November 25, 2006

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Just in case turkey, cranberry sauce, and 80 proof alcohol isn't enough to make your holiday weekend complete, THIS SUNDAY (Nov. 26) at 5 PM to hear MATTHEW ZAPRUDER read from his book THE PAJAMAIST (Copper Canyon Press), at Politics and Prose Bookstore (5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; #202-364-1919; parking behind the store). Zapruder's work is top-notch, guys. Come if you can.

PS--Wear those socks Aunt Jenny gave you on Thanksgiving! We promise we won't tease.

November 22, 2006

Pretty Shiny Things

Hey, Eleventh Muse--thanks for the Pushcart nomination! If you haven't seen the poem, "Unflown," it is not too late to buy an issue.

On Sunday I went to the Pyramid Midatlantic Book Arts festival--pages of all shapes, colors, fabrics, dimensions. A book that came bookmarked with its own brown wool hairball, 3 feet in diameter. A book that was illustrated using the dried and compressed offal of an animal, wrapped in the skin. A $360 book that was manufactured using 360 one-dollar bills.

It didn't take long to realize that these books are primarily marketed as works of art, not texts; most 8-16 page books were at least $35, and full-length collections (or broadsides) cost anywhere between $100 and $500. Some extremely limited edition pieces were in the stratosphere of $1500 or more. People literally wore white gloves to examine the merchandise.

As a lover of collecting, I was tempted. As a reader...not so much. The texts were mostly generic philosophical or witty obervations. Some craftspeople used the books as a form of vanity press. Poetry is a natural match for the book art format because of its brevity, but for the most part only the usual suspects were featured: widely-circulated work by Dickinson, Frost, Gertrude Stein.
Seems a shame that the best contemporary designers and the best contemporary poets aren't collaborating a little more.

A couple of welcome exceptions: The pictorial Webster's Dictionary by Quercus Press is a brilliant idea. I'd have been shocked if the Center for Book Arts HADN'T been there (poets, you have until DECEMBER 1 to submit for their contest). Representatives of the Ruthless Grip poetry crew were on hand--recently evicted by the Washington Printmaker Gallery in Dupont, their readings have moved to Pyramid Midatlantic's headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland). There were also compelling broadsides of poetry by Sara Langworthy and Brian Cohen (whose unbound "Bird Book" took home a juried prize).

Goal for next year: a table shared by Big Game Books and Foursquare. Show 'em how it's done, ladies.

November 15, 2006

Old Winter's Song

I just discovered that someone has YouTubed footage of Eva Cassidy's famous performances at Blues Alley. Click here to see her sing Autumn Leaves. How does someone open her mouth and have such a gorgeous sound emerge, with no bells and whistles of studio production? Incredible. "Tall Trees in Georgia" was always my favorite cover of hers; I'd sing it over and over. You can also track down her version of "Time After Time"...and, well, it goes on and on.

My mother loved Eva Cassidy's voice so much, it got to the point that Eva would recognize her in a club audience and wave hello. Hard to believe it has been ten years since the singer's premature death from cancer. D.C. misses you.

A silent stretch: exactly the thing I promised I would not have on this blog. Sorry, folks, but life and four essays on Czeslaw Milosz got in the way. November is a always a quiet sadness.

Carly Sachs, great poet and channeler of our local grocery store diva Ramona, broaches an intriguing issue on her blog about the difficulties of the poetry scene in Washington. She says:

"There's the more formal readings at LOC and the Folger and then the university readings, the slam scene, the avant garde, the northern Virginia, the question was, should we have less readings or how can we work to help each other out rather than thinning out the scene b/c we all agreed how vibrant DC is."

At a publishing event a few weeks ago, I was talking to Richard Peabody (guru of Gargoyle), and he mentioned that years ago there was an ad hoc Poetry Committee in town--with representatives of the local series and scenes--that actually coordinated schedules so that there was never more than one major reading in town each night. So the local Poetry Audience was regarded as a pretty unified body, even if aesthetics varied between events. Though I recognize that this has the potential to become elitist quickly in actuality, I admire the idea behind it. I could imagine a quarterly pow-wow at Busboys and Poets where people met to hash out calendars (perhaps with Kim Roberts as our referee, since her Beltway schedule is the most comprehensive of any in the area).

The problem of thinning out one's audience through over-invention (versus revitalization of existing structures) is a serious one, for reading series and for literary journals. Part of the reason I haven't curated a second season of Washington Literary Salon is that, the year after the first, Reb and Carly started up Burlesque Poetry Hour. Their series has a dedicated space, a reading day (Monday) same as that for WLS, and a similar draw in terms of readers and audience. What's the point of competing for ego's sake? I'd rather put my energy into supporting the existing enterprise.

And if that support can happen to take the form of buying a Down and Dirty Martini and bidding on Kim Addonizo's thong, all the better!

November 03, 2006


Monday's Burlesque Poetry Hour with Maureen Thorson, PF Potvin, and Gianmarc Manzione was one of the most fun readings I have been to in a while. (I'd say that even if I hadn't won the bidding on Maureen's handmade Crown of the Spider Queen, I swear.) The types of poetry were different, but the caliber was high across the board. Maureen's latest (just a wee bit satirical) work is on the Spider Army, a pseudohistorical account of the appropriation of spiders (their service, their silk, their engineering principles) by the American military. Potvin writes brief but volatile prose poems that tweak the tropes and concerns of the middle-class. Manzione's lyrics have a heightened sense of place and form, a conscious elegance of word choice. Each engaged in his or her own way. To the right is a new No Tell book, which Reb gave me that night. All I owe her is my firstborn--ain't that a steal? I'm posting it here because Reb has a knack for designing covers that play to what Lulu does best. The image is crisp and clever.

I got a bed this week. Dissembled the futon of five years with my bare hands, and I'm not sorry to see it go. If this sounds mildly irrelevant, realize that part of my excitement stems from the fact that this new bed can, for hours at a time, act as a huge desk...which, being a city dweller, I don't otherwise have room for. Being at Millay and having not one but two folding tables at my disposal made me realize how mugh I missed being able to lay things out and move them around. Poets are spatial creatures as well as verbal ones, after all.

People have been all atwitter in response to Bill Logan's journal entries at the Poetry Foundation this week. They've been satisfying to read (even if I am of the blogger ilk which he mocks). Like it or not, he is out there serving as a real critic--saying what he likes, what he doesn't like, and why, and pulling no punches about it. Occasionally his criticisms verge on the ad hominem (I recall a particularly crass attack on Kim Addonoizo). Bah. Those kinds of cheap rhetorical moves are a waste of his time and ours. But otherwise, if people want to defuse Bill Logan's power I would suggest they do so by raising the bar on other poetry reviews which, by and large, seems to be awfully afraid of being critical. If we want others to take us seriously, then we have to be unafraid of less-than-laudatory observations. If there were more push-and-pull in the overall field of reviews, Logan wouldn't get so much attention. Poetry is such an undernourished business that unless someone is Billy Collins or Robert Pinsky, even the slightest critical prodding can feel like kicking a dog when he's down. Suck it up, says the Bill Logans of the world, and I'm not sure I disagree.