Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 08, 2008
Bob Schieffer's America. Overall: an educated wind-down read. Politically astute and entertaining, short essays that can be scaled to whatever amount of time you have to spare. Schieffer is quite obviously unflappable and probably the most objective man with a microphone. From Section 1 ("How Washington Works - And Doesn't"): "The truth is, Washington does work. If it didn't, most of us would be leading far different lives under far different circumstances. But watching it too closely can be a nerve-racking, wrenching experience." Recommended.
Billy Collins' Ballistics. Some great moments ("Ornithography") and many typical one. I have a perhaps silly issue with Billy: If you're going to be conversational, please be grammatical. Surely it's too picky of me to want consistency in list construction (in verb phrase, verb phrase, the next phrase should be a verb, not a noun) and grammar ("you and I" over "you and me"). From "The Great American Poem": "But this is a poem, not a novel / and the only characters here are you and I / alone in an imaginary room / which will disappear in a few more lines." Okay.
Mark Doty's Dog Years, a memoir: Typical Doty prose stylings, openly flirting with sentimentality on and off (and acknowledged). Interesting construction, a little different than prior efforts. Acute observations on the larger issues contained in the death of a pet. From early in the book: "That's how sentimentality works, replacing specificity with a warm fog of acceptable feeling, the difficult exact stuff of individual character with the vagueness of convention. Sentimental assertions are always a form of detachment....." Recommended for Doty fans and fans of memoir.
Also on the nightstand: A Christmas Carol, out for its annual reading. Some Christmas presents, awaiting my annual Christmas Eve wrapping rush. Christmas with The New Yorker, awaiting me to be in a cynical enough mood to open it up again.
So I like Christmas. More to come on that.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
- that I hope the person who bet me $20 that the northeastern US would never see $2 gas again will do the honorable thing and come forward... I've forgotten who I made the wager with.
- that you should get two parenting points when you spend two weeks deeply afraid of something and your kids don't acquire that fear. Two more when you realize they've picked something up after all and have inherited your bravado glands.
- that Saint Ignatius was right: to teach people, you need to "(go) in at their door and come out at (your/His) own".
- that the more I consider the evolution of technology and the evolution of arts, the more poets look like buggy drivers. More on this in December.
- that covering economics, parenting, catechetics (teaching), and poetry in one post means I'm probably better off doing something else....
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
- Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children’s creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education.
- Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education: As president, Barack Obama will use the bully pulpit and the example he will set in the White House to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.
Health care and cultural exchange are also key parts of Obama on the arts.
Obviously, this isn't a first-100-days priority, but it will be interesting to see if these statements play out in policy.
Of course, knowing our President-Elect has a poetry publishing credit to his name can only be encouraging, no?
Monday, November 03, 2008
- Larry Lawrence was good enough to pinch-hit for us in the DeBaun Spoken Word series this month when Penny Harter was unfortunately unable to attend. Larry wrote a little about his experience at Symposia Bookstore. We had one of those small groups - the kind where the reading turns more into a conversation. Thanks to Larry for the late fill-in, and good thoughts for Penny, who I hope we'll be able to reschedule in 2009.
- The Presidential election build-up has become unbearable, with local elections getting even worse than the top of the tickets. Saturday Night Live has had by far the most even-handed coverage of any broadcast outlet ("Palin"/"Biden" was brilliant). Aside from one good summary in my local paper, I haven't seen an issues-based article or sound-byte since Columbus Day.
- Speaking of paper, the Christian Science Monitor is giving it up, going online-only in 2009. Seems late; most of the folks I know who occasion that periodical already do so online. But good luck to the venerable newspaper in its new incarnation. I'm partial to that paper because my first cash sale was to CSM.
- The Phillies won the World Series. The Mets watched the Series on TV. One of these things is news. The Jets lost to the worst team in football and beat the best in their division. Ditto.
Coming up: Matthew Thorburn in Hoboken, Holiday writing, side dishes for Thanksgiving...
Monday, October 27, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Selected Early Poems, Charles Simic
Sam's Place, Charles H. Johnson
Boy, Patrick Phillips
Dog Years, A Memoir by Mark Doty
Through a Gate of Trees by Susan Jackson
The Poet's Child, a Copper Canyon Press Anthology edited by Michael Wiegers
Paterson Literary Review 36 (2008-2009) edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan
First off the pile: Are You OK, an enjoyable set of essays, usually very short, about events, encounters and observations by by the author made while between destinations. Has the same feel as other poets' prose: closer to lyric essay than non-fiction, which I expect the Doty book to be, too, given his past efforts at prose (Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, Firebird...).
Another list I've been toying with posting here is "Assumptions Made About Me During The 2008 Dodge Festival" - a list of statements made describing (sometimes unflatteringly) various demographic groups that include me, whether or not the speaker of the statement realized it. But every time I start the list it starts to sound whiny and political, two things I try not to be in this space. Suffice it to say that my fellow attendees should be aware that there was at least audiencemate who sometimes plans his days around football, believes in the power and creativity of scientists, and has voted at least once in his life for a Republican presidential candidate.
Speaking of science, one of the more dissatisfying artifacts of this year's festival was a recurring and derogatory opinion of the natural arts. More than once a presenter, artist, or audience member aired a statement or question that used science or scientists as an analog for a lack of creativity. While I'm not a scientist (scientists ask "Why?", engineers ask "How?"), I have to say this position reflects a complete lack of understanding of the role of science in the world. Science, by definition, is the search for and communication of the broad truths of the universe. Poets use letters. Scientists use numbers. The rest - mostly - is parallel.
On a related topic, I've also been mulling my reaction to the response I got - in the "Poetry and Invention" workshop - to my query about whether technology enabled poetic or literary experimentation in a way that provided the reader more "entry points" (read: ways to engage) into a poem. The response of the panelists ranged from dismissal to bemusement; Forrest Gander offered a pretty extensive list of things going on at Brown on this front, but terminated his list with a "but that's not what I'm looking for in a poem". Maybe I didn't ask the question properly, but it seems to me that was the whole point of my question, if not of the workshop itself. Invention isn't what you're looking for, it's what surprises you in its own creation. It's the solution to a problem you didn't know you had. The US Patent Office requires an invention be "novel" and "non-obvious". If the poem were what you were looking for, it - by definition - would not be an invention.
Perhaps I'm taking the response too personally, it being my question and me being a technologist and all, but I went to that workshop expecting - from its title and panelists - to find openness to more things than just form and political expression. I guess I didn't ask the right question. But I just may complete and send the letter I've started to Jim Haba, the organizer of the Dodge Poetry Festival, with suggestions for a Poetry and Science subtheme for 2010. Or maybe I'll keep the letter to myself and find a way to stage such a presentation somewhere else.
OK, now. My spleen feels lighter. Back to the book pile.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
- Early morning Rumi with Coleman Barks and friends was its usual self, replete with Sufi mysticism, home and ancient wisdom, and Nazradeen (or Bubba?) jokes. Video doesn't really do this event justice. "Putting Rumi to Bach. It's almost enough."
- Morning panel on Poetry and Invention. Brenda Hillman stated that even her experiments are informed by her experience as a woman. Forrest Gander quoted D. H. Lawrence and Richard Feynman. Coral Bracho noted that two people looking at the same photo see different things when looking through their own filters. C. D. Wright reminded that discomfort and literary invention go hand in hand. They like literary invention, but aren't crazy about infusing literary works with other forms of invention. Forrest Gander:" When people are discomfited, they grab onto the familiar, which is rarely transfiguring."
- Susan Jackson: "What a savage thing this writing down is. How it makes us believe this world will last." BJ Ward (an long-time favorite, after someone called out "Beautiful!" in response to his poem: "(Since) The poem exists between us, if you're seeing beauty there, there must be beauty in you." Luke Warm Water (likening his career to Rolling Stones lyrics: "This may be my last reading ... I'll walk away before they make me run."
- More stories with Dovie Thomason. The infusion of modern stories really deepens the experience of listening to her. From a discussion with a counterpart at NASA: "Why do you call it Mars? We're not in Rome. We don't need a war god in the sky. Maybe it's red like love, not red like blood. How do you know it's a guy?
- Quick quote from Steve Sanfield I forgot to include yesterday: "How many of you consider yourselves storytellers? What are the rest of you, fools?"
- Coral Bracho with Forrest Gardner: Bracho's poem "Water" was presented several times in parts before reaching the main stage today in its entirety. In the original Spanish, it's an amazing aural experience. Gander's translation is entertaining and accomplished, but it sounds like a completely different poem. Gander on the creating of poems: "There may be a narrative, but there are all these clues that suggest a deeper meaning"
- Like Forrest Gander, Peter Cole is both a poet and a translator, and he says that "may explain the extra bed in my hotel room". His work is heavily influenced by biblical and Jewish history. "Better a little suffering than too much cure."
- Chris Abani suggested people not clap but "just sit there with the poems. It's sort of more fun for (you) that way." He read much of what he'd presented in smaller readings. Jim Haba commented about Abani after his reading that he "likes writing poems, and in his novels he gets to write a lot of poems."
- Afternoon session on Poetry and Healing. Linda Pastan believes that "if death is everywhere, we might as well make marry it to beauty." Ed Hirsch sees applications for poetry in individual and collective healing. Mark Doty sees the healing poem a visible repair to a valued thing. Said Doty: "For most of us, poetry starts in struggle. You start writing and invariably come to a phrase that makes you stop and think 'I can do this better' and suddenly you have a little distance - sometimes the only distance you are able to get at that moment."
I wrapped up the day listening to Dovie Thompson. I departed with a few minutes left to her story, so I could take a little longing with me, to help me look forward to next time.
Favorite moments: The rooster joke, learning why NASA needs storytellers, new poems from BJ Ward, sitting next to someone grading math papers while listening to poems, meeting my family for dinner at the end of the day.
My brain is full.
Friday, September 26, 2008
- More stories in the morning with Dovie Thomason, who argued storytelling is not the sister art to poetry (as the festival literature claims), but rather the grandmother, predating even the cave wall paintings on the festival program cover. She related a Rabbit story to the elections. She made more cogent points than either candidate in the debate (at least the disrespectful bits I caught). "All traditions (in any culture) share the the thought of doing something for future generations."
- Chris Abani (a late addition to my plans - he blew me away yesterday) covered writing exercise and thinking exercise, Shakespeare and reggae, Britney Spears and Jabberwocky, and the parts of this thesis that referred to Batman. Absolutely the most contentful event thus far for me. "Treat the poem like a pop song. Don't be afraid to throw the poem open and play with the language."
- Joy Harjo has a million projects going. She shared poems, songs, parts of her play, canoeing stories and the meaning of her name ("So brave you're crazy"). She spoke of tribal and poetry ancestors, joined poetry with other arts, told of learning from the ocean ("don't fight it"). "Do you know who you are? Can you sing it?"
- The poetry sampler was good, though by this point I'd already heard many of the poems presented.
- Afternoon panel on Going Public with Private Feelings - featuring Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds and Linda Pastan. That's pretty much the "A"-team. Very good dialog on shame, privacy, fear, and other good reasons not to take poems public - but consistently insisting on writing those poems and holding them until they are ripe and you are ready. I have 8 pages of notes from this one. Lucille Clifton: "If we can talk about the awfulness that has happened, we can talk about its complexity."
- Steve Canfield was engaging and likable, though I'd have stayed away from the Native stories with Dovie already having read at the festival.
- Evening poets (up to when left) were Brenda Hillman, Franz Wright and Naomi Shihab Nye. Good stuff; my hand was cramped up by then....
Favorite moments: Learning Dodge has launched a You Tube Channel (name: grdodge), finding hot cider at one of the concession stands, having Dovie Thomason sit next to me at an event, lean over and say "You're a good listener. I've seen you.", noticing the fist-sized spider on my notebook before it started up my shirt.
I was already looking forward to tomorrow before deciding I needed some beauty to get the Mets and the debate out of my head. As long as the parking grass and walkways are not hopelessly sloggified after today, it should be great.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
- Dovie Thomason is back from a head injury which caused her to lose all (600+!) of her stories. And she's added some personal modern stories. "When you're young, you're a treasuure. When yhou're old, you're a treasure. In between, take care of your treasures."
- Evie Shockley read poems, her own and others, influenced by music, folklore, and the sheer application of language. "There are some poems every poet must write, like every women poet must have a poem about her mother."
- Charles Simic spoke eloquently of the need to find something new to write about, lest your poems be (intentionally or ignorantly) derivative. His life experience set influence his consideration of even the most mundane objects. Of his poem "Serving Time", he said "I just took the phrase literally and started wrigin. I had no idea where it was going."
- Sharon Olds, having more fun than one might have thought possible, discovered her poems really do contain ideas, and misheard her way into a great new phrase: "Event sugar". She claimed influence from the "great poetry of the psalms, the bad poetry of the hymns."
- Beth Ann Fennelly advised us to "take red taxi", which is to follow the less predictable path between points. "Being a poet is training yourself to look."
- Naomi Shihab Nye actually relinquished her microphone to a student whose question during Q&A was "Will you read my poem?" She loves airplanes: "When else can I just sit and read for 3 hours?"
- Chris Abani, Coral Bracho, Forrest Gander, Edward Hirsch, and Patricia Smith had a great discussion about the relative and complementary values of reading and of listening as ways to acquire poems. Forrest Gander makes a great hillbilly. Ed Hirsch doesn't rap. Coral Bracho's poems are beautiful to listen to, even if mi vocabulario es muy pequeno. Patricia Smith can write a sonnet. Chris Abani summed it all up: "A good poem aims to be misunderstood."
Favorite moments so far: Dovie Thomason gently but firmly tearing down the stage and lighting at the first event of the festival to make it "suitable for a storyteller, rather than a poet". Poets adjusting their presentations and selections based on real-time feedback, thanking the audience for "playing along", digging out seldom-read poems because they fit with a theme the crowd had wandered in with our questions. Discovering cranberry-pistachio biscotti. Finding friends' books on sale in the Borders tent; catching up with those friends before and after the readings.
I ran out of energy shortly into the evening readings. More download (and maybe some links above) to come tomorrow.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
In which the author admits he has let the excuse of being busy mask the brutal truth that he is a collosal grump
Let the record acknowledge my admission that I've been actively refusing the muse (to infuse CDY's line with some assonance). Partially, this has been gradual acceptance of the state of my manuscripts (excellent feedback on the "complete" one making me realize my original vision was a bit too personal, acknowledgement that I'm not - yet - enough of a subject matter expert to properly complete the other). Also, I've been spending my free reading time in speculative
fiction and humor; not wasted time, but not the non-fiction and poetry that have always been essential to my productivity. The threat of Mets 2007 Redux hasn't helped much, either; I freely admit to a half-dozen fanboy mood swings this month.
Last night I took my kids to meet the authors of the Spiderwick Chronicles, a series that recently settled into our house and acquired at least one immediate avid fan. Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black gave talk, took questions, gave away original illustrations drawn while the kids watched, then sat down and signed books for over an hour. We were well to the back of the line, yet when we got to the table, Tony and Holly were as engaging with us as they'd been all evening (2 hours old at this point). When my oldest asked a question that implied an interest in become an author, they reached down and found another gear, conveying more advice and encouragement than I could have hoped for.
I've been forgetting the fun of creating. Forgetting the joy of actually hearing an echo in the canyon.
Now, I don't know that I'd have been able to find suitable time to do much creating over the past month, but I'm suddenly looking forward to the Dodge in a way I didn't anticipate. I feel like I'm accelerating toward renewing my productivity. It's like things that I've been needing, essentials for getting refocused on my writing, are all coming to be simultaneously with some long-planned and necessary downtime from the primary occupation.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Really, I'm mostly interested in a couple of things: selecting my conversations on craft and seeing how the poets are grouped for the panel discussions. I'm also very keen to know who the storyteller(s) is/are, but those sessions are generally at off-times (early morning, lunch), so I probably won't have to give an activity up to attend any of them.
But hey, before we get to Dodge, there are a few other events in NJ that are worth your time and attention. Among these are:
- John J. Trause (who is hosting Baraka in Rutherford), is appearing in Hoboken at Symposia Bookstore (for the Spoken Word Series)
- BJ Ward and Donna Gelagotis are reading for the Delaware Valley Poets
Speaking of NJ, if you don't already have it bookmarked, take note of Anthony Buccino's NJ Poets and Poetry, which is rapidly becoming an invaluable resource for Garden Staters.
Back now to waiting for the Dodge program....
(updated - one event was postponed...)
Friday, August 15, 2008
First, I have Erin Malone's What Sound Does It Make, winner of the 2007 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award, to which I submitted a version of my manuscript last year.
Second, I have some great specific and actionable feedback on that manuscript from a NJ poet whose name I'll hold back lest some net-trolling 'bot associate it with such a generous gift and create a monster for that poet.
It would be arrogance to put these two things together and say "I get it", but I surely understand "it" a great deal better this evening than I did a couple weeks ago. I'd like to think I'd have reacted to one or the other piece of input with equal open-mindedness (Right. What writer is objective about his own writing?), but the alignment of the feedback on my own work with some of the (very successful) poems in Malone's book has enabled me to sharpen my focus on my own writing, to be almost clinical about the possible improvements, the required changes.
This is where I continue to believe that being a technologist is a great benefit for a writer. No matter how biased one might be about the ideas one has birthed, when confronted with data, a scientist or engineer (a good one, anyway) should have the ability to accept feedback on that idea like a disproved hypothesis. Career technologists know that the best learnings are in the failed experiments, because only when we are proven wrong have we learned something we did not already believe.
Now, I don't think I'm a failed experiment. Not yet, anyway. But I do, for example, know quite certainly now that an organizational premise I've clung to, even in the face of prior feedback, is not worth clinging to. "Wrong" may be too harsh a word - but certainly not differentiating or impactful the way I thought it would be.
So thanks all around: to friends and their feedback, to publishers and their devotion to craft. It's up to me now to show that I have learned. Let me work on my next hypothesis and begin the experiment again.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Rejection = Acceptance?: Here's a different twist on things. There's a new journal online called "Redheaded Stepchild", which will only accept poems rejected elswhere, putting into practice the philosphy that "a lot of kickass poetry gets rejected, and we thought it would be fun to publish only previously rejected poems." They do not guarantee publication. What does it mean to be rejected by an editor that prefers rejects?
Ancitipation: 55 days to Dodge. The schedule's not posted yet but the appearing poets page has been stable for a few weeks, so it should be any day. The roster of NJ poets is really quite good, including Evie Shockley. Here are a few of her works, for your enjoyment.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Lately I've been wondering if the manuscript I'm shopping around isn't better suited to be a second book. It's not that I'm losing confidence in the poems (though the last couple have contest preps have helped me be a little more brutal about what's "good enough"), but that it's not an unconventional enough theme to be memorable in the harsh and immediate process of a contest screen. My new project is more "quirky", more attention-grabbing in that it's a different kind of presentation on a historical subject many people recognize but few actually understand, and it seems to me therefore more likely to survive the first cut - the one that ends on the first page.
Do first books tend to be more unusual than next books? And what, then, is the point of second book contests? A couple more things to mull while reworking for the September deadlines.
PS: Diane Lockward recently made a series of postings listing journals that read over the summer, for those of you not taking a vacation from the grind.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The SoQ (School of Quietude) reference will clearly indicate to anyone who has clicked through the links at the right that this though originates with Ron Silliman. I read his blog religiously for the same reason that I used to fiddle with my father's slide rule: I knew there had to be great ways to leverage it if I could come to understand it.
Before you run away, note that this juxtaposition isn't really that far a stretch. Many replies (to this and any number of his prior posts) criticize Silliman for (1) using labels to categorize poets and (2) implying an absence of talent in the SoQ category. In this short excerpt he has, I think beyond dispute, dispelled both complaints.
First, he clearly says here that there are poets in the derided category that have talent. If you read through his posts, he sometimes names poets whose work he doesn't care for, but who display strong poetic craft. And more importantly, he's made it clear - for me, at least - that his purpose for categorizing is to create a kind of timeline for poetry: overlapping bands that, taken together, clearly illustrate an evolution of poetic craft and purpose. Independently, the terms have some, but greatly diminished and incomplete value, which explains why, when used independently, they lead to misunderstandings and bad feelings.
Look at an analog: Take three terms which describe the evolution of technology preceding the modern age: The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, and The Iron Age. What do the terms do? Create a memorable structure into which to organize basic commonalities (eg: the use of stone tools, the absence of metal forming and metalworking technologies, etc.), not a complete sets of characteristics (doesn't try to capture social structure, regional differences, etc.), and no finite opinions on start/end or on the quality of those who executed within its limits (excellence of workmanship within the limits of the age, etc."). It was possible to have brilliant stone workers who did not, out of ignorance or will, practice metalworking. However, a society that refused to accept and integrate the new technology - as part of its evolution - was likely to die off.
Where my analogy falls apart is that the transitions between Stone, Bronze, and Iron - or more dramatically, the ages themselves - were too far long for individual members of society to feel any pressure from the transition. Silliman seems to be searching for the artists who are clearing the path for the next steps on the evolutionary path in areas where the ages of the art are shorter than the lifespans of their practitioners. Pejorative implications notwithstanding, the application of a term merely identifies a form of the art in which that groundbreaking seems, in general to be absent.
Might there be examples like this in the sciences? Imagine an advanced practitioner, schooled and studied in the branches that have come before, making public the results of a meta-analysis of unprecedented size along with results of her own research and theories. I wonder if such a figure would have more respect inside or outside her discipline. I wonder if fellows would tend to compare the conclusions of the meta analysis with the direction of the research to ask "is this scientist following a consistent and logical direction" or to form opinions of the research and then skim the analysis for bits to quibble with. I wonder.
Anyway, I'm probably way over the top (or drilled down way too deep - your choice) with this discussion. But this idea of classification for consideration is so essential to a technologist's mindset (and I am certainly a technologist first) that I'm regularly fascinated by the dismissal of interesting ideas because they require classifications to commit them to paper.
A quick to those lamenting the impending All-Star Break: If you like, I can rewrite this post using the dead ball era instead of the Stone Age. Less universal, I dare say, but possible....
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
"In narrative non-fiction, I know the entire story, and when I find a lull, I just look around in my memory for something that can keep the story interesting until the next thing happens. I know how it's going to end, so I have a certain amount of security while I'm writing, because I know where I'm going.
In fiction, I have no idea what's going to happen until it's actually happening. I mean, I have a basic outline, and I know that I have to get the guy from point A to point B, but everything that happens along the way is a mystery to me until I write it. This is really scary at first, but eventually it becomes pretty cool."
Wil Wheaton, of whom it can no longer really be said "who is probably best known as Star Trek's Wesley Crusher", has long been making the transition from performer of other people's words (read: actor) to creator of his own words (read: writer). Wil has only recently turned his attention to fiction. Like Douglas Adams in yesterday's quote, Wil is acknowledging the mysterious - and "scary"! - element of creating words from nothing more than the absence of words.
Interestingly, Wheaton is skilled in acting, an artistry foreign and scary to many writers, yet admits to pre-performance jitters when reading his own work (read his piece on seeing David Sedaris). How deeply felt must be the need to write to face such fear producing AND sharing one's writings?
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
I exaggerate, of course. That's my job."
Douglas Adams was such a poetic purveyor of fiction, I feel perfectly at ease applying any of his comments to poetry. The only other writer whose prose approaches the poetic unpredictability of Adams', whose next word is so infrequently the one you thought it was going to be, is Woody Allen.
I'm reading The Salmon of Doubt right now, being reminded how brilliant Adams could be. Also recently completed Ron Koertge's Shakespeare Bats Cleanup - which deserves its own entry and Goodreads treatment, to come soon.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The featured publishers were Foster's Talisman House, Roxanne Hoffman's Poets Wear Prada, CavanKerry Press, and Barbara Worton's Great Little Books in Glen Rock (be diligent in your Google searching on the last one - there seem to be at least a half-dozen companies publishing in English under that name).
This is an eclectic set, by the way. I don't know if it was purposeful, but this article covers a huge spectrum in poetry.
As does my home state. For which I am grateful, as always.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
On the days when the rest
have failed you,
let this much be yours --
flies, dust, an unnameable odor,
the two waiting baskets:
one for the lemons and the passion,
one for all that you have lost.
She's not always so meditative, but I think she's much more effective when she is. Of all the returning "big name" poets, I'm most interested to hear what she has been working on.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
rating: 4 of 5 stars
A well-researched and thoughtful biography, this work by David Michaelis does not dwell on the spectacle of the Peanuts empire, but rather sees it through the eyes of its talented but flawed creator. This book provides some profound (if redundantly developed) insights into the person behind Peanuts, and shows with great clarity another layer with which to read Schulz's deceptively simple strips. Be warned: This is not a book for someone committed to keeping an untarnished image of Charles Schulz in their minds; the Schulz in this account is talented, driven, difficult, frequently mean, always competitive, and often unlikeable. Like most great creators.
View all my reviews.
Monday, June 16, 2008
The last few years, this day has been a bit of an emotional jumble for me. I love the deal my kids make of it, and I want to be completely present in the moment for them (and for myself, of course). And my father-in-law always deserves celebration (even when he's not making his meatloaf). But it's hard not to lose a few moments during the day thinking about the man who was most like me.
This melancholy isn't all that unusual, even for those who didn't catch the last hour of I Never Sang For My Father Sunday afternoon on TBS. Michele Melendez wrote about it this year, and there's a terrific essay by Kelli Agodon covering nearby territory over at Literary Mama. So I give myself permission to spend an evening in the next week to have a couple good beers, read a little about the history of math, and watch Scent of a Woman.
I've spent years trying to write my way through understanding my relationship with my father, with varying degrees of success. Part of the hurdle is the nagging memory that he really didn't understand my interest in poetry. When I had a poem published in the Christian Science Monitor, his first question was "Did you have to convert?" He read my poems diligently, and he was appreciative when I showed enthusiasm, but he never really "got" it. So whenever he wanders into a poem, he seems to bring a skepticism with him that takes the poem in a predictable, unresolved, direction.
I don't permit most of my "father poems" to see daylight, but here's one that first appeared in Paterson Literary Review. I'll let it complete the thought that let me to start this entry in the first place.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Sunday, June 08, 2008
One Sunday in October 1963, Sally had hidden behind the living room sofa to confess to Charlie Brown that she had prayed in school. Both side of the school-prayer debate wanted to reprint the strip, each seeing in it an affirmation of their position. Sparky himself later came out and said that he personally was opposed to prayer in the schools. But he did not actually care that both parties could find their message in a single strip -- this happened over and over to Peanuts with any number of public causes.
Now, I know this will irk some of you, but I think there's a great kinship between the four-panel funny and the poem: both are constrained forms, requiring the writer to be impactful in a small space - even when it's part of a larger arc or whole, etc. So I found Schulz' sentiments landing pretty close to home even before I realized how closely they align with my own feeling on people's readings of my poems.
It's not that I'm a terribly shadowy writer, with layers deliberately intertwined for you to approach with Poirot-ish persistence. But I hope I've evolved a bit from the poetry-is-non-fiction, moral-in-the-last-couplet poet I was in grammar school. So when a reader greets me with "What does xxx mean", it feels like a poke in the eye. On the sliding scale:
"What do you mean by...?" -- I hate. See above.
"Where did .. come from?" -- I don't mind, but I do resist answering; it shouldn't be relevant.
"You know what I think when I read ...?" -- I like, because it means I've provoked a non-obvious response.
"Hmm." -- I love. Just live with the poem for a while.
The Michaelis book is pretty good as of the half-way mark, though anyone who has and wants to retain an image of Peanuts as nothing more than a cute strip for children should probably skip it. Complicated man. Can't read the strip the same way knowing that.
Let's have a bit from another 2008 Dodge poet as long as we're here. These are the first line of "First Memory", the first poem in Joe Weil's new collection, What Remains:
I remember the delicious heaviness
of an old yellow cab
the thick green-leather upholstery
cracked and torn
as if a giant moth
had cracked from it
Friday, June 06, 2008
Looking forward to hearing Beth Ann Fennelly, whose book Tender Hooks I've had on my shelf for years; it was one of the first books that started me thinking there was a bit of a market for collections with a young child at the center. Since then, I've seen a few of them by poet mothers; no memorable ones from fathers. You reading this, publishers?
Anyway, here's a bit from Fennelly's "A Study of Writing Habits":
4. Why We Don't Want Our Children to Be Poets
Think about Stephen Dunn
washing his clean laundry at the laundromat
because he wanted to write a poem
about the laundromat.
Think about yourself
thinking about Stephen Dunn.
Here's a bit of trivia about me, just for you, my six loyal readers: Did you see the news about Dwight White? He and I worked at the same company for a short time. White was quite a successful investment banker after he retired from the Steelers, and was an officer at the small (and now defunct) Daniels and Bell, where I was employed during college as (among other things) a generator of mathematical stock price analyses. We only met once, I think in 1986, but I do remember thinking was just what I expected a smart ex-NFL player to be: an impressive, formidable presence. Hearing his name on the radio, aside from saddening me at his passing so young, reminded me that it's really not as big a world as we give it credit for.
Monday, June 02, 2008
- Among the poets that registered with me for the first time today (I'm never sure anymore that I haven't heard a poet before and just failed to internalize their names) was Teresa Leo. Her reading was brilliant, and I can't wait to digest her book. She also very generously took a minute while inscribing her book for me to offer (what really seemed to be) genuine support for my own effort to make my book a reality. (Bottom line: took her 10 years; I've only been at it for three; keep going!)
- Edison Literary Review Gina Larkin has joined the blogosphere; her fledgling effort is indexed at right.
- Got the skinny on Sandy Zulauf's upcoming book, Where Time Goes, from Dryad.
- Learned how to pronounce "Schuylkill". Hey: If Worcester can be Wooster, Schuylkill can be "Skookle".
- Picked up Joe Weil's new book. What Remains. There's some jumpy video of the book launch reading over at YouTube. (NOTE: I don't know if this is authorized; if someone in the know can clarify for me, I'd appreciate it and I'll react accordingly). The video has piano, chant, and harmonica, but not "What I'm Waiting For", with which Joe had the crowd absolutely rolling.
- Got to see the wittiest man in Po Biz, Hal Sirowitz. Hal is one of the most widely respected an enjoyed poets I've ever heard read. When I first started going to readings, his book Mother Said had just come out, and I followed him around to all the readings I could get to for that book.
And here's the best bit of recognition I've ever had for this page: "David! Thanks for what you wrote on your site. The Bologna Blog, is it?" "Cosmic Liverwurst, actually" "That's right. I knew it was lunch meat".
After 15 years, I'm still impressed, though no longer surprised, at the great generosity of the NJ (and neighboring!) poetry community.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
But I'll think of something.
Pared down the manuscript, again, for another chapbook contest submission. This is the third and shortest revision - down to 20 poems. My six loyal readers know I usually don't like to say where I've submitted until later (it feels inappropriate, somehow, while the manuscript is in process), but I'll have to make sure to say later, as the contest coordinators were very nice to work with me to correct a fairly egregious error in the submission package, rather than reject the submission because of it. I would have understood. Anyway, weeding down (was 55 pages originally, down to 28, now 20) has not only made me seriously challenge myself on what I consider "good enough", but it's permitted me to really give the collection a consistent tone. There's no fluff. This was the first revision where I felt I was sacrificing good work to get to length, but in doing to, I think I really improved the voice. I guess that makes sense that it's easier to maintain voice if you do so for fewer pages.
The annual Celebration of NJ Journals is this Sunday and I'll be in the back of the room taking photographs for posterity, Diane's website, and (hopefully) the readers' use. As usual, it's a great program, representing the literary community of NJ and the nearby, alternate, less densely populated and therefore less poetic area.
The new season at The Center for the Performing Arts at DeBaun Auditorium has been announced, so I can lift the veil on the Spoken Word Series. You tell me what you think of this lineup:
- John Trause
- Adele Kenny and Ed Romond
- Penny Harter
- Matthew Thorburn
- Gabriel Welsch
- George Witte and Tina Kelley
I'm wrestling with the cerebeditor (the editor in my brain, that is) to see if I want to discuss my new project here. I'm really a believer that to let the light in on a new idea to soon is to risk killing it. I'm working on a series of poems in the (imagined) voice of a rather famous historical character - something close to home for me and interesting enough (I think) for a wider audience. Interesting challenges in research, content design, and the poems themselves. But I'm not ready yet. not quite.
Much more going on, of course, between Met games and the end of bowling season. But I'll challenge myself to be back before Monday with the more.
Until then: be well, sweet sextet....
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I don't have a good poem to quote today because I've lent out all my Maria Gillan books and no one else I know speaks nicely of their mothers (gentle corrections welcome in the comments). I have, however, run across several books I've been meaning to move to the top of the reread pile while skimming for excerpts.
This is the middle of family obligation busy season in our house, counting the birthdays and anniversaries that show up every year and the band and soccer events that are new to the dance card in 2008. But we did find time to get together with old friends this weekend to see a show performed in our old theatrical stomping grounds. Our kids seemed to hit it off famously, which was wonderful. And scary. And unexpected. And typical.
Confidential to over there on Mother's Day: They meant every word, and I didn't coach them at all. Honest.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
- Books I've started: Dads and Daughters, Once Upon a Number, Wisdom of our Fathers
- Planning for a school visit with my What is Poetry? Workshop
- Final research and outline for my new chapbook project
- Coaching the brood through Mother's Day planning
- Learning all the channels available in Verizon FIOS
A couple of these things should be worthy of a thought or two during the week. And if the Mets keep the way they have I certainly won't be distracted.
Be back soon....
Monday, April 21, 2008
- Diane was recently asked why she writes about fruits and vegetables. A fascinating question, what we write about. Early in my "career", I tended to rely on water as the central image in just about anything of value I put to paper. When the barriers between my selves began to drop, I started to make better use of the engineer side of me and bring concepts from science, particularly physics, into the work. I'm torn, though: is the vocabulary off-putting to the dominant interests of poetry readers?
- We spend a ton of time in our local library. A TON. But the fine poet and educator BJ Ward has an essay up at the American Library Association site that makes me feel like a sporadic squatter in that world.
- The Mets just make my teeth hurt, you know that?
- Working on a new chapbook project, doing more organized research than my usual casual "Oh, that's neat, what can I do with that" approach to turning reading into writing. It's interesting. I've actually got a story to write to, which both burdens and liberates the process. It's really fascinating me. The risk for me (again, re: engineer) is to stop the research at some point and start the writing.
- In addition to the targeted readings, I've been back into the parenting books recently. I'm still in the same place -- Most aren't useful for fathers, many aren't useful in the least to anyone with sense -- but sometimes reacting to bad ideas can create good ones. That, too, falls under "research".
Maybe if I research the Mets next....
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
My kids are coming to the end of what might be the best project ever. Every child in their school is creating a poetry scrapbook, entering two poems a month with themes loosely related to their date of entry. The poems can (and in fact, must) come from a variety of sources, including Los Interwebs, actual books, and their own pens. It's been fabulous to see how this simple exercise - just reading some poems and picking a couple every month, blossomed into a keen interest and appreciation in the art and in their own writing. I suppose this blossoming was pretty well mulched, with me on the one hand and their Mom (a great scrapbooker) in the house, but the project was definitely the seed.
I judged a poetry contest last month, and I swear I wasn't too critical (for those among my 6 loyal readers who have that opinion of me), but I did learn that my engineering-influenced approach to judging was a bit distanced from my peers. I created a checklist for myself, which permitted me to rapidly screen out poems that weren't worth second reads. This isn't exactly what I used, but it makes the point:
- Is there evidence of purposeful application of some elements of craft? (sound, purposeful line breaks, rhyme/rhythm, etc.)
- If there is purposeful application of craft, is that particular element well executed?
- Is there consistency of voice or POV?
- Is word choice creative and meaningful? (that is, are latinates/germanics appropriate, are non-obvious words chosen and do those words add something to the line, etc.)
- and so forth...
The point of such a list is not to say that I might click a few radio buttons and let an algorithm select a "best poem". However, there should be a minimum level of compliance with some standard of craft to earn consideration as a "best poem", don't you think? I do tend to think a bit algebraically, even when watching a baseball game, but I think the principal - in this case - is a sound one.
Anyway, the disparity between my fellow judges' initial impressions and my checklist-filtered impressions was striking and I'm not sure if that accuses my approach, or just my taste in poems. So though I'm not really observing NatPoMo this year (I think I'll celebrate from May 15 to June 15), I'm pulling books I love off the shelf every night and asking myself what it is I love about those poems and poets.
I'll talk a little about what I'm learning in the next few days.
Friday, March 21, 2008
On "Googling" one's self (page 14): Yes, it can be vain, and yes it does answer the question "Does the world love us", but it more importantly can alert us to things incorrectly attributed to us and/or misappropriation of our work. If you have a not-uncommon surname, you may also find names very like yours that are not you. One particular search string might lead you to, instead of me, a world-class chess player or a B&B owner with names close enough to be confusable with mine.
The Importance of Place (page 27) brought forcefully home for me the point that my recent writing slump has corresponded directly to a period of unavialability of my home office. In my process, this downtime eliminated the "sift and save" element of transcribing my drafts, leaving me with an hour of unedited audio and half a notebook over the last year, but no poems that are worth much. Didn't realize how important this little desk is to my productivity.
Mark Doty's comments on memoir (page 33) is insightful, and I hesitate to criticize someone whose poems populate so much of my own bookshelf... but one thing rang really hollow for me. Quoting: "But it's a childish version of ethics simply to declare that it's wrong to make things up, and it seems like far too easy a position to claim that what makes a memoir ethical is that it's factually accurate." Sorry, but this is just wrong. If we repurposed this sentence to accept honest misremembering (which, by the way, defines his examples of "fiction" in his own memoirs), I'd be OK with it. But to accept "making things up" in a form that purports itself as factual is misrepresentation, pure and simple. The label carries an implication; deliberately failing to meet it seems to be the very definition of unethical. But the rest of the essay is quite interesting.
Loved, loved, LOVED Dan Barden's "Rant Against Creative Writing Classes". I couldn't possibly represent it well enough here so I'll just give a favorite line: "... the workshop promotes the idea to young writers that their writing is required reading, that an audience is guaranteed. When really, postworkshop, no one will ever be forced to look at their work again." As someone who has screened a lot of applications for features in a reading series and hosted a lot of open mics, I love this point, and his other central thesis that learning is not a democratic process. By definition, instructors are expected to know more than students. And students can't maintain opposite opinions and learn effectively. Period. This has applications way broader than creative writing.
Much other good stuff in this issue. Maybe I'll get back to it after a few days catching up on my own stuff.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Calculated legacy: preferring potential and possibilities.
I'll post the rules with my refinement of this attempt or my admission that it's not going to get better.
I don't know who to tag (everyone on my blogroll who might play is already tagged), so consider yourselves tagged, oh my six loyal readers.
Wil Wheaton has a great story posted to memorialize Gary Gygax, dead this week at 69. There are just so many ways that Dungeons and Dragons and all its descendants have impacted the lives of geeks of my generation. D&D was certainly my first outlet for embodying characters. I'd performed on stage, and written a little before my introduction in the 9th grade, but it was always as me. What ability I have to travel in my writing acting started when I wrote "12" next to the "S" to start creating a character I'd inhabit dozens of times in the next 8 years. Tony, you up for a game?
The '08-'09 season of the Spoken Word Series is coming together. I've got to keep the deal under wraps until we announce, but it's safe to say my fears of running out of steam going into year 7(?!) have not materialized. Can't take all the credit of course: Two important pillars of our success are Symposia Bookstore, who rescued the series from the Physics Building lecture hall after our first sub-cozy half season, and Siobhan Barry-Bratcher of Fair Mile Books, who took on the mantle of cohosting just as it was becoming a bit too much for me.
In hopes of lining up a grammar school workshop or two this April, I've been reading Seeing the Blue, Advice for Young Poets, which has letters from and example poems by a quite diverse set of writers intent on making the process accessible and the product fun for aspiring writers. It's really a nice book, and I derived a new exercise from it.... which I'll share here after I've had a chance to try it out!
If you've been thinking to yourself how few publishing opportunities are coming your way, you're obviously not signed up to the Creative Writers Opportunities List. Listings very greatly (in "level", prestige, competitiveness, genre, etc.) but there is plenty to choose from for an advanced amateur such as myself.
I see now that my January posting pace was unsustainable, but my February pace was unacceptable. Any questions for the engineer-poet to prompt a March reply and help me regain my momentum?
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Embarassing, yes, but I have found the NJ poetry community, despite all the labels it can wear, to be quite generous and forgiving of such gaffes. In this particular case, I'm lucky to have "offended" an editor who has been very good to me over the years - for example, upon hearing a piece I was trying out at an open mic, she stopped me on the way back to my chair, pulled me down into the seat next to her, took the page from my hands, and applied her red pen quite specifically - much to the improvement of the poem.
But as we say in engineering (some of us, anyway): In the failures are the learnings.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Also realizing lately that I've gotten far away from my strengths in the submission game. Someone once told me that I had probably the only submission tracking system that was potentially ISO 9000 certifiable (I mean, I had form numbers!). Shopping myself out to teach some workshops this spring, I realize I'm not in that kind of record-keeping shape anymore: No neat proposal form, no ready-to-print synopses of my prepared workshops, etc. Shameful for an engineer. Just shameful.
So it's back to what I'm good at to restart the engines: Alphabetize the poetry library in the basement to facilitate access. Refresh the portfolio binders and weed them - thoroughly. Get my notebooks typed in and my drafts onto the screen - or they'll never get finished and to the page. This is where being a project manager is mighty handy. Mighty handy.
And for the two of you who understood the ISO reference without following the link: Yes, I'm still writing poetry.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Ron Silliman was writing recently about Ogden Nash as someone who was popular during his own day, but whose work was destined not to last (he was placing Billy Collins and Ted Kooser in this category). Nash certainly didn't drive changes in the collective conscience (nor does Collins, nor Kooser), but I don't agree that the work hasn't lasted - I think there are dozens of Nash's short works that continue to be quoted and retold ("Candy is dandy", anyone?). I do think that as a collection, Nash's legacy isn't well-known, but whenever I've come across his poems, I've found something interesting, clever and still familiar. The works have separated from his name, perhaps. And it's not the kind of work that one turns to for reference when crafting presidential speeches or lectures on the history of modern art. It's not "Nash's legacy", maybe not even a noticeable legacy, but it's a present one.
And then there's my grandmother's note tucked into that Nash book.
Happy Birthday, Nana.