Thursday, May 31, 2007

#9 Freeway Overpass

I was having a bit of difficulty with this week's Poetry Thursday
prompt of "rivers." Even though we passed many rivers in Iowa this weekend, I just didn't feel a connection to the image. Then, this morning on my walk in my neighborhood, I watched the freeway full of commuters and realized that there are many different types of rivers.

Freeway Overpass

I cross the one-way
river, crowded with cars, stalled
as I am today.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why I Always Stop At Stop Signs

I really like rules. I honestly don't know where it came from. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher or maybe it's because I'm a Capricorn. Maybe I listened to my parents a bit too much. Whatever the reason, I just like the tidiness, structure, and simplicity of rules. A rule is like a pre-fulfilled expectation, for me.

Then, there's poetry. If you're living in the 21st century, poetry is the art form that flaunts rules. (Flips them off really.) Now, I am attracted to formal poetry, which allows me to be orderly and disciplined while letting down my proverbial hair. But overall, I write poetry because it allows me to crack open my hardened exterior and access something that is hidden, secret, undiscovered, and lawless.

My problem is that, in my writing and my writing practice, I like rules a bit too much. Someone at my work once said of another person that if there's a rule to follow and a form to fill out, she thinks the problem is solved. I'm the same way. I give myself goals, structures, and responsibilities, and I think that my poetry will fit into the narrow little slot I give it. Poetry, however, is not a form to fill out and not an appointment to keep or break. It's something bigger and more difficult to pin down.

I struggle often with my discipline, with the ability to write consistently over time. It's an integration problem, really. How do I integrate poetry with the rest of my life? But, I solve the problem by setting up a rule or a system, when what I need is Something Else.

So, now I have to find that Something Else, that intangible source of inspiration. I often grapple with that, considering all the other responsibilities and outside factors in my life. It's not that I'm that much busier than anyone else. It's that I crave responsibility and run to it, rather than craving a source of inspiration and running towards that. Even after a master's degree (which I thought would solve it, because that's a program), and a stated (and restated)commitment to poetry, I still feel like I'm coming to grips with the basics -- what it means to be a poet when there's deadlines and work and life.

I think I have to remember that the rule I need to follow is: Stop. Listen. Look. Breathe.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Poetic Verbs, May 22-May 28

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have been ignoring poems in order to get work done. Both homework and real work, even though poet is my vocation.

However, I did do the following poetic actions this week, to honor my writing practice...

* wrote a Poetry Thursday Poem
* contributed to the Poetry Book Club
* re-read Natasha Trethewey's fantastic book
* ordered Becoming a Villainess, per Jim's suggestion
* kept my head above water, despite all the dog paddling I got to do at work this week.

My husband and I did have a great vacation in Iowa this weekend and I feel so much more renewed and energized for the work week ahead. Perhaps I'll be able to learn to balance better and get some writing done, despite all the craziness at work. A girl can dream...

Weekly Word Count, May 21-May 27

This week was kind of a slow week. I did the PT poem, which I am really proud of, but that is it.

500 for the week. 16694 for the year.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

We're Off to Sniff the Wild Prairie Roses

My husband and I are going to visit his extended family in Postville, Iowa this weekend. We drive down this afternoon, where we will meet his parents at one of his aunt's houses. We haven't been down to Postville in almost two years, although it has been much more recently that we've seen his extended family.

I'm really excited because I love a good road trip. It's great inspiration to watch the landscape rolling by and chat with my husband about life. I'm going to bring along my journal and my book about the Beat Poets, and hope for lightning to strike.

In honor of my trip, here is a poem called "The Self and the Mulberry" by former Iowa Poet Laureate, Marvin Bell.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I Want An Invisible Jet!

I'm not entirely certain where this idea came from, but as soon as I read this week's Poetry Thursday prompt to create a dialogue with someone else in your poem, I thought of Wonder Woman at Wal-Mart. Maybe I'm reading too many comic books...

Saturday at the Super Wal-Mart

I see her in the automotive aisle,
puzzling over oil weights, silver bracers

resting against the red rail of her cart.
I wonder who goes shopping in a star-spangled

leotard and go-go boots. Her gold lasso of truth
is slung over her shoulder, like a purse strap.

The other women around us swerve
their carts at the sight of her, giving

wide berth. “Which one of these
is for salad?” she asks, hefting

a jug of winter weight oil. “Wonder Woman,”
I whisper softly, “you’re in the wrong aisle.”

She frowns, stands on her tiptoes, towering
over me, looking for her path. “Can you show me?”

Together, we navigate the wide white aisles,
strolling past lawn chairs and lozenges, magazines

and make-up. I can’t help but stare at her tiara,
at her blue black hair billowing past her shoulders.

“I know this is rude,” I venture, “but where
are your street clothes?” I try to imagine her

in an office, filing papers, answering phones.
“They ripped again, straight at the seams,

like they always do. Fifth time this month.
Besides, it’s not much of a disguise.” I nod

to agree and my eye catches the gleam
of her lasso. I wonder if she’s ever tried

to wrap it around herself and squeeze
until the truth comes tumbling out. I feel my thoughts

rise like bubbles in soda, and she reads
what I’m thinking. “It doesn’t quite work like that,”

she says, stopping at her aisle
dressing bottles stacked to the ceiling.

“It only works on everyone else,”
she says, before pushing her cart away.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Swallowing Poems

Have you ever taken a really big gulp of water and got it stuck in your throat? And it feels like your throat is swollen to twice its size? It feels like its stuck there and the bulge of water will never move. You have a choice to make, up or down. Sometimes you spit it up and sometimes you wince and swallow it, against your better judgment.

That's what it feels like to swallow a poem, I think. For the past week or so, I've been so busy at work and finals and stuff, that I haven't really been able to sit down and write. So my poet-mind is still working and I see or feel things that could be poems, if I spend the time to jot them down. But I'm rushing around so much that I have to swallow it down. It's slightly uncomfortable, but necessary on busy days.

I wonder how other poets deal with this. Do they take the time to write when they're busy in their other lives or do they swallow it and remember it for later? I think I should be grateful that at least I'm still noticing little snaps of images and that I can catalog those for later. I just hope that they remain in my memory long enough to write on them later.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Poetry Book Club, Inaugural Discussion Post

Today's poetry book club day! Hooray! I'm secretly posting from work right now, so I'm going to leave some questions here and then answer them later in the afternoon, during my lunch break.

Discussion Questions

Overall, did you like the book? What about it did you like?

Were there specific poems that spoke to you? Which ones? Why?

Was there anything that confused you about the overall book? What was it?

Were there any individual poems that confused you?

What would you say is the overall theme of the book? Which poems best carried out that theme?

How would you describe the author's style? How did she use language to convey images, ideas, or voice?

That'll be a good start...if you have any questions for the group, or answers to the above, post it below! Happy Book Club Day!

Poetic Verbs, May 15-May 21

Again, with finals (I'm starting to sound like a broken record), not so poetic this week. However, I was able to ...

* subscribe to Poetry Magazine again after a 2 year hiatus
* post a PT poem by Shel Silverstein
* comment on other people's PT poems
* went to writer's group and critiqued poems
* worked on my online resume, soon to be launched
* recorded 2 poems and posted them on said online resume
* read poetry out loud on Saturday night when I was grumpy
* read Natasha Trethewey's book for Poetry Book Club.

If you post your own verbs on your site, leave me a link so I can visit.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Would You Like A Scone With Your Book Review?

Whenever there's a new movement in writing, the establishment gets scared. Actually, whenever there's a new movement in human community, the establishment gets scared, but let's stick with writing for now. I've just read an article that sounds like the dying battle cry for "the old way of doing things" in journalism and writing.

This article from the LA Times is infuriating. The author, Richard Schickel, attacks the rise in literary blogging, specifically book reviewing online. I believe this is in response to an article from a few weeks ago on the rise of book review blogs. He says that a rise to a democratic reviewing of books will lead to the degradation of quality in book reviewing as an art. He claims that book reviewers need to be educated in literary history, criticism, and the author's oeuvre of work. He picks specifically on a reviewing blogger who is also a car parts salesman.

Now, I agree that book reviewers should be knowledgeable and educated. But just because the book reviewer doesn't publish in the New York Times, doesn't mean that he or she is uneducated in the literary arts. I would like to remind the author of the scores of writer who must work another job to support their art. (Hmmm, the author of 9 to 5 Poet and the spouse of a fledgling book reviewer is a little biased in this regard.) Most people who get undergraduate and graduate degrees in English do not necessarily walk off into the sunset to write beautiful reviews for famous newspapers. We teach at community colleges, work at retail emporiums, and are no less dedicated to the literary arts than someone who has more opportunities.

When Mr. Schickel writes lines like, "a purely 'democratic literary landscape' is truly a wasteland, without standards, without maps, without oases of intelligence or delight," he seems just a bit elitist, which is his whole point. But is this truly an elitism of quality or of social standing?

Weekly Word Count, May 14-May 20

Not much to report here, unfortunately. Between my two rounds of finals (theirs and mine), I haven't written anything. So, I'm still at 16194 for the year. I'm hoping to have a little time to write today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I just flew in from New York...

...and boy are my arms tired. Okay, with finals looming, that's about as funny as I can get. Poetry Thursday's prompt was to write a humourous poem, and I just couldn't muster it. So instead, here is my favorite Shel Silverstein poem. My parents used to read this to me, but it didn't work. ;)

Sarah Cynthia Slyvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
Would not take the garbage out!
She'd scour the pots and scrape the pans,
Candy the yams and spice the hams,
And though her daddy would scream and shout,
She simply would not take the garbage out.
And so it piled up to the ceilings:
Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
Brown Bananas, rotten peas,
Chunks of sour cottage cheese.
It filled the can, it covered the floor,
It cracked the window and blocked the door
With bacon rinds and chicken bones,
Drippy ends of ice cream cones,
Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel,
Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal,
Pizza crusts and withered greens,
Soggy beans and tangerines,
Crusts of black burned buttered toast,
Grisly bits of beefy roasts...
The garbage rolled down the hall,
It raised the roof, it broke the wall...
Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,
Globs of gooey bubble gum,
Cellophane from green baloney,
Rubbery blubbery macaroni,
Peanut butter, caked and dry,
Curdled milk and crusts of pie,
Moldy melons, dried-up mustard,
Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,
Cold french fries and rancid meat,
Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat.
At last the garbage reached so high
That finally it touched the sky.
And all the neighbors moved away,
And none of her friends would come to play.
And finally Sarah Cynthia Slylvia Stout said,
"Ok, I'll take the garbage out!"
But then, of course, it was too late...
The garbage reached across the state,
From New York to the Golden Gate.
And there, in the garbage she did hate,
Poor Sarah met an awful fate,
That I cannot right now relate
Because the hour is much too late.
But children, remember Sarah Stout
And always take the garbage out!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Poetic Verbs, May 8-May 14

This week, to honor and promote my writing practice, I...

* looked up the submission guidelines for Minnesota Women's Press
* began working on an online resume (which I will publish once it's finished)
* wrote a haiku and a Poetry Thursday poem
* bought and began reading a book on my favorite poetry movement, the Beats
* bought a mic and recorded my PT poem
* started a submission tracking sheet for submissions
* submitted poems to a contest sponsored by MNArtists, an arts organization

Finals are coming up, both in my work life and my own student life, so I anticipate an unpoetical week of finals grading and completing. But I'll be thinking about poems and reading Natasha Trethewey's book, since the Poetry Book Club is coming up next Monday.

Soulless Machine

My husband, Aaron, just started his own blog called Soulless Machine. On his blog, he'll post short reviews of short stories. It currently has a couple of reviews up now, mostly on science fiction/speculative short stories. I expect that he'll be branching out into other styles of short stories as well.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I Got A New Toy!

This weekend, I bought a $10 microphone from Target. Then, I downloaded an open source audio mixing program from Audacity. Then, I joined a free podcasting upload service from Switchpod and a free podcast share network from Odeo. All so I could record versions of my poems and embed them in my posts.

So here is me reading my last Poetry Thursday poem, with a slightly funny/slightly pretenious echo effect on the title. I love the internets.

powered by ODEO

You Know You're A Poet, When... watch the movie Marie Antoinette, which is secretly pretty good despite getting panned by the critics, and all you can think of is The Great Palaces of Versailles by Rita Dove.

If I live to be a hundred, I may never get to write an image as memorable as that. But I can try.

Weekly Word Count, May 7-May 13

I wrote a poem and a haiku this week. However, last week I forgot to count a haiku, so I'm tacking it on for this week. 700 for the week.

16194 for the year.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I Heart Public Art!

This post is brought to you by the bridge linking Loring Park and the Walker Sculpture Garden, and the poet John Ashberry. Here is more information about the work I saw today.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pick a Word, Any Word

For this week's Poetry Thursdayprompt, we were supposed to use the random prompt generator on their site to create a poem. So, for my poem, I decided to get a list of 10 words from the generator and write 10 couplets that included the words. I was surprised at what resulted, a poem about an earthquake that happened 13 years ago, when I had just moved to Minnesota and my dad still lived in Los Angeles. After the poem, I'll list my required words.

6.7 on the Richter Scale

My dad called me on my 17th birthday, two hours before
I awoke. He was already sifting through the remains

of his home after the earthquake. He told me
all about the sagging freeways in the Valley, the mirror

shards in the bathroom sink, the black thicket
of downed power lines dotting the street. He lived

near the fault line, and his bedroom became
an angry ocean. He tried to tell me this calmly, narrate

the disaster like a joke. I was used to that, his swift
barrage of words building towards the punch line.

Through the cross-country phone line, I listened
for his silence, the pauses filled with static, as he fumbled

towards the next detail. I tried to envision
the new version of our house, the shadow cracks creeping

along the foundation. Our ancient cocker spaniel
shivering and barking back talk at the suspect ground.

And of course, my father, blanched white, surveying
the wreckage with the phone clamped to his ear. As we talked,

he tripped on the fallen chandelier, stubbed his toe. When he cursed,
under his breath, I thought, it’s official – I can never go home.

My required words were: mirrors, barrage, shadow, back talk, fault, thicket, sift, static, stub, and blanch. Of course, I changed their tenses, but I used one in each couplet.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

#8 -- Midnight Walk in May

Midnight Walk in May

I sense spring in hints
of blooming lilac and faint
lightning behind clouds.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Poetic Verbs, April 29-May 7

I think I assume that when I call myself a poet, inspiration comes easy. I lounge around the house, doing everything but reading and writing, and assume that the words will start flowing. And then they don't.

But, when I focus on my actions and how they add to my writing, it comes a little bit easier. Notice I say a little bit. Life is still mundane. I still need to pay my bills, clean the litter box, and go to work every day. However, when I accomplish actions that are intended just for writing, I have this little space set aside in my brain for poetry. Then, this little space starts collecting images. And it starts expanding, like a sponge, looking for the little things that will add up to a poem.

For instance, when I was driving home today, I wasn't listening to the news on MPR and getting depressed. I was seeing the lilac bushes in bloom along the highway, I was noticing the upended plastic yellow football helmet lying abandoned on the side of the road, and I watched the clouds wreathe the downtown skyline in a gray mist. I may write about them later, I may not. But I noticed them.

In addition to that, I...

* wrote a haiku

* purchased pens and highlighters at the dollar store -- pens for writing and highlighters for my Poet's Market

* started a verb journal which lies next to my computer. I used an old black speckled composition, and wrote "Poet is a Verb" across its cover.

* read One Red Eye by Kirsten Dierking like a graduate student, marking lines and poems that I like, to exercise my poetic sensibilities

* started considering, in the back of my head, turning my old fiction project that died into a poetry project

* wrote a poem for Poetry Thursday

* discovered the Poetry magazine archive at the Minneapolis Downtown Library -- it dates back to 1912. I picked up the volume for 1961 and found poems by Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Muriel Rukeyeser.

* added my site to 2 blogrolls

* surfed other participants at Poetry Thursday to see what their work is like

* purchased (finally) Natasha Trethewey's book for the Poetry Book Club

That's it for my week. If you want to share your poetic actions for the week, I would love to hear about them. Please post a link or a list in the comments.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Are Book Reviewers Passe?

Another great article for evening reading, this time from the New York Times.

This article claims that the traditional newspaper book review section is dying a slow death. And it seems to be true, from the evidence they provide. Large national newspapers are decreasing and collapsing their book review sections. The trend could be a shame, since regional reviewers tend to critique regional writers. However, all is not a loss.

According to the article, literary and book reviewing blogs are growing. They claim to "democratize" the book review process, making it accessible to the common reader. The article lists several popular and well-established book reviewing sites, including Book Slut, Emerging Writers Network, and The Syntax of Things.

I am one of those anachronistic bloggers who still like the traditional newspaper book review, albeit delivered to my gmail inbox on Sundays. I feel that there's a bit of a romantic notion to the old-school book review. They tend to be written by experts, people who have studied the art of critique. Certainly, I have romanticized the people involved, as well. What a life, to hold the book industry in the palm of your hand, able to decimate it (or inflate it) in one swoop of your pen.

Yet, I can see the benefits of putting literary criticism on the web, especially since many people feel that they aren't good at critiquing literature. By making criticism accessible to discussion on the web, we are broadening the base of informed literary critics. We are creating a new culture of book love and book awareness, even if we're staring at our laptops instead of getting our fingertips stained with ink.

Weekly Word Count, April 30-May 6

I wrote 1 poem this week for Poetry Thursday, so 500 words.

15494 for the year.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Two Articles for a Saturday Morning

This morning, as soon as I woke up, I had two really good articles in my inbox. I didn't know which one to blog about, so I'll do both.

Sassy Magazine

The first is about a beloved and short lived magazine that helped formed by identity. I'm not kidding. It was called Sassy magazine.

Do you remember Sassy? It was like a love letter to all girls who didn't fit into the YM/Seventeen demographic. It was for girls who listened to punk music (or wanted to listen to punk music), girls who thought about politics, and girls who were creative and wanted to do something. Sassy helped give publicity to the 'zine craze of the mid-90's (a precursor to blogs if there ever was one) and helped create a social identity for anyone who was different. In college, I knew who I could be friends with by virtue of their knowledge of Sassy.

My dad, who sent me this article, introduced me to Sassy in the very first issue, because he had a job interview with the creator before they launched. I read almost every issue since then. This article is about a new book about the rise and fall of this magazine, because apparently it never made money.

"Go home and write
a page tonight
and let that page come out of you --
Then, it will be true."

Theme for English B by Langston Hughes

The next article is not as joyful -- it's actually quite scary. When I think about it, I don't know where I fall. According to the LA Times, there is a student in a suburb of Illinois who has been arrested for a creative writing assignment that includes fantasies of a killing spree in his high school. In the killing spree, he obviously kills students, but then also has sex with their dead bodies.

The things that disturb me about this article...
1) The article implies that this scene was written in response to the English teacher's instructions to "not censor yourself, keep writing, write whatever comes to your mind." This is pretty typical creative writing guidelines, especially in high school when students don't enjoy writing.

2) The student, who was referred to the police, apparently didn't fit the profile of a teen killer and so is now being lionized in the article. He may lose his ability to join the Marines.

3)I find myself alternatively feeling bad for this student and getting mad at this student. On one hand, students should be able to write whatever they want without fear of censure or censorship. On the other hand, this paper is tantamount to a bomb threat, which doesn't fall under any free speech protections. How careless could he be? I find myself swinging between these two extremes, one of which agrees with article, the other of which loathes it.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Planting Season

I've been writing a lot of these domesticity poems lately. I started over a year ago with two and then a fallow period for months. Since I've been writing seriously again, they've been occurring to me more often. As a series, I don't know where they're going, but I like them.

Domesticity Poem #4

Despite the stream
of rush hour traffic below,
the plumes

of exhaust, and all day
noise, together,
we have done this:

pushed impossible
small seeds into peat,
watered and waited.

Now, days later,
on our narrow stucco
terrace, in a plastic

hothouse, tender tendrils,
green and white,
unfurl under our eyes.

For the first time in years,
we have coaxed
something new

out of something small,
hard, and cracked open.
Each new morning,

I marvel at the shoots
sending new fragile roots
into the soil,

at the minuscule
fleur-dis-lis leaves
reaching towards the sky.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Poetry Book Club Selection -- Native Guard

The Poetry Book Club Selection is Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey. I will post a discussion post on May 21st, so that we can discuss her book. I'm really looking forward to it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I'm Not Turning In To Oprah, But...

I do like one of her special books. A couple of months ago I picked up the Po Bronson book What Should I Do With My Life? at a library used book sale. I finally gotten around to reading it.

Surprisingly, it's very good. In it, he describes the lives of people who are either in the process of figuring out what to do with their lives or has already figured out what to do with their lives. He conveys their themes in short, descriptive chapters that seem to be working towards a larger idea...although I don't know what that it is, yet.

Now, I've always liked books like this. In fact, I read the book Gig about a year ago and it still sticks with me. But the way in which Bronson tells these stories, he seems to be honoring a person's personal path towards knowing oneself. And that they can be found despite or because of our work.

I was reading this evening and the following paragraph, from a chapter about a college career counselor who is kind of directionless, blew my mind:

Tomorrow, some five thousand students would dress in their gowns, and walk through a ceremony to mark the beginning of the rest of their lives. They were young and exuberant brimming with potential. Were the prepared to hang on to that feeling, when pedestrian reality would try to box them in? Were they ready? Partly because of my own experience, I wanted to stop each of them and whisper, "It might very quickly get overwhelming, but hang in there." pg. 31 -- What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson

For someone who is always searching, this was a nice little wake up call.