July 31, 2008

On a Poetier Note

"My Life in Sales" - A lovely essay by Ann Patchett about the book store experience, as appearing the the new Atlantic Monthly.

Live in the DC area? Interested in the work of Mathias Svalina and Julie Doxsee? If so, backchannel me.

July 30, 2008


Oh, Sewanee, I hardly knew ye. There's about a half-dozen fellow writers that I am missing quite acutely. I miss the opportunity to wear skirts and sleeveless tops without freezing (versus the conditioned chill of my 9 to 5 office). And the rocking chairs. I have one at home, but it's not when you're indoors. I miss rocking with a cold dark beer in hand, Jason Ockert the next chair over, and watching the quiet but fearless deer roam the graveyard at 3 in the afternoon.

The 12 hours each way was traveled with Jehanne Dubrow--I could not have asked for better company. On a practical note, there would have been a real danger of my falling asleep had I driven alone. Each time I was operating on less than four hours sleep. But more importantly, driving down we discovered things in common that made for good trading of stories; driving back up we exhausted ourselves of the post-conference notes, anxieties, and gossip that otherwise would have been inflicted on sympathetic but completely unoriented listeners at home. Thank goodness, on top of it all, we shared a taste for music and snacks: the recipe for a perfect road trip.

Easing away from the obscene indulgences of the Sewanee diet, I am eating only the most basic things: grapes, almonds, raspberries, bell peppers. Okay, sushi too--which apparently does not exist in Tennessee (maybe if catfish made for good sushi, there would have been sufficient common ground). And I am dreaming of the lavender-infused lemonade that they sell at ACKC, a little "cocoa coffee bar" on 14th Street.

There should be worldlier observations here, or at least something more tangibly related to, um, poetry. Maybe tomorrow.

July 22, 2008

I Was Lost, Then I Was Found

...by Mark Jarman's wife. Or at least, she found my nametag. It was amazing how naked I'd felt without it, running around campus (retracing my steps) on this muggiest, most godforsaken of Tuesdays.

One of the things I look forward to doing, when I get home, is putting together a round-up of the books I've gotten here. But in the meantime, feast your eyes on this beauty:

Other Latitudes
by Brian Brodeur

Winner of the 2007 Akron Poetry Prize
Chosen by Stephen Dunn
For the Akron Series in Poetry

...available directly from the University of Akron Press, or Amazon or Barnes & Noble (though I'd strongly recommend ordering straight from the press).

I first met Brian when we both read at the Virginia Book Festival, for the 2005 edition of Best New Poets. Here's a poem of his that is on my mind tonight:


for Erin

As she clutches the metal ribs of the hospital bed—
still dreamy with pain and the morphine drip

they’ve started to wean her off—my sister
sucks ice chips from the nurse’s latex hand.

From her room on the fifth floor, she’s watched
rainwater pool and dissipate on tar-streaked roofs,

heaves of cloud-shadow drag across the courtyard
where shirtless men clear last season’s leaf-rot.

The fresh-stitched wound above her collarbone
bristles like a caterpillar. Her dark hair

spreads its root system over the pillow and her eyes
open and close, rolling back in her head.


Sisters, in general, are on my mind tonight. Tomorrow I am sneaking away to Nashville for the day, to visit some rarely-seen friends. Tonight I am laying low, in my black satin pajamas, and to those I am ignoring at the conference--please forgive me. Sometimes we just have to be anti-social.

July 19, 2008


Sometimes there's a little too much careful talking, at conferences. Last night, following Margot Livesey's reading, there was a lot of un-careful talking. There was debating with Jason Ockert about what should be inscribed on my next flask (current contenders: "Pluperfect" or "My Last Duchess"); rocking on the porch of the French House with Eric McHenry, as he finished his gin & tonic, chatting about some of the more wonderfully crazy poets we know; more rocking on the porch of Humphreys, sharing my Dalmore scotch and talking about the two Coreys; then a quick roundabout of the graveyard, though Don Waters was the only one dedicated enough to, using his lighter, actually check out inscriptions.

My flask is empty. My feet are bug-bitten. My throat is hoarse.
All as it should be.

July 17, 2008


You know those people who travel to conferences and readings and colonies and bring their digital camera so you can actually see snapshots of the action, the fellows, each evening's spread of reception food?

Nope. Not that cool. Not that technologically proficient.

I'm back in the Stirling Coffeeshop, where a discussion of whether the quality of the "jasmine" tea is too sweet has now inspired a spontaneous singalong of a I can show you the world--shining shimmering splendid-- from the Aladdin soundtrack, which inspired the one male employee of the coffeeshop to run screaming from the room. Other than the staff, I'm the only one here. The discussion, since beginning my composition of this paragraph, has moved onto Heath Ledger. It's a few minutes to nine--the evening's big reading (which I confess, I've skipped) must be drawing to a close. Which means The Writers will soon arrive. "I see one," cries out one barista. "Batten down the hatches."

I've been thinking about The Writers. How we come to town--whether it's a colony or a conference--and move about in packs of three or five. Critiquing the coffee, the architecture, the cruddy cellphone reception, the salad bar. Openly debating whether the Sewanee mascot is, in fact, the Fighting Angels. Pointing out the $6 "cocktail sets" they sell at the Monteagle Liquor store: a ziploc bag containing a can of coke and two airplane bottles or Captain Morgan's Rum.

It's tricky. I think we all realize that to those who overhear us, we sound like snarky cityfolk. At our worst, we're mocking our hosts. But in our defense, we're a bunch of writers of different geographic identities, genres, and professional experience, thrown together for two weeks of critique. There's a lot of ego at stake, a lot of potential landmines. So we take refuge in talking about the stipulated things in common: our newfound environment. And we crack jokes because, well, people crack jokes when nervous. Still, I feel a periodic twinge.

Coming out of my dorm each morning, there's two roads. One is a peculiar route--full of elbows and discontiguous sidewalks--but it contains all the essential pitstops for the conference: our Humphreys home, the Women's Center where readings are held, the Sewanee Inn where meals are served. Coming up and down that route, you know any person encountered is most likely a writer.

The other road is a straight, well-paved shot to University Avenue that passes the coffeeshop, the library, the sociology and biology classrooms, the music conference...all of which could not, refreshingly, care less about us.

July 16, 2008

Dazed, Confused, and on Central Standard Time

Hi folks--

Starting on Sunday, the last few days have been a haze of: seeing my Post column debut, making it by the Writer's Center to welcome Charlie Jensen, packing packing packing, picking up the lovely and amazingly travel-friendly Jehanne Dubrow, driving to Tennessee, crashing at a pretty shady Days Inn, arriving at the University of the South, frantically locating a coffeeshop with WiFi, pulling off a Washington Post Online Chat (for which I had to suddenly switch laptops with Jehanne because of a technical snafu), burning off hours finding the closest grocery source (a Piggly-Wiggly in Monteagle), checking in at the Sewanee Writer's Conference, discovering there is little to no cell reception here, going to the first happy hour, the first dinner, the first reading, and collapsing into bed at 9:50.

I then woke up at 3 AM and couldn't get back to bed. So here's a sestina draft, because I had nothing better to do.

Over & out & hoping to be coherent again someday,


July 12, 2008

Oh goodness

So in my head I've been anxiously awaiting Sunday, Sunday, Sunday...then I realized all the daily subscribers got this today:


...and if that weren't crazy enough, join me (online) Tuesday at noon:


I'll actually be writing in from the Sewanee Writer's Conference!

July 02, 2008

Summer in the City

In an email to someone today, I lamented summer was "flying by." But when I stop to think about it, now that I'm in the adult world--where, at least in my job, vacation is no more attached to summer than it is to any other time of year--it's a bit silly to regret. Sure, it's sunny. It's also humid. There are mosquitos. Fall may be my new favorite time of year. Fall with the woodsmoke smell, the cravings for oatmeal and soup, leaves blowing down in the wind, scotch and curling up in a blanket, and the coming October trip to New York.

In which case--hurry up, summer. Get a move on.

If you're in DC next Tuesday, I'm hosting another literary evening at the Arts Club. And this time, poetry! Finally! The specifics:


Tuesday, July 8 - 7:00 PM

E. Ethelbert Miller and David Keplinger will be “flirting with the master,” Pablo Neruda, in a summertime celebration of poetry. As an introduction to reading from their own work, Keplinger and Miller will each speak about Neruda’s influential life and his many dimensions as a writer, translator, and political icon.

David Keplinger directs the MFA program at American University. He is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently The Prayers of Others, which won the 2007 Colorado Book Award. E. Ethelbert Miller is the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a board member of The Writer's Center and editor of Poet Lore magazine. His most recent collection is How We Sleep On The Nights We Don’t Make Love.

Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW, DC.
Free, with a reception to follow.

Ethelbert and David are both (I know this from experience) captivating readers. Neruda is near and dear to my heart thanks to the month I spent at the Millay Colony, reading his work and studying his adventurous life. This going to be fun. So if you're around, come celebrate the last reading before we go on break (to escape the doldrums of August heat).

I just learned that there will be a reception for the new director of the Writer's Center--Charlie Jensen!--on July 13. I'm so glad I'll get to see him before leaving for Sewanee the next day; I couldn't be happier at the news of his hiring. It's rare to get an administrative director who is so creatively talented in his own right, especially a younger person not yet blinded by red tape. It gives me a lot of hope for the future of the Center and what it can offer to the local literary community.

I'm finding that the older I get, the more willing I am to use exclamation marks in my writing and correspondence. I'm not sure what this means. Maybe I've given up even trying to be cool? James Dean would never use an exclamation mark.