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. :)

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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?

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Went to a great reading by Gerald Stern this evening on the IU campus. The room was pretty full, which is a lovely thing - poetry doesn't always get a good audience here, and I'm not sure that readings get promoted adequately beyond the walls of the university, but there were lots of people there, as there should have been. Ross Gay introduced him which once again made me think that Ross Gay is about the best introducer of poets I can think of. Seriously, we've all heard those intros that drone on like a paragraph (or five) out of a dusty anthology, listing award after award and book title after book title, but not giving the audience any sense of what the poet is like. Ross Gay always conveys something about the poet as a person, and always comes across as being really excited about the fact that he's about to hear this reading, and his enthusiasm is always lively & contagious.

Anyway, Stern opened with a brief tribute to Lucille Clifton, of whom he spoke with great admiration (he called her a "national treasure" which sounds about right) and read a short poem of hers before getting out his own work. He read some poems, then some prose, then some more poems, and at times you couldn't really tell (unless you were familiar with the work) where his storytelling stopped and the poem started. Engaging, warm, and with both humor and depth. I was glad to be able to be there.

* * * * *

For a semester that started out with a pretty blank calendar, the upcoming events have been coming up thick and fast - announcements, ticket on-sales. I now have on my calendar:
Gerald Stern - which was tonight
Carrie Newcomer - this weekend
Haiti benefit poetry reading featuring a whole bunch of IU faculty, next week
Yo-Yo Ma, later this month
Martin Sheen lecture, in April
Indigo Girls, also in April
Jeff Beck, in June (super excited about this, as I've recently gotten into him much more than I ever had before, and I've never seen him before)

I'm sure there will be more.


* * * * *

This is what I bought with the money Field sent me for a poem:
journal bound in painted canvas
The journal was handmade by someone named Janette Maher, bound in painted artist's canvas, lovely blank pages. (Etsy is so dangerous!) I liked what Leslie said in a comment on an earlier post, about "tithing to the church of poetry" and using poetry money for something that will feed the poetry. I also decided that I liked the idea of using money that came to me for doing something I love in order to pay someone else for doing something that they love.

The colors remind me of ocean sunsets. Always a pleasant thought.

And I'm slowly edging my way back into poetry after a slight absence. I thought that when poetry came back it would come all in a rush, but it's sort of seeping back slowly. I finally drafted a poem that kinda scares me, which is a good sign. It's always good when your early drafts make you a little bit queasy and uncomfortable. Poetry morning sickness, maybe.

* * * * *

Love, love, love that the sun is already up when I go to work in the morning. Ten days from now when we go back on Daylight Stupid Time it will be dark in the mornings again, but for now, I'm really loving the light. Spring is just around the corner. I can smell it.