January 31, 2010

VCCA: 11

Much as I wanted to stay camped out on the living room couch today, fate--or rather, a breakdown of the heater in the main house--changed my mind. So I'm spending one last afternoon in the studio. One of the pleasures of this space is the plaques on which previous residents have signed off, including:

Enid Shomer (September-November 1999)
Marilyn Kallet (June 2000)
Dana Roeser (November-December 2000)
Daniel Nester (January 2001)
Ha Jin (July 2004)
Don Waters (March-April 2007)
Leigh Anne Couch (April-May 2007)
Josh Weil (June-July 2008)
Kelle Groom (August 2008)
Nancy Krygowski (October-November 2008 / "including the historic election day")
Carolyn Parkhurst (November 2008)
E. J. Levy (December 2008)

Tomorrow morning, I will add my name to the lineage of Studio W-1. I'll take one long, last look at VCCA--now beautifully avalanched in eight inches of snow. Then I'll get on the road. 

January 30, 2010

VCCA: 10

Inches of snow, here on the mountain. Inches & inches & inches. Upon waking, I went out first thing to idle my car for 20 minutes--I haven't driven in ten days, and I'm worried about having a dead battery for the drive back to DC on Monday. Trudging out to the parking lot in my pajama pants, boots, shearskin black formal coat, and yellow flowered umbrella, I was quite a sight. "Elegant," one of the women at breakfast called it, but she was being diplomatic.

Keeping it simple for today: camped out on the living room couch, still in my pajamas (satin snakeskin in shades of garnet and magenta, in case you were wondering), with an electric blanket between me and my laptop. If I were a man, I'd be fearing for my fertility right now. 6,000 words to write. Assuming I can make the progress needed, I already have a reward planned for each night: a screening of La Vie en rose, and reading Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Then home again, home again.

Eating: pecans
Listening to: Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful"
Missing: my fur-rimmed hat

This is what we call the end game, folks.

January 28, 2010

VCCA: 9 (on Moves)

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

--Dylan Thomas

There's an interesting discussion going on inspired by the list of "poetry moves" compiled by HTMLGIANT and Elisa Gabbert. Some folks debating what makes for a move versus a cliche or a tic. Personally, I do think they are different beasts. Some folks are responding as if the list is an implicit criticism of said moves, though Elisa clarifies that it's meant as a catalyst for self awareness (i.e., nothing inherently wrong with using them--just don't overuse them). Some folks think the list takes the magic out of poetry.

Hell, if all poets were forbidden from using all these moves, there'd be no one left. And then who would drink those big bottles of Bella Sera pinot grigio? Save the cheap wine industry! Keep writing.

The list is pretty accurate and, like Robert Andrew Perez, I admire how the examples chosen create a continuum between "big name" poets and emerging contemporaries. If you're a poet, and recognize your own work in these moves (and who doesn't?), your reaction to the list probably depends on the connotations you attach to "moves." If you're thinking "moves" = cheap seduction technique ("that Paris Review editor is totally putting the moves on that NYU undergrad") then this list may make you feel sleazy. If you're thinking "moves" = strategic tactics ("she's a conservative in her moves--Queen's pawn to d4, etc.") then this list may make you feel conventional.

In chess, as in poetry, there is often tension between those who refer to the "craft" and those who focus on the "art." I don't think those two approaches are mutually exclusive. Where poems thrive is in the overlap, just as the greatest chess masters made wildcard or irrational moves from time to time. But when people commit to terms for manufactured discussions such as these, "art" versus "craft" tends to be where the fault line lies.

It's a little strange that people are alarmed by this degree of navel-gazing toward one's style. To assemble a full-length manuscript is to confront your worst writing habits, isn't it? That's when you notice the things you do too much, even if they work on the level of individual poems. Speaking of which, on tics, cliches, and moves...

I end too many poems on the word "you" or "me." That's a tic; a bad habit of the muscle, a laziness particular to the author. When ordering Theories of Falling, I was embarrassed to have to re-shuffle some pages to avoid having two poems in a row end on the word "you."

A cliche, on the other hand, is a specific bit of language found everywhere. A cliche is defined by its lack of attachment to a particular author. Cliches are inert and neutral. They can be employed well (to ironic effect) or poorly (merely echoing previous usage).

A move is when I use "the humorous O" (HTMLGIANT's #17) as in this poem, "The Plays of Lilliput."    Judging from the list, a move is any phrasing that connects to a larger trend of syntactical construction, or invokes a known figuration/iconography, or references historical tradition. So...yep. My modern-day "O" only has meaning because of the precedent of tragic Greek apostrophe and no, I'm not the only poet to see humor in that contrast.

I am totally trying to pick up that 19-year-old. And I'll capture your bishop while I'm at it.

January 27, 2010


"Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off." - Raymond Chandler

Some of my favorite fellows are leaving in these 48 hours. I've gotten used to the sound of Tama's laugh, or the way Dave came barefoot to breakfast every morning. You can't sentimentalize these things. The commitment is to the work, not each other...still. 

The upside: my irrational drive to make each meal (contrary to my usual eating habits) for the sake of conversation will probably ebb. Maybe I can skip a few lunches in return for no interruption between 10 AM and 6 PM. Maybe I can work all not and not feel guilty for missing breakfast. Given the weak coffee and today's lunch options of pizza and cheddar-cauliflower soup, that seems pretty doable.

When I turned in my meal card I listed all my allergies, as asked. But I also wrote that I was not asking for accommodation. When something is safe, I eat it. When it's not, I don't. I've made no bones over a few salad-only meals. Yet last night, I poked my head into the kitchen to introduce myself to the chef--who just returned from a trip--and upon naming myself, she didn't say Hello or that must be tough for you. 

"Oh, yeah," she said, flicking her hand with a flash of recognition. "That's too much." 

Too much...what, exactly? For what?

Ah, ignore my grumpiness. The closer one gets to the end of a residency, the more you pick at little things. It's the subconscious strategy to become grateful to go home again. 

--AND...after finishing this post and dashing to dinner...not only had the chef put aside a plate of plain spinach for me (otherwise, tonight's salad was infiltrated by goat cheese), but she pulled me aside to warn me that the fish would not be safe tomorrow. So maybe I'm not too "too much." Maybe I just caught her at the wrong moment last night. Oh VCCA, why must you make it so hard to leave you?

*This quote is from this slideshow, on "Famous Literary Drunks and Drug Addicts." I enjoyed the catalogue, but it seems like a weird marketing ploy. Is anyone going to actually look at this, then say "I must have that portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald!" Who, by the way, had my second favorite quote: "First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."

January 26, 2010


So contrary to all expectation, I DID get that to-do done yesterday, and trudged back to my bed at 3:17 AM in the morning from the cold, cold studio. Which meant that today was respite and recharging. Specifically, I read Joanna Smith Rakoff's A Fortunate Age. 400 pages! Whew. The experience of truly stepping into the lives of multiple characters, followed over a span of many years, was both engrossing and exhausting. I enjoyed the book, melancholy as some of the storylines were, but it made me realize I've fallen out of the habit of reading long form. I tend to choose poetry, short story collections, or full-length nonfiction (that only tends to run 200 pages or so). This was whole-grain reading: slow to digest, but worth it.

The real world is starting to extend its siren call. Here are three events on the radar for the near future:

Saturday, January 30 - 7:30 PM at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD ($20 ticket) / 33rd Birthday Celebration with Pagan Kennedy and Carolyn Forche

Pagan Kennedy is the author of ten books in a variety of genres - from cultural history to biography to the novel. Her most recent novel, Confessions of a Memory Eater, was featured in Entertainment Weekly as an “EW pick.” Another novel, Spinsters, was short-listed for the Orange Prize. She also has been the recipient of a Barnes and Noble Discover Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a Smithsonian Fellowship for science writing.

Carolyn Forché is the author of four books of poetry: Blue Hour; The Angel of History, which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Country Between Us, which received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and Gathering the Tribes, which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets by Stanley Kunitz. She is also the editor of Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness.

Two amazing authors in support of the great cause, The Writer's Center. And speaking of big names...

Tuesday, February 2 - 8 PM Reading at Georgetown University in Washington, DC / The Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice presents John Ashberry

(Location: Copley Formal Lounge)

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York in 1927. His Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems won the 2008 Griffin International Prize for Poetry. The Library of America published the first volume of his Collected Poems in fall 2008. Planisphere, his latest volume of new poetry, was published by Ecco/HarperCollins in December 2009.

..and finally, the upcoming literary event nearest and dearest to my heart:

Wednesday, February 10 - 7 PM at the Arts Club of Washington at 2017, I St. NW / Rising Stars: Fiction Writers Dylan Landis and Joanna Smith Rakoff

Join the Arts Club as we host Dylan Landis and Joanna Smith Rakoff, two of our brightest contemporary talents, to celebrate their works of debut fiction. Readings will be followed by a question and answer session, then a light reception and booksigning. This free public event is part of an ongoing series at the Arts Club.

Dylan Landis is the author of the novel-in-stories Normal People Don't Live Like This, a Newsday Best Book of 2009 and finalist for the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Landis, a former newspaper reporter, has published stories in Bomb, Tin House, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. Honors for her work include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Poets & Writers Exchange Award. She lives in Washington, DC.

Joanna Smith Rakoff is the author of A Fortunate Age, one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Novels of 2009—a winner of the Elle Readers’ Prize, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and a Barnes and Noble’s First Look Book Club selection. She has written for many publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Vogue; her poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and other journals. She lives in New York City.

Elizabeth Strout, 2009 Pulitzer-Prize winner for Fiction, called Landis’s NORMAL PEOPLE DON’T LIVE LIKE THIS “a wonderful, intriguing and original debut.” Booklist, in a starred review, praised Smith Rakoff’s A FORTUNATE AGE for its “heartbreaking clarity.”

THE ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON is at 2017 I Street NW, near Foggy Bottom/GWU and Farragut West metro. Headquartered in the James Monroe House, a National Historic Landmark, the Club was founded in 1916 and is the oldest non-profit arts organization in the city. The Club’s mission is to foster public appreciation for the arts through educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.

January 25, 2010


Weird day. Only one to-do on my list, yet I couldn't quite...do it. At least, not yet. I did read Lucia Perillo's I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness and Nature, which was amazing. Here's a review of the book by Ron Slate, who does very thoughtful criticism over at his blog On the Seawall.

& I did dig into an issue of BOMB magazine that I'd brought from home. I love how the magazine spans multiple artistic genres: I dream of being reviewed in BOMB. I took it as an implicit endorsement that not one but two VCCA fellows picked it up off the couch beside me and attempted to carry it away, mistaking it for a house subscription

& I did eat too many slices of Stroehmann's whole wheat bread, which isn't even particularly grainy; it's the Disney version of whole wheat.

None of these things do a to-do make.


Thanks to Tayari Jones for pointing me toward this very smart, very true guide (if somewhat wordy) guide to online publicity by Lindsay Robertson. Here's my favorite tip, with the highlights in bold:

"2. Pick Eight Blogs"

"I went to drinks with the Brilliant Online Publicist one night, and asked her how she did such a good job while everyone else was failing. I was also curious about why she chose to invest so much time in the then pretty new (partially) TV-focused site I co-edited--frequently sending me emails about what was going on on one of her client’s shows at that very second, and asking me if I was interested in a clip. In probably the majority of cases, she’d nailed something that I actually was interested in, but hadn’t seen, because I was blogging constantly and couldn’t watch every goddamned TV show. With me, this publicist had a success rate of probably 60%, because she chose her content carefully and made sure it fit my needs. I’m sure she had a similar success rate with her other seven blogs.

Was she clairvoyant? No: she just actually READ MY BLOG and knew the kind of things I liked to write about. How did she have time to give so much attention to the needs of a then relatively small website? She told me her secret: she only publicizes to eight blogs. She picked the eight blogs that covered her client’s subject, TV, that she liked the most on a personal level, read them religiously, and only sent them only the content she thought each blog would be into. While the rest of the publicists in her company were sending out mass emails to everyone, hoping to get bites from Perez Hilton, Gawker, HuffPo, or wherever, this publicist focused on a lower traffic tier with the (correct) understanding that these days, content filters up as much as it filters down, and often the smaller sites, with their ability to dig deeper into the internet and be more nimble, act as farm teams for the larger ones. A site can be enormously influential without having crazy eyeballs, because all eyeballs are not equal. MANY times--I would say almost every time, that I posted one of her client’s items on my site, they were linked back within hours by the big guys, who probably would have tuned her out otherwise. As counter-intuitive as it might seem to publicists, the “pick eight blogs” (or however many, but a manageable number) strategy is much more successful than the throw it against the wall and see what sticks theory. It also has the added benefit of making the publicist feel like his or her hard work is meaningful, and that his or her successes are not flukes."


Someone called me "skinny" tonight at the dinner table. After all that bread! I could have kissed her.


It's almost 11 PM. I walked back in the cold (howling, or at least whistling, wind) to get to this damn studio. Fuzzy socks on. Back to work.

January 24, 2010


Last night I read Terrance Hayes’s Wind in a Box. An incredible book—full of moments when ideas behind the poems are so potent, lunging forward with life, that the format of lines on a page seems too pedestrian a way to process them. Even Hayes’s use of the same title, over and over (“Wind in a Box”; “The Blue Terrance”) seems to say Is this really the best construct you can come up with? We need some other form to hold these poems: an octagon that can swivel. A steel trap than can swallow. A Pythagorean triangle with wings. 


--after Lorca

I want to always sleep beneath a bright red blanket 
of leaves. I want to never wear a coat of ice. 
I want to learn to walk without blinking.

I want to outlive the turtle and the turtle’s father, 
the stone. I want a mouth full of permissions

and a pink glistening bud. If the wildflower and ant hill 
can return after sleeping each season, I want to walk 
out of this house wearing nothing but wind.

I want to greet you, I want to wait for the bus with you 
weighing less than a chill. I want to fight off the bolts

of gray lighting the alcoves and winding paths 
of your hair. I want to fight off the damp nudgings 
of snow. I want to fight off the wind.

I want to be the wind and I want to fight off the wind 
with its sagging banner of isolation, its swinging

screen doors, its gilded boxes, and neatly folded pamphlets 
of noise. I want to fight off the dull straight lines 
of two by fours and endings, your disapprovals,

your doubts and regulations, your carbon copies. 
If the locust can abandon its suit,

I want a brand new name. I want the pepper’s fury 
and the salt’s tenderness. I want the virtue 
of the evening rain, but not its gossip.

I want the moon’s intuition, but not its questions. 
I want the malice of nothing on earth. I want to enter

every room in a strange electrified city 
and find you there. I want your lips around the bell of flesh

at the bottom of my ear. I want to be the mirror, 
but not the nightstand. I do not want to be the light switch. 
I do not want to be the yellow photograph

or book of poems. When I leave this body, Woman, 
I want to be pure flame. I want to be your song.

-Terrance Hayes

Just buy the damn book already. 

January 22, 2010


I had a wonderful time in Richmond. The space was unexpectedly grand--a quiet sunken courtyard, surrounded by marble and classical landscapes, several hallways into the heart of the museum. I'd chose the types of poems one would read in a bar, expecting the blues band would be within earshot, and so I had to do a quick reshuffling of my set list. The ode to ass-slapping no longer felt apropos.

Kazim Ali once claimed, at the beginning of a reading, that the pleasure of having books in print was that you could read the pages straight through; you'd already gone to the trouble of perfecting an organic order. I disagree. I consider different things when reading aloud. Sometimes you need to sink the hook with a short, funny poem. Sometimes you have to skip a poem rife with visual puns or wordplay.

The audience was attentive (almost to the point of being stone-faced, though a few much-welcome bursts of laughter assured me the poems were finding their mark). Some folks stayed for both the 6:30 PM and 7 PM sets--that's a lot of poetry!--and I sold a few books. One man touched me by bringing copies of poems he had found on the Internet, in hopes he could follow along. I had two requests. Afterwards I was treated to a lovely dinner at Can Can by one of the hosts, her husband, and an editor of Blackbird, a Richmond/VCU-) based journal that has been incredibly good to me. I'm usually wary of French restaurants, but they did a great job. Scallops with diced squash, bacon, Brussels sprouts and currants; perfectly rare salmon over kale and tomatoes, in a cider broth. A little lit gossip, a lot of laughter.

It felt like a lucky gig, even if it was a day that included six hours of driving, in the icy rain, even if the radio stations between Amherst and Richmond are of no use, even if it was all for the honorarium of....a water bottle (minus the cost of parking). This is an important part of why I'm a poet: nights like this.


I particularly like the excerpt from Nick Flynn's The Ticking Is the Bomb that is the current top feature at the Poetry Out Loud blog; it makes me want to read the book. Go check it out. 

January 20, 2010


Ooof, ooof, ooof. The last 24 hours were hijacked: a flight to book, a photoshoot to schedule, a poetry reading to reschedule, an new editor to chat with, a crisis to untangle...all accompanied by the endless pitter-patter of emails at my door. I managed to finish Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries, and give a reading to my fellow fellows with the lovely Mary Buford Hitz, and--that's it. Lost time. 

This reminds me a little bit of my first two days at Jentel, which were spent sorting out my health insurance and some other pressing matters. Each time I needed to make a phone call, I had to hike the half-mile to the hilltop where reception could be found; each time the person on the other end of the line asked for me to reference an email, I had to hike back down to where my laptop could get internet. Life happens. 

Tomorrow (Thursday, January 21) I'll make my way to Richmond to read two sets of poems (at 6:30 & 7 PM) as part of the "Art After Hours" program at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Do come if you're nearby--there looks to be quite a bit going on, including live blues from Mo DeBree, who covers everything from Etta James to Susan Tedeschi. After that I will return to VCCA to burrow, then workworkwork. 

To return to my lone victory, which was getting a little reading done.... The Adderall Diaries was an interesting book.***  I went into it worried that the mixing of memoir material and true crime would seem self-indulgent. Part of Elliott's (pre)occupation throughout is the trial he is supposedly covering for his next book (i.e., this book), in which a computer-engineer ex-husband has been accused of the brutal murder of his onetime Russian mail-order bride. Complicating that trial is the pseudo-confession of the woman's first post-divorce boyfriend (also the husband's best friend) that he has killed no less than "eight and a half" people. But he's sketchy on names. Does his victim list include the Russian mother-of-two, who had since left this guy for another boyfriend entirely? Complicating that is the fact that this confessor has more than a few friends and girlfriends in common with...Elliott, since they are all part of the same California BDSM culture. 

Got that straight? Yeah, me neither--but it makes sense when you read it. The book is truly a victory of voice. Elliott's writing is so disarmingly frank and observant that you find yourself nodding along as if you, too, have had the ennui of watching one girlfriend finger-trace insults pinpricked into your upper thigh by another girlfriend. He doesn't sensationalize, even when he's addressing some pretty murky and/or salacious scenes. He finds enough lyric parallels between the many stories (the couple, the confessing friend, his father's, his own) that the story has a woof and weave, but he doesn't try to tie up all the loose ends into a pretty bow at the end. I like this book. I respect it. 

***(Also, I should mention that the book as an object is perfectly in synch with the book's thematic focus. The binding feels like a strip of electrical tape you'd apply to a composition book, right as it starts to lose its pages--the well-worn notebook you're using as a journal. The font is easy enough on the eyes, not froufrou. The cover image of two figures in the woods--their flashlight arcs combining to evoke a heart--doesn't seem all that relevant at first, but you will have an aha! moment.)

January 19, 2010

January 18, 2010


One of the books I brought here to jump-start my nonfiction writing is Sweet Invisible Body: Reflections on a Life with Diabetes, by Lisa Roney. You can get a sense of the book's scope and tone from this interview with the author.  On page 103 I found a handwritten post-it note, in blue felt-tip ink, that reads as follows:


Dear Margie,

I'm sending these books to you. Something to read & I hope it will interest you. Hang in there. I experienced same before my mom died.


I was initially interested in this book because Roney is doing with diabetes what I hope to do with the food allergy book: write accessible narrative about a subject that has only been addressed in either medical guides or recipe books. What I like about the book is it's close attention to detail, and the way it uses thematic rather than chronological hubs. That said, I'd like for my book to feel a bit less "memoir"-like than this, a bit more grounded in factual research outside the self. 

But this post-it hit me hard, because it captures a glimpse of my target audience: the person who wants to read something that brushes up against her life, but ultimately lifts her beyond her own painful circumstance. Not the English major or the critic so much as the daughter bearing witness for her mother, or the mother worried for her newly-diagnosed daughter. The person who needs to hear this is all part of a larger story.

January 17, 2010


Finally settled in at Virginia Center for Creative Arts--which I just noticed now has a blog--after arriving around midnight on Friday. It is always frustrating to leave DC later than intended, particularly when one gets trapped by the HOV rules for Route 66 (meaning that if you don't have 3+ folks in the car, you can't drive from 3:30 to 6:30 PM). I used the extra hours wisely, though. Just trust me.  

And honestly, I would have arrived just in time for a dinner that might have killed me. If I have to take a chance on meals, I usually guess that the vegetables are safe. But the next morning I learned the chef's technique consists of "butter, salt and pepper." Which meant that tonight, my dinner consisted of falafel (minus the cucumber sauce) and bare greens. Ineligible for consideration: beef stew, egg noodles, peas. Ah well. With the nature of social eating at art colonies--in which you graze and graze, simply as an excuse to continue the conversation--I need an involuntary fast or two. 

Notice how I rationalize falafel as "fasting"?

Yesterday was all a matter of nesting: introducing myself to other residents, unpacking, running out for things I'd forgotten to pack, and buying a planter of tulips, croci and daffodils for a studio that desperately needed a spot of color. The "watercolors of nature" calendar thumb-tacked to the bulletin board emphatically did not count. Who wants to be reminded of the dwindling days at an art colony?

There is a better couch in the living room. There is a new and disturbing plethora of stink bugs. The grounds are a bit muddy, but not nearly as icy as when I was last here in January 2005. It was quite a shock, upon walking into the studio kitchen, to find a poem I'd thumbtacked to the bulletin board way back when. The poem appeared in Theories of Falling under a different title, with a different dedication, and the paper is now brittle and curling at the edges. But there it was.

January 11, 2010

Too Much Information

I've just had a breakthough idea on how to frame a freelance article I'm working on. The idea came to me in the bathtub, which is often where creative breakthroughs happen. (That would make for a heck of a BAP contributor's note: Beasley writes, "While in the bathtub"....)


The idea did not come to me after a 1 AM viewing of Mamma Mia!, which is unfortunate, because I was really hoping to rationalize that as a productive use of my time. I'm embarrassed to enjoy that movie as much as I do. Julie Walters' gung-ho performance is one of the main reasons, as are the numbers "Dancing Queen" (oddly tuneful) and "Money, Money, Money" (gloriously cheesy).


There is a rotisserie chicken in my refrigerator with "sell by" date of December 28, 2009. Last year's poultry. That bothers me, but it's not my chicken to throw away, and the owner insists he can still find use in it. I am not responsible for whatever follows from here.


I'm writing. Just not on the blog, not this week. But next week I'll be at Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and I look forward to posting a tour. I'll be there through the end of January, other than sneaking out for a night to read poetry at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' "Art After Hours" program on Thursday, January 21, with sets at 6:30 & 7 PM. If you're in the area, come on out!

January 06, 2010

Best American Poetry 2010

I couldn't ask for better news to kick off a year: I've learned that my poem "Unit of Measure" has been selected by guest editor Amy Gerstler for inclusion in the 2010 Best American Poetry anthology, which will be published in the fall.

I'm really honored. Frankly, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I've been a faithful reader of the series for years.

Congratulations, too, to Hailey Leithauser, an incredible poet whose poem "The Old Woman Gets Drunk with the Moon" (first published in Pleiades) will also be included. Hailey and I were first page-neighbors in the 2005 Best New Poets, so there is a lovely symmetry in experiencing this together.

Thank you, BAP folks (not just Amy Gerstler, but series editor David Lehman, Mark Bibbins, and all at Scribner who produce such a beautiful book)--

Thank you, editors at Poetry (where the poem first appeared, in the July/August '09 issue)--

& most of all:

Thank you, capybaras!

January 05, 2010

In Praise of Public Libraries

Over at Norton's Poems Out Loud blog, I have a new essay up, "In Praise of Public Libraries." I wanted to tease out some of the ways that libraries serve a vital purpose to a community's readers and writers, even in this age of Amazon.com and the internet.

Here's a brief excerpt, from a section on what I call "the rule of thumbs":

"...I mean actual thumbs, the thumbs of readers who came before you. In libraries we recognize the judgment of touch; the best books are usually in the shabbiest shape. Every dog-eared corner marks a moment worth returning to. Every splotch of soy sauce is a medal of honor. Every creased binding proves hours spent using one hand to Xerox, or iron, or whatever the day required, while clutching in the other hand a story that could not be put down. When I first began browsing my way through the science fiction stacks, I didn’t choose books that looked like pristine runway models. I chose the grizzled field veterans. That’s how I came to Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Would I have found them at Borders? I don’t think so. In stores you stand before a sea of untouched editions. You drift toward volumes with striking designs, perfect trim sizes, showy end-of-aisle displays; that’s the tidal pull of good marketing. There’s nothing to judge by but cover after cover. I once picked up Fahrenheit 451 in a store, only to put it down again. The book was too small and tightly bound, the ink too fresh and smelly. The plot looked interesting, but lots of plots look interesting. The copy lacked the magnetism of a library’s dozen broken-in paperbacks, each loved into near oblivion."

Please check out the rest of the essay here. And if your local library (or librarian) has been feeling down, maybe you can send them a link? They need to know how deeply they are appreciated.

January 02, 2010

New Year, New Anthology

Tonight I'm headed to Baltimore for a celebration of the i.e. reader, just out from Narrow House. I read in the i.e. series in April 2008 with Les Wade and Kristi Maxwell--great crowd, dramatic space, lovely evening.

My work lands a little more on the narrative side than most of the i.e. poets, which means I'm particularly grateful for the opportunity to be included. If poets constantly draw toward the extremes of their aesthetic, then we end up with perfect--and isolated--aesthetic spheres. I'd rather work along the messy edges, where there can be exchanges of overlap and inspiration.

With poems from...

Elena Alexander, Bruce Andrews, Michael Ball, Sandra Beasley, Lauren Bender, Bill Berkson, Charles Bernstein, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Miles Champion, Norma Cole, CA Conrad, Bruce Covey, Tina Darragh, Ben Doller, Sandra Doller, Buck Downs, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, kari edwards, Cathy Eisenhower, Graham Foust, Heather Fuller, Peter Gizzi, Adam Good, Jamie Gaughran-Perez, K. Lorraine Graham, Jessica Grim, P. Inman, Lisa Jarnot, Bonnie Jones, Beth Joselow, Michael Kelleher, Amy King, Doug Lang, Katy Lederer, Reb Livingston, M. Magnus, Tom Mandel, Chris Mason, Kristi Mexwell, Megan McShea, Anna Moschovakis, Gina Myers , Chris Nealon, Mel Nichols, Aldon Nielsen, Tom Orange, Bob Perelman, Simon Pettet, Tom Raworth, Adam Robinson, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Ric Royer, Ken Rumble, Justin Sirois, Rod Smith, Cole Swensen, Maureen Thorson, Chris Toll, Edwin Torres, Les Wade, Rosemarie Waldrop, Ryan Walker, Mark Wallace, Terence Winch, Rupert Wondolowski, John Yau, & Geoffrey Young.

Alexandra Stevens over at Radar Redux posted an article on the anthology that includes a mention of my poem "Cast of Thousands" (which will also be in I Was the Jukebox). Thanks, Radar Redux! Mark Wallace had some good words for the collection as well.

If you're in B'more, please joins us for tonight's reading and celebration:

Saturday, January 2, 2010
8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
LOF/t (Load of Fun Theater)
120 W. North Ave
Baltimore, MD