands I could think of yesterday, plus put gas in the car before it got this cold; the little door over the gas tank is most probably frozen shut now anyway.

But there are blessings to count. It's not as cold here as it is in Minnesnowta, for one thing. And we have only the slightest dusting of snow. And the ice that we had a few nights ago melted before it got cold again, and the bruises that I got from falling on aforementioned ice are beginning to fade. (They were pretty impressive, though. Oof.) My house is drafty but I have power, and running water, and soft fluffy blankets, and cats taking turns on the heated kitty-bed. Things could be a whole lot worse.

I'm already starting to look past the holidays at the year to come. I feel like I need to clear some space, though I'm not yet sure what that is going to entail. But there are things that have been getting crowded out of my life, especially the past couple of months. I've been atrociously atrocious at keeping up with email, and that's got to change. I've been even worse at getting poems sent out there, and if I make one New Year's resolution, getting poems sent out there is going to be it. And I need to be more proactive about promoting the chapbook, trying to get some readings here and there, et cetera. I have at least managed to get the book manuscript out to a bunch of places, and I need to keep that up. I need to spend more time reading, for sure. And working on poems for the new manuscript, though that's probably the one writing-related thing that hasn't been given short shrift lately. (Could stand to put some effort into revising the darn things, though.) And finally it's been a few weeks since I've picked up a guitar, and that has GOT to change: life is so much happier with more music in it.

So, yeah, I've got to clear some space, both physically and mentally. I promise I won't drop off the face of the Internet, but I may need to try to spend less time here. We'll see.

Anyway, in case I don't manage to blog again before my holiday travels, I hope you all have wonderful holidays -- that you are warm, and safe, and loved. And most importantly, I hope you only get caught under the mistletoe by someone you want to get mistletoeded by. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'Tis the season


Dear friends,

Ho ho ho! I'm Santa Bear, and I'm today's guest blogger here at Land Mammal HQ. Yes, I am every bit as fluffy and jolly and all-powerful as I appear to be. So tell me what you want for Christmas. Go on, tell me! Even if you don't celebrate the holiday... that doesn't mean I might not be able to work a little seasonal miracle for you.

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no sway over editors and publishers, and no, I can't get everybody's book published in 2009. And if I could, my own human would have dibs on that particular gift. But I might be able to come up with something else you'd like.

I won't ask you to sit on my knees... but tell me what you want and I'll see what I can do.

Ho ho ho!

Love,

Santa Bear

Sunday, December 07, 2008

panning for gold

Today's Poetry Daily poem, like much of Goldbarth's work, strikes me as being just a bit overly verbose -- but I'm glad I read it for this one image: "the volts that bump in the heart / like small trapped minnows of longing" -- an image that's saved from being just a bit too much by its placement directly after the utterly mundane "groceries leaking / out of the paper bag."

I'm a sucker for bits of science and medicine in poems, like volts in the heart; that's something Goldbarth seems to like as well. I know I said he's often overly verbose, but I'm often willing to sift through his poems because I find these little gems that thrill me.

Drafty on an icy day

When I got up this morning it was six degrees outside. Six! At least it was above zero. I had to go next door to feed the neighbor's parakeet, and when I stepped outside for just a moment the just-risen sun was brilliant on snowy lawns, rabbit tracks laced the driveway like some kind of manic notation, and starlings were proclaiming whatever it is they proclaim in their arpeggiated chatter. For just a moment the sky opened up to blue, blue, blue. For just a moment I understood how winter can be beautiful. Then I came to my senses and hustled my frozen fingers and toes indoors.

It's up to 22 degrees now. Heat wave!

* * * * *

Finished reading the new book of prose poems by Carol Guess, Tinderbox Lawn. Great, great stuff. So many lines I'd love to quote at all y'all. What I really love about it right now, though, is what she does with narrative. The book definitely has a narrative (I don't want to use that overused word arc), but it's fractured and laced with gaps -- it's like a cracked window, only all we can see is the actual cracks and from that we're left to understand the shape and heft of the window itself. The courage it takes to tell a story but leave so much for the reader to gather -- that's inspiring me to leave a lot more gaps in my own current project, to tell a little less of the story, let it be a little more lyric & a little less narrative. Which is good, I think.

Anyway, it is a terrific book, sexy and wise and unexpected. Highly recommended.

* * * * *

A quick little draft, which will disappear about when the half-inch of snow remaining on my lawn disappears (that would be tomorrow sometime):


[poof!]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How is it December already?

Sorry for the blog-absence. No, I didn't fall and break my neck trying to walk in my new boots. ;)

* * * * *

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving! I celebrated by packing the cats into the car and taking them up to Grandma's... er, my mom's. They were Decidedly Displeased about the 200-mile car ride, but they enjoyed the visit and got along very nicely with Mom's cats. Which is good to know, because the only way I'll ever be able to take on more than about a ten-day retreat or residency would be to "board" them at Mom's, I think... though I'm not sure such a thing is in the cards anytime soon.

* * * * *

Speaking of cards, big congratulations to this year's crop of NEA Fellows in Poetry -- especially fellow bloggers C. Dale and Corn Shake! Three cheers!

* * * * *

I really, really need to get back in the proverbial saddle with the sending-out of poems. It's a funny thing, but if you don't send stuff out, you don't get stuff published... go figure. I've got the book ms. out to a bunch of publishers & contests (and just got a rejection letter today with a very nice note scribbled on it -- just a few words like "sorry, it's a very strong ms." can really make a poet's day, especially in these early stages of sending the thing out!) but I haven't been at all productive about sending out individual poems this year. If I make any New Year's resolutions (oh dear, is it really almost time to think about that?!), that should be number one, I think.

* * * * *

Wishing you all warmth & light in this cold dark month (at least 'round these parts it is cold & dark). And good health. And houses that somehow miraculously clean themselves. Hey, as long as I'm wishing, right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kick


I bought boots! I love 'em... these are the boots I've been wanting for years. (A splurge, but I had a gift card left from my birthday months ago that needed to be used, so... )

I did nearly break my neck trying to walk in them at first. I'm just not used to two-inch heels. It's true, I'm not particularly girly. My usual idea of "high heels" would be my Dansko clogs. Yeah.

Perhaps I bought them in an attempt to climb inside the main persona of the series of poems I've been working on.

* * * * *

If you want to buy something too, try one of these:

Karen J. Weyant's chapbook, Stealing Dust, is now available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press. One thing that has surprised me about the blogging world is the fact that when I enjoy someone's blog, 9 times out of 10 I end up enjoying their poetry too. (The reverse is not necessarily always true... some very good poets are just lazy bloggers. Ahem.) I ordered mine tonight.

And Tim Green's full-length collection, American Fractal, is also available for pre-order via Amazon (or directly from Red Hen Press if you were lucky enough to get a flyer in the mail, but it doesn't seem to be up on Red Hen's website yet). This one's on my "buy at AWP" list. I think it will be a good one.

* * * * *

Mary B. posted a pop quiz on her blog so I figured I'd post my answers here, since I can't think of much to post here lately without being prodded.

1. When was the last time you wrote a poem?
Yesterday evening, sitting in my seat at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (which is an old renovated movie theater and one of my very favorite places to see live music), in between the opening act and Kimya Dawson's concert.

2. What was its title?
Actually I wrote two. The one that has a title is "House Lights Down." The other one has a provisional title that I don't like.

3. What was one image from the poem (if applicable)?
The mingled voices of the audience as net, ready to catch the falling musician/performer (implicit image: musician/performer as trapeze artist).

4. Do you currently have a poem percolating in your brain?
Bunches of them, which is very unusual for me. I've actually started keeping a list of poems I want to write -- jotting down the primary image or plot point (since these are mostly a part of my narrative-ish series) that I want to convey. When I want to write, I can just sit down, get out my list, pick one, and get to work. No, the writing process has never worked like this for me before. It's quite startling.

5. If you answered "yes" to number four, what is one image from that poem?
Musician at soundcheck, singing into the empty, empty, echoing hall, putting everything they have into the vocal even though there ain't nobody paying attention because they're all bustling around getting stuff set up.

Should probably write a poem about cool boots, too. :)

* * * * *

Still taking answers to my "what do you say when someone asks you what kind of poems you write" question from the other day. Surely there are more fabulous answers out there.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I know you've heard this one.

When people ask you "so, what kind of poetry do you write?"

... how do you answer them?

Not other poets, mind. When someone who's a serious poet asks me something like that (though they usually phrase it in a more helpful manner), usually we have enough of a shared vocabulary that I can talk about the central concerns & projects of my work and have a somewhat interesting conversation.

But when someone who's either a casual/occasional writer of poems, or who doesn't write poems at all, asks ... what do you say?

I'm really curious. Thanks!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bits and linkies

Congratulations to Mark Doty on winning the National Book Award in poetry!

* * * * *

Went to a really terrific concert by John Prine this past weekend. Holy cow, can that guy write a song. Backed by one guitarist and one bassist -- and for the last part of the show, also joined by opening act Pat McLaughlin -- he gave us a solid two-hour set of songs that are timeless classics ("Angel From Montgomery," "Hello In There," and so many more) and other songs that are pretty close to that level. Most of his songs are deceptively simple, and I found myself envious of the palette of tools that songwriters have at their disposal. So many things that words alone just can't do.

* * * * *

"... what always enters the poems, and makes them happen, is the world, and the things in it. And the real, breathing beings in it. " Here's a nice interview with poet Ross Gay, who's been on the MFA faculty at the university here for a year or two.

* * * * *

Speaking of local stuff, WFIU has revamped the website for their poetry show, The Poets Weave. They've made it a lot easier to find the podcasts, and added tags. If you want to find all four of my archived shows, for example, you can just click on my name in their tag cloud. (You can leave comments, too!) Technology is fun, when it isn't driving you up the wall.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Be My Elvis, Baby

There seems to be another character sneaking into the series I'm working on -- someone who's been a fan of the band for ages, and who in later years comes to a new appreciation of, not just the music, but of the musicians as human beings. How she moves, over the couple of decades the series spans, from idolizing the rock gods of her dreams to seeing them as human beings & still loving them, loving what they do. How she listens to songs she first heard when she was fifteen, and how they mean something different and deeper now.

Which, of course, basically gives me a voice in the project. I'm not sure, in the end, if that's a good thing or a bad thing -- but we'll see what happens.

More and more, this is feeling like a book-length project. Scary!

I'm doing some research for it, too. Trying to imagine what it's like to be a struggling (and then not so struggling) rock musician. Trying to imagine what the relationships between band members are like, how the shared experience of playing & performing & traveling together, the success & the failure, changes the interpersonal dynamic. Also just plain trying to stay in touch with what it is I have always loved about rock & roll, because in some ways I see this project as my little love letter to rock & roll itself. So I'm listening to lots of music. Ah, the sacrifices we make for poetry. *grin*

I don't want this project to ignore the crassness & corruption of the music industry, but that's not at all a primary focus; of course the tension between art & commerce is something that inevitably comes into play with popular music maybe more than with any other art, but I'm more interested in the human stories, and in the great thunderous machine that is a rock band in full voice. The grand gesture of the stage, and the little human failings underneath the surface of that performance, and what happens when a huge room full of people comes together singing the same song. How a rock concert with its cheering and its standing and its fist-pumping and its singing along is an audience/performer experience entirely unlike the passive consumption of sitting quietly & applauding politely when the song is over, and what it's like when the song is one you've listened to over & over alone in your room & now you're sharing it with hundreds or even thousands of other people & the privately meaningful suddenly becomes a shared, communal experience.

And yes, the project is also about being such a hopeless romantic that you believe this stuff matters. It's circus and flash and entertainment, smoke & mirrors, but the human heart at the heart of it is something full of truth. And yes, I did indeed flunk PoMo 101.

Anyway.

So here's our longtime fan. This is pretty late in the game, and our protagonist (the rock star) has gone through some difficult stuff in a fairly public way. And what is it about the fan/performer relationship that feels so strangely personal that sometimes you feel like you know them, know something of what they're going through? Because I know your words and your music with every cell in my body, know your song so well that it is my song, do I know you? Well, no, of course not, but... also yes.


[gone]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Catching up a bit

Saturday evening's reading with Dory Lynch & Shana Ritter went really well. We had a great audience, and despite technical issues (we gave up on the PA and just read unamplified -- Poetry Unplugged!) I enjoyed it about as much as I can remember enjoying any reading. I had great fun reading both older, familiar material & the brand-new stuff I'm so excited about right now.

The podcast of my most recent radio reading is now available, here. (I'll make sure the link is over in the right-hand column of my blog, too.) There are two version of it; I haven't listened all the way through, but I'm pretty sure it is just that one has the public-radio pledge-week "please give us money" at the beginning and the other one doesn't.

Breach is now available via amazon.com, here. However, unless you feel an obligation to support amazon.com, or have a gift certificate to burn, you can certainly buy it directly from Finishing Line Press and support small-press publishing. Better still, if you're willing to mail out a check instead of using a credit card online, you can buy it directly from me (and I'll happily sign it if you'd like); I'll sell you one for $12 plus $1.50 postage (& trade/barter is definitely an option, so make me an offer). Email me, ahaines at gmail dot com, if you're interested.

Phew. Shameless self-promotion is kind of uncomfortable.

* * * * *

I get to see John Prine on Saturday night! Should be excellent.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Readings!

Tomorrow (Sunday, 11/9) I am the featured guest on "The Poets Weave" on WFIU, our local NPR station. The five-minute show is scheduled to air at 11:46 AM EST, and you can listen online at wfiu.org. A caveat: it is pledge week, and so a lot of their shows are running a little behind schedule this week. The poetry show should appear sometime between 11:45 and noon though. And if you miss it, never fear -- the podcast will be available within a day or two.

Tonight, I get to read with Dory Lynch and Shana Ritter at Rachael's Cafe. I just finished deciding what I'm going to read. We're each doing two short sets, so that we can have an intermission and people can get food or cappuccino or whatever. My first set will be entirely from Breach, and my second set will be from "Chasing Angels," the new collection I am working on. I'm having a lot of fun with those poems right now. I've never consciously had a "project" in the sense of writing poems specifically towards a series or group, and it's a very different feeling! I'm also finding I need to learn a lot of fiction-y techniques and concepts, like different points of view, narrative strategies, etc. It's interesting work. I'm looking forward to seeing how these poems go over with an audience. And I'm very much looking forward to hearing Dory and Shana read; they're both terrific poets whose work I always enjoy.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And now the real work begins.

I stayed awake last night to hear the victory speech (which was terrific, I thought, and struck just the right note between celebration and the soberness of realizing how much hard work he -- and we -- have yet to do), and long enough to hear one network finally call Indiana for Obama. (He won by about 1% here, or maybe a little less -- which is really quite phenomenal, given how strongly Republican Indiana usually is.)

Fell asleep with the TV on, and when I woke up I held my breath for a moment until I heard someone say "President-Elect Obama." It wasn't a dream. And there were no dirty-trick surprises overnight.

I don't think I can really say anything about this election that hasn't already been said. President-Elect Obama is almost exactly my age -- he's a couple months younger -- and although his life & mine have been very different, we share many of the same cultural referents. We were in kindergarten when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (My parents let me stay home to watch the funeral on TV; I didn't really understand what had happened, but I knew that people were sad and angry and that a great man had died in a bad way.) We were kids and young teenagers during Vietnam and the heyday of the civil rights movement. When we were finally old enough to vote, Ronald Reagan got elected President. (I didn't vote for him, and I'm guessing young Obama didn't either.) And when we were forty-seven years old, we got to elect a visionary, compassionate, intelligent, courageous -- and yes, African-American -- man as our next President.

Did I imagine that this could happen in my lifetime? Yep. And I still believe it is very possible that I will see a woman President elected in my lifetime, too. And did I leap off the couch shrieking and crying hysterical tears of joy last night at 11 pm when the networks declared the Obama victory? Yep. If you'd asked me "can the U.S. get over itself enough to elect a black man as President," I would've said yes. But when it really happened, when that particular dream became reality, the sheer force of my joy and exhilaration took me completely by surprise.

My excitement is tempered somewhat by the passage of Prop 8 in California and several other anti-gay and anti-choice ballot measures in other states. It is ridiculous that we still live in a country where an entire group of people can be refused the same civil rights that other people have, just on the basis of who they happen to be. But I believe -- I truly do believe -- that if we can elect Barack Obama, we can make the world a better place in other ways. We CAN change the world for the better, if we work hard enough and if we believe. If yesterday's victory taught me anything, it is that hope and belief are powerful things. And so, it's time to get to work.

* * * * *

Capping off an unforgettable 24 hours, today I went to a fantastic reading by Billy Collins & Kay Ryan. I'd heard recordings of Collins reading before, but hadn't seen him in person; and I hadn't even heard recordings of Ryan. They were both terrific, and played off one another really well. I don't know if they have read together often, but if you ever get a chance to see them together, you should go. They are both funny, charming, personable readers. I was a little worried for Kay Ryan since she went second, and I was afraid that following someone as hugely popular as Billy Collins would be tough -- but I needn't have been concerned, as she more than held her own and won over the sizable audience. Good stuff.

Monday, November 03, 2008

One last word on this election.

I'll let Mr. Bruce Springsteen have the last word on this blog regarding tomorrow's election. This is Springsteen's speech from yesterday's rally in Cleveland. After this he sang "The Rising" and then introduced the Obama family. Following the text of the speech will be video of the same speech (which unfortunately cuts off before "The Rising" begins).

Please, if you haven't voted, do so tomorrow. Barack Obama is not perfect. He can't single-handedly save the country or anything like that. But putting him in office will go a long way towards making the world a safer, more compassionate, saner place to live.

And now, Bruce Springsteen:

I've spent 35 years writing about America and its people--what does it mean to be an American, what's our duties and our responsibilities, what are our reasonable expectations when we live in a free society. I really never saw myself as partisan but more as an advocate for a set of ideas: economic and social justice, America as a positive influence around the world, truth, transparency, and integrity in government, the right of every American to have a job, a living wage, to be educated in a decent school, and to a life filled with the dignity of work, promise and the sanctity of home. These are the things that make a life. These are the things that build and define a society. I think that these are the things we think of on the deepest level when we think about our freedoms. But today those freedoms have been damaged and curtailed by 8 years of a thoughtless, reckless, and morally adrift administration. But we're at the crossroads today.

I've spent most of my life as a musician measuring the distance in my music between the American Dream and the American reality. I look around today and for many Americans who are losing their jobs or their homes or seeing their retirement funds disappear or their health care, or have been abandoned in their inner cities, the distance between that dream and that reality has grown greater and more painful than ever.

I believe that Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and in his own work. And I believe that he understands in his heart the cost of that distance in blood and in suffering in the lives of everyday Americans. And I believe as President he'll work to bring that promise back to life and into the lives of so many of our fellow Americans who have justifiably lost faith in its meaning.

Now, in my job I travel around the world and I occasionally play to big stadiums or crowds like this, just like Senator Obama does. And I continue to find out that wherever I go, America remains a repository for people's hopes, their desires; it remains a house of dreams. And a thousand George Bushes and a thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down. That's something that only we can do, and we're not going to let that happen.

This administration will be leaving office--that's the good news. The bad news is they're going to be dumping in our laps the national tragedies of Katrina, Iraq, and our financial crisis. Our house of dreams has been abused, it's been looted, and it's been left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power, for influence, or a quick buck. It needs strong arms, strong hearts, strong minds. We need someone with Senator Obama's understanding, his temperateness, his deliberativeness, his maturity, his pragmatism, his toughness, and his faith.

But most of all it needs us. It needs you and it needs me, and he's gonna need us. 'Cause all that a nation has that keeps it from coming apart is the social contract between us, between its citizens. And whatever grace God has decided to impart to us, it resides in us, it resides in our connection with one another. In honoring the life and the hopes and the dreams of the man or the woman up the street or across town--that's where we make our small claim upon heaven.

Now in recent years, that social contract's been shredded. Look around today and you can see it shredding before our eyes. But tonight and today we are at the crossroads. We are at the crossroads, and it's been a long long long time coming.

I'm honored to be here on the same stage as Senator Obama. From the beginning, there's been something in Senator Obama that's called upon our better angels, and I suspect it's because he's had a life where he's had to so often call upon his better angels. And we're going to need all the angels we can get on the hard road ahead. So Senator Obama, help us rebuild our house, big enough for the dreams from all our citizens. 'Cause how well we accomplish this task will tell us just what it does mean to be an American in the new century, what the stakes are, and what it means to live in a free society.

So I don't know about you, but I know I want my country back, I want my dream back, I want my America back. Now is the time to stand with Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come on up for the rising.




Come on up for the rising...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Holding my breath...

... till the election on Tuesday. In a strange way I feel like everything is on hold till then. I have a feeling I'm going to be up very late, glued to the returns. I'll be glad to see the end of the political commercials, though. This has been my first experience with living in a swing state, and boy, both parties have certainly spent some serious money on Indiana airtime -- not to mention all the state-level and Indianapolis-area races.

* * * * *

Went to a good reading tonight at Boxcar Books: Eugene Gloria, Ross Gay, and Curtis Crisler. This was the first reading I'd been to in the store's new location (right next door to my favorite brunch place, the Runcible Spoon); they have a smaller space available for readings than they had in the old location, and it was absolutely packed, uncomfortably so. Nice to see that good a turnout for poetry, though! (I think it was mostly MFA-program folks, as I saw very few people I knew and it was a young crowd.) It was a little hard to hear from the other side of the room, but from what I could hear, the three poets complemented one another nicely. Afterwards I ducked out right away (was feeling a wee bit claustrophobic) and went next door to the Spoon, where I ordered a spiced coffee and drafted a new poem. Always a good sign when a reading makes you want to write.

* * * * *

Thinking about what I want to read this coming Saturday when I read with Dory Lynch and Shana Ritter. I'll read a good bunch of poems from Breach, since this is the official chapbook-release reading, but I want to read some new stuff too. I hope we get a decent audience!

Maybe I should wait until after Tuesday night to decide what I'm reading, so I can know how depressed everybody's going to be -- or, hopefully, not.

* * * * *

I'm now officially registered for AWP, so I guess I'm really going. Should be fun, though I'm a bit nervous about it all. I think I'm going to drive to my mom's in northern Indiana and take the train in to Chicago, so I don't have to pay the Hilton's exorbitant parking rates or cope with driving in Chicago. I am so not a city girl.

* * * * *

It's 1:20 AM. An hour from now, it will be 1:20 AM. This daylight saving time stuff is weird. (We're new to this here in Indiana, and we're still a little freaked out about it, to be frank.)

But it will be nice to see some actual daylight before going in to work, at least for the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to that.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good stuff

Poet (and novelist, and memoirist, and anything-else-she-wants-to-write writer) Carol Guess has a brand-new book of prosepoems out! You can read an excerpt from Tinderbox Lawn, and order your own copy (as I did), at the Rose Metal Press website. And if you haven't read Carol's earlier book of poetry, Femme's Dictionary, I highly recommend that as well.

Locally, we get a pretty cool reading on the day after Election Day -- Billy Collins and Kay Ryan. If you're within driving distance of Bloomington (and remember, that's the one in Indiana), the reading will be at 5:30 pm on Nov. 5 in Rawles Hall 100 on campus.

Don't forget to turn your clocks back on Saturday night/Sunday morning! I am sure looking forward to actually seeing the sun rise before going in to work -- it's been coming up after 8 am for a while now, and it's pretty darn dark in the mornings. What will you do with your extra hour?

* * * * *

Edited to add one more good stuff! Bruce Springsteen has posted a free mp3 download on his official website as a Halloween treat. "A Night with the Jersey Devil" is a kick-ass ghost story blues thang. And the video that goes with it might be the coolest video Bruce has ever done. It's all intense and backwoods-creepy and stuff, and then these little stickman devils with guitars pop in now and then and just make me giggle. He must have had a blast making this thing. Do check it out if you think it sounds intriguing. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This broken, beautiful world

Today was one of those days that just breaks your heart with beauty. Blue sky, a distinct chill in the air, brilliant sun punctuated with interesting clouds, and the trees in their full autumnal glory.

This morning I met with poets (and friends) Dory Lynch and Shana Ritter to plan our reading, which takes place two weeks from tonight. (7:00 pm on November 8 at Rachael's Cafe in Bloomington, for anyone close enough to make the trip!) This will be the official release party for Breach, as well as for Dory's chapbook Praising Invisible Birds (out any day now from Finishing Line Press). We are also celebrating Shana's recently-awarded grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. Dory and Shana are both terrific poets and good people, and I am looking forward to what should be a very enjoyable reading.

After our meeting I went over to the Bakehouse, where I chatted with a couple of librarian friends for a little while, then settled in with a breakfast burrito and a cup of coffee (and another cup of coffee, and another...) and some poetry. I ended up drafting two new poems for my "rockstar" series, one of which has our fearless protagonist getting together with a groupie in a hotel room after the show. Yikes! I didn't know I was going to go there. Had to happen, though. *grin*

And after that, I went and voted. Early voting is still relatively new in Indiana, but it's been a very popular option this year. Lucky for me, when I arrived there was absolutely no line, and I was in & out in about fifteen minutes total -- though when I left there was a pretty good line beginning to develop. As I drove home I found myself remembering an evening a little over four years ago, when I made a point of watching the Democratic convention because I'd heard there was some young Senator from Illinois whose keynote speech was expected to be brilliant. It was, of course, and I was tremendously moved by it, and found myself wishing I could vote for him for something someday. And today, I did.

Now, I live in a very blue town nestled in a fairly red state. When I drive to work in the mornings I could almost imagine I've been plunked down in the middle of an Obama yard-sign factory outlet. Most years, Bloomington is very different from the rest of Indiana. But this year, Indiana's acting suspiciously like a swing state. At one point I saw a poll that showed Obama up by ten points here. TEN points! This is a state that normally gets called for the Republicans about five minutes after the polls close. I can't help feeling that if Indiana is even close, Obama has a very good chance of actually winning. I don't want to go farther than that for fear of jinxing it... but I will admit that today I kissed his name on my ballot, for good luck. (Stop laughing. It can't hurt!)

Barack Obama is not perfect. He can't single-handedly save the world. Nobody can. But I think he's the best chance we've had in a long time to elect somebody who will make our country and our world a better place to live. I think he knows how to get ordinary people involved in helping to make things better. I think he is intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, and compassionate. He has a kick-ass wife, a million-watt smile, and terrific taste in music.

If he wins he'll also be the first President to be younger than me. That's a little scary, huh? I can learn to live with it though. You betcha.

* * * * *

Small bit of good poetry news: my humorous poem "Relax with Song of the Whales" has been accepted by the very cool online journal Sea Stories. Don't know when it will be up, but I'll let y'all know.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

shamelessly self-promotional

The podcast of my "appearance" (does one actually appear on the radio, I wonder?) on "The Poets Weave" is now up. Download it on the Poets Weave podcast page. It's a five-minute show, and includes 3 poems: two from Breach and one newer poem -- "First Earthquake," my elegy for E Street Band organist/accordionist Danny Federici, who died this past April.

I'll stick a link over in the right-hand side of my blog pretty soon, too.

* * * * *

Speaking of Breach, poet Collin Kelley said some darn nice things about it over on his blog! Seriously, I got all blush-y when I read it, and I wasn't even having a hot flash. :) Also, I totally want to steal his phrase "harbingers and incidents."

I was sort of getting used to the fact that a few people had actually bought my chapbook, but for some reason it still surprises me just a little bit (in a good way!) when I find out somebody actually read the thing, much less that they actually liked it. Hee!

* * * * *

Looking over the AWP schedule... plenty of good stuff, but for the most part it looks like I won't be too overwhelmed in each time slot by fifteen different things I am just dying to attend. I probably overlooked a few, though. I will be there for sure, barring anything unforeseen like ice storms or plague of locusts.

I'm sort of wondering whether any other poet-bloggers want to throw together an informal late-night guerrilla reading? Poet-bloggers and friends? Round-robin format, so if there are a bunch of us you might only get to read a couple of poems but at least everyone will get to read something? Heck, if only a few folks are interested, I'll even host it in my room at the Hilton -- I probably wouldn't feel the need to boot y'all out until 2 a.m. or so. Bring a bottle of wine! :) I'm sure there will be larger and better spaces we could commandeer, as well. I'm sure I will say this again as we get closer to February, but if anyone does want to get together for a guerrilla reading -- or for a cup of coffee or a beer, or what-have-you -- drop me an email and we'll figure out how to coordinate things.

Yes, I am totally paranoid about AWP; I've never been before, and I have this fear that if I don't plan some stuff out ahead of time, I will end up drifting around the place aimlessly and never meeting anybody. Never mind that it's a conference full of poets and so there's no way in heck I will be the only shy, socially-backwards person there! *grin*

Looks like I will be attending the ALA conference for the first time next year as well (that's the American Library Association), which is also in Chicago. 2009: The Year Of Conferences. Hoo boy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ooh, shiny

The Five Women Poets reading last night went nicely, I think. The place was crowded and everybody seemed to be paying close attention. You can't ask for a whole lot more than that.

Today I found out the best way of curing post-performance letdown: drink a whole lot of coffee and write some new poems. This series I'm working on now really has my attention, though I've realized I need to learn more about sustaining a narrative, as it's starting to feel like a larger project than I'd originally anticipated. Yikes!

I'm going to post one of the new drafts from today, though this one may actually stay up for less than 24 hours. A little background: the main character (the lead singer) and the guitarist (who you've met already, if you've caught the last couple of drafts I've posted) have had a complicated, uneasy, but emotionally intimate relationship for years. The guitarist finally quits the band, which leads to all kinds of hard feelings on both sides and they mostly lose touch with one another. Eventually, the lead singer finds out that the guitarist is terminally ill, but doesn't get in touch or visit until it's almost too late -- which is where we come in. Also: the title refers to the curfew often imposed by a venue, specifying that the band has to finish by a certain time to avoid sending the union guys (stagehands and what-not) into overtime.


[gone]

* * * * *

Looks like pretty much everybody else in the world was one too, but I'm still pleased to note that my manuscript was a semi-finalist in one of the contests I sent it out to. Yeah, there were about a billion semi-finalists in this one, but at least that means it didn't get laughed out of the room, which is always nice.

bonus draft

Here's one of the poems I read at Rachael's Cafe last night. This is from my "rockstar" series; the two characters here are the same as the ones in the draft I posted a few days ago -- the speaker is the rockstar/main character, and the other person is the guitarist. The two of them have this ridiculously hot chemistry onstage but in their offstage life they don't talk about it. This poem finds them in the van, on the road from one gig to the next...

I'll take the draft down in a day or so, as usual.


[gone]

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weekend snippets

Good news on the work front: the radical revision of my job description came through the reclassification process with a higher level. This means that as of 11/1 I get a shiny new title (Libraries Web Site Editor), a professional staff classification rather than support staff, and a small raise. I am lucky to have a job that I mostly like, working with people I like (many of whom I would enjoy spending time with even if I weren't being paid to do so -- don't laugh, it's nothing to take for granted), and also lucky to be able to go home at the end of the day and leave my job behind in order to work on creative pursuits (lately, about equal parts writing-related and music-related).

* * * * *

Still have not figured out what I'm going to read at the Five Women Poets reading tomorrow night -- er, it's after midnight now, so I guess I should say "tonight." A couple of poems from Breach, for sure, but which ones? I'm more interested right now in my new series of poems (one of which was posted here for about a day earlier this week) -- heck, I drafted another one of the things today. I guess that's the problem with publishing chapbooks and books: by the time the thing comes out, your work has moved on, but people want you to read from the "new" collection. Well, I'll read a couple of the new poems anyway, if only to test out how they sound in a room with people listening.

Also, speaking of listening: just a reminder that I'll be on the radio Sunday at 11:46 am Eastern time! I'll put a link to the podcast in the sidebar of my blog when it's available, so don't break your neck getting up early to hear me. *grin*

* * * * *

Well, this certainly has been a "me me me" post, hasn't it? Ugh, sorry.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Book Awards finalists

The NBA finalists were named today. In poetry:

Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)

Complete list of finalists can be found on the National Book Foundation website.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Drafty in here.

I haven't posted a draft in a while. I wrote this during my dinner break yesterday (prior to working the late shift on the reference desk). It's part of the series I'm working on -- poems about a fictional rock musician. Some are in first person, some in third person, some in second person. I've got about 15 of them so far, taking the protagonist from about age 14 (playing guitar and having rockstar daydreams) to middle age (dealing with a long career in the music world, coping with the inevitable losses one faces in middle age, etc). It's different from anything I've worked on before, and I'm having fun with it.

Anyway, I'll take this down in a day or so. And I miiiiight read it, or a revision of it, at the Five Women Poets reading Saturday night. Or I might not. So.

[gone!]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Local notes

A couple items of interest primarily to Bloomingtonians (that's the real Bloomington, here in beautiful south-central Indiana, not those impostors in Minnesota and Illinois):

*** Copies of Breach are now available at Howard's Bookstore (on the downtown courthouse square) and Boxcar Books (in its new location next door to the Runcible Spoon). I dropped them off today on consignment and both shops seemed quite pleased to have them. Howard's was going to put one in their local authors section in the front window, and Boxcar put one on a little stand facing out. Nice. Support independent bookstores, because they support us! :)

*** The annual Five Women Poets reading is coming up a week from tonight! Saturday, October 18, 7:30 pm, at Rachael's Cafe on Third Street. Free admission, but do try to get a cup of coffee or a sandwich or a cup of soup or something to support the place. I'll have chapbooks available for sale. Readers will be: Antonia Matthew, Deborah Hutchison, Anya Peterson Royce, Leah Helen May, Patricia C. Coleman, and yours truly. (Yes, there are six members of Five Women Poets. We're poets, not mathematicians.)

*** Finally, I'll be on WFIU's weekly poetry show, The Poets Weave, twice in upcoming weeks: Sunday, October 19 and Sunday, November 9 (11:46 am Eastern Time). It's a five-minute show, and if you aren't local you can listen live online or you can download the podcast later. I am mostly reading from Breach, but the October 19 show also includes my elegy for Danny Federici, E Street Band keyboardist/accordionist, who died this past April. I hope some of y'all will listen in.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

cloud

I made a word cloud out of Breach over at http://wordle.net/. How cool is this? Note to self: cut way the heck back on similes next time around... good grief. Also, I am such a NON-morning person (seriously, you don't want to be around me until I've had some coffee) that I'm very surprised "morning" came out so much bigger than "night." :)

How it works is that the words that appear more frequently are bigger. If you go over to the Wordle site you can upload your own text -- and yes, it'll take an entire manuscript in there -- and create your own word cloud. You can change the fonts, colors, etc. and then do a screen capture to save it. Or if you have Windows Vista, there's a built-in "snipping tool" that works pretty well for stuff like this.

[Edited to add: Wordle also has a gallery of clouds people have created and chosen to save publicly. This one for Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run album is pretty cool!]

(Click on it to see it larger.)

quick quick

In today's mail:

1. A free sample Kashi cookie, with the return address "Cookie Fulfillment Center." Dude. I want to work at the Cookie Fulfillment Center. In fact, I want to LIVE in the Cookie Fulfillment Center.

2. Rebecca Loudon's shiny new book, Cadaver Dogs. Even better than a free cookie.

Also today, my poem is featured over on Rattle's website. (Thanks for the heads-up, Karen! I saw it this morning, but didn't have a chance to blog till now.)

* * * * *

I'll be missing the debate tonight as I will be getting all mavericky at a poetry-group meeting. Someone be sure & tell me if they say anything important, ok? [Edit: Doh!! I wrote down the wrong date on my calendar and poetry group isn't until next week. Now I need to find a new excuse to skip the debate, right? Oh, I'll probably watch... sigh... ]

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rambling, Reviews, Radio

I know, I know. I've been a bit under the weather, and a bit busy, and a bit distracted. Sometimes I think I'm trying to live about three different lives all at once. I am a Gemini, so you'd think I'd be used to that... *grin*

Insert standard "hey, I'm behind on email again" disclaimer here... I need to just take the laptop to the library or a coffeehouse or something and catch up without all the distractions that surround me at home! (you know -- cats, guitars, falling asleep on the couch...)

* * * * *

Breach continues to make its way out into the world. FYI, copies are still available from Finishing Line Press. I'm holding on to most of my author copies so I'll have something to sell at a couple of upcoming readings, but I'd be willing to sell or barter a few of those as well, if you'd rather get one from me than order from the press.

My mom forwarded me an email from a friend of hers to whom she sent a copy, saying she really enjoyed Beaches. I was amused. :)

A couple of reviews (reviewlets?) from bloggers with somewhat different takes on it:
I read Anne Haines' Breach. I enjoyed a number of the poems, including "Let X Equal..." and "Arrival". I very much appreciated the number of nonce forms that Haines used; the unexpected repetition (read: music) was wonderful.

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I felt it was too easy to see her real life in many of the poems. I know that's a detractor, for me, that I feel I can't inhabit in the poem, that there's no wiggle room for understanding. I wish I knew what to do with that. I wonder how I would have responded, had I not read her blog. (Had I not read her blog, I would not have read her book, so...)

Also, I was a little confused about the theme of the book. There was plenty of ocean imagery and many "breach" references and that tied a lot together but there were a number of poems with other topics that I couldn't fit in.

(from Mary Alexandra Agner)

A fair critique; a lot of my poems are "that kind of poetry" -- you know, the ones that look autobiographical even if they aren't so much (and I will say that some of the poems in the chapbook are more fictional than others). I recognize that that isn't everybody's cup of tea, for sure. As I've said before, I think I flunked irony and postmodernism. ;) And while I can point to a couple of recurring themes and the ways in which I think pretty much all the poems tie together, it's certainly not what you'd call a tightly-themed chapbook. (I'm working on one of those now, actually, and am enjoying a very different experience of the writing/composing process.) Thanks, Mary, for a thoughtful reading!
There's so much poetry out there that attempts the lyrical contemplation-of-life verse. And yes, while life does deserve contemplation, most of this type of poetry is not very good. (I'm also thinking of times when my students attempt lyrical verse -- they, too, stumble). So, it's more than just a relief when one finds a poet who is successful with lyrical poetry -- it's a great cause of celebration.

Yes, I am speaking directly of Anne Haines', fellow blogging comrade, and poet, new chapbook, Breach (recently published by Finishing Line Press). Anne tackles all the big "matters" of life without being condescending. Whether she pictures a narrator looking for whales the day before September 11, 2001, or she writes about love stories in foggy Provincetown, Anne succeeds to capture the mystery of life, without melodrama, without sentiment. My favorite poem is the honest, "Dx," a work that explores the world of a medical diagnosis: "You say that you live as if/you're dying, just in case/No, you die/as if you're living."

(from Karen J. Weyant)
Karen is the second person who's pointed to "Dx" as a favorite, which surprises me; it's a poem that didn't really stand out for me personally, but felt like it fit into the "dancing with boundaries" theme I was generally aiming for, so I included it. I think the thing I like about publication is the opportunity to step outside of your own feelings about your poems and try to look at them from other points of view, like a singer listening to her own recorded voice. Even if you don't get feedback or reviews, just looking at your own poems in a journal or a chapbook can make them feel like someone else's, in a weird way, and it's easier to be objective about them. Or a little bit objective anyway. Anyway -- thanks, Karen!

* * * * *

And thank you, Tina Fey. You've single-handedly made this election season bearable.

The debate sketch on tonight's SNL was absolutely dead-on. Brilliant. Besides of course Tina Fey's killer impersonation of Palin, they managed to portray Biden's response to the "same-sex benefits" question in such a way that, while, quoting his actual response almost verbatim, exposed the hypocrisy in the whole "we believe in equality but we don't support gay marriage nonono" position very nicely. You betcha!

* * * * *

“…to understand what happens at the edges – the most important thing there is in drawing – is everything. … When space is divided, the action is at the edge.” – artist Michael Mazur (interviewed in Provincetown Arts, 2008)

I think if I'd had that quote a year ago, it might have become the epigraph for Breach.

* * * * *

On Monday I'll be recording a few poems for the radio. I'll let y'all know what the airdates will be once I find out for sure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sightings in the wild

I've been getting reports from around the country of people receiving their copies of Breach. Woo hoo! You know what that means ... if people are receiving it, people actually ordered it -- most of whom are not my mother. Wacky! Getting little "hey, my copy arrived" notes from people feels kind of like getting letters home from the kid you sent off to school.

Because a couple of people have asked: if you ordered a copy and would like to have it signed, drop me a note and I'll give you my address -- send it to me and I'll sign it and send it right back. Or meet me at AWP in February. :)

Bear gives Breach a cat scan:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Notes from home

Back from a quick week in Provincetown with my family (celebrating a significant birthday for my mom and her twin sister). A little odd being there with family and not spending much time writing, but good to be there and to be able to introduce my family to my favorite little place on the planet. We rented a four-bedroom house just a couple of blocks from the Fine Arts Work Center -- and if anyone reading this is ever looking for a Provincetown rental in a quiet residential neighborhood for a group of 4-8, drop me a note and I'll give you the contact info, because this place was great: spacious, quiet, but just a short walk to Commercial Street. My favorite part was the rooftop deck, which offered a lovely view of the Pilgrim Monument and on which I sat under the full moon and wrote a bit. (Note: just because it's written by the light of a fat full Provincetown moon doesn't mean it's any good. But it was nice to scribble a little all the same.)

* * * * *

Chapbook note: there's been a bit of a further delay, for which I apologize (my fault). It should ship at the end of this week.

* * * * *

I'm not a baseball fan particularly, but tonight for the sake of history I am watching the last game in Yankee Stadium. Guitarist/songwriter Nils Lofgren and his wife Amy have written a song in honor of the stadium's demise, which you can download on Nils' website, along with his rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Grab it here -- Nils has some other stuff available for download that's worth the effort, too. The guy is a killer guitarist and I've heard he is a sweetheart as well (I always like knowing that about the musicians I enjoy, when it's true).

* * * * *

While I was gone, the remnants of Hurricane Ike blasted through, and the power at my house was out from Sunday afternoon through sometime Wednesday afternoon. I have a few limbs down in my yard, and lost a bunch of food from the refrigerator, but all things considered the damage was minimal -- especially compared to what folks in Texas had to deal with. Still, I am the only person I know who actually avoided hurricane-related unpleasantness by leaving the Midwest and going to the coast. Go figure, huh?

* * * * *

Of course, the other unpleasantness that blew through while I was gone was the economy going to hell in a handbasket (not that it wasn't headed there already). I'm pretty stupid about economics, but even I can see that things are one enormous mess. Here's hoping that when Obama gets elected, he'll be able to straighten things out, though I'm afraid the first year of the new administration is going to be rocky no matter what. Yes, I said "when" he gets elected, not "if" -- I'm a hopeless optimist, and also, I saw a poll that showed him leading in Indiana of all places. If we can go blue this year, anyone can. I hope.

* * * * *

While in Provincetown, I did a couple of the touristy things I'd always wanted to do but had never gotten around to: climbing the Pilgrim Monument (116 steps and 60 ramps to the top for a fantastic view), and going for a ride with Art's Dune Tours. We were going to do the sunset tour and clambake, but they cancelled the clambake part because it was too cold and windy and apparently normal people object to sitting on the beach to eat dinner with their hands turning blue and sand blowing into their melted butter. Who knew? It actually worked out great because we ended up at Napi's for dinner that night, where I had the most incredible duck with wild beach plum sauce.

On the dune tour, we got a peek at several of the dune shacks up there. I've been fascinated with these ever since I found out about them. There are a couple of them where you can actually get a short residency. Not sure I could handle it for more than a week (no internet! eek!), but I may start scheming about trying to manage a week up there in the next couple of years. I love that landscape, and the light, and the clear salty air, and the sound of the surf... it would be pretty amazing to spend some time there enjoying the solitude and doing some writing.

Photos don't do the landscape anything near justice, but here are some quick shots from the dune tour -- one of the dune shacks, and a couple of sunset at Race Point Beach. More on my Facebook.




Thursday, September 11, 2008

I got this guitar, and I learned how to make it talk

Yeah... I have been a bit of an absentee lately, here and elsewhere. There's been a lot going on, including the fact that I am super busy at work (beginning of the semester, new web site design, new head of our department, etc.); at home, I'm preparing for a short vacation/family reunion (my mom is celebrating a Significant Birthday and, coincidentally, so is her twin sister -- so a little gang of us is zipping out east and renting a house in Provincetown for a few days). And in all honesty, all I want to do is play my guitar all day and all night. It's like being seventeen again! I know that when you're seventeen there are other things you're not supposed to be able to keep your hands off of... but for me it was always my guitar.

Playing music again (as the musicians among you will understand) is incredibly good for my mental health. I can actually feel the difference in my body, that my bones and muscles are happier with music in them. And there's nothing like playing music to give you the experience of being completely in the moment, completely present, which is something that's too easy to forget (at least for someone who spends a lot of time living in her head).

And some of the technique is coming back a lot faster than I expected it would after so many years of neglect. Muscle memory, I guess! I'm still not any good, but for once in my life that is OK with me. I am doing this purely for my own enjoyment, not with any thoughts of taking it public or professionalizing it or even performing in coffeehouses now and then. I'm not a particularly ambitious person, but when it comes to creative work, it's hard for me to let myself just bash away at something for fun -- and yet that's the healthiest thing in the world for me, helps me remember how to demolish some of the internal censors and editors that sometimes keep me from doing my best work in other creative areas. Like, you know, that poetry stuff I'm supposed to be all about. (Ahem.)

And, of course, I'm still on a huge Bruce Springsteen kick. After the amazing shows I saw in August, I may be on that kick for quite a while. I'm still trying to put a finger on just what it is about his music (and performances) I love so much. Part of it is the complete lack of irony, the unashamed embrace of primal emotions -- joy, grief, love, rage -- someone I know went to his show in Indianapolis last spring and commented that so many bands and audiences these days, especially younger ones, are all about being cool and detached, and it was fun to see people actually jumping around pumping their fists in the air like fools and not caring. So there's that. I'm not very good at being ironic and detached, myself -- I think I actually flunked out of PoMo 101 -- and it's reassuring to me to witness art that successfully (in my opinion anyway) navigates the big emotions, the big ideas, the sweep and uproar and glorious bombast of it all.

Yes, I just called rock & roll "art." Shut up. :)

So I feel like all of this is still settling in. I went away from poetry for a few years back there, and when it came back it was better than ever; I've been away from playing music for much longer than I was away from poetry, so we'll see what happens with that. I would like it if the music served to inform the poetry, and I think that will happen to some extent. I would also like it if the days suddenly stretched out to 48 hours apiece, because there's just too much music and poetry and reading and listening and playing and writing and ... yeah. I'll just be over here getting too far behind on everything, if anybody needs me. Rock on.


Monday, September 01, 2008

My new girl

I know, I haven't been around here much. I have an excuse. Her name is Sophie, and I'm head over heels in love. I can't keep my hands off her.

She's a 2002 Fender Stratocaster. Basically, this is the guitar I daydreamed about near-constantly when I was 17 years old.

If this is a manifestation of my midlife crisis ... at least it's cheaper than a sports car. *grin*

Playing guitar is something that was absolutely central to my identity in my teens and early twenties, and off & on through my early thirties. I really haven't touched it in 10-15 years or so, though. But after the great, great Springsteen concerts I witnessed last week, I found myself absolutely inspired. I put new strings on my old Ovation acoustic and it felt really good to play, and then I decided to go shopping ... and Sophie's the result.

I had an electric guitar in high school, a little Gibson Melody Maker. I sold it when I was getting ready to go to college and needed money in a bad way; that's been one of my few real regrets in life. Now, almost 30 years later, I own an electric guitar again. Full circle.

Truth is, the years when I played guitar all the time were also a time when I wrote and wrote and wrote. So I'm hoping this will help me break through some creative roadblocks in my writing life, or give me some new ideas at least, as well as giving me another creative outlet to enjoy. I have no illusions of ever getting good enough to play for other people -- unlike the writing, the music is something I'm doing purely for myself at this point.

And it feels good. It feels soooooooooooooo good.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Road Notes from the E Street Nation

I am home after a Grand Adventure. I drove 1350 miles in a rental car and saw Bruce Springsteen perform in Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City. All three shows were wonderful; St. Louis was probably the best concert I have ever seen by anyone, ever. (Some people who've seen 50+ Springsteen shows over 30+ years are declaring St. Louis to be at least in their top five.) He played for just under 3 hours in Nashville and over 3 hours in the other cities. And when I say "he played" I do not mean that he came out on stage and sat there while the band did stuff, or that he came out and sang for a while then declared an intermission and took a break. No. These shows were relentless. It was incredible.

I feel like this little trip has changed my life in some way, although I have yet to put my finger on just how.

I met a lot of really nice people at the shows. Many dedicated Springsteen fans refer to themselves as the "E Street Nation" and, cheesey as it may be, there is something to that. There is a real community feeling, a pool of shared imagery and shared experiences. There is, often, a sense of the need to take care of one another; there are always charity efforts going on (in KC a group of fans put together a raffle and raised $1100 for a local food bank, an effort which garnered onstage thanks from Bruce himself), and many fans take care to watch out for one another on the general-admission floor -- you get out there a couple hours before the show starts, and if you've come alone, it's pretty easy to get someone to hold your spot for you while you dash to the restroom or get a drink of water. One of the people I met emailed me to make sure I'd made it home safely.

There are a lot of things I want to write about, after this trip. It's going to take me a few days to wrap my mind around it all. It was about the music (and oh, how I need to remember that music is what saves my soul, over and over again) but it was about much more than that.

Kansas City was the last official show of the "Magic" tour. (The band is playing at HarleyFest in Milwaukee this Saturday night, but it may not be a full set, as there's an opening act and stuff. And Bruce himself said that KC was the last night of the tour.) There was a definite farewell feeling to it. A bunch of fans had made up small (just sheet of paper size) signs that simply said "Thank you!" on them, and coordinated a moment at the end of the show to hold them up; Bruce and the band were clearly very touched by this and it was such a sweet moment. (After all these years, you'd think it would come as no surprise, how we feel about this band. You'd think they would start to take it for granted. But I really don't think they do, and that's why it's so magical.)

The first encore began with "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," dedicated to Danny Federici -- the E Street Band organist/accordionist who died of melanoma this past April -- and to Terry Magovern, Bruce's personal assistant and close friend who died just over a year ago. I wept through the whole thing. It's been a long tour for this band, punctuated by too many funerals. It's not the same band it was a year ago when they kicked this thing off. It's not the same world it was a year ago. I can't imagine how exhausted they must be, physically and emotionally. And yet they gave us their absolute all, night after night after night. Just amazing.

For the final encore, Bruce sang a sweet, tender version of "Save the Last Dance for Me" -- not a song that's normally found on their setlist -- that roared into a loose, rollicking rendition of "Dancing in the Dark" and then a purely celebratory "Rockin' All Over the World." And then one final bow, as Bruce thanked us for supporting the tour, supporting the "Magic" album, and supporting the music for all these years. He thanked the E Street Nation by name, and for some reason that was tremendously touching to me.

The last few shows of this tour have been just off the hook, insanely good. They were added sort of at the last minute, and people have wondered why. I have a theory, now. You know how, when you're about to leave on a long journey, you make sure you tell the people you love that you love them? Just in case something happens? Well, I think that after the losses they've suffered in the past year or so, Bruce and the band are keenly aware that there are no guarantees. I think they have every intention of touring again -- I don't think this is the end of the E Street Band. But these guys are in their fifties and sixties, and nobody lives forever, not even Bruce Springsteen. And I think that these shows have been a little love letter to the E Street Nation ... just in case.

I hope they know we love them, too.


It seems so cheesey to be saying these things, talking about "love" in the context of a rock & roll band. I sound like such an over the moon fangirl. Of course I don't know Bruce personally, or any of the band members, and probably will never even meet any of them. But there is such a sense of love in that community and in that room when they are playing. I mean, most of those guys have been working together for 35 years or more. The love among them is visible onstage and it's such a strong thing. I know, I know, it's part of the mythos they've developed, and it's part of their job to be entertainers and look like they're enjoying themselves. But you can NOT fake what they do & what they have. You can't fake that much fun and that kind of brotherhood. And it's contagious. I know that this band & this music has made me a stronger, braver, better person in the 30+ years (eek) I've been listening to them.

Well, I didn't intend for this blog post to veer so far over into a pure declaration of fandom. Oh well. Them's the breaks. I'll talk about poetry again sometime soon, I'm sure. :) I've got some writing (and maybe even some poems) percolating in my head after this little road trip. For now, I'm just struggling with the return to the "real world" after the Summer Vacation to the E Street Nation.

(For setlists and full reviews, check out the best source for all things Springsteen: backstreets.com)

(P.S. As a result of this little trip, I'm way behind on every-freaking-thing again. I owe some of you email! I will get to it over the next couple of days. I had my laptop with me, but as soon as I got out on the road, it was like nothing mattered but the shows, and even when I had time in the hotel room during the day before a show, I was just sort of pacing around waiting until it was time to go over to the arena. Sigh. Now I know, just a little bit, how touring musicians feel... )

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Super quick notes

Last night's Springsteen show (2nd of the 3 I'm chasing) was nothing short of jaw-dropping. I didn't have the amazing spot I had in Nashville (right up front with one person between me and the stage), but I had a pretty nice spot fairly close where I could see just about everything; I've always hesitated to go for general-admission tickets because I'm 5 foot 1 and figured I'd just end up staring at some six-footer's back, but both nights it has worked out well. (For Kansas City, my sister & her husband are driving out and we have reserved seats. I'm going to feel like we are verrrrrry far away, sigh.)

Bruce was about as happy as I've ever seen him on stage. He always seems to love performing; yes, as an entertainer it's his job to make it look like he's having a good time even if he's not, but folks, you can't fake that much fun. Last night he was positively radiant! And some nights, you just can't drag that boy off the stage. After the usual encore set, he's been adding on a bonus second encore pretty frequently, generally just one song. Last night he played two songs in that spot, and after the band took more bows, there was yet one more! They ended with "Twist & Shout," which is the same way the very first Springsteen show I ever saw ended... back in 1978. Wow. All in all this show was about 20 minutes longer than Nashville, clocking in at a sweet 3 hours and 15 minutes. For a guy who's pushing sixty, and a bunch of band members around the same age, that is amazing. And no, they don't take an intermission. Not a lot of "stand there and talk to introduce the song" breaks either. His shows these days are relentless.

His guitar players (Little Steven Van Zandt -- yes, the guy from The Sopranos; he was in the E Street Band long before he was on TV -- and Nils Lofgren) have been absolutely on fire both in Nashville and St. Louis. They both tore the roof off the place last night. Steve's solo on "Gypsy Biker" might be the best I've ever seen him do. Just incredible.

The other thing I want to say is that if you're ever looking for a moderately priced hotel in downtown St. Louis, the Drury Inn at Union Station is highly recommended. The room is well-appointed, clean, and comfortable; the amenities are great (and I didn't even get to take advantage of the evening reception where you get up to 3 free alcoholic drinks!), and the staff has been very helpful and professional. Also, the breakfast buffet is huge, with pastries, sausage, scrambled eggs, french toast, make your own waffles, decent coffee, and lots of other stuff. Not the cheapest hotel I've ever stayed in, but quite reasonable, and just very nice.

Tonight: Goin' to Kansas City!

Oh, and Friday night when I got here I met up with Julie and Laine, who showed me a bit of St. Louis. Beer, a used bookstore, dinner, and gelato. Yes, that covers the bases of almost all my favorite vices right there. Thanks, guys! :)

P.S. After 3+ hours of singing along, whooping, and "Bruuuuuuuuce!"-ing, I have almost no voice. I sound like a cross between Mickey Mouse, a gravel road, and a mime. I don't know how Bruce does it without ripping up his voice every night... I guess that's called "actually knowing how to sing." *grin*

Friday, August 22, 2008

Quick rockin' notes

Sorry I've been a blog-absentee lately! Things have been fairly nuts.

I am on my "chase Bruce Springsteen around the south/midwest" road trip... last night was the show in Nashville, Sat. night is St. Louis, Sunday is Kansas City. Last night's show was possibly the best concert I have ever seen in my life (and since the previous holder of that title was Bruce's show in 1978, that is definitely saying something). The setlist rocked, the band was incredibly loose and playful, and I had only one person between me and the stage (and that person was about my height, so I wasn't looking at the back of some six foot dude all evening). I was over towards the right (audience's right) of the stage, and could see Bruce most of the time, and had a particularly good view of guitarist Steve Van Zandt -- who I am quite certain grinned right at me more than once. (Okay, I was sort of uncontrollably playing air guitar now and then and I'm sure it was quite amusing. Ahem. Stop laughing at me.)

This morning my voice is shot from singing and cheering and whooping and "Bruuuuuuce"-ing, and I have a big grin on my face that ain't going away for a while, I'm sure. I met up with a librarian friend for breakfast and she gave me a tour of the Nashville public library, which is really gorgeous! So I have indulged the rocker-chick side of me and the librarian-nerd side of me all in one trip. If I could just take in a poetry reading and pet some kittens, all my bases would be covered. *grin*

Time to shut down the laptop and head on to St. Louis, where I will be meeting up with the fabulous Julie & Laine for dinner tonight! You guys, this is the best road trip ever. I am so happy and having so much fun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

AWP hotel heads-up

Hey, everyone who's going to AWP in February -- for some reason I thought to check the Hilton website tonight and lo & behold, the only non-smoking rooms left at the lowest price level (which is still more than I make in a day, sigh...) are rooms with one double bed. If you're going, and planning to stay at the Hilton, it might be prudent to go ahead and book now, or soon.

I'm sure there will be cancellations, and rooms with a king or two doubles will probably open up. But I'm a low-risk kind of gal, so I booked my room tonight just to be safe.

There are probably cheaper places to stay nearby, but I decided it's worth at least 20 bucks a night NOT to have to go outside in a Chicago winter. :) The Hilton charges a ridiculous amount for parking, so I'm going to drive to my mom's in northern Indiana, leave the car there, and take the train into Chicago. Should work fine. I may decide to forego paying for wi-fi in my room to save a few bucks -- maybe some nice poet who's less broke than I am will let me bring my laptop into their room and sponge off theirs for a few minutes a day if I ask real nicely. ;)

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RIP Isaac Hayes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Available for weddings, bar mitzvahs...

... exorcisms, tent revivals, rummage sales, protest marches ...

No, seriously. Now that my chapbook is due out in a month (and I have galleys in hand which makes it seem real), I am definitely seeking reading opportunities. I don't know that posting it here will necessarily garner any, but it can't hurt either! So if you are looking for a not-so-young but up-and-coming (heh) poet to do a reading, workshop, Q&A, or anything else poet-ish, drop me a note! I am happy to travel so long as my expenses get covered.

I will also gladly accept any tips about bookstores, reading series, etc. that might be interested in booking me. I've done lots of readings locally, and I think it's time for me to try expanding beyond my little neck of the woods.

For those of you who've done a lot of readings: have you put together a press kit to send out? If so, do you find that it helps?

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One of my poetry groups met yesterday afternoon, out at the home of one of our members who lives a little ways outside of town. It was an absolutely gorgeous day (as was today), so we sat outside enjoying the fresh air and watching birds -- more than a dozen soaring vultures, a hummingbird, a dainty little gnatcatcher, a red-headed woodpecker, etc. It made me wish I had the wherewithal to move out in the country a bit myself. So nice to look out your window and see nothing but green trees & fields & wildlife, and the neighbor's horses across the fence, instead of seeing into your next door neighbor's kitchen window. I'd love to open my windows & hear birds instead of hearing ambulances roaring down the busy street that intersects mine a couple houses down from me. Maybe someday.

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Despite myself, I found myself glued to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night. Wherever you stand on China's politics, you have to admit it was a spectacular spectacle. Really beautifully choreographed and performed, and the ceremony put technology to very good use. Plus, best fireworks display ever!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Chapbook update and a something

Chapbook update: Finishing Line Press is running a bit behind. For those of you who ordered a copy of Breach, you can now expect it to ship around September 12. Sorry about that!

The good news is that there were enough pre-orders to justify a larger press run. So I'll get 50 author copies, and the press run will be 500. Whee! I'll be able to get at least a couple of local bookstores to stock it, and I'll have copies to sell at readings. Oh, and I know of at least two libraries that have ordered it. That part makes me extra happy. I feel like once your words are safely on the shelf in a good library, in a way, you're going to live forever.

I know, I'm a nerd. Deal with it. :)

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Here's a drafty something for you. I'll leave it up for a day or so. This is from the series I mentioned in my previous post.


[--gone. I think it ran away to join the circus.]

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Boots

Perhaps because finishing up (inasmuch as something I expect to continue tweaking for another year or two is "finished") my book manuscript has freed me from my usual constraints and expectations, I find myself working on something entirely new for me: a series of poems about a fictional persona, whose life story (from about age 14 to about age 50) I've been exploring. Some of the poems are in third person, many are in second person, and a few are in first person; some of the first-person poems are in the voice of the main character and some are in the voice of someone else, either addressing or thinking about the main character. There is an ongoing story or narrative involved, though the poems function as a series of scattered vignettes rather than anything quite as organized as a novel-in-verse; I'm interested in opening up windows on various moments of my character's life, peering in, and then moving on to the next. So far I have about a dozen poems in various stages of draft, and there will be more (though who knows how many of them will end up feeling strong enough to send them out into the world). I have no idea whether they're going to end up being arranged chronologically, though I suspect they may, more or less.

This is way more narrative than I'm used to juggling! It is an interesting challenge for me. Even though many of the individual poems function on the lyric as much as (or even more than) the narrative level, the overall trajectory relies heavily on things like character, setting, exposition, and the passage of time. As I draft the poems, some of them are coming out really prosey -- or what feels to me like "prosey" anyway. Which means they feel flat in places, overly expository. Anyone have tricks for revising drafts that start out like this? I want them to be poems, not jumpy little stories with line breaks!

These are fun to write, though. I feel like I get to play dress-up a bit. And my character has some damned cool boots. :)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ain't no cure

The Boss & crew in New Jersey:
Springsteen performs Summertime Blues



[Review of Night 3 of Springsteen's 3-night Giants Stadium stand, here.]

Three weeks from tonight I'll be in the midst of a small road trip, chasing this guy around the midwest(-ish). I'll be getting to shows in Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City -- three shows in four nights. It's not that much of a road trip by some people's standards, but for someone who's never driven more than a couple of hours for a concert before, it's fairly monumental. I anticipate exhaustion and a very, very good time. (I have general admission, standing-room tickets for Nashville and STL. Springsteen's shows run three hours or so, plus standing and waiting before the show. When I say exhaustion, I mean it! It will be so worth it, though.)

I've always had romantic daydreams about jumping in the car and chasing rock stars around the country, but never have done it before. This will be small-scale as those things go, but should be a nice way to close out my summer anyhow. I've been working on a set of rock & roll-inspired poems, so with any luck, the trip will serve double duty as vacation & inspiration.

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately. Life gets in the way sometimes, you know. Should have my head above water a bit more very soon.