Saturday, October 23, 2010

Photographic evidence

After some 35 years of being a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, I finally got to meet one of 'em. I didn't include this pic in my concert-review post because ... well, just because. But I'm enough of a googly-eyed fangirl to post it, so... here's Max and me. :) (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out which one is the famous rockstar drummer and which is the doofy fangirl.)

Concert Review: Max Weinberg Big Band

The Max Weinberg Big Band at the Jazz Kitchen, Indianapolis IN, 10-20-2010

Ask any E Street Band member, according to Max Weinberg, about Indianapolis and they will tell you a story from the 1978 Darkness tour. Apparently the soundcheck finished early and the band headed over to a local, um, entertainment club for gentlemen – the Red Garter – for some relaxation. Clarence Clemons, being as Max phrased it “a man of varied interests,” befriended (I think that’s what you call it) several of the strippers there and, unbeknownst to the rest of the band, not only invited them to the show – but invited them onstage for what was surely one of the most memorable renditions of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” in E Street history.

It must have been memorable, because Max recounted the story during both of his Max Weinberg Big Band shows at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis this week – adding that he laughed his butt off as Clarence played directly to the strippers as if the rest of the band weren’t even there. No such shenanigans ensued at the Jazz Kitchen, though; just a high-energy, thoroughly entertaining big band show.

Of course, this was a much smaller venue than anything the Springsteen/E Street outfit ever plays, despite the fact that there were fifteen guys onstage – five saxes, three trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, and drums. Such a small venue, in fact, that those of us at the front tables had to be grateful that the saxes were in the front row and not the trombones! I was fortunate enough to have tickets for both the sold-out early show and the nearly-sold-out late show, and what a fun evening it was. Some highlights:

  • Max seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He seemed relaxed and happy as he introduced songs, sometimes giving a little bit of musical history or joking around a bit (don’t worry, Conan – your job is in no danger). He played with joy, sometimes looking almost like an excited little boy behind the drums, sometimes concentrating intensely, sometimes exchanging glances with various band members or directing them with a nod. Totally Irrelevant Fashion Note: If recent pix I’ve seen of Jay are any indication, this may be the first time that Max’s hair has been longer than his son’s.
  • The setlist was nicely varied – everything from crime show theme songs (apparently a bit of a specialty for Max) to tunes like “The Kid From Red Bank” to the Sinatra tribute “Only the Lonely” and the smokin’ hot Buddy Rich-inspired “Parthenia,” with stops along the way for a Beatles medley (“Help,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” and – a high-octane highlight – “Kansas City”) and, closing out each set, a Springsteen cover (“Kitty’s Back” for the early set, “Born to Run” for the late show). While Max took the opportunity to showcase some subtlety and versatility in his own playing that he doesn’t often get to deploy with “that other band I play with,” it wasn’t a drum-solo fest by any means. Each of the band members had a chance to shine, and Max was generous with the spotlight, making sure to introduce all of the guys by name at least a couple of times.
  • And what a great band it was, versatile and energetic. Musical highlights included a “duel” between two of the sax players during “Rat Race,” a fantastic trumpet solo during “Kansas City,” and pretty much every note played by the phenomenal young bass player Carlitos del Puerto. Second only to Max, del Puerto looked like he was having the most fun up there, his face occasionally breaking into a grin of pure delight as he kept an eagle eye trained on Max’s beat.
  • The two Springsteen covers – both arranged by one of the trumpet players – were very interesting. “Kitty’s Back” worked incredibly well as a big-band number and suited the band to a tee. It’s almost as if the song had been intended to be heard this way from the start. “Born to Run,” on the other hand, felt more like a big-band tribute to the original. It was a lot of fun, and got the audience thoroughly engaged; and it was thrilling to watch Max’s drum work on this classic from just a few feet away. (And, as Max pointed out, the arrangement got a nod of approval from Bruce when he heard it on the radio a while back.) But it didn’t feel as revelatory as “Kitty” did.
  • I’m glad I was able to attend both shows. The early show was terrific, with “Kitty’s Back” being a particular highlight. The late show was considerably looser (Max mentioned that during the break they’d learned that the Jazz Kitchen serves “generous” drinks, which may have contributed to the looseness), with Max escalating the force and velocity of his drumming to E Street proportions at least once or twice. Several tunes were repeated from one set to the next, including “Parthenia” and the Beatles medley, but there was enough variation to make it well worth buying tickets for both.
  • Max mentioned from the stage that the MWBB would be the house band at the upcoming “Stand Up for Heroes” show (featuring Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld, and some guy named Springsteen on the bill). Should be a fun evening for those who can splurge on tickets for this worthwhile benefit.
  • He also mentioned his recent heart surgery, assuring the crowd that he is now in excellent health (and to this untrained eye he appeared to be fitter than ever; I overheard him telling a fan afterwards that his doctor had estimated he can expect to live another 35 years).
  • And he even promised, from the stage, that “that other band I play with” would be coming back around “sooner rather than much later” – estimating that it would be in 2012, and assuring us that Indianapolis would surely be on the schedule. (Not that we Hoosiers should hold our breaths till we turn blue or anything, but Bruce, if you’re reading this, the Red Garter is ready and waiting for you!)
  • A note about the venue. This was my first visit to the Jazz Kitchen, and it won’t be the last. In addition to being a fine music venue – you gotta love a place with placards on the tables requesting no talking during the music! – it more than holds its own as a restaurant. I had the “not so Cajun” chicken, which was spicy and delicious, and a decadent brownie dessert. Even with a packed house, the service was excellent – my water glass and coffee cup were never empty. I was glad I’d decided to go early enough to enjoy a leisurely dinner before the show started.

If you have the opportunity to catch the Max Weinberg Big Band, by all means do so! Expect a high-energy show, though don’t expect an encore (after the late show several members of the audience were calling for an encore and I noted a couple of the band members muttering “no!” and hurrying one another off the stage). And expect Max to be very accessible to fans after the show; I’ve heard that he is making a point of doing so throughout this tour, and in Indy he was more than happy to accommodate requests for autographs, photos, handshakes, and chatting after both sets. (Fangirl note: I’ve been listening to the E Street Band since 1975, but living in the Midwest doesn’t give one as many “meet and greet” opportunities as one may find elsewhere. Thus, this was my first chance to meet and speak with any of the band members. Certainly it was secondary to the great music I’d enjoyed, but getting to meet Max, exchange a few words, and get a photo with him made me a pretty darned happy fangirl – I’ll admit it.)

A truly fun evening all around.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I haven't posted a poem draft here in a long time. Haven't been drafting that many poems, truth be told. I'm going to post this even though it's a first draft, just for shits & giggles, and I'll take it down in a day or so (even though I'm not sure this blog has many readers anymore).

[snippety snip]

Monday, October 18, 2010


Yes, I've been gone again. I hope to catch up with everyone's blogs soon. (Well, not EVERYone's. But yours. Certainly.)

But look! I brought show and tell!

Meet Tamarin. Yep, a few minutes after this picture was taken, she came home with me. She was 9 weeks old at the time, two weeks ago.

See, a co-worker (M.) had started feeding this skinny stray cat, who turned up pregnant. M. took her to the vet, who confirmed that kitty was a) probably only about a year old, if that; b) terribly malnourished; c) FeLV and FIV negative, and d) pregnant. (We think she was probably adopted by a student last fall when she was a cute kitten and then abandoned in May.) M. took her in, over the objections of her existing two cats, and kitty proceeded to pop out TEN kittens. One of them only made it a couple of weeks, but between mama cat's nursing and M.'s bottle feeding, nine of them were healthy and happy and eventually ready to be adopted.

I went over when they were 8 weeks old - you know, because who can resist a "come over and play with a bunch of kittens!" invitation? Truth be told, I'd resisted that invitation for a few weeks, because I knew it would be hard to resist bringing one home. By the time I visited, most of them were spoken for, so it felt a little safer.

These were, as it turns out, about the healthiest and best-socialized little kittens I had ever seen. They had the dual advantage of being nursed by a very good mamacat AND being bottle-fed and hand-raised by a very good foster-human, so they had that fearless, "of course everybody is my friend" confidence that some kittens have. When they ventured out into the living room where M.'s older cats were still seriously p.o.'d about their home being invaded by the little beasties, the kittens just blinked and went about their business. I knew one of 'em could definitely hold its own with my two ginormous bigcats.

Normally when you bring home a new cat it takes a few days, at least, for the existing cats to adapt and get over it. So it didn't alarm me when Bear and Lotus did some hissing the first night and into the next day. But 24 hours after bringing her home, Lotus and Tamarin (she's named after a type of small adorable monkey, which suits her) started negotiating the rules of play and were playing tag and hide-and-seek and Kittianapolis 500 in short order. Bear doesn't spend as much time rocketing around the house with her as Lotus does, but he's quite pleased with her as well, and will sit there patiently while she pounces on his plumey tail over and over and over.

Bear and Lotus are so good with her:

And me? I'm smitten. How could I not be?

So that's what I've been up to. I have some new (completely non-kitten-related) poem drafts, too, and maybe I'll post one here in the next day or two (leaving it up for 24 hours or so - so keep an eye out if you're interested).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Season of failing light

So there was the trip to Cleveland, which I've mentioned. Then there was a longweekend of running up to Mom's. Then there was the first week of classes and the accompanying realization that summer is over. Then there was a work week dominated by talking with candidates for a brand-new position as head of our department.

Frankly, I'm worn out. I want to do this for about a week:

The work stuff has been good - the candidates our search committee brought in were very smart people and it was fun talking to them, and the process kind of reinvigorated me about my job a bit, the way talking to people with ideas often can - but to be honest I'm not used to being so emotionally invested in my job. I love my job, don't get me wrong - it is work that I believe in, that I care about, and that I'm sometimes pretty good at - but a couple of super busy work weeks don't usually drain me to the point that I collapse on the couch in front of the U.S. Open and am too tired to get up even when someone bangs on my front door, which is what happened this evening. (I'm going to assume it was somebody with some kind of a petition, or else Mormons. It's usually one of those.)

No wonder I'm not writing much right now. It's not so much that it takes enormous amounts of time to write poems, but (for me anyway) it takes emotional and intellectual focus. It takes my full attention and a level of energy that I can't muster up right now.

It'll be back. I know that.

Here's where I was two years ago:

I miss the ocean sometimes. I do have some good concerts to look forward to, though - Shawn Colvin at the end of this month, John Mellencamp's first hometown show in a decade next month, and (providing I manage to buy tickets) the Max Weinberg Big Band up in Indianapolis next month. As always - music, even just the thought of looking forward to music, revives me.

Lastly, a poem. I forget who posted this on Twitter or Facebook a while back, but whoever it was, thanks. I'm not sure why I love this poem, but I do. It came from the Vermont Studio Center's website.

The Miniature Bed

A miniature bed, and in it two tiny people
not sleeping, not able to sleep because
a small lie has flowered between them,
fragile as a new, white crocus.
The miniature bed holds them like a miniature boat
making its slow, true course to morning.
These tiny people, thoughts thrumming like mice,
are quiet as the lie blooms luminous
over them in the night, fanning its moth petals,
becoming to them like a moon hovering
over their bed, a moon they might almost touch
with their miniature hands, if they weren’t certain
that one wrong gesture might break
the spindles of their small world, if their hearts
were not drops of trembling quicksilver,
if they were brave, if they could see
that small is no smaller than big, that thimbles
are deep as oceans for any god, they might even
touch each other then, opening the dark,
like a match the sun’s flaring.

-Jenny George

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Yes, before everyone asks, I did see the Emmy Awards opening number tonight - Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, the cast of "Glee," et al. doing "Born to Run." Video is posted over at Blogness on the Edge of Town, if your life won't be complete without seeing it... it was, well, weird.

In other linkage:

Nice interview with Catherine Bowman over at the IU News Room, about her creative process (always a favorite topic of mine).

Shameless self-promotion: the Winter 2010 issue of the Tipton Poetry Journal is now online, including a poem of mine.

How to make the Bruce Springsteen fan community collectively squeal like little girls - announce a huge, lavish, amazing-sounding "Darkness on the Edge of Town" box set, coming out in November. The documentary and the accompanying 80-page book (!) look like they will reveal a lot about Springsteen's creative process (see? we have a theme going on here!) around the album. Even if you're only a casual Bruce fan, check out the trailer for the documentary. "Words all over the place." Hee!

Bruce Springsteen - "The Promise: The Making of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'" Sneak Peek from Columbia Records on Vimeo.

Finally, something I saw on a light pole downtown today. If this doesn't break your heart a little bit, maybe you don't have one.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Notes from the Rock Hall 2: Music and Lyrics

So, you don't have to know me very long to learn that I love music. Whether it's a lovely cello recital by Yo-Yo Ma, an evening with a legitimate guitar god, or a road trip across the Midwest to experience the glorious roar that is a Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band concert, there is pretty much nothing I love more than music - preferably live.

My recent trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was such a feast of memories for me. Everything from the Beatles memorabilia (the Beatles being the first rock band I really fell in love with) to the audio stations where you could listen to little snippets from various influential radio DJ's of past decades (and I remembered secretly listening to my little transistor radio late into the night when I was supposed to be asleep, sometimes pulling in stations from far-off mysterious cities like Chicago) to the extensive artifact-driven exhibit tracing Bruce Springsteen's history, I was reminded over and over of the hours I spent immersed in music as a teenager. Bruce sings "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school..." and it's true, you learn so much from anything you immerse yourself in like that, it marks you forever. Some of the guitar licks I've listened to a million times have probably managed to sink into my bones and change the actual way that I walk. (My poem in the new issue of New Madrid, "The Roar the Day After," is about being in high school and the way that music just doesn't leave your head and you walk around in it all day.)

But I realized more than anything, especially as I pored over the handwritten lyrics of a bunch of different artists, how that immersion in music is what made a poet out of me. I say that instinctively, but what does it mean? Well, rock & roll gives you permission to obsess, for one thing - to listen over and over, to pick apart the little nuances, to explore the same damn theme over and over (how many love songs are there anyway?) - and I don't think you can be a poet without understanding obsession on some level. At least I can't.

And, the songs gave me little templates to follow. Yeah, a lot of what I wrote in high school was intended as song lyrics, but even when I moved past that, the music had taught me something about sound and rhythm that I would never have understood had I spent the same amount of time strictly counting iambs or whatever. The sound and rhythm gave me a template, but they also gave me enough freedom to deviate where necessary; instead of slavishly sticking to "da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM" I had something more fluid to work with, something that felt alive. And even when I moved past writing verse-chorus-verse songs and started writing poems, music gave me a sense of structure: understanding how you move from the beginning of something to the end, how you can tell a story even while you loop back and repeat yourself now and then, and how the same words and lines repeated can carry different intent and resonance depending on where they fall in the structure of the thing - look at how the last chorus of a song can have an entirely different feeling from the first instance of the chorus, depending on where the song has gone in between times.

The music gave me, too, an instinctive understanding of how different sounds convey different kinds of meaning. How a staccato line of short syllables and lots of consonants has an entirely different emotional weight and resonance than a slow line with vowel sounds that are crooned and sustained. That's equally true in music and in poetry.

Now, I'm not going to make a case for song lyrics being poetry. Maybe sometimes they are, but I think 99% of the time they are different beasts entirely (which is why I think a lot of "poems set to music" fail). Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan - all of them write wonderful images and tell great stories, and the lyrics are often worth studying and thinking about and considering possible interpretations. And a few of the musicians I love are legitimate poets and/or writers; Patti Smith was a published poet before she became a musician, and Rosanne Cash was writing well before she took up music (though she didn't publish extensively until she'd become known as a musician - her collection of short stories Bodies of Water is worth picking up, and I've just started reading her brand-new memoir, Composed, which is beautifully written).

But songs are not poems. To say this is not to take anything away from them; the lyrics aren't any less masterful for being songs and not poems. You can read the lyrics on paper, but that's like viewing a painting in black and white. You can appreciate it, and you may even gain a new understanding and appreciation of it because taking away certain dimensions of the work lets you see things you might have missed otherwise. But you're not experiencing the whole work of art if you separate the music and the lyrics. No matter how great the lyrics are, they are meant to be a part of the larger whole.

At the Rock Hall, I spent hours studying handwritten lyrics (I looked at a lot of people's; it may not surprise you to know that Steven Tyler couldn't spell for crap when he wrote "Walk This Way" or that Jimi Hendrix had large, somewhat self-consciously ornate, very distinctive handwriting). As I stared at the pages of the actual spiral notebook in which Bruce Springsteen drafted "Born to Run" - pages upon pages of the thing; that song did not come easily for him and he wrote and revised and wrote and revised for what must have been months - the thing that struck me the most, and startled me the most, was how familiar those pages felt. I looked at Bruce's notebooks from his early twenties, and thought about my notebooks from my early twenties, and realized how very similar they really were. For just a few moments, I thought, "wow, Bruce Springsteen and I are, at the heart of it, in the same line of work."

And after all these years, I liked that a lot.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Notes from the Rock Hall, 1

More substantial posts coming, but I want to sustain whatever small momentum I've found here.

So, last week I spent two full days in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and it was fantastic. Yes, you can quibble about the induction criteria and about who's in versus who's not (the fact that Abba got inducted this year and Darlene Love, who was on the ballot, did not is just a crying shame) - but for anyone who's grown up with this music it is an absolute treasure trove of memory and revelation. So many times I found myself standing in front of an album cover I'd spent hours upon hours staring at in high school while playing the album over and over, and next to that album cover, the actual thing that was on the cover. John Lennon's costume from the cover of Sgt. Pepper. Stevie Nicks' pointe shoes from the cover of Rumours. And, of course, Bruce Springsteen's guitar and leather jacket from the cover of Born to Run. (That jacket is tiny, too. He was a scrawny little dude. So many dreams packed into that small, beat-to-hell-and-back leather jacket.)

Other than the Springsteen stuff (which I'll get to later), probably the thing that made the biggest impression on me was John Lennon's first passport, issued in 1960. When he first got the passport, he filled out all the blanks dutifully, writing "Student" in the space marked for Profession. Later on - and oh, how I wish there were some way of knowing exactly when - he came back and, with a considerably bolder and firmer pen, lined through the word "Student" and wrote "Musician."

The power of naming oneself. Just intense.

* * * * *

Also, I've pretty much decided I am going to do my damnedest to get to AWP next year. More later about why (I'm not on any panels); for now, I just want to throw out there that I will read at the drop of a hat, or a poem, so if any editors or other reading organizers would like a middle-aged Midwestern poet on their bill, you know where to find me. :)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Testing the waters

So, yeah, I've been even more absent from here than usual. On the one hand, nothing momentous has happened that I feel I must blog about. On the other hand, there's a level of connectedness in the (yucky word) blogosphere, one that I do actually treasure, and which takes a certain amount of care and feeding to maintain. And I find myself, often, with words on the tip of my tongue.
I haven't been reading y'all for a while and I haven't been writing here either. I guess I've been on an unannounced hiatus. I'm back, I think, in a quiet sort of way. Starting to catch up with the blog-reading to see what everyone's been up to. Dipping my toes back in.
I've been active on Facebook and on Twitter. Those feel like very different venues of communication than a blog. Impermanent - Twitter especially, even though the Library of Congress is archiving tweets now. It's like a stream that moves on, and if you don't catch it for a while there are no repercussions. Unlike blogs, where I feel a certain responsibility to try and catch up, at least with some of y'all bloggers with whom I feel a sense of shared history. Lately I've felt more of an affinity for shallow, rapidly moving water than for the depths, I guess.
Boy, that all sounds kind of pompous.
Anyway, I am missing discursiveness and writing whole sentences. I can tell because essay ideas and blog post ideas are starting to bubble up for me. I am thinking that I will make a spreadsheet of them (because I'm that kind of a nerd) and set aside time each day for thoughtful writing. (Because, much as I love Twitter, it's not "thoughtful writing.") Some of that will, I hope, be for this blog.
So my thanks to those of y'all who haven't yet given up on me. I'm here. :)

As for the poetry part of my life. Haven't been writing that many poems - those are from the deep end too, and I've been in the wading pool soaking up some sun - but I've been sending out like crazy. (Well, relatively speaking, for me anyway.) I've had some good results, including a poem in the just-released new issue of New Madrid, and a very encouraging rejection from a very good journal I've been trying to get into since 1988. (I don't name names on rejections, sorry! Superstition, I suppose.) Meanwhile, a far newer and far less prestigious journal asked for some poems, then rejected them with a form email - just to keep me humble, I suppose, as if there were some danger of me becoming a diva at this late date! You gotta laugh. It's a silly game we play, isn't it?
Still no nibbles on the book manuscript, which I intend to pull apart and try to revise it with a fresh eye. I think it's a relatively solid manuscript, but it hasn't been catching attention, and I suspect it could be made better.

I took a little summer vacation last week and made a road trip to Cleveland to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Oddly enough, I learned some things about writing there. Stay tuned. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Yeah... it's the blog that occasionally rises out of the mist then disappears again. Or maybe it's the blogger herself who's doing that. Perhaps I am mythical. :)

Got a concert review for you, but first a quick note - my poem "Cover" (which comes from "Chasing Angels," my manuscript about a fictional rock musician) is up at Hamilton Stone Review. Go take a peek if you are so inclined! Fellow blogger Jessie Carty has a couple of poems in the same issue.

* * * * *

So I was fortunate enough to have a ticket to see legitimate guitar god Jeff Beck in Indy the other night. I'd never seen him before, though I've seen videos and so had pretty high expectations of the performance. I left Bloomington in a rush just ahead of a storm rolling in - managed to outrun it, which kind of set the tone for the night. When I got into the venue I made a quick pit stop and was highly, highly amused to note that there was a line out into the lobby area for the men's room, and no line to speak of for the women's room. Yes, it was just that testosterone-laden a crowd. It's been a long time since I was at a show with that kind of audience; Springsteen crowds tend to be pretty gender-balanced.

The opening act was a singer-songwriter type with an acoustic guitar and a small keyboard, accompanied by a second guitarist. She was pretty and had a nice voice, with a pleasant Lilith Fair-ish vibe, but ultimately fairly uninspiring. And really, a crowd full of middle-aged electric-guitar geeks (I seriously overheard at least two conversations going into great technical detail about some piece of equipment or other - guitars, amps, etc.) just was not her crowd.

Finally Jeff Beck and his band (Narada Michael Walden on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass, and Jason Rebello on keyboards) took the stage. The first number was seriously rocking, and the energy in the venue increased a thousandfold. The drums kicked in and I realized it had been way too long since I'd been to a good loud concert. Sometimes, a girl just needs to rock!

The venue had folding chairs set up, and I had mixed feelings about the seated thing. The seats were narrow and close together, and it was hot & crowded. When Beck & band took the stage everyone leaped up and stood for the first couple of songs, and that felt really good, but being 5 foot 1 I can't see much in a situation like that (I was back in about the 15th row, which isn't too far back, but at my height it doesn't take much). Throughout the evening a lot of songs elicited standing ovations - it was like church up in there with all the stand up sit down stand up sit down!); when people were sitting I could see the stage nicely, but it is really hard for me to listen to music like that and just sit still. Standing up allows me to experience the music physically, with my whole body.

So we got everything from screaming rock to blues to jazz to standards: an incredibly diverse setlist. Beck's versions of some tunes, like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," verged on - I hate to say it - "smooth jazz." That is not a compliment. But he made even those tame tunes come alive with his sheer virtuosity. When he coaxes notes like that out of his white Stratocaster, all is forgiven. "Rainbow" a real showcase for his absolute control of tone and dynamics, and the audience seemed particularly taken with it. I will admit I preferred the more rocking tunes myself. There was one song (I'm not good at titles when there are no lyrics to remind me) with a heavy, heavy bass that sounded almost Led Zeppelin-esque, and I really loved that one.

His band was wonderful. The keyboards were necessary for the more orchestral arrangements; for other songs, he could very well have managed with only the guitar/bass/drums trio. Narada Michael Walden was fantastic, very musical (something I don't always get from drummers), and his presence was buoyant, a radiant energy behind the drum kit. Rhonda Smith, who played with Prince for a number of years, was incredibly funky and soulful and versatile on the bass and occasional vocals. I love how Jeff Beck uses the bass; though I never saw his previous touring band in person, I've seen video and the bassist from that band, Tal Wilkenfeld, is also absolutely brilliant. (Look her up. I think she's playing with Herbie Hancock now.)

Oftentimes Beck would be completely absorbed in his playing, standing sideways to the audience in order to better communicate with his band. He was all about the music, not so much the showmanship - which is absolutely fine. He spoke several times to introduce songs, but not at length, and kind of awkwardly; you got the feeling he mostly just wanted to shut up and play.

During the show he played two different white Stratocasters. The Strat is so integral to his sound, the way it sustains and sings and soars. So when he strapped on a black Les Paul for a song during the encore, the audience reacted with surprise and interest. He introduced it as a tribute to the great Les Paul, who died not long ago and with whom Beck had a longtime friendship, and played "How High the Moon." It was fascinating to hear the radical difference in tone and feel between the LP and the Strat, how he played it like it was a different instrument entirely - much more staccato, with notes that popped and crackled instead of soaring and searing. A lot of fun to hear this, and he seemed to enjoy the change of pace.

All in all he played about an hour and a half, including his interpretations of "People Get Ready" and the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" among many others. Not a Springsteenian marathon show, but not half bad for a guy just a couple days from his 66th birthday, and certainly enough to be satisfying. When I finally made my way out of the venue, the sky was strobing with distant lightning, flickering like busted neon among the tall buildings of downtown Indianapolis. All the way home I was accompanied by near-constant, distant lightning and a hazy, hazy moon. It seemed perfectly appropriate, though I couldn't tell you why.

I'll leave you with a video taken by someone else at the show. The still photos above are mine; I took some videos, and you can find them on my YouTube account, but the audio on them is pretty atrocious (my camera's just not built for audio). Enjoy!

Thursday, June 03, 2010


I've been awakened between 5 and 6 am by thunderstorms the past two mornings. This morning there was so much lightning I almost had a flashback to the strobelights and mirrorballs of the disco era.

* * * * *

Just sent in the final proofs for my poem forthcoming in New Madrid. Their staff has been absolutely wonderful to work with; I've had quite a bit of communication from them (mainly from Assistant Managing Editor, Jacque Day) since the initial acceptance, including the opportunity to proofread my contributor's note and my line in the table of contents. I've known exactly where they were in the process all along, I know what day they plan on sending the files to the printer, and I know when to expect the issue in the mail (late July). The level of TLC they've provided has been way above & beyond the call of editorial duty. They'll begin taking submissions again in mid-August, and if you have work that seems right for them, give 'em a try.

Also just had a poem accepted by Hamilton Stone Review - the email arrived on my birthday, which was kind of lovely. It's been a good submission year for me so far. I think I'm getting better at picking where to send.

* * * * *

Finally, I just came across this poem by Stephen Dunn, which I had not read before although it was published back in 1987. It wrecked me a little bit, in a good way. Just gorgeous stuff:

...often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it...

Seriously. Go read "Sweetness" and see if it doesn't give you a bit of a shiver.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Welcome to June. How in the hell did that happen??

I spent a few days up at my mom's for Memorial Day weekend and to celebrate the beginning of the one-year countdown to my fiftieth birthday. Fiftieth. How in the hell did THAT happen?? (I mean, it doesn't happen until next year, but... you get the idea.)

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Does anyone have any personal experience (or know anyone who has) with the Colrain Manuscript Conference? I can't possibly afford it, but it looks like the sort of thing that would fit nicely into a grant application next year. Yeah, I'm thinking ahead.

AWP would be another great way to use some grant funds, but I don't know of any grants that would get the money to me in time for that.

Of course, right now I'd like a grant to just go and hang out on the beach (preferably one without any nasty oil globs washing up on it... sigh) for a week or two. A winning lottery ticket would do the trick. :)

Seriously, though, I am curious about the Colrain thing, so any thoughts on that would be most welcome. Feel free to backchannel if you don't want to post a comment in public. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poetry & mystery & a bit about Twitter

For a few months now I've been on hiatus from the poetry group I belong to. When I first stepped out, I wasn't writing much at all; now I'm writing again, though a bit slowly - weekends mostly, usually drafting one or two poem(-ish thing)s. I haven't been going back to revise much, and the poems feel a little different to me. Anyway, I've realized that, right now, I just want to trust the poems to do their own thing; I don't want to go back to the group for critique just yet. I don't want to interrogate the poems yet. I don't want someone trying to make sense of them - it feels like "sense" isn't the point of these particular poems, at least not yet. It's a new place for me to be, although in a way it's a lot like where I was with poems back when I first started writing, in my teens.

That whole paragraph was more than a little self-indulgent, but that's how it goes sometimes.

The new poems seem to be about memory. I say "seem to be" but since one of them is titled "What Memory Is" I guess it's a little more than "seem" huh? It feels like the very beginning stages of a new project(-ish thing). There's the first manuscript, Land Mammal, which has been making the rounds as they say and will probably get revised some more between now and whenever; there's the second one, Chasing Angels, which I seem to have stepped away from for a while but which I'd like to go back to over the summer and pound it into some kind of readable shape; and now there is this new thing. Which may or may not actually be a thing. I'd like to get one of the first two manuscripts accepted somewhere before I push too far on the new thing, just because I can only juggle so many balls at one time... well, we'll see.

Memory seems like an appropriate thing for me to be thinking about and writing about these days. I've lived in this town for almost thirty-one years now, and there are a lot of ghosts here. I'm comfortable with most of them but they are still, you know, ghosts. And on Friday I begin the one-year countdown to my fiftieth birthday - which seems crazy to me.

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Don't even know what to say about the awfulness in the Gulf. It's as if someone decided we weren't turning the ocean into toxic sludge quite fast enough, and figured we should speed up the process. And I know it's not going to help at all (especially since my little Corolla only eats about five gallons of gas a week), and I know none of the oil companies are particularly ethical or worthy of support, but I can't bring myself to buy gas from BP now, even though it's the most convenient place for me.

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While I'm busy letting the new poems just sit there and be mysterious, I've been reasonably industrious about sending out the old ones. I'm pleased to note that Rattle took one for their winter issue. I suppose it's self-indulgent to announce acceptances here on this blog, but isn't that what the Internet is for anyway? Well, that and cute kitten pictures.

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Really enjoying Twitter lately. It doesn't replace the extended musings of a blog, or the conversation of real life. It's more kinda like sitting in a room with a bunch of people, all puttering around or reading or watching tv or listening to music or whatever, and occasionally piping up with an observation, which maybe makes a couple of people say "Hmmm, interesting" or tell you about the time that same thing happened to them. And then someone will read you something interesting that they stumbled across, and maybe that will make you go look up something to find out a little more about that something. It's a low-key, ongoing multiple connectedness that appeals to me. Plus, you occasionally get to exchange remarks with people you'd probably never have the chance to chat with in real life, like the great writer Margaret Atwood, journalist Luke Russert, or terrific writer/musician Rosanne Cash (who has a memoir coming out soonish, and I can't wait to read it). I've gotten a tremendous amount of professional information from the librarians I follow, and I know that if there's any news from the Springsteen world someone will tweet about it. For someone like me who practically has a phobia about "what if something interesting happens in the world and I don't know about it??" (yeah, why do you think I went to library school anyway?) - it's pretty great. Twitter isn't everybody's cup of tea, and that's fine; I'm following as many people as I can manage right now anyway and I don't need more! But it has taken me by surprise to realize it's become an important resource for me, both personally and professionally.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Letting the world intrude

Over the weekend I spent several hours at the mega-chain coffee place near campus (I know, I know... but now that many of the students have left for the summer, it's a pleasant novelty to be able to go there and actually find a seat), reading and writing. And it occurred to me that lately, say for the past couple of years, I've found it much easier to draft poems when I'm somewhere other than home. Looking over the poems I drafted this weekend, I realized why - it's that when I'm out in public, things happen. People walk past, the weather changes, unexpected music comes on the radio. Things I didn't choose and can't control.

Allowing those things to drop into the poem when they feel like they belong, without trying to overexplain what they're doing there, is a technique I've been enjoying lately. Sure, I could do it at home, but (despite my cats' best efforts) home is a lot more predictable. I love hearing a snippet of conversation, or a ringtone, or seeing a girl wearing a shiny blouse with butterflies printed all over it - and letting that image fall into the poem. I love letting go of the need for tight control over the poem's arc enough to let unexpected things fall in and shift it. Most of my writing life I've written fairly linearly (is that a word?), this happened and then this happened and then this; or at least, I saw this and it made me think of that. For years and years I kept a tight rein on my poems, tried hard to steer them. (Who me, control freak? Uh...) And I overexplained, that's for sure. Learning to let the world intrude and let unexpected details fall in and just be there has been, I think, a great exercise for me.

I was first aware of doing this in Provincetown a few years back - now there's a great place to find some interesting details to fall into your poems! I'll share a poem that was pretty heavily shaped by this kind of attention, which turned out to be one of my favorite writing-process experiences. I started writing it while sitting at a table in the window of the Adams Pharmacy, watching it rain outside, watching cranky wet tourists go by - and then some people with a dog walked by. The dog had his head high, carrying a toy of some sort, looking absolutely and utterly delighted with himself. A dog with treasure in its mouth. And that moment of serendipity & unexpected joy completely changed the direction of the poem as I was writing it.

When I left the Adams Pharmacy I had a prose paragraph thingie. Here's an early draft:

There are things that are mine, and things that never will be. You for one, with the wet loam of your gaze turning away. This day, just past the turn of summer, minutes shorter now than yesterday. It’s cliché to say how quickly a life can pass, but on this morning in my forty-fourth year it’s a question I can taste, the salt sweet shore of it. The time we take to turn away when we could be absolutely still. A red car on a rainy day, driving slow on Gosnold Street. A dog with treasure in its mouth. Everything that passes by : I want to wave my arms and make it halt : just hold there for one moment, hold. Weathered blue framed windows, voices saying yes, the words that water says. Rain comes down harder, generous, saying yes, yes to the black and shining street.

I left the pharmacy then, intending to go get some clam chowder at the Lobster Pot for lunch, but they weren't open yet - so I wandered over to the Provincetown Public Library (which I adore) and settled in to work on revising for a while. My hair was damp from the rain and I had to take my rain-spattered glasses off to work, which became I've salt in my eyes, in my hair. I'd briefly picked up Lucille Clifton's Blessing the Boats when I first got to the library, and something about the tone of the title poem was resonating in my mind as I worked. Other things in the poem had been poking at my attention for the time I'd been in Provincetown - cormorants, the blue frames around the windows of a B&B across the way from the one where I was staying - and those details found their way into the poem as well. I didn't walk out of the library with the poem in its final form that morning, but it was pretty close, actually.

Here's the finished poem as it appeared in my chapbook Breach:


Everything I’ve lost, refused, or left behind
comes flooding in like dead things on the tide.
What is ever really gone? The name for this light is yes.
Drifting ghost nets, lost at sea, entangle the unwary beasts
that thrash against the current and the dream
and I’ve salt in my eyes, in my hair.
There are things that are mine and things
that never will be. You for one,
with the wet loam of your gaze turning towards home.
On this fogged-in morning in my forty-fourth year
it’s a question I can taste, the salt sweet shore of it,
the time we take to turn away.
A red car on a rainy day, driving slow on Gosnold Street,
a dog with treasure in its mouth.
Everything that passes by: I want to wave my arms,
to hold them wide like cormorants’ wings:
just hold there for one moment, hold.
Weathered blue framed windows, voices saying yes,
the words that water says.
Rain comes down hard now, generous, saying
yes, yes to the distant shore,
to the black and shining street.

-Anne Haines July 2005

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain?

Quickie linkage on a damp and grayish day; I have a more substantial post brewing in the back of my mind (honest!).

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Some of you (if there's anyone still reading this blog, that is...) will appreciate this site: Hot Guys Reading Books. It's exactly what it says it is. :)

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It's true: Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga (who is, as it turns out, a huge Springsteen fan), Sting, Elton John, Debbie Harry, and Shirley Bassey recently got together at a rainforest benefit in NYC and performed that Journey song, "Don't Stop Believing." The awful proof lies in the video herewith embedded. I'm sorry. (Okay, not really.)

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And on a more verifiably classic note: here's the great Miles Davis with his quintet, performing "So What" in 1959. It doesn't get much better than this. My poem based on this tune appeared recently in the online journal shaking like a mountain.

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Finally, the happy news that my poem "What This Poem Will Do" has been picked up by Rattle. It'll appear in the December issue. Yay!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stormy weather

I think I've now heard from all my Tennessee friends, and all are safe and relatively high & dry. It's crazy out there! Floods in Tennessee, oil washing up in the Gulf, busted pipes & dirty water in Boston, car bombs in NYC, tornadoes in the South... it all makes the noisy thunderstorms that have awakened me the past two nights seem pretty tame by comparison.

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Watched the Kentucky Derby yesterday and, as I do pretty much every year about this time, remembered the time I got to meet the great Secretariat. It was about a year after he'd retired. I was a horse-crazy thirteen-year-old, and we took a family vacation to the bluegrass country of Kentucky. After making a pilgrimage to Churchill Downs, we went to the farm where Secretariat was at stud, only to find it had been closed to the public. But my parents made a phone call and pleaded our case, and they let us in and gave us a tour of the stud barn. There are pictures (I need to scan them someday & post them online!) of a nerdy little me standing next to that huge glossy red stallion, touching his shoulder, looking up at him in awe. I also got to meet his stablemate Riva Ridge and several other stallions whose names and histories I knew well. I remember that Secretariat was enormous and stunningly beautiful; though he was no longer in peak racing condition, he'd been off the track less than a year and still looked like the tremendous athlete he was. It was a great, great day for me.

This amuses me greatly: the list of celebrities I have patted on the shoulder consists of Secretariat and Bruce Springsteen. Hee! :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To listen...

Just a quick note to mention that my poem "To Listen By Singing" is now up over at shaking like a mountain. If you like it - or, for that matter, if you don't! - you're welcome to leave a comment at the site. :)

The poem was inspired by a Bobby McFerrin concert a few years back. He led the audience in some choral singing, as he often does, and the reciprocity of singing & listening struck me in a way that it never really had before.

On another note - frost advisory! It's not that late for us, really - our average last frost is somewhere around the 20th of April, I think, and our record latest frost is in late May - but it's still a little startling to have frost after all the flowering trees have burst into bloom. But then, I live in the midwest; we specialize in startling weather.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Covering the bases

It's been an eventful week, though nothing especially poetry-related. Monday night I heard Martin Sheen speak on campus - if you ever get a chance to hear him, seriously do whatever you can to get there; he's one of the best speakers I've ever heard. Funny, thoughtful, loquacious, generous with his time. I don't necessarily agree with every one of his views, but I have a tremendous degree of respect for the way in which he approaches both his art and his activism. Plus, he opened by reading a poem by Rabindranath Tagore - I don't know the name of the poem, but for you West Wing fans, it sounded so much like something President Bartlet would have chosen. And he read it beautifully, of course.

Afterwards, as he was preparing to leave the stage, a couple of people ran up to the stage wanting autographs. He started signing autographs and chatting with people, and the mob at the edge of the stage got fairly large; Sheen settled in and looked like he had every intention of signing an autograph for every single person there who wanted one (and I'd say there were probably 150-200 people hanging out looking hopeful). After speaking for a good 90 minutes, he was clearly in no hurry to leave; between that and the fact that his entire speaking fee was donated to a non-profit organization he works with - I can't recall the name offhand, but it serves as a sort of mini-Peace Corps and helps bring doctors and other folks to so-called Third World countries - the overall impression I was left with was one of generosity. He was generous with his time, and with his words (and boy, does he have a lot of words - you could probably ask him whether the sky is blue and he'd have thirty minutes of storytelling to do).

Fast-forward to Saturday night; I got to see the Indigo Girls for about the eleventeenth time (I've lost count). Girlyman opened, and they were terrific - check out this great article about them on Slate, in which they talk about "the pursuit of creative risk"; they're interesting people making gorgeous music, and it had been too long since I'd seen them in concert. (Several years!)

Musical highlights of the Indigo Girls' set for me were a particularly gorgeous rendition of "Ghost" (Emily Saliers' voice just gets better as the years go on); a great "Romeo & Juliet" by Amy Ray (I thought, at one point, that I was kind of over that song - and never liked how audiences turned it into a singalong - but this time around it was heartfelt without being over-the-top angsty, and just sounded really good to me); a great lively "Ozilline" with all the members of Girlyman joining in; and to close the show, a gorgeous, a cappella, five-part-harmony version of "Finlandia" with Amy & Emily along with Doris, Ty, and Nate from Girlyman - five singers who all have a beautiful sense of harmony.

Afterwards I decided to be one of the couple dozen fans hanging around by the tour bus. I'd kind of expected it to be pouring down rain after the show, and I've gotten autographs from them & chatted with them before so don't always feel a need to do the wait-by-the-bus thing, so I hadn't brought anything to sign - but the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre had put together lovely programs for the show, so I had that. I didn't pester them for photos, though both Amy & Emily were very graciously posing for photos with the fans who asked. They always seem like such sweethearts. Though I have to wonder if they ever get on the tour bus and trade stories about the crazy or stupid things some of us fans say to them. :) I'm sure they've heard some wacky things and just smiled patiently & moved on down the line to the next, hopefully less nutso, fan.

So the theme of the week? I guess it's the blend of art & activism, as that's a big theme for both Martin Sheen and the Indigo Girls. And generosity, both with your art and with your time.

I'll leave you with this video of "Sugar Tongue," which is on the Indigo Girls' most recent album, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. The sound quality isn't great, but my camera wasn't made for recording music. (I nabbed videos of the first two songs, shot a few still photos during the third song; the theater manager had requested no photos after the third song, and I was just as glad to put the camera away and be fully present for the rest of the show instead of fiddling with technology.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Good Poetry Day

Quick notes on a warm spring evening.

Went to Seamus Heaney's reading on campus this afternoon (it was at 5:30, in a building very close to the library where I work - super convenient!). I dawdled outside taking a few bad cellphone pictures of flowering trees, because it was just too nice outside and poetry readings are hardly ever crowded, so there's no hurry, right?

Wrong! When I got into the lecture hall (maybe ten minutes before the reading was scheduled to start), the room was packed and people were standing in the aisles & at the back of the room. Amazing! I was able to find a seat in the very back row, but people were continuing to come in; it was definitely a standing-room-only situation. Nice!

Like other readings in this series, this one began with a short Q&A by a faculty member; Heaney was charming and funny. Both men were sitting in chairs center stage for that. When Heaney took the podium for his reading, there were all kinds of technical issues with the microphone. It wasn't on, then it was causing all kinds of horrid feedback. It was eventually squared away, and Heaney handled it gracefully, but it always annoys me when there are technical issues at a reading that could probably have been avoided by doing a proper soundcheck. Oh well. Anyway, it was a very good reading; he read old poems and newer work, and gave just the right amount of background on each poem (at least for me). Standing ovation at the end, very nice. The room was hot and I was fading quickly, so I (along with quite a few others) ducked out before what was apparently going to be a bit of an audience Q&A.

On my way back to the car I got out my phone (I am so loving my smartphone, even if it doesn't take very good pictures of poetry readings - ahem) for a quick email check. Lo and behold - an acceptance note from New Madrid for a poem from the fictional-rockstar manuscript I'm working on. Yay! It'll be out this summer.

And this isn't poetry-related, but I am very pleased with the news (just breaking in the past hour) that President Obama has ordered hospitals which receive federal funding not to deny visitation rights for the same-sex partners of patients. It's a stupid world in which something like that requires a presidential order, but since it was necessary, I'm glad he did it. (Still mad at you about the offshore drilling thing, though, Mr. President. That was not cool.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Denverish (not)

It's funny watching the twitterstream for #awp10. One evening there was a cute little blip for about 45 minutes where almost everyone who tweeted from AWP mentioned that they'd just taken a nap, were about to take a nap, or really needed a nap. This morning, the predominant theme was the hangover. Ah, AWP. Despite all the craziness, overstimulation, cranky academics, po-biz po-biz po-biz, I had a great time last year and hope I can manage it next year.

Thanks to all who've posted pictures, blog posts, tweets, whatever. If I can't be there, it's fun hearing about it!

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My poem "So What" (based on the Miles Davis classic) is up over at shaking like a mountain (an online journal of literature about music). If you read and like it, I'd love it if you left a comment there!

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Butler University in Indianapolis - yes, the same Butler whose basketball team came within about two inches of taking the NCAA championship from Duke a few days ago - has announced the 2010-11 lineup for its Visiting Writers series. No specific dates listed as of yet, but holy moly, Margaret Atwood! And several other poets/writers who I think will be well worth the two-hour drive for me. (They're way on the north side of Indy.)

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Spring is absolutely glorious here. It's almost excessive, the green and the blooming and the flowering trees busting out like crazy. Is there any color more amazing than the purple/fuchsia of redbuds, especially against the brilliant green of new leaves and the heartbreaking blue of sky? This week I've been walking around with my mouth hanging open half the time. Magnolia! Forsythia! Tulip! Bradford pear! I keep thinking I need to take a few hours and run around town with my camera, but honestly, pictures will never do it justice. Here's a lovely bit of injustice in the form of a mediocre cellphone shot - daffodils in front of one of the parking garages on campus:

Sunday, April 04, 2010


So what is all this about a National Poetry Moth? They think poetry is like an insect or something? And why a moth? Why can't it be a pretty butterfly, huh? Or a unicorn! National Poetry Moth indeed. I ain't flying into no stupid flame, that's for sure.

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oh Zombie Jesus we love you get up

Thursday, April 01, 2010


I'm behind on everything, again. But I do seem, after a fairly long fallow period, to be easing back into poetry. I thought it would come rushing back when it came back, but it's been more of a trickle. Still, I'm reading poems again - that's probably the most important part - and I'm writing a bit, and I'm sending stuff out again (nothing accepted yet on this go-round, but I did get a nice note with one rejection). Even got the first manuscript (not the rockstar one, which isn't speaking to me right now, but the one that's already racked up thirty rejection notes) out to a contest. And in the process I tinkered with it just a bit, mostly pulled out a few poems, and it feels tighter now. Still want to pull it all apart and do a big revision, but that takes time and breathing room. And I also need to get my taxes done... ahem.

Wishing, wishing, wishing that I could go to AWP. I had a lot of fun last year. Ah well.

Not doing NaNoPoPoNoMo this year, either - maybe I'm lazy, or maybe I just know better than to embark on something I know good and well I'm not up to completing. Maybe next year. Or maybe in October. October sounds nice. (Happy Poetry Month, though!)

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Very cool that Butler is in the Final Four! For those who don't know, Butler is a teeny little university on the north side of Indianapolis - I go to concerts and poetry readings there with some regularity; they have a very nice visiting writers series - and the Final Four is in Indianapolis this year, so they get to play at home. Definitely the Cinderella story of this year's tournament.

I turn into a mild basketball fan every couple years or so, just during tournament season. This way they don't kick me out of Indiana.

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Speaking of Indiana, the Indiana University Writers' Conference (June 6-11) is taking applications. This year's poetry workshops are led by Eileen Myles and Ed Pavlic. I'm not doing the conference this year, but I plan to attend at least some of the evening readings (Eileen Myles' for sure); if you're thinking of attending and have any questions about the conference or about Bloomington, feel free to drop me a note. Bloomington's really a lovely place to spend a week - lots of fantastic restaurants, lots of trees and green space, and the locals are relatively friendly. ;)

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81 degrees this afternoon, and lots of brilliant sunshine; forsythia and daffodils are in full bloom, & the flowering trees are starting to leap into life. I love this time of year in this town (though 81 degrees is a bit warmer than ideal). I love my job, but working in a beige-colored, windowless cubicle farm has its drawbacks when the outside world is as lovely as this.

Happy Easter, to those who celebrate! And a somewhat late Happy Passover to those who celebrate that. Spring, new life, resurrection, all that good stuff. Not to mention marshmallow peeps - and this year I found dark chocolate Cadbury mini eggs. Yum!

That right there is cause for celebration. :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Still a little bit floaty and less-than-verbal following last week's Yo-Yo Ma concert (and encounter). So, just a few links to share tonight:

I made a low-tech, "aim the webcam and hope for the best" poem video.

For the past few days I've been enthralled by this nest of barn owls. There were originally five viable eggs (and one dud that got consumed by the mama); today owlet #4 hatched, and the fifth is expected in about three days or so. There is an infrared cam for night vision; during the day you can see how exquisite the female's coloring is, and at night you can watch the male depositing rabbits, gophers, mice, rats, etc. for the family to dismantle and consume. It really is a spectacle of "nature red in tooth & claw" - and I bet anything I end up with at least a couple of owl poems before the owlets fledge.
Free Webcam Chat at Ustream

Finally, just because I've been listening to it over and over on this rainy, chilly early-spring night, here is Eddie Vedder covering one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Night I Talked To Yo-Yo Ma

So tonight I went to a wonderful concert by Yo-Yo Ma, with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott. I initially failed to get tickets before it sold out, but I was lucky enough to find someone selling an extra. Turned out to be a pretty good seat, even; 29th row, nearly dead center. Not a seat you'd necessarily sell your mother to get, but in the IU Auditorium even the seats back that far have very good sightlines, and the sound was very good as well (except for the guy next to me who kept scratching his beard and rubbing his face, making all kinds of annoying little noises - ugh).

(Click the image of the program to see it big enough to read.) The opening piece, a Schubert sonata, worked well as an opener - it felt comfortable, a bit familiar, but lovely; a good way to ease into the evening. After it ended they let in a whole herd of latecomers (people! Seriously! How hard is it to get to a concert by 8 pm? Some of them may have had good excuses, but there were a LOT of 'em) and as they were hustled to their seats Yo-Yo Ma chatted with the folks in the front rows, laughing, charming and relaxed. Then the Shostakovich, my favorite of the night - very textural, with some interesting pizzicato and percussive stuff, lots of interesting darknesses and lots of times when I found myself just not breathing because only perfect stillness was possible. Then an Argentinian tango by Piazzolla, which was terrific too, very different in tone from what preceded it - actually all three pieces in the first half felt very different from one another. The tango wasn't like a standard traditional tango; it was more tango-flavored, tango-based. Rich and full and layered.

The second half wasn't quite as spectacular as the first for me, but it was great - some very romantic, lovely music. Over and over again I marveled at Ma's absolute control of his tone, and how he made it look effortless as breath. The accompanist, Kathryn Stott, was very good too; in fact I had a flash of insight about what accompaniment means for a solo musician - it's like the piano provides a textured canvas, a surface to support the soloist as he plays on and above and around and sometimes dipping briefly beneath the surface. Yeah, musicians probably understand how that works pretty instinctively, but until tonight I don't think I'd ever really gotten the difference between playing a duet versus a soloist playing with an accompanist.

Standing ovation at the end, of course, prolonged, until both musicians came back out for a bow and then returned again to perform an encore. The first encore was actually one of my favorite pieces of the night - jazz-inflected (turns out it was written by a Brazilian jazz composer and was called "Cristal" - I'm going to track it down somehow) and obviously a lot of fun to play. The second encore was a piece by Elgar (don't know the name, but I'll probably be able to find it in a review somewhere tomorrow) and it ended the concert on a light note - not light as in insubstantial, but light as in light-hearted. When Ma and Stott came out for one final bow (sans cello) he didn't have a microphone so he couldn't say anything to the audience but he kept touching his chest over his heart, waving, gesturing with great appreciation and happiness, waving with both hands high over his head as he finally left the stage. Afterwards, I looked around at faces on the way out of the auditorium and people were just glowing, smiling, joyful.

It reminded me of leaving a Bruce Springsteen concert, actually. That level of pure joy and satisfaction, feeling that a musician has been generous with their time and energy, that feeling of a connection being made from the stage. The moments of looking into others' faces and having, for just a moment, that shared experience, the acknowledgement that you've shared something remarkable. So remarkable you don't even really have words for it, so you just look at each other and glow, and smile.

I've now seen three performers who reached this level of absolute presence in every moment of their performance, and absolute connection with the audience: Yo-Yo Ma, Bruce Springsteen, and the Dalai Lama. That's a heck of a trinity, there. :)

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So I left the auditorium walking on air, feeling like I'd just been a bird for two hours. As I headed for my car (I'd found a great parking spot in the library lot), I noticed a little crowd of people hanging around outside near the backstage door. Maybe about forty people. Hmmmm, I thought, and decided oh what the heck, turned around and went back to the auditorium and joined the crowd. Sometimes I do indulge my inner fangirl. Not so inner, I guess. :) After maybe ten or fifteen minutes - not too terribly long - a woman came out carrying the cello in its case, and an audible sigh went up through the crowd (which was made up of mostly music students, I think). Ahhhhhhhhhh! The Cello! It was both funny and kind of adorable.

A couple of minutes later the backstage doors swung open and Yo-Yo Ma himself came out. The crowd erupted in applause and he smiled, took it in. He came over towards us and said that since there were so many people he wouldn't do autographs and photos, but instead would rather talk with us for about two minutes if anyone had any questions for him. One eager young man asked if he would sign just one autograph; Ma was kind but firm, saying if he did one he'd have to do everyone and there wasn't time for that. (You could tell he's done this more than a few times before.) He walked around, arms outspread, and asked again if anyone had questions.

Bunch of music students gone speechless. :) Probably most of them were trying to come up with a really fantastic question, one that would inspire Ma to drop some great musicianly insights, and make the questioner look really smart too. (I've known a lot of music students in my time. They are, in general, as competitive as students come. Which isn't a slam on them; in their field, they have to be.) So I, with nothing to lose, piped up and asked, "Which was your favorite piece to play tonight?" Several of the music students around me murmured, "oooohhhhh, good question!" Now, you'll almost never get a straight answer to that question out of any musician, but sometimes it leads them to talk about what they like about the music they play. Yo-Yo Ma looked right at me and said that he just tried to stay really in the moment with each piece; that it's such intimate music, and such a big hall, that he tries to make a connection with everyone in the audience so that they feel like they're in his living room. Although, he noted, his living room isn't anywhere near that big. :) He didn't name a favorite, but said that he really loves all of that music - and you could tell that he really does, that after all these years he is still head over heels in love with music.

He asked us what our favorite pieces had been; a lot of people said the tango, several of us said the Shostakovich. I love that he made it a two-way conversation and not so much "rockstar cellist gets interviewed by the fan gang."

He talked about the Franck that he'd played, told us that it had been written as a wedding gift and that the four movements were meant to tell the story of a romantic relationship. He talked about how amazing it would be to get a beautiful sonata as a wedding gift. Again - his absolute love for this music was just so clear, and his eagerness to share some cool bit of knowledge about the music was lovely to see.

Someone asked him which cello he'd played tonight; for the cello geeks, it was the 1733 Montagnana. (I don't even want to begin to imagine how much that beautiful beast is insured for. I can't even imagine that its value can be put into dollars.) And someone asked him what the encores had been, since they weren't printed in the program. (I was glad somebody asked that!) "Any more questions?" Someone asked, "Will you come back?" to which he responded that yes, he would. (Yay! Soon, I hope!) And someone else asked, "When are you going to collaborate with Willie Nelson?" He laughed and said "Hey, he's one of my heroes!" Which just made me grin so big. He said a few other things, asked if most people there were music students, said something about it being a beautiful night. It certainly was.

Then as we applauded him again, he got in the SUV and was driven slowly away, hanging out the window waving to fans as he left. He was clearly still on a post-performance high, and came across as being very happy, very gracious, very appreciative of his fans (who clearly appreciate him in return), and very much in his element. I'm so glad I decided to hang around and do the fangirl thing - it was a nice experience, getting to ask Yo-Yo Ma a question (omg!) and have him look right at me and respond to it (omfg!!!). The man is about as big a star as you get in the classical music world, and he could not have been nicer to that little gang of fans out there.

And the concert? The concert was pure magic.

A beautiful night, indeed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Intensity, ghosts, Yo-Yo Ma

When I was a youngun (teens and twenties), I wanted to be dark, mysterious, intense, and kind of dangerous. I wasn't very good at that (especially the mysterious and dangerous parts). Now that I'm in my late (eek) forties, I want to be one of those people who lights up a room when she walks in - people find themselves feeling happier even if they're not quite sure why. I suspect I'm probably about as good at that as I was at mysterious and dangerous, but it's good to have goals, right?

* * * * *

I've been reading Patti Smith's excellent memoir, Just Kids (about her youth, and her artistic coming-of-age, and her long complex relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe) and thinking about my own youth - both because of the artistic coming-of-age theme and because Patti Smith was one of my heroes in my aforementioned teens and twenties (and, though I don't follow her career as closely as I did then, I still admire the heck out of her). When I finish the book I'll probably write up a bit of a review.

I also spent a couple of days during spring break typing up the last of my old high school & college poems (a project I'd started on a few years ago and set aside) - I had typed (you know, on a typewriter - remember those?) copies in looseleaf binders, but hadn't finished typing them all up on computer until last week. What a trip. A lot of them were so, so, so terrible - embarrassingly bad! Someone should have come along and smacked me upside the head every time I used the words "soul," "night," and "reality" in the same poem. It happened more times than I want to count. Heck, someone should've just smacked me when I used "soul" and that would have saved the world some awfulness. Heh. It was interesting to revisit my evolution from about ages 17-20, though. Amusingly enough, the poems I was proudest of at the time were not, as it turns out, the best ones or the ones that furthered my understanding of how to write. Go figure. I suppose that's probably still true...

I've lived in Bloomington for thirty years - ever since I was 18. With the echoes of some of those (awful) old poems in my ears, I'm even more aware of how many ghosts there are for me here. I don't mind living with them, but damn, they get noisy sometimes.

* * * * *

Tonight I get to see Yo-Yo Ma perform! He's doing a solo recital, accompanied by only a pianist - something he apparently doesn't do that often. You can read about the performance, including the program, here: He's going to play some Shostakovich - that should be phenomenal. Yo-Yo Ma could play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for an hour and it would be the greatest "Twinkle" ever played, so I am really looking forward to this.

* * * * *

Attention: Do not leave your longings unattended

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Promo, Congrats, & Thoughts on Online Privacy

Shameless self-promotion: I'll be one of the featured readers (the other, Deborah Hutchison, will be performing both poetry and music) at the monthly Hart Rock Poetry Series here in Bloomington: Friday, March 26 at Rachael's Cafe on Third Street, 7 pm. Free admission, but do drop a couple bucks on a beverage or some food to support the cafe and thank them for offering free performance space.

Don't yet know what I'll be reading or, more importantly, what I'll be wearing.

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Lots of good news in the poetry world lately! Big congrats to Charles Jensen and Brent Goodman, both of whom were named Lambda Literary Award finalists in gay poetry. Brent's book is terrific; Charlie's is on the very top of my to-read pile and I'm sure it will be as terrific as the rest of his work. Congrats also to poet Michael Montlack, whose anthology My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women who Inspire Them (also on the very top of the pile!) is a finalist in the LGBT anthology category.

Further congrats are in order for Brent Goodman (again!) and D.A. Powell, both named as finalists for the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and to Lee Ann Roripaugh, named by the same organization as a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. More terrific books by terrific poets.

Yep, people I actually know and have met in real life are all over the awards this year. I love it!

Oh, and I almost forgot - Poetry Daily featured a cool poem by Eduardo C. Corral yesterday. Eduardo's blog was one of the first poetry blogs I read, way back when. He'll be in those book award lists one of these days too.

* * * * *

Speaking of real life, the New York Times published a verrrrry interesting article about online privacy. The part that made me really sit up and take notice was when they described a group that was able to accurately guess a percentage of Social Security numbers given only the birthdate and birthplace of someone. Coincidentally enough, the latest "thing" on Facebook is to post the city where you were born in your status field, and a lot of my FB friends have been doing that over the past several days. And that has made me think.

For myself, I tend towards putting quite a bit of information about myself online. My picture and my real name are attached to my Facebook, my Twitter account, and my blog. I'm easily findable via my work address - so much so that I once got fan mail (via USPS) from a guy in prison who'd heard me reading poems on the radio. At the same time, I don't have my street address listed in the phone book (not that anyone uses phone books anymore), and I keep a P.O. box so I can give out a mailing address without disclosing where I live. And certainly not EVERYTHING about my life gets disclosed online - by any means. (Y'all THINK you know me! ;) )

So I don't know. I'm considering unfriending people on Facebook with whom I don't have much if any connection (friends of friends...), and the "what city were you born in" thing just raised red flags for me in particular. But online connections are important to me, personally & professionally, and a certain degree of openness does encourage that kind of connection. I've made some very nice professional connections via Twitter (you wouldn't believe how many librarians are on there, particularly the ones who work with new technologies) and I've made some wonderful poetry-world connections via this very blog (and bought a LOT of books I would never have known about otherwise). I loved meeting up with online friends at AWP last year. And I've very much enjoyed meeting up with online friends at Springsteen shows; there's a very nice little Bruce-fan community online, particularly on Twitter. Some of those connections could have been made without the use of real names, sure. But would they have felt like honest connections?

And I certainly can't do shameless self-promotion without using my actual name. If I want y'all to come to my reading, I have to tell you who I am and where I'm reading!

There's a line, certainly. I tend not to give out my phone number unless I feel a certain degree of comfort. But I can't bring myself to be much more cautious than I already am. The good that's come of being relatively open online has, for me, outweighed any bad.

But I do know people who've posted things online that I've thought were foolish. I once saw a grad student publicly bad-mouthing faculty members in their department via their blog - bad idea. And I've known several people who've posted details of financial difficulties in ways that seemed rather unwise to do in public. (I'm not talking about "damn I can't afford to go to AWP this year" but much more specific things.) And of course, there are lots of people who post details about their health concerns and complaints about their jobs. The Internet is very, very public. Even if you think you're only letting in a few friends - once it's out there, it's out there. That's all a little different from the identity-theft concern, but it's all on a continuum and most of us, even those of us who are very comfortable online, are constantly assessing our own approach and where to draw our own lines.

What do you think? Where do you draw your online-disclosure line?