October 25, 2012

November 14! VQR Shindig & Issue Review

I have four poems from my current manuscript in the Fall 2012  Virginia Quarterly Review, themed "The Female Conscience." It took a minute, amidst all the travels, for me to get to sit down and read this gorgeous issue. But now I have, and I'm so impressed (honored) to be included. Highlights, a.k.a. an annotated TOC:

-"Is There Such a Thing as the Female Conscience?" an essay by Jean Bethke Elshtain...At the magazine where I worked for several years, Elshtain was my first "get," a prestigious scholar I convinced to contribute a small item and later, a significant book review. I am so glad the issue leads by taking on the substantial question of the theme's title and, ultimately, questioning its validity for beyond academic (if useful) provocation. 

-"Dreaming of El Dorado," an essay by Marie Arana...Arana is both a confident editor and a superb reporter. This piece pulls me into the world of gold mining in La Rinconada, Peru, with ferocious energy. I care. I wish I didn't, because the options facing these people are bleak. Incredible and merciless and necessary photoessay, too. 

-"The Sweet Spot in Time," an essay by Sylvia A. Earle..."I took pleasure in turning questions such as 'Did you wear lipstick? Did you use a hair­dryer?' into a discourse on the importance of the ocean as our primary source of oxygen, the value of coral reefs, mangroves, and marshes as vital buffers against storms, and the delightful nature of fish, shrimp, lobsters, and crabs alive, swimming in the ocean—not just on plates swimming with lemon slices and butter." I want to be this woman when I grow up. 

-"Of Flight and Life," an essay by Reeve Lindbergh...A priceless glimpse into the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who served as spouse to one of Americas greatest adventurers while creating a formidable identity as an author and correspondent. Particularly poignant is the daughter's recognition of her mother's change over the years; too often we try and fail to understand our parents as homogenous, ageless archetypes. 

-"Bad Feminist," by Roxane Gay...I have read most of Gay's essays and articles published in the last two years, yet this was unique access into the quirks and vulnerabilities of her mindset. So much resonates. Is it the fate of our generation of 30-somethings to feel like Bad Feminists, rather than be No Feminists at all?

-Page 93...when I came up for air and realized, hell, I'm reading this cover to cover.

-"Labor," a short story by Maggie Shipstead...It says something that while my sympathy, based on real-life experience, should have been with the three friends--the fierce, fun, independent ones, stubbornly child-free--I found myself feeling for the protagonist. The gift that is both we-love-you and now-go-away: I've been there. 

-Three poems by Victoria Chang...If this is what she is up to, I want to read the book. Smart, funny poems that rely on repetition & linked phrasing (mimicking transitive properties of logic) and are set firmly, refreshingly in the non-academic workplace. 

-"One to Watch, And One to Pray," a poem by Camille Dungy....No words. This poem just touched me--deeply entrenched in the moment of a family's deathbed vigil, and also irritated and enervated by the presence of a needy newborn.

-"My Fight," an excerpt from the memoir by Deirdre Gogarty...the book is called My Call to the Ring (Glasnevin, 2012), and tells the story of how Gogarty got on the path to becoming a world champion in boxing, a field owned by men. There is probably some tough, headstrong, unholy little girl in your life who needs to read it.

-"My Life as a Girl," a memoir by Stephen Burt...This dovetails beautifully with the recent profile of Burt published in The New York Times Magazine. I love Burt's refusal to defuse the ambiguities, e.g. the opening line, "Maybe I just want to be pretty."

It is interesting that the back page is a facsimile includes a note from the agent of the (then young, pre-Nobel-Prize-winning) author Nadine Gordimer, offering these markedly modest snippets for potential inclusion in an author bio:

"Publishers in both South Africa and in America want to see a novel from me, but I don't know if I can write the novel I want to write.... 
Except for a very short spell when I worked for the local newspaper in the small town in which I lived (how I wish I could use all the wonderful material I picked up from knowing everybody's business for that five months--but South Africa has a small white population and a long memory), and another short spell when I went to University in Johannesburg, I have always written for myself. 
I now live in Johannesburg, am married, and have a baby daughter."
I am not sure it was an intentional commentary by the VQR editors, but I am intrigued by the notion of what Gordimer could have written, versus what she has written. What does this tell us not just about the female consciousness, but the female conscience?

Those in the DC area have an opportunity to join us in a celebration of this issue on Wednesday, November 14, at the Arts Club of Washington (2017 I Street NW). 

Beginning at 5:30 PM we will have a reception, leading into a 6 PM reading by guest editor Marie Arana (Writer at Large for the Washington Post and author of several books including the forthcoming Bolivar: American Liberator); Judith Warner (writer for the New York Times Magazine and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress); Mary Emma Koles (winner of the 2009 Gerald Stern Poetry Prize and the 2012 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize); and....me

Copies of the magazine will be available for purchase, and the festivities will continue with post-reading refreshments. This event is free and open to the public. 

Seriously, now. I'd venture to say that it you make it to one reading in November (as a friend of mine), make it to this one. It's an awesome glance to be part of the new forward momentum of VQR, which is of late making a lot of great hires. Onwards~

October 22, 2012

October Yes

This is the third October that I have traveled to Mississippi, and (for better and for worse) the occasion of least internet access. A few glimpses of what I saw:
Oxford is as it always is...wonderful, and welcoming. Within the first few moments of being in town I bumped into Charlie walking outside Proud Larry's (where he was playing that night), Ron hollered down a hello from Square Books' balcony, and Chico drove by--with his dog Ringo hanging out the passenger side window--and said "Welcome home!" We ate smoked catfish salad at Ajax, caught  Thacker Mountain, had a second dinner of oysters at Snackbar, and had one helluva time. 

Because it was the weekend of the big game versus Auburn ( = drunk Ole Miss craziness = no hotel rooms) we trekked out to Memphis and, ultimately, the Shack-Up Inn for the weekend. The inn is outside Clarksdale, cotton country, and consists of an aggregation of buildings that includes refurbished sharecropper shacks, a cotton gin, seed houses, and other outbuildings. Lots of corrugated tin and cypress wood. We were just a few miles down the road from the Crossroads of Highway 49 and Highway 61, where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in return for his guitar skills. I don't know about that, but the BBQ ribs and beans cooked by Abe's, at the base of the crossroads, were definitely soul-worthy. 

Cotton truly is the name of the game here. Those are great rolls of it, off in the distance, wrapped tight in chartreuse shrinkwrap. Fluffs of it tumble down the road as you drive. 

We ate those ribs while lazing our way through a Sunday on the balcony of our Sky Shack, a room that overlooks the inn's central Juke Joint Chapel.
Office, pantry, sometimes music venue--but we had it to ourselves after dark.

One of many bottle trees dotting the grounds, as ubiquitous as kudzu in Mississippi. From Hill Country to Jackson, Starkville, Atlanta...as we made our way east, we watched the landscape shift in tone. By the time we got to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, we were talking a very different type of glass: Dale Chihuly.

My absolute favorites were these basket-forms, which were displayed alongside the artist's collection of rugs and other woven textiles. But I could also appreciate the epic quality of the site-specific "Mille Fiori," an installation that echoed an underwater sea garden and included a wicked ghost stingray:

Really, you can't go wrong with a good stingray. 

We made our way home via Skyline Drive, staying at the Skyland Resort before wandering all the way up to Front Royal. The temperature was a good 30 degrees lower than down south.  On went the socks, on went the coats. We listened to bluegrass instead of blues (with a little Django Reinhardt that I'd picked up in Atlanta mixed in for good measure). Instead of BBQ-dusted potato chips, we snacked on honey-roasted peanuts. We chose darker beers instead of Red Stripe, the red wine over the white. Instead of cotton, my eye was drawn to the orange leaves like handfuls of flame. 

We visited 10 towns in 12 days. We went to a party at Rowan Oak, lawn strung with lights and oysters shucked on the spot. We toured Sun Studio. We watched a possum romp through Red's juke joint. We talked with writers, artists, musicians, teachers, awesome new-business owners, and a guy who lives half his year in a kayak on the river. I saw beloved friends & people I will surely never see again. The crazy thing about traveling in October is that you feel as if you come home to a different season. But after a summer of going to ground, regrouping, I'm ready for it. I'm ready for change. That so much of this narrative uses a "we" instead of the usual "I"? Part of the change. 

PS ~ The really good photos are on this boy's fancy camera.

October 03, 2012

"Bits" (Hat-tip to Eduardo C. Corral)

A week ago, I was in New York City doing the NYC thing--a reading at Le Poisson Rouge, a meeting with one of my editors, a stroll through Central Park that included a Bloody Mary at The Boathouse. It was lovely but it also lit a fire under me: I have got to get some things done now. (Before a trip to Mississippi that looms, in all its glory, on the October horizon.) I came home and wrote up a three-month plan, drafted two poems for a sequence in my manuscript, and...have been a ghost online. Price ya pay. 

So let me use this time & space to simply note a few things that intrigue me:

-Kyle McCord rocks. He has a killer poem up at Linebreak, one of my favorite online journals, that begins "When a man loves a woman, / he is asked: Soup or salad?" He is also the co-founder and content manager of LitBridge, which is burning up the internets with its advice articles (check out this one by Ash Bowen, "Confessions of a Dirty Careerist") and its smartly curated series of "Interviews with Graduate Programs."

-Thomas Sayers Ellis (not to be confused with the other TSE) has taken on the position of poetry editor for The Baffler. Seems like a good aesthetic match--the most recent TOC lists adventurist stylists such as Rae Armantrout, Joshua Clover, and Matthea Harvey. It's a handsome leftist magazine that has fought its way back to life; I love the idea of substantive poems integrated with smart essays and articles, a la The Believer The Nation and (sometimes) The New Yorker. Let's see where that fierce mind wanders. 

-Poets, once again time to ask yourself: what good things do you have to say about the human condition? I know we traffic in heartbreak, melancholia, scotch, and difficult mothers. But optimism and compassion are not the enemy. In other words: the October 20 deadline approaches for the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes. (The "Sargent" in her pen name honors family member & famed painter John Singer Sargent. The family history is quite lovely--take the time to read it.)

-There are some fabulous events coming up at the Writer's Center, and I say that without any bias based on being a Board member. Specifically:

Saturday, October 6: "Nonfiction Storytelling in Science, Engineering and Policy--The Necessity of Narrative." Ignore the boring title. The line-up of guests is stellar, as is the brand of Lee Gutkind and Creative Nonfiction

Saturday, October 13: "Make Lit Happen: Journeys Through the MFA and Beyond." A daylong program of panels that address the perpetual questions of whether you belong in an MFA program--and what to do after completing one. Featuring voices I trust such as Michael Collier, David Keplinger, and Eugenia Kim.

...And, my four-class Tuesday night workshop on "How It Works: Making Truth Claims in Your Poems." It begins on October 23 and will take place in Bethesda. We'll be working hard to write poems that not only make observations about everyday experience, but strive to articulate the way our world works. Each week will lead off with guided discussion of poets--such as Czeslaw Milosz or Jack Gilbert--who blend passion with philosophical resolve.  (Okay, okay, this one I'm biased about.)