August 15, 2008

What's Your Problem?

Big love to Amanda Hess for featuring me in her ongoing City Paper series, "What's Your Problem?" I talk about the perils of sharing one's personal life in print. It's a useful lead up to a rather harrowing story that will be an "XX File" in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine on August 31.

My favorite past "problem" was when the editors from Barrelhouse admitted that it is a little trickier to use Patrick Swayze as a titular mascot now that the "Dirty Dancing" star is battling pancreatic cancer. They'll persevere, though, since they "truly have a great respect for Patrick Swayze”--and if they don't do honor him, who will?

I love those guys.

Today I have nibbled on almonds, then grapes, then purslane (yes, I know it's considered a weed, "pigweed" specifically, but it's lemony and crunchy and I like it), and then...gummi bears. Lots and lots o'gummi bears.

The gummi goodness is left over from a reading I hosted on Wednesday, in my little apartment, featuring Mathias Svalina and Julie Doxsee. Mathias and Julie are working their way up and down the East coast--with Mathias having traveled from Nebraska, and Julie all the way from Turkey. Our little venue was more in the tradition of a house concert than a big bookstore shindig (that said, I tried to sweeten the pot with "Washington, DC" shot glasses and's all about the swag). Fans were oscillating, people were sitting on pillows, and a variety of beers were to be had.

I enjoyed the work of both poets, and in that spirit I'm going to share a couple of poems from books I bought that evening:


Skull in the cradle of a
lap, a valentine arm
appears quietly in June.

Together on the table
in two identical base-
ments, the fevers of cold

fever sense lull.

-Julie Doxsee
from Undersleep, Octopus Books 2008



A little boy cut a circle
out of yellow paper
& this became the sun.

The little boy laid
a sheet of blue paper
on the floor & this
became the oceans.

The little boy cut
a daisy chain of people
out of paper & hung
it on the wall & this
became humanity.

It was nice for a while.
The people were happy
to just exist, they liked
the sun & the oceans,
they liked talking to people,
they liked how the wall felt
against their backs.

Eventually they tired
of hanging on the wall.
They wanted these things:
to swim in the oceans,
to tan on their backs,
to talk to more than two people.

They passed their plan
along the chain of people.
On the count of three
they would all pull their
arms & legs in, ripping
them all from each other.

On three they all pulled.
It was the first ripping sound
the world ever knew,
this world used to cutting.

It worked. The people
fell from the wall. Some
fell in the oceans, waterlogged
& sank to the bottom. Some
drifted near the sun
& burned up. Most fell
on the earth, but realized
that they were paper
& incapable of mobility.

They stayed in the spot
where they'd fallen. Those
lucky enough to have fallen
near each other talked constantly.

All they talked about
was how they missed the wall.

-Mathias Svalina
from Creation Myths, New Michigan Press 2007


Mathias is the kind of guy who hugs you the first time you meet him; it was definitely a warm, welcoming vibe for the evening. Mover-and-shaker poets were in the house and I got to have longer and lovely conversations with Maureen Thorson, Bernie Geyer, and Charlie Jensen, our newly minted/transplanted director of the Writer's Center...where I have been newly recruited as a Board Member. Hmmm...suspicious coincidence, eh?

Thanks to everyone who made an appearance. Having had my test run of the air conditioning, I can invite an even bigger crowd next time.

Afterwards, I quickly loaded the dishwasher, did a little sweeping of crumbs, and hurried out to have a scotch with the poets (and a couple of Mathias's local friends) at Kramerbooks. I got to ask Mathias a bit more about Destruction Myth, a full-length manuscript that incorporates many of the "Creation Myths" and will be published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. That book is going to kick ass, mark my words. If you are in doubt: go back and re-read the poem above.


Maggie May said...

nice jumble of information and musings :)

Dr. Jay SW said...

Cool poems...the poet at the last reading I went to thought that was perfectly acceptable commentary, then, I was in the process of buying his chapbook. So, here I'll try to be a little more the wordly circles in the first one from skull in cradle/lap to valentine in June and fevers of cold.

The second made me think of Dostoyevsky's "Dream of a Ridiculous Man" in which a man arrives in an unfallen world only to ruin it with its presence...though that's not really what the poem's's late at night where I am, so not much better to be done....