June 25, 2010

As promised...

A review in the The Rumpus! Excellent...and an evening at the North Mississippi Hill Country Festival, complete with a set by Model T Ford. And dancing. A lot of dancing. (And girls hula-hooping, which is apparently a form of dancing if you do it right.)

Here's a snippet from the review, which includes my favorite reading of "The Platypus Speaks" to date:

Readers of energetic, ornate, and enthused poetry—step forward. I’ve got your woman. Sandra Beasley’s newest collection of poems, I Was The Jukebox, can best be described as playful surreal. Her poems take on the forms of pocket-sized fantasies; in each of her finely tuned poems, she occupies herself with representing different experiential voices, and she succeeds (to a tremendous level) at creating fascinating slices of reality and interesting characters.
Beasley ‘speaks’ through the most unlikely of forms, including but not limited to: the sand, an eggplant, Osiris, and the world war. In her most audacious identity-assumption, Beasley speaks as the duckbilled platypus. “I’d like to point out there’s no other kind,” the speaker snidely begins. The creature comes off as a curmudgeon, certainly sexually frustrated, and ends by kindly telling Disney to piss off. “The Platypus Speaks” is most especially wonderful considering it is a tightly-bound and brilliant sestina, an elaborate structure that could, in less capable hands, come off as repetitive or commonplace. The poet balances attention to form with her experiments in voice, enticing without overwhelming the reader.

I'll drink to that; in fact, I already did.

June 23, 2010

And Now, A Little Bacon

Some initial impressions of being on the road...

-There is a place of business just outside Jackson, TN, called "The Furtle Turtle." If it is not a strip joint, it should be. 

-Enjoyed turnip greens with bacon at Ajax Diner, on the Square, complete with pot likker for the black-eyed peas. I may dare to go back and try the smoked catfish salad, though I fear it won't be much once you take off all the fixings I am allergic to. City Grocery was as good as promised; once again they used real artichokes as an ingredient, not the jarred kind, which I had only otherwise experienced in New Orleans. I'm still waiting to get down to Snackbar or Irie to give the oysters a try. 

-The people? Beyond nice. When I rang up my first round of Grisham-House groceries, I didn't think to ask for a Kroger frequent member discount. (There aren't many Krogers in DC.) The woman in line behind me insisted I use her card to go over to the manager and get my $9 refund. Her husband offered to carry bags to the car for me. 

-You don't need to do nearly as much email jockeying and coffee-scheduling when everyone goes to the same three or four places. You just bump into people organically. If you don't bump into them, then they wouldn't have had time to visit anyway. I like it. 

-A rail scotch and soda at City Grocery is $4, with a buck left over for tipping. With this heat, getting a better scotch neat is foolhardy--this is sipping weather. So it's the neatest tab-keeping I've had in a long time. Damn you, DC, and your $7 beers and $10.95 martinis!

-The Oxford Rhythm Revival was incredible. I got a taste of local roots rock (Rocket 88), cigar-box guitar (Johnny Lowebowe, equal parts theater and pluck), and rising-star power courtesy of Valerie June, who has an amazing voice (clip below). I wish YouTube had recordings of "If You Love & Let Go," "Keep the Bar Open," or "Shacklebound"--those are favorites, from a recording with Old Crow Medicine Show.

There are rumors that I Was the Jukebox will be reviewed in The Rumpus this Friday. Fingers crossed. I've been lucky as of late, with generous attention in the Feminist Review, Bookslut, and New Pages. I also got a random shout-out in this interview with poet Jason Koo, who I met when we read together at Washington College, outside Pittsburgh. Jason is the author of Man on Extremely Small Island (seen right)which came out from C&R Press in late 2009. Great guy and funny as hell.  

By the way, this is easily the best random cameo-by-a-contemporary-poet in mainstream media that I have seen all week, from a Washington Post article titled "For the bacon-obsessed, a camp in Michigan has the cure": 
"University of Michigan professor Tung-Hui Hu began by reciting his own poem entitled 'Curing Images and Pork.'..."

June 20, 2010


Where to begin? On June 8 I hopped the bus from DC to New York, where I got to read in Bryant Park as part of the Word for Word series with David Eye, Maya Funaro, and Jack Lynch. We had a big crowd, easily 75 people, and the readings got written up here. (Favorite quote: "I got the impression that poets become defacto guardians of the strange and oddly compelling things of this world when Sandra confessed her long night of researching the role that the Capybara has played in all manner of religions and cultural practices the world over.")

All the poets were great; David identified himself as an actor who had done some Broadway work. I'm pretty sure, if I have my dates right, that I saw him star as Old Dueteronomy in Cats circa 1996, but it seemed rude to mention it.

Beforehand I got together with some of the folks from W. W. Norton, whose offices are around the corner from the Park, to toast I Was the Jukebox in the Algonquin Hotel's Blue Room. In my early 20s, on my first trip to New York for work, the Algonquin was the one place I pilgrimmed to--I am a huge Dorothy Parker fan, and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle had come out just a few years earlier. I remember sitting with my blank notepad and my impossibly large martini and thinking, Okay. Now what? Then scribbling nonsense, just to be scribbling something.

When I got back from New York I had only a few days to pack before making the long drive to Oxford, MS. I also had a book to finish. Even though I've been steadily accumulating chapters for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl over the past year, at a certain point outlines fall to the wayside. You have to make sure the interesting outweighs the obligatory; you have to make sure that two sequential chapters written months apart feel continuous in tone; you have to find an organic ending (not easy when you're trying to write a "memoir" at the age of 30). I've been careening down the track with no clear finish line.

Much as I wanted to hit Send before I got in the car, I knew the hours on the road would be useful time to mull and parse the MS. At times it was maddening--twice I dallied at stop lights, meriting a honk from the car behind me, because I was still jotting down notes. An incredibly productive night at the Aloft Hotel in Franklin, TN, moved things along. The hotel gave me a gift in the form of a desk that was pushed right up to a window overlooking trees. (Originally I'd thought I'd do an epic pit stop in Nashville--I'd even reserved a seat at the Bluebird Cafe--but then I realized I was trying to visit the same weekend as the Country Music Awards. Not meant to be. I bought a "dinner" of a to-go salad in the lobby and settled in to work.)

The plan had been to pick up poet Beth Ann Fennelly from the airport on Sunday afternoon, for a welcome dinner in Memphis and a guided tour into Oxford. But two cancelled flights later, Beth Ann was stranded in Atlanta and I was navigating on my own. Tom Franklin, Beth Ann's husband and a great novelist, met me at the Grisham House with two bottles of wine ("They don't sell on Sunday," he warned me) and kids in tow. Since Tom and Beth Ann were some of the first writers in residence at Grisham House--back when it was called Lawrence House--the kids were happy to gallop through familiar rooms. 

Here's a glimpse of the Grisham House:

This house for years belonged to Seymour Lawrence, a renowned independent book publisher who was lured to Oxford from New York City by one of his authors, the inestimable Barry Hannah. Lawrence also edited Tim O'Brien, Jim Harrison, Katherine Anne Porter, and Kurt Vonnegut. He shared this house with his companion, Joan Williams...who had also been Faulkner's mistress once upon a time. 

I love the layout of this kitchen, but I could tell it had been a bit of a bachelor's household before. I was left with three different kinds of toothpicks and grilling charcoal, but no cleaning supplies.  

This is the dining room and the sitting room, where I'll be hosting a group of the Ole Miss MFA students later this week for a salon dinner. Not sure what I'll cook yet. Some whole-roasted animal is the alleged tradition, but given that the last Poet in Resident's brother Joe just happens to be the local barbeque expert (seriously; he's filmed whole documentaries on the subject!) I think I may stick to where my talents can better shine.

Here's where I'm spending most of my time--the best of the three bedrooms, with this gorgeous desk at the far end. It is where I am typing this now, having bought a 50-foot cable so I could bring the internet access in from another room. Those bookcases are stuffed with John Grisham titles, Encyclopedia Britannica's "Book of the Year" series from 1961-1969, and a hodgepodge of art books. 

Hard to believe a week has flown by, mostly filled with cleaning and fridge-stocking and nesting. I'll file some impressions of Oxford in the coming days. And, oh, in case you were wondering--

I turned the book in. I. turned. the. book. in.

Fingers crossed that they, y'know, like it.

Either way, for the first time since June 1 I feel like I have permission to write things not book-related. So if you have wondered where I've been...I've been driving 900 miles, editing 60,000 words, facing the many question marks of my fall, and eating too much chips and salsa. All to come back to you. It's good to be home here, even if I'm vagabonding it in all other areas of my life these days. 

June 03, 2010


Later this summer, I will spend five days (July 13-17) serving on the faculty of Cleveland State University's "Imagination" Conference. I love the thumbnail portrait of Cleveland on their website: 

We overlook a busy harbor, the Indians’ state-of-the-art ballpark, and a dramatic downtown skyline, but this is no ivory tower. The student spectrum ranges from multiple earrings to pinstripes to blue and pink collars. Writers come here with a shirtsleeve workshop outlook and the traffic in ideas is eclectic and blunt.

The line-up of my fellow faculty-authors is plain ol' jaw-dropping...


Fiction: Sam Lipsyte, ZZ Packer, Salvatore Scibona, Jess Walter
Poetry: Olena Kalytiak Davis (& me)
Creative Nonfiction: Rebecca Skloot
Writing for Stage and Screen: Mickey Birnbaum
[Full bios here]

I never thought I would have the opportunity to write "Olena Kalytiak Davis (& me)," but there you have it. Two of these folks--ZZ Packer and Salvatore Scibona--are expected to be included on the New Yorker's vaunted "20 Under 40" list of fiction writers to watch, which is in the issue that lands on newsstands within the week. And I've written of my admiration of Rebecca Skloot before. Not only did she write a kick-ass book, she wrote a kick-ass book that spawned a Law & Order episode

Attendees will both take part in workshops and receive individual manuscript conferences; faculty will give both craft talks and formal readings. Not to mention the reception upon reception. I'm not sure if there's a "French House" (a la Sewanee), but if not, just look for me with my flask. 

You should come. If you're a student, you can get four hours of academic credit at the undergrad or graduate levels (or 3 hours of NEOMFA credit). If you're not applying as a student, trust me--you're still going to get a lot more out of this than that trip to Vegas you've been saving up for. Applications are due June 15.