November 26, 2008

Oh, You Poor Tofurkeyed Souls

Today, I am thankful. I am overstuffed with duck & pineapple in red curry, yes, but also...thankful. For these things:

-The flow that comes from an hour of revising a Post column
-Seeing old professors who are now free to wear t-shirts and jeans
-Anthony Bourdain
-Origami irises
-The new coat with magenta stitching
-Cinnamon gum
-The calm before the holiday storm, the night of nothing booked
-Poetry magazine
-My New-York-ified sister, home from her first semester at college

I hope your next few days, dear reader, hold a lot of family and a lot of sleep.

Next week, I'll be reading up at Kensington Books. Should be a lot of fun, so here are the details:

Kathi Wolfe and Sandra Beasley
at the Kensington Row Bookshop Poetry Reading
- Wednesday, December 3 at 7 pm -

Kathi Wolfe is a columnist for arts magazine and a Washington Blade contributor. Her work appears in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Gargoyle, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and the Library of Congress Poet and the Poem. Helen Takes the Stage: The Hellen Keller Poems, is a published 2007 Pudding House Chapbook finalist.

Free, with refreshments provided; an open reading will follow.
3786 Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD 20895; for questions call #301-949-9416 or visit

November 23, 2008

Catching Up (Out of Order)


"It's hard," I say to my boyfriend, "to come back." I didn't realize how cruel it would sound until I said it out loud.

The Office. Top Chef. The week-old Sunday New York Times. Sleep. Eritrean dinner with the boy--a tomato salad stung with lentils and red onions and lemon juice, then spongy inerja soaked with grease and spice, folded over hot chicken and onions, washed down with a Red Stripe. Sleep. Emails unwritten--apologies if you've been waiting. Sleep. Finishing Marilynne Robinson's HOME over a bowl of steelcut oatmeal. Buying three pairs of desperately needed pants, and one dress for a high school reunion. A party, a real party, with lit candles on the stairs and bottles of wine on the side tables and lots of people I do not know making glorious noise. Sleep. Sleep. A damn good poetry reading, with Eric Pankey and Brian Brodeur.


Ethelbert is worried about me. We are standing around the Writer's Center after the Board meeting, before the Poet Lore celebration, before my trip to Michigan, before the winter issue ships to the printer, before my DC reading. I've resorted to carbs to stay awake. I'm on my fourth bagel of the day. "Beasley," he says, you look tired." I am tired. "You know," I say, "I like to be busy, but I'm past the tipping point. This is too busy." It happens, about twice a year: things get out of phase, doublebooked, pins start to drop from their juggled arc and bonk me on the head. I look at Ethelbert in the helpless exhaustion of knowing things will get worse before they get better.

"When's the last time you got your eyes checked?" he asks.

"My eyes? Um...a few years ago." What's he talking about? Was I squinting at the meeting? Isn't it enough that I make it to the dentist twice a year?

"You read a lot, Beasley," says Ethelbert. "You gotta take care of your vision."


It's 7:30 AM. These are someone else's boots. As I stomp off the snow they come close to flying off my feet entirely. I am clutching this cup of drive-thru coffee for dear life. I'm in the office of Walt, morning host for Sunny 101.9. Walt's wife has an MFA and he has a soft spot for us writer-types. Usually when I do radio spots, it involves calm, NPR-styled exchanges with brief interludes of jazz. I'm not sure the morning commuter is my target audience. On the wall there is an animatronic...woodchuck? beaver? Some Marquette mascot? Oh. I'm a moron. It's the groundhog from Caddyshack. I take a big sip of coffee.

"So, what do you write about," asks Walt. After the first of two spots he goes to cue the computer-ordained music, and as he looks at the screen he winces. "Sorry," he says, as we are serenaded by New Kids on the Block. Oh, oh, oh oh oh. Oh, oh. Oh oh.


The department is paying for lunch at the local organic restaurant, and I get a dish that turns out to be a vegetarian catch-all--potatoes, onions, squash, seaweed, three-seed bread. It's under-seasoned but quietly addictive. I'm seated at the end of the table, as if to say grace or cut the turkey. All the faces at the table are about my age and the effect is lulling: I'm content to listen to gossip laced with names I do not know, making eye contact with the smiley baby being bounced on a fiction writer's knee. Then I remember my own MFA days, in which each minute of a Visiting Writer's time seemed somehow...precious. Charged with potential. I sit up straight, determined to talk. I'm not sure exactly what wisdom I imparted, though I did pass along the fact that platypus moms don't have teats, that the milk just excretes and pools in little leathery skin-gulleys. Um. In case you needed to know. I may have also said something about jobs in the publishing industry.


The workshop. I tell them about that month at the Millay Colony, living inside the book, my studio fluttering with pages on the wall. I've sworn off set answers to questions, and sometimes this gets me into trouble. In recounting the day I heard I won the New Issues Prize I premise it with "I was just getting back from a whirlwind trip to Switzerland--" and I can see the flicker of disbelief (Switzerland?) and part of me wants to stop and say no, no, they were special circumstances, I am not some jetsetting princess, but we're onto the next answer. I say the MFA thesis will not, more then likely, be the first book; it's the practice, the manuscript you have to write for there to be a first book. Again, a momentary deflation. Ooof. No one has any questions. Have I let them down? There should be questions. Austin asks me to treat one of my own poems as if it were a masterclass, dissecting, pointing out how I revised, and I start to answer that I don't do a lot of revision--the poems either come out right or utterly stillborn--but no, I will not give another flicker-inducing answer, damn it. I flip through pages until I find "Antiquity," read it through, palpate the lines as if I were a doctor, feeling for the pulse of old mistakes.

Walking down the hall to the elevator, I pass flyer after flyer--maybe a dozen--that bears my face, my bio. The photoshop job stretched my cheeks slightly, making a mischievous close-up seem...manic. Possibly deranged. It's only upon having that thought that I realize I must be nervous about this reading.


Bless the room full of people and good acoustics, the coffee ready to serve, the undergrads who say "Oh! I like that one," Tom with his video camera, the jokes that somehow land safely, the sestinas like suspension bridges that bearing up under car after car, long, wobbly, singing with strung tension. Bless that people in Marquette aren't going to a let a little ice and snow keep them from campus. People ask about the new work, and they buy books. Lots of books, so that the clerk from Snowbound Books is smiling. That never fails to amaze and delight me. Those are my heart-poems, in Theories of Falling, and I'm not the only one who thinks they are worth something. There is still conversation to come, back at the Landmark Inn, over sweet potato fries and pitchers of Bell's, with the faculty who will drift away one at a time, and the students who will linger. I will tell my embarrassing Alice Quinn story, because that is the job of a Visiting Writer: to admit that I, too, have had my flicker moments. And lived to tell the tale.


It's a strange ritual, this making of deep and fond acquaintances with people I may well never see again. You, making it work one manuscript at a time, in one midwest town after another. You with the parrot buried in Lake Superior. You with the ridiculously awesome brunette curls. You with the ready joke and the serious questions. You who wants us to all go snowshoeing at midnight. You who had me sign a poem print-out for your wall. Most people around me on a daily basis aren't lovers of poetry, so it's rare to have the kind of direct sharing and questioning of the work that I get on these trips. I am foolishly, helplessly, vainly grateful for the reminder that the poems are received and unpacked and considered. So if I take forever to sign your copy of the book, with a babble that seems 50% yearbook scrawl and 50% non sequitur, you know why.

These days. These wild, lucky, stressful, underslept, french-fried, borrowed-shoe, squinty-eyed days. Sometimes it all flows through this body like water. Sometimes, like lightning.

November 18, 2008

After the Reading

Awesome. New NMU friends, thank you. Now, if only I can make it onto my 6 AM flight...then to my office by 11...and then, at 7 PM, THIS reading:

Two award winning local poets, Brandel France de Bravo and Sandra Beasley, will share their work as a part of the reading series A Space Inside on Wednesday, November 19 at 7 p.m. at Riverby Books on Capitol Hill.

Brandel France de Bravo's first collection of poems, Provenance, won the 2008 Washington Writers' Publishing House poetry prize. Her poems have appeared in Natural Bridge, Fugue, The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, and The American Voice, as well as in anthologies such as The Beacon Best of 1999: Creative Writing by Men and Women of All Colors, Fathers: A Collection of Poems, Outsiders: Poems About Rebels, Exiles and Renegades, and Hunger and Thirst. A graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the recipient of a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Brandel is also co-author of Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise your Child in a Complex World (St. Martin's Press). She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and daughter and is Director of Public Affairs at the National Research Center for Women and Families.

Sandra Beasley won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for Theories of Falling, selected by Marie Howe. Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Slate, The Believer, and Blackbird, as well as the Black Warrior Review Chapbook Series and many others. Honors for her work include the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, and fellowships to the Sewanee Writers' Conference and Millay Colony. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works for The American Scholar and writes for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine.

Now in its third year, A Space Inside provides a space where developing writers, lesser known voices, and the work better-known writers create between books can be heard. Monthly readings alternate between poetry and prose, but all readers are DC-based writers. All readings, which are free and open to the public, are hosted by Riverby Books with a reception following.

Riverby Books is at 417 East Capitol Street, SE, just north of Eastern Market and four blocks east of the U.S. Capitol. A seller of used and rare books, they are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at (202) 543-4342. Please call for directions if needed.

See you then!

November 17, 2008

20 Michigan Realities

Tomorrow I will read for the students of Northern Michigan University, come rain or come shine.

Or rather, come snow. It is the first real "lake effect" night, and four inches (with a bit of sleet for good measure) have fallen.

In trying to travel carry-on only, I had no room to pack boots.

I have pulled the chair in my hotel room up to the window, so my feet are resting directly on the heater. As I type I can look out a window down a Main Street white with undisturbed snow. There is a series of frosted-glass lamps. There is a clocktower.

Courtesy of my laptop, the Counting Crows are singing "She looks up at the building, / says she's thinking of jumping, / says she's tired of life. / She must be tired of something."

My dinner at the hotel restaurant was rather awesomely rich. The Marquette translation of "prosciutto" is really just peppery ham. But asparagus wrapped in a blanket-of-ham = asparagus that's going to sleep soundly tonight, in the bed of my belly.

I was the only person in the restaurant. It is a Monday, after all. The waitress, when she noticed I was reading, asked if I wanted them to turn the house lights up so I could see better.

After the fancy dinner, the less-fancy pub. One bartender gave the other a funny look when I ordered a Cosmopolitan. "A cocktail?" he stage whispered. Yes, I know it's a girly drink. I promise to order Bell's Brown on draft like a good Michigan-er tomorrow night. But when I was on the plane, I dreamed of Cosmos, and so a Cosmo I will have.

This is an obnoxiously citified thing to say, but it does seem like you get a little more for your money here.

On the drive from the airport to town, my host said "and there's our ski mountain." When I turned my head to the right there it was, complete with machines blanketing the slopeside in a thick cover, the lift carriages frozen in place, and the chalet with its cheery wood trim and retro font. They're not kidding around.

My host says that the husky racing is big here, in training for the Iditarod.

My first radio interview is at 7:30 AM tomorrow.

The paisley brocade they used on the bedspread is the same material they used on the curtains.

I have no idea what I'll read tomorrow night. Still haven't figured out to sustain all these damn sestinas in oral performance.

Counting Crows: "How'm I'm gonna keep myself away from me?"

This is perhaps one of the theoretically four worst days of the year for me to be out of the office. But when someone asks you to go read poetry, you go read poetry.

The cold may force me to wear my socks out tomorrow, since I don't have stockings and my high heels leave my feet exposed. These socks are bright turquoise. With little embroidered sushi rolls on them.

I'll have to wake at 4 AM on Wednesday in order to be back in DC, and in my office, by 11 AM.

It's worth it.

November 14, 2008


I was thrilled to wake up this morning to a review of Theories of Falling in the latest edition of Blackbird, which names me a "poet to watch." In this excerpt, Susan Williams critiques my, um, unconventional sense of eros:

A poem exploring various metaphors for sex begins, “Bullet dodged, meant your thrust. Another: Load the gun.” Later in the poem, Beasley’s speaker notes, “Always, the body just an alias for something more urgent,” and recalls that, “Once you tried to call it making love and I said I don’t think / that counts, what we do.” Elsewhere, she describes the men she’s “loved best” as “mute and brambled.” These are clearly not run-of-the-mill love poems...


Every time I stumble across a poem by Matthew Dickman, I am completely enamored. Here is the latest, courtesy of David Graham:

The Mysterious Human Heart

The produce in New York is really just produce, oranges
and cabbage, celery and beets, pomegranates
with their hundred seeds, carrots and honey,
walnuts and thirteen varieties of apples.
On Monday morning I will walk down
to the market with my heart inside me, mysterious,
something I will never get to hold
in my hands, something I will never understand.
Not like the apricots and potatoes, the albino
asparagus wrapped in damp paper towels, their tips
like the spark of a match, the bunches of daisies, almost more
a weed than a flower, the clementine,
the sausage links and chicken hung
in the window, facing the street where my heart is president
of the Association for Random Desire, a series
of complex yeas and nays,
where I pick up the plantain, the ginger root, the sprig
of cilantro that makes me human, makes me
a citizen with the right to vote, to bear arms, the right
to assemble and fall in love.

--Matthew Dickman. All-American Poem
The American Poetry Review (Honickman First Book Prize), 2008.

November 13, 2008

"Truffle Oil? What the F**k?"

It's raining outside, relentlessly, and though I know we need rain, once it begins its slow soak into the hem of my jeans I go from 0 to Grumpy in 60 seconds. The rain is only an objective correlative. In recent weeks I've sent many things out into the world, and now I'm awaiting response. When the things in question are little things--poems to a journal, a card that may or may not elicit a note in return--the waiting is a kind of fun, tickling anticipation. When the things in question are big things, things that might change where you live or what you do, it sets off a kind of gut-roiling.

My main goal is to find a balance where I, once again, have time to play pool, read, cook, visit grandmothers, and drink wine with friends. I like being busy but not THIS busy. Something is amiss.

For work, I have spent my morning pursuing photos of famous authors. W. H. Auden's face is as craggy as an Irish coastline. The bald crown of Philip Larkin's head swells, pale and cartoonish, above the unforgiving black rims of his eyeglasses. William Empson reveals a missing tooth as he smiles. E. M. Forster's moustache is, at times, wider than his chin; he's the embodiment of "tweedish."

I miss the days of funny-looking writers! Let's bring that back. Billy Collins, will you be our next Philip Larkin? Pretty please?

Elsewhere in the world...

One silver lining of the Washington City Paper's slow but steady decline into onine-only life: the launching of their Young and Hungry blog, featuring posts by Tim Carman. Check out the coverage of the recent celebrity-chef Capital Food Fight, which is one of the more innovative fundraising-event models around.

& before I forget--if you're looking for a place to send out:

"If Poetry Journal now has an online component to its print journal. It is seeking poems to publish, 2 or 3 a week, along with reviews of poetry collections and interviews with writers. To submit, please send 3-5 poems (in the e-mail, no attachments) to the editor Don Illich at . Please say in the e-mail this work is for the online journal. What we like: poetry influenced and inspired by writers such as Thomas Lux, Jennifer Knox, Tony Hoagland, Sandra Beasley, Dean Young, Frank O'Hara, Jeffrey McDaniel, Denise Duhammel, and Billy Collins. Obviously, no payment but the esteem of eyeballs everywhere."

There is no way on earth I've earned my place on a list with Dean Young and Frank O' Hara, but I appreciate the compliment!

November 07, 2008


I couldn't let a whole week go by without posting, but it would be fair to say that life is beyond crunched right now. We are in closing on our Winter issue of the American Scholar, and I'm chipping away at some large-scale projects inspired by my trip to New York. I don't mind being busy but what should be a time of coffee, swedish fish, and other forms of immediate gratification is instead dominated by my body's instinct to hibernate (damn you, 5 PM sunsets).

There's also just too many darn poetry readings: I've been invited to four on Sunday, November 16 alone! Luckily, we were still able to grab 50 people to fill the room at the Arts Club for Wednesday's reading. It was such a pleasure to hang out with Aaron and Ted. I miss, sometimes, the easy companionship of Charlottesville days.

Yet it is undeniably a good time to be in D.C. As the election results rolled in my neighborhood (Dupont Circle) erupted into hollering, honking, dancing and champagne-drinking in the streets. Fireworks were visible beyond the roof of the Quaker Meeting House. For as long as I've lived in city proper, I have cultivated an apolitical stance; but then again, Bush has been in office that entire time. So now I wonder...will I be a bit more engaged, because I'll be a bit more inspired? Perhaps I have some dogs in this fight after all.

When I was younger I wanted to be a speechwriter when I grew up. Regardless of how you felt about the politics, Peggy Noonan's "Thousand Points of Light" rhetoric showed the power of language to garner public support and shape policy. Just a couple of weeks ago I had a long conversation about using metaphor as a tool in ALL areas of life, not just poetry. A great metaphor not only provides an accurate model of a complicated idea, but it introduces its own fulcrum of logic that, in some cases, actually pushes and illustrates the idea beyond previous understanding.

If you're interested in speechwriting, you'll find an interesting interview here (thanks Gothamist!) with Terry Edmonds, the first African-American speechwriter in the White House (under Bill Clinton). If someone gave me the chance to join the speechwriting office in a Democratic White House, I'd be very tempted. They need more poets downtown.


Any bards out there have an interest in coming to DC for a year? If so, pay attention to this sweet opportunity--the Jenny McKean Moore Fellowship at George Washington University. Past Fellowship winners include Tony Hoagland, Dana Roeser, Carol Muske, and Rick Barot:

For appointment beginning in the fall of 2009, we seek a poet to teach two semesters as the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington. The successful candidate will teach a small poetry workshop each semester for members of the metropolitan Washington community. No tuition is charged for these workshops, which are not open to University students. The successful candidate will also teach two classes, one each semester, for students at The George Washington University.

Basic Qualifications: The writer must have significant publications (poetry published by a well regarded press) and a demonstrated commitment to teaching. Like students in the community workshops, the writer need not have conventional academic credentials. He or she should reside in the Washington area while the University is in session, late August through early May. The historic Lenthall House, a 4-story Federal-era townhouse on campus, is normally available to the visiting writer through a subsidized rental agreement. The salary for 2009-2010 will be $58k plus an attractive benefits package.

To be considered, applications must be made by letter, indicating publications and other projects, extent of teaching experience, and other qualifications. The application must also include a resume and a selection of published poetry. Applicants are encouraged to send a book as their sample. Books will be returned if accompanied by an appropriate SASE. Review of all applications will begin on November 17 and will continue until the position is filled. Applications should be sent to:

Professor Jeffrey J. Cohen, Chair
Department of English
801 22nd Street, NW (Suite 760)
The George Washington University
Washington, DC 20052