April 17, 2013

National Poetry Month

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I would like to point out that T.S. Eliot was a spectacular talent...

...who was just one crazy hairstyle and a cackle away from making an excellent Disney villain, as revealed here:

The man had some killer eyebrows, yo.

While we're teasing the greats, Leslie Pietrzyk has been sharing amazing tidbits from Kathleen Spivack's With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz & Others over at "Work-in-Progress." Read the latest post--about the time Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Bishop finally met--here

On a different note, I've been thinking a lot lately about goals, in part as I prepare to move back to DC in later May. Being in North Carolina for a month has helped clarify my thinking about the city I've lived in and loved for over a decade. Are we a good town for literature? My answer to those who ask is usually "Yes, but we're fragmented." We only managed to merit one category of this year's City Paper awards. Some of our best and most successful writers are total recluses. It can be frustrating when great events are going on mere blocks away from each other, with no awareness. 

That said, there's a renaissance going on right now. Split This Rock has become a vibrant festival that brings major poets of witness and political activism to town. The storytelling scene is blowing up thanks to buzz attached to Story League, which--founded just two years ago--now produces showcases every week in DC and New York. Representatives from organizations such as Barrelhouse, Big Lucks, 826DC, and others are hosting packed events and combining forces under the umbrella "DC Lit" (details to come). The programming staff at major institutions such as the Library of Congress, PEN/Faulkner Foundation, and the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series are great people--young and energetic, open to new ideas, approachable. This past Monday, a stolen day back home, I met up at Cleveland Park's Spices with four other women writers, two of whom have books slated to be out within the year, to share ginger salad (okay, so I hogged most of it) and toast each other's successes with sake.

In short, it is a great time for artists to live in DC. But if I'm going to stay there, I need to articulate my goals as a writer. I don't mean goals like "Write a best-seller" or "Win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry"; those are givens and, er, impossible to strategize. I mean goals for myself as part of a literary community. In some ways this is about being more selfish with my time, in some ways less. Here is what I have come up with so far:

-Create a space where I meet socially with writers once a week. Brunches and cocktail hours one on one are great, but you know what? They are a time killer. What I'd love is a comfortable venue and a group of 8-10 friends who make it a habit to show more times than not--no RSVPs needed, as long as you can get general critical mass of 5-6 people. DC has not shown itself to be good at this. People are overscheduled. My beloved Oxford, Mississippi, has this down to a science. 

-Find a monthly reading series to co-host. I love hosting poets; the talent they bring to town, the manic high I get as an emcee, the opportunity it offers when chatting with folks at AWP. But I feel bad bringing someone to town when they then lose money on paying for a hotel. So, I put this out to the universe with a caveat: I need to find a way to offer them $100 honorarium per reading. Or, a place big enough to house them. 

-Cement a monthly workshop group. This, I am actually lucky enough to have the makings of, but we could be a little bigger and more robust in our attendance record. The trick is to get not only likeable people, but people whose work you respect enough that when they push you, you don't get defensive. Plus, find a spot a little more atmospheric than the Pennsylvania Avenue Cosi. 

-Be diligent in attending the readings that broaden my horizons, especially in terms of prose. Let go of attending the readings that will not. 'Nuff said. 

-Develop a relationship with a local school. I have fond memories of the "poetry lady of Fairfax County Public Schools," a.k.a. Rose MacMurray, and I'd like to pay it forward. But I'll be blunt--too many times I've experienced flakiness. The date gets changed at the last minute because of testing. We're meeting in a classroom with 15 students; no, it's the auditorium, with 60. The students haven't gotten the handout in advance. There's no water. There's no microphone. I'm really not the diva type but I'd like to have a stable, ongoing relationship with a school that does right by their kids--and their guests.

-Become a regular at a spots...that is, a regular "do not disturb." I used to be really good at this. Tryst, Teaism, or Kramerbooks: you could always find me with a pot of tea or a beer, and a stack of poems to workshop or an essay to edit or a book I'm determined to finish. Somewhere along the way I lost this habit, in which location = accomplishing work, and I miss it. I have my eye on Soho Coffeehouse or Modern Times at Politics and Prose as the next incarnations of my "office."

Obviously, I'm a list-maker at heart. It is how I get to where I need to go in the otherwise directionless world of being a full-time writer. What are your literary goals? Does the place you live help satisfy them?


Greg said...

Your usual wit and wisdom on display, Sandra! If you get a reading series, I'll do it for free (and stay in my own place ;)) P.S. I like Tynan in Columbia Heights for some work with coffee.

Rebecca Hazelton said...

If I could meet you at Teaism, I so would.

Steve Rogers said...

You raise some good points here. I don’t like to think of myself as a recluse, but my writing and research often restrict me to a somewhat finite environment. On top of that, my four months in Maine each summer remove me from the local DC scene (even though it is fairly quiet during the summer months). I do like to work in public spaces and I have done so ever since my university days in Germany. I like to be around people and enjoy the weather when it’s good . . . with a beer or a glass of wine to boot. The good folks at Haad Thai always find me a nice table where I am out of the way. I organized a semi-regular roundtable/brunch at the Tabard Inn in the mid 90s with regulars like Henry Taylor, Vlad Levchev, John Haines when he was in town, Miles, and others as they could join us. But you are correct . . . this can be a “time killer, especially on weekends. They do seem to come and go in DC. I was a member of a roundtable in Tucson in the mid 70s known as “Tequila Sunrise” because we met over breakfast in a hole-in-the-wall down in the barrio and tequila was ALWAYS involved (oh, to be young again). And I hosted a reading series in Mount Rainier back in the early 90s but venue was always a problem. Miles has been so successful at Iota. I admire what he has done there. It ain’t easy. Thanks for making me think about this again. Hopefully our paths will soon cross again in DC.

Sandra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandra said...

Such great comments! Greg, I will have to check out Tynan--that is in my fiancé's neighborhood.

Becky, I'd meet you anytime. ; ) You know, the Penn Quarter Teaism has tasty margaritas...

Steve, a really thoughtful response. That Tabard Inn circle sounds amazing. I remember Vlad! I read for him in Adams Morgan. Part of what's miraculous about what Miles has done is the simple premise that he is there, every month, rain or shine. Consistency builds social circles. Plus, Iota is an accessible and transit-friendly venue.


Greg said...

I go to the Columbia Heights Tynan; if that's where your fiance is, let me know if you're ever coming over.