April 23, 2010

"I sort of defenestrated poetry all together"

In 2007, Virginia's Poetry Out Loud state champion, Alanna Rivera, took third place in the Poetry Out Loud National Finals. She won a sizable scholarship and round-trip plane tickets to anywhere in the USA. I was so proud to cheer her on as her coach. Here's a snippet from the interview she gave at the time to the NEA. 

NEA: What's your favorite memory from the National Finals?

ALANNA RIVERA: My favorite memory from the National Finals was meeting Garrison Keillor. He inspired me to wear my favorite sneakers.

NEA: Has the program increased your interest in poetry or in performing?

RIVERA: When I was younger I used to write poems but was so unsatisfied that I sort of defenestrated poetry all together. I started out thinking that I was doing this all for the sake of performing, but I ended up reestablishing my relationship with poetry. I like it again, but I don't love it, because we still don't know each other that well.


NEA: You said in your Poetry Out Loud bio that you participate in jazz band and marching band. Did your knowledge of music affect the way you delivered the poems?

RIVERA: In jazz you learn the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the musicians, though sometimes it takes you a while to hear them. I think poetry is a lot like that. Reciting a poem is like a jazz solo: you're allowed to play your heart out, but you have to respect what the composer was feeling when he gave you those twelve or sixteen bars. You play for yourself, but you also play for the people who couldn't be there to voice their opinions, and you tell everybody what they had to say. My musical background helped me in understanding that I was no longer the musician, I was the musical instrument.


I bet that girl is gonna go very, very far. Recently, the NEA interviewed me about working with Alanna, and about the value of keeping poetry recitation alive through the Poetry Out Loud competition. You can find that interview here. An excerpt:

NEA: Obviously the POL competitors get a lot out of working with mentors. What did you get out of being a coach?

BEASLEY: When I worked with Alanna, she was at the exact same age as I was when I first fell in love with poetry. As an adult, poetry is a career; I have a degree, a professional community, some formal goals. But once upon a time poetry was an elusive and fancy fish, glimmering in the very crowded river of 1,000 other high school fascinations. It was fun to see that same glimmer catch Alanna’s eye, and to be reminded that art must first and foremost be enjoyed for art’s sake.

NEA: What do you think are the benefits for students in learning to memorize and recite poetry?

BEASLEY: In memorizing poems, you return the art to its ancient origins, as a way of preserving stories and voices, and passing them from one generation to the next, that can never be denied. The poem becomes embedded in your muscle memory. I can’t think of Emily Dickinson’s “My life closed twice before its close–” without thinking of how it felt, as a nine-year-old, pacing back and forth across the shag carpet of my grandmother’s living room as I repeated the stanzas over and over to myself. I could be locked in prison someday, deprived of access to all paper, but no one can take that poem away from me. 

This year's nationals take place April 26-27, at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. If you're interested in attending--these events are free and open to the public--find out more here.


In other news...Raisin Bran is the unhealthiest breakfast cereal? Seriously? I feel betrayed.

April 21, 2010

Publisher's Weekly Review!

From the April 19 issue of Publisher's Weekly:

I Was the Jukebox    Sandra Beasley.   
Norton, $24.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-393-07651-6

More fun than most recent books, Beasley's second collection can also get quite serious: in the best parts, the poet pretends she is any number of nonhuman things—a jukebox, an orchid, the Egyptian god Osiris, an eggplant (in a sestina), grains of sand. She also writes “love poems” to big ideas: “Love Poem for College” begins “You hit on me. You hit on everyone.” Beasley portrays the sometimes chaotic landscape between sex and love, youth and adulthood, the young men and women who hope for everything and the grownups who settle for less. “For an hour I forgot my fat self./ My neurotic innards, my addiction to alignment,” says the piano, remembering when she was played. In “Another Failed Poem About Music,” “even the name” of a percussion instrument, “triangle... is a perfect betrayal.” Beasley can sound regretful, but also flirtatious: “You are the loneliest of the three bears,” she says in “Love Poem for Wednesday,” “hoping/ to come home and find someone in your bed.” If Beasley's conceits owe something to Kenneth Koch, her tone and her subjects might place her with chick lit, too: this is a book that could go a long way. (Apr.)

Holy hell. I'm thrilled.

April 19, 2010


IndieFeed has made April its First Annual IndieFeed Literary Journal Appreciation Month, and this week they are celebrating the amazing BARRELHOUSEMy poem, "Antiquity," which first appeared in Issue 7, went up today; check back for work on Wednesday (Catie Rosemurgy) and Friday (Farid Matuk). The shows can be downloaded via iTunes and the Indiefeed Performance Poetry Channel. Journals featured earlier in the month were PANK and RATTLE.

Speaking of Barrelhouse, I picked up the brand-spankin'-new Issue Eight in Denver, which includes the winners of the "Office Life" Invitational Competition and essays on 1) Facebook status updates, 2) Thin Lizzy, and 3) the Big Star song “Thirteen.” (To each their own holy trinity.) Contributors include B.J. Hollars, Maureen Thorson, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and the tag-team poetry of Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney. Check it out.

April 17, 2010

Are You There, God? It's Me, Sandra.

I'm not going to offer excuses. I will simply say that to go ten--10!--days without visiting my blog gives me no pleasure. There was Denver, for AWP; then New York, for the big fancy Barnard reading with Joy Harjo; then Pittsburgh, for a laugh-laden reading with Jason Koo; and tomorrow morning, New York again, for a Sunday afternoon reading with Dora Malech at the Four-faced Liar's Frequency Series.

What can I do to make it up to you? Even though I've missed the tide...I figure I can offer up a handful of (somewhat redacted) AWP moments. Here are the most memorable:

-Hearing the panel moderator at the "365 Rides Again!" program intone the following during the Q&A portion--quite seriously, for the benefit of the rest of the room that had not heard a front-row comment on collaboration...."I do it with dancers." Don't we all.

-Very great poets, touring the conference with very fake mannequins on their hips. 

-Michael Chabon, talking about the ubiquity of ideas. Ideas? Easy. Writing the ideas? Hard. 

-Chile-pepper beer and pork barbeque at the Wynkoop Brewing Co. This is memorable because it was my last restaurant meal in Denver, and it took place way back on Tuesday. When you're going on day four of living off bananas and peanut-butter pretzels in order to save money, BBQ starts looking pretty divine in hindsight. 

-Having the host get up on the mic midway through my set at the Typewriter Girls' Mercury Cafe show and announce "Shut the fuck UP! This poet is reading!" With my long-lost uncle, who had driven 45 minutes to hear me, in the audience. And later, being asked to kindly hide my flask after my reading at said cafe. Fair enough, but you know what? If you're not going to calm it down for my reading, I'm not going to shell out $14 for your off-flavor Macallan's.

-Receiving a heads-up from a previous Summer Poet in Residence that there might be some minor issues with the Lawrence House. Like flying creatures. And iffy plumbing. Or later, via the cumulative vision of a hotel bar table: "What if it's bats in sewage?"

-A now-beloved W. W. Norton staffer nearly taking out one of my eyes while popping the cork on a bottle of wine I'd brought for my Saturday booksigning. The cork went sailing over the divider into an adjacent stretch of tables; I'm sorry, whoever it nailed. I opened the other two bottles myself--and sold out all the copies Norton had shipped to the conference. See, what is accomplished when you bribe people?

-Having a very brief but friendly, professional discussion with a Southern poet who reads my blog at the WILLA reading. Then both of us confronting the ass crack of the burlesque dancer less than four feet in front of us. Also, things you don't ever want to hear from a poet performing faux-stripper moves: "Crap! I need my glasses to read this!"

-Walking around for an hour with my Barrelhouse t-shirt on that declares "My poem/story/essay was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." Realizing that the juxtaposition of the overly thick nametag strap meant people were working WAY too hard to read my chest. We're talking stares and tilted heads. 

-Bumping into a fellow po-blogger and admitting 1) I am a big fan of his work, and 2) I am still terribly embarrassed by an incident, five years back, in which a simultaneously submitted poem had to be withdrawn and handed off to another journal versus his far-superior journal, which had accepted it....just 23 hours too late. His reply? "See, I had just been thinking of you only as a talented poet. But now that you've reminded me of this? Bee-yotch [--flashes a hand gesture--] you're going doooowwwwwnnnn!"

Ah, sweet sweet AWP.

One thing that I loved about the happenings was the chance to meet with fellow She Writes folks at an offsite happy hour event. Cynthia Morris, who has written many books about the writing process, used her time in Denver to capture a series of clips of writers talking about Why They Write. Somehow I got swept up in the tide--and make a brief cameo appearance in the video below. Enjoy!

April 06, 2010

The Book in the Wild

Why do I love the team at W. W. Norton? Not just because they host booksignings at AWP--though that's going to be great, and if you come to mine I will give you champagne--but because they do things like send me photos of my book in the wild. In this case, the untamed jungles of the shelves at McNally Jackson.

Go, little book, go! Over at She Writes I did one last "Countdown to Publication" post, celebrating I Was the Jukebox's official April 5 release date. Now--running to catch a plane for Denver--

April 02, 2010

If I weren't going to Denver...

...this is where I'd be:

The Lannan Literary Symposium and Festival
Georgetown University 6 and 7 April 2010

Georgetown’s 2010 Lannan Literary Symposium and Festival will explore the most vital and purposeful connections across the themes in its title, Literacy, Literature and Democracy; the Symposium welcomes a rich selection of writers, journalists and activists to the Georgetown campus over the two days following Easter break, Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 April, to discuss and to demonstrate how universal access to literacy, critical attention to the urgency of the creative imagination and the power of the written word, and care for the fragility of authentic democracy must all equally concern citizens working for justice in our contemporary world. 

Guests to Georgetown include noted writers Dave Eggers, Chris Abani, and Uwem Akpan, SJ journalist, writer and Mother Jones founder Adam Hochschild, social justice activist Mekonnodji Nadingam, poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, and recent Georgetown alums Happy Johnson (’07) and Allison Correll (English MA ’09). 

Topics across two days of readings, roundtables and performances will include local and national literacy projects like Mr. Eggers’ 826 Valencia, literary, cultural and practical responses to historic challenges like the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina, and the ongoing global refugee crisis, with special focus on vulnerable populations in central Africa; the Symposium concludes with a special tribute to the poet Lucille Clifton and readings in her honor by Mr. Ellis and Mr. Abani. Participants from the Georgetown Community will include Professors Deborah Tannen, Maureen Corrigan, and Michael Eric Dyson, as well as Professor Carolyn Forché, the Director of Georgetown’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. 

For more information please contact Professor Ricardo Ortíz at ortizr@georgetown.edu.


Tu 6 April/7:30PM/Gaston Hall
A Public Reading and Talk Featuring Dave Eggers
In Conversation with Maureen Corrigan and Deborah Tannen
Reception to Follow in Copley Formal Lounge

Wednesday 7 April 2010/9:30 to 11am/Riggs Library
“Writing Beyond Catastrophe: Literatures and Cultures of National Revival in Post-Katrina America”
A Discussion featuring Michael Eric Dyson, Dave Eggers, and Happy Johnson
Refreshments Served and Books Available in the Presidents’ Room

“Writing (and Working) Beyond Genocide: Literary, Cultural and Social Activisms in a Changing Africa”
Session 1 · 1 to 3pm/Copley Formal Lounge
Readings by Uwem Akpan, SJ, Adam Hochschild
Session 2 · 3 to 5PM/Copley Formal Lounge
A Roundtable Featuring Mekkondji Nadingam, Allison Correll (MA ’09), Chris Abani, Uwem Akpan, Adam Hochschild
Books Available and Light Refreshments Served 

7:30 pm/The Fisher Family Colloquium Room/The Rafik Hariri Building/McDonough School of Business
A Tribute to Lucille Clifton
Featuring Michael S. Glaser and Carolyn Forché
Poetry Readings By Thomas Sayers Ellis and Chris Abani
Reception and Book Signing to Follow


April 01, 2010

The Ways of Poetry (Happy April!)

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone. In celebration, I put together this little video:

...and while I have your attention, here are my AWP events in Denver next week...

Thurs. April 8 at 9:30 PM - TypewriterGirls Poetry Cabaret
at the Mercury Cafe (2199 California Street)

The TypewriterGirls' Dada-bred performances are collage-work theatre formed from sketch comedy, poetry, music, whiskey games, collaborative writing, burlesque, and a little magic. In essence, they strive to embody the Comte de Lautréamont's creed "poetry must be made by all" with a play and a dance party. This event will feature some of Denver's finest poets and performers (and me, too!).

*Note this is timed so that if you want to hear Michael Chabon speak at AWP, you have time to head over to the Mercury Cafe afterwards.

Fri., April 9, at 3:30 PM - Booksigning for I Was the Jukebox
at the W. W. Norton booth (Colorado Convention Center)

Joy Harjo will be joining me at the booksigning. Come visit! I fully intend on popping a bottle or two of champagne, as well.