Monday, April 30, 2007

#7 -- Two Old Men's Bedroom

It's been awhile since I've done a haiku. I was afraid that I was only inspired by the wintry landscapes. Being a transplanted Minnesotan, that makes sense. However, I was able to knock one out this weekend, so I must have just been dormant.

Two Old Men's Bedroom

Patch of green beneath
a concrete overpass sky. Still,
narrow light seeps through.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekly Word Count April 23-April 29

1000 words this week, aka 2 poems. A new record for me.

14994 for the year.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Poetic Verbs, April 21-28

To honor my writing practice this week, I...

* wrote two poems this week, one for Poetry Thursday and one because I was inspired

* walked around Lake of the Isles by myself, which helped unlock poem #2. For me, walking and solitude = inspiration.

* purchased several books of poetry at my local Half Price Books -- 50 Poems by e.e. cummings, The Rings of Saturn by Diane Wakoski and One Red Eye by Kirsten Dierking, a graduate of my school's MFA program

* purchased a book of black and white photographs by Robert Adams, to use as poem triggers

* started a Poetry Book Club on this blog, to get myself back into reading more poetry

* listed my blog on several blogrolls, including BlogHer and Poets101

* submitted a set of poems to a journal for publication

* attended a writer's group meeting and critiqued/discussed poetry with the other member of my group

* spent 10 minutes out of my day on a work day sitting outside and watching the clouds (This freaked out a co-worker, by the way, but it was my lunch break.)

This is what I've been able to remember for this week. I'm going to start keeping a journal, to keep better track.

If you'd like to share your verbs, please do so in the comment section with a link or a list.

As a note, starting next week, I'll be doing my verbs on Mondays, because I seem to post more on weekends already. So, I'll post my next verbs on May 7.

Poetry Book Club -- Update

I have gotten two recommendations for the inaugural Poetry Book Club, one by Poet With a Day Job and one by me, seconded by Sasha.

So here are the recommendations...drumroll...

Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon


Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey.

If you're interested in participating in the book club, here's what you should do:

If you have any further suggestions for titles, please leave a link to a description in the comment section. Otherwise, please vote for your preference in the comments section.

I'd like to select a book by May 1st, and have a discussion post on May 21st.

(Gosh I'm bossy. :))

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Villanelle is Swell!

It’s pretty easy to write an article about villanelles. I’ve got that covered. Writing a villanelle, on the other hand, is something totally different. I hadn’t tried villanelles in over a year, so this was good practice. And I got to remember why I like form so much.

When writing this, I knew I wanted to break the form a bit. So, my refrains are a bit malleable. I wanted to retain some of the main words, but have them echo throughout the poem, rather than repeat word for word. Also, I pushed the form a bit with my rhymes. Some of them are slant/off. The rule I was most stringent about was the iambic pentameter, until I got to the final stanza.

A good warm up for writing this was the fact that I taught both “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and “One Art” in my Literature class on Tuesday. It helped me get the feeling of the form that day, for when I wrote this.

Model, Captured for Hours, Whispers

Contort your body. Careful to comply,
I twist my torso, hollow out my chest,
then gaze at my reflection, in reply.

I cannot see my surface, how it shines
so bright that you can see yourself expressed
in my contorted back, but I comply.

I feel as if I’m made of smoke and light,
strategically placed mirrors; nothing’s left
just gazed upon reflections, mute replies.

But in the scrim of images, stretched tight
across my skin, I see ourselves, a mess:
distorted limbs, regrets. We all comply

to orders easily. We push, deny
ourselves of everything. This is our test.
We reproduce reflections, in reply.

We are stripped bare, compressed down to a size
where there is nothing wasted, nothing left.
Contort your body, silently comply
to the refracted image – wait for the reply.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Poetry Book Club -- Read All About It!

I had an idea today, after reading this article by Neil on Poetry Thursday. The article talks about our reluctance and inability (to a certain degree) to comment on other people's writing. We instead leave a "Wow--insert your favorite modifier here" comment on everyone's blog. Personally, I think partially it's because we're out of practice on critiquing poetry.

So, I'd like to start a poetry book club on my site. This will help me read more poetry, because besides the stuff I teach, I'm slacking in that area. And it'll help me to remember how to critique the work and develop good critical analysis skills. (Wow I sound like a lit teacher!) Mine have atrophied a bit after graduate school.

Next month, I'll pick a book of poetry and then suggest a discussion date. I'll post a blog entry up for comments and hopefully, I can start a discussion about it. So, if you're interested in participating and would like to suggest a book, please leave suggestions on this post!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Poet is a Verb

I had an epiphany on Saturday. Not just a little, oh that's an interesting thought, hiccup. But a full-blown, change my view, alter my approach, epiphany. See, I was lying in the bathtub, my best place for thinking, and reading "Writer as Parent: No More Aching to Be an Artist" by Don Barden, which is in the new Poets & Writers. In this article, Barden describes how his writing life was turned upside down once he began to stay home with his toddler while his wife ran a bookshop. (By the way, from the outside, their life seems pretty blessed.) He was forced to write in ten minute bursts, and give himself breaks by doing the dishes or laundry. He no longer had time to agonize over a sentence for hours on end. He had to produce. Barden interviews other authors in the same position, most of them with multiple children and books. They view their lives as messy, time-strapped, but most of all, productive.

I enjoyed the article and got out of the tub. Then, it hit me, when I realized I had spent 45 minutes in the bath. Doing nothing. Not writing, in other words. Now, I'm not trying to begrudge myself the pleasure of soaking on a Saturday. Don't get me wrong. But I spend a lot more of time not-writing than writing. Most weekends, I think to myself, I'll totally get some writing done. But then, I surf MySpace, I see movies, I do homework, I grade papers. Most of the time, I do everything but write.

I've been calling myself a poet since I was 15 years old. And I have been writing for that long, which in itself is an accomplishment. Being a poet is a large part of my identity. It's how I label myself to my friends, family, colleagues, students, and community. But it hit me -- poet should be a verb, not a noun. It's not something I am, it's something I do. And I could do a lot more writing, publishing, and revising. In my adult life, my dedication to my craft has waned, post-graduate school. I see myself going through these waves of productivity and non-productivity with my writing. Currently, I spend more time worrying about my teaching career than working on my writing career.

I haven't exactly been a slouch recently. Since starting this blog, I have been much more productive. I average about a poem a week, which is a huge improvement from my last two year fallow period. (Try 0 poems a week.) But writing is something I put off, like cleaning off my desk or scrubbing the tub. It should be the focus of my week, the focus of my activities, rather than the hobby or chore I squeeze in, between episodes of 24. When I think of the self-made artists/writers that I admire, like SARK, Ani DiFranco, Henry Miller, et al, they took actions to create the lives that they wanted. They write/wrote voraciously, but they also took the time to make careers from their craft. This is truly what I want in life.

In order to better help focus my attention, I decided on Saturday to weekly post the verbs (or actions) I have taken regarding poetry in my week. I think I'll post them on Saturdays, to differentiate from my Weekly Word Counts. I've suffered from a feeling that I'm not inspired by anything in my writing, so I'm going to look at these actions as writer's dates as first, like Julia Cameron suggests. But they can also be actions I've taken in the business of my writing, like seeking publication or promoting my blog.

After I decided this, I had the most amazing Saturday. Everything I did had a feeling of lightness. First, I took a walk around my neighborhood and wrote a poem. Then, the husband and I went to the Midtown Global Market and saw an awesome folk singer named Chastity Brown and ate African curry and bought Mexican food for dinner. That night, after dinner, we took another walk and met a group of punks having a sidewalk decorating party. I wrote "Poet is a Verb" on the ground, the line that's been following me all day, and my husband and his body outline chalked on the floor. And I still got to watch 24, knowing that I fulfilled myself as a writer and wife first.

I think this is going to work.

Weekly Word Count, April 16-April 22

I wrote one poem this week, after a walk around my neighborhood yesterday. 500 words.

This brings my yearly count up to 13994 for the year.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

MySpace Saves Bookstores

According to this article from Publisher's Weekly, the social networking site MySpace has helped save a Chicago institution from closing.

Women & Children First Bookstore, a 28 year old feminist bookstore in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, used their MySpace page to discuss their financial difficulties with their patrons and friends. Even though W&CF is such a popular bookstore, their financial difficulties are a direct result of people buying books elsewhere. In fact many indie bookstores (and big box bookstores) are suffering, due to the widespread popularity of, among other things. The owners of W&CF posted this missive in their blog, to an overwhelmingly positive response. Their sales, both in store and online, improved considerably within a weekend.

Personally, I think it would be a shame if W&CF closed down. When I was in college, I drove down to Chicago to see Alice Walker read from her book on female genital mutilation in Africa. I was packed into this little tiny bookstore with over a hundred other people, and I got to meet Walker face to face. Without bookstores like Women & Children First to support them, independent and interesting writers may not have a chance to promote their work.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Poetry for the People

This has been my favorite Poetry Thursday prompt so far. We were encouraged to distribute our poetry, guerrilla style. They even provided a template, with the Poetry Thursday logo, to showcase our poems.
I decided to create my own logo for my site and place it within the template. Then, I selected two poems, 153 Arguments for Writing Poetry (something I submitted for PT, of course) and an older poem, which I've listed below.

I distributed my poems in a couple of different ways. First, I went to the center of my neighborhood in Uptown Minneapolis and handed out poems to random people. I asked them to give them to other people throughout their days. Most people seemed not to mind, but a guy who was wearing a red leather jacket and red cowboy boots promised to hand them out only if he liked them. I also gave the handouts to several retail workers in the neighborhood. The Starbucks girl was afraid to give them out at work, so she promised to do after. Then, I gave a couple copies to some friends to redistribute for me.

The second part of my distribution scheme was the countless billboards and cork boards that we have in our neighborhood. The pictures above are from my local co-op, where they have a huge round billboard for posting signs. I dropped them off at all the cork boards I could find in my neighborhood. Lastly, my city loves its freebie magazines. So I slipped some of my poems into the freebies. My favorite match was putting the poem below in with the house buying catalogs.

So that's my guerrilla marketing, putting poems in the hands of people. I like this idea so much that I may keep it up for awhile. Below is the second poem that I distributed.

Ten Miles West From Here, 4:42 AM

Look out the window, now. Swish of red and white tail. Slips
through the cracked fence hole the last guy left broken, unfilled.

Sleepless father flips channels. Seamless, glossy, empty
fantasies of pleasure pass him by. Clutching unfilled

little fingers twitch open and closed, searching solace.
Mother won’t wake until she cries. Young girl’s unfilled

sleeping lips ask the questions they can only utter
in dreams. Next morning, her mouth feels dry, scraped, unfilled.

Six blissful drunk teenage boys swerve past earnest joggers.
Their early mornings, late nights feel memorized, unfilled.

The same small red fox darts across lawns, scavenges for
food. Her starved stomach tightens. Can she survive, unfilled,

staring into dark windows? Can the fox see her full
reflection, mirrored on concave skies, gray and unfilled?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Art of Losing Isn't Hard To Master...

I have written an article on villanelles, which has just been published at Poetry Thursday. I love to write about forms and I was so glad to have this opportunity. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pick Me! Pick Me!

... wait, I don't have a book yet.

The Pulitzer Prizes in literature have been announced. Unlike the NY Times, I'll list poetry first...Natasha Trethewey for Native Guard. Southern Spaces has a video with Ms. Trethewey reading her poem "Elegy for the Native Guards," as well as an older video of her reading "Theories of Time and Space." I haven't heard of her before, but these videos are pretty interesting.

In fiction, Cormac McCarthy won for The Road. His website's already been updated with the news.

Monday, April 16, 2007

An Unspeakable Tragedy

I know this is technically a blog about writing, but I cannot help but comment on the killings at Virginia Tech. As a teacher and member of an academic community, and someone who believes deeply in the values of a learning community, I am full of sorrow for the students, faculty, and staff of this school.

I know it's really early and we don't know what truly happened or why. But I think about the kind of world we live in where this can happen at a place where young adults go to feel safe, learn, and grow, and it's scary. I want to be a positive person, believe in the inherent goodness of people and our possibilities, but events like this dishearten me. I always have believed that education is a solution to many of our social ills, but it feels like schools are becoming less like safe havens, and more like everywhere else. I hope that in time we can learn why things like this happen and how we can prevent them.

I know that there aren't any easy answers, but I hope we can find some way to make our schools (and our world) safe again.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Guerilla Campaign Has Begun

If you have found one of my poems with this logo on it and logged on to this site to see what it's about, please leave a comment here. Also, please visit Poetry Thursday to learn about the Guerilla Campaign prompt.

Weekly Word Count, April 9-April 15

While I didn't have time for Poetry Thursday this week, which makes me sad, I did have time to write another article. So, 1008 words for this week, which makes for 13494 for the year. Not too shabby.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dear Diary...

According to this LA Times article, there's a new-ish performance art movement in NYC involving teenage diaries. Apparently, once a month there is a Cringe reading, where people in their 20's and 30's read excerpts from their junior high and high school diaries. It's played for laughs, most of the time, but every so often there is also the painful realization about hating parents and life.

I think this is a brilliant idea, for someone else. I cannot imagine reading my diaries out loud in front of an audience. I have a stack of them in my basement, that I kept sporadically from 16 years old through now. They're mostly writing journals, but some of them have diary style entries. I blush when I read the ones from college. And I'm the only one in the room! It takes a lot of chutzpah to be able to do this type of reading. Chutzpah that I don't quite have.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sheep and Feathers

The Loft, a non-profit writing organization in the TC, emailed out the link to this Galway Kinnell/Josephine Dickinson slide show. In it, both Dickinson and Kinnell read a poem, while you watch pictures from their lives.

Kinnell and Dickinson recently performed a dual reading, as part of a program called Talking Volumes, which is co-sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and Star Tribune. MPR broadcasts an evening of interviews and readings with a famous writer, the Loft encourages purchase of their books, and the Star Trib publishes reviews and excerpts of the books.

Talking Volumes is one of the true joys of living in Minneapolis -- I got to meet Robert Bly at his Talking Volumes reading several years ago. He asked me if he said anything in the interview that offended me. I lied and said no. (He said grad school was useless and I was in the middle of grad school.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

RIP, Kurt Vonnegut

It's a sad day for the writing world. Kurt Vonnegut, author/satirist/social critic, passed away at the age of 84. Vonnegut is well-known for the depth of his work, including novels like Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5. LA Times both had excellent obituaries on this curmudgeonly genius.

Each semester, I teach Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, and I am always struck by how relevant it is today, despite being written decades ago. I'm lucky to have such a great piece of dystopian literature to share with my students.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What My Life Looks Like Right Now...

I have been too busy to blog, lately. A paragraph here and there during the week hasn't been possible during the past week or two.
Part of it is due to the class, which I am officially half way through as of this week. It's a totally enriching experience and I really am learning alot. But, it's gobbled up a nice little portion of my free time.

Part of it is due to the job, which waxes and wanes in busy-ness and responsibility. And it's waxing right now. It should get better in the next week or two, but right now it's hugely busy.

And part of it is just because of my procrastination. I think of something to blog about, I imagine blogging about it, and it slips between my fingers when I tell myself I'm too busy to blog about it.

For instance, yesterday was the anniversary of publication of The Great Gatsby, quite possibly one of my favorite books of all time. F. Scott Fitzgerald, mad genius, was a St. Paul native and I thought, what a great topic to write about. And then, I went out to dinner with the husband, and did homework afterwards.

I never got to write about how I read TGG when I was 15 years old, the summer before I moved to Minnesota. How I devoured it, ignoring all other books. Then, I even rented the awful Robert Redford movie, and tried to decide if I'd rather be Nick or Daisy. (Definitely Nick.) When I went to college, I read every Fitzgerald book and tried to write like him. It's didn't work, of course.

So, happy belated birthday to The Great Gatsby. I wonder if F. Scott Fitzgerald procrastinated...

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Weekly Word Count, April 2-8

Despite the flu and the last week of classes, I did have 500 words this week. More to come next week, as I'll be writing another article.

12486 for the year.

Speaking of New Year's Goals, I'm going to try to be more diligent with my blogging during the week. I've fallen into a pattern of blogging only on weekends, because I reserve weeknights for studying. (Stupid education and trying to better myself.) I'm going to try to get back in the habit, because, well, I miss it a bit.

Here's to trying to balance it all.

Any Press is Good Press

In this week's New York Times Book Review, Derek Walcott's new edition of selected poems gets mostly savaged in this review. The reviewer, a poet and critic named William Logan, at times seems complimentary. He praises Walcott's use of landscape, mostly. But everything else is tinny, false, and didactic, in Logan's view.

Now Walcott is not one of my favorite poets. I like him, but I have never been able to delve deeply into his work. I liked his take on the Homeric epic when I read it in grad school, but a book of his is languishing on my shelf as we speak. So, it was interesting for me to read this review, simply because I've not seen a poet ragged on so completely in a review in recent times. I want to feel bad for Walcott, but Logan's critiques seems so pithy and apt.

For instance, Logan writes, "Overstuffed with images, his languid, occasionally lackadaisical style is more in love with words than with what they represent. He’s a better poet when just mulling things over, in a louche beachcomber-ish way — when he talks politics, the taste seems bitter in his mouth."

Or in another section, "The poet too often borrows the academic’s gassy editorials (“the politicians plod / without imagination”) and self-service sentiments (“poetry is still treason / because it is truth”). If he had not invented himself, academia would have had to invent him."

The review is so negative, that it is intriguing to me. I want to pick up the new book, just to see if Logan's right. This review should sell a lot of books, in only the way that a thrashing review can.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

To the First Poet I Understood

Dear Langston,

Thank you for freeing me
at age 15
from the stutter and wheeze
of dead language. You showed me
your loopy, jazz, free associations,
the intimations my words
could infer. After reading
Theme for English B, I was
awakened. I heard rhymes
to the water dripping in the shower,
spent hours listening to the grass,
to the sound of breaking glass, tried
to force it all into words I read more,
about landlords, cities, and rivers, dreams
sliding out of reach, heard rhythms
and music I never thought about
before. I thought about
the consonants constancy and
the long low stretch of vowels,
humming inside everything.
Eventually, I moved on, learned
about Jones and brooks, Ginsberg
and Plath, cut a swath
through the last ninety years
of poetry. Still, every time
I teach you, I'm stretching to
reach you, reach back to the time
I first heard the fragile beauty
in simple words.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Faster, Faster, KILL KILL KILL

Here's an article I just got published in the Uptown Neighborhood News on the best dang sport in the universe, the MN Roller Girls. The newspaper doesn't have a website, so this is a PDF file that gets opened in your browser. To see my article, go to page 9.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

I'm Not Jealous, I Swear!

One of my favorite poets of all time, Elizabeth Alexander, has won the Jackson Prize in Poetry. It's a prize developed by Poets & Writers to honor poets who have published at least 1 book, but have not reached national acclaim. Alexander has written 4 amazing books. (I would strongly recommend Venus Hottentot and Antebellum Dream Book.) As part of the prize, Alexander receives $50,000. Lucky!

Weekly Word Count, March 26-April 1

500 words this week. I only did my Poetry Thursday post, which is a miracle, I think, due to my hellish week at work.

But, this week's spring break and I don't have to attend work on Monday or Friday. Plus,we have in-service, which means that I get to roll in at 9:00 and leave at 5:00, like a normal person. So, hopefully, more writing and revising will ensue.

11986 for the year.