Monday, November 24, 2008


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.

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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.

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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. :)

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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!

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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.

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"... 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.

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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.


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.


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, here. However, unless you feel an obligation to support, 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.

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

Saturday, November 08, 2008


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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.