March 30, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I am settled down in DC for the week, putting together a little video in celebration of National Poetry Month, working away on the nonfiction book (more on that in my latest She Writes "Countdown to Publication" post, here) and watching the rain fall. 

March is a month of birthdays for me, and according to a quick skim of the astrological charts, the pairings of Aries and we Taurus types--my birthday is May 5--tends to be predicated on "strong determination, honesty, and passion for life." That seems like a fair and fairly flattering statement. Also bonding us: games. Whether Trivial Pursuit, Spades, or Chess, the men around me are always game-lovers.  

On Saturday I headed down to Charlottesville for my friend Dave's birthday (where we played Kings, complete with a prep round of Irish Car Bombs). On the long stretch down 29 I thought about small(er) town life. I miss CVille sometimes, and not just because of Bodo's Bagels, though that is a significant factor. I miss impromptu trips up to Skyline Drive. I miss the restaurants and shops of the Downtown Mall. Someday I'd like a house where I can invite a big group of friends over, without wondering where they will sit. 

On a bus ride to New York City for the Poets & Writers Birthday Gala, I sat next to a woman coming from North Carolina. She said she saw more shows--concerts, plays, art exhibits--in Greensboro than she did when she lived in a city. "If there's only one or two big things coming through each month," she said, "you make sure to be there." 

Hmmm.  You know, I have no idea where I'm going to be a year from now. I love DC, but this is the most portable my life has ever been. Which is another way of saying "rootless." Which is another way of saying, oddly lonely. Even at my busiest. Especially at my busiest. 

Speaking of big things going on, this Thursday (April 1) I am hosting Dylan Landis and Joanna Smith Rakoff at the Arts Club of Washington (2017 I Street NW). They will each be reading from their amazing books of debut fiction: Normal People Don't Live Like This and A Fortunate Age. We'll start at 7 PM, with a Q&A and chance to mingle afterwards; if you're around, please join us. 

It's time to toast the start of spring, rain and all. 

March 29, 2010

21 Poets Recommend Recent Books of Poetry

Ron Slate has done it again! In celebration of National Poetry Month, Ron asked 21 poets to offer recommendations for new or recent books of poetry. Here are my two April picks:

Knock Knock by Heather Hartley 
Carnegie Mellon UP; published January 8, 2010.
80 pages, $15.95 paperback

I do not know how Heather Hartley came to be living in France, where she is the Paris Editor for Tin House and a co-director of the Shakespeare & Co. Literary Festival. Perhaps her muses beckoned her there, since in Knock Knock I find many hallmarks of the European Surrealists: surprising juxtaposition, non sequiturs, and, at times, a dark gallows humor. "His fork outlasted his fuck," declares the title poem, without explanation or apology. "His landlord was the king of butter." Yet unlike Andre Breton and the original Dada-ist generation, Hartley develops these poems as art, and not the mere artifact of philosophical discourse. Her lines are measured and purposeful and her images unforgettable, such as "the Slavic sandman in his fur cap" who "slings mud and spare ribs instead of sweet dreams."

My favorite poems from the collection are centered on a naturalistic, seemingly consistent first-person speaker; a woman with wry intelligence who is both resigned and resigned to hope. These vignettes glimmer with compassion, as in this excerpt from "Advice for the Hirsute":

... The lawyer has lost her mind but O she can dance.
For years, she didn't like her hands
but you can only hide them so long, I said, a girl's got only so many pockets.
(Now she's in love with them like a teenage girl.)

If I gave you the same gift again, wrapped differently,
but the exact same thing,
would you be happy again, a second time?


Mayweed by Frannie Lindsay 
The Word Works; published February 1, 2010. 
76 pages, $15.00 paperback

Frannie Lindsay's third collection, Mayweed, operates in a different emotional register: meditative, grieving, at times painterly. I have been a fan of Lindsay's work throughout her renaissance career -- after many years of no poetry, focusing instead on performing as a classically trained pianist, Lindsay has published three books within five years of each other. This burst of output aligns with the unpacking of a painful family history, which sees a natural summation in this volume as a daughter comes to terms with the death of the man who was both father and abuser. Such wrenching material can overwhelm the craft of a lesser poet but Lindsay keeps a tight reign, revealing tension primarily though relentless enjambment and stark image. As in Knock Knock, Mayweed throws us some fantastic curveball moments, as in the opening of the poem "Visiting Hours":

Sometimes he tried to crank the bed by himself,
and his baby blue snowflaked gown would ride up
and there was his drowsy penis that meant nothing to him,
his thigh skin gathered like prom gown taffeta ...

Both these books refreshed my thoughts on mortality; both stayed with me long after the first reading, and the second, and the third.

Check out the titles suggested by other poets--including Katie Ford, Tony Hoagland, Dara Wier, and Jericho Brown--by clicking here.

March 22, 2010

An Interview with Vrzhu (Or: On Zebras)

Thanks to Michael Gushue and the folks at Vrzhu Press for posting an interview with me over at their blog. Here's an excerpt:

Vrzhu: Truth and poetry. Laura Riding famously gave up poetry in part because she felt it couldn’t tell the truth.  Obviously, we know that the voice in and of the poem is not the same as the poet, or least is not co-extensive with the poet, but in a larger sense, how important is capital T Truth to a poem or poetry?  You said above that in poetry you seek brilliance. What makes up the brilliant in poetry?
Sandra Beasley: Capital T Truth is only recognized in hindsight. So I agree, it is important--but you have to have a certain amount of arrogance to keep writing without knowing if what you're getting at is Truth, or just a convincing facsimile, or utter hyperbole. You'll never know for sure, and maybe Riding grew weary of that doubt. There's no shame in deciding you have better ways to spend a life,
Trying to define brilliance in concrete terms is going to make me sound like an ass. I know; I've tried. All I can say is that you have to try something new. You have to enter a poem without being confident that the subject or language at hand can, in fact, constitute a good poem. Taking the risk is critical--and when you read it, you know it. Some contemporary poets I've read whose work carries (for me) that spark of genius are Bob Hicok, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Matthea Harvey, Josh Bell, and Gabrielle Calvocoressi. But don't tell them I said that. You'll freak 'em out. I suspect it's a terrible burden, brilliance.
Vrzhu: Related question: Plato put forth two famous statements about poetry.  In the Ion, he said that poets do not contain the genius that writes the poems, but are possessed by the Muse who works through them, in the same way that a paperclip held by a magnet becomes magnetic itself.  In The Republic, he banned poets from the Just City because they lied about the gods: they did not tell the truth.  Agree, disagree, or something else with these two views?
Sandra Beasley: This is the stuff of dissertations, not interviews! I like that you're asking the question, I just wish I wasn't the one charged with answering. The Muse is a potent and unpredictable force, and I know that favorite poems of my own tend to be the ones somewhat untraceable in their origin. I assume that's the Muse at work. And of course, poets lie. Rampantly. Mercilessly. All the while justifying it, in pursuit of the Capital T Truth. Can't live with us, can't banish us from the Just City without a fight.
There's a gap between the way we're talking about poets, in these last few questions, and the everyday reality of writing poems and moving them out into the world. We're supposed to honor being possessed by the Muse, and write accordingly--yet also get kids to school, make a stir-fry for dinner, work, pay our taxes on time, and love the people around us. That doesn't even touch the professional side of submitting and publishing, all the while trying to maintain your integrity and passion. Let's not even pretend there's a Platonic balance to be attained; there is only the joys and sorrows of the act of balancing. To be a poet is to be a zebra standing on a marble, trying to make it look like it's all going according to plan.
& You can find the full interview here.

March 17, 2010

This Has Nothing to Do With My Book

Jukebox has been spotted everywhere from Open Books in Seattle to the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver to my local Barnes & Noble. I am shocked. I am thrilled. And I very tired of talking about me. 

I worry you're tired of me talking about me, as well. So without further ado, here are three things that have caught my eye over the past week. They have nothing to do with me. That's a good thing.


AXIS integrates abled and disabled performers to create startling, original compositions that have toured from their California home to over 60 U.S. cities, Europe, and Siberia. One of their core principles is that each performer is contributing equally; no one is being "accommodated." If you think about it, someone in a wheelchair has a unique geometry--a vocabulary of motion that doesn't limit the performance, but instead expands it. There are some paraplegics with the most stunning upper-body strength you will ever witness.

You can follow this link to a page with videos from past performances. Those living in Charlottesville are in particular luck, since AXIS is making a visit for a U.Va residency March 22-26: details here. 

A close poet-friend of mine, who has cerebral palsy, had the life-changing experience of working with the LAVA troupe in New York to produce a show called "Tides." So I can say with some firsthand knowledge: this is not a gimmick. This is art. And a lot of really, really hard work.


From the sublime to the sublimely teacher-turned-activist is taking on school lunches, one tray at a time. Concerned about the nutritional contents of the food being dished to her students--and the scarce time they are being given to gulp it down-- "Mrs. Q" (who fears losing her job over this project) is quietly documenting the 2010 cafeteria offerings at her anonymous blog, Fed Up with Lunch.  Mrs. Q also features guest posts from nutritionists and teachers at other schools. I particularly enjoyed an entry recounting an American teacher in Japan's experience with a holiday meal in celebration of Hinamatsuri (the "Doll's Festival," celebrated on March 3). The blog has already earned a roster of fans including the New York Times' Mark Bittman. One lone point of contention with what is an otherwise rightful alarm: tater tots. How can you not be pro-tater-tot?


I'm not particularly well-versed in OK Go's catalogue--I'm a lot more excited about the new Josh Ritter album coming out--but I fell in love with this video for "This Too Shall Pass," off their album "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky." The only thing more lovable than tater tots, after all, is a Rube Goldberg contraption. They play fast and loose with some of the connecting mechanisms, particularly when gravity is involved. But this is very much in the spirit of my 1988 edition of Mouse Trap.

March 15, 2010

Hanging In

T h e   ...    b o o k  ...   h a s   ...    l a n d e d.

Get a behind-the-scenes tour over at She Writes via my latest "Countdown to Publication" post. is shipping the book early--the pub date is April 5--and at an eight-dollar savings. I was at Busboys & Poets on Friday and there were four copies there! In the wild! The book will be stocked at Politics & Prose as well. If I can just get into Kramerbooks, I'll be in heaven. 

On Friday I attended sessions for the Split This Rock conference. There is something very odd about attending a conference in one's hometown; it's difficult to break away from the apron strings of errands and emails. (This makes me a little fearful for AWP 2011.) But the programs were great, and highlights included the Affrilachian Poets event, where I finally got to meet Frank X. Walker--who selected me as the winner of the Poets & Writers Exchange Award--and readings by Jeffrey McDaniel, Jan Beatty, and my friend Natalie E. Illum.

Jan Beatty closed her set with a hypnotizing poem, "I Shoot You," which appears in the anthology The Why and Later, edited by Carly Sachs--another conference teacher. 

In other news: I just finished catching up on the second season of Breaking Bad, and it was really great--and devastating. Irises are on sale at Trader Joe's for $3.99 a bundle. The cranberries on the acorn squash burned (too much maple syrup, too little olive oil). I have a book to write, and the days are flying by. Sigh.

March 10, 2010

Here and Now(ish)

Alison Stine has big book news. Congrats, Ali!

While I am thinking of it, another amazing poet you should know about: Heather Hartley.


Next week I'm looking forward to a whole lotta Writer's Center. On Sunday the 14th, a Board meeting. On Friday (March 19), Story/Stereo featuring amazing Seattle-based poet Kathleen Flenniken, Anthony Varallo, and the musical guest More Humans. On Saturday (March 20), the "Writing the Future" Conference cosponsored by Lee Gutkind and the recently redesigned Creative Nonfiction. (I have no idea how I crept onto the schedule for this, as I am speaking alongside so many people--Nick Bilton, Richard Nash, Peter Ginna--way more important than I am. It's not too late to sign up; details here.) If you come for the conference, be sure to stick around for CNF's "relaunch" party that night. On Sunday (March 21), an Open House for spring/summer workshops and a 33rd Birthday Celebration featuring readings by Carolyn Forche and Pagan Kennedy (rescheduled from February snows).

All of this is just a prelude to the challenge of April, when I begin teaching my first multi-course workshops at the Writer's Center. I am offering two, both on Tuesdays, six sessions each beginning April 20 and running through the end of May.

The first (daytime) workshop is called "From Heart to Page: Writing About Family." It addresses the needs of folks with a variety of experience. I am mindful that for a lot of us, me included, our families are our first subjects. The description: "Those around us cast their shadows on the page; it's natural to write about loved ones. But where is the line between life and art? Which of the 10,000 details from memory makes it into the poem? In this workshop, we'll focus on building poems from the material of family stories, and look at relevant poets such as Stanley Kunitz and Sharon Olds. For the first meeting, bring 15 copies of a draft."

The second (evening) workshop is called "Poets Teaching Poets: Theory and Practice." It's intended for more advanced students, and I approached it by asking what I wish I could get out of a workshop, right now, if I enrolled in one. This is what I came up with: "Good poets become great poets by embracing a theory of their craft that pushes them to aim beyond clever word choices and line breaks. In this workshop, we'll frame our discussions using engaging and inspiring essays on craft from poets such as Gregory Orr, Eavan Boland, and Tony Hoagland. For the first meeting, bring 15 copies of two poems: a poem that you love, and a draft of your own."

I hope they go well. I hope enough people sign up that I even have the chance to find out if they CAN go well. If you know someone who might be interested in enrolling in either one, please spread the word! I know, budgets are tight these days. But if you break it down, the per-week cost is no more than a night's happy-hour tab. Trust me, we will make these two hours happy enough to justify the trade!

Okay, that sounds a little more salacious than I meant it to.


Issue 3 of Cerise Press, which includes my poem "On the Occasion of Your Wedding," has gone live. I've always harbored the dream of having a poem of mine read at someone's wedding. Mind you, I don't want to write it FOR their wedding. That would make me terribly self-conscious. Weddings already make me very self-conscious; everyone's eating cake, which means that no one can kiss or touch me without setting off my allergies. It's bad enough being the only 30 year old trying to catch the bouquet, without being covered in hives. When I get married, we're using one of those fancy silver knives to cut a giant Swedish Fish in half instead.


I had some friends over last night for wine and board games. The subject of Facebook came up. We all admitted: we find it creepy when you use a profile picture of his your baby in lieu of your own face. A shot of you holding the kid is fine. But you are not your child. There's some kind of weird subliminal-life-priority thing going on there.

Can you tell none of us were parents?

March 08, 2010


There are ten reasons I could give you as to why I have not posted for the past week, all reasonably accurate. They include:
  • Four days of allergy conferencing in New Orleans.
  • Four days of Sazeracs, Abita, and oysters in New Orleans.
  • Four days of convincing conversations with poets and bartenders on the topic of "Why you should move to New Orleans."
  • A one-two-three homecoming punch of introducing John Burnside (loved him!) and Patricia Smith at the Folger, followed by hearing Jen Chang, Ed Skoog, and Gregory Pardlo at American University, and culminating in an Arts Club reading with Tom Healy (who sold out his books) and Gabrielle Calvocoressi (who, bless her, popped $70 to make it in time from a cross-country flight that landed at Dulles at 5:30 PM).
  • The harsh reality of my dirty and mail-cluttered house. In trying to clean my kitchen, I succeeded spattering my shirt in bleach. Drat.
  • Two weeks of Sunday newspapers to catch up on.
  • The battle to lose five pounds gained on the aforementioned trip New Orleans. It's hard to blog on the energy provided by balsamic-drizzled greens alone. My battle would probably go better if I stopped eating my salads with sides of corn chips.
  • A side trip to the Phillips Collection to see the new Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit, which focuses on her abstract work. Such a richly curated collection--drawing on many private holdings--and I loved the way the captioning really focused on O'Keeffe, rather than her relationships with Steiglitz et al.
  • A flurry of email-jockeying to confirm my schedule, which is now locked up through late July. In part that's because of a thingamajig I will tell you about soon. It's a good thingamajig, the kind with shiny gold rivets and a waterproof whistle.
But reason number ten is the real reason: amidst my clutter of mail was an unobtrusive envelope book. My. Book. An advance copy of I Was the Jukebox.


Now, it is beautiful. They spelled my name right. On the table of contents, "In the Dee" got fixed to "In the Deep." They embossed my signature on the interior hardback. I am thrilled.

I'm also a little thrown. Because I've got another 27 days to go (and the latest She Writes "Countdown" post to prove it) before this is supposed to be a reality. In all of my strategizing for the spring, "not until I get the book" was my way of holding off the maelstrom. Worrying about reviews, or lack thereof? Plenty of time! The book doesn't even exist yet. Planning the details of a DC book party? I'll feel ready once I have the book in hand. Needing to write two chapters of nonfiction in March, to stay on schedule? I'll take care of it before the book comes.

Well, guess what, lady. The book is here.

March 01, 2010

On the Run

I've been quiet because I've been in New Orleans--but I'm dashing back to DC in time for this:

Patricia Smith & John Burnside
at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Monday, March 1 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $12
201 East Capitol Street, SE

"Soulful, impassioned poets Smith and Burnside create poems that shimmer with magic. Patricia Smith is the author of five poetry volumes. Her most recent, Blood Dazzler, which chronicles the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, was a 2008 National Book Award finalist. She is a four-time individual champion in the National Poetry Slam. Scottish poet John Burnside has published numerous collections, including Feast Days and The Asylum Dance, winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award. His latest collection is The Hunt in the Forest. Burnside, also a novelist, teaches at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

Conversation moderated by poet Sandra Beasely."

Yeah, I know, with my name is misspelled. But an honor's an honor! I love what my friend Ethelbert says about Smith's work: “Smith writes the way Tina Turner sings.” I've been reading through Blood Dazzler here in New Orleans, which is both eerie and illuminating.

I also popped up a new "Countdown" post over at She Writes, debuting another poem-video, this time for "I Don't Fear Death." Here it is...