Ach, ach. An in-between day: the cherry blossoms are out, but the skies are gray and the local sirens are wailing. Sadly, a lunch of frozen chicken vindaloo and wilted spinach will not turn the tide of my mood. Makes me think of an I Was the Jukebox poem--"Love Poem for Wednesday"--devoted to this strange time of each week.
I had a fun weekend, and not just in terms of Bishop-ing to a full house on Sunday. Saturday included a sojourn down to Charlottesville to 1) devour a cinnamon-raisin bagel with peanut butter at Bodo's, 2) interview with the editor of 3.7, the undergrad lit mag I edited in my own days at UVA, and 3) hear good friends Erika Meitner and Jehanne Dubrow read at the Festival of the Book. Those ladies make me proud to be a poet; I'd follow them anywhere. Here we are (Jehanne is on the left, Erika on the right):
...This was also my first chance to meet January Gill O'Neil, who took this photo, and who read great poems alongside Jehanne and Erika at the Downtown Mall's New Dominion Bookstore, which is one of my all-time favorite settings to hear poetry.
Afterwards I learned that since I'd read on Wednesday, I had an automatic invite to the "Writer's Reception" that closes the festival. That gave me a chance to catch up with some other writer-folks, including fellow SPIR Jake Adam York and BOA rockstar Dan Albergotti, and chat for a longer while with January, who is a fellow writer-not-teacher, which is not an easy path to take. I particularly admire January's latest project, organizing the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I have a sneaking suspicion she is one of those women who can do anything, anything, she puts her mind to doing.
Kudos to the Festival of the Book for sponsoring the reception as a way of bringing writers together; we don't get a lot of perks on the road in our travels, and sometimes it is just nice to have someone pour you a glass of wine. One of the waiters was a familiar face--a UVA student whose undergraduate poetry class I visited this spring--and she made sure the bacon-wrapped dates passed my way each time a new tray came out from the kitchen. In my defense, it was the only part of the spread I wasn't allergic to (and she knew that). But, hot damn, VIP bacon access! That was awesome.
Since then, I've been staying in. My hermit-ing meant I missed hearing Mary Karr criticize Emily Dickinson and Rae Armantrout at the Folger on Monday. A friend who was said that the aesthetic takedown included other well-loved contemporary poets. I wanted to hear Karr in part because I love her essay "Against Decoration," which can be found appended onto the end of her poetry collection Viper Rum. The essay is an enduring, edgy, necessary critique of the tendency of poets to embroider their work with superfluous imagery. Knowing how unvarnished she can be in her opinions, I'm not shocked the Q&A became a spectacle. She's a bit of a giant-killer.
But gosh, thank god there are still a few of those around--especially ones who opt to expend that energy into articulating theories of poetry, rather than just penning harsh reviews. It is very hard to find compelling, detailed craft essays being published today. There are exceptions: a few academic journals, AWP's Writer's Chronicle, and sometimes American Poet. But I want more. Stephen Burt can't do it all by himself!
I bought both volumes of Janet Sternburg's The Writer on Her Work and was disappointed that the selection, while an inspiring look at how women come into their identities as writers, lacked close readings and scholarly rigor. Maybe that was never the intent of the project? I had a similar experience with Martin Espada's The Lover of a Subverssive is a Subversive: great energy, a good holistic approach to writing of place and from a dissident perspective, but not much on specific language strategies. Eavon Boland writes discerning essays, but they tend to be centered on a particular poet or form. In the entirety of Tin House's The Writer's Notebook, there are only two essays by poets, and the one by Matthea Harvey is really as much about prose. At least D. A. Powell hit a home run with his take on "(Mis)Adventures in Poetry," but still, I want more. I know I'm missing folks. Help me out. Who are they, and where?
This has been on my mind because I'm running a workshop on The Strategic Poet, and I've been searching hard for readings to kickstart discussion. Richard Wilbur and Theodore Roethke are masters, let's be clear. I've been happy to revisit their work. But when your new kid on the block is Gregory Orr...sigh.
For those interested, I have found a couple of contemporary texts that give me hope for the future of craft essays. One is Mark Doty's methodical, illuminating look at how he came to write "A Display of Mackerel." The other is a broad-reaching and fun (if slightly unpolished) lecture, "An Introduction to the Poetic Line" by Redactions editor Tom Holmes. My workshop loved the former; I'll find out what they think of the latter come Tuesday. At least it passes the "gratuitous Indian Jones reference" test.
(And yes, it's occurred to me that I'm part of the problem. I should write a craft essay!)