December 29, 2008

Visual Maps

I've welcomed having time to sit down with three great poets during this past week: Jehanne Dubrow, Deb Ager, and Ethelbert Miller. One of my chief pleasures of living in DC is having access to so many other writers. One of the chief perils of living in DC is not always making time to see them.

Whenever I sit down with Ethelbert he has several newspapers on the table in front of him. He dissects: pulling out each page, folding it over, creasing it. He devours: sports, arts, local, national, stocks, forecasts for places he's never been. And he decorates, scribbling away with his ballpoint as we talk: accent lines are transformed into timelines; a key word in a headline is circled, and becomes a hub for a plan; a cast of characters is defined in shorthand, "Ob___" and "EA____" and "CJ____." Everything is translated into diagrams, squiggles, and arrows, and it's electrifying to watch.

That has me thinking about nonlinear, even nonverbal, modes of response. There's an artist and writer named Austin Kleon who does "mind map" book reviews. Check out his interpretation of Oliver Sacks' most recent book, Musicophilia:



...and in a similar vein, here is his record of a conversation with a friend, following the occasion of a reading by author Michael Chabon:



I love the way these drawings capture imprecise values--priorities, relative amounts of attention, random associations, postures and energy--in a way that would be lost by a strictly verbal transcription or response. I've never been one to keep a diary. But if I could get in the habit of using this format...maybe.

[Both images (c) Austin Kleon]

December 22, 2008

The Trip Up

Adventures in a life of freelancing...

Step 1: Field phone call from worried mother about "the snow up there" in New York City. Obediently pack separate bag with boots, socks, hat and gloves.

Step 2: In your rush to make it to Amtrak on time, leave said bag by the front door. Pay $10 for white (white!) yarn gloves at Union Station kiosk. Note for future reference--crocheted yarn does not, in fact, keep the cold out.

Step 3: Wait as they scrape the ice off the Northeast Regional train so it can depart. Check time nervously. Wait some more.

Step 4: With only 40 minutes instead of your alloted hour-and-fifteen, stumble into the New York subway system and start navigating. Catch an N train headed to Queens. Experience doubt about which stop you're supposed to use.

Step 5: Decide that it is better to live with doubt, versus interrupt the couple next to you--who are arguing very loudly about their E supply and "that Jew f*cking roommate of yours"--to ask for help with directions.

Step 6: Call soon-to-be-met interviewee and assure her that while you're cutting it close, you should be there momentarily.

Step 7: Get off at Ditmar Blvd-Astoria stop. Walk over to map. Realize that the funky street address you have in no way implies a cross street (21-45?). Realize that the only recognizable intersection from your Google directions mentions 35th & Broadway," which is...two stops and fifteen blocks back. Realize that in Queen, there are no taxi stands. And your heels (o boots, though hast forsaken me) can't take the unsalted sidewalks.

Step 8: Panic.

Step 9: Start walking anyway.

Step 10: See a taxi parked by the side of the road, the driver relaxing as he plays the radio and runs his heater. Stop and ask if he'll pick you up. He shrugs; he's not on duty. Promise to tip well.

Step 11: Agree to help de-ice his car in return for him running you down to Broadway.

Step 12: Smack at ice with your pseudo-gloved palm until it cracks off the door frame on the back passenger seat. Try handle. When it doesn't open, groan and start smacking at the doorframe for the front passenger seat. Repeat to yourself that this is still faster than walking. Try the handle. Groan again. Watch helplessly as taxi driver chuckles and leans over to press the 'Unlock' button on the doors.

Step 14: Slip into the blessedly warm back seat. Read out full address to driver. When he asks you to repeat it, read it again. A third time, with him holding up his fingers to confirm each digit.

Step 15: "Ma'am, you need to open the door of my taxi. And get out. Cross at that light up there. The building you want is on the other side of the street."

Step 16: Offer to tip anyway, to which he says "No, you're a nice girl." (Unspoken: "...and you helped de-ice my car.")

Step 17: Cross intersection. Ring up. And meet Marilynne Robinson.

December 19, 2008

Shameless Plug

This Sunday I will have an "XX Files" in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. All of next week you'll be able to find it here.

Topics covered: the Phi Beta Kappa Society, growing up, beds of nails, and a girl on the back of the motorcycle.

December 17, 2008

Diagnosis: Exhaustion?

Is anyone else feeling like the blog over at the Poetry Foundation is a bit...adrift right now? Maybe Harriet is feeling the stress of the holidays like the rest of us. I enjoy conceptual writing and experimental musings--Olena Kalytiak Davis has me hooked--but I'm missing posts that feel relevant to my everyday (if there is such a thing) publishing world.

Jeffrey McDaniel, Steven Burt, and Ange Mlinko stand out in my mind as past Harriet-eers who found a good balance of posts that ranged from critical to casual in tone. I felt like I actually got to know them through their posts.

Who have your favorites been so far, and why?

December 12, 2008

First Book-age

I've been reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, by Lewis Hyde. I'm not ready to opine on the book just yet, but if there's one thing I've learned it is that a gift carries value only for as long as it is moving onward through the community. If your response to a gift is to take it out of circulation--picture the English colonial shipping off the Iroquois peace pipe, to be kept under glass in some faraway museum--you're not doing anyone any good.

What follows is a list of awards and fellowships for which one is particularly or exclusively eligible having published a first book of poetry. Note that you'll have to check individual website to confirm how the deadline relates to your publication date. This list builds upon something passed to me by Erika Meitner a couple of years back. Enjoy...

ForeWord Magazine Book Award
Deadline: January 15

Levis Reading Prize at Virginia Commonwealth University
Deadline: January 15

Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books
Deadline: January 15

Balcones Poetry Prize
Deadline: January 31

Devil’s Kitchen Reading Awards
Deadline: February 1

Paterson Poetry Prize
Deadline: February 1

Library of Virginia Awards
Deadline: February 8

Bread Loaf Conference Fellowship
Deadline: March 20

Sewanee Writers Conference Fellowship
Deadline: May 1

National Book Awards
Deadline: June 16

Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award
Deadline: July 25

Kate Tufts Discovery Award
Deadline: September 15

Pulitzer Prize
Deadline: June 15 and October 15

Norma Farber First Book Award of the Poetry Society of America
Deadline: December 22

Deadlines and details of entry are subject to change and will not be updated on the blog; this is just a set of leads as of December 2008. Good luck!

December 09, 2008

Supporting Your Authors

Since each new blog post pushes down my tribute to 32 Poems, a quick reminder: Subscribe! You'll be glad you did.

Earlier today I traded emails with Marianne, my wonderful managing editor at New Issues. We were touching base on the winter deadlines for book prizes--not publication contests, but the awards that can be bestowed on a title in the first year following its release. There's about a dozen of these prizes on my radar. Usually, the entry fee is something like $0-$50, plus 1-5 copies of the book; the prize usually includes a reading opportunity and an honorarium of $500-$2,500.

At New Issues, I am very fortunate to have a support structure that budgets for judges' copies and contest fees, so that they don't have to come out of my pocket; the press also has paid staff for whom writing a letter of nomination is a reasonable request, in line with their duties. On the rare occasion when they decline to try for an award that I've asked about, they'll articulate sound reasons based on the track record of who has won and what the actual benefits have been. (I also know better than to make a request that, whatever its symbolic value, is not a good use of their resources. In other words I can make that $100 check out the Pulitzer committee myself, thankyouverymuch.)

At many small and independent presses, the burden of applying for these awards falls squarely on the author. The token of prestige and a smattering of book sales for a single, occasional winner does not, for many publishers, justify the expenditure of energy and money that would go into automatically nominating the multitude of authors they publish each year.

That's a shame. Justify it a thousand ways: volunteer staff stretched thin, money better invested in future titles, limited book stock. But the subliminal message to the author is often that the work is good enough, at least to publish, but not so good that it has a chance of winning. And in cases where a nominating letter HAS to come with the publisher's signature, it puts the author in the position of having to remind, cajole, even beg for what feels like a "favor" but is really a reasonable extension of the professional relationship.

I'm a fan of indie publishing, and I certainly admire the vision that causes one to found a new press. But I sometimes wonder if poets, when they become publishers, are really signing on for the whole ten yards of support they need to offer their authors--and if authors, when they ponder the myriad of book contests to enter, know all that they should ask of their presses before signing a contract that hands over the precious asset of creative work. It's not just about the gorgeous cover designs or a bustling table at AWP. It's about the sustained commitment from a press that ensures, once the book is released into the world and the "new" shine wears off, it can continue to move outward, find audiences beyond the author's friends, family, and local venues, and thrive.

Some people harp that big awards--the Tufts or PSA prizes--only recognize "mainstream" presses. They chalk this up to a hegemony of judges. But if the big presses are the only ones fully committed to nominations, can you blame them for winning?

December 08, 2008

Pushcart Nominations

I have been really fortunate to receive three nominations for the Pushcart Prize this year, for the following poems:

-"Another Failed Poem about the Greeks" (nominated by Cave Wall)
-"The Green Flash" (nominated by Passages North)
and
-"The First Editor of Encyclopedia Britannica Regrets Everything" (nominated by Black Warrior Review)

I'll be crossing my fingers, toes and eyes that one of these might get picked. Thank you, editors, for your support!

December 05, 2008

Preemptive Drawing Sale


Looking for original and unique works of art, but don't have a collector's budget? Check this out--my absolutely awesome-artist friend Adam Grossi is holding a Preemptive Drawing Sale. Here's the deal, courtesy of a note from Adam:

I am trying to raise some money for expenses related to my last year of graduate school. I am also trying to incorporate more drawing into my studio practice. The intersection of these two ambitions has resulted in the Preemptive Drawing Sale. Here is the way it works:

1. You decide what size you want your drawing to be from the following options:
a) 12 x 12" ($40)
b) 16 x 16" ($60)
c) 20 x 20" ($100)
d) 24 x 24" ($150)

2. Email me your choice and I'll send you a PayPal invoice (or you can mail me a check).

3. From the date of your payment, I have up to three weeks to execute your drawing and mail it out to you. All prices include shipping, and all drawings are unframed. The drawings will be some combination of black ink, graphite, charcoal, and collage on a heavy drawing paper (most likely Rives BFK or an Arches rag paper). Each drawing will not necessarily contain all three of those materials. Most will be simply ink on paper.

4. You have no control over the content of the drawing -- all I can say is that the drawing will be an integral part of the thought-processing of my studio practice, and so will be intimately engaged with the themes of the recent artworks you see on this website.

The Preemptive Drawing Sale will continue through the end of February 2009. Please spread the word!

#


Keep in mind, you're getting a deal. Although we went to the same high school, Adam and I didn't truly connect until we crossed paths at Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Since then it has been a pleasure to watch him go--from being a student at Carnegie Mellon to a rising star on the Pittsburgh scene (where he was named a 2007 Emerging Artist of the Year), then receiving a fellowship to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is now earning his MFA. His work will only continue to grow in value.

If I were you, I'd catch this star while it's on the rise...says the girl who has already called in her order.

December 03, 2008

Teeny Tiny Reminder

I'll be reading at Kensington Row Bookshop tonight with Kathi Wolfe at 7 PM. Bring a poem to read at the open mic afterwards!

We Love 32 Poems

I recently received this note from the forces behind 32 Poems, John Poch and Deborah Ager...

Dear Readers:

As you well know, Christmas is coming. Your father doesn't want that tie, your mother doesn't want a gift certificate to T.J. Maxx, and your friend doesn't want the cool lamp you found at the estate sale. They want something unique--something like: 32 Poems.

We continue to publish the newest voices who soon become nationally-known, award-winning poets: Caki Wilkinson, David Roderick, Alison Stine, Paula Bohince, James Hoch, to name a few. We've made it easy for you to order a gift subscription or two, easily. Did we mention it's easy? Click on this link right now, and you can pay with Paypal. Get a Free Issue When You Order Now!

$20 for two years. (Save $8 Plus Get 1 Free Issue!)
$14 for one year. (Plus Get 1 Free Issue!)


Be patriotic. Be thrifty. By all means, be cool. Order now.

Thanks! We really do need your help, as 32 Poems publishes almost completely through the money we get from subscriptions. We can only continue with your support.

Always readable, always affordable, always already, always yours,
Deborah Ager and John Poch

#

Now, we have 32 Poems to thank for circulating the work of poets such as:

Kate Northrop ("The Place Above the River")
Eric Pankey ("As Damper Quells a Struck String")
Geoff Brock ("Exercitia Spiritualia")
Melanie Alameder ("Post Modern for Lowell, Massachusetts")

...and many more. I know many in the poet-blogger community have had the pleasure of crossing paths with Deborah herself via the 32 Poems blog.

Guys, it's just this simple. This magazine not only needs our support, it has earned our support. They have a demonstrated track record of publishing great poems, in a modest and charming format, and being open to emerging writers. The editors aren't asking us to line their wallets; they are simply asking us to keep the magazine a self-sustaining enterprise. Honor the work. Subscribe!

Don't tell me you don't have the money. We're all feeling the pinch, but you can subscribe for the price of a bottle of wine. Or, if you live in New York City, a single cocktail. So all it takes is one night of sticking to Diet Coke, and you've got your funds. Make the right choice for your liver and your muse.

Already a teetotaler? Subscribe in lieu of paying that reading fee, the one for the contest you know you're not going to win, but apply to every year anyway. You know what I'm talking about. This year, why not make an investment that will truly pay off?

Because getting 32 Poems in the mail is a lot better than that thin envelope, with the obligatory xeroxed announcement of someone else's name inside. Trust me.

November 26, 2008

Oh, You Poor Tofurkeyed Souls

Today, I am thankful. I am overstuffed with duck & pineapple in red curry, yes, but also...thankful. For these things:

-The flow that comes from an hour of revising a Post column
-Seeing old professors who are now free to wear t-shirts and jeans
-Anthony Bourdain
-Origami irises
-The new coat with magenta stitching
-Cinnamon gum
-The calm before the holiday storm, the night of nothing booked
-Poetry magazine
-My New-York-ified sister, home from her first semester at college

I hope your next few days, dear reader, hold a lot of family and a lot of sleep.

Next week, I'll be reading up at Kensington Books. Should be a lot of fun, so here are the details:

Kathi Wolfe and Sandra Beasley
at the Kensington Row Bookshop Poetry Reading
- Wednesday, December 3 at 7 pm -


Kathi Wolfe is a columnist for arts magazine www.scene4.com and a Washington Blade contributor. Her work appears in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Gargoyle, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and the Library of Congress Poet and the Poem. Helen Takes the Stage: The Hellen Keller Poems, is a published 2007 Pudding House Chapbook finalist.

Free, with refreshments provided; an open reading will follow.
3786 Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD 20895; for questions call #301-949-9416 or visit www.kensingtonrowbookshop.com.

November 23, 2008

Catching Up (Out of Order)

(After)

"It's hard," I say to my boyfriend, "to come back." I didn't realize how cruel it would sound until I said it out loud.

The Office. Top Chef. The week-old Sunday New York Times. Sleep. Eritrean dinner with the boy--a tomato salad stung with lentils and red onions and lemon juice, then spongy inerja soaked with grease and spice, folded over hot chicken and onions, washed down with a Red Stripe. Sleep. Emails unwritten--apologies if you've been waiting. Sleep. Finishing Marilynne Robinson's HOME over a bowl of steelcut oatmeal. Buying three pairs of desperately needed pants, and one dress for a high school reunion. A party, a real party, with lit candles on the stairs and bottles of wine on the side tables and lots of people I do not know making glorious noise. Sleep. Sleep. A damn good poetry reading, with Eric Pankey and Brian Brodeur.

(Before)

Ethelbert is worried about me. We are standing around the Writer's Center after the Board meeting, before the Poet Lore celebration, before my trip to Michigan, before the winter issue ships to the printer, before my DC reading. I've resorted to carbs to stay awake. I'm on my fourth bagel of the day. "Beasley," he says, you look tired." I am tired. "You know," I say, "I like to be busy, but I'm past the tipping point. This is too busy." It happens, about twice a year: things get out of phase, doublebooked, pins start to drop from their juggled arc and bonk me on the head. I look at Ethelbert in the helpless exhaustion of knowing things will get worse before they get better.

"When's the last time you got your eyes checked?" he asks.

"My eyes? Um...a few years ago." What's he talking about? Was I squinting at the meeting? Isn't it enough that I make it to the dentist twice a year?

"You read a lot, Beasley," says Ethelbert. "You gotta take care of your vision."

(During)

It's 7:30 AM. These are someone else's boots. As I stomp off the snow they come close to flying off my feet entirely. I am clutching this cup of drive-thru coffee for dear life. I'm in the office of Walt, morning host for Sunny 101.9. Walt's wife has an MFA and he has a soft spot for us writer-types. Usually when I do radio spots, it involves calm, NPR-styled exchanges with brief interludes of jazz. I'm not sure the morning commuter is my target audience. On the wall there is an animatronic...woodchuck? beaver? Some Marquette mascot? Oh. I'm a moron. It's the groundhog from Caddyshack. I take a big sip of coffee.

"So, what do you write about," asks Walt. After the first of two spots he goes to cue the computer-ordained music, and as he looks at the screen he winces. "Sorry," he says, as we are serenaded by New Kids on the Block. Oh, oh, oh oh oh. Oh, oh. Oh oh.

*

The department is paying for lunch at the local organic restaurant, and I get a dish that turns out to be a vegetarian catch-all--potatoes, onions, squash, seaweed, three-seed bread. It's under-seasoned but quietly addictive. I'm seated at the end of the table, as if to say grace or cut the turkey. All the faces at the table are about my age and the effect is lulling: I'm content to listen to gossip laced with names I do not know, making eye contact with the smiley baby being bounced on a fiction writer's knee. Then I remember my own MFA days, in which each minute of a Visiting Writer's time seemed somehow...precious. Charged with potential. I sit up straight, determined to talk. I'm not sure exactly what wisdom I imparted, though I did pass along the fact that platypus moms don't have teats, that the milk just excretes and pools in little leathery skin-gulleys. Um. In case you needed to know. I may have also said something about jobs in the publishing industry.

*

The workshop. I tell them about that month at the Millay Colony, living inside the book, my studio fluttering with pages on the wall. I've sworn off set answers to questions, and sometimes this gets me into trouble. In recounting the day I heard I won the New Issues Prize I premise it with "I was just getting back from a whirlwind trip to Switzerland--" and I can see the flicker of disbelief (Switzerland?) and part of me wants to stop and say no, no, they were special circumstances, I am not some jetsetting princess, but we're onto the next answer. I say the MFA thesis will not, more then likely, be the first book; it's the practice, the manuscript you have to write for there to be a first book. Again, a momentary deflation. Ooof. No one has any questions. Have I let them down? There should be questions. Austin asks me to treat one of my own poems as if it were a masterclass, dissecting, pointing out how I revised, and I start to answer that I don't do a lot of revision--the poems either come out right or utterly stillborn--but no, I will not give another flicker-inducing answer, damn it. I flip through pages until I find "Antiquity," read it through, palpate the lines as if I were a doctor, feeling for the pulse of old mistakes.

Walking down the hall to the elevator, I pass flyer after flyer--maybe a dozen--that bears my face, my bio. The photoshop job stretched my cheeks slightly, making a mischievous close-up seem...manic. Possibly deranged. It's only upon having that thought that I realize I must be nervous about this reading.

*

Bless the room full of people and good acoustics, the coffee ready to serve, the undergrads who say "Oh! I like that one," Tom with his video camera, the jokes that somehow land safely, the sestinas like suspension bridges that bearing up under car after car, long, wobbly, singing with strung tension. Bless that people in Marquette aren't going to a let a little ice and snow keep them from campus. People ask about the new work, and they buy books. Lots of books, so that the clerk from Snowbound Books is smiling. That never fails to amaze and delight me. Those are my heart-poems, in Theories of Falling, and I'm not the only one who thinks they are worth something. There is still conversation to come, back at the Landmark Inn, over sweet potato fries and pitchers of Bell's, with the faculty who will drift away one at a time, and the students who will linger. I will tell my embarrassing Alice Quinn story, because that is the job of a Visiting Writer: to admit that I, too, have had my flicker moments. And lived to tell the tale.

*

It's a strange ritual, this making of deep and fond acquaintances with people I may well never see again. You, making it work one manuscript at a time, in one midwest town after another. You with the parrot buried in Lake Superior. You with the ridiculously awesome brunette curls. You with the ready joke and the serious questions. You who wants us to all go snowshoeing at midnight. You who had me sign a poem print-out for your wall. Most people around me on a daily basis aren't lovers of poetry, so it's rare to have the kind of direct sharing and questioning of the work that I get on these trips. I am foolishly, helplessly, vainly grateful for the reminder that the poems are received and unpacked and considered. So if I take forever to sign your copy of the book, with a babble that seems 50% yearbook scrawl and 50% non sequitur, you know why.

These days. These wild, lucky, stressful, underslept, french-fried, borrowed-shoe, squinty-eyed days. Sometimes it all flows through this body like water. Sometimes, like lightning.

November 18, 2008

After the Reading

Awesome. New NMU friends, thank you. Now, if only I can make it onto my 6 AM flight...then to my office by 11...and then, at 7 PM, THIS reading:

Two award winning local poets, Brandel France de Bravo and Sandra Beasley, will share their work as a part of the reading series A Space Inside on Wednesday, November 19 at 7 p.m. at Riverby Books on Capitol Hill.

Brandel France de Bravo's first collection of poems, Provenance, won the 2008 Washington Writers' Publishing House poetry prize. Her poems have appeared in Natural Bridge, Fugue, The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, and The American Voice, as well as in anthologies such as The Beacon Best of 1999: Creative Writing by Men and Women of All Colors, Fathers: A Collection of Poems, Outsiders: Poems About Rebels, Exiles and Renegades, and Hunger and Thirst. A graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the recipient of a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Brandel is also co-author of Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise your Child in a Complex World (St. Martin's Press). She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and daughter and is Director of Public Affairs at the National Research Center for Women and Families.

Sandra Beasley won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for Theories of Falling, selected by Marie Howe. Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Slate, The Believer, and Blackbird, as well as the Black Warrior Review Chapbook Series and many others. Honors for her work include the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, and fellowships to the Sewanee Writers' Conference and Millay Colony. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works for The American Scholar and writes for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine.

Now in its third year, A Space Inside provides a space where developing writers, lesser known voices, and the work better-known writers create between books can be heard. Monthly readings alternate between poetry and prose, but all readers are DC-based writers. All readings, which are free and open to the public, are hosted by Riverby Books with a reception following.

Riverby Books is at 417 East Capitol Street, SE, just north of Eastern Market and four blocks east of the U.S. Capitol. A seller of used and rare books, they are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at (202) 543-4342. Please call for directions if needed.

See you then!

November 17, 2008

20 Michigan Realities

Tomorrow I will read for the students of Northern Michigan University, come rain or come shine.

Or rather, come snow. It is the first real "lake effect" night, and four inches (with a bit of sleet for good measure) have fallen.

In trying to travel carry-on only, I had no room to pack boots.

I have pulled the chair in my hotel room up to the window, so my feet are resting directly on the heater. As I type I can look out a window down a Main Street white with undisturbed snow. There is a series of frosted-glass lamps. There is a clocktower.

Courtesy of my laptop, the Counting Crows are singing "She looks up at the building, / says she's thinking of jumping, / says she's tired of life. / She must be tired of something."

My dinner at the hotel restaurant was rather awesomely rich. The Marquette translation of "prosciutto" is really just peppery ham. But asparagus wrapped in a blanket-of-ham = asparagus that's going to sleep soundly tonight, in the bed of my belly.

I was the only person in the restaurant. It is a Monday, after all. The waitress, when she noticed I was reading, asked if I wanted them to turn the house lights up so I could see better.

After the fancy dinner, the less-fancy pub. One bartender gave the other a funny look when I ordered a Cosmopolitan. "A cocktail?" he stage whispered. Yes, I know it's a girly drink. I promise to order Bell's Brown on draft like a good Michigan-er tomorrow night. But when I was on the plane, I dreamed of Cosmos, and so a Cosmo I will have.

This is an obnoxiously citified thing to say, but it does seem like you get a little more for your money here.

On the drive from the airport to town, my host said "and there's our ski mountain." When I turned my head to the right there it was, complete with machines blanketing the slopeside in a thick cover, the lift carriages frozen in place, and the chalet with its cheery wood trim and retro font. They're not kidding around.

My host says that the husky racing is big here, in training for the Iditarod.

My first radio interview is at 7:30 AM tomorrow.

The paisley brocade they used on the bedspread is the same material they used on the curtains.

I have no idea what I'll read tomorrow night. Still haven't figured out to sustain all these damn sestinas in oral performance.

Counting Crows: "How'm I'm gonna keep myself away from me?"

This is perhaps one of the theoretically four worst days of the year for me to be out of the office. But when someone asks you to go read poetry, you go read poetry.

The cold may force me to wear my socks out tomorrow, since I don't have stockings and my high heels leave my feet exposed. These socks are bright turquoise. With little embroidered sushi rolls on them.

I'll have to wake at 4 AM on Wednesday in order to be back in DC, and in my office, by 11 AM.

It's worth it.

November 14, 2008

Poetry!

I was thrilled to wake up this morning to a review of Theories of Falling in the latest edition of Blackbird, which names me a "poet to watch." In this excerpt, Susan Williams critiques my, um, unconventional sense of eros:

A poem exploring various metaphors for sex begins, “Bullet dodged, meant your thrust. Another: Load the gun.” Later in the poem, Beasley’s speaker notes, “Always, the body just an alias for something more urgent,” and recalls that, “Once you tried to call it making love and I said I don’t think / that counts, what we do.” Elsewhere, she describes the men she’s “loved best” as “mute and brambled.” These are clearly not run-of-the-mill love poems...

...

Every time I stumble across a poem by Matthew Dickman, I am completely enamored. Here is the latest, courtesy of David Graham:

The Mysterious Human Heart

The produce in New York is really just produce, oranges
and cabbage, celery and beets, pomegranates
with their hundred seeds, carrots and honey,
walnuts and thirteen varieties of apples.
On Monday morning I will walk down
to the market with my heart inside me, mysterious,
something I will never get to hold
in my hands, something I will never understand.
Not like the apricots and potatoes, the albino
asparagus wrapped in damp paper towels, their tips
like the spark of a match, the bunches of daisies, almost more
a weed than a flower, the clementine,
the sausage links and chicken hung
in the window, facing the street where my heart is president
of the Association for Random Desire, a series
of complex yeas and nays,
where I pick up the plantain, the ginger root, the sprig
of cilantro that makes me human, makes me
a citizen with the right to vote, to bear arms, the right
to assemble and fall in love.

--Matthew Dickman. All-American Poem
The American Poetry Review (Honickman First Book Prize), 2008.

November 13, 2008

"Truffle Oil? What the F**k?"

It's raining outside, relentlessly, and though I know we need rain, once it begins its slow soak into the hem of my jeans I go from 0 to Grumpy in 60 seconds. The rain is only an objective correlative. In recent weeks I've sent many things out into the world, and now I'm awaiting response. When the things in question are little things--poems to a journal, a card that may or may not elicit a note in return--the waiting is a kind of fun, tickling anticipation. When the things in question are big things, things that might change where you live or what you do, it sets off a kind of gut-roiling.

My main goal is to find a balance where I, once again, have time to play pool, read, cook, visit grandmothers, and drink wine with friends. I like being busy but not THIS busy. Something is amiss.

For work, I have spent my morning pursuing photos of famous authors. W. H. Auden's face is as craggy as an Irish coastline. The bald crown of Philip Larkin's head swells, pale and cartoonish, above the unforgiving black rims of his eyeglasses. William Empson reveals a missing tooth as he smiles. E. M. Forster's moustache is, at times, wider than his chin; he's the embodiment of "tweedish."

I miss the days of funny-looking writers! Let's bring that back. Billy Collins, will you be our next Philip Larkin? Pretty please?

Elsewhere in the world...

One silver lining of the Washington City Paper's slow but steady decline into onine-only life: the launching of their Young and Hungry blog, featuring posts by Tim Carman. Check out the coverage of the recent celebrity-chef Capital Food Fight, which is one of the more innovative fundraising-event models around.

& before I forget--if you're looking for a place to send out:

"If Poetry Journal now has an online component to its print journal. It is seeking poems to publish, 2 or 3 a week, along with reviews of poetry collections and interviews with writers. To submit, please send 3-5 poems (in the e-mail, no attachments) to the editor Don Illich at ifpoetryjournaleditor@gmail.com . Please say in the e-mail this work is for the online journal. What we like: poetry influenced and inspired by writers such as Thomas Lux, Jennifer Knox, Tony Hoagland, Sandra Beasley, Dean Young, Frank O'Hara, Jeffrey McDaniel, Denise Duhammel, and Billy Collins. Obviously, no payment but the esteem of eyeballs everywhere."

There is no way on earth I've earned my place on a list with Dean Young and Frank O' Hara, but I appreciate the compliment!

November 07, 2008

Surfacing

I couldn't let a whole week go by without posting, but it would be fair to say that life is beyond crunched right now. We are in closing on our Winter issue of the American Scholar, and I'm chipping away at some large-scale projects inspired by my trip to New York. I don't mind being busy but what should be a time of coffee, swedish fish, and other forms of immediate gratification is instead dominated by my body's instinct to hibernate (damn you, 5 PM sunsets).

There's also just too many darn poetry readings: I've been invited to four on Sunday, November 16 alone! Luckily, we were still able to grab 50 people to fill the room at the Arts Club for Wednesday's reading. It was such a pleasure to hang out with Aaron and Ted. I miss, sometimes, the easy companionship of Charlottesville days.

Yet it is undeniably a good time to be in D.C. As the election results rolled in my neighborhood (Dupont Circle) erupted into hollering, honking, dancing and champagne-drinking in the streets. Fireworks were visible beyond the roof of the Quaker Meeting House. For as long as I've lived in city proper, I have cultivated an apolitical stance; but then again, Bush has been in office that entire time. So now I wonder...will I be a bit more engaged, because I'll be a bit more inspired? Perhaps I have some dogs in this fight after all.

When I was younger I wanted to be a speechwriter when I grew up. Regardless of how you felt about the politics, Peggy Noonan's "Thousand Points of Light" rhetoric showed the power of language to garner public support and shape policy. Just a couple of weeks ago I had a long conversation about using metaphor as a tool in ALL areas of life, not just poetry. A great metaphor not only provides an accurate model of a complicated idea, but it introduces its own fulcrum of logic that, in some cases, actually pushes and illustrates the idea beyond previous understanding.

If you're interested in speechwriting, you'll find an interesting interview here (thanks Gothamist!) with Terry Edmonds, the first African-American speechwriter in the White House (under Bill Clinton). If someone gave me the chance to join the speechwriting office in a Democratic White House, I'd be very tempted. They need more poets downtown.

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Any bards out there have an interest in coming to DC for a year? If so, pay attention to this sweet opportunity--the Jenny McKean Moore Fellowship at George Washington University. Past Fellowship winners include Tony Hoagland, Dana Roeser, Carol Muske, and Rick Barot:

For appointment beginning in the fall of 2009, we seek a poet to teach two semesters as the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington. The successful candidate will teach a small poetry workshop each semester for members of the metropolitan Washington community. No tuition is charged for these workshops, which are not open to University students. The successful candidate will also teach two classes, one each semester, for students at The George Washington University.

Basic Qualifications: The writer must have significant publications (poetry published by a well regarded press) and a demonstrated commitment to teaching. Like students in the community workshops, the writer need not have conventional academic credentials. He or she should reside in the Washington area while the University is in session, late August through early May. The historic Lenthall House, a 4-story Federal-era townhouse on campus, is normally available to the visiting writer through a subsidized rental agreement. The salary for 2009-2010 will be $58k plus an attractive benefits package.

To be considered, applications must be made by letter, indicating publications and other projects, extent of teaching experience, and other qualifications. The application must also include a resume and a selection of published poetry. Applicants are encouraged to send a book as their sample. Books will be returned if accompanied by an appropriate SASE. Review of all applications will begin on November 17 and will continue until the position is filled. Applications should be sent to:

Professor Jeffrey J. Cohen, Chair
Department of English
801 22nd Street, NW (Suite 760)
The George Washington University
Washington, DC 20052

October 31, 2008

LocusPoint & Post-age & Wacca Wacca

The Washington edition of LocusPoint is now up. I curated it and wrote the introductory essay, which inspired some real soul-searching about the nature of the poetry scene in D.C. Take a look and enjoy the work of an incredible diverse array of poets:

Derrick Weston Brown
Michael Gushue
Natalie E. Illum
E. Ethelbert Miller
Rod Smith
Maureen Thorson
Rosemary Winslow

and a glimpse from the editor's note:

"...The writers I know struggle and juggle artistic calling with the demands of parenting, lawyering, Department of Whatever-ing, bartending, and teaching. A friend often taxis from his work on the Hill to catch a Folger reading, knowing he’ll have to taxi straight back again as Congress marches steadily on towards midnight. On a good day, our insistence on making time for poetry demonstrates fierce, inspiring devotion. On a bad day we are an exhausted lot, cursing the delays of the Red Line and straggling in just as the reading ends...."

I'll be intrigued to hear what folks think.

& speaking of the Washington world: I'll have a new column in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine on Sunday (November 2)!

& speaking of journals going "live" today, here's a great new one called Waccamaw and edited by the fantastic Dan Albergotti, whose book The Boatloads came out from BOA this year.

October 29, 2008

What You Should Do AFTER You Vote

First, a cool thing: Theories of Falling was reviewed over at RATTLE, and includes one of my favorite cirtical observations ever made about my work: "Whether she is writing about allergy suffering or a philosophical analysis of American culture, Beasley insists on surprise and humor of top order...."

I am incredibly grateful.

And in bright and shiny defiance of these political times, we will celebrate the first week of November with...poetry. Come on down to the Arts Club, where the day after the presidential elections I will be hosting a reading:

Flirting with the Masters: Poets on Walt Whitman

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 - 7 p.m.

The Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW
Free and open to the public, reception to follow.


On Wednesday, November 5, the Arts Club of Washington will host acclaimed poets Aaron Baker and Ted Genoways as they “flirt with the master,” Walt Whitman, in the city that served as Whitman’s home for a decade. While in Washington, Whitman administered to Civil War soldiers, composed such masterworks as “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” and published two editions of Leaves of Grass. As an introduction to reading from their own works, Baker and Genoways will each speak about Whitman’s influence as a writer and American icon. This event is part of an ongoing series at the Arts Club.

AARON BAKER is the author of Mission Work (Houghton Mifflin 2008). He has lived in Mexico, Germany, and Papua New Guinea, where his parents were missionaries in a remote village of the Chimbu Highlands. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, he currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, the poet Jennifer Chang. He teaches at Hollins University.

TED GENOWAYS is the author of two books of poetry, most recently Anna, washing (Georgia, 2008), as well as Walt Whitman and the Civil War (California, forthcoming 2009). He has edited seven books, including Joseph Kalar’s Papermill: Poems 1927–1935 (Illinois, 2006) and Walt Whitman: The Correspondence (Iowa, 2004). As editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, he has received thirteen National Magazine Awards nominations and won in General Excellence and Fiction. He is a contributing editor to Mother Jones and Men’s Journal.

THE ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON is at 2017 I Street NW, near Foggy Bottom/GWU and Farragut West metro. Headquartered in the James Monroe House, a National Historic Landmark, the Club was founded in 1916 and is the oldest non-profit arts organization in the city. The Club’s mission is to generate public appreciation for and participation in the arts through ongoing educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.

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Depending on the outcomes, we will be celebrating--or drowning our sorrows. Either way, wine and verse for all, with two superb Charlottesville poets. I'm really looking forward to this one.

October 28, 2008

So...there WERE meetings, right?

Fair question. Yes, there were meetings. Over sushi. In a stunning 14th Street apartment. In the Algonquin Hotel. Poring pages of Cabinet magazine with its editors, talking trim size and funding and experiments gone horribly right or wrong.

Over and over I asked: What's your favorite part about what you do?

An "eh" meeting was simply Here's who I am, Here's what I can offer you (e.g. not much), Do you have any questions. A good meeting involved volunteering the authors, projects or trends we are truly excited about (and there's a risk there; you never know if you're naming the subject of a grudge, a bad review, or a failed book bid). A great meeting involved someone jumping out of a chair to pull a book off the shelf.

Some of the best conversations were with people who are not editors, not publishers, not people who can "do" or assign something, just fellow poets whose work I love--Jeffrey McDaniel, Josh Bell, Marie Howe--and those hours were like water to a thirsty soul.

I discovered the paucity of coffeeshops in any part of Manhataan other than Soho. I realized that I would rather work in magazines than teach. I affirmed that I am a DC girl, though New York charms me more with each visit.

Personal highlight: I walked into McNally Jackson, a to-die-for bookstore on Prince Street, and in the poetry section I found not one, but TWO copies of my book. Face out on the shelf! Yes, I took a photo, because I am dorky like that.

I returned full of ideas. A dream of being a Penguin author. Seeds for scholarly essays, interviews with artists, sestinas, treatises on color, a book about allergies. It's tough because here, back in the maelstrom of everyday life (aggravated by a two-week absence) I will have to fight to make time for these projects. But I owe it to myself--and to Poets & Writers, having blessed me with this opportunity--to try.

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I am slowly but surely reconnecting with being home. You know how sometimes you schedule something, and then life intervenes, and then all of a sudden you're just THERE? In my case, "there" was in the studio of FM radio's WPFW (89.3 to DC folks), joining local legend Reuben Jackson for his Monday poetry hour. It could have been a disaster. We didn't know each other that well; we had an hour to fill; and the MS I had grabbed on my way out the door to read from turned out to be missing the entire last section of poems. So I was a bit hampered in my selections, and prayed that the conversation would not naturally cue me to read a poem I did not, in fact, have handy.

But you know what? The hour flew by. Reuben's questions were on-target, thoughtful, and reflected his generosity of spirit and understanding of the poetry world. The sound engineer gave me silent snaps in the air when I read "Osiris Speaks." I managed to adopt a more even-keeled voice than I do in readings (which might have boomed in the microphone) and resisted (or at least toned down) any emphatic hand gestures. It was fun--really fun. And Mark Dawson, another great Washington poet, emailed to say that while stuck in the rush hour traffic of Silver Spring, he'd actually stumbled across the station and tuned in. We had an audience! Of one, maybe, but at least he's one of my favorites.

October 24, 2008

I Will Never Eat Again

After a revitalizing visit to Stony Brook--meeting students, reading poems, and answering their questions reminded me that THIS is what I actually love, THIS is what I do--I am taking a quieter morning to pack my bags and begin the long haul back to DC. I don't know how I will manage this luggage. Seriously. I was given eight books, including three hardback, one of them being David Lehman's Oxford Anthology of Poetry. I need a camel.

As promised, a rundown of the food highlights while on this trip:

-Onion bagels at the Library Hotel. Free, every morning, small, dense and chewy but soft. I don't even usually eat bagels, but I could not resist the way the ships of onion had caramelized from what seemed to be just-applied heat. I now understand what a true New York bagel is, versus the puffier and oversized ones in DC.

-The coffee an agent brewed in his home kitchen for us--from grounds brought back fresh from Germany, where he had attended the Frankfurt book festival.

-Cocoa-rubbed baby back pork ribs at Kittichai. Given I can't eat (milk) chocolate, it was literally a flavor I had not had in years. The meat was thick and without gristle. All hail Jeffrey McDaniel for insisting we order them for the table! This restaurant also takes the prize for most chic interior.

-Having a bottle of Veuve Clicquot opened for us the moment we sat down for a 1 PM brunch at the Rainbow Room. We didn't even debate the indulgence; it was just there. And what a view! I didn't even know that Central Park, and the many bridges, could be seen from such an aerial angle while still indoors. Okay, so the buffet-styled food was nothing spectacular (at least the things safe for me to eat), but the blueberries were the biggest I've ever seen. I knew this trip had a Cinderella quality when I told my mom I was going to the Rainbow Room and she said "Oh my gosh! I've always wanted to go there!" When I arrived, the hostess all congratulated me.

-The pear Bellinis in the Library Lounge's Bookmarks lounge. Normally it's scotch, but when hosting someone for one last conversation at the close of the day, I wanted something a little softer. Pear puree, champagne, and a vanilla/pear liquor.

-Ginger and duck dumplings at The Kitchen Club. Not the most adventurous flavor profile--this place specializes in fun, Asian comfort food--but perfect for a large group dinner (one half of a table with family, one half with Poets & Writers folks) following the reading at Housing Works. The rice had currants, spice and chewy black grains mixed in; it was so good I ordered a second cup in lieu of dessert.

-EVERYTHING at Cendrillon. This may have been my favorite because it was a "discovery"; my new friend Noel took me there after at reading at the Center for Book Arts. I was so inspired I brought my family back the very next night. I knew they'd like the place's casual elegance: honeyed wood interior, hand-made rice-paper lanterns. The dishes I got to sample: clams with black beans, chili and scallions. Trout stuffed with mushrooms and leeks, steamed in banana leaf. Pork belly in a vinegar sauce. Curried lamb shank. Chicken Adobo (not easy to make something simple so moist). A chef generous to come out and not only chat with us, but to send out a trio of desserts--a young coconut cream, an apple tart, and raspberry sorbet. Every plate served to our family went back licked clean.

-The anagi eel sashimi at Sushi Samba. This nuttier variation on the more common kind (the kind you see brushed with BBQ sauce) was arranged as a somersault of feathery, delicate flesh that melted on the tongue. A simple thing, but by then I craved meals closer to what I'd have at home. Same reason I reveled in the carrots and Brussels sprouts layered under my arctic char last night at the Silverleaf Tavern. Green vegetables! For the first time in, um, a week!

-Carly's hot toddies with bourbon, tea, and blueberry honey. The perfect way to end a long, long, long night. And there have been nothing but long, long, long nights. Carly has been a perfect and tolerant hostess, as I have been completely oversaturated by each day's conversations. They should put the award-winners in social quarantine after these trips, to let them process; Carly let me decompress while I crashed on her couch in Brooklyn.

Okay, so this is not the most insightful literary post. But damn it, this food deserves to be remembered! Here's the thing: I had no allergy attacks on the trip. Those who know me (or have read the "Allergy Girl" sequence from Theories of Falling) know this is a particular concern. I did not want to exit an important meeting choking, swelling, and spluttering. Nor did I want to make a series of first impressions of being neurotic as I questioned, requestioned, and edited every order I made. Somehow, we got through. And that really gives me joy.

But...I will now return to a diet of nothing but almonds, oatmeal, kale and broth for the next two weeks. Seriously, a fast would be warranted. Lord help my stomach.

October 19, 2008

Postcard from New York City

It's only been a few days in town, but it's a month's worth of happenings. I'll start by singing the praises of the Library Hotel. The rooms: each with its own theme (reflected in the name, the art, the loose books in the room) assigned by the Dewey Decimal system. The bed: fluffy. The robe: fluffy. The decor: granite and mahogany and rice paper and satin. The turndown service: complete with the next day's weather report and chocolates stamped with "library" quotations. The rooftop bar: complete with indoor fireplace and outdoor view. The courtesy lounge: open 24/7 with three types of coffee, copies of the New York Times, and a fresh orchid on each cafe table.

All in a location convenient to umpteen subways stations and Bryant Park. Poets & Writers, you could not have made me feel better cared for. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The cuisine is incredibly rich and varied, and deserves its own post. Though I try not to fixate on such things, it is a little depressing to realize the sheer caloric intake. Ah well. If my belly survived Sewanee, it can survive this. And this food is MUCH tastier.

Three meetings so far, and I don't want to jinx anything by reporting on them here. But I'm learning a lot. Good stories are being told.

Saturday was my day o'vacation. No poet-talk--and though I love to articulate (aka...ramble) about the writing world, the silence was a relief. So I wandered. At this point, I can quickly size up public spaces where I could work on a regular basis. The New York Public Library is one such place; I dreamed of what fellowship or book contract would ever make it possible to go there every day as if it were my office. I was perplexed by the people who wandered around taking photos: of vases of fall leaves, of frescoes, of stairways, posing with their hands reaching out to books on shelves. Put away your cameras, get out a book, and read! That seems like the only true way to honor the space.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its staggering view of the skyline buildings reflected in the shiny surfaces of a surreal population of Jeff Koons sculptures, was too visually distracting to write. But I did dash off some postcards, and after many hours of exhibit-wandering (oh, my feet) I returned to the roof to read Phyllis Levin's May Day. She's the perfect veteran New York poet for that kind of setting, and I really liked the work.

Last night my family came into town. As exhilarating as this trip has been, it is also a touch lonely: when I checked into my hotel room I had a congratulatory split of champagne from the hotel and no one to use that second, waiting flute. Ooof. So having my folks make the looong haul from DC, kidnap my sister from college en route, and share this with me means a lot.

Later this afternoon, I am off to read at Housing Works. The good news: Ten copies of Black Warrior Review were 2-day mailed from Alabama and arrived in time to be donated for the reading. The proceeds of any that sell go straight to Housing Works, which runs a number of programs to help people living with AIDS/HIV. This is an extremely generous move on the part of the editors, and it allows me to show off this beautiful new issue of the magazine, with my chapbook of sestinas inside.

The bad news: Don't tell anyone, but I am more nervous than usual. It's rare for me to be reading by myself (so, no co-draw), outside DC, with no academic program shepherding students into the audience. Will anyone attend? Only one way to find out...

October 15, 2008

Pure Excitement

I am off to New York for ten days, for the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Exchange Award. I'm staying first at the Library Hotel--for which I am giving P&W my firstborn child, because I have always dreamed of this place and NEVER been able to afford it--and then with my dear friend in Brooklyn.

I am meeting with fellow writers and some people I have admired for a very long time, and I am getting to do it in places like the Rainbow Room, Kittichai, and Sushi Samba.

On Sunday, October 19, at 3 PM I will read at the Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe (126 Crosby Street).

On Thursday, October 23, I will take a train to visit a class and read at SUNY Stony Brook.

On Friday, October 24 I will take the Amtrak home to DC. Have I mentioned I love train rides? I love train rides.

And I just learned that the new issue of Black Warrior Review is out, complete with "Bitch and Brew"--EIGHT sestinas published as part of the Black Warrior Review Chapbook Series. They will even ship some copies to New York.

This is how a poet writes reads when she's got nothing to complain about. = ) Come back later, when I am stressed once more, and therefore more poetic.

October 10, 2008

Oh Friday, I Have Waited for Thee

Thanks to those who commented on fonts. Funny how we go for months without acknowledging such an everyday detail about our writing process, yet these type names come skipping off our tongues the moment we have an excuse to talk about them. I admit this superstition: I choose a font to go with each new book MS, and adhere to that font throughout any documents (drafts, cover letters, etc.) relating to that MS. Count the Waves, my formal collection, is in Palatino Linotype; I Was the Jukebox is in Garamond, though I'm not crazy about the space Garamond creates after each em-dash.

We are big-time nerds, my friends. Embrace it.

If you're wondering why my Blogroll is missing, the site that hosts it was hacked by Islamic Fundamentalists. Because to take over the world, first you must disable the poet-bloggers. I am hoping and assuming this is a temporary issue.

In the meantime, amble over to The Missouri Review and check out their Poem of the Week, featuring fellow Virginia poet Brian Brodeur. Reading "Nietzsche in Love" thrilled me for a couple of reasons: one, I saw an earlier copy of this poem when Brian and I met for Blue Moon on draft, french fries, and workshopping (the man has my eternal loyalty for taking on not one but THREE sestinas). Always fun to see evidence of edits moving a thing forward. Two, of all the places for the poem to land, TMR is an awesome journal. I am envious. It's amazing to remember how Brian and I first met, at a reading for Best New Poets 2005, and how far we've come since, sending our first books into the world. Time is flying.

Speaking of time in flight, next week I head off to New York City for 10 days, two readings, and a ton of meetings courtesy of the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Exchange Award. Bonnie Marcus has been a goddess of details and scheduling. I am excited, almost giddy, and also seriously behind on ten different types of work that will only accumulate and fester while I am out of town.

So what am I doing this weekend? Am I buckling down, plowing through to-dos? Nope. I am hopping in a car and driving to Syracuse. Then Niagara Falls. I am picking apples and drinking wine with dear friends. I am bringing a copy of Marilynne Robinsons' Home, to be read in front of a live fire in a real fireplace. Eh, what can I say? Writers are not known for their time management skills.

October 07, 2008

Font Elitism

"The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface, and that is why we loved Helvetica very much." --Wim Crouwel

A couple of nights ago I watched Helvetica, the documentary of the typeset that (they rather ably demonstrated in image after image) has quietly taken over the world. Oh, I wanted to like this movie! And I did for some stretches, particularly in the beginning, when there is an element of sleuthing as to the exact origins of the design. But the rest of the film lacks narrative thrust, and what should should have been an interesting extension into the Helvetica backlash, "grunge" typography, just felt like filler.

It doesn't help there is very little variation in the rhythm of each chapter. Namely:

-->Exterior shot of modernist building
-->talking-head (talking-white-guy-head, no less, though Leslie Savan and Paula Scher were both rich additions)
-->jump-cut to street scenes (oooh...Helvetica in its natural habitat)
-->cue synthesized music (think Postal Service gone strictly instrumental)
-->next exterior shot!

The movie did inspire a fair amount of reflection of days at journals when we open slush-pile envelopes or attachments and...I hate to admit it, but I don't think I'm the only one...have a gut-level response to font choice that sometimes reflects poorly on the poet. Imitation cursive script? Arial in all bold? Never good signs. I confess a resistance even to Courier, which--though sturdy, traditional type--always has the connotation of "let me inflate my page count," thanks to college days. On the other hand, a classic and serifed font (Palatino, Garamond, Georgia), consistently used in both the cover page and submission, is likely to make me think that this a professional: someone who takes themselves and their work seriously.

There's really no excuse for letting font determine the fate of a submission. None. Style and content are separate. And I can safely say that I always read the poems regardless, and in same cases revise an earlier inward groan. On the other hand, if an author feels so insecure about their work that they need a visual support of the intended emotion, then is it that unlikely they may have less-developed maturity, a literalist mindset, with a correlate in the quality of the work itself?

October 03, 2008

Relief

After writing from midnight to 5:30 AM, and then from 1:10 to 6 PM, I actually completed a prose draft. It feels like it has been forever.

Strange to admit that to write 800 good words I always have to write 1200 words first, then slash, then whittle. If I wanted to discourage myself, I could calculate it out as about 70 "usable" words composed per hour.

But I do not want to discourage myself. I want to be relieved, and go into the weekend with something other than deadline-dread for once. I close with this:


...because most photo-blogging wears me down but I gotta say, Zachary Schomburg always does it right.

October 02, 2008

Tracking the Muse

Thanks to everyone who came out to American University last night for my reading; we had a full house. It has been such a pleasure to go back and visit classes (with one more next week). If sharing my trials, tribulations, and pratfalls make it a little easier for a future poet to make her way into the world, I am content.

Blackbird has posted a portfolio called "Tracking the Muse," in which four writers from the Spring issue's "Introductions" loop contributed short essays on process. Jehanne Dubrow and I had talked about our essays on the long drive down to Sewanee, but this is my first chance to see the actual texts. An excerpt from each (names link to the original Blackbird work; the excerpt links to the full process essay):

Jehanne Dubrow:

...It is time to make something up of whole cloth. Ida Lewin is a poet too, but she works in Yiddish, a language you have never learned. She lives and dies many decades before you were born, in the Polish town of AlwaysWinter, a place that only exists on a map you draw from imagination. Ida is Orthodox where you are Reform, a mother where you are not. She believes in the magic of white cranes and mermaids, the Evil eye, the power of prayer to reshape the body....

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Terry Gibson:

...You find a remark or gesture that you sense defines a character, let him or her say or do it over and over in your mind, testing it for plausibility and truth, and then write a play for them. The play itself can be a complete fabrication of events and actions real or imagined. You may add or dispense scenes or characters to your heart’s content. But not that first utterance. All that follows should bear some connection to it, even remotely....

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Miroslav Penkov:

...A few years ago, just before I started my MFA at the University of Arkansas, I understood something with delightful terror. Literature, though firmly founded in language, transcends words. There are elements like character development, point of view, plot, that are universal, that stand above language, and thus one can create sensible literature, meaningful art, even with second-rate English. Honesty dictates this confession—if I fail in my stories, it is not because I write them in a stepmother tongue....

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Sandra Beasley:

Piet Mondrian—he of the sleek, colorful, highly-pressurized geometries—sometimes sketched his ideas on the back of cigarette packs. An X-radiograph of his Trafalgar Square shows that those carefully structured lines were really repainted freehand, over and over, in minute and somewhat random increments. White over white; bands of color unencumbered by black masking. “More boogie-woogie,” Mondrian said to a gallery owner, in explanation of his revisions....

...the process stories that matter are the ones that reveal. I’m not talking about mellow, feel-good images of longhand script on a legal pad. I’m talking about the Wizard of Oz cowering behind his curtain. I’m talking about our selfish but understandable need for a tiny bit of proof that Ezra was ruthless; that Eliot was in love with his own voice; that Joyce was sloppy; that Faulkner was lazy. The glow of satisfaction in knowing that Mondrian, an icon of minimalism, sometimes required a thousand imperfect gestures to add up to one straight line....


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I like this idea of posting new material "between" issues that deepens our understanding of artists already presented. The trend is reflected in the biweekly postings at Anti- and other online journals; one of the unique advantages internet publication has over print.

October 01, 2008

Out & About

I'll be reading at American University tonight with Barbara Goldberg--a kind of homecoming, since I got my MFA there in 2004. Should be a LOT of fun. But if you can't make it, I heartily endorse both of these events coming up in the next week...

Friday, October 3 - TWO events at Catholic University

1:45 PM in McMahon Hall Room 201

A lecture with Stephen Cushman on “Making Lines, Making Poems, Making Books: A Talk on Poetic Forms, Small and Large”

and 3:10 PM in in Hannan Hall Room 108

Stephen Cushman reads from Heart Island

Stephen Cushman is the author of Heart Island, Riffraff, Cussing Lesson, Blue Pajamas, as well as books on William Carlos Williams, form, and the Civil War. He is General Editor of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th Ed., forthcoming, and Robert C. Taylor Professor of Literature at the University of Virginia.


Reception and book signing to follow; free and open to the public.

Presented by The Department of English and the Graduate Student Association at the Catholic University of America. CUA is accessible from the Red Line Metro, Brookland/CUA Station.

*

Not to mention next TUESDAY...

HER OWN SOCIETY: Brenda Wineapple on Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 - 7 p.m.


The Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW
Free and open to the public, book signing and reception to follow.

The Arts Club of Washington will host renowned author Brenda Wineapple as she discusses the lives of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Their mysterious kinship is illuminated in Wineapple’s book White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, which Knopf released this August to rave reviews. Higginson was a radical abolitionist, John Brown supporter, gun-runner, and leader of the first federally authorized regiment of black troops. He made the elusive poet’s acquaintance when she responded his Atlantic Monthly article offering advice to “young contributors.” She hand-scribbled a query: “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?” Examining the poems, Higginson recognized “a wholly new and original poetic genius.”

EMILY DICKINSON (1830-1886) lived out most of her life in her family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts. A prolific but private poet, she published fewer than a dozen poems before her death; later generations placed her among the masters of American poetry. Dickinson cultivated few outside correspondences, but her letters with Higginson spanned a quarter-century and included the exchange of almost one hundred poems. They would meet face-to-face only twice, encounters that are carefully and thrillingly recreated in White Heat.

BRENDA WINEAPPLE is also the author of the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life, GenĂȘt: A Biography of Janet Flanner, and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School and lives in New York City. Judith Thurman of The New Yorker praises Wineapple as “an astute literary biographer with a feisty prose style and a relish for unsettling received ideas....White Heat is written with a dry heat that does justice to its impassioned protagonists.” Franz Wright declared White Heat to be “one of the most astonishing books about poetry I have ever read.”

THE ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON is at 2017 I Street NW, near Foggy Bottom/GWU and Farragut West metro. Headquartered in the James Monroe House, a National Historic Landmark, the Club was founded in 1916 and is the oldest non-profit arts organization in the city. The Club’s mission is to generate public appreciation for and participation in the arts through ongoing educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.

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September 30, 2008

Well, Hey Now

Speaking of Cave Wall...one of my poems from the issue, "The Sand Speaks," popped up on Verse Daily today!

September 28, 2008

On the Road

When Rhett Iseman Trull, the gracious editor of Cave Wall, first said "You really ought to give a reading in Greensboro," I was charmed but not committed. Converting an enthusiastic notion to an actual booking is like herding cats...usually. But Rhett is a force unto herself. Next thing I knew Terry Kennedy had found space for me in the University of North Carolina-Greensboro reading series, Rhett was dangling the temptation of home-hosting and quality cat-time with not one but three kitties, and I was packing my bags for the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Greensboro.

The driving gods were smiling on Thursday morning. I've always loved road trips and it was a straight shot, listening to Iron & Wine and snacking on Late July Organic Peanut Butter Crackers. It's frightening to schedule a reading knowing you won't have guaranteed downtime (much less a night's sleep) after the drive. But Rhett and I had lunch (with coffee, oh sweet strong coffee) and a bit of conversation beforehand. Another peril of readings is often no time to talk to the very people you wanted to talk to most, so this stretch--and another Friday morning, over orange juice, envelope-stuffing, and the comic-extension of Buffy the Vampire Slayer--was a welcome respite.

The reading was in the UNCG art museum, in a second-floor gallery of Peter Takal's drawings. On our walk in the skies were swirling ominously, with a vicious wind. I walked in to see forty empty seats and did the math: impending storm + dinner hour - reception (no food or drink allowed in the museum) = we are never going to fill all these seats. But lo and behold, by the time I stood up the room was packed. Not sure it's any tribute to me; thanks to Terry for really getting the word out, and to Rhett for an incredible introduction. I was particularly thrilled to have faculty members from UNCG's MFA program--including Jim Clark, Jennifer Grotz, Michael Parker (who I met a few years ago, during a residency at Virginia Center for Creative Arts), and Allison Seay--in the audience. It's a measure of a program's vitality when professors come out on a night they don't have to, and I truly appreciated the welcome.

Afterwards, a few of us went out for sushi; half price off on hot sake when it's raining, you can't beat that. Usually I'm a purist--salmon sashimi, mackeral nigiri--but that night I got one of those outlandish speciality rolls, a "caterpillar" of eel, avocado, and gobo (mountain carrot), with two eyes of octopus tentacles. We told some literary tales (turns out Greensboro and Charlottesville share some resident characters) before adjourning to the Old Town Draught House. Greasy fries. Wheat beer. And deep, deep sleep.

The driving gods were scowling on Friday morning. Never a good sign when the first thing you do is hit a squirrel. Then get so rattled that you go south on 85 for a half-hour. Then get stuck in not one but five stretches where the rain is so heavy, the splatter from truck tires so thick, that you have to lean over the steering wheel like a grandma and go fifteen miles below the speed limit. After six hours I made it to DC, and then...went straight back into the office.

Ah well. A little pain to define the pleasure. Please, if you have not already done so--check out Cave Wall. The world needs more editors like Rhett, and as writers we need to show our love for someone who is willing to stick her neck out and make poetry things happen.

September 24, 2008

Hither! Yon!

Headed to Greensboro super-early tomorrow morning for a reading:

Sandra Beasley - Poetry Reading
University of North Carolina-Greensboro
MFA Writing Program

September 25, 2008 - 5:30 PM


The MFA Writing Program at UNC Greensboro, Cave Wall, and The UNCG Center for Creative Writing in the Arts will host a poetry reading by Sandra Beasley in the Peter Takal Drawings Exhibition on the 2nd Floor of the Weatherspoon Art Museum (500 Tate Street). Followed by a book signing.

...Wish me luck on the long drive! And if you're in town, please come out for the reading. Afterwards, I'm hoping to kick back for conversation over beers.

September 22, 2008

Where I'll be on Wednesday

(This is one of my favorite local series...an intimate space, nicely paced, with plenty of wine & chips & salsa & conversation afterwards. If you're in the DC area, I really encourage you to come!)

Brookland poets Michael Gushue and Dan Vera

will read from their work as a part of A Space Inside

-Wednesday, September 24 at 7 p.m. at Riverby Books-


Michael Gushue co-coordinates the BAWA* Series, a monthly poetry series in the Brookland neighborhood. He co-runs Vrzhu (Ver-zhoo) Press, a small press specializing in poetry chapbooks, full-length books, and books of in-between lengths and is the sole operator of Beothuk (Bay-uh-tuk) Books, another poetry press. His chapbook, Gathering Down Women, is available from Pudding House Press.

Dan Vera is a poet, writer, and editor who now makes his home in Washington, DC, after living in Texas, Colorado, Washington State and Chicago. He is the Managing Editor of the gay culture journal White Crane, founder of Brookland Area Writers & Artists, co-publisher of VRZHU Poetry Press, MenKnit.net and a member of the Triangle Artists Group. A writer of poetry for almost twenty years, The Space Between Our Danger and Delight, published by Beothuk Books is his first book of poetry.

Rounding out its third year, A Space Inside provides a space where developing writers, lesser known voices, and the work better-known writers create between books can be heard. Monthly readings alternate between poetry and prose, but all readers are DC-based writers. All readings, which are free and open to the public, are hosted by Riverby Books with a reception following. Questions should be directed to series organizer, Monica F. Jacobe at 09jacobe@cua.edu.

Riverby Books is located at 417 East Capitol Street, SE, just north of Eastern Market and four blocks east of the U.S. Capitol. A seller of used and rare books, they are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at (202) 543-4342.

September 17, 2008

Live, from Atlanta

"Don’t get me wrong, there are stacks of to-do paperwork elsewhere, but having a blank surface is key to giving myself permission to write. If I were trying to draft a sestina while also eyeing my incomplete 2008 tax return, the sestina would never happen."

...I am guest-blogging over at Linebreak's new blog for the next week or so. The first post was in response to a request for a glimpse of my writing space, and is complete with picture. Go check it out.

Once I get a little further into my Atlanta trip, I'll be reporting on that as well. More soon! Now, off to raid the Emory Inn's minibar.

September 15, 2008

Around the World in 80 Poets

Well, maybe not 80, but a few...

I joined the other loggers / after work, / slurping a dozen cold / lobed oysters, / the hot-sauce stinging low / in my throat / while Johnny Carson beamed, / all toothy, / "That's outstanding, really / fabulous...." -Caki Wilkinson, "Fisher King"

Caki Wilkinson just won one of the Poetry Foundation's prestigious Ruth Lilly Fellowships ($15K! I'm so jealous). She also charmed everyone who met her in July at the Sewanee Writer's Conference, where she returns each year as a staff member. If you'd like to find out more about her work, she has a reading posted online at Apostrophe Cast. I had not seen this site before, but was immediately impressed by the clean layout and good sound quality--not to mention the REALLY rich and diverse archive of poets. Check it out. Speaking of online broadcasts...

Poet and local powerhouse Grace Cavalieri recently interviewed me for her "The Poet and the Poem" series, hosted at the Library of Congress, and you can find the finished recording now on their website. The program also featured Kyle Dargan, who I know from UVA days. Leading me to...

Hangdog suns skulk in the south, / shirking the late afternoon. / It doesn’t get darker than this. / Now what? What are we waiting for? / Doesn’t get more naked either.... - Steve Cushman, "December"

I had the pleasure of having Steve Cushman as my advisor back when I was an overzealous undergrad at UVA, where he is the Robert C. Taylor Professor in the English Department. His third collection of poetry, Heart Island, came out in 2006; he has also written about the Civil War, and he is the editor of the new edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (which is mighty impressive if you think about it).

If you're in town, he'll be travelling up from Charlottesville to read from his poetry on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3, at 3:10 p.m. on the Catholic University campus (108 Hannan Hall). This is free and open the the DC community, with a reception and book signing to follow the reading. Parking available in the lot, or you can use the Red line metro--CUA/Brookland stop.

September 12, 2008

Thank God It's Friday

National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem
September 12, 2008 | Issue 44•37


WASHINGTON—The National Endowment for the Arts announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric poem—its largest investment in the nation's aesthetic- industrial complex since the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.... [From The Onion]

Happy Friday, folks. If you're in the Annapolis area please come out to my reading tonight with Temple Cone at b.b. Bistro; or come to Cafe Muse this Monday, when I read with Susan Williams.

September 11, 2008

Thar She Blows

Looking for a new place to submit? Consider the WHITE WHALE REVIEW:

"White Whale Review welcomes submissions from both published and new writers....The caliber of the work is of paramount importance, and submissions in any style treating most subject matter will be considered according to that standard. Nonfiction might run the gamut from literary reportage to memoir to travelogue and beyond. In emphasis: all writing should be nuanced and affective and plainly good."

I got a charming note from the editor, Jim Cronin, and I'm happy to report they consider simultaneous submissions AND process them electronically.

What makes this exchange so interesting is not only the initial observation, but the dialogue that unfolds in the comments. I was speaking of Jason Bredle just yesterday--I'm a big fan. It was in the context of "book contests I didn't feel so bad about losing once I saw how amazing the winner was..."

And check this out. Keep clicking until you Joe is more fully revealed. It makes me want to redesign my website, just as an excuse to work with this guy. No surprise that Miranda July, who had one of the most charming book-promotion sites I have ever seen, figures in his linkbar.

September 10, 2008

Think You've Got It?

Because MIPOesias is taking auditions for the 2008 "Sexy Issue":

"For consideration of the next SEXY ISSUE, please send a link to an author photo and a sample poem of your work found online. Do not send attachments. If I like what I read, you will receive an invitation to submit new work and photographs for the SEXY ISSUE.

Please do not submit if you are unable to send in from 20 photos of yourself photographed in different views and backdrops in high resolution 300 dpi.

To view our past sexiness, please stop by here.

Please note that I will only respond to authors I wish to feature after receiving the email audition. No rejections will be sent out. That would be too cruel. So if you do not hear from me within two weeks please take the silence as a no.

Email mipoesias at gmail dot com and place on subject line MIPO IS SEXY.

The issue will be available as a pdf file and also in print through amazon. Only ten poets will make the cut. For this special issue of MiPO, I will offer those that pass the audition one contributor hard copy.

Thank you and good luck!
Didi Menendez
Publisher and Editor"

20 photos?!? Hmmm. The Washington Post made me take 24 "self-portraits" with a disposable camera, and that was a form of torture. Not sure I'm a hardy enough soul for this project...on the other hand, this is one sweet photo they got of Ken Rumble in last year's issue:

September 08, 2008

Housekeeping

My weekend:
Splendid Open House at the Writer's Center.
Monsoon.
Dinner party, complete with poodle.
Farmer's Market.
Duckpin Bowling.
Mad Men.
Scotch & gummi bears.
True Blood.
When Harry Met Sally.

Please note that I've filled in all kinds of logistical details for September and October readings, both here and on my website. I am particularly excited to be traveling to Atlanta, Greensboro, and New York City. For DC folks, please consider coming out to hear me read with Susan Settelmyre Williams this Monday (September 15) at the Cafe Muse Series. An emergency forced Susan to cancel her DC reading earlier this year, so I'm particularly thrilled to have a second chance. Her book, Ashes in Midair, won the 2007 Poetry Book Contest from Many Mountains Moving, selected by Yusef Komunyakaa.

My September 25 reading in Greensboro, North Carolina, is in celebration of the latest issue of Cave Wall, just out for Summer/Fall 2008. Cave Wall is a splendid little journal ably edited by the wonderful Rhett Iseman Tull; it could be the next generation of Poetry, in both physical format and aesthetic aspiration. I have three poems in the new issue, and you can read "Another Failed Poem about the Greeks" on the Cave Wall website.

September 02, 2008

Bookslut? Galley Cat? Anybody?

I enjoyed meeting author and feminist critic Susan Faludi at luncheon hosted by her publisher some months back. Later, I enjoyed reading her book The Terror Dream when it came to my office in hardback. When I spied the paperback edition at Kramerbooks today, I thought the redesigned cover was quite stunning.

I also thought--assumed, was dead sure--that the cover was using the art work of Kara Walker. Compare:



...to some work from Kara Walker's recent exhibition, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love:





As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of Walker's work. Because she is a political artist in her own right, I was surprised to see her willing to affiliate with Faludi, who has her own set of controversies. Well, it turns out this artwork is not credited to Kara Walker; it is apparently part of the "original" book design.

Which leaves me feeling a touch of discomfort. I recognize that whereas Southern iconography reigns in Walker's work, this cover substitutes Western images. Instead of dancing slaves, we have a dancing "injun." Maybe that's enough difference on a legal level. But I have the uncomfortable suspicion that Walker has exhibited an image very similar to that silhouette of the woman straddling the cowboy. Walker's version might be in a plantation skirt, and he might have a foreman's whip instead of a Stetson. Still, the spirit is the same: the oppressed loving her oppressor.

Does anyone else think this is an odd echo? Has Walker developed a "style" that, like Andy Warhol, can be imitated without consequence?