December 29, 2009

Like a Cat

Today is both bright and mercilessly cold here in DC. I want to curl up in a sunny spot on the bedspread, tuck my head under my arm, and sleep like a cat. Like most of you, I'm drifting along in the post-holiday daze, during which 2010 blinks like a beacon of hope. There will be better eating, a cleaner house, and disciplined productivity. There will be freelancing that feels less like a crapshoot and more like a career. There will be computer-printed labels on my file folders.

How strange to be typing this only a few feet from the dining room table where, on Inauguration Day in January 2009, as my sister sipped soup in a desperate attempt to warm up following a disastrous pilgrimage to the National Mall, I glanced down at my laptop and found an email that knocked over the first in a series of dominoes. One book sold. Another book won. I quit my job. I ran away to Wyoming for a month. I heard from translators of my work in Mexico, Bangladesh, and Iraq.

I say all this not to brag, but to admit that the last twelve months have been pretty damn surreal. Things that once seemed far out of reach are, suddenly, within the realm of possibility. But with that agency comes responsibility. This has been a year of promises made. 2010 has to be a year of promises delivered. And to be perfectly honest, dear readers, that's a little terrifying.

The holiday decorations are still up. The volume of emails is still down. Because my family is local, I don't have to spend these days in transit. So this feels like a stolen time. At best, a chance to square away enough work to enter the new year feeling good instead of guilty. At worst, that sunny spot on the bed awaits.

The cover of my first book, inspired by the title poem, shows a cat going through the helical stages of falling. In 2010, may I be so clever in my acrobatics and alignments. In 2010, may the ground rise to meet me.

December 20, 2009

Fearless Leaders, Snow, & Whatnot

DC folks know that I'm proud to be on the Board for the Writer's Center. I joined the Board soon after Charles Jensen came on as the Director. I feel a kinship with Charlie because we are both younger poets; when I learned he was the new director, I knew that signaled the onset of long-overdue growth and change.

So it's no surprise--but still merits a hearty YEAH!--to announce that Charlie has just been elected to the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts, which is now in its 10th year. He is one of seven new members and the only representative of the literary arts. ELC members engage the field of arts leadership on the national level, learn firsthand about new programs and resources (courtesy of Americans for the Arts), and are charged with designing and implementing programs for their peers.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Charlie is awesome, and has jump-started the Writer's Center's activities and goals. Because of his service he is being asked to share his leadership principles on a national level, and in return will receive some much-merited attention and support for his own professional career.

...Which is a roundabout way of saying I'm glad to be along for the ride. If you're a writer who has not volunteered, think about doing so in 2010. I'm not a do-gooder. I'm infamous for not recycling. I hate to admit it, but I've never ladled soup in a community kitchen. But I do support my local writing community, at all skills levels, from all backgrounds, and people like Charlie inspire me to do more.


So, we've had some snow. We've had a lot of snow. 16 inches, best as I can tell from what is piled up on our balcony--an unusually deep snowfall for downtown. Fun to walk in on the first day, when pedestrians took over and the snow was still falling; not so fun on the second day, when cars reclaimed roads and we had to jump slushy curb-moats four inches deep. Why do people panic over grocery supplies in a city? The local bakeries sold out on Friday night. Seriously, people, there are five grocery stores and umpteen restaurants within a five-block radius. Take snow for what its worth: an excuse to stay in with soup, or venture out for a snowball fight. Don't buy six loaves of whole wheat as if the apocalypse is nigh.


Another snow pastime: Breaking Bad. I'd pitched Netflix-ing this series a few times over the past year, based on my love for Bryan Cranston courtesy of Malcolm in the Middle, the early years. But it wasn't until the wrap of Mad Men and Top Chef that we were driven to give this show a shot. The verdict, based on Season One: Love it. The pace is a little wobbly and the premise is fundamentally grim, but the acting is spot-on. (This is something I also could have also said about X-Files, and sure enough the show's creator, Vince Gilligan, worked on that show as well.) I like Weeds, but this is the anti-Weeds--no broad humor, no perky set design, no pretending the drug world is run by sexy MILFs. Season Two awaits!


Below is a call for submissions from Persea, a truly wonderful independent press that (always a bonus) distributes its books through W. W. Norton. They have decided to begin sponsoring another prize in the name of Lexi Rudnitsky, a wonderful poet who died too young. Through these tragic circumstances comes something promising--a post first-book award, which is a precious commodity in the poetry world. Check it out....

December 16, 2009

Small Ways to Survive the Holidays

-Pet a puppy.

-Find a can or jar of something past its expiration date in your kitchen, and throw it away. Don't try to convince yourself of its use. Junk it. Don't look back.

-Read Donald Hall's Life Work. 

-Buy a new scarf in a ridiculous pattern.

-Apple cider + Leopold's Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur + low heat + espresso-sized mug.

-Bring a live flower into your home whose shape and color scheme has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. A yellow rose. A spray of purple tulips.

-Pick one calendar day between now and the end of the year and book yourself a cheap, comfort-food dinner out. Soup, bagel, happy-hour sushi, whatever. Every other day can get booked to the gills, but keep that dinner clear. Take a trashy magazine to read. Talk to no one.

-In DC? Go visit the trains at the U.S. Botanic Gardens.

-Select a large Ritz cracker. Smother with chunky peanut butter. Drizzle with honey, ideally issued from a bear-shaped container. Eat. Repeat.

-Two words: duckpin bowling.

December 10, 2009

Verse Daily

Somewhere around the time I was crossing my t's and dotting my i's on the report from Pittsburgh, my poem "Antietam" (featured in the new issue of Gulf Coast) went up on Verse Daily. Hooray!

O City (My Trip)

First, a poem by Jack Gilbert:


We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.


This is one of my favorites by Jack Gilbert, and I found myself thinking of it during this weekend in Pittsburgh. Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.


You know what bodes well? When you roll into town after five draining hours on the road, and the place that you stop in, a block away from your host's house--determined to regain your sanity through food, before meeting people--turns out to be vegan, tasty, and cheap. Meet Quiet Storm coffeehouse, where I feasted on ginger-lemonade, vegetable curry, and a poppyseed slaw that was so tasty I had it for breakfast with my bagel when we returned on Sunday morning.

Dave English, my host, is a formally trained artist/puppeteer and a creative force behind the Schmutz Company.  Knowing I was slated to take part in the Typewriter Girls show on Sunday, he invited me up a couple of days early to make a cameo appearance at his Burned! house party, which was part of the Penn Avenue Arts' unBlurred monthly first-Friday open-studio night. Frankly, I'd have driven up from DC just to see Dave's house. Top to bottom, it is curated in a way that shows Dave is an artist: hand-hewn and asymmetric woodwork, cork figures jumping out from the living room walls (the puppet in the above image has taken up new residence in a Christmas wreath), display nooks cut into the drywall, a paper mache skeleton on a stretcher hoisted high into the peaked ceiling.

The party kicked ass. It began quietly, with a few of us drawn to the craft table (raffia, glue guns, foam and glitter) like moths to the flame, amped up with a series of sets from The 4 Roses (a blend of country, rock and originals: "Music to drink, cry, and kill to and/or over"), progressed into "El Paso," a heartbreaking silhouette play from the brilliant Flora Shepherd and the tuneful Missy Rateman, and culminating in some fire juggling in the backyard by Dave Doyle.

Did I mention there was a fire pit in the backyard? A heart-shaped firepit? A place to stand, until 2 in the morning, ignoring that the fact that my whole coat was being infused with raw woodsmoke, sipping from my flask of scotch? Oh, and that somewhere in the middle of all that, we had an improvised one-act involving much kvetching and moaning over broken hearts, a trio of poems, and luring Dave out from the bathroom even after his head had transmogrified into an oversized skull-monster?

Just another Friday on the road.


I did nothing poetic on Saturday. Instead I went to Fallingwater... the snow. Not so much to make the drive truly treacherous, thank goodness, but enough so that they had a fire going on in the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-designed living room. Which maybe was a little poetic, now that I think about it. We slipped through narrow hallways. We stuck our heads out of windowed corners. We listened to the water falling. I can see why people becomes pilgrims for the great architects.

After trekking back to town, Dave and I went out for an early dinner to a neighborhood place (sports on TV, flannel-shirted men at the bar) that also happened to have 1) amazing Christmas microbrews on draft, 2) sweet potato fries, and 3) an electronic darts game (which we were lousy at...but lousy with great enthusiasm!).

We came back. We each tried to work on our respective projects. We each failed to work. We watched Fantasia as the buzz from beer and darts wore off, and then we were done. By midnight, I was dreaming of dancing hippos, invading brooms, and Toots, the resident evil cat.


Having been part of a previous Typewriter Girls show, I knew what to expect: funny skits (this time centering on a series of surreal and ill-advised schemes to raise the money needed to "save the libraries"); sideshow-style entertainment (this time involving a 83 oddly-shaped items, balanced on one chin, in the space of 10 minutes); fellow writers (once again, the wonderful Nancy Krygowski). And, of course, a round of Exquisite Corpse on an antique typewriter.

But there were also some big differences this time around. The setting was much for more formal (the auditorium of the main Carnegie library) with no whiskey on hand to warm us up. The audience was a bit scattered, folks drifting in mopey from a Steelers' game lost earlier in the day. I was nervous to be slated to perform at the front of the show--and after NAKA Entertainment, a hip-hop/dance group. What would their energy be like?

Um. How about devastatingly beautiful? The first few numbers were the bouncy step-clap routines I was expecting, but then they broke out an amazing solo set to "Hide and Seek," one of my favorite Imogen Heap songs (that has been shamelessly appropriated, as of late, in a sample for a Jason Derulo track). There's no posted video from Sunday, but I found this video of an earlier performance of the number:

If this is his version WITH A BUM KNEE, can you imagine Sunday's show? Tears came to my eyes. That was the upside.

The downside: then I had to follow this guy.

Probably not my best set ever. I changed my poem selection at the last minute--inspired by NAKA, I wanted to read some older, more personal poems--and one of the NAKA dancers had an asthma attack, which generated a heckuva distraction at the back of the hall. But between the silent auction (to which I contributed a book) and the door fees, they raised $900! A successful night in terms of what matters. & I was honored to be part of a line-up of otherwise local artists and to be granted, for just one evening, honorary residence in the Iron City.

It's such a great creative community. I've been to other places that exhibited a flagrant & quirky hometown pride: Austin comes to mind. But what I love about Pittsburgh is the fellowship across genres, the scrappy willingness to fight for better infrastructure, better funding, bigger dreams. Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.

December 07, 2009

I'll Never Tell

First: Thanks, Barrelhouse, for the Pushcart Prize nomination! I was honored to have "Antiquity" appear in Issue 7, otherwise known as "The Future" issue. Now I look forward to getting my t-shirt (shown right).

While I gather my thoughts for an ode to Pittsburgh, I wanted to direct your attention to the blog for No Tell Motel, which has been posting 2009 book recommendations. My picks can be found here. I also want to share Nicole Steinberg's list, because 1) she's a cool chick and 2) I like her taste in books...

Best Poetry Books of 2009 - Nicole Steinberg

Saint Nobody by Amy Lemmon (Red Hen Press)

A Plate of Chicken by Matthew Rohrer (Ugly Ducking Press)

Apocalyptic Swing by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (Persea Books)

The Dance of No Hard Feelings by Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon)

Advanced Elvis Course by CAConrad (Soft Skull Press)

Ka-Ching! by Denise Duhamel (University of Pittsburgh Press)

[[Nicole Steinberg is an editor-at-large of LIT, contributing editor to BOMB, and the founder, curator, and host of Earshot (, a reading series dedicated to emerging writers. Her work appears in Coconut, BOMB, Barrow Street, Wheelhouse, No Tell Motel and elsewhere, and she’s the author of the forthcoming chapbooks Undressing (Scantily Clad Press) and Gamblers (Taiga Press). She lives in Queens, NY.]]

See what more No Tell poets are reading by visiting the blog.

December 04, 2009

On the Road

I've been quiet for the last two days because I've been working on the nonfiction and, frankly, because nothing tops my anticipation of Pittsburgh. One of the commenters has pointed out it may not be the "Emerald City"; that title might belong to Seattle. He suggests "Iron City" instead. Hmmmm. Okay, I can believe that, but tonight we're bending iron into rainbows.

More specifically, I'll be making a cameo in the Scmutz Company's BURNED! show, as part of (or anti- to) Unblurred.

Off I go!

December 01, 2009

If this Shark Ain't Swimming, It's Dying

First: Thanks, The Normal School, for the Pushcart Prize nomination! How cool to be up there with Beth Ann Fennelly. I can't wait to see the issue.

Second: Thanks, Steve! As part of an ongoing project, poet Steve Schroeder took a line from a poem in Theories of Falling ("My Los Alamos") and as the title of his own draft. Very cool. You can find my poem here.

I've spent the last few days hacking through the thorny underbrush of writer's block. I've invoked the nuclear option: getting ready as if I'm going to pull an all-nighter, pretending to ignore the doubting demons who from each shoulder. Pouring a glass. Eating a snack. Then...falling asleep on the couch fully clothed, contacts in, lights on.

I wake up feeling so guilty at the lost potential of the previous night that I go straight to the laptop (or bring it back to the couch) and start typing. Being only half-awake myself, the demons sleep in for a few precious hours, leaving me alone with my thoughts. It's a short-term option, best used when single or in the isolation of a writer's colony (someone explained to me tonight the phenomenon of assuming "geographic bachelor" status, though I think that had shadier connotations).

The downsides of this tactic: unnecessary midnight rounds of peanut butter, tumblers of scotch poured and then wasted, a general feeling of grunginess.

The upside: Words.

I have a particularly rich incentive to get some work done in the next few days, because next weekend I am going to Pittsburgh. As you might remember from earlier posts, I have a bit of a crush on the Emerald City. When Typewriter Girls were kind enough to invite me back up for their fundraiser reading in support of the Carnegie Libraries on Sunday, December 6, I couldn't say no. I was a proud card-carrier of Tysons Pimmit Regional Library, growing up. Public libraries changed my life.

Then when I looked at the calendar and saw that December 4 was the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative's "Unblurred," a beefier version of the open-artist-studio nights known as First Fridays here in DC, I couldn't resist the chance to get to know Pittsbugh's visual arts scene a little better. In for a penny, in for a pound, at least when it comes to road trips. That means I'll have all Saturday to get lost in the Andy Warhol Museum and, per my mother's long-running wishes, walk the grounds of Fallingwater.

But all that fun is fun I've got to earn. So, to bed! Lights out! the couch. Lights...on.

Whatever it takes.

November 29, 2009

TED Talks

In case you are looking for something to absorb a Sunday three favorite TED talks.

November 25, 2009

Part 3: On Animated Poems & YouTubing

The good folks over at "Poems Out Loud" gave me a heads-up on this post, which shares my focus on setting poems to video.

They also showed me how to manually manipulate the embedding code so that a video will always fit in a blog's column. They advise to avoid using a border, and tweak the pixel count.

Here is the original code I used to embed one of the Todd Boss videos on my blog, relevant display factors in bold:

{object width="500" height="315"}{param name="movie" value=""}{/param}{param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"}{/param}{param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"}{/param}{embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="500" height="315"}{/embed}{/object}{br /}

The altered code, with changes is bold:

{object width="340" height="285"}{param name="movie" value=""}{/param}{param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"}{/param}{param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"}{/param}{embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="340" height="285"}{/embed}{/object}

...note that 1) I struck the bit of coding that added the border, and 2) I had to take the coding out of carrots--replacing throughout with brackets--so that it explicitly shows up here. If I use the proper carrots, the resulting video display looks like this:

Okay, now for a day of baser pleasures--sweet potatoes, red wine, and turkey. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 23, 2009

Part 2: On Animated Poems & YouTubing

I've been very grateful for the flurry of feedback in response to my video of "Vocation," forthcoming in I Was the Jukebox this April. In addition, it's been a great excuse to talk about the larger topic with other poets. What I'm hearing falls into one of two categories:

The first is "Oh! Have you seen [X]! I love that one!" This tells me that when you get it right there is potential for not just casual enjoyment, but real delight. My video work is nowhere near "real delight" yet, but I have some ideas. Here's a great one I learned about from you all, Jeffrey McDaniel's "The Foxhole Manifesto":

...a little long, but killer images.

The other thing I keep hearing is "Yeah, I've heard about those, but I'm not clear on how it works." This reminds me of the way people talked about blogs five years ago. So let's get into some nitty gritty of how these videos get made.


I use iMovie, because it was already installed on my system. But if it hadn't been a freebie I'd still recommend it. The interface is intuitive and lets you drag-and-drop images (moving and still) in sequence. You then anchor sound and text to these images. Editing duration time and text placement can be done through a combination of keystrokes and mouse clicks, with the results visible in situ--meaning, as long as you're not afraid to push buttons, you can fumble your way toward refinement. The import/export system works with a multitude of file types and includes a set of "Share" menu shortcuts that prime your video for YouTube and iTunes formats.

If you are a Windows user, you have the free option of Movie Maker. My understanding is that this has a similar drag-and-drop functionality, but requires more manual fussing to get it into a format which can easily be uploaded and shared.

There are some web-based "movie makers," but I don't think they offer enough sophistication to handle a project like this. One exception is this program, "Xtra Normal: Text-to-Video":
...which someone with the right humor could use to good effect.

A gratuitously technical note on formats: YouTube accepts videos no more than 10 minutes in length and 2 GB in size--unlikely to be a problem here. YouTube prefers resolutions of 640x360 (16:9) or 480x360 (4:3), and the YouTube site displays videos at 480x360 DPI. Unfortunately, a lot of default image-capture settings and (inexpensive) stock images come in at a slightly lower resolution than that. This means that your images will blur when viewed on the YouTube site, much like when you view a DVD "full-screen" on your laptop. The good news is that if you export/upload in the "standard format" (4:3), you can tweak the embed setting so that anywhere else you post the video, it appears in a smaller frame (340 x 285) and therefore, shows a crisper image. If you export/upload in "widescreen format" (16:9), it'll look great on the YouTube site. But the lowest resolution YouTube offers in its embedding settings for widescreen is 500x315, which means it will be blurry elsewhere--and get clipped if embedded in a blog.

Long story short: I think exporting in standard format, and embedding on the smallest scale, is the best deal for those starting out.


The biggest (and justified!) criticism of "Vocation" is that the soundtrack is tinny. I know. I'm using a $30 external mic that plugs into the USB port. Frankly, the built-in probably works just as well. If I really get in the habit of these, I'll either buy a better mic or borrow one from a musician friend.

I've also heard GarageBand (another program automatically bundled on my system) may allow me to fine-tune the recording, but I haven't tried it out yet.

The iMovie software lets you record the voiceover while watching the images stream, which can be very helpful in terms of timing. You can do one long rendition, or a bunch of short clips matched to sections or stanzas. If you need a WAV or MP3 of your poem separate from making the video, I recommend Audacity as a good free recorder/editor. You can then import it to your video and synch up images to match.


Two words: Kevin MacLeod

Got a favorite song that perfectly matches your poem? Great. Don't use it. Those songs are copyrighted. Use royalty-free, but don't use midi except for humorous effect (it sounds cheesy). If you use more than one song in the space of a video, make sure they're of the same genre and use some of the same instrumentation. Otherwise it'll be too harsh a jump. You want music that operates on a subconscious level, cushioning the voiceover. That might not be the same music you'd enjoy listening to for fun.

Some folks opt out of background music. That works best if you've got top-notch recording equipment for your voiceover, which I do not.


You can import images or short videos from a camera. I'm insecure about this because of continuity issues--lighting, framing, palette--but it's a good option if you're experienced.

You can use images skimmed off the internet, though be sure they are not copyright protected and that they are of sufficient resolution.

My resource is iStockphoto, which has the drawback of requiring payment. For still images fees are minimal--a few dollars for the "Extra Small" image (sufficient resolution for YouTube). The moving images are pricey ($20 per), so be smart about your choices. You can usually get a free "comp" image (watermarked with "iStockphoto"), which can serve as a useful placeholder while you're making preliminary image choices. An example:

If you choose to go the stock image route, some things to keep in mind...

-My first cut only used visual text for emphasis. But this makes the video inaccessible to anyone who wants to see it from an office computer, or who lacks speakers. So I redid it with full text, which meant I needed to choose images with space for legible text.

For example, that meant I had to shift from this image:

to this one, where I had the room to run a line of text across the top.

-Go for a mix of literal images (discrete objects), abstract interpretations of the text, and "white noise" backgrounds.

-Choose images that segue well. That means a series of images that are the same medium (photo/line drawing/digital rendering), or all full bleeds, or all isolated images set against a white or black background.

-Don't pay for a moving image where the "motion" consists of pan & scan or zooming in for a close-up. You can do that with a static image as part of the iMovie editing process (they call it the "Ken Burns effect").

-Look for moving images that are "loopable," meaning it can be seamlessly played several times in a row. It's very frustrating to realize that you've bought a 14 second video clip to illustrate a line that takes 18 seconds to deliver well.

-Don't forget about creating an atmospheric entry (that includes some kind of title caption) and exit (that includes some degree of credits, link to a website, etc.). There's tons of stock stuff designed for this purpose; try searching for "film leader." It's not just needless bells and whistles--it gets the audience in a mood sympathetic to your video.


I can't walk you through the assembly process. There's too many intangibles to articulate here. You'll do a lot of do-ing and undo-ing. You'll lose work at least once. You'll swear at least four times.


You finish your movie. You preview it in iTunes or Quicktime and it looks OK. So...?

You'll probably want to upload it to YouTube. In case you're wondering, YouTube accounts are free and very easy to set up. They do a good job tracking traffic, they provide easy code for others to share or embed the video, and it's where people will go to look for you.

But don't upload it to YouTube right away. Sleep on it--odds are you'll think of something you want to change. YouTube doesn't let you save over an uploaded file. You have to delete (deleting with it that particular link, and that view count) and reload.

Why do this? These videos will never supplant the poems themselves. I don't expect to monetize them. Enjambment tends to get lost, unfortunately, which means in some ways you have to compromise the poem to make this work.

But anything that gets your poems to a *slightly* different audience than before intrigues me. It's the same reason we put poems on buses and subway cars--and in that spirit, try to choose poems that translate to a public and attention-span-challenged space.

I suspect I'm not the only poet who at one point wanted to be a visual artist, and there's something deeply satisfying about this process (think of it as getting to design your own cover, except to the umpteenth power).

Plus, sooner or later someone will visit YouTube and search for your name. They will. Whoever you are. Wouldn't you like to control what comes up when they do?

Because in my case, I am otherwise at the mercy of fan-love for a character in The Office:

...Okay, that's it for now. Is this helpful? I hope this is helpful! For those looking for an even more detailed walk through, check out this series of posts by another author, Terisa Green.

Read the "Part 1" post here.
Read the "Part 3" post here.

November 20, 2009

Part I: On Animated Poems & YouTubing

I've been watching a lot of (prose) book trailers on YouTube lately, and I've come to the conclusion that in order for them to truly serve the book they need to be one of the following:

1) incredibly funny
2) incredibly provocative
3) an original artwork in and of itself

There are a few that actually achieve one of these standards. I am seeing a lot of slideshows combined with midi music, or a "live" reading in a poorly staged room. That might summarize the book, but it won't sell it. I'm going to do an upcoming post on the (prose) book trailers I think are most successful, so if you have a suggestion please leave it in the comments section. I was really in the mood to try creating a trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, but it's premature--not only is the book still being written (at least, when I'm not procrastinating via YouTube), but it won't be out until April 2011.

This left me in search of a more timely pursuit. So I turned my attention to poetry. What most people know of "animated poems" are either 1) Billy Collins, or 2) the short clips sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and shown on repeat loop in the elevators of the AWP Conference hotel this year. People were so distracted by the connotations of the placement (poetry = Muzak?) that the clips got needlessly derided, but many of them are actually lovely.

Here's a link to the most well-known of the Billy Collins productions:

& my actual favorite of his (yes, I do like his poems):

& my favorite of the Poetry Foundation ones:

Of course, what these have in common is original and fluid art illustration, which I'd kill for. But unless you have a personal connection to an artist willing to work for free, or a partnering institution (the Poetry Foundation works with docUWM at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), you'll probably have to go another route--it's pretty easy to get good at iMovie, but it doesn't have that kind of functionality.

I'd say the standard for a more homegrown look is set by the (fairly numerous) videos of Todd Boss reading poems from his first book, Yellowrocket:

& you could also go for a purposefully low-tech aesthetic. This tends to require a ton of patience, but can really pay off as in the video below:

I've been missing the satisfaction of a short-term creative project. On Sunday I discovered that my laptop (and I suppose all Apple laptops) had the iMovie software already installed on it. On Monday I made a video for "Vocation" (which first appeared in 32 Poems, and will be part of I Was the Jukebox). On Tuesday I posted the slightly refined version that you see below.

It doesn't look like any of the other videos, for better or for worse; I've always tended toward a bold design style that favors photographs (see my website). It cost under $100. It took about 20 hours, and that includes familiarizing myself with the iMovie software. I did already have a microphone on hand, bought from some earlier gigs recording poems for online journals. But honestly, I'm not sure it did the job any better than the built-in mic.

This video is a test balloon. If it seems to generate some viewers or interest, I'll make three more and roll them out early next year, as a lead-up to the publication of I Was the Jukebox in April. If it doesn't stir a peep, well, I'll live. Either way, I'm grateful to have the excuse to familiarize myself with a new software--you never know when that's going to come in handy. The number of viewers for these videos tends to range from 224 in six months (anemic, but respectable) to 124,000 in two and a half years (damn you, Billy!). There's no financial reward. It's a matter of seeing if the judgment of the people find it worth their while.

If I can do this, you can do this. My next post will cover some of the tricks, techniques, and pitfalls to keep in mind if you tackle animating one of your poems.

[I've sure you noticed that the poems from the Poetry Foundation and Todd Boss all cut off on the righthand side. That's because they uploaded in widescreen format, which doesn't fit in the lefthand column of a blog--a shame, since blogs seem like the logical way for these poem/videos to go viral. On the other hand, standard doesn't look as good on the YouTube homepage, because they add black bars to either side. So I uploaded in both. It's not ideal--I'd rather have one absolute version, and therefore one absolute viewer count--but as I'm learning, these videos require all kinds of small compromises and workarounds.]

Read the "Part 2" post here.
Read the "Part 3" post here.

November 16, 2009

Gilding the Funnel

The Poems Out Loud blog of W. W. Norton has just posted my take on the whole kerfluffle over MFA rankings. Here's an excerpt from "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making: Life Outside the Poets and Writers ‘Top 50 MFA Programs’"...

Given to the language of intoxication, as so many writers are, I think of the writer as a wine bottle. The label is your career—magazine credits, books, prizes—the place where you brag and brand. The liquid is your sloshy, messy, creative self.

An MFA program is just the funnel. It’s a transport of bulk resources, pre-vintage, readying you for future pours. For some the funnel is an expensive tool, monogrammed, sides pitched for maximum efficiency. For some the funnel has as many kinks in its tubing as a beer bong. Either way, the funnel is just a preparatory stage; if it makes it on the label at all, it is in the fine print of “Distributed by…”

Your degree does not describe who you are as a writer. If it does, that’s not a good thing. So why all this hoopla and indexing? Why do people keep gilding the funnel?

Read the rest of the essay here.

November 13, 2009

Washington Post Love

Thanks to Galley Cat for drawing my attention to the fact that if the Washington Post's "Book World" can't pick up some more subscribers to its podcast series, the higher-ups will eliminate funding for the program. Editors Ron Charles and Rachel Hartigan Shea have voices that are easy on the ears, and they do a nice job mixing headlines from the publishing world in with authors interviews and other lit-world trivia. Recent subjects have included Francine Prose, James Ellroy, and Margaret Atwood.

The last thing we need is further erosion of "Book World," which occupies a liminal space: print appearances fused into the "Outlook" and Style" sections, while online components such as "Poet's Choice" offer robust content but lack visibility. So please, take the time to check out these podcasts. At 10-20 minutes each, they're the perfect length for use as a conversation starter for writing workshops and book clubs. Given they are 1) free, and 2) available through iTunes technology, asking a constituent group to subscribe is easy and practical.

This Sunday, the magazine features my valentine to the Jefferson Memorial. I'm elated to be an issue where the cover story is on none other than...Edward P. Jones! Talk about good company. I'm dying to see the print version, but in the meantime here's a link to read it online.

November 12, 2009

Rainy Day Woman

I have really been enjoying Melissa Friedling's series of "video posts" over at the Harriet blog. But they don't generating much of a comment dialogue, and I worry that means they'll be construed as having failed. Why the radio silence?

Maybe poets are finding the answers (to the question "What is poetry?") a bit banal. A few excerpts:

Tomas (in translation): "Poetry is an elegant way of defining things like love, a flower, a landscape. It's the language use by people that, you could say, have very deep thoughts."

Joe (a sidewalk artist): "Poetry, to me, is an observation of life that exponentially reinforces the magic of life."

Sarah (from Louisiana): "It's raw emotion. It can be a lot of rambling words thrown together that a lot of people don't understand, but it's art."

Nirali (a classical Indian dancer): "I really like poetry, but I don't know much about it."

Not exactly an in-depth critique of Oulipo; there aren't even many poets cited by name. Nothing worth picking a fight over, which seems to be the underlying motive of so many Harriet commenters.

It's a very human drive to surround oneself with kindred spirits, and in this internet age it's possible to maintain a constant chit-chat in poet mode. Your junkfood reading can consist entirely of poetry blogs. You can make a joke about villanelles in your Facebook status, and eight people will joke right back at you. With this kind of saturating access to fellow artists, the grandmother or boss or neighbor who doesn't "get" poetry becomes the outlier figure in our minds, the exception to an otherwise dominant community of readers and writers.

But the reality is that your grandmother, boss, and neighbor are the majority. The people in these videos? They're the people I'm trying to win over. As much as I love the congratulatory note from a poet I admire, it's the email from the systems engineer in San Diego that really gets to me.

In the last month I have read poems to a class full of bored art students, a group of ladies who lunch, and a packed room at the Mexican Cultural Institute (for some of whom English was a second language). Each time I encountered people like the ones in these videos. People open to poetry, but not engaged by its crafts. People who say "I like it, but I usually don't get it." Or just "I usually don't like it."

Each time I go in knowing that subtleties will be lost in translation (whether literal or cultural). So I provide a generous narrative context beforehand. I revise on the fly, repeating identifying nouns and pronouns that I'd cut from the written page. I exaggerate my delivery, placing a hand to my chest when the metaphor is one of a heart.

Are these compromises a form of pandering? Maybe, but they work. What's the alternative? Maybe the audience on display in Melissa Friedlander's videos is a readership that 9/10 Harriet commenters are uninterested in reaching. But that's a damn shame.


Though I am hoping to get nonfiction work done today, at 5 PM I'll be breaking away to head downtown for a light dinner at Sonoma before the Library of Congress reading with Lucia Perillo and Tony Hoagland. Perillo is great--I heard her read the year she won the Kingsley Tufts Award. Her humor is a bit on the dark side; yours would be too, if you'd gone from life as a park ranger in the Cascade Mountains to being confined to a wheelchair by MS. That said, I'd hide behind her in a knife fight. The woman is fierce. I've never heard Hoagland read. My expectations of his demeanor are entirely based on this author photo to the right, which was taken by Dorothy Alexander.

There's only one more enviable event on my radar, and it's this one with Daniel Nester, Stephen Elliott, and Nick Flynn. If I could make the 8-hour drive up north, I would. So much gorgeous cynicism in one room! A girl could swoon. When I spent my month at the Millay Colony, The Spotty Dog in Hudson was one of my favorite places to seek civilization (a.k.a., graphic novels and porters on draft).

Luckily, I'll have the celebration of the 120th anniversary of Poet Lore to keep me busy here in town on Saturday night. This reading--featuring Myra Sklarew, Gary Fincke, and John Balaban--will take place (fancy setting alert) at the Historical Society of Washington, complete with a champagne toast to follow. Get the details and RSVP here. It's a free event, open to all.

Someone once asked me how many readings I go to each month. Unless I'm traveling or on deadline, I try to go to at least one a week, and two when I can. This is what happens when you are nearing 30 without kids. Or pets. I have a peace lily that droops when it isn't watered by 7 PM, but that's it.

November 10, 2009

Playing Dress-Up

You may notice that the blog has a new look--one that may continue to evolve over the next week or so. The greenery of old had started to feel worn out, and this matches the aesthetic of my website. The links are only temporarily gone, as the upgrade to my template requires adding them back by hand. And just in case you've been wondering, looky here--it's a's a's a cover design:

November 06, 2009


I tell the story of leaving my job over at "The Education Of Oronte Churm," one of the blogs hosted by Inside Higher Ed.

Here is the opening of my essay, "Let It Rain":

I just snarled at my boyfriend over a piece of fruit. More specifically, my last banana, which he tried to claim for his lunch. “I’ll buy you another one,” he promised, and he would. He’s good that way.

The problem is that I’d wanted to eat that banana within the hour, and he tends to pick under-ripe produce. So I’d end up running to Safeway myself, which means getting dressed and stepping outside. At which point, I’d remember oh! the envelope I need to mail and oh! the birthday card I need to buy for my mother and oh! I need to make photocopies of an essay and oh! I’ve got a 3 p.m. coffee date—might as well head over early with this copy of Real Simple and read until she gets there.…

“Don’t mooch,” I snapped at him, with the ferocity of someone defending no mere piece of fruit, but hours worth of work. That’s right: the act of putting on pants can derail an entire day’s productivity. Welcome to the life of a full-time writer.

You know the drill. When someone asks what you do, you trot out whatever workhorse pays the rent—in my case it was “scholarship coordinator,” then “personal assistant,” then “magazine editor”—before arriving at your true destination. “I’m really a writer.”

This elicits a respectful head nod or, if talking to a fellow writer, a bittersweet shrug. We know the odds. And you swear to yourself Someday, the answer will be, I’m a writer. No hyphenating. No qualifying.

I quit my job. I quit so that for the next year I can live off the combination of an advance on a nonfiction book, periodic freelance gigs, and honoraria attached to two poetry collections. I am a full-time writer with the bathrobe and sparse cupboards to prove it.

Yet the “what do you do?” exchange is no easier than before. The respectful head nod has been replaced by a quizzical tilt. The bittersweet shrug has been replaced by a narrowing of eyes or, worse, a nauseated smile.

“So you, um, you don’t work anywhere?”
“How are you covering health insurance?”
“That’s pretty brave.”

Yes. No. COBRA. Hmm.

It’s not as if I had been deveining shrimp for a living. I worked as an editor at a national magazine of arts and commentary, the kind of venerated place one settles in for a lifetime (literally: two supervising editors had, combined, over 50 years experience on staff). People all around me—including my best friend, including my boyfriend—have been laid off in their professions. Meanwhile, I walked out on a steady income with full benefits and three weeks annual vacation.

Is “brave” codeword for “idiotic”?


Read the rest here.

November 04, 2009

Next Week: Two Readings!

Next week holds a couple of outstanding two readings in DC--prose and poetry--both too promising to be missed. I'll be hosting one and drinking wine at the other. (Well, maybe drinking wine at both.) Please come on out!


"The Last Sailing Oystermen": Christopher White and Skipjack

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

On Tuesday, November 10, the Arts Club of Washington will host Christopher White in celebration of Skipjack: The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen, just out from St. Martin’s Press. White will read from this gripping nonfiction account, set in the nearby Chesapeake Bay, and take questions afterwards. This event is part of an ongoing series at the Arts Club.

SKIPJACK: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S LAST SAILING OYSTERMEN (St. Martin’s Press) is the saga of three unforgettable men who captain oyster boats in Chesapeake Bay—the only wind-powered fishing fleet in America. Though their traditions run strong, their legacy has been jeopardized by trends in overfishing and mismanagement. During a pivotal season, they encounter storms and slim catches. Trying to survive to another year, the skippers put rivalries aside to preserve their way of life in the last days of the Age of Sail.

“A compelling story about how the wisdom of the past can help us protect the future of our fisheries,” says Trevor Corson (The Zen of Sushi). “If you savor seafood, White’s chronicle of the gritty life aboard America's last sailboat fishing fleet is a tale you need to hear.”

CHRISTOPHER WHITE is an author, filmmaker, and naturalist. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent much of his youth exploring the waters and wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay; he later earned a degree in biology from Princeton University. His three books include the best-selling Chesapeake Bay: Nature of the Estuary, and he has written about science and natural history for National Geographic. A mountaineer, he has climbed Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Grand Teton, Glacier Peak, and the Matterhorn, among other summits.

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 foster public appreciation for the arts through educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.

-->And just two days later....


- Tony Hoagland and Lucia Perillo -

at The Library of Congress Madison Building
6th floor / Montpelier Room / 6:45 p.m.
101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC

The reading is free and tickets are not required; a book-signing and reception will follow.

"Here are a few lines from each guest poet, just to whet your appetites..."

*Tony Hoagland, from "Candlelight" in DONKEY GOSPEL:

Crossing the porch in the hazy dusk
to worship the moon rising
like a yellow filling-station sign
on the black horizon....

you have to decide what
you're willing to kill.

*Lucia Perillo, from "Sylvia Plath's Hair" in INSEMINATING THE ELEPHANT:

In Bloomington, Indiana, the librarian lugged it from the archive
in a cardboard box, the kind that long-stemmed roses come in--
there was even tissue paper she unfolded
like someone parting a lover's blouse....

November 02, 2009

"The Dark Prerogatives"

Each of these fairly young online journals just launched a new issue. Excellent site navigation, clean graphics. Definitely worth your time to go have a look...

CERISE PRESS: A JOURNAL OF LITERATURE, ARTS & CULTURE - Vol. 1, Issue 2, featuring poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, Dorianne Laux, and Victoria Chang.

Their mission: "Cerise Press, an international online journal based in the United States and France, builds cross-cultural bridges by featuring artists and writers in English and translations, with an emphasis on French and Francophone works. Co-founded by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Sally Molini, and Karen Rigby in 2009, Cerise Press hopes to serve as a gathering force where imagination, insight, and conversation express the evolving and shifting forms of human experience."

A sample poem from this issue:

"Elegy as a Strand of Hair"

The woman’s skin says: childless.
Her eyes still white, the iris still slight.

The wind takes a strand of our hair.
We leave one here, one there for someone to

misunderstand. A child will find
the imposter. A child will toss it out.

Babies are snoring in strollers.
One arm up in mid-air, mouth open.

I am half-alive. I am half-dead.
Maybe more.

Imagine it, the love the mouths will have when
we are no longer needed.

Childless selfish mouths.
Lucky mouths. Lucky lips that will moth them.


& from down south...

WACCAMAW: A JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE - Number 4, featuring poems by Brian Barker, Camille Dungy, and John Hoppenthaler.

Their mission: "Welcome to Waccamaw, an online literary journal published at Coastal Carolina University. We take our name from the Waccamaw River, which runs through Conway, South Carolina, home of the university....Waccamaw is proud to have published poems, stories, and essays by some of the best authors writing today, including Jack Gilbert, Natasha Trethewey, Paul Allen, Sonny Brewer, Robin Ekiss, Barbara Hamby, Paul Cody, Kevin Wilson, Linda Gregg, David Kirby, Joshua Poteat, Katrina Vandenberg, Rebecca Barry, and Chad Davidson."

A sample poem from this issue:


In the most beautiful rape story
he comes as a swan.
Above her, wings beat hard,
spreading the scent of muck and lake.
Then there’s a parting squawk,
arc of his neck almost apologetic
as he takes off.

But in the worst—and this
will always be the case—
she is shivering and has
your little sister’s face,
an old pillow pressed
into her mouth: musty taste
of feathers, mildewed heat,
choking cough.

No longer do they break
with gravity—no lift,
no odd, consoling courtesy—
nor do they feign
the half-shyness of those
who metamorphose
for cloaked purposes
yet still take the shapes,
the dark prerogatives, of gods.


October 30, 2009

Um, I'll Get Back to You on That (Fall Edition)

I confess, I've not made good use of the day; the doldrums of Autumn are upon me, the instinct to puff up and hibernate. Pumpkin/corn/black bean soup? Check. Project Runway? Check. Overdue work? Not so much. After a week that's included a good deal of frantic energy spent grading midterm papers, proofing my Washington Post article and the second pass of I Was the Jukebox, and sending applications out, I feel slightly numb.

If you are similarly looking for an excuse to procrastinate, here's the simple soup recipe:

Pumpkin, Black Bean and Corn Soup

2 slices bacon - slivered (optional)
1/2 onion - chopped
1/2 red pepper - chopped
1 clove garlic - minced
4 cups chicken broth or stock
1 can black beans - cooked and rinsed
1 can corn kernels
1 can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cumin (heaping)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (heaping)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (heaping)

1. Cook bacon in a pot until crisp. (If vegan, heat some olive oil.)
2. Add garlic, onion and pepper and sautee for 2 minutes.
3. Add remaining solids, spices, and broth, stirring to mix.
4. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.
5. Simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

I've upped some quantities from the original recipe, because who wants to chop only a 1/3 of a pepper? Who needs 1/4 can pumpkin puree left over? A big part of the appeal is that I'm always looking for soup recipes that don't require a food processor or immersion blender. Those must be things acquired upon marriage.

Anyway, if I don't get a bit more done, then I won't be able to properly enjoy what the weekend holds: a drive to little ol' Scottsville, Virginia, for a "Haunted Trail Walk"--then visiting long-lost college friends in Richmond. That'll be a kind of abstract halloweeen celebration, yet it is enough for me. I've had two friends ask for advice on costumes this year. Eh. My sister was far more adventurous--zombie bride, man holding his own head in a box. I was always a simple kitty/witch/fairy kinda girl, more worried about looking cute than scary. Here's a photo of me from college days, living on the Lawn at the University of Virginia...

That's me with the looong hair. All the parents in Charlottesville would bring their kids to trick or treat at UVA, so the Lawnies were explicitly asked to host. (We were not explicitly asked to chalk the wall. That little bit of inadvertently catastrophic defacement was my bright idea.) 3 hours = 2,000 pieces of candy!

Have a happy all's hallows eve, folks. See you on the flipside of November. I'll have recovered my motivation by then, I promise.

October 27, 2009

The Muse Wore Orange

--> First, a bulletin for Virginia fiction-lovers: if you live in Charlottesville or Richmond, within the next 48 hours you have a chance to hear the amazing Dylan Landis read. (I have raved about her book Normal People Don't Live Like This on this blog on previous occasions.) She will be accompanied by the equally amazing New Yorker Joanna Smith Rakoff. Here's a fancy write-up, and here are the bare bones details...

Wed., Oct. 28, 5:30 p.m. / Dylan Landis & Joanna Smith Rakoff / New Dominion Bookshop / 404 East Main Street (Downtown Mall) / Charlottesville, VA 22902

Thu., Oct. 29, 7 p.m. / Dylan Landis & Joanna Smith Rakoff / Chop Suey Books / 2913 West Cary Street / Richmond, VA 23221

..okay, back to our regularly scheduled post.

I'm very excited to join the ranks of the Norton poets over at the blog Poems Out Loud. Don't worry--Chicks Dig Poetry isn't going anywhere. But this will be a venue for longer think-pieces. Here's the opening snippet from my first post, "The Muse Wore Orange." For those who followed my Jentel posts, this was an essay I wrote during my June-July residency in the hills of Wyoming....

She stands by our front door: a painted cutout of a winged woman, complete with red spirals of hair. Angel, muse, safety monitor, she models the bright orange vest that each of us must wear if we venture into the hills surrounding the Jentel Artist Residency Program.

“So that you don’t get shot by hunters,” was the friendly instruction. “Or run down by truckers.”

You'll find the whole post here.

October 25, 2009

From the Fever-World

Today I was back at the Writer's Center to hear the 2009 winners of the Washington Writers' Publishing House Prizes: Calvin by William Littlejohn and From the Fever-World by Jehanne Dubrow. I love the concept behind From the Fever-World, which is being published as Jehanne's second full-length collection. The conceit is that the book is actually a translation from Yiddish of the life's work of Ida Lewin, who lived and died in a pre-WWII Polish town of "AlwaysWinter." All a fiction, of course.

Here's a brief excerpt from a longer Q&A in which Jehanne reflects on the creation of AlwaysWinter and Ida:

Q: You’ve lived so many different places across the world. Is the town of AlwaysWinter based on any of the places you’ve lived or is it a product of your imagination?

JD: Poland is one of the central landscapes of my imagination. But the Poland that lives in my head is a mythologized version, not only of my childhood but also of my studies and scholarship in Jewish and Holocaust literature. From the Fever-World is set in AlwaysWinter (or Zawsze-Zima in Polish), a fictional town in the region of Galicia, which we would now call southern Poland. AlwaysWinter is modeled on the many small towns that existed in interwar Poland, places of incredible cultural, political, and religious diversity. When I was inventing AlwaysWinter, I relied both on recollections of the seven years I spent in Poland as a little girl and on my research of yizkor books, witness testimony, historiography, and Yiddish literature.

Q: How did you come up with the character of Ida Lewin. Was there any real life inspiration for her?

JD: In my “translator’s note,” at the end of From the Fever-World, I write that “Ida Lewin (or someone like her)” must have existed. I believe that to be true. Cynthia Ozick’s wonderful short story, “Envy; Or Yiddish in America,” describes the great sadness of being a Yiddish poet who writes in an exterminated mothertongue and is unable to find a translator. There are so many real Yiddish poets who have disappeared or been forgotten, simply because no one has been able to bring their work into a living language like English. I don’t know Yiddish but, through Ida Lewin, I found my poet and my job as a translator.


This is a daring premise for a book, and it allows Jehanne to do some bold things--things we don't always give ourselves permission to do with our own voice. She writes as a mother mourning a lost child, though she is not a mother. She articulates observations of prewar Polish culture drawn from her fellowship at the Holocaust Museum that might seem dry and academic if shoehorned into her own poems. Perhaps most enviable, she includes two or even three poems that echo an earlier poem--a retread, a re-approach to a metaphor or theme already used. As a poet and implied self-editor, we'd call this cheating; as a "translator" and curator of Ida's work, it's called respecting the organic attentions of Ida Lewin. This is a rangy, sensual, surreal book, and I can't wait to spend more time with it.

Want the chance to judge for yourself? Go hear Jehanne read at Politics & Prose, next Sunday at 1 PM. I'd be there if I could--but I'll be on the road, returning from Scottsville, Virginia, by way of Richmond. I decided to spend my Halloween on a Haunted Trail Walk. It'll be quite a change of pace from the usual glory of angels in assless chaps, trick-or-treating through Dupont Circle....

October 22, 2009

"Step into my parlor..."

There are little bits of styrofoam strewn throughout the apartment, packaging that came with the new shelves in my office. So much for the minimalist aesthetic; though I liked the oasis of cream wall above the chair rail, I had four stacks of books that had been living on the floor for far too long. The artwork is still off being framed, but here's the latest incarnation:

Yes, those are my poetry books. Yes, they are color-sorted. (There's a section for brown and flesh-toned books at the entrance to the room, and collected essays on craft and translation hidden by the couch.) The last time I wrote about this I used a stock shot, so I thought I'd show the reality. Should you attempt this, accept that there's not going to be any kind of perfect approximation of the color spectrum; you have to be playful in the way you interpret a binding's "shade."

But sometimes really lovely juxtapositions result. Kyle Dargan, meet Kim Addonizio. Mark Doty, meet Sharon Olds.

This is why I like sorting poetry books by color; instead of their familiar alphabetical neighborhoods, authors land in the exotic countries of ROYGBIV. I can only remember twice when this system slowed down finding a book. Plus, the rested eye is better able to enjoy non-book items on the shelf.

Some colors are easier to work with than others. Whites are easy; blues, not so much. There are such jarring differences in what's considered blue that I have to stage them as three palettes.

I also took the risk (we'll see if it lasts) of stacking a small cluster of books on the horizontal.

I'm not sure about this. I worry it discourages picking these books up for browsing. (I cringe when I see professionally designed rooms that reduce big art books to obelisks...admitting, essentially, that no one is EVER going to read the ones on the bottom.) On the other hand, how can I resist Rita Dove and Claribel Alegria? These are books that won't take such neglect lying down. So to speak.

Now if you want to see real heresy, check this out:

Yep. Bindings in. That's what happens to the books I won't re-read anytime soon, but can't let go of for sentimental or monetary reasons.

And with that, we return to our regularly scheduled (and un-photographed) programming.

October 17, 2009

On the horizon...

Thursday, October 22, 2009 @ 7:00pm &
Friday, October 23, 2009 @ 7:30pm

Where is contemporary poetry heading? Join us for this two-day poetry reading at the Mexican Cultural Institute and the Writer’s Center.


Mexico: Hernán Bravo and Alejandro Tarrab
USA: Reginald Dwayne Betts and Sandra Beasley

Day 1

Four young up-and-coming poets, two from Mexico and two from the United States will each read their original poetry in an exciting and illuminating back-and-forth of ideas, wordplay and creative expression.

Thursday, October 22, 2009 @ 7:00pm
Location: Mexican Cultural Institute
2829 16th Street, NW | Washington, D.C.
Blocks from Columbia Metro Station
Free entrance | Street parking available after 6:30 pm.

Day 2

Don’t miss this presentation of the latest bilingual edition of the Literary Magazine Reverso “15 newest young poets of México” (Guadalajara, México) with the editor Carlos López de Alba. Among others, the issue features the work of Bravo and Tarrab, who will read their selections from the magazine in Spanish, while Betts and Beasley will read the English translations.

Friday, October 23, 2009 @ 7:30pm
Location: The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

October 11, 2009


Earlier today, DC hosted both the National Equality March and the Race for the Cure. I knew about the former but not the latter, for which the runners wear pink. So as I drove up Connecticut Avenue today en route to Politics and Prose, I encountered a cadre of people wearing--well, I know now they were pink bunny ears. But the ears were more flesh-colored than pink, and for many one of the ears had flopped down, leaving a, bunny ear...Let's just say I thought the National Equality March was being a bit brassy.


For those interested in such things, Adventureland is a pretty good movie. Maybe its that I have a weak spot for anything that details the life of a carnival; maybe it's that some of the character roles (Martin Starr as Joel, Margarita Levieva as Lisa P.) were drawn with particular skill. The central characters are all older than I expected, post-college instead of post-high school. This was a big plus, as there wasn't a lot of time wasted on the troubles of obtaining alcohol or the perils of making curfew. Unfortunately, our Comcast On Demand system has some quirks that shift the viewing experience. Namely:

Adam: "I thought this was supposed to be a lighthearted comedy."

Me: "Maybe it's funnier when it's not in black and white."

Besides, if you wanted comedy you couldn't beat two SNL all-stars, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, in the roles of--oh, my god, amidst typing this I am reading that the actress playing Lisa P. was born in 1985. 1985!


I'm worried about October. My favorite month is slipping away from me. So many October rites of passage that I have not yet managed:

-Buying a pumpkin from the Farmer's Market;
-Spiking a cup of hot apple cider with spiced rum;
-Tromping through a pile of leaves in open-toe shoes;
-Road-tripping at least two hours away.

...Yet it's not a good sign when fun traditions become one more thing to stress over, right? That's the challenge of this fall. Finding a schedule of working at home that honors the pleasures of ritual without 1) turning them into routine or, 2) indulging to the point of counter-productivity. Good to have time to read a magazine; bad to feel guilty for being three issues behind on New York. Good to cook from scratch; bad to let one recipe daisy-chain to the next (I have half the cilantro left, washed, chopped...must not waste it) so that you end up with more food than you can (or should) comfortably eat this week. Good to sleep in a half-hour to suit your body's clock; bad to keep hitting the snooze button until it is 11 AM.

No, not expecting your sympathy. Just sayin', nothing is perfect.

October 04, 2009

This Thursday!

Join us on Thursday, October 8, as we welcome J. C. Hallman for a dual-genre evening that shows off the breadth of this versatile and acclaimed author. We will hear an excerpt from Hallman's short story collection THE HOSPITAL FOR BAD POETS*; we will also "flirt with the masters" of literary criticism in celebration of his just-released anthology THE STORY ABOUT THE STORY: Great Writers Explore Great Literature.

The reading will begin at 7 PM, and will be followed by our customary light reception and booksigning. It is free and open to all--come, bring a friend, and please help spread the word.

*Also, can we just recognize the sheer awesomeness of the cover design for The Hospital for Bad Poets?

To wit:

Thursday, October 8, 2009 - 7 p.m.
The Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW
Free and open to the public, reception to follow.

J. C. HALLMAN studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and he has since taught widely. His nonfiction combines memoir, history, journalism, and travelogue; previous books include The Chess Artist and The Devil is a Gentleman. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

THE HOSPITAL FOR BAD POETS (Milkweed Editions), considers the ways in which scholarship and pop culture inform ordinary lives. In the title story, an unnamed poet is taken to Nietzsche's hospital for bad poets after collapsing—and is given Rilke and oxygen to remedy his chronic acuteness. Publisher’s Weekly said “Hallman's clever debut collection … invites the reader into ordinary homes and heads before dropping sly twists of the surreal to examine contemporary culture.”

THE STORY ABOUT THE STORY (Tin House Books) anthologizes writer-on-writer reviews by such luminaries as Woolf and Nabokov in hopes of inspiring a school of “creative criticism.” As Michael Dirda observed, “We read books not from obligation but for pleasure, for mental excitement, for what A.E. Housman called the tingle at the back of the neck…. J. C. Hallman has gathered love letters, exuberant appreciations, confessions of envy and admiration. In these pages some of our finest writers stand up and testify to the power of literature to shake and shape our very souls.”

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 foster public appreciation for the arts through educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.