February 27, 2009

On Waiting

Amy King has put together a thoughtful response to David Orr's hubbub-inducing essay on "greatness" that ran in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review, and asks for me to join the fray. I'm game, but I need to go home, curl up, and let my mind comb through the discussion before I venture an answer here. Stay tuned.

Before I wander anywhere near the topic of greatness, let me be petty. One of my first jobs was administering scholarly prizes. (Not selecting winners, just managing the process.) So much energy was spent photocopying, tracking down missing paperwork, mailing evaluation packets, and nagging my judges in the days leading up to the conference call or ballot or however the prize was to be decided. THAT was the juggernaut. Once we had our winner there tended to be a lull. Sure, we needed to actually notify folks of the results (those same folks who had just driven me half-mad with incomplete applications). But the real work was done, right? We were beat. What difference would a couple of days make before we did the mass mailing to applicants, or updated the website with the winner's name?

I am so sorry. I get it now. And karma is a cruel mistress.

Every day people apply for fellowships, jobs, book prizes. And a week later they apply for more fellowships, jobs, book prizes. The cycle never ends, as we try to crab-walk out way through this world as writers. Periodically we are put in the maddening position of having to make critical career or publishing choice without all the facts in hand. Sometimes the waste is just $25 in moot reading fees. Sometimes it is much more. So if you have an inbox with a winner's name in it, please, please, please and with sympathy for your under-appreciated service: get the word out with no delay. It's hard enough to make this work without flying blind through life-altering decisions.

February 23, 2009

Here & There

There seems to be a twinge of disappointment in the industry that sales figures for the commemorative chapbook of Elizabeth Alexander's Inauguration Poem, "Praise Song for the Day," aren't higher. 6,000 is usually a great number for a volume of poetry...but in the context of Graywolf Press's very public announcement of a first run of 100,000, it's a little anticlimactic.

Here's my question: is this perhaps one of those rare cases where the wide availability of a "book-length" text on the internet nipped sales in the bud?


This morning over at Harriet, a blogger surfaced whose name was probably unfamiliar to most in the poetry world: Cathy Halley. If you're curious about Cathy, the new web director for the Poetry Foundation site (replacing Emily Warn), you can find the record of her last gig, the "Scrappy Girl Decorates" blog over at the now-defunct Domino. She also has a personal blog, "Maison d'Etre," here. I think it's interesting that they chose somebody whose primary savvy comes through the web versus the poetry world, and I'm hoping she brings a youthful spirit to the Foundation's site. Welcome to the job, Cathy!


I'll do a bigger push in another two weeks, but I would urge those in DC to SAVE THE DATE for a killer reading coming up at the Arts Club:

Tuesday, March 10 - 7:00 PM

The Arts Club of Washington presents "Flirting with the Masters: Poets on Elizabeth Bishop," featuring poets Jehanne Dubrow and Michael Collier, the former Poet Laureate of Maryland. Free and open to the public, with reception and booksigning to follow.

Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW, DC. (703) 994-3166.

Jehanne has been on fire lately, with the debut of her first book THE HARDSHIP POST (chosen by Peter Pereira as the winner of the Three Candles Press Open Book Prize), followed by the news of two more books coming down the pipeline: From the Fever-World, which won the Washington Writers' Publishing House Prize, and Stateside, which will be released by Northwestern University Press in 2010.

Michael Collier is a nationally recognized poet; The Ledge was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His latest book, DARK WILD REALM, is now available in paperback. He's not only the director of the annual Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, he is also a mainstay of our local scene and a longtime professor of creative writing at the University of Maryland.
You must, must, must come hear this pair read if you haven't heard them before. Not to mention the excuse to celebrate Ms. Bishop, who has recently been a hot topic because of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

February 17, 2009

It's coming...It's coming...

Can you write under pressure without breaking a sweat?
Always telling friends that a crown of heroic sonnets comes easy?
Do you dream of perfect line breaks?
...& Do you dream of impressing a chick who digs poetry?

-Project Verse-

Dustin Brookshire, through I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin and Limp Wrist, is proud to announce Project Verse, the self-proclaimed "Project Runway" of the poetry world.

Project Verse is a free competition set to be a grueling but fun competition for poets. It's a 10-week competition, and the winner will be announced week 11. Each Monday, an assignment will be posted in I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin. Poets will have to complete and submit the assignment by noon Friday of the same week. The judges will read and score the assignments over the weekend, and the judgment will be posted in I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin the following Monday.

Who are the judges? Dustin Brookshire, Beth Gylys, and Dana Guthrie Martin are your weekly judges; however, it wouldn't be fun without a little variety. Each week, except for the first week of the competition, there will be a guest judge. Although their names are being kept secret for now, they range from Pushcart Prize nominees and winners to a Lambda Literary Award recipient to National Endowment for the Arts fellowship recipients.

And a competition wouldn't be complete without a prize! The winner of Project Verse receives the following prize package:
-a contract for a limited edition chapbook published by Limp Wrist
-a weeklong residency at Soul Mountain Retreat* (for the poet to revise and finish his/her chapbook)
-an interview with Joe Milford of "The Joe Milford Poetry Show"
-a review of the chapbook that will be published in Ouroboros Review & Limp Wrist

How do you apply to compete in Project Verse? See the complete guidelines here.

Deadline? March 1, 2009.
Get to work!

February 16, 2009

The Report from AWP

The Highlights...

-A panel on "Poetry and the Self" with Josh Bell, Erin Belieu, Carl Phillips, Rachel Zucker and D.A. Powell. There's no point in being didactic at an AWP panel, and these folks got that. Instead we heard meditative comments from each poet, illustrated by reading a selection from their own work. The styles were diverse enough to be interesting, but not so diverse as to be incoherent, and the panelists seemed to share a genuine affection and familiarity with each others' work. It really was the best panel I attended, with the one on "Poetry and Comix" as a close runner up.

-In a park across the street from the Hilton, people were constructing oversized and detailed snow sculptures.

-Bumping into Nate McClain and Ivone on the bookfair floor and having them kneel down, wave their arms over their heads, and declare "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!" Gabe Fried of Persea looked on, perplexed. I'm hoping he thinks this happens to me all the time. It does not.

-2 PM Friday champagne toast with the Black Warrior Review folks to celebrate a gorgeous, gorgeous issue.

-The Anti-/Diode offsite reading, which included killer sets from Bob Hicok and Patrick Lawler; the reading was hosted in an old school building complete with men who operated the elevators.

-On Saturday afternoon my roommate texted me: "there's something for you in the business center :)" ...which turned out to be a Valentine's Day bouquet of gerber daisies and roses. Walking those through the lobby, I was giddy. And profoundly ready to be back home.

-Best swag award goes to Ali Stine's (working!) keychain mini-handcuff sets to promote her new book, Ohio Violence, which just came out from University of North Texas Press.

-Best loudmouthing award goes to Reb Livingston, nine times out of ten on any given night.

& The Confessions...

-Dan Nester described my scotch-drinking abilities as "hardcore."

-Alicia Ostriker is...passionate. By which I mean slightly scary. Don't call on her during the Q&A of your panel unless you are ready to fully defend any answer you give her.

-People got a big kick out of mocking the Poetry Foundation, which sponsored illustrated poem-videos to be played in the elevators in lieu of the usual CNN feed. You know what? Get over yourselves. No animals were harmed in the making of those videos, it was probably a huge thrill to the featured poets, and it was a genuine effort to make the Hilton experience conference-centric. Catty poets!

-If you did a double take when your eyes caught "The American Scholar" on my nametag and you suddenly seemed more interested in talking to me, I could tell. Seriously. So lame.

-Kim Addonizio responded to an introduction with "oh! you're the one who bought my thong!" amidst a large and listening-in crowd at one of the readings. Thanks Kim.

-I only left the hotel for ONE offsite program...and did no sightseeing. I was trying to save money. Beyond one Thai meal I lived off of apricot seeds, almonds, peanut butter pretzels, blueberries and the two asian pears I stuffed into my suitcase. One night my dinner consisted of walking across the street to buy a jar of salsa and a bag of corn chips.

-The salsa was black bean and corn. It was actually kind of an awesome meal.

-I wish I'd been the one to start calling the Irish bar "Shitty O'kays."

February 09, 2009

Packing My Skirts for the Windy City

In the words of the editors: "Barrelhouse Seven is here and it is awesome." Check it out--a special section on "The Future" includes my poem, "Antiquity," from the book-in-progress. I can guarantee they will have one of the most entertaining tables at AWP, if it is anything like past years (when there was wheels to spin, prizes to win, and beers to pop open).

Yes, I'll be in Chicago. I'm having a book-signing at the New Issues Tables (451 & 452) on Friday, from 10 to 11 AM. Come on by! With or without a book.

Thanks to everyone who made it out to Rose Live Music for a fantastic Earshot reading--old friends and kickass poets alike--and thanks to Nicole for giving me the spotlight. In 36 hours (including the two Amtrak stints) I somehow managed to fit in seared scallops with my agent at Union Square Cafe, a meeting with an editor, sushi in Brooklyn at Bozu, the Earshot reading, crashing with my sister at Sarah Lawrence (and seeing her campus, which will be irresistable in springtime), coffee with another editor, and enjoying erotic poems over a glass of Sancerre courtesy of David Lehman's evil genius, Mora Egan's seductive sonnets, and Laura Cronk's mind-blowing sestina.

No wonder I'm feeling a little beat.

February 02, 2009

I'm here! I'm here.

In December, I kept saying to friends "January...January will be a chance to focus." And in a way it was: I kept my schedule relatively clear, and spent a little more time puttering around at home to my heart's delight. I also took on approxmiately 1.2 zillion prose projects, the last of which I finished at 5:30 AM this morning. I am so very ready to go home and curl up with my Washington Post, my glass of wine, and my episode of House.

It's true that I wouldn't have pushed my last deadline to the wire had I not spent much of the weekend carousing with folks from Writer's Center and enjoying the Philip Lopate reading on Saturday night. But it was worth it. I have to say, when you find an opportunity to volunteer with a group that really clicks--that has good leadership, a sense or urgency, and an openness to trying new things--it doesn't feel like service. It feels like vocation. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to join the Board last year, and help welcome Charlie to the DC literary community, where he was most sorely needed.

If you live in New York, know that I'll be headed up your way on Friday for this little shindig:

February 6, 2008 - 8 PM

Earshot Reading Series
with Sandra Beasley, Daniel Scott, Claudia Cortese,
Nicole Bufanio and Andriano Rizos

at Rose Live Music
345 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY

-$5 cover includes a free drink-

I'm really looking forward to this trip. Later that night, I'll be crashing on the floor of my sister's dorm room at Sarah Lawrence. Earlier that day, I'll be having lunch in a fine downtown establishment with...oh, oh, but I can't tell you about that part yet. And by Saturday afternoon I'll be enjoying "Cool Poets, Hot Poems, and English Tea" with David Lehman, Laura Cronk, Moira Egan and the sexiest poet of all, my friend (and soon-to-be-AWP-roommate) Carly. Not a bad way to spend 36 hours!