Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wasting Time #3 -- Not Sleeping

Sometimes, when you're a writer who has to work every day, everything that you do seems to take away from writing time. Bathing for too long, for instance, becomes an impediment to writing. Naps or your regular sleep time prohibits the creative process.

Unfortunately, at least where sleep is concerned, I react in the opposite way. If I do not sleep regularly, I cannot write well. And I rarely sleep regularly. I know that my sleep habits are partially connected to stress, but also partially just habits. For instance, I woke up this morning a little before five, even though I know I can sleep in until almost seven, because my cat always wakes me up around this time. I couldn't go back to sleep, because I was thinking about work and the 4 classes I need to hire for in 3 weeks.
How does this affect my writing? Well, when I don't sleep my full 8 (or 6 or 4), I get cranky and I can't focus on anything too long. My inspiration literally dries up, because I am so focused on just getting through the day. When I come home, the last thing I feel like doing is writing, because I would much rather sleep. A lot.
My erratic sleep patterns used to be much worse. They are getting better and evolving, as I learn to deal with stress better. However, I am still working on making my sleep patterns much less about survival sleep and much more about dreaming and being able to create the next day.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"I Bid You a One-Man Revolution..."

"..The only revolution that is coming," Robert Frost -- Build Soil

On a morbid note, today is the anniversary of Robert Frost's death, back in 1963. While I have never been a huge fan of Frost's, he has left an indelible stain on American poetry, for better or worse, with his love of plain spoken English, landscape, and formal structure.

I must admit, despite my snobbery, he is accessible and evocative. Out of all of the poets I teach in my lit class, he is the one that everyone in the class can relate to and understand.

If you haven't done it yet, read these poems by Frost, in honor of his life.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

#1 -- Friday Night in January, Uptown

I don't know what it is about my need for lists and numbered things, but I love them. I had a flash of inspiration this week. I decided that I want to write 100 Urban Haiku, just for practice and because I can. I don't know how long this will take me. I don't know what the shape of the project will be. But, I should become familiar with the unknown. At least, that's what my writer friends tell me.
I'll post my results up here, when I have them.

Friday Night in January, Uptown

Bare legged girls laugh
like a murder of crows. High
heels slip on black ice.

Weekly Word Count, January 22-27

Only 600 this week. 5569 for the year.

I still have that short story I'm working on, but I decided to work on poetry instead. More time intensive, less words. Writing's writing.

Bourgeois Poets Unite!

This essay in the NY Times Book Review section is fantastic! Jim Harrison reflects on Karl Shapiro's book Bourgeois Poet. This book deals with the struggling life of the poet-professor, the holy grail profession in the land of academic poets. For me, this article couldn't have come at a better time. Just when I'm contemplating what to do with my career, I read Harrison's quote:

"You will most likely get the back of the muse’s hand whether you have a chair at Harvard or are pumping septic tanks in Missouri."

Just the type of encouragement I need at the time I needed it.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Twin Lives

This shouldn't be a problem. Seriously, I think I'm a little off, because I can find the difficult (and the drama) in everything. I guess that's why I write poetry and why I'm glad my husband puts up with me, at times.

I actually have two jobs at my school. I teach two classes per term in English and/or 20th century literature. I love love love this part of my job. While the students aren't always in love with what I do, I can normally turn them around. I've been teaching at this school since I finished my thesis in graduate school, about two years. The other half of my job (up until a week ago) was Lead Instructor, basically the manager of the department. The department consists of all of the instructors involved in the non-culinary aspects of the school. Since we hire only adjuncts, we vary between 6-12 instructors, depending on the term. This part of the job can be stressful because the school has problems, which I am trying to fix, as best as I can. I've had this half of my job for almost a year.

This job makes me feel, at times, like I am divided by two. I wear two hats, have two duties, and they take up a lot of my time. Over the couple of years, while I have tried to leave this job for a real professor job, it's become clear to me that those jobs don't exist anymore. Not for profit and for profit schools alike both hire only adjunct instructors and I don't think I can live term to term like that, what with my exorbitant school loans and my not-so-exorbitant mortgage. When I was an adjunct, I had to work retail, and I just don't see myself doing that anymore.

Now here's the cool/scary part. My bosses (president of the school, et al) gave me a huge promotion last week. (They like me, they really like me.) They are now calling me Department Chair, which means that I will teach less (1 class a term instead of 2) and administrate more. I'll be more involved in the education initiatives of the school and the nature of the education we provide. So, I'll be in a better position to fix the problems we have. That's cool and I'm really happy that happened.

So now, I have these two careers. My education career as a future administrator and my writing career as a poet/teacher. One is really doing well and one is not. Unfortunately, I really like being an administrator but I am passionate about being a poet/teacher. With the education and training that I have, this is as I high as I can go. If I had to leave this school and go somewhere else, I would need to work myself up from the bottom again, because most schools require a master's degree in education (not poetry) for administrative jobs.

Here's my conflict. I should/could start up school again. There are several schools around me which offer Ed.d programs (doctorates in education) that would allow me to progress higher as an administrator, later in life. The programs take 5-7 years to complete, taking one class a term. My school will pay for my education, because they are dedicated to personal growth, so I can do this for free.

But by doing this, am I saying goodbye to being a poet? Am I admitting to myself that writing is fun and my passion, but ultimately not rewarding? I always knew that by dedicating myself to poetry, I am dedicating myself to a life of rejection letters, low salaries, and anonymity. While I have always known that I am never going to be a Mary Oliver or Adrienne Rich, I did fancy for myself a small teaching/writing career. With undertaking a new degree, I would be slicing into my very precious, very scarce writing time and turning it into homework time. I know it would be beneficial for my career and I know it would make me happy, but it's not poetry.

I know this seems silly, but I am stressing so much about this because most of the Ed.d programs in my city start every two years, in odd numbered years. In other words, I need to apply now-ish in order to start school in 9 months. Or I need to wait two years, which wouldn't be the end of the world.

I know most poets don't work in the academic world. Dana Gioia was the VP of General Foods before he was the chair of the NEA. Wallace Stevens spent his whole life being the Vice President of an insurance company. So there are 9 to 5 models out there. But can I truly be one of them, when life starts creeping in?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why I Love Poetry (or Why I'll Always Work 9 to 5)

When this week's prompt was posted for Poetry Thursday, I was preparing to deliver a lecture to a class on Why Poetry Still Matters. I created this lecture on a dare from another instructor, a fiction writer. He often teased me about my devotion to poetry, despite it's lack of commercial success and lack of popularity in our culture. Delivering this lecture to my students always excites me, because I like to turn these kids on to the ideas and rhythms of 20th/21st Century poetry. After contemplating this week's prompt, and realizing that I couldn't condense my lecture into 153 words or less, I decided to create a new type of argument for poetry, in poem form.

153 Argument for Writing Poetry

because when I was little, I believed
thinking a word dreamt it alive.

because most mornings, I don’t want to.
but then, I see sunlight shining on snow
bounce and refract into hundreds
of shades of blue, and I do.

because syllables sing inside my skin.

because I opened a fortune cookie last month
which said, “You see beauty in ordinary things,”
and I agree. because

I tasted caviar for the first time last week
and the delicate eggs burst
like bubbles beneath my tongue

and it tasted like salt and dirt
the way my husband’s skin
tastes like salt and dirt.

because I counted every word of this.

because I listened to our president speak
tonight, and I was equally

afraid and awed
by the cadence and hum of his words. because

there is magnetism between
two bodies, two words. besides,

what else am I supposed to do
with all of this?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Goodbye Politics!

Today is a sad day for alternative newspaper journalism. Steve Perry, editor of the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, is leaving his post after 13 years. He left this letter on the City Pages blog today.

In between the lines of this gracious exit letter lies a political struggle with the City Pages' parent company Village Voice Media. Steve Perry is cut from the old school journalistic cloth; he's a severe leftist political commentator who uses his paper as an outlet for his political slant. Meanwhile, the parent company is looking for a more apolitical tone for their papers. Steve Perry doesn't fit into the new vision of the company, a vision where diversity is squelched and homogeneity reigns supreme.

Over my coming of age in Minneapolis, after leaving L.A. as a teen, weaned on LA Weekly I have come to rely on City Pages for it's current, rousing, and yes, liberal, news journalism. I am hoping that another one of our weekly freebies takes the City Pages' place as a leader in lefty news reporting in this die-hard lefty town.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Retail Palace

In the past three days, I have visited IKEA twice. (I received gift certificates from my parents for my birthday and Christmas.) Each time I visited, I felt like I was entering into this surreal consumerist fantasy. And each time, I got a little drunk on it, to be honest.

The first time I went, it was a Saturday. I was accompanied by my husband. We strolled the showroom, hand in hand, tested out couches and debated the quality of coffee tables and entertainment centers. We were engulfed by this crowd of people, mothers toting toddlers, couples buying beds, preteens on wheelie sneakers, skating in and out of the crowd. At first, I felt at home in this paradise of clean lines and matching furniture. But as we delved into the bowels of the marketplace, surrounded by new plate sets for only $20 (!) and screen paintings of Audrey Hepburn to hang above your couch. The longer we stayed there, the more anxious I became, until I had to leave. There were just so many things, things, things to look at and I didn't know where to turn.

I had to go back today, after work. After spending 9 hours straight working and dealing with other people's problems, this experience was almost meditative. I found, after buying a new coffee table and new entertainment center, that we needed baskets for our DVDs and remote controls, and coasters to protect the beech laminate surface of the coffee table. At 6:00 on a Monday evening, IKEA is deserted. I avoided the faux living room set ups of the show room and went straight to the basement marketplace. I acquired a cart, with a wayward wobbling wheel, and sped through the store.

I dodged displays and weighing the relative quality of wicker baskets, I contemplated the looks of the merchandise. I was also inspired, in a surreal sort of way. I was thinking about my past in retail servitude and how I both missed it and detested it in equal measures. I was thinking about the physicality of this enormous store and the accessibility of all of these things. I was thinking about what Hemingway or Ginsberg would say about this place.

Most of all, I was thinking about how I could possibly write this all down.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Weekly Word Count January 14-January 21

This week wasn't bad. I hit 1760, which isn't 3000, but is better than last week.

I am working on a new short story that I wished I had more time to write on this week. Perhaps next week, I can finish it up and achieve my word count goal.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Girls Write Too!

I really don't know how I feel about this idea from Feminist Press.

They are creating a new series of books called "Two by Two," in which a feminist writer is paired with a male writer's work. For instance, the two offerings that they have coming out soon are Grace Paley with Robert Nichols and Tille Olsen with Leo Tolsoy. It seems like they are trying to match writers both tonally and through subject matter.

On the surface, this is a great idea. It brings a larger publication profile to women writers and it includes women into the larger canon of literature. Feminist writers especially have been relegated to the footnotes of history, rather than given equal time. Even though their press runs will be small, these boutique books could become collector's items, in time.

But, something about the side-by-side pairings creates this "whatever you can do, I can do better" ambiance. Especially in a pairing like Tille Olsen and Leo Tolstoy, when Olsen could have an entirely different and separate artistic enterprise that has nothing to do with Tolstoy's. It raises the question as to where women writers belong: in the larger pantheon of establishment writing or in a pantheon of their own?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

They Cut the Same, You Know

I got this line prompt from Tiel Anisha Ansari’s post on Poetry Thursday. Out of all the lines left, and there were a lot of good ones, this one spoke to me the most. I was able to almost immediately envision what I wanted to do with it.

I work at a culinary college teaching English & Literature, which can be invigorating or maddening, depending on how willing my students are to step outside of themselves. This poem is directly influenced by that experience, hence the knives and meat.

I was very pleased to find, after I wrote this poem of course, that the original author’s poem “Knives of Sorrow, Knives of Joy” also contain knife imagery. Great minds…


Most mornings, my students stand
at chrome tables, watching
an instructor lecture on primal
cuts of meat. Cold

carcasses lie before them,
white lines of fat glistening
against a field of blue, pink
and red. Knives in hand,

they go to work,
gently carving flesh from bone,
separating the choice
portions of meat from the gristle,

tenderloin, eye round,
flank and blade.
In my class, they slump in seats,
exhausted. I show them

a language, whole,
before slicing it into sections,
subject, verb, predicate,
modifier. Together,

we carve away,
removing the unsavory,
the spoiled, the over or under
used musculature of their words.

Their eyes glaze over, milky pools
of white. They say
they’re tired, they don’t understand.
They wield knives and I

wield words. I tell them,
they cut the same, you know.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My List of 30 Inspirations -- 26-30

Now that I'm finished with my list of inspirations, and I'm officially 30 as of today, I am wondering what other writers out there are inspired by. I'd love to hear from you on the big and little things that inspire you to write and create.

26 -- My Girl Heroes

When I was in college, I had a connection with a pretty inspiring group of women. I admired them (and still admire them) so much that I called them my girl heroes. (It was the late 90's, so I called them my grrrl heroes, actually.) We were all aspiring writers and artists at the time and we created our own little artistic community. It has been my pleasure to remain friends with them and see how they all have incorporated their art into their lives. Even though we live all across the country, I can still admire their art from afar. All of us, in our own ways, have remained dedicated to our work.

27 -- Oulipo

I learned about the French Oulipo poetic movement after reading Harryette Mullen's strange and wonderful book Sleeping With the Dictionary. She utilized one of Oulipo's common poetic forms, S+7, where you replace a received text's nouns with the noun 7 positions ahead in the dictionary. The result are poems which are surreal and insightful, at the same time. I personally have experimented with the S+7 form, but I haven't written anything truly remarkable.

Lucille Clifton is one of those poems who is awe-inspiring to me. In some of her best works, like The Terrible Stories, her language is so simple and heart-wrenching. I find her so accessible to read and to teach, which is a joy when you teach poetry to students who hate it. (Or think that they do.) Clifton also is just a remarkable example of a working poet; she has fostered her career for over 30 years, without sacrificing her identity or her other work as a teacher.

29 -- Dreams

Lately, sleep has been on my mind. Part of it is because of my struggles with insomnia over the past year. But part of it is a poet's fascination with the subconscious, with the anachronistic combination of daily minutiae and hidden desires. Other poets have tread these waters, most notably recently, Li Young-Lee and Elizabeth Alexander. I don't know what I can add to this already rich dialogue, but I can't stop including it in my writing.

30 -- Formal Poetry

I know it's 2007 and formal poetry is passe. But formal poetry, for me, provides a level of precision and discipline that free verse does not. When I write in form, I know that there isn't a syllable to spare. I also know that I am (at times) hiding behind the artifice of the form, which intellectualizes my writing. But there are times when a good villanelle can help me access feelings I wouldn't be able to access, without the use of refrain and rhyme. I can't live with it, but I can't quite live without it either.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My List of 30 Inspirations -- 21-25

It's officially the last day of my 20's, and I haven't freaked out yet. I keep waiting for the inevitable emotional disaster, and it doesn't arrive. So, perhaps, I really am okay with this 30th birthday thing. One of my good friends, who is many years older than me, says that 30 is nothing to worry about, but 50 can be jarring.

I wish I could say that I love F. Scott Fitzgerald because he is a fellow Minnesota writer. But, I read The Great Gatsby in the tenth grade, when I still lived in L.A. I had been a voracious reader up to this point, but I read whatever was lying around the house. Often the books had little literary merit and I just read to devour. When I read The Great Gatsby, it was my first experience being engrossed in a literary book, not just the trash that I liked to read. When I went to college, I burned through all of his books and loved him. Funny enough, I have never explored all of the Fitzgerald haunts in St. Paul, even though they are only 15 minutes away.

22 -- My Home

When I was applying to graduate school, I was trying to explain in my entrance essay the kind of life I envisioned for myself, with a graduate degree. My boyfriend (now husband) just said, "Be honest -- you want to sit at home all day and write poetry with a kitty in your lap." It was true then and even more true now. While I can't afford to spend all of my time at home, I know it is where I feel the most centered. It's certainly the place where I can be myself, create my art, and feel loved.

23 -- Journals

Whenever I start a new creative project, I buy a new journal. Not just any journal but a Academie Sketch Diary in the 9x6 in size. Then, I take my time to decorate the cover in a way that represents the project. In fact, I know that I am ready to start the project, move on from the gestational stage, when I can see the cover of the new journal. Normally, my covers are collage or water colors, and then poor man's laminated with transparent tape. With a good project, I can fill this journal with the rough drafts of the poems. With a bad project, I only fill one or two pages. I'm excited, because I just bought a new journal on Monday. I haven't made the cover yet, but I can see it.

I first read Sylvia Plath in a very stereotypical way. I was a wayward 15 year old who fancied herself a poet and wore black every day. I read The Bell Jar and felt as if she knew what it was like for girls like us. When I went to college, I was incredibly embarrassed by this cliche interest in Plath. But then, I took a senior capstone class on poetics and prosody and we had to analyze a Plath poem, entitled "Point Shirley". I was amazed at the technical dexterity and emotional resonance of this simple poem. After that reading, I devoured whatever I could read by Plath and thought to hell with expectations.

25 -- Tori Amos

I still remember the first time I heard Tori Amos' music. I was sitting in my mom's apartment in L.A. and watching MTV, as I was wont to do for hours on end. And then came on this weird video shot on a white stage with just a woman and a piano. I instantly fell in love with her weird voice, obscure lyrics, and above all, her quiet boldness. As I have followed her career, I have been awed at the beauty and intricacy of her lyrics, even if I don't always know what they are about. As a writer, I am inspired by her ability to create such enduring and unique imagery in her work.

Monday, January 15, 2007

My List of 30 Inspirations -- 16-20

I'd like to point out that this is my 30th post on this blog and I'm celebrating my movement into my 30's with a list of 30 things that inspire me.

I discovered F.L. Block's Weetzie Bat books when I was a freshman in college. I was working in the campus library and making my way through many different authors. I found the original Weetzie Bat book and vaguely remember a good review in a Sassy magazine from years ago. I immediately was entranced by Block's depiction of Los Angeles, my hometown, and the punk-rock girl who lives with her friends and raises an alternative family. In these books, L.A. is as magical and strange as I remembered it and Weetzie Bat presented a realistic and endearing heroine. While I was disappointed with Necklace of Kisses, her adult/chick lit follow up that came out last year, I could read these books a million times.

17 -- Identity

When I started writing poetry, I wrote about who I was at the moment. I was young and trying to cement who I was and who I wasn't. Every word I wrote down was like etching something in wet concrete, changing my surface. I read other writers who were committed to the formation of their identities as women and artists, like Adrienne Rich and Denise Levertov. Now that I'm older, I feel solidified. I feel like I know my heart and my mind, who I am and where I am going, so I don't write about this as much. Without this topic, I wonder where my poems will go, although I seriously doubt that my identity is as set as I assume.

18-- Mixing Media & Genre

I like the lie in writing and art that there are separate and distinct artistic mediums and genres that can never be crossed. It's so false and so easily broken. Right now, I am reading a pretty amazing book by Jodi Picoult called The Tenth Circle. It's a story of a family in crisis and it includes a comic book that mirrors the action, "written" by one of the characters. It's brilliant and seamless. One of my favorite poets, Kevin Young, uses genre in his poetry. His most recent book, Black Maria, is a noir movie in poem form. His first book, Jelly Roll, uses the blues as it's dominant trope. I haven't been able to make that leap yet, in my own writing, but I love to read it in others' work.

When I was 20, I went to Mexico City with my mother. My mother had a conference to go to, and I was allowed free reign of the city during the days. The highlight of my trip was when I went to the Frida Kahlo Museum. The museum was her original home and I was allowed to walk around in it. I saw her gardens and her studios, the bed where she would paint with an easel above her, towards the end of her life. I was (and still am) in awe of her commitment to her art and self-portraiture.

20 -- Living in a city

Right out of college, I lived in the suburbs of Chicago by myself. Of course, I picked the most conservatives of suburbs, because it was adjacent to my new job. After two years of being surrounded by minivans and neocons, I ran back to Minneapolis and the urban neighborhood I lived in during high school. I love it here -- I live in walking distance to downtown and I am surrounded by diversity. I love the rhythm of the neighborhood, the constant hum of activity. This rhythm and hum seeps into my poetry. Most Minnesota poets are really into the beauty and silence of nature, and this has always frustrated me, since we have such a vibrant city. However, a really talented Minneapolis poet, Ed Bok Lee, characterizes the unique flavor of the city in his book Real Karaoke People.

The Full Monty

The prompt this week on Poetry Thursday is to post a line of your own poetry for someone else to incorporate in his/her own poem. I left the line "Lonely as traffic jams," from this poem.

This poem was the result of an exercise in grad school where we modeled a poem after another writer's poem. It's been so many years, but I believe this poem was modeled after an Al Young poem about a place he lived, but I cannot find it online. :)

Los Angeles/A Screenplay

I too
once lived
in this city

bare feet hopscotching
over melting asphalt,
jumping over
almost visible
heat waves

gray ocean devouring
discarded broken
bottles, tiny
toes, brown sand

avenues lined with palm tress ten stories high
all bowing
towards the setting

moonlight upstaged
by glittering streetlights
and 100's of cars
slowing to a stop.

Lonely as traffic jams,
I lived there too.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Weekly Word Count January 8-14

I could have a lot of excuses for this week... first week of the term, responsibilities after work several nights this week, one of the kitties had to go to the vet. But the truth of the matter is, I just didn't sit down to write much this week. The week just slipped through my fingers.

So I only have 500 words this week. Total for the year: 3209.

I'll look for less excuses and more time next week.

My List of 30 Inspirations -- 11-15

Now that I'm writing this list. I'm finding inspiration everywhere. I hope I can contain it to only thirty items...guess there's hope for forty yet.

11 -- Language

Andre Breton says, "We are poets because above all we attack language, the worst convention." I don't know if I agree with him anymore. When I was in college, just starting out as a poet, I subscribed to the belief that language is a weapon. I wanted to disarm that weapon. But it's not as easy as that now. I spend most of my time, between teaching and writing, molding language to my purposes (when I can) and marveling at the imprecision of it (when I cannot.) When I wrote my thesis, I labored over every word -- is this the perfect one? Is this? I think, while I understand languages conventions and faults, I am searching for the perfection in language when I write.

12 -- Crap

I don't mean this in a scatological sense, of course. I mean it in the cultural sense. Without crap in our lives, ludicrous, trivial, gaudy, demeaning crap, I would have no topics or themes in my writing. Some if it is media related, but some of it is just all the excess we have in our culture. We are so rich in this country, in resources and people, but we waste so much, because we can. I like to rail against this in my writing, but I also like to submerge myself in it. I think the detritus of our culture tells us more about it, than the things we save.

13 -- Memoirs & Biography

My favorite type of reading, hands down, is memoir and biography. It should be poetry, but I find the chronicles of other people's lives engrossing. Some of the most captivating biographies/memoirs I have read are Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde, Recollections of My Life as a Woman by Diane DiPrima, Memoirs of a Beatnik also by Diane DiPrima, Desolate Angel by Dennis McNally, and The Lives of the Muses by Francine Prose. As you can see, I am particularly obsessed with how artists and writers chronicle their own lives, or are chronicled by others.
14-- Beat Poets

From the above listings, it's clear that I am a little Beat obsessed. This is odd, because I am entrenched in a life that most Beats would find repressed and bourgeois. But, beneath my 9-to-5 day job and mortgage payments beats a heart of a true Ginsberg, DiPrima, Snyder, Baraka devotee. I love the romance of their lifestyle, of course, but I appreciate their political and artistic aesthetic more. They left us so many gifts in poetry, a critique of our consumerist culture just as it was beginning, a marriage of political ideals and artistic action, and the inclusion of pop culture and daily life in poetry. I couldn't write what I write, without their foundations.

One of my friends from high school gave me Writing Down the Bones for my birthday one year. I've read it dozens of times in the years since. When I began teaching writing at the college level, I immediately turned to Natalie Goldberg's principles for guidance and direction. When we had copyright clearance, I used to force my students to read several of her chapters in Writing Down the Bones. Her approach to writing is so accessible and honest that it resonates with my students, and with me.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

My List of 30 Inspirations -- 6-10

As I've been thinking about this list during the last couple of days, I keep thinking in big terms & social terms. I've been trying to be frivolous and light, but it's not happening. When it comes down to it, the big things are what truly feed me.

6 -- Media
Media is my best friend and my arch nemesis. Without media, I don't know what I would rage against. I also don't know what I'd do with all of my free time. I believe equally in the equalizing power of the media, in the right hands, and the imperialist and conquering force of media in the wrong hands. I am constantly puzzling over the freedom and responsibility of expression.
7 -- Sin & Forgiveness
Sherman Alexie, in his poem Indian Boy Love Song # 1, has this movement of lines about all the people he has lost to their various tragedies, remaining on earth, in sin and forgiveness. That line has been haunting me this afternoon. The idea of Sin and Forgiveness, though, has been haunting me most of my life. As a person, I obsess over my sins, to myself and to others, and I stumble towards forgiveness. As a writer, I like to chronicle perceived sins, and how we work towards forgiveness in ourselves and in our lives.

I think I'm stuck with Elizabeth Bishop. In graduate school, I had to read her Collected Poems in three separate and consecutive classes. Each time was a distinct experience. In some ways, I feel like her clipped, patrician, formal writing represents all the things that are wrong with my writing. I run to her style because it is so bare and precise, but at the same time entirely impenetrable. But then, I read poems like "One Art", "In the Waiting Room", or "Sestina" and I feel lucky when I see that glimpse of honesty and vulnerability. I pray for that kind of awareness and light in my own writing.

9 -- My Past
I don't have much of a real past. Not in a scandalous, lascivious sense. Sometimes, though, it feels like something that I am often trying to escape or to forget. A couple of my best friends have known me since I was 15 (almost half of my life) and they remember me in my dark and embarrassing moments. In my other incarnations. But,even as I run from it and deny, it is such a huge part of me and my writing. I hardly ever write in the present tense. Instead, I chronicle all those moments that I want to forget.

It's seems a little antithetical that a feminist poet would love such a misogynist writer. But I do. This summer, while in California with my dad, I was lucky enough to visit the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur and it was a rush and a thrill. I began reading Miller when I was in college, and I think I am so attracted to his writing because it is so visceral, honest and biting. All qualities I hope to engender in my writing.

Publication Opportunity for the Unpublished Masses

I found this article from my Publisher's Weekly daily email and it sounds like a fantastic opportunity.

You can go to and post a first chapter of a novel for review. The website's participants will comment and review on your offering and the 5 best offerings will be reviewed by a panel of judges, for possible publication by Simon & Schuester.

Interestingly enough, recently sparked a deal with Borders to help Borders gain customers, through promotion on's site. So the first chapter contest includes guaranteed promotion by the #2 big box book retailer.

I was considering submitting my own chapters from my stagnating 1920's novel, but the entire book is due by February. I don't think I can finish a novel by then.

Friday, January 12, 2007

My List of 30 Inspirations -- 1-5

Next Wednesday, I'm turning 30. When my husband turned 30 last year, he got a huge back tattoo and panicked about his future. My best friend from college turned 30 two days ago and she drank Irish Car Bombs in a bar. My best friend in Minneapolis turned 30 two years ago and he seriously considered joining the military.

Personally, I'm not having even close to the same response. I thought I would be panicking, but I'm almost serene. I'm planning my celebration and (in my short bursts of free time) contemplating my life. So, in that vein, I'm going to list (in no particular order) the 30 things that inspire me & feed me as a writer.

1 -- SARK
I discovered the writer SARK when I was 15 years old. I had just moved to Minneapolis and I had no one to talk to besides my brother. I was browsing in Orr Books and found her first book, A Creative Companion. Her curlicue writing and colorful doodles inspired me. I began journaling, sporadically, and learned that my creative process was individual and okay.

2 -- My Students
I may gnash my teeth about my job and all the stress, but this past week of teaching has been invigorating. When I get to teach writing to people who are unfamiliar with it, or who outright dislike it, I get to share my passion for my craft. This is truly a gift, especially when they become competent at writing or (shock) start to like it.

Again, this list is in no particular order. If it were in an order, Ani would probably be in the top ten. I saw Ani DiFranco perform at my college when I was 19 years old. I've been hooked ever since. I am amazed at her ability to tell the truth and to make it sound so damn good.

4 -- My Body
I don't think I would be a poet if I didn't honor my sensory experience every day. I know that sounds weird, because of course everyone has sensory experiences every day. But how often do we take the time to notice them? I find that my longest dry spells, as a writer, are when I am spending too much time in my head. I also know that my poems that don't work are ones in which I intellectualize a physical moment.

I didn't discover Muriel Rukeyser for myself until I was in graduate school. I was taking a women's poetry class, one of many in my academic career, and my professor, Patricia Kirkpatrick, introduced me to her criticism and poetry. (If you haven't read The Life of Poetry, you should.) Her poetry is sensual, honesty, political and breathtaking. She is a model for fearless women poets, before there were many.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag

Once I saw this optional idea on Poetry Thursday, I've heard nothing but cliches all week. They're taking over! Here's my interpretation of a cliche very dear to me, the idea of calling sleep 40 winks. If only it were that easy. (I must add that I'm slightly thankful for my insomnia this week, because I don't know when I would have found the time to write otherwise.)

40 Winks

Welcome to paradise, he said to me,
as I stamped my feet in the cold. No shit,
I muttered underneath my breath,
wondering what we really meant.

I watched the digital numbers on the gas pump
accumulate, illuminate, as I waited to go home.

Ten hours later, warm at home, lying
in bed, I am still wondering, trying
to catch 40 winks,
one at a time. They flutter

through my finger tips on eyelash
soft wings. I count them,
like sheep, mouthing the numbers in the dark.

I think about him, talking to me,
clutching the dripping squeegee, slamming it
into the pool of murky blue
water. He walks to the entrance,
talks to the girl in the purple miniskirt
and yellow tights.
I follow them inside.

Welcome to paradise,
he says to the clerk, who hands him
a carton of cigarettes and a case of beer. Welcome
to paradise, he says to the suit,

paying for gas and condoms
on his AmEx. Welcome to
paradise, he says to the teenage boy
unloading the case of candy bars
in the aisle, aligning the red wrappers.

I circle the store, distant
and cold in my pajamas, and make my bed
on a stack of yesterday’s USA Todays.

I wrap myself in gray words
and blurred pictures, the print rubbing off
on my skin. I count my winks,
one by one, as they escape my grasp,
wondering if sleep will ever come home.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Wasting Time #2 -- Blurred Boundaries

Over the Christmas season, I was able to take some much needed vacation from my job. I took ten whole days off. Then, last week, we had a short week plus faculty development, which was more fun than work. I spent those couple of weeks reading and writing a lot, more than I had in a long time. I was cocooning myself in my living room, bundled up in blankets and cuddling with my kitties, and spending time doing what I love.
Today, I had my first "real" day of work of the new year. I thought it might be difficult to plunge right back into the frenetic pace, but instead it felt like I hadn't missed a beat at all. I was back to my 15 minute lunch break, mad dashes around the building lifestyle. There were times when I forgot to go the bathroom.

I have been thinking tonight about how easy it is for me to do that-- sacrifice break times and down times and let work consume me. Even when I got home today, I didn't feel like writing; I felt like working or worrying about work. I realized that the healthy barrier I constructed around myself over the break is being slowly etched away by my daily work activities. Or more realistically, I am stretching my own boundaries while working.

I've called this a time waster because, even though I am efficient and sufficient at my job, I am preventing myself from doing what I really love, my writing. I have to constantly remind myself that I am paid for 40 hours a week, not 400. I wish I could turn my work on and off, like a light switch, but I am still sorting that out for myself.

I think that other people (those magical other people whose houses are clean and lives are orderly) have this part figured out. They can work their jobs, come home, put their jobs away, and focus on their real lives. I wonder how they manage to do that at all. While I try to figure it out, I'll just focus on repairing those boundaries, between my work and my real life, after stretching them much too thin.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Weekly Word Count January 1-7

I don't know if I'm going to have time to write today, so here's my week's count so far. 2709. Not too shabby.

I didn't realize exactly how long 3000 words was. This is going to be a pretty major commitment.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Why Can't We Have Television Like This?

On the BBC, they have a television show called Balderdash and Piffle and I think it's a pretty amazing idea. The show follows Oxford English Dictionary linguistic scholars as they try to track down the origins of words. The best part is that the audience follows along and engages in the process of tracking down word origins.

Here is the list of words they are trying to track right now. The show often focuses on slang, because those are the most difficult to track. (They are so difficult to track because it starts in verbal language among social groups and then travels to mainstream written language later.) This season they have divided groups into themes, so that if you have a particular hobby (like fashion) you can track down fashion related words.

Since I only currently watch a few shows on American television, I wonder why we don't have our own Balderdash & Piffle. Are we too busy making shows like this? And this? And this? I've never been much of an anglophile, but I suddenly want to move to Britain. Or at least move my television there.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Libraries -- the New Wal-Mart?

I don't normally like to think of commerce & literature together, but they are intrinsically connected, whether we like it or not. (My husband is a former manager of a big box bookstore, so I definitely understand the connection.) As a poet especially, I know that I would never have the same financial success as, say, John Grisham or Stephen King.

However, I always thought that our libraries would be a storehouse of all works of literature, but this article from the Wall Street Journal is disturbing, to say the least. It details the use of a computer cataloging system for libraries which monitors circulation, among other things. If a book doesn't circulate within two years, it recommends permanently pulling it from the shelves.

How would students or young readers be able to rediscover writers who have fallen from favor? How would we retain our literary heritage, without the actual physical books to read? How would we be able to gain inspiration from our previous generation's work, if that work has been eradicated?

I know this is slightly hypocritical blogging about this technological change to our literary heritage, but to me it smacks much more of commercialism and pandering than opening up new avenues of expression. I shudder at the new world without complete libraries -- full of VC Andrews books and blank stares.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Politicians Who Piss Me Off #2

It's a political day... I am way behind the curve on this one, but I just read it in a year in review section in Minnesota Monthly magazine. Tim Pawlenty, our Bush-clone governor in Minnesota, vetoed a bill creating a state poet laureate position. That's not so bad, if he chooses to spend the money on education funding. (Fat chance, but one can dream.) But in a letter describing the method behind his madness in the veto, he wrote:

"Even though we have a state 'folklorist,' I also have concern this will lead to calls for other similar positions. We could also see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter."

I shudder when I realize that this man has just been re-elected to our governorship for another term of rule. Goodbye arts, hello ignorance.

Politicians Who Piss Me Off #1

In a local city magazine, The Rake, I read this article which has left my blood boiling for two days. Last week, Minneapolis had to close down 3 city libraries because the city council and the mayor could not figure out how to fund the library system. While they could offer a sum that could help the Minneapolis Library system tread water for a year, they consistently refuse to create a budget that allows the Minneapolis Library system flourish.

As the article in The Rake puts it, the politicians are framing the debate as a choice between more cops and more libraries. Obviously, public safety is incredibly important, so bye-bye library. However, one politician, Don Samuels, distills the debate into this statement: "When you are a person at the other end of a gun... the only use for a book is to throw it at them, or block a bullet with it."

Council Member Samuels totally ignores the social effects of having a library system available in an area that can use the extra community and education that a free public library affords. While it may not help to have a book on you when confronted with a gun, surely the presence of books in a child's life can prevent the acquisition of the gun in the first place.