December 27, 2007

About the Holidays

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is my favorite Christmas song. In December 1965, the astronauts requested to have it piped up as they came home aboard the Gemini 7.

Sweet potatoes should always be served with honey-baked ham.

If you open a very expensive bottle of 1993 Parisian wine, you will have to decant it several times before it becomes drinkable. It will improve the flavor if you continue to down lots of cheaper wine while the decanting takes place.

We are never too old for toy trains. Or sea monkeys. Or stuffed bears.

DC becomes emptier over the holidays, New York more crowded; one small way in which I prefer my hometown.

LED lights just aren't the same.

The strange things you find online: The January 1, 1942 edition of the Kinmundy Express reported that Carl Pruett, "a medical student home on his Christmas vacation," saved the life of Mrs. E. W. Rowlin after she accidentally set her house on fire while trying to heat the house with kerosene. He administered first aid and accompanied her all the way to the hospital in Vandalia, another small Illinois town. Carl Pruett was my grandfather. As far as I know, he never mentioned that night to my grandmother or anyone else in the family.

Those oversized inflatable lawn ornaments are monstrous, but it is still a little sad when fog or cold causes them to all deflate into brightly-colored holiday puddles.

Someone gave me a hot air balloon ride for Christmas.

If I could fast forward to March 2008 right now, I would.

December 21, 2007

Looking for a Reviewer

Are you interested in writing book reviews? A New York-based online journal is looking for someone to review Katherine E. Young's chapbook, Gentling the Bones. I'm a fan of her work--if I weren't her neighbor and therefore a bit biased, I'd review it myself. So if you're interested in getting some good new poetry in the mail and adding to your clip portfolio, backchannel me. Here's a sample poem:

CENTRALIZED HEATING
Moscow, Russia

When the heat resumes its liquid journey
through iron casings bent like whalebone stays
to fit a waist of air, I read the death
notices: “Died from burns suffered when ice
gave way above a ruptured heating pipe.”
And still they lay uninsulated pipe
because that is what they have always done.
Strange to imagine whole neighborhoods, whole

cities being bound by iron girdles
of heating lines and water mains; each year
a few unlucky souls tumble into
their ancient workings, dead of a theory
that was never quite perfected. Outside
it’s March, pale-gray, snowing. First I blow on
my cold-white fingers, seamed and broken like
the earth of some forgotten riverbed;

then I press them to the radiator,
as yet only lukewarm. Across the way,
a woman uses the new-warm water
for her wash; wet bras, girdles, lingerie
stretch rigid and plain across her window.
I hear the groan of water coursing through
pipe, the murmuring plaint of thousands of
taps turning in unison, the scream of

a child being scalded to death inside
a manhole (though that happened long ago,
in America). All that we share, I
and the washerwoman across the way,
are these heating veins, these leafless birch trees
in the yard; but I wonder if she knows
the feel of heat on my dead hands, or in
the shriveled-up place that once held my heart.


--Katherine E. Young

(This poem first appeared on BELTWAY, in the "Evolving City" issue.)

December 19, 2007

Snippets and Snow Globes

There's a snow globe I keep on my desk at the office, made entirely of one unseamed surface of clear glass: a sculpted mountain peak and, in one tiny crevice, the Swiss flag painted in red. I tend to pick it up in the mornings, as I'm waiting for my coffee to cool, and tip it two or three times. Once the snow settles, I try to get some work done.

When I was flying home from Switzerland (completely unaware that I'd already won a book prize), I panicked that they would confiscate the snow globe from my carry-on bag bag. And as it turns out, the TSA has a rule dictating that they should have done just that. The TSA also has a rule that their employees "are trained not to communicate, distract, interact, play, feed, or pet service monkeys." Monkeys? Is there a substantial service monkey contingent I had missed?

This is a quiet ending to a noisy year.

I've been laying low on the poetry front, working on a prose project that--while unlikely to come to fruition, I keep sternly reminding myself--would be a dream opportunity if it did. There's a musculature to the short essay (under 1,000 words) that is really winning me over. "Just enough time to open a subject, expand it, and close it again," said my friend Richard. Just enough space that you can illustrate a story with a few quotes and moments genuinely remembered; not so much space that you're tempted to add filler that may or may not be true. That, to me, was the ethical intricacy (and ultimately, discouraging factor) of creative non-fiction.

If you're looking for a distraction over the holidays: Reading Life, with Sven Birkerts. As someone who usually detests "books about books," I was utterly captivated.

Also: hot cider, spiced with rum. Mmmmmmm.

December 11, 2007

Lookee here...

I have a poem up at Slate!

December 07, 2007

They Came By Candlelight

Thanks to everyone who made it out Wednesday night for our impromptu Washington Literary Salon with Moikom Zeqo and Wayne Miller. We had about 25 guests, an amazing number given the picturesque but relentless snowfall. Every chair in our apartment was full, which is how I like it. Meeting members of the local Albanian community--an incredibly gracious and enthusiastic crowd--was a real delight. I think everyone came away feeling like they'd discovered some glittering, previously hidden corner of DC culture.

Thanks to Mark Dawson, we even have some pictures of the evening, which I'll use to knit together a little visual narrative...



Moikom and his lovely daughter, Kleitia. They were waiting outside my building as I walked up, carting about 201 bottles of beer. My words of welcome were "I can't shake your hand, but will you get the door for me?"



Mark, our fearless photographer, also notes the loveliness of Moikom's daughter.



Part of the crowd: a little snow-covered, a lot Albanian, and hopefully stuffed with bread and wine by the time they left.



Here I am talking too much, as usual. I'm telling the story of our huge apartment (God bless rent control), which first housed the mistress of the building's architect; then Grover Cleveland; then Calvin Coolidge; now, Washington Literary Salon. The art is by my talented flatmate, Maryanne Pollock.



Wayne, Moikom's translator and the first to read (a few gorgeous poems from his own book, Only the Senses Sleep), looks up expectantly. He is probably wondering when I will stop talking.



Moikom, shuffling his papers. He will go on to read about a dozen poems in Albanian (a beautiful, muscular language), with Wayne reading translations of each. The poems will knock our socks off.

He will then remind us of the great Albanians of the world: Christopher Columbus, Alan Shepard, and possibly, Jesus.



Success! And exhaustion. We came, we saw, we listened, we drank. I am told this is as close as Moikom gets to a grin of joy.

...So thanks, everyone. I'm inspired to have more of these, now that we know where to put the chairs and how many peanuts to pour into bowls. Plus, now I have my new secret weapon to guaranteeing a large crowd: invite the Albanians.

All pictures (c) Mark Dawson

December 05, 2007

Gratitude and...Waiting.

Before I forget, I need to offer a huge thanks to three journals--Coconut, 32 Poems, and the Blue Fifth Review--for nominating me for the Pushcart prize. That's pretty amazing.

Through a welcome but strange twist of fate, I am hosting a reading at my apartment tonight. The authors are Moikom Zeqo, an Albanian poet whose most recent book is I Don’t Believe in Ghosts (BOA Editions, 2007), and his translator, Wayne Miller, who is the author of Only the Senses Sleep (New Issues, 2006) and the co-editor of Pleiades. We had planned this as an intimate pit stop between much bigger readings in New York and Missouri.

Turns out, "Albanian poet" does not nearly capture Moikom's allure. He is a famous archaelogist. The former Minister of Culture. He is, in Albanian terms, pretty much a rockstar. Which means that I've been getting a steady stream of RSVPs for the last two days. I think every Albanian in DC is coming!

So we bought wine. More wine. Lined up as many chairs as we could borrow. I decided that if this turned out to be a candlelit affair in a crammed room, with people sitting on the floor to hear Moikom read...well, I only wish more poetry readings were like that.

But now it is snowing. And I am...waiting. Surely Albanians will not be daunted by a little cold weather?

December 03, 2007

And on an extremely self-indulgent front...

...I need to choose between two options for my author photo. I've posted web-friendly versions below. These will come down in a few hours. In the meantime, if anyone dropping by the blog wants to give their vote, please do so in the "Comments" section. Many thanks!

Option 1 - Head and Shoulders

*poof*

Option 2 - Close-Up

*poof*

...okay, thank you! Between a couple of helpful comments and some backchanneling, I think I know what I need to know.

November 29, 2007

Postcard from the Wandering

Thanks to everyone who came out to ACA Galleries in Chelsea. What a great reading! Maureen was a snazzy hostess; Ada Limon read some poems that sang, whistled, snapped and sizzled; Logan Ryan Smith came all the way from San Francisco; Shafer Hall was absolutely Shafer-esque. Alex Battles, a.k.a. Whiskey Rebellion, was pretty damn funny and on occasion, heart-breaking. To honor the evening, Maureen assembled a "Big Game Revue" that included new poems from most of the Tinyside contributors; at $5 each, they were a steal. Watch for them to be offered (out of a very exclusive run of 75) at future BGB readings.

Afterwards, Carly and I went out for a celebratory drink with my uncle, a veteran New Yorker. He led us to The Park, a gorgeous but woefully underpopulated bar--their loss, our gain, as we immediately snagged chairs in front of a roaring fire. Carly and I finished our evening with a delicious dinner at Le Zie (braised octopus...mmm...with sun-dried tomatoes, chickpeas, celery and black olives). And then, a scenic taxi ride over the Brooklyn Bridge and back to Carly's place.

The next day, I explored the Whitney Museum and met Amy for lunch. We talked about life and love and cover designs. I've blogged about Kara Walker's cut-paper silhouettes before, so I'll simply say that if you're open to very provocative work dealing with the history of race in America: go see her show at the Whitney. "My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love" is open through February.

It's also possible that on this trip I got to see my book's "face" for the first time. But that's one secret that will have to wait.

November 21, 2007

If you're in New York on Tuesday...

Boog City presents d.a. levy lives: celebrating the renegade press
Big Game Books of Washington, D.C.

Tues. Nov. 27, 6:00 p.m. sharp, free

ACA Galleries in New York City
529 W.20th St., 5th Flr.
(C/E to 23rd St., 1/9 to 18th St.
Between 10th and 11th avenues.)

Hosted by Big Game Books editor Maureen Thorson and featuring readings from Sandra Beasley, Shafer Hall, Ada Limón, Logan Ryan Smith, and music from Alex Battles. Wine, cheese, and crackers, too. Curated by Boog City editor David Kirschenbaum.

------

**Big Game Books: Big Game Books, which may or may not be the tiniest press in the world, operates out of Washington, D.C. It publishes small editions of handbound chapbooks and "tinysides," wee little six-page booklets featuring a range o' up-and-coming poets.

**Alex Battles: Alex Battles is a country singer and songwriter, and the leader of The Whiskey Rebellion, a country band based in Brooklyn. Originally from Chesterland, Ohio, Battles writes country songs by turns funny and bittersweet on his grandfather's tenor banjo. His influences are John Prine, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and Tom T. Hall. Battles has written a respectable 113 songs. He is also the founder and host of such events as the The Brooklyn Country Music Festival, The CasHank Hootenanny Jamboree,
and The Johnny Cash Birthday Bash. He things funny thongs.

**Sandra Beasley: Sandra Beasley won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for her book Theories of Falling, selected by Marie Howe. Her poems have also been featured on Verse Daily; in magazines such as 32 Poems, New Orleans Review, and Blackbird; and
in the 2005 Best New Poets. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works on the editorial staff of The American Scholar.

**Shafer Hall: Shafer Hall is happy to live in a world where for enough money he can have syndicated reruns of Coach on his television at almost any time of day. He has poems forthcoming from Lungfull, and his Never Cry Woof is available from No Tell Books.

**Ada Limón: Ada Limón is originally from Sonoma, Calif. A graduate of the creative writing program at New York University, she won the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry and has received fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She works as the Copy Director for GQ Magazine and is teaching a Master Class for Columbia University's MFA program in Spring 2008. Her first book, lucky wreck, was
the winner of the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize. Her second book, This Big Fake World, was the winner of the 2005 Pearl Poetry Prize.

**Logan Ryan Smith: Logan Ryan Smith lives in San Francisco where he publishes Transmission Press chapbooks. Up until recently he published a poetry mag called small town. In the summer of 2007 the San Francisco Bay Guardian recognized him for his publishing efforts in their "Best of the Bay 2007" issue. His first book, The Singers, was published by Dusie Press Books in the same summer. In the fall of '07 he released Stupid Birds--a collection of chapbooks and poems written between 2004 and 2006--under the Transmission Press imprint. Other poetry has appeared in New American Writing, Bombay Gin, Spell, string of small machines, Hot Whiskey Magazine, the tiny, Mirage #4/ Period(ical), and elsewhere, as well as in the anthologies Bay Poetics (Faux Press), and The Meat Book (Hot Whiskey). A few online chapbooks can be found at detumescence.com and dusie.org.

----

Next event: Tues. Dec. 18, 2007 - NYC Presses Day, with Belladonna Books, Cy Gist Press, Futurepoem Books, Kitchen Press, Litmus Press/Aufgabe, and Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs.

November 20, 2007

This. Is. My. Hometown.



(Photo by Samer Farha, courtesy of Flickr)

In news not related to land sharks, I just got proofs from Barn Owl Review, AND I heard from Ravi Shankar regarding the upcoming Drunken Boat. I'll be in a poetics portfolio with a really amazing crop of poets including Lisa Spaar, D. Nurkse, Ron Padgett, Camille Dungy, Jeffrey Skinner, and Nathaniel Tarn. Holy hell, that's exciting!

November 19, 2007

The Details

On my walk to work, I passed by my local wine store and finally saw which boy hand-letters the sign advertising each day's tasting.

Yesterday, a trip to Charlottesville for a friend's (post-)baby shower. No games, thank god, and instead of showering her with gifts, we each shared a story of motherhood or childhood. It was low-key and lovely; a lot more engaging than watching an expectant mother unwrap onesie after onesie. Afterwards, a welcome antidote to all the domesticity--meeting Jessica at Michael's Bistro for a round of Arrogant Bastard ale, on draft. Michael's has been open since my undergrad days; I remember convincing the manager to buy ads in each issue of 3.7 magazine. The Thai chicken curry with basmati rice is still delicious.

Over the weekend...galleys! I got galleys! The luxury of my Thanksgiving holiday will be proofing.

I hardly ever read the New York Times. In in my phantom Sunday, the ideal I'm working toward, a time to read the paper (seated at a big table, over coffee and orange juice) comes just after the Farmer's Market, and before turning up the music and cleaning. I did skim it online this morning, only to discover that they covered Moira's wedding. Moira, the States miss you.

Though I continue to plot my trip to Austria--aided by Jessica's memories of a lovely flat and good music--I also wouldn't mind making a trip to Prince Edward Island, home to Anne of Green Gables and oysters you can scoop from the ocean yourself. From the NYT Travel Section: "These oysters were shockingly creamy, spectacularly briny...They filled out their shells the way Jayne Mansfield filled out a dress." Come on, who can resist that?

There are so many things to be done today, and I can't seem to grab a hold of any of them. Trying to break through a round of insomania last night--a rare thing for me--I got bored and decided to eat raw peppers around 2 AM. I quickly discovered which ones were sweet and which were truly hot (there was some swishing of water, devouring of water crackers, and frantic toothbrushing that followed).

Should have taken my contacts out BEFORE that experiment.

November 16, 2007

Psst...it's Friday. Already!

Quiet and stressful times, fueled by Gummi worms and coffee, as we prepare the Winter issue of The American Scholar for press.

Before I get too far away from it, though, I want to thank the inestimable Ethelbert Miller and Jody Bolz for cohosting a reading, last Sunday, at the Writer's Center celebrating the 118th birthday of Poet Lore. Just to give you an idea of Poet Lore's place in the history of American letters, once upon a time Walt Whitman took out an advertisement announcing publication of the final edition of Leaves of Grass. Robin Becker (terrific reading voice!) and Michael Lally were part of the festivities.

November 12, 2007

...And the Gloves Come Off


The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel - Second Floor,
edited by Reb Livingston & Molly Arden
ISBN: 978-0-6151-6437-3
Publication Date: December, 2007
216 pages

Available at Lulu for $16.99 [[Buy it there!]]
Available Soon at Amazon and B&N for $16.99

Featuring Sexy By:

Eric Abbott * Deborah Ager * Malaika King Albrecht * William Allegrezza * Molly Arden * Cynthia Arrieu-King * Robyn Art * Sandra Beasley * Aaron Belz * Erin M. Bertram * Mary Biddinger * Ana Bozicevic-Bowling * Timothy Bradford * Joseph Bradshaw * Jason Bredle * Jenny Browne * Jenna Cardinale * Bruce Covey * Phil Crippen * Susan Denning * Michelle Detorie * Laurel K. Dodge * Mark DuCharme * Peg Duthie * kari edwards * AnnMarie Eldon * Jill Alexander Essbaum * Julie R. Enszer * Noah Falck * Michael Farrell * Katie Fesuk * Adam Fieled * Alice Fogel * Elisa Gabbert * Eric Gelsinger * Scott Glassman * David B. Goldstein * Dean Gorman * Anne Gorrick * Lea Graham * Kate Greenstreet * Piotr Gwiazda * Shafer Hall * Josh Hanson * Nathan Hoks * Donald Illich * Salwa C. Jabado * Charles Jensen * Jim Kober * Ron Klassnik * Jennifer L. Knox * Dorothee Lang * Sueyeun Juliette Lee * David Lehman * Reb Livingston * Rebecca Loudon * Justin Marks * Clay Matthews * Kristi Maxwell * Gary L. McDowell * Erika Meitner * Didi Menendez * Michael Meyerhofer * Steve Mueske * Gina Myers * Cheryl Pallant * Shann Palmer * Alison Pelegrin * Simon Perchik * Derek Pollard * Andrea Potos * Cati Porter * Laurie Price * Jessy Randall * Kim Roberts * Anthony Robinson * Carly Sachs * John Sakkis * Allyson Salazar * Christine Scanlon * Margot Schilpp * Morgan Lucas Schuldt * Patty Seyburn * Peter Jay Shippy * Evie Shockley * Alex Smith * Hugh Steinberg * Nicole Steinberg * Alison Stine * Mathias Svalina * Erik Sweet * Eileen R. Tabios * Bronwen Tate * Molly Tenenbaum * Chris Tonelli * Letitia Trent * Jen Tynes * Michael Quattrone * Ashley VanDoorn * Fritz Ward * J. Marcus Weekley * Betsy Wheeler * Theodore Worozbyt * Kim Young

November 09, 2007

And we, the fallible, shall now form our secret handshake.

Listening to Radiohead. Enjoying the gerber daisies. Reading this poem by Dean Young--a new one, from the November issue of Poetry--a lonely, slightly cockeyed one. We think: maybe a life of fetch is not a wasted life. We think: it must be a Friday night.


UNDERTOW


People looking at the sea,
makes them feel less terrible about themselves,
the sea's behaving abominably,
seems never satisfied,
what it throw away it dashes down
then wants back, yanks back.
Comparatively, thinks one vice president,
what are my frauds but nudged along
misunderstandings already there?
I can't believe I ever worried
about my betrayals, thinks the analyst
benefitting financially from the sea's raged-up mist.
Obviously I'm not the only one suffering
an identity crisis knows the boy
who wants to be a lawyer no more.
Nothing can stay long, cogitates the dog,
so maybe a life of fetch is not a wasted life.
And the sea heaves and cleaves and seethes,
shoots snot out, goes to bed only to wake
shouting in the mansion of the night, pacing,
pacing, making tea then spilling it,
sudden outloud laughter snort, Oh what the
heck, I probably drove myself crazy,
thinks the sea, kissing all those strangers,
forgiving them no matter what, liars
in confession, vomitters of plastics
and fossil fuels but what a stricken
elixir I've become even to my becalmed depths,
while through its head swim a million
fishes seemingly made of light
eating each other.

###

November 06, 2007

14:59 and counting


Yeah...that's me, all right. I'm profiled in the November 2007 DC North as part of their "Meet Your Neighbor" series. Kendra did a very nice job with the piece, other than her generous and wildly inflated descriptions of my talent. I'm especially grateful that they repeated my mention of Sarah Browning and the Split This Rock festival, which is going to make a huge impact on DC in 2008.

You can find a quick & easy html version here, or the PDF layout (including a poem) here.

November 02, 2007

Diagram!

This morning I received an email from a stranger that began "The directions were just lovely. I followed them with a real crane...."

This is how I learned that the new Diagram is online.

I'm in good company with Patrick Lawler, Louise Mathias, and more. Go! Enjoy!

October 31, 2007

October Drafting

(This will exist for less than a day.)


Cast of Thousands

*poof*

October 30, 2007

From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E.

Last night's Burlesque Poetry Hour reading was fantastic. Funny readers, good pacing, a lot of hanging out afterwards. I mean, really: I went home with three books, a new understanding of a dictator's moustache, AND Michael Schiavo's underwear.

For some reason this poem--an old one--popped to mind as I was walking to work this morning. Maybe it can be rescued from the slush pile of memory and added to a manuscript...


SELFISH WAFFLEHOUSE MIDNIGHT

The blind man down the counter works his meal like an abacus. Tap tap of fork in eggs. Tap tap of toast subtracted. I do not have it so hard. Tonight I am in like with you. Lullaby like, blackjack deal like, rickshaw trammeling down the avenue like, lit cherrybomb like, bigger boy pummeling smaller boy like, marshmallow like, black dress like, name one of the Great Lakes like, straight up like, dumb like, like eggs yielding to my ready eyes and fingers. Over. Easy. The man working the frying pan has a nametag. Flynn, it says, and I love him in. I am in like with you. I am letting myself like it.

October 29, 2007

Just Another Manic Monday

We pause for this design loveliness, dedicated to Cornshake:




These snapshots--and the extensive tour HERE--are of a San Francisco store called The Curiosity Shoppe, just down the road from the 826 Valencia Writing Center (run by the McSweeney's crew). This is one of those stores that is, in and of itself, a work of art. Beautiful color coordination, custom wood display shelving, and hey--porcelain peanuts! Did you know you even needed those? Just one more reminder that I must go to San Francisco, ideally with a pocket full of money. Thanks to Design*Sponge for making a Monday morning a little more bearable with these distractions.

October 26, 2007

How We Categorize

I've been thinking about how we categorize poetry: surrealist, modernist, beat, experimental, romantic, Oulipo, confessional. It seems odd that we apply these labels to the poets, rather than on a poem-by-poem basis. That's certainly easier to keep track of, but we're settling for 80% accuracy at best; and worse yet, perhaps hobbling poets from writing outside the "school" that's given them the most success and acceptance. Jessica Smith, more than once, has said on her blog that--despite being primarily known for experimental works such as Organic Furniture Cellar--she has a lyric/biographical impulse at heart. She always sounds a little apologetic, but what's wrong with having an accessible narrative or two in your back pocket?

I remember, back when I was doing my MFA work--workshops with Henry Taylor, the Medea sonnets, my circus sequence--someone casually called a formal poet. It totally brought me up short, even though it was meant as a compliment. I wasn't ready to be "schooled," though it might have had certain professional advantages--I could have built up affiliations to journals, editor, presses, narrowed my focus on what to read and where to aim. Instead, I rebelled. = ) Now I'm reconciled to the fact that my first book will probably invite a "confessional" label, because many of the poems draw on autobiography. But I've rebelled again, and the work I'm doing now is probably surrealist, more than anything else.

Do I have MPPD (multiple poet-personality disorder)? Worst case scenario, I'm an embodiment of the concern that a natural voice can be thrown off-track by too many workshop influences. But honestly, the categories of poetry that interest me most (for now) are these:

-poems based on a personal reality
-poems based on a historical reality
-poems creating a philosophical reality

I find these categories really helpful in understanding what I read, why I like it (or don't like it), and what I can push myself to do that I haven't done before. But one migrates between these categories, on a poem-by-poem basis, in a way that tramples the boundaries between agreed-upon schools. Some outside examples might be the leap that Nick Flynn from Some Ether to Blind Huber. Rita Dove casually uses a formal approach all the time in her books, but I don't find it useful to label her a "formal" poet. I find it much more useful to think about whether she's writing from a personal narrative (poems in Thomas and Beulah), or a historical reference point (her Hattie McDaniel poem), etc., and the intrinsic challenges of each, the shifts in tone.

I'm not crazy about Ron Silliman's "School of Quietude" label, because it has a built-in denigration factor, but I do admire that he wasn't afraid of naming a new, intuitive category based on his perception of what's out there. If it helps you navigate the poetry world, so be it.

What are the ways you think about poetry? Not the roster of agreed-upon academic categories--anyone with an MFA can probably identify the textbook difference between a post-modernist and a neoformalist. But what are the divisions that really mean something to you and your work? How do you measure when something has shifted?


UPDATE - Alice Blue is back! Use the link at your leisure.
P.S. - As Deb pointed out to me, the link below to the Alice Blue Review has gone wonky--perhaps they have not renewed their domain? I'll see if I can get the poem text from Mr. Schomburg himself...in the meantime, you'll just have to take my word for its glory. Sorry about that.

October 25, 2007

One Loud Gulp

Last night I went to hear Rose Solari read at Riverby Books. I like her work, and I particularly like her reading style--clear voice, engaging intros, and never going over time. She read a Dionysus poem I enjoyed, and later found in the Innisfree Poetry Journal:

WINE TASTING

Dionysus would slap you silly
if he could see you now--sniffing
and twirling and sipping and, dear god,
spitting it out. What mortal arrogance,
the mess you've made of his gift. Now,

let's start over. Throw back your head
and drain this puny glass with one loud gulp.
Then send--no, roar--for a cup carved
out of animal horn, deep enough that
when you reach the bottom, you'll see

two horns, two hands, two mouths. Then
you'll be worthy to grab the woman
on your left--who feels, as you do, now,
the rush of sweet blood to the brain and to
the thighs--and put your grape-stained mouth

to hers. We are, all of us, nothing more
than empty vessels that the god can fill
with his heart-made, heart-poured wine. Drink,
you fool, and love. Become divine.

-Rose Solari

###

I just had word that my title poem from the book, "Theories of Falling," will appear in the Winter issue of the incomparable journal Barrow Street. Hooray! They also took "August," which is on the last page. Funny how those orphan poems nag at you--I'm very grateful they found a good home at last.

October 24, 2007

California is Burning

It's awful, these wildfires. I had never been to California until two years ago, when I took an October road trip with my father--driving from San Diego to Los Angeles in yellow Mustang convertible. The pictures of those landscapes now flattened by ash goes beyond devastation; it's sacrilege, damn it.

So I've been trying to write about fire. But today I found a poem at Alice Blue Seven called "The Fire Cycle," by Zachary Schomburg (and courtesy of Tony Tost). And I thought: yes.

I don't need to write a fire poem. It's been written--and written really damn well. That's a high compliment (embedded with arrogance, I know). You should go read all of Mr. Schomburg's stuff--"The Ghost Age is also amazing. Go on! Get out of here!

October 18, 2007

My Neighborhood

Timeliness be damned, I've been walking a slightly different route to work each day, trying to see new parts of my neighborhood. So far: a power plant, a jungle gym, a swimming pool, the design store "And Beige" (rumored but never before spotted), an entirely cylindrical house, a pottery studio, and a couple of side streets where (fingers crossed) I could dream of living in a little one-bedroom.

Also took a field trip all the way down to Congressional Cemetery, which is the resting place of many prominent gay figures. I didn't find Peter Doyle's headstone (a local tram operator, and Whitman's lover), but I did see the grave of a gay Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovitch ("They gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one") and J. Edgar Hoover. Clyde Tolson, Hoover's associate director of the FBI and "close friend" (ahem) lies only a few yards away. I was down there with my editor, who is working on a book project on Mathew Brady, the famed (and hetero) Civil War photographer and another cemetery resident.

What all of this has to do with writing, I don't know. = ) Except that, while I'm engaged in the not-writing of poetry, I've been writing short (750 word) essays on life in DC. Which has me thinking of the meaning of "home"...and Washington seems to be home a little more with each day.

October 10, 2007

Ephemera

Saturday: Drove to Syracuse. Wine. Sunday: New York Times, vegan pancakes (!), apple-picking. More wine. Monday: Coffee in a college coffeeshop (back at UVA, we called ours "Depresso Corner") with my lovely hostess for the weekend. Then a looong drive home, but the leaves were beautiful.

Tuesday: Josh Ritter in concert at the 9:30 Club...you can hear it streamed in full from this NPR website. My friend Austin has gotten picked up to play guitar on this tour, which added a thrill. (Nice hat, Austin!) NPR's music page is just a ridiculously useful way to speed an office day along...the Neko Case, Rilo Kiley, and Iron & Wine shows are all keepers.

How did I come to join this club? I'm...honored. The poetry beat has been dormant for the last few weeks--I've been distracted by, well, life--but I'll be back soon enough. Promise.

October 05, 2007

I've been Harriet-ed!

Many thanks to Anne for pointing out this rather nice mention on Stephen Burt's blog entry for Harriet.

Elsewhere in poetry: This is a really memorable, intimate portrait (and elegy) for Liam Rector...in Newsweek, of all places.

This weekend: driving to Syracuse, New York, to stay with a dear friend from college. There will be apple picking. There will be red wine drinking. There will be watching the leaves turn and fall.

October 04, 2007

Upcoming Events at the Writer's Center

Just a few events to look forward to next week at the Writer's Center:

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 9: Poetry reading
by Nin Andrews and Richard Peabody

Nin Andrews' third book Why They Grow Wings won the Gerald Cable Award and was published by Silverfish review Press in 2001. Andrews is also the author of The Book of Orgasms and Spontaneous Breasts, winner of the 1998 Pearl Chapbook contest.

(C'mon, who could resist titles like those?)

Richard Peabody is the founder of Gargoyle magazine and the editor of fourteen anthologies including Grace and Gravity: Fiction by Washington Area Women, and Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix.

(Anyone in DC knows that Richard is a mainstay of the our publishing world--and definitely one of the people who first welcomed me to the city. He's also an excellent poet in his own right.)

AND

7:30 p.m., Friday, October 12: Richard Thompson

The Writer’s Center presents an evening with Washington Post cartoonist Richard Thompson, whose strip "Cul-de-Sac" appears in the Washington Post Magazine, and "Richard's Poor Almanac" in the Style section. Thompson, who is going into national syndication, will talk about how he finds and develops ideas and will share samples of work in process.

(This is a chance to talk with a very funny cartoonist--a genre of artist that is a little more hermetic than the rest.)

The Writer’s Center is at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD. There's always a reception afterwards, and admission is free.

October 03, 2007

Wednesday Confession

(Inspired, in part, by Nate)

You know, I'm not crazy about novels anymore. That hasn't always been the case. I was that kid who maxed out the public library's 50-book limit. I grew up on everything from L.M. Montgomery to Vladimir Nabokov to Stephen King to Mary Higgins Clark to Ray Bradbury to Willa Cather: I read anything that landed in front of me, including cereal boxes and the Sports section of the Post.

Nowadays it is short stories, I love, especially hodgepodge anthologies where I discover new authors. And nonfiction books, I have finally developed a taste for. Two devoured recently: The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson, and The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs (a perk of being in the review business--I got to read each as galleys, months before they came out).

But novels? Never read Love in the Time of Cholera. Never read The Master and Margherita (despite receiving a very nice gift of it). Never read The Memory Keeper's Daughter, or The Lovely Bones, or The Red Tent. Never read Pride and Predjudice. Never read War and Peace.

And damn it, it's okay if I never do. Just this morning a friend referred to these books as "the type that people like us read," and I was too embarassed to contradict him. But my life is overflowing with words: magazines, poetry collections, essays, and blogs. I can live without having read Les Miserables.

So if you've added me to your GoodReads list, or any other comunity bookshelf, please don't be offended if my account stays inactive. I accepted the invitation because I know and like you, and it seemed rude not to. But the truth is: I'm not looking for more books to read.

I'm looking for more time to read the books I already know about.

September 29, 2007

Better Things!

The Summer 2007 issue of Pebble Lake Review is now online at www.pebblelakereview.com. In this issue: Kristin Aardsma, Sandra Beasley, Hayan Charara, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Daphne Gottlieb, James Harms, Alex Lemon, Timothy Liu, Jeffrey McDaniel, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Amy Newman, Juliet Patterson, Jon Pineda, and many more.

Plus reviews of Glean by Joshua Kryah, Severence by Robert Olen Butler, Dirt and All Its Dense Labor by Gabriel Welsch, This Clumsy Living by Bob Hicok, and Vitreous by David Ray Vance.

...Thanks, Amanda, for including me in such a beautiful magazine!

September 27, 2007

What day is it?

To anyone I owe an email, I'm sorry.
To anyone I missed on Monday, I'm *really* sorry.

I have been...well, "sick" doesn't quite cover it. Fevered, bed-bound, I haven't had solid food since Sunday. This is not a weight loss plan I recommend. I made it through the horse races just fine, oddly enough, but I have missed everything--and I mean everything--since then. Back next week. I promise.

In the meantime, a very important local bookstore, Chapters, is in danger of closing. Technically, it WILL close--at its current location--but it is trying to raise the money to lease a new and improved space incorporating the bookstore into a larger non-profit Literary Arts Center. Find out how you can support their efforts HERE ... and think about attending one of their last two readings: tonight, featuring Stanly Plumly, or tomorrow (Friday), featuring Reuben Jackson and Kwame Dawes. Both at 7 PM, 445 11th Street NW (very close to Metro Center).


I cannot say loudly enough: Chapters is a treasured independent bookstore and a vital part of DC's literary and readings scene. Please support it if you can.

September 21, 2007

Taking It Off, Again

Monday night, I want to see you--yes, you--here:

Burlesque Poetry Hour

Please join Gilda and special guest host Delilah (that's me) in enticing Remica L. Bingham, Piotr Gwiazda and Dean Smith to take it off on Monday, September 24th. Reading will begin at 8:00 p.m. in The Dark Room at Bar Rouge (1315 16th Street NW, DC).

I know all the poets and they are great writers and polished readers. There will be hijinks. If you ask nicely, I might cut your hair.

Now...let the excitement begin. I just got my AWP Panel details:

Breaking Lines on the Battlefield: Poetry of Wartime
with Doug Anderson, Kevin Bowen, Brian Turner, and Susan Tichy
Saturday, February 2, 2008
1:30-2:45PM

...this is great. People might even be awake by 1:30! Back from lunch! Less hungover! As a first-time moderator I was sure that I'd have a 9 AM Thursday slot, and need to dangle juice and donuts to lure in an audience. Plus, this means I'll have a chance to do advance promoting and talk with the panelists. Big Apple, here I come!

Well, not yet. This weekend, I'll be at horse races in southern Virginia...you know you're a Southern girl when your cousins invite you to their farm to watch the races. I'm hoping for mint juleps.

September 13, 2007

On a Slightly Less Navel-Gazing Note

"The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost


...As reproduced in Legos by Bill Ward and Holly Ward. For more vignettes straight out of poems by Frost and A.E. Housman, go here.

Book-age

A year ago I was in upstate New York at the Millay Colony. I would wake around 10 or 11 (I worked until 3 or 4 AM). During the day I would drive into Chatham or Hudson and walk around, look at antique shops and art galleries, have a beer and snap photographs of colorful window-shutters. By 6 I'd be back at the big house, sharing a huge salad with the other fellows, chatting about the one copy of the Sunday New York Times that we all shared. Every night I was drafting a poem, and whittling away at a longer, older manuscrpt (The Reveal) that would become Theories of Falling. My studio wall fluttered with pushpinned poems, which I moved around to create different orders and sections, alternating with photographs xeroxed from a Diane Arbus book I'd found in the Millay library.

There was a nervous energy to the month: this will matter. I found one local artist whose surreal photocollages I loved, and struck up a conversation with the gallery owner. When she asked what I was looking for I said "oh, I need cover art for my book," and though it was an *utter* bluff at that moment, it all seemed possible: there would be a book. It would need a cover.

At the end of the month, I came home and immediately sent the MS off to 2 places where I'd been a finalist before--the May Swenson Prize and the New Issues Poetry Prize, and Sarabande's open reading. A month passed. I found sloppy lines drafted in September's 2 AM haste. Sarabande rejected me based on the new poems. I reread older pages that I'd cut, and some were like workhorses: hefty, well-crafted, good magazine credits. I felt guilty for cutting them. I returned to my old title. All that nervous energy...faded. And right up until April of this year I was sending out a balanced, polished manuscript. But it was the MS I'd sent out early last October, with all of its newborn flaws and urgency, that would count.

Now, in the aftermath of April and August, it's another September. I'm on page 45 of another manuscript--drafting and scrapping and cutting and shuffling. There's no goldenrod here in DC, and no butterflies drifting over Edna's tennis court. These poems are strange and incantatory, populated by minotaurs and battlefields and orchids and hippogriffs. They are not personal, though they are human-hearted. But perhaps this work will matter. I hope this will matter.

September 09, 2007

Sunday, Sunday

Random aspects of loveliness: bought a handful of dahlias (pink and yellow) from the Farmer's Market, and from same market bought basil and heirloom tomatoes for the most basic of salads (slice, add salt and cracked pepper, dash of olive oil, enjoy). The peaches are ripe, the sun is shining, and the work I should be doing will just have to wait. Today is Adams Morgan Day, when my neighborhood celebrates...itself. Live music, craft vendors, and the usual siren call to buy large works of art which I have no room to hang in my apartment.

Also, a nice bit of (delayed) news--Doug Martin emailed to say that my poem "The Angels" (first featured in Coconut) will be in the anthology Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years, to be published by Snow*vigate Press. Yay!

*

The experience of evaluating fellowship applications (being on "the other side," so to speak) was illuminating. I can't say anything about the winners or alternates yet--only that the people named are very deserving, but there were also some very deserving people who won't be named, and that's an intrinsic flaw of the process. All six panelists were deeply invested in poetry, and to have the shared vocabulary of 52 sets of poems (some up to 30 pages in length)--and to then speak freely about our opinions on the work--was wonderful, and made me miss working on a literary journal. We each had our own varying relationships to academia (thank goodness) and our unique aesthetic biases (thank goodness).

Poetry's a small world, and when you're limiting it to a single state, you're going to see a lot of familiar names. But that didn't have the consequences one might fear. No one got a free pass based on reputation; the work had to be fresh, thoughtful, and show an evolving philosophy. No one was struck down for gossipy or unfairly subjective reasons. Project proposals mattered, even if the proposal was simply finding a sincere and original way to say "I need the breathing room this money would allow me." In some cases, a poet I knew by name only turned out to write work I loved; in some cases, work I was prepared to love, hoping to love, fell terribly flat. In some cases I abstained from voting based on personal affiliation/affection, and was then thrilled to listen to the other panelists admire and engage with the work without my (biased) help. The best moments were "wow"s invoked by poets I had never heard of--a post-MFA student, or a 50something coming back to writing--where even if the work didn't merit a fellowship this time around, one had the sense of a sneak peek at someone who would be making a difference in poetry 5 years from now.

A couple of suggestions I would make, for future applicants:

-Be focused in your project proposal. Don't say you'll use the money to do 90 things. If you offer a thematic project proposal in your Artist Narrative ("a chapbook on X"), include work samples that speak to that proposal. It's okay to say you need the money to support the basic expenses of living, but don't come off like a martyr. We've all been there.

-Include recent work in the sample, and make it clear that it is recent (either on a cover page or in the Artist Narrative). Don't be afraid to submit LESS then the work sample maximum, which right now is an absurdly large 30 pages. Including weak work will hurt you.

-If you are applying to a grant-giving organization with regional ties, include parts of your CV that demonstrate a commitment to that region--local readings, visits to area high schools, etc. Sometimes people offer an abbreviated version of accomplishments (major prizes, books, and academic positions only). Brevity IS something which the panelists appreciated (especially after oh, the 37th application)...but when we're down to the splitting hairs of tough decisions, if you want a fellowship from Virginia we'd like to see that you are, in fact, invested in Virginia in some fundamental way.

One of the four we named is someone who writes INCREDIBLE poems, but whose career has had a stop-and-start quality, with few publications or public appearances. These fellowships are intended for both "established" and "emerging" poets, so the poet was able to compete against people far more accomplished (by the numbers) and still come out in the top four. I really hope the nod of the committee encourages this poet to push through, keep writing, get that first book done. Emerge, damn it! The world is waiting for you!

*

Later today, I'll be reading (briefly) at the Iota Poetry Series:

6 PM (until 8) at Iota Club and Cafe
2832 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Virginia

All featured readers from the past year are invited to take part--should be a great lineup, so if you're in the neighborhood please stop on by.

September 05, 2007

I Can Take Only So Many Cans of Red Bull

I was up until 5:40 AM this morning, re-reviewing fellowship applications for the Virginia Commission for Arts 2008 Poetry Fellowships. The adjudication will be all day tomorrow in Richmond. I'll try to blog about it this weekend, if I can offer some usual observations while respecting the privacy of applicants.

If you know me, and applied, just assume your application went to the other panel! I can also abstain in cases of explicit bias.

September 01, 2007

Here we go again--

The draft-a-day project for August was a pretty damn good thing. I read (over and over) books by Paul Guest, Dan Chiasson, Dean Young, Mary Biddinger, Lisa Olstein, and Charles Simic. I built a 20 page manuscript up to 40 pages, which was my goal. I tweaked poems and began another round of journal submissions, which has already snagged two acceptances (yay!) from DIAGRAM and the Barn Owl Review.

Most importantly, I got to interact with these amazing poets on a daily basis: Oliver de la Paz, Nate McClain, Deborah Ager, Erika Meitner, Aimee Nez, Carly Sachs, Kelli Russell Agodon, Don Illich, and Kathi Morrison-Taylor.

Seeing their drafts (and sharing their frustrations with the encroachments of daily life) was deeply satisfying. Work kept me from going away to a colony or residency this year, but this feels like the next best thing. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who took part--or followed along and offered encouraging words.

And now: off to get suburned, play bocce, drink beer, and other forms of non-poetry. Have a ridiculous holiday weekend.

August 18, 2007

Now Live

The latest issue of the BLUE FIFTH REVIEW, found here.
(Scroll down to "Contents")

The issue features new work by Sandra Beasley, Mark DeCarteret, Suzanne Frischkorn, PJ Nights, John Grey, Pui Ying Wong, Robert Klein Engler, Rebecca Lu Kiernan, Cheryl Dodds, Amy Small-McKinney, Lenny Liane, Melissa Buckheit, C. E. Chaffin, Nicole Cartwright Denison, and Felino Soriano...

Thank you, Sam, for the opportunity!

July 26, 2007

Tinkering

I've been tinkering with my website, trying to get images smoothed out. Check out the new navigation bar here. My learning curve for HTML and digital imagery has been slow, but it IS a joy to realize I have, in fact, acquired a few skills over the past two years. Having Adobe Photoshop makes imaged editing a lot easier. Also, the availability of free, vivid, unique, photographs and clipart--such as the little image at left, which it took me only about 5 seconds to make--is completely mindboggling to those of us who remember life before the internet. Am I the only one with fond memories of the "King Tut" bitmap, available only by running Paint Shop Pro X on my Amiga 500?

Nervously awaiting August, the month o'poems. Ten brave souls will mount a quest for daily drafts. It's not too late to join--just email me.

July 20, 2007

You. Yes, You.

Thanks to Fred Sasaki for pointing out the "You Are Beautiful" Project in his Harriet Blog. The official YAB website is here.

No witty, cynical commentary. Just...enjoy.



After all, it is Friday.

And if you're in the DC area, come out on Sunday and support a (formerly) local poet, as Van Jordan, author of Rise and M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, returns to town to read from his new book, Quantum Lyrics:

Sunday, July 22, 4:00 pm
Karibu Books - The Mall at Prince George's
3500 East-West Hwy., Hyattsville, MD
#(301) 559-1140 (Free)

July 18, 2007

All Quiet on the Eastern Front


I am pondering a massive amount of writing in August, an unofficial NaPoWriMo; if you'd be interested in being part of a group committed to posting (or otherwise sharing) daily drafts, backchannel me.

For inspiration, I've been thinking about Dean Young's work:

Poem Without Forgiveness

The husband wants to be taken back
into the family after behaving terribly,
but nothing can be taken back,
not the leaves by the trees, the rain
by the clouds. You want to take back
the ugly thing you said, but some shrapnel
remains in the wound, some mud.
Night after night Tybalt’s stabbed
so the lovers are ground in mechanical
aftermath. Think of the gunk that never
comes off the roasting pan, the goofs
of a diamond cutter. But wasn’t it
electricity’s blunder into inert clay
that started this whole mess, the I-
echo in the head, a marriage begun
with a fender bender, a sneeze,
a mutation, a raid, an irrevocable
fuckup. So in the meantime: epoxy,
the dog barking at who knows what,
signals mixed up like a dumped-out tray
of printer’s type. Some piece of you
stays in me and I’ll never give it back.
The heart hoards its thorns
just as the rose profligates.
Just because you’ve had enough
doesn’t mean you wanted too much.

--Dean Young

(Originally published in The Paris Review; thanks to Don for pointing it out.)

This is the bio note Young used in last year's July/August issue of POETRY:

"Dean Young is the pseudonym of a consortium of rhinos and giraffes intent upon destroying the educational system as we know it. He "teaches" at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, source of the debasement of all culture. If only William Logan could come to the rescue!"

Somehow, I think Bill Logan would be only too happy to comply.

July 09, 2007

Hello, Gorgeous


Meet The Mangosteen, the newest literary inhabitant of Long Island. The Spring issue (Volume 1, Number 1), features lovely interviews with Joshua Mehigan and...um...me.

You can find the full interview text on my website (click on the front page link).

Thanks to the editor, Danielle Apfelbaum (aka "The Art of Poetry"), for her fun and interesting questions.

July 08, 2007

"The Scranton Steamer"

An obscure sexual practice that can be accomplished only in the closet of a grandmother. Your partner is bound from head to toe with her discarded girdles. You pour a can of Schlitz over your partner's face.

This post is in honor of a wonderrific poet on the occasion of her hallowed not-marriage.

It's a long story.

July 06, 2007

Magazine Roundup

I tried to read the Summer 2007 Virginia Quarterly Review over lunch today. Big mistake: the issue is devoted to "Framing the War: Carolyn Cole, Ashley Gilbertson, and Chris Hondros on Photographing Iraq." Incredible photographs and moving testimonials--gory, unsentimental, and a lousy match for BBQ ribs. Sit down with VQR after dinner, with a strong drink and nothing else to do that evening. There's also a good essay by Matthew Power on the life and death of Brad Will, an activist and photographer who inadvertently filmed his own assassination during a political protest in Oaxaca--footage that eventually appeared, hauntingly, on YouTube.

And you know what? I find the July/August issue of Poetry to be satisfying. Especially the prose (yes, really), which includes a series of vignettes/character studies of famous poets contributed by, among others, Sven Birkerts, Christopher Hitchens, Phyllis Rose, and Joseph Epstein. Much like the February "Valentine's" essays, they are compact and affecting. Funny poems by Tony Hoagland, too.



Finally, in the Summer BOMB, Matthea Harvey interviews the artist Kara Walker. I've been engaged by shows of Walker's work in Minnesota and New York: she uses racially- and sexually-charged antebellum images, usually in stark silhouettes applied directly to white museum walls. She took flack when she became one of the youngest ever MacArthur "Genius" grant recipients--some fellow African American artists charged she was exploiting their history, depicting her people as "savages." But you can't deny the power of ther work, or the value of the conversations it provokes. The fact that she produces such detailed shapes in cut paper is a tribute to her craft.



In October, the Whitney Museum of American Art will host Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love.

July 02, 2007

Good Mail

I just opened a suspiciously thin and self-addressed envelope and found...a handwritten note from Sven Birkerts asking if he could have three of my poems for Agni Online. Woohoo! This makes eight NaPoWriMo poems that have since been accepted for publication.

In other good news, I'll be moderating a panel at the 2008 AWP in New York, "Breaking Lines on the Battlefield: Poetry of Wartime." Featured poets include Doug Anderson (author of The Moon Reflected Fire) and Brian Turner (author of Here, Bullet). If we're scheduled for a Thursday or Saturday morning--which, given my newcomer status, seems likely--ours will be the panel serving mimosas and bagels. I'm not above bribing my audience.

I enjoyed Michael Dumanis's "Travel Advisory," on Poetry Daily today:

Travel Advisory


Do not endeavor
to snapshot the locals.

Do not trust anything
that could snap shut.

Try to pass quickly
through slipshod locales.

Do not give alms.
Make no eye contact.

Do not confuse
yourself with your reflection,

this span of ruins with a system,
this inn with a place to come back to.

Rein in the impulse to build
a new city from these scattered twigs.

Do not poke around in the abandoned
houses of the damaged village.

Do not get curious
about shiny metal in the grass.

Do not plant kisses
on the blind accordionist.

Leave the mermaid alone,
it is not meant to be...

[Click here to continue reading.]

The poem is from his new book, which won the 2006 Juniper Prize and will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press. Lovely cover, too.

June 27, 2007

Publishing Chatter

I was leafing through Publisher's Weekly today, and they have one of their periodic poetry review sections this week. People snipe about "mainstream" poets getting all the attention, but I don't think the selection bears that out: Martha Ronk (Coffee House), X.J. Kennedy (BOA), Cate Marvin (Sarabande), A. Van Jordan (Norton), Translations of Paulo Henriques Britto (BOA), Fanny Howe (Graywolf), Translations of Laura Solorzano (Action Books), Juliana Spahr (Atelos Press), and Courtney Queeney (Random House).

I don't think that's a bad variety at all. Sure, Van Jordan is a "Norton poet" now, but he's not that many steps removed from being a D.C. poet who got his big break in 2001, when Tia Chucha published Rise.

That said, who is Courtney Queeney, and how did her first book get published by Random House? I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm honestly curious. I've never run across her work in a journal; the biggest selection I find online is here, if that's even the same Courtney Queeney. PW says on one hand her "debut can sometimes sound more promising than achieved"; on the other, "there may be a following for this gifted and direct writer." I like how they take pains to specify that she's "direct"--it tells you something about the biases against poetry.

On another front, Tupelo is having its annual Open Reading Period again this July. After last year's ethical quagmire they didn't even broach the topic of offering comments...but they still left their fee at $35. Remember, that extra $10 was orginally justified by the promise of individual feedback.

Beautiful books. Talented authors. But $35? They should include a book from Tupelo backstock for that amount, don't you think?

June 19, 2007

...But I Still Need Quarters to Do Laundry

Woke up; reread the email; wasn't a dream. Checked several times.

Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of support and good wishes. If I can garner that same enthusiasm when Theories of Falling is actually in hand, I'll be a lucky woman. So many things happened right off the bat: withdrawing from book contests, editing my bio note, lining up blurbers, seeing a smidgen of Marie Howe's comments ("...the tough lyric voice that got under my skin"). The domino effect is both scary and gratifying.

This weekend, though, I went to the beach with old high school friends (and their kids), and that was a good reminder: a crying two year old is not amused by your big poetry news. I still need to do laundry. I still have to go to the DMV. My sister just won a big college scholarship ($10,000!), and for her application she produced 50 pages of prose. Single-spaced. She's way cooler than I am.

I was reading an article today about the increasing popularity of "midlevel careers"; lower pay, better hours. The biggest question I get from non-poets, in response to the book news, is "Does this mean you can be a full-time poet?" After I say "Um, not likely," they usually say "Well, does that mean you can teach, though?"

It's been several years since I thought of publishing as a stepping-stone to teaching. With many friends who are also college profsssors, I've come to believe that it is VERY difficult to strike the balance of doing justice to your student and nourishing your own creative impulse. I like editing; working at a quarterly magazine, the pace is never too frantic. It's a job I can love, but also leave at the office at the end of each day. If that means that I'll never have a salary in the triple digits...I'm okay with that.

C. Dale Young and Peter Pereira are both doctors and poets, and it figures prominently onto their blogs. Steve Schroeder periodically mentions his work as a resume-editor. Matthew Thorburn made a passing acknowledgement that he works at a law firm in his blog post the other day; I'd have never guessed. I'm curious, what are some of the other "day jobs" held by poet-bloggers? How high-stress is the job, and how does that figure into your creative life?

June 12, 2007

The View from Cloud 9


So this is me, in Switzerland, two weekends ago. I can now reveal that after getting off my nine-hour plane ride home, I checked messages and learned...

My manuscript, "Theories of Falling," won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize selected by Marie Howe. The prize carries a $2,000 award and publication of the book in Spring 2008 by New Issues Poetry and Prose (at Western Michigan University).

I don't know quite what to say...other than I am extremely thrilled, and grateful, and so happy to share this news with all of you.

June 11, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award


Thanks again to Nick for giving me a Thinking Blogger Award (go here to read about the origins of the award). Below are my five picks for blogs that provoke thought and dialogue. If the blog-owners choose to accept the award, they need to honor these guidelines:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. Link to the Thinking Blog to that people can find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Without further ado, five blogs I admire (and haven't seen nominated elsewhere):

32 Poems / Deborah Ager - Deborah is one of the most dedicated and coherent bloggers I know. Her posts strike a nice balance between personal and poetry matters.

Every Other Day / Kate Greenstreet - Kate's series of first book interviews is the single-most rich resource of industry experience that I've found on a blog. It takes diligence to keep gathering and posting these, and we should all thank her wholeheartedly.

Lorcaloca / Eduardo Corral (with Diana Delgado) - When I started reading beyond blogs by people I knew in the "real world," I stumbled across Eduardo's postings and was instantly drawn in. He's pretty fearless; there's no sacred cows. Probably the blog that makes me laugh out loud (in a thoughtful way) most often.

Awfully Serious / Ali Stine - Okay, it's a bit of a dodge to nominate this blog, since it has pretty much shut down--but of the blogs that have evaporated, it is the one I miss the most. Ali's postings were beautifully crafted mini-essays--it would not surprise me if they were reconstituted in memoir form down the road.

Cackling Jackal / Reb Livingston - Reb is really willing to commit and discuss publishing issues in depth, not only on her blog but in the comment sections of other people's blogs. She's a tireless defender of online and POD publishing. She'll kick your ass, basically, and you'll thank her for it.

Okay, those are my champions of the day. If you haven't visited these blogs yet...what are you sticking around here for?

June 06, 2007

Recent Readings

Nick was kind enough to nominate me for a Thinking Blogger Award--thanks, Nick! He was honoring, let's be clear, my April productivity (versus my May sloth). I'll do my proper TBA post early next week. In the meantime, let me earn the award by actually writing about some poetry matters: I went to several good readings in the last month, but didn't get to comment on any of them.
A rundown....

-June 5 at Miller Cabin (in Rock Creek Park), with Deborah Ager and Tung-Hui Hu: Lovely setting, despite numerous mosquito bites; this was the inaugural reading of the Miller Cabin season. Deborah read some of the revised poems for April, which I'm really excited about, as well as some of the core poems that will go in Midnight Voices, to be published by Cherry Grove (WordTech) next year. One funny thing; the host for the evening pointed out that Deborah has a lot of stars (/night) in her poems, and once said it was impossible to ignore.

Deborah commented on her blog that Tung-Hui had an unusual and almost offhand reading style, and I agree. I think it's because his poems often contain lines that are so simple and forceful that he is wary of seeming melodramatic--for example, his poem "School of Taxidermy":

Listen, see that boy who discovers
a dead squirrel at the foot of the tree,
he thinks it is worth something,
he thinks he will skin it and they
will have a fair and sell it. And he
tells his friend and his friend is
excited, too. Then night falls and
they return to fetch the broken
corpse which is encrusted like
a jewel with moss or a cake with
crumbs, the maggots white,
swarming, churning away
the squirrel’s eyes. And he does
not know how to rid himself
of it now that he has it.

That boy is me I was that boy

#

As a reader Tung-Hui wants to keep things casual and not pretentious, which I empathize with, but he risks seeming to dismiss his own poem before it even ends. That said, the work itself is beautiful, smart, and bracing--I'd unhesitatingly recommend either his first book from University of Georgia, or the new one from Ausable (Mine, pictured here, which won the Eisner Prize). And the only other poet I can think of who has that same strange way of reading his work is Charles Wright...not bad company to be in.

-May 14 at Chapters, with Robert Hass: I'd never had the opportunity to see Bob Hass in person before, and he was absolutely charming as he read from a collection of his Poet's Choice columns, which ran in the Washington Post Book World some years ago. One of the best selections was on Ko Un, the Korean poet, monk, and dissident, who committed to a "Ten Thousand Lives" project, writing a poem for each person he had ever met, as a way to maintain sanity during a long imprisonment. Ko Un read at the Folger a couple of years ago and if you've never seen a copy of Traveler Maps, a limited edition book that captures some of the Ten Thousand Lives poems, I highly recommend it as a work of verbal and visual beauty.

We've had a number of Poet's Choice columnists since Hass, and though all have been very skillful, I was amazed to look back and realize how much personal detail he invested in his columns. One of my favorites is a "Christmas" essay in which he reminisced on Boxing Day in 1970s England, and enjoying the lyrics of Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter in the company of friends. Hass is also unapologetically political, then and now: his platforms on supporting education and the environment are persuasive, but I'm sure the Post must have been a little nervous to give him such a big megaphone. He puts his money where his mouth is, spending time each year on the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival.

I just came away from this reading really *liking* the guy. Hard to believe that the author of a prodigy stroke like Field Work would also be someone fun to have a beer with at the end of a day.

-May 13 at the Iota, with Ellen Cole and...me: Oh my goodness, what can I say? Given that it was Mother's Day I didn't expect a crowd--a ridiculous number of my area poet friends have also become mothers in the past year or two--so it was a delight to have a packed house. High school folks, college folks, family, friends from past workshops--thank you, thank you. I read exclusively from the April poems and had to adjust my timing--encountering, for really the first time, a significant amount of laughter in response to the poems (laughing with, not at, thank goodness). A bit of a challenge--usually I'm much more practiced with my delivery--but such a thrill. Ellen had a great set of poems, my favorites relating to the burning down of her house about a year ago (talk about salvaging some good from a bad situation). Miles was a great host and the open mic was also very strong (featuring uppity young ladies like my sister and Alanna of Poetry Out Loud fame). This will go down as one of my favorite readings, no question.

Okay, a sunny and only mildly humid day awaits. Off I go--

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

...well, howdy. Nice to see you again. Mr. Thorburn re-tagged me some time ago for 5 songs to knock my socks off, so I will start things off by offering:

-"Gnossienne no.1" by Erik Satie (most recently used on the soundtrack to The Painted Veil, which as adaptations go was very very good.)


-"Rise" by Bitch (formerly of Bitch & Animal, Bitch plays a mean electric violin and...wait for it...ukulele. But not on this track. She also tends to show up in strange places, like a Bright Eyes music video or the movie Shortbus. You shall know her by her multicolored dreads and Rainbow Brite socks.)

-"Blue Angel" by Rose Polenzani (Another musician I've had the pleasure of splitting a bottle of wine with, Rose will be part of a house concert in DC the evening of Thursday, June 7...if you're interested contact Three Word Productions).

-"Snow is Gone" by Josh Ritter (I've already gushed about Ritter's latest album, "The Animal Years," but this is from "Hello Starling," an earlier record.)

-And though it's on the beaten path, the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." Because that lyric about Anastasia screaming in vain makes me pause every time. And while I don't worship at the feet of Tony Hoagland, I do think there's a bit more room for cruelty in art.

May 31, 2007

Gone Fishin'



Well, it appears that May is the Anti-April...as if to make up for posting daily, I've gone AWOL. The radio silence is not over just yet, as this weekend I am headed off to...Zurich. Yes, really--I've never been to Switzerland, but I will be vastly disappointed if gnomes are not on hand to greet me at the airport bearing army knives and KinderEggs.

More when I return. I promise! And thanks (in advance of a longer posting) to all who came out to the Mother's Day reading at Iota...it was a real knockout.

May 21, 2007

In Which People are Rewarded


For the locals...

This Tuesday, there will be a reading (with music) by Scott Reynolds Nelson, winner of the Arts Club of Washington’s inaugural National Award for Arts Writing for Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend (Oxford University Press).


Tuesday, May 22, 7 pm
Arts Club of Washington
2017 I Street, NW
Washington, DC (Farragut West/North Metro)

Free and open to the public.

From the press release coordinated by Sarah Browning and Kim Roberts...

The National Award for Arts Writing is given annually by the Arts Club of Washington in recognition of excellence in writing about the arts for a broad audience. The substantial Award of $15,000 is the only one of its kind the country.

The ballad “John Henry” is the most recorded folk song in American history and John Henry-–the mighty railroad man who could blast through rock faster than a steam drill--is a towering figure in our culture. In Steel Drivin’ Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson masterfully captures the life of the ballad, tracing the song’s evolution from work song through the blues to its place as the premiere American folk song; from the first printed score by blues legend W. C. Handy, to Carl Sandburg’s use of the ballad to become the first “folk singer,” to the upbeat version by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The judges, Alan Cheuse, Rita Dove, and Joyce Carol Oates, wrote, “It is thrilling to follow the exegesis of the ‘John Henry’ lyrics through to the discovery of John Henry’s identity. Many disciplines are necessarily examined in the course of this detective tale: history of course, but also geology, forestry, engineering, anthropology, anatomy, sociology, law, music, literature, poetry, art and popular culture. Yet Mr. Nelson stirs the brew with the effortless touch of a master chef, deftly adding ingredients at just the right temperature (a dash here, a sprinkle there) to serve up a most enticing gumbo.”

Recounting a heartbreaking chapter in America’s post-Civil War history, Steel Drivin’ Man, as the rocker Bruce Springsteen says, “is a tribute and requiem to the real steel drivin’ men who built this country.”

Scott Reynolds Nelson is Legum Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. The author of Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction, and coauthor, with Carol Sheriff, of A People At War: Civilians and Soldiers in America’s Civil War, he served as a consultant on the forthcoming PBS documentary on John Henry. Steel Drivin’ Man has also received a 2007 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction, an award that recognizes books on race and culture.

###

May 11, 2007

Gin Before Breakfast

I've been quiet this week, happily settling into my new job editing full-time. Since I handle the Books section, my job includes keeping on top of any forthcoming titles. One that crossed my desk today--and greatly amused me--

Gin Before Breakfast: The Dilemma of the Poet in the Newsroom

May 05, 2007

Quick notes: The Cinco de Mayo edition


Celebrate my birthday today...thousands of Mexicans can't be wrong.

Deb tagged me to list "5 songs that knock my socks off." I might revise or elaborate, but here's a starting lineup. My choices are based entirely on "which songs do I get sucked into singing along to, at the top of my lungs, EVERY time I hear them?"

Sinnerman by Nina Simone
Waltz #2 by Elliott Smith
Everything is Everything by Lauryn Hill
Deep Red Bells by Neko Case
Say It Ain't So by Weezer

#

Yeah, it's a goofy list. So sue me! I'm the birthday girl.

For those in the DC area: next Sunday, MAY 13, from 6-8 PM, I'll be reading at Club Iota in Arlington, VA (2832 Wilson Blvd., #703 256-9275) with a great writer, Ellen Cole. An open mic will follow. I'll debut some of the revised NaPoWriMo poems and possibly, tap dance (depends on the crowd). Mothers are welcome; there's even a bar. How relevant the latter is to the former depends, of course, on your particular mother.

May 01, 2007

Golly Damn


Just got back from an exhilirating evening watching the National Finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition, held this year in DC. Poetry Out Loud is a recitation contest for high schoolers; about 100,000 participating kids are winnowed down to 51 state champions (including the District of Columbia). Kudos to the cosponsors, the NEA and the Poetry Foundation, for putting their money where their mouths are: $200 for each state champion, $500 to each state champion's school for the purchase of poetry books, and hotel and airfare to DC courtesy of Southwest Airlines. The judges included Marilyn Chin, Garrison Keillor, and Kwame Dawes; judges for the Semifinals included Major Jackson and Ethelbert Miller.

This year, the Virginia Commission for the Arts gave me the honor of coaching Alanna Rivera, the Virginia champion. The options for poems are drawn from an anthology created specifically for Poetry Out Loud, representing a range of eras and styles--you can browse here. Alanna chose a rich but challenging trio: "Walking Down Park" by Nikki Giovanni, "Conversation" by Ai (which is partially written in the voice of Robert Lowell), and "A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General" by Jonathan Swift.

We've been working on these poems all month, focusing less on the basics of diction and memorization--she already had those nailed--and more on the nuance of what the poems said, where to emphasize a line, and body language. The hard work paid off when Alanna made it to the finals, where the stakes got higher: $1,000 scholarships for each of the 12 finalists. And then, something incredible...tonight Alanna Rivera placed in the top three, securing a $5,000 scholarship! And the girl who got first place--and incredible $20,000 prize--was the Washington, D.C. champion!

It's a good day to live where I do.

The first and second place winners used extremely dynamic delivery styles, performing the poems as dramatic monologues; the winner, in fact, turned Anne Sexton's "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward" into a showstopper, and will use her scholarship to attend NYU's Tisch School for the Arts this fall. A dramatic style is great, and always a crowd pleaser. But what Alanna offered--and the reason the judges recognized her in the top three, I think--were poised and nuanced readings that honored the poet's own voice. There's something to be said for letting the words speak: at the end of the day everything else, from showy hand gestures to character accents to anguished pauses, is just distraction from the power of the original poem.

Golly damn. All of this to say that watching Alanna live and breathe these poems for the last month has been amazing. Congratulations to ALL the participants--but really, the lucky winner tonight was Poetry. And me, for getting to tag along for the ride.

April 30, 2007

Yes.



April, Fidelity, Signs, Proposal, Orchis, Making the Crane, You Were You, Antietam, The Sacred Heart, Muscadet, Vocation, Elegy, The Crowd, Love Poem for Virginia, The Spell, Beauty, Love Poem for Wednesday, Against Grief, Your Mother, The Minotaur Speaks, Love Poem for College, The Taxonomy of Houses, Love Poem for Los Angeles, How I Got Hit, Fidelity (II), I Don’t Fear Death, My God, Fugue, Monday, and The World War Speaks.

*

What I learned:

-Repetition may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but it is the saving grace of NaPoWriMo. The tireless pace of drafting forced me to "allow" myself to reuse a syntactical framework over and over, which turned out to be a useful experiemnt. Sometimes I liked the latter incarnation better than the first one, which is usually where I would have stopped.

-I'm a love poet. That's the relationship dynamic I'm drawn to, again and again, even when it is strictly metaphorical. No point in being ashamed of it.

-When I don't have time for more thoughtful revision, the most important question to ask is: Does this poem really start 3 lines in? Could it end 3 lines sooner?

-I don't have to be in a a studio or a barn or a vacuum to write. I really can draft a poem on the metro. I really can draft a poem watching TV. I really can draft a poem in bed. And when I have those glimmers of ideas I really should get my lazy self up and get it onto paper, eventually. I'll be glad I did.

I'm tempted to rework the strongest of these, at least half, into a chapbook--a Book of April 2007, essentially. I like the idea of reading poems grouped in terms of when they were conceived, versus an explicit thematic thread. The most liberating thing is that there's just too many poems here to rationalize that they belong in an existing manuscript. Time to think beyond the first book.

Congratulations to all who attempted, particularly those who survived, and thanks to Maureen for getting us all wound up...