January 30, 2011

Ah, Miami

Our LegalArt residency is in an area of downtown that is deserted for five days a week, then comes alive on the weekends with clubbers coming and going at all hours. Last night I trekked up to Fort Lauderdale for a Sound Art exhibit in their gallery district. Rumpus poetry editor Brian Spears hosted me with his lovely wife, Amy Letter. Beers were had; laughter was loud. I got home around 1 AM and promptly fell asleep to the lullaby of booming bass from cars as they parked in the lot across the street. People were getting out of their SUVs with beers already in hand.

Around 5 AM I woke up to a lot of "Wooooo." "Wooooo, you can do it! Yeah! Yeah!" This is nothing unusual--ravers emerge from the night before as late as 2 or 3 PM the next day. I went back to sleep.

Around 6 AM I woke again, this time with the glow of sunrise on my face. "Wooooo! You can do it!" A wail of sirens, also nothing unusual. I pondered whether this was a sign I should get up and do work. I went back to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later a resurgence of cheering and two, maybe three more wailing police cars woke me up again. A raid? I thought hazily. Would not have been the first.

Around 9 AM I woke up and they were going full tilt--"Wooooo, you can do it! Yeah!" Jesus, I thought. What the hell are these kids rolling on? I got up and tottered grumpily to my blind-free windows, and looked out.

There was a marathon running up North Miami Avenue. 

Ah, Miami. I'll miss you during the next week, when I return to DC for AWP. But I have also missed the ambient noise of home--the bells of the National Cathedral. 

January 28, 2011

"Love Poem for Los Angeles"

It's a gift that in this time during my LegalArt residency down here in Miami--which is in part devoted to collaboration, to using one art to respond to another--I would learn that my reading of "Love Poem for Los Angeles" (from I Was the Jukebox) has been used in this stunning short film by Dylan King. Enjoy!

Los Angeles: A Love Poem from D. King on Vimeo.

January 26, 2011

Far & Near

You need to see this clip:

I am no huge fan of Russell Brand. I'm not sold on Julie Taymor's vision of The Tempest. But what I love about this video is that you see RB completely escape his planned poise, as his physical self--the long curly locks, his lean but ripped physique, all the things I have ever found dandyish and distracting--falls away here. He's in it, improvising like mad. And Alfred Molina is envious! That is an enviable thing.


In other worlds: the new Blackbird is out, and it includes my review of two impressive first books (or rather, first full-length collections) from the poets Allison Titus and Mathias Svalina. If that's not enough to tempt you, the issue also includes...

  • Audio readings by Philip Levine, David St. John, and Peter Campion
  • “Ochre,” a twenty-five section, ekphrastic poem by David Wojahn with accompanying images
  • A suite of poetry in translation from the Arabian Gulf in translation from the Arabian Gulf
  • Other translations of Patrice de la Tour du Pin, Aleš Debeljak, Philippe Jaccottet, and Tomaž Šalamun
  • Poetry by Bruce Bond, Christopher Buckley, Cori A. Winrock, and others
  • Fiction by Neil Grimmett, Nicola Mason, Jamie Quatro, Wendy Wimmer, and others
  • Critical essays by Nicky Beer, Peter Campion, Matt Donovan, James Hoch, and Anna Journey from Larry Levis: A Celebration, a three-day conference at Virginia Commonwealth University

...Philip Levine! David Wojahn! James Hoch! Anna Journey!


Miami? Highlights: Returning to Books & Books and meeting Adriana Trigiani.

Seeing a dolphin loping 20 feet off shore from downtown Miami during a banal afternoon walk. Late-night cheap wine and dollar-bill coloring.

Cooking pasta for my fellow residents. With chicken, simmered in the tomato sauce. And a toasted almond and artichoke salad. Mmmm.

Hearing Edwidge Danticat read from Haiti Noir at MOCA; meeting Bruce Weber in the MOCA gift shop afterwards, and impulsively splurging on his portfolio of heartbreaking "Little Haiti" photographs so he could sign it.

Reading reading reading, most recently Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, and Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, which gave me a restless night's sleep wondering about the monstrosity that is the Department of Homeland Security. But god, those books make me want to write, and write important and difficult things.

Seeing brilliant works on paper in the artists' studios. Walking along the shore of South Beach. $2 mackerel nigiri and ikura, $3 roast eggplant with Thai chili sauce.

Hearing two very smart, talented residents share their advise on Facebook marketing for a crowd of 4o. And afterwards they shared their dumplings.

Knowing that somewhere out there, God and the UPS man willing, my galley of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl will land on LegalArt's doorstep tomorrow.


Just in case you think I'm being too highbrow, this ominous quote from the most recent Bachelor, who has clearly not heard of the importance of line breaks for emphasis:

"I want to continue this. Badly. With you. I really do."

January 19, 2011

Great Interview...

...on a timely topic: When to go with a small press for your poetry collection, versus entering contest after context for big prizes. Kelli Russell Agodon interviews Jeannine Hall Gailey (two incredible, tireless, inspiring poet/bloggers) and here's an excerpt...
KRA:  Your next book will be published by a micropress. Tell us a little about the press, your book and how the partnership between you came about.
JHG:   My first book, Becoming the Villainess, was published by a small press, Steel Toe Books, run by Tom Hunley, and my second book, She Returns to the Floating World, will be published (in July!) by Kistune Books, another wonderful small press, edited by Anne Petty and Lynn Holschuh. They do fiction and poetry, as well as pop-cultural criticism, and put out a handful of books a year. I know they're putting out at least one other book of poetry next year, by poet Helen Ruggieri. 
I actually found them while I was researching another article for Poet's Market on speculative poetry (that article was in the 2010 edition, I believe.) I loved their name (since one of the main persona characters in my second book is a kitsune, which means fox-woman in Japanese.) And I did my research - I read a book or two that they had put out, followed them on Facebook and Twitter. It was actually their twitter feed than convinced me they were the right press for me - they would tweet about anime they liked, or J-pop, or teas...I mean, the editors and I had a lot of things in common. I had a really good feeling when I sent in my query, and a few weeks later, I had the good news!
You can read the whole post here.

My take: I've been really lucky to work first with a university press, Western Michigan University's New Issues, then with W. W. Norton, so I know firsthand the perks. I would say the main ones are having a professional, paid staff--so there is accountability, and you don't have to feel apologetic about making requests--and distribution in major bookstores. 

Then there are the things that everyone seems to think are perks, but don't actually exist. Help setting up events? Nope, other than maybe one or two events right when the book first comes out. Budget to travel for festivals or readings? Nada. 

Some of the things we get most worked up over, such as cover design, are a roll of the dice at any size press. I'm consistently blown away by the work of presses such as Wave Books and Switchback. I am often bored by the static landscapes or ugly font-work used by the big guys.

There are also a couple of advantages specific to small presses. One, you usually have access to a lot more bookstock to do with as you see fit. When I won the Barnard Prize, Norton gave me 15 copies of the book. Total. So when I do readings for I Was the Jukebox in clubs or other venues that aren't attached to a bookstore, I buy my stock off Amazon for around $18 a book. Even though I could then charge the $24.95 price, I invariably cut it to $20 to prevent having to make change. So my "profit"? $2 a book.

Copies to send off for post-pub book prizes, review opportunities, trading with fellow readers at events? I lose money on those. 

Another advantage of small presses is that their editorial teams are so focused, which can solidify an aesthetic identity that helps promote your book. Ugly Duckling Presse and Octopus Books come to mind. I confess, there's a cool-kid factor at work. Who wouldn't want to have their work accepted and then published by a poet as amazing as Zach Schomburg? Black Ocean Books has got people tattooing themselves

This is why Jeannine's point about loving the Kitsune Twitter feed is so relevant. If you share a common culture with your press, to publish with them is really like joining a tribe. That can result in some fabulous road-trip multiple-author reading tours. Two other small presses to watch in that respect are Bloof Books and No Tell

It would be disingenuous for me to say that I haven't been very, very lucky to publish with the presses I have. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. But there are a lot of different paths in the poetry world, and each one has its pluses and minuses. When you Google "Coach House" the poetry press isn't even one of the first five hits, but Stephen Burt reviewed Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip in The New York Times

If you honor the poems you need to write, stay generous to your fellow writers, invest in the presses you want to invest in you, periodically confront your expectations and fears, keep writing, keep sending, keep at it, you'll get out there. I believed that before I ever published a book. I believe it now.   


This seems like a good time to thank everyone (including Kelli!) who have helped spread the word about the trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. I was thrilled to get 500 views in the first week. Crown will keep an eye on the view count for the first month. So if you haven't viewed it yet, please take a look--or if you know someone who might be interested in a memoir about food allergies, send it on...

January 18, 2011

In Miami!

So, I drove to Miami over the weekend. Alllll the way down 95, a surprisingly humane trip--sunny weather, not much traffic. Feeling nostalgic at the parade of billboards, I stopped off at South of the Border to walk through one of their countless gift shops. The next day I called my dad and apologized for ever making them stop there. That place is seriously sleazy, even if they do sell real live Mexican jumping beans. 

The head of LegalArt was kind enough to come to the residency and get me checked in. It's a developing neighborhood--we were approached by a panhandler as we unloaded suitcases, and the shops six blocks up roll down steel shades over their windows at night. I am the first writer-in-residence, living amidst visual artists, mostly Miami locals but with one woman who came all the way from Argentina. So far our schedules haven't been in sync. But once I switch into night-owl poet mode, I suspect there will be late, long conversations over wine.

Befitting Miami's design aesthetic, the building is very modern, with lots of sharp contrasts and edges. Here is a glimpse of our common space, which includes a kitchen and living room. Typical of art colonies, it also includes a lot of found/assembled bits that might show up in work sooner or later: a stack of pine branches, a plastic Godzilla figurine, a sink of soaking gel-bubbles, a dilapidated amaryllis. We have the option of coming and going via our very pink stairway. 

And here is my studio, a corner unit with its own bathroom. I have a couple of specific projects to work on while I'm here--an essay about fathers & daughters, a travel piece on Miami--and I'll be running a few programs, including a residency dinner on writer/poet collaborations and a public seminar on strengthening artistic statements and project proposals. Also...I want to read. A lot. I stayed in my silver-sheeted bed until 1 PM today, finishing Sloane Crosley's How Did You Get This Number. Heaven. 

January 11, 2011

The Book Trailer!

Check it out: the official book trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. If you know others who might be interested, please spread the word....

January 09, 2011


I am doing two official-type things at AWP, in addition to generally wandering the halls, chatting with writers and sharing from my flask.

Official-type thing #1:

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4 ~ 9 AM to 10:15 AM

Diplomat Ballroom / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

F117A. Potomac Review Celebrates Best of 50. (Julie Wakeman-LInn, Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capó Crucet, Marilyn Kallet) 

To celebrate its fiftieth issue, Potomac Review offers a sampling of its history with readings by Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capos Crucet, and others. Based in the Potomac region, PR has always had concern for the environment at its heart, but over the past two decades, its focus has evolved nationally and internationally and culturally; the reading represents the diverse voices and styles who have appeared in the pages and taps our Best of the 50 issue.

Official-type thing #2:

A note on the Black Cat: IT ROCKS. Don't leave DC and think you've gotten to know our city unless you've been there. Great jukebox. Quarter pinball. Sweet Red Room bar. 

Head over via the Red Line metro (just one stop, which costs less than $2; go toward Glenmont; use the Q Street exit). From the Q & Connecticut exit, cross toward Kramerbooks bookstore (a nice 24/7 pit stop, BTW) using Q Street all the way to 14th Street NW. Black Cat is just a few blocks up, heading from Q toward S Street. 

Also...a big ol' updated spring 2011 schedule is displayed to your right, with some dates still to come. On the road, on the road, on the road. I'm going to be living off V8, bananas, almonds, and Triscuits. Ah, the glamorous life of a traveling poet! 

January 06, 2011

Odds & Ends

A few carryovers from 2010:

Though I've shared the full-length interview I filmed with Poets & Writers for their 40th Anniversary, I'd never linked to the amalgamate video that they showed at their big gala dinner, which I got to attend this past March. The P&W folks just posted it a few weeks ago, so it is linked below. To be sitting in the ballroom of Manhattan's Capitale and see my face pop up alongside the talking heads of A. M Homes, Roxana Robinson, Jonathan Franzen, Peter Straub...to look over at the neighboring table and see Tom Wolfe (in his white ice-cream suit) watching the screen on which I was yapping away...holy hell. One of the highlights of my life.

Also, Square Books just announced their list of 2010 Bestselling Books, and I Was the Jukebox snuck intot he mix--spot #100, to be exact. For a poetry book to clamber its way up among the Barry Hannahs and the Curtis Wilkies is kind of miraculous. I love those guys. I love that town.

I go to New York tomorrow to meet the publicist who has been assigned by Crown. She works on books by Frances Mayes! I vote that if my memoir merits a sequel, it be something like "How I Survived Eating Pasta in Every Town of Italy." The research would be brutal, sure, but somehow I would summon the strength to carry on.

January 05, 2011

Kauai Diaries

A typical shoreline in Kauai. And by typical, I mean "extraordinary."

The hurricanes of '82 and '92 liberated roosters from the farms. They now roam free, cawing at all hours, the prettiest pests you have ever seen.

The Kilauea Lighthouse, which had a nearby farmer's market that yielded a fantastic meal of roasted Opa with chives, island rainbow chard and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms sauteed with local ginger and garlic, and slices of fresh pineapple...

The incredible Napali coast! Just one of the waterfalls.

And another, nested within a shoreline cave.

One of my oldest friends, who helped me land in Hawai'i for New Year's Eve: "Eric, if only we could feature your glorious individually-toed shoes..."

"Did you really just do that?"

"Yes, you really just did that."

The beach at the St. Regis hotel in Princeville...by day.

The beach at the St. Regis...by dusk. Made the mile-and-a-half walk home worth it!

O, Kauai. May I someday return to you with a love in hand. In the meantime I am grateful, grateful, grateful.