December 27, 2007

About the Holidays

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is my favorite Christmas song. In December 1965, the astronauts requested to have it piped up as they came home aboard the Gemini 7.

Sweet potatoes should always be served with honey-baked ham.

If you open a very expensive bottle of 1993 Parisian wine, you will have to decant it several times before it becomes drinkable. It will improve the flavor if you continue to down lots of cheaper wine while the decanting takes place.

We are never too old for toy trains. Or sea monkeys. Or stuffed bears.

DC becomes emptier over the holidays, New York more crowded; one small way in which I prefer my hometown.

LED lights just aren't the same.

The strange things you find online: The January 1, 1942 edition of the Kinmundy Express reported that Carl Pruett, "a medical student home on his Christmas vacation," saved the life of Mrs. E. W. Rowlin after she accidentally set her house on fire while trying to heat the house with kerosene. He administered first aid and accompanied her all the way to the hospital in Vandalia, another small Illinois town. Carl Pruett was my grandfather. As far as I know, he never mentioned that night to my grandmother or anyone else in the family.

Those oversized inflatable lawn ornaments are monstrous, but it is still a little sad when fog or cold causes them to all deflate into brightly-colored holiday puddles.

Someone gave me a hot air balloon ride for Christmas.

If I could fast forward to March 2008 right now, I would.

December 21, 2007

Looking for a Reviewer

Are you interested in writing book reviews? A New York-based online journal is looking for someone to review Katherine E. Young's chapbook, Gentling the Bones. I'm a fan of her work--if I weren't her neighbor and therefore a bit biased, I'd review it myself. So if you're interested in getting some good new poetry in the mail and adding to your clip portfolio, backchannel me. Here's a sample poem:

Moscow, Russia

When the heat resumes its liquid journey
through iron casings bent like whalebone stays
to fit a waist of air, I read the death
notices: “Died from burns suffered when ice
gave way above a ruptured heating pipe.”
And still they lay uninsulated pipe
because that is what they have always done.
Strange to imagine whole neighborhoods, whole

cities being bound by iron girdles
of heating lines and water mains; each year
a few unlucky souls tumble into
their ancient workings, dead of a theory
that was never quite perfected. Outside
it’s March, pale-gray, snowing. First I blow on
my cold-white fingers, seamed and broken like
the earth of some forgotten riverbed;

then I press them to the radiator,
as yet only lukewarm. Across the way,
a woman uses the new-warm water
for her wash; wet bras, girdles, lingerie
stretch rigid and plain across her window.
I hear the groan of water coursing through
pipe, the murmuring plaint of thousands of
taps turning in unison, the scream of

a child being scalded to death inside
a manhole (though that happened long ago,
in America). All that we share, I
and the washerwoman across the way,
are these heating veins, these leafless birch trees
in the yard; but I wonder if she knows
the feel of heat on my dead hands, or in
the shriveled-up place that once held my heart.

--Katherine E. Young

(This poem first appeared on BELTWAY, in the "Evolving City" issue.)

December 19, 2007

Snippets and Snow Globes

There's a snow globe I keep on my desk at the office, made entirely of one unseamed surface of clear glass: a sculpted mountain peak and, in one tiny crevice, the Swiss flag painted in red. I tend to pick it up in the mornings, as I'm waiting for my coffee to cool, and tip it two or three times. Once the snow settles, I try to get some work done.

When I was flying home from Switzerland (completely unaware that I'd already won a book prize), I panicked that they would confiscate the snow globe from my carry-on bag bag. And as it turns out, the TSA has a rule dictating that they should have done just that. The TSA also has a rule that their employees "are trained not to communicate, distract, interact, play, feed, or pet service monkeys." Monkeys? Is there a substantial service monkey contingent I had missed?

This is a quiet ending to a noisy year.

I've been laying low on the poetry front, working on a prose project that--while unlikely to come to fruition, I keep sternly reminding myself--would be a dream opportunity if it did. There's a musculature to the short essay (under 1,000 words) that is really winning me over. "Just enough time to open a subject, expand it, and close it again," said my friend Richard. Just enough space that you can illustrate a story with a few quotes and moments genuinely remembered; not so much space that you're tempted to add filler that may or may not be true. That, to me, was the ethical intricacy (and ultimately, discouraging factor) of creative non-fiction.

If you're looking for a distraction over the holidays: Reading Life, with Sven Birkerts. As someone who usually detests "books about books," I was utterly captivated.

Also: hot cider, spiced with rum. Mmmmmmm.

December 11, 2007

December 07, 2007

They Came By Candlelight

Thanks to everyone who made it out Wednesday night for our impromptu Washington Literary Salon with Moikom Zeqo and Wayne Miller. We had about 25 guests, an amazing number given the picturesque but relentless snowfall. Every chair in our apartment was full, which is how I like it. Meeting members of the local Albanian community--an incredibly gracious and enthusiastic crowd--was a real delight. I think everyone came away feeling like they'd discovered some glittering, previously hidden corner of DC culture.

Thanks to Mark Dawson, we even have some pictures of the evening, which I'll use to knit together a little visual narrative...

Moikom and his lovely daughter, Kleitia. They were waiting outside my building as I walked up, carting about 201 bottles of beer. My words of welcome were "I can't shake your hand, but will you get the door for me?"

Mark, our fearless photographer, also notes the loveliness of Moikom's daughter.

Part of the crowd: a little snow-covered, a lot Albanian, and hopefully stuffed with bread and wine by the time they left.

Here I am talking too much, as usual. I'm telling the story of our huge apartment (God bless rent control), which first housed the mistress of the building's architect; then Grover Cleveland; then Calvin Coolidge; now, Washington Literary Salon. The art is by my talented flatmate, Maryanne Pollock.

Wayne, Moikom's translator and the first to read (a few gorgeous poems from his own book, Only the Senses Sleep), looks up expectantly. He is probably wondering when I will stop talking.

Moikom, shuffling his papers. He will go on to read about a dozen poems in Albanian (a beautiful, muscular language), with Wayne reading translations of each. The poems will knock our socks off.

He will then remind us of the great Albanians of the world: Christopher Columbus, Alan Shepard, and possibly, Jesus.

Success! And exhaustion. We came, we saw, we listened, we drank. I am told this is as close as Moikom gets to a grin of joy.

...So thanks, everyone. I'm inspired to have more of these, now that we know where to put the chairs and how many peanuts to pour into bowls. Plus, now I have my new secret weapon to guaranteeing a large crowd: invite the Albanians.

All pictures (c) Mark Dawson

December 05, 2007

Gratitude and...Waiting.

Before I forget, I need to offer a huge thanks to three journals--Coconut, 32 Poems, and the Blue Fifth Review--for nominating me for the Pushcart prize. That's pretty amazing.

Through a welcome but strange twist of fate, I am hosting a reading at my apartment tonight. The authors are Moikom Zeqo, an Albanian poet whose most recent book is I Don’t Believe in Ghosts (BOA Editions, 2007), and his translator, Wayne Miller, who is the author of Only the Senses Sleep (New Issues, 2006) and the co-editor of Pleiades. We had planned this as an intimate pit stop between much bigger readings in New York and Missouri.

Turns out, "Albanian poet" does not nearly capture Moikom's allure. He is a famous archaelogist. The former Minister of Culture. He is, in Albanian terms, pretty much a rockstar. Which means that I've been getting a steady stream of RSVPs for the last two days. I think every Albanian in DC is coming!

So we bought wine. More wine. Lined up as many chairs as we could borrow. I decided that if this turned out to be a candlelit affair in a crammed room, with people sitting on the floor to hear Moikom read...well, I only wish more poetry readings were like that.

But now it is snowing. And I am...waiting. Surely Albanians will not be daunted by a little cold weather?

December 03, 2007

And on an extremely self-indulgent front...

...I need to choose between two options for my author photo. I've posted web-friendly versions below. These will come down in a few hours. In the meantime, if anyone dropping by the blog wants to give their vote, please do so in the "Comments" section. Many thanks!

Option 1 - Head and Shoulders


Option 2 - Close-Up


...okay, thank you! Between a couple of helpful comments and some backchanneling, I think I know what I need to know.