April 06, 2015

Spotted: Count the Waves in American Poet!

April is always 30 days of crazy, and not just because of National Poetry Month. It's the month taxes are due; the month students panic about the final projects looming ahead; the month when warming temperatures inspire a smile--that quickly turns into a sneeze, a sniffle, then a wheeze, as all my pollen allergies kick in. 

This year, April includes the lovely madness that is the AWP Conference. If you're going to be in Minneapolis, please consider joining us at the Best New Poets 10th Anniversary Reading on Friday morning. I'm also excited to take part in Tate Street's extension of the Favorite Poem Project, part of the initiative launched by Robert Pinsky during his tenure as Poet Laureate. I'll be talking about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)."

Browning's sonnet--or rather, a purposeful mishearing of it--gives Count the Waves its title, and the opening line serves the book's epigraph. With June 1 publication on the horizon, I'm trying not to fixate on the fact that a handful of Advanced Review Copies are out in the world. My poems are in the hands of some powerful writers and editors, who might like them (or not), who might take them on for review (or not). Will the Traveler's Vade Mecum series make enough sense? Are the acrobatics of a sestina too irksome? Did I get the order of those last five poems right?

I'm trying not to fixate on it, but I'm failing. So it is an incredible gift to see my book given an advance mention in the summer issue of American Poets (the handsome pub of the Academy of American Poets). Here's the item:

by Sandra Beasley
(W.W. Norton, June 2015)

Sandra Beasley's third collection negotiates a tense interplay between intimacy and distance, the gloss of fable and the coarser edges of lived experience: "What the parable does not tell you / is that this woman collects porcelain cats….This man knows they are tacky. Still, when the one / that had belonged to her great-aunt fell / and broke, he held her as she wept … // The parable does not care about such things." Ostensibly conversational in tone, Beasley's lines are crisp and propulsive with verbs, as they examine beauty in a new way: "No one // ever praises the ass of the peacock, grin of quills that does the heavy lifting." Such whimsical turns belie a spiritual devotion and the overall effect is suggestive of an illuminated manuscript: "The seams of our gold world weaken … Steady the hand that dares mend a sky." Beasley's poems also examine the notion of sacrifice, and look beyond easy or pleasing endings.


So much of this review gets at the heart of what the book is about; I particularly love the idea of an "illumined manuscript." Deep breath. It's foolish to be in a hurry for the finished book to arrive, because there is so much to be done between now and then. I've got a tour to plan, and a website to redesign. But my heart's a racin' towards June 1. 

March 18, 2015

Four By Two

I have been to California exactly twice. The first time was for a road trip with my dad that began in San Diego and ventured up Route 1 for four days. We rented a yellow Mustang, which we drove with the top down whenever possible ("I like it when you let your hair whip into knots"). I insisted we visit the Beverly Wilshire hotel, but was disappointed when it looked nothing like the scenes from Pretty Woman. Every restaurant we sat down in, I ordered the sashimi salad. 

In 2007, I flew out again for a two-day work trip that was memorable for three things: the plush bathrobe at the Omni, blooming bougainvillea everywhere, and hearing poems read in the voice of Dr. Spock, a.k.a. Leonard Nimoy. 

In a lifetime in which I am constantly grateful for travel, I know better than to complain. But I would really like to spend more time in the Golden State. In the meantime, I'm thrilled when someone sends me a snapshot of my book on the shelves of City Lights, or mentions spotting my work on a UC-Irvine professor's desk. It's a reminder: poems are not bound to their authors. They get around without our help. 

When Kurt Lipschutz (who publishes as klipschutz) sent me an email with the subject line "greetings from san francisco, and…" I knew that, however random it was, it was going to be good. Turned out to be great: an opportunity to be featured in Four by Two, which he called a "mini-mag quarterly"--low-fi, high-concept--published in hand-numbered editions. No submissions process; poets are selected through a combination of shared interest, referral, and lightning strike. The print run of the first issue was 150 copies. They have now doubled that to 300, and counting. 

As the name hints, each issue consists of four poems by two contributors. Want a year's worth, by mail, sent in a spiffy bespoke envelope? Just $20. 

When the three previous issues arrived, I gasped. You can see by the picture above--these things are gorgeous. I was grateful for a chance to group some poems by theme, without having to worry about previous publication. We decided to bring together two from I Was the Jukebox, and two from Count the Waves, for a portfolio of love (and love lost, and love disrupted) that we named "Arrhythmias." More emails. Proofing.

Then, lo and behold, the box arrived….

I knew that Kurt's collaborator, Jeremy Gaulke, would create art specific to each layout. But I couldn't have dreamed he would come up with an image that takes its cue from "Parable," in which one's worries "take his insides as their oyster; / coating themselves in juice--first gastric, / then nacreous--growing layer upon layer." 

If you could see this up close, you'd note how the heart is a properly organic organ, complete with the labeling of superior vena carta and the pulmonary artery. 

This kind of project is designed for eccentric makers and passionate readers; it is not a strategy to harvest media buzz. Kurt has a lot of other irons in the fire, including his ongoing songwriting with Chuck Prophet. Still, Zouch magazine has noticed, first with a review and more recently via an interview with Jeremy for their "Spatial Relations" series, and I suspect more press is on the horizon. 

Most poets are swamped with journals that accumulate, untouched, into a source of guilt. But Four by Two is a breath of fresh air; something you can unfold, read/enjoy/puzzle over, pin to your bulletin board for a week, and then move on. If you want in, subscribe here. One of the issues in this next season will feature the work of Sarah Hannah, a personal favorite who we lost far too soon--including, I hear, a never-before-published poem. 

This last month has been a blur of work, more work, stressing over buying our home, a flu, five days of teaching poetry to 10th graders, and now a cold. I hope, if I ever get out to San Francisco (maybe for Count the Waves? maybe?), that I get to shake klipschutz's hand and thank him for reminding me how far a poem can travel--even when its author is hunkered down, sniffling and sipping her umpteenth bowl of collard soup. Though for what it is worth, if you're going to binge on soup, collard soup is the way to go. 

February 10, 2015

22 Hours in the Big(ger) City

Sometimes, you just gotta hop on a bus to New York. 

I packed my fur-trimmed hat and gloves; luckily, my more practical-minded husband convinced me to wear flats. My reading on the ride up was the January Poetry (Tarfia Faizullah's "100 Bells" is amazing, as is the "Las Chavas" portfolio, in which Spencer Reese and Richard Blanco workshopped with young Honduran women). 

I managed to limit myself to a bag, laptop, six books to sell, two books to read from, and my purse. So, only somewhat camel-like. A small camel. 

A small, extremely cold camel. Journeying straight to to Fifth Avenue. 

The first time I came to New York City by myself, Poets & Writers put me up in the Library Hotel during my weeklong stay for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. So I've always thought of the blocks around the New York Public Library as my home "neighborhood." Now, it's where I go to see my publisher.

Seeing this never fails to make me stop and take a deep breath. The sixth-floor lobby has a collage of forthcoming book covers, and Cate Marvin's Oracle jumped out at me--good to see poetry proudly displayed alongside the "big" (read: money-making) titles.

I conspired with Claire, my publicist over coffee, trying to figure out key angles for Count the Waves. I said hello to Jill and met her new assistant, Angie. Bumped into Steve and Nomi, who tirelessly work the AWP booth every year, and snagged copies of Sandra Lim's The Wilderness and Eavan Boland's The Woman Without a Country. These annual visits aren't absolutely necessary, but they're vital to me: I want to know the faces and voices behind all the emails.

After I'd run out of excuses to stand around gawking at books, I walked a few blocks down to Grand Central Station and grabbed a seat at the counter of the Oyster Bar.

My friend Jeff introduced me to the Oyster Bar in 2009. Time flies! I ordered a Bloody Mary shot, which is what we ordered that day. And a dozen oysters on the half shell for good measure, with crackers pocketed for later...breakfast, to be exact.

Malpeques from Prince Edward Island, Pemaquids from Maine, and "Gigacups" from Washington state, a name that makes me smile (second only to the "Nauti Pilgrims" from Massachusetts). Four of each: two with lemon and vinegar, two with cocktail sauce and a dash of Cholula. A Blue Point Toasted Lager to wash it all down, while I leafed through the January issue of The Sun; "Readers Write" as the best part, per usual. I dog-eared a portfolio of Coney Island photos to leave out for my uncle.

Though my uncle has had the same Central Park West studio my entire life, navigating uptown to his place always makes me anxious. I made sure all five keys to the building worked, dropped my bags, and got right back on the subway. 

I've been to the Bowery Poetry Club twice before. The first time was ten years ago, when I while staying at the White House hostel. I sipped a carrot juice and tried to summon the courage to sign up for the open mic. More recently, I stopped in to see Reverend Jen host an anti-slam, and it was as I remembered: dark and raucous. 

When the Club opened in 2002, Bob Holman threatened to be the first one to ever go broke running a bar in New York. He came pretty close. So they've given it a total makeover, more fitting to a place that now hosts burlesque five nights a week to pay the bills. That's not a terrible thing--I like the blue, and the art deco details. Hell, if you've gotta make something over, might as well really make it over.

reg e. gaines was the co-feature, and good lordy did he bring it. He got right up with the Duo, who were riffing jazz-funk accompaniment for all the readers, and broke out "Please Don't Take My Air Jordans." I knew his name was familiar, but it wasn't until later that I realized this is the guy who was nominated for a Tony for the book to "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk." I had to follow him. No pressure.

Oh, and also no pressure, Bob Holman was there. At my table! (Or rather, I was at his table.) I can't capture this man's energy, but this is someone who has worked with the St. Mark's Poetry Project, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, BPC, "United States of Poetry," now the Endangered Language Alliance, and so on. You cannot meet him and not be struck by his capacious mind, and his generous heart. Also, he's a big ol' flirt.

It was a lot to take in, especially since I was using this reading to try out a new combination of poems. I think I did okay. If they invite me back, I'll know I did okay. I followed the best rule I know for readings: share one less poem than you want to. It's like Coco Chanel's gospel about removing one accessory before you leave the house.

I love my uncle's apartment. Even if I didn't know he'd been there forever, I would be able to tell with just one look at this cactus. There is always a box of Triscuits on the shelf and Pinnacle vodka in the freezer, chilling alongside two cut-crystal glasses. He has a great eye for calming what could otherwise feel like a crammed-tight space.

Hard to believe that all this happened in less than a day. I don't know that I could ever live here. New York wears me down. The cold is just a little harsher than DC, the streets a little dirtier, the people a little gruffer. But it's a deeply exciting city in its new-ness and its old-ness, in its layers. And I leave as I always do--achy, and grateful.