May 30, 2010

Holiday Weekend

“Be arrogant and vain when you’re young. That’s the only time it looks appealing—and it’s also the only time it’s forgivable.”
                                                                             —Jamaica Kincaid, on writing

Got written off as a "dead-tree poet" this week, by none other than Bill Knott. That was exciting. I admire his poems, so it stings a little. One of his bones of contention was that I don't distribute my poems for free via PDF; which would be a blatant violation of my press contracts. I'm all for web-based journal publishing, as can be easily Googled, but does that mean we now have to be anti-book?


Like most Washingtonians, I love it when the city clears out on holiday weekends. (Except, in the particular case of Memorial Day, for the influx of bikers. But they're a good bunch.) I am home, anti-social, clad in cropped jeans and a thin red t-shirt decorated with virtually the same falling-cat image as the cover of Theories of Falling, and barreling down on the deadline for the memoir. 

Before that...Went to Miami, lectured at the Rubell Family Collection, read at Books & Books, and sipped a ridiculously overpriced Johnnie Walker neat while staring out over the city lights from a 50th-floor rooftop club. 

Came home and hosted two dozen folks at my place for a Writer's Center fundraiser starring the Great Lakes Brewing Company and Kathleen Rooney. We raised $1,200. $1,200! 

Went to Annapolis for the celebration of "The Corner of Poetry & Main"'s five-year anniversary and took part in a reading that was one part euphoria, one part marathon: six featured readers, umpteen open mic slots, and a musical guest. 

Also, made more broccoli slaw than can be consumed by one woman. 


Check out what happens when a great poet misreads "Another Failed Poem about Starlings"...


I've been listening to the Good Will Hunting soundtrack quite a bit as of late. The new Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings album is also a winner (enduring goal: to hear them play a New Year's Eve show, which they've done at the 9:30 Club in several years past).


Ready to get these thousands of words written, head on down to Oxford, and write a sestina or three. June! June. June. 

May 19, 2010

Peace Lily

Spath. Family, Aracae. Genus, Spathiphyllum. Evergreen. (Supposedly.) 

Last spring, I acquired a peace lily through unfortunate circumstances--it was a sympathy plant sent to my grandmother's memorial service. Peace lilies are whiny. Go a day without watering them, they wilt; water them a bit too much, they wilt. After the blooms that had been the plant's selling point died, none came to replace them. None. For months it has been the humorless sentinel of my living room, the receptacle of many a resentful late-night pour from my water glass on the way down to bed. 

Now, on the one year anniversary of my grandmother's death: the flowers have returned. Four white cups nodding their nubbled heads toward the sunlight, with three more buds curled and waiting. 

Ah, deadlines. My editor at Crown is looking forward to seeing the complete MS of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. Translation? I have 15 days to fine-tune 15,000 words. 

When my grandmother heard about the book deal, she said, "Finally, Sandra. Finally, these allergies do you some good!"

You know what, world? I'll take my signs where I can find them. 

May 17, 2010

Why Yes

Yes, I will have one of these. I assume the view is included? 

(From Apartment Therapy)

May 14, 2010

Miami! Miami Bound!

SeminArt: Launching Your Writing Career: A Lecture and Q&A with Author Sandra Beasley and Literary Agent Shannon O'Neill

Thursday, May 20 - 7 PM

Rubell Family Collection / Contemporary Arts Foundation
95 NW 29th Street / Miami, FL 33127

"An experienced literary agent, Shannon will discuss how to find an agent, what agents do, and how to know if you have a good agent. She will also give tips on ensuring a successful meeting with an editor, such as what to include in a pitch and book proposal. Sandra will share her experience as an author who works in different genres, and provide advice on how to take advantage of the variety of opportunities open to writers who are versatile.

Presenters will be available for specific questions at the end of the program. Stick around to meet other artists, writers and community leaders...."  



Reading at Books & Books: Poet Sandra Beasley Reads from I Was the Jukebox

Friday, May 21 - 8 PM

265 Aragon Avenue / Coral Gables, FL 33134

May 13, 2010


Apparently, NBC has canceled the original Law & Order, one season shy of its opportunity to break Gunsmoke's record. Law & Order kept me company during many an all-nighter over the years; frequently, it is the only coherent television to be found after 1 AM. During one summer at William & Mary, it took over our daytime hours as well. That and the animated Spiderman.

I know it sounds goofy, but I can mark eras of life according to the respective reigns Chris Noth, Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt, and Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet (not to mention the ongoing yeoman's work of Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Markson, and Steven Hill). The drug-driven death of Detective Briscoe's daughter? Broke my heart, damn it. Who didn't watch that show and 1) not dream of being part of the justice system 2) come away with a better understanding of narrative arc? Duh duh duh. 

I'd mourn it more, if I didn't have faith that TNT will provide many years of viewing to come.

Apropos of nothing, I've been thinking about my favorite childhood games: Candy Land, Mouse Trap, Battleship. Yahtzee. I liked the ones where chance trumped strategy. The ones I hated? Monopoly. Risk. What about you?

In the last 48 hours, I went from having no commitment to next year's AWP programming to being listed on a panel, listed on a reading, and proposing a panel myself. I'm excited about the variety in theme (one on using pop culture in literature; one in celebration of poetry; one talking about how a writer moves from recognizing the material of a memoir to writing the damn thing). Fingers crossed that a couple get approved.

That said, I remember the stress of being involved in just one event, when I ran a panel called "Breaking Lines on the Battlefield: The Poetry of Wartime" the the 2008 AWP. Ah, well--in the year when AWP comes to my hometown, it seems like my job to get in over my head. Short of perhaps Susan Shreve, I believe I live closer to the conference hotels than any other participating writer. Eeek! I fully expect you all to be crashing at my place.

May 10, 2010

Life! At 60 MPH

Having sent off 141 pages on Friday morning (a mix of new and revised work), I decided to let myself enjoy the weekend. Friday included the ceremony for the Larry Neal Writers' Awards, then a friend's amazing party. The guest list featured folks from DC's art and journalism scene, and her menu had a Cuban theme--pulled pork, rice and beans, fried plantains, and fresh mojitos. I didn't get home until 3 AM.

On Saturday, a group of old high school friends made an unexpectedly adventurous daytrip to Annapolis for a two-hour sail on the Schooner Woodwind--yes, the boat they used in Wedding Crashers. The sky didn't have a cloud to be seen, but the wind was so rough that at times we found ourselves bracing our feet against the side of the boat and looking straight down into the water. The girls were a little harried (one friend, celebrating her 30th birthday, treated herself to a glass of sauvignon blanc--only to have most of it splashed up into her face). But I suspect the guys preferred it to two hours of placid sunbathing. I have to admit, it made me feel like I had done something in going out on the water, even if that something was merely hanging on for dear life.

On Sunday I took my mother to a Mother's Day reception at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. One of their current exhibits is called "In the Genes," and it juxtaposes the studio regulars alongside art by their immediate family. Afterwards, way too much Thai food, then coffee as we listened to the September 2009 recording of Barbra Streisand's show at the Village Vanguard. I couldn't have asked for a more relaxing time.

By this morning, the truce with my to-do list had evaporated. Workmen pounded on my door at 8:30 AM, arriving with caulk and paint to repair a balcony/ceiling leak.  The lilies in my dining room have that too-sweet smell of having wilted. The house is dirty. Back to work.


My friend Stephen Prothero's book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, is a very smart look at why smoothing out the differences between religious systems in pursuit of "harmony" is a dangerous fallacy. He uses the analogy of dating: we don't connect by convincing ourselves that we're exactly the same. We forge connections in understanding and appreciation of our differences. If you're like me--intrigued but relatively uninformed--the book doubles as a useful primer on comparative world religions. Today, over at Publisher's Weekly Stephen talks about the pressure to assemble a book trailer. Check out his efforts on YouTube, and judge for yourself.


I Was the Jukebox has been getting some love around the web, which is deeply appreciated. Brian Spears, who happens to be the Poetry Editor at The Rumpus, wrote this on his blog:

I finished Sandra Beasley’s latest, i was the jukebox (don’t know whether to capitalize it or not), and I am in awe of it. Not that I want to ape the style or the voice, not that I look at it and think “I will never do what she does as well as she does”–just pure awe. It’s not what I do, and it’s not what I want to do, but damn, do I want to read it again. It’s easily one of the best collections I’ve read this year so far. Now I just need someone to offer to review it for The Rumpus for me.

Um, about that last line...yes. Yes! Can somebody help this man out? (Honestly, I'm way too dorky to ever appear in The Rumpus. But a girl can dream.)

And in the "Dear Reader" newsletter distributed by Square Books, Richard Howorth--bookstore owner, not to mention former mayor of Oxford--wrote the following:

I have an economic theory of poetry: a truly exceptional line or phrase that takes your mind someplace interesting is worth at least a couple of dollars; so, if there are ten such lines in a book of poetry, it’s about worth what you paid for it.*** By this theory, the value of I Was The Jukebox is more than ten times its cost because there are several remarkable lines and ideas in virtually every poem in the book. ... Sandra Beasley’s poems combine the surprise and revelation of history and ideas with a vivid, artistic imagination of language—separate forms that constantly collide and unite, often sending the reader into a euphoric, luxurious dream-state.

*** Best justification of poetry books' terrible ration of pages/price that I have ever seen.

May 06, 2010

Over at Best American Poetry: Sestinas

Sometimes you get really lucky--your rockstar baking friends dedicate typewriter fondant in your name. Thanks, Meaghan! (That's her image, to the left, (c) Meaghan Mountford.)

Over at Best American Poetry, I am talking about sestinas

Sestina: a 12th-century form invented the the troubadours, particularly Provençal poet Arnaut Daniel. A form whose acrobatics declare Look at me. If I weren't a Real Poet--worthy of patronage--could I write this?

Sestina: jigsaw puzzle. Obsession. Bee in the bonnet. Bugaboo.

Read the entire post here. 

May 05, 2010

Over at Best American Poetry: Metaphors of Craft

I turn 30 today. I'm not stressing over it; the last decade has been good to me. But there will be some sushi today to celebrate, oh yes, and possibly the indulgence of listening to the new Josh Ritter album, "So Runs the World Away," as it is being streamed over at NPR. Enjoy:

My friend Austin has been playing with Josh for a few years now (in fact, they've just formalized themselves as the Royal City Band). It blows my mind that of three folks I shared a vegan breakfast once upon a time at DC's Diner, one is touring all over the world, one is now a renowned slam poet, and one has a shot of being selected for Lilith Fair (if you happen to be judging for the Lilith Fair Local Talent Search in Boston, vote for Winterbloom). Good things, happening to good people. It should always be this way.

Apropos of nothing: I am slightly alarmed to hear that they are planning a sequel to The Dark Crystal

Over at the Best American Poetry blog, I take an observation about my writing process that was originally written for this Clarion-Ledger interview--but cut for space--and run with it, turning it into a short essay on "Metaphors of Craft."
My brain, I've come to realize, is an oyster. It captures some bit of grit (a notion, a face, a sound) and then worries at it, over and over, coating it with language, until the grit grows into a pearl. That's when a poem is waiting to meet the page. 
This model helps me grasp why I start drafts after midnight: for me, writing is a process of (semi-)conscious accretion that reaches critical mass, inclined toward lyric intensity rather than narrative structure. I still dislike prompts--but then, I dislike cultured pearls too. And it's my responsibility to give this oyster a healthy bed, which means a reading diet that pumps nutrients in the water. (Goodbye, Us Weekly. Hello, Threepenny Review.)
Read the rest of the essay here.

May 03, 2010

Over at Best American Poetry: On Signings

Want to see what happiness looks like? See Politics & Prose on Sunday. Here's the view as I hide during the introduction to my reading...

...and here is the audience smiling to say hello to you all:

Afterwards, there were books to sign. A lot of books. I took far too long with each one--as always, I find myself slipping back into the mode of signing high school yearbooks--and while there are certain phrases that come easily to me, I always approach each title page from scratch. The ritual of this had me wondering: as people tout the future of the book in electronic form, what happens to the tradition of author signings? 

You can read the rest of the post here....

May 02, 2010

Over at Best American Poetry This Week!

Between book touring and frantic nonfiction writing, I have been On the Run. But for all this week I'll be posting over at the Best American Poetry blog. Please come visit me!

First up: a glimpse at the woman who made me a poet....

            Red, green, blue horses, I wrote, ride up and down.
            I paused, wondering how to complete my ode to carousels. Up and down, I scribbled a second time. Repetition was poetic, right? Our third-grade teacher circulated the classroom, reading over our shoulders as we hunched over our desks.
            “You,” she picked. “Okay, you. You.”
            With a handful of others I walked down the halls of Haycock Elementary School to the classroom where, for the rest of the year, we would have a weekly poetry class. A round table nearly filled the tiny space. We sat down to wait in our orange plastic chairs.
            A woman threw the door open, swiftly maneuvering her generous hips through the narrow gap between table and wall to claim a roomier corner. Her honey-blond hair was a wave that crested and flipped up at the ends; her eyelids glimmered teal; her perfume bloomed with gardenias. She wasn’t a teacher. She was a force of nature.
            “Hello!” she said. “I am Rose MacMurray. A poet. We are here to write poetry!”

Read the rest here...